Nut-Free Pesto

It can easily be made vegan as well!

I absolutely love pesto. However, as someone with nut allergies, 9 times out of 10, I’m not able to eat it. Most restaurants & grocery brands make their pesto with pine nuts. This pesto is 100% nut-free, & can easily be made vegan if you leave out the parmesan.

Ingredients:

3 cups fresh basil leaves (packed)

4 cloves garlic

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

sea salt & black pepper

3/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

Wash and prep the basil leaves.

Combine basil leaves & garlic in a food processor, & then slowly add in the oil to make it easier to blend until all of the oil has been added.

Add in sea salt & black pepper to taste & mix again.

Pour the pesto into a bowl & stir in the cheese (can be skipped, or subbed with a vegan alternative).

Add extra sea salt & black pepper if desired, but do a taste test first on your pasta or meal of choice & see what you prefer.

Enjoy!

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Why I’m Not Currently Vegan

Our bodies are constantly evolving. What works for us at any one stage of our lives does not determine what will be best for them down the line. I say this because I’d like to think that maybe one day I’ll be able to go vegan for the environment and for the treatment of animals.

I will note that most days, I do in fact eat 80-90% vegan. Over the years, I have made the attempt to go full vegan time and time again. Yet, at age 29, these are my 4 biggest reasons that a vegan diet has never worked for me:

My Hormones

There are countless people out there who swear by cutting out animal products to correct their hormone imbalances. Unfortunately, every time I have gone vegan my hormones become incredibly unhappy. I get cystic pimples (minor example below), my insulin and cortisol go a little nutty, and when I got a blood test done, my testosterone levels were off the charts too high. Reintroducing animal products corrected these issues almost instantly.

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My Digestive System

Again, there are many vegans out there who swear by their diet as a cure-all for digestive issues. However, when I adapted a vegan diet, the bloating, cramping, and flare-ups of IBS were out of control. I felt absolutely miserable every day. Reintroducing animal products brought back my normal problem-free digestion.

My Supplement Intolerances

When you go vegan, there are a number of supplements that are recommended, including B12 which can only be found in animal foods, and oftentimes other vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin D and Calcium (depending on your specific deficiencies or diet shortcomings). Unfortunately, my body is very sensitive when it comes to supplements. Believe me, I have tried them ALL, even the most straightforward options with minimal ingredients. They always lead to either severe nausea/stomach cramps or overpoweringly intense headaches. Therefore, I need to rely on getting my vitamins from my food sources alone.

Food Allergies & Sensitivities

Allergies

I have had a large number of food allergies since I was born. Many of these foods are unfortunately big vegan staples. A couple of main examples are:
-Soy
-Tree Nuts (Almonds, Cashews, Pecans, Walnuts, Pine Nuts, Etc.)

Sensitivities

There are many other vegan foods that I am sensitive to, such as several seeds and various types of produce. A couple of examples are:
-Flax seeds (they negatively aggravate my hormones due to the high content of phytoestrogens)
-All citrus foods such as tomatoes, lemons, limes, etc. (they can give me agonizing acid reflux)

Therefore, if I am in a position where the only options are packaged or takeout vegan food, 9 times out of 10 it includes one of those ingredients.

I’ll admit, I often feel very guilty that I am not a vegan. With the environment in need of all of our assistance and the inhumane ways that so many animals are treated, I have tried to do my part in this way. Needless to say I try my best to only purchase the most humane animal products such as eggs from the pasture, etc., though I know it is still not ideal.

However, I do feel that if my own health is suffering, it just doesn’t make sense to deliberately sabotage myself. I wish I could eat vegan. I really do. To me, my diet experiments further the evidence that every human body is incredibly different. Only you know what works for you, and I urge you to follow your own health journey outside of the influence of what diets are trendy right now.

I think it’s wonderful that veganism works for so many, because it can have great impacts on this planet and for certain people’s health journeys. I know that there are many vegans who follow me, and to all of you I say: well done. I hope you can understand the other side of the coin.

