Sunday, December 30, 2012

As the New Year approaches...

What's on your horizon?

I can't believe that we are just 24 hours from the close of 2012. What a year this has been. I have had incredible good fortune and opportunity come my way and learned the meaning of the term 'burnt out'. My life has not felt in balance much of this year. I have often joked that the only thing keeping me going was all the kale I eat (the beans and blueberries deserve honourable mention too!). My fitness level has, ahem, dropped off and my immune system seems to have escaped to sunnier climes... Which leads me to where I am now: preparing to venture into a totally new phase in my career and personal life. And today, I realized that many of you are probably meeting the day with the same introspective and forward-looking thoughts, especially where your health is concerned.

The diet starts January 1st, doesn't it? I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that I also enjoy setting healthy eating goals in the New Year but I no longer view it in the same absolute terms that many of us do in North America. I am not "going on a cleanse" or attempting to lose weight. I won't vow to give my diet a radical makeover that is out totally of sync with how I really live. The payoff? Come February 1st, I won't be cringing about my total inability to "stick with my resolutions".

As you are writing your own New Year's resolutions, take a moment to reflect on the intention behind those goals and how you can ensure that they are a source of joy and positivity and not just another rigid plan of attack on all you feel might be "lacking" in your life. I have been following Danielle Laporte for some time now and her last post on setting goals really resonated with me and I think you might enjoy it too. A great read pre-resolution.

Don't get me wrong - I love the fresh start that a New Year brings. I am simply trying to bring a more positive spin to my resolve. Here are the resolutions I plan to keep in 2013 (nothing like an audience to keep you accountable!):

1. Drink more green juice. (Greens are the nutritional mother load and my toddler refuses to eat them in the quantities I prefer. At least he will eat them!)
2. Complete my first half marathon (BMO Vancouver, May 5th). If I enjoy it, complete my second (SeaWheeze, August 10th).
3. Work 40 hours a week. That will be taking it easy.
4. Write my first nutrition book. Hmm...that's the biggie, I think.

If you are looking to improve your nutrition, I am a huge fan of incremental change. Why not choose 3 distinct and measurable goals and tackle them one at a time, adding a new goal with each passing month?Great, powerful food changes include:

1. Have a totally meat and dairy-less Monday.
2. Eat a daily green veggie.
3. Eat breakfast daily.
4. Pack your lunch to work.
5. Try one new vegetable a week.
6. Have one meal a day that doesn't include processed flour such as bread, pasta or muffins.
7. Snack on fruits and vegetables instead of 'snack foods'.

If the time has come for you to get a bit more serious about how you care for your health and know that weight loss is an important piece in that, check out this post on the psychology of eating and why we normally fail at that weight loss resolution so you can meet the challenge with clear vision and self-care. 

I wish you much success, health and happiness for the New Year. 
My new website,, will be launching soon and I can't wait to share all of my new adventures with you!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Desiree's Holiday Wish List

It's the gift giving time of year again and as much as I am loathe to collect more stuff, a thoughtfully given gift that someone will actually want and use can be something to treasure. So as all of the holiday gift round ups are flowing through my inbox, I have been creating a mental wish list that I thought would be fun to share with you. As always, almost all of it is foodie focused :) I am a girl with a one track mind! 

Just in case you are hitting the malls this weekend trying to finish up your shopping, these might provide you will some awesome ideas. And in case you prefer your shopping with a mug of cocoa on the couch, most of this stuff is available online. Perfect if best intentions to be productive this weekend turn south.

I love this nature-inspired flatware set from West Elm...all you need is plaid napkins and candlelight to transport you to the cabin. 

Not so talented with pastry? Leave the architectural labour to the experts and get this uniquely Vancouver treat: a Vancouver Special Gingerbread House from Beta5 Chocolates. And if you need a quick hostess gift, Beta5 chocolates are always welcome (got my first box last weekend!)

This was my first patio gardening year and I am already missing my hodgepodge of pots and greenery outdoors. Patch Planters are just the ticket. They are self watering and perfect for teaching little ones to grow indoors. In fact, if you buy a Patch, they will provide one to Growing Chefs - a great local org that teaches kids how to grow (and cook!) their own food.

Love to eat local? What about reading local? Instead of scrambling all over Vancouver trying to snag a copy, have Edible Vancouver delivered to your door instead with a yearly subscription.

And of course, there are plenty of excellent cookbooks to add to your collection. I am wishing for Jerusalem, The Sprouted Kitchen and Modern Flavours of Arabia

I am a foodie first, but I am also a bit of a beauty junkie at heart. I love these natural lipsticks by local company, Ilia Beauty and have been dying to try this totally organic skincare from Belmondo (also local!).

Food is always a welcome gift and instead of buying more fruitcake which most people don't eat, buck the trend and offer some To Die For Banana Bread. Hostess gifts, solved! Cocolico products, now available at Whole Foods, are delicious. I love the raspberry chocolate sauce. Also perfect for holiday giving, I have been coveting Noble maple syrup, available at Marche St George and The Old Faithful Shop.

Experiences can be even more enjoyable than stuff and I have yet to treat myself to a cooking class at The Dirty Apron so maybe Santa will slip a gift card into my stocking. Gift certificates to restaurants are always a welcome gift (especially if they come with a free night of baby-sitting!) I think I need to spend a little more time at Les Faux Bourgeois, The Parker, L'Abattoir and (let's aim big here...) Hawksworth.

