My name is Lisa Tsakos, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, corporate speaker and author. This blog provides professional advice from a nutrition and weight loss expert (me!) about corporate and family health. Here you'll find recipes and articles that address work-related challenges like eating on-the-go and maximizing your productivity with the right foods. You'll also find out about how you can help your children develop strong immune systems and healthy bodies. As a nutrition instructor, I often found myself thinking, "When I have kids, this is how I will feed them." With two toddlers, I have the opportunity to practice what I have been preaching and to try out my theories. So far, they seem to be working! Follow me on my journey and also on Twitter @NuVitalityHW.

28 Feb 2014

Kale chips with turmeric recipe

You won't find a healthier food than kale, and you definitely won't find a healthier snack than kale chips! 
What you will find, however, is that this recipe is surprisingly quick and easy to prepare (followed by the startling realization that you've been paying $7.99 for a package of kale chips that you can make for a fraction of the cost).

In my seminars lately, I've been talking a lot about the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric. Ayurvedic practitioners have been recommending turmeric as a treatment for arthritis and other forms of inflammation for centuries, but Western medicine is only now appreciating it's benefits. Research indicates that the spice is even more effective than the commonly prescribed arthritis drugs - but without any of the nasty side effects!

This recipe combines the anti-inflammatory powers of turmeric and coconut oil. Nutritional yeast is a rich source of B vitamins (which can help reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol is sometimes the culprit behind inflammation.). You can find nutritional yeast at your local health food or bulk food store. It has a mild cheesy flavour and is sometimes used as a substitute for parmesan cheese. 

1 bunch kale, torn into pieces, stems removed
1 tbsp. coconut oil (melted)
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. nutritional yeast (optional)
¼ tsp. salt or Himalayan Salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°C.
2. Cut the stems off the kale and tear the leaves into potato-chip sized pieces. Place them in a large bowl.
3. Melt the coconut oil and drizzle over the kale. Use your hands to toss the kale, coating the leaves.
4. Sprinkle turmeric over kale and mix well.
5. Place a sheet of parchment paper onto a cookie sheet.
6. Spread the kale on the cookie sheet, spreading the leaves out evenly to avoid overlap.
7. Bake for exactly 10 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven and sprinkle nutritional yeast and salt over the kale chips.

I must warn you: these kale chips are addictive! Don't be surprised if you eat them all in one sitting... and if you do, don't worry about it - you just ate an entire head of kale! Not such a bad thing, right?  

25 Feb 2014

Think you don't like Brussels sprouts? Try this recipe

Whenever I mention Brussels sprouts during a seminar, I hear a collective rumble throughout the room. Nobody actually likes eating those mini green cabbages, right? 

Long ago, I was a groaner, too. But after learning about the enormous health benefits of Brussels sprouts, I just couldn't avoid them any longer, so I went on a mission to find a way to eat - and perhaps even enjoy them. 

Here's what the American Institute for Cancer Research has to say about them: 
Brussels sprouts are cruciferous vegetables - cousins to broccoli, cauliflower and Bok choy, turnips, chard and watercress. Studies link greater consumption of cruciferous vegetables with decreased incidence of several types of cancer. That's because they are a source of isothiocyanates, a class of phytochemicals that help our bodies detoxify undesirable compounds, possibly stopping cancer before it starts.
I definitely married the right man. He supports me in every way. In fact, it was Jason who discovered the ultimate Brussels sprouts recipe. Now, I know what you're thinking - this is a TALL order. Well, Jason is a tall guy and he delivered.

These Brussels sprouts are SO good, you'll eat them like candy (I promise!). The maple syrup drizzles into every nook and cranny, plus, they're caramelized which brings out their natural sweetness. At our house, they barely make it to the dinner table. We start popping them into our mouths the minute they come out of the oven.

We put the recipe to the test at a dinner party a while ago. Most of our guests had never tasted Brussels sprouts, and everyone asked for the recipe afterwards!

I hope your curiosity has been piqued. Here is the recipe: 

1 pound of raw Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 cup pecans (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400°C. 
2. In a medium-sized bowl, toss Brussels sprouts with oil, vinegar and maple syrup. 
3. Spread Brussels sprouts onto a baking dish and sprinkle the pecans overtop. 
4. Bake for 15 minutes and give them a stir. Bake for another 15-20 minutes until the Brussels sprouts are golden brown. 
5. Allow them to cool slightly before eating (to avoid burning your tongue as you uncontrollably toss them into your mouth). 

I know you'll enjoy them as much as we do!

24 Feb 2014

Nutrition for a Healthy Heart


February is Heart Month, a time for each of us to consider whether or not we're doing enough to protect our circulatory system, regardless of age, and an opportunity to review the symptoms, risk factors, and preventative approaches to heart disease. 