Hormones and Sleep Disturbance

Plus My Top 10 Tips for Better Sleep!

I’ve always been a finicky sleeper.  I have to be in my own bed at home, it has to be dead silent, and all the stars have to align just right for me to get a proper night of shut-eye.  I’ve never been able to sleep on a friend’s couch, on an airplane, in a car, or even in a perfectly comfortable hotel bed without a major struggle.  

Ironically, I love sleep.  I’m one of those people who needs a full 8 hours or I feel irritable and fatigued the following day.  That’s why it’s such a downer that on top of everything, my cycle dramatically affects my ability to sleep.

During the first 2 weeks of my cycle (the follicular phase), everything is bliss.  My hormones are on my side as estrogen is rising, and I don’t take a single night of sleep for granted.  Then, mid-cycle hits, ovulation, and my shifting hormones give me terrible insomnia.  Then, as hormones shift again for the second 2 weeks (the luteal phase), my body is pushed into insomnia round 2, where I struggle to sleep restfully right up until my period begins.

So essentially, for half of every month, I’m not sleeping well.  It’s apparently a very common reaction to hormonal changes.  It’s no wonder my skin suffers, I have so little energy, and I’m just plain cranky.  The trouble is that it’s getting good quality sleep that helps keep our hormone levels in check.  Yet, for me, my hormones prevent this from being possible.  It’s a vicious pattern that I’m working very hard to get to the bottom of.

For those with similar struggles, I’d like to share my top 10 tips and tricks for getting the best possible sleep you can when your hormones are battling against you:

1) Cut Back on Alcohol 

Whether you are a regular drinker or are like me and enjoy a glass or 2 of wine once in a while, alcohol is really harmful to restful sleep.  Though people commonly report that drinking makes them feel sleepy or fall asleep faster, it actually reduces your REM sleep (rapid eye movement).  Not only that, but it can suppress melatonin, which helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycles.

I personally experience the opposite of the masses when it comes to alcohol and falling asleep.  For me, drinking alcohol produces an effect akin to caffeine where I feel wired and my mind races.  If I have even 1 drink, I can mentally prepare myself that I likely won’t be getting a restful night.  So, hormone troubles or no hormone troubles, ditch the alcohol, or at least cut back.

2) Try Melatonin

Speaking of melatonin, I have found that taking it as a supplement during the second and more problematic half of my cycle really does improve my ability to fall and stay asleep.  I take 1.5 milligrams right before bedtime and it seems to do the trick. 

3) Listen to Your Food Cravings

This is kind of an odd one, but throughout our cycle, our bodies are going through so many chemical changes.  In my experience, I feel as though it’s always trying to balance itself out.  As an example, have you ever wondered why you often crave carbs and sugar during your PMS days?  Our serotonin, that “happiness” hormone, can fall very low in the body during this time due to hormonal shifts.  Eating carbohydrates can up your levels of serotonin, evening out your mood.  Learn to listen to your body, it’s trying to help you out!

4) No Blue Light Before Bed

Blue light throws off your circadian rhythms and suppresses your production of melatonin.  Luckily, this one is an easy fix! If you must be looking at a screen in the evening, turn your device to night mode, or get yourself a pair of blue light blocking glasses.  They’re inexpensive and I guarantee they will help you sleep more restfully.  

5) Avoid Late Night Work if Possible

While making your own work hours can be great, if you’re a night owl like me, you might find yourself working into the wee hours.  The biggest downside to this is that you’re all fired up when you get into bed, likely still thinking about the work you were just doing.  If you’re able to conclude your work earlier in the evening, it allows you to choose an activity like reading a book before bed that will help your mind to quiet down.