Stockings can also be stuffed with one of my favourite local teas, Organic Creamy Earl Grey from Secret GardenVancouver Farmer's Market Bucks (cute wooden coins instead of gold chocolate ones!) and cute kitchen gadgets from Cookworks

If you are looking for the can't-live-without-it gift, I never imagined I would have loved my Nespresso machine as much as I do. It makes damn good coffee and all it takes is a press of the finger. This is NOT your average pod machine. Available at The Bay and Cookworks (and other places!).

Finally, to help people get healthy in the New Year...these would be on my wish list! I have been hesitating buying a slow juicer for quite some time but would love to be able to have fresh juice at my finger tips. And a Blend Tec would certainly amp up the horsepower in my kitchen. 

And remember, sometimes the best gift is simply time. So offer to cook a friend dinner at home, plan a cookie decorating party for neighbour kids, bring some home-baked treats over to a family member or just pick up the phone and call. 

All the brightest of the season to you,

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Beat the Holiday Weight Gain (Yes, You Can Still Have a Cookie!)

It has been a long, long time since I have spent some time with this blog...where have I been?

Well, folks, it has been a time of unbelievable change for me which will lead to a completely fresh start in the New Year. In just three weeks, I will give up my much-loved role as Nutrition Operations Manager at Choices Markets, a position I created and have had the utmost privilege to hold. I have been working on a shiny new website,, which is almost ready. When it's ready, I will move my blog to my new website so be sure to subscribe for lots of great tips and some special surprises too! 

In the New Year, I will embark on a new journey - both as an entrepreneur and as Education Specialist for the wonderful Bio-K+ Probiotics. I appeared on the Natural Health Show this past weekend talking about Inflammation and Probiotics on their behalf and you can listen to the show here. I will continue to do talks throughout North America, write, work with conscious natural food companies and I will be able to spend more time seeing private nutrition clients here in Vancouver. 

I hope you will continue on in this journey with me...I am deeply thankful for all of your support over the years! 

And lest you think that post title was a bait and switch, never fear! This past Sunday I was featured in The Province giving my tips for surviving the holidays without packing on the pounds. See the feature here

As a bonus, I want to share my top 10 healthy holiday foods with here goes!

1. Cranberries

Cranberries, minus the pound of sugar, are incredibly anti-oxidant rich and the pigments in cranberries help prevent certain types of bacteria from adhering to the mouth, stomach and urinary tract.

2. Satsumas/Mandarins

Citrus fruit are seasonal, if not local, and come with plenty of phenolic compounds and vitamin C to help strengthen your immune system and possibly help prevent stomach cancer.

3. Almonds

Nuts are delicious and nutritious - just try not to eat them roasted and salted! Keep raw nuts on hand for snack attacks and for a healthy holiday treat, lightly toast raw nuts and toss with either tamari or a blend of your favourite spices.

4. Figs

Figs are a holiday delicacy worth eating year round. Figs are rich in fibre and contain a host of minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium.

5. Turkey

It's not the turkey that weighs you down, it's the gravy! Turkey is a lean protein source that helps to bust the carb fest we all take in December. Whenever you can, buy ethically raised (organic if possible) birds to ensure a better life for the animals that feed us. 

6. Chocolate

Dark chocolate, 80% cocoa or higher is a perfect after dinner sweet that satisfies without a lot of sugar. For the true anti-oxidant benefits of chocolate however, you need to buy raw cacao, which you can make into truffles and chocolates in no time flat.

7. Pomegranates

Fresh pomegranates are available around the holidays and they are the perfect snack for munching as you watch a holiday movie. They take plenty of time to eat and each seed is packed full of fibre and potent anti-oxidants.

8. Spices

Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger are all incredibly satisfying, anti-oxidant rich and lend a festive flavour to healthy foods. Use them to create a mulled wine or cider as a healthier alternative to heavier drinks like egg nog. Use them in homemade whole grain baking or scent the air by boiling cracked, whole spices and citrus slices on the stove.

9. Peppermint

Peppermint soothes the digestive tract and may even bring relief to IBS sufferers. You can find the pure, edible oil in gourmet shops to flavour homemade dark hot chocolate or even tea.

10. Sweet Potatoes and Yams

When roasted with a touch of maple syrup and olive oil, yams have a caramel-y sweetness that satisfies without going to the extent of making the traditional candied variety. Yams, with their skin, are a great source of fibre and vitamin A for healthy skin and immunity.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vegetarian Dining Goes Upscale in Vancity

Image from 

I have been vegetarian a long time, more than 15 years. Yikes...I'm old. But that's not what this post is about... As I was saying, there are a lot of us vegetarians on the Wet Coast and yet, it is not until this year that restauranteurs have cottoned on to the idea that we might like to eat really good food. Raised on farmer's markets filled with quince, chioggia beets and fennel, at most dining establishments vegetarians are faced with nothing but pasta primavera.

In Vancouver, a vegetarian can get by a lot easier than in other cities but seriously, if I have to see one more uninspired pizza or veggie burger I am gonna lose it. I like The Naam as much as any other Vancouverite but I am not looking for gooey, homestyle food all the time. So imagine my excitement when I notice that the old Italian red sauce joint on Main St has been replaced with a stylish acorn.

