Recipe: Black Bean Dip

black-bean-dipThis super-easy and inexpensive snack will have even the pickiest kid asking for more. And because black beans are high in iron, magnesium and folic acid, both parents and kids can be happy!


  • 1 can of black beans – drained
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic finely chopped (if you are using the jarred chopped garlic use 2-3tsp)
  • ½ -1 tsp sea salt


  • Gently heat oil and garlic in a pan until garlic is fragrant and slightly toasted (about 2 min).
  • Place beans in a food processor, blender or a bowl that can be used with a hand-blender
  • Pour oil and garlic mix over black beans
  • Add sea salt
  • Blend until all beans are mashed – about 1-2 min

If the mix is a little dry, you may need to add a little more oil – about 1-2 tbsp. Serve with organic corn chips or rice crackers for a gluten-free and vegan snack! – Tara

Image: Pinch My Salt

Making Sense of Gluten Intolerance

wheatMany people have problems when they eat wheat.  It gives them stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, headaches, chronic coughs, brain fog, fatigue, depression or any number of other symptoms.

What they don’t often realize is that gluten intolerance may be the culprit. Gluten intolerance is sometimes called a wheat allergy, but it’s really about more than wheat – gluten is a protein source found in wheat, bran, barley and other grass-related grains, too.

Gluten Intolerance vs Celiac Disease
Many people are familiar with celiac disease. It’s an autoimmune disease of the intestine in which the immune system is actually attacking the walls of the intestine. Determining if you have celiac disease is done through a blood test, but can only be conclusively determined by doing a biopsy of the intestines.

Gluten intolerance, though, is a little different. In celiac disease, the rogue immune cells are turned on by gluten. When we’re intolerant of gluten, however, the immune cells in our gut see gluten itself as an invader, and they attack.

This process makes a small amount of inflammation, and in most cases, this is no big deal – just a normal and healthy response to an invader.  The problem is that in our culture, we eat a lot of gluten. Toast and cereal for breakfast. A sandwich for lunch. Pasta for dinner. With each meal, the immune system sees invaders and reacts with inflammation over and over again. Over time, the inflammation builds up, and so do the symptoms.

Testing Your Reaction to Gluten
It takes some practice and experimentation to connect what we eat with how we feel. So how do you know if you have a gluten intolerance?

There are a couple of ways. The first is an elimination diet – an experiment. Simply remove gluten completely from your diet for 30 days, then reintroduce it and see if your symptoms come back.

The elimination method can work quite well, but there are two challenges. The first is that it takes 30 days, and removing gluten completely can be a real challenge. It’s easy to slip up, and to really make the experiment work, you need to completely get the gluten sources out of your diet for a month.

The second challenge is that you may have more than one intolerance, and removing one thing from your diet won’t clearly identify the problem.

Fortunately, gluten intolerance can also be determined through an IgG antibody test, which measures the antibodies in blood to different food proteins.


Contact the office at (705) 444-5331 to learn about our food intolerance testing, and solutions for allergies and related digestive complaints like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or irritiable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The Cost of Eating Healthy

An offhand comment from a grocery store employee that eating a healthy diet was “too expensive” led to a lot conversation in our home. Was it really true? Was a healthy diet outside the financial reach of many families?

Recently, we decided to find out by looking at the cost of our diet. For six days, from Sunday, March 21 to Friday, March 26th, we tracked everything we ate and how much it cost.

­Note: the nitty gritty details follow below. If you just want the recipes, you’ll find them here. (PDF)

The Math

We spent $212.42 on food during the 6-day span. In some cases, we ended up with leftovers in the freezer for another time, and some of the ingredients are still in our cupboards, so we deducted a portion of the cost. We also ate lunch out once each that week.

The end result was about $30/per day.

We went back to our financial records for 3 random months, and the numbers were pretty similar. Overall, including meals out, we ended up at $30 a day.

How does that stack up? According to stats Canada the average Ontario family spends approximately $7500/year on food.  That’s a little over $20/day – we’re clearly over that by a wide margin.

At our rate of $30 per day, eating an organic healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables with a few meals out would likely be close to $900 per month. That’s a lot for some budgets.

