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4 Ways to Make Your Diet More Nutrient Dense & Consistently Healthy

Photo by SocialMonsters

In a perfect world, every meal you eat would be filled with organic fruits and veggies, whole grains, low-fat and high-protein meats — all delicately sautéed in the finest of olive oils.

As you probably know quite well, this perfect world does not exist — at least most of the time. Schedules are busier than ever, you have a million things to do and places to go, and more meals than you care to admit are ordered from a fast food window or heated up in your microwave.

Fortunately, eating a more nutritionally dense diet is easier than you may think and it doesn’t take up a lot of time or money. Boost the healthiness of the foods that you are eating with these tips:

Understanding Macronutrients, Micronutrients and Phytonutrients

In order to get more nutrition out of your food, it’s important to understand some of the commonly-used terms. For example, you might see a lot of references to macronutrients and micronutrients. In a nutshell, notes Pediaa, your body needs larger amounts of macronutrients to be as healthy as possible; they help with energy and growth and include protein, fat, fiber and carbs. Micronutrients, while also necessary for health, are needed in much smaller amounts; antioxidants, minerals like iron and zinc and vitamins are all examples. As for phytonutrients, they are natural chemicals found in plants that help protect the plants from disease, and in turn may also boost our health and nutrition.

Shop Locally

One of the easiest ways to get more nutritional value from the foods you eat is to buy them from local sources. Unlike the apples and cucumbers you buy at the grocery store — which were probably picked days if not weeks earlier and have lost up to half of their nutrients — the foods you find at farmers markets and the like are freshly-picked and chock full of nutrition. Check around for these types of markets and try to shop there as often as you can.

Once you get the food home, store all of the veggies (except the root variety) in the fridge. All fruit — except berries, tomatoes and avocados — should be stored at room temperature to help keep vital nutrients intact.

Consider a Supplement

One of the best ways to make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet is to take a multivitamin. Think of it as a nutritional insurance policy for those extra busy days when you eat on the go. You can also take nutrient-specific supplements that will help meet a particular health goal. For example, as Amway Connections notes, in order to help maintain strong bones, it is important to get enough calcium in your daily diet.

While getting enough weight-bearing exercise and eating a lot of calcium-rich dark leafy greens are great starting points, calcium requires vitamin D in order to be properly absorbed. To be sure that this happens, you may wish to take a daily vitamin D supplement like Amway’s Nutrilite Vitamin D. It provides 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 along with vitamin K2, which can help calcium get from your bloodstream into your bones.

Know When to Go Raw and When Cooked is Better

Getting more nutrients into your daily diet does not necessary mean consuming vast quantities of salads and smoothies. While it is true that some foods are better to eat raw — a good example is spinach, which loses a great deal of its vitamin C when cooked — other foods, like tomatoes, are healthier when cooked; the bioavailability of lycopene in tomatoes increases by 25 percent when they are boiled. Cooking meats and eggs will also denature their protein, which makes them much easier to digest.

Alison Stanton has been a freelance writer for the past 18 years. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Alison thoroughly enjoys writing about a wide variety of people and topics. When she is not writing, Alison can be found hanging out with her family—which includes three wonderful rescue dogs—and sipping a caffeinated beverage from Starbucks.

6 Delicious, Simple Black Elderberry Recipes

Photo by Fotolia

Black elderberries have a long-held reputation for their immune-supporting properties, having been used for thousands of years by traditional cultures across North America and Europe. Because of the delicious taste as well as the immune-boosting qualities, this berry has been used in homemade jams, wines and syrups.

Black elderberry is unique in providing both antioxidant and immune support, due to its natural concentration of anthocyanins (the antioxidants that give it that deep purple color) and other flavonoids.*

This time of year, Black elderberries are a staple in many households for kids and adults alike. The vibrant little berries can be consumed daily throughout immune season for long-term support for your body’s natural defenses, or they can be taken as needed, at onset of an immune challenge.*

Today we’re sharing some of our favorite, simple ways to eat, drink and be merry with black elderberry all season long.

