Brain Health [From a Dietitian Who Works in the Neuro ICU]

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Alright!! Brain health. So important. It falls to the back of people’s minds sometimes because cardiac health is usually at the forefront and weight loss and yadda yadda yadda. Truthfully, they are all intertwined. What’s good for your brain, is great for your heart too and weight management AND your body as a whole- so that’s an awesome plus! Nutritional cognitive neuroscience is an emerging area of research and the goal is to basically understand nutrition’s impact on cognition and brain health across the life span. If we could see our brain (like we can see our skin, our hair, etc) you would see that it ages too! So if we’re going to take care of our skin and buy all kinds of lotions so on and so forth- we should definitely care about the healthy aging of our brains too! Alzheimer’s, dementia, memory loss – we all want to avoid these disease states. The research is clear: What you eat has a big impact on your brain.  The right foods [and combinations of foods] can enhance memory, build new brain cells + even help ward off disease. 

It is a critical time in our little world to discuss brain health. Why? Researchers say one new case of dementia is detected every four seconds globally. They estimate that by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide. We blame it on poor diet, isolation, and technology but you all keep reading and draw your own conclusions!

Of note, I know some of my dietitians were hoping for a clinical outlook on brain health and that will definitely happen too BUT will be saved for a different post!

First off, for my folks who prefer tables over reading- this is an AWESOME guide from PubMed on important food/nutrition for brain health [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/table/T1/]. For my people who love reading, read on!

the brain + nutrition

The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative damage because of its high metabolic load and its abundance of oxidizable material. This is why anti-oxidants and an anti-inflammation lifestyle are so important for brain health.

  • Berries: Have been shown to have strong antioxidant capacity. This is because polyphenols increase hippocampal plasticity by maintaining metabolic homeostasis. Futhermore, providing protection against oxidative damage and benefiting learning and memory performance.
  • Alpha lipoic acid [spinach, kale, broccoli and potatoes]. This is a coenzyme that is important for maintaining energy homeostasis in mitochondria. Alpha lipoic acid has been shown to improve memory deficits in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease and reduce cognitive decay.
  • Vitamin E. Vitamin E has also been shown to aid in cognitive performance, as decreasing serum levels of vitamin E were associated with poor memory performance in older individuals. Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals, and has been shown to extend lifespan and improve mitochondrial function and neurological performance. This is likely because Vitamin E protects synaptic membranes from oxidation.
  • Curcumin [active component of turmeric]. This has been shown to reduce memory deficits in  Alzheimer’s disease and brain trauma. Given the high consumption of curcumin in India, it is possible that it might contribute to the low prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in that country Curcumin is a strong antioxidant that seems to protect the brain from lipid oxidation and nitric-oxide-based radicals.
  • Olive oil + Green tea: Helps fight inflammation. And while inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, uncontrolled inflammation over time can damage the brain. “By intervening with these anti-inflammatory foods before neurons die, and you may be able to restore normal brain function,” says Paula C. Bickford, professor of neurosurgery and brain repair at the University of South Florida. You know what most people over 100 all have in common? They drink green tea. Yes. I kid you not. I personally adore matcha- but you pick what’s right for you!
  • Beets, tomatoes + avocados: These foods ensure that your brain receives the blood it needs to stay sharp. Studies suggest increased blood flow to the brain promotes neuron growth in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning and memory.
  • Nuts (especially walnuts) + pomegranates. These foods fight off amyloid plaques. While amyloid is required for brain cells to communicate, when it accumulates several thousand times beyond normal levels, it forms plaques. These plaques kill neurons while creating inflammation, which kills even more neurons.
  • Fish, blueberries, grapes, + dark chocolate. These foods increase the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth of new neurons. Scientists have compared it to “miracle grow” for the brain. “Stimulating the release of BDNF not only reverses the effects of aging, but also triggers the brain to make more neurons.”
  • Ginger. Bioactive compounds found in ginger increase activity of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in learning and memory.There is evidence that ginger can protect against age-related decline in brain function.
  • Onions + Garlic. Onions are rich in the antioxidant quercetin, which has been shown to protect against ischemic brain damage (a type of stroke) and may improve impaired memory. Garlic has been shown to enhance memory in a multitude of studies.
  • Dates. Studies have shown that increased consumption of dates has beneficial effects in lowering the risk, delaying the onset or slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. A diet rich in date palm (aka dates) was shown to improve memory, learning and reduce beta amyloid.
Tip: our favorite good for the brain smoothie? Blend 1 C almond milk, 1/2 combo of pecans and walnuts, 1 tsp cinnamon [or to taste- I like a lot!], 3 Medjool Dates, and ice to taste [I do about 1/3 C]. I make this drink at least 4 times a week because we looooove it!

