Monday, December 15, 2014

‘Tis the Season…to treat yourself well! By Sid Garza-Hillman

Another holiday season is upon us, and for many of us who pay comparatively close attention to the food we put in our bodies, this can mean increased temptation, frustration, and even regret (hence the huge amount of New Years’ healthy eating resolutions!). Most holidays in general are food-centered, and Fall/Winter holidays are no exception. Big meals with family and friends can be the highlights of this time of year.

Problems can sometimes arise when you are faced with multiple possibilities to OVEReat and/or eat foods you’d rather not. As a result, larger concepts than food come into play during this time of year, like restriction, discipline, and wellness, which I’d like to weigh in on.

Restriction. People often mistake decisions to eat healthier and/or more ethically/environmentally as restrictive. I devoted an entire podcast episode to this entitled “Making the Trade.” In it I argue that you are not in fact giving up anything when you decide to pay closer attention to what you put in your body, but are trading certain foods for feeling better. I give you cheese, you give me more energy and less allergies. When sitting with friends and family at a table that contains foods you don’t want to eat (not CAN’T eat, but won’t eat—there’s a very real difference), keep this in mind. The choices you are making affect your life long after the meal. Eating without regret or guilt means feeling better about your life—less stress, healthier body and mind, get it?

Discipline. In my practice I advocate for making small steps to greater health and happiness. The reason why most diets and quick-fix plans fail is because they move us too quickly ahead in behavior change. They are ‘all or nothing’ approaches that simply set us up for failure. The ‘beating ourselves into submission’ (e.g. by sticking to a diet and missing out on a holiday meal, and then running ourselves into the ground in spin class the next day to somehow ‘undo’ the damage) reality of these ‘plans’ generally leads to burnout, unhappiness, and often to binge or emotional eating later down the line. Easing your way into behaviors by incorporating small manageable steps allows you to be in control of the speed with which you improve your life, and puts you in a place of self-care and self-support. This means making it OK to enjoy meals that aren’t necessarily the physically healthiest, but give us great joy.

Wellness. I believe that we are all designed to be healthy and happy, and that in that state we are in balance with the world and ourselves. However, in the modern world we are bombarded with a huge amount of activities (e.g. big holiday meals) and foods that create great imbalance in us. The very foods that are the least healthy, least ethical, and least environmentally friendly are the most accessible, cheapest, and ubiquitous on holiday meal tables. Also, the least healthy foods for our bodies (I call them light-box foods) get us the most high, and it can be super hard to avoid these when they’re right in front of us. This fact can create conflict because, frankly, the temptation can be so great.


As you head into the holidays, remember this… your level of health and happiness is determined by what you do MOST OF THE TIME (I refer to this as your MOTT), meaning that a meal here or there isn’t going to make much of a long-term difference one way or another. Be crystal clear with yourself about why you are making the choices you make, and about the person you want to be. Most people I’ve coached don’t want to be restrictive, militant people—they want to be the kind of people that have a feast with friends and family now and then because that makes them feel good and happy too. If eating a certain food sacrifices an ethical decision you’ve made, then certainly it’ll make you feel better to NOT eat that food, but, again, that’s neither restriction nor discipline, but a choice that makes you feel good.

Holidays at their core are about celebration, and I think it can be super fun to indulge a bit here and there without guilt, regret, or shame. Lastly, remember that food is just ONE part of holidays. Time with family and friends creates incredible memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Taking the pressure off yourself food-wise (i.e. not being stressed about food, and not devoting a ton of mental energy to it) means more energy devoted to time spent with the people you love.  

Sid Garza-Hillman, the Small Step Advocate™, is the author of “Approaching the Natural: A Health Manifesto,” and host of the popular Approaching the Natural Podcast with listeners in over 80 countries. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Philosophy, and for over a decade after college, worked as a musician and actor with a growing interest in nutrition. Sid is now a Certified Nutritionist and Health Coach. He works with private clients all over the country, helping them take control of their lives through his private practice. He is also the Nutritionist and Programs Director at the Wellness Center at the Stanford Inn, North America’s only vegan eco-resort (

Sid’s Website:
Approaching the Natural Podcast:
Sid on Twitter/Instagram: @sidgarzahillman
YouTube Channel: Sid Garza-Hillman

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Chocolate! Whole Wheat Scones and Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Blondies

My families Thanksgiving started and ended with chocolate (and believe it or not, for some it was the healthiest food they ate all day!) Days like this are a rarity for me; however, with these two healthy recipes, I envision them occurring more frequently. 

