Spiced Pumpkin Granola Bars

It's that time of year again. Pumpkin-lovers, rejoice! Fall is just around the corner and pumpkin-flavored everything is here to usher in the season. Pumpkin beer, soup, bread, pie. You can try to fight it, pretend summer isn't over, but really, why not just embrace the spiced, delicious goodness and all that it stands for? After all, fall ain't so bad. Think boots, crunchy piles of leaves and cozy sweaters. Plus who needs all that humidity anyway? Not me! 
Just the smell of these bars baking in the oven triggers about a million memories: back-to-school shopping, memorizing a new school schedule, calling up friends to figure out who else has fourth period with Mrs. So-and-So and the glorious first week of class when all we did was goof off while teachers tried their best to hold our attention as they went over their syllabus. New beginnings and so much eager anticipation have always always been wrapped up in this time of year and these smells.

All this nostalgia is just part of what makes me love these granola bars, though. They're also just straight up delicious and healthy to boot. Between the nuts, seeds, oat bran, flaxseed meal and oats, these bars are packed with protein and fiber that will keep your tummy full and curb sugar cravings. The pumpkin and honey add a touch of sweetness that will satisfy your sweet tooth AND they have heart- and brain-healthy omega-3s. I like to make a batch Sundays and them keep them in the fridge for a grab-n-go breakfast or snack to take to work.


Coconut Curry Chicken Salad Wrap


Creamy chicken salad jazzed up with curry powder, carrots, a splash of lime juice, toasted coconut flakes and cashews. If you’re in the mood to try something new without totally venturing out of your food comfort zone, then this is for you! No need to go to a specialty food store for exotic ingredients. Your regular grocer should have everything you'll need. I’m also loving that this is one of those meals that you can prep ahead of time and keep in the fridge for fast lunches and dinners.

This recipe happens to be another that’s inspired by one of my favorite lunch spots in Frankfurt called Kleine Anna. Their unique sandwich combinations leave me thinking about my order lonnnng after I leave their doors. My first attempt at bringing their delicious ideas home had me whipping up these roasted eggplant sandwiches with goat cheese and caramelized onions. I thought it was time to take a swing at my other regular order: a sandwich topped with a creamy curry-carrot spread, sliced turkey and arugula.

To make the meal a little healthier, I cut the carbs and decided to go with a wrap instead of bread, but you can also just eat it on top of a bed of greens with a little lime juice, olive oil and s&p.  I also added chicken breast for lots of low-fat protein that will keep me full. Instead of relying on full-fat cream cheese for flavor, I used non-fat Greek yogurt and added in healthier fats with the coconut and cashews. The result is an absolutely delicious, hearty chicken salad you can feel good about eating! 

So what are you doing for your body with this tasty meal?
  • Keeping yourself full and energized while fighting sugar cravings: All the protein from the chicken and nuts plus the fiber from the carrots and celery slow digestion and keep blood sugar levels from spiking. This means you won't be hungry again for a while and won't have to fight annoying sugar crashes or cravings.
  • Improving blood pressure + lowering stress levels: Celery contains the phytochemical called phthalide, which has shown in clinical traisl to relax muscle tissue in artery walls and thereby increase blood flow. 
  • Stimulating your immune system : Carrots are a great source of alpha- and beta-carotene that the body converts to vitamin A.
  • Helping your vision/eye health: Carrots contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids, that help protect your eyes from macular degeneration and cataracts. The vitamin A from the alpha- and beta-carotene also boost your body's production of rhodopsin, which you need to see in dim light.
  • Preventing cancer: High carotenoid intake (the stuff that gives carrots its bright pigment) is associated with a decrease of up to 50% in bladder, cervical, prostate, colon and esophageal cancer. The carotenoids acts as strong antioxidants that protect cells from the damage done to DNA by aging and free radials. Read more here
  • Alleviating inflammation and arthritis: Curry powder is a mix of different spices and one of them is tumeric. In the spice world, tumeric is an allstar with strong antioxidant power. It's actually part of the ginger family and its ability to reduce inflammation is attributed to curcuminoids (the compounds that give tumeric that fantastic yellow color that stains everything). One curcuminoid in particular, curcumin, has been the focus of most anti-inflammatory research. Tumeric also improves cholestrol and its anti-tumor properties are showing promising results in animal studies. I'll stop here, but the list goes on. Read more from one of my favorite M.D.s Dr. Andrew Weil here.
  • Boosting heart health: Cashews get a bad reputation because of their carb content, but they actually contain a high-level of heart hearthy monosaturated fat that is shown to be associated with lower levels of heart disease. Not to mention the nuts are filled with important minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium, and selenium.


