Every cook, whether beginner or not, knows how important onions are. With their sweet and earthy flavor, these alliums form the base for various dishes in almost all cuisines around the world. Besides flavor, onions are also well-loved for their wide availability throughout the year, as well as their long storage life.
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However, once you delve into cooking, you’ll find out that onions have over a dozen varieties: shallots, scallions, spring onions, red onions… The more varieties you discover, the more confused you become. Which type of onion is the best for sauces? Which one to incorporate in your meaty dishes?
One of the most common onion varieties is shallot. Surprisingly, there’s a great number of recipes that call for shallots. When you decide to buy them, you will probably feel even more confused: they look like garlic but taste like sweet onions. On top of that, they are quite hard to peel. So, what are shallots exactly? Can they just be replaced with onions? Are there any other suitable shallot substitutes you can use?
This article will answer all your questions related to shallots.
What Are Shallots?
Shallots is a type of onion, more specifically, a botanical variety of the species Allium cepa. Its closest relatives are garlic, chive, leeks, and Chinese onion.
It originated in Central or Southwest Asia and reached the Mediterranean region traveling through India. The name “shallot” comes from Ashkelon, a city in Canaan, where Ancient Greeks believed shallots originated.
Shallot’s skin varies from golden brown to gray to red. Most shallots have a white flesh that is sometimes broken up by magenta or green lines.
When peeled, they separate into cloves like garlic. Shallots are available in a wide range of shapes and sizes.
The so-called Western shallots are the most common type sold in the US supermarkets. They are rounder, smaller, thinner, and lighter in color than regular onions and often referred to as “false shallots” or “Jersey shallots”. Their skin is pinkish-orange, whereas the flesh is light purple.
Asian shallots are even smaller and with a deeper purple color. The French gray shallots, also known as griselles, are pear-shaped and offer a rather subtle flavor. They are also called “true shallots”.
As far as size is concerned, shallots can be small, medium, and jumbo. As a rule of thumb, smaller shallots taste milder and, according to experienced cooks, better.
Compared to onions, shallots have sweeter, milder, and more complex flavor, with a slightly garlicky twist. The longer shallots are stored, the more intense their flavor gets.
In case you were wondering, they make your eyes tear, though not as much as regular onions. All members of the allium family contain sulfur-based compounds, which are released upon cutting the plant’s cells, react with the atmospheric oxygen and make you cry.
Just like other types of onions, shallots can be eaten raw (usually in salads and dressings) or cooked (fried or roasted), in addition to being pickled. This makes them easy to incorporate into various recipes.
Historically, shallots have been used both for their aromatic and medicinal properties in Asian, French, and Mediterranean cooking.
Finely diced shallots are especially popular in French cuisine, where they’re often combined with wine or butter to provide the flavor base for sauces like Béarnaise, Bercy, and Beurre Blanc.
It is safe to say that shallots are indispensable in Asian cuisine. In the southern regions of India, they are commonly added to curries and different types of sambar, a lentil-based dish. Indian restaurants often include shallots pickled in red vinegar in their menus.
Iranians love grated shallots with yogurt, usually as a side dish to kebabs or as part of torshi, a sour dish comprised of various vegetables under vinegar.
Shallots are also widely used in many Southeast Asian dishes like fried rice. Chinese cuisine offers shallot chips, whereas in Indonesia, they’re pickled and added to various traditional dishes.
Buying and Storing Shallots
Shallots are available throughout the whole year, but their peak season is summer, i.e. from May to September. They can be found fresh and green in the spring, as well as dry, freeze-dried, and dehydrated throughout the whole year.
Like garlic, fresh shallots are sold in clusters but when selecting the best samples, think of onions. Ideally, shallots should be firm and compact, without visible damages. They should have their skin on and it should be smooth and shiny. If you see sprouted shallots, avoid them, since sprouts are an indicator of age.
If kept in a cool, dry, and dark place with plenty of air circulation, shallots will last for up to one month. If you place them in a clean pantyhose and hang them, they can last up to two months.
In case your shallots sprout, don’t worry, you can still use them. Just remove the bitter green sprouts or, if you are a fan of stronger flavors, include the sprouts into your dishes.
Shallots can be chopped and frozen up to three months. It should be noted though, that once you thaw them, they will not be as crunchy as fresh ones.
Health Benefits of Shallots
The health benefits of shallots have been known and appreciated for thousands of years. In Indian medicine, they’re often prescribed as a remedy for a sore throat, combined with jaggery and sugar. In Ayurveda, shallots are believed to have a cooling effect, which makes them suitable for alleviating inflammation, muscle pains, water-retention, and swelling.
Even though they’re smaller in size and milder in taste, shallots contain more antioxidants (flavonoids and phenols) than other members of the onion family! This makes them very efficient in reducing oxidative damage and fighting various chronic diseases.
Shallots also contain sulfoxides, which give them antibiotic, antidiabetic, and fibrinolytic properties. This means that shallots are great for fighting viral and bacterial infections, controlling blood sugar levels, preventing insulin resistance, preventing the formation of blood clots, and reducing LDL cholesterol levels.
Shallots and other onions contain vitamins A, B6, and C, essential minerals like potassium, as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that benefit the blood vessels, digestive organs, muscles, and skin.
Shallots vs. Onions – Can They Be Used Interchangeably in Recipes?