exercise + the brain

  • Exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.
  • In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results.
  • Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
  • “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School. This is major!

sleep + the brain

  • Sleep is important to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other.
  • Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.
  • Lack of sleep increases risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Why? Studies have shown that slow wave sleep disruption increases cerebrospinal fluid amyloid-B levels; therefore, many scientists believe chronic poor sleep during middle age may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s later in life.

social engagement + the brain

  • The “use it or lose it” theory of healthy aging suggests that the mental workout associated with social engagement could help to maintain your mind and memory. Because conversation is a particularly challenging activity, it engages multiple mental skills, including attention, listening, reasoning, language, and memory. “It involves mental gymnastics,” one researcher says. “And you also have to stay abreast of topics, like the news, weather, sports, or politics.”
  • How connected you are to other people can be as important to healthy aging as not smoking or maintaining a good weight.
  • Social engagement may also help to preserve your memory.
  • Dr. Suzanne E. Salamon from Harvard medical center says, “Talking and interacting with people takes energy and makes you work harder, which stimulates your brain.”

cognitive exercise + the brain

  • Healthy practices: Innovation, brain rest, sequential tasking, prioritizing
  • Unhealthy practices: Tied to technology, multitasking (in an unorganized fashion), information overload, “cruising on autopilot”
  • Practice challenging your brain- do not rely on technology to remind you of daily tasks. As awesome and great and innovative as technology is – we have to remember to use our brains to (use it or lose it).

Some ideas of how to challenge your brain (these are kinda silly- but I loved it and it gives you an idea of how to challenge your mind in simple ways)

  • brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand
  • shower with your eyes closed (but be safe!)
  • switch around morning activities
  • turn things upside down (literally). Ex: calendar, photo, clock – doesn’t have to be permanently
  • switch seats at the table- I know we all have a favorite spot BUT switch it up. Variety is the spice of life!
  • smell new things every once in awhile and become familiar. Ex: I purchased ylang ylang essential oil- this is something I have never smelled before but after using it for a week- my brain now recognizes it
  • Open the window in the car (see and smell new things) or spend more time outside
  • Play with coins and try to figure out by touch alone which type of coin you’re holding (at a stop light for example)
  • While at the grocery store, look at new foods you’re not used to picking up- read the label. This way you are getting away from auto-pilot (just picking up what you’re used to)
  • Challenge yourself to small talk- this one is the hardest for me!!! I like real, lengthy conversations where you delve into the juicy stuff (which is good too) but sometimes small take can almost be MORE challenging because you’re thinking of relate-able topics with someone new
  • Eat unfamiliar foods

Hope you enjoyed this read. As a dietitian who works in the Neuro ICU, I LOVE this topic. Feel free to email me with any thoughts/ideas!

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references

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/
  3. https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-2015/brain-diet.html
  4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110
  5. https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2017/07/17/alzheimers-risk-may-be-worsened-by-chronic-sleep-deprivation-study-sugggests/
  6. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep
  7. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/social-engagement-and-healthy-aging
  8. https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/brain-exercise/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4484046/

