Recipe: DIY Divine Vanilla Sugar ❄️

Maybe you know the kind of Italian nonna whose recipe doesn’t include the secret ingredient that takes the dish from “bravo” to “bellisimo!” Though we could keep this up our sleeves as well, we wouldn’t do that to you. This DIY vanilla sugar recipe is divine; it ‘blesses’ pretty much any baked good with a delicate, fruit-floral aroma and taste. Beyond making your taste buds sing, some properties of vanilla can help calm and protect your nervous system – which make it perfect for hectic holidays! Just like the DIY 2-ingredient Vanilla Extract recipe, this one is supremely simple. We recommend doing both at once since you’ll get the most out of the vanilla beans.

We might sprinkle this highly-valuable vanilla sugar into our gluten-free cinnamon bun recipe, Banana Nut Bread, or on top of the Anytime Warm Apple Crisp. Use it as a substitute for regular white sugar and your coffee, tea, cookies, brownies, and other holiday baked goods will have everyone asking for your secret ingredient. It’s up to you whether you tell them 😉

Disclosure: some of the links below are affiliate links or discount codes, meaning, at no additional cost to you, if you click through an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may make a commission.

Prep: 5 minutes

Yields: 6 cups

Ingredients

6 vanilla bean pods

6 cups organic granulated sugar

Instructions

Using a knife, carefully slice a vanilla bean pod length-wise. Scrape the inside seeds of the bean into a small glass container. Remember, you can reuse the beans to make vanilla extract so put them aside to save them if that’s your plan. Put the granulated sugar into the blender/food processor/coffee grinder to blend the vanilla bean with it. When the seeds have broken down and dispersed in the mixture, your job is basically done! You can enjoy the sugar immediately or reap the reward of getting the best flavor by waiting for a few weeks.

You can store the sugar in any container you’d like. We use hinged, glass Mason jars to store the sugar, making sure it’s tightly sealed to keep it fresh. These containers also make it easy to gift some divine vanilla sugar to anyone who likes to bake or add sweetness to their coffee or tea.

4 Beverages for Cozy Weather

The weather here in the Midwest likes to engage in a bit of trickery. Last week, it was sunny and in the 70s and this week, well, it feels like winter. It’s time to pull out the hats and coats as well as the ingredients for making some warming, cozy beverages. Here are some recipes to fit the season:

  • Our Dairy-free Hot Chocolate was a staple recipe nearly every evening last winter. Whether we were reading a favorite book or magazine or watching holiday movies and the Great British Baking Show, hot chocolate was by our side.
  • For those who don’t want to have to choose between hot chocolate and coffee, we have a most excellent collaboration between the two: 5-spice Hot Choffee (choffee being a portmanteau of hot chocolate and coffee)
  • Celebrate with some Peppermint Eggnog! The egg-less, vegan version is included too.
  • Make yourself the Perfect Cup of Tea and head over to cuddle up on the couch. Increase your knowledge of teas and check in with yourself about which one you need.
  • Whichever beverage you choose to warm yourself up or celebrate with, enjoy!

    Top 11: One-minute Energy Boosters 🤣

    Unless you have the exuberance of a young child, most of us could use more energy – whether to fulfill our dreams or even just our quotidian responsibilities. The good news: there’s no need to artificially jolt yourself into action with another coffee or energy drink. A few of these natural energy boosters can provide enjoyable, longer-lasting energy for you. Give them a try!

    1. Bouncing or jumping in place and shaking out your hands can be a nice way of shaking off a negative feeling or worries and giving you a bit more energy.

    2. As your shower comes to an end, turn the knob for cool or cold water and let it run over your head, each raised underarm and on your lower back.

    3. Drink a glass of water – this can boost your energy and your detoxification processes.

    4. A minute of laughing can be an excellent mental health and energy booster. Prepare for tears of laughter with this.

    5. For a little pep in the afternoon, place a few drops of peppermint essential oil on a cotton ball and place it in your palms, cupping hands over your face. Close your eyes and breathe deeply.

    6. Sing the chorus of your favorite song, aloud if you can. Today’s pick was the oldie-but-goodie “More than a Feeling” by Boston.

    7. Go outside – stand in the sun (if it’s out) and notice the temperature, breeze, smells, the birds communicating, colors of leaves and whatever else your senses are picking up.

