Avoid the holiday bloat!

http://www.vintag.es/
From the fabulous blog Vintage Everyday

The holidays have become synonymous with gluttony. It’s as if we don’t know how to celebrate without feeling like bloated slugs when its all over. But you don’t have to “celebrate” like that!

Before you close this page because I sound like some crazy killjoy, I want you to know that I love holiday food — seriously, love it! Grandma’s stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and pecan pie are all delicious and bring back so many happy memories. If we are lucky, our holiday tables are a part of beautiful traditions that we get to share and pass on. But they can also be scenes of heinous crimes we commit on our digestive system. Often, we see that table and eat too much, too quickly and end up really wasting a beautiful meal.

So how can you have both? How can we enjoy participating in that beautiful tradition without going overboard and putting stress on our digestive system? Here are some tips!

  1. Have a plan. Before you step foot near that table, have a plan. Know what and how much you are going to eat and drink because it’s way harder to make good decisions when surrounded by not so great ones. Which leads me to tip 2
  2. Load up on taste vegetables. At least half of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables that are not coated in sugar. So if greens aren’t something normally served at your table, adjust the menu. Check out this technique for simple and easy to cook greens like chard, kale, or collard greens.
  3. Eat even more taste vegetables. Instead of the traditional sweet potato casserole that should probably be setting next to the rest of the desserts, roast some sweet potatoes along with some red onion and an apple. Or chop up your favorite vegetables into bite sized pieces and roast them until they are soft. My favorite combinations are broccoli and carrots or Brussell sprouts, butternut squash, and red onion. Most vegetables taste great roasted, and all you really need is a bit of coconut oil or ghee, some salt and pepper, and an oven set to 400. The great thing about eating a whole foods diet is that the food already tastes good so the cooking doesn’t have to be hard.
  4. Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Eat normally before the meal or party because the last thing you need is for blood sugar to go on a roller coaster ride. We make our best choices when our blood sugar is stable, so make sure to eat normally up until the big meal.
  5. Enjoy your food! The funny thing about these feasting days is that we load up our plates to the breaking point and then shovel it all down like at any minute it’s just going to disappear — which means that we are very rarely even tasting our food. So stop. The food isn’t going anywhere and there is probably wayyyy more than you need. Take a few deep breaths and chew slowly and  thoroughly so you can actually enjoy what you are putting into your body.

I hope this holiday season is wonderful for you and that you find lots of ways to take pleasure in and enjoy all the beauty that is around us.

If you’d like to make lasting changes for a healthier life, I offer a variety of health coaching programs. I’m booking people now for January, so go ahead and sign up for your free health consultation and let’s kick off the new year right!

Heavy

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I’m taking a break from my detox posts to talk to you about something that has been on my mind a lot — a whole lot — of late. That is the issue of weight. Specifically fat. That picture above all these words, the one on the left, was taken when I was about 55 pounds more than the one that shows me right now. And at that time I was not happy with my body, but it wasn’t my first rodeo. You see, throughout my life, I have weighed a lot and I have weighed a little. But I have never been happy with my weight until I changed my view of things. I had to realize that the fat on my body was not the problem and it wasn’t a reflection of me as a person.

Most of us see fat on ourselves and others, and, honestly, we see failure. Failure in ourselves to lose the weight and failure in others to control themselves enough to keep from putting on the weight. But all of that is crap.  I have been fat and worked out way more than I do now and counted calories like a full-time job. I wasn’t being lazy, and I suspect that most people who are overweight and obese can recount the various things they have tried to get the fat off.

 So let me be clear, extra weight on our body is not a failing, it is our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. Unfortunately, while the body is sophisticated, it isn’t super hip to societal expectations. Because instead of seeing the fat and thinking that we need to address the underlying issue, we see fat and either berate ourselves and/or attack our body by reducing our calories significantly in an attempt to beat it into submission. This very rarely works, and it isn’t sustainable when it does. Ever been told to go on a 1200 calorie diet? How did that workout for your metabolism?

