Eat Smart: Let’s Get Nuts

Nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats, antioxidants, and minerals, which benefit our brain, heart, digestive system, bones, hair, skin, and nails.

A few nuts go a long way. The Journal of Nutrition published a study that noted a serving of seven almonds before breakfast was enough to increase HDL cholesterol (the good one) in patients with coronary artery disease. Walnuts have also been shown to improve lipid profiles significantly. And both nuts benefit digestion by promoting the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria.

Although the consumption of hazelnuts is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, better yet is hazelnuts and cocoa combined. The International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition reported on a clinical study conducted in Milan, Italy (a yummy two-hour drive from a Nutella® production facility). Results showed the subjects consuming the hazelnut-cocoa mixture had a greater improvement over the group receiving only hazelnuts. The study suggests the combination may act in a synergistic, protective way on the cardiovascular system.

Cashews, packed with healthful fats, are incredibly heart healthy. They’re also a great source of vitamin K, copper, iron, and zinc.

Selenium is necessary for the production of active thyroid hormone, and Brazil nuts are the go-to for this mineral — just one or two per day will do the job.

Enjoy a wide variety of nuts for their abundant health benefits. Pistachios are particularly high in vitamin B6 and potassium and lower in calories than most nuts. Macadamia nuts are full of monounsaturated fat (like olive oil). Of all nuts, almonds have the highest amount of calcium.

The bottom line is all nuts are good choices. Keep each serving to about a quarter cup. Now grab a handful, toss a few in a salad or swirl into yogurt, drop some into a bowl of soup, or try nut butter on crudités or gluten-free crackers. How about making your very own hazelnut-chocolate spread? The recipe follows!

(photo: Susan Ojanen)

Hazelnut-Chocolate Spread

Makes 1 cup

Nutrients per one tablespoon: 87 cal., 5.4g carbs, 1.3g protein, 7.3g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 36.9mg sodium, 1g fiber.


1 cup raw hazelnuts
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons gluten-free dark chocolate chips, melted
2 teaspoons raw honey


Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast for 10-12 minutes, just until fragrant – be careful not to burn; remove from oven. If the hazelnuts have skins on them, wrap them in a kitchen towel and rub the nuts vigorously against each other to remove as much of the skins as possible; don’t worry about those that will not come off. Set aside and let fully cool.

In a high-speed blender (or food processor), grind the cooled nuts and coconut sugar on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the coconut oil, vanilla, salt, and melted chocolate. Blend for 4 minutes, scraping the sides of the blender following each minute. Check the consistency of the mixture for your desired use. At this point, it should be a pourable sauce. If too thin, add 1 teaspoon of honey and blend 10 seconds to thicken; check the consistency and, if needed for a thicker spread, add another teaspoon of honey and blend 10 seconds more.

Note: Store in a covered container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Eat Smart: Use Beneficial Bacteria to Tickle Tastebuds, Promote Gut Health

The purposes of pre- and probiotics differ, yet they support our digestive health symbiotically. Probiotics are the good bacteria in the gut that promote the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients and strengthen the immune system. Prebiotics are the fuel for the good bacteria in our gut. Quite a team, right? Boosting the body’s digestive process with pre- and probiotic supplements has become mainstream, and food companies are catching on to this health trend.

Shelf-stable probiotics have enabled their inclusion in many ready-made food products. They can be found added to nut butters, granola, oatmeal, cereals and more. Be cautious, as these products may not be gluten-free. Even probiotic supplements often contain small amounts of gluten. Traditional foods remain the best choice; plus, they’re simple and tasty ways to add gluten-free pre- and probiotic foods to your diet every day.

Lay the groundwork for a healthy gut by starting with prebiotic foods. They’re found in the non-digestible parts of foods, such as the fiber in raw or cooked onions, raw asparagus, leeks, garlic, jicama and dandelion greens, as well as under-ripe bananas. The fibers pass through the small intestine undigested, reaching the colon to be fermented by the good bacteria, feeding it. Now, let’s be sure you’ve got that good bacteria to nourish.

Fermented and cultured foods are effortless additions to your meals and are the most beneficial way to incorporate probiotics into your day. Yogurt is a great option, as long as it contains live cultures. Opt for unsweetened, plain whole-milk yogurt, and add fresh berries. If choosing a non-dairy yogurt, make sure it has live cultures as well. Enjoy a couple of tablespoons of raw sauerkraut or pickled vegetables (not heat-treated) as a side dish with any meal, sprinkled on a salad, tucked into a collard wrap, or as a topping on cooked pork, red meat and fish. Try mixing apple cider vinegar (with the “mother”) and extra-virgin olive oil, or coconut aminos and sesame seed oil, as the acid ingredient in your salad dressings. Raw cheese, kefir, kombucha, brine-cured olives and kimchi are even more options.