My Journey to the Neuro ICU + Its Impact

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I know we have done a lot of recipe posts recently but whenever I take it back to nutrition, I’m in my happiest place. Plus I wanted to give you some background info about me before my next post about nutrition + the brain. Neuro health is near and dear to my heart because- these are the patients I see!! I have the Neuro ICU and then I also have the Neuro stepdown unit (where they go when they leave the ICU). I also have the psych lockdown unit- but that’s a story for another day. Just for some background info…I started my career in dietetics in a 1200 bed hospital in Orlando almost four years ago. There, I started on general floors and after about 4 months-ish I moved to the VTICU and cardiac floors. I looooooooved these patients. The VTICU (vascular thoracic ICU- is where patients go after vascular or thoracic surgeries- CABGs etc.) is special because it’s also where I met my husband. At the time he was a med student doing an ICU rotation. I love the ICU setting for so many reasons. Typically, for nutrition, our interventions are clear cut in the ICU. This is because whether the Neuro ICU or VTICU, the patients are, a lot of the time, intubated (need ventilator support to breathe) and a lot of the times on enteral nutrition (aka tube feeding). Therefore, in the ICU it’s more math than diet education. We take into account- labs, disease state, height/weight history, medications, and nutritional needs when deciding what form of nutrition intervention these patients need. I know a lot of people hear dietitian and they think we are throwing around diet plans like little fairies- not the case. It just depends which unit you’re on. So moving on- I left the hospital in Orlando and we moved to northern Florida for my husband’s residency. I started on general floors again, moved to Oncology/BMT unit and then finally moved back to the ICU – but this time, Neuro! My heart has always been in the ICU. As a dietitian, sometimes you have to wait until certain units become available. So the Neuro ICU was the first ICU available and actually – I wasn’t that excited about it. Fast forward and it is by far my favorite patient population. 

The Neuro ICU, and the hospital we’re currently at in general, has had a major impact on honestly even my daily life- both positive and negative. The negative- I’m finally now spinning as a positive though! It took me awhile but I was able to pinpoint why the current hospital I’m at was giving me SO much more anxiety than the previous hospital I worked at. I loved my first job but I did my job, went home and didn’t really think much of it. The patients I have now, have had SUCH an impact. I finally realized it came down to the type of patients I was now seeing. The hospital I currently work for is a Level One Trauma and we also have a Burn ICU. While my first hospital was gigantic – it did not have trauma. Everything but! I see a lot of patients with traumatic brain injuries from the worst of the worst kinds of accidents. It has in turn, increased my anxiety outside of the hospital. Driving, flying…you name it. I’ve had a pretty challenging time separating patients from personal life. But I’ve been working hard to spin it into something positive. I feel so thankful for my health and my family’s health every. single. day. There is something about seeing an innocent 20 year old, in the hospital for a TBI from a car accident, and they’re mind just isn’t there anymore. Seeing how this impacts their parents and their families… I mean it’s very, very heartbreaking. Not to say that patients in the hospital with other disease states don’t hit home too but for some reason or another Neuro has left a tad more of a mark.

Every morning I come to work- my office is on the same floor as the Neuro ICU- and I see these families that literally sleep there for weeks and don’t go home. We have showers in the waiting room and a lot of them will bring pillows, their kids, blankets, sleeping bags and just stay there…waiting on their family or friend to get better and sometimes they don’t/sometimes they do. There isn’t a morning though that seeing that doesn’t effect me. In the best of ways.

Patrick and I always say we wish we could give people just a glimpse into what disease and trauma looks like- people would change their lives immediately. Health is important – THE most important thing. Losing it, is not fun- to put it lightly. It’s agonizing. A lot of these families and patients (if not all) wish they had the opportunity, that most of you reading this blog have- to change your life for the healthier and be thankful for every day. We are all taught to worry about other things- our hair, our cars, our homes- really none of that is important in comparison to your health.

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Ok I went deep with you all and now we can get on to Neuro Health!!! But I had to share my experience in Critical Care + the Hospital setting. If it motivates even one person- totally worth it!

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-The Neilan Family-

Secret Romano Marinara [red sauce]

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Photo: Francesco Tonelli for The New York Times

I am 100% Italian as far back as we know. Maiden name- Romano. My dad’s side- Sicilian and my mom’s from Northern Italy. My mom knows. how. to cook. and my dad – is the pickiest Italian man on the planet (but knows good food!). You can trust this sauce is delish, authentic + honestly, quite simple. We make it in large batches and throw it in the freezer, this way every time we cook we don’t have to make a fresh batch. It would be a sin in our house to use sauce from a jar- I think my parents would disown me entirely so I’ve learned freezing in batches DEFINITELY helps. There are variations of this sauce- she has a meat sauce, fish sauce, vodka sauce- it goes on and on but for today- lets start with the basic marinara sauce. 

