Spiced oats and date cookies

After my workout today, I felt like having a little something sweet, without actually having something decadent or sweet, you know? I remembered my first batch of these spiced oats and dates cookies and decided they would be a perfect post-workout snack, which I am currently enjoying with a steaming cup of green tea, lightly sweetened with agave syrup. Wow, I sound like a total health junkie! I guess I am, yet I am not: I'm very much into health (Did the name of the blog tip anybody off? No?), but because of the way I was brought up and where I live, many "health junkie" staples are unavailable or unattractive to me. Molasses are impossible to find in France, and I've yet to understand what nutritional yeast would be sold as here, if it were available. So, that being said, I go for available healthy food choices. And these cookies are just that: an easily available alternative to a "normal" sugar loaded cookie. 

It is quite openly adapted from the recipe above by Sunita Bhuyan, and you could adapt it even more freely if you so desired. In the mean time, below you can find my version of this delicious cookie. 

(Vegan) Spiced oats and dates cookies 
15 dates, stoned and chopped (or the equivalent weight of date paste, I used half and half)
1/2 cup to 2/3 cup of milk, traditional or alternative* (see note)
3 tblsp sunflower oil (or other neutral oil of your choosing, canola or coconut would work great)
2 tblsp honey (molasses could work, but I haven't tried)
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/3 cup oats
1 cup whole wheat flour (or flour of your choosing)
2/3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp flax seeds (ground if possible, whole is fine too)
Pinch of salt
Some brown sugar for rolling the balls in (optional) 
* note: original recipe calls for less milk and more oil. I brought down the oil to 3 tablespoons instead of 4 as I found my first batch a tad too "shiny", but you need to adjust the liquid/dry ingredients ratio accordingly.
Also, you can obviously adjust the spices used and their quantities according to your personal taste.

First, you'll want to preheat your oven to 180°C (gas mark 6).
Then, purée the dates with the milk as finely as possible. If you're using whole flax seeds, add them in, too. Add the oil and honey (in that order, to avoid the honey sticking to the spoon), pulse a couple of times, add the vanilla essence, pulse again and set aside. 
In a bowl, mix all the dry ingredients: flour, oats, bicarb, salt, spices and flax seeds (if using ground ones).
In a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour the date mixture and mix with a fork. When combined, mix lightly with your fingers. (Original recipe calls for an hour's chilling time for the dough at this point, but seeing as these are not ordinary cookies, in my opinion they don't need to be chilled to avoid spreading.)
Shape just under a heaped tablespoon of mixture per portion into a little ball, roll in the sugar if desired, then flatten lightly onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Given that the mixture is pretty dry, cracks may form down the sides, that's fine. The recipe should make 15-18 cookies, depending on portion size. 
Place the tray in the center** of the pre-heated oven and bake for 15 minutes until the cookies are slightly golden. They will be tender at first, but harden a little upon cooling while remaining ever so slightly chewy in the center. 

**If you've rolled your cookies in the sugar and, like me, you have a gas oven that only heats from the bottom, you may want to place your cookies a little above the center to avoid burning the sugar on the bottom of the cookies.

Don't be put off by the seemingly long directions, it's just due to differences in recipes. These cookies come together really quickly and taste divine. They are not overly sweet, but pack some good nutrition with the dates and honey (plus, they're under 100 calories each, making 2 of them a perfect snack!).

What's your favorite healthy cookie recipe? I'd love to know!


2011 In Review

Q: What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?
A: I graduated my Masters with 110/110 points and finally took up a near-daily exercise routine at home to build strength and to show myself I could do it if I set myself to it. Still going strong! 

Q: Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for the next year?
A: I don't really make resolutions. I think I "resolved" to get my Masters with the best possible mark and to be able to do 10 "real" pushups by the end of the year. I got my Masters, but unfortunately am still unable to do real pushups even though I have been working out at home regularly for most of the year.
This year, I would like to further increase my strength and fitness level, continue to eat and think healthily and, most importantly, lessen my incredibly strong powers of procrastination as I think it's what has most hindered me this year.


How to: stay healthy during the holiday season

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice or nothing at all, the holiday season is usually the time of year for indulgence in all its forms. Chocolates, luxurious roasts and sauces, sweets and all other delicacies are a-plenty in shops and people's homes, and it can be difficult to entirely bypass the "Christmas spirit", especially if you don't want friends and family to call you The Grinch for the next 2 weeks.
However, there are a few ways for you to indulge without going over board or feeling guilty and without compromising all the good work you've done so far with your food and exercise.

