Healthy Portions At A Glance

What do healthy portions look like? Learn practical strategies to build a healthier plate.

While we feel strongly that the quality of food in your diet is more important than the quantity of what you eat, it’s impossible to ignore the increasing portion sizes in our food industry that continue to grow alongside our nation’s obesity epidemic (have you seen the size of a small drink at the movie theater lately?). Bigger portion sizes are not the only factor causing us to eat more—new social norms, numerous environmental stimuli, increased access to food, and targeted advertising all play a hand. Choosing better quality foods while keeping portion sizes in check leads to more balanced, healthier eating patterns.

Portions vs. serving sizes: what’s the difference?

First, let’s break down the difference between a serving size and portion size because they’re not the same thing. A serving size is a measurable amount of food, usually presented in cups or ounces. Serving sizes are used as guidance for recommended intake by health professionals, and associated with nutrition content on the Nutrition Facts Label of a food product. You’ll notice that packaged products usually contain more than one serving. Portion size refers to the actual amount of food on your plate, put there by you or someone else in a restaurant setting. 

Serving size guidelines: hand it to me

The quantity of food one should consume each day depends on a variety of factors including gender, size, activity level, and wellness goals. That being said, this is intended as general guidance so you can be more mindful of what a single serving looks like when you dish out your portions. Check out these hand symbols to see how serving sizes vary by type of food:

Vegetables

·      Cooked vegetables = closed fist (1 cup)

·      Dark leafy greens = 2 closed fists (2 cups)

Fruit

·      Medium piece of fruit (apple, etc.) = closed fist (1 cup)

·      Berries = cupped hand/closed fist (1/2 – 1 cup)

·      Dried fruit = closed cupped hand (1/4 cup)

Grains

·      Rice/pasta/quinoa/oats, etc. = cupped hand (1/2 cup)

·      Bread = flat hand (1 slice)

Protein

·      Chicken/beef/fish = palm of hand (3 oz)

·      Beans/legumes (cooked) = cupped hand (1/2 cup)

·      Tofu = palm of hand (3 oz)

·      Hummus = 2 thumbs (2 tablespoons)

Healthy fats & oils; nuts and seeds

·      Healthy oils/ghee = thumb (1 tablespoon)

·      Nuts/seeds = closed cupped hand (1/4 cup)

·      Nut butters = thumb (1 tablespoon)

Dairy (and dairy alternatives)

·      Cheese = pointed finger (1.5 oz)

·      Cow’s milk or nut milk = closed fist (1 cup)

·      Yogurt = closed fist (1 cup)

Picture this: how to build a healthy plate

Another visual tool for healthy eating is to look at how different foods fill your plate at each meal. Nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health have created the Healthy Eating Plate, which can be found in detail here but recommends simply dividing your plate as follows:

½ your plate  = mostly vegetables and some fruit (choose a wide variety of veggies; eat fruits of all colors)

¼ your plate = whole grains (eat a variety of whole grains and limit refined grains)

¼ your plate = healthy protein (limit red meat and cheese; avoid processed meats)

They also encourage the use of healthy oils, limiting butter, and avoiding trans fat. More emphasis is placed on drinking water, tea and coffee, while limiting dairy and avoiding sugary drinks. Physical activity is also promoted as part of this guidance. Leave it to the Harvard folks to have some really solid (and practical) advice! Just watch the size of those plates, okay?

As we transition our food consumption to include more quality ingredients and real food, we develop a better since of intuitive eating. This includes eating when we’re hungry, recognizing signals for when we’re full, and knowing what foods fuel us best. However, because it takes some time to learn how to tune into your body’s own cues, these visual guides can more readily keep consumption within a healthy range.

Whatever strategy you choose to follow to ensure you’re eating the right amount of nourishing food, ditch the diet mentality and focus on filling your plate with healthier choices. The goal is to find and implement approaches that lead YOU to better wellness.

 

Blogpost written by Ascend content expert Ashley Hart

Healthy Dinner in a Flash: One Pan Roasted Garlic Salmon and Broccoli

Looking for a quick and nourishing dinner that doesn’t require much clean up? This one pan roasted salmon and broccoli will keep you on track with your wellness goals without the need to spend all night in the kitchen. So simple, yet packed full of nutrients. Whip this up with a side of pesto quinoa or millet and you and your family will be happy campers.