Everyday Elderberry Recipes:

Black elderberry is a tasty way to get daily immune support.* Here are three easy ways to work it into your daily routine:

Super Berry Oatmeal: Stir ½ cup mixed berries into a ½ cup serving of oatmeal, then top with 2 tablespoons coconut milk and 1 teaspoon black elderberry syrup. Sprinkle on hemp seeds or slivered almonds, and serve. This warm, comforting and nourishing breakfast is ready in under 10 minutes! Serves 1.

Elderberry Swirl Yogurt Parfaits: Swirl 2 teaspoons black elderberry syrup into 1 cup yogurt of your choice, taking care to leave some pretty swirls. In two short, wide-mouthed glasses, layer the swirled yogurt with ½ cup granola, 1 sliced banana and 1 cup blueberries for a breakfast that brightens any morning. Serves 2.

Quick Elderberry Jam: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 cups frozen elderberries with ¼ cup grape juice. Cook, stirring and mashing often, until the fruit and juice are simmering and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ¼ cup black elderberry syrup. Transfer to jars and refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze for up to three months. Spread on toast, swirl into applesauce or yogurt, or use atop pancakes and waffles. Serves 8. 

Photo by Fotolia

Special Occasion Elderberry Recipes:

Black elderberry can also provide immune support when you need it.* Here’s a trio of feel-good, taste-good recipe ideas. 

Elderberry Sunrise Slushie: In a blender, mix 1 cup orange juice with ½ cup ice, a dropperful of echinacea extract (for additional immune support) and a dropperful of ginger extract (for digestion).* Scoop into a glass, and drizzle on a teaspoon of black elderberry syrup. The active constituents in echinacea will make your mouth tingle! Serves 1.

Black Elderberry Sorbet Sundaes: When you’re craving something cool but don’t want to drag out the blender, scoop some mango or berry sorbet into a bowl, then top with black elderberry syrup and shredded coconut. Use a tiny spoon to savor each cool bite! Serves 1.

Black Elderberry Fizz: Pour 1 teaspoon black elderberry syrup into a glass. Top with ginger kombucha (for grownups) or sparkling lemonade (for kids). Fizzy drinks are a fun way to brighten any day! Serves 1. 

Gaia Herbs uses Certified Organic European Black Elderberries to create a juice concentrate that provides the equivalent of 14,500 mg of fresh elderberries per serving of our Black Elderberry Syrup. This delicious syrup—with natural vitamin C from acerola cherries—contains no artificial flavors or colors, no preservatives and no high fructose corn syrup.

Want more ways to use Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup? Visit our recipes page for quick, delicious ideas.

Gaia Herbs cultivates health and well-being by stewarding sustainable relationships between plants and people. We offer more than 200 liquid extracts, functional powders, teas and patented Liquid Phyto-Caps®, each formulated to do what’s best for your body — and for nature. We use only organic methods on our farms, and that same organic approach continues through manufacture. Part of our seed-to-shelf commitment is the industry’s only traceability platform, MeetYourHerbs®. This dedication to purity, integrity, and potency ensures the safety and efficacy of our products. Take control of your own well-being and experience the Gaia difference.

Stay connected. Join us.

*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Spooky Halloween Movie Night Snacks

Halloween movie season is officially here, and I’ve been whipping out our favorite films, picking specific nights to watch each one. At our house, we take October very seriously, and movie nights don’t consist of just a bowl of popcorn.

We come up with elaborate, yet easy to make foods that fit the theme of that night’s flick pick. Occasionally we’ll cheat and steal a Pinterest idea or buy something from the store. I’m not a recipe kind of gal, so I’ll share my ideas and you can fill in your favorite way to make that dish.

Photo by Karyn Wofford

Corpse Bride

This is my favorite Halloween movie…yes, I like it more than Nightmare Before Christmas!

