Farro, Kale and Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing

serving dish with farro, kale and roasted sweet potato salad

As we move towards the holiday season, it can be challenging trying to cook for a “mixed-eater household” or, if you are a vegetarian/vegan, visiting family and friends when “traditional” holiday meals are being served. In a household with a mix of meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans, the Farro, Kale and Roasted Sweet Potato Salad can make either a hearty lunch or a tasty and satisfying side dish that everyone can enjoy.

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Meeting the Challenge – Cycling 100KM

Image by B. Johnston

At one time, I imagined cycling the Paris-Brest-Paris.  For anyone unfamiliar with this event, it is a 1,200km ride in France completed within a time limit of 90 hours.  You may be forgiven for wondering why anyone would voluntarily take on such a feat. However, it seems ultra events like this have gained huge popularity over the years. Despite this, these days my goals are somewhat less ambitious and, although my fitness is far from the conditioning required for the Paris-Brest-Paris, my mind can’t resist contemplating this unrealized goal every time I get on a bike.

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Plant-Based Food to Fuel Endurance Challenges!

bowl of pre-workout cereal with blackberries and yoghurt
Pre-Workout Performance Cereal from The Thrive Energy Cookbook by Brendan Brazier

As the countdown begins for my goal to cycle 100km by the end of the summer, all the necessary training is behind me. Now it is simply down to selecting the nutrition I will use to fuel the journey. Even as little as 10 years ago, the notion of fueling sport on plant-based nutrition alone was largely unheard of and certainly not taken seriously.  A lot has changed since then and now it is much more of an accepted practice and some believe it can even be beneficial to performance. 

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Mango and Date Energy Bites

green cutting board with selection of mange and date energy bites, shredded coconut and dried mango

When I first got involved in triathlon training, I was introduced to the world of energy gels and bars. These are items made up of mostly simple sugar and they serve to replenish depleted carbohydrate stores during extended exercise. At that time I was more interested in performance so, as they did their intended job, I did not give a second thought to what was actually in them.

As I am now trying to follow a more whole foods-based diet, when I began training for a 100km cycle ride I started to experiment with different foods for fuel. My staple had become a couple of Medjool dates which sustained me for shorter rides of under 50km. However, as my distances increased, I found I needed a little more of a boost.

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The Lemons of Italy

blue and white bowl full of lemos and cut up lemon in front
Bowl of Lemons

Since following plant-based recipes, lemons are an ingredient I now use more frequently. They are extremely versatile for many dishes and can provide a light, fresh tangy flavor to savoury dishes, baked goods or drinks or be used simply as a garnish. In Canada, our lemons primarily come from Mexico and like many of us, I buy them in the grocery store and have never given much thought to their origins.

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Is it harder to lose weight today than it was 30 years ago?

image of slim female
Losing weight in 2020 [Photo Credit: Tumisu from Pixabay]

I recently found myself watching an episode of Highway to Heaven, a series originally released in the 1980’s. There were several things that stood out. The first was the fashions of the day, which I recall only too well, including “big hair”, leg warmers and over-sized tops with shoulder pads. Cellular phones were not commonplace and some of the “political correctness” was lagging behind today’s standards. However, what struck me most of all was just how thin everyone was.

Around the same time, I came across an article in The Atlantic by Olga Khasan referring to a study published in 2016 in the journal, Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, that asserted that “it’s harder for adults today to maintain the same weight as those 20 to 30 years ago did, even at the same levels of food intake and exercise”.

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Eat or Drink a Rainbow!

five glasses of juice in different colours - yellow, orange, purple, green and pink
Eat a Rainbow Juices [Photo Credit: silviarita from Pixabay]

I personally respond to colour and so it makes sense to me that colour therapy is based on the idea that colours create an electrical impulse in our brain, which stimulates hormonal and biochemical processes in our body. These processes either stimulate or calm us. There can be as many colours in colour therapy sessions as there are colours in the rainbow.

Why are fruits and vegetables so many different colors?

Fruits and vegetables gain their distinctive colours due to the presence of various phytochemicals. Although I had never thought of food colour being related to nutrition before, it comes as no surprise that each of the colors in fruits and vegetables are indicative of various nutrients.  As a result, not only do they look appealing in presentation but by eating a diversity of these colourful foods, your body can obtain a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that it needs to heal and thrive.

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Chocolate and the Differences Between Cacao and Cocoa

three bowls containing cacao butter, cacao powder and cacao nibs and plate of brownies
Bottom Left to Right: cacao butter, cacao powder and cacao nibs (Photo Credit: Blair/Joanne @ TheDragonsPicnic.com)

Considered by many as food of the Gods, the world’s love affair with chocolate is thought to have began approximately 5,300 years ago in the rainforests of Ecuador. It is believed that ancient civilizations used cacao to produce drinks for festivals, feasts and medicinal purposes. Also, contrary to the old adage that money doesn’t grown on trees, they also used cacao seeds as currency!

I concur with this global consensus and have coveted and feasted on chocolate in all its glorious forms since childhood. However, I only discovered the use cacao powder, cacao butter (oils of the bean) and cacao nibs (the dried and fermented pieces of cacao beans) since exploring whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) eating.  Cacao appears regularly in WFPB recipes as it is considered raw and is minimally processed with no additives.

What is the difference between cacao and cocoa?