6) Cut Back on Late Night Snacks and Water

When you eat close to bedtime, it can make it challenging to sleep on a full stomach, especially if you suffer from any acid reflux issues like I do.  Similarly, too much water right before bed will have you getting up for bathroom breaks all night.  If possible to cut back on your intake before bedtime, it will keep you sleep for longer stretches.

7) Keep it Cool

If you have control over your room temperature, keeping it cooler can actually help induce sleep more easily.  You should be able to fall asleep quicker and have better quality sleep overall.

8) Exercise!

On the days when I’m sitting at a desk all day, I notice a major difference in my ability to fall asleep.  I’m fidgety and restless.  On days when I exercise, even if it’s something as simple as going for a walk, my nights are so much more restful.

9) No Caffeine Late in the Day

Did you know that caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours?  I don’t consume caffeine, but if you do, keep this in mind when you’re craving that afternoon cup of joe.  I’ve even witnessed people eating a moderate amount of chocolate in the evening and then having poor sleep because of it.  So consider your desserts too!

10) Find Solutions to Quiet Your Mind

I am a classic over-thinker.  I’m that gal whose mind is running running running, be it useful information or not.  I’m the one who lies in bed at night going over conversations I’ve had, worrying, planning, dwelling, and it is NOT good for sleep!  If this rings a well with you, try to focus on your breathing while falling asleep.  It will distract your mind from whatever it is preoccupied with.

Of course I am still working on bigger picture solutions when it comes to my actual hormone levels, and I will follow up on that after some more experimentation.  However, these changes have made a huge difference for me in the meantime.  Our bodies do so much important work while we’re asleep, and poor sleep is not something to be overlooked!

I do find it interesting how different we all are as individuals when it comes to sleep.  I come from a family of those who NEED their sleep to function and sleep very heavily.  By contrast, my husband and his family can actually function on very little, and even thrive on getting a bit less than average.  Hopefully, whatever your ideal night looks like, whether it’s 9 hours or 6, you’re able to find a way to make that happen!  

Tetracycline and Fingernail Separation

When you visit a dermatologist for acne, leaving with a prescription for antibiotics is one of the most common outcomes. Of course this is to treat the bacterial aspect of one’s acne, and for many, it works wonders at getting it under control. The trouble is that for many of us, there are some seriously unwanted side effects.

My acne-prone skin is partially genetic. Both of my parents experienced it when they were teenagers, and oily skin seems to run in the family. When I was a child, my mom used to recount her “fingernail story” whenever I prompted her as I found it absolutely fascinating. She would recall being prescribed Tetracycline as a teenager for her mild acne. Not long after she started taking it, her fingernails completely separated from her fingers.

She said that after looking into it, she thought this might have been due to the fact that she worked as a lifeguard at the time, and was getting regular sun exposure. To confirm her research, there is a phenomenon called Photo-onycholysis, in which sun exposure with Doxycycline or Tetracycline in your system causes nail separation (onycholysis). There seems to be somewhat limited studies on this, but it suggests you would need a pretty hefty amount of sunshine for this to occur (such as a beach vacation).

Fast forward to 20 years later when I was struggling with adult acne in 2017. As I became frustrated with all of my own attempts to treat it failing, I saw MANY dermatologists. One of them prescribed a classic combo of drugs for both internal and external treatment: topical retinoids, topical antibiotics, and Tetracycline to be taken by mouth once a day.

Needless to say I was apprehensive. The story of my mom’s fingernails falling off had not been forgotten with age. However, between the desperation I felt for clear skin, and knowing that it was a TINY percentage of people who experienced this bizarre side effect, I took the chance.

I bet you can guess what happened next! After taking the Tetracycline for around a week, I began feeling a bit of sensitivity in my fingertips. I thought to myself, there’s no possible way. It’s too soon and the chances are too small. I’ll give it a few more days and see if it goes away.

It didn’t. A few days later when I was taking a shower, I noticed serious pain as soon as the water hit my hands. I could feel how far underneath my nails the water was going as it hit the nail beds. I needed no more confirmation that the process of onycholysis was starting.

