autumn quinoa salad

Autumn Quinoa Salad
Recipe adapted from Blue Zones

It’s finally starting to feel like fall again! Which means I’m getting ready to start cooking warm, fall foods. For me that means cinnamon, root vegetables, squashes and cranberries. It does NOT have to mean you throw away your summer diet! It’s still just as easy to find healthy fall foods as is is to enjoy the fresh fruits and veggies of summer.

What’s in season in Massachusetts at this time of year? Here’s a quick list:

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Broccoli raab
Brussels sprouts
Celeriac/celery root

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Peas and pea pods
Peppers (sweet)
Shelling beans
Squash (winter)

I have no idea how to use escarole, so if you have any ideas, let me know! I’m going to focus today’s blog on an autumn recipe that involves the nutrient-dense, ancient grain: quinoa. Why is quinoa so great? It’s a high protein whole grain, which can actually make you live longer. By eating 90 grams of whole grains a day, you can reduce your risk of mortality by 17%! Crazy!

autumn quinoa saladHere’s what you need to make this delicious autumn quinoa salad:

  • 1 1/2 cup quinoa
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 green onions, minced
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
  • 1 (15.5-oz.) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

So how do you do it?

  1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the quinoa and salt to taste. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook until the water has been absorbed, about 12 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the green onions, carrot and peas, and set aside to come to room temperature.
  3. Add the beans, peanuts, cranberries, oil, vinegar and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss to combine.
    *Variation: Substitute cooked brown rice for the quinoa, or a different type of nut in place of the peanuts.

That’s it! It’s great hot or cold, so feel free to use the extras as leftovers the next day.

For years, artificial sweeteners have been promoted as safe ways to cut calories and aid in weight loss.

The logic is simple: since obesity has been linked to diabetes, artificial sweeteners must also help with diabetes prevention. However, a new study shows they could actually increase glucose intolerance by changing the composition and function of gut bacteria. The findings were supported by experiments in both mice and humans performed by the Weizmann Institute of Science. They claim, “the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in drinks and food, among other things, may be contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemic that is sweeping much of the world.”

A little history…

Most studies linking sugar to health problems have been highly criticized because the government subsidies corn, which is used to make high fructose corn syrup, and ends up in most processed foods. Also, major corporations feel threatened because they know the sugar content in their products are far more than what’s healthy.

Despite protests, the World Health Organization released draft guidelines last year that halved the recommended maximum added sugar intake (10% of daily calories to 5% of daily calories, 200 to 100 calories for a 2000 calorie diet). In response, the International Council of Beverages Associations, whose members include The Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, released the following statement:

“ICBA is disappointed that the WHO has confirmed the conditional recommendation suggesting a further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below 5 percent of total energy intake, as it does not reflect scientific agreement on the totality of evidence…we will continue to offer innovative ways to help consumers to achieve calorie balance through smaller portion sizes, no- and low-calorie beverages and transparent, fact-based nutrition information.”

For companies like Coca-Cola, the solution to the attack on sugar is to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners. Many people think if there are no calories, there is no harm.

But is there?

There is confusion over why the use of artificial sweeteners has not been aiding in weight loss. Some studies even show opposite effect. Another interesting fact worth noting is that overweight people often have different bacteria in their intestines than slim people do, but it is not clear what the link is & whether or not bacteria somehow cause obesity or diabetes. However, it has been found that even though artificial sweeteners do not contain sugar, they still directly affect the body’s ability to metabolize glucose. More specifically, they can lead to glucose intolerance: the inability of the body to cope with large amounts of glucose, the first step towards diabetes.

Now Let’s Get Sciencey!

In an experiment led by Dr. Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Immunology, and Prof. Eran Segal of the Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, mice were given water laced with 1 of 3 types of sugar substitutes (aspartame, saccharin, sucralose), water, or water with sugar.

It was found that those given artificial sweeteners developed glucose intolerance, while the others did not. Next, the researchers killed the mice gut bacteria with antibiotics, and found it reversed the effects (the mice were no longer glucose intolerant). When they transferred gut bacteria that had been grown outside of the mice in the presence of artificial sweeteners into healthy mice, the healthy mice developed glucose intolerance.

But enough with mice. Let’s talk humans!

In an elaborate study called the Personalized Nutrition Project, it was found that there was a significant association between reported consumption of artificial sweeteners, gut bacteria, & glucose intolerance.

They also performed a controlled experiment with volunteers who did not regularly consume artificial sweeteners. They asked them to consume them for a week, then tested their glucose levels and gut microbiota. It was found that some, but not all, had begun to develop glucose intolerance. This was because there were 2 different populations of human gut bacteria: one induced glucose intolerance when exposed to sweeteners, and one with no effect either way.

Dr. Elinav believes certain bacteria in guts of those with glucose intolerance reacted to chemical sweeteners by secreting substances that caused an inflammatory response similar to a sugar overdose, promoting changes in their ability to use sugar.

Wow. Heavy Stuff.