Emily’s Eyeball Eggs- Corpse Bride’s faulty eye inspires this dish which consists of making traditional stuffed eggs, but covering each stuffed half with a hollowed half to make it look like a whole egg again…or an eyeball. Use a toothpick to secure a halved olive for the eye’s center.
Corpse Cupcakes- If you can make killer chocolate cupcakes (no pun intended) this one’s for you. Vegan, gluten free or store bought, anything goes. Dig up a little bit of the center to give it that graveyard look, then insert a boney arm, which you can find around any cake decorating department during October.
Grape Maggot- I couldn’t forget the wise worm, Maggot, that lives inside Emily’s head. Line some green grapes on a toothpick, then secure chocolate chip eyes with a little cream cheese.

Nightmare Before Christmas

Now for my second favorite movie.

Jack Skellington Cheeseball- I love the versatility of a cheese ball, you really can mix and match any kind of cheese. Cashew cheese is an awesome option for vegans…Treeline is a great brand. Use black olive pieces or seaweed to create Jack’s simple face. Serve with Late July’s Summertime Blues Multigrain Chips for that spooky Tim Burton look. These chips are organic, vegan and undoubtedly delicious! For a bolder pop of flavor, give their Multigrain Dude Ranch flavor a whirl, they taste similar to, but way better than artificial Cool Ranch chips.
Ghoul Eyes- Halloweentown is bustling with eccentric monsters with creepy characteristics. Clear cups layered from bottom to top with raspberry pie filling, vanilla yogurt, a kiwi slice and a chocolate chip in the center mimic the googly eyeballs of the townspeople.

Photo by Karyn Wofford

Hocus Pocus

This film about a spell casting, witch trio is a family friendly classic that I was introduced to only a couple of years ago. It’s very spooky and traditional.

Warty Watermelon Witch- This one takes some carving skills, but is no more difficult than creating a Jack-o-Lantern.  Slice the top of the melon off, scooping out all of the insides for use later. Carve a fun witch face, just be creative, making the mouth extra wide. Carve a bit off the bottom so the melon will sit upright on a plate. Replace the top. Scoop watermelon and any other fruits you want to mix in into the witch’s mouth, allowing a large portion to cascade out of the mouth, onto the plate.
Melted Witch Soup- Buy or make your own pea soup, then add in other “witch parts” like olive eyes or bell pepper warts, whatever suites your taste.
Peanut Butter Cup Witch Broom- For those who don’t have much time, insert all natural pretzel sticks into Justin’s mini peanut butter cups for a cute, quick treat.


We always start out the season with this one. Everyone loves it.

Purple Potato Bugs- I stole the initial idea from Pinterest, then modified it a bit. Buy a bag of those tiny purple potatoes, but small, yellow potatoes work if you can’t find them. Purple just looks cool! Toss them in olive oil then bake until tender. Insert slivered almonds for legs and pipe on sour cream eyes after they cool. Get creative and add your own touches, like melted cheese for stripes and herbs for antennas.
Shrunken Head Apples- Who could forget the shrunken head guy from Beetlejuice? Recreate this little guy by peeling apples and carving faces into them. The faces can be very undetailed and not very good, they’ll still produce cute results. Dehydrate the apples in the oven or a dehydrator.
Beetle Juice- A no brainer, I know, but serving up a good “beetle juice” punch is easy and festive. I like the combo of sparkling water, pineapple juice and cherry juice.

It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

It’s not the holidays without good ol’ Charlie Brown.

Great Pumpkin Oranges- These are so easy it’s hard to believe, because they look awesome. Peel oranges and insert little celery pieces at the top. Voila…the Great Pumpkin in snack form. Kids love it and so do I.
Great Pumpkin Seeds-  I’m really getting elaborate here. Bake your own yummy seeds with a variety of flavors, like garlic, sea salt and black pepper. Go sweet with maple syrup and cinnamon! The kids can help with this too, then carve the pumpkin when you are done. Set it on the table for the movie.
Anything Pumpkin- Instead of rambling on with the obvious, anything pumpkin goes…pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pasta…you get the idea.