After interviewing some of our users and fellow cooks, we have found that almost all of them tend to stock up on onions and garlic but only a few keep shallot reserves in their kitchen. The reasons for this range from simply forgetting to buy shallots to the fact that their price is slightly higher. There’s also their size, which makes them harder to cut, and the fact that they’re somewhat finicky to peel. In other words, shallots are not considered an essential ingredient in the kitchen.
That is why knowing how to substitute shallots is very important. Onions are the most available substitute for using but you need to be careful. Swapping onions for shallots in the same amount will result in a dish with prominently oniony flavor.
Also, it should be noted that onions can replace shallots only in cooked dishes. Raw onions in a dressing don’t taste so good (and will result in bad breath). Also, this swap is not applicable for recipes that call for more than a ½ cup of shallots. This amount implies that shallots play an important role in the recipe and replacing them might ruin the whole dish.
So, what type of onions are the best substitute for shallots? Well, any onion can substitute for a shallot, depending on the person you ask. Most coking experts voted for yellow onions. Small white onions, also called pearl onions, can replace shallots as well. On the other hand, sweet onions are considered too sweet, whereas red onions are too strong. However, all onion types have a common trait – when cooked, they get softer and lighter in taste.
To recreate the shallot flavor, add just a pinch of garlic powder to the onions you decide to use. However, bear in mind that garlic is stronger in taste than shallots so be careful not to add too much. You can also add fresh garlic. Just crush a clove and add only the liquid that comes out.
As a rule of thumb, one onion replaces three shallots. Since shallots are smaller, make sure to chop the onions into pieces that are smaller than usual.
Shallots tend to melt when cooked but that’s not the case with onions. To help mellow the onions’ flavor further, cook them down before adding to the dish.
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Shallots vs. Scallions
Shallots and scallions are often mixed up. If you want to test this theory, just send your husband to buy one of them J It might have something to do with their names or the fact that they’re the two mildest and most versatile members of the allium family
However, these two are quite different in appearance. Scallions are actually green onions, sold in bunches in the grocery stores. Scallions are in fact ordinary onions, only harvested while immature and still cylindrical, hence their slender, leek-like appearance.
Scallions are most often used raw to add a pungent note to egg dishes and salads, or simply sliced into thin rings as a garnish. When it comes to cooked dishes, they’re most often added to soups, stir-fries, and quiches for subtle flavoring. Combined with garlic and ginger, scallions form a base for sauces and broths.
Are scallions a suitable substitute for shallots? Yes, scallions are mild enough to serve as a substitute for shallots. Make sure to only use the tops, without the bulbs, and add them later in the cooking process to avoid overcooking.
Other Substitutes for Shallots
When used as shallot substitutes, leeks are very similar to scallions, i.e. only the tops are used. However, since they take longer to cook than scallions, leeks should be added earlier in the cooking process. Alternatively, leeks can be sautéed over medium heat to soften before adding them to the recipe.
Garlic scapes, i.e. the flower buds of the garlic plant, look much like green onions but with long, twisting tails. In terms of taste, they are somewhere between onions and garlic. In terms of flavor, they taste somewhat sharper than shallots so, when you use them as a substitute, reduce the amount required in the recipe by about 1/4.
Delicious Shallot Recipes
Shallots make a great addition to stir-fries, sautés, salads, soups, side dishes, and casseroles, and is very often paired with garlic.
Combine them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, as well as fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme to create marinades and sauces for your meat dishes.
Raw shallots pair well with fresh fruits like pineapple or vegetables like jalapeno to produce healthy salsas.
Here are more ideas to use shallots when cooking:
Tangy Mustard Pork Chops
Spinach Chicken Roll-Up
Garlic Parsley Potatoes
Corn and Bell Pepper Sauté
Veal with Blackberry Sauce
Mushroom Herb Risotto
If Lady Gaga says she’s obsessed with a certain food, we have to take her word for it. The singer has revealed that she loves the creamy chickpea paste and eats it almost every day when she’s on tour. This was enough for us to get in the kitchen, experiment with different hummus recipes, and start exploring all things connected to it, from hummus wipes to hummus wraps! Final verdict: the pop star is right, hummus is an obsession-worthy ingredient.
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What is Hummus?
“Even God eats hummus when he visits the Middle East, and you know how powerful he is when it comes to the public opinion.”
This Levantine spread/dip is made primarily of cooked and mashed chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, combined with tahini (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and salt. The word ‘hummus’ is an Arabic means “chickpea” (the complete name in Arabic is ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna which means “chickpeas with tahini”).
Traditionally, hummus is beige in color and usually served on a large plate, often drizzled with some olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs, then stuffed in a fresh pita and complemented with cucumber, tomato, and onion salad. Some recipes also call for falafel in the serving combination. Optionally, this tasty paste can be served as an appetizer in a mezze-style or as a dip for vegetables on parties.
In Israel, however, hummus has been promoted to a main dish. The expression ‘hummus wipe’ also comes from this country. The Israeli always start the ritual of eating hummus with the phrase “Let’s go wipe some hummus.” Hummus wipe may also refer to the way in which hummus is eaten (yes, there is a right and a wrong way of consuming this creamy delight). This means that you must never ever use a knife and fork but wipe the hummus off the plate with pieces of pita (shaped like canoes).
