Is agave nectar bad for you?

Since I've been asked about this several times this week (and it's only Tuesday), I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts on the subject. : )


Is agave nectar safe? Is it OK to use? Is it a superfood? I'm going to break this down into 5 reasons why I eat agave nectar in moderation.

1. Like any sweetener, agave should be used in moderation. I don't believe there are any sweeteners (even natural ones) that should be used excessively. In moderation, agave nectar should be perfectly safe for most people, in my experience.

2. That said, every person is different. Have you ever heard of doshas? They are your body type, according to Ayurveda (an ancient system of body wisdom from India). Personally, I dig Ayurveda and find a lot of truth in it. I'm a "kapha" dosha, which means that I gain weight easily and have a hard time losing it (sigh) but that I tend to be grounded, warm, and easygoing (yay). Kapha doshas also do best eating minimal sweets.

On the other hand, there's the "pitta" dosha, which is a type of person who actually does well eating more sweets. In fact, sweets such as agave nectar can help to balance a pitta's fiery constitution. To find out more about what dosha you are, here's a fun and handy dosha quiz I like to refer folks to. And although I love Ayurveda, and find a lot of the dosha recommendations work for me, I still believe the ultimate wisdom is listening to your own body. No one system works for everyone.

3. Much of the negative hype about agave nectar is rooted in poor quality agave. Personally, I use a raw, organic blue agave that has not been cut with corn syrup (yuck!). I am very sensitive to sugars, and can immediately feel the ill effects of refined sugars if I consume them. And trust me, if I eat something junky, my body lets me know pretty fast! The older I get, the less tolerance I seem to have for non-ideal foods. Which is actually sort of cool. 

However, I don't have a problem with high quality agave, when I eat it in moderation. For me, moderation means about a tablespoon or less per day. For someone else, that amount will be different. Again, this is all about my experience, and what works for me. I can't give any other person an exact formula because your body has its own wisdom and needs. : )

4. Consider using agave nectar along with another, even more clean, source of sweetness. For me, this means coconut sugar. I love raw coconut sugar and am using it more and more. I seem to tolerate it best out of all the sweeteners. There is also a liquid version, called coconut nectar.

However, I don't often use those items in my recipes. Why? Several reasons. First of all, I've already written four cookbooks, and I didn't start using coconut sugars until recently. And in all honesty, I want to make my recipes as easy to make and as accessible as possible for everyone. Not everyone can buy coconut sugar and nectar.

Another reason I don't use it in my recipes more is because coconut sugar is very textured and crunchy, and obviously dry, so it doesn't work when you need a smooth and non-textured sweetener. Why not use coconut nectar in those situations? Well, you can... but it's somewhat expensive, has a very distinct flavor, and doesn't always swap out perfectly for other sweeteners. So, for practical purposes, I still use agave in many of my recipes. However, at home when I'm just making something for myself, I'm often using coconut sugar.

That said, if you have my books, and want to use coconut sugar/nectar instead of the other sweeteners my recipes call for, that's great! They are very easy to substitute with a little figuring. For agave nectar, just substitute coconut nectar (adding a bit more if it's not sweet enough) and for dry sugars, you can substitute about 1 1/2 parts coconut sugar to regular sugar/brown sugar (as coconut sugar is less sweet).

5. And finally, why do I use agave nectar in moderation? Because any organic plant-based food, in my opinion, is OK in moderation. If you know me by now, you know I'm not one to say "Don't eat wheat! Don't eat soy! Agave is dangerous!" I am a big believer in balance, moderation, and finding your own body wisdom. Yes, if you eat too much of anything, it's not good. Yes, it's important to eat a variety of whole foods, lots of veggies, and try to make as much of you diet organic and local as possible. However, if you do that, there really isn't a whole lot left to worry about.

