Snickerdoodle cookies (grain free, gluten free, egg free, dairy optional)

This weekend I was in the mood to bake and the kids were in the mood for cookies, what a great combination!  

The problem is that baking seems to be getting trickier and trickier in our house.  My husband doesn’t do well with butter and is highly sensitive to coconut oil, my two little kids can have coconut oil but they are very dairy sensitive, one can manage butter and the other can’t.  I don’t want to use margarines because they are a terrible health choice and my older stepgirls are teenagers and don’t want anything that tastes “too healthy”.   This presented quite a cookie problem.  Last time this problems happened I used one of my favourite simple cookie recipes that uses nut butter to be the fat and the flour in the recipe, it is here, so simple, yummy but higher in sugar than I would like (yes, I’ve tried to substitute honey and they were pretty good too but I just wasn’t in mood for peanut/almond/cashew butter cookies).

This weekend’s baking mission was to experiment with using oil instead of a solid fat in cookies.  I do it all the time in muffins and cake but cookies almost always use solid fats that are creamed with sugar to start.  In my research I found that butter is 85% fat and 15% water so the recommended way to substitute oil for butter is to use 85% of the amount of butter in a recipe and use oil instead.  Calculating 85% of 1/3 of a cup called for more math than I was in the mood to do so I just added a bit less than the 1/3 of a cup (somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 on the measuring cup).  I have since calculated and it should be approximately 70 mL (4 2/3 tbsp or 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tbsp).

The resulting cookies were fantastic, they were chewy and the sugar on the outside gave a bit of crunch.  I loved that mostly they were sweetened with honey with just a tiny bit of cane sugar mixed with cinnamon to roll them in to make a sparkly outside.  

I wish I had taken a picture but they were eaten so fast I just didn’t have a chance!

Snickerdoodles -  (Paleo, Vegan optional, egg free, gluten free, grain free, dairy optional)

2 cups/200 g/7 oz blanched, fine ground almond powder (not packed)

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup melted palm shortening, butter, ghee or coconut oil OR 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tbsp of oil such as sunflower oil

1/4 cup mild honey (like clover) 

11/2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Cinnamon coating:
2 tablespoons raw cane sugar, coconut sugar or maple sugar (optional)

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line and grease or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium sized bowl, combine dry ingredients; mix together well. In a separate bowl, mix together the oil, honey and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the almond flour mixture and mix till combined. Let rest for a few minutes. It will thicken up some but may still be sticky. 

Combine the raw sugar/coconut sugar/maple sugar (optional*) and the ground cinnamon in a small bowl. 

With clean hands (so the dough doesn’t stick) use a rounded tablespoon, scoop out the dough; then gently form into a ball. Roll in or sprinkle all sides with the cinnamon mixture. Place the balls of cookie dough on a parchment lined baking sheet, about 3 inches apart. 

Gently flatten each cookie using your hands, bottom of a cup/jar or parchment paper. Dip the bottom of the jar or cup in some of the sugar & spice mixture to help keep the cookie form sticking to the jar. 

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 8-9 minutes. Leave cookies on the cookie sheet while cooling. They may seem under-baked at first, but they will firm up to just the right texture as they cool. 

Recipe adapted from: http://urbanposer.blogspot.ca/2012/06/snickerdoodle-cookies.html

 

Paleo Banana Bread

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I’ve been trying various grain free banana bread recipes to try to find the perfect one and I think I’ve finally found it. This is a bit of a mix of various recipes I’ve found online, it is moist, delicious and filling. If you add chocolate it is a little treat but it is just as delicious with nuts instead of chocolate and it can be made leaving out the honey and the bananas sweeten it nicely, it is just a little more decandent with the honey.

Banana Bread with coconut flour
(gluten-free, grain free, dairy free, no refined sugar)
This banana bread is moist and delicious, it can be made with or without honey and with or without addition of nuts/chocolate chips/cocoa nibs.
Ingredients:
2 eggs
3 bananas (mashed)
2 tbsp honey (or maple syrup or leave out entirely)
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1-2 handfuls of raw cocoa nibs, 70-85% dark chocolate bar chopped into pieces, chocolate chips or chopped nuts
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup coconut flour
a heavy dash of cinnamon (1 tsp-1Tbsp), if desired also a dash of nutmeg
Directions:
Blend eggs, mashed bananas, honey/maple syrup and coconut oil together.
Mix the dry ingredients and then combine with wet ingredients.
Pour into greased bread pan and bake at 350F for 45 minutes, or until you can insert a toothpick and it comes out clean.

