• A Healthy Holiday Treat: Chocolate Brownies

    (Originally published December 28, 2012 at

    As I write this, our home is filled with the welcoming scent of home-baked cookies. Over the past few weeks, Jen and I (with plenty of help from our children) have been busy baking treats for the holidays, which we enjoy sharing with family, friends, and neighbors. I believe that treats can be a part of a healthy diet, if made with good quality ingredients and eaten in moderation.

    Dark chocolate, in particular, provides a sweet, sensual, and sin-free pleasure food as well as some significant health benefits. Chocolate is a good source of magnesium, a nutrient that many people don’t get enough of in their diets. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a natural compound that promotes mental alertness, clarity, and enhances the ability to concentrate and retain information (dark chocolate has even been shown in studies to reduce the onset of dementia). Many people feel happier and calmer after consuming a bit of chocolate, and there’s a scientific reason: Chocolate contains the amino acid tryptophan, which makes the neurotransmitter known as serotonin; together with the neurotransmitters dopamine, and the compounds phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide (known as the “bliss chemical”), these natural compounds exert beneficial effects on the brain and nervous system and help to prevent depression. Finally, research indicates that dark chocolate has positive effects on blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, apparently through reducing inflammation.

    To be beneficial, chocolate must be dark (milk or white chocolate doesn’t have the same healthful properties). The cacao bean from which chocolate is made is rich in antioxidant phytochemicals known as flavanols, however, the concentration of the flavanols in chocolate depends on how the cacao bean is processed. When choosing chocolate, buy dark, good quality chocolate (at least 70% cacao content or higher). For baking chocolate, choose unsweetened cocoa powder that has not been “Dutch processed” (a process that washes the beans with an alkali substance that destroys the beneficial flavanols).

    These brownies are made with rich dark unsweetened cocoa powder, which is an excellent source of healthful polyphenols (our favorite cocoa powder is Dagoba or Ghirardelli). They also contain coconut in several forms: coconut flour makes them appropriate for those who must avoid gluten, and coconut oil provides beneficial medium chain triglycerides, which have been shown to increase beneficial HDL cholesterol. Coconut oil is a good substitute for butter in any recipe. Sweetness is provided by coconut palm sugar, a natural sugar lower on the glycemic index that doesn’t wreak havoc with blood sugar levels. Finally, they’re loaded with shredded coconut, pecans, and dark chocolate chips. These brownies are a delicious, satisfying, and healthful holiday treat. Enjoy!

    Healthy Chocolate Brownies


    • 1/3 cup coconut oil (plus additional for pan)
    • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 6 eggs
    • 1 cup coconut palm sugar
    • ¼  teaspoon sea salt
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • ½ teaspoon powdered cinnamon
    • ½ cup coconut flour
    • ½ cup roughly chopped pecans, lightly toasted
    • ½ cup flaked coconut (unsweetened)
    • ½ cup bittersweet dark chocolate chips


    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 8×8 baking pan with coconut oil.
    2. Melt 1/3 cup coconut oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and mix thoroughly. Set aside and let cool.
    3. In large mixing bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add cooled coconut oil-cocoa mixture and blend.
    4. Add coconut flour and cinnamon, blending until smooth.
    5. Stir in pecans, coconut, and chocolate chips.
    6. Spread batter into prepared pan, and bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until done. (Brownies are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.)

    Cool, and cut into 16 pieces.

  • Dandelion: Much More Than A Weed

    (Originally posted November 20, 2012 at

    By Donnie Yance

    My oldest coffee mug is decorated with a big picture of a dandelion and emblazoned with: “If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em.”

    Many people consider the humble dandelion to be a pesky weed, and attempt to eradicate it from their lawns and gardens with toxic herbicides. But no matter how many poisonous chemicals are dumped onto dandelions, the bright yellow flowering plants not only survive, they thrive.

