Not only is this a comforting, warm treat on a cold winter’s night, but the spices have some impressive health benefits too. Cardamom is a digestive aid, detoxifies the body and provides relief from congestion. Cinnamon stabilizes the blood sugar and lowers LDL cholesterol. Enjoy!

Serves 8-10

1 ½ cups long grain brown rice
5 cups unsweetened original almond milk
2/3 cups raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp sea salt
1/8 cup raw honey


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Combine the brown rice and almond milk in a casserole dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about an hour or until you get the creamy consistency you desire and the rice is soft.

3. Add all other ingredients. Mix thoroughly and serve warm.

Makes 6-8 servings

It’s not easy to find a dairy and gluten free hot dish! This recipe is very versatile so add your favorite vegetables. Its creamy consistency makes for a comforting dish. I used Bob’s Red Mill gluten free baking and biscuit flour, but you can use any gluten free flour. If you can tolerate ghee (clarified butter), add 2 TBS for flavor when simmering the sauce. You can also try this with leftover turkey (season with rosemary instead of thyme) from Thanksgiving.


3 cups cooked brown rice

2 baked chicken breasts, shredded

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided use

3 tablespoons water (more if needed)

6 tablespoons gluten-free flour

3 1/2 cups water, divided use

2 teaspoons thyme

2 vegetable or chicken bouillon cubes (low sodium)

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium onion, diced

1 cup frozen peas

2 cups vegetables, thinly sliced (carrots & parsnips work well)

1/2 cup plain, gluten & dairy free breadcrumbs (optional)

Salt and Pepper to taste


  1. Chicken: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Salt and pepper the chicken breasts, place in a casserole dish and bake covered for 30-35 minutes or until done.
  2. Sauce: In sauce pan bring 2 tbsp oil and 3 tbsp water (or more if needed) to a light simmer. Add flour slowly and blend until smooth. Add thyme. Slowly add 3 cups of water and the bouillon cubes. Blend until smooth. Add chicken and mix thoroughly.
  3. Vegetables: Sauté the onions, garlic and veggies (not the peas!) in olive oil, until the onions are transparent.
  4. Lightly grease a casserole dish. Layer rice on the bottom, then add all vegetables. Pour ½ cup water over vegetables. Then spread the chicken mixture evenly on top. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top. Bake covered at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Then, remove the foil or lid and continue baking until bubbly and the vegetables are soft, approximately 10-15 minutes.

Sustainable weight loss involves relying on the wisdom of nature and your body, while at the same time engaging in emotional and spiritual growth. Fad diets have a beginning and an end, and they rely on willpower to get a person through the diet. People fall into the diet trap which is unsustainable over their lifetime. The weight returns like a boomerang. Why? Most people revert back to the old habits and foods that caused their weight gain in the first place. After five years as a holistic nutrition counselor, I have discovered five common pitfalls that men and women experience when trying to lose weight.

1. Not asking the expert what to eat

People desperately search for the next diet that ‘will work this time’, not realizing that their own brilliant body speaks volumes about every food ingested if only they would take the time to listen. Isn’t it interesting that animals know what to eat in the wild even though they have never read a book or experimented with a diet? They trust their ‘gut wisdom’ to guide them to the foods they are intended to eat.

“The Second Brain” by Dr. Michael Gershon, is an excellent book on the subject of ‘gut wisdom’. This highly accurate ’second brain’ located in our gut not only advises us on healthier food choices, but also regulates our moods from the results of those choices. We think our body isn’t functioning properly when actually we have tuned out the constant feedback our ‘second brain’ sends. The body wants to efficiently carry out the necessary functions for our optimal health, but the ‘keeper’ of the body needs to become aware of the language of the ‘second brain’.

In addition, bio-individuality plays an important role; there is no perfect way of eating for everyone. Experiment with whole natural foods whether raw or cooked and then listen to the response your ‘second brain’ relays. Some common signs if the food chosen is not a good fit would be constipation, diarrhea, headache, bloating, heartburn, etc. On the other hand if the feedback is positive, signs of increased energy, a feeling of well-being or lightness will be present. These unique messages will come through as you begin to listen and respect your body’s language.

2. Relying on labels for food purchases

People rely on package labels and product claims to decide which foods to purchase. Have you ever considered that the length of the ingredient label is often in direct proportion to the shelf life of the product? The optimum foods for human consumption usually have a small window of bioavailability. If food is grown in nature, it’s good to eat!