Delicious, creamy, dairy free salad

In our house we eat a fair bit of salad but had fallen into a salad rut. I make a vinegrette that is yummy out of maple syrup, mustard and various types of vinegar and it has been our standard for a few years. Everyone likes it but we’ve eaten it more times than I can count. This week our salad world has been rocked in a really good way.

In our house we can’t do dairy based dressings and most mayonnaise based dressings are out of the picture so I can’t remember the last time before this week that a creamy salad dressing had been on our table but things have really changed. Our 3 1/2 year old who never eats salad has become a voracious salad eater, she now starts with grownup sized portions of salad and asks for more. She’s even choosing salad over everything else on her plate. With this salad dressing providing a good dose of healthy, satisfying fats I’m happy about her new favourite.

The creamy texture comes from pureed avocado and the lemon and garlic bring a ceasar salad to mind (especially when using romaine lettuce). If guacomole and ceasar dressing had a baby, this would be what it would taste like. If you add the garlic pesto comes to mind. YUMMY!

I’m excited about this dressing for patients who can’t do vinegar, either due to reactions or because they are a yeast free diet and can’t eat anything fermented. Plain salad or salad with lemon juice with salt and pepper on a salad gets old in a hurry. This gives a great new option!

This dressing is also great in place of mayonnaise in a sandwich (it was delicious with the leftover turkey sandwiches we had last week) and works as a dip for veggies, crackers or nachos.

Creamy Avocado Salad Dressing (dairy free, vinegar free)
1 avocado
juice of 1 lemon or lime
salt and pepper
1 clove or 1 tsp garlic
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 cup of fresh basil (optional)

Puree in a food processor or blender. If it is too thick with the fresh basil add a little more olive oil. Will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Gluten free Easter Bread (sweet bread)

One of the hardest times for people with food sensitivities can be the holidays when they are surrounded by flavours and smells of foods that represent the holiday traditions of their families.  These foods can instantly transport us to holidays of previous years and missing out on these foods can sometimes feel like missing the holiday itself.  This year I attempted (quite successfully I think) to make gluten free Easter Bread, as a child this was a constant of every Easter and it was the only time of year we had it.  I have fond memories of helping my grandma make it when I would visit her house in the spring, until this year I hadn’t had Easter Bread in about 15 years.  For my Easter Bread experiment I used my mother in law’s Portuguese Easter Bread recipe which I think is slightly different from the Hungarian Easter Bread that I grew up with, while the finished product doesn’t conjure up memories from childhood exactly it is close enough that a few tweaks in future years might get it there (next year I will try adding soaked raisins like my grandma does).  In the meantime, my family has devoured 2 loaves of this bread in just over 24 hours, I consider that the bread was a pretty big success!

Gluten Free Easter Bread

2 1/2 pounds of gluten free flour (I used 8 oz teff flour, 16 oz of brown rice flour, 8 oz tapioca starch and 8 oz white rice flour)
3 tbsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt

650 mL milk (I used goat milk but intend to experiment with almond in the future)
1 cup butter

6 eggs
2 cups sugar (I will try to cut this back and perhaps alternate sweeteners in future)
1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp yeast (I might use less next year)
1/4 cup warm water

Mix yeast, 1 tbsp sugar and warm water together and let sit.  Mix flours, xanthan gum and salt in a separate bowl.  Melt butter on low heat and add milk, heat until slightly warm.  Mix eggs, sugar and vanilla together.  Add milk mixture and egg mixture together.  Slowly add flour mixture to this and finish by adding the yeast mixture.

Transfer dough to a greased bowl and put somewhere warm to rise for 2-4 hours covered with a tea towel.  Cut the dough into 4 pieces, each piece will be a loaf of bread.  Then transfer into loaf pans or make free form round loaves on a cookie sheet (I made both and preferred the round loaves).  Let rise another 4 hours.  Bake at 325 F for 30-40 minutes.