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 ½ pounds salmon fillets, cut into 4 portions and preferably skinned

2 heads of broccoli, washed and trimmed

3-4 tablespoons oil of choice (avocado, coconut or evoo)

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

sea salt

freshly cracked black pepper

pesto (store bought or homemade) - optional

1 lemon, sliced

Directions:

1.     Preheat oven to 450 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.     Arrange salmon pieces on the lined pan. Add a dash of olive oil on each piece of fish. Sprinkle with some of the garlic and layer sliced lemon on top OR spread a thin layer of pesto on each fish. Add a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

3.     Next, add your cleaned and prepped broccoli florets to a large bowl. Add 2 Tbsp of olive oil along with some sea salt, pepper, and garlic (optional). Toss to evenly coat the florets. Arrange the broccoli on the pan around the salmon pieces.

4.     Bake in the oven for 13-15 minutes until salmon is done and broccoli is slightly golden.

5.     Enjoy warm.

Optional: Serve with a side of quinoa or millet. Cook according to package directions and then spoon in as much pesto as desired.

Adapted from https://www.thenaturalnurturer.com/blog/one-sheet-roasted-garlic-salmon-broccoli

The Year of You: Setting Goals and Intentions for 2018

Make It Yours. That’s our mantra this year and theme for the January challenge. It’s time to find what nourishes you, allowing your best self to thrive.

 

This January, instead of setting restrictive resolutions that simply can’t be maintained due to their unrealistic nature (and not to mention bring about a sense of frustration and disappointment), why don’t we channel this renewed energy to find what truly nourishes us from the inside out. Let’s shift our perspective to set intentions and goals that enhance how amazing we already are, while encouraging (or nudging) our inner badass to unleash. You in?

 

What does it mean to set goals and intentions that align with a better version of you?

 

Simply put, it means taking inventory of what makes you feel healthy, strong, alive, and vibrant—and finding ways to invest your time, thoughts, and actions in more of those things. Don’t worry so much about what to remove from your life, or eating patterns, rather focus on including more of the good stuff. By adding in more of what you love, you’ll naturally lessen space for other things—in life and on your plate—without initiating feelings of deprivation. There’s no one perfect roadmap to health and wellness. No one-size-fits-all diet or lifestyle. We’re different and all have vastly different needs, and this acknowledgment gives you the freedom and space to find what best nourishes YOU.

 

Ready to get started? Follow these steps to outline your goals:

 

Step 1: Identify your goal

 

Whether you prefer to call them intentions or goals, the first step is self-reflection. Slowing down, and reviewing your past year can provide insight on how to move forward. What brought joy or ease to your days, and what did the opposite? What made you feel healthy, energetic, sexy, or unstoppable? Looking back helps us understand what we crave more of and why.

 

Next, decide what it is that you want. This may come easily for some, and take more digging for others. Be honest with yourself, here. Cut through the noise and think about what you truly want and what helps you feel your best—not what you think you should want or do based on messages from society (or Instagram!). Once identified, it’s time to streamline your want into a goal.

 

Step 2: Establish a realistic framework

 

You can list your goals and action steps however you like (there’s no right or wrong way), but write it down—it signals to your brain that you mean business. The emphasis here is to make sure that your goal is within reach and can match realistic behavior change. When you start with smaller goals and consistently achieve them, you build the confidence and desire to continue doing more of what makes you feel good, and can more easily move back into balance when you fall off track (it happens!). Some find the S.M.A.R.T. acronym to be a helpful tool. This framework states that your goal should be the following:

 

·      Specific: Establish a well-defined goal. For example, if you want to exercise more consistently because you love feeling energetic, set a goal to plan out X number of workouts each week including what activity and when. If you want to practice meditation, you could start with the goal of 5-10 minutes, 3 days a week using an app such as Calm or Headspace. Turn your goal into an action step.

·      Measurable: How will you track your progress? A measuring system allows you to quantify and visually track how far you’ve come. Log your progress in a journal, notebook, fitness tracker, or find an app—whatever works for you.

·      Achievable: Is this goal within your reach? It’s easy to dream up lofty goals when we’re excited and motivated to enhance our lives. Ensure that your goal is achievable given your current circumstances and resources.

·      Realistic: Start small. If you feel better when you eat more veggies, set the goal for half of your plate to consist of veggies for one meal per day. You can always add more!