How many people do you know who are vegan, eating lots of organic, fresh vegetables, eating mostly whole foods, drinking plenty of water, eating healthy fats in moderation, getting fresh air daily, and listening to their body? If you know someone like that, who consumes agave nectar (and other controversial plant foods) in moderation, how healthy do they seem? My guess is, pretty damn healthy. So, my final two cents? Focus on the important stuff. A little agave nectar won't hurt you, especially if you're too busy the rest of the time eating kale and being happy. ; )

What are your thoughts? Please let me know what you've found to be true for yourself on this subject!
XO!
Tess


5 Raw Vegan Pizza Ideas

I've been obsessed with raw vegan pizza ever since I first tried it at ionie cafe. I just love the idea of eating something so fresh, nutrient-dense, and scrumptiously satisfying - all at the same time!

OK, so on with the business of RAW VEGAN PIZZA. And this is, most definitely, SERIOUS BUSINESS. I mean, come on - when something tastes this amazing and is good for you? Love. 

So, here are my top five ideas for making raw vegan pizzas. Some were inspired by the delicious foods they serve at ionie cafe, and some I came up with on my own. I hope this gets you excited to try some new nutrient-dense pizza pies in your own kitchen!

But wait! One little tip before I share my pizza ideas. You'll want to keep two things on hand: raw pizza crusts and raw vegan cheese. (Note: if you're not into the idea of making these pizza crusts, you can still make the pizza wrap outlined in #5 - AND/OR just top a healthy whole-grain crust of your choice with these toppings. It's not all-or-nothing!)

How to make said items? Well, since the title of this post contains the word "ideas" (vs. "recipes") in it, I'm going to give you just that. For pizza crusts, you'll want to combine sprouted buckwheat groats with veggies (onions and carrots, mainly), flaxmeal, Italian spices, sea salt, and olive oil. Blend well in a food processor. Shape into circles that are about 1/4-inch thick and dehydrate til crisp.

For the cheese, you'll want to blend (preferably in a high-speed blender such as a Vitamix or Blendtec) the following: nuts (macadamia nuts work best, but you can also use cashews) along with water, olive oil, sea salt, garlic, and nutritional yeast. FREAKING YUM.

Now that you have these two items on hand, you can more easily make any of the following...

1. The Greek Pizza: Top a raw pizza crust with nut cheese, massaged kale, sliced tomatoes, garlic, and kalamata olives. Foodgasm much? This one is available at ionie.

2. The White Pizza: Another favorite from ionie, this simple pizza is made by spreading the cheese over the pizza crust, then topping with fresh tomatoes and slivers of fresh basil. So simple, but ever-so-yum.

3. Pesto Pizza: Top a pizza crust with raw cheese, basil pesto, sundried tomatoes, and even more fresh sprinkles of basil. Do not attempt to consider making this pizza if you don't love basil.

4. Mexican Pizza: Top a pizza crust with some of my Rawcho Cheese dip, diced tomatoes, cilantro, minced red onions, thinly sliced jalapenos, and kalamata olives. If you really want to get crazy, make up some taco meat to crumble over the top as well. To make the sausage mixture, combine walnuts, olive oil, cumin, chili powder, sea salt, and garlic in a food processor til crumbly. 

5. The Pizza Wrap: Not into making those raw pizza crusts? Here's your solution! In a large collard leaf, place the following: raw vegan cheese, marinated and chopped sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, minced marinated mushrooms, grated carrots (optional), fresh basil, and minced garlic and/or onion. Roll up and enjoy!

Have you guys ever tried raw pizza before? Let me know if you have any other ideas for healthy raw pizza - I know there are more I didn't think of!! Thanks so much for stopping by. : )

Matt's Inspiring Health Transformation

Greetings lovely folks - Stacia here :) Today, I am going to be blogging about a very inspirational friend of mine, Matt Briest. Matt experienced a major weight loss and health transformation with the help of a vegan diet. His transformation is a true testament to the power of a vegan diet and lots of self care and love!! Check out the interview I did with him and learn more about his story...


Matt before his weight loss
Matt after his weight loss


How much weight did you lose and how did you do it?

