Friday, 25 March 2016

Mexican Green Sauce Pulled Pork

Save money by adding this low-sugar pulled pork to your rotation.

I got the inspiration for this recipe from Well Plated Salsa Verde Pulled Pork. This is yet another super cheap and easy recipe that will save you money on groceries and time in the evening. It's also fairly healthy compared to regular pork and is 21 Day Fix friendly when served on a salad with a sprinkling of brown rice and feta cheese. 

Be sure to get the right cut of pork or it won't work - trust me I've tried! You'll want to find a big hunk of pork butt or shoulder at the grocery store (don't worry, pork butt is actually not the pig's butt). If the whole thing won't fit in your slow cooker you can chop it in half and freeze the other half for later. Pork shoulder is incredibly inexpensive so adding this meal to your regular rotation will be good for your budget and your health.

The trick to making pulled pork healthy is to pass on the barbecue sauce and add some healthy sauces and seasonings instead. Barbecue sauce is full of sugar which are just empty calories your body doesn't need. And guess what, sugar gives you body a spike of energy but then you'll crash afterwards so it's not good for your energy levels either.

Instead have the pork with a chipotle yogurt dressing which is just as tasty. Just mix 1/4 cup of yogurt with a teaspoon of chipotle seasoning and a minced clove of garlic. Add a tablespoon of both olive oil and freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice and a tablespoon of minced cilantro if you're feeling fancy.

I know this recipe has sugar in it (gasp!) but the sugar is very minimal over all - you're not drenching the pork in sugar like you would with barbecue sauce, okay? I have added a step to Well Plated's version of this recipe of frying up the pork after taking it out of the slow cooker (you don't need to add oil to the pan, the juices from the slow cooker will boil off). This step is optional but if you like crispy, charred type tastes you'll love it this way. I have my pulled pork on corn tortillas, on a salad, in a burrito - pretty much any way you can think of.

Have the pork with brown rice and veggies is a great way to get a well-balanced meal which will keep you feeling full! 

Green Sauce Pulled Pork 
     Makes about 12 burritos
  • 1 Bottle Mexican Green Sauce (salsa verde)

  • 1 Onion, cut into quarters

  • 4 Cloves Garlic, chopped

  • 1 Tbsp Cumin

  • 1 Tbsp Chili Powder

  • 1 Tbsp Salt

  • 2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1 Cup Boiling water 
  •  2 Lbs Pork Shoulder or butt, small enough to fit in your slow cooker
  1. Turn on your slow cooker and pour in the cup of boiling water - this helps it heat up quicker.
  2. Cover the pork shoulder in salt and pat dry with paper towel.
  3. Add all ingredients to the slow cooker and cook on high for 4 to 6 hours or low for 8 to 10 hours - it's really not rocket science.
  4. When the pork is ready it will come apart easily with two forks. Pull it apart.
  5. Fry it up in a large pan for about 10 minutes to boil off the excess juices and brown it and get it nice and crispy (this part is optional but it makes it very tasty). Serve on tortillas with cilantro, lime, avocado and yogurt. 

Butternut Squash Vegan Lentil Burgers

Vegetarian Lentil Burgers are easy to make and are packed with fibre and protein.

The lentil burgers are inspired by one of my favourite healthy vegetarian recipes from Chef Michael Smith. It's also 21 Day Fix friendly and is incredibly cheap! I never have certain ingredients he uses on hand though - for example miso paste isn't something I keep in the fridge so it's not in this recipe. I wanted to make this recipe for vegan Easter dinner so I modified it to make it simpler.

 I suggest using frozen butternut squash (look for it in the frozen veggie section) which makes the prep much easier. It's also a lot cheaper than buying a whole butternut squash in Canada these days. Instead of the butternut squash and potato you can also substitute 2 cups of grated sweet potato or 2 cups of grated carrots. I've tried both and it works great. All of these orange veggies have the same sweet flavour that goes great with the savoury flavour of the sage, lentils and mushrooms.
To save money try using more lentils as a protein source.

The mushrooms, peanut butter and black lentils give the burgers a rich hearty taste which is reminiscent of a burger and goes well with typical burger toppings. I love topping mine with aged cheddar, avocado, tomato and lettuce on a whole wheat bun. To chop all the veggies I use my food processor with the grater attachment but you can also use a box grater or chop them with a knife. The food processor makes things a lot quicker. To mix things together you can also use your food processor with the regular blade but don't process the lentils or potato - mix those in afterwards.
Fun fact: Lentils come from Canada and grow well in the prairies.

