Chocolate Bliss Balls Recipe (Raw, Vegan, Gluten Free)

Dear Leah Renee, 

What’s a simple dessert ball recipe?  I’m not a baker by any means, so if you have something that requires minimal effort and is quick, it would be appreciated!  ~Debbie, WA

I like easy recipes, and this one fits the bill.  If you’re craving something sweet (and have already made the black bean brownies and raw cookie dough bites a million times now), here’s another one to add to your recipe book.  Full of chocolatey goodness, it’s not so bad for you either.  Certainly better than putting away a bar of commercial chocolate!  It’s got protein, fiber, and antioxidants.  The best part: it’s no-bake and simple to make.

Here’s what you’ll need (honey is optional if you like it extra sweet):

Bliss balls ingredients

Take 1/2 cup cashews, 6 soaked dates (just soak them in almond milk or water for a couple hours, or use un-soaked if that’s all that’s available), and cacao powder in a food processor or blender.  I used my Vitamix, but I’d rather have used a food processor since it’s more difficult to scoop out! Blend until smooth, or in my case, a little chunky, either one is fine!  Exhibit A:

bliss balls in vitamix

 

Transfer to a bowl (have a little taste and see if the sweetness is to your liking. If you like it sweeter, add a TB of raw honey): 

bliss ball dough

And roll into balls (that’s the fun part):

chocolate bliss balls

You can enjoy them this way, or roll them in cacao nibs (I ground mine finer), goji berries, maca powder, coconut flakes…whatever you like!  But, I like chocolate, so the opportunity to add more won :)

Bliss Balls

Share with others, or consume them all yourself (not all at once, of course) ;)

 

What’s your favorite healthy(er) dessert?

 

 

Antioxidant Summer Salsa

Dear Leah Renee, 
I usually purchase all my condiments because I’m kind of intimidated to do it myself. Salsa doesn’t seems too hard but I don’t know where to start.  Do you have a recipe you like?  Thanks! ~Lilly, MI
I just love making my own condiments at home.  We don’t always have time, the ingredients on hand, or the no-how, but with just a little planning and preparation you can make your own in no time! You’re right, homemade salsa is pretty easy, especially pico de gallo.  What makes it taste the best is the quality and ripeness of the tomatoes you use.  Depending on the season you’ll find the sweetness of the salsa will vary.
Tomato varieties
For this recipe, I used better boy tomatoes.  My personal favorite are heirloom tomatoes (you can use beefsteak red heirlooms for this recipe), but those are not always available.  Roma are a good option too.  Always organic when possible!
Chopping pico de gallo
Here’s what else you’ll need including those yummy tomatoes, pico de gallo ingredients:  
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • pepper to taste
  • squeeze of fresh lime

pico de gallo in progress

Directions: 

In a medium bowl, combine all your chopped and diced ingredients.  Add garlic and onion powder followed by salt, pepper, and squeeze of lime.  With a spoon, stir until all ingredients are nicely mixed together.

Note:

  • When chopping tomatoes, all juices that naturally get onto the cutting board are to be poured in with the tomatoes themselves.  This gives the pico de gallo extra flavor and heartiness.
  • This recipe can be served chilled or left out for a while at room temperature.  Tomatoes provide the most beneficial antioxidant, lycopene, at room temperature or cooked.

pico de gallo salsa finished

Serve with homemade tortilla chips and you’re good to go!

A Plant-Based Diet Isn’t Just for Vegans

Dear Leah Renee, 

I want to incorporate more vegetables and “whole foods” into my diet but I don’t want to be completely vegan or anything.  Can I have the best of both worlds?  ~Denise, CA

Good for you!  The power of vegetables is indisputable.  Study after study has found that eating more plant based foods contributes to greater health and well being.  Have high cholesterol?  Eat more veggies.  Diabetes?  More veggies.  Overweight? More veggies.  OK, you get the point.

veggie crudite at TFK

Our society loves to put label things. Heck, we like to label ourselves. It gives us a sense of belonging and a way to define our lifestyle. But you don’t have to; you can think a certain way, eat a certain way, or dress in a particular way that can vary from one day to the next.  You can love yoga but not be a ‘yogi’.