I lost half of my body weight. I weighed 329 pounds when I started in 2009, and I weighed 168 pounds at my smallest a year and a half later. I am currently 170-175 consistently. I lost my weight through a mostly vegan diet, practicing yoga, as well as walking an hour a day religiously. I started every day with a raw food porridge and a huge salad for lunch, then some kind of veggie dinner, but no breads and processed foods of any kind. 


How has your weight loss changed your life? 

It has changed my life in so many ways, but the main thing it has done is given me an education of how to feed my body correctly, so I don't ever count calories or any of that nonsense.


How do you maintain your weight now that you've slimmed down?

Since I lost the weight I have found it very easy to maintain. Ever since I have gone completely vegan it has been a breeze. If I am hungry, then I eat - and oh yeah I love to eat. I eat all day long until about 6:00pm. Then I am all done for the day, so that my body has time to process all of the food. If I do get hungry, then I eat only fruit after 6:00 pm.


What is you advice for others looking to lose weight and get healthy?

My advice to others is to reset your whole way of thinking and gain a whole new level of self love. When you eat clean food you get a clean and clear mind and that also affects the spirit.


What are your favorite vegan foods to prepare?

As far as my favorite foods, I would say that raw porridge is my all time favorite, but I love food and love to eat so any whole vegan food is OK by me!


Matt's passion for health extends to the work he does - running a wellness center with his wonderful wife, Julia. If you are in the Detroit area and are interested in healing services, including massage and sound healing, please check them out at Compassion Wellness Center.

Introducing My Assistants Stacia and Erin!


Me (Stacia) loving the beach!
Erin looking gorgeous as usual!
Hi All! Stacia here, Tess's assistant. This is my first time blogging for Tess and I wanted to begin by introducing myself, as well as Tess's fabulous intern, Erin, who will also be blogging on here! We are both super excited to be able to share with you all and you can all look forward to many great blogs to come! :)

So that you can have a better idea of who Erin and I are, we both answered some questions about ourselves....Enjoy! 

...And please feel free to contact either of us if there's anything that you'd like us to blog about! :)


When and why did you go vegan?


Stacia: I went vegan when I was 16 – in 2002 after a year of being a vegetarian. I had already been thinking about making the switch to being vegan because of animal rights issues. Then one day, I had a conversation with Tess (who happens to be my cousin and a longtime positive influence in my life!) about milk, and she said that a cow's milk is meant for a baby cow. That statement was all it took for me to stop consuming dairy products. While I was at it, I cut out eggs, too. Fortunately, it was an easy change for me. While my switch to a vegan diet was originally inspired by my love for animals, over time, it has evolved to be a choice for my health, the environment, and for spiritual reasons, too. I love being vegan!


Erin: I became vegan about 3 years ago after being vegetarian off and on for numerous years before that. I decided to become completely vegan for a variety of reasons, but mostly health. I read Dr. Campbell's book "The China Study" and it completely opened my eyes to the benefits of a vegan diet as well as the problems in our food industry. I never looked back, and love this peaceful and clean lifestyle. My "side effects" of going vegan: I lost 30 lbs almost without trying, my skin cleared up and I have nonstop energy. I love it, and seeing all of the benefits actually happen to me personally, I am convinced to never go back and help people live cleaner, happier lives themselves.


How did you get started working for Tess?


Stacia: Before working for Tess, I was working as a traveling sales rep and totally burnt out. Right at the time I decided to quit my job, Tess was at a point with her business that she decided she had to have an assistant. I told her I was interested, and we both decided that I was the perfect fit for the job! I couldn't ask for a better job or person to work for. Tess has always been a major inspiration for me, and now I get to help out with all of her extremely inspiring work – it's wonderful!


Erin: I had been following Tess' Facebook page for a very long time. One day, out of the blue, and on a complete whim, I decided to message her asking if she could use any kind of additional help! She messaged me back, I had a conference call with Stacia and her and just started working for her and learning from her! It all happened so fast! (I WAS SO NERVOUS.... but immediately Stacia and Tess were so welcoming and warm and really were excited to have me help~ they're awesome!!!)
 

What originally inspired you about what she's doing, that made you want to be part of it?