For the lentils be sure to choose black, beluga, french or dupuy lentils. You may have to make a special trip to the bulk barn, whole foods or a health food store to find these since they usually aren't in the regular grocery store. Black lentils hold up better and don't fall apart so I like them better in most recipes. To make the lentils just soak them for a few hours in a large bowl covered with water (they will expand in the water) then boil them for 15 minutes like you're making rice. When they are done you'll be able to smash them with a fork. Drain off any excess water and let them cool a bit before using them in the recipe.

If you can't make a trip to the bulk barn the next best lentil type would be canned lentils - you don't have to boil these, just drain and rinse them and they're ready to go in your recipe. The pink lentils you see in the grocery store can be used in a pinch but they are kind of flavourless and don't have the same oomph as the other kinds.

If you think of lentils as coming from India (I thought myself that they were imported) you would be wrong. Lentils actually grow extremely well in Canada. Canada is actually the World's main producer of lentils believe it or not and 80% of lentils come from Canada! So in fact by eating more lentils you're supporting the Canadian economy! I hope with this recipe you'll be able to incorporate more lentils into your diet. Not only are they tasty, cheap and local to Canada but they're also healthy and packed with fibre and protein. If you're still scared of cooking lentils explore Chef Michael Smith's website as there are a lot of short youtube videos on how to cook them - don't worry though it's not rocket science!
Black or dupuy lentils go best in burgers.

Butternut Squash Vegan Lentil Burgers 
     Makes about 12 patties
  • 2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil

  • 1 Onion, Chopped

  • 200 gr Mushrooms, Chopped

  • 4 Cloves Garlic, Diced

  • 2 Cups Black, Beluga, French or Dupuy Lentils, Cooked

  • 1 Cups Cubed Butternut Squash, Cooked (or frozen squash defrosted)

  • 1 Cup grated Potato

  • 1 Cup Breadcrumbs (or almond flour to make it gluten-free)
  • 2 Tbsp Dried Sage

  • 1 Tbsp Chili Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Curry Powder
  • 1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Chia Seeds
  • 1/4 Cup Ground Flax
  1. Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat and fry the onion, mushroom and garlic until golden brown (10-15 minutes).
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. 
  3. Form into patties with 1/3 Cup of the mixture in each patty.
  4. Fry over low heat, cook on the BBQ or cook for 20 minutes at 400F in the oven.
  5. Serve hot with cilantro and avocado on a whole wheat bun.
* The raw patties can be frozen and cooked at a later date.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

How to Lose Weight by Sleeping More

Are you sleep starved?

We've all heard "eat less, workout more and you'll lose weight". But could we be all missing a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to losing weight?

When you're sleeping, you're not eating. But you're also not burning many calories by lying in bed so why should I believe that sleeping an extra hour or two will help me lose weight? Surely my spin session where I sweat out a litre of water matters much more than sleep, right? Recent studies show that getting quality sleep at the right time of day is a crucial factor in losing weight. I'm not going to tell you that it's more important than what you're eating but it is a critical puzzle piece that works together with diet and exercise to help you reach your optimal health and weight.

Sleep, good nutrition and a bit of exercise every day are 3 factors that get easier when they're all in harmony.
Are you sleep starving? Lack of sleep not only affects your impulse control but also makes you feel hungrier!

When you're well rested you have more energy for your workout and when you've got a good workout in you feel more motivated to stick to healthy eating. And guess what, when you get a good workout in and eat right you'll sleep better! It's all part of a spiral that we can either use to gain better health, or, when it's working against us it can make us feel like getting healthy is out of our control and we're fighting a brick wall. Sleep is an easy part of the cycle to forget but it makes the other two factors so hard!

Studies show that when we're tired, we get more hungry - even when we're eating the same amount! 

When you're sleep deprived your body produces more gherlin, which is the body's hunger hormone. Your levels of leptin, which signals signals fullness,  also go down. Your body is literally working against you when you're low on sleep. This is compounded with a rise in cortisol (the stress hormone) which signals your body to conserve fat to keep your body going.

In essence lack of sleep brings your metabolism to a screeching halt.