ingredients 

  • 3-4 Tbsp of olive oil [enough to coat bottom of the pot]
  • 3-4 Cloves fresh galic, chopped
  • 1-2 Tbsp of sugar [we typically use 1.5 Tbsp sugar but you can sub 2 tsp Truvia]
  • 1 20oz can of Progresso whole tomatoes w/ basil [you can also use fresh tomatoes if you’re really feeling adventurous- we mostly use Progresso]
  • 1 Tsp dried or fresh basil

recipe

  1. Pour tomatoes into blender and blend just for a few seconds, until finely chopped
  2. In a medium sized saucepan, saute garlic and oil. Do not let garlic brown.
  3. Pour in blended tomatoes and add remaining ingredients.
  4. Salt and Pepper to taste
  5. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20-30 min

That’s it! Kinda silly that people are terrified of making homemade sauce when you see how easy it is! I think the biggest mistake is too many ingredients. Over seasoning is a real thing folks + sometimes simple is best.

-The Romano + Neilan Family-

Patrick’s Eggplant Parm

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Photo: Blair, The Seasoned Mom

There are three foods I always request on my birthday: stuffed artichoke, eggplant Parmesan + rice krispy treats. This year my husband surprised me and made eggplant parm when I came home from work on my birthday (which recently passed beginning of January- shout out to fellow Capricorns!). I’m just as surprised as you are that Patrick doubles as a chef! Doctor by day, chef by night- who knew! BUT I will say- I was definitely leery when he said he was going to attempt eggplant parm- I don’t even order it in restaurants- simply because, I grew up in a Sicilian home + my mom’s is just the best. I’ve tried eggplant parm from “great” Italian restaurants and they have always been sub-par. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I LOVED the eggplant parm recipe Patrick found. I love Patrick but I’d never tell him something tasted amazing if it didn’t- I’m Italian aka I can’t lie about food. It is VERY different from the Romano (maiden name) eggplant parm I grew up on- but I truly love both. I will also share the Romano eggplant parm recipe with you guys soon- that one is more like an eggplant lasagna- cut an entirely different style than Patrick’s. 

From the Doctor + Dietitian: Eggplants are high in fiber; therefore, great for GI and cardiovascular health. This is because foods high in fiber have been shown to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and in turn, decreasing heart attacks and strokes. Eggplants are a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, niacin, magnesium, copper, fiber, folic acid, potassium, manganese, thiamine, and phosphorous. Because eggplants are high in calcium and iron, they are considered great for bone health and preventing anemia.

Fun Fact: Did you know eggplants are technically considered a fruit?! They are related to tomatoes and some even consider eggplant a type of berry! Because of the low sugar/nutrient content, in our minds- it’s still a veggie!

Before we get to the recipe, Patrick followed the recipe [below] exactly; however, we will add some vegan friendly modifications. Feel free to modify amount of cheese/type of cheese. Lastly, you can use your favorite tomato sauce or sauce from a jar- Patrick used my family’s Red Sauce Recipe- which I highly recommend- it’s straight from my Italian ancestors and super simple! It will make this dish a million times better too. Of note, if you’re going to make your own red sauce- we recommend doing this before you get started on the eggplant recipe so it’s ready to go!

ingredients 

Eggplant:

  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten [ok to modify to cashew milk]
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 cups whole-wheat panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 (1-pound) eggplants, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • Cooking spray

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup torn fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (16-ounce) container part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten [sub with flax egg – 1 tbsp ground flax and 3 tbsp water mixed]
  • Remaining ingredients:
  • 1 (24-ounce) jar premium pasta sauce [we did not use this, see red sauce recipe]
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) finely grated fontina cheese
recipe
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. To make eggplant, combine 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon water in a shallow dish. Combine panko and 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano in a second shallow dish. Dip eggplant in egg mixture; dredge in panko mixture, pressing gently to adhere and shaking off excess. Place eggplant 1 inch apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until golden, turning once and rotating baking sheets after 15 minutes.
  3. To make filling, combine basil and next 6 ingredients (through egg).
  4. To assemble, spoon 1/2 cup pasta sauce in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish coated with cooking spray. Layer half of eggplant slices over pasta sauce. Sprinkle eggplant with 1/8 teaspoon salt. Top with about 3/4 cup pasta sauce; spread half of ricotta mixture over sauce, and top with a third of mozzarella and 1/4 cup fontina. Repeat layers once, ending with about 1 cup pasta sauce. Cover tightly with aluminum foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 35 minutes. Remove foil; top with remaining third of mozzarella and 1/4 cup fontina. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese melts; cool 10 minutes.

