Gluten Free For Good


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Posts Tagged ‘chocolate’

(for girls only) nutrition for women

Last month I did a blog post on super foods for men. I also threw in some basic (and not so basic) differences in male and female brain function. This time I’ll focus on us girls.

Is there a better place to start than hormones and chocolate? Maybe fashion, hats, and shiny things. I’ll see if I can weave them all together, but the launching pad has to be hormones. A brain sloshing around in a pool of estrogen looks and behaves quite different from a brain infused with testosterone. I touched on a few cognitive gender differences in my last post, but since I find this so fascinating, I think I’ll keep this neuro-thread going.

I’m a research nerd and guess what I’ve discovered after logging zillions of hours reading scientific papers (plus, years of field study)?

Men really are from Mars.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I might be gender-biased in my observations, I’ve also discovered that women are from BabbleOn. See – if I was going to fudge my findings, I’d pick something far more flattering.

Here’s the deal. Women do better than men on tasks that require verbal communication and memory of personal experiences. Men excel in the manipulation of complex spatial information.

What does that mean?

Women talk a lot and remember everything. Men can park 2 cars, 1 motorcycle, 3 mountain bikes, a fishing boat, a side-winder circular saw, 6 pairs of skis and 300 pounds of camping gear in a 2 car garage.

Like I said before, we’re different.

Back to the hormone part. Scientifically speaking, aside from all the other stuff estrogen does, it also provides females with the ability to outperform males in associating stimuli across time. It even shows up in more adult-generated neurons in our hippocampus.

What’s a hippocampus, you ask?

It’s a little doo-hickey in the brain that just so happens to be a long-term memory consolidation station and an emotional storage bin. It’s like a jewelry box for stuff you can dig up and throw into a heated conversation years later.

So think about that one for a minute.

Estrogen, emotions, new neurons, and memory storage? It’s no wonder we never forget things men do (or, don’t do). Sorry, but I have to take this one step further (female trait, babbling on). Gender differences in memory and learning are facilitated by differences in hormones and brain anatomy. But it doesn’t stop there. That also gives us the ability to further change our brain anatomy by forming new neurons. The actual structure of the brain changes allowing us to remember more stuff you guys did for longer periods of time.

Like f o r e v e r.

Oh my gosh, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

Although I took a rather convoluted, gender-driven journey to get here, I want to stress the importance of balancing blood sugar (glucose) and hormones when it comes to women’s health. Those two things form the foundation for radiant energy, stable emotions, and better stuff in your jewelry box – both pleasant memories and shiny things.

To function optimally, the body must maintain blood sugar levels within the proper ranges. Extreme fluctuations cause roller-coaster hormones, which can lead to hissy fits, dish tossing, and crying jags. It also leads to all kinds of health problems down the road. We can avoid the drama by keeping glucose and hormones in balance. That starts with nutrition and exercise. Yoga is my preferred form of movement-induced, hormone balancing (pun intended). Here are my food favorites.

Melissa’s top 10 super-foods for women (in no particular order)

1. Cinnamon
Cinnamon has a long history as a functional food. Not only does this sweet spice smell and taste wonderful, it also helps control blood sugar and makes you feel full longer. It’s anti-microbial, helps fight candida and is a good source of fiber, calcium and iron. I add about a teaspoon of cinnamon to all my smoothies. I also sprinkle it over yogurt, add it to homemade granola, power bars and whatever else I can think of. I try to eat at least a teaspoon of cinnamon a day.

2. Broccoli
According to cancer researchers at the University of Michigan, a natural compound in broccoli inhibits breast cancer stem cells and helps block their self-renewal pathway. There are all kinds of studies regarding cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and similar green leafy vegetables) and their positive role in cancer prevention. Good stuff!

3. Fiber
Although not a food per se, fiber is so important for blood sugar balance, weight loss, and overall health. I’m a huge fan and eat way more than the recommended amount. For a detailed post I did on fiber several years ago, check here. You’ll find all the information you need to boost your fiber intake. Make sure you do it slowly and drink lots of water.