The Acorn is unusual in that it treats us crazy vegetarian folk like actual foodies. When I visited a while back with my two foodie pals, we dined on unbelievable house made gnocchi, luscious haloumi and the most delicious kale caesar. The space is lovely and while not cheap, it won't break the bank either. Chef Brian Skinner comes by his new Nordic-looking plates honesty, he did a stint at Best-Restaurant-in-the-World, Noma. I loved it and will be sure to go back. 

However, one restaurant does not a movement make. How about three? Enter Heirloom on South Granville and The Parker in Gastown. Chef Georgia Morley at Heirloom was a personal chef to Mr Lululemon himself and at The Parker, Corner Suite Bistro alums Chef Jason Leizert and cocktail maestro Steve de la Cruz are getting together to make some hip, veggie music to my ears. I am heading to The Parker this weekend and will update this post with my thoughts.

What a concept, making unbelievable food that just so happens to be vegetarian? Here is one trend I hope becomes permanent.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A visit with Mairlyn Smith

I am a huge fan of Mairlyn Smith. Why, you ask?

1. She's funny. 
2. She's a home economist, which means her profession paved the way for mine. 

(Thank you!)

3. Her recipes are healthful, whole food focused and accessible enough for real people (aka, me!) to actually be able to cook her food for their families on a regular basis. 

Mairlyn was in town last week to promote her new book, The Vegetarian's Complete Quinoa Cookbook, and I had the pleasure of sitting down with her for a little chat. The book was a compilation of recipes from the Ontario Home Economists Association and represents a huge range of cooking styles and flavours. I will review the book and hopefully share a recipe with you next week but in the mean time, I thought it would be fun to share a little rapid fire Q + A. 

What is your favourite, little known fact about quinoa?

If you don't rinse it, it tastes like hell! Don't trust those packages that say pre-rinsed, rinse anyways.

Name one food you can't live without.


One recipe from the new book that everyone should try.

The Brownie Bite. I was jealous of that one; I tried to recreate the "two-bite brownie" in the past and it never worked.

Name one food that reminds you of childhood.

Anything mother made the best rice pudding I have ever had.

What makes someone a good cook? 

Love. You have to love what you're doing. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

October #Unprocessed...why real food matters. #takebackourfood

This month, I am celebrating October #Unprocessed with almost 6000 other people. For this month, I have committed to eating food in its unadulterated form. No unpronounceable ingredients. No weird funny stuff. I am dutifully reading labels with even more intensity than I normally would. And boy...does it open my eyes. I have a mostly unprocessed diet but it is amazing how a little mindfulness reminds me how difficult it truly is for the average person to go unprocessed. Of course, I have made a few hiccups so far, usually whenever I forget about my mission for one second. "Sure, I will have that piece of chocolate"....darn!! 

You know, I am a simple gal. A good, old-fashioned vegetarian. Not a raw foodie or a Paleo enthusiast. I live by the 80/20 rule. For me, this means an 80% whole plant foods approach. That leaves 20% for some other picks...and I like me some cheese. The staple in our house is organic, raw milk cheddar but in a pinch, I picked up some pizza mozzarella from Saputo at the grocery store across the way. Then, I just happened to glance at the label. Milk...yes...modified milk ingredients...WTF???

This is cheese. I double checked! Not cheese "spread" or cheese "product". And it is not the only one. A bunch of pre-shredded cheeses from Kraft and other companies now have modified milk ingredients in their labels. 

Confused? Me too. Here is the legal definition of 'modified milk ingredient' from Health Canada: 

Modified milk ingredients are defined in item 7.1, subsection B.01.010 (3) of the FDR, as "any of the following in liquid, concentrated, dry, frozen or reconstituted form, namely, calcium reduced skim milk (obtained by the ion-exchange process), casein, caseinates, cultured milk products, milk serum proteins, ultrafiltered milk, whey, whey butter, whey cream and any other component of milk the chemical state of which has been altered from that in which it is found in milk".

The 'milk serum proteins' really freaks me out because I have no idea what it means. You want the common sense definition of a modified milk ingredient? Industrial by-products of milk. Milk too expensive for your factory food? Here, take the waste of my factory's milk usage. 

Say what you might about the role of dairy in our diet but let's defend what is good and real and simple - milk from a cow still has nutrition to offer as long as it agrees with you. Foods in their whole form are kinder to our digestive systems and have been designed by nature to nourish our bodies. What really (language alert!) pisses me off is that the average Jane, which includes me, buys food with a gentlewoman's expectation that a food that looks like real food is real. I don't expect that the weird pink "strawberry" milk is natural. Plain white cheese? Now you've gone too far...

This is happening all across our grocery stores: ice creams morphed into 'dairy desserts'; juices transformed into 'beverages' and meat bloated with water, antibiotics and salmonella. The industrial food's what's for dinner!

In North America, we are facing an unprecedented epidemic of obesity, chronic disease, digestive disturbances and allergies like never before. Our bodies are quite literally under attack from our food, our lifestyle and our environment. Why are we not more angry about this? Because we have no idea it is happening. We have been buying the same brand of cheese for 10 years and so why would we bother looking at the ingredients? Cheese is cheese, right? RIGHT?  Wrong. Ice cream isn't ice cream, either. 

