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.