·      Time-bound: Setting a timeframe helps you focus on an end point versus completing your goal one day in the future. You don’t have to plan yearlong goals; you can set new goals and intentions each month or start anytime throughout the year.

 

Step 3: Support Yourself

 

In addition to establishing a realistic framework, you’re more likely to achieve your goal and prevent burnout if you’ve got a support system in place. Our tips to help you stay the course, include:

 

·      Self-Care: The act of self-care extends beyond hot baths and massages (though whatever relaxes you is strongly encouraged), to really having your own back. Be unapologetic about what makes you happy and say no to obligations that don’t energize you at the core. Exert kindness towards yourself when you encounter setbacks. Supporting yourself as you would a dear friend or family member (which includes the tone of your inner voice) will help you develop stronger self-integrity, influencing behavior.

·      Mindfulness: Slowing down and tuning into ourselves enables us live in the moment and be more present. Instead of perfecting the art of multitasking, focus on a specific task at hand, especially as it relates to your goal. By paying attention to how we feel, we learn to recognize when we need a break—from exercise, electronic devices, or people—which helps preserve our energy. Practicing meditation, yoga or just taking solo breaks helps us remain centered so we don’t sweat the small stuff (and thus, lose our sh*t less often!).

·      Community: Surround yourself with people who lift you up, encourage, motivate, and celebrate you. An accountability buddy can help you track progress while providing motivation along the way.

 

Finally, remember that goals and intentions are fluid. They may need to be altered as circumstances or visions change. We evolve; it’s our nature. Each month, check in with yourself to see if your goals are still on point or need to be adjusted. Don’t forget to acknowledge your wins along the way!

 

No matter your goal, we hope you’ll prioritize more of what makes you feel amazing and invest in yourself year-round.

 

Superfood Snacks & Sips To Ring In 2018

As we close out the year, we’re reflecting upon all of the accomplishments—big and small—that have helped us grow stronger, climb higher and ascend. We’re proud of, and grateful for, our Ascend community—and can’t wait to see what we’ll achieve together in 2018. It’s time to set new intentions and goals as we welcome the year ahead—and we’ll be snacking on these superfood goodies as we do just that. These homemade treats make great gifts, too!

 


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Sugar-and-Spice Nuts

The hint of spice perfectly balances the sweetness of these nuts. This recipe calls for regular sugar, but you could easily substitute another sugar if you choose. These are delightfully easy to prepare and they make your house smell amazing.

 

Servings: makes 5 cups

 

Ingredients:

¾ cup sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon chile powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 large egg white

2 cups raw cashews (9 ounces)

2 cups raw almonds (9 ounces)

 

Directions:

1.     Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray (or use parchment paper).

2.     In a small bowl, whisk the sugar with the salt, chile powder, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper.

3.     In a large bowl, beat the egg white until frothy. Add the almonds and cashews, stir to coat with the egg white mix, then add the spiced sugar and toss.

4.     Spread the nuts out on the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes, stirring once, until browned.

5.     Let the nuts cool on the baking sheet, stirring occasionally.

 

Source: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/sugar-and-spice-nuts

 


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Reishi Chocolate Almonds

If you’re looking for ways to add healing mushrooms to food, this one’s for you. The recipe calls for reishi, but I had an adaptogenic mushroom mix on hand that I used. You can also leave this out if you wish. Finish your chocolate almonds with a sprinkle of sea salt and you’ve got a satisfying superfood treat that won’t disappoint.*

 

Servings: makes about 1 cup

 

Ingredients:

6 ounces dark chocolate

1 teaspoon reishi mushroom mix (or another adaptogenic mushroom mix)

1/3 cup raw honey

pinch of ground cinnamon

1 cup raw almonds (unblanched; soaked for at least 4 hours - optional)

sea salt (optional)

 

Directions:

1.     Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.     Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over low heat, about 10 minutes. (Alternatively, you can microwave for one minute, then additional 15-second increments as needed). Add your mushroom mix to the melted chocolate and stir well to combine.

3.     Meanwhile, combine honey, cinnamon and 1/3 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once simmering, stir in the almonds and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

4.     Pour the honey-coated almonds into the chocolate and stir until all are coated evenly. Spread the chocolate-covered almonds over the prepared baking sheet and set aside to cool, allowing them to harden for at least 1 hour before serving.

5.     Add a sprinkle of sea salt just before serving. Enjoy!

 

Source: https://goop.com/recipes/reishi-chocolate-almonds/

*Note: Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult with their doctor before taking any supplements. 