1. I'd say that your most important key to survive the holiday season is "moderation". You like chocolate? Then go ahead, have a piece! But stop at one. In the end, what we like about treats is the taste, so once it's hit our taste buds for the first time, there really is no need to continue fishing in the packet for more. Enjoy that first taste, relish in it, savour it, and then just let it go (until the next time, which better not be 10 mins later!). By indulging with moderation, you are ensuring that you don't start hating the holiday season for all the delicious things you can't have and that you don't suddenly go chocolate crazy and have the entire box to make up for your abstinence.

2. Don't forget to exercise. I know it's probably cold and miserable outside (not here, it's still 14°C and sunny for some reason...), but that's no excuse to suddenly go back to being a couch potato. Everything I said about exercise here is still valid, now more than ever. If you continue with regular physical activity over the holiday season, not only will you not feel sluggish from all that over-eating and under-exercising, but you will also be a step ahead of all those people who wait for the New Year to take fitness resolutions. When they will be taking their first painful baby steps towards a better lifestyle, you'll already be fit and healthy and living your best life. Doesn't that sound like something you would want for yourself? That post I linked to also has a slew of ideas on how to exercise when the weather is being inclement, so no more excuses, get crackin'!

3. If you're not the one doing the cooking and you don't really have a say in what goes into your mouth at meal times, consider making green smoothies/juices. You can get your daily dose of greens, vitamins, minerals and even protein (depending on what you blend up) in just one serving and all you need are fresh fruits and vegetables and a blender (or a juicer if you're being fancy). Anything else you may want to add is according to taste so let your imagination and taste buds guide you. A few ingredients that are always good to put in one of these are: baby spinach, kale, fresh ginger, fresh or frozen berries, bananas (they give a great creamy consistency without the added fats, you can even make ice cream with them!), flax seeds, nuts (in moderation as they have high oil content, even if they are healthy oils) and any other "superfoods". So go get blendin'!

4. As well as being the season to indulge in food, the holiday season is also the time for indulging in yummy beverages. Be it alcohol, egg nog or hearty hot chocolate, these beverages all taste delicious (I'm not speaking for egg nog here, I've actually never had it) but they also contain quite a lot of unnecessary calories. Again, moderation is key: a glass of wine a day has been linked to health benefits. Dark chocolate, milk and eggs are also healthy foods on their own, but it's the addition of sugars and fats which make these treats exactly that: treats to be enjoyed from time to time, without excess.
So in order to not drink too many of your calories every day, remember to drink water regularly. In winter, we don't feel the need to drink as often as we do in summer, but that doesn't mean the body needs less water. We're 70% water, and by the time you feel thirsty, it means your body is already dehydrated: the feeling of thirst is the body's way of saying "hey, drink up, we're drying out here!". Also, often times when we feel "hungry" it's actually dehydration, so drinking a glass or two of water before you eat may ward of that sensation of hunger, thus making you eat less.
Ideally, an average adult should be drinking about 1,5L of water a day. If you don't like it straight up, try drinking teas or infusions instead. Green tea, white tea, herbal tea... they are all a great alternative to heavier beverages, keep you just as warm and, depending on your choice of blend, can taste just as decadent! Just beware if you tend to drink sugar in your tea as this has its incidence, obviously.

5. If you're the cook in your house, consider making super healthy meals to make up for all the less healthy ones you'll be having outside or on occasion. Oh She Glows is an amazing source of healthy (vegan, but can easily be made vegetarian or omni depending on what rocks your boat) meals which usually don't require much more that what should readily be available in your pantry. Cooking healthily doesn't have to be expensive or less tasty or even super time consuming, it simply requires a little organisation and advance planning so that you never need to resort to that pre-packaged meal that you keep in your freezer "just in case". If you've got a crock pot, cooking amazing meals that cost little, taste great and don't take a lot of time is even easier so just scour the web for some great recipes, and start chopping!

6. I know this may sound a little ironic to some, but try and get as much sunshine in winter as you possibly can. The sun's rays are our body's main source of Vitamin D, which helps fixate calcium on the bones, thus avoiding brittle bones. Also, sunshine minimises (and can even entirely get rid of) Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), meaning you won't feel so dreary, depressed and tired. If you live in a place that only gets a couple of hours of sunshine a day in winter, then you may want to look into lights that mimic the sun's rays. They exist as alarm clocks for a gentle wake up call in the morning, but also in the form of light bulbs that you can fix into any of your existing light fixtures and get your daily dose of "sunshine".

