As I practice more and more with healthful, diet-restriction-friendly recipes (you know – vegan, gluten free, paleo, etc.), I find more and more ways to use cauliflower. From cauliflower “steaks” to cauliflower “rice,” the possibilities are seriously endless. A healthy, grain-free version of fried rice is one of my latest projects. Grated cauliflower, diced carrots, yellow onions and chopped red bell peppers make up the bulk of this dish. Then I add flavor with organic, cage-free eggs, a simple tamari-based sauce and a garnish of fresh scallions. For a genuine paleo/whole30 version, simply use coconut aminos instead of tamari. But for me, an organic soy-based tamari does the job perfectly.
When I think about it, many of the recipes I make are inspired by takeout and delivery classics, and this dish is the perfect example. Making your own “takeout” at home is much healthier than ordering out, and cheaper too. But for people who have dietary restrictions, it’s sometimes the only option to be able to enjoy favorite foods and cuisines. A grain-free/gluten-free lifestyle is the driving force behind this dish, but it also qualifies as vegetarian, dairy-free and, if using coconut aminos instead of tamari, paleo-friendly. Serve with a selection of proteins like grilled chicken, vegetables, tofu or steak, and you’ve got a meal that’s customizable enough (and delicious enough) to please a crowd.
Now, let’s go over a couple of my favorite health-supportive benefits of this recipe’s star, cauliflower.
Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, and one of my all-time favorite vegetables, mostly because it’s super versatile. Cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, kale and arugula) contain glucosinolates, a chemical that contains sulfur. When broken down during digestion, glucosinolates turn into compounds associated with anti-cancer effects. Cauliflower is also a great source of fiber, aiding in digestion, and also a great source of Vitamins K & C. Cauliflower is high in several powerful antioxidants, which are essential in providing adequate defense to your cells, which is believed to help your body in fighting off illnesses such as cancer.
Grain-Free Cauliflower Fried “Rice”
Serves: 2 (main) or 4 (side dish) Start to Finish: 25 minutes
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons canola or coconut oil (organic preferred), divided
4 cups raw cauliflower rice*
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1.5 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain, divided
2 tablespoons tamari (use coconut aminos instead for paleo/whole30 version)
2 eggs (cage-free, organic preferred)
chopped scallions, garnish (1-2 scallions is enough)
Note: You may want to use a non-stick skillet or wok for this recipe. My stainless steel pan worked well for this recipe with no sticking/burning issues, but a non-stick skillet will be more fool-proof.
Prep carrots, peppers, onion and garlic. Using a box grater or food processor, grate large cauliflower florets into cauliflower “rice.” Use the stem portion of the florets too.
Crack eggs into a bowl and scramble with a fork. Set aside.
Heat 1.5 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrots, peppers, onions, garlic and 1 teaspoon sea salt to pan. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until vegetables have softened and released liquid. Add grated cauliflower and ginger to pan. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until moisture from cauliflower is released and evaporated.
Add tamari (or coconut aminos) to pan, toss to coat, and cook for about 2 minutes, until excess moisture is removed. Push cauliflower aside and add remaining oil to open space in pan. Add scrambled eggs to oil. Frequently use a spoon to cut through liquified eggs in order to rotate uncooked eggs into the heat. Just as the egg solidifies (after about a minute), mix the cauliflower mixture into the eggs. Season with sea salt to taste (I added an additional 1/2 teaspoon) and cook for 1-2 minutes, until excess moisture is gone.
Garnish with scallions, serve immediately.
*1 head of caulifower is plenty for this recipe. You can also purchase pre-riced cauliflower in the freezer and/or produce section of many supermarkets.
Benefits of Cauliflower
Clean eating is taking over the food scene… and while the word ‘clean’ can be replaced by ‘real,’ or ‘whole,’ the idea behind all of these terms is the same; eat only high-quality and natural foods made from clean/real/whole ingredients. With a bit of time and effort at the beginning, a clean eating regimen quickly becomes second nature. There are countless reasons to fall in love with clean eating (check out my top 3 reasons why here), but the initial draw for many is the weight loss aspect of a clean eating lifestyle, and that’s what I’m focusing on today.