Just in time for my annual holiday dessert post, I started experimenting with a chocolate chip blondie. After a few attempts (thanks to my co-workers for the constructive feedback!) I think it finally figured it out. The result is a healthy, gluten and nut free blondie bar that will bring a smile to the face of even the pickiest eaters.

Around the same time, I was also trying to create a whole-food whole wheat chocolate chip cookie. When testing a recipe, I forgot to add the sweetener and what came out was a miserable excuse for a cookie. However when flipping through one of my mother's cookbooks that I purchased for her two years ago when she first went vegan, I found an interesting scone recipe. I decided to combine the two recipes and the result is an amazing recipe for a delicious and healthy breakfast scone. With the perfect amount of sweetness and chocolate, these turned out even better than I expected, and surprisingly quick and simple to make.

So how can one start and end their day with chocolate and still claim they ate healthy? Chocolate in it’s purest form is known as cacao, and this was a prized food by early the Mayan empire, and continues to be held in high regard even today. Cacao is one of the most antioxidant-rich foods available (not to be confused with cocoa which is roasted more processed and as a result, less healthy). In a comparison ORAC test (a test which measure the antioxidant activity of foods,) cacao was found to have more than fifteen times the amount of antioxidants as blueberries! On top of this, cacao provides an excellent supply of minerals including magnesium, which may help relax muscles and reduce cramping. The American Heart Association has determined that cocoa and cacao powder can be consumed without hesitation.

In another study, the high polyphenol content found in dark chocolate was seen to help reduce oxidative stress during and after prolong exercise. In a Yale conducted controlled crossover study, they found that while the sugar and fat in most chocolate isn't healthy, the cocoa powder helps make up for it when consumed in moderation.

Because chocolate is loved all over the world, there has been a great deal of nutrition research done on it. One interesting study examined the flavan-3-ol monomers, oligomers, and polymers in commonly consumed chocolate products. Not surprisingly, cacao is the gold standard, but other forms of dark chocolate and cocoa still maintain much of the healthful properties found in it's purer form. Dark chocolate bars however were still found to be highly beneficial, although the percent of cacao is important. The higher percent of cacao, the healthier it was found to be. I typically purchase a chocolate bar between 70 and 80% cacao for baking. Such a high cacao content typically means the bar is lower in added sugars than other bars and gives a beautiful and complex taste.

Finally, that same study found that the addition of milk to chocolate blocks the absorption of the phytonutients of cocoa and concluded that the consumption of milk chocolate comes with all of the fat and sugar with very few of the benefits to off set them.

As a reminder, whenever possible, source fair trade, slave free chocolate. Slavery, particularly child slavery, is still practiced in the cacao fields of western Africa. Check the Food Empowerment Project for a helpful list of slave-free chocolates. 

Chocolate Chip and Walnut Whole Wheat Scones
Makes between 8 – 9 scones

1 ½ cup whole-wheat flour
1 very rip banana*
1/4 - 1/2 cup plant based milk or water
1/2 bar of good quality chocolate –chopped
1/4 - 1/2 cup walnuts - chopped
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

* - if you do not have a ripened banana, put the banana (still in the skin) in the oven on 300 for 10-15 minutes until the skin is starting to turn black. Let cool, once peeled, you will have a ready to use ripened banana!

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

While the oven is heating up, add the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Once mixed, add the banana and the maple syrup. Simultaneously mash the banana and mix the ingredients. Now add the milk. Start by adding ¼ cup and add more as needed. The mix should become a thick dough. Once well-mixed, add the chopped chocolate and the walnuts and lightly mixed.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon large balls of dough onto the baking sheet and place into the oven. (I like to add salt crystals to top of the scones at this point for aesthetics) Let the scones bake for 10 – 12 minutes. The scones should start to brown and feel slightly firm to the touch. Test to make sure the middle is cooked with a toothpick.

Once done, set the scones to the side for 20 minutes to let cool.

Enjoy while still warm. They pair very well with fruit and mate

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Blondies
Makes 12 – 14 blondies

1 Can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 scant cup of old fashioned oats
2 teaspoons flax seed
1 very rip banana
1/2 bar of good quality chocolate –chopped
1/4 cup pure maple syrup or sweetener of choice
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a food processor add all of the ingredients except chocolate chips and process until batter is smooth (you can also use a hand held immersion blender.)

Fold in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips. The batter should be very thick

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan then sprinkle 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips on top. (The batter may stick to your spatula, so I like to spray my spatula with nonstick cooking spray first.) Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean and edges are a tiny bit brown. The batter may look underdone, but you don't want them to dry out!

Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Once cool, cut into squares.