Luckily, because of my mom’s experience, I knew to be on the lookout for it and could stop taking the medication before it progressed any further! I stopped taking the pills, and while it took a little while for the tips of my nails to grow back out and reattach themselves to the nail beds, no severe damage was done.

What I found interesting is that during this brief period of time, I had no sun exposure at all! I was working from home at the time, and I’ll be honest, I almost never got outside other than to pick up groceries. I likely didn’t get more than 5 or 10 minutes outside that week. (Don’t worry, I’m much better about getting out for long walks in the sunshine now to get my daily Vitamin D and fresh air!) Every study that I’ve found suggests that this phenomenon only occurs with the addition of sunlight, but I found this to be a side effect of the drug all by itself.

I wanted to share this experience because at the time I was frustrated that there was so little information on the subject. The moral of the story is to try to be as in tune with your body as possible when you begin taking a new medication. Oftentimes doctors won’t convey all of the possibilities because they might not know themselves, and good old Google doesn’t have all the answers either. If something doesn’t feel right, go with your gut and stop taking it. There is almost always an alternative treatment you can try!

Soy Story

You may or may not have noticed that none of my recipes include soy.  It’s an ongoing debate among the masses; How does it affect hormones, if it does at all?  The research is mixed, but from my personal experiences, I feel that I can safely say it is incredibly unique to the individual!  

Let me start at the beginning.  Hormones aside, I am actually allergic to soy.  Food allergies have been a big part of my life ever since I was a kid.  The weekly allergy shots at the doctor’s office, emergency trips to the hospital, rashes, hives, you name it.  I have a wide variety of reactions depending on the allergen, but with soy it is severe nausea. I eat tofu and I vomit shortly afterward.

However, the times that I have managed to ingest a slight bit of soy and not vomit, I have absolutely noticed that it affects my hormones.  The giveaway? Cystic acne. There is a very particular type of pimple that is hormonal versus comedonal. You acne sufferers out there know what I’m talking about!  They’re deep, they cannot be popped, and they linger for months on the lower half of your face. 

Soy Story

Now I know what some people are going to say: “That doesn’t happen to me!  Soy doesn’t affect my hormones!”. If that’s true, then great! I’m jealous.  The truth is, from both the studies I’ve read alongside personal discussions, some people get along with soy and others don’t.

Like many foods, it comes down to your particular genetic makeup, your existing hormone levels, your pre-existing conditions, and your food intolerances.  One of my biggest mottos when it comes to eating “healthy” is eating what is right for you and you alone. Just because your favorite blogger cooks with soy (or sub in any food here), that doesn’t mean you have to.  Eat what works with your body chemistry.  The only way to know is through your own trial and error.  If a food has a negative effect on you, you can’t feel pressured to follow the current wellness trends.  Your health is too important.

Whole Wheat 2-Banana Muffins

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You only need 2 bananas!

I don’t know about you, but any time I’m in need of a good banana recipe, it’s when I’ve gotten down to those last couple of brown and spotty ones.  I rarely have a whole big bunch on hand as I’ve usually eaten the first few as a snack or in my oatmeal.

Voilà!  This recipe makes between 6-8 muffins depending on how large your bananas are.

Ingredients:

2 bananas (just on the verge of being too ripe…starting to get some brown speckles)

Just under 1/2 cup sugar (I used cane sugar)

1 cup white whole wheat flour (such as King Arthur White Whole Wheat)

1 egg

6 tablespoons unsalted butter (almost melted)

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

A pinch of salt, around 1/4 teaspoon

1 teaspoon baking soda

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Add your muffin liners to the muffin tin.

In a large bowl, combine your bananas & the sugar with a fork, then whisk together once combined.

Whisk in the egg, melted butter, & vanilla.

In a smaller bowl, stir together your dry ingredients: the flour, baking soda, & salt.