For me, when I began my commitment to clean eating, I wasn’t necessarily trying to lose a specific amount of weight over a specific amount of time. Staying lean and looking fit is always on my mind to some extent, but it wasn’t the primary reason for me to go clean. I committed to a completely clean lifestyle after concluding that ingesting anything unnatural and/or heavily processed can’t possibly benefit me in an authentic way and that it was time to take my health (and my future self’s health) into my own hands. I cut out pretty much any restaurant or food establishment not focused on quality, freshness and made-from-scratch menu items. I began cooking more and more of my meals at home using organic, fresh and real ingredients produced without gmo’s, chemicals, or artificial ingredients. And finally, I made fresh produce the focus of my diet. Because I was already a vegetarian at this point, this wasn’t a difficult adjustment for me. But for meat eaters transitioning to a clean lifestyle, it’s important to understand that clean eating is about increasing fresh produce consumption and decreasing the consumption of animal products. Over the course of the first year of clean eating, my weight began creeping down naturally, and now, my normal weight (the weight I land on when I’m making minimal effort) is almost 10 pounds lower than it used to be. Ten pounds lighter just because of clean eating? Yep. And that’s weight loss without feeling deprived or hungry. It’s truly an amazing concept.
So clearly weight loss can be a naturally occurring bi-product of going clean, if you’re willing to give it a little bit of time. On the other hand, for some, quicker and easier controlled weight-loss is the primary reason to adapt a clean eating regimen. But in this case you probably don’t have the patience to wait a year to naturally lose those extra pounds. Depending on what you want, there are different ways to approach clean eating. But because today’s focus is on faster weight loss as a priority, here is my introductory guide to clean eating for fast, healthy & effective weight loss.
1. Calories Count
In my experience, counting calories is a great tool for weight loss. Weight loss is about science, and science says that if you burn more calories than you consume, you should lose weight. A clean eating lifestyle without the goal of losing weight pretty much means you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, as long as what you’re eating is nourishing and benefitting your body. But when trying to lose weight fast with clean eating, counting calories and limiting portions gives you the control. Never be too hard on yourself though. The ingredients and foods you’re consuming as a clean eater are pure and nourishing, so eating an extra 120 calories from an apple because you’re super hungry or adding another tablespoon of homemade dressing to a salad because it needs it for the flavor, is not going to hinder your weight loss. In fact, listening and answering to your body makes for a more sustainable eating regimen. So stay in your target calorie range but don’t get too hung up on it. Now you’re probably wondering what your calorie range for clean eating weight loss should be? It varies by person obviously. Gender, height, age and genetics all affect the amount of calories you burn in a day and therefore the amount of calories you should eat to lose weight. Plus, how much weight you want to lose is also a factor. It’s up to you to decide on a manageable range, but I’ve included some sample ranges below, which are based on an average person with an average metabolism.
Women – 1500 to 1700 clean calories per day for weight loss
Men – 1950 to 2150 clean calories per day for weight loss
2. Eat at Home
One of my best tips for weight loss (and clean eating in general) is to cook and eat at home as often as humanly possible. Control over ingredients when cooking yourself, allows for a more genuine (and therefore more beneficial) commitment to clean eating. No matter what you cook at home, it will be healthier than the version you would get at a restaurant. Lower calories, less sodium, higher quality fats, organic ingredients and more produce are all benefits of cooking yourself, and this makes a huge difference when trying to lose weight.
3. Vegan for a Day
Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to be a vegan, or even a vegetarian, but there’s something to be said for eating like a vegan, if only just for one or two days per week. Think about it. If you take meat, cheese and dairy out of the equation, the acceptable clean eating replacements are produce, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Plant based foods like these contain tons of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, all of which will help to clean out your digestive track, rev your metabolism, fight infections and super charge weight loss.