G. Davison, R. Callister, et. all. “The Effect of Acute Pre-Exercise Dark Chocolate Consumption on plasma antioxidant status, oxidative stress and immunoendocrine responses to prolonged exercise.” European Journal of Nutrition. 58: 2012, 69-79.

Z. Faridi, et. all. “Acute dark chocolate and cocoa ingestion and endothelial function: A randomized controlled crossover trial.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88: 2008. 

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The TCS New York City Marathon and Two Delicious Smoothies

The New York City Marathon has finally been ticked off my to-do list. My love affair with this particular race started when I first moved to the city for graduate school. At the time, I was only running sporadically – anyone who has ever entered into a graduate program for history can attest to the fact that there isn’t much time left for anything else. However, I began stalking the race. I read about it, watched it, cheered for it, I dreamed about it while sleeping, and daydreamed about it - particularly on my countless runs through Central Park. So when the opportunity finally presented itself for me to partake in the greatest marathon in the world, I jumped at the chance.

Unfortunately, 2014 was a tough year for me. It started with a surgery on the back of my knee to remove a bone spur. While preparing for a half ironman, I started having intense pain in my hip. As it turns out, I had a small tear in the cartilage of my left hip. By the time my hip was ready for running, there was only 7 weeks until the New York Marathon.

Despite everything, including record strength winds, I was feeling good when I finally toed the line on race day. The cannon went off. I felt the boom deep down in my stomach and I finally started to realize what I was undertaking.    

For anyone who has ever run in New York, the marathon is a special experience. For me, it was particularly emotional as this city is my home. The thousands of spectators cheering were amazing (it was great hearing countless people scream “Go Vegan!” as I ran by – my little form of activism!) The race went well, although looking back, I should have run the first half a little more conservatively. Either way, I’m proud of the accomplishment and grateful for my body. I am now taking an extended break from endurance training during which I will focus on new and exciting happenings in my life. I also want to thank everyone. The love and support I received was overwhelming.

During my training, I developed two different smoothies, both of which are not only nutrient dense, but also delicious. While I used these to help fuel my workouts and to recover from my long runs, they also make a great start to any morning, and I've also made the the Chocolate Cinn-a-bun smoothie for dessert on occasion as well!


The Long Run Red Beet Smoothie:
1 medium beet (raw or roasted)
1 handful raw pecans (1/6 cup) (for a nut free version, add more oats)
½ cup spinach
1 ripe pear
¼ cup old fashioned oats
1 tbsp flax seed
1 medjool dates
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tsp cacao powder
½ tsp maca powder
1 cup plant-milk or water
1 handful of ice

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Top with shredded coconut and cacao nibs

Chocolate Cinn-a-bun Smoothie:
1 large frozen banana
¼ cup old fashioned oats
1 tbsp almond butter or 1 handful raw almonds
2 medjool dates
2 tbsp cacao powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp maca powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Blend all ingredients until smooth. 

I hope you all have a very happy and plant-based Thanksgiving. 

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Plant POWER: by Nava Atlas Giveaway and Chickpea and Kale Sandwhich Spread

Perhaps one of the best known vegetarian and vegan cookbook authors, Nava Atlas, released the stunning new cookbook, Plant POWER. Containing more than 150 new and inspiring recipes, Plant POWER is much more than your average vegan cookbook. It’s a primer and guide for regaining your health and vitality from the food at the end of your fork. The subtitle, Transform your Kitchen, Plate, and Life, sets high standards for what follows, and remarkably, this book delivers all it promises. 

As some long-time readers will recall, I reviewed and loved Ms. Atlas’s last cookbook, Wild About Greens and I’m happy to report that Plant POWER supersedes it's predecessor. From the moment it arrived, I knew I was holding something special. In fact, it has become my go-to recommended book for anyone interested in learning more about plant-based diets or healthy cooking.

Besides the 150 + recipes, Nava Atlas has dedicated nearly half of the book to introducing readers to different aspects of plant-based diets. This section touches on the health, environmental and animal rights reasons for eating a plant-based diet, as well as includes tips on how to live a plant powered life. The book includes over 70 stunning and full color photos (my only complaint about Wild About Greens) and most recipes include variations so you can easily make the recipe fit any preferred eating style (I was particularly impress to see she included substitutions for recipes with oil).

I often say that eating a healthy, whole food vegan diet is becoming easier than ever. Plant POWER practically takes the challenge out of meal-planning and I can say with conviction that there is something for everyone contained within these pages.

The recipes focus on simple and healthy foods made with real, fresh, and easy to find ingredients. Most are prepped, cooked, and ready to be served in thirty minutes. Because of all of these successes, I guarantee that Plant POWER will not be spending too much time on my bookshelf, as I will be referencing it frequently for inspiration and new tips.