Hummus is gradually becoming one of the Middle-Eats most successfully exported cultural-products, mostly as a result of tourists who tasted it while in the region and spread the word.
In fact, if two decades ago people in the US were unable to pronounce the word ‘hummus’, today it is found on the shelves of almost every supermarket and grocery store.
Numbers say that the sales of hummus have quadrupled over the past ten years, threatening to end the domination of guacamole and salsa as America’s two favorite dips!
This rise was accompanied by an increased production of chickpeas in the States – from 25 million pounds in 2009, it has reached 100 million pounds during the recent years.
To support this claim with even more numbers, compared to twenty years ago when annual hummus sales in the States were $5 million, today they are estimated at a whopping $725 million! In other words, while in 2006 only 12% of the US households stocked up on the chickpea spread, today this number is doubled to 25%!
The History of Hummus
The earliest recorded hummus recipes originate from cookbooks written in Cairo, Egypt in the 13th century. The invention of this creamy spread is often attributed to Sultan Saladin, who was the first to combine all the basic hummus ingredients.
However, given the fact that the two main ingredients, chickpeas, and tahini, have been used in the Middle East and Easter Mediterranean for thousands of years, experts believe that hummus’ origins go way back.
Today, many regions and countries around the world claim to be the place of origin of hummus, including Greece, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Israel, and Lebanon. The last two countries on the list are especially persistent in their efforts to prove historic ownership of this creamy delight, engaging in a competition of preparing the largest batch of hummus. Currently, Lebanon has the largest serving of hummus. It was made by 300 student chefs and served in 2010 in Beirut. The serving weighed 23,042 lbs. 12 oz. and was served on the new largest ceramic plate, which over 7m in diameter.
As far as we’re concerned, it doesn’t matter who invented it, the very fact that there are so many national and regional hummus varieties makes us jump with joy! The major difference between these different hummus recipes is in the amounts of tahini used. Some varieties include cumin, hot peppers, and/or Greek yogurt; others, like the Turkish recipe, use butter instead of olive oil. But if you keep reading, you will find out that hummus is a versatile spread offers endless flavoring possibilities!
Health Benefits of Hummus
This beige-colored emulsion was further popularized by celebrity health promoters like Dr. Oz and the rising interest in the Mediterranean diet.
People are becoming more and more aware of how important food is to the overall well-being and they turn to healthier options. Nowadays, many modern Americans will choose a tasty and healthy spread like hummus over ranch dip, queso fresco, or mayonnaise.
Hummus is one of those rare foods that offer great taste backed up with amazing nutritive value. Here are the main health benefits of hummus:
- Chickpeas are very high in protein and dietary fiber which make you feel full. This means that, in the long term, hummus will help you eat less and stay slim. Furthermore, these nutty legumes regulate digestion and protect the heart. They are also packed with vitamin B6, manganese, and magnesium, three elements credited for relieving PMS symptoms. Garbanzo beans are rich in iron, zinc, magnesium, and potassium, minerals known to boost energy and aid sexual functions, making hummus an aphrodisiac. No wonder they’ve been consumed for more than seven millenniums!
- Tahini is a paste made of ground sesame seeds. These seeds contain high levels of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that lowers the risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.
- The most important nutrients found in olive oil are the monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are especially good for the cardiovascular system. To take the most advantage of its health properties, make sure you use extra virgin olive oil.
- Lemon juice is packed with vitamin C which strengthens the immunity, aids digestion, and stabilizes blood sugar levels. Furthermore, it acts as a powerful alkalizer and regulates the level of acidity in the body. (Skip the bottled, store-bought versions and use freshly squeezed lemon juice)
- Garlic is rich in flavonoids, sulfur, selenium and many other nutrients that give this vegetable its antioxidant, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties.
- Salt. To keep your hummus recipe healthy, opt for healthier salt options like Himalayan, Celtic, or sea salt. Unlike the highly-processed, iodized table salt, these salts contain a large number of trace minerals which balance the fluids in the organism and facilitate nutrient absorption.
How to Make Traditional Hummus
Homemade hummus is much healthier and richer in taste than the store-bought varieties. You’re just a few steps away from the most delicious summer meal!
2 cups chickpeas
3 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, squeezed
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
Step by step preparation:
Step 1: You can use either raw or canned chickpeas for your homemade hummus recipe.
Raw chickpeas: Raw, dried chickpeas need to be soaked overnight to soften. At this point, adding a teaspoon of baking soda will contribute to an extra velvety final product.
After the legumes have soaked overnight, rinse them and place in a pot filled with water. Cook at a low temperature until they’re soft (for about 1-2 hours; they’re done when they start crumbling under your fingers). Skinless garbanzo beans will produce the silkiest paste but peeling them one by one is a laborious task. The addition of baking soda once again in this phase will help separate the skins easily.
Note: Save the water in which the chickpeas were soaked. This liquid is called ‘aquafaba’ and can be added to the food processor together with all the other ingredients to contribute perfect density and some more flavor!
Canned chickpeas: If you don’t have the time or patience to soak and cook your chickpeas, opt for the canned version. Drain the canned chickpeas into a strainer, then rinse under running water.
Step 2: Place all ingredients in a blender or a food processor (including some aquafaba).