Where milk, butter, flour and sugar once existed we have modified milk ingredients, esterified fatty acids of soy, franken-gluten and high fructose corn syrup. Researchers are working overtime trying to figure out how modern foods have been modified and what that is doing to our bodies. In the meantime, no one can dispute that our food has changed. And we are sick from it. 

Right about now, there might be some trickling thought that "real food" might not be affordable food. That taking a stand might be reserved for those of us lucky enough to buy 'fancy food'. However, as a dietitian, I think it is completely unethical that companies making lower cost foods are trying to soak extra profits from them by reducing ingredient quality. In fact, some companies are starting to come back around. McCain, for example, is one that actually has pronounceable ingredients on their labels. It may be a frozen pizza but at least it has real basil and tomatoes. And Hellman's Mayo has committed to using 100% cage free eggs by 2020. These are steps in the right direction for companies with the power to make real change in our food supply. Yes, some of us can afford to buy organic kale smoothies. However, I know that many of us can't - so don't think that you deserve cheap food just because you can't afford to buy expensive food. 

I feel its time to take a stand. Want to join me? Here is how:

1. Food manufacturers listen to the almighty dollar. Read labels voraciously and don't buy food with ingredients you don't understand. During October #Unprocessed, this is called the "kitchen test". Click here for more info.

2. Whenever you can, visit companies' Facebook and Twitter pages and respectfully tell them why you don't buy their products. Companies are very connected to the conversations on social media. They listen! Use the hash tag #takebackourfood

3. Share this post on your Facebook pages, Twitter profiles and Google +. Use the hash tag #takebackourfood

4. Even better, share your own thoughts and experiences and use the hash tag #takebackourfood.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October #Unprocessed...DIY Raw Chocolate!

You know what I love? Chocolate! Oh, and people who advocate for real food and a good, common sense approach to eating well. One of those admirable people is Andrew Wilder, creator of the awesome blog, Eating Rules. As he says, "...healthy eating doesn't have to suck." Hear, hear! 

So I was very excited to be asked by the lovely Stacy Spensley to take part in Andrew's October #Unprocessed challenge. I eat a substantially unprocessed diet but I am ALWAYS up for challenging myself to a new level of awareness. Two weeks in, I love how participating in the challenge is constantly reminding me to stay present with food. And how it alerts me to when I am the time I dug my hand into a flavoured bag of chips. Darn! Well, I never said I was least they were baked and organic!

Today I have contributed a little post to Andrew's blog on making raw chocolate. Raw chocolate is a simple option for getting your chocolate fix in a way that is more nutrient dense and oh yes, unprocessed! Want to learn how to make very simple, raw chocolate whenever the healthy craving strikes? See my post on Eating Rules!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy World Vegetarian Day!

October is a busy month, food wise!

It is October Unprocessed (join me and take the pledge!)...Fair Trade Month...Non-GMO Month...and Vegetarian Awareness MonthAnd you thought you were busy...we are supposed to find time to actually eat this month, too!

Today is World Vegetarian Day, the kick-off to Vegetarian Awareness Month. I have been a vegetarian (with occasional "I am going to be protein-starved unless I eat this fish" lapses) since 1996. Over the years, my approach to eating has continuously evolved. As a teenager, I loved telling people all the horrible things about the meat they were I downed veggie dogs and candy. I got over the militant phase pretty quickly; it doesn't make you the life of the party. I also realized that taking a militant approach to vegetarianism was another form of violence - which I was trying to reduce in my life. Soon after I became a vegetarian, I started doing a lot of reading on yoga and Buddhism which solidified my thoughts on this path. Next stop in my vege-morphosis was the I-can-eat-it-as-long-as-it-has-one-veg phase. My early years in university were a steady stream of Annie's Macaroni and Cheese with a big pile of broccoli on top.

I would like to say that I had some grand conviction that led me to vegetarianism. In reality, my mother and I didn't eat a lot of meat to begin with (is it a girl thing?) and I really wanted to impress the saxophone player in my high school band. There. I said it. Oh, the days when you actually did things to impress a boy. 

I digress...

Vegetarianism still holds conviction for me: I believe in minimizing harm to living things, including our impact on the earth. I also believe that a plant-based approach is a healthier one. However, now I realize that it is not all-or-nothing. Each positive choice is a helpful one. And vegetarian-at-all-costs is not a winning formula to me. I strive for a whole plant-based approach. A life of white bread and veggie dogs is not kind to your body or the planet. Of course, into every life a little cheesecake must fall...

So today, on World Vegetarian Day, I wanted to send out a little love to all the plant-based peeps out there...the vegetarians, vegans and even the flexitarians. Here is wishing you peace, love and veggies for the month ahead. And for those of you that don't feel that a vegetarian diet is right for you...just through a little extra broccoli on your plate. It will do a body good. newest book for Choices Markets, Beyond Broccoli: Plant-based Nutrition, will be out in the stores on Wednesday. I brought in some amazing collaborators such as Brendan Brazier, Dreena Burton and Brenda Davis RD. I hope you like it!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Behind the scenes at Terra Breads

On Friday, I was lucky enough to be invited on a tour of Terra Breads bakery, led by Mary MacKay, Head Baker and Co-Owner of Terra Breads. To learn more about Mary and the passion she brings to baking, check out this video of her speaking at Food Talks

For those of you who don't live in Vancouver, Terra Breads is an artisan bakery that has grown to provide breads for many of our favourite local stores, in addition to their own bakeries and cafes. What is exciting about Terra is that, in this world where labels like 'artisan' and 'gourmet' and 'chef-inspired' are slapped on industrial slop daily, Terra Breads are still created using human hands. 