The following recipes offer a fun way to serve up raw sauerkraut, take yogurt one step further, and use a few probiotic capsules in the cupboard to satisfy anyone’s chocolate craving.

Raw Sauerkraut Confetti Salad in Cucumber Ribbons

A sharper brain, improved immune function, and weight loss are just a few of the benefits of raw sauerkraut. Reap the benefits of this delightful salad that comes together in minutes. Click here for the recipe

 Yogurt Cheese

The variations are endless when it comes to this simple spread. You can easily experiment with your favorite ingredients to add sweet or savory flavors, and still get your daily dose of probiotics! Click here for the recipe

 Dark Chocolate-Dipped & Coconut-Topped Creamy Almond Bites

Just 8 simple ingredients and you won’t be able to get ENOUGH probiotics when it comes to these capsule-incorporated treats. Click here for the recipe


Now Trending: Alternative Healthy Fats

The words “healthy” and “fats” were rarely found together not too long ago. Thankfully, now they regularly hang out together, and our bodies are thrilled that they do. Of course, the operative word is “healthy,” so let’s take a minute to review the bad fats and catch up on what’s trending with the good ones.

Oils such as vegetable, soybean, safflower, corn and canola are chemically refined under high heat, stripping them of nutrients and taste. Replace them with extra virgin olive oil and unrefined coconut oil. Industrial-made trans fats are commonly found in baked goods, fried foods and sweets. Instead, cook at home and switch from margarine and shortening to grass-fed butter, coconut milk and cream, red palm and coconut oil blend shortening, nut and seed butter, and cacao butter. Several of these good fats are trending in the marketplace right now.

Oat is the new almond milk. Nut butter is making more room on the shelf for seed butter. MCT oil (“MCT” stands for medium-chain triglycerides, a component of coconut oil) in powdered form is showing up in snack foods, and on its own, it’s handy for mixing into hot and cold beverages without needing a blender.

An ingredient popularized in butter coffee recipes, MCT liquid oil has a few obstacles that the powdered form overcomes. Digestive issues commonly associated with liquid MCT oil should not pose a problem with the oil powder. (When first using the liquid form, start slowly by ingesting one teaspoon per day and building up to one or two tablespoons per day over several weeks.) Liquid oil portability is a drawback—the liquid form is risky to pack and take on the go, while the powdered form is a breeze. A blender and solid fat, such as butter, is needed to emulsify the liquid oil while the oil powder mixes in hot and cold liquids equally well with a spoon. Carefully read the labels on the MCT oil powder container to check for additives you may or may not object to and to be sure it’s gluten-free.

Relatively new to the U.S., Oatly is a 20-year-old Swedish company whose oat milk gained popularity after hitting the shelves at Whole Foods. Other brands have followed the trend and are readily available in grocery and health food stores. Matched against almond milk, oat milk averages twice the calorie, fat, carbohydrate and protein count, and one-third the amount of sodium. Compare oat milk brands to find the one that suits you best. Use it in place of other non-dairy milk in your recipes, coffee, tea and smoothies. 

Although tahini (sesame seed butter) has a centuries-old history, it’s showing up in a variety of foods right now—smoothies, cookies and ice cream, to name a few. Sesame seeds are packed with potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, health-promoting fat and fiber. Try your hand at making tahini by toasting two cups of sesame seeds in a large, dry skillet over medium-low heat for just a few minutes. Stir constantly while the seeds toast to a light golden color. Keep a close watch; they can swiftly turn from golden to burnt!

It’s time to get cooking with the following healthy fat recipes. Trendy never tasted so good!

Blueberry Oat Milk Smoothie

Blueberry-Oat Milk Smoothie

Tahini-Cardamom Ice Cream with a Salted Caramel Ribbon

Tahini-Cardamom Ice Cream with a Salted Caramel Ribbon

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Granola Bars

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Granola Bars

Susan Ojanen is a freelance food and travel writer, and a certified integrative nutrition and intrinsic health coach in private practice at in Bristol, Tennessee. She educates and supports clients in building healthy new habits for maintainable lifestyle changes.

The Sweet Health Benefits of Pineapple

A slice of pineapple is like a burst of sunshine. This tropical fruit’s happy yellow hue and juicy sweetness can’t help but bring a smile to our faces. I’d like to think that Christopher Columbus reacted in this way when he found them on the island of Guadeloupe in 1493.