Recipe: Cooking Light

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We hope you enjoy this delish Italian Delicacy!

-The Neilan Family-

Twix Brownies

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Photo: Life in the Lofthouse

Twix Brownies- because life is about moderation + sometimes, you have to treat yourself! My husband’s favorite candy is Twix- so that is how I first stumbled upon this dreamy recipe. It’s our second time making these and they get better and better somehow EVERY.TIME. This week I made it for a coworker’s birthday at work! Definitely a hit with the dietitians because it’s so yummy and what’s not to love! We cut them in pretty small pieces- so like I said, we do enjoy them in moderation. I would compare the size we had to about the length of your middle finger and the width of a quarter hahaha if that gives you a good picture into the portion size world of dietitians [sometimes we went back for seconds but when you start with a small piece- that’s ok!!!]

Recipe: Life in the Lofthouse

brownie layer
  1. 1 cup butter, softened [or 1/2 C applesauce- we used butter]
  2. 2 cups sugar [we used 2/3 C + 3 Tbsp of Truvia]
  3. 4 large eggs [or flax eggs- we used regular]
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  5. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  6. 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  7. 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour [we used whole wheat]
shortbread layer
  1. 1 (10 oz.) box Lorna Doone’s shortbread cookies
  2. 6 ounces cream cheese, softened [can substitute with 1 C plain yogurt- we used cream cheese]
  3. 1/2 cup sugar [we used 3 1/2 Tbsp of truvia]
caramel layer
  1. 1 (11 oz.) bag caramel bits
  2. 2 Tablespoons milk [we used cashew]
chocolate layer
  1. 1 1/2 cups milk or dark chocolate chips
  2. 1 Tablespoon shortening [we used coconut oil]
recipe
  1. BROWNIES: Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×13-inch glass baking pan with non-stick spray. Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until just combined. Add salt, cocoa powder and flour gradually to wet mixture until combined. Don’t over mix. Pour brownie batter into prepared pan and spread out evenly. Bake 25 to 28 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely.
  2. SHORTBREAD LAYER: Place shortbread cookies in a food processor and crush until fine crumbs. Place crumbs in a bowl and add cream cheese and sugar. Beat with a hand-mixer until combined. Press this mixture evenly over cooled brownies.
  3. CARAMEL LAYER: Place caramel bits and milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until melted. Pour over shortbread layer. Place in fridge to let cool completely.
  4. CHOCOLATE LAYER: Place chocolate chips and shortening [or coconut oil] in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30 second increments until melted. Pour over caramel layer. Place in fridge to let brownies set before slicing and serving.

Enjoy!!

-The Neilan Family-

[Vegan] Dreamy Banana Date Bar

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Photo: Running on Real Food

We have added another delicious nutrient dense snack to the weekly rotations! We forgot about our bananas [again] – cue this delish recipe. Patrick was a huge fan and was eating them faster than I could whip them up. My favorite part about this bar is (well 2 things). 1. THE TEXTURE- it is so amazing. I can’t even begin to describe, which is why you MUST try for yourself. We love that there are so many different textures in one bar- you’ve got the overripe bananas for smoothness, coconut flakes for crunch, dates for a little gooey-ness, and oats to keep it all together! Then to top it all off- a very thin layer of dark chocolate- YUM! 2. We love that the ingredients are simple + healthy.

Tip: We doubled this recipe because we had 4 overripe bananas, and LOVED how they came out on thicker side. Even though they look dense, they’re actually a bit on the lighter side! One bar is about 120 calories! Low in protein (about 3g) without added protein powder. We added a combination of whey + plant based protein powder!

