Healthy Vegetarian Diet Blog


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A scientifically proven way to boost your moods with food

You’ve probably heard it a million times; you are what you eat. But what you may not know is the food you eat doesn’t just affect your physical body, it also affects your moods. 

This is because food affects your brain and gut, which both have neurons that produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is important. It regulates your moods, and it reduces depression and anxiety. 

Surprisingly, most serotonin is located in your gut, not the brain. This is why there’s speculation that antidepressants, which have been developed to raise serotonin levels in the brain, are not always effective.

Boost Your Serotonin Level with Good Bacteria

There’s plenty of research that shows good bacteria in the gut is essential for brain development and is involved in your moods, behavior, and emotions. One study found that after only four weeks of consuming fermented milk with probiotics, the brain regions that control the processing of emotions and sensations were affected. 

To get more good bacteria into your gut, eat fermented foods, like Kefir*, sauerkraut, yogurt*, miso, and kimchi. Just be sure not to buy cooked or pasteurized versions of products like sauerkraut. The fermentation process is designed to kill off the bad bacteria, but it also kills off the good bacteria.

Another great option is to take a high-quality probiotic supplement. A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that volunteers given a daily probiotic supplement for 30 days had a significant reduction of the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

* Buy plain Kefir and yogurt, and read the label carefully. Many that are flavored with fruit and are high in sugar.

Recipe: Kefir Blueberry Smoothie

A great way to get more probiotic-rich Kefir into your diet is by using Kefir for the liquid in your smoothies. Here’s just one delicious smoothie recipe to try out:


1 cup of full-fat, unflavored Kefir 

1/2 cup blueberries

1/2 small banana

1/2 cup baby spinach

Add stevia, monk fruit or xylitol for additional sweetness (optional)

Use organic when possible.


Photo by from Pexel

How Childhood Experiences Can Affect Your Cravings

In my last post, I wrote about the physiological reasons we have cravings for sugar, including the chemicals that are involved, and how emotional eating can cause food addictions. In today’s post, we’ll look at the psychological triggers.

One particular study on the psychological side of cravings shows that individuals reach for comfort foods because of an association made between those foods and happy, childhood memories. When you eat those same foods today, you get connected to those happier times and experience temporary, emotional relief from negative feelings and emotional discomfort.

You may be thinking “that’s all well and good, but how do I stop?” Here are some of the things you can do that can make a big difference.

Keep a journal to track what you crave, when you crave it, and what you were feeling or going through when the craving hit (tired, stressed, lonely, angry, etc.)

You’ll see patterns in your behavior and may realize that you need to make some changes in your lifestyle. For example, if you frequently reach for sweets when you’re at home alone and bored, perhaps you spend too much time in the office and not enough socializing and connecting with friends.

Plus, when you gain more insight into those triggers, you’re better equipped to stop yourself from indulging and do something else. If you find, for example, that you’re reaching for a lot of sweets when you’re stressed out, exercising can do wonders. Cardiovascular exercise reduces stress, and it decreases cortisol, a chemical that makes you reach for those sweet comfort foods.

Get It Out of Your Home. Go through your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and toss all the sweets (and other junk food while you’re at it). This will eliminate binging. You’ll need to replace those sweets with healthier choices.

Stock Up on Healthy Alternatives. Fill your refrigerator with fresh fruit and sweet vegetables. A good protein snack helps too, like nuts and seeds. Another great alternative is a smoothy made with fruits and veggies.

Get Checked Out for Mineral Deficiencies. If you have a magnesium deficiency and many people do, it can cause intense sugar cravings, especially for chocolate. A deficiency in zinc can also cause cravings.

Don’t Use Artificial sweeteners. I’ve talked about this before, but it’s well worth repeating here. It’s been proven that they actually increase cravings for sweets.

Increase Serotonin Levels. Not only does serotonin produce feelings of happiness, but it also lessens food cravings, especially for carbohydrates. Micronutrients that help increase serotonin are zinc, vitamin C, and B vitamins. The herb Rhodiola may also increase serotonin and combat cravings.

How easy or hard it will be for you to quit sugar depends on how physically and emotionally dependent you’ve become on it. But, don’t give up. It will be one of the best things you do for yourself.


Eat Right For Life With a Plant-Based Diet: The Secret to Permanent Weight Loss and Optimal Health

Threatened and preference for comfort food among the securely attached

Cravings, emotional eating, and food addictions. Take the Quiz.

More than likely, you’re familiar with emotional eating – most of us are. You get this strong craving for comfort foods, especially sweets. And those cravings don’t relent until you give in and indulge.

In this post, you’ll learn why we have those cravings, how emotional eating can cause food addictions and how to find out if you have one.

Why We Crave Comfort Foods When We’re Stressed or Anxious

When you’re very stressed or anxious, your body reacts by releasing three chemicals, dopamine, cortisol, and serotonin. 

Serotonin (sometimes referred to as the “happy chemical”) is a neurotransmitter produced by the brain. It reduces anxiety, improves mood, and works as an antidepressant. When you experience a lot of stress or anxiety, your body’s supply of serotonin is quickly used up to help keep you calm and centered. As a result, we instinctively reach for sugar and wheat because they trigger the brain to release more serotonin. 

Cortisol, known as the fight-or-flight hormone, gets released during a dangerous situation to give you energy. But, it also gets released when you’re very stressed or anxious. When cortisol is released, it sends a signal to your brain that you’re hungry. And, it creates strong cravings for carbs because they’re the quickest energy source.

Eating sugar also causes a large amount of dopamine – another feel-good chemical – to be released. The brain is hardwired to seek out behaviors that release dopamine (eating sugar, having sex and doing drugs). And we look for that “high” again and again. 

How Emotional Eating Causes Food Addictions

Sugar and wheat (remember, starch turns to sugar) are highly addictive. In fact, studies have shown that sugar is just as addictive as cocaine and heroin.

Plus, just like any other addictive substance, like drugs or alcohol, when you indulge in too much sugar, your brain decreases your sense of pleasure. This creates a tolerance to the sugar “high,” and we start craving larger and larger quantities.

Think You Have a Food Addiction? Take This Quiz to Find Out.

In our next post, I’ll share with you some tips that can help you handle cravings and stop emotional eating. In the meantime, if you think you have a food addiction, take this quick, online quiz by Dr. Pamela Peeke. It can help you determine how likely it is that you have one.


The Diet Cure, by Julia Ross

The Mood Cure, by Julia Ross

Eat Right For Life With a Plant-Based Diet: The Secret to Permanent Weight Loss and Optimal Health, By Susan Allocco

How Food Addiction Works (And What to Do About It), by Kris Gunnars, Healthline

Why Our Brains Love Sugar and Why Our Bodies Don’t, Melanie Greenberg Ph.D., Psychology Today

What You Need to Know About Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners add the sweet taste we learned to love without the calories and blood sugar spike.

But there are some really big downsides. Past and recent studies show that artificial sweeteners can seriously damage your health. In fact, they’re responsible for the same types of health issues as sugar, including a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.

What’s more, while these sweeteners have been promoted as a way for you to lose weight, nothing can be further from the truth. Artificial sweeteners actually stimulate your appetite, promote fat storage, cause weight gain, and increase cravings for carbs. 

The bottom line is, there are absolutely no advantages to using an artificial sweetener. 

What to Use Instead

There are a number of safe, natural, low-calorie and zero-calorie sweeteners to choose from. These are three of the most common and my personal favorites:

Stevia:  Stevia is made from a natural herb that’s grown in South America. It will not impact blood sugar. Stevia comes in both a powdered and liquid form, and it works well in both beverages and recipes. Many brands contain additives, so read the label and select a brand that is pure stevia.

Negative: some people experience a bitter aftertaste.

Xylitol: Xylitol is a sugar alcohol and is found naturally in fruits and vegetables. It was traditionally made from birch bark, but most xylitol is now extracted from corn cob. If this is an issue for you, look for brands that only use birch bark. You can find them on Amazon.

Xylitol is easy to use in baking as it can be used interchangeably with sugar in recipes (i.e., substitute one cup of sugar with one cup of xylitol). A unique benefit to xylitol is that it’s been proven to stop the formation of cavities.

Negative: Some people experience gas, bloating and diarrhea when they consume too much. Dangerous to dogs. 

Monk Fruit (also called Lo Han Guo): Monk fruit is also a natural product. It comes from a small melon grown in China and Thailand and has been used as a herbal remedy in traditional, Eastern medicine for centuries. Monk fruit is very sweet (150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar). But it won’t raise your blood sugar. It contains antioxidants and some claim it supports the immune system, digestive tract, glands, and respiratory system.

Negative: many brands have added ingredients like stabilizers or fillers, so be sure to read the label.

When using any sweetener keep in mind that you’re training your tastebuds to crave sweet foods. Use sparingly.

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Eat Right for Life With a Plant-Based Diet: The Secret to Permanent Weight Loss and Optimal Health, Susan Allocco

“Artificial sweeteners cause of Alzheimer’s & stroke?”  David Perlmutter, MD 

“A role for sweet taste: calorie predictive relations in energy regulation by rats.” Behav Neurosci“How artificial sweeteners confuse your body into storing fat and inducing diabetes,” Joseph Mercola, MD

How Much Fat Can You Have in Your Diet Without Gaining Weight?

Since the 1980s a low-fat diet has been touted as a solution to heart disease and weight gain. Unfortunately, this advice was flawed and problematic. Our bodies need healthy fats to (1) absorb fat-soluble vitamins, (2) maintain a strong nervous and immune system, and (3) make certain hormones.

The right amount of healthy fats can even help you LOSE weight, not gain it.

Fat can speed up your metabolism, stimulate fatburning, and reduce hunger as it makes you feel satisfied and full longer. And, because fat helps to keep your blood sugar stable, it can reduce cravings and overeating.

Fat also gives food flavor.

When it’s removed from processed food, the flavor is lost. To add flavor back in, food companies add other ingredients, especially sugar.

So how much healthy fat can you have in your diet?

It depends on how carbohydrate-rich your diet is. If you eat a lot of grains, your body has been conditioned to use carbohydrates for energy and to store fat. To understand this better, look at two diets that are on opposite carbohydrate spectrums.

Individuals on the Paleo diet, which eliminates grains, legumes, and other high carb foods, can eat up to 30% of their calories in fat, and still lose or maintain their weight. 

The Ornish Diet, developed by Dr. Dean Ornish for heart health and weight loss, is very high in grains. He recommends that fat consumption should be only about 10% of your daily calories. This diet has also been proven to produce weight loss, but is very strict; no oils, and products that contain oils, including avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and full-fat dairy.

Most vegetarian diets are high in carbs from eating loads of wheat products and other grains. But if you’re on a healthy vegetarian diet (see below*) you can consume between 15% to 20% of calories in fat. 

Eliminate From Your Diet

Added sugars (especially refined sugars, HFCS [high fructose corn syrup] and agave)Refined grains (products made with white rice and flour, including pasta and bread)Fruit juices (super high in sugar)Processed foods

Eat Sparingly

Dried Fruit (all are high in fructose.)Whole WheatHoney and maple syrup

Eat in Moderation

Whole grains (particularly those with gluten)PseudograinsHigh-starch vegetables (potatoes, yellow corn, beans, and peas)Fruits high in sugar (e.g., bananas, pineapples, mangoes, grapes, watermelon, dates, cherries, and apples)

Enjoy Lots of

Leafy green vegetables (e.g., kale, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, collard greens, romaine lettuce, and mustard greens)Cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower)Low-starch vegetables (e.g., artichokes, asparagus, baby corn, peppers, mushrooms, and green, wax and Italian beans)Fruit low in sugar (berries have the least amount of sugar.)

In addition to a healthy diet, you also have to consider your age and how active you are.

If you’ve been struggling to find a diet that works, contact me for a complimentary consultation. I can help you discover what is best for your unique needs, body, and goals. I specialize in developing plant-based diets that are sustainable, healthy, and that bring results.

Help for Your Post Holiday Sugar Cravings

If you’re like me, your healthy diet gets trashed during the holidays with sugary desserts and treats.

But now that the fun is over, you may be dealing with strong cravings for sweets. It’s normal. We get addicted to sugar really fast. When you eat sugar your brain releases endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins reduce anxiety, boost self-esteem, and give you a sense of well-being. Serotonin makes us feel content and happy.

It’s no surprise then that saying no to sweets is not easy, especially after indulging in them, even for a short period of time. So what can you do?

A big dose of willpower can help. When you’re hit by a craving remind yourself that you’re in control and the sooner you eliminate sweets from your diet, the sooner these cravings will disappear. Okay. For many of us, this is easier said than done. So if you lack strong willpower, there are some techniques that can help.

Don’t use artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners add a sweet taste to food and beverages, but it’s been proven that they actually increase sugar cravings.

Get enough vegetarian protein. Cravings for sweets can increase by not getting enough protein in your diet.

Eat enough healthy fats. Make sure that you’re getting enough healthy fats at each meal. Fat actually helps to stop cravings for sugar and other carbohydrates.

Increase serotonin levels. As I mentioned earlier, serotonin produces feelings of happiness. It also helps lessen food cravings, especially for carbohydrates.

There are several things you can do to increase serotonin. Micronutrients that are particularly helpful are zinc, vitamin C, and the B vitamins. The herb Rhodiola may also increase serotonin and combat cravings.

If you live in a warm climate, the sun works wonders in increasing natural serotonin levels.

Grab a piece of fruit. Instead of eating something with processed sugar, try a piece of fruit. It can help until you get the cravings under control.

Clean out your kitchen pantry. Trash all the temptations that you have tucked away in your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator.

Need more motivation to kick the sugar habit? The following articles may inspire you.

What Does Sugar Do to Your Brain

The Sugar and Cancer Connection

How to Decrease Chemical Pesticides From Your Produce

There are some things you can do to reduce the number and level of chemical pesticides in your produce. This is the most effective.

Continue reading “How to Decrease Chemical Pesticides From Your Produce”

How to Vegetarianize Almost Any Recipe

Use these flavor and protein swaps to revamp, or vegetarianize, almost any recipe.

Continue reading “How to Vegetarianize Almost Any Recipe”

How to Cook Tofu

Want to know how to prepare the best tofu? In this article you will learn all the basics, including the different types, and how to choose the right one; how to prepare it; and how to cook tofu for perfect result.

Continue reading “How to Cook Tofu”

New Summer Recipes from Around the Web

It’s the summer, and, if you’re like most people, you want to eat delicious food, but don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Here are three, vegetarian recipes from around the web that check all the boxes.

Vegan Peach Ice Cream

I love this ice cream recipe. It uses coconut milk and only 1 to 2 tbsp of maple syrup to sweeten it. What’s more, you don’t need an ice cream maker. What’s not to love?

Lime and Blistered Peanut Coleslaw Recipe

This is another great summer recipe. What I love about this one is it’s fast, uses very few ingredients, and there’s no cooking involved. Plus it’s nutritious. There’s a lot of protein and crunch, and with the addition of greek yogurt you can add creaminess and even more protein. 

Fig Caprese Salad

If you’re like me and you love figs, you’ll love this salad. It has that perfect combination of sweet and salty, plus the fresh mozzarella gives a complete protein.

This recipe has very few ingredients, so I suggest you use only the best, freshest ingredients, including fresh mozzarella.

Weird Vegetarian Food Science

I’ve recently noticed that there are two distinct types of vegetarian (and vegan) diets. In one  camp the vegetarians yearn for the flavors and textures of animal proteins. As a result, they purchase a lot of foods that are engineered to look, smell, and taste like chicken, beef, and even fish. More than likely, these individuals transitioned to a vegetarian diet for health or weight reasons.

In the second camp are vegetarians who transitioned to avoid harming animals, and, as a result, are revolted by foods that too closely emulate animal proteins.

The “Bleeding” Pho Burger

If you’re a member of the former group, you may be familiar with the Impossible Burger. The company, named Impossible, has engineered a burger that not only tastes and looks like a real beef burger, it releases a beef-like blood when it’s cooking. The company reports that 70 percent of it’s fans are meat eaters.

The ingredient they use to emulate blood oozing is called soy leghemoglobin. There was a lot of controversy surrounding it’s use due to possible allergens and “other unwanted effects.” But, the FDA has recently reversed it’s concerns and has issued a statement that the Impossible Burger and it’s main ingredient, soy leghemoglobin, is safe.

As you know by now, I strongly recommend a whole foods diet and the consumption of very little processed foods. The majority of them are laden with chemicals and artificial colors and flavors, many of which are linked to illnesses. What’s more, most have little or no nutritional value, are engineering to keep you eating, and contain lots of sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, and soy by-products * 

When you stick to a whole-foods diet, there’s no need to worry about what you’re eating, or if there are any potentially damaging ingredients.

If you want to learn more about this product and the controversy, see the following articles:

The Impossible Burger is probably safe. So why is everyone worked up about “heme”?

Bleeding Vegetarian Meat Declared Safe by US FDA

* From my book, Eat Right For Life With a Plant-Based Diet

Vegetarian, Mexican Lasagna

This is so perfect for the Summer months. It’s easy, yummy and you don’t need to turn on the oven. I make it once a week and never tire of it.

2 ServingsIngredients

15.5 oz can black beans
6 corn tortillas
6 slices Jalapeño Cheese – or your choice of cheese
4 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and chopped
4 tbsp. cilantro – or to taste (I use lots, and not just for the flavor: cilantro is a great detoxifier)
2 cloves garlic finely diced
1/2 small onion – finely diced
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 hot chile pepper (serrano or jalapeño) finely chopped. Optional

InstructionsPrepare the Beans

Rinse the beans well and add to a pot with enough water to cover the beans. Heat on low until all the water is absorbed.

Make the Tomato Salsa

In a bowl add together the chopped tomatoes, garlic, onion, hot pepper (if using), fresh lime juice, salt and mix well.

Prepare the Corn Tortillas

Heat the corn tortillas either in a non-stick pan or in the oven. When they are don (I like them to start to color) add a slice of cheese and let it melt.


When the tortillas are ready, you can assemble this anyway you want. I like to place a layer of the beans and salsa on top of one tortilla. I then add two more layers of tortilla, beans, and tomatoes. If your kids like to help out in the kitchen, this is a fun one for them to do.

Enjoy!What To Do When Organic Is Not An Option

Organic produce has become very popular. It contains more nutrients than conventional fruits and vegetables, and it’s grown without toxic pesticides.

But, organic may not be available where you shop. If there isn’t enough of a demand for it, the stores simply won’t carry it. For many people, it’s not a matter of accessibility; organic can be too expensive.

Fortunately, you have some options that can really help. In this week’s blog post you’ll learn;

An easy, scientifically proven way to reduce a lot of the pesticide residue on your produceWhy pesticides are dangerousHow to find out which non-organic fruits and vegetables are laden with pesticide residue and which ones are clean Why Chemical Pesticides Are Dangerous

It’s common for conventionally grown produce to contain pesticide residue. In fact, 70 percent of non-organic produce has been found to be contaminated.

According to an article in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, there’s a huge body of evidence linking the exposure to pesticides with elevated rates of chronic diseases, like cancers, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders (like Parkinson, Alzheimer, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS]), birth defects, and reproductive disorders. Unfortunately, there’s more. The article goes on to state that “there’s also circumstantial evidence on the association of exposure to pesticides with some other chronic diseases.” The list is quite long.

What You Can Do

Thankfully, there are a couple of things that you can do.

1. Reduce Pesticide Residue With This Technique

A recent study shows that soaking produce in a solution of baking soda and water is the best method for reducing pesticides. While you may not be able to eliminate all of them, as some pesticides get deeply absorbed, it will do a much better job than a bleach solution, or just rinsing and scrubbing under running water. 

To get the best results, start by washing, and scrubbing tough-skinned produce, under running water. Then add it to one teaspoon of baking soda and two cups of water. The researchers said that it took 12 to 15 minutes in the baking soda solution to completely get rid of the two pesticides used in the study, so I soak my produce for 20.

2. Check the Environmental Working Group’s Website (EWG) 

Here you’ll find a list of produce with the most and least amount of pesticides. You’ll find EWG’s lists invaluable in helping you to decide which non-organic produce you don’t have to worry about, and which should be treated, or possibly avoided.

If you have any tips or comments you’d like to share, please do so below. We’d love to hear from you.

Photo by Megan Hodges

How to Make Your Own Protein Powders and Smoothies – and 3 Reasons Why You Should

A protein powder smoothie can come in handy; like when you’re too busy to eat right and you want to avoid eating junk. They’ve become popular with vegans and vegetarians, especially athletes, who want to ensure that they’re getting enough quality protein into their diet.

The problem with store-bought protein powders is they’re expensive, and there have been some negative reports about their ingredients. The good news is it’s easy to make your own. Besides costing less, you get to customize the ingredients to fit your specific needs.

Continue reading “How to Make Your Own Protein Powders and Smoothies – and 3 Reasons Why You Should”

Avocado: The Number 1 Summer Fruit

I’m in beautiful Costa Rica, surrounded by nature and a yard full of mango, banana, orange, and lemon trees. Another popular fruit here is the avocado.

We love avocados because they’re highly nutritious, have protein and fiber, and you can use them to create simple, quick summer dishes. Avos (as they’re now affectionately called) can be the star of the dish, or used as a side.

My favorite thing about avocados? They’re low in carbs and high in fat.

(Note: the following is from my book)
The right dietary fats are key to good health. They

Speed up your metabolism, reduce hunger, and stimulate fat burning;Help keep blood sugar stable, which reduces cravings and overeating;Are needed for cell membranes, the nervous system, and the immune system, and to make certain hormones;Keep skin and hair radiant, and help keep us “regular”;Provide twice as much energy as carbohydrates and burn slower for longer-lasting energy; and Are needed to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Studies also show that the monounsaturated fat found in avocados — along with a diet that minimizes sugar — helps you lose weight.

Great Health Benefits

Avocados have 20 different vitamins and minerals. These nutritional powerhouses have been proven to lower bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels (important for good cardiovascular health). And they contain high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, powerful antioxidants that protect your eyes.

How to Pick the Best

How do you pick the best avocados? Look at the color and how it reacts when you squeeze it gently. If the avo is:

Green and hard: It’s underripe, but will be good within a couple of days.

Dark brown/black, mushy, wrinkled around the top, dull skin, bruised: It’s overripe.

Brown, slightly yields to gentle pressure, no wrinkles, plump and shiny skin: Bingo, you’ve found the perfectly ripe avocado.

Simple Ways to Enjoy ItThe simplest ways to enjoy avocados are sliced or cubed and added to salads; as a side with eggs; on toast with tomatoes and mayo; added to smoothies, and stuffed. That’s not to say you can’t get really creative.

Avocados have a creamy texture and mild flavor that goes really well with a lot of different fruits, vegetables, herbs, proteins, and dairy.

Fruits: lemon, lime, coconut, strawberries, grapefruit, tomatoes, kiwi, and mango

Vegetables: onions, garlic, lettuce, spinach, and cucumber

Vegetarian Protein: eggs, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, edamame beans, and hazelnuts

Herbs: cilantro, coriander, mint, dill, chili peppers, black pepper, chipotle pepper, and nutmeg

Dairy: goat cheese, mozzarella cheese, feta cheese, white cheddar, and sour cream

How to Store AvosIf the avocado is fully ripe, store it in the fridge. Otherwise, keep it on your kitchen counter. If you want to speed up the ripening, just place it in a paper bag just as you would with other fruits.


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