A Health Story: Fatigue, Food Allergies, Inability to Gain Weight

Me and AlyssaToday, I’m sharing the health story of my friend Alyssa. Alyssa is one of my oldest friends… we met nearly twenty years ago at church and we were 2 of just 16 in our graduating high school class. I’m so thankful for Alyssa’s friendship over the years.  She is one of the strongest women I know; her optimism and endurance in the midst of suffering is inspiring and truly displays a joy that only God can give.  

As we have both struggled with different health issues for many years, I’ve been grateful for someone to share ideas & recipes with as we try new diets and attempts at natural healing.  She’s the friend that introduced me to essential oils, which have been so life-changing for me. And, as I’ve become a mom, she is an even more valued resource.  Here’s her story:

Hi, I’m Alyssa. I’m married to my high school sweetheart and we have four kids, ages 9, 6, 5 and 2. When I’m not spending time with my family I enjoy DIY projects at home or working part-time at Board and Brush creative studio.  I’m also passionate about natural health and wellness.

Growing up, my family was close-knit, but my mom struggled with health problems her whole life – depression, gut issues and back problems.  While we did things together as a family, we were limited by her condition  I remember her being in bed a lot. She would try to have a good meal for us on the table every night, but I still ate a lot of junk and processed food when a home cooked meal wasn’t an option.  We weren’t aware of all the short and long-term effects that food has on the body.

In middle school, I started getting made fun of for being so thin, which really affected me.  I had always been slender and unable to put on much weight, but when others started noticing, it made me really insecure.  That continued well into high school.  In high school, I also remember being pretty tired and not having a ton of energy.  My sleep consisted of: going to bed late, getting up early for school, falling asleep on my bed doing homework and going to bed late again.

Fast forward several years after having my first few kids.. just a few sleep deprived nights… my exhaustion and fatigue were much worse.  Not taking care of myself the right way put me in a bad state.  I was having gut issues and I was frequently getting sick and littlest virus would keep me down for a week or two.  

My mom had passed away in 2008 after I had had my first child, from an accidental overdose (the combination of a pain patch on her back and a heating pad).  After that, I began to think about my health in a new light; I knew I needed to figure out what was going on with myself, but I had a bad taste from conventional doctors and medicine after everything that happened with my mom.  

I discovered I had a gluten intolerance via trial and error after a doctor misdiagnosed me with acid re-flux.  I saw a string of natural doctors trying to figure out what was now lack of energy, anxiety, thinning hair, continued inability to gain weight along with some gut issues.  I saw at least 5 different doctors who all saw I had a problem going on with the symptoms and various lab results, but were unable to figure out what it all meant or what the cause was. I started eating healthier, in addition to being gluten-free, and begun researching more about natural remedies.  

When anything came up with our family, from colds and ear infections to strep throat, I tried to find a natural remedy for it. When my oldest was five, she had 5 rounds of strep throat and antibiotics to go with them, but was still sick. I was so frustrated and felt helpless; I came across a remedy of cayenne + honey + garlic and made her try it.  To my surprise, it worked! I had been able to treat her strep naturally without the use of antibiotics and she’s never had strep again. It’s like her body needed just a little natural help to fight it off on it’s own.

I continued seeking out natural remedies for ailments and dabbled in essential oils, not seeing much impact from the ones I had bought from the grocery store.  I didn’t think much of it until I was introduced to Young Living essential oils at a class. I was educated on the difference between store-grade oils vs pure, therapeutic grade oils and how they could help enhance a natural lifestyle. My husband thought I was nuts for being so excited about oils, but he’s now completely on-board and embraced my “crunchy” tendencies of tackling pretty much anything naturally.

As for my health problems, I’m still continuing to sift through the details of understanding what’s going on with my body. I found that following an AIP diet helps with a lot of my gut issues.  When I eat something I shouldn’t, I can recognize it quickly. My blood work still shows off levels and indicates potential thyroid and hormone issues, but the doctor I was seeing was somewhat perplexed by it. I’m currently waiting to see a new functional medicine doctor that a friend with Hashimoto’s recommended. She’s seen drastic improvement with her health over the last 6 months, so I am hopeful for similar results. In the meantime, I take each day as it comes. I am super aware of what I eat, what I use on my body and the products I use in my home. The journey to health and wellness seems to be an ongoing one. It can be so discouraging at times but I know that God has me in this journey for a reason and I’m trusting in His plan.