    8. Play with your pet. A laser pointer or dangly toy for your cat or hide-and-seek with your dog. We like to play ‘tag’ with our bunnies then ‘catch’ and provide cuddles.

    9. Squats. One minute of these will get your blood flowing to and from those large muscles (quads). This can be easily done during breaks from desk work.

    10. Have a small snack – perhaps DIY Hippie Granola with yogurt, a banana with nut butter, or a small handful of nuts.

    11. Engage with a friend or loved one who lifts your spirits. Even a quick text during the day can boost both of you.

    Which ones worked for you? Let us know in the comments below.

    3 Tips & The Summer Slowdown 🐌

    Being more of a ‘pitta’ type, according to the ancient science of Ayurveda, our fiery, driven nature has often been amplified by the hot summer season. With the energy of a squirrel possessed, we would run around, overwork, explore and adventure, and constantly be Doing. This year has been different, even strange, in a way. We know something crucial: stacking heat – such as intense exertion in high temperatures – can lead to heat stroke or even burnout. With the latter, we’ve been there before and never want to go back. What to do? Instead of speeding up and pushing the speedometer to 120 mph without rest, we’ve challenged ourselves to exit off the highway of hustle culture and slow down.

    Has it been easy? Heck no. Resisting the urge to avoid our feelings and inner lives by salsa dancing, overwork or keeping endless social commitments has had rather dire consequences for our mental and emotional health (not to mention physical). If you too have been feeling a bit burned and frayed around the edges, join us in putting the brakes on. Here’s how:

    Increase Downtime & Rest

    Most mornings we have an intense exercise class and, though the kinetic energy can continue for hours, we tend to get sleepy in the early afternoon. In past years, we would have dosed up on some sugar, coffee, or chocolate to keep going. Not only that, but the critical voice in our head would have shoved us back into productivity. We’d hear: “You don’t have time – there’s too much to do! Rest later!” Luckily, age has come with wisdom as well as discernment of lies and truth. Now, we give ourselves permission to rest or nap for about 20 minutes. How might want more downtime look and fit into your life? Here are some ideas:

    • Take a break in the middle of the day for ‘tea time’ – even iced tea and a few moments to connect eye-to-eye with your kids, your partner or even your dog
    • Give yourself the gift of an earlier bedtime
    • Transition yourself from work to home life by taking a short walk or a few deep breaths with your eyes closed
    • Create a bedtime routine you enjoy
    • Read a favorite, relaxing book with some hot tea in the evening
    • Give even just 5 minutes of meditation a try, any time of the day, to get re-centered

    Monitor your Mental Health & Bring back Joy

    If recent news about mass shootings, gun and abortion laws have you rattled, maybe don’t add to it with local, constant news about burglaries or random acts of violence. Also, good news may not make the headlines the way fear does but there are many kind & thoughtful people in this world working for positive change. Consider the thought that there is no such thing as the ‘good old days’ because every period in history has had its positive advances and its social ills. We are all here now so let’s do the best we can to improve our environment and foster community & connection while we hurl through the galaxy together on spaceship Earth.

    Do you know what joy is? Where does it live in your life? So many of us are not sure how to answer that question these days. It’s worth exploring and pondering what brings you joy as it adds an element of ‘juice’ to your energy tank. Joy can put a bounce in your step as you run errands and be a buffer against the storms of life. Whether it’s playing soccer, baking, writing calligraphy, dancing, oil painting, playing with pets or children, see how it might be possible to add a little bit of joy-generating activities to your life.

    Inner Healing

    We saved the most challenging, and yet most rewarding, for last. It’s a fact: our past experiences can and do influence who & where we are in the present. While we needn’t spend all our time in what some would call the ‘basements of our minds’, visiting traumas and slights you’ve experienced can help explain how the old beliefs established back in the day are playing out today. Whether that’s numbing out with food or alcohol, acting out in anger or rage, distracting with ‘busy’ activities, or a myriad of other ways, we often have no clue where we picked up these deeply-embedded and unhelpful coping mechanisms. We love the title from Sarah Wilson’s book First, We Make the Beast Beautiful which comes from a Chinese proverb about conquering a beast (e.g. bad habit, anxiety, etc) by deeply engaging with it. The aphorism has been apt during the past month while we’ve been digging back into a self-healing therapy modality whose exercises have brought us into profound inner connection and understanding. Be forewarned: inner work can be mentally and emotionally exhausting & may require the assistance of a therapist.