Native to South America (particularly Paraguay and Brazil), pineapple counts as its largest producers today Brazil, Costa Rica, the Philippines and Hawaii. Along with the spread of pineapple cultivation came the broader enjoyment of its health benefits. Among them are aiding digestion, reducing inflammation and pain, and boosting the immune system.

Bromelain is a digestive enzyme found in the juice and stem of pineapple. This robust enzyme doesn’t break down in the digestive tract as most others do, enabling it to be absorbed into the bloodstream to do its work. As a natural digestive aid, bromelain can help with some of the common symptoms of celiac disease through its ability to prevent bloating and gas. 

As reported in Clinical Rheumatology, treatment with a bromelain-containing enzyme for three to four weeks is effective for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. Following an extended study of 16 weeks, patients had reduced pain and stiffness, and improved function.

Pineapple is great for the immune system as it’s teeming with vitamin C, but fresh is better than canned. One cup of fresh pineapple contains nearly 100 percent of the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance of vitamin C, which is reduced to 28 percent in canned.                  

You can easily incorporate pineapple into your daily diet. Starting with breakfast, top gluten-free oatmeal and cereal with pineapple chunks, spread crushed pineapple on gluten-free toast, or pop fresh or frozen pineapple chunks into your green breakfast smoothie. Make lunch a bright spot in your day by tossing diced pineapple onto a salad or into collard, Swiss chard and coconut flour wrap sandwiches. Charm your taste buds at dinnertime with pan-seared chicken or fish topped with pineapple chunks, sliced green onions and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Then wrap up the day with sweet-tart pineapple sorbet.

Choosing a fresh pineapple is a breeze! Look for one with a yellowish-orange lower third—it’s OK for the upper two-thirds to remain green—and no bruises. Here’s my tried and true tip, which I call the Goldilocks test: Pull on the innermost leaf of the crown—if it comes out with barely a tug, the pineapple is likely overripe; if it won’t budge, it’s unripe; if it comes out with a quick, gentle pull, this is the pineapple for you. Keep a less-than-ripe pineapple at room temperature until it’s ready to eat. Once placed in the refrigerator, pineapples will no longer ripen. 

The following recipes are refreshing, flavorful and fun to make. Enjoy!

1. Pineapple, Cucumber and Mint Cooler 

2. Shrimp Tacos with Pineapple-Mango Salsa

3. Pineapple-Apricot Granola over Honeyed Greek Yogurt

Using the Elimination Diet to Hone in on Food Sensitivities

Have you ever wondered if the foods you’re consuming could be the cause of your health issues? According to the Cleveland Clinic, nearly 1 percent of adults in the U.S. are affected by food allergies (more than 3 million people), while food intolerances run much higher. The clinic reports that lactose, the most common specific food intolerance, affects 10 percent of Americans.

An elimination diet may be the best way to identify which food(s) might be triggering the body’s adverse reactions. “It’s the gold standard if a food sensitivity is suspected after fully evaluating a patient’s case,” said Dr. Joseph Radawi, MD, ABFM, medical director of Tri-Cities Functional Medicine in Bristol, Tennessee. “Blood sensitivity test results are lab-dependent, meaning that separate labs frequently return different results from the same blood test samples.”

The diet consists of removing specific foods or food groups from the diet suspected of causing a negative effect on a person. After a specified length of time, the foods are reintroduced one at a time to gauge their impact on the symptoms.

The most common food offenders are:

  • corn
  • dairy
  • eggs
  • gluten grains (barley, rye, spelt, wheat)
  • white sugar
  • shellfish
  • soy
  • beef
  • pork
  • processed meat
  • coffee and tea
  • chocolate

An elimination diet generally runs for three to six weeks. Three weeks is the absolute minimum to provide the body enough time to deplete the antibodies built up from its adverse reaction to the food.

How to safely start an elimination diet

As beneficial as an elimination diet can be in revealing the cause(s) of health issues, it could also be detrimental if not performed correctly. Because eliminating several food groups may cause a nutritional deficiency, it’s essential to work with a qualified practitioner. Lab tests may reveal imbalances in the body that can be addressed by a practitioner through nutraceuticals and other treatments alongside an elimination diet to support and heal the body.

Tambri Radawi, a certified functional medicine health coach and Dr. Radawi’s wife, individualizes the rate at which foods are eliminated from the patients’ diets. “I allow our patients to remove the foods over two weeks if it is overwhelming for them to remove them all at once,” Radawi said. “We remove two food groups every few days, making sure all the food groups are eliminated by the third week. It can be done in a variety of ways according to practitioner preference.”