Note: Some recipes skip the olive oil altogether since tahini is fatty and flavorful enough. This, however, is a matter of personal preference.
Note 2: Having a great processing tool is crucial for obtaining a perfectly smooth and creamy emulsion. Food processors are a better option since they have bigger blades than blenders.
Step 3: Process the ingredients for about two minutes, until you obtain a smooth and uniform paste. Stop to scrape the sides of the food processor’s bowl from time to time.
Step 4: Adjust the taste and texture. Taste to see if you need to add more seasonings or, if the hummus is dry, olive oil, aquafaba and/or lemon juice.
Amazing Hummus Recipes
Just when you thought hummus can’t get any better, you realize that there are countless hummus varieties! This creamy dip gives you an opportunity to get creative and make it different every time. You can add practically everything you have in the fridge: spices, herbs, tired veggies to make it even healthier and more flavorful. Here are just a few suggestions to tickle your imagination:
Roasted Garlic Hummus
Spicy Chipotle-Lime Hummus
Cucumber Hummus with Dill
Smokey Sweet Potato Hummus
Bell Pepper and Mint Lentil Hummus
How to Consume Hummus
Hummus will keep for up to a week in a sealed container in the fridge. Note: the smear tends to thicken when stored, so you might need to add some more aquafaba or olive oil before each consumption.
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Transfer your hummus mixture into a bowl and serve it as a dip, along with raw vegetables or, make the best combination ever – hummus and chips. When we say hummus and chips, we refer to pita chips. And since this is one of our favorite game night and movie night snacks, here is how to make it:
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and brush it with some olive oil.
Step 2: Take one pita bread with pockets or two without pockets. If your pitas have pockets, split them in half using a knife. If the pitas are without pockets, cut them into 8 wedges (like a pizza).
Step 3: Brush the wedges with oil on both sides, then season with at least salt (other spices and herbs are optional, feel free to use your imagination).
Step 4: Arrange the pita wedges on the baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, turn the pita chips over, then return and bake until crispy and golden-brown, for another 5 minutes (thinner pitas need lower temperatures and, hence, a bit longer baking time, about 7-8 minutes).
Step 5: Make sure you let the pita chips cool completely before serving. Need recipes?
Hummus and Herbed Baked Pita Chips
Homemade Hummus with Spiced Pita Chips
Smear it onto your sandwich or on a pita and make a hummus wrap, combining it with various vegetables, meats, or even seafood.
Quinoa Hummus Wrap
Greek Grilled Chicken and Hummus Wrap
Egg and Veggie Hummus Wrap
You can also add hummus on top of meats and fish before roasting to add extra flavor.
Baked Hummus Crusted Chicken
Grilled Lemon Chicken Skewers with Yogurt Hummus Sauce
Hummus and Grilled Vegetable Pizza
Parsley Scallion Hummus Pasta
Recent reports on nutrition and healthy eating state that more and more households turn to vegetable oils at the expense of animal-based, saturated oils.
This is definitely good news, but not all vegetable oils are good for you. Despite the word ‘vegetable’ popping up, the key term we’re looking for is ‘refined’. If you see this word on the oil label, turn around and walk away!
How to Tell Which Vegetable Oils Are Bad for You
The most widely used oils are processed seed oils referred to as “vegetable oils”. During the process of refining, they undergo pressing and heating at very high temperatures upon which they are also infused with industrial solvents and chemicals.
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When consumed regularly, these oils increase the amount of omega-6 fatty acids. When the balance of these (normally healthy) fatty acids is disturbed, they can seriously damage your health. Refined oils are also loaded with trans fats which are highly toxic and can increase the risk of various chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Here is a list of refined oils to avoid:
Rice Bran Oil
Which Oils are Good?
That is why we should all turn to more natural, cold-pressed oil alternatives. They might be more expensive than the refined vegetable oils but buying them it is a worthwhile investment into yours and your family’s health.
Cold-pressed oils offer a plethora of health benefits, but they also add a new flavor twist to your favorite dishes. Following are our five favorite healthy vegetable oils along with recipe ideas to help you put them to good use.
Note: It is worth mentioning that different oils react differently when exposed to high temperatures during cooking. They may alter the color, texture and/or taste. But, more importantly, when the oils reach their smoking point, most of the nutrients are destroyed and they can form potentially harmful compounds. All this depends on the smoke point of each oil, i.e. the temperature at which the oil starts to be smoking in the pan.
And finally, one more precaution: no matter which oil you decide to use, make sure to limit the daily intake to two teaspoons per person.
#1 Olive Oil
Olive oil has a long history dating back to ancient civilizations. Its most beneficial variety, the extra virgin, is very rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, antioxidants, healthy fatty acids, and many heart-friendly nutrients. Olive oil has been credited with reducing the risk of various diseases like heart disease, dementia, depression, and obesity.
Olive oil is perfect for Mediterranean dishes like pastas, Greek salads, and risottos, but it also works great with our staples such as eggs, pancakes, seafood, chicken…
Recipe suggestion: Sautéed Greens
#2 Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet and there are more than 1500 scientific studies to prove it! Besides the amazing flavor it contributes, this oil is so beneficial that it is often used both as a natural remedy as well as a beauty product.