Citrus Berry Breakfast Crêpes

During the week, I stick to the same thing for breakfast pretty much every day, some kind of green smoothie. I pour it in my thermos and I'm out the door. But on weekends, it is a different story. I like to keep my pjs on as long as possible, have a relaxing breakfast and indulge my sweet tooth a little. These fit the bill and don't take much time to whip up either. Maybe best of all, you can easily scale the recipe up or down to even just one person.
I call these crepes, but a better description is probably sweet, paper-thin omelets. The pancake part is just made of egg, milk, vanilla extract and honey  no flour, or gluten for that matter. I fill them with quark or Greek yogurt pepped up with a little lemon and sprinkle in some fresh berries or fruit for natural sweetness. Between the egg pancake and quark filling, these little guys have a fair amount of protein and the berries are filled with lots of antioxidants that help fight cell aging. Blueberries specifically also help improve memory. This is thanks to a compound called polyphenol in the berries that helps neurons talk to each other and promotes the growth of new neurons.


Mediterranean Pasta Salad

Where I come from in North Carolina, this is the time of year when your yard starts to look like the jungle in Jurassic Park. By the time you finish mowing the lawn, the grass is already back up past your ankles, and every plant in the garden is supersized thanks to the blazing days and almost daily afternoon thunderstorms. I am not exactly short, but it's safe to say there are tomato plants in my mom's veggie patch right now that are taller than me. In the humid heat of July, everyone and their mother starts to wonder if they planted too many "tamaters." The kitchen counter is covered with them and you have to think fast or toss all that precious goodness into the compost pile. Canned homemade spaghetti sauce is always a go-to option, but this salad is a great way to enjoy them while they are still fresh.

Juicy cherry tomatoes, salty feta, spicy baby arugula and savory sun-dried tomatoes with a few handfuls of pasta. This summer salad is quickly becoming a favorite at our house, because its fresh, filling and fast! Unlike most pasta salads that are heavy on the pasta, mayo and Miracle Whip, this one is packed with veggies that won't leave you feeling bloated or sluggish. It's a great option for those who want to go easy on the carbs without cutting them out all together. I like to think of it as happy middle ground that can please the pasta-lovers and the carb- or gluten-conscious alike.

To make this a gluten-free meal, just use a gluten-free penne. The Food Babe has a list of the healthiest gluten-free pasta options here. If you are feeling adventurous, replace the pasta with two spiralized zucchini. It makes for a totally different texture, but is still delicious! If arugula seems a bit too spicy for you, just reach for baby spinach instead. Make sure to wait until you are ready to eat before dressing the salad with lemon juice, since spinach does not seem to hold up as well against the acid.

Besides having fewer calories than your traditional pasta salads, this dish has a few other exciting things to offer:
  • Arugula: Eating this leafy green is great way to strengthen your bones. One cup contains almost half your daily recommend value of vitamin K and it has just as much calcium as spinach. You can also absorb this calcium better than in spinach thanks to lower levels of oxalates, a substance which inhibits calcium absorption. Few people realize that arugula is also a cruciferous vegetable right alongside broccoli, cauliflower, kale and your other nutritional powerhouses. Just like all of them, arugula contains glucosinolates that mix with the enzyme myrosinase to produce isothiocyanates. This compound neutralize carcinogens in the body and has anticancer properties. Oh yeah, 1 cup = 5 calories. Unreal.
  • Tomatoes: Vine-ripened tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin A and B complex vitamins (boosts immune system, cell repair and metabolism). They contain the carotenoid lutein, which supports healthy vision and may help against macular generation. They contain three antioxidants, zero-carotene, phytoene and phytofluene, that help fight disease and prevent cell aging. The phenolic acid in tomatoes also helps fight lung cancer. When cooked (like in speghetti sauce :), tomoatoes are a rich soure of cancer-fighting lycopene.
  • Red pepper: In terms of nutritional value, red peppers have a lot in common with tomatoes. They are also low in calories, a good source of vitamin A and C, and contain the cancer-fighting compound lycopene. They also contain the carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin, which is believed to lower risk of developing lung cancer. Try to buy organic bell peppers when you can though, because this vegetable is considered one of the most pesticide-contaminated foods.