Like Alyssa, I know that so many of us are still in the thick of it- trying to figure out what’s causing issues and doing all we can to address the symptoms in the meantime.  I hope to someday share the answers Alyssa has discovered and the healing that she’s found.  I’m always comforted to know I’m not the only one still looking for answers, even though it is such a frustrating & discouraging place to be.

If you want to share your story, I would love to feature it on my blog to encourage others- please reach out to me at healthyhopefulblog(at)gmail.com. 

Heirloom Tomato and Mozzarella Bruschetta

BruschettaAs I’ve been planning our upcoming trip to Italy, I’ve found my cooking quite inspired by the cuisine. Last night, I needed a quick dinner and happened to find fresh baguettes on sale at Whole Foods for just 99¢, so I went with one of my favorite go-to 5 minute recipes: bruschetta!

Ingredients:

  • 1 package organic cherry heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 package organic mozzarella cheese
  • 5-6 basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon pink Himalayan salt
  • 1 teaspoon organic olive oil (my favorite brand is Kasandrinos)
  • drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Preparation:

  1. Put tomatoes into food processor and pulse just a couple times until tomatoes are broken up.
  2. Cut mozzarella cheese into small pieces.
  3. Add all ingredients into a bowl and mix together. That was so easy, right?!

4 Easy Serving Options:

Toasted Baguette – the most traditional way to serve… cut a baguette into 1/2 inch thick slices and arrange on a cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle some garlic and ground pepper on top. Put in a 425 degree oven for 3-5 minutes depending on how toasty you like your bread. Top with the bruschetta and serve.

Pasta – prepare your favorite pasta (I recommend Organic Einkorn Grain Spaghetti for a more digestible form of gluten) and toss with olive oil. Instead of a sauce, top with bruschetta for a fresh version perfect for a hot summer day!

Grilled Chicken – for a healthier, gluten-free version with some protein, marinate some chicken with balsamic vinegar for an hour and then grill. Top with the bruschetta mixture and serve.

Salad – another gluten-free option – get your veggies for the day by serving over some mixed greens; plus, you won’t even need to add dressing.

Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Baby Shower

This weekend I hosted a baby shower for a friend who is allergic to gluten. We wanted her to be able to eat everything at her own shower without worry, so we created a completely gluten-free spread for the event.

Emily's Shower

In case you are hosting for a bride or mama with this same allergy, I thought I would share the menu we put together.  While it certainly wasn’t sugar-free, we had plenty of healthier options to choose from. Plus, it was all super easy to put together so you won’t be in the kitchen prepping all day.

Chicken & Waffle Skewers – My friend thought up this brilliant, easy idea – find gluten-free chicken tenders and gluten-free waffles in the frozen food section. Toast them in the oven then cut into bite-sized pieces and alternate on a mini skewer or toothpick.  Serve with hot syrup or honey.

Veggies & Hummus

Fruit & Dip – For a healthier alternative to the classic cream cheese + marshmallow fluff dip, mix 2 cups vanilla yogurt with 1/2 cup honey and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Serve with your favorite fresh fruit.

Gluten-Free Mini Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – found in the baked goods section at Whole Foods

and a beautiful “Naked” Cake!

Gluten Free Naked CakeI’m usually not a fan of baking because I don’t have the patience to follow recipes, but this cake was super easy! I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Vanilla Cake Mix and prepared according to the directions, baking in 2 9-inch diameter cake pans. I used coconut oil instead of toxic vegetable oil. The cake was super moist and didn’t taste at all gluten-free.

Once the cake cooled, I pulled them out of the pans and placed in the freezer for 30-45 minutes – this makes the cake easier to cut and frost. In the meantime, I made some buttercream frosting. I used this recipe because it calls only for butter and no shortening. I added about double the milk and double the vanilla it called for to make it a bit creamier and more spreadable.

When I pulled the cakes out of the freezer, I cut each in half so that I could have 4 cake layers.  Then, I spread frosting in between each layer. Once I had all four layers stacked, I ran my knife around the outside to smooth out the edges a bit, without covering the cake completely, giving it that “naked” effect.

