Madrona Nutrition and Fitness: Recipe and Nutrition Guide

Madrona Nutrition and Fitness:
Guide to Wellness through Holistic Diet
and Lifestyle

Rachel Fiske
Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant,
Certified Personal Trainer

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Dessert Alternative: Cocoa Snowball Recipe

Looking for a healthy dessert alternative around the holiday season? Doing your best to avoid refined sugar and flour....try these yummy cocoa snowballs! If you like dark chocolate and you like coconut (and c'mon, who doesn't!?), you'll like these...

recipe courtesy of Raw Energy by Stephanie Tourles


1 vanilla bean, about 7 inches long
1 cup unsweetened coconut, finely shredded
1/2 cup raw cacao powder
1/4 cup raw and unrefined coconut oil (melted)
3 (or less) tbsp raw honey
pinch of sea salt


Slice vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seed paste with the tip of a knife. Put the vanilla, coconut, cacao, coconut oil, honey and sea salt in a bowl and stir well, making sure the vanilla bean paste and cacao powder are well mixed. The dough should be relatively stiff. Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Then, simply chill the balls for about 4 hours to set, and store in a tightly sealed container for up to a month in the fridge! So easy!

For another recipe from this same fabulous book, see a previous post of mine for Mexican Dark Chocolate "fudge."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners

As we find ourselves amidst the season of sugary treats, what better time to take a look a closer look at both sugar and artificial sweeteners. I recently gave a short talk on the effects of sugar (along with two other foods that are best avoided: gluten and commercial animal products), and thought I'd share some information with my readers, along with a handout I provide for my clients!

Here are a couple of important facts to remember about sugar and sweeteners. One, all sugar (both artificial and real) cause an insulin response in our body. As discussed in many previous articles, insulin is a storage hormone, escorting nutrients to our cells (particularly our fat cells). We always want to strive to regulate our insulin levels, therefore regulating our blood glucose levels, in turn regulating our sugar/carb cravings and energy dips and spikes. Secondly, remember that while we should minimize our exposure to all sugar and sweeteners, those actually coming from nature (not including High Fructose Corn Syrup, which manufacturers would argue does, in fact, come from nature) are better than those made in a lab. Remember, if we can't pronounce the name, most likely not a great choice...

Unfortunately, many people think that because artificial sweeteners are non-caloric, they are making the right choice by not contributing to weight gain. However, as mentioned above, even that sweet taste produces the same insulin reaction in our body, and can lead to a whole host of problems. Similarly to trans-fats, our body has no idea how to process these chemical sweeteners. In fact, a 2008 study by the National Institute of Diabetes found that artificial sweeteners were connected to a 2-fold increase in diabetes. Take a look at a list of symptoms caused by artificial sweeteners (and there are many more):

  • Hives/rashes
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue/weakness
  • Loss of vision
  • Loss of memory
  • Migraines
  • Joint Pain
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures

Before sharing my handout with you, I'd like to quickly address agave syrup, a hot topic today with its growing popularity in recent years. In her book Primal Body, Primal Mind, Nora Gedgaudas refers to agave as the "new 'yuppie' form of high fructose corn syrup, being sold as a natural, even exotic-sounding product." She goes on to inform us that "agave is actually much richer in damaging fructose and, as such, potentially much worse for you than industrial high fructose corn syrup (with the exception of the fact that industrial HFCS is made using synthetic chemicals and GMO's)...HFCS contains about 55% fructose content. Agave nectar, by contrast, contains anywhere from 70 to 97% pure fructose and Nutrasweet." What this means is that it puts a tremendous strain on our liver, as all fructose must be converted to glucose in the liver before being used for energy by our body.

Below is some information on which sweeteners to avoid completely and which may be used in moderation. Keep them in mind this holiday season, and beyond!



  • ALL sweeteners, caloric and non-caloric, can contribute to weight gain and/or weight loss resistance.
  • Sweeteners that come from nature are always better than those made in a factory or lab.
  • Regardless of source, it is crucial to minimize your exposure to sugar/sweeteners.


  • Any sweet sensation causes an insulin spike in our bodies, which promotes fat storage (especially around the mid-section).
  • Diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates negatively linked with heart health.
  • Artificial sweeteners can cause migraines/headaches, dizziness, seizures, nasea/vomiting, fatigue, change in mood, vision and heart rate, diarrhea, joint pain, memory loss, insomnia, hives, and more.


  • Aspartame (equal)
  • Saccharin (sweet n low)
  • Stevia that is white (truvia)
  • Sucralose (splenda)

OK TO USE IN MODERATION (organic whenever possible):

  • Raw honey
  • Grade by maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Date sugar
  • Fruit juice
  • Green leaf stevia (best choice, can help stabilize blood sugar)


  • Focus on carbohydrate and sugar grams; 4 grams sugar=1 tsp.
  • Look for ingredients ending in “ose” or “tol” (ex: sucralose, sucrose, fructose, sorbitol, xylitol)
  • Words such as sugar, nectar, syrup, crystals
  • 1st item in ingredient list exists in largest amount, and so on.

“Be wary of all the chemicals in your life” –Andrew Weil, M.D.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fall Pumpkin Pancake Recipe

If you haven't had your fill of pumpkin yet (which I apparently haven't), try these pumpkin pancakes made with coconut flour! Inspired by and adapted from my colleague at, these are packed full of delicious fall flavor, without the added sugar. I loaded them up with cinnamon, which is great for blood sugar stabilization/regulation. After the over-eating that generally comes with Thanksgiving, we may all be in need of! As always, since I rarely measure anything with my cooking, feel free to play around with the amounts to get your desired consistency and flavor. Enjoy...

(makes 6ish large pancakes)

1 can organic pumpkin (or fresh and pureed)
6-8 eggs
3(ish) tablespoons coconut flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

To Taste:
orange zest
freshly grated ginger

These were delicious cooked in butter (grass-fed whenever possible), but you could also use coconut oil. I topped mine with a spoonful of raw almond butter. Yum!!!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holiday Fitness Tips and My Favorite Yam Mash Recipe!

Hello everyone!

I must apologize (yet again) for the lapse in blog posts, life just gets too crazy sometimes. I wanted to share with you part of an email I have sent out to all of my lovely nutrition and personal training clients today, on the subject of warding off holiday inactivity and weight-loss, and then followed with one of my all time favorite holiday recipes! More articles to come soon (I promise) but for now consider the following! The holidays are upon us...

I think the most common concerns for most of us around the holidays (aside from the platters of sugary treats tempting us around the office each day) is a simple matter of finding the time to keep up with our exercise routines. While it is of the utmost importance to give our bodies a break every now and then from weight training, we also don't want to find come January that all of our hard work over the last months has been undone. One way to ward off inactivity (and holiday pounds) is SPRINTS!!! Many of you know that I'm a big fan of sprints, and include them in our workouts together. For the holiday/vacation time, they are a great way to get in a quick and beneficial workout, call it a day, and get back to the festivities (or football watching, whatever the case may be). Keep in mind, sprints are different for each of us depending on our fitness level. While sprinting full force up a hill might be one person's version, walking up that same hill is another's. Lets take a look at why this type of exercise is beneficial...

This could be (and is, in fact) an entire book, but I will just quickly mention that long duration cardio training (and over-training with weights) at higher-intensity heart rates can have a catabolic (breaking down) effect on our muscles and organs. I like to call this type of exercise "chronic cardio," or as Nora Gedgaudas in her book Primal Body Primal Mind states, "chronic strenuous cardio." Boring and ineffective. She goes on to explain why working out "harder and smarter for less time" is effective:

"...limit intense exercise to no more than about 20 minutes in duration and focus on brief bouts of significant anaerobic exertion, interspersed with brief periods of recovery at a slower pace that is sufficient for a return to the resting heart rate. This can be done via sprinting, cycling, rowing, elliptical, and many other methods...weights..strength and resistance training reverses the reduction in muscle fiber size that accompanies aging and inactivity and has been shown conclusively to increase insulin sensitivity" (160).

It is always a good idea to keep our body guessing and not do the same thing all the time. Sprinting (again, at the appropriate level for YOU, think of on a 1-10 scale of exertion, 10 being maximum effort, striving to be around a 8-9 eventually, around a 7 to start) is a great way to get in a workout when in a time crunch, and can be done anywhere. Think: 10 rounds of high knees (1 min on, 1 min off). Begin slowly!! Start with walking briskly up a flight of stairs, rest for as long as you need to recover fully, and then do it again. Maybe you just start with 2 or 3 times, thats great!!

Enough about sprints, I want to include one of my all time favorite holiday recipes, a coconut sweet potato (or yam) mash with macadamia nuts. Its delicious and chalked full of nutrients and good fats.

Coconut Macadamia Nut Sweet Potato Mash

Source: Heidi Swanson (6 servings)

2 ½ lbs. orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
⅓ cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon maple syrup
½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
⅓ cup raw, unsweetened grated coconut
2 tablespoons melted butter or coconut oil
⅓ cup toasted macadamia nuts, chopped
Preheat your oven to 350F degrees, a rack in the upper third. Butter or oil 6 ramekins or a single medium-sized casserole dish.

Wrap each sweet potato in foil, pierce numerous times with the tines of a fork and place in the oven for somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half, until each is baked through. Times vary greatly depending on the size of your sweet potatoes - in the end you should be able to cut through the center flesh as if it were soft butter.

Remove the potatoes from the oven, let them cool for a few minutes, and cut each sweet potato in half. Scrape the flesh into a medium mixing bowl. You should have about three cups of sweet potatoes.

In a large bowl mash the sweet potatoes with the coconut milk. If my sweet potatoes are on the fibrous side, l take a hand blender to them for a minute or so (alternately you could use a food processor). Stir in the ginger, maple syrup and salt. Let it sit for a few minutes, stir again and taste - adjust the seasoning if you need to - this is your chance to get the right amount of salt and ginger in the sweet potatoes before they go in the oven.

Spoon the sweet potato mixture into individual baking dishes (or single larger baking dish), sprinkle with coconut, drizzle with olive oil and bake uncovered until warm and the coconut golden roughly 30 - 40 minutes.

Remove and sprinkle with the toasted macadamia nuts

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Proposed "Label Plan" may be misleading...

Recently, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report which concluded that traditional nutrition labeling on packaged foods are difficult to read by the general public and lead to misinformed food choices. Now, along with the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture, they are recommending a simplified food labeling system be mandatory for processed and packaged foods. In theory, some sort of system along these lines could, in fact, be helpful to those buying these foods. However, the proposed labeling guidelines are a bit skewed (which shouldn't be surprising considering the big government agencies that are behind it, and typically have the interest of food manufacturers instead of public health at the forefront of their decision making...but this is another subject entirely).

A New York Times article written on the subject recently stated that, "In a report...the IOM called for a simplified label that would go on the front of food packages that would show the number of calories per serving and contain zero to three stars or checkmarks to indicate how healthful a food was." But the question is, who is defining 'healthful' here??

Foods will be rated on 3 anti-nutrients: Sugar, Sodium, and Saturated and Trans-fats. The sugar part, I agree whole-heartedly. As I've written about in the past, refined sugar (along with refined flour, especially), is the number one contributor to cardiovascular disease, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and all types disease and systemic inflammation in the body. As far as sodium goes, if you are eating a diet high in processed/packaged foods, you are most likely getting too much sodium. However, if you eat a whole foods diet, adding some sea salt to your diet (especially Celtic or Himalayan) will ensure (among other things) that we maintain a healthy potassium/sodium balance.

Lastly, the Saturated and trans-fats category is the one I have the most trouble with. First of all, the fact that these two are even in the same category is troublesome. Without a doubt, trans fats reek havoc on our bodies, as they are man made compounds produced because they have a longer shelf life (aka, cheaper) yet our body has no way of processing them. Alongside the above-mentioned refined carbs and sugars, trans fats are right up there on the list of causing disease. However, good quality saturated fats are healthful and necessary for brain and cell function, and can actually work to balance our cholesterol levels and reduce our risk of heart disease.

So, the proposed labeling plan may not be all bad, but it is too simplistic. Lets look at a food they would give a 3-star rating (the most healthful):

Wheat Bread: yikes. Its true that grains have been the base of the USDA food pyramid for years, and this is largely due to catering to wheat manufacturers (one of the biggest cash crops in the US). If you've read my past articles, you now know that processed grains contain compounds that interfere with critical mineral absorption (such as zinc which is vital to immune health, and magnesium that is essential for heart health and relaxation). Common whole wheat bread is really not much different than white bread. Wheat bread generally contains processed wheat, the germ and the brain have been removed for shelf-life, leaving only the starchy endosperm. If you are going to eat bread, opt for whole grain, sprouted varieties. The Ezekiel brand has some good options (but remember the last article about grains!).

Raisin Bran: This gets 2 stars (next best). Ingredient list:


Need I say more?? 3rd and 4th ingredients are sugar and high fructose corn syrup. And this food gets 2 stars by this labeling system...can you imagine what gets 1? 

In short, yes, there are many changes that need to be made to our current nutrition labeling system. More than anything, more education needs to exist around how to really read food labels. General rule of thumb: if you can't pronounce it and/or couldn't make it in your own kitchen, probably not the best choice. Stick to the perimeter of the store as far from the processed and packaged foods as possible, and you won't have to worry about decoding silly rating systems in the first place.

Further Reading and Resources:

NY Times Article:

IOM website:

Saturday, October 8, 2011

So what about GRAINS??

Over the course of my nutrition education, grains have become less and less a part of my diet. Initially, I can probably chalk it up to laziness. Upon learning how essential it is to soak all grains for 8-12 hours before cooking to break down the phytic acid which binds to minerals and makes them unavailable for absorption ( on this topic later), I decided this was simply too much work. However, slowly over the course of the last year I have intentionally phased out grains for good, and this tends to baffle people! We have been raised on the notion that whole grains should be the staple of any healthy diet. They're the base of that good old USDA food pyramid! Like so many myths that need debunking in the land of nutrition (please say you're all eating lots and lots of good fats at this point!), grains is another big one. So lets take a closer look...

Pre-grain (aka, pre-agricultural) Civilization and Health:

No one can really argue that our ancestors did not have a grain-based diet. Aside from a trace amount of wild grains here and there, grains were not a feasible food source. These populations lived on wild meats (all by nature free range and organic, of course), available vegetables (veggies such as tubers not so much due to their high need for preparation), nuts and seeds (again, raw), and fats mainly derived from the above mentioned sources (animal meat, nuts and seeds). Many people will argue that "sure, but these people had a notably shorter life-span, so it must be nutrition based!" This topic will be saved for a future article, but I will say that these "statistics" are skewed due to an array of variables, for example the average lifespan of our ancestors is generally averaged and this includes infant mortality (much higher) and death by emergency situations like animal attacks. Generally, if an individual survived these 2 main variables, their lifespan was just as long as ours is today, however without the "wonders" of modern medicine keeping us alive (Mark Sisson, The Primal Blueprint).

Phytic Acid:

More and more people are familiar with phytic acid, which is a substance found in grains and legumes. According to Nora T. Gedgaudas in her book Primal Body, Primal Mind

"Phytic acid actively binds minerals and eliminates them from the body, which results, with increased grain consumption, in widespread deficiencies of minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc...grains and legumes also contain goitrogens, or thyroid-inhibiting substances, as well as "foreign proteins" like gluten and gliadin, and they are an extremely common source of allergies and sensitivities that can lead to both physical and mental or emotional disorders, even when the best preparation methods are used" (pg 29). 

Gedgaudas goes on to talk about one problem we face with grain-fed animals (an unnatural food source used because its cheap and fattening) being a deficiency in the amino acid L-tryptophan which allows us to produce the essential hormone serotonin (the "feel-good" hormone), and serotonin deficiencies can be the cause of depression, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, mood and other psychological disorders.

Glutenous vs. Non-glutenous Grains:

Many grains are gluten containing, while others are not. Gluten is the protein (it actually consists of 2 proteins: glutenin and gliadin) which gives bread its doughly, sticky, chewy quality. Gluten-containing grains include: rye, barley, spelt, kamut, wheat, durum, semolina, graham, and oats due to cross-contamination. I have already posted about the dangers of gluten on our digestion and overall physical and mental health, so please re-visit this earlier post. Remember, gluten is very hard for humans to digest, and after years of consumption (which is pretty much the standard american diet) it can lead to intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut syndrome) by breaking down the lining of our gut, letting in undigested proteins that should not be entering our bloodstream, which can lead to chronic inflammation and degenerative and auto-immune disease. Serious stuff.

It is also important to understand that while other grains are not gluten-containing (for example brown rice, quinoa, gluten-free oats), they still have many of the same or similar properties of the glutenous grains that block mineral absorption and contain various "anti-nutrients." Basically, we use more of our stored nutrients just trying to digest them than the nutrients they actually provide us with. If you are going to eat grains, they should be soaked, fermented, and sprouted to minimize this impact.

Well What Can I Eat, Then?!?

I'm not trying to break any hearts here, just giving some important information. Mark Sisson goes by the 80/20 rule, which I can get behind. This means that 80% of the time we eat the whole, nourishing foods that we know to be nutrient dense and bioavailable, and the other 20% can be a little looser! There is a lot to be said for letting go and enjoying life. Now, hopefully this 20% doesn't include loads of refined sugar and carbs (or even any!), but if you have grains every now and then, you'll probably be fine (unless you have an auto-immune or irritable bowel type of condition). They just should not be the staple of your diet. Instead, focus on grass-fed, organic meat, poultry, fish, raw nuts and seeds, lots of delicious, satiating good fats, and whole vegetables and fruits (seasonal and organic whenever possible). I can pretty much guarantee that not only will your health improve and you'll experience increased energy and a sense of well-being, but if weight loss is your goal, this will get you there.

Here's to our health!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Referral Incentive Program!!!

Hello everyone!

Thanks for taking the time to read the latest news with Madrona Wellness.

I am in the process of working on growing my private practice for Holistic Nutrition Counseling, and because of this am offering an incentive for referrals. To see more of what I do nutritionally, please visit my website-as many of you have already and I'm grateful: I work with clients on an array of conditions such as stress, fatigue, insomnia, digestive distress, immune health, blood sugar regulation, weight loss, and more. If anyone you know is in need of such services and you refer them, upon purchasing a nutrition package, you will receive either a 30% discount on nutrition counseling for yourself, or 1 free personal training session.

I work with clients in person in the Bay Area, or via phone or skype.

Please let me know if you'd like more information or have any questions, and also just a friendly reminder that I greatly value not only your business, but feel  fortunate to be a part of your personal path to wellness!
Rachel Fiske, Holistic Nutrition Educator, CPT-NASM

"The human body heals itself and nutrition provides the resources to accomplish the task." ~Roger Williams Ph.D

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Inflammation and Diet

A friend asked me yesterday which foods are important for cooling inflammation, and I thought this would be an excellent topic to address! You've all heard me use the word 'inflammation' many times, so lets take a closer look at what is really going on in our bodies when inflammation occurs, and what this can mean symptomatically. Keep in mind, most conditions/disease have their root cause in systemic inflammation!

Disease (think: dis-ease) is a sign of some sort of unbalance in the body. When our internal homeostasis is disrupted somehow, various symptoms and disease can ensue. This sort of disruption can be caused by a wide variety of both physical and psychological (mental/emotional) factors (remember that stress-disease connection). On the physical end of things, disease is often a result of nutrient deficiencies in the body due to a poor diet, toxic exposure (foods and other environmental toxins), poor nutrient absorption, and therefore poor cell function. Henry Lindlahr, M.D. in his book Philosophy of Natural Therapeutics, states that:

"...if the diet consists of an excess of low-quality proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, tissues will inevitably be clogged with 'morbid matter'...or toxic accumulation...this can interfere with vital cellular functions, thereby becoming pathogenic to many systems in the body. The buildup of toxins in turn supports cellular degeneration, moving the system toward disease, rather than supporting the cellular regeneration needed for healing."

The diseases/symptoms that can follow this type of toxic accumulation can manifest as different things depending on the individual. A few examples would be skin rashes, allergies (food and environmental), asthma, auto-immune conditions, and cancer. Remember that as Dr. Lindlahr points out, our bodies are sending us a clear message that we are not effectively able to rid it of toxins in some capacity.

So Where Does Inflammation Come In?

According to Jessica Black, N.D. in her book The Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Recipe Book, "Inflammation is the first response by the immune system to infection or irritation." Think, if you break a bone or get a cut, we experience swelling, redness, pain, etc, which are all signs to protect this area from further damage. However, when we experience systemic inflammation (internal), it becomes a bit more difficult to make such obvious connections. Ignoring these signs longer term, however, is what creates much disease as discussed above.

Lets take a quick look at prostaglandins, which are fatty acids in the body responsible for controlling inflammation. There are 3 types that serve different functions. The first is PGE1, which helps prevent inflammation, improve immune function, and decrease blood pressure. The 2nd is PGE2, which promotes inflammation and suppresses immunity. PGE3 also prevents inflammation and increases HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol). This inflammatory cascade is much more complex, and I encourage you to do some outside reading! Dr. Jessica Black's above mentioned book is a great resource. Certain foods promote certain prostaglandins, and this is where eating an anti-inflammatory diet comes into play.

Signs and Symptoms of Inflammation can include food and/or environmental allergies, asthma, digestive disorders (IBS, IBD, Chrohns, etc), auto-immune conditions, pain, fatigue, insomnia, brain fog, depression, heart disease, and cancer. These are just some of many!

What Are Anti-Inflammatory Foods?

Considering that we are exposed to a myriad of toxins on a daily basis through both diet and our environment (especially for us city-dwellers), it is of great importance to control the factors that we are able to! Think of all the toxins we ingest with poor quality foods: pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotic residues, and more. Yuck! These foods eaten regularly (think a Standard American Diet/SAD), cause poor cell function, inflammation, and disease. By eating the right foods, we can support our body's ability to eliminate necessary toxins. According to Jessica Black, this is why many times people with common allergies to grass, pollen, etc will see drastic improvements when they cut out allergenic/irritating foods because their body is better able to process grass and pollens.

Foods that contribute to inflammation include processed carbohydrates and sugars, primarily. These are  extremely low in nutrient content, and are actually anti-nutrient foods, meaning in order to process them we are expending more energy than the foods are providing for us. Below I will provide a basic list of some main inflammatory foods:

  • Processed carbohydrates (flour, breads, pasta, wheat products, gluten, cereals)
  • Processed soy (any soy that is not fermented, which is miso, nato, tamari, and tempeh).
  • Grains and Legumes can be very inflammatory for some and should not be the staple of your diet (yes, even whole grains!)
  • Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, gogi berries, tobacco). Many people with joint pain and arthritis find that cutting out nightshades which contain inflammatory compounds helps tremendously.
  • Sugar!! Pretty much all sugar and artificial sweeteners are inflammatory. Stick to moderate amounts of raw honey or grade B maple syrup. 
  • Hydrogenated oils and fats (margarine, anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, any vegetable oils). Cook with more stable, nourishing oils/fats like grass-fed butter and coconut oil.
  • Commercial dairy products
  • Peanuts/peanut butter
  • Soda, most juice (unless fresh squeezed), excess caffeine/coffee, alcohol
  • Corn products
Seem overwhelming? Just think of all the foods you CAN enjoy!

  • Unlimited vegetables and fruit (preferably organic and seasonal whenever possible)
  • Organic meat, poultry, seafood (yes, nitrite/nitrate free bacon is ok!)
  • Organic eggs
  • Lots of healthy fats! Coconut, butter, ghee, olive oil, flax oil, raw nuts/seeds and their respective butters, avocados). Focus on getting lots of omega 3 fats in your diet (cold water fish, flax oil).
  • Herbal teas, fresh squeezed veggie juice (and fruit but in moderation), lots of water for flushing toxins.
  • Anti-inflammatory foods like garlic, ginger and turmeric.
Here are some great websites with anti-inflammatory recipe suggestions:

This is only an introduction to the very complex topic of inflammation, but I hope it is helpful! Also important to note that stress and lack of sleep play a huge role in inflammation, but this will be for another article. Please contact me with further questions, or if you suspect signs of inflammation and would like to seek further help. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Carbohydrates and Weight Loss

Hello! I recently wrote an article to be published in the Body Mechanix monthly newsletter (a great cooperative gym), and wanted to share with all of you! Addressing the epic debate on carbs and weight loss...

The Real Deal on Carbohydrates and Weight Loss
Rachel Fiske, NE, CPT-NASM

There seems to be quite a bit of ongoing confusion surrounding the subject of carbohydrates and weight loss, and understandably so! We hear different opinions and approaches from endless sources, making it difficult to sort out what to believe and how to eat. As a Personal Trainer and Holistic Nutritionist, a big part of my work entails shedding some light on this very issue, so lets take a look at the facts about carbs, weight loss, and (most importantly) overall wellness.

A Quick Look at the Basics

Ok, so lets just make sure we have a general understanding of macronutrient basics. In the foods we eat, we have protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Protein is comprised of amino acids, which are the building blocks of our cells. Adequate dietary protein is necessary in providing us with essential amino acids, which are amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on its’ own. Second, we have fat. Fat is vital (and sadly feared, but more on this later) as an energy source, is the precursor to our hormone production, and enables protection of and communication between our cells (especially brain cells). And lastly we have carbohydrates, also an energy source for the body. They include both simple and complex carbs, and dietary fiber in the form of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and then of course the more processed end of the spectrum such as pasta, breads, baked goods, cereals, etc. And this is where we run into trouble!

Does Fat Make us Fat?

I love answering this question, which is (if you haven’t guessed already) a resounding, NO!!! My clients are always thrilled to hear that they can “indulge” in the foods they’ve been wrongly taught to avoid their whole dieting lives. The truth is, good quality sources of fat can assist not only with weight loss, but enzymatic and bodily functions, brain health, hormonal production, and more. Consider this from Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon in their groundbreaking book, Eat Fat Lose Fat:

“If eating saturated fat caused heart disease and weight gain, then eliminating those fats should have resulted in a decline in heart disease and an increase in weight loss. But look around you. That’s not what happened! While we Americans have been dutifully eliminating fat from our diet, eating low-fat foods, and avoiding saturated fats from tropical oils, butter, and red meats, obesity rates and the overall incidence of heart disease have continued to climb.”

Good sources of dietary fat include grass fed butter, ghee, coconut oil (these are the best to heat and cook with), nuts and seeds (organic and raw whenever possible), cold-pressed unrefined oils such as extra virgin olive, sesame, walnut, and flax (these should never be heated), and avocado. For more on fats, visit my website and blog, as this is one of my favorite topics!

The Link Between Carbs and Weight Gain

Not to say carbohydrates are to be avoided at all cost, but if weight loss (or just general health) is our goal, then we need to very conscious of what kind of carbs we are eating. When people steer away from fat in their diet, they tend to steer towards more carbs, particularly of the refined variety. Refined carbs and sugars (think bread, pasta, baked goods, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juices, sodas, and even grains in excess) take a real toll on our blood sugar. When our blood sugar is uncontrolled, we experience energy dips and spikes, cravings, mood swings, and insulin resistance. Insulin is our fat storage hormone, and the more we produce, the more fat we store. Furthermore, according to Michael Murray, N.D. in his book The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, “…carbohydrate excess, especially too many refined carbohydrates, is associated with increased risk for obesity, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.”

The bottom line when it comes to carbohydrates, is while they are an important part of a well balanced diet, if weight loss and blood sugar regulation are our ultimate goals, they need to be consumed in moderation and in the right form. Stick primarily to a wide variety of (preferably organic) vegetables, soaked whole grains and legumes in moderation, and fruit (organic and seasonal whenever possible). For weight loss, don’t go crazy with the fruit, and eat it alongside a fat, like a small handful of raw nuts or 1 tablespoon of almond butter.

Putting It Into Practice: What Should My Plate Look Like?

Keeping in mind that we are all bio-chemically diverse, and therefore our nutritional needs will never be identical, here are some general pointers to consider:

  • Focus more on quality protein, fat, and less on carbohydrates. Think 20-25% protein, 20-50% fat, and 25-50% carbs.
  • Primary carb sources should be leafy and crunchy vegetables (think kale, chard, arugula, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, just to name a few) and starchy, complex carbs as a secondary source (potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grains, legumes)
  • Strive to avoid simple carbs like breads, pastas, baked goods, fruit juice, sodas, artificial sweeteners, anything that ends with the word “ose” (fructose, sucrose, etc).
  • When shopping, stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. If you must buy something packaged, go for as few ingredients as possible. If you can’t pronounce it, probably not the best choice.
  • Think about eating the bulk of your starchy carbs in the 3 hour window post exercise. This is when we can best metabolize these foods.
  • Add 1-3 tablespoons of coconut oil/day to your diet. This is a medium chain fatty acid which is a very efficient fuel source and aids in weight loss.

Remember, sometimes there are players at work if you are experiencing weight loss resistance, such as toxicity, stress, sleep, and other factors. Feel free to contact me with further questions!

About The Author

Rachel Fiske is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Educator and Personal Trainer, and owner of Madrona Wellness. She lives in San Francisco, CA and attended school for Nutrition at Bauman College. Rachel sees clients one on one, addressing issues such as weight management, blood sugar regulation, liver detox, hormonal imbalances, weak immunity, food allergies/sensitivities, fatigue, insomnia, and digestive distress. To learn more, visit her website at: Or contact her directly:, 503-459-7808.

Mashed Cauliflower Recipe

While potatoes are ok once in awhile, due to their starchy nature they can lead to pretty intense blood sugar spikes and crashes. And of course, if weight loss is our goal, they're not a great choice. Cauliflower, on the other hand, is a cruciferous vegetable packed with nutrients, and is especially high in vitamin C, K, folate and other B Vitamins, magnesium, and is full of fiber. Try this recipe instead of mashed potatoes next time, it is absolutely delicious!

1 medium head of cauliflower, organic
3 – 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled (or more depending on taste)
1 cup chicken or veggie stock, or water
sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast, optional or 1 tbsp miso paste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or organic butter

Wash and trim the head of cauliflower and cut into rough pieces. Heat a pan and pour in the cup of water or stock, toss in the cut cauliflower and cloves of garlic. Bring to a simmer and cover the pan. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes until the cauliflower is soft. Add pepper. Transfer mixture, including the liquid, into a blender. (You may want to do this in two batches.) Add in the nutritional yeast or miso paste, olive oil. Puree until it resembles the consistency of mashed potatoes. You may need to add in a little more water/stock to facilitate the blending, but be careful NOT to add in too much liquid. (You could also add in some coconut or almond milk for extra richness and flavor.) Taste and add sea salt if necessary.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Confirmed: Sometimes, I Am My Own Worst Client! Recognizing The Effects of Stress and Overtraining

So as you've probably gathered by now, I love conducting experiments on myself. It's fascinating to discover the effects of various foods, nutrient timing, exercise, and combinations of all of the above. After all, achieving our own personal wellness is a matter of trial and error, and finding what works for each of us individually. With that said, of course, a diet of chips and cookies will not work for anyone, so save yourself the trouble of that experiment.

However, recently I unknowingly conducted an experiment on myself that yielded painful results, and it took me a good 3 days to figure out what was going on! Once I did, I channeled my NY Jewish Grandmother (bless her heart) and shook a finger at myself in the mirror, as I had been ignoring some key guidelines I tell my clients to follow every day.

First, the symptoms: I woke up over the weekend after a full, restful nights sleep with extreme fatigue! Every muscle in my body just felt weak. I drank my usual morning cup of coffee (just one), hoping this would help wake me up, which of course it did not, but instead contributed to an overall feeling of dehydration. My generally easy bike commute to work felt endless, and this terrible feeling of 'BLEH' continued to increase as the day progressed. For the next couple of days, more of the even felt like a chore to lift up my water bottle! Plenty of sleep, nutritious and regular meals throughout the day, no more stress than normal, and my usual workout frequency, and BAM! I was baffled.

Then I realized (and of course as with the results of any experiment of this nature, this is all speculation): I had burnt myself out to a point I had never experienced before. Was I overtraining? I didn't think so, but it is important to remember that overtraining is relative to the other things going on in our lives. Given these factors, yes, I absolutely was. I had gone and done a few very important things I tell my clients NOT to do every day, and didn't even realize I was doing (or not doing) it. The combination of moderate to heavy work-related stress, mild dehydration, and not enough rest days in between workouts had left my poor adrenal glands, central nervous system (CNS) and muscles overworked and tired.

What IS overtraining? Overtraining, as mentioned above, can mean something different depending on the individual at different times. With this said, however, is it an accumulation of stressors, combined with inadequate rest between workouts, which leads to varying symptoms to varying degrees. Possible symptoms include fatigue, decreased immunity, decreased performance when doing your usual workout, decreased motivation, irritation, depression, and insomnia.  A big problem with overtraining (that I have been rudely woken up to recently) is that it can be very difficult to recognize in ourselves, as we don't understand why all of a sudden our usual workload which never seemed to cause problems before is now, suddenly, impossible to carry out. When we are overtrained, it can be a combination of the muscles themselves being fatigued, our adrenal glands being unable to produce enough cortisol, and our central nervous system being overtaxed by an increased demand for electrical impulses to the muscles. To ensure the above does not occur, it is absolutely essential to take adequate rest in between workouts. After all, the growth we are aiming for when weight training occurs during recovery, so if we want to see results from our hard work, we must allow recovery time. The amount of recovery depends on the intensity of our workouts, but allow at least a day between working similar muscle groups. And always listen to your body! If you are particularly sore, keep resting, or do some light cardiovascular activity.

Decreased adrenal function had more than likely aided in my exhaustion, as well. While I have helped multiple clients recognize and support their own symptoms of adrenal fatigue, it was remarkably hard for me to recognize these symptoms in myself. Personal Trainers are sometimes the first ones to push their bodies when they should be resting. As I've written about before, adrenal fatigue occurs on a spectrum, and hopefully we catch it before it has progressed to the point of needing months of recovery time and a (possibly) complex supplemental protocol (this point known as adrenal exhaustion). According to Dr. James L. Wilson, N.D., Ph.D. in his book Adrenal Fatigue

"often the causes of adrenal fatigue are not obvious because the combined stresses look so different. Our bodies may not even tell us when we are under stress. In one study, hospital workers in a pediatric nursing care unit...were totally unaware of being under stress, but their cortisol levels were elevated by 200-300%...the number of stresses, whether or not you recognize them as stresses, the intensity of each stress and the frequency with which it occurs, plus the length of time it is present, all combine to form your total stress is when the body becomes unable to make the appropriate changes to these stresses that adrenal fatigue begins."

REST!!! Is the most important thing at this point. The good news is, if we listen to our bodies and catch these signs and symptoms early on, usually a few days rest will solve the problem. Depending on the degree of fatigue from all of the above listed factors, we may need more. Again, it is essential that we pay attention, and if our body tells us to rest, listen! This is a lesson I have recently learned the hard way. Keep in mind, if we do not give ourselves adequate rest, this fatigue will worsen, potentially leading to having to take way more time off from our normal workouts and daily activities, illness, injury, and more.

And lastly, PLEASE REMEMBER (because I didn't) to drink tons of water, don't overdo it with the caffeine (1 morning cup of coffee per day is more than enough), and engage in enjoyable, relaxing activities...whatever that means to you. This could be just 10 minutes a day of deep belly breathing, meditation, yoga, walking outdoors, and focusing on exercise that you enjoy, as well. If you hate running, do something else! Trust me, its worth it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cauliflower Mash Recipe

While potatoes are ok once in awhile, due to their starchy nature they can lead to pretty intense blood sugar spikes and crashes. And of course, if weight loss is our goal, they're not a great choice. Cauliflower, on the other hand, is a cruciferous vegetable packed with nutrients, and is especially high in vitamin C, K, folate and other B Vitamins, magnesium, and is full of fiber. Try this recipe instead of mashed potatoes next time, it is absolutely delicious!

Mashed Cauliflower
adapted from
1 medium head of cauliflower, organic
3 – 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled (or more depending on taste)
1 cup chicken or veggie stock, or water
sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast, optional or 1 tbsp miso paste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or organic butter

Wash and trim the head of cauliflower and cut into rough pieces. Heat a pan and pour in the cup of water or stock, toss in the cut cauliflower and cloves of garlic. Bring to a simmer and cover the pan. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes until the cauliflower is soft. Add pepper. Transfer mixture, including the liquid, into a blender. (You may want to do this in two batches.) Add in the nutritional yeast or miso paste, olive oil. Puree until it resembles the consistency of mashed potatoes. You may need to add in a little more water/stock to facilitate the blending, but be careful NOT to add in too much liquid. (You could also add in some coconut or almond milk for extra richness and flavor.) Taste and add sea salt if necessary.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Debunking The Myth Of Cholesterol

I've encountered several conversations and had various clients/friends/coworkers ask me recently about cholesterol. I've addressed the topic before, particularly when talking about the importance of good fats in our diet, but I'd like to spend a little bit of time going more in depth on just cholesterol. There are a lot of myths to debunk still milling about out there...

First of all, what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a substance produced by our bodies from simpler substances within the body, excreted through the liver via bile into the digestive tract. It serves many essential purposes, and is produced by our cells constantly. Many cell membranes within our body consist of half cholesterol, because it is, along with saturated fats, crucial to cell integrity. First and foremost, cholesterol and saturated fats make up the integrity/structure/firmness of our cell membranes. Without them, we would be piles of mush. Also without enough of these substances, our cells would be more susceptible to invasion and unable to withstand the rapid flow of blood swooshing by 24 hours a day. Remember that our bodies are pretty amazing, self-regulating structures. If a cell needs more structure and rigidity due to the above mentioned forces, it will make more cholesterol, and vice versa. This is certainly not a natural process to be messed with by avoiding dietary cholesterol!

Another key function of cholesterol and saturated fats is to deliver messages between cells. These compounds essentially act as carriers, and without them the cells would not be able to deliver many molecules to one another. 25% of our cholesterol is found in the brain, where its most vital roles are carried out. Every brain and nerve cell are coated with a layer of myelin, a fatty substance that provides nourishment and protection (Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D.). 20% of myelin is made of cholesterol, and without it many problems can ensue. A major example of a degenerating myelin sheath is Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Also according to Campbell-McBride in her great article, "Cholesterol: Friend or Foe?" she notes that cholesterol is the primary tool our body uses to form brain synapses, affecting our functions and memory. This is why cholesterol-lowering medications can cause memory loss.

Below is a list adapted from Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon in their book, Eat Fat Lose Fat on the many benefits of cholesterol:

  • Cholesterol is the building block of all of our hormones, and is particularly important in the managing of stress and sex hormones. Infertility? Lack of good fats and cholesterol could be a culprit.
  • Vitamin D is made by the body from cholesterol, which is crucial to bones and nervous system function.
  • Cholesterol is actually heart protective, it helps ward off heart disease and cancer. It is also an important antioxidant, protecting us from harmful free radicals.
  • Cholesterol is vital to babies and children, as it is absolutely necessary for proper brain and nerve development. This is why mothers milk is so rich in cholesterol.
  • Aggression, behavioral problems and depression are linked to low cholesterol levels, as it is needed for proper functioning of our serotonin receptors (the "feel good" chemical in our bodies).
  • Dietary cholesterol is necessary for gut wall integrity, and without enough we can have impaired digestion and/or leaky gut syndrome (see previous blog post for more info on this).

Uffe Ravnskov, M.D. in his article, "The Benefits of High Cholesterol," states that "People with high cholesterol levels live the longest." I know this statement is hard to believe, but Ravnskov goes on to site many studies that have been done proving there is no link between cholesterol and coronary heart disease, quite the opposite, in fact, that cholesterol (as mentioned above) is heart protective. Atherosclerosis is the plaque build-up found that typically proceeds heart attacks and/or strokes, and cholesterol (LDL, known as the "bad" cholesterol) is often falsely blamed for this, as it is found at the scene of the crime. However, this type of cholesterol is present to carry out its duty of protecting and healing these adhesions in our arterial walls, which were caused by (you guessed it) refined sugar and carbohydrates! Instead of recognizing these two culprits as the main cause of heart disease, the western medical world has invented (and made obscene amounts of money from) statin (cholesterol lowering) drugs. Interestingly enough, the side effects of these drugs include muscle pain and weakness due mainly to a depletion of nutrient Co-Q10, heart failure, dizziness, and cognitive impairment (remember the link between cholesterol and brain function). basically statin drugs end up causing the very symptoms we are seeking to avoid by "high" cholesterol. 


It kills me when people eat only egg whites to avoid cholesterol. Eggs are an incredibly nutrient dense food (it is of absolute importance to eat organic, free range eggs due to nutrient content) and the main source of these nutrients comes from the yolk. It is best to eat your eggs with a slightly runny yolk. According to Dr. Ed Bauman,

"egg yolk is rich in choline, a precursor to the acetyle choline, the brain neurotransmitter that keeps us alert, intellectually sharp, and with excellent short term memory problem solving abilities. Choline also keeps cholesterol emulsified, elevating beneficial HDL levels, while clearing LDL cholesterol. The cholesterol in eggs actually helps us to manage stress, as it is a precursor for balanced adrenal and reproductive hormones."

Other great sources of cholesterol are butter, ghee, and saturated animal fats (all from good sources, of course!). These should be mixed in the diet with other types of fat sources like olive and flax oils, coconut and avocados.

Remember, the most important thing in managing healthy levels of cholesterol is to eat a real, whole foods diet that excludes processed and refined carbohydrates and sugars. Also, managing stress levels are of great importance in managing cholesterol.

References and Recommended Readings:

"Cholesterol: Friend or Foe?" Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D. Wise Traditions and Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, 2007

"The Benefits of High Cholesterol," Uffe Ranskov, M.D., PhD, from the Cholesterol Myths

"The Dangers of Statin Drugs: What You Haven't Been Told About Popular Cholesterol Lowering Medicines," Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Wise Traditions and Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, 2004.

Eat Fat Lose Fat, Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon

Friday, July 8, 2011

Baked Sweet Potato with Cinnamon Yogurt Sauce and Almond Butter

This is a great recipe for any time of day! Try in the morning for a warming breakfast. Remember to go for the full fat greek yogurt, or use any other kind of organic yogurt. If sensitive to dairy, try a goat or sheeps milk yogurt.
Servings: 2
By: Laura Rymar

2 large sweet potatoes
2 T almond butter
¼ c plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp maple syrup
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp orange zest
2 T chopped pecans
2 tsp ground flax seed, ground

1.   Preheat oven to 400F.
2.   Clean sweet potatoes thoroughly, leaving skin on. Wrap in parchment paper and then foil. Place in oven and cook for about 40 minutes or until soft.
3.   Meanwhile, mix yogurt, cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup and orange zest together.
4.   When potatoes are ready, remove from oven and let cool.
5.   Split down the center and spread 1 T of almond butter each. Top each with generous drizzle of cinnamon yogurt sauce.
6.   Sprinkle each evenly with chopped pecans and ground flax seed. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Leaky Gut Syndrome: Causes and Symptoms

In recent years, most of us have become familiar with this new(ish) term: Leaky Gut Syndrome. Sounds delightful, right? However, most people don't actually have a solid idea of what this is referring to, so allow me to explain...

Leaky Gut Syndrome is simply a nickname for the real problem at hand which is quite common and centers around impaired digestion: increased intestinal permeability. Sounds equally as lovely, I know. Having increased intestinal permeability means that for whatever reason (and there are many factors at play here) the lining of our intestinal walls have become damaged and are allowing particles to pass through that should not. A healthy intestinal wall will only allow properly digested matter (proteins, fats, and starches) to enter the bloodstream, while at the same time keeping out foreign bacteria, undigested molecules, and any particles that should pass through without being absorbed. The walls of our intestines are lined with millions of villi and microvilli, which are microscopic "fingers" of sorts....also known as the brush border of our gut, in place to filter out the bad and allow the good (nutrients) to pass through. However, due to an array of factors with our modern day diet and lifestyle, this system is commonly impaired to varying degrees.

Below is a list adapted from Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D, in her book Digestive Wellness, of conditions and symptoms commonly associated with leaky gut syndrome:

  • Acne
  • Autism
  • Celiac disease
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Crohn's disease
  • Eczema, hives, and skin rashes
  • Food allergies/sensitivies
  • Inflamed joints or arthritis
  • Intestinal infections and IBS
  • Asthma
  • Abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Poor exercise tolerance
  • Anxiety and mood swings
  • Poor immunity
  • Poor memory and fuzzy thinking (aka: brain fog)
  • Depression
  • Impaired liver function
And there are many more! It is important to keep in mind that the gut and brain are intricately connected, which is why we often see more mental/emotional/psychological symptoms like some of the ones listed above when dealing with leaky gut.

Now, lets take a look at the causes of leaky gut syndrome:


I have talked a lot in previous blog posts about the detrimental effects elevated cortisol levels can have on our bodies, and this is a big one. According to Lipski, "prolonged stress changes the immune system's ability to respond quickly and affects our ability to heal." When our body is constantly getting the message to be in that fight-or-flight mode, we produce less of our immune boosting hormones (like DHEA), and also slows digestion because digestion is obviously down on the list from running from a tiger (or having a work deadline, as the case may be). I know it may seem impossible sometimes, but it really is crucial to prioritize relaxation throughout our weeks, even if it is just 10 minutes in the morning and at night of deep, belly breathing.


Naturally, consistently putting processed, refined, and inflammatory foods into our bodies has a profound effect on our digestive well-being. Eating poor quality foods decreases our amount of good bacteria (probiotics) and increases the bad. Also, not getting enough fiber (and I don't mean from a fiber supplement or powder, I mean the real thing) slows digestion and causes toxins to accumulate and irritate the gut lining. Any processed, refined foods (think white flour, sugar, cereals, commercial milk, food products with ingredients we can't pronounce) cause severe inflammation if eaten regularly. Alcohol is a kind of anti-nutrient, as it takes nutrients to metabolize but provides us with none in return. It particularly can zap our B vitamin stores and strains the liver.


Two huge factors that lead to leaky gut. Environmental toxins are all around us in the form of household products, hygiene and cosmetic products, air and water pollution, and many more. These toxins lead to impaired immune function, which in turn affects digestive function (much of our immune system is located in the gut). This manifests in the inability to absorb key vitamins and minerals, and (of course) inflammation. It all leads back to inflammation! Medications is one of the worst offenders of gut integrity, and are sadly quite overprescribed/overused in the western medical model. NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like advil, ibprofin, aspirin, and prescription drugs have a huge impact on the brush borders that I mentioned earlier (the villi that line our intestinal wall). This in turn allows those undigested particles to enter the bloodstream, potentially leading to the array of conditions/symptoms listed above, as well as ulcers.

The best option if you think you may suffer from leaky gut syndrome is to work with a nutrition professional, as depending on the severity, there are many different things to consider in the healing process. As always, feel free to contact me with further questions, and here's to our health and wellness!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Coconut Flour Muffins: Quick and Easy Breakfast!

Following up my recent post on how to make eating a whole foods diet more feasible for us who feel like we're always running out the door (especially in the morning), I've found this to be an excellent breakfast. These muffins are a wonderful recipe from a fellow Nutrition Consultant, Mary Vance ( All you need to do is find about 20 minutes sometime during the week to prepare these. I then store them in the fridge and re-heat them in the toaster oven in the morning, and have one with two eggs. You will then have started off your day with a nice healthy serving of fat and protein. Also, try spreading them with almond butter or tahini!

I know, I am obsessed with coconut, but remember that coconut flour is full of fiber and protein, and can be purchased at Whole Foods, your local co-op, or online at And these muffins are far superior to other, gluten and sugar containing muffins that will spike your blood sugar and set you on the wrong foot for the day to come. Enjoy!


1/4 cup + 1 tbsp coconut flour
3 eggs
2 tbsp melted coconut oil or butter
1/4 cup whole coconut milk (melted if needed)
1/4 tsp baking powder
cinnamon to taste
pinch of sea salt


Add blueberries, honey to taste, cardamon, or vanilla.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients together well (coconut flour can be a little chunky so make sure to really mix). Pour into greased or lined muffin tin (if you don't have a muffin tin, you can try making these as "cookies" as well), and bake for about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Veggie Pancake Recipe

It is always a challenge for me to include enough veggies at breakfast, as I grew up eating sweet, dessert-like breakfasts, and now that I realize how devastating this is to my energy throughout the day, have realized the need to find (quality) protein and fat rich breakfasts that will sustain my blood sugar, set me off on the right foot, and are quick enough to make early in the morning. Here is one of my recent favorites, and it can be modified/experimented with....get creative! Also, if you're pressed for time in the morning, try grating the veggies the night before.


1-2 cups vegetables of your choosing, I like to include a combo of: zucchini, summer squash, sweet potato, carrots
1 tablespoon coconut flour
1 egg
Spices of your choosing, I like: salt, pepper, and a touch of cinnamon


Simply mix all together, cook stovetop in coconut oil, and serve topped with 1-2 eggs, sunnyside up or over easy!


For a sweeter pancake, stick to sweet potatoes for a sort of modified "latke." Then add cinnamon, cardamom, and a touch of sea salt. I've also added grated or finely chopped kale before

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tips to Make Eating a Whole Foods Diet Easy!

One thing I hear all the time from clients, friends, and family, is that switching to a more whole foods-based diet is hard because, first and foremost, it is more time consuming. I can't disagree with this! It will undeniably take you a bit longer to chop up vegetables in the morning than it will to go next door and buy a burrito. is the case with so many aspects of life, it's all about creating new habits. Studies have shown that this habit making/breaking period is generally about 3 weeks, so be prepared for the first 3 weeks to be a bit more difficult, but have faith that your health, energy, mind and body will pay you back tenfold. Here are some suggestions of how to better incorporate this kind of diet from a time management perspective, as well as some simple, quick meal suggestions:

  • Over the weekend (or whatever day you have off), make a grocery list and do your grocery shopping for the week. Don't make this trip on an empty stomach, because you are way more likely to stray from the list at hand and buy foods that will tempt you later on in the week. 
  • Menu plan! If you are a recipe person, make a detailed menu plan for the week before shopping. If not, make a more rough plan, buy the types of foods you want to eat, and wing it. Just make sure you have enough food for the week so you can prepare your meals.
  • Cook once, eat 2, 3, 4 times. Take time one day of the week (or more) to make some staples. For example, sometimes I will roast a chicken, or cook a pound or two of ground beef with yummy spices (takes 10 minutes), and then I have these quality protein sources to add to salads, lettuce wraps, eggs in the morning, etc. Chop vegetables ahead of time and keep them in the fridge. Or, make whole meals and eat leftovers.
  • When you are at the grocery store, stick to the perimeter. Avoid packaged foods as much as possible, and if you must buy something with an ingredient list, make sure you recognize all of the ingredients! If you can't pronounce it, probably not a good choice.
  • If you know you will snack throughout the day, keep healthy snack foods at your work, home, etc. This could be raw nuts/seeds, chopped vegetables with nut (not peanut) butter, whole fruit (no fruit juice!). If you get stuck, see if there is a store nearby that sells Lara Bars, the one commercially made bar that is, actually, healthy (has just 3 ingredients or less, made of nuts and dried fruit).
  • Hard or soft boil eggs ahead of time. These make a great snack or can be added to salad.
  • Make a salad dressing to use for the week. One of my favorites is a simple vinaigrette: chop garlic, crush with a bit of sea salt, add olive oil and vinegar and shake well. 
  • Remember not to let yourself get really hungry by forgetting to eat or skipping meals. Eating every 3-4 hours will guarantee that you don't get to the point of being ravenous at night and reaching for anything in sight.
  • Practice getting up from 10 minutes earlier to assemble food for the day. It is worth it.
Simple Meal Suggestions:

  • Big salads with protein. This is probably the easiest to throw together, include any leafy greens and other veggies you have in the fridge, add a protein source, maybe some raw nuts/seeds, avocado, hard boiled eggs, anything! 
  • Make a lettuce wrap. Kale and collard greens work great for this, too. Try ground lamb (or any meat) with avocado, onion, and cilantro. Or ground beef seasoned with cumin, topped with raw sauerkraut and spicy mustard. Or a BLT lettuce wrap with bacon, tomato, and onion. Get creative!
  • In the morning try a smoothie (see my previously posted breakfast smoothie recipe). If you like eggs in the morning but don't have time to cook them, have 2-3 hard boiled eggs with a handful of raw nuts/seeds to go. 
  • For a snack or part of a meal, or if you are craving sugar/refined carbs, bring a roasted sweet potato topped with some coconut oil or butter, grass-fed butter, shredded coconut, or nut butter. I guarantee this will satisfy your sweet tooth!
  • If you are going to eat out, opt for baked, broiled and grilled options. Choose a salad with protein, skip the bread basket, ask for oil and vinegar vs. pre-made dressings, and if the portion is huge, bring half to go.
Remember, building routines and habits centered around a whole foods based diet might take a little getting used to, but with time, the idea of opting for non-nourishing and energy-blasting meals/snacks will slowly but surely become a distant memory...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Letter From an Angry Tufts Nutrition Researcher...

I received this letter recently from someone I used to know, who is now studying and researching the economics of food at Tufts University (a very noble, yet very different field of study). Her message is very angry and accusatory, yet I think (sadly) indicative of how a more mainstream nutrition "professional" might see the work practiced by a more holistic nutrition model. I wanted to share not only her letter, but my response, so all of my blog followers can have a better understanding of what I do! I posted it here on my blog, so see the link if interested!

Hey Rachel-

I don't know if you have your RD, but if you don't, I just wanted to say that I think it is totally inappropriate for you to be giving dietary advice! I hope your clients know that you aren't an RD (are you? correct me if I'm wrong). I am NOT an RD, which is why I NEVER give dietary advice, and, if someone asks me, "well, you're doing your PhD in nutrition, don't you know enough to give me dietary advice?" I respond, "no, I don't, I'm a researcher, I am NOT clinically trained, I haven't taken the exam, and my specialty is in the economics of food, so here is the phone number of a good RD that I know."

Probably you should do the same, especially because it seems that you are recommending only what is "trendy" in the world of "alternative nutrition," things that haven't necessarily been established in the literature yet.... I hope your clients know that you're not qualified! It bothers me when people give advice when they aren't certified or appropriately trained, because they think they're just "going against the system," which is apparently cool and hip and makes you not have to get the proper credentials.

Look, if you really want to change the system (and I understand that there are important things to change, and things that could be improved), just get the RD, and work in policy or research! Change it from the inside...otherwise, you're just whining! The patients/clients who really need people like you (educated in health/nutrition), are mostly poor, and can't afford your fees unless you work in a clinical setting, which you can't do if you don't have an RD! Unless you do pro-bono for malnourished, poor clients, don't pretend that you are "making a difference" in any consequential way.

Anyway, feel free to un-friend me....(maybe I should un-friend you, my message might provoke some kind of vindictive backlash, I suppose??)....I'll understand if you do, this is obviously a very bitchy, arrogant, butting-in-to-your-life-when-I-don't-know-you-anymore message. Unfortunately, I couldn't help it. I'm quite an arrogant person, and fine with it! Have a nice life! Try not to give anyone heart disease.


Don't fear a vindictive backlash, while I do think your message was a bit ignorant (and undoubtedly arrogant, as you pointed out), I think you are the one getting more worked up here than I am! However, I would like to address a few things.

First of all, I'm not sure if in between your rants you were able to check out my website to see what I actually do, but just in case you don't know, I do have a 2 year certification from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition...I am not simply blogging about the "trendy" new fad diets out there. And let me tell you a bit about what got me to this point, since you're right, you don't know me at all.

Post Guatemala, I worked in social services with various non-profits for several years, both in domestic violence shelters and as a case manager for a child abuse prevention program, where I did home visits with my clients. Seeing the kinds of foods they were putting into their bodies, and the diseases that were created by lifetimes and generations worth of non-nourishing foods, along with some personal health issues, led me to consider getting my doctorate in Naturopathic medicine. After a few pre-reqs, I realized this was financially not feasible, and ended up finding Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition, since nutrition was/is my main area of interest.

My long term goal is to open a wellness center which provides, first and foremost, community education in poor/uneducated communities, and sliding scale fees (which if you saw on my website, I do now as well). So yes, I feel good about the difference I am working towards making, and I think it will be/is consequential.

As far as our ideas about food and diet go, we simply just don't agree, and that's ok. I do give dietary suggestions. I would never tell my clients who were thinking of visiting an RD not to, by any means, and I'm sure there are many good ones out there. But the RD's I've met in my practice have a very different approach than I take, which is more a USDA food pyramid based model (for example, fat is just a tiny little triangle, and canola oil is recommended, an oil that is oxidized before it even hits the shelves). Here is one of the various studies I have read, a 2010 meta-analysis on saturated fat and heart disease risk:

This is showing that there is very little statistical evidence for the occurrences of saturated fats and heart disease. Furthermore, the study does not specify the kinds of fats they were using...there is a world of difference between conventional (non-grassfed, commercial) butter, and raw, organic coconut oil, for example. Please also check out this following article by Mary Enig, PhD, an expert in lipid biochemistry and author of Know Your Fats, and Eat Fat, Lose Fat.

So do I think I'm "going against the system?" Perhaps sometimes I do when I am confronted by attitudes such as yours, but mainly what I focus on in my day to day practice is helping my clients who have (in most cases) tried a more conventional diet model (lower fat, higher carbs, for example), and have experienced ongoing health problems (ranging from something less serious like heart-burn to more serious degenerative disease). When they come to a Holistic Nutritionist, they generally realize that changes need to be made that are, many times, outside the scope of the RD's they have seen previously.

So thanks for your input, but I feel pretty good about the knowledge I have acquired, how much more there always is to learn, and the practice I am growing to help people, regardless of their economic status.

Rachel Fiske, NE, CPT-NASM