Chickpea and Kale Sandwich Spread (From Nava Atlas’ Plant POWER)

I served the spread open-faced style with chopped purple cabbage and tomatoes on top of toasted, sprouted bread. It was absolutely delicious, and only takes about 15 minutes to prepare.

Serves 3 to 4

2 medium kale leaves, rinsed well (or a handful of baby spinach or arugula)
1 medium carrot, cut into chunks
2 cups cooked or 1 can of chickpeas (drained)2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/3 cup vegan mayonnaise or tahini (I did tahini)
2 teaspoons mustard
1-2 scallons, green parts only (optional)
¼ cup fresh parsley or 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh dill
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Green Sprouts (optional)


Combine the kale and carrot in a food processor or multi-speed high powered blender and pulse until finely chopped.

Add the remaining ingredients and pulse again until the chickpeas are evenly chopped and everything is nicely blended – don’t overprocess.

Serve as is, or cover and refrigerate until needed.


Now for the part you have been waiting for. I am happy to announce Nava Atlas has agreed to send a copy of her new book to one lucky reader! Here are the rules. First, the winner needs to live in the United States (sorry international readers, no disrespect). Second, you must be a subscriber to BYOL. There are a few ways to win. First, leave a comment on this blog post about why you think this book will be useful. You can also like BYOL on Facebook, or follow BYOL on Twitter. You can get points by liking and following Nava Atlas on Facebook or Twitter as well. Finally, share this on your social media by tagging both BYOL and Nava Atlas in your post. The contest will end on Friday, November 28th at 12:00 a.m. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Apple pie cookies (gluten free and with a raw option)

Some people claim that fall is pumpkin everything, and while I love pumpkin as much as the next person, for me, apple will always make the best fall time desserts!

Recently, I created these cookies to help my close friend celebrate finishing their US medical USMILE examations – a grueling two eight-hour day exam. While we are still awaiting the results of the exam, the cookies turned out to be amazing and since Halloween and Thanksgiving are both right around the corner, I've decided to share this tasty treat with you all. Apple Pie Cookies! These little pie-like patties are perfect to get you in the mood for fall and can be made raw or baked. I baked these.

Makes about 20 cookies

5- 6 red apples, cored (I used a mix of New York grown gala and honey crisp)
1 cup date paste*
½ cup raw almonds
½ cup raw cashews
½ cup old fashioned oats
1 cup raisins
1 handful of cacao nibs (optional)
½ teaspoon of Cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg and clove to taste

* making date paste is easy. Simply put 3-4 dates in a blender or food processor along with ½ cup of water (to start) blend until smooth and add more water incrementally until you have enough. I like to add a teaspoon of maple syrup to round out the flavor. It should be relatively think and very sweet. If you don’t have a high powered blender, soak the dates in the water for a few hours prior to blending to help soften them.

Blend the raw almonds and cashews together until they are roughly ground but not a complete powder. Some small pieces of nuts are ideal. Add the roughly ground nuts and the oats to a mixing bowl.

Now core the apples, and using a food processor with a shredder, shred three and a half of the apples. Set these in the large mixing bowl and now using the slicing attachment, slice the remaining apples so that you have shredded apples as well as sliced apples.

Add the sliced apples to the mixing bowl with the nuts and oats. Add in the raisins and cacao nibs (if using) along with the spices. Add the date paste on top and using your hands, mix all of the ingredients well.

(Raw option): Using your hands, create small cookie sized patties and place them onto your dehydrator’s food trays.  Put into the dehydrator and set to 115° and dehydrate for 15 hours until the cookies are firm.

(Bake option): Using your hands, create small cookie sized patties and place them onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Have the oven preheated to 250°. Place the trays into the oven and cook for 45 minutes, checking the cookies to make sure they don’t burn about half way through. 

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Quick Three-Bean Chili

Truth be told, I’ve struggled with chilis in the past. They either come out too water or too bland, however recently a friend tipped me off and shared with me his phenomenal and lightning-quick recipe that makes a delicious, nutritious, and hearty meal. 

I hope you all enjoy it and have a great October! Also be sure to check back soon for some exciting news and big changes to BYOL! I like to serve this piping hot on top of a fresh bed of chopped greens.

Perhaps the best thing about this recipe is it takes only 20 minutes prep and just another 10 to cook!

There are two additional serving options below to help jazz this recipe up if you choose.