    The scientific name for dandelion is Taraxacum officinale, which translates as “the official remedy for disorders,” acknowledging the esteemed position that dandelion has held as a medicinal herb. For centuries, dandelion (both the leaf and root) has been used in traditional healing in cultures around the world.

    Dandelion greens are extremely nutritious, with an abundance of vitamins A, B complex, C and D; and minerals including iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium and zinc. Dandelion leaves are an extraordinarily rich source of beta-carotene—in fact, the fresh leaves contain more beta-carotene than carrots. In herbal medicine, dandelion has been used as an effective and safe diuretic. Because the plant is rich in potassium and other trace minerals, it doesn’t cause dangerous electrolyte imbalances, as can synthetic diuretics.

    The common name dandelion comes from the French dents de lion, meaning lion’s teeth—a reference to the toothed margins of the leaves. A number of plants are easily mistaken for dandelion, but there are two distinctive characteristics that set dandelion apart from look-alikes: the leaves of dandelion are smooth, without fuzz or spines; and each flower grows as a single stalk directly from the base of the plant (unlike many imposters, which sport one central or multi-flowered branching stalk).

    As an herbalist I use both the root and the leaf as medicine. Dandelion is a choleretic, diuretic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory; with potent redox-anti-oxidant activity, dandelion defends the liver against a wide variety of toxins. A recent research study proved that dandelion leaf extract effectively protects the liver against acetaminophen toxicity, which can cause acute liver failure and even death. [i]

    The mildly bitter flavor of dandelion stimulates liver and gallbladder function, making it a popular herbal remedy for improving digestion. I recommend dandelion as a digestive tonic, particularly to remedy liver stagnation and to enhance the digestion of fats. In addition, dandelion greens and root are both excellent for the kidneys. Because of their natural diuretic properties, they are useful for alleviating water retention and as a kidney-cleansing tonic. In general, I regard dandelion as a great tonic for overall health. I recently came across an interesting study that found dandelion improved energy levels and immune health in mice. [ii]

    As far as I’m concerned, the many health benefits of dandelion are icing on the cake. I enjoy the flavor of dandelion greens; in my Italian culinary heritage, we use fresh young dandelion greens in salads, and we cook mature dandelion leaves in the same way that you would cook spinach. I’d like to share one of my favorite dandelion greens recipe with you. This is a perfect fall dish.

    Italian-Style Sautéed Dandelion Leaves:

    • Wash and clean one bunch of dandelion leaves.
    • Slice into one-inch wide ribbons.
    • Heat in 1-2 Tbls. of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, but not smoking, add 1 tsp. of freshly crushed garlic, dandelion greens, and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté for 2-5 minutes, until greens are tender.
    • Add a splash of good quality balsamic vinegar and powdered seaweed to taste.
    • To vary the recipe, add 1-2 ozs. organic crushed tomatoes or 1 tsp. tomato paste while greens are sautéing.
    • Serve, and enjoy!

    [i] Colle DArantes LPGubert Pda Luz SCAthayde MLTeixeira Rocha JBSoares FA. Antioxidant properties of Taraxacum officinale leaf extract are involved in the protective effect against hepatoxicity induced by acetaminophen in mice, J Med Food. 2012 Jun;15(6):549-56. Epub 2012 Mar 16.

    [ii] Lee BRLee JHAn HJ. Effects of Taraxacum officinale on Fatigue and Immunological Parameters in Mice, Molecules. 2012 Nov 7;17(11):13253-65. doi: 10.3390/molecules171113253.

  • Food Labeling: We Have The Right To Know

    (Originally posted at on October 30, 2012)

    I strongly believe that we have the right to know that the food we are consuming is safe. It seems like this should be a basic right, and in this day and age, I believe we MUST pay attention and be educated about any potential risks to our health. It’s hard to understand why people choose to eat fried foods laden with dangerous fats, or drink beverages filled with sweeteners and artificial ingredients. But at least we can read the ingredient labels, educate ourselves about the possible health risks, and choose NOT to consume these processed foods. Unfortunately, in the case of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), there are big corporations that are spending millions of dollars in the attempt to keep us in the dark about what’s in our food.

