Healthy Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Pudding in bowls with fruit

This recipe is certainly a family favourite.  I had to fight off little hands in order to take pictures for this post! This is a different kind of chocolate pudding in that it tastes amazing while being loaded with healthy ingredients.  It is also very easy to make, just blend all the ingredients together. We like to mix in some fresh fruit just before eating, but you can also just eat it plain.  If you have any leftover it also freezes well, although I rarely get any into my freezer!

Pudding ingredients

So why is this pudding so healthy? The ingredients are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, good fats and fibre.  How could you go wrong?

Avocados are a great source of healthy fat and fibre.  Read my other articles to learn more about what fats are and the truth about fats and why they are an important part of your diet. They also contain vitamin C, E, K, B6, folate, magnesium and potassium. Don’t shy away from an avocado, they are great for your health.

Cacao powder is considered a ‘super food’ in the media.  It differs from cocoa in that it hasn’t been roasted.  This retains its natural vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content as well as being a good source of protein, chromium, potassium and magnesium. Watch out for cheap cacao powder though.  I once bought a cheap version and it tasted awful.

Cinnamon is a super tasty way to add a bit more healthiness into your pudding.  It can help lower resting blood sugar, it contains lots of antioxidants, has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and it may even improve your memory (I think;)

I know many of my readers are in Australia, so you may not understand the beauty that is maple syrup, but trust me there is no substitute.  You need to get 100% pure Canadian maple syrup, not a sugar knock off.  While maple syrup does still contain glucose and fructose, it is much lower than regular sugar and has a lower glycemic index.  It is also high in antioxidants, riboflavin, zinc, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Oh and did I mention it tastes fantastic!

We have all heard that bananas contain lots of potassium, but did you know they also contain calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron, folate, niacin, riboflavin and B6? Now enough of this explanation as to why this pudding is so healthy, lets make it!

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Ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 tablespoons cacao powder
  • 5 tablespoons real maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Put all the ingredients in your blender.
  2. Blend all the ingredients until smooth.
  3. Enjoy!

I have a Vitamix.  I would suggest using either a Vitamix, Thermomix, or Kitchenaid processor to ensure you get a smooth texture.

Pudding 2

 

 

 

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Here we go again … Flu Season!

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Flu season is coming around again (for those of us in the southern hemisphere that is). If you caught the flu last year, you know that is was a harsh one. And if you got vaccinated you probably got the flu anyway, because the vaccine was a very poor match for the prominent flu types. It was only 5-37% effective depending on the strain. I’m not going to discuss whether or not you should vaccinate for the flu. That’s your choice. But given how ineffective it was last year, I thought you could use a few other tools to help you stay healthy this flu season.

The first place to start is hygiene. Wearing surgical masks and washing hands, decreased flu-like symptoms by 75% in a study group of university students living in residence together. That’s huge! I know we don’t all want to walk around wearing a mask, but you can make sure you wash your hands when you get home and before eating. And if you have to be in contact with someone who has the flu, I think a mask would be worthwhile.

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The next important step is to keep up your immune system should you get exposed to the flu. Make sure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoid sugar as much as you can. Sugar makes your immune cells less effective for hours after, so try to watch the extra treats especially if a friend or family member already has the flu.

You want to make sure your gut bacteria are happy. The good bacteria in your body help to fight off invading pathogens. You can keep them happy by consuming fermented products such as kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh and apple cider vinegar, eating yogurt with active cultures, or taking a probiotic supplement. For more information on gut health, read my article about your microbiome.

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It is important to take care of your mental health if you want to keep yourself physically healthy. Psychological stress is associated with a greater risk of depression, heart disease and infectious diseases. So take time out – exercise, garden, meditate, whatever it is that helps you to relax. And make sure you are getting enough sleep. There is nothing that your body finds more stressful than not getting enough ZZZZZs.  Read here about how you can improve your sleep.

Exercise is important for everyone. Appropriate exercises will be different for each person given their individual level of fitness. To keep your immune system at its best you want at least a brisk 30-minute walk each day. If you are training for an event such as a marathon though, this can also put a strain on your immune system. A happy medium is best.