Basic recipe:
1 16 ounce jar of your favorite salsa
1 14.5 ounce can of crushed tomatoes (I like to us Pomi)
1 can no-salt added pinto beans
1 can no-salt added kidney beans
1 can no-salt added black beans
½ cup of water or veggie broth
1 red onion – finely chopped
2 carrots – finely chopped
2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
½ jalapeno pepper - diced (more depending how spicy you want it)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ginger
Black pepper and salt to taste
Fresh cilantro and cubed avocado to garnish (optional)

Start by chopping the onions and carrots and placing them in a large pot and saute them together for 4 or 5 minutes until the onions starts to soften. Then add the diced jalapeno and garlic and continue to saute for two more minutes. 

Then add in the crushed tomatoes the jar of salsa and the three cans of beans. Now add the spices and mix well. Taste and adjust the spices to your preference. Bring the entire pot to a simmer. Once everything is hot it is ready to serve. 

Option 1: Blend ½ cup of cashews with nutritional yeast, 1 clove of garlic, juice of ½ a lemon and some salt in ½ cup of water to make a smooth, creamy but still thick cashew cheese. Once done, stir in finely chopped green onions and fresh mint until well combined. Place a dollop on top of the chili to simulate sour cream.

Option 2: steam or bake two large potatoes while chili is cooking. Once soft, cube the potatoes and add to the chili to make it extra hearty!

Happy fall!

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Power of Flax

It’s been a little while since I last posted a research piece. Honestly, these pieces often are very time consuming. On top of this, I realized that more recipes were needed. It’s one thing to tell you why you should eat healthy, but it seems impractical to not also show you how to do so.  

Flax seed has been around for quite some time. Treasured for it’s medicinal uses throughout the Roman Empire, it was also one of the first “health foods” used by Hypocrites. In fact, whenever I’m asked for a recommendation for a single healthy food to include into a diet, flax seed always makes the short list of possible contenders. But why is flax so well regarded?

Flax are available almost everywhere in the US and are relatively cheap – typically just $2 a pound. They’re two main verities, gold and brown. They are essentially the same nutritionally so either is just fine.

Now because the seeds have a strong fibrous outer shell, our bodies are often unable to digest them and access their full benefits. It is possible to chew them, but it is much simpler to just buy pre-ground flax seeds, or toss the whole flax seeds into a blender or coffee grinder and give them a few pluses. If you grind them yourself, you’ll want to keep them refrigerator or frozen to prevent them from going rancid. They will last several months in the fridge. 

The seeds are powerhouses of nutrition. While Hypocrites didn't have the details, he was clearly onto something. They are one of the richest sources of lignans. Lignans are a type of antioxidant that have been demonstrated to have a multitude of positive health effects. Some of them include the ability to help regulate hormone levels, they help support the immune system, can inhibit certain enzymes from becoming free radicals and may help reduce the stress hormone cortisol among others.

They also contain iron, zinc, copper, calcium, protein, magnesium, folate, and even a trace mineral known as boron that helps bone health. They also help decrease the amount of estrogen, which may help lower breast cancer risk.

On top of this, just 7 grams of ground flax seeds (roughly 1 tablespoon) contains 1.6 grams of Omega 3 fatty acid. That represents the recommended daily dose of Omega 3. To make flax seeds even more appealing, they have just .4 grams of Omega 6 (another essential fatty acid, that most people simple get way too much of.) This means the important Omega 3 to 6 ratio is a great .25. Chia seeds by comparison have .3 grams of omega 6 per 1.6 grams of omega 3, meaning that flax seeds actually has the more favorable omega ratio. Flax seeds are also far cheaper, so per dollar, you are getting more for your buck!

Flax also helps control our cholesterol and blood pressure levels and has also been shown to help with hot flashes in menopausal women.

Honestly, one tablespoon of ground flax seeds daily is one of the best foods you can include in your diet. Because they have such a neutral taste, you can use them in almost any way you desire, but heating them will destroy some of the nutrients so try and include some in their raw, ground state. I sprinkle them on my morning oats and in smoothies as well as on top of salads and pastas. You can also see this post about how to use flax as a replacement for oil in many recipes. 

G.K. Paschos et. all. “Dietary supplementation with flaxseed oil lowers blood pressure in dyslipidaemic patients.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 61 2007.

Jeff Novick, “Nuts?” on McDougall Form Jan. 8, 2008.

Zhang, Wang, et. all. “Effects of dietary flaxseed lignan extract on symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia. Journal of Medical Food, 11 2008.

Zhang, Wang et. all. “Dietary flaxseed lignana extract lowers plasma cholesterol and glucose concentrations in hypercholesterolaemic subjects. British Journal of Nutrition. 99 2008.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.