Guilt free Chocolate Chip Cookies

This weekend I made a great new find, Grain free Lactation Cookies!  They are delicious and almost guilt free.  They contain no grain, no dairy, low amounts of refined sugar, tons of fibre and omega 3s.  To make things better they have been fantastic for my milk supply and I LOVE them.  The fennel, fenugreek and anise are all galactagogues which increase milk supply. My little guy has been quite happy to nurse extra today to take advantage of the increase in milk.  All 3 other kids have been trying to eat all the cookies because they are tasty, it is only fear of lactating that is keeping them away!  I’m absolutely sure that I will make batches in the future without the herbs and that it is going to be our new go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Grain Free Lactation Cookies

1/2 C coconut oil, liquified

1/4 C maple syrup

4 eggs

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

2 Tbsp anise seed ground

2 C almond flour

1/2 C flax meal

1 tsp baking soda

1 C walnuts, chopped

1/2 C dates, chopped

1 C dark chocolate chips or chunks

1-2 tsp Fenugreek ground or powder from capsules

2 tbsp ground fennel seeds

Instructions

1.Whisk together syrup and oil

2.Add eggs and whisk in one at a time

3.Add anise, fenugreek and fennel and vanilla

4.In separate bowl, combine almond flour, flax, and baking soda

5.Slowly add dry ingredients to wet as you beat or mix to combine

6.Fold in nuts, chocolate and dates

7.Spoon one tablespoon of batter onto greased or lined cookie sheet

8.Bake at 350 degrees for 10 – 12 minutes until top just starts to brown

Makes a whopping 36 cookies – but they freeze well if you don’t need that many.

original recipe found on PaleoParents.com

Happy Birthday to me (with Vanilla Berry Nut Cake)

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It has been a really, really long time since my last blog post.  Since my last entry, I was pregnant, have had a baby and have almost finished my maternity leave.  My son Truman is almost 2 ½ months old but self-employment means I start back to work in a touch over a month.   It has gone fast, but I am grateful to still have a month, with my daughter Evora, I had started back to work by this point.

New additions have brought new food parameters to work around.  Our little guy is sensitive to dairy and if I want to keep his spit up and fussiness to a minimum that means no dairy for me while nursing.  Even though we have dairy issues already in the house with my daughter, I am generally fine with dairy.  I hadn’t actually realized until cutting it out again that I had been eating a fair bit of cheese in the past couple of years and miss it.  Thank goodness for occasional sheep cheese to satisfy cheese cravings.  The hardest change at this point is chocolate!  I am always a dark chocolate eater so being off milk chocolate is easy but trying to avoid cocoa and dark chocolate is more of a challenge.  I keep going to grab a square of dark chocolate as a treat but then remember all the fussing and crying that it seems to lead to and then I think better of it.

I started writing this post on my birthday while I was feeling glum in search of a non-chocolate, non-dairy, gluten free birthday cake.   For the first time we braved a nice restaurant to celebrate with the two little kids and wanted to keep it short and do dessert at home.  This was partially to avoid kid meltdowns and partially out of necessity since finding a restaurant non-dairy, gluten free dessert is a challenge.

I ended up feeling very successful when I not only managed to bake a lovely cake with both kids awake but it was great too!  The winner was a grain free berry cake – so delicious and quite healthy!  This cake is delicious warm with some vanilla non-dairy coconut ice cream.  It is also delicious the next day with a cup of herbal tea.

Recipe: Vanilla Berry Nut Cake

(original recipe found on http://cleaneatsinthezoo.com)

Cake
1.5-2 cups almond flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch/flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, butter or non-dairy margarine, melted
4 eggs
1 TBSP vanilla
3/4 cup honey

Berry Swirl
2 cups raspberries or mixed berries
1/4 cup honey
dash of salt

For cake:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 11×7 or 9×13 pan with coconut oil/butter. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together melted coconut oil/butter, eggs, vanilla and honey. Add to dry ingredients and thoroughly combine. Pour into greased pan. Meanwhile, add raspberries, honey and salt to a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat and mash with a potato masher (or a fork) until heated through and nicely mashed. Place spoonfuls of berry mixture onto cake batter.  Swirl in an “S” motion with butter knife.

Bake in oven for 25-35 minutes, until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Watch carefully the last 5 minutes or so to make sure it doesn’t burn. If it’s getting too brown, turn down the heat a bit. Remove from oven and enjoy while warm with vanilla ice cream or non-dairy ice cream (or cooled, it is yummy both ways).

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Why are you so tired (part 2)

Here is the second installment in the series, Why are you so tired?  If you missed part one, click here to go check it out.  In part one, I dealt with many nutritional reasons why a person can be tired.  In this post, I’m going to deal with hormonal reasons, sleep issues and blood sugar imbalances leading to tiredness.  As you will see, all 3 of these major causes for tiredness can overlap and influence each other.