The only real solution to health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity is healthy eating and exercise.

The current American diet is not healthy, and metabolic diseases will continue to be a concern until Americans drastically alter their lifestyle. Artificial sweeteners are not the solution to sugar, sugar is not even the problem. The problem is the quantity in which sugar is consumed because it is in practically everything! And the current recommended added sugar intake is not labeled as a percent daily value on nutrition facts. And as long as major food corporations have the money and legal ability to influence government policy, there will be little change in the regulation of sugar and artificial sweeteners in foods.

So what should you do?

If you haven’t read my last blog post, you should. Because you’ll learn ALL about what “healthy” really means. Eat plants, eat whole, REAL foods, not ones made in a lab with 10 billion ingredients that you can’t pronounce. I’m a proud host to a healthy gut bacteria population! Besides, real sugar tastes good. Just don’t eat too much.

Good question.

It seems like in the past few decades, this question has become harder and harder to answer. With new research and the ease of accessing and publishing information (both true and false), “healthy” has become one of the most ambiguous terms out there. To clarify, let’s review a quick definition:

Healthy: free from disease or pain : enjoying health* and vigor of body, mind, or spirit

*So… what is health? Another definition for ya:


  1. the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit :  freedom from physical disease or pain : the general condition of the body

  2. a condition in which someone or something is thriving or doing well

I don’t know about you, but the concept of a “healthy” diet still seems pretty unclear to me. Based on these definitions, “healthy” food should make me “thrive,” and benefit me physically, mentally and spiritually. I certainly love chocolate, though I can’t say that I have a spiritual connection to the stuff. So how do we determine what a healthy diet really is?

I think most people might reference fruits and veggies, which is certainly a good place to start. Most Americans don’t get enough of these crucial food groups. But that’s not the only part of a “healthy” diet. Another good resource for understanding healthy food is the government issued My Plate. I’m not an adamant subscriber (obviously, I don’t drink milk and I find the pictures too unspecific for my taste), but for the general public it can be a great resource for getting started.

But here is my interpretation.

Eat plants. This includes fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Eat lots of them, and try to keep them as “whole” as possible. This means avoiding their processed counterparts – but NOT like the plague! Part of a healthy diet, in my opinion, is being mindful about how much you are eating as well as what. That doesn’t mean restricting anything at all. If you eat a lot of cookies, cut back. But you don’t need to eliminate your favorite foods to be healthy. That would be neglecting the mental (and maybe spiritual) aspects of health.


With that said, if you like to drink milk and eat meat, by all means, go for it. Just maybe not all the time, and opt for lean and local sources. Read ingredients. Watch portion sizes. Experiment with foods and flavors and see how each makes you feel. You may notice that eating certain foods make you feel better (and happier!) than others, and not just in the moment of eating them.

I know that may not be very specific, but I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to diet. Our bodies respond differently to different foods, and we all have various lifestyles, activity levels, cultural habits and genetics. Find what works for YOU as an individual! Eat your plants and move your body, and choose everything in moderation. You’ll likely turn out alright.

If you have more questions about nutrition, feel free to send me an email! I’m happy to talk about more specific topics or address any curiosities you may have.

Email Sarah with questions or comments:

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Happy Labor Day Weekend!

You’ve got Monday off to relax and host a BBQ with your friends.

But will this ruin your diet?


Will a little bit of fun on the weekend put a stop to your progress? Let’s take a look. If you start your weekend with 40 cent wing night on Thursday, then dinner dates and bar hopping on friday and saturday, then family brunch sunday… Things aren’t looking good in the aftermath of Monday’s BBQ. Take a look at this little infographic to see how those fun nights may be getting in the way!

Ok, so now that you’ve learned you’re never allowed to have fun, let’s talk about how this doesn’t have to be the case! I know it may not seem like it, but…


…you can go out with friends, eat and drink with freedom, and still reach your fitness goals!

The secret: mindfulness. If you have plans with friends for the night, load up on the simple, wholesome foods during the day. Plan ahead. And for Labor Day…


I have recipes for you! Whether you’re hosting or attending, you can always prepare a few simple and affordable options (on sale at Star Market!) that will allow you  to have fun and reach your goals. Hey, who knew?
  • Corn: 15 cents each – Simple and delicious, corn is always a late summer staple for any BBQ. Try wrapping them in tin foil with a little bit of plant-based buttery spread (a low saturated fat alternative to butter) and grilling for 8-10 minutes.
  • Scallops: $13.99/lb – Ever heard of scallop kebabs? They’re pretty great. Try this recipe here for Herbed Scallop Kebabs on the grill!
  • Whole Seedless Watermelon: $3.99 each – Keep it simple. Everyone loves a good, thick slice of watermelon.
  • Outshine Fruit Bars: 3/$10 – Looking for dessert but don’t want the fat and sugar-ridden ice cream novelties? Try these fruit bars! Very satisfying and refreshing for the last few days of summer, and only 60 calories!
  • Strawberries: $2.99/lb – With all these fresh berries, you simply can’t go wrong! Throw them in a salad with walnuts, gorgonzola and grilled chicken. Or make them into a trifle. Check out this recipe for a little bit healthier alternative!
healthy food budget

I’m sure you all have heard recent articles and published statistics about the absurd amount millennials shell out each week to eat their beloved avocado toast. Hey, I’m one of them! Avocados are full of healthy fats, vitamins, and antioxidants that help to make your skin and hair healthier, protect you from cancer, and aid in weight loss. (If you want to indulge in your avocado obsession a bit more, feel free to check out this article).