Stacia: Over the years, I've observed Tess inspire so many people (including myself!) to make positive, healthy life changes. The idea of being able to help bring people the information and resources they need to make positive changes was a major inspiration for me in wanting to be a part of the work Tess does.

Erin: The thing I noticed the most was how positive and happy Tess always was. I noticed how much she adores health and food and how involved she was with her followers. I really love Tess' personal health story and admire how hard she has worked to get where she is now. She is a great role model and someone I knew I could learn a lot from. She also has very similar views on food and health as I do, so I knew it could be a good fit! 
 

What do you like most about working for Tess (if, in fact, there is anything you like)?

Stacia: I'm just here for the food....LOL. Just kidding! Although, I certainly do love getting to help spread the message of how delicious and nutritious vegan food can be! I also love all of the awesome skills that I've picked up working for Tess and her business partner, Dr. Mary, who I also work for. I feel like I've learned so much already! I'm so excited and grateful to be a part of it all!


Erin: I love how positive and encouraging Tess is. I am learning a lot from working with her, and she is so patient and kind towards me, especially if I do something silly or completely wrong.... It is very refreshing to have her support. She always makes sure that we are happy, not stressed and enjoy what we're doing. Tess also absolutely loves and is so passionate about what she is doing, and wants both Stacia and I to learn from her and enrich our own lives. I guess what it comes down to is that she really cares about everyone who helps her and works with her. She puts other people first, and this is so obvious from day to day.

Describe your ultimate vegan menu fantasy.

Stacia: Oooooh this is a fun one! Let's see, I would want a meal created from produce picked from an organic garden – a beautiful salad with a homemade dressing, roasted potatoes, green juice, and home brewed Kombucha- and copious amounts of it (yeah, I might have a kombucha addiction)!!! Dessert would be chocolate – LOTS of raw, vegan, organic chocolate :)


Erin: Well, this is extremely difficult to answer..... I am in love with food. However...my favorite food in this whole entire universe has always been ravioli..they're like little delicious culinary presents that hold pure amazing-ness, and you can have them however you want in a million different ways. My ultimate dream ravioli platter would be 10 lined up, all stuffed with something different: beets with rosemary and potatoes, maple syrup soaked squash, quinoa, pumpkin, cashew cheese, tomatoes/basil, eggplant...etc.. drizzled with a coconut oil/garlic sauce.... Then for dessert: a giant plate of fruit to dip in pure dark chocolate with an almond-milk cappuccino on the side. yum.yum.yum. I love simple and delicious food. 
 

What are you most passionate about? What are your long term goals?

Stacia: I am super passionate about following my bliss and living my life to the fullest. I love to travel, run, meditate, practice yoga, grow my own food, and I LOVE developing deep and meaningful connections with others. I don't have many long term goals, except to be happy, develop into a more aware person, travel more, and grow my own food! :) Oh, and someday, I'd like to be a hypnotherapist!


Erin: I love cooking, running, biking, traveling, juicing and drawing. I like to invent new recipes, cook for people and show them fun ways to eat healthy. I also am very interested in alternative medicine and how food/herbs can be medicine and heal the body from the inside out! I am currently in school working toward becoming a registered dietitian while minoring in biochemistry.... (I'm kind of a nerd!).... Eventually, I would love to open my own holistic health practice that encourages growing your own food, supporting local community and educating communities on living happy, healthy lives! 


Connect with me on Instagram at username staciaaashna or email via staceyrenee4@gmail.com. Please feel free to show some love to Erin by "liking" her awesome Facebook page, 20 Something Holistic Living, find her on Instagram at 20_something_holistic_living, or connect with Erin via email at 20somethingholisticliving@gmail.com

Zesty Lemon Chickpeas





As many of you know, Dr. Mary Clifton and I just launched our new book, Get Waisted: 100 Addictively Delicious Plant-Based Entrees!! We're very excited about it, and I'm especially happy to have a book (for myself, even!!) that has all kinds of ideas for lowfat, nutrient-dense main dishes. This particular recipe is one of my favorites, because it's SUPER easy to make, quick, and very delicious! I've made it for several cooking classes and everyone has absolutely loved it. So, here's to healthy, happy eating - hope you enjoy!!! : )