4. Avocados
Avocados are high in fat, but it’s a healthy fat and worth adding to your arsenal of super foods. Plus, if you add avocado to a big green salad or a fresh salsa mix, you greatly increase the absorption of the other nutrients. Carotenoids (in tomatoes, peppers, carrots, greens, etc.) are fat-soluble nutrients that need to tag along with high-grade fat to be adequately absorbed and assimilated. Avocados are also a low-carb, high-fiber food source, which is great for balancing blood sugar and hormones (once again, so important).

5. Coconut
Another high fat food, but again, this is good stuff, so don’t be fat-aphobic. The key is to be very picky about your fats. Please check here for a detailed post I wrote a couple of years ago on the health benefits of coconut. I love the stuff! Eat it, cook with it, put it on your skin, slather it on your hair.

6. Dark chocolate and red wine
Hey, what can I say? Girls are programmed to lust after chocolate. Resveratrol, a substance in cacao and red wine, is the “it” supplement right now. But, in most cases, I believe we’re better off eating the whole food rather than taking supplements. Treat yourself on occasion (moderation, moderation) and eat a small chunk of high-grade dark chocolate. You might even pair it with 4 ounces of a nice Pinot Noir.
Past resveratrol posts: dark chocolate as health food, enlightened hot chocolate, carnival of love (red wine)

7. Beets and berries
Those of you who have following this blog for the past 4 years know I’m passionate about beets. Ridiculously so. I’ve been a beet girl my entire life. My mom says I ate them as a baby and grew up thinking they were dessert. I was lucky. I had a mom who fed me beets, spinach, and broccoli during the explosion of processed foods. I can’t remember ever having a Twinkie, sugary cereal, or Hamburger Helper. We ate real food, made from scratch. There are so many studies linking the nutrients in beets to good health that I won’t even try to list them all. Just trust me, they’re amazing. I have a lot of beet blog posts in my archives, but since summer is around the corner, here’s an ice cream recipe.

8. Apples
Apples are high in fiber, help balance blood sugar in several different ways (they’re magic), are anti-inflammatory, high in antioxidants, support healthy gut bacteria and are packed with goodness. Studies show positive results with age-related health problems as well (macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, etc.). I’m taking this “apple a day” thing seriously. Apples are sprayed with some seriously nasty stuff, so choose organic.

9. Swiss chard and leafy greens
Greens are true super foods. All greens are great sources of beneficial plant nutrients, but I’ll focus on Swiss chard since I’m on my “balance your blood sugar” rant. There’s a substance in chard (syringic acid if you must know) that has warrior princess power when it comes to blood sugar regulation. Chard (like beets) also contains a group of phytochemicals called betalains, which are high in antioxidants, are anti-inflammatory and promote detoxification.

10. Chick peas
How could I not include chick peas?  Lucky for us, these little nutrient-dense namesakes help regulate blood sugar and are packed with fiber. I know, this blood sugar/fiber thing is getting tiresome, but it’s so important for long-term health, artful aging and hormone balance. Chick peas are also super high in the mineral manganese, which is an antioxidant involved with energy production. Who doesn’t want more energy? Check here for one of my favorite roasted chick pea recipes from Shirley at GFE.

Just as important is what you don’t eat. Avoid processed foods, refined sugar, soda pop, too much caffeine or alcohol, and junk food. Stick to whole foods with an emphasis on veggies and fruit.

Peace, love, and real food!
Image of Robert Lewis Reid painting courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


valentines, chocolate and ski racks

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and although I love chocolate, jewelry and other girlie things, I’d prefer a new ski rack for my car, an Isis hoodie down jacket (in arctic blue), or a year’s worth of SPOT tracking. I’m way too picky about my jewelry and chocolate to hint around for anything from those categories.

Very picky. Neurotically so.