Caprese Tuna Salad

I've been trying to keep food simple lately. Work has been a little hectic lately. The kind of days where your to-do list runs off onto two pages. This has left me with little energy and time for cooking. That is why this recipe does not involve any pots, pans or heat. Just grab a bowl and a cutting board and dinner will be ready in 10. In fact, you don't even really need to measure things. Go ahead and eyeball it! Salad is salald.

This recipe just sings summer to me. Juicy ripe tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, aromatic basil and crisp cucumbers with a little baby spinach, tuna and balsamic vinegar. How can something so easy be so gooodd?? And actually good for you?

Tuna: Ridiculously high in protein and low in calories. One can has up to 42 grams of the stuff that helps you build and maintain your muscles, all for about 200 calories. A single can of water-packed tuna also contains around 200 percent of your daily recommended value for selenium. While you don't hear much about it, the trace mineral has antioxidant properties, prevents cell damage and protects against cancer.

Spinach: Aside from kale, this is probably one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can find! It is anti-inflammartory thanks to the compound quercetin. This may not sound like much, but inflammation is the cause of virtually all major diseases from heart disease and cancer to arthritis. It also packed with flavonoids that give spinach its antioxidants and anticancer properties. It contains carotenoids that protect against macular degeneration and promote eye health. It's one of the best sources of Vitamin K (strong bones), which activates a compound called osteocalcin that helps your bones hold onto calcium! It loaded with calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, C and D, folic acid and iron. I could say more, but I'll leave the list at that for now.

Tomatoes: Vegetable or fruit? Whatever you want to call them, they are a rich source of the carotenoid lycopene, which protects against cancer. Most notably, it has shown to protect against prostate cancer, but research also suggests it may protect against lung, stomach, pancreatic, colorectal, esophageal, oral, breast and cervical cancers.

Cucumber: Super hydrating which is just what you need when it's hot! They are very low in calories too and a surprisingly good source of vitamin K (strong bones).


Peaches & Chia Seeds

Sometimes simplicity is best. Sun-ripened fruit and berries, oats, milk and chia seeds. Nothing ground breaking, but it's just so delicious I had to share it! 

With the weather starting to warm up, the price of fruit and berries is starting to come down and I'm all about gettin' in when the gettin' is good. For the absolute best deals, I hit up the farmers market right before they close to scoop up all the goods they are looking to get off their hands. Today, I shelled out 7 euro and marched home feeling rich as could be with my bag full of raspberries, peaches, mangos and cherries. Bonus: Not only do fruits and veggies that are in season taste better, they are more nutritious for you! Cheaper, tastier and more nutritional bang? What are you waiting for, go treat yourself to some!

I know peaches 'n chia seeds is not quite as catchy as peaches 'n cream, but I promise it's pretty gosh-darn delicious and will keep you full for considerably longer. I went on a bit about the wonders of chia seeds in a post on chia seed pudding a while back. If you have not tried this superfood yet, do it now, now, now! I am so in love with them that I just ordered my second 2 lb. bag of them online. They are the perfect fast, filling snack. For a quick recap of their nutritional stats, they are a good source of protein and calcium and full of brain- and heart-healthy omega-3s and blood sugar-regulating fiber

But what I really want to talk about here is fruit! Pretty much all berries are full of antioxidants that help fight cell aging and damage from free radicals. To give you a better picture of what that means, just imagine what happens to a slice of apple that's left out. That browning is due to oxidation and the same thing happens to cells in our body! Yikes! Blueberries happen to have the highest oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) value of any food in the world. But this breakfast has more to offer than that:

Blueberries: Everyone talk about salmon being brain food, but blueberries are perhaps even more impressive in this department. They are memory food! They contain a compound called polyphenol that helps your neurons talk to each other and even promote the growth of new neurons! They also help fight inflammation, which is involved in pretty much every major illness from alzheimer's and heart disease to arthritis and diabetes. Extracts of the phytochemicals in blueberries are also shown to significantly decrease growth of cervical and breast cancer.

Strawberries: Much like blueberries, strawberries are full of phytochemicals like phenols and anthocyanins that help inhibit cancer. Strawberries are also specifically shown to significantly inhibit growth of liver cancer cells. Extracts from strawberries may also help improve short-term memory!

Peaches: While nothing steels the show in terms of health benefits like berries, this stone fruit is not too shabby either. They are a good source of fiber, have a low glycemic load (won't spike blood sugar), contain carotenoids that promote eye health and prevent macular degeneration and contains calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin A, C and K. All this at less than 40 calories a fruit!