Recipe from: Running On Real Food

ingredients

  • 2.5 cups (275 g) quick oats
  • 2 tbsp ground flax
  • 1/3 cup (30 g) unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 overripe bananas (200 g) sliced in half lengthwise then chopped up
  • 5 medjool dates (68 g without pits), finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 packets stevia, optional, to taste
  • Consider protein powder per preference (ours is unflavored- I think if you have flavored protein powder that might add a bit of a weird taste)
  • Optional [topping]:
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa powder (use 4 tbsp of dairy free chocolate chips to keep it vegan)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

recipe for bars

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Add the oats, flax, coconut and cinnamon to a bowl and stir to combine.
  3. Mix in the vanilla and almond milk.
  4. Fold in the chopped banana and dates. (Taste the dough and add a bit of stevia if you want them a little sweeter.)
  5. Bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the bars from the oven, melt the chocolate if using and spread over the bars.
  7. Let cool before slicing into 16 bars.
  8. Store in the fridge- or in the freezer [We wrap one bar individually in tin foil and whip them out in the morning before work!]

recipe for chocolate topping

Melt the coconut oil then gently stir in the the cocoa powder and maple syrup. Spread the mixture over the bars once they come out of the over. This will harden into chocolate ganache after chilled in the fridge.

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Photo: Running on Real Food

We hope you enjoy friends- we sure are!

-The Neilan Family-

Healthy PB + J Cookie: Complete with Chia Seed Jam Recipe

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As I type this, Patrick is texting me how amazing they are from work. I wish you all could hear my excitement because the love that I have for this little treat, is just beyond typed words. You all must give this recipe a try! It only took me about 30min to throw everything together- tops! The recipe is from the Laura Lea Balanced Cookbook and SO incredible- especially when it’s hot out of the oven with fresh chia seed jam, forgettaboutit (as my Italian fam would say)! 

Why we started making this recipe? I mentioned this on my Instagram, DoctorMeetsDietitian, so feel free to skim over + head straight to the recipe if you previously read this. Anyway, I am always on the hunt for a nutrient/calorie dense snack- especially for Patrick. He often times forgets to eat when he is at work between lunch and coming home for dinner (especially in the ICU). When you work 12+ hour work days/6 days a week- it’s just too much to go from noon to sometimes 8pm or later. Patrick LOVES LOVE LOVES the carrot cake bliss ball recipe (link: https://doctormeetsdietitian.com/2017/11/20/bliss-balls-aka-carrot-cake-energy-bites/) but every so often, I do like to switch it up- cue the healthy PB+ J Cookie recipe.

ingredients

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 (packed) cup pitted Medjool dates (*buy pit-in version and remove pits)
  • 3/4 cup unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter (sub almond, cashew or sunbutter or tahini)
  • 2 large eggs, whisked (sub flax or chia eggs for vegan)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
recipe
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a food processor, combine oats and dates and pulse until combined into a chunky mixture, approximately 10 pulses.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until ingredients are incorporated and you can only see tiny pieces of dates and oats. Carefully remove blade from processor.
  4. Place a bowl of room temperature water between the baking sheet and food processor. Dampen your hands in the water to prevent sticking, and roll dough into 2 1/2 inch balls. Place balls on baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between each.
  5. Wet a fork and use the tines to gently press down on each cookie until it is approximately 1 inch thick. You can turn the tines in opposing directions to create a cross-hatched look.
  6. Bake for 11 minutes, then allow to cool.

Chia Seed Jam

  • 2 heaping cups of frozen mixed berries (or fruit of your choice)
  • 3/4 C water
  • 1-2 Tbsp of Pure Maple Syrup
  • 4 Tbsp Chia Seeds (we tend to add a lot. you can start with 1 tbsp and add to taste)
  1. Place berries and water in a small sauce pot- turn on medium heat- and bring to boil. Stirring occasionally.
  2. Use a fork or spoon to help the fruit breakdown
  3. Once liquid has been absorbed and the jam is your desired consistency [we prefer some clumps of fruit], remove pan from heat and add maple syrup + chia seeds.
  4. Whisk for about 5 minutes to make sure chia seeds don’t clump up on you

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Enjoy hot [like I prefer] -or- chilled [like Patrick prefers]! Both, so delicious!!