4. Get Moving
I believe that what you eat determines the majority of your health, but when it comes to fast weight loss especially, exercise is essential. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean killing yourself in the gym or training for a marathon. Much of my exercise comes simply from living in New York and walking everywhere. Imitate this heart-healthy lifestyle by walking at a normal pace for 45 minutes two times per week. Additionally, get your heart rate up with two sweat-worthy cardio workouts every week, each lasting about 30 minutes. This could be jogging, cycling, rigorous hiking, speed walking, boxing or any other exercise that gets your heart rate up. Lastly, 1-2 strength/stretching workouts per week will create lean muscle tone, improve flexibility and relieve stress. My go-to choice? One-hour vinyasa yoga sessions. But if you’re into lifting free-weights or you’re familiar with equipment-free strength exercises, 45 minutes of either of these is an option too (just make sure to constantly stretch out…improved flexibility is life changing).
Trust me when I say, even a moderate exercise regimen like this one makes a huge difference when it comes to weight loss. Extra time and energy? Increase exercise whenever and however you can to further accelerate weight loss.
5. Carb & Sugar Patrol
Clean eating isn’t about giving up every indulgence. After all, carbs and sugar are part of what makes life delicious, and even on a clean eating regimen, minimally processed sugars (like honey and maple syrup) and whole grains (like organic whole wheat packaged breads, made from scratch doughs, quinoa, brown rice, millet) can all be found. But if trying to lose weight efficiently, sugar and carbs typically contain loads of sneaky calories that add up quickly which could potentially hinder weight loss. For this reason, try to limit added sugars and grains when trying to shed pounds. While clean whole grain carbs are not unhealthy and natural sugar here and there is acceptable, a grain-free meal once a day and a couple days without any added sugar will help to greatly reduce calories and portion sizes while feeding the body nutrient dense, hydrating foods like fruits and vegetables.
Side note, this ‘sugar and carbs’ category also contains alcohol. It’s important to realize how alcohol can negatively affect your weight and your overall health. Not just because of the calories, sugar and carbs in the alcohol itself, but also because of impaired judgement when it comes to food and eating. My advice? Except for that daily glass of red wine to unwind, steer clear of alcohol when trying to lose weight quickly.
So there you have it, my five introductory tips to fool-proof, fast and healthy weight loss using the clean eating regimen. Follow these flexible guide lines, in addition to the general rules of clean eating, and you’ll be shedding pounds in no time. If you have anything to add, feel free to reach out using the comments section below.
It’s still March Madness, which means I have another perfect game-day appetizer to share. This recipe was inspired by a meal I cooked for a client following the Whole30 diet. If you don’t know the rules of Whole30, it’s pretty much clean eating, with no grains, dairy or beans, and a focus on produce and high-quality meats and poultry. This diet plan is almost impossible for a vegetarian like me (no grains, dairy or beans? I definitely cannot sustain that). However, for a meat-eater, this is an amazing option to both lose weight and to transition into a clean eating lifestyle.
Given the rules, this recipe fits into the Whole30 regimen. Baked potato skins, an easy tomato sauce, homemade cashew cream and broccoli florets are all acceptable foods on Whole30. For my client, who eats meat, I added crumbled and cooked italian sausage, but for me, roasted broccoli is the perfect meat-free topping. This recipe is a clean, whole and delicious appetizer or main dish, and it not only pleases Whole30 peeps, but also satisfies vegans, vegetarians and gluten-freers too. Before getting to the recipe, check out my breakdown of the top health-supportive elements in this dish, and then head to the kitchen to whip up this healthy, satisfying and delicious dish.