7. If all else fails, make sure to integrate a high quality, high potency multi-vitamin in your daily routine, preferably in the morning. Winter foods tend to be rich stews, roasted meats and veggies, soups... All great things, but the lack of fresh fruit and veg may impair your vitamin and mineral intake which, in turn - with the cold dreary weather outside and the flu people are coughing up on you at work and on public transportation - may very well cause your immune system to suddenly fail on you. Nobody likes having a cold in winter, and having a multi-vitamin with your morning tea/coffee/juice is just another way of avoiding that cold, as long as possible.

Is there anything that you feel really helps you fight the winter blues? Please share in the comments, as I'm sure we would all like to avoid it if at all possible!


Pancakes - original and "healthier" recipes

So, yesterday was a bit of a breakdown palace kinda day. The day before yesterday I made another batch of delightful scones (successfully edited to 1/2 cup oatmeal, 1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup regular flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, with some cheese thrown in), but it was late when I made them so I nibbled on a piece of one, thinking I'd have a wonderful breakfast to come down to the next day. Lo and behold, yesterday morning I came down to... an empty kitchen. Ok, so it wasn't "empty" empty, but it was empty of scones. My parents had left me the sum total of... half a scone. Now, I was not a happy kitty, because I was really looking forward to a scone, lightly warmed in the toaster, buttered with salt butter and slathered in Marmite. And from there, my day just went downhill with the whole "no job" thing. 

But then, I decided to take my future into my own hands, and what better way to do that than with some more baking and face-stuffing with deliciousness? So I brought down my handy dandy little recipe book (I don't know why, this is another one of those recipes I could whip up with my eyes closed), and set to the oh-so-arduous task of making myself pancakes. The advantage of pancakes is that you have to cook each one on the spot for maximum freshness and "yum" factor, so my parents don't bother stealing those. Below I'm going to list the original recipe, the one I used yesterday, and a potentially vegan-ified version which I have not tested and therefore am not guaranteeing results for. You're forewarned!

Original fluffy American pancakes
135gr flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
130ml milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
Optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Now comes the easy part: mix dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder) together. Beat wet ingredients then add to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly with a fork until all nicely combined and homogeneous. You should have a batter that is liquidy, but not too much so. It should be thicker than crêpe batter, and much thinner than cake batter, m'kay? 
For best results, I've found it works to heat a pan on a small burner on the highest flame (you following?). Once pan is hot, put a lick of butter and turn the flame down to medium/low. Put 1/2 soup ladle's worth of batter in your pan, and let it be. When bubbles start to appear on the surface (about 2 mins), flip your pancake and let it cook for another 30 seconds to a minute until golden brown on both sides. 

Enjoy with Marmite, maple syrup or anything else of your liking! Remember though, pancakes themselves aren't the devil, it's the toppings that tend to be unhealthy, so use your brain and moderation!

"Healthier" whole wheat pancakes

70gr whole wheat flour
75gr all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
140ml milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon melted butter, cooled
Optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

For instructions, see above. You can vary the amount of whole wheat flour according to your liking, but it has a strong nutty flavor that can be bitter for some, so try it out and see what works best for you. I've found that half and half works for me.

Vegan-ified (non tested) pancakes

70gr whole wheat flour
75gr all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
130ml alternative milk (nut milk, coconut milk, soy milk... whatever works for you and is liquid enough)
1 flax egg (1 tablespoon flax meal + 3 tablespoons water, see here for detailed instructions)
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil or butter substitute, cooled
Optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Mixing instructions as above. Again, keep in mind I haven't tried this one, but as soon as I do I'll post an update with modifications if there are any. I'll also add a picture as soon as I've taken one of this afternoon's batch of pancakes!

What's your favorite pancake topping? Share some ideas!!


Scones - original and "healthier" versions

Aside from a friend of mine who shall go by the name Zorro (and maybe you, M.), I have yet to meet anyone who does not like a good warm scone fresh out of the oven with some steaming tea. North Americans may call it a biscuit, but, let's face it, it's a scone. At 4pm, when hunger pangs strike and your will to live is directly and inversely proportionate to the amount of time you still have to spend at work, nothing is quite as comforting (to me) as a warm scone with melted butter and Marmite and a cup of strong black tea with a dash of milk. Unfortunately, when at work, these babies are pretty hard to come by, so I guess it's lucky for me that I am so far unemployed, or I'd also be without a scone in this instant! 

Now, there are two recipes here: one for the "traditional", no frills English scone. And one for the healthier yet oh-so-tasty version. Now I say "healthier" and not healthy because of the healthy (ha!) dose of butter involved in this recipe. But hey, if it tastes this good, I'm all for it! 
I've made these scones so often in the past 2,5 years I could make them with my eyes closed, my hands tied behind my back and my feet behind my head! And they always turn out delicious, they never disappoint (just make sure your oven is fully preheated or they won't rise and will end up being pretty dense).

Traditional English Scone
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter (salted or not, your choice)
1/4 - 1/2 cup milk
1 egg

This recipe is really simple and takes only about 20 minutes from when hunger strikes to when it is fed, so it's as close as you will get to instant gratification with home-baked goods.

Start by mixing the dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar and baking powder). I use a fork for this (and most of my cooking/baking) and it works perfectly fine. Then add in the cold butter. Don't melt it as this will ruin the lovely flaky texture of the scones. Cut it up into small chunks and then use the heat of your hands to mix/melt it into the dry ingredients until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs. 
Beat egg and 1/4 cup of milk, add to dough and mix with the fork. If the dough is too dry, add milk a tablespoon at a time. The dough should be homogeneous yet not sticky at all. When the fork stops being of use, knead with your hands as little as possible. This is key to obtaining a flaky scone! 
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and squish (yes, that is the technical term) to about 1,5cm thickness. Use a knife to cut diamond shapes or a glass to cut out round ones like I did. When you re-knead the leftovers, be sure to do it as little as possible. 
Put in a preheated oven at 180°C and bake for 12-15 minutes. Your scones should be lightly golden brown on top and baked through.

"Healthier" wholewheat and oats scones

1 cup firmly packed oats
1 cup wholewheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter (salted or not, your choice)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg

Mixing directions are the same as above. You will likely have to use a tad more milk than with the traditional scones as the oats absorb a lot of it pretty fast. Flatten your dough to about 2cm thick as it will rise less than normal flour scones would. Bake in preheated oven at 180°C for 12-15 minutes and enjoy!

Whichever recipe you decide to follow DON'T PEEK! Scones are only fussy once in the oven and need a constantly hot temperature to rise properly (like most baked goods). Use your oven light or your nose to figure out when they're ready!

I like my scones best with either salted butter and Marmite or mascarpone (in lieu of clotted cream) and strawberry jam, but the possibilities are endless for both the toppings and the scones themselves! I've successfully made cheese scones and maple syrup and oats scones and topped the first with freshly-made pesto. Seriously, the combinations are limited only by your imagination and taste buds! 

What's your favorite combo? Let me know!

Healthy Beautiful Exercise - 101

From aiding with weight loss to improving your sex life and everything in between, exercise if somewhat of a "miracle cure". Indeed, it has been proven to (among other things): 
  • Control weight
  • Combat physical and psychological health conditions (including but not limited to: depression, certain cancers and dementia)
  • Improve mood and help with stress relief
  • Increase metabolism and energy levels
  • Promote better sleep 
  • Improve endurance and sex life
  • Etc.
Now, I could natter on about the benefits of regular physical exercise, but I believe most of you know that, in essence, it's good for you on many different levels. However, I also believe that many people don't exercise regularly or at all because of the flawed idea that "I don't have time/I don't have the money/I don't have the equipment/add your favorite excuse here". Getting a healthy and regular dose of exercise in your life doesn't have to be ANY of those things.
Case in point: it can take as little as 12 minutes to get in a full body workout that will have you gasping and on your knees, yet will bring you all the benefits of hours of training at the gym. You can easily get in your daily exercise from home, without spending a single cent and using only your own bodyweight (Although I would advocate buying an interval timer: they only cost $20 and are invaluable in High Intensity Interval Training. That was my best investment ever in my health.) Also, if you make sure to practice exercise which you enjoy, it doesn't have to be a form of modern torture!

Think of all the fun physical activities there are out there. Capoeira! Dance! Martial Arts! Walking your dog around the block! Playing with your kids! Wait, what? Yes, absolutely! Any form of physical activity counts on the meter, and it doesn't have to be a synonym of strapping on some fluorescent leg warmers and doing jumping jacks until you lose all will to live. Besides, you know that "runner's high" people sometimes talk about? It's not a myth! When you exercise, your body releases endorphins and they are its natural drug: you effectively "get high". So when you've been exercising intensely for a long period of time and you suddenly stop, you get for-real withdrawal symptoms. Now, that need not scare you as it takes a lot to get there, but you WILL get the natural high after going for a run or participating in a challenging roda.

The most important thing here is to do what you love, and not give up. If your favorite thing is running around the block but you then get -40°C weather in winter, find something else that makes you smile and gets you sweaty, don't just start staying home when winter swings by! It's always a good idea to alternate your exercise anyway so that you hit all the main muscle groups and exercise strength as well as endurance, so have a rotation of activities you enjoy. Maybe you like running with your dog in the morning, hitting your "at-home gym" after work or going for a swim at the beach. Or maybe your thing is kicking people's butts at karate, biking to work and playing with your kids in the yard when you get home. As long as it feels intense to you, that's all that matters. Whatever floats your boat, go for it. No restraint!

The only moderation I would advise is, obviously, if you have a pre-existing health condition. Always be aware of your physical limitations (asthma, broken bones, weak heart...) and don't go overboard. But you may want to try and push yourself just that little bit extra as you'll be amazed at the results on your overall well-being! Even if you're heavily physically impaired, try and find a form of exercise that works for you as the benefits you will reap from regular activity will far outweigh any negative ideas you may have. A 10 min walk or a 7 min yoga session are both better than being a couch potato!

Bottom line is: find something that works for you, your motivation and your schedule and HAVE FUN!
If you don't like the physical activity you're engaging in, you'll be much more likely to stop and fall off the wagon. If you need to, find a workout buddy to help motivate you and keep you on track like a friend or a family member. There are tons of great online resources for all types of exercise from YouTube to the C25K running program and, my personal favorite, BodyRock.Tv. Exercising doesn't have to be boring and expensive, I promise!

What are your favorite go-to forms of exercise, and how often do you indulge?


Healthy Beautiful Diet - 101

I am going to prelude this article by saying, once again, that by "diet" I don't mean "drastically (and sometimes nonsensically) changing your eating habits on the short term to lose/gain weight". "Diet", whenever the term is used on here, means eating habits, as a whole: the food you eat day to day to fuel your body and (hopefully) help with your health and fitness goals.

Now, with that being said, there's another premise which has to be taken into account: I am going to assume that, if you're reading this, your goal is to become (or remain) healthy, thanks to eating habits which promote physical and psychological well-being. Also, I am writing here about "regular" eating habits, not those which some people may use to gain a lot of muscle, for example for bodybuilding. 

When I was ten, we found out that I had an autoimmune disease which has some pesky side effects, including slowing down my metabolism and converting ingested calories into fat rather than energy. I was lucky enough that my mother had always cooked meals based on real, whole foods with very little fat or sugar. However, I still had to make certain adjustments to the way and foods I was eating and, trust me, no ten year old likes hearing that they are different and can't have a 10am snack anymore like everyone else in the school yard! 

The principles I will be laying out in this article come from the advice I have received over the years and from what I have experimented with and found to work for me. It is not specific to having an auto-immune disease, and I firmly believe that everyone can benefit from them, however, once again, I am not a doctor nor am I a nutritionist so if you have specific conditions, please consult a specialist. 

First of all: fruit and veg. There's a reason many Western governments have, in recent years, come out with recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables (usually between 5 and 10). That is because fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamins, fiber, minerals and a whole other bunch of essentials nutrients which your body needs to function optimally. I will go more in depth on this later, but leafy and cruciferous greens (spinach, kale, brocoli, cauliflower...) are especially rich in nutrients and low in calories. You can pretty much allow yourself an unlimited (within reason) amount of vegetables per day, and fruits' nutritious benefits tend to outweigh their sugar content although you may want to go a little slower on more sugar-heavy fruits like bananas.

Protein is another essential part of a healthy diet, be it plant or animal-based. Although it is true that it may be a little harder for vegetarians/vegans (v*gans) to find a constant supply of protein, it is not true that being v*gan makes it impossible to ingest enough protein. Whichever way your little heart balances, you will want to prefer lean protein: white meats, lean beef cuts, fish, eggs, quality dairy, beans etc. Now it may seem obvious but I'm going to say this anyway: choosing a lean cut of meat and then lathering it in thick cream based sauces is not going to get you anywhere near "healthy". The way you cook/prepare your meals is essential in remaining on the healthy side of things. Again, more on that soon. 

Ahh, the ever ubiquitous carbs! We love to hate 'em, don't we? How many times have you been told to "lay off the pasta" or that eating bread with your salad will make it go straight to your hips? If you're like me, too many, I'm sure. While it may be true that excessive amounts of carbohydrates can lead to all kinds of unpleasant health issues (heart disease, insulin resistance, gluten allergies...), it is also true that carbs remain one of the easiest sources of food for your brain and muscles. Indeed, to function, your brain can only feed on glucose and that is basically the sugar found in "fast" and "slow" carbs. Fast carbs are pretty much plain old sugar, in whatever form. Slow carbs are found in things like pasta or bread and mainly derive from all manner of grains. 
The recommendation I was given aged 10, and have been following since, is to consume carbs generally for breakfast or lunch, and no later than 4pm. The reason for this is that, as I said earlier, carbs convert to glucose (fast energy) relatively quickly. Now, if that energy is not used up within a few hours, say going to the gym or walking home for example, it is stored in the body and converted to fat "for later use". But this "storage" was useful when we were hunter/gatherers, never sure when the next meal would come along. Today, we eat consistently 3-6 times a day, and it is very rare (in developed/Western societies) to ever go hungry. So that "emergency fat" accumulates, rarely if ever being used, and leads to weight gain. A final word on carbs: try to privilege whole grains (whole wheat vs. white bread for example) and, as a rule of thumb, prefer "dark" carbs: brown rice, whole wheat/other whole grain pasta, etc. 

This leads us to whole grains: whenever possible, prefer these to more processed grains which have been stripped of their good nutrients. Be aware though, when using whole grains, that some may need to be soaked in order to rid them of the phytic acid which makes them less digestible, thus not bringing you all the nutrients you're hoping to get from eating said hole grains.

Fats are another one of those things we love to hate. However, a certain amount of healthy fat is necessary for the body to function properly. This doesn't mean having fried food once a day to get your dose. Rather, it means using a tablespoon of olive oil to make a salad dressing, for example. Or using coconut oil to sauté onions. Eating a small handful of nuts or a portion of fatty fish like salmon is also another great way of getting those essential Omega oils and fatty acids into your body. Keep in mind, when portioning oils/butter/etc that a serving of just one tablespoon contains 90 calories, so that can add up really quickly if you're not being careful. 

Finally, avoid all processed foods. Processed foods tend to contain a lot of salt to enhance their taste after re-heating, but also more oils and sugars than are really needed. Besides, have you ever read the side of  pizza box and wondered how to pronounce some of those ingredients? Yeah, me too. And if I can't pronounce it, I'm thinking maybe I shouldn't be eating it. If it doesn't occur naturally in the environment, you're better off not eating it, at least not on a daily basis. Besides, if concern for your health weren't enough, think of how much more expensive pre-packaged and processed foods are: for the price of that 3 euros frozen pizza, you can make a couple of home made pizzas with none of those unpronounceable chemicals, and take pride in knowing that you're eating the fruit of your (easy) work!

The bottom line is this: prefer fresh produce to any other food when you're shopping, eat whole grains (soaked when necessary) whenever possible, make your daily portions of protein lean, avoid carbs after lunch, stay away from processed foods, ration your fats and sugars and try to keep to healthy versions (try putting honey, stevia or agave syrup in your coffee next time, works a treat!). As for organic, if you have access to it and the cash to spend on it, go for it. However, if you need to choose, it's more important to go organic on foods that have no thick protective skins - like leafy greens or berries - than it is for fruits likes oranges with thick skins that you peel off (unless you're using the rind, in which case you may want to go organic on those, too).

Whatever you do, remember that food should remain a source of pleasure and satisfaction: if you are frustrated or unhappy with what you are eating, it will be harder for you to keep to a balanced diet and you will be much more tempted by that chocolate bar at the till. Be creative when you prepare and cook your food, there are so many great resources online for recipes (and I'll be linking some of my favorite food blogs soon, so look out for that)! Unless you know you are unable to restrain yourself, my advice is: don't forbid yourself anything, try everything. Having a square of chocolate from time to time isn't going to kill your efforts, but eating the rest of the slab that same day will. 

Moderation + portion control = keys to a healthy, beautiful diet. 

What eating guidelines do you guys follow, and why?