Radawi teaches patients how to prepare and enjoy foods that may be new to them. “Helping our patients remain positive is vital to their success. We focus on the variety of wonderful foods they can enjoy rather than on what is being eliminated and create a plan from there.” Radawi meets with patients every two weeks, either individually or in a group. Keeping in close contact manages challenges and prevents setbacks. “Ingesting an eliminated food within the six-week elimination period returns the patient to day one for that food,” Radawi cautioned.

Benefits of the elimination diet

Frank and Kathleen Brown went through the elimination diet together and said they would gladly do it again if needed. After a winter season of experiencing multiple illnesses and generally feeling lethargic, they decided it was time to analyze their bodily functions and systems professionally. Their most important discovery was how “sugar zapped our energy,” Kathleen Brown said. “We’re now eating more vegetables than before, less beef and pork, and more chicken and fish. We gained energy and lost weight.”

The Browns found that by monitoring how full they felt during meals, they ate smaller portions and were satiated. Their challenges included sugar cravings, which they overcame by increasing exercise time and purchasing a vegetable chopper that made for quick meal preparation.

The elimination diet can have the following benefits: 

  • increased energy
  • reduced inflammation and pain
  • fewer digestive issues
  • lifting of brain fog
  • improved skin conditions
  • weight loss

It can be helpful for this with irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression.

Rachel Dawson’s results concur. She experienced increased energy within the first two weeks of her elimination diet. The first six weeks of her program focused on removing all forms of sugar from her diet; the second six weeks continued eliminating sugar while adding the removal of grains, starches, dairy products, eggs and caffeine.

Dawson was sleeping more soundly, and her mental acuity shot up, which she described as, “clearing from a fogginess that I hadn’t before noticed.” Dawson said she was pleased with the 2 to 3 pounds per week weight loss. “Nothing dramatic,” she said, “but it has remained consistent for the past six months, totaling 50 pounds so far.”

Dawson had previously viewed following an elimination diet as an exercise in asceticism.

“I had never thought about how certain foods affect the body and how long it takes those foods to work their way out of your system,” Dawson said.

Food reintroduction 

The crucial time for the elimination diet is the food reintroduction phase. Eliminated foods are added back to the diet one at a time. The reintroduced food is eaten for one day and then removed again for three days. This waiting period is critical because the body can have a delayed reaction to the food. If reintroducing another food too soon, any reaction would be unclear as to which food caused it.

Noting which foods produced symptoms and which ones didn’t, you’ll have a clear understanding of the food to continue avoiding. After letting your body continue healing for six months or so, you can try reintroducing the symptomatic food again to test your body’s reaction to it.   

Avoid these 7 common elimination diet mistakes

1. Not seeking professional guidance. Remember that eliminating several food groups at the same time can lead to nutritional imbalances, which a practitioner will test for and address with the appropriate treatments.

2. Restricting caloric intake. Eat plenty of allowed foods for nutrients and satiety, including healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, unrefined cold-pressed coconut oil, unsweetened coconut milk and coconut cream, and avocados.

3. Too many changes too fast. If needed, ease into the elimination diet. Preferably, get a head start by weaning off of caffeine and alcohol, and replace one take-out meal per day with a home-cooked, non-processed meal for a week or two before starting the full elimination process.

4. Not enough preparation. Explore recipes for the food groups you’ll be eating in place of the ones you’re eliminating. Test-run a few recipes ahead of time, so you’re set up for success with meals you can count on enjoying throughout the diet. Consider freezing several portions for busier-than-usual days and lunches to go.

5. Eating away from home. Realize that eating out is risky; you can’t honestly know what’s in the sauce, seasonings, dressings and marinades. When going to someone’s home, bring a dish to share that you know you can eat in case there aren’t clear options there for you.

6. Poor attitude. Jot down all your health issues before starting the diet, and review the list frequently. You’ll be bolstered during challenging moments by noting improvements, big and small, along the way. And remember why you’re completing the program. Post your “why” on your bathroom mirror, kitchen cabinet door, car dashboard, computer and television screens, where you work and play, and anywhere you need inspiration.

7. Expecting too much too soon. You may feel worse before feeling better, or changes will vary each day, so set your expectation to complete the diet and not rate it day to day. Your daily job is to follow the diet and not to analyze it. Maintain a diary and be honest about how you’re feeling, emotionally and physically. You may need to rest more, exercise more, eat more or drink more water.

Susan Ojanen is a freelance food and travel writer and a Certified Integrative Nutrition and Intrinsic Health Coach in private practice at in Bristol, Tennessee. She educates and supports clients in building healthy new habits for maintainable lifestyle changes.