Potatoes are sometimes looked down upon because they’re “carby”, but potatoes are actually a super healthy food containing substantial amounts of fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium, iron, niacin, thiamin, b-6 vitamins and vitamin-c. Vitamin b-6 helps with a variety of essential bodily functions such as immunity, mood, digestion, metabolism, energy production and brain function. Added bonus, b vitamins are known for their healthy skin and hair benefits. Iron, which is highly concentrated in the potato’s skin, is known for providing energy and supporting the immune system. Vitamin-c is also important here because it allows the body to absorb and utilize the iron found in plant-based food like potatoes.
Cashews, like other nuts, provide protein and healthy unsaturated fats, which help to fight high cholesterol. Additionally, cashew cream adds dairy-free richness and makes plant-based meals super satisfying. Because they are a softer nut, cashews and water easily transform into a smooth, creamy sauce without needing an expensive high-power blender (like a Vitamix).
Tomatoes, like in my quick tomato sauce, are a great source of antioxidants such as lycopene. Lycopene is associated with bone strength, fighting certain types of cancer and protecting against a variety of toxins and pesticides commonly found in modern foods. Tomatoes are also high in other nutrients like vitamin-c, vitamin-k and biotin, to name just a few. Vitamin C, as I mentioned earlier, allows for plant-based sources of iron to be absorbed by the body (very important for vegetarians like me). And biotin (vitamin b-7) is commonly associated with healthy skin, hair and nails. Additionally, because tomatoes are low on the glycemic index scale, they are helpful in regulating blood sugar levels.
Vegan Pizza Potato Skins with Roasted Broccoli
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
** you can add any desired pizza toppings to these easy potato skins… try crumbled sausage, shredded chicken, roasted veggies, diced onions, red bell peppers, sliced mushrooms, fresh herbs or leafy greens
In a medium bowl, soak cashews in 4 cups water for 2-4 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).
Prepare potatoes. Note that the potatoes and garlic have similar cooking times so they should go into the oven together. Using a fork, poke each potato 4 times, twice on each side. Rub potatoes with olive oil and season liberally with salt. Place directly onto oven rack. Bake for 50-60 minutes, just as skin begins to pull away and flesh is very tender.
While potatoes and garlic cook, make red sauce. Chop garlic and onions. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sweat for 3-4 minutes. Add oregano, thyme, fennel seed and black pepper. Cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, 1/2 cup water and an additional 3/4 teaspoon salt. Simmer until thickened, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat.
While the sauce simmers, cut broccoli into small florets. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bake in 400 degree (F) oven for 10-15 minutes, or until edges are beginning to turn dark and crispy.
Make cashew “cheese” sauce. Drain and rinse cashews. In a food processor or high powered blender, add soaked cashews, roasted garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3/4 cup water. Blend until smooth and creamy. This takes 3-6 minutes depending on blender strength.
Assemble the potato skins. Divide red sauce evenly amongst the 8 potato skins. Add 2-3 tablespoons of vegan cashew cheese sauce to each potato boat. Top with roasted broccoli florets. Bake for 10 minutes in 400 degree (F) oven or until warmed through.
Clean Eating is a philosophy I’ve adhered to for several years now, so I can say with confidence that clean eating is the secret (or my secret, at least), to feeling and looking great with little effort. I, like many others, have spent my life searching for the balance between staying healthy and loving food. It’s a balancing act that can lead to unhealthy weight fluctuations, emotional highs and lows, and extreme frustration. However, I am happy to say that I’ve figured out a lifestyle that allows me to both enjoy food and love the way I look and feel – the clean eating movement is real and you should be joining in!
Before I get to the three main reasons why I love living the clean eating lifestyle, I should first define what ‘clean eating’ actually is. While definitions may vary, I define clean eating as eating whole, fresh and unprocessed foods as often as possible, and at all other times, sticking to only minimally processed foods. Whole and unprocessed food is a straight forward enough concept. Fresh produce, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains such as quinoa and millet, and high-quality animal products make up the bulk of a clean diet, with a special focus on fresh vegetables. As a vegetarian, most of my diet consists of vegetables, fruits, beans and high quality dairy, but only eating completely unprocessed foods isn’t very fun for this carb-loving girl. And that’s why understanding the meaning of ‘minimally processed foods’ is also essential when adhering to a clean eating lifestyle.