Add the combined dry ingredients to the wet ingredients & whisk until batter is evenly combined.

Add the batter to the lined muffin tin. Fill them just below the tops so they have room to expand

Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean (I always choose to undercook ever so slightly)

Enjoy!

 

Notes:

While they’re delicious the day of baking, beyond the first 24 hours I recommend storing these in the fridge.  When ready to eat, pop in the microwave for 10 or 15 seconds, top with butter if you so desire, and they’re back to their “just out of the oven” soft warm form!

Caffeine and Acne

Why I Don’t Drink Coffee

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the taste of coffee.  I started drinking it at age 14 and couldn’t let go until I was in my mid-twenties.  However, the older I got, and the more hormonal issues I began to deal with, the more it became overwhelmingly apparent that caffeine was hugely triggering my cystic acne.

Why I Don't Drink Caffeine

If you’re acne-prone like me, you likely get both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne.  Caffeine usually causes the inflammatory type, which for me displays as the cystic pimples which appear around my mouth, jawline, and lower half of my face.  They take weeks to subside, and often leave a red mark that doesn’t fade for months!  Those of us with pale skin scar very easily, and I happened to get the skin of my Irish relatives, not the Italian side of the family!

Caffeine is a major trigger for cortisol, our stress hormone.  It is what surges during that fight or flight response deeply built into us as humans.  Stress can be a significant acne trigger.  Most people think of stress as pressure at our jobs, a difficult relationship situation, or studying for a big exam.  However that cup of joe can cause the body an equal amount of stress in sensitive individuals.

I do recognize that there are different degrees of caffeine sensitivity.  If I drink one cup of coffee, I feel the unpleasant jitters almost instantly!  My family is the exact same way.  My husband and his family, on the other hand, could all drink a gallon of coffee at midnight and fall peacefully asleep within minutes.  So it seems plausible that you’re more likely to have the acne-caffeine connection if you are sensitive to the stimulating drug in general!

The solution?  Try cutting it out!  You have nothing to lose if you are struggling with your skin.  Yes, you will get the withdrawal headaches for a few days, but you can try weaning off it slowly to ease these.  Even replacing your daily coffee with a beverage containing less caffeine is a great start.  I saw dramatic results from switching my coffee to black tea for a few years.  It has about half the caffeine!

Another source of caffeine, as painful as it may be, is chocolate (particularly dark chocolate).  Granted, it contains very small amounts.  100 grams of dark chocolate has 43mg of caffeine, which is even lower than the amount in most black teas.  However for some of us, it is still too much.  The last time I used a minuscule 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder in a recipe, I broke out terribly.  It’s really difficult as someone who is a serious chocolate girl.  Chocolate was my go-to flavor for any dessert growing up.  If you can snag some carob powder to sub into your recipes, it actually has a very similar taste!

So give it a try!  You can make it less difficult by stocking up on some really tasty herbal or decaffeinated teas so that you don’t have to give up any of your rituals.  An extra perk: You won’t have to rely on coffee for your energy source anymore.  You’ll be free; fueled by an intake of nutritious foods and better sleep!

Whole Wheat Caramel Pretzel Blondies

Whole Wheat Salted Caramel Pretzel Blondies! I’m all about salted caramel. It’s truly one of the best flavors out there! The secret to these blondies is the caramel syrup. It’s meant as a coffee flavoring syrup, but when poured over the top of these blondies it gets all soaked in over 24 hours & makes them perfectly moist!  


Ingredients:

1 & 1/4 cups crushed mini pretzels

1 cup light brown sugar, slightly packed

1/2 cup cane sugar2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature 

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 & 1/2 cups flour (I use King Arthur Flour White Whole Wheat!)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup Joe’s Organic Syrup – Caramel Syrup 

Pinch of sea salt

 


Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9×13 pan with butter or your preferred ingredient.

Take your mini pretzels, add them to a sealed ziplock bag & crush them. I use the bottom of a can on an angle! The pieces should be very small. Set aside.