What about organic foods verses conventional foods? Organics are grown in nutrient-dense soil without the use of harmful chemicals. However, if organics do not fit into your budget, that’s ok. Choosing one-ingredient foods such as whole grains (brown rice and quinoa, etc.,) vegetables and fruits, instead of prepackaged or fast foods will yield noticeable results.

Nature has already given us the perfect ‘diet’. Nature gives us all of the perfect foods in the perfect season. When we rely on nature for our food and then intently listen to how these foods respond to our unique body, we will develop a way of eating that promotes health, weight loss and is sustainable over a lifetime.

Here are some possible examples of what to eat for each food category:  For protein, you can choose from beans, organic grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, eggs and nuts. For whole grains, try options such as quinoa, brown rice or millet. Remember there are more nutrients in the actual whole grain versus a processed whole grain product. Keep in mind that not everyone feels good eating whole grains so experiment and notice what feedback your body gives you. The fat in a meal is what helps you to feel satisfied so choose from natural options such as unrefined oils, nuts and avocados. For vegetables, choose from nature’s bountiful array but be sure to include some of the most nutrient dense, dark green vegetables such as kale and collard greens. And then to enjoy some natural sweetness, try a piece of fruit. There’s no need to eat boring meals with whole foods. Find delicious recipes that combine these one-ingredient foods with herbs and spices. You should thoroughly enjoy the foods you’re eating.

Work towards 90% of the time eating nutrient dense foods to support your body and then 10% of the time have some dessert or your favorite food. You don’t have to become a perfect eater to enjoy the vibrant health your body craves. If you’re learning a way to eat for life, it helps to incorporate some flexibility.

3. Falling asleep at the plate

Isn’t it ironic that as a culture we love food, but we seldom make time to enjoy the experience of a good meal? Many people eat standing up, in the car, or watching TV, thus tuning out the entire eating experience. Have you ever eaten a delicious dessert and immediately wanted seconds because you didn’t remember tasting the first serving?

I recently worked with a client who was applying what she’d learned in a recent session about eating more mindfully. She did her best to savor a sandwich from a fast food restaurant and discovered it actually tasted awful! It wasn’t until she ate it slowly and mindfully that she realized this valuable information. Her next test was a box of macaroni and cheese. Guess what? She threw that away too. As always, her body immediately sent her clear messages on her food choices, but this time she listened.

Also, it’s important to understand that if you don’t slow down and enjoy your food, you’ll want more and more to satisfy your craving. Take the time to be fully present to experience your meals:  savor the flavor, feel the texture, eat slowly, chew thoroughly and notice when you are comfortably satisfied, then stop.

4. Using food for comfort

How does emotional growth relate to weight loss? For many people, food has solely become a way to comfort themselves rather than a means to be physically nourished. Instead of being present with an uncomfortable emotion by naming it and locating it in the body, people often unconsciously turn to food to relieve the discomfort. Usually this is accompanied by overeating which further ‘stuffs’ the emotion. Now the message becomes, “I am so full and I feel guilty!” Instead of: “Why do I feel anxious, overwhelmed, or fearful?”

Unresolved emotions have an impact on weight gain. People often eat to cover up a problem, not from hunger. If we don’t directly address our emotional challenges, we may use food to deal with the stress of a hectic schedule, to alleviate our loneliness or boredom, or to calm our fears, etc. It helps to ask the question: “Am I eating to nourish my body or to escape a feeling?” Becoming more conscious of your eating habits is a powerful means to sustainable weight loss. Eckhart Tolle shared that one of the most profound things that can happen to a human is to become aware of his or her thoughts. Excess weight can be our teacher if we are willing to uncover and awaken to unconscious patterns and habits around food.

5. Avoiding spiritual growth

I broadly define spirituality as anything that nurtures and/or supports your life. For some it’s church, for others it’s yoga, meditation, or nature, etc. It fulfills a basic human need to connect to something greater. If we neglect this deep desire for connection and wholeness, we may unconsciously turn to food to satisfy this hardwired spiritual yearning.

Becoming a more conscious eater deepens our spiritual connection for several reasons. First, we are eating foods made by nature that are alive and perfectly designed to support our body, versus a ‘food’ that is in a package made by a company to make a profit. Consuming one-ingredient foods directly from nature literally connects us to life itself.

Secondly, eating in a conscious way anchors us in the present moment. We have to not only be present with the food to fully appreciate it, but we also have to stay attuned to how we feel after eating our meal to learn if the foods are a good fit for our unique body. We often live our lives trapped in our minds – either stuck in the past or in nervous anticipation of the future, which can lead to mindless eating. As we become more mindful and present with food, this skill can support us in being more aware of our body, thoughts, emotional habits and life itself.