How to Cut the Cost

On the bright side, there’s a lot of room to work with as far as price is concerned. Here are a few ideas:

  • Be Selective with Organics Our diet includes a huge amount of certified organic food. You could choose to buy non-organic fruits and vegetables, or you could also make selective choices based on buying just the dirty dozen organically, or avoiding them altogether.
  • Be Price Sensitive: We buy what’s best for us, without checking prices often. A little value shopping would certainly help our price tag.
  • Buy in Bulk: We have a tiny freezer, and limited pantry space, so we don’t buy many things in bulk. Buying in volume or joining a co-op would definitely help with the savings on some of the dry goods.
  • Eat in: We ate out very little during this week, but when we do go to restaurants, it’s expensive. The last few times we’ve been to a fast-food restaurant with 4 people, it’s cost us $30 just for one meal. That’s also the cost of lunch for two the last time we had a table service meal at a restaurant. If you need to cut costs dramatically, this the place to do it. One meal out = one whole day of very healthy eating at home.
  • Focus on Inexpensive Meals: Not all our meals were pricey – focusing on our cheaper meals could cut the cost down to close to the $20 mark. But we’d be relying heavily on simple carbs, pasta and rice in particular. Our cheapest meals were by far the ones that used pasta. That’s not ideal for health.
  • Grow Your Own: Not everyone’s cup of tea, and not an easy year-round option, but if it suits you, you can pay for your own delicious food with time instead of money.

The big takeaway for us was this: food is more expensive than we thought, but if you eat out more than a couple of times a week, you’ve got enormous room in your budget to replace that food with something more affordable if you need to.

The Meals and The Recipes

I always plan our weekly menus in advance, which helped with this project. I make a shopping list and buy all the ingredients so I don’t have to worry about it day to day. This also allows me to look at the whole week and see if it is balanced.

You’ll notice this week was light on meat, but it was just by chance. We aren’t vegetarians, but we do generally eat a lot of vegetarian meals.

Here was our dinner menu for the week:

  • Sunday – Organic greens with tuna (2 adults) – $7.81, time to prepare 10 min
  • Monday – out for a birthday party
  • Tuesday – Vegetarian Spaghetti (2 adults, 3 kids) $17.38 (but half went in freezer therefore $8.69/meal), Time 10 min in the AM, simmer all day, 10 minutes to boil pasta in the evening)
  • Wednesday – Tilapia, organic roasted sweet and regular potato, sauteed zucchini and mushroom (3 adults, 2 kids) $16.66, Time: prep = 15 min, cook = 40 min
  • Thursday – Chinese noodle soup (3 adults, 1 kid) $15.02, Time: 20 min
  • Friday – Pasta – pesto, artichoke and grape tomatoes (3 adults), $6.92, Time 20 min.

Lunch for Tara

I usually make something at the beginning of the week for the entire week.  This week it was a Brussels Sprout and Navy Bean Salad.  It didn’t last all week because I shared with a student intern on Thursday so had to get a falafel on Friday.

Cost $12.18 – or $2.44/serving  Time:  prep: 15 mins, cooking 30 mins

Lunch for Eve

Eve’s school lunch varies but is usually something like this:

  • Meat and cheese (2-3 slices, 5-6 slices)
  • Rice Crackers 10-12
  • Organic berries – 1/3 cup
  • Unsweetened apple sauce
  • Homemade dessert (ex. 2 cookies)
  • Cut of veg (cuc, peppers or carrots)

Average cost = $2.96

Breakfast and lunch for Dan

All over the map. He’ll often have a banana and coffee early in the morning, then something else mid-morning. Then a small lunch. Then sometimes another small lunch. 🙂 It depends on the day, but lunch is usually leftovers from dinner, a cost already occurred in the above meals.

Breakfast for Eve and I:

Bowl of cereal for Eve, 2 apples with peanut butter for me, and 2 cups of coffee.

(The interesting thing here – we drink organic, fair-trade coffee with organic cream (Dan) or milk (Tara).  Each cup cost about $0.70.  We could get cheaper ingredients and cut coffee costs to under 10 cents a cup, but it’s still far cheaper than coffee out. And really delicious. Thank you Creemore Coffee Company! :))

Download the recipes (PDF)

The Dirty Dozen: Choosing Produce With Less Pesticide

picture-4As organic food begins to occupy more and more space in grocery stores, you may have found yourself standing in the produce aisle wondering whether organic produce is worth the price. And if you can’t get organic, or it’s not in your budget, how do you make produce choices that limit your pesticide exposure?

In short, when does organic matter the most?

The Environmental Working Group decided to answer that question by studying the pesticides present on 47 different fruits and vegetables. From that, they released what they called the “dirty dozen” – 12 foods that you should avoid or buy organic whenever possible.

The EWG estimates that you can lower your pesticide exposure by up to 80% by focusing on the low-pesticide foods and/or eating the “dirty dozen” in organic form.

The Dirty Dozen: The 12 Most Contaminated

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Carrots
  • Pears

The Clean 15: The 15 Least Contaminated

  • Onion
  • Avocado
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Papaya
  • Watermelon
  • Broccoli
  • Tomato
  • Sweet Potato

You can read the full list of all 47, ranked from highest to lowest, or better yet, there’s a free wallet card to help you remember next time you’re shopping, and even an iPhone app!