Photo by Karen Wofford

The Addams Family

Whichever version you are a fan of, The Addams Family is a Halloween favorite.

Thing’s Finger Sandwiches- Any sandwich will do, then cut them into tiny “finger” sandwiches. I always make a cute sign for these so everyone gets the reference to the character “Thing”, a hand creature who is pretty much the family “dog”.
Morticia’s Mash- Purple potatoes come into play again to make creepy mashed potatoes. I sliver black olives for “legs” and place them around halved olives to create little spiders throughout the top of the potatoes. Serve in individual cups for a cute display.
Gomez’s Love Potion Punch- Grape juice, sparkling water and strawberry halves make up this punch. For a very “Addams Family” look, you can add some dry ice while being sure to scoop with a ladle. You cannot touch dry ice with your bare hands and kids should stay very far away, because it can cause burns. But adding it to punch creates fog and a bubbling effect, which is awesome.

I hope this gets you in the Halloween mood. Maybe you have your own natural, spooky food ideas that skip the typical food coloring and artificial flavors. Share them with us in the comments!

Karyn WoffordKaryn Wofford is a type 1 diabetic, EMT and Certified Wellness Specialist. For years she has educated herself on wellness and natural, wholesome living. Karyn’s goal is to help people be the healthiest they can be while living fun, happy lives.


Natural Baking Decorations

Plant Power
Image Courtesy India Tree

Plant Power

India Tree’s Nature’s Colors line uses colors derived from plants and includes sprinkles, decorating sugars and food coloring.
To Buy:

Super Sprinkles
Image courtesy Quality Sprinkles

Super Sprinkles

Quality Sprinkles products are free of GMOs, nuts, soy, gluten, preservatives and dairy.
To Buy:

Colorful Cookies
Image courtesy Pepper Creek Farms

Colorful Cookies

The all-natural decorative sprinkles and sugars from Pepper Creek Farms come in a range of colors.
To Buy:

Get Real
Image courtesy Maggie's Naturals

Get Real 

This family-owned business in Portland, Maine, lists all ingredients in its sprinkles and food colors.
To Buy:

Go Geeky
Image courtesy Geeky Hostess

Go Geeky

Geeky Hostess offers a range of sprinkles and sugars appropriate for any time of year, including fun shapes.
To Buy:

Naturally Sweetened Cookies for the Holidays

Photo by iStock

Festive cut-out cookies are a staple of the holidays, and decorating them in the colors of the season is a classic family tradition. If you’re in search of a healthier alternative to refined sugar cookie recipes, try this naturally sweetened version from author Diana Bauman’s blog, My Humble Kitchen. This version uses honey instead of sugar, and can be made with whole-wheat flour or gluten-free ground oat flour. 

Soft “Sugar” Cookies 

• 3 cups unenriched, unbleached all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour or gluten-free ground oat flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon salt
• 1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
• 4 ounces cream cheese (we like Nancy’s Organic Cultured Cream Cheese)
• 1 cup honey
• 1 teaspoon lemon zest
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 2 egg whites

1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and both salts; set aside.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together butter, cream cheese and honey at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

3. Add lemon zest, vanilla extract and egg whites until combined, about 2 minutes.

4. In mixer, on low speed, incorporate flour mixture, 1⁄2 cup at a time, until just combined. Do not overbeat.

5. Cover dough and chill overnight.

6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

7. Working 1 ⁄ 3 of the dough at a time (keep the rest chilled), roll dough onto a floured surface 1 ⁄ 8- to 1 ⁄ 4-inch-thick. Cut into shapes and place on baking sheet, 12 at a time.

8. Bake 7 to 9 minutes. Allow to cool on baking sheet 1 or 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 5 dozen cookies. 