It's scary to think about, but heart disease is the number one killer in North America accounting for 43% of all deaths. Sadly, 50% die from the first heart attack - and most are not aware of their condition until a heart attack occurs.

There is strong evidence that we can reduce our risk of heart disease by taking a preventative approach, but what does that mean? 

First of all, we must do our very best to avoid the major risk factors within our realm of control:
·                       obesity
·                       poor diet
·                       lack of exercise
·                       excessive stress
·                       smoking. 

Diabetes and hypertension pose an indirect risk but can be controlled with careful monitoring. In fact, heredity is the only factor over which we have limited influence. 

Body fat is one of the most ‘weighty’ risk factors. A study of almost 6,000 middle-aged adults found that having a body fat percentage over 30% significantly increased the incidence of heart failure in both men and women. Body fat can be reduced with a healthy diet and increased physical activity. If you aren’t sure what your body fat percentage is, ask a nutritionist, a personal trainer at your gym, or pick up a Tanita scale from a fitness supply store so that you can monitor it at home.  

There are several indicators that can help assess our risk of having a cardiovascular event. Here are the most important bio-markers of heart disease:

Cholesterol – The impact of cholesterol on heart disease is much smaller than previously thought. Nonetheless, it remains a risk factor. When arteries are damaged or inflamed, cholesterol builds up in them reducing blood flow to the heart. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) helps to remove arterial plaque. Raise HDL with regular exercise & daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids. The old adage “an apple a day…” is not that far off. Soluble fibers such as those found in apples, oatmeal, ground flaxseed and almonds can significantly reduce cholesterol by removing it from the digestive system.

C-Reactive Protein – CRP is an indicator of chronic inflammation somewhere in the body - not necessarily in the arteries; however, inflammation anywhere in the body indicates there is inflammation elsewhere, and CRP is strongly predictive of future heart disease. Omega-3 fats (EPA/DHA) from cold-water fatty fish, as well as turmeric, ginger, garlic, raw nuts and berries help to reduce inflammation. 

Triglycerides – A high triglyceride level is a strong predictor of heart disease. In this case, the culprit is a diet high in carbohydrates! Sugar, white bread, cookies, pasta - if your triglyceride levels are elevated, these foods have got to go. 

Lipoprotein (a) – Lp(a), a relative of Low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the "bad" cholesterol) encourages the deposit of plaque in the arteries by enhancing the oxidation of LDL. Antioxidants block the effects of oxidation, so include antioxidant-rich foods in your diet such as brightly coloured fruits and vegetables (think superfoods like blueberries) and even dark chocolate daily.

Fibrinogen – High fibrinogen levels promote clotting in the arteries that impairs blood flow and raises blood pressure. Improve circulation and blood flow by diligently sipping water throughout the day and eating fish (not fried!) and garlic often. Other blood thinners include aspirin, red wine, green tea, ginkgo biloba, olive oil, vitamin E, vitamin A and beta-carotene. The enzyme nattokinase, which is found in the fermented soybean dish natto, is an effective blood thinner and may help to dissolve existing blood clots.

Homocysteine – Homocysteine is an amino acid by-product of protein breakdown. There is a direct positive correlation between high homocysteine levels and the risk of heart attack and stroke. Fortunately, it is one of the easiest risk factors to control. Homocysteine can be reduced by increasing your intake of the B vitamins folic acid (400 mcg daily), vitamins B6 and B12. Taking a multivitamin that includes these vitamins or taking a separate B complex supplement should do the trick. 

Arterial stiffness – As we age, we lose collagen - and not just in our skin. Collagen is lost in the arteries too, reducing elasticity in the arterial wall. This can raise blood pressure. A poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking promote collagen loss. Vitamin C, protein, and the mineral silica encourage collagen production. 

Studies consistently show the benefits of exercise for those at risk of a heart attack. The type of exercise does not matter - walking is as effective as vigorous exercise - but duration is important. The longer the better. Your risk can be decreased by at least 53% with activity three times per week or more.

The highest frequency of heart attacks occurs at 9 a.m. on Monday morning. That telling statistic is more than enough evidence that stress plays an important role in the health of your heart and arteries. While science continues its attempts to explain why, meditation, deep breathing, and yoga are a tremendous help.

If smoking is your vice, your doctor can suggest a number of new techniques for quitting successfully. Sometimes improving diet and introducing regular exercise first prepares your body and mind for quitting. 

Don’t be another unnecessary victim. Begin protecting your heart today.