The 55 pounds that fell off my body did so only after I decided to address what was going on inside my body. This is what I do for my clients too. Together we look at what the body is telling us about what’s going on inside so that they can have a true transformation inside and out.  So if you are overweight and feeling hopeless because nothing seems to work, contact me today for a free consultation to see if I can offer what has been missing this whole time.

Gut health 3: Sexy sexy…fiber

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Fiber! It may be the most boring topic of conversation, but it’s literally what’s for dinner for your good bacteria. Or as Justin L. Sonnenburg, a microbiologist at Stanford University says,

“The interaction between fiber and microbes that consume it…is the fundamental keystone interaction that everything else is built on in the gut . . . It may lie at the heart of the symbiotic pact between microbes and humans.”

When we eat, we are not only feeding ourselves but, just as importantly, we are feeding our microbiome. We need to make good choices for both. Researchers have found that, when the body is given a diet high in protein and fat, bile tolerant bacteria start to grow within a day. While these bacteria are necessary to help the body properly digest protein and fat, at least one of those bacteria, Bilophila wadsworthia, is linked to inflammatory bowel disease. In fact, the Harvard study that reported the discovery said, “We can’t conclude from this study whether or not Bilophila might be causing colitis in humans, but our data does show that this colitis-associated bacteria can be enriched through diet.”

I’m not saying that you need to stop eating meat or fat.  Good quality protein and healthy fats are really important to your body. But if your entire diet is made up of only those things, your system is going to be out of whack.  Adding fiber — things like legumes, oats, low sugar fruits, non-starchy vegetables, nuts — will help to balance out those bad bacteria because fiber feeds beneficial bacteria.  Beneficial bacteria are so important because our bacteria can help switch on our genes. So if we are  genetically predisposed to certain diseases, those diseases may be unlocked by having an unhealthy makeup of bacteria in our guts.

Get more fiber into your diet! In her book The Immune System Recovery Plan, Dr. Blum recommends eating at least 30 grams of fiber per day. Most of us get less than half of that, so it might take a little bit of work at first. Here are some tips to help you increase your fiber intake so you can increase your beneficial bacteria.

  1. Add more fiber into your diet. This list provides some great sources of fiber.
  2. Increase fiber slowly. Many people complain that eating vegetables and other types of fiber hurts their stomachs. I get that. It can take a while for your body to get used to eating more fiber. So spend a week observing how much fiber you are eating and then make a commitment to increasing it by 5 grams a week until you get to where you want to be with your overall consumption.
  3. Drink plenty of water. Fiber needs water to do its thing.
  4. Think half. When meal planning, create meals that are at least half vegetables. Or rather draw an imaginary line down your plate and make sure that one side is dedicated to vegetables.
  5. Try one new vegetable, nut, lentil, or grain a week. Most of the time we aren’t getting enough fiber because our go-to foods don’t have enough in them. Instead of supplementing with pills, think outside the box and find some fiber rich foods that you can make a staple.
I hope these tips are helpful to you and that you feel inspired to get out there and increase those good bacteria!
For more in this series check out parts one and two.

 

Gut health 2: Processed food and sugar

"The Fast-Food Supper" 2010, Jacob Thompson
“The Fast-Food Supper” 2010, Jacob Thompson

With every bite of food we take, we are feeding our microbiome, i.e. the 100 of trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc, that exist all over our body, especially in our digestive track.  Unfortunately, we aren’t feeding our microbiome the right stuff, and this is seen in the rise of diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disease. It’s even evident in common complaints of brain fog, lack of energy, and anxiety.

The food we eat has either negative or positive effect on the various bacteria living inside us. For instance, when we eat highly processed food and food high in sugar, we are feeding bacteria that cause inflammation and harms our brain. Meanwhile, that same diet means that we are starving the bacteria we need to keep us healthy and slim. One study found that after only 10 days on a “McDonald’s diet” the diversity of bacteria was drastically decreased, going from 3,500 to 1,300 species of bacteria.  Sugar also promotes the overgrowth of candida yeast that can lead to leaky gut creating a whole host of issues, from brain fog to food allergies.

We all know that processed foods and sugar aren’t great for us, but it can be hard to get off those foods. Processed food and sugar is easy, convenient, and taste pretty good. Also, they have our bodies (and those naughty bacteria) hooked making it difficult to go cold turkey. For those that rely heavily on processed food or have sugar cravings, here are some tips to get that food out of your diet so you can start to bring balance back to your gut.