-The Neilan Family-

PS: we wrap them in tin foil (by twos) + throw them in the freezer- so it’s super easy to whip them out in the morning and send Patrick on his way to the hospital!

Chickpea (Meatless) Meatballs

Hi everyone and happy Thursday! It has been a little crazy over here in the Neilan household, as I’m sure it’s been in your home too! Patrick is on a 7am-7pm/Mon-Fri schedule now. Which may sound terrible, but it’s actually pretty nice because he gets weekends off. Wahoooo Merry Christmas to us! Anyway, the holidays are upon us- and we love/welcome the chaos. We’ve got family coming into town soon and lots of cooking happening and gift wrapping to do BUT before we close out till after Christmas I wanted to share this Chickpea Ball recipe with you guys. I make spinach turkey meatballs often – this is the first meal I made for Patrick when we were dating (with pasta and pesto sauce) so it hits close to home! I will share the spinach turkey baked meatball/cashew pesto recipe with you all soon as well!  But back to the chickpeas- we don’t like to have meat every night of the week- so we swap chickpea balls over a salad bowl every other night. This way we include lots of plant-based meals too!

From the Dietitian: Chickpeas are great for digestion and satiety. They pack about 15g protein per cup- which makes it an awesome option when you’re trying to add some meatless nights into your weekly routine. Chickpeas are high in folate, magnesium, iron and phosphorus- wahoooo!!

From the Doctor: Studies have shown that 1.5 C of legumes a day helped reduce inflammatory markers and improved insulin resistance. Two awesome correlates in the fight against disease. Chickpeas are packed with soluble fiber as we discussed in the lentil soup recipe (https://doctormeetsdietitian.com/2017/12/13/coziest-lentil-soup-recipe/) – making it great for diabetics, in moderation, as it slows the absorption of sugar. This happens because soluble fiber increases the viscosity (aka thickness) of the intestinal contents after each meal consumed. Even if you are not diabetic- we all want out blood sugar managed well and our insulin levels normalized- trust me. Once your insulin and blood sugar are at of whack it creates an abundance of issues in the body- to put it very lightly. Just a glimpse- diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease, top cause for blindness, the reason for 60% of lower body amputations, 70% of people with diabetes have nervous system damage, diabetes causes- digestive problems, erectile dysfunction and increases risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Moderation, healthy diet and a lifestyle of balance is the key way to avoid chronic disease. Now, on to the chickpea recipe!

ingredients 

  • 2 eggs or 2 flax eggs to keep chickpea balls vegan (2.5 tbsp ground flax)
  • 1/2 C breadcrumbs
  • 2 C Chickpeas
  • 2-3 Garlic Cloves (or 1/2 Tbsp of garlic powder)
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp parsley
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp basil
  • 1/4 tsp marjoram (optional)
  • small handful of basil leaves (optional)

recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 450
  2. Skip this step if using canned chickpeas. If using dried chickpeas, soak for 4 hours. Boil until they’re splitting, about 45 minutes to an hour.
  3. Drain the chickpeas and pinch the skin off [I didn’t take the skin off all the chickpeas and it turned out great- takes wayyy too long! But if you have the time, go for it!]
  4. Blend chickpeas in a blender until broken down [I added a few drops of water]
  5. Make your flax seed “eggs”  [2 Tbsp Flax with 6 Tbsp of Water- mix and let sit for 10-15min]
  6. Mix chickpeas and flax seed eggs [or regular eggs]
  7. Mix in the remaining ingredients
  8. If the mixture is too sticky, add more breadcrumbs a little at a time. If too dry, add a little water or oil [coconut/olive whatever you prefer]
  9. Form the chickpea mixture into meatballs and place onto a greased or parchment-lined baking dish.
  10. Bake the chickpea meatballs for 20-25 minutes, turning over halfway through, They should be golden and crispy.

Recipe Credit: Karissa’s vegan kitchen (modifications made)

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Try “Everything But the Bagel” seasoning from Trader Joe’s- it is so so yummy. Sprinkled on avocado above!