It is packed with healthy medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) which take the credit for coconut oil’s health benefits including hormonal balance, improved digestion, better skin, cellulite reduction, energy improvement, cholesterol regulation, and more! The fact that coconut oil withstands high temperatures, makes it even more perfect.
Recipe suggestion: Paleo Onion Rings
#3 Canola Oil
Considered one of the healthiest cooking oils, canola oil has the lowest content of saturated fats of all healthy oils in the market. This oil is obtained from crushed seeds of the canola plant and is very rich in monounsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Due to its medium smoking point, this oil is ideal for baking and sautéing, whereas its taste works perfectly in Indian and Mexican dishes.
Recipe suggestion: Waffled Breakfast Quesadillas
#4 Sesame Oil
There are two varieties of sesame oil. The lighter one is obtained by cold-pressing toasted sesame seeds and mostly used in the Middle East and India. It has a high smoking point and mild taste. The other variety is darker, with more prominent nutty flavor and aroma and is often used in Asian cuisine.
Both these sesame oil varieties are high in polyunsaturated fats and rich in vitamin B6, as well as essential minerals like copper, magnesium, iron, and calcium.
Note: Sesame oil has a low smoking point and should not be heated for too long.
Recipe suggestion: Sesame Chicken Stir Fry
#5 Avocado Oil
Besides coconut oil, avocado oil is another type of oil ranking among the healthiest. It is credited with diabetes prevention, high cholesterol regulation, and weight loss facilitation. In fact, avocado oil is so healthy, it has received an arthritis prescription drug status in France!
This oil is obtained from the fruit of the avocado tree, by pressing the pulp. This makes avocado oil one of the few oils not obtained from seeds. It is very rich in healthy fats, especially essential fatty acids and oleic acids.
Besides for uncooked recipes like dips and salads, avocado oil can be used in various cooked dishes like pork and beef, fried rice, baked fish, etc.
Recipe suggestion: Caribbean Inspired Salted Cod
Other Healthy Oils to Consider
Besides the above-listed oils, there are more healthy alternatives to take into consideration. For instance, oils like pumpkin seed and flaxseed oil are full of nutrients but they can’t be used for cooking due to their extremely low smoking points.
To take advantage of their health benefits use them in dips, salads, and soups or try one of these recipes:
Acorn Squash Boats with Farro, Honey and Pecans
Kale, Hemp and Flaxseed Oil Pesto
Try also nut and peanut oil, fish oil, and palm oil:
Fried Wonton Strips
Fully Loaded Vegan Baked Potato Soup
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According to nutrition experts, it is a good idea to try different types of oils for cooking. This way, you will not only try different flavors, but you will also give your body different kinds of nutrients and essential fatty acids.
Despite bombastic articles that glorify certain foods as cancer-curing or weight-loss friendly, when it comes to nutrition and healthy food, it all comes down to personal preferences.
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Each individual should rely on what works well for them in terms of likes and dislikes, but also take into consideration any food allergies and sensitivities.
However, there are several general rules that can serve as guidelines when drafting up your personal diet plan.
#1 Say No to Processed Foods
Inform yourself and know your food. The Internet makes it easy for all of us to learn about organic, free-range, and GMO-free foods and that is a good starting point. Opt for the least processed foods like fruits, vegetables, eggs, whole grains, and high-fiber carbs, while avoiding the common processed options like:
Crisps like potato chips
Processed meat products like bacon, hot dogs, and sausages
Ready meals and microwave meals
Store-bought cakes, muffins, cookies, and crackers
Pre-made Condiments and salad dressings
It helps if you make your meals from scratch whenever possible. Even if you are not a very skilled cook or don’t have enough time, there is a wide variety of simple recipes that can be put together in no time.
Recipe suggestion: Lentil Chickpea Medley
#2 Put a Rainbow on Your Plate
No matter what diet plan you decide to follow, you can be sure it will require you to eat a plethora of fruits and veggies. The more colorful your plate looks, the more nutrients it contains – fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber while containing low amounts of calories. They have a positive effect on energy levels, strength, and mood. They also control digestion and make you feel full for a longer period of time.
Nutrition experts advise as many as nine servings a day but they also warn that not all fruits are created equal- unlike fresh and frozen fruits, dried fruits and juices should be consumed in smaller amounts.
Recipe suggestion: Tropical Fruit Salad
#3 Limit the Sugar Intake
One of the most important steps towards healthy nutrition is cutting the added sugars from your diet. Statistics say that the average American consumes more than double the recommended daily amount of added sugar.
Sugar is often added to unexpected foods that don’t even taste sweet like low-fat foods, sauces, salad dressings, condiments, cereals, or bread. The difficulty in staying away from added sugars is that they come in many different forms and under many different names. For more details, read my article on sugar decrease.
#4 Choose Your Proteins Wisely
When it comes to taming your food cravings, protein-rich foods are the best choice. Protein increases the feelings of satiety making you eat less during the day. Consuming enough protein is especially important for athletes and physically active people because it protects the muscles and facilitates calorie burn.
There is a rather creepy saying “The fewer legs, the better” to abide by when choosing the best type of protein. This means you should focus on lean protein from chicken, turkey or fish rather than pork, beef, or lamb.
Recipe suggestion: Herb-Roasted Chicken
#5 Eat Good Fats
Today, we are well aware that not all fats are harmful – avocado, fish nuts, nut butters, olive oil, seeds, flaxseed and flaxseed oil are your new best friends.