Recipe: Homemade Chicken Soup

Collingwood Naturopathic Chicken SoupThis a fast, and easy lunch in our home, and by using the organic soup stock below, you can save the trouble of making your own. Plus it’s the only stock I’ve found so far with no MSG!


  • 1 cooking onion diced
  • 1-2 tsp of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 box of PC Organics chicken stock
  • 1 handful of baby carrots diced or 1 carrot diced
  • 1 big potato or 2 small potatoes diced
  • 1 handful of egg noodles (or corn noodles, rice noodles or rice if gluten free diet)
  • Anything else you want to throw in!

Sauté the onion in oil with salt and pepper until soft (if you have leftover chicken from a meal, throw some in here, too.)  Pour in a box of broth.  Add diced vegetables.  Bring to boil and add the noodles.  Cook until veggies and noodles are soft.

Serves four small servings – and I don’t know a single picky kid who won’t eat this meal. Enjoy! -Tara

Recipe: Quinoa Hot Cereal

quinoa cerealQuinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is like rice, but a little more nutty. It was a staple in the diet of South American Indians (who considered it a sacred food) for centuries, but only arrived in North America in the last 30 years or so.

What’s powerful about it is that it’s a full protein – unlike other vegetarian proteins that do not have all the amino acids. That makes it a great choice for vegans who might be worried about their protein intake. For everyone, though, it’s delicious, and contains lots of manganese and other nutrients.

I use it where I would use rice.  Because it’s gluten free, it also makes a great substitute for couscous in a couscous salad..

As a breakfast, it’s a very yummy alternative to oatmeal.  This one’s a recipe for the crock pot.

  • 1 ½ cups quinoa – rinsed well
  • 4 cups water – you can use rice, soy or almond milk for a creamier texture.
  • 1 cup chopped dried fruit like raisins, dates, apricots, cranberries, etc. of your liking (or leave this out if you don’t like it)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon

Toss everything in the crock pot (that’s the beauty of crock pots!), and cook on low heat all night. Add honey or some maple syrup in the morning if desired, and enjoy!


PS – The photo is from The Vivacious Vegan – a great source of info and recipes!

31 Days and Counting: Finding the Value of Daily Exercise

icytaraI don’t always make resolutions, but at the beginning of each New Year I do take the time to reflect about the past year of my life and think about what future actions I could take to make my coming years better in some way.

Although we are an active family and I’m committed to exercise and a healthy lifestyle, I decided to stretch myself more this year. On January 1st, I committed to exercising at least 30 minutes per day for the next 365 days.  The exercise can be anything that is consistent and sustained for at least 30 minutes – walking, running, yoga, x-country skiing, biking or any other moderate activity. It doesn’t have to be intense, just daily.

I set this goal for a number of reasons, but there is one reason that stands out: The busier life gets, the easier it is to have the things we do to support and maintain our health get further and further down the list of priorities.  By setting this goal and committing to it every day (as opposed to a certain number of times per week), getting my 30 minutes in is one of the first things I think about when I wake up.  I consciously make time in my schedule to make sure it gets done.

After completing my first 31 days I realize how many days in the past I would have missed an opportunity to get outside, breathe fresh air and move my body and blood.  Not because I didn’t have the time, but because I didn’t use my time for this critical part of healthy living.  We all have 30 minutes a day to walk, but there are plenty of days when your life gets a hold of you and the day is over before you’ve had a chance to even think about exercising.

I already feel stronger and healthier. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re wondering whether it’s worthwhile, here are a few more benefits:

  • You’ll sleep better (and so will your kids if they join you!)
  • You’ll reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and almost every other non-congenital condition on the planet
  • You’ll improve your mood and stave off seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • You’ll likely notice a change in your body in terms of your body fat and how your clothes fit
  • You’ll boost your immune system and reduce your likelihood of colds and flus

If you’re interested in jumping aboard my 365 days of active living, I encourage you to do so – there’s no need to wait until next January. Recruit a friend. Buy an iPod and use that 30 minutes to learn a language, listen to books, download a great podcast on active living,  or groove to your favorite tune. Or just use the time to disconnect, de-stress and enjoy some solitude.

Only 334 more days to go!


Book Review: Healthy at 100


In Healthy at 100, John Robbins explores the lifestyles of four of the world’s longest living cultures: the Abkhasians of Southern Russia, the Vilcabambans of Ecuador, the Hunza of Northern Pakistan, and the Okinawans of Japan. The cultures all share an extraordinarily high number of centenarians, and a low incidence of most of the chronic diseases of Western culture.