Enjoy with pasta and pesto or over a bed of lettuce with all the veggies of your choice!

-The Neilan Family-

Matcha Pancakes

We are lovers of matcha forever + always [in and on all things]. My husband has now become equally [or more so] as obsessed as I am and that is the absolute, 100% truth. I am just as shocked as you are! A lot of pouting happens in the kitchen if we miss a morning without a dose of it before the hospital. But MATCHA IN PANCAKES- oh boy. Game changing. There are all the fancy pancakes in the world- which I love too- but matcha pancakes- always my fav. You can top it with the whipped cream recipe we also posted or a lot of the time I like matcha pancakes with coconut yogurt on top and almonds! Best part about it is- you can play with it – till you find what you like!

See earlier post on health benefits of Matcha:  https://doctormeetsdietitian.com/2017/11/12/matcha-coffee-adderall/.

Also check out morning “anti-gremlin” concoction for our morning matcha routine:  https://doctormeetsdietitian.com/2017/11/14/morning-anti-gremlin-concoction/. 

ingredients

  • 1 egg [for vegan option, use flax egg aka 1 tbsp flax/3 tbsp water and mix]
  • 1/3 cup milk [we used almond milk]
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter (plus more for skillet) [we used coconut butter]
  • 2 tablespoons sugar [we used 2 1/2 tsp Truvia]
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour [use flour of your choice]
  • 1 tablespoon matcha powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 tsp spirulina [optional]
  • 1 tsp ground flax [optional]

recipe

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter, sugar, and vanilla extract. Add the flour, matcha powder, spirulina, ground flax, baking powder, and salt, and whisk just until the batter comes together; the batter should be lumpy.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Brush with coconut butter or regular butter. Dollop circles of pancake batter onto skillet. Wait until bubbles appear and pop on the surface, then flip the pancakes and cook for another minute or so + stack!

Recipe Cred [although modified] from: Diane A Broad

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photo: be well by kelly

Serve with coconut yogurt + almonds, honey or pure maple syrup- whatever your little heart desires!

– The Neilan Family-

Pancakes + Banana Cinnamon Maple [Half Yogurt] Whipped Cream

I say pancakes are for Saturdays because that is always the day (and sometimes Sunday too) that I’m craving something fluffy + delicious aka pancakes or french toast. Likely, because I am a full time working dietitian- so that’s when I’ve got the time! This weekend we made some Kodiak Cakes with my mom’s whipped cream recipe [modified to half whipping cream and half yogurt]. If you haven’t had Kodiak Cakes – they’re awesome. They have different varieties but my favorite is the buttermilk “protein packed” flapjack mix. Made with 100% whole grains, 14g protein per serving, non GMO and no preservatives— SIGN US UP! We have mixed it up so many ways- but this weekend we added pecans and it was oh so yummy! You can find Kodiak Cakes at most grocery stores or on amazon. They even have muffin and cake mixes now too- that I use when I’m in a bind and don’t have a lot of time (we tried blueberry lemon muffins- so yum). On to the recipe for pecan pancakes with banana maple cinnamon [half yogurt] whipped cream 

For the Kodiak Cakes- Follow instructions on box and add fruit/nuts of your preference.Mom’s Original Whipped Cream Recipe [with modifications]-

  • 1 C Whipping Cream
  • 2 Tbsp of Sugar [we used 2 1/2 tsp Truvia]
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract [if you want to get crazy and make something SO yummy- try adding actual vanilla beans. we do this every so often with this recipe and it’s unreal]
  • 1/2 C Yogurt [greek, almond, coconut or regular will do!]

Throw this in a standing mixer for about 4 minutes on med/high and you will have whipped cream!

-Banana Maple Pecan Whipped Cream-

  • 1 tsp Truvia
  • 1 tsp Pure Maple Syrup [we used golden syrup- you can also use honey]
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 Whole Banana
  • 1 C Whipping Cream
  • 1/2 C Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Mix in a standing mixer and add pecans on top!

Enjoy Friends! Please let us know if there’s an ingredient you have questions about or can’t find! The whipped cream recipe is so versatile- we hope you enjoy!!

-The Neilan Family-