The food geek in me has a current fascination: living things and their role in creating the food we eat. Specifically, fermentation. I am not the only one...there is kombucha, kefir and sauerkraut on store shelves as far as the eye can see. So I was really excited when Mary started talking about the "mother": the sour culture that they have been using since the day Terra Breads was started. I even got to taste it. It is amazing how flour and water mingle with the resident yeasts and bacteria in the environment all around us take over and turn that mixture into something that will become an amazingly chewy, complex, flavourful loaf of bread. Mary noted that they only ferment at their main bakery because otherwise, the resident critters in each location would lend a totally different flavour to the breads. The Terra Breads flavour lives in East Van! 

We started our tour with this "mother" and followed it all the way through the ovens where the breads are baked directly on the stone. The bakery relies on some mechanization but mostly, human hands create the goodies you see on the shelves from good quality ingredients such as organic flour and freshly toasted nuts and seeds.

Bread is not a food I tend to eat a great deal of; however, if I am going to eat it...I am going to eat good bread. So when I given some bread to take home, it was time for an old-fashioned bread and cheese fest. In the best possible expression of that amazing duo.

Not-your-average Grilled Cheese

To perfectly recreate this sandwich, you need to use the right ingredients so I am going to tell you exactly what I used. Wonder bread and Kraft singles this ain't, folks!

2 slices of Terra Breads Fig and Anise Loaf (mine was a mini loaf!)
A few generous slices of organic, raw milk aged cheddar (I used L'Ancetre)
A slice or two of crisp, local apple
Organic butter for spreading (L'Ancetre again!)

Spread the outside of the sandwich slices with room-temperature butter and then layer the ingredients inside. Heat a non-stick pan to medium-high and place the sandwich in. Lower the heat to medium. When browned on one side, flip and cook the other side for about 2-3 minutes. Enjoy. 

PS... Terra Breads didn't know I was a blogger, I was invited as an educational opportunity because I work for Choices Markets. So this blog post was totally unsolicited and my own idea.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Take the October #Unprocessed Pledge!

It's hard to believe but October is just around the corner and I don't know about you but I feel ready for a challenge! For the fourth year, Andrew from Eating Rules is hosting his October Unprocessed challenge and this is the year that I will be taking the plunge. 

I eat a pretty unprocessed diet as it is; however, as with the 100 mile diet challenge I took last can be pretty surprising when I have to scrutinize each choice. I am sticking with Andrew's kitchen rule: if I could make it myself, I can eat it. So "no" to soy sauce and yes to a bit of good chocolate. Hmm...seems like a challenge with plenty of delicious benefits!

Pledge now to take the challenge with me and stay tuned both here on EDBH and at The Fresh Sheet for plenty of inspiration on getting unprocessed!

Friday, September 14, 2012

A little healthy indulgence

Sometimes, a girl just needs a little chocolate. 

My sweet tooth doesn't actually kick in that often. I am more often found indulging in a piece of cheese with some salted rice crackers instead of digging into a candy jar. However, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon or perhaps, after dinner, I just want "something". I created this ultra-simple raw chocolate recipe so I could have something delicious that I could really feel good about eating. A treat that didn't require a trip to the store; just a few minutes and a few ingredients that I usually have on hand.

Raw Superfood Crunch Chocolate

1/2 cup virgin coconut oil (I like Organic Lives because they are a local company!)
1/2 cup raw cacao powder (I used Navitas Naturals)
2 tbsp of Nature's Path Cranberry Vanilla Qia (or use your favourite superfood - chia, hemp,      dried berries etc)
1-2 tbsp maple syrup to taste (okay...not for the raw food purist!)

cacao powder  plus 1/4 tsp cinnamon for dusting

Place raw cacao, Qia and maple syrup in a medium bowl. Gently warm coconut oil in a saucepan until just liquid and stir into cacao mixture until well blended. Place bowl in the fridge until firm enough to form chocolates, about 15-30 minutes. 

Use a cold spoon to scoop out a bit of chocolate and drop onto a chilled plate or quickly roll into a little ball. Work quickly or the heat of your hands will melt the chocolate again! In a separate bowl, mix cinnamon with a bit more cacao powder. Roll chocolates in cacao to dust. Refrigerate chocolates in an airtight container and keep on hand for healthy chocolate cravings! 

PS...I am a spokesperson for the new Qia cereal from Nature's Path. I always said that if I am connected to a product I will maintain transparent communications - no sneaky marketing here! I think it is a truly amazing product...unprocessed, healthy and delicious. I will never share any product with you that I don't eat myself and feel good about recommending. So I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why I still think organic matters...

Last week, I was featured on the Global BC News Hour about the recent Stanford University review of the health benefits of organically grown food.

The original study, which has been all over the media since it was published, can be found here. I felt compelled to write further about this as I feel that the mainstream media has really leveraged this study to tell the public that organics don't really matter and that they don't live up to the hype. And I strongly disagree. 