Still, no matter how good these fatty foods are, bear in mind that they are still fats and are quite high in calories. The fact remains that eating too many calories will eventually make you gain weight so make sure to consume the above-mentioned ingredients in moderation.
Recipe suggestion: Mexican Avocado Tartlets
A Few Additional Rules to Abide By
A healthy lifestyle is not limited to only choosing the right diet options. Here are a few pieces of advice that go beyond food.
- Staying hydrated is just as important as eating well, so make sure you always carry a bottle of water with you. Alternatively, opt for unsweetened coffee and tea.
- Be physically active. Find a training program that works for you – take up a sport, try yoga, or visit the gym at least once a week. If you really don’t have the time to do this, try walking to work and back instead of using your car, take long walks in the park during the weekend, or take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Use supplements. Regard food as your main fuel source and turn to supplements to obtain the nutrients you aren’t getting from food. Make sure to consult with your doctor or a registered nutritionist before you start.
- Sleep at least 7-8 hours during the night or take short naps during the day. Sleep helps the body recover and refresh, contributing to the overall well-being.
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And finally, it’s OK to motivate yourself with a guilty pleasure from time to time, you’ve deserved it!
Do great things today. But first…coffee!
Dubbed ‘survival juice’ and ‘a hug in a mug’, coffee is an inseparable part of our lives. The fact that it is the second most consumed drink to water in many countries speaks volumes about humans’ love and devotion toward coffee.
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Coffee is the first thing we think about in the morning and the secret weapon that keeps us going through the day. And we all know which compound is deserving for increasing productivity, improving focus, memory, alertness, and overall cognitive function – caffeine.
However, coffee is more than just caffeine. Recent studies refute the popular belief that coffee is a guilty pleasure and should be consumed in smaller amounts. On the contrary, they show that your favorite morning drink has some significant health benefits.
But First…How Did Coffee Find Its Way into Our Lives?
Coffee is a brewed drink prepared from roasted coffee beans, obtained from the Coffea plant. The earliest records of coffee consumption date from the 15th century Yemen, where people drank it during religious ceremonies, whereas the modern version of brewed coffee originates in Arabia.
A century later, this dark beverage had already arrived in North Africa, Persia, and Turkey. Venetian traders introduced coffee to Italy, where it was first considered a ‘Muslim beverage’ and almost got banned. Luckily, Pope Clement Vlll deemed it a ‘Christian drink’, and its popularity rose tremendously throughout Europe.
North America made its acquaintances with coffee during the Colonial period. At first, coffee had to ‘fight’ alcoholic beverages for supremacy but it got widely accepted during the Revolutionary War, when Americans refused to consume British tea.
Today, coffee beans are cultivated in more than 70 countries, mostly in the tropical regions including Southeast Asia, India, Central and South America, and Africa. It is one of the major export commodities in the world, with the two most popular types being arabica and robusta.
Health Benefits of Coffee
The study conducted by the University of Birmingham, U.K. has shown that coffee’s ability to hydrate the body is almost equal to that of water. So, considering the fact that your favorite indulgence doesn’t contain sugar or carbohydrates and has almost 0 calories, it is a much healthier choice than sodas, energy drinks, store-bought juices, and teas.
Coffee contains higher levels of polyphenols, chlorogenic acid, and caffeic acid than other popular antioxidant drinks like red wine, cocoa, and tea. These compounds fight free radicals in the body, thus contributing to increased immunity and lower oxidative stress. This, in combination with the coffee’s anti-inflammatory properties, lowers the risk of chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, and mental disorders.
Everyone’s favorite hot beverage is a great source of two antioxidants, kahweol and cafestol, which are credited for lowering LDL cholesterol levels, thus protecting the heart in the long term.
Studies have found that chlorogenic acid in coffee has a positive effect on insulin and blood sugar markers, thus helping lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Better Brain Function
The positive effects of the antioxidants found in coffee extend to cognitive functions as well. Research has shown that they protect the brain against incurable neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. Furthermore, a cup of joe a day is believed to reduce symptoms of depression.
Many athletes and physically active people opt for a cup of java before training. This is due to the fact that coffee increases energy levels, strength, endurance, and concentration. Studies show that it raises blood sugar levels, helping to fuel the muscles and boost the metabolism, thus allowing athletes to train longer and at a greater power output.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Coffee
Scientific data confirms that coffee is perfectly safe when consumed in moderation. But what does ‘in moderation’ mean? It means that you can enjoy in up to three to five cups of home-brewed regular java. Nutrition experts have found that the ideal amount of coffee to consume daily is one to two cups, in order to be certain there will be no negative effects.
Still, before indulging yourself in black magic, there are a few potential risks to consider. Pregnant women, to start with, are advised to reduce the amount of coffee from one cup a day to none at all.
Another factor to consider is the personal tolerance to caffeine, as well as health problems and conditions. People suffering from sleep-related problems, insomnia, anxiety, diabetes, or heart issues, should limit the daily coffee intake and consult with a doctor about the ideal quantity.
To make the most of your cup of coffee, make sure the product you’re buying is organic or shade-grown. This will ensure your java is free from chemicals, pesticides, and solvents or contains them in much smaller amounts.