Case and point: just like any other category in your life, your diet too can be diverse.  You don’t need to commit to one way of eating all the time, every meal, every day. If it’s made up largely of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains, that doesn’t mean if you crave a burger you can’t have one!  No judgments!   I think the world we live in makes it a little difficult anyway.  You can go sugar free (I’m not talking about Splenda here, I mean sugar–real or fake) but still have a treat now and again.  Or a glass of wine!  It doesn’t mean you’ve fallen off the bandwagon and need to throw away your habits overall.  You really can have your cake and eat it too.

  “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.” ~Albert Einstein

breakfast bowl with hemp seeds

There’s a lot of people that may even want to break out of the vegan mold, but have an identity that goes along with it that’s difficult to move past. On the contrary, there’s also a lot of people who may want to go more plant-based (like yourself), but friends and family they associate with and the lifestyle they lead could be altered and confused by that, making it difficult to start implementing changes.  We are not the only ones who label and judge ourselves, others do too.  But…that’s OK :) Let them.

Here’s a short list (it is truly endless!) of some plant-based foods to stock up on:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Leafy Greens
  • Starches
  • Legumes/Beans
  • Nut Butters
  • Seed Butters
  • Avocados (because that’s in a league of it’s own, right?!)
  • Soy (fermented like tempeh)
  • Whole Grains (rice, oats, quinoa…)
  • Oils
  • Veggie Stocks
  • Cocoa Powder (you like that one, don’t ya!)
  • Pickled & fermented veggies
  • Milks (coconut, almond, etc)

Regardless of what kind of lifestyle you lead,  it will vary throughout the years depending on your age, your emotions, your friends, you interests, and schedule.  No matter what goes on, making whole, plant-based foods a big part of your diet, even if it’s gradual, is one of the best choices you can make for your health!

eat food not too much

 

Skin Care Product Review: Beautycounter

If you are familiar with some of my past blog posts, you know that I take great caution in what I put on my skin.  In my post about parabens in our skin care products, I only merely scratched the surface when talking about just some of the toxic ingredients we put on ourselves every single day.   We are exposed to thousands throughout the course of a day thinking we’re doing something as simple as moisturizing!  I’m always on the lookout for products that deliver the full package: clean, organic, effective, and safe.

image

You can imagine my excitement levels when I met a girl, Sydney, at the gym who introduced me to a clean line of beauty and skin care products I’d never heard of, Beautycounter.  I was very interested in learning more about them by what she was describing to me (completely non-toxic), and the miracle it worked on her skin.  When I got home I looked them up and read the founder of Beautycounter, Gregg Renfrew’s, story which really resonated with me.  She described the motives behind her starting the company last March, after watching “An Inconvenient Truth”.  That was a real eye-opener for her to begin removing so many of the toxic chemicals that we have in our life each day without even thinking about it.  Skin care was no different.  And unfortunately, here in the US, there’s little to no regulation on the ingredients that enter the products we use so often.  For instance, the EU has banned 1,300 chemicals used as ingredients in beauty products while we have banned all of 11!  Every one of Beautycounter’s ingredients is listed on their label, which is not even a requirement by law. When I referenced the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in my post on parabens, I emphasized the importance of their toxicity level ranking system–and all of Beautycounter’s products are a 0, 1, or 2 on the scale.  Anything 2 or under is considered non-toxic and safe.

Routine Clean, Beautycounter

So, I decided to try out BeautyCounter for myself since it sounded pretty amazing.  I was looking for a new face wash anyway–perfect timing.  The first product I tried out was “Routine Clean” cream cleanser.  I love that on their label it doesn’t even say “ingredients” before it lists them—it reads “transparency”.  Clever.  And the packaging is as clean as their products, a minimalist approach. When trying out the face cleanser, I found I only needed a small amount and I really liked the way it felt on my skin.  My face was very clean after a little application and a few rinses with warm water.  Any and all reminisces of makeup I had on that day vanished.   I’m a fan!

hydrate cleanser, beautycounter

I went on to test out two more: their “Hydrate” everyday body lotion, and the perfect match with it, the “Lustro” body oil.  The two combined made me skin so soft and, well, hydrated.  Because they use pure essential oils in their products, the scent is subtle and clean smelling.  I don’t like anything that’s overpowering (both because I am sensitive to them and tend not to like many of scents anyway), so these are perfect.  The Lustro body oil scent I ordered was jasmine, but again, subtle.