Hot-Cold showers are an excellent way of improving your immune system, increasing circula­tion and elevating energy levels. After finishing your regular shower routine, do 20 seconds of cold and 1 minute of hot. Alternate 2-3 times, ending with cold. I know how it sounds, but it really works. Try it! Look how happy it is making this baby:

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There are also several herbs and supplements you can take to help you stay healthy. Autumn and spring are particularly stressful on our bodies as the weather can’t decide what its doing. Try Change of Season Soup, which is full of traditional Chinese herbs for boosting your immune system. I sell this through Emily’s Little Tea Company, but don’t have it up on the website yet.  Drink this tea daily, or make it into a delicious soup. You can also take daily vitamin C and zinc to improve your immune system.

If you find you are always getting sick, see your local naturopath. There could be an underlying issue that might be easily fixed with some diet or lifestyle changes. Stay healthy!

Healthy Banana Apple/Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins (that are also dairy-free!)

Muffins

I am so excited to share this recipe! Sugar-free, sweetener-free, dairy-free, nut-free muffins that are really delicious! It has taken many trials (all of which my family has been happy to eat up!), and I finally found the winning recipe.

The big kids get so much sugar especially now that they are in school. With birthday parties, cupcakes at school, Easter disco, chocolates from sporting activities, canteen treats and Easter around the corner, the chocolate and candy seem to be coming in on a never-ending stream! I’m still trying to shelter my littlest from sugar but all he wants is whatever the big two have. He is also dairy intolerant so I was already having to modify recipes. Dairy-free recipes always seem to use some sort of nut milk though which isn’t allowed if I’m going to use the muffins for school lunches. I’ve searched and searched but ‘healthy’ recipes always have some sort of sweetener in them be it maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave or even actual sugar. I knew there had to be a way to make actually healthy banana muffins that tasted fantastic.

In these muffins there is no sugar or other sweeteners (unless you add the optional chocolate chips), no dairy and no nuts. They do contain plenty of fruit, whole grains, healthy fats and even a vegetable! Everyone in the family loves the apple version, but my daughter is a bit of a chocolate fiend, so I make half and half apple and chocolate chip.

I like to make muffins that are on the smaller side to go into lunch boxes for my little people, so this recipe usually makes about 36 muffins. They freeze really well and can be pulled out when you are in a rush. I hope your family enjoys them as much as mine does!

 

Ingredients

Wet:

  • 2/3 cups melted coconut oil
  • 4 eggs, preferably at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup coconut yogurt
  • 3/4 cups apple sauce
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups packed mashed ripe bananas (about 6 bananas)*
  • 1 grated zucchini (about 1.5 cups)

Dry:

  • 1.5 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 4 cups wholegrain spelt flour
  • 1 cup whole rolled oats

Options:^

  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks (I often cut up a Green & Black’s 70% organic dark chocolate bar)
  • 3 medium apples cut into small chunks

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius fan forced (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Grease muffin tray with coconut oil if necessary. I use a silicone tray that does not require it.
  2. Melt the coconut oil in a large bowl if it is solid. Beat in the eggs, coconut yogurt, applesauce and vanilla. Mix until it looks creamy. I find the stand mixer works best for this.
  3. Add the mashed banana and grated zucchini. Set aside.
  4. Mix all the dry ingredients together in another bowl. If you can, get ‘help’ like I did.
  5. Stir the wet and dry ingredients together.
  6. Take half the mixture out and put in the other bowl.
  7. Add chocolate chips to one half and apple pieces to the other and stir until just mixed.
  8. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake muffins for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.

Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack to cool. You might need to run a butter knife along the outer edge of the muffins to loosen them from the pan. Enjoy now or freeze some for later. Oh and remember not to feel guilty about eating them, because they are actually healthy!

Notes

*I find it best to use previously frozen bananas. Freezing them seems to break down the cell walls and makes the muffins moister.

^If you only want to make apple muffins, just double the apple and skip step 6.

How Much Salt do we Need?

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Salt or sodium is a naturally occurring substance that our bodies need to function.  We need it to:

  • Maintain the right balance of fluids in our bodies
  • Transmit nerve impulses
  • Contract and relax our muscles

Our kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in our bodies for optimal health. When your body sodium is low, your kidneys hold on to the sodium. When your body sodium is high, your kidneys excrete the excess in your urine.  But when there is too much sodium the kidneys increase blood pressure to try to excrete more of it. This increase in blood pressure over time can lead to stroke, coronary heart disease and heart failure.