Zesty Lemon Chickpeas

This fresh, lively dish is so delicious you’ll forget how nutrient-dense and light it is!
One 15 oz. can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained (1½ cups cooked chickpeas)
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon EACH: Dijon mustard and minced lemon zest
¼ teaspoon EACH: sea salt and black pepper
2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed



In a large bowl, toss all of the ingredients. Gently stir well until thoroughly combined.

Serve cold or at room temperature.
Serves 2/GF/SF/Green (according to the nutrition guidelines in my books)

Congrats to the latest contest winner!

Go, Beverly Xavier, GO! You've just won the contest for a free copy of Dreena Burton's fantastic new book! : ) Please let us know how to contact you so we can give you your prize!
 
Thanks so much to all who participated, too. I wish I could just give you all the grand prize!! Dreena and I enjoyed reading your answers and thank you so much for your feedback. Stay tuned for the next blog post and contest...coming soon! : )
 
xoxo
Tess

Wonder Spread and a Giveaway of Dreena Burton's new book!

Hey lovely peeps!

I hope you're enjoying spring so far! Today, I have an extra special treat for you. The lovely Dreena Burton has shared her mouth-watering recipe for Wonder Spread with us! Plus, she's doing a giveaway of her awesome new book, Plant-Powered 15!! Winner will be announced on May 29th. To enter, please reply to this blog post and answer the question "What is your favorite thing to spread on toast?" And no, you don't get to enter twice when you change your answer to WONDER SPREAD after trying this recipe... ; ) xo and good luck!

Wonder Spread

From Dreena Burton's Plant-Powered 15

Dreena says: This recipe has such simple ingredients, that you might think it doesn’t taste particularly special. But it does! Be forewarned, this spread (or dip, sauce, mayo!) is addictive!

Tess says: As a cookbook author, I rarely get a chance to try other author's recipes. However, Imma have to make an exception for this one!! Seriously, does this not look amazing?! Plus, for those of you who follow my color-coding system in my books (and in the Get Waisted program), this is a go-go-GREEN recipe! WIN, babies. OK, enough talk. Here's the goods...

1 cup soaked cashews (soak in advance, see note)
1 1/2 tbsp chickpea miso (see note)
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (adjust to taste)
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 - 1/2 tsp pure maple syrup
1/3 - 1/2 cup water (see note)
Salt and pepper if desired, to taste

In a blender, puree all ingredients on high speed until very smooth. Season to taste with additional salt if desired. Spread on breads, use for sandwiches, wraps, baked potatoes, veggie burgers, or to mix into grains or vegetable dishes. Many serving options with this recipe, it is delicious! Transfer to airtight containers to refrigerate. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Cashew Note: Raw cashews take about 3-4 hours to soak, so I find it helpful to soak in batches and then freeze in portions until ready to use. To soak, place nuts in a bowl of water and cover for several hours. The nuts will become larger after soaking, as they swell from absorbing some of the water. Drain the soaking water, and rinse the nuts. Then store in the fridge for a couple of days until ready to use, or in the freezer for a few months.

Miso Note: Chickpea miso is something I discovered this past year. It has such a mild, mellow flavor and a very fermented, umami essence. If you cannot find it, use a very mild miso like a brown rice - and start with just 1 tbsp as it tastes stronger than chickpea miso.

Water Note: Using just 1/3 cup of water will give you a thicker spread. However, if you don’t have a high-speed blender, you may find it difficult to get a smooth puree. If so, use the full 1/2 cup of water. The mixture will thicken slightly with refrigeration.

Recipe from “Plant-Powered 15” by Dreena Burton. Dreena is the author of vegan cookbooks including Let Them Eat Vegan. For more recipes, visit www.plantpoweredkitchen.com.
Photo credit: Nicole Axworth, www.adashofcompassion.com