lustro body oil

 

I will definitely be expanding my Beautycounter line at home since these were a success!  I like knowing I’m supporting my own health and safety, and supporting companies that care about the same.  If you would like to order some Beautycounter products of your own, you can find click here on Sydney’s website where you will find the entire range of products they offer.  She also posts product info and promos on her Instagram site @balancing_pretty. :)

Sweet-Curbing Antioxidant Rich Drink

Dear Leah Renee, 

I get a sweet tooth at night and more than anything want something comforting and yummy.  I usually go for a piece of candy or chocolate.  Any suggestions? ~Fiona, Aus.

Me too!  I’ve seen and heard of many ways to curb a craving.  Go take a walk, breathe, have a glass of water, eat something bitter, have one of those food-like products that’s ‘sugar free’ or ‘fat free’ so you’re not having a ton of sugar or fat (not a fan!).  But really?  Late at night?  I highly doubt you’re going to jump out from under your blanket on the couch to go for a stroll (in which case you may just land at the local fro-yo shop anyway), nor are you going to pound back a glass of water for fear of getting up every hour of the night.  And lets not even entertain those other products!

My suggestion is one that I have and happen to personally love.  Here it is: 

almond milk turmeric drink

 

All you need is a few simple ingredients: 

  • 1 cup Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk
  • 1 TB Ginger juice (if you don’t have a fresh batch of this handy, you can use some powdered ginger)
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

In a small saucepan on medium heat, warm up the unsweetened vanilla almond milk for 3-5 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir.  You don’t want to bring it to a boil in order to keep all the powers from the ginger juice, turmeric, and cinnamon.

If you’re not already adding some turmeric to your regimen, this is a great way to start!  Turmeric is a powerful spice full of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.  It contains curcumin, a phytonutrient which can rival prescription medications in its ability to reduce inflammation in the body.  The cinnamon helps to alleviate blood sugar spikes and will keep you feeling calm and restful through the night!

Enjoy!

What’s your favorite way to curb a sweet tooth?

Healthy Overnight? Not Quite.

Dear Leah Renee, 

Do I need to be all-or-nothing with diets or can I make small changes?  I haven’t seen a lot of progress when I go all-or-nothing because I always end up right back where I started.  What gives? ~Nel, GA

It’s safe to say when someone is describing me, “very healthy” would likely going to be a part of their explanation.  People ask me all the time how I’m so healthy, why I’m so healthy, and let me tell you–it’s not overnight.  It takes dedication, interest, work, self control, and confidence.  Habits, tastes, preferences, friends, and commitment are progressive.  How often do we hear “I’ll start my diet when….”.  Is there ever really a perfect time?  What if your healthy practices are just you?  Then there’s never a good or bad time.

doesn't matter how slow you go quote

I wanted to write about this because I was just reflecting on how I used to eat. 10 years ago, even morning on my way to work, I had a chocolate peanut butter Zone Perfect Bar and washed it down with a non-fat sugar-free vanilla latte from the coffee shop.  Then I’d get into the office where one of the girls got McDonald’s on her way to work, and would offer me the beautiful, greasy hash-brown.  I usually accepted.  At this stage, I’ve already consumed over 500 calories, 36 grams of sugar, and a heap of GMO’s, hydrogenated oils, hydrolyzed protein, and aspartame.  And I typically ate another snack before lunch because, nutritionally, I was still hungry.  I’ll spare you the rest of the day–just know it followed suit.  I knew this wasn’t the best thing for me, but did not quite understand how bad any of them were.  I slowly made slight modifications, and felt and noticed small changes.