The average Australian intake of salt is about 10g or 4000mg sodium per day. The suggested intake for optimal health is 4g of salt or 1600mg of sodium.  So Australians are consuming a lot more salt than they should be which is setting them up for future (or current) health problems.  The good news is that you lose sodium when you sweat, so when you exercise you may need to consume a bit more than this.  Otherwise, it needs to stay down!

Once your blood pressure has increased due to a high salt intake, it may not go down with reduced intake so it is important to decrease your salt intake before you have high blood pressure to prevent any damage to your body.

You may be surprised at how much sodium is in many commonly consumed foods.  Here are a few examples:

Masterfoods BBq sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 164mg sodium

Masterfoods tomato sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 127mg sodium

100g of beef sausage (about 1 sausage)= 652mg sodium

6 inch meatball sub from Subway = 695mg sodium

1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal = 144mg sodium

Masterfoods beef stroganoff sauce = 529mg sodium per serve

Lean Cuisine Chicken Chickpea Curry w Brown Rice and Quinoa = 763mg sodium

Gatorade 591ml bottle = 250mg sodium

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So, if you have 1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal (but most people probably have a larger serving), a sausage with sauce at Bunnings or your friend’s BBQ and then a Lean Cuisine for dinner, you are at your limit and you can’t have the hot chips, chips and dip, cheese or salted nuts for a snack.  Most of these processed foods are also high in sugar.  Read about what sugar is doing to your body and other reasons why you should watch these foods in my blog article about sugar.

Pre-packaged and processed foods as well as restaurant foods are where most people are getting their salt from in their diet.  Some of them may even look healthy with ‘heart ticks’ or stars on them, but make sure you read the label for yourself before assuming anything in a package is nutritious, because it usually isn’t.

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Even though you may not have high blood pressure now, it is important to implement healthy lifestyle habits before major health issues creep up.  Try to cut down on your intake of processed foods, especially meats, and decrease your take-away and restaurant food.  And for those in Australia, you don’t have to stop at every sausage sizzle you see!  I know they are everywhere, but that doesn’t make them good for you.

Enjoy your salt as a light sprinkle you add yourself and your kidneys will thank you.

 

Having Trouble Sleeping?

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As we are sleeping our bodies have many important jobs to do.  This is the optimum time for growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems.  This is when muscle growth, tissue repair and protein synthesis occur.  Our bodies are healing, as this is the best time for white blood cell and antioxidant functioning.  We also secrete hormones such as growth hormone and melatonin and clear the build up of substances like adenosine.  Sleeping is also the key time for brain development and memory processing.

Although we still don’t know everything our bodies do while we are sleeping, we do know what happens when we don’t get enough sleep.  Lack of sleep can more than double the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.  It can also be a risk factor for weight gain, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.  Sleep difficulties are associated with depression, alcoholism and bipolar disorder.  Sleep deprivation affects judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information and increases the risk of accidents and injury.  When sleep deprived our white blood cell count decreases.  In a study, animals deprived entirely of sleep lost all immune function and died within weeks.  Sleep problems have even been associated to digestive problems such as inflammatory bowel and Crohn’s disease.

So what is enough sleep? One study found that people who sleep six to seven hours each night live the longest.  But this is only if people wake naturally instead of with an alarm clock.  It is generally accepted that you have had enough sleep if you have no periods of tiredness through the day.

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If you suffer from sleep problems the first thing to start with is to look at your sleep hygiene.

  • Keep the TV, computer, tablet, phone, anything with a bright screen out of the bedroom.  Artificial light can shift your circadian rhythm.
  • Sleep in complete darkness.  Even a little light can stop the creation of sleep hormones such as melatonin.
  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea or energy drinks after noon.  Some people can take as long as 18 hours to clear caffeine from their system so should not drink it at all.  Check out my blog article on caffeine for more information about its effects.
  • Try using an alarm clock with sleep stage monitoring.  This monitors what stage of sleep you are in so you are woken during a lighter sleep rather then a deep sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol.  Although this will initially aid going to sleep it gives a worse quality sleep and you can wake in the night.
  • Most sources say a routine is very important.  Counter to this is the theory that you should only go to bed when you are tired.  Try both and see what works best for you.
  • And last but certainly not least, exercise and diet. Regular exercise and a healthy diet will improve your sleep along with most other ailments.  Check out my blog article about exercise to learn more about how much we need.