Cacao and cocoa both start out as beans from the cacao plant and the difference comes in the way they are processed. Both are fermented for a few days to develop a flavour and then they are dried.

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“The Clever Guts”

The Clever Guts @ dragonspicnic.com [Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst]

“Your gut is astonishingly clever. It contains millions of neurons – as many as you would find in the head of a cat. It is also home to the microbiome, trillions of microbes that influence your mood, weight and immune system.”  Words of Dr. Michael Mosley from his book, “The Clever Guts Diet”. This book was my first introduction to the concept that our guts may play an important role in many aspects of our overall health.

What is “Microbiome”?

The microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that live mainly in our large intestine or colon and it is believed that the foods we eat can help feed and reinforce the army of microbes that live in our guts.

Dr. Mosley refers to research over the last few years which has shown the value of having the right mix of “good” bacteria in our gut and describes it as “a bit like rainforests being vital for the overall health of the planet.” He suggests that junk food and overuse of antibiotics have wiped out many good gut bacteria leading to a rise in allergies, food intolerances, and weight issues.

Benefits of a Healthy Gut

There are multiple benefits to having a healthy, happy gut. These include obvious ones, such as “being regular” (constipation and diarrhea). It can also reduce inflammation in the gut which may lead to an increase in the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

The less obvious benefits include improved mood, better sleep, control over cravings, reduced bloating, and weight loss. The gut and our brains are intimately connected by the vagus nerve and gut bacteria can produce a range of chemicals that influence our brain including “feel good” hormones like serotonin and hunger hormones that influence how hungry we get and what we eat.

What can you do?

The good news is that we can influence the health of our gut by the foods we eat. One of the best way to create and maintain a healthy and diverse microbiota is to eat a wide range of whole grains, and fresh foods mainly from plant sources like fruits, veggies, legumes, and beans. Some other suggestions include :

  • Eat fermented foods including natural plain yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha since they can benefit the microbiota by enhancing its function and reducing the abundance of disease-causing bacteria in the intestines.
  • Limit artificial sweeteners since they may negatively affect the gut microbiota.
  • Eat foods rich in pholyphenols such as cocoa and dark chocolate, red wine, grape skins, green tea, almonds, onions, blueberries and broccoli. Polyphenols are plant compounds that have many health benefits, including reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels and oxidative stress.
  • Take a probiotic supplement although probiotics do not significantly alter the composition of the microbiota in healthy people, they may improve microbiota function and help restore the microbiota to good health.

As the full significance of the relationship of our guts to our overall health is a concept that had never occurred to me before, I found the idea a lot to digest. However, it has caused me to rethink the way I approach eating and now when I am unsure of what to eat, I am more inclined to listen to my gut!

Check out the full Healthline article 10 Ways to Improve Your Gut Bacteria, Based on Science by Ruairi Robertson, books by Dr. Michael Mosley and more WFPB sites on the Resources page.

Curious about Whole Foods Plant-Based Eating?

Image by M4rtine from Pixabay

One of my early introductions to whole foods plant-based (WFPB) eating was through a documentary on Netflix entitled Forks and Knives. The film, created by Brian Wendell and first released in 2011, explores the premise of food as medicine and suggests that by changing our nutrition, it can be a powerful way to live longer, help the environment, and reduce the risk of getting sick.

The documentary follows the personal journeys of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutritional biochemist from Cornell University, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a former top surgeon at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic.  

Dr. Campbell at the T. Colin Campbell Centre for Nutrition describes WFPB eating as eliminating the “diet” label and thinking of it more as a “lifestyle” choice. He further suggests that is not about eating restrictive and complicated meal plans, deprivation, binging and guilt but simply a “return to whole foods, rich flavors, and natural health.”

What can I eat?

In a nutshell: whole (minimally processed), unrefined, plant-based foods:

In abundance

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Tubers and starchy vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Greens
  • Omega 3 rich seeds
  • Spices

In Moderation:

  • whole nuts
  • seeds (except omega 3 sources)
  • coconut and avocado
  • dried fruit
  • natural sweeteners
  • tempeh and tofu
  • whole grain flours and breads
  • plant-based milks

Avoid or Minimize:

  • meat, poultry and seafood
  • dairy products
  • eggs
  • refined sweeteners
  • refined grains
  • refined sugars
  • bleached flours and white bread, pasta and rice

What are the benefits?

The proposed benefits of this type of WFPB lifestyle can be significant and may include:

  • Weight management: reduces need to count calories since plant based foods tend to contain mostly fiber and water creating a feeling of fullness while consuming few calories
  • Disease prevention: may lower the risk of some cancers and prevent, halt, or even reverse chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Lighter environmental footprint: reduces stress on the environment

Will I need Supplements?

The main essential nutrient missing from a WFPB diet is B12.  Although this can be found in some fortified foods such as plant-based milks, the best source is a B12 supplement.

What is the difference between a WFPB Diet and a Vegan Diet?

The main difference between a WFPB and a vegan diet is that a vegan diet avoids all forms of animal products or exploitation, however, it is not necessarily a diet that focuses on whole plant foods. It may include refined and processed foods whereas WFPB eliminates or minimizes these as well as animal products.

How do I get Started?

If contemplating a WFPB lifestyle, check out Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s  Three-Day Meal Plan for some ideas on what your meals might look like!

To access these sites and more, please see