In a large bowl beat the butter & sugars on a low setting until combined. Add in the eggs & vanilla extract.

In a small bowl stir together the flour, baking soda & salt with a fork or whisk.

Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients using either the low beating setting or stirring.

Stir in the broken pretzels with a spoon.

Spread the batter into the greased pan & bake for around 23 minutes OR until the edges are just turning golden. I usually keep mine on the undercooked side. 

Let fully cool.

Slowly pour the caramel syrup evenly over the blondies. Sprinkle a TINY pinch of sea salt over them evenly as well. 

Ideally they should sit for about 24 hours until the syrup has completely soaked into the blondies as you don’t want the liquid sitting on top. It’s worth the wait!

Enjoy! 

Carob Cookie Dough Blondies

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Anyone else not able to eat chocolate?! My hormones are so super sensitive that caffeine of any kind is off the table for me.  One thing that I’ve had the hardest trouble letting go of is chocolate chip cookies, blondies, & brownies.

This blondie mix from Namaste Foods is so delightful to make with carob for the ultimate healthy dessert.  It’s so versatile.  If you want to bake it with butter & eggs you can.  If you’re vegan & want to use oil & their fabulous egg replacer they’re just as delicious.  I opted for the oil & egg combo with a chopped carob bar to replace the chocolate chips.  Oh man!  They taste like cubes of cookie dough & I can’t get enough of them!

Bonus!  Their mixes are free of the 8 most common allergens!  This mix is gluten free, dairy free, soy free, peanut free, tree nut free, & more.

 

Ingredients:

1 box Namaste Foods Blondie Mix

1 cup canola oil

3 eggs

1/2 cup hot water

1 carob (or chocolate!) bar chopped into fine chunks

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine eggs, oil, & hot water.

Whisk in blondie mix until all lumps are gone.

Grease a 9×13 inch pan with a little of your oil.

Bake for around 35 minutes (slightly underdone for cookie dough texture).

Let cool & enjoy!

Cocoa Banana Marble Breakfast Loaf

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Who’s feeling dessert for breakfast?!  This vegan loaf is the consistency of a light pound cake, with hints of chocolate & banana on top.

If you do not eat chocolate or caffeine, you can easily substitute in carob powder for the cocoa to get a similar flavor.  Make sure you head on over to Karen’s Naturals for some of their tasty and versatile freeze-dried bananas (& more)!

 

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2/3 cup of a protein-filled plant milk, such as Orgain Protein Almond Milk

1/2 cup Earth Balance Soy Free Margarine 

1 1/2 cups cane sugar

3/4 cup So Delicious Plain Coconut Yogurt 

2 tablespoons (at least) cocoa powder

1 handful of Karen’s Naturals Just Bananas

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer on low to combine the Earth Balance & sugar. Slowly beat in the yogurt.

In a second smaller bowl, combine the flour & baking powder, then beat the mixture into the large bowl.

In a third smaller bowl, combine the almond milk & vanilla, then beat the mixture into the large bowl.

Remove a little of the batter, about a ½ cup, to another bowl and mix the cocoa powder into it to make a small amount of chocolate batter.  Chop up a few of the Just Bananas to taste, and stir those into the chocolate batter.

Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan.

Pour the vanilla batter into the pan. Then add the chocolate batter on top of the vanilla. Use a toothpick or knife to marble the chocolate in.

Bake for around 50-60 minutes, checking until a toothpick comes out clean.

Store the loaf covered in the fridge after the first day, & eat within about 5 days.

 

Notes:

-If you find you prefer a higher ratio of chocolate to vanilla, simply scoop out a larger quantity of the batter to mix with some additional cocoa powder & Just Bananas.

-If using a larger quantity of Just Bananas, compensate by adding an extra splash of plant milk to keep them from absorbing too much of the batter’s moisture as they are freeze-dried.

Enjoy!