While a processed food contains excessive sugar, unrecognizable ingredients and/or artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, a minimally processed food is different. Minimally processed foods are also foods that are processed through milling, crushing, heating, etc, like highly processed foods. But minimally processed foods, unlike processed foods, contain no artificial ingredients such as preservatives, colors or flavors. It’s also a good idea to focus on non-gmo and organic products when eating minimally processed foods, just for extra assurance that the ingredients are of the highest quality. In order to determine whether a packaged food is processed or minimally processed, it’s absolutely necessary to check the labels. For any packaged food I buy, I am diligently checking labels for any ingredients that aren’t recognizable or pronounceable.
Another part of clean eating is making an effort to cook meals yourself – using high-quality, whole ingredients of course. It’s unrealistic however, to make everything I eat from scratch, so I am no stranger to using help from the supermarket. The primary minimally processed foods in my diet are whole wheat pasta, whole wheat and all-purpose flours (mostly for homemade pizzas and flatbreads) and store bought sandwich breads and buns. See? Serious carb-lover over here. Mass produced pastas and breads can definitely be super processed, but that doesn’t mean all packaged supermarket foods are off limits. It’s possible to find minimally-processed versions of many commonly processed foods. Now that begs the question, what’s the difference between something processed, like dry pasta, and its minimally-processed counterpart? Short answer, the number of ingredients and the quality of ingredients. When I buy dry pasta, I look for organic varieties with only one ingredient, 100% durum wheat flour. Another example? I love english muffins with avocado in the mornings. So at the grocery store, I look for a whole wheat, organic version and check the ingredient list for anything I don’t recognize or anything I wouldn’t add if making from scratch.
I could go on and on about the ins and outs of clean eating, but we can save that for another day. Because the true reason for this post is to motivate you by listing my three favorite reasons why a clean eating lifestyle rocks. Let’s get to it!
1. no need to count calories and avoid fat*
By centering my meals around nutrient-rich produce, which is naturally low in calories and fats, I’m filling up while giving my body what it needs. Avoiding processed foods, while replacing them with fresh produce, whole grains and other high quality, minimally processed foods, naturally limits your intake of sugar and artificial substances, which allows the metabolism to properly function. Believe it or not, when you put good in, your body works like a machine to get lean, without having to stress over calories.
2. it’s addictive (in a good way!)
While most diets leave you feeling deprived, unmotivated and unsuccessful, a clean eating lifestyle is the exact opposite. You may feel deprived at first (no more cheetos? i know, it seems like the end of the world), but as you continue to eat fresh, whole and clean foods, processed foods loaded with salt, sugar and artificial ingredients will actually become less appealing. Your taste buds become more sensitive to the unnatural flavors in these processed foods, and over time, you will actually want to avoid them. I have zero desire to eat a Cheeto these days, or anything from a conventional fast food joint. Trust me when I say, I’ve eaten more Taco Bell than I ever want to admit. But now, it doesn’t even cross my mind to hit up the drive through.
3. your future self’s health will thank you
Feeling fit and looking lean is great and all, but it’s not just about what’s on the outside. In fact, what’s happening on the inside is the true marker of good health. Consistent consumption of highly processed foods has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer, just to name a few. Inflammation caused by mass consumption of processed foods, along with a genetic pre-disposition for a particular disease, is the perfect storm for allowing that disease to take root. By replacing processed foods with clean and fresh foods that contain natural anti-inflammatory properties, you can potentially reduce your risk of many diseases that are becoming more and more common in today’s society.
Doesn’t this all sound almost too good to be true? Well, it isn’t. Let me know your thoughts on clean eating or if you have any questions in the comments section below!
* In reference to reason #1 – this is true for people who want to maintain a healthy weight or shed extra weight over time. For more controlled, faster weight-loss I definitely encourage counting calories if that works for you!