So do a lot of other voices that I respect. Here is Marion Nestle's take. And Grist, the fantastic eco-minded news site, compiled a host of other opinions on the topic.

If you take the time to look at what the researchers found, it is that the research on organics is kind of all over the place. There aren't enough studies in any one line of questioning to prove overwhelmingly whether organic foods are safer or healthier in terms of clinical outcomes. But who would waste time and valuable research dollars measuring whether or not organic foods have more protein or phosphorus? Researchers who have no understanding of why organics are important.

Studies within the review demonstrate that organics deliver on what is probably the most critical promise: reducing your exposure to potentially toxic pesticide residues. One study in children was perhaps the most compelling: upon removal of conventionally-grown food in the diet, pesticide residues in the urine dropped.

Organic foods have never promised to deliver more vitamin C or calcium; reducing the notion of health to the ingestion of nutrients is nutritionism at its worst. In fact, if just a bit of calcium or iron or vitamin D were all we needed to be healthy, all of those over-processed, fortified foods we eat would be saving our lives. They aren't. 

Choosing organic foods is better for the farmers who grow them and the soils that foods are grown in. Choosing organics allows you to control the amount of pesticides and genetically engineered foods you are exposed to in your food supply. Organic regulations also stipulate that certain ingredients, such as artificial food dyes, and practices such as "preventative" antibiotics may not be used. 

As as our research grows more sophisticated, we may find that organic foods do offer more traditional health benefits as well. In fact, a team of researchers in Spain have been working with tomatoes and find that organic tomatoes have more anti-oxidant polyphenols than conventionally grown tomatoes. Given the amount of attention we pay to the role of anti-oxidants in the diet, this is exciting news to me. 

At the end of the day, I choose organic foods because I believe they are a better choice for my community, the environment and my family's health. Organic foods are not yet economically feasible for all; however, for those of us who can afford to divert a little more money away from goods we don't need into better quality food, I believe that they are a critical investment in a healthier future. 

What are your thoughts on organic food?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Where's Desiree? A not so lazy summer...

Relax...and enjoy the view!

What a year this has been. 

I feel pretty lucky. I have a career that I love because I get to share what I have learned about healthy eating, inspire others to live well and learn so much from those I meet along the way. 

August has been a pretty banner month and so I am taking a week or so off from posting because I have two exciting projects (and a fun foodie trip) coming up...the first, with this fantastic, Canadian company and the second, with this truly super food. Stay tuned...and enjoy those last rays of summer sunshine!

Monday, August 13, 2012

What is a sustainable eating plan?

Patio THAT's sustainable
I live by a truly integrative approach to nutrition. It is not enough for me to search out the best sources of fibre or omega 3s and admonish you to eat them. Whether we are conscious of our food choices or not, we arrive at those choices via complex processes. Similarly, the impact that those food choices have on our body, mind, spirit, culture and environment are equally complex. Sustainability is a word that gets thrown about a great deal - but what does it mean to eat sustainably? 

Many of us choose to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet in the name of sustainability. And there is plenty of data to support this. According to the EWG's Meat Eater's Guide, if everyone in the US went without meat and dairy for just a single day (Meatless Monday, anyone?) it would be akin to taking 7.6 million cars off the road. However, even within a plant-based diet, there are plenty of sustainability concerns.

We must also consider how we process our food, where it is grown and by whom. If a vegan diet contains plenty of exotic super foods such as matcha, acai and goji berries, does that negate its sustainability? Is it more sustainable to purchase fair trade, organic quinoa from Peru or to buy conventionally grown wheat from Saskatchewan? Is it greener to buy 100 mile greenhouse-grown tomatoes in March or field grown from Mexico? If only someone could create a perfect, all-encompassing calculation to help us weigh the options and deliver a tidy little point system to help guide us!

What about seafood? The evidence on the health benefits of omega 3 DHA and EPA from seafood is quite strong but we must contend with whether it is sustainable for us to eat any fish at all. And does contamination with mercury and PCBs, rampant in our polluted oceans, negate the long term benefits?

Another local Vancouver dietitian, Dean Simmons, published a wonderful essay on the topic of sustainability and other ethical issues in nutrition practice in the journal Critical Dietetics. It is free to access the journal (but you must create a login) and the essay is well worth the time to read it. I agree with Dean that as nutrition professionals, we need to consider more than just the latest research when choosing how to form our nutrition philosophy and guiding others on making food choices.

I have to say, I don't think I have all the answers. This is not a prescriptive article. I know which choices make the most sense for me - as they are the choices I make on a daily basis. I feel that eating locally grown, organic food is important. As is eating more plant foods and fewer processed foods. However, I still choose to eat organic dairy and eggs. And I can understand why eating ethically raised, pastured meat makes sense for people. Vegetarian diets, as I learned when I completed my first 100 mile diet challenge last year, are a luxury borne by access to plant proteins - which we don't really grow close to home.

And I can't dismiss the sustainability issue of the family food budget. It is getting more and more expensive to house and transport yourself. I have a difficulty with praising buying local food from the farmer's market to a family that is trying to make ends meet. If you are interested in what it costs to feed a family a basic healthy food basket, read this report on the cost of eating in BC. I do feel that we all have a right to high quality food...but that is a soapbox chat for another day.