    Before we all know it, autumn will be here – not just with its pumpkin spice everything, but with harried school preparations and planning for holidays. Take a moment, a few hours, days or a month to slow down in whatever way feels best for you. We promise that ‘productive’ rest (not laziness – here’s a refresher on the difference) and recovery will allow you to speed up once again, this time with a sense of rejuvenation.

    ‘Crap-e’ Diem! 5 Tips for AM Poo

    What partially inspired this topic was an experience we had while in our dietetic internship (for those unfamiliar, to be a registered dietitian-nutritionist one has 4 years of medical training and then a year of paying, not paid, internship). Between our collective stress as a cohort and our lifestyle factors, which included adult beverages and dancing at bars on weekends, it’s no wonder that, while walking with a friend to meet with our program director, she had a grimace on her face. When asked what was wrong, she grouchily responded, “I haven’t had my morning poo”. We were flabbergasted. Though we were far from the Bridgerton-era of delicate sensibilities, no one talked about poo. Ever. She helped to change that, as her simple statement helped illustrate how integral a morning routine, with a healthy bowel movement, could be. Lest you ever find yourself grimacing because you too have not had a good morning poo, we’ve got you, boo.

    Pooping is a common problem in the United States, affecting all ages and populations. About 16% of adults, and 33% of adults 60 and older have symptoms of constipation.

    What are symptoms of constipation?

    < 3 bowel movements per week

    stools that are hard, small and difficult to pass

    a feeling of having incomplete bowel movements

    Who could be at risk for Constipation?

    Pretty much everyone. But more specifically:

    • Pregnant women and those who have recently given birth

    • People who are not getting enough fiber

    • Those taking certain supplements or medications (including iron supplements or diuretics, calcium channel blockers, depression, and pain medication)

    • If you’re stressed you’re probably not going to be pooping very well

    • Those with certain health conditions or gastrointestinal disorders (e.g. IBS)

    Constipation can be a sign of a medical problem so you’re going to want to talk with your doctor or healthcare provider to rule more serious issues out.

    5 Tips for a Good Morning Poo

    Disclosure: some of the links below are affiliate links or discount codes, meaning, at no additional cost to you, if you click through an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may make a commission.

    1. As a general principle, you want to ensure you are drinking enough water. This seems basic and so many people skip over this, but don’t. When the body isn’t properly hydrated, it draws water out of the colon, which results in hard, dry stools.

    2. This goes along with #1; get enough fiber into your diet. Plant foods are a great way to achieve this; however, if you increase your fiber intake without getting enough water, you’re going to have more ‘plumbing’ issues. Adults should get at least 25 grams of fiber per day.

    3. Move your body and get your bowels moving. Whether it’s a light morning jog, walk, or even jumping jacks, this could help move things along your digestive tract.

    4. Hot beverages. The heat from tea, coffee, or hot water and lemon can help stimulate a bowel movement. The high levels of caffeine in coffee are known to stimulate the bowels. A word of caution, you don’t want to have to rely on this.

    5. Squat it out. A toilet stool or Squatty Potty can put your body in a position to make elimination easier.

    Remember, talk with your friendly registered dietitian-nutritionist to investigate the amounts and types of fiber in your diet as well as to plan more fiber-rich meals.

    So try these tips and ‘Crap-e’ Diem everyday!

    He Certainly gets our Vote! 🗳️

    Decision-making has become almost automated, my food routine is more passive, in a good way. I’ve seen myself make better decisions in other parts of my life. For example, I never would’ve considered that nutrition would impact my sleep patterns.


    I best like that your process is curated for each individual. There’s not a cookie-cutter system that you use. Instead, you ask questions about my struggles, and we move forward accordingly.


    I think it would’ve helped if I had all the knowledge throughout the process from the very beginning. But that’s something that was out of both of our hands. The only way to attain that knowledge was through experiments. I’ve created a healthy relationship with food. I can have two donuts on a random day and not feel guilty because my overall lifestyle is extremely healthy now.