Furthermore, if you are environmentally conscious, search for producers that support fair trade. In that case, producers guarantee that they respect all of their employees and see that everyone benefits from the production process, without being exploited in any way.
If you are sensitive to coffee effects or have health issues, bear in mind that even decaffeinated coffee contains small amounts of caffeine.
Types of Coffee to Fantasize About
Coffee can be combined with so many ingredients and served in so many different ways…
One of the most popular coffee varieties is espresso. It can be served black, with no other additions than hot water (known as Caffè Americano) or with a dairy product like steamed milk to make caffè latte, a combination of milk foam and steamed milk to obtain a cappuccino, or frothed milk to create a macchiato.
Coffee is most often served hot but there are iced varieties as well, especially popular during summertime. This amazing beverage also makes great blends with ice cream or even booze. For instance, when mixed with whiskey it creates Irish coffee. Java is also in the base of liqueurs like Tia Maria and Kahlua, which can be incorporated in various dessert recipes (see links below).
But no matter which type of coffee you decide to go for, there are several tips to follow in order to take advantage of coffee’s health benefits:
Drink it first thing in the morning
It turns out, we’ve been consuming java the right way all this time! Caffeine needs about an hour before it starts working its magic, so having your cup of joe first thing in the morning will ensure you’re on top of your game when you arrive at the workplace.
Go easy on sugar
If you are looking for a high level of caffeine, drip-brewed coffee is your choice. That being said, light roast coffee has more caffeine than dark roast coffee. However, the more caffeine it contains, the more bitter the java tastes, so you might be tempted to load it with milk and sugar. Restrain yourself! Once you pack your cup of black magic with sugar, its health benefits go out of the window. Use sugar as less as possible or replace it with natural sweeteners like stevia.
What’s the ideal dosage
Nutritionists claim that 8oz. of coffee first thing in the morning is just enough to kick start your day. Bear in mind that caffeine’s effects last for about three to six hours and plan your next (and last) cup of joe accordingly.
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Fantastic Coffee Recipes
And finally, the fun part – the moment when your favorite healthy beverage turns into magic. Here are our favorite coffee recipes to break your morning routine:
Vegan Chocolate Coffee Shake
Frozen Coffee Parfaits
And if this is not enough, coffee can be eaten too. These scrumptious desserts will prove it:
Sugar Free Low Carb Coffee Ricotta Mousse
Irish Coffee Cream Pie with Whiskey Ganache
Coffee-Iced Chocolate Bars
Summer is just around the corner and the race to get in shape for the beach is on. Regular exercise and healthy eating are the two crucial steps to take in the process.
Restraining yourself from food that is high in calories but low in nutritional value is an imperative in every weight loss plan. Junk food hits the top of the blacklist, followed by sodas, snacks, and desserts. But many people face a similar problem – even though they have stopped consuming Coke and candy bars, they are still unable to get rid of the extra pounds.
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This is due to added sugars. Nutritionists warn that we consume lots of added sugars during the day without even being aware of it. According to statistics, the average American consumes more than double the recommended daily amount of added sugar (six teaspoons for women and nine for men). Sugar is often added to unexpected foods that don’t even taste sweet like sauces, low-fat foods, cereals, condiments, salad dressings, or even bread.
Regular intake of added sugars does not only prevent you from getting in good shape but also imposes a threat to your health. Added sugars have been linked to many diseases including cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
How to Identify Added Sugars in Food
The first step to reducing the intake of added sugars is identifying them. Added sugars differ from the natural sugars found in fruit (fructose) and dairy products (lactose). These natural occurring sugars contain high amounts of dietary fiber. Fiber slows down their absorption in the blood stream, preventing spikes of blood sugar which would eventually result in increased food cravings.
The common name that identifies harmful products full of added sugars is ‘processed foods’. But since the sugar line in the nutrition facts box refers to both natural and added sugars, one can never be sure about the amount.
Also, labels don’t always clearly state that there is added sugar. Companies use over 50 alternative names to ‘mask’ added sugar in the ingredients label. Here are the most commonly used ones:
Cane sugar or juice
Fruit juice concentrates
High fructose corn syrup
Luckily, this is about to change. FDA has instructed companies to change the labels so that they show the exact amount of added sugars until 2018.
You should also pay attention to the order in which the ingredients are listed. If added sugar is on or near the top, that means it is added in quite a large amount.
Follow these simple tips that will help you reduce the intake of added sugars and get ready for the summer.
Stop Buying Sugar
Don’t keep sugar in your home (both white and brown). Instead, turn to natural sweetener alternatives. Studies suggest that besides reducing the number of calories consumed daily, natural refined sugar alternatives can increase the antioxidant intake. Here is what to use to sweeten your drinks and desserts:
Brown rice syrup
Pure maple syrup
Real fruit jam
Sugar is considered addictive and that is why giving it up is not an easy task. In fact, abrupt cessation may result in depression and anxiety. Try cutting back gradually – if you normally sweeten your tea and coffee with two teaspoons of sugar, reduce to one at the beginning. Mix sugar with natural sweeteners in your dessert recipes at first, then slowly increase the amount of natural sweetener, decreasing the amount of sugar at the same time. Soon, sugar-loaded treats will taste too sweet and you’ll be unable to eat a whole ice cream or cake slice. Moreover, the fruit will start to taste sweeter and better than before.