We have all heard someone say at some point, maybe even yourself, that diets don’t work.  There’s many reasons why, but one big reason is because we’re attempting to completely alter our eating habits overnight.  Eating is fun, it’s social, it’s comforting, and uplifting.  Oh, and it’s really really good.  But do you remember liking so many things as a kid that you couldn’t even imagine eating now?  Your palate has changed.  It did so gradually over a long period of time.  When we attempt to change our diet, and try introducing too many new things at once that we don’t enjoy, we are not going to want to keep that up for long.  Our palate is simply not used to them.  It’s not any of those things that food is supposed to be (fun, social, comforting, or uplifting).  Most of us like to be happy.  But wait, I’d be happy if I was thinner, but I’m not happy eating those foods that may get me there.  Sigh.  there is no love sincerer than the love of food

I promise, everyone likes foods that are healthy for them and can fill up on.  When you become used to having more of the foods you like and won’t add to your waistline, you’ll also have less room to fill it up with those foods and habits that will have a negative impact.  Routine is one of the biggest hurdles, because most of us are on automatic pilot.  We’re busy, consumed, and the rest sometimes is simply on default.

If you have tried endless diets, or simply want to make a change, just know that any progress is some progress.  Adding one glass of filtered water a day, having one less bite of a meal you know is more than enough, skipping dessert one night, trying out a new vegetable recipe, or making a smoothie instead of having some ice cream.  It all makes an impact.  The most motivating factors are when you yourself and feel and see a difference–no matter how small it is.  It’s a reminder that you’re doing something right, it’s working, and then you can add another new addition to your developing health regimen. It took me a very long time, but it was worth it.   Why I choose healthy? Here: 

no time for illness

 

A Month at a Glance

This past month has been amazing.  I feel so grateful for everything in my life.  I am learning, observing, seeking, doing, embracing, and loving.  Everything about health, nutrition, and wellness makes me feel so alive.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a casual discussion with a friend, or a more serious talk with someone who needs some assistance.  It could be simply spending an hour at a grocery store looking at labels, seeing new products, keeping up with my industry (yes, I do this, often).  It is the learning process I’m in at IIN, The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, where I’m studying to become a certified Health Coach.  Soon enough I will create my own personal practice to assist and guide others on their own health journey.  It’s networking with like-minded people, people that ‘get it’ because we think a lot alike and share the same love and have similar aspirations. In the past month I have focused more on my Instagram, and was even fortunate enough to make a couple friends who have a huge presence already on the popular social media site.

GoSweet_FacebookCover2

Cassandra Bodzak from Going Sweet and Skinny, a fellow IIN grad who resides in NYC, (and famous for her amazing, award winning, The Taste worthy vegan cupcakes) was coming to LA, so I reached out.  We found out we shared a mutual adoration for Cafe Gratitude (see my post here on my fave healthy LA eateries!), so that is where we met up.  It was so fun getting to learn about her journey, successes, and what she’s learned along the way.  The evening was inspiring and motivating!  Not to mention I didn’t feel so alone snapping the perfect pic of our food for our Insta accounts ;) I look forward to the next time I visit New York so we can go to one of her favorite spots there!

Nikki-Sharp-5-Day-Detox-360x240

Nikki Sharp

Nikki Sharp from Stay Sharp & Be Strong is another amazing, successful, girl who was a former international model and has an extremely large following on Instagram and creator an ever popular Detox eBook. I was happy she took the time to meet up with me at another favorite place of mine, True Food Kitchen.  Dr. Weil, one of the contributors to IIN who offers lectures for our curriculum, created the menu there. We had a great time and she offered me some good advice too.

whitney and me

Whitney and Me

This past Tuesday I went to an event put on by the fabulous Whitney English of To Live and Diet in LA.  The event was called “Vinyasa y Vino” where the first hour was a serious Vinyasa Yoga session lead by Jake Ferree.  He was awesome.  The second hour we got to mingle and meet the other attendees, many other bloggers like myself.  The girl I chatted with the most was Julie, blogger of Julie Goes Healthy, who resides in Orange County and has an incredible story on her own path to a happy, healthy life.  And, of course, I got to meet the lovely hostess and birthday girl, Whitney.  Whitney is an inspiration; an over-achiever with a dynamic personality.  You should check out her website (above).  I love it.  We also were sent home with a gift bag stuffed with goodies. Luvo Inc. was also so kind to give me a little cooler filled with 4 frozen, low calorie, healthy meals.  Thanks, Luvo!

gift-bag

The “Swag Bag”

I will be writing more about my schooling at IIN soon.  So far, it has been a fantastic journey, and I can’t wait to see what else the future holds!