Why choose a healthy lifestyle?

After reading these 5 common pitfalls of weight loss, you might agree that sustainable weight loss goes much deeper than a 3-month diet. How we do life tends to be how we do food. So healing your relationship with food involves listening to your body, incorporating one-ingredient foods from nature, and growing and awakening at an emotional and spiritual level – a lifestyle change.

So why invest so much energy in eating healthy? Isn’t eating fast food and sugary foods fun? Not at the expense of your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health. What would your life be like if you were comfortable in your body, with vibrant energy and a sense of well-being? Changing the way you eat is transformational. Not only will you lose weight, but you’ll keep it off with a sensible and sustainable approach to eating. I’ve never met anyone who after losing weight said, “I miss the extra pounds, not fitting into my clothes, the mood swings and the exhaustion.”

Life is now. Don’t wait.

Maggie Christopher is a certified holistic nutrition counselor with a private practice in St. Paul. She specializes in digestive issues, sugar cravings and weight loss. Her program allows people to comfortably embrace a healthier way of eating and living. To deepen her counseling skills, Maggie is enrolled in a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy program at UW-Stout and will graduate in the spring of 2013.

The egg has gotten a really bad reputation for creating unhealthy cholesterol levels. Unfair! It’s the donut or sugary cereal you might be pairing it with that’s the problem.

This 14-minute clip that aired on”60 Minutes” discusses the correlation between sugar and unhealthy cholesterol. If you’re struggling with high cholesterol or you’ve gone on medication to help solve the problem, this video can help you get clear on the real solution.

The most valuable knowledge a therapist gave me was ‘feelings won’t hurt you.’ I hadn’t ever considered this. Ten years ago I was too busy  pushing down any uncomfortable feeling with food. I had gained 25 pounds over a 3-year period by eating lots of desserts, drinking soda and consuming processed carbs (my favorite was cheesy, garlic bread).

So if feelings won’t actually hurt me, why was I spending so much time repressing my feelings with food? This was the beginning of a change for me. Feel my feelings.

Many people are looking to food for a solution. I invite you to invest 3 minutes and watch this 3-minute clip on emotional eating.

One of my clients made this recipe for a Chili Cook-off and she won! So I thought I would share it with everyone. The source of protein in this recipe is versatile: beans, organic ground turkey or grass-fed beef. It is a simple one-pot meal and the leftovers are delicious!

Turkey Chipotle Chili
Serves 8

1 large yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced thin
4-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 TBS unrefined olive oil
½ to 1 tsp chipotle chili powder (based on the spice level you prefer)
2 to 3 tsp regular chili powder
2 heaping teaspoons oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
1 lb ground organic turkey or grass-fed beef
1 cup of frozen corn
1 28oz can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
1 15oz can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
2 15oz cans of mixed chili beans (use bean liquid if needed for consistency)
1 15oz can refried beans (Amy’s organic with green chilies works well)
1 gluten-free beer (Optional ingredient. Daura is a good brand.)
2 TBS honey
2 TBS red wine vinegar
¼ to ½ cup chopped cilantro
Sea Salt to taste (start with ½ tsp)

1. Sauté diced onion and garlic in olive oil in large heavy pot over medium heat.
2. Stir in chili powder, oregano and cumin.
3. Cook until the onions are soft and coated in seasonings.
4. Brown the ground turkey in another pan and then add to onion mixture.
5. Add corn, crushed tomatoes, chili beans, refried beans, beer, carrot, honey, vinegar and sea salt to
6. Turn down heat and cook at a low simmer, partially covered, for about 1 hour, stirring frequently.
7. Adjust seasonings as needed and add chopped cilantro.

I’ve been on the hunt for a delicious juice recipe that incorporates greens. I’m delighted to share this recipe that will lift your mood, give you energy and brighten your complexion.

This juice is PACKED with antioxidants. Let me share a little bit about why this is valuable. Antioxidants help fight oxidation, a normal chemical process that takes place in the body every day. It can be accelerated by stress, cigarette smoking, and alcohol. When there are disruptions in the natural oxidation process, highly unstable and potentially damaging molecules called free radicals are created. Oxygen triggers the formation of these destructive little chemicals, and, if left uncontrolled, they can cause damage to cells in the body. It’s much like the chemical reaction that creates rust on a bicycle or turns the surface of a cut apple brown.

Often people think they can simply pop a vitamin to get the nutrients they need, but studies show that taking an antioxidant supplement is not near as effective as eating antioxidant-rich foods. So here’s a drink for your health! I’d love to hear what you think of it.

Power Juice – Makes 2 servings

• 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries or blueberries
• 1 orange (peeled)
• 1 pear (an apple works well too)
• Juice of 1/2 lemon
• 2 collard green leaves
• 2-3 mint leaves
• 1 banana (optional)
• 1 cup of coconut water*
• Several ice cubes

Simply blend all ingredients and enjoy! A high-powered blender is helpful for creating a smooth texture.

*Coconut water can be purchased at your local Whole Foods store or coop or you can simply substitute filtered water.

I often hear the question, “If I want to take just one step to improve my health, what would it be?” My answer is, “Reduce the refined white sugar in your diet.” Did you read that and feel uneasy? This is a common reaction. People consume sugar to relax, to suppress uncomfortable emotions and to celebrate happy times. So if you reduce your sugar intake, how can you add some sweetness back into your life?

Let’s take a look at what you stand to gain. If you didn’t have strong sugar cravings, you wouldn’t miss eating sugar on a regular basis. It’s the cravings that taunt you to order dessert and snack on sweets. What would your life look like with less sugar? You would lose weight, become calmer and enjoy improved health. Sound too good to be true? Let’s look at some surprising facts about sugar and then I’ll share some helpful tips on how to gently ease excess sugar out of your life.

Sugar Facts

• Sugar consumption has increased 1500% in the last two hundred years
• With lots of calories and no nutrients, sugar is the #1 cause of America’s weight problem and lack of nutrition
• In order for any food to be properly digested it must contain nutrients, and since sugar contains none, it robs your body of stored vitamins and minerals
• Humans don’t require simple sugars and can assimilate the necessary amount of sugar from complex carbs, proteins and fats
• If your muscles have enough fuel for energy, sugar is stored as FAT
• Sugar destroys the germ killing ability of white blood cells for up to five hours after ingestion
• High insulin levels in the blood are also linked to low levels of good, HDL cholesterol
• Once cells become cancerous, they feed directly on sugar and sugar can accelerate tumor growth

*Facts from “Get the Sugar Out” by Ann Louise Gittleman, M.S., C.N.S.

6 Tips to Reduce your Sugar Cravings

• Learn to prepare mildly sweet desserts with nutrient-rich, natural sweeteners
• Increase your intake of sweet vegetables and fruits
• Drink plenty of water
• Add sweetness to your life with naps, massages, hobbies, fun with friends, fulfilling relationships or whatever makes you smile
• Decrease your temptation for sweets by not bringing desserts and processed sweet foods into your home
• Consistently eat whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, millet, etc.

People often use willpower and extremes in regards to food. Women especially get frustrated with themselves because they feel they lack the willpower to avoid desserts. But it’s not about willpower. Often your body craves sugar for both physiological and emotional reasons. Once you resolve these underlying causes, it’s easier to move past your cravings without relying solely on willpower.

Keep in mind the value of a slow, steady approach. Most people want immediate results, but has the short-term solution of a diet created long-term change in your life? Probably not. Getting healthy is a process, not an event. Another advantage of the steady, consistent approach is that it is enjoyable and over time becomes a lifestyle because you look and feel great!

Do you want to reduce your sugar cravings but think you need support? Studies show that getting support when making diet and lifestyle changes is not only highly effective, but significantly increases your success. So buddy up with a friend or find a health coach to support you on your health journey. Change your food. Change your life.

Why are we hearing more about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity?
You might be wondering why more people are diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. From my research, a number of reasons emerged. Americans are eating significantly more processed foods, most of which contain gluten, than they ever have in the past; coupled with faster paced, multi-tasking lifestyles. Both of these factors compromise the digestive system. In addition, doctors are more aware of these digestive disorders and are testing more frequently for them.

What’s the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity?
Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are managed similarly, in that people with these conditions must or should remove gluten from their diet. It’s important to note, however, that there is a difference between these two medical problems. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, where the body’s immune system attacks normal tissue, such as the intestinal villi, in response to eating gluten. Because of this, people with celiac disease are at risk for malabsorption of food in the GI tract, resulting in nutritional deficiencies. However, a person with gluten sensitivity usually does not have severe intestinal damage, thus he or she is not at risk for these nutritional deficiencies, but they may have mild to severe digestive discomfort such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or cramping.

What is gluten?
Gluten is a glue-like protein found naturally occurring in wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, rye and sometimes oats (oats are often contaminated with gluten). Also, keep in mind that white flour is simply refined wheat flour. Gluten is one of the most complex proteins consumed by man. It has very large molecules relative to other food molecules and for this reason it’s difficult for the human digestive system to metabolize.