Of course, at the end of the day, sustainable food choices also mean that they are food choices you can continue to make for life. Eating nothing but patio kale and locally caught sardines is no way to live. I have seen plenty of instances where someones sincere desire to live healthfully has led to an expensive, restrictive, joyless diet. Food is something that should nourish your senses and your well as your stomach. It is up to you to determine what a sustainable lifestyle will look like in your world - I would love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Happy Food Day, Canada!

You know what makes a food geek want to celebrate? A whole day devoted to food! Today is Food Day Canada, so I thought I would share some of my favourite ways to celebrate food. Pick one to try today or try them all while the sun is still shining this August!

1. Go U-Pick. Nothing will make you appreciate those gorgeous overflowing cartons of berries more than realizing how long it takes you to pick them yourself. Plus, I can't think of a better way to spend a summer morning than out in the sunshine, plucking sweet, juicy berries. Followed by eating said berries.

2. Have an amazing, leisurely meal at a local restaurant celebrating Food Day. One of my favourite neighbourhood haunts, Campagnolo, is taking part.

3. Go to the farmer's market and say thank you to a farmer for all of their hard work. Not from Vancouver? Search for Canadian markets here or US markets here. Then rustle yourself up some gorgeous grub and pick a shady spot for a picnic lunch. 

4. Invite friends over for a potluck. My favourite dinner party is one I didn't have to spend 6 hours preparing for. 

5. Take a cooking class. Here is one sweet and one savoury on my wish list.

6. Go to the beach. Bring along tasty snacks and some foodie reading

7. Try making something you have never cooked or baked before. For inspiration, try this or this or this.

8. Treat yourself to your favourite food. Write a haiku about its pleasures.

9. Have a recipe swap. Ask friends to email you their best family recipes and then you can distribute them all to the group. No chain letters, please!!

10. Tell me what Food Day means to you!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Feast or Famine? Time to get off the diet roller coaster.

This week, someone shared this Bloomberg Business Week article revealing interesting data from a few US chains showing increased salad sales on Mondays. 

Monday - day of perpetual hope and new beginnings! 

Diets always start on Mondays, usually to crash and burn with Friday night drinks after work. In fact, one business owner in the article cites Friday lunch as a boom time for burgers. Or, maybe Monday is the day of repentance, as the article suggests. Many of us have been there: weekends filled with nachos, beers and double-scoop ice cream to be followed by All Bran and skinny lattes come Monday morning. In fact, as dietitians, we always ensure that clients record food habits on both weekends and weekdays as dietary habits are so different during those times. Yet another option is if a new dietary regime is already in the works, we plan to start it on Monday. We can then "take advantage" of the weekend to get all of our favourites "out of our system". 

You know when would be a good time to start a diet? Right now. And let's not call it a diet, so  much as a "new way of eating". The best part? No radical overhauls to how you eat. You don't have to say goodbye to some of your favourite treats. You simply need to figure out how to make them work for you and your bottom line.

If you are planning on making a big change, think about what your goals are and how realistic your plan is for long term success. Dieting is a bore so if you have weight to lose, consider how well your plan can be followed for life. If you can't see yourself on this regime for the rest of your life (or if it doesn't teach you how to adapt the plan for maintenance) you may find yourself selecting another Monday for another new diet in 6 months time. 

If like the fresh start Mondays provide, use that power for permanent change by trying my UnDiet project, with weekly tips to slowly makeover your diet for good. Small changes have a powerful effect over time.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Simple Weeknight Dinner

I am, for all intents and purposes, a "throw-together" kind of cook. I am learning, for my other food blog, how to pre-meditate recipe magic but on most nights, family dinners are the result of throwing some ingredients together and hoping it is tasty. Don't get me wrong - I do plan out my meals weekly so I can shop but I pluck them out of my imagination and not a cookbook. I might buy spinach, eggs, strawberries and walnuts with the intention of making a salad. When it comes to flavourings, it's "a little of this, a little of that". Some nights the results are amazing, other nights, not so much. When it does go right, I usually can't replicate it. 

So, as I was finishing up with dinner the other night, the thought crossed my mind to actually write down the recipe. And now, I can share it with you. 

This recipe takes full advantage of summer produce at its peak and is very simple to prepare. The key here is really to take the time and get the size of the veggies right and to cook everything properly. Given a quick chop and cook you will have a fresh and healthy meal - let the flavours and textures transform with some slow simmering (while you do something else) and you get a bit of magic. The texture of this dish is like a ratatouille so while I envisioned it as a pasta sauce, you could eat it as a side dish or on its own with some nice crusty bread. So, just in case you were wondering what to make for dinner tonight....

Summer Vegetable Ragu
Serves 6 as a side dish or pasta sauce

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 sweet yellow onion, finely diced
1 medium zucchini, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 bell peppers, finely diced
1/4 cup fresh chopped fennel fronds (with stem)
11/2 cup passata (strained) tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
540ml can soft white beans (such as cannellini or navy beans), rinsed well and drained
2 tbsp butter (optional...but tasty)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high. Add onions and sauté until glossy and golden, reducing heat if the onions start to brown. Add zucchini and cook until zucchini gets a nice caramelized crust, about 10 minutes. 