The essence of the book is an effort to discover what these four long-living cultures have in common. While the discoveries may not be entirely surprising, they way they’re delivered is inspiring nonetheless – this was an insightful read.

Some of the common traits among the cultures that Robbins uncovered during his research include:

Plenty of Moderate Exercise

These are active people, in terms of their lifestyle. Three of the four cultures, in fact, live in mountainous terrain. The daily exercise that they get simply from going about their lives is very high.

High Vegetable Diet

Robbins is a big proponent of the vegan lifestyle, so he may be showing his bias, but all of the cultures ate a diet extremely high in vegetables. Many added dairy or small amounts of meat or fish, but their diet was predominantly plant-based, and in most cases seemed to be moderately low in overall calories.

Love and Connection

Each culture fostered strong familial and communal bonds, with multi-generational homes, and close interaction among people. Even as the elders of society age, they stay engaged with their communities through these close connections. That engagement keeps the older members of society mentally and physically healthy even into their advanced years.

Healthy Attitude Toward Aging and the Aged

This is clearly Robbins’ core message, that our attitude towards the elderly in our culture, and towards our own aging, plays a dramatic role in how well we age physically. By marginalizing the older members of our society and viewing our own aging as a curse, rather than an increase in wisdom and life experience, we reduce our expectations of the elderly, and in doing so speed up their decline.

I listened to the audio version of this book early this year, and the simplicity of the “secrets” of aging well resonated with me. The biggest downside? It’s a little sad that many of these happy, healthy cultures are losing their simple, natural edge as the world changes.


PS If you’re interested in other cultures, you might want to join Amanda and Terry from the clinic as they share stories, photos and videos from their mission trip to Senegal, Africa. The presentation will be at The Collingwood Public Library on Wednesday, February 24, 6-8:30 PM. Admission is free, and so are the snacks!

Recipes: How To Cook Kale

kaleKale is a very traditional winter green veggie and is one of my favourite foods.  Like broccoli, it’s part of the brassica family and is full of potent phytochemicals that help your liver neutralize toxins.  It’s also an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C and the mineral manganese which, among other things, is important in bone health.

The trick with Kale is in the preparation. Try this:

  • Remove woody stock from leaves.
  • Cut the remaining leaves in strips.
  • Sauté in olive oil with garlic and sea salt to taste.  (You want to sauté it until it is bright green all the way through, and stop before it starts to dry out – about 3-5 minutes.)

You can use it in salads, soups, stews or stir fries, or try my latest favourite: top it with poached eggs, parmesan cheese and cracked pepper – yum!


Making Successful Health Changes in 2010

If you’re a resolution maker, you know that it can be painful to make a commitment and not keep it. In fact, those with a trail of unkept resolutions behind them often find that they now resolve to…well, to never resolve again.

The problem, though, isn’t with the idea of making changes for the better in your life. The problem lies in how the changes are made.

Enter Leo Babauta of In his Definitive Guide to Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolutions, he sums up the problems with resolutions:

New Year’s Resolutions usually fail because of a combination of some of these reasons:

  • We try to do too many resolutions at once, and that spreads our focus and energies too thin. It’s much less effective to do many habits at once (read more).
  • We only have a certain amount of enthusiasm and motivation, and it runs out because we try to do too much, too soon. We spend all that energy in the beginning and then run out of steam.
  • We try to do really tough habits right away, which means it’s difficult and we become overwhelmed or intimidated by the difficulty and quit.
  • We try to be “disciplined” and do very unpleasant habits, but our nature won’t allow that to last for long. If we really don’t want to do something, we won’t be able to force ourselves to do it for long.
  • Life gets in the way. Things come up unexpectedly that get in the way of us sticking with a habit.
  • Resolutions are often vague – I’m going to exercise! – but don’t contain a concrete action plan and don’t use proven habit techniques. That’s a recipe for failure.

Leo’s solution? Leo’s 6 Changes Method, which involves choosing one thing at a time to change, and making the changes very slowly. It’s about finding success by building habits in small steps, as opposed to one giant quit-smoking-lose-weight-eat-better-start-exercising-on-the-same-day plan that has a high risk of failure.

This approach of gradual, sustainable success is a great one that we’ve seen work time and time again for patients trying to make challenging lifestyle shifts. If resolutions are your thing, a quick look at Leo’s strategy, or his book The Power of Less, is time well spent.

And if your resolution is just to be happier? Pay a visit to Gretchen Rubin’s blog The Happiness Project for help. Her book by the same name hits the shelves this week – just in time to kick off 2010 the right way!