Add Flavor to Your Recipes with Essential Oils

Essential oils can make a great addition to many recipes. A very small amount of oil is all it takes to enhance the aroma and flavor of a variety of dishes. While you may be able to find many recipes that incorporate essential oils, the following tips can be used to modify your favorites or create some of your own. 

Be cautious when selecting essential oils to use in your recipes. While many essential oils are generally recognized as safe by the FDA and frequently used by food manufacturers, others may be toxic if ingested. Always follow the recommendations from your essential oil manufacturer, and only use ones intended for human consumption in your recipes. Also, essential oils may be contaminated by pesticides, so always look for organic essential oils, which are extracted from crops where pesticides are not used.

  • Start with one drop essential oil. Remember, essential oils are potent. Too much essential oil can ruin a recipe. Where possible, add the oil at the end, so you can gradually increase the amount of essential oil, according to taste.
  • Heat and time will diminish oil efficacy. Another benefit of adding essential oils just before serving is that heat and time will cause the oil to vaporize from your food. Another name for essential oil is volatile oil. The name is very appropriate, as oils will begin to vaporize even at room temperature. Adding a little heat will cause them to vaporize at a faster rate and may even distort the beneficial properties of the oil. Using lids on cookware may slow the vaporization process slightly; however, it does nothing to maintain the oils beneficial properties.
  • A little heat may be desirable for some recipes, however. Vaporization not only diminishes the potency of the oil, but it also subtly changes the flavor and aroma of the oil. When heated, the lighter fragrances of the oil vaporize first, leaving the deeper, richer parts of the oil. Strong oils such as basil, coriander, oregano, rosemary, and sage may taste and smell better when simmered over low heat to make the flavor more subtle.
  • Add the oil to a liquid. Essential oils are best when added to sauces, dressings, marinades, or other liquids. When added to a liquid, the oil disburses throughout the entire liquid. Applying oils directly to non-liquid ingredients will cause uneven disbursement of the oil, with some parts of the dish being more flavorful than others. Adding the essential oil to a cooking oil before mixing it into your recipe can be a good way to ensure a consistent flavor throughout the dish.
  • Many spices can be replaced by essential oils. While the amount of oil required to substitute spices in a recipe will vary depending on the oil used and the recipe, there are some general rules of thumb that can get you started. One teaspoon dried herb can typically be replaced by one drop of essential oil. 1 tablespoon citrus zest may be substituted for 1/8 teaspoon (about 8 drops) of essential oil.

The uses for essential oil in cooking are limitless. Get creative! Try adding a hint of lavender to melted chocolate then dip strawberries; a few drops of citrus oil may enhance chilled drinks; try a little peppermint in your cocoa or tea; dip a toothpick into clove oil and mix it into peach jam; a drop of cinnamon oil in oatmeal can be a great way to start your day. Give your foods the flavor and aroma you crave by preparing them with essential oils.

By Ron Beckstrom, MS, RD, HFS
Nutrition Specialist


This blog and its contents are provided for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information and topics may not apply to every individual. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.

Are You Ready for Some Football?


Fall is my absolute favorite time of the year; the colors, cooler weather, fall-inspired food, smells, and of course football season. Some of my favorite memories growing up involved eating with the family and watching the Dallas Cowboys play…those were the days. Game day used to mean giving up on a healthy diet for the entire day and eating fattening, calorie-laden foods. Tailgating is another popular football experience that is all about creating new memories with family and friends, but often revolves around food to enhance the experience. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized tailgating no longer means throwing my healthy lifestyle out the window, and living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean giving up on delicious foods and drinks. Try tackling some of these healthy tips and alternatives without a personal foul to your health: 

  1. Go to your tailgate with a plan in mind. Many calories are consumed while mindlessly munching away, watching the game and talking with friends and family. If you know you’re an out-of-control grazer, allow yourself to fill a small plate and then situate yourself away from the food to reduce temptation. By eating your food away from large serving dishes, it’ll give you a chance to think about whether you really want that second helping, while controlling your caloric intake.
  2. Some people may find that hunger is the primary motivation to eat at a tailgate. Arriving satiated may be a good way to improve self-control. If this is you, eat a snack or meal before you go, focusing on lean protein; some healthy fats, such as nuts; and drink plenty of water to avoid being dehydrated, which could also lead to hunger.
  3. Unless you’re one of those standing (and possibly yelling) at the television during the entire game, then you probably are not moving much during the game. Find ways to be more active! Get a game of touch football or catch going during pregame and/or half-time. Grab a friend and go for a walk! Get away from the food and enjoy the refreshing fall weather.
  4. Before diving in, survey your options and find the healthy choices. If the fruit and vegetable trays leave you less than enthused, other options include a deli tray with small pieces of cheese, turkey or ham; a small bowl of chili (sans cheese or sour cream); or a hearty soup or stew.
  5. Be a team player and contribute to the party! Bring a delicious guilt-free main course or side dish that both you and other guests will enjoy. This is especially helpful if you have food sensitivities or allergies.
    • Choose chicken kabobs with veggies over sodium-laden wings. If you must have your chicken wings, grill or bake them using a dry rub with lemon or lime juice and seasonings. As an alternative twist to the typical dip and glaze, you can also create your own honey mustard recipe.
    • Create some sliders with ground turkey or lean beef instead of regular size burger patties.
    • Use whole wheat buns and bring fixings such as lettuce, tomato, avocado, and mustard.
    • Substitute Greek yogurt in recipes that call for mayonnaise or sour cream.
    • Create a chili full of healthy beans, vegetables, and chicken or lean beef.
    • Create some stuffed bell peppers or make individual pizzas packed with vegetables on whole wheat crust.
    • The opportunities are endless!
  6. Choose your dips and sides wisely -- skip the basic ranch dip and use guacamole, hummus or salsa for your vegetables. Stick with the fall theme and try an artichoke or pumpkin dip. For different sides, try a slaw made of Brussel sprouts and a black bean corn salad. Bake your own pita or kale chips, or try baked sweet potato fries.
  7. You’ve made it this far; don’t blow it on dessert! Get creative and dip strawberries in dark chocolate. You can then use white chocolate to make seams and call them mini footballs. Create fruit skewers using your team colors. Use spiced pumpkin or bake some fresh fall apples.
  8. What about alcohol? Sometimes, nothing sounds better than wings and your favorite fall beer or cider. However, alcohol not only contributes to extra calories, but it lowers inhibitions and dehydrates your body. If you do choose to drink alcohol, use club soda as a mixer instead of sugary juices or syrups. Pace yourself and alternate with plenty of plain or fruit-infused water to avoid dehydration. Don’t let alcohol derail all your hard work and ruin your game plan!

Remember, living a healthy lifestyle does not mean you have to deprive yourself. If you’re hosting the tailgate, create your own recipes, so no one knows they are getting healthier options. If you’re a spectator, volunteer to help out and bring a dish or two! Small changes and adjustments can go a long way toward nourishing your body. Enjoy your food while cheering on your team. See you on Super Bowl Sunday!

By Amy Kurtz BA, BS, CI-CPT, Certified Health Coach
Wellness Education Specialist

This blog and its contents are provided for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information and topics may not apply to every individual. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.

Are Whole Grains