  1. Keep it simple. Don’t go from picking up fast food or throwing together hamburger helper to attempting three-course real-food meals. Create a meal plan with simple meals that use real ingredients. Here are some recipes for inspiration. Think pre-washed greens with avocado, tomato, and a protein like grass-fed steak, chicken, tempeh, or nuts to top it off.  Cooking with real foods can take time and practice, so start off slowly and have a plan so you don’t go back to your fallbacks.
  2. Deal with the cravings. Sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine.  Meaning you are going to have some cravings and you might not feel great for the first couple of days. Here are some ways to reduce those cravings.
    • Eat enough fat and protein throughout the day to keep your blood sugar stable.
    • Don’t keep sweets in the house.
    • Drink plenty of water.
    • Don’t substitute with artificial sweeteners. They will only increase your cravings and mess with your blood sugar.
    • Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep makes us crave all sorts of things that aren’t good for us.
    • Find a better way to reward yourself. Go hang out with a friend, go for a hike, try out the adult night at the roller skating rink. Whatever it is, do something that is going to be pleasurable so you won’t be tempted to find pleasure in a bag of something.
  3. Watch That Sugar Film. One of my clients referred to it as “the scared straight for sugar,” and he is absolutely right. There is nothing quite so compelling as watching a once healthy man headed towards liver disease after only a few days of eating how most of us eat every day.

For more on gut health stay tuned and check out the first in the series.

The calorie counting problem

calories

Calories have been the focus of our obsession with weight and, by proxy, health, leaving us all feeling like big fat failures for not being able to lose weight.  The message from our doctors and the society at large is that weight is a simple mathematical equation (calories in – calories out = the size of our rear). Based on that, anyone with a large rear is just not very good at math. This message does a great disservice because a) it replaces the markers of health — a body that feels good and is full of energy — with a superficial marker of having a thin frame and b) it oversimplifies the notion so much that it actually causes people to retain more weight.

In the US right now, well over half (68%) of people are overweight. If you don’t think that at least some of those people have tracked their calories and increased their exercise, you would be fooling yourself.  The problem is that the well-crafted message of calories in versus calories out doesn’t touch on the importance of nutrients or the type of calories you are putting in. This means that the message is ripe for exploitation. Take the low-cal, no-fat foods that were so in vogue in the nineties. “Foods” like Snackwell cookies, Slimfast shakes, and even low-fat yogurt managed to stay really low in calories but were all extremely high in sugar and simple carbohydrates and almost completely devoid of nutrients.

Calories from low-cal but high sugar or carbohydrate foods cause our body to retain more fat. Sugar (from sugary treats or simple carbohydrates) spikes our blood sugar causing insulin to be produced which store that energy in our fat cells. Sugar also harms our liver and causes inflammation throughout the body. On the other hand, a fatty, delicious avocado is pretty high in calories but it reduces inflammation, delivers lots of great nutrients, and lowers our blood fat levels.

While many of us have been on calorie restrictive diets and have found that we did, in fact, drop weight, that weight loss wasn’t sustainable and the process was pretty unpleasant. Hoping to lose weight, people will often choose a chemical-ladened diet soda  and a salad topped with sugar-ladened dressing. Just a few hours later, they discover they are starving and find themselves unable to stick to the 1200 calories the calorie app allotted them. Personally, after years of trying this approach, I found that the only change was that both my metabolism and self-esteem were in the toilet. Our focus should be on how we feel and our energy level. We don’t get healthy on a calorie-restrictive diet. In fact, the evidence is showing that we actually get fatter and more prone to disease on such a diet.  We get healthy when we start to focus on eating foods that nourish our bodies and our brains and tending to those non-food-related activities that keep us healthy.

For further information, I recommend Dr. David Ludwig’s new book Always Hungry.