Season with salt and pepper at this point then add garlic and bell peppers,  stirring constantly for about 3 minutes so the garlic doesn't brown. Add the pasta sauce and water and stir. Then add fennel and beans and stir through. 

Simmer on medium low for 5 minutes (when you are in a hurry) or for 45 minutes at a slightly lower temperature to really let flavours blend. Keep turning stove down so that the sauce never boils. To finish, season to taste and add butter (if desired) and stir through for a richer flavour.

Serve with your favourite bread or pasta (I used Tinkyada Brown Rice pasta)

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Few Favourite Summer Things

Wow! It seems like so many posts the last few months have been so serious. Time for a bit of summer fun!

The sun is shining (finally!) and there is plenty to explore. Here are a few favourite things...

Ice cream is one treat I am always in the mood for; this local delicacy is out of this world! You can find it at this little shop and eatery; proof positive that the strathcona neighbourhood is transforming before our very eyes.

When I hit the beach, I like to bring along some picnic worthy grub. When I am craving spice, I get takeout from this Victoria-based noodle shopjust wish they would open up on Main St! I am probably the last person to discover this amazing new addition to the food truck scene. I am looking forward to trying this new tapas bar and this new (vegetarian!) addition to the neighbourhood. 

This is my new favourite summer sipper and if I actually have a moment to pick up a book, I am in the middle of this leadership guide and will dig into this novel next.

Enjoy the sun, summer is fleeting...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

G is for Gluten Part Two

Oh the gluten wheat belly post is now the most popular page on this site. So popular, in fact, that it shows up in the number two spot after the wheat belly blog during a Google search. Point...and counter point. 

Gluten is on everyone's lips in some shape or form, this issue is no longer just a "health food thing". We are awash in a sea of processed gluten-containing foods and not surprisingly, massively suffering its effects. 

( For a brief discussion of what gluten is, check out part one if you haven't already. )

Onto the million dollar question: should you avoid gluten? The answer is simple... 

Maybe. Darn dietitian...always confusing us with the subtleties of truly personalized nutrition!

According to new work from the pioneering team at the University of Maryland, there is now a clear spectrum of wheat and gluten intolerance. Here is a look at who should be avoiding gluten and/or wheat:

1. Those with Celiac Disease. No surprise there. Celiac Disease is not an allergy but an auto-immune disease mediated by gluten exposure. If you suspect that gluten is making you ill, ruling out Celiac Disease immediately (go to your doctor and get a blood test tomorrow! It is that simple.) is critical as this diagnosis will ensure that you get the lifelong medical care you require to avoid complications and get gluten free right. A proper diagnosis will also provide you with strong motivation to stay strictly gluten free for life. If you cannot (or your doctor will not) do a blood test, you can actually screen yourself at home and take the results to your doctor.

2. The gluten sensitive. These are people who have ruled out Celiac Disease but through elimination and challenge have demonstrated that their symptoms are directly attributable to gluten and not just wheat. Symptoms include mental fog, fatigue and abdominal discomfort. It is not clear exactly how this sensitivity is mediated, according to study authors.The diagnostic process should be performed with a health professional's guidance to ensure that no other complicating factors could be missed.

3. The wheat intolerant. This classification is not laid out in the study but I added it because I have a personal interest in it. These are people who do not react to other gluten-containing grains such as rye or barley but do react to wheat. I personally became wheat intolerant after having my son and I have ruled out Celiac Disease and wheat allergy with my physician. Without a doubt, when I eat wheat I have increased bloating, a sick/nauseous feeling in my stomach, reflux (which I have never had before - not even when pregnant!), fatigue and if I eat enough of it...bathroom issues. Let's stop there.

4. The wheat allergic. This is a classic allergic response that has to do with histamine release when wheat is consumed. It is mediated by IgE immune cells and can have a spectrum of symptoms from anaphylaxis to hives.

Now what about the rest of us? 

Let me say this: I stand by my earlier statement that, for those of us who don't react to wheat or gluten, it isn't the wheat but how we process it. It is true that much of the wheat we consume has greater levels of more strongly reactive gluten and that those of us who react can become very sick but here is the catch - gluten is one of those rare proteins that none of us digest properly. So a little or a lot...wouldn't we all be pretty sick if it was really that toxic? We don't digest fibre either...and that contributes to its healthfulness. Now, I am not going to claim that gluten is a healthy bonus but I am just trying to illustrate a point.

We consume highly processed gluten-containing wheat 3 - 6 times a day. What other food do we consume so monotonously? Well, maybe dairy. Certainly not steak or blueberries or almonds. Our bodies were not meant to handle such an over consumption of a single food. Especially one that is usually so nutrient poor. Our bodies are designed to glean optimal nutrition from the greatest variety of foods that nature has to offer. In addition, eating such high-glycemic, low nutrient, un-filling food makes overeating almost a certainty, leading to weight gain. Mainlining wheat flour is a sure path to dis-ease. That is your wheat belly. 

So, for better health and vitality, we all need to explore new grains. And eat them as unprocessed as possible. Try rye crackers and spelt bread. Have buckwheat pasta and barley risottos. Eat wheat berries every once in a while. Toss quinoa in salads. Oh, and every once in a while, have a meal with absolutely no grains. See how it feels. Give your body a break from our wheat carbo-loaded normal.

What do you think about all of this? Does gluten and/or wheat affect you? Start the discussion below.