How do I get tested for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?
You can ask your doctor for a blood test and/or intestinal biopsy to determine if you have celiac disease. Keep in mind that you could still be gluten sensitive and not have celiac disease. An effective way to identify non-celiac gluten sensitivity is to do an elimination diet. Take gluten completely out of your diet for 7 days (you must be strict with this) and introduce it heavily on the 8th day. If you are symptom free, then you aren’t sensitive to gluten.

How can I benefit from a gluten-free diet?
If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it is imperative for your health to eliminate gluten. If you’d like to be gluten-free simply to improve your health, you may experience the following benefits: better cholesterol levels, improved digestion, more energy, clearer thinking and weight loss. These benefits are based on eating gluten-free, whole, natural foods, not packaged “gluten-free foods.” If you don’t have a gluten sensitivity, much of the value of introducing a whole foods, gluten-free diet is coming from improving your diet in general.

How can I reduce or eliminate gluten from my diet?
Below is a list of whole foods that are naturally gluten-free. As I teach my clients, the most important indicator of whether a food is right for you is how your body feels after eating it. No perfect way of eating works for everyone. Listen closely for your body’s messages.

1. All vegetables
2. Gluten-free whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet & buckwheat
3. Plant-based protein sources such as beans, tofu, tempeh & nuts
4. Grass-fed animal protein
5. All fruits

There are many delicious ways to prepare the foods listed above. For example, adding flavorful herbs and spices enhance a meal’s overall appeal. If you need inspiration, visit for natural, gluten-free recipes.

Gradually introducing natural, gluten-free foods is a great way to improve your health. I don’t recommend someone without a gluten sensitivity to make extreme changes in their diet; however, making consistent, wholesome food choices over time is a sustainable way to improve your health.

Many people try to use willpower to improve their diet and lose weight. Unfortunately, most people end up failing because it is very difficult to maintain a self-induced willpower over an extended period of time.

Consider a different approach instead. Within your very cravings lie the keys to unlock true success for long-term health and weight loss. Trust and understand that the body is a brilliant machine that needs certain ingredients to run well. If you start to give your body what it needs, you will notice that your cravings will lessen considerably. For example, if you eat too much animal protein, you may start to notice sugar cravings. This is because your body wants to maintain a PH balance of 7.0 and it will continually try to adjust to reach this level. The Chinese philosophy of yin and yang comes into play with cravings. Animal protein is very yang, so you may crave yin foods such as sugar if your body is out of balance. Another example would be if you regularly crave fatty foods like ice cream or fried foods, this could be your body letting you know that you need to introduce more healthy fats into your diet such as nuts and avocados.

Many people get frustrated and feel out of control with their cravings which can lead to negative thinking because they feel they are weak and have no willpower. This is not the case. The body is actually very logical. You just need to know how to work together with it. It helps to simplify nutrition. The key is to get a healthy supply of vitamins and minerals from varied food sources because the body was made to extract nutrients from real food. So the more natural foods you put into your body (whole grains, greens, vegetables, fruit, beans, plant-based protein, naturally raised meats), the less cravings you will experience. Did you read this last sentence and say, “But I don’t LIKE any of these foods!” That’s ok. You can slowly introduce these foods and you will notice that your cravings lessen. Many people are overwhelmed with making changes to their diet. But remember, the reason you eat fast food, processed foods and desserts is because you have an intense craving. If you remove the nutritional reason behind the craving, you will find that you naturally opt for healthier foods.

In addition to learning how to give your body the nutrients it needs, there is another key component to understanding your cravings. Let me share an example. If you have a terrible day at work, do you think you will arrive home and want to eat salmon, brown rice and green beans? I doubt it. You might instead mindlessly eat whatever you have available in the cupboards or refrigerator. So your emotional well being is tied to your cravings. There are four key areas to focus on when you want to reduce your cravings. They are career, exercise, spirituality and relationships. Think about it, if these areas in your life are not going well, you may find that you’re not eating healthy. If you want to be in a relationship and you are single, you may eat an entire sleeve of Girl Scout cookies to get some sweetness in your life. If you hate your job, you may decide to stop off for happy hour instead of going home and eating a good meal. The philosophy of yin and yang also applies to lifestyle. For example, if your day was too yang (too busy and stressful) you are likely to crave yin foods such as alcohol.

Many people want overnight results when it comes to reaching their health goals, but unfortunately this approach rarely creates long-term, healthy habits. Take it slow. Set small, achievable goals and continue to move forward. Health is not a destination — it’s a journey and a lifestyle.