In fact, it’s best that I just whip up my own chocolate Valentine treats and pick out my own jewelry. That way I get exactly what I want. Which is the point of gift-getting. Right? I’m not spoiled or anything – at least not from my perspective.

But did I mention picky?

I need jewelry suited to the backcountry (sparkly, silver and indestructible) and high-end, organic, gluten-free, papaya-infused, almond-laced, dark chocolate with a sprinkling of freshly-ground, pink Himalayan sea salt. Freshly-ground sea salt. Like, that minute.

See what I mean? Uber-picky.

Hopefully I’ll get a new ski rack instead. I’m not as picky about that.

Okay, I’m picky about that, too. I want the Yakima FatCat 6 so I can put my skis on top of my car without taking off my “ice station zebra” mittens. If anyone is listening.

We’ll see how things turn out. In the meantime, here’s a recipe for delightful and decadent Valentine chocolate squares. Make them for your sweetheart or for yourself. This is so easy, it’s practically cheating. Actually, is cheating, but that’s okay. It’s for a good cause.

Super-easy, gluten-free, chocolate Valentine treats
what you need

6.5 ounces organic dark chocolate, coarsely chopped *
2-3 tablespoons dried papaya, diced
2-3 tablespoons almonds, chopped
freshly-ground sea salt

what you do
1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Continually stir until the chocolate is fully melted. Add papaya and almond pieces, blend well.
2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. You can also use tin foil.
3. Using a spatula, evenly spread the melted chocolate, papaya and almond mixture onto parchment paper.
4. Sprinkle with very small and rustic sea salt chunks. OMG, this makes it wonderful.
5. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Cut into 2 inch squares and dazzle your Valentine (or yourself).
6. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator.

* I used 2 organic Chocolove dark chocolate (61% cocoa content) bars. Chocolove also makes a 55% cocoa content bar if you prefer less intense flavor and 73% and 77% versions if you like the high-octane stuff. The higher the cocoa content, the stronger and more bitter the taste. If you don’t have access to Chocolove, use another version of dark chocolate.

* You can also use dried cherries, dried apricots, peppermint chunks, or whatever your heart desires. Be creative.

For more of my gluten-free chocolate treats, check the following recipes
Enlightened hot chocolate
Chocolate Beet Cupcakes
Babycakes Chocolate Brownies

More gluten-free chocolate love from around the blogosphere
Gluten-free sunflower chocolate squares from Carol at Simply Gluten Free
Raw chocolate and raspberry candy from Kelly at The Spunky Coconut
Valentine’s Day dark and white chocolate cake pops from Elana at Elana’s Pantry
Chocolate layer cake from Ali at The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen
Flourless chocolate cake from Shirley at Gluten Free Easily
Chocolate coconut pudding from Karen at Cooks 4 Seasons
Twisted chocolate bark from Diane at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang
Kids in the kitchen dairy free fudge from Alta at Tasty Eats at Home

Peace, love and chocolate! Or a ski rack. Or both.

babycakes brownies


Use caution.

These brownies deserve double-black-diamond-dessert status. This is a warning to amateur chocolate eaters. Proceed at your own risk.

I better explain. First off, these little gems are gluten-free and vegan. Yeah! But there’s more to the story. They’re not sugar-free, bean-free, guilt-free, caffeine-free, or buzz-free. But look at them, aren’t they gorgeous? Holiday sweetness packed into one-inch-thick chocolatey goodness, my contribution to this week’s Gluten Free Progressive Dessert Party that Diane at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang is hosting. (See below for links to a whole week’s worth of gluten-free goodies.)

This brownie recipe is from the cookbook, Babycakes NYC. I followed the recipe step by step, with two exceptions. Three if you count adding my own home-made frosting. I cut back on the vanilla as mine is fairly strong and I switched out the pan choice. I didn’t have mini-muffin tins or a square baking pan (how can that be), so I used a 15 x 10 x 1 inch shallow sheetcake pan. That worked fine, but I had to alter the baking time and the temperature. Once finished, the thin little brownies looked a bit whimpy, so I figured I’d dress them up. What’s a girl to do when something looks plain? Add more sweet, frilly stuff. Accessorize!