Lack of sleep also dulls our decision making abilities meaning we make more decisions on impulse rather than with logic. Impulse-buying (and eating) that chocolate bar in line at the grocery store is easy to resist when we're well rested but almost impossible to say no to when we're exhausted.  When you're tired your body craves energy rich foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates. Lack of sleep also hinders your body's ability to process sugar. Even after 4 days of lack of sleep studies show that insulin sensitivity can drop by 30%. That puts your body in a pre-diabetic state. So how much sleep should I really be getting?

Are you sleep starving? Lack of sleep not only affects your impulse control but also makes you feel hungrier!

People need between 7 and 9 hours of quality sleep per night.

Research shows that even people that think they can function on less sleep have reduced mental capacity - even if it's just for one night. Studies show that you have more difficulty making decisions, thinking and even getting along with other people. Lack of sleep makes you more cranky and irritable too. It's not just about the number of hours though, it's about the quality of your sleep. If you're having vivid dreams and waking up throughout the night you may have issues with the quality of your sleep. It could be a factor you haven't considered because the issue came on slowly. One of the biggest factors that affect sleep quality is the amount of sunlight you get during the day. If you work in an office, or live far from the equator (like in Canada) you might consider light therapy or changing your habits like trying a walk at lunchtime to get more sun. Getting better quality sleep can take time and paying attention to your own body. Of course to get better sleep you should limit caffeine. You may try limiting caffeine to one glass a day and only before noon.

Did you know, though, that alcohol has just as much of an effect on your sleep as caffeine? 

Alcohol - although it makes you fall asleep faster - puts your brain in a state of excitement where it cannot fall into deep sleep. It affects the brain ability to fall into the restorative phases of sleep. Over 27 studies, in fact, have found that alcohol adverses affects quality of sleep. It especially affects sleep in the second half of the night. Are you someone (like me) who wakes up at 5 am after a night of drinking and always wondered why? It's not because you already got such a great sleep that night, it's because you weren't very deeply asleep in the first place! Alcohol may trick you into thinking you're getting a better sleep but you're actually not. The more you drink the bigger the effect is. The good news is that one drink has a minimal effect on sleep so that glass of wine with dinner is still okay (yay!).

Alcohol may help put you to sleep but your quality of sleep will suffer.
Avoid drinking more than one glass of wine before bed.

Electrolyte levels - like magnesium - affect your sleep too. 

You know how at the beginning of this post I talked about how nutrition, fitness and sleep all work together? This is a great example of just that. Low calcium and/or magnesium levels can cause insomnia, muscle twitches (like an eye twitch), headaches, constipation, tingling sensation or numbness and fatigue. Calcium is obtained from dairy easily but it's tough to get magnesium from food because it must be existing in the soil, and soil is often low in magnesium. I try to get all of my nutrition from food sources but magnesium is a tough one, so in this case I take a supplement. Here's the kicker. Magnesium absorption is aided by Vitamin D (and therefore hard to absorb without sun exposure). During Canadian winters my natural Vitamin D intake drops to about zero. Therefore I take a Vitamin D supplement at the same time as my magnesium. Here's the second kicker - calcium blocks magnesium absorption so, if you're taking a multi-vitamin it doesn't count for magnesium. Therefore I take the multi-vitamin in the morning, and, the Magnesium at night (with a Vitamin D tablet). Magnesium can make you sleepy so it's best to take it before you go to bed and then take calcium in the morning when you wake up (especially if you're avoiding dairy). Even if you don't have sleep issues or want to bother with magnesium all Canadians should probably be taking a Vitamin D supplement in the winter since sunlight is such a scare resource.
Well balanced electrolytes can aid in sleep.
Take magnesium before bed for better sleep

Working out in the morning may help you sleep better at night.

The idea is, doing a workout in the morning is a good way to jump start your body's natural wake/sleep rhythm and get you into the waking mode. The faster you're in the wake mode the better you will sleep later at night! Even a doing some jumping jacks when you wake up or choosing to walk to work is a great way to start. Try a short workout video like 22 Minute Hard Corps to get your body moving after you roll out of bed without having to go to the gym. Since exercise releases cortisol (the stress hormone) it's also a good idea to avoid working out right before bed. When you go to sleep you want to be relaxed and calm, after all. Of course, getting some physical activity during the day is a great way to help you sleep better.

A short workout in the morning like 22 Minute Hard Corps can help you sleep better at night.
A short workout in your living room can help get
 your day started and help you sleep better at night!

A light alarm can help wake you up gradually so your REM cycle isn't interrupted. 

When your alarm goes off in the morning you have no way of knowing if you're in the middle of a 90 minute REM cycle or not. A light alarm slowly increases brightness over the course of a half hour during an artificial "sunrise" period. The more expensive light alarms even change colour from a orange-yellow to a bright white light. Though the light doesn't increase over a whole 90 minutes the likelihood of your body being at the end of the REM cycle somewhere in that 30 minute "sunrise" period is quite good. I've use a light alarm for 3 years now and sometimes I wake up right at the beginning of the "sunrise" period and sometimes it's right at the end. Very rarely (usually if I stay up too late the night before) I will wake up and then go back to sleep for another half hour. Because I've left the light on though my body knows that I should only sleep in for about 30 minutes before I wake up again and realize I should really get up, for real.

I used to struggle to get out of bed and have 3 different alarms set. Now that I have a light alarm my feet are literally on the floor before the sunrise finishes. 

Getting out of bed is something I've struggled with all my life so to say I can get out of bed at 730 without a blaring alarm (or rather a set of 3 alarms set at different intervals) is amazing for me. I also wake up feeling more awake and less groggy and irritable than with a regular alarm. If I'm going to be away from the house for more than a few days I literally take my light alarm with me - I love it that much. If you struggle with waking up in the morning I would highly recommend you go for the Caddilac of light alarms with the colour changing feature - the Philips Wake-Up Light. I tried a FEW other light alarms and this one worked the best for me. I tried a cheap one from China (the light bulb blew out after a few weeks) , then I tried the Philips HF3500/60 Wake-Up Light without the colour changing "sunrise", then, I finally upgraded to the cadillac version - the Philips HF3520 Wake-Up Light Coloured Sunrise Simulation . The cadillac version which changes colour and also gives off a stronger light which helps your brain realize it's time to wake up. For me it works a lot better than the cheaper HF3500 - it was well worth the upgrade! I can't say the HF3500 was bad by any means - it looks really cool and is easy to program and operate. It takes up less room than the 3520. It also has a neat tap feature where if you just touch it the alarm goes into snooze mode.  All in all my favourite is the HF3520 though with the coloured sunrise simulation.

Try a light alarm to wake up feeling well-rested.
Philips HF3520 - the cadillac of light alarms

Control your environment for a better sleep.

Do you have blackout curtains? Go get some tonight to get your room as dark as possible. Think a fan will keep you up? Try running it for a few nights and see how it goes. The white noise of a fan dampens all the other creaks and noises in your house so those other noises don't wake you up. Even the furnace turning on is enough to wake me up if I don't have my fan going. You can also try a white noise machine which works well for a lot of people but I prefer a good ol' fan. Like this cheap one from Honeywell  that is pretty strong for a $19 fan!
The noise of a fan will dampen other noises
in your house - helping you sleep better.

Ways to Improve your Quality of Sleep

  • Take a magnesium supplement with a Vitamin D supplement before bed and a calcium supplement at in the morning.
  • Keep your room very dark and use blackout curtains
  • Stick to a routine including the same wake up time every day (even on weekends) and the same bedtime.
  • Go to bed around 10 pm to best utilize the natural rhythm of the sun.
  • Don't drink coffee, pop or energy drinks after lunch.
  • Workout in the morning - even if it's a few jumping jacks.
  • Get as much sunlight and fresh air as possible or use light therapy to increase melatonin.
  • Keep your bedroom slightly below room temperature.
  • Only use your bedroom for sleeping. 
  • Set a bed time routine, like reading a book, and stick to it.
  • Avoid screens like TV, phones and computers. 
  • Avoid more than one drink of alcoholic beverages.
  • Use a light alarm to wake yourself up gradually so you don't interrupt a REM cycle.
  • Use white noise like a fan or white noise machine.

Have any great sleeping tips? Share them in the comments, I'd love to hear them! Thanks for reading and happy sleeping.

 - Lain

You also might like: How I lost 15 Lbs in 60 Days or 11 Ways to Actually Complete a Workout Program

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Mexican Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken Stew

Mexican night just got easier with this pulled chicken mexican stew

If you live in Canada you'll know the price of fresh vegetables has sky-rocketed! I bought a butternut squash for $15 the other day! Then I found diced butternut squash in the frozen vegetable section for $3 per bag! Not only did the frozen squash save me $12 but it also saved me the hassle of peeling and dicing the squash! From now on if I can't source a locally grown butternut squash I'll be buying the frozen variety!  I like the President's Choice brand (from Loblaws) because their frozen vegetables come in handy resealable bags - isn't that kind of genius? Why aren't all frozen vegetable bags resealable!

This Mexican slow-cooker stew made with canned and frozen veggies will save a bunch on your grocery bill.

This stew uses both canned and frozen vegetables to make it extremely convenient and really cheap! Just combine the ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning and have dinner ready when you get home! I've included protein, fibre, healthy carbs and vegetables packed with Vitamin A to make sure you'll stay full throughout the day without an energy crash. You can serve it on top of brown rice or in a whole-wheat tortilla for more of a burrito experience.

This recipe is 21-Day Fix friendly and gluten-free. To make it easier with the 21 Day Fix containers don't mix the chicken back into the crock pot then portion the chicken into the red container (protein), put the veggies from the crock pot and brown rice in your yellow container. Add in some spinach (green container) to get more greens in!

This Mexican slow-cooker stew made with canned and frozen veggies will save a bunch on your grocery bill.

Mexican Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken Stew 
         Makes about 8 hearty servings
  • 4 Chicken Breasts (boneless, skinless)

  • 2 Cups Vegetable Broth (1 Bouillon cube with 2 Cups of boiling water)

  • 1 Onion, Chopped

  • 3 Cloves Garlic, Diced

  • 1 Cup Frozen Corn

  • 2 Cups Cubed Frozen Butternut Squash

  • 1 Can Black Beans (drained)

  • 1 Can Diced tomatoes (or salsa)

  • 1 Tbsp Chili Powder

  • 1 Tbsp Cumin
  • 1 Tbsp Chipotle Spice
  • 1 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Cilantro
  • 2 Cups Brown Rice
  • 4 to 5 Cups Water
  1. Combine all ingredients except the cilantro, rice and water in a slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. 
  2. Cook the Rice according to the directions.
  3. After chicken has cooked remove it from the slow cooker and pull it apart on a large cutting board.
  4. Add the chicken back into the slow cooker and add the cilatro and combine everything.
  5. Serve over brown rice for a meal balanced with healthy carbs, vegetables and protein.

Vegan Superfood Mocha Latte Recipe

Guys, I have to admit to you I used to have a bad Starbucks addiction. I worked at Chapters and my treat for every shift was a latte or London Fog. I willfully ignored the nutrition information but when I finally checked it I was shocked. Back then they were still making their lattes with whole milk and with the whipped cream on top drinking a latte was more like eating a Big Mac but without the protein! 

Because a latte is so high in calories but provides very little nutritional value I would put it in the "empty calorie" category along with pop! Empty calories are calories that provide no vitamins or protein - things that keep your body going - along with the calories. Empty calories may provide a spike in your energy from sugar but you'll soon experience a "crash" and feel more tired and hungry than you started leading you to eat more and crave more empty calories. This is why you should avoid empty calories in the first place! 

The Starbucks website uses some sly tactics like making their list of small treats in the biggest font which leads the reader to go their first and assumes their treats are healthy. When you see the "mini scone" they advertise in person though it's flippin tiny! I would never just eat one single mini scone. They also list the smallest drinks first on the menu and make the large drinks hard to read in a giant chart. They also don't include the whipped cream in their calorie calculations. 

Nowadays, the odd time I'll go to a Starbucks, I'll order an Americano and add my own milk. I've also sworn off any sweetener in my coffee. It was hard at first - I used to take double sugar in my coffee but now I can't stand the taste of a double double. It's amazing how our taste buds adjust. I first switched to stevia to replace the sugar and then slowly reduced the stevia until I was used to no sweetener! Why did I remove the stevia too? Studies show that even artificial sweeteners like stevia cause people to crave more sweet things and therefore people don't lose weight when they switch to artificial sweeteners. 

Instead of a latte filled with empty calories I have concocted this latte filled with a balance of protein, healthy carbs, vitamins and even hormone-balancing maca root. This is a perfect drink in the morning because the variety of plant-based protein (eg. rice, quinoa and amaranth) in the Shakeology provides long-lasting energy throughout the day unlike other protein powder that are whey-based. I also find whey-based protein powder bothers my stomach - especially early in the morning. You can drink it in the place of breakfast which is what I do if I'm in a rush and what my dad does every day! 

When you're feeling full and energized you'll be more likely to stick to your healthy diet and feel more energized for your workouts! 

Vegan Superfood Mocha Latte Recipe
          Makes 1 Serving
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend on high until the ingredients are combined and the almond milk is frothy.
  2. Drink warm!