The endocrine system is a complicated system that has many interconnections.  The endocrine system is made up of all the glands in the body that secrete  hormones, this includes thyroid, adrenals, reproductive system, pancreas, pineal gland, pituitary gland and many more. The endocrine system controls growth, metabolism, reproduction, regulates our response to light and dark, controls lactation, initiates labour, controls blood sugar, regulates calcium metabolism and has an influence on digestion.  The main parts of the endocrine system we are going to touch on in this post are thyroid, adrenals, reproductive system and pineal gland as they most directly relate to our energy levels.

Many tired people come into my office worried about their thyroid function and some of them are on the right track to solving their energy issues.  Having a low functioning thyroid can leave a person tired, makes it easy to gain weight (and difficult to lose weight), can lead to dry skin, constipation and can lead to menstrual cycle abnormalities including long or short menstrual cycle length and possibly heavy periods.  The main test for thyroid issues is TSH.  This test measures the level of TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) that goes from pituitary to thyroid to prompt the thyroid to secrete hormones (T3 and T4).  In theory, if the thyroid response is inadequate the TSH should rise and we should be able to see thyroid imbalances.  There are people who feel that free T3 and free T4 should also be checked for a more complete picture of thyroid health.  I think one of the main issues in TSH testing is that there is a broad range, most labs go from 0.35-5.0 as being normal values.  Having TSH monitored periodically over the years can help detect a change, for example if TSH has risen from 1 to 4.5 over the years, this is a good indicator that something is affecting the thyroid function.  One person might feel good at 3, another person might be feel good with TSH under 1.  Generally people are not addressed medically until their TSH is above 5 consistently over time and at that point the treatment is thyroid hormone, likely for life.  I find there are many people with normal tests, or high normal numbers (above 3 but not quite to 5) who respond very well to natural thyroid support either in the short term or on an ongoing basis.  Sometimes this natural treatment can leave a person feeling more energetic and lower their TSH level, possibly saving them from being on a long term medication.  There definitely is a time and place for thyroid medications and in some people it can be a good option when thyroid symptoms persist.  Thyroid controls metabolic rate and energy levels, having a balanced thyroid goes a long way toward steady energy levels.

Another type of gland that is very involed in energy levels is the adrenal glands.  Adrenal glands are not paid much attention in conventional medical circles unless someone has a life threatening issue such as Cushing’s (adrenal hormones too high) or Addison’s Disease (adrenal hormones too low).  In naturopathic circles, adrenals are extremely important.  Many times people who have had acute or ongoing stress show symptoms of adrenal fatigue.  Some people will present in the “tired and wired” phase, where they are tired but also anxious and unable to relax, which often leads to more trouble sleeping and more tiredness.  If adrenal issues persist, a person can get to a point of total exhaustion because the body is extremely burnt out.  Symptoms of adrenals fatigure/exhaustion include:  tiredness, dizziness on standing/rising, weakness, feeling run down, feeling the need for caffeine/sugary treats just to get through the day, sleeping too much (or not being able to relax into sleep at all), recurrent infections and many more.  Many naturopathic treatments can regulate adrenal function though I find there is a lot of variation between patients.  Some simple things that can help with adrenal fatigue that will benefit most people with chronic stress, take a B complex vitamin, try to get on a sleep schedule with a regular bedtime, limit caffeine and if there are no issues with high blood pressure, a little bit of licorice tea in the mornings can be a helpful adrenal tonic.  Sometimes adrenal fatigue can contribute to or mimick a thyroid issue and sometimes a weak thyroid can put a strain on the adrenal glands as they try to compensate.

Reproductive hormones can also affect energy levels.  Many women find their energy is lower before and during their period.  In some cases, this can be because an underlying adrenal issue is worse before the period.  In other cases, heavy periods and blood loss can weaken a woman.  Sleep can also be affected right before or during a period.  Cycle regulation is a complicated process and many different issues can arise, some leading to low energy at various points in the cycle.

Later in life, female hormones can also affect energy.  I have many patients in perimenopausal years or menopausal years who has lower energy than they used to have.  Again, sometimes this is from underlying adrenal and thyroid issues that have shown themselves at this point in life.  Other times, hot flushes and restless sleep from hormone changes can leave a woman feeling very tired and run down.  Supporting adrenal glands is often necessary at this stage to prevent a woman from getting more run down, also after ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone the adrenals are the main source of precursor hormones that turn into both estrogenic (female) and androgenic hormones (male).