Healthy Snacks for Kids

Snacking at Home:
  • Fresh fruit - any
  • Hummus with raw/steamed baby carrots, cucumber round, other sliced veggies 
  • Slices of pear or apple topped with SunButter*, almond butter or other nut butter
  • Organic Plain or Vanilla yogurt - plain or topped with berries
  • Organic Greek yogurt - plain or topped with berries
  • Cubed goat mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, cucumber rounds
  • Gluten-free crackers dipped in hummus, SunButter or nut butter  
  • Lightly steamed baby carrots

  • ShaSha Co. Ginger Snaps - Spelt
  • Annie’s Gluten-Free Cocoa & Vanilla Bunny Cookies
  • Enjoy Life Snickerdoodles (Gluten-Free)
  • Homemade Banana-Coconut-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies 
  • Kinnikinnick Chocolate KinniKritter Animal Cookies (gluten-free)
  • PC Organics Animal Cookies for Toddlers (not gluten-free)

Individually Packaged Snacks:
  •  Happy Squeeze Twist or other strained organic fruit & veggie squeeze pouch
  •  Nature’s Path Envirokidz bars (gluten-free) 
  •  ShaSha Buckwheat Snacks (higher in protein than most other snacks)
  •  Barbara’s Snackimals (cookies packaged for on-the-go)
  •  Organic Applesauce (don't forget the spoon!)
  •  PC Organics Fruit Snacks (Strawberry Mango, Blueberry Pomegranate)
  •  PC Organics Orange Mango Sweet Potato Fruit and Vegetable Snack 
  •  Jennie’s Coconut Macaroons

  • Mary's Gone Crackers, Organic Gluten-Free 
  • Nabisco Rice Thins, Unflavoured (gluten-free)
  • Lentil chips (boxed but also available in snack sized packs)

Salty Snacks:
  • Beanitos Original (The Original Bean Snacks)
  • Snap Pea Crisps
  • Chia Crisps (Lesser Evil brand)
  • Neal Brothers Foods Extremely Tasty Tortillas (100% organic nacho chips)
  • Popcorn – Organic from PC Organics or Nativa (Shoppers DM)

Juice Boxes:
  • Kiju Organic Orange-Mango
  • PC Organics Apple or White Grape Juice and water blend

  • YumEarth Organic Pops 
  • YumEarth Organic Fruit Snacks, Gummy Bears or Sour Beans
  • Smarties (no artificial colours or flavours)

Prepared by Lisa Tsakos, RHN, LisaTsakos.Blogspot.com

10 Feb 2014

Banana-Coconut-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Who doesn't love a good chocolate chip cookie? And when a cookie is jam-packed with superfoods (like dark chocolate, flaxseed and goji berries), doesn't it taste even better? 

The best part is, my kids LOVE these cookies and we make (and bake) them together almost weekly (they don't last very long!). It's a fun family activity for us and in my opinion, it's never too soon to learn about cooking and baking. I gush with pride when little Ben (only 1 year old) mixes the dry ingredients without spilling a crumb or when 3-year old Olivia fills the measuring cup right to the half-cup marker. Their favourite part, of course, is adding the dark chocolate. Somehow, their faces always end up covered in chocolate (1 for the mix, 2 for me). 

Benjamin caught red-handed!

The first time I made this recipe, I used 1 cup of organic white flour*, but since then I've gradually replaced all of the white flour with coconut flour and have recently added tiger nut flour (which is nutritionally similar to almonds). Even without any white flour, the cookies are deliciously chewy and rich thanks to 3 coconut sources: coconut flour, coconut oil, and shredded unsweetened coconut (my favourite part). If you don't have one (or all) of these at home, you can substitute butter or Earth Balance for the coconut oil, white or spelt flour for coconut flour, and leave out the shredded coconut. You can always add in other 'extras' such as walnuts or pecans, and replace the goji berries with another type of dried fruit (dried cranberries are fantastic!). 

*Why use organic flour? Read the surprising facts about the scary ingredients used in bread making.

Here is the recipe:
Dry ingredients:
½ cup organic white flour
½ cup of coconut flour (or ¼ cup coconut flour, ¼ cup tiger nut flour)
¼ cup rolled oats (not instant)
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. ground flaxseed (optional)

Wet ingredients:
½ cup brown sugar
2 ripe bananas, ripe
½ cup coconut oil or butter, softened
1 egg
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

½ cup dark chocolate chips (I chop up an extra-dark chocolate bar and mix in some raw cacao nibs)
¼ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
¼ cup dried goji berries (or dried cranberries)

1. Preheat oven to 350°C.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl, mix all the dry ingredients.
3. Blend the bananas with the sugar until well mixed. Add the remaining wet ingredients and mix well.
4. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and stir.
5. Add the chocolate, goji berries and any other extras. Stir until mixed.
6. Drop 1-tablespoon mounds of cookie dough onto the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes until bottom of cookies are golden.