    I’ve seen a significant decrease in weight. I’ve noticed increased focus and productivity (something I did not expect from nutrition). In March, I was fatigued and couldn’t focus during my classes. Now my focus has gone through the roof and I can sit through a three hour class with ease. I’ve felt an overall increase in health. My body, in a general sense, just feels great overall!


    Hands down this is the best investment I’ve ever made in myself.”

    – Raj Patel, Columbus, OH

    Foundations of Health Graduate


    Each of us is president of our own lives and Raj has wisely invested in himself. All high-performers – including doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, CEOs – need the support of their colleagues and of experts in health & peak performance. Through our work together, Raj also was able achieve one of his main goals, which was to improve his body composition. In 3 months, he lost 33% of his body fat percentage!

    What is often needed is not more coffee, but better sleep. Oftentimes we don’t need more bottles of supplements, but food we’ve identified as our most health-supportive ones. We don’t need a masochistic, deprivation diet…we need to learn to change our mindset, get curious, and experiment to see what works.

    We are very proud of Raj for his dedication to tracking metrics, willingness to trust the process and try new things, and now, the fantastic results he has achieved. There’s a very good chance that as he emerges from his post-graduate student cohort and maintains his “superhuman” status of being healthy, focused and productive going forward in life.

    We reached out to him to see if there was anything he wanted to add; he did: “Additionally, I’d like to emphasize that this was in fact one of the best investments I myself and anyone, in general, could make – largely because of those indirect benefits.”

    No matter what this year holds for the presidency….you can always cast a vote for yourself, gather a cabinet, and have the support to level-up in 2020.

    Your nutrition expert and coach will assist and guide you on your path to looking and feeling great! Schedule a complimentary 20-minute call to get started.

    Chocolate Maca Smoothie

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    Caffeine and chocolate fiends, unite! This smoothie is the perfect wake-me-up for summer. Here’s the recipe we made today along with ideas for modifications:

    Disclosure: some of the links below are affiliate links or discount codes, meaning, at no additional cost to you, if you click through an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may make a commission.

    Yields: 2-4 servings

    Ingredients

    1/2 banana
    1 pint blackberries (or blueberries)
    3 tbsp cacao nibs
    5 tbsp cacao powder
    3 tbsp shredded coconut
    2 cups swiss chard leaves
    2 cups non-dairy milk (we used hazelnut milk from Elmhurst)
    2 cups water
    1 cup coffee
    1 tsp maca powder
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    1 tsp ashwagandha powder (optional)

    This recipe is meant to be healthy and full of veg! If it’s not sweet enough for you, consider adding your favorite form of sweetness (e.g. more fruit, stevia, dates, etc). Looking for more greens-based smoothies that are lower in sugar? Check out the Green Smoothie Challenge eBook! It has recipes, grocery lists, along with tips and tricks for making smoothies part of your life.

    Instructions
    You know what to do here – load all ingredients into the high-speed blender, cover, and blend to desired consistency. Enjoy!

    Blame it on the Alcohol?

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    Image source: pixabay.com

    Jamie Foxx’s song “Blame it” encourages blaming alcohol for all ruined relationships, unsafe situations, and perceived enhancement of other’s attractiveness. Outside of the many issues and poor decisions can that can result from a night of boozing, including a high credit card bill, higher risk for accidents, and even a 2am Taco Bell run…there are more. During Covid-19, some are hitting the wine and beer harder.

    Let’s review the basics: alcohol interferes with communication between nerve cells and all other cells in the body. Moderation (the amount considered to not contribute to any major health concerns) for the average woman is defined by the CDC as not more than one drink per day and for the average man as not having more than two.

    A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics asserts, “there has been an increase in the proportion of US adults who drink on any given day and an increase in calories consumed from alcoholic beverages when drinking occurs.”

    What effect is this having on us from a weight loss perspective? Or a liver-health one?

    Now we appreciate the humor some of you bring to our appointments:

    “I think I’m drinking enough water. There’s water in beer, right?”

    “I’m not too concerned. It’s called a liver, not a die-er”

    “Wine-o? Maybe; I prefer ‘wine-yes'”

    With alcoholic beverages being among the top five contributors to total caloric intake among US adults, this is something we need to talk about. But beyond calories, here are more reasons to explore your relationship with alcohol:

    Continue reading

    Drop the Sweets!

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    Put down the pieces of candy picked up from your coworker’s desk.

    The Reese’s cups from the vending machine.