Honeyed Buttercream Frosting

• 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
• 1 ⁄ 4 cup honey
• 2 cups organic powdered sugar
• 2 tablespoons milk

In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream all ingredients on medium until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

4 Recommended Pre-made Shrub Drink Syrups

Taste of Texas
Image Courtesy Shrub Drinks

Taste of Texas

Handmade in tiny batches in San Antonio, Shrub Drinks are made with chef-selected vinegars. Try Prickly Pear, Balsamic Cherry or one of nine other flavors.
To Buy: $18 for 12.7 oz;

Made in Detroit
Image courtesy McClary Bros.

Made in Detroit

Detroit-based McClary Bros. is a family company handmaking small-batch drinking vinegars. For the holidays, Michigan Apple Pie might be perfect.
To Buy: $17 for 16 oz.;

In Good Company
Image courtesy Shrub & Co.

In Good Company

Shrub & Co. Cranberry Shrub with Douglas Fir includes fir foraged by The Living Wild Project, an educational resource focused on California's wild food.
To Buy: $24 for 16 oz.;

Sip Strong
Image courtesy Strongwater

Sip Strong

Strongwater offers cocktail and mocktail recipes using its gourmet shrubs, with flavors including Persimmon & Lavender, Blueberry & Mint and Peach & Rose.
To Buy: $25 for 8.5 oz.;

Wild Drinks and cocktails
Cover courtesy Fair Winds Press

Read Up, Drink Up

Learn more about DIY shrubs, as well as squashes, switchels, tonics and infusions with Wild Drinks and Cocktails by Emily Han.
To Buy: $21;

Beyond the Latte: Pumpkin and Health

Pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice and even pumpkin beer. With October’s arrival, pumpkin season is finally here! While pumpkins may seem frightening in their Jack-O-Lantern state, they are actually one of the most nutritious fruits out there. That’s right, pumpkins are actually fruits and they are loaded with antioxidants and disease-fighting vitamins. We’ve rounded up a list of some of the greatest health benefits of these superfood gourds.

Photo via Pura Botanica

Keep Eyesight Sharp

Did you know that just one cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains over 200% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin A? This is why pumpkins are great for helping to keep your eyesight sharp, especially in dim light. Pumpkins are also rich in carotenoids, the compounds that give them their bright orange color, including beta-carotene, which the body then converts into Vitamin A for additional eyesight protection.

Can Help With Weight Loss

When it comes to weight loss, pumpkin is not often the first thing that comes to mind. However, with 3 grams of fiber for every cup, it can keep you feeling full for longer hours with fewer calories. Fiber-rich diets tend to help people eat less and therefore shed a few pounds. If you are one who is looking to lose some weight, try adding pumpkin into your diet for quick results.

May Reduce Risk of Cancer

Just like the sweet potato, the carrot and the butternut squash, pumpkins boast the antioxidant beta-carotene, which may play a major role in cancer prevention, according to a study done by the National Cancer Institute. They found that food sources high in beta-carotene seem to help more than simple supplements. Even more reason to scoop up some pumpkin seeds for your next meal.

Promote a Healthy Mind

Pumpkin seeds are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which is the famed ingredient in turkey that many believe brings on the post-Thanksgiving snooze. While experts agree that it’s likely overeating rather than tryptophan that puts you to sleep, there is no doubt that the amino acid is important for the production of serotonin, a major player when it comes to controlling your mood. Just a small handful of pumpkin seeds may help your outlook stay bright.

Treat Intestinal Worms

Pumpkin seeds can help your body get rid of nasty gut parasites that can make you sick, according to licensed pharmacist of Living Well Magazine, Debbie Edson. She states that “They have traditionally been used for this purpose by Native Americans and even today pumpkin seeds are used to treat tapeworms in some parts of Africa.”

Photo via Pura Botanica

Pumpkin: It’s that time of year. While most pumpkin-flavored treats should be added to the once-in-a-while list, pumpkin itself is actually one of the healthier foods of the season and now you know why. Next time someone mentions pumpkin spice, it’s OK to be totally obsessed with this season’s superfood.

This blog post is republished from Pura Botanica.