 


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Anti-inflammatory (or Recovery) Tonic: Big Batch Golden Milk

Anyone else feel like they’re glowing from the inside out when sipping on some golden milk? Perfect for the winter months (or post-party recovery), and loaded with anti-inflammatory turmeric (refresh yourself on turmeric’s benefits here), golden milk can be even easier to whip up when you have a pre-made spice mix on hand. This recipe makes quite a lot, but know that you can add this spice mix to curry dishes, soups, stews, and smoothies, too. I halved the recipe and still filled a couple small mason jars. Share with friends and family to enjoy all winter long (don’t forget to include the golden milk recipe).

 

Servings: approximately 120

 

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup ground turmeric

2/3 cup ground ginger

1/3 cup ground cinnamon

2 ½ tablespoons ground pepper

2 tablespoons ground cardamom

scant 3 tablespoons ground cloves

2 ½ tablespoons ground nutmeg

3 tablespoons ground star anise

¼ cup ground coriander

Note: you can buy spices in bulk at MOM’s Organic Market

 

Directions:

1.     Combine all spices in a large bowl. Sir well.

2.     Transfer mix to large jar or several smaller ones and seal with an airtight lid.

3.     Keeps for up to 6 months.

 

Golden Milk Recipe (single serving)

Ingredients:

½ tablespoon golden milk spice mix

1 cup milk of choice (such as coconut milk, cashew milk or almond milk)

½ - 1 teaspoon virgin coconut oil (or you can use coconut butter or ghee)

½ - 1 teaspoon sweetener of choice (maple syrup or raw honey)

 

Directions:

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm milk until just before it simmers. Whisk in golden milk spice blend until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in coconut oil and sweetener. Enjoy!

 

Source: https://www.mynewroots.org/site/

 

Happy New Year!

Gingerbread Whoopie Pies

Keep the holiday baking going strong with these dairy- and gluten-free gingerbread whoopie pies. A cleaned up version of the gingerbread cookies from childhood; these pies satisfy your sweet tooth without raising your blood sugar levels. Did we mention coconut filling? Yum.

 

Servings: 12 whoopie pie sandwiches

 

Ingredients

 

For the cookie:

1 cup Cup4Cup gluten-free flour

1 cup almond flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup coconut oil

½ cup coconut sugar

1 egg

1 cup unsweetened applesauce (room temperature)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup molasses

 

For the filling:

1 can coconut milk, refrigerated overnight

1 tablespoon maple syrup (I used a little extra)

pinch of kosher salt

 

Directions:

 

1.     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2.     Combine the first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together.

3.     Place the coconut oil and coconut sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together until smooth and combined.

4.     Add the egg, mix, then beat in the applesauce, vanilla, and molasses. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix to combine.

5.     Spoon heaping tablespoons of batter onto two parchment-lined baking sheets (you should have 12 on each sheet), and use your fingers to press them into flat, roughly 2-inch rounds.

6.     Bake in a preheated oven for 12 minutes. Remove and let cool to room temperature.

7.     While the cookies cool, make the coconut filling. Open the can of coconut milk and scoop the solid cream into a large bowl. Use a fork to break up any large clumps, then whisk until just smooth. Whisk in the maple syrup and a pinch of salt.

8.     Divide the cream filling between half of the cooled cookies, and top with a second cookie to make a sandwich.

9.     Place in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to harden up, then serve.

 

Source: https://goop.com/recipes/gingerbread-whoopie-pies/

 

Team AC’s Favorite Holiday Treats & Traditions (and Seasonal Self-Care)

We’re dishing up what we love most about the holidays—what feeds our soul, as well as self-care practices that keep both our spirits and energy high when the busyness of the season sets in.

 

The holidays are upon us, and here at Ascend we’re soaking in the abundant good vibes that accompany this festive season. The twinkle of holiday lights, warm drinks in hand, and the sound of holiday tunes evoke feelings of nostalgia while allowing us to settle down and enjoy the most wonderful time of the year. However, it’s common to feel a bit overwhelmed by both the joy and the stress that can go hand in hand right about now. Elevated emotions can cause us to lose sight of the season’s true gifts—a sense of gratitude, peace, hope, and love. Taking good care of ourselves through the hustle and bustle allows us to find greater fulfillment in the season and better manage stress when challenges crop up. And let’s be honest, all of this allows us to simply have more fun, right?

 

We’ve asked our team members to share with our community of riders what they love most about the holiday season while also touching on the importance of self-care practices to remain grounded through all the crazy. Let’s take a look:

 

We want to know: what are your favorite food-related holiday treats or traditions?

 

“Every year, my dad makes batches and batches of homemade caramels. Everyone knows they've made the Weissberg family's ‘nice list’ if they get a bag of these homemade treats!” –Allie W.

 

 “My Grandma makes our Italian family sauce (it takes 3 full days to make perfect) and a pan of pasta. I look forward to it every year and it reminds me of family and our history.” –Brandon

 

“My favorite holiday treat and tradition during Christmas Eve dinner includes Slovak traditional sauerkraut soup, carp and potato salad. I can't imagine my holidays without it. In my family, each one of our appetizers has special meaning. So, they are pretty much irreplaceable.” –Dominika

 

“Making molasses crinkles and salted Nutella chews and passing them out to friends and family.” –Emily

 

“When we were little our dad always used to make Norwegian cookies called krumkake during the holidays. You put the batter on a really fancy iron and then roll up the hot cookie into a cone. It makes the whole house smell like cardamom and it was one of our favorite activities to do with our dad when we were growing up. We still make them to this day during the holidays. Another favorite is having Italian cold cuts for lunch, it’s something we always look forward to.” –Jacque and Tori (AC sisters)

 

“A favorite tradition is that our whole family gets in pajamas and we drive around looking at Christmas lights while drinking cocoa.” –Jaime

 

“My favorite treat & tradition is making sugar cookies and "spritz" butter cookies with my mom and sister.” –Kat

 

“My family and I volunteer wrapping presents at the Children's Hospital. They have a Toy Land where they get to grab toys for the entire family. My favorite treat would have to be Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies.” –Lindsey

 

“My mom is Italian so every year we have an Italian feast - home made ravioli, lasagna, braciole. It's the best meal I have all year.” –M.B.

 

“Pecan Pie all day everyday!” –May

 

“My favorite holiday treat is dark chocolate peppermint bars (gluten free).” –Michelle

 

“My favorite food tradition is making rice balls with my mom (sticky rice with cheese and prosciutto deep fried into crunchy melty goodness).” –Rebecca

 

“Lox on Christmas morning.” –Skylar

 

Let’s face it; while wonderful, the holidays can get a little hectic. How do you prioritize self-care so you stay sane—or if you’re not stressed, what keeps you at ease?

 

“To keep myself sane, I make sure to take care of myself by keeping up as normal of a workout routine as I can. I also love to bake, especially for the holidays, and having this time in the kitchen with all the holiday smells keeps me happy and sane!” –Allie W.

 

“My self care is following up with childhood friends while home, spending time in candle light with some classic jazz music, and playing with my puppies - they love this time of year with the snow!” –Brandon

 

“My must-do self care is at least 30 minute of alone time every day. Alone time means that I give up my phone, laptop and practice mindfulness or light yoga. No matter how long my to do list is, this time of the day is #1. It's easier said than done, but I know that taking these 30 minutes to myself will increase my productivity during ‘busy time’.” –Dominika

 

“Seeing the Nutcracker with family. It doesn't feel like Christmas without it!” –Emily

 

“Self-care is baking! Making cookies is my favorite!” –Jacque

 

“Our family picks someone in the community that we can give a special gift to... one year, it was our mailman. Another year, it was our favorite cashier at the grocery store. We give them a gift card and tell them how much we appreciate them!” –Jaime

 

“Christmas scented candles, Christmas lights, making sure that I make time to meal prep and eat healthy, and of course, red wine!” –Kat

 

 “I spend way to much money at Lush and enjoy a bubble bath and some candles.” –Lindsey

 

“SLEEP! And family time.”–M.B.

 

“I go for a long walk to relieve the stress, (I know I am from SoCal and don't understand weather). There's nothing as refreshing as that cold air in the face, especially when I am jamming to a class playlist.” –May

 

“My favorite tradition, spending time with my family in California - we don't do anything crazy, but it's really nice to just hang out together and relax.” –Michelle  

 

“Sitting with white chocolate peppermint tea and holiday candles in matching pajamas (they make life feel more together!).” –Rebecca 

 

“Honestly I’m not very stressed during the holidays, but find listing to Christmas music to be so nice and fun.” –Sklyar

 

“I try to enjoy my winter break by relaxing and sleeping in!” –Tori

 

We wish all of our riders the happ-happiest holiday season filled with a healthy balance of fun and relaxation.

The Ascend Health & Wellness Gift Guide
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Unsure what to give that special someone on your list? Check out our gift guide designed to help your (naughty or nice) loved ones achieve better health and wellness this holiday season.

While the holidays can be a festive and magical time, the pressure to find the perfect gift for your spouse/friend/colleague/whomever can be a bit stress inducing. In the midst of the hustle and bustle (and before you reach for that third spiked eggnog out of angst), we’ve compiled some gift recommendations to help you spread love—and wellness—this holiday season.

Before diving into the goods, let’s take a quick moment to step back during this season of spending and acknowledge what gifts truly promote happiness. While material items can spark momentary contentment, it’s often fleeting. Researchers have found that experiences bring longer lasting joy. Rather than just giving things this holiday season, consider what will bring about a deeper sense of happiness—experiences, time (either time together or short-cuts that free up more time), and health promotion. With that in mind, our gift guide includes items that can lead to healthy behavior change or wellness accessories that are easy on the eyes. We hope our list inspires you to give the gift of health this holiday season.

 

1. Ascend Underground gear: Hot off the presses, this new gear is almost as smokin’ as the workout itself. Stop by our studio and grab some before it’s gone!

 

2. S’well water bottle: Adequate hydration is crucial for your body and skin (read up on the importance of H20 here). Sip in style with these eco-friendly water bottles that come in a variety of colors and sizes. Did we mention the 25 oz size holds a full bottle of wine?

 

3. Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee: Can’t we all use a dose of ‘shrooms in our cup? Whether you’re shopping for a coffee drinker, cocoa lover, or matcha maniac, Four Sigmatic offers single-serve packets that make it easy (and convenient) to drink up the amazing benefits that functional mushrooms offer.

Take this gift up a notch by adding a Chemex coffee maker or handheld milk frother.

 

4. DOPE beet bliss powder: Get a daily boost of superfoods with this organic powder that combines beets, cacao, baobab, and mangosteen—the perfect addition to a recovery smoothie if you ask us.

 

5. Foam Roller: Fitness gurus will love the gift of self-myofascial release.

 

6. His & her Lululemon backpacks: For those who like to tote their workout gear in style—or pretend to.

For women &  For men

 

7. Wake Pray Slay journal: Both expressive writing and/or taking a few moments to journal about what you’re grateful for each day can lead to a more positive mindset. (Michelle, you’re the inspiration behind this one!)

 

8. Sur la table cooking class: For the foodie (or foodie wannabe) on your list. Choose from date night classes, workshops, or basic skill cooking lessons. With cooking at the heart of a healthy lifestyle, who wouldn’t love to get more comfortable in the kitchen? Online classes also offered.

 

9. The Laundress Sports Detergent: For the fitness guru who has everything, they’ll likely appreciate this detergent that keeps activewear in top form while removing sweat, odor, and stains.

 

10. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): Make it easier for the people in your life to have access to local and organic produce.

Search the directory of CSA memberships by zip code

 

11. Glass prep containers: Meal prepping can lead to healthier eating, and having the right containers on hand makes the process a bit easier. We like these containers because they’re made of glass, have dividers (perfect for work lunches) and are both microwave and dishwasher safe.

Also, those looking for quick and convenient cooking, we’ve heard good things about the instant pot.

 

12. Salt soak (aka self-care stocking stuffers): Who wouldn’t want to hop into a warm bath with these salts? Great for soothing sore muscles, these packs will encourage your recipients to put themselves in a time out. Cue the relaxation…

 

Of course, you can always surprise someone (or yourself, we won’t tell) with an Ascend series class package. Classes can be used at Ascend Cycle or Ascend Underground.  Purchase a gift card here!  

 

That’s a wrap, friends. Happy gifting!

 

Blogpost written by Ascend content expert, Ashley Hart

Party Time Bites

Hey party people! Whether you’re hosting a seasonal party, an intimate gathering, or watching the big game, it’s always helpful to have a few healthy snacking ideas on hand. Ditch the traditional heavy hitters and try these more nutritious crowd-pleasers at your next get-together.

 

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Sweet Potato Crostini with Smoked Salmon and Chanterelles

These gourmet bites look fancy but are quite simple to prepare—and provide a healthy dose of nutrients to boot. Yum.

 

Ingredients

·      3 sweet potatoes, sliced into ½ inch rounds

·      ¾ lbs chanterelle mushrooms (or any variety), sautéed

·      smoked salmon

·      avocado oil

·      sea salt and black pepper to finish

 

Yogurt spread:

·      1 cup yogurt

·      ¼ cup dill, finely chopped

·      1/8 cup chives, finely chopped

·      juice of ½ lemon

·      1 tsp salt

·      2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spread sweet potato rounds on baking sheet and us a paper towel or brush to lightly coat with avocado oil.

 

Bake for about 20 minutes until cooked through but still firm. For a more golden finish, broil on high for a couple minutes, flipping halfway through (keep an eye not to burn).

 

 In a small bowl, combine all the yogurt spread ingredients and mix together.

 

Once sweet potato rounds have cooled for a few minutes, spread the yogurt mixture on top of each crostini. Top with either sautéed mushrooms or smoked salmon. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with microgreens (optional).

 

Recipe Source

 

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Party crudité platter with beet hummus

Ditch the store-bough plastic veggie tray, and get creative with colorful vegetables, fruit, nuts, and interesting dips. The best thing about party trays…no rules! Just put together a combo of your favorite items and let people serve themselves. Win-win.

 

Click here for the recipe for this vibrant beet hummus

 

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Turmeric Roasted Chickpeas 

Because we’re always looking for new ways to add the powerful anti-inflammatory spice, turmeric, to dishes. These taste best fresh from the oven when they’re still warm.

 

Ingredients:

·      3 cups organic chickpeas

·      2 tablespoons turmeric

·      1 tablespoon coconut oil

·      1 teaspoon Himalayan pink sea salt

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Grease a backing sheet with coconut oil, then pour chickpeas, coconut oil, sea salt and turmeric onto the sheet. Mix with your hands until well mixed throughout.

 

Roast for 40-50 minutes, or until golden brown. Enjoy!

 

Recipe source

 

Blogpost written by Ascend Content expert, Ashley Hart

 

Superfood Spotlight: Chocolate

Just in time for the holiday season, we’re here to remind you that chocolate can be good for us (yasss!). Cacao powder has many health benefits for our body, mind, and mood. Before you reach for that chocolate bar, learn what type is best, and why.

 

Cacao vs. cocoa: what’s the difference?

We’ve all heard that dark chocolate is good for us, but when faced with the different varieties, it can be confusing to know which form of chocolate is best and how they vary. To break it down, cacao powder and cocoa powder differ in how they are processed from the raw cacao beans. Raw cacao powder is made from cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans, while cocoa undergoes heavier processing from roasting the beans at high temperatures. This reduces nutrients, beneficial enzymes, and antioxidant levels but leaves a sweeter, milder taste. This form is typically combined with dairy, sugar, and other additives to make the milk chocolate candy we recognize at the store. It’s the addition of these extra items that make it less healthy. Raw cacao is much higher in antioxidant flavanols (much higher than blueberries, in fact!), though its taste is quite bitter. Reach for the least processed version when possible.

 

What are the health benefits of chocolate?

In addition to being a powerhouse of antioxidants (which fight free radicals to reduce cellular damage), chocolate has many additional health benefits. Raw or dark chocolate can provide a dose of important minerals and possible health benefits, such as:

Elevate mood: There’s a reason why the sweet stuff leaves us feeling blissful. Chocolate contains the chemicals phenylethylamine (PEA), serotonin, dopamine, and anandamide, which help lift our mood, improve feelings of wellbeing, and keep depression at bay.

Protect heart health: A compound in chocolate called theobromine acts as a vasodilator—helping to open blood vessels and improve circulation. Due to antioxidants and flavanols, chocolate has also been associated with lowering blood pressure and reducing LDL cholesterol (which leads to plaque build up in artery walls). Its anti-clotting properties also help lower the risk of stroke in aging adults.

Improve cognitive function and memory: Studies have shown that antioxidant-rich chocolate can help neurovascular coupling—which refers to how the blood flow changes in response to brain activity. This is important for sharp thinking and memory, and may play a role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

Regulate insulin levels: The flavonol, epicatechin, has been shown to strengthen insulin sensitivity and regulate glucose production.

Provide important minerals: Chocolate is one of the richest sources of magnesium. Magnesium is vital for many functions in the body such as energy production, muscle and nerve function, bone formation, calcium absorption, heart health, and lessening anxiety. Cacao is also rich in iron, an important mineral for building red blood cells that transport oxygen throughout the body. Other minerals found in this superfood include calcium, copper, zinc, and manganese.

 

How to incorporate raw cacao in your diet

You can add raw cacao powder to smoothies, yogurt, hot chocolate, ‘nice’ cream, or incorporate into baked goods. Raw cacao nibs—broken up pieces of the cacao bean—can replace chocolate chips in some recipes or top snacks for an added crunch. We’re not going to pretend that raw cacao tastes the same as milk chocolate (we’d be lying) as it does have a bitter taste. Therefore, it’s best combined with something that has a natural sweetness. But watch added dairy—as dairy can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb the wonderful phytonutrients.  

The bottom line is this: moderate consumption of dark chocolate can be part of a healthy diet. To reap the benefits, add raw cacao to your diet or opt for dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao solids (vs. milk chocolate or white chocolate). The less processed the better, as too much added fat and sugar can counteract the health benefits. But most importantly, make sure to incorporate it in such a way that pleases your taste buds, too. Life’s too short not to enjoy what makes you happy.

 

Coconut butter hot chocolate recipe

As temperatures dip, cozy up with this deliciously satisfying and healthier take on hot cocoa.

SERVES 2

  • 1 ounce, dark dairy-free chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cacao powder
  • 2 tablespoons coconut butter
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 2 Medjool dates, softened
  • 2 ½ cups unsweetened, nondairy milk of choice
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in upright blender. Blend the mixture on high until the raw chocolate is scattered throughout and looks like tiny flecks.

Warm the coconut butter hot chocolate mixture on the stove in a small saucepan on medium heat, whisking frequently. When it’s simmering, steamy, and frothy on top, it’s ready. Pour into two mugs, and enjoy. Top with some grated chocolate.

*Note: you can add a dash of cayenne pepper, cinnamon, tocos, reishi, pine pollen (I added bliss booster to mine) or top with coconut whip.

Source: http://thefirstmess.com/2016/10/01/vegan-coconut-butter-hot-chocolate-recipe/

 

Turn up the beets! Roasted Beet and Butternut Squash Salad

This seasonal salad makes a delicious and festive side for your Thanksgiving meal—or any meal for that matter. The roasted butternut squash and beets (especially while warm) pair so well with goat cheese and peppery arugula. Keep it simple or jazz it up with some pomegranate seeds and pine nuts. Packed with vitamins and antioxidants, this salad is so good (and good for you).

 

Ingredients:

  • Arugula
  • 1/2 container of precut butternut squash (depending on size you may use a full container or you can peel, chop and roast 1 small butternut squash)
  • 5 small beets (I used a mix of dark and golden)
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

 

Dressing:

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons maple syrup
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 420 F. While oven is preheating, scrub beets, remove beet leaves (you can sauté these at a later time if in good condition), place beets in a foil tent on a small baking pan. (I add a small dash of evoo before closing the foil tent).
  2. Roast beets for 20 minutes while you prepare the butternut squash.
  3. Place cut butternut squash on baking pan lined with parchment paper. Lightly coat with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
  4. Once the beets have roasted for 20 minutes, add the butternut squash to the oven and roast both for ~30 minutes (until butternut squash is done). The timing of the beets will depend on their size, and may require additional cooking time. They should be easily pierced with a fork when done.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the dressing. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend for 30 seconds. Taste and adjust as necessary. You could experiment with lemon juice or 1 clove of garlic if you choose.
  6. Toast the pine nuts in a small, dry pan over medium-low heat. Watch closely and stir frequently as they can easily burn. Once they turn a golden brown, they are done. Remove from heat.
  7. When the beets are done, open the foil tent and let sit until cool enough to handle. Using gloves or paper towels (to prevent your hands from staining), remove the outside skin. Slice or quarter the roasted beets.
  8. Place the arugula in your serving dish. Add the roasted beets, roasted butternut squash, and top with pieces of goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. Lightly drizzle with dressing and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Save the remainder of the salad dressing in a jar or airtight container in the fridge. If eating leftovers, I suggest warming up the beets and squash before serving.

Recipe credit:  Ashley Hart