Drink BarFor drinks, we had yummy sparkling Italian sodas for the mama to drink, served in champagne glasses. And for the guests who weren’t pregnant, we had some local Peach & Grapefruit Deep Eddy Vodka(not gluten-free) to add – if you haven’t tried these yet, they are super delicious!

Happy Hosting!

Game Day Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken & KaleI’m always a little bummed when Labor Day arrives and brings an end to summer, but then I remember the good news – football has finally returned!  Lounging around all weekend, going to tailgates and attending watch parties can make it hard to eat healthy, but I try to take the challenge as an opportunity to create new versions of typically not-so-healthy foods.  Today, I’m sharing an easy twist on fried chicken that will totally satisfy your finger-food cravings.

Ingredients:

  • Approx 1 lb organic chicken (breasts, wings & drumsticks will all work for this!)
  • 2 organic, pasture-raised eggs
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil

Preparation:

Rinse the chicken and then pat dry.  If you are using chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch thick strips to make tenders.

Whisk the eggs in one wide, shallow bowl.  In another bowl, mix the coconut flour and spices.

Take each piece of chicken and coat it with egg, let excess drip and then dredge it through the flour mixture until completely coated.  Place these pieces on a new plate, put on your apron and you’re ready to fry ’em up.

Heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat on the stove in a frying pan.  For some extra flavor, I love to add a tablespoon of bacon grease to the oil.  You’ll know the oil is ready when you add a piece and it sizzles. Add 3-4 pieces to the pan and let it sizzle for 3 minutes per side.  Work in batches so the oil stays hot…. once those 3-4 pieces are done, you can add the next round.

Once you remove the chicken from the frying pan, place it on a baking sheet (best to add parchment paper underneath for easy clean-up).  If you made chicken tenders, they are likely ready to eat right-away, but thicker cuts, especially those bone-in, may need some time in the oven to finish cooking.  Use a meat thermometer to test so you don’t overcook.  I usually put drumsticks & wings in a 325 degree oven for just 5-10 minutes.

This fried chicken is crispy, tender and flavorful with just a bit of kick. Plus, it is gluten-free, paleo and full of health benefits from the coconut oil it’s fried in!

Best served with an ice cold kombucha & kale chips… Enjoy!

Lemon Cream Pasta

I can’t believe it has been over a year since our trip to Europe.  I so miss the days of walking everywhere, drinking wine & cappuccinos and eating ALL the pasta.  My favorite part of the trip was a 5-hour private cooking class in Lucca, Italy – check out my brother’s travel blog for all the yummy details!  When I am craving comfort food, my new go-to is the lemon cream sauce we learned to prepare.  It’s light and perfect for summer. Today, I’m sharing it prepared two ways.  The flavors in both of these recipes will blow you away… they certainly don’t taste healthy. Plus, both of these recipes can be made in 30 minutes, so it’s perfect for a quick weeknight dinner.

For the Lemon Cream sauce…

Simmer the zest of 1 lemon in a tablespoon of butter or coconut oil for one minute on low heat.

Then add 4 tablespoons of bone broth (or white wine).  I always have bone broth on hand and try to use it as much as possible… it’s a super-food that helps with digestion, supports our immune system, remineralizes our teeth, and is vital for our connective tissues (ligaments, joints).  Simmer for another minute.

Next, add 1 cup of organic heavy cream, the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of sea salt (I use pink Himalayan salt). Bring to a low boil, whisking frequently, to reduce the cream.  After 10 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit – it will continue to thicken as it cools. While the sauce is sitting, you can make the pasta.

Veggie Noodles with Italian Sausage

For a completely grain-free version, you can make “noodles” from squash & zucchini.  I use this julienne peeler to make the veggie strings, but of course you can use a spiralizer if you’re fancy.  Then, saute the “noodles” in a bit of olive/coconut oil over medium heat for a couple of minutes just until they are soft. Season with salt and toss with the warm sauce.

Complete the meal by topping with sliced organic Italian chicken sausage for some protein.