Easy, quick, and yummy salmon salad

salmon

As I’ve stated before, I like to eat and I like to eat well. Somedays it’s easier than others to make that happen. If I’m on my game, I have lovely leftovers waiting in the fridge. But occasionally I don’t, and last week I had one of those days. Instead of opting for eating out, I decided to see what I could concoct in a matter of a few minutes using what I had on hand. As we know, necessity is the mother of all invention, and this time was no different. Enter the salmon salad. This delicious meal is chock-full of omega 3 and probiotics while being rich in flavor.

Salmon salad with dill and capers

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 can or 6 oz of wild Alaskan salmon*
  • 1/4 cup of full-fat greek yogurt
  • 2 tbs + chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbs + capers
  • 1 tbs + lemon juice
  • pinch of salt

Directions

mix all ingredients, tasting and adding as you go to get the exact flavor you desire. Once the salad is to your liking you can serve it on anything that fits your individual dietary needs. I served mine on top of  zucchini noodles I had left over, but you could also serve it with leftover pasta or quinoa. If you don’t have leftovers, throw it on a green salad or pull out some hearty crackers. Just use what you have on hand, and I’m sure it will be perfect.

I hope this recipe inspires you to get in the kitchen and create some lovely and nutritious meals for you and your loved ones. Let me know how it goes!

Health on the cheap: Buying in bulk.

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Part of the cost of moving to a more nutrient-dense diet is the increased cost of dried goods. Brown rice cost more than white pasta, quinoa cost more than rice, and nuts are just plain expensive. Even adding in new herbs and spices can set you back a pretty penny. However, this does not have to be the case. More and more grocery stores are incorporating bulk sections. Here in Austin, you can find a bulk section at the local co-op or even in the main chain grocery store. Which is probably not surprising given Austin’s crunchy reputation. But just recently on a trip home to my very not-crunchy hometown of Odessa, Texas, I found a pretty well-stocked bulk section. This leads me to believe that bulk sections are becoming more mainstream. And it’s a good thing too.

Buying in bulk allows you to buy just the amount you want. I love this for a few reasons. First, I’m not always sure how I will like something. If I can buy a cup of a new grain or a few teaspoons of a new spice, then it gives me the freedom to stretch my recipe arsenal without spending a bunch of money on items that are just going to take up room in my pantry. Secondly, I love fresh spices. Spices get old. Did you know that? Well, they do. And when they get old, they lose their flavor. Buying spices in bulk allows me to always have cheap, fresh spices on hand, often for only a few cents each shopping trip. Third, I love bulk because it does away with that .035768 serving that is always left in the bag. You know what I’m talking about?  The manufacturers’ inability to fill their bags with a round number of whole serving sizes, so you get just a bit leftover. It annoys me! Finally, buying in bulk allows me to buy the highest quality of items. Organic, sprouted rice is pretty expensive if you are buying it off the shelf, but buying the two cups I need for that week in the bulk section is very doable.

I’ve been buying in bulk for years now, starting in grad school. I was a poor, poor student in need of some nuts and grains, but didn’t have the cash or the need to buy off the shelf.  Since that time I’ve picked up some helpful pointers.

Don’t be intimidated: It took me a long time to feel comfortable buying in bulk. It’s a self-service process without a lot of clear direction.  Here is what you need to know. There will be a bag of some kind, a scoop, and a way to seal and identify. Find the bag, use the scoop provided (usually attached the bin of your choice) to fill the bag with the serving size you want, and then tie it off and write down the code provided on the bin. Occasionally, you will have electric scales that print out a weight along with the price. I like these, but more often than not you will find a sticker to write down the product information or the tie is meant to be the identifier so you write the number and name on that.

Do try that weird grain: Take some time to really explore the bulk section. You are going to find flours, nuts, beans, grains, and maybe even dried fruit that you haven’t used before. Getting a cup or a half a cup of most things isn’t going to set you back much so buy it and experiment. For instance, a box of quinoa is going to run you around $6 and give you something 7.035768 servings. What if you make one serving and you hate it? Buying in bulk allows you to buy just the amount you want to try without committing more money and space than you would like.  If you like it, you have a new ingredient to work with, if not you are out very little money and have gained some real insight about yourself.