Despite the health benefits of this amazingly delicious fruit, a healthy diet does not necessarily have to include it. In fact, when planning a healthy menu, one of the most important elements is that it is sustainable financially. If you have to choose between paying rent and eating avocado, I’d go with the rent. Or for a less dramatic situation, if the choice comes between a bunch of vegetables and one single avocado, you’d likely benefit more from the variety and quantity of veggies that those $6 could buy you.

Healthy food does NOT have to be expensive!

You CAN find a way to budget for it. Take Star Market, for example. This week’s sale flier lists ice cream and cookies, but it also includes plenty of inexpensive fruits, veggies, lean protein and whole grains to craft a full week of meals out of. Let’s take a look at a few, and how you might use them!

healthy food budgetFruit:
Strawberries, $1.77/lb
Blueberries, $2.99/pint
Bananas, 59 c/lb

Birds Eye Frozen Veggies, BOGO
Francesco Rinaldi Marinara Sauce, BOGO
3 Romaine Hearts, $2.99
Peppers, 3/$5

Cedars Hummus, BOGO
Boneless Chicken Breast, $2.49/lb
Canned Tuna, 2/$3
Greek Yogurt, 2/$7

Whole grains:
2/$6 Arnold Sandwich thins
Barilla Pasta 2/$3
Pepperidge farm Whole Grain Bread, $3.49
Potatoes, 2/$5

And there is a lot more listed, too! These are just a few highlighted items to show you that a healthy diet can and should be affordable. So what would your week look like if you incorporated these items? Maybe a little something like this:

  • Breakfast: yogurt with berries and toast with butter
  • Lunch: sandwich with veggies and tuna and a banana on the side
  • Snack: veggies with hummus
  • Dinner: whole grain pasta with marinara sauce and a side of grilled chicken

Other tips for making healthy eating affordable include comparing the sales at different stores, planning meals ahead of time, saving leftovers for new dishes, and buying dry or bulk goods like rice or beans.

Generally, just stick with the basics. Eat real, whole foods. Mainly plants. And you may find that your wallet isn’t the only happy one!

by VIM Trainer: Sarah Oliver

One of my carnivorous friends has decided he is giving up meat for lent. After I got over my shock, I was pumped! Everything I’ve done and said in the past about plant-based diets he has ignored. I’m trying not to talk about how excited I am for him because I’m worried he’ll back out, but I have offered some tips when asked.

If you’re a vegan reading this blog, you’ve probably had one person or another ask how you get protein. My friend was no exception, especially as an athlete who needs plenty of carbs and protein to fuel his distance running. I sent him a list of vegetarian protein sources, along with a little information on complete vs. incomplete proteins.

If you took freshman bio, you know there are 20 different amino acids which are the building blocks of protein. Nine of these amino acids are called “essential” amino acids because our bodies are not able to manufacture them on their own. Animal proteins are complete proteins, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids in about equal amounts. On the other hand, many plant proteins are not complete proteins. This means that we must eat a variety of protein sources to get all the amino acids we need. In the list below, I’ve bolded the complete protein sources. I’ve also suggested which proteins to combine to make them complete!

The Distance Runner’s Protein List for Lent:

  • Fish (if you decide to eat this) = ~20g per 3 oz (varies with fish)
  • Milk, Cheese (if you go vegetarian) = 8g per cup milk, 7g per oz cheese
  • Eggs (if you go vegetarian) = 6g per egg
  • Yogurt (especially Greek) = 17g per cup
  • Quinoa and other ancient grains = 8g per cup, cooked
  • Chickpeas = 15g per cup (with rice for complete protein source)
  • Hummus = 9g per ½ cup (with pita for complete protein source)
  • Tofu = 10g per 4 oz
  • Beans (all kinds) = 15g per cup (with rice for complete protein source)
  • Edamame (soy beans) = 29g per cup
  • Seitan (wheat protein) = 21g per 3 oz
  • Tempeh = 16g per 3 oz
  • Soy milk, yogurt (and other soy products) = 7g per cup
  • Nuts & seeds = 8g per ¼ cup
  • Nut butters = 8g per 2 tablespoons (with bread for complete protein source)
  • Whole grains = 7g per 2 slices bread
  • Veggie Burger = 13g per patty
  • Lentils = 18g per cup (with seeds for complete protein)

The next time anyone asks you about protein, feel free to share this list! What is your favorite plant-based protein source? By now I’m sure you know mine is peanut butter…