The girls at Babycakes have come up with some absolutely divine, health conscious treats and I thank Erin and Emily for the use of this brownie recipe. I’ve heard the mini-muffin tin versions they sell at the NYC bakery are nearly impossible to keep in the case. People love them. This is one of the few recipes in the cookbook that calls for sugar, most of the others are refined sugar-free. All are vegan and most are also gluten-free. If you have multiple food sensitivities, happen to find yourself in NYC and are craving a special treat, visit Babycakes. You’ll think you’ve died and gone to cupcake heaven.

Babycakes brownies
what you need

1 cup garbanzo-fava bean flour (Bob’s Red Mill)
1/4 cup potato starch
2 tablespoons arrowroot
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspon salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, plus more for the muffin tins or the sheet-cake pan
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (I used my own home-made version)
1 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (the Babycakes recipe calls for 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup hot water or coffee (I used coffee)
1 cup gluten-free, vegan chocolate chips

what you do for the my sheetcake version
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease your sheet-cake pan with oil.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, potato starch, arrowroot, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt.  Add the 1/2 cup oil, applesauce, vanilla, and hot water or coffee to the dry ingredients and stir until the batter is smooth. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the chocolate chips just until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter.
3. Pour and spread the batter evenly into the sheetcake pan.
4. Bake the brownies on the center rack, rotating the tray 180 degrees half-way through the baking time. I baked the sheet-cake version for a total of 22 minutes, rotating the pan after about 10 minutes.
5. Let cool and frost. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.

* These are wonderful straight from the freezer. I tried to save myself from eating them, so I put them in the freezer. Much to my dismay, they were better frozen!

what you do for the Babycakes mini-muffin tin version
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease three 12-cup mini muffin tins with oil. Follow step #2 above. Using a melon baller, scoop the batter into each prepared mini-muffin cup. Bake the brownies on the center rack for 10 minutes, rotating the tray 180 degrees after 5 minutes. The finished brownie will have a firm edge with a soft center, and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean. Let the brownies stand in the pans for 10 minutes; they are best served warm.

Melissa’s frosting
what you need

1 and 1/2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons Earth Balance vegan “butter”
6 tablespoons light coconut milk
1 teaspoon coconut flour (skip if you don’t have it)
1/2 cup gluten-free, vegan chocolate chips

what you do
1. Place Earth Balance, sugar, coconut flour and coconut milk in a medium sauce pan. Blend well and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil (and stir) for 1 minute. Watch it carefully, stirring the whole time. Remove from heat and add the chocolate chips. Gently stir until the chocolate chips have melted and are blended into the frosting. Pour over the sheet cake and spread evenly with a spatula. If you have room, put the sheet cake in the refrigerator. Once chilled, cut into small squares and serve or store in the freezer.

* I’m warning you, go easy on these! They are SO good, but think about what they’re made with before eating several in one sitting. Bean flour, sugar, chocolate, coffee – whoa, Nelly. You do want to sleep that night!


Monday, December 7th Baked Desserts with Shauna the Gluten Free Girl & The Chef, Alison at Sure Foods Living, and Ali from the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen.
Tuesday, December 8th Frozen or Chilled Desserts with Shirley at Gluten Free Easily and Diane at the W.H.O.L.E. Gang.
Wednesday, December 9th Chocolate Desserts with Karen at Cook 4 Seasons and Ali from the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen.
Thursday, December 9th with Diane at the W.H.O.L.E. Gang.
Friday, December 10th with Melissa at Gluten Free For Good.

Merry desserts everyone! Next week Melissa the nutritionist will be back with a little healthier fare. No groaning, I heard that.

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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(co-written with Pete Bronski)

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