Go nuts in the spice and herb section. The best deal in the grocery store is the bulk spices and herbs. They literally weigh nothing, so while some fancy chili powder might say $12 a pound you are never going to pay anything near that. The last time I bought star anise I paid $.57 for an amount that will last for several pots of Pho. While a bottle of spices off the shelve might run you anywhere from $3 to $5, buying what you need from the bulk section is almost always going to be well under a dollar. So now is the time to pull out those recipes you have been putting off because they called for 5 or more spices.

Bulk really has been a great way for me to provide nutrient-dense food to my family for very little money. I hope this has inspired you to got out there and explore the bulk section of your store for yourself! For more tips on living healthy on the cheap, check out Health on the Cheap: Have a plan! ,  Health on the Cheap: Eat all the produce! , Health on the Cheap: Use every bit!, and Health on the Cheap: Clean cheap and healthy.

PS Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about living healthy on a budget, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Health on the cheap: Eat all the produce!

chardWe all know that vegetables and fruits are so good for us and that we should be eating them every day, several times a day.  Vegetables and fruits are packed with nutrients and healing properties that our bodies need, but many of us shy away from loading up our shopping carts with a rainbow of colors because produce seems really expensive. And I get that. You can buy an entire box of pasta that will feed a whole family for the same cost as one avocado. But the nutrient density of that avocado out weights the pasta a million fold. (That’s hyperbole, so don’t go quoting me on that.)  When we think about spending money on food (i.e. our health), we should spend it in a way that gives us the biggest bang for our buck nutrient-wise, as opposed to filler-wise. Having said that, it can still be really expensive to buy all the vegetables and fruits we should be eating, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are some tips for saving money while satisfying our nutrient needs.

  1. Have a produce plan. Have a plan for all your produce so that none goes to waste. The most expensive vegetables are the ones we throw out. Check out last week’s post on meal planning for  some tips.
  2. Buy in season. One reason fresh produce is so expensive is that we buy them out of season. A tomato or strawberries are going to cost a whole lot more in January than it will in the summer, and they will be missing a lot of flavor. The ideal time to buy a vegetable or fruit for both your taste buds and your pocket is when they are in season. You can check out your state agricultural agency or your local CSA for information on what vegetables are in season near you.
    1. Know the organic rules. Organic fruits and vegetables tend to be more flavorful and more expensive. While organic foods are better for the environment and our health by reducing our exposure to pesticides, it might not always be feasible to buy all organic produce. For those of you concerned about your families exposure to pesticides, I will point you to the Environmental Working Group’s lists of produce that you can get away with buying conventionally and those you should pay a little extra for.                                                            If you have access to a farmers market, speak to the farmers to learn about their farming methods. I’ve found that though not all farms can pay to be certified as an organic farm, but many do practice organic farming. You may get a better price at these stands if they are trying to compete with larger farms with organic certification. Also, buying organic vegetables frozen (see tip #5) is a great way to save some moolah.
  3.  Buy in bulk and preserve. If you really like tomatoes, berries, basil, peppers, or whatever and need them all year round, then you can buy them in bulk when in season and preserve them. Some farms will have special deals on seasonal produce if you buy it canningin bulk. For several years my good friend and I have made it a point to buy several pounds of tomatoes in June and make salsa, pasta sauce, ketchup, and crushed tomatoes to use at a later date. You can tell from this picture (it was late!) that it’s a lot of hard work. But it’s well worth it when you can reach into your pantry in January and grab some crushed tomatoes for dinner.  If canning doesn’t float your boat, you can always freeze berries, peppers, and herbs for later use.   I have a friend that makes big batches of pasta sauce when tomatoes are cheap and freezes servings for later use. It may take a little work, but you really do reap the rewards (pun intended).   Check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation for instructions and information on food preservation.
  4. Don’t forget the freezer section. I prefer buying fresh vegetables and fruits, but if I can’t, then I’ll buy them frozen. Frozen vegetables and fruits are typically cheaper than buying fresh and because they are picked at the height of freshness , and they are pretty taste, too.  Throw frozen vegetables into a chili, a soup, or other one pot meals helps you to get more vegetables in without all that pesky cutting. You can even roast frozen vegetables, which is one of my all time favorite methods. 