    The corporations that are campaigning against truth and transparency in food labeling are those that stand to make enormous profits from the genetic engineering of our nation’s food supply. Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow, chemical companies that are heavily invested in biotechnology, are fighting legislation that will require the labeling of foods that contain GMO’s. These are the same companies that created DDT and Agent Orange, and they assured us that these highly toxic chemicals were safe. Of course, decades later, the truth emerged about the detrimental, pervasive effects that the widespread use of these chemicals has had on our health and the environment. Not surprisingly, other food industry giants that are fighting against GMO labeling include Nestle, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, and General Mills. Disturbingly, these very same companies also own organic brands such as Cascadian Farms, Kashi, and Horizon Organic Dairy. Why are they fighting against the labeling of GMO’s? The simple answer is that big industry wants to control our food supply, and they want to make decisions without having to answer to consumers.

    The encroachment of GMO foods into our nation’s food supply has been so insidious that many people may not be aware of what the term actually means. Genetically modified foods are plants or animals that have been genetically tweaked in the lab. Scientists remove genes from one organism and then add these genes to another plant or animal to transfer a particular characteristic, such as resistance to weeds or pests, or to speed growth or plant yields. The inherent trouble is that this genetic tampering is completely foreign to the human genome and may alter DNA in negative ways. The human genome has never had a relationship with GMO foods in the history of humankind. We cannot simply assume that GMO foods are safe. We must remember that the same companies that have invested in GMO foods assured us that DDT was safe.

    Some proponents maintain that genetically modified foods are better for the environment because they require less pesticides or water, or they promote genetically tweaked foods as the answer to feeding the world. But this just isn’t true. The reality is that genetically modified crops are developing increased resistance to pests, and GMO crops are weaker and sicker. The underlying goal of big business in creating and promoting GMO foods is increased profits for the corporations, without any consideration for the effects on our health or the environment.

    Although the production of GMO foods has skyrocketed in the past two decades, there have been no studies to determine the long-term safety of consuming these foods. Animal research has uncovered disturbing results, however. In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) stated, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified (GM) food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM has asked physicians to advise all patients to avoid GM foods. The mounting evidence of a strong association between GM foods and these health conditions warrants immediate and thorough scientific investigation.

    I always advise my patients to buy organic foods as much as possible, and to read labels on all foods. But the only way that we can make truly informed choices as consumers is if information is available to us. There is currently no law that requires the labeling of genetically modified foods, and the opponents to GMO labeling are determined to keep it that way.

    California is leading the way in pushing for the labeling of GMO foods with Proposition 37, the “Genetically Engineered Foods Right to Know Act.” If the bill passes on November 6th, all GMO foods, including processed foods that contain GMO ingredients, will be required by law to be labeled as such. In addition, companies will not be allowed to market any foods containing GMO ingredients as “natural.” If the bill passes in California, it’s likely that the rest of the country will follow suit.

    Most Americans don’t realize that they’re eating genetically modified foods. But the reality is that unless you eat 100 percent organically or from trusted sources, and eliminate your intake of non-organic corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, and sugar (from sugar beets), you are most likely consuming genetically modified products, from produce to packaged foods. That’s because virtually all commercial products made with these ingredients come from genetically modified crops. Even if you try to eat healthfully, and buy foods labeled as “all-natural,” you’re likely consuming some amount of GMO foods.

    Both of our organizations in Ashland, Oregon—the Mederi Foundation and Natura Health Products—support “GMO Free,” our local Jackson County initiative to ban genetically engineered crops in Jackson County. This is something that you can do in your local community to protect locally sourced foods and to keep farmers seeds free from contamination by GMO’s.

    Here are some other things that you can do to educate yourself about this topic and to support the ban on GMO’s:

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