Quit Sugar-Loaded Drinks
Ditching sodas is a great start but they are not the only beverage that contains added sugars. Fruit juices, energy drinks, sports drinks, enhanced waters, iced teas, bottled coffee, and store-bought smoothies are on the list of popular drinks loaded with sugars (in fact, they contain from 8 to 12 teaspoons each!)
The problem with drinks is that they don’t make you as full as eating, so the body does not recognize the calories from them the way it does from foods. This means that even if you have drunk a can of cola, you will still feel hungry.
Here is what to consume to satisfy your thirst:
Water is cleansing, refreshing, and has zero calories. You can add a splash of lime or lemon (even better if the water is sparkling) to enhance liver and digestive functions, as well as boost the immune system. Other cleansing options are adding cucumber slices and fresh mint. For best results, the water should be at a room temperature (or lukewarm) so that the body absorbs the nutrients from the add-ins faster and easier.
Hot beverages like herbal and fruit teas or coffee can be consumed unsweetened or with an added natural sweetener for a morning energy boost.
Be Careful with Desserts
Most desserts are very high in calories at the expense of other nutrients. Sweet treats like ice cream, pies, cakes, and donuts are packed with added sugars which decrease your energy levels and make you crave even more sugar.
Fortunately, you don’t have to give up all delights for good. The introduction of natural sweeteners makes dessert preparation healthier. This, with the addition of fruits (fresh or dried) to your recipes, increases the quantity of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Also, there is another way to add sweetness to desserts – flavoring. Adding extracts such as vanilla, almond, orange, or lemon, as well as spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, and allspice will make up for the sugar absence.
Let’s not forget dark chocolate. Unsweetened chocolate with high cocoa content (over 75%) is highly recommended for consumption. It is loaded with antioxidants which protect the body against various diseases. In addition, dark chocolate is known for boosting brain functions, energy levels, and mood.
Protein Quinoa Pancakes
Healthy Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Bars
Paleo Chocolate Chunk Cookies Made with Almond and Coconut Flour
Peanut Butter Banana Waffle Cookies
What to Avoid Buying?
Some of the foods we consider the healthiest are actually full of added sugars. The best popular food examples to avoid are breakfast cereals. Some brands reportedly contain about a dozen teaspoons of added sugar per serving!
Same counts for store-bought granola, granola bars, protein bars, as well as other breakfast foods like pancakes, waffles, and cupcakes.
Some dried fruits also contain added sugar, so if you are looking for a healthy snack between meals, check if the label says 100% fruit or opt for nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, or homemade granola.
Breakfast and snack recipe suggestions:
Peanut Butter and Flax Granola
Healthy Maple Oat Muffins
Poached Eggs on Guacamole
Other products to be careful about are canned foods. Even though canned fruits and veggies are cheap and convenient, very often they are packed with added sugars. Look for options that say ‘canned in its own juice’, ‘unsweetened’, or ‘no added sugar’. If you do use canned fruits and vegetables, make sure to wash them prior to consumption.
Sauces, Dressings, and Condiments
Did you know that many of the kitchen staples like ketchup are usually loaded with sugars? A single serving of ketchup can contain a whole teaspoon of sugar! Be careful with store-bought sauces, dressings, mayonnaise, and vinaigrettes (This, however, does not apply to all brands. Check the label for ‘no added sugar’ or ‘low-sugar’. Flavor your food with fresh herbs and spices, apple cider vinegar, or fresh chili whenever you can. In addition, make large homemade supplies of the add-ins you use frequently.
Healthy Homemade Ketchup
Healthy Ranch Dressing
Deliciously Healthy Kale Mint Basil Pesto
What to Focus On?
Healthy eating implies portion control, i.e. more frequent meals that are smaller in size instead of two or three big ones. Balancing the intake of nutrients is another important factor. You should follow the 40/40/20 formula, meaning that 40% of your food should be protein, 40% carbs, and 20% healthy fats.
Fats are important because they keep you satiated for a longer period of time and make you eat less. Not all fatty foods are necessarily bad for you. Think nuts, seeds, avocados, as well as heart-healthy oils like olive oil and coconut oil (make sure the oil you buy are extra-virgin, which means they are cold-pressed and unrefined).
Also, feel free to consume full-fat foods like milk, yogurt, salad dressings, and peanut butter. As crazy as it may sound, they are much healthier than their no-fat or low-fat options which have increased sugar and calorie content at the expense of reduced fat.
In general, your focus should be on whole foods. This refers to all types of foods that have not been processed or refined, nor contain added sugars, salt, fats, preservatives, flavors, emulsifiers, colors, or other artificial additives. In one word, avoid food that contains ingredients you usually don’t use in home cooking.
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The best way to make sure your food is free from added sugars is to make it at home from scratch. No matter how busy and stressful your daily routine is, recipes like these will take you no more than 30 minutes to prepare:
Sesame Chicken Stir-fry
Easy Pork Scaloppine
Honey Mustard Potatoes
Coconut Chicken Soup
And finally, exercising enhances your metabolism, helping you burn fat and calories quickly and easily. Easy cardio workout for 15 minutes every day is enough or, if you can’t find the time, try alternative ways to be physically active during the day – take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk or ride your bike to work and back. You’ll be ready for the beach in no time!