I hope this helps you feel inspired to go out and buy those vegetables. Look for recipes in the coming weeks that use seasonal vegetables in typical meals.

For more in this series, check out the post Health on the Cheap: Have a plan! and watch this space for more.

Vegetable of the week: Sweet Potato

Nice_sweet_potatoI love sweet potatoes! Never was there a more delicious and versatile vegetable. It is also one one of the few vegetables frequently requested by my picky-eating daughter.  These lovely tubers are in season right now, and throughout the fall and winter you can find good deals at both farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

As one of nature’s superfoods,  sweet potatoes are chock-full of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that helps protect the health of our skin and eyes.  They are also low on the glycemic index and may even improve blood sugar! In addition, sweet potatoes have anti-inflammatory properties. They are bundles of unending goodness.  Here are some ideas to inspire you and help you easily incorporate sweet potatoes into your diet.

The roasting twofer: roasted sweet potato side dish and sweet potato soup. 

Peel and dice two medium sweet potatoes into roughly 1 inch by 1 inch chunks and place in a roasting dish. Chop and place 1/4 red onion and 3 to 4 peeled whole garlic pieces in one half of the dish. This is the soup side. Next toss in  1.5 TBS of fat (butter or coconut oil work great), and shake in a little salt and pepper, making sure to keep the soup side separate from the roasting side. Roast atroasting sp 350 for about 30 minutes (turning half way through).

Once sp souproasted, half the potatoes can be used for that night’s dinner. This night, we had black eyed pea tempeh, greens, and roasted sweet potatoes. The soup half of the dish goes into a blender with 1 cup of vegetable broth, 1 tsp of curry, and 1/4 tsp of cinnamon. (I like thick soup, but you can adjust the amount of broth to get your preferred consistency.) Total prep, cooking, and soup-mixing time was about 45 minutes (mostly down time), and I ended up with five servings of roasted potatoes and two lunches worth of sweet potato soup!

 

Spanish Tortilla

Spanish tortillas are delicious, and if you ever have a chance to eat one at a tapas bar, I highly encourage you to try them. Traditionally, this lovely Spanish dish is made with white potatoes and onion, but I have sweet potatoes so that how we are going to roll! Check out my recipe here.

Make Your Own Sweet Potato

On MYO sweet potato night, I bake one sweet potato for each member of the family, usually sized relative to their size (Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour). Once cooked through and soft, the family pulls out all the leftover vegetables and beans we have from the week, along with other traditional toppings like butter and cheese. Everyone stuffs their potato with the fillings they like best. Like magic I have a clean fridge and a happy and full family.

 

Other honorable sweet potato mentions are sweet potato fries that my daughter adores and these sweet potato falafel that hit the spot every time.

As always, I hope these ideas inspire you to get in your kitchen and create something with one of this season’s lovely treasures.

Orange you glad you listened to your body?

orange foodThere are two things that I find keep me going through the day: my love of puns (seriously it is a deep and abiding love) and following my intuition when it comes to what I put in my body. Today, for instance, I’ve been craving orange vegetables like you would not believe.  Because of this, I followed my gut and had a pumpkin pie smoothie for a midmorning snack,  butternut squash lasagna leftovers for lunch (check out my e-book coming soon for this beauty), and then made my family’s favorite sweet potato falafel recipe from 101 Cookbooks.

It was a day of listening to my body’s need for vitamins and nutrients, like alpha and beta carotene, that fight cancer, protect the eyes, and help support the immune system. I wish I knew why my body needed this right now. It could be that it’s getting to be cold and flu season and my immune system needs some boosting, or maybe it was something more basic. Whatever the reason, it just goes to show how amazing the body is at nudging us in the direction of health when we give it a chance to speak.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

  • Servings: 1 large or 2 small
  • Difficulty: ridiculously easy
  • Print

pumpkin pie smoothie

  • 1.5 bananas (preferably frozen)
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree (fresh, frozen, or out of a can)
  • 3/4 cup non-dairy milk or milk
  • 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1TBS flaxseed (optional)
  • 1TBS hempseed hearts (optional)
  • 1 cup ice

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until nice and smooth. Enjoy