Talking about reproductive hormones, I don’t want to leave the men out of the discussion.  Testosterone is also very important in maintaining energy levels in men.  Many men in the 40s or older, start to experience declining energy levels related to hormonal changes.  Low testosterone levels can lead to sexual difficulties, changes in body composition (less muscle, more fat), irritability, depression and tiredness.

The next gland, starts the discussion about sleep issues affecting energy.  The pineal gland is responsible for regulating our internal clocks.  The pineal gland is strongly influenced by light and dark and secretes melatonin in response to darkness.  Melatonin helps us sleep soundly.  I sometimes will use supplementary melatonin in patients to try to train their systems into healthy sleep patterns.  I especially find this useful in patients who have jobs that involve shift work, are strongly affected by seasonal time changes or who travel and suffer from jet lag.  Natural ways to encourage healthy melatonin levels include getting some sun exposure into your eyes (no sunglasses) in the mornings (at least 20 minutes if possible) and having your bedroom as dark as possible at night.  Some forms of deep breathing and meditation can also raise melatonin levels naturally.

When dealing with sleep issues, I often need to find out whether we are dealing with onset issues or sleep maintanance issues (or both).  Some of the most common sleep onset issues can include anxiety, inability to unwind at the end of the day, too much caffeine and delaying bedtime too late and missing a good sleep window.  Common sleep maintanance issues can include menopausal issues, blood sugar drops in the night, difficulty with positioning (ie. hip pain waking a person up in the night to change positions), nightmares, having to get up to urinate and waking thinking of work/things to do the next day.

I think it is always best to try to get to the bottom of what is causing the sleep disturbance, which can take a bit of detective work.  Without a clear reason for sleep issues, there are many healthy habits that can help sleep quality.  Setting a regular bedtime and sticking to it (even on weekends when possible) is a step that is often underestimated.  Preferably setting a bedtime early enough to be soundly asleep by 11 will work better for people with restless sleep than a slightly later bedtime.  In acupuncture, an imbalance in the liver (which usually is the result of stress) will cause restlessness between 11 and 3, so getting to sleep before this time period starts will often result in better sleep.  Rescue remedy (Bach Flower) or passionflower or chamomile can be all gentle ways to relax your body to get ready for sleep if anxiety is an issue.  Sleep somewhere comfortable, quiet, dark and preferably a little bit cool.  Try to restrict fluid intake in the evenings to prevent frequent bathroom trips.  Try to resist caffeine through the day, the temporary boost in energy during the daytime could be contributing to your restlessness at night, leading to poorer sleep which can run a person down and leave them reaching for more caffeine, making the cycle worse.

Lastly I want to deal with blood sugar issues.  Both high blood sugars (such as diabetes) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can lead to tiredness.  In both cases, eating enough protein, focusing on carbohydrates that have fibre rather than white, refined products (white flour, white rice, sugar) and focusing on good fats can help stabilize blood sugar.  Eating regular meals (and snacks if necessary) can also help to stabilize blood sugar.  Diabetics often notice that tiredness is one of the first signs that their blood sugar is off track.  In people with a tendency toward low blood sugar, often when they have gone too long without food or eaten a low protein meal (especially if that meal has a high level of starch or sugar) they might find that they start to feel tired and draggy.  Sometimes this is associated with anxiety, crankiness, shaking or headache.  If at this point, people grab a sweet snack or drink (which they will often crave at this point), the cycle continues.  Blood sugar will spike up quite high because all the sugar and starch digest quickly, then insulin levels rise and then blood sugar crashes back down leaving them tired again.  This up and down can affect energy levels all day long.  If blood sugar dips happen while a person is sleeping, they can wake up anywhere between 2 and 6 am and have trouble getting back to sleep.  At this point sometimes a snack can help someone get back to a restful sleep.  If this is a recurrent problem, addressing the cause and looking at the diet through the day is more successful at fixing the problem.  I have often seen that adjusting protein intake in a day will regulate a person’s sleep and daytime energy levels.

As you can see, getting to the bottom of why your energy is low can be complicated, but naturopathic doctors can help identify health priorities and help focus on getting you to feel like your energetic self again.