    The 3rd cup of coffee for today.

    It may be 3pm and the post-lunch energy lull can cause us to reach for the drugs that pep us up. Yes, drugs. Sugar and caffeine – legal though they way be, beware of how they can be robbing you of your natural energy and more.

    In an exercise during our recent Sugar Busters class, we explored the history of sugar, the estimated consumption, and then what the average ‘healthy’ American’s intake is. The result was rather shocking. After the coffee and hazelnut creamer, granola and Greek fruit yogurt for breakfast as well as a turkey sandwich and side salad with dressing for lunch, the total is 64 grams of added sugar. That’s before stopping by the coworker’s desk for two fun-size Twix bars (they’re really tiny, we know, but you’ll need to add another 16 grams). So now we’re at 80 grams of added sugar for the day and before dinner! In a game of Sugar Monopoly, you’re about to land in blood-sugar-dysregulation ‘jail’, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

    Are you aware of the World Health Organization’s recommendation limiting our added sugar intake to 5% or less of our daily calorie needs? Or to have less than 25 grams of added sugar per day?

    The truth is, for most of us trying to follow a healthy meal pattern, there’s generally a layer of ‘frosting’ on top of our nutritious choices. Whether the client is vegan, following Weight Watchers, or some other diet program, the sugar seems to seep in.

    Added sugar in the diet has been the cause of many of our ills, as a people. Our poor pancreases haven’t been able to keep up with the onslaught of added sugar in the diet since the time the first sugar refinery opened in the United States. The fact that sugar is a negative-nutrient should cause alarm. This is not the food equivalent of Sweden. It is not a ‘neutral’ agent in your body, only supplying a few extra calories. In order to break it down, the body’s reserves of vitamins and minerals are used – in effect, sugar ‘steals’ these nutrients from you! Let this sink in. This important concept should help us realize and treat items with this added sugar with a sense of suspicion, disdain, and then complete eradication. If that seems too strong for you at this point, try to focus on reduction of added sugars in your diet. You’ll still be heading in a better direction and help yourself possibly side-step diabetes and other chronic disease.

    Here’s your mission, should you choose to accept it: track the added sugars in your diet. Use labels to see how much added sugar is in your bread, salad dressing, instant oatmeal, or barbecue sauce. Or use an app such as MyFitnessPal or Cronometer to track it. Then, if you know you need to make some changes, head on over to join the rest of us in the upcoming Sugar Detox Challenge! The journey starts this Sunday, January 26th.

    Change your toxic relationship with added sugars and change your LIFE.

    Top 5 Plant-based Breakfasts

    Guten Morgen! Buongiorno!

    If it’s not already a good morning, we present to you our top five plant-based breakfasts which provide:

    • Fiber to help your digestive system get moving as you start your day
    • Protein – seeds and nuts are great sources of plant-based protein, as is amaranth (technically a seed, though typically considered a whole grain)
    • Fun – these are colorful and customizable, so get your DIY on!
    • Antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals so you’re taking care of your body right out of the gate!
    • Fuel for the morning! Test your coffee and bagel against any one of these options and you’ll see which ones hold you until lunch.

    Without further ado, your new breakfast options!

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    1. Amazing Amaranth Bowl – Move over, porridge! We have a higher-protein option that also provides minerals such as iron, manganese and phosphorus.

    express detox green smoothie

    2. Express Detox Smoothie – Love your liver by providing it with the vitamins and minerals it needs from greens! This recipes takes less than 5 minutes and is one of the most-loved from the Green Smoothie Challenge eBook.

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    3. Sweet Potato & Black Bean Southwestern Skillet – Smoothie. Oatmeal. Rinse & repeat. We know that breakfasts can get a bit repetitive and unimaginative so we’re going to shake it up with this inspired southwestern dish. Make it vegan by not adding an egg on top.

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    4. Great Goji Groatmeal – This easy recipe can be popped into the slow cooker and you can get fancy with goji berries and other accoutrements. Enjoy this warm breakfast on a cold morning!

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    5. Cherry Almond Pancakes – Waking up and enjoying a fresh stack of cherry almond pancakes is both a joyful and nutritious way to start the day. May it be the same for you!

    Remember to try the 7-day Breakfast Experiment to see which breakfasts work best to fuel you for your day!