If you are still having problems with your sleep some supplements may be helpful in the short term, but talk to your naturopath before trying anything.  Happy sleeping!

 

References

Ferrie JE, Shipley MJ, Cappuccio FP, Brunner E, et al. A prospective study of change in sleep duration: associations with mortality in the Whitehall II cohort. Sleep 30 (12): 1659–66.

Harvard Medical School: Healthy Sleep

http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits‐of‐sleep/why‐do‐ we‐sleep

Thase M. Depression and sleep: pathophysiology and treatment. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience 8 (2): 217–226.

Rowland R. “Experts challenge study linking sleep, life span”. CNN.

What’s the deal with fibre?

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Fibre is a carbohydrate that is neither digested nor absorbed in the small intestine. High fibre diets are associated with lower cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer as well as improved cholesterol, irritable bowel disease, uptake of calcium, Mg and iron, and lower body weight. Fibre also helps us to feel full and improves our immune function. It reduces the prevalence and duration of infectious diarrhea and antibiotic use in children. Adequate fibre intake is also needed to prevent constipation.

I often write about the importance of our gut bacteria, or microbiome, and how dysbiosis of these bacteria is associated with many different health problems including weight gain, inflammation and depression. Fibre is what these bacteria need to grow. But different bacteria like to eat different types of fibre so to have a diverse microbiome it is important to eat a variety of high fibre foods. If these good bacteria don’t have enough food in the form of fibre, they may turn to eating the mucous lining of the gut causing chronic inflammation.

Increasing your fibre intake will have an effect on your gut bacteria within a few weeks, but fibre needs to be eaten every day. Bacteria don’t like being starved for even a day. And if you stop eating enough fibre, the gut bacteria will decrease again.

Studies show that gut bacteria decrease over generations of low fibre diets. So if you, your children, and your grandchildren all don’t eat enough fibre, you can actually wipe out entire species of bacteria. This leads to an increased risk for all the diseases associated with gut dysbiosis that I have previously discussed. And even if your great-grandchildren eat a super healthy diet with lots of fibre, they cannot increase the number of bacteria of a species that isn’t there to start with.

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Some fibre foods that are great for specific health promoting bacteria are leeks, asparagus, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, wheat, oats, and soybeans. Other foods that are high in fibre include whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit, vegetables, and dried fruits.

Most people consume about 15g of fibre per day, but this is not enough to promote health. Fibre intake should be at least 25g/day.  This really isn’t hard to do. If you have muesli with almonds, sunflower seeds, sultanas and dried apple for breakfast, an apple for morning tea, a sandwich with 2 slices of wholegrain bread for lunch, a pear for a snack, and include brown rice and some carrots for dinner you will have consumed 26g of fibre.  Too easy!

When looking to increase the fibre in your diet, try to avoid white foods. Have sweet potato instead of white potato, brown rice instead of white (it tastes better anyway) and wholegrain bread instead of white bread. Increase your fibre intake slowly until you are getting at least 25g per day.

Start increasing your fibre intake today! Your gut bacteria will thank you (and so will future generations).

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about fibre here:

10% Human

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I just can’t stop talking about the importance of healthy gut bacteria.  I borrowed the title for this article from a book I have been reading by Alanna Collen.  In it she discusses the importance of gut bacteria, also known as your microbiome.  The title refers to the percentage of our bodies that are actually human cells.  Of all the cells we walk around with each day, only 10% by number are actually our skin, blood, organs, tissues, etc.  The rest are mostly bacteria with some fungi and viruses. Slowly science is realizing just how important all these bugs in and on our bodies really are.  In order for us to evolve, we have had to hire out some of our essential functions.  These bacteria help break down plant fibers, fight off bad bacteria, create vitamin B12 and K and shape the intestinal wall just to name a few.  And in return we give them a nice place to live with lots of food.  But what happens when this symbiotic relationship gets disrupted?

Most people think their gut is only for digesting food, but in fact the digestive tract is the central area for the nervous, hormonal and immune systems.   This means that an imbalance in this area can have far reaching, and seemingly unrelated, effects throughout the body.

Improper or lacking gut bacteria (dysbiosis) are associated with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and food intolerances.  Any of these problems can cause debilitating symptoms.  Several autoimmune diseases are also associated with dysbiosis.  These include rheumatoid arthritis, MS, Type I diabetes and lupus.  Dollarphotoclub_64564172.jpg

Our digestive tract and our little bacterial friends play a role in regulating our mood.  One of the functions of gut bacteria is to make neurotransmitters such as GABA.  GABA is the calming chemical in the brain that decreases anxiety and helps relieve anxious depression.  Therefore a lack of gut bacteria can lead to anxiety and depression.  Gut bacteria are also involved in other mental health disorders.  A recent study found that supplementing a baby with probiotics (supplement form of good gut bacteria) decreased the incidence of ADHD when these children became teenagers.

Dysbiosis is also associated with autism, allergies, eczema, asthma, some cancers and obesity. And these are just the health problems we know of so far.  Research is only just beginning to understand the importance of the bugs that live in our digestive tract.  Scientists keep looking for a genetic cause for diseases because we have the technology to change some genes, at least for the coming generation.  But most of these disorders didn’t exist 100 years ago.  Human genetics have not changed that fast.  So that means something must have changed in our environment and lifestyles.

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How to Keep Your Microbiome Happy

There are some things that disrupt our microbiome that we don’t have much control over. Caesarean sections save baby’s lives but this means that they don’t get exposed to mother’s bacteria in the vaginal canal at birth. Formula has also saved lives but formula does not expose the baby to mom’s healthy bacteria. When antibiotics are used correctly they save many lives but these can wipe out a lifetime of healthy gut bacteria leaving a very upset micro biome.  But there are many things you can do yourself to keep your little bacteria friends happy.

Eat fibre. Avoid sugar. Eat lots of fruit and veggies (with the skin on), legumes and whole grains such as brown rice and wholemeal bread. This provides great food for your microbiome as well as making sure everything keeps moving. Gut bacteria thrive on a variety of fibre so try not to eat the same things every day.  Bacteria don’t like it when stool sticks around too long so make sure you eat fibre every day. Sugar only helps to feed the bad bacteria so try to limit your intake.  Read here for more information on the effects of sugar on your body.

Don’t eat preservatives. Preservatives are designed to kill and stop the growth of bacteria, and that is just what they keep on doing inside your body. These pesky chemicals have only been in our diet for less than a century and they are wreaking havoc on our gut bacteria. Avoid products with preservatives listed. ‘Flavouring’ and ‘colouring’ are full of preservatives, which might not be listed separately on the label so avoid any products with these.   Product labels only have to show ingredients that are higher than 10 parts per million, but many preservatives are very effective at even this low level. Keep in mind that food manufacturers are out to make money so they may lie on their labels (even if it is illegal). So if there is a product that doesn’t go off within a few days, don’t eat it!

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Buy organic from the dirty list. Pesticides are also designed to kill. Organophosphates have been banned in Europe and restricted in the US but are still widely used in Australia. These pesticides are linked to reduced IQ, weight gain, Type II diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Children under 7 years old do not have the enzyme required to excrete these chemicals from their little bodies so it just builds. The ‘dirty’ foods with the highest pesticide residues in Australia are, in order, apples, wheat, strawberries, pears, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, and tomatoes. To save money, buy these foods organic and buy foods from the ‘clean’ list conventional. The ‘clean’ foods are onions, sweet corn, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, eggplant, kiwi and cabbage.  Here is a  link to the full American list for 2016.  This list is updated every year.

If you are worried about the state of your gut bacteria or already have symptoms of an imbalance, taking a probiotic supplement may help, but you should seek advice from your local naturopath to make sure you get a good quality one.

The bacteria in your gut are very important to your health and longevity. Be nice to them and they will be nice to you.

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about the importance of gut bacteria: