Gut Instincts

Bacteria, yeast, and fungus, oh my! The human microbiome can seem like a scary place under a microscope, and indeed, the results can be quite horrifying when thrown out of balance. Bloating, discomfort, and irregularity are just the beginning for those so unlucky to experience it themselves. Probiotics are essential for restoring internal (and especially intestinal) peace, found naturally in fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and kimchi, and more fortified processed foods than ever. Less fanfare is given to prebiotics, supplements that actually rebuild those good bacteria existing in your system, supporting your unique flora and fauna already hard at work.

There’s no one size fits all solution to wellness, which is why the current state of the probiotic craze makes little sense. Some strains may work well for some people, not at all for others, and yet there’s scant information on how to best utilize the wealth of choices now at our disposal. Country Life’s Gut Connection offers a targeted approach to address specific concerns, all stemming from a microbiome at odds.

Given the opportunity to use myself as a test subject for this innovative approach to holistic health, I was intrigued, if a bit skeptical as I broke the seal on a new bottle of Digestive Balance. I already take daily probiotic supplements, so I thought I was already doing reasonable due diligence on the issue. Prone to overindulgence at times and with a voracious appetite for all things new, particularly unusual, I’m no stranger to varying degrees of distress after a night on the town. Just one week in, I felt a real difference not just in physical symptoms, but overall well-being. If not for carefully logging my results to stay accountable, I would have doubted the impact, too. 

“Balance” is a moving target and a difficult concept to define, but in this regard, can be distilled to four primary components:

  1. Clear signals between gut and brain.
  2. Gut microbiota helps maintain immune system.
  3. Healthy gut lining.
  4. Happy digestive track.

Simple, right? If you have the right tools at your disposal, it really is! Everyone should be so fortunate to achieve that sort of internal harmony, so I’m pleased to share a FREE full bottle of Energy Balance with one lucky reader! Enter your details in the form below, and tell me in the comment section: Do you take pre- or probiotics? Have you struggled with poor digestion, and do you think it may be linked to frequent fatigue or general lethargy?

Gut Connection by Country Life Giveaway

Go with your gut. Though poor digestion may not be the first culprit to investigate when it comes to poor sleep, stress, or immunity, the results go to show that everything truly is connected.

This review was made possible as a collaboration with Moms Meet and Country Life. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

 

 

 

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Here’s the Beef

I’m not afraid of controversy, but I’ll avoid confrontation at all costs. I like to think of myself as a peacemaker, but also a rebellious troublemaker deep inside. It’s within this bundle of contradictions that I was both thrilled and appalled by the announcement of a fully vegan burger going on the permanent menu for McDonald’s Germany. Yes, the very same golden arches that can’t seem to make room for animal-free french fries back home in the US. The Big Vegan TS is another daring response to super meaty patties popularized by Beyond and Impossible, made with soy and wheat, swaddled by a sesame seed bun, lettuce, tomato, pickles and red onion. Not just meatless, not just vegan with modifications, this assembly automatically omits any and all cheese, mayo, or animal-derived additives. It’s even prepared in a dedicated deep-fryer, rather than the standard griddle smeared with beef fat. No matter how you feel about the clown at large, this is big news.

Even crazier than its mere existence was the coincidence that I would be abroad just about one week after the initial launch. I had to get one. I couldn’t possibly get one. It went against every shred of nutritional common sense instilled in me, every consideration for supporting small businesses and shunning a conglomerate otherwise responsible for some of the most egregious animal abuse in the world.

Curiousity, inevitably, will be my downfall one day. Believe it or not, however, this was not that day.

Arriving at the table at speeds that only a well-oiled fast food operation could hope to achieve, it looked and smelled every bit as meaty as anything else on the menu. Crisp on the outside, charred and smoky on the nose, while the interior remained juicy, hauntingly pink as promised. Sinking my teeth in to the soft, squishy white bread, lightly stained with grease, it struck me that I had never actually eaten a burger at McDonald’s before in my entire life.

I hated it. I loved it. It was everything I wanted it to be and better, but still worse. It would have been easier just to hate it on principle, but no one can deny that carefully engineered combination of fat, sugar, and salt designed to hit all the pleasure centers of the brain. As my omnivorous dining companion pointed out, the original tastes so minimally like beef in the first place, you could likely swap the two without noticing any difference.

That’s the ultimate point here. The Big Vegan TS is not an entree made with me or the vegan population at large in mind. Forever pandering to millennials and younger generations more concerned about healthy eating, it’s a smarter alternative to red meat for someone who might otherwise indulge without a second thought. Providing a lower cost, mainstream meatless meal in places where accessibility might otherwise be a barrier, it’s a huge step in making real change across an entirely different demographic. Though hardcore vegans may still raise hell about the purveyor, it’s a move that should be celebrated for the overall impact on animal lives.

Hopefully the success of this bold new innovation will encourage McDonald’s worldwide to follow suit in short order. While such decadence would be an admittedly rare indulgence for me, I can’t lie; I’d travel anywhere for those crispy, iconic fries.

 

 

 

Now Schmear This

Turn any day into a special occasion with little bite-sized cheesecakes, every bit as rich and luscious as a thick slice but quicker, easier, and ideal for a more intimate gathering. In fact, with these beauties on tap, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw a party for one.

I was lucky enough to snag an early sample of Treeline’s new cream cheese and it was love at first schmear. The cashew-based spread is very creamy and smooth, with a finish that tastes clean, buttery, and definitely rich. The flavor is on point; mild, delicately nuanced, both subtly savory and sweet at once. Easily one of the best options on the market so far, no matter your dietary preferences.

It’s not a dead-ringer for dairy, but quite possibly even better. Beyond slathering it on bagels and toast, it works perfectly in recipes. In fact, it excels in baking since there aren’t any additives, stabilizers or gums. Nothing but pure creamy indulgence here in these mini cheesecakes, from crust to cream topping.

Even if you can’t track down the brand, don’t sleep on these tried-and-true classic treats. Get the recipe details over at GoDairyFree.org and celebrate the everyday, any day.

 

 

 

Creativity in a Vacuum

Imagine you’re wheeling a grocery cart loaded with fresh, carefully selected, and thoughtfully purchased foods through a parking lot, out to your car. You’re a conscious consumer, opting for organics whenever possible, looking for Fair Trade and Equal Exchange certifications, reading nutrition labels from beginning to end. You load the trunk, gently tucking four bags into the mesh cargo net so they won’t tumble in transit, pull down the sunshade to keep everything cool, and gently click the latch closed. You begin to drive away, when out of the corner of your eye, you see the cart, still holding one more bag, full of food. Inexplicably, you continue on your way home, leaving it to rot in the midday sun.

It’s a dramatization of reality, but a reality we must face nonetheless. Americans waste as much as 20% of the food they purchase, despite the best intentions. Whether it’s an overzealous purchase of prime produce or grand cooking plans that never come to fruition, the old, wilted, moldy, and shriveled results are every bit as inedible. If you’re buying in bulk or merely buying with an eye towards long-term storage, you might as well flush 1/5th of your paycheck down the toilet if you don’t invest in a vacuum sealer.

By removing the excess oxygen surrounding your food, you’re slowing the natural decaying process causing bacterial growth, which keeps everything from fruits to nuts fresh up to five times longer than when simply refrigerated or frozen. Heat-sealed bags are much more secure and durable than any zip top baggies or plastic cling film, which makes it a smarter choice for meal prep and travel snacks, too. Ever since the FoodSaver FM2000 came into my life, it’s saved me from more than just the mundane insult of food waste. Earning a spot on the counter as an essential culinary assistant in its own right, I’ve taken great delight in making quick pickles thanks to the accommodating canisters and containers, dabbled a bit with sous vide, and slashed marinating times in half.

This is not my first time at the vacuum sealing rodeo. Bought on a whim, my earliest model was far from inspiring. Loud as a jet plane, prone to jamming, rough on crushable foods, and notoriously prone to sealing failure, it was quickly ferreted away into the basement, where’s it’s been collecting dust ever since. FoodSaver suffers from none of these common shortcomings; it’s the #1 best-selling vacuum sealing brand for good reason, with the confidence to offer a 5-year limited warranty across the board. Operation really is child’s play, and since they’re all ETL safety certified, you really could let your kids take the reins without worry.

Easy enough to plug and play without even reading the instructions through, I do have a few quick tips for best vacuum sealing practices:

  1. Freeze liquids, marinades, or wet items in advance. Sauces and soups are still great candidates for vacuum-sealed preservation, but only if frozen solid before sealing. Otherwise, the liquid will get sucked right into the machine, which will make a huge mess and could damage the appliance.
  2. Double-bag powdery items, like flour or sugar. Place in a standard zip-top bag first, poking a tiny hole in it to get the air out without releasing all the loose particles, before tucking them into the FoodSaver bag.
  3. Leave some breathing space, especially towards the top of the bag. Avoid the temptation to stuff as much possible into every bag. If you don’t, you may not be able to get a solid seal. However, if you don’t get a good seal first time, you can try making a second seal a bit further up.

The bags are BPA-free, freezer safe, microwaveable, recyclable, washable, and even reusable! Yes, you can keep on dealing and sealing again and again with the very same bags. Simply wipe off any food or residue near the seal area if resealing partially used food, and make sure they’re clean and dry if starting anew.

Using the FoodSaver FM2000, there truly is nothing to lose.

This post was made possible thanks to support from FoodSaver. Some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I recommend them because I personally find the products helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.