Veggie Noodles with Lemon Cream Sauce

Einkorn Pasta with Kale & Pancetta 

Despite the fact that so many people are having problems with the gluten in modern wheat today, not all gluten is actually bad.  Societies have eaten wheat for the centuries and been entirely healthy… even Jesus broke bread!  Over the years, wheat has been hybridized to increase crop yield and is now high in they type of gluten to which most of us are intolerant.  There is an ancient version of wheat that remains unhybridized and contains a completely different, more digestible version of gluten.  This is the traditional wheat that our ancestors ate and were nourished by.  Many with gluten allergies & intolerances are even able to eat Einkorn wheat without reaction. Read more here.

Anytime I want to enjoy real pasta, I make Einkorn pasta. I buy mine at Whole Foods or Natural Grocers and it’s prepared just like any other pasta.

To complete this meal, I saute sliced pancetta (or turkey bacon) and kale, then toss with the pasta and lemon cream sauce.

Einkorn with Kale and Pancetta

Happy cooking!

Healthy Summer Salads

Peach, Goat Cheese & WalnutY’all. Memorial Day weekend is this weekend. Crazy. Summer is officially upon us. If you are trying to lose those few extra pounds for swimsuit season and looking to add a few more veggies into your diet, here are a few easy salad recipes to take advantage of the abundant fresh, seasonal produce right now.

When it comes to salads, there are couple things that are a must for me:

  • Lots of color = way more appetizing (and instagram-worthy).  Plus, the variety of colors means you are getting a variety of nutrients.
  • If you want to make a salad a meal, you’ve got to add protein to keep you full.  The easiest (and cheapest) ways I’ve found to have this on-hand to add are: pre-cooked hard boiled eggs or shredded chicken – find my two-step chicken crock pot recipe here.  Or if you want to be fancy, add grilled wild-caught salmon for some healthy Omega-3s.

If I can, I always try to make my own salad dressing for two very important reasons:

  1. A store-bought or restaurant dressing can quickly turn your “healthy” salad into a calorie-loaded fat bomb.
  2. Pre-made dressings are filled with preservatives and vegetable oils.  Vegetable/canola oils are full of free radicals that cause serious damage to your cells, meaning that your salad has become nearly as harmful to your health as those french fries you really want to eat instead. Learn more at my favorite doctor’s website here.

Homemade dressings are much easier to make than you’d imagine and if you make more than you’ll need that meal, put the mixture in a mason jar and keep for a week or two in the fridge.  Here are a few of my favorite salad & dressing recipes that take 10 minutes or less to prepare:

Strawberry Pecan SaladStrawberry & Pecan – Slice strawberries and add to raw baby spinach. Add pecans (or even better, honey-roasted pecans) for some crunch. Top with either goat or feta cheese for some tangy-ness. Another great item to add to this salad: snap peas.  Make a simple balsamic vinaigrette for this one; it pairs perfectly with the strawberries. Put the following ingredients in a jar with lid and shake: 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp raw honey, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 clove minced garlic, salt & pepper to taste.

Peach & Goat Cheese (pictured above) – Slice some fresh peaches and lay on a bed of mixed greens.  Add some goat cheese crumbles and walnuts for crunch.  Top with a peach-basil vinaigrette: 2 parts extra-virgin olive oil to 1 part peach vinegar (find this at your local farmer’s market – I get it from Hill Country Olive Co.). Whisk with chopped basil and a pinch of sea salt. Variation: use other flavored vinegar to mix it up.. some of my favorites are the pineapple, pear & lemon.

Grapefruit Avocado SaladGrapefruit & Avocado – Peel and slice half of a ruby-red grapefruit and an avocado.  Pair with mixed greens and add sunflower seeds. Add thinly sliced cucumber for extra crunch. This is best with a sweet honey mustard dressing: Mix 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar, 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp raw honey with 1/3 cup olive oil. Add dash of salt, pepper, & garlic powder.

Caesar Salad – Chopped romaine with cherry tomatoes, topped with grated Parmesan cheese. The easiest way to make homemade Caesar dressing is by blending 1 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/2 tsp each of: garlic powder, sea salt, and pepper. I often add a few Italian herbs from my garden to the mix – rosemary, thyme, oregano. To make it creamy, add 2 Tbsp of  plain Greek yogurt.

Heirloom Tomato SaladMexican Heirloom Tomato – Nothing beats fresh heirloom tomatoes… slice one and season with a pinch of sea salt. Add with sliced avocado to an herb salad mix. Shredded raw cheddar cheese is a perfect topping for additional flavor, and a few tortilla chip crumbles for crunch.  The dressing for this one is one of my favorites – cilantro-lime vinaigrette. Mix 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup lime juice, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1 pressed garlic clove with 1/2 cup olive oil. Add dash of salt & pepper.

Happy Summer & Bon Appétit!

Do You Breakfast?

HoneymoonBreakfast is, by far, my favorite meal of the day.  If I didn’t have to rush out the door each morning for work, I’d take the time to prepare poached eggs, migas or cinnamon french toast with strawberries (paired with a coconut milk cappuccino or mimosa, of course!).  Getting to enjoy breakfast is one of my favorite parts of vacation and the weekends.

But reality is most of us just don’t have time for that. Most of you, I can imagine, skip breakfast altogether most mornings.  I’m sure you’ve heard it time and again, but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.  It jump starts your metabolism, gives you energy, and prevents the hunger that puts you in a bad mood or causes you to overeat later in the day.  Plus, a healthy breakfast gives your body the best chance of absorbing those vitamins and minerals more easily at the start of the day, cutting down on your cravings later.

When my doctor told me last Fall that I needed to add 80 grams of protein into my diet each day, I knew that I would have to find a way to increase my intake at breakfast.  I thought I would share a few of my quick go-to favorites for those of you looking to mix up your routine:

Poached Eggs on Sprouted Wheat Toast with AvocadoPoached Eggs

If you have an egg poaching pan, this option is as fast and easy as boiling an egg.  While the eggs are cooking, I toast a piece of sprouted wheat bread (read why here), slather with organic butter or coconut oil and then top with sliced avocado.  It takes me about 7 minutes total to throw together this delicious, filling meal.

On a side note, I always make sure to buy free-range, organic, soy-free eggs because they are the most nutrient-dense.  I get this local brand at Whole Foods/Natural Grocers and love them; you truly can taste the freshness: Coyote Creek Farms.

Egg Bacon Muffins

I originally found this recipe on one of my favorite health blogs, Wellness Mama, and I love its versatility.  It is so incredibly easy to mix up a batch and throw in whatever extra vegetables are in your fridge.  Also, bacon!  I will make these on Sunday night for the week.  I usually eat a couple of these at a time – wrap them in foil and warm a few minutes in the toaster oven, then eat them in the car.  If you want to nix the bacon for whatever crazy reason, you can also just whip up some eggs, throw in some diced veggies and bake in muffin tins for mini frittatas.

“Bento Box”Bento Box

This is another one of those easy make-ahead options that you can put in a container to grab on your way out the door.  Simply boil a couple of eggs (can’t boil an egg? try this!), throw in a few berries for an antioxidant boost and then I add a muffin or two that I’ve baked on Sunday.  This gluten-free banana muffin is one of my favorite & totally healthy recipes – you can add in a couple tablespoons raw honey if you like it sweeter or some dark chocolate chips and nuts for some texture.

Greek Yogurt & Grain-Free Granola

Yogurt and GranolaGreek Yogurt is a yummy way to get some great protein in the AM with 15 g in 1 cup.  I personally love the Wallaby brand made with organic whole milk from pasture-raised cows and no artificial ingredients. Then, I top with some grain-free granola and fresh berries.  I recently found this Wildway Granola at Whole Foods and fell in love… it’s not cheap but it’s packed with fiber & protein (8g), is completely raw, has no added sweeteners. It is made entirely of fruit, nuts, and seeds, so is gluten-free, paleo and truly the healthiest pre-made version of granola you can buy.  P.S. I also love this as a late night protein snack to help me fall asleep.

GoMacro Bars

If you want an option with zero prep, try these tasty, wholesome breakfast bars.  My favorite is the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip with 12 grams of protein.  I love this brand because they are organic, GMO-free, soy free (try finding another protein bar that is, especially with chocolate), free of refined sugar AND are reasonably priced compared to other options.  The whole mission of GoMacro is to provide a “macrobiotic” or minimally processed, found-in-nature product. You can buy them individually or by the case for a discount at Whole Foods or Natural Grocers.

Any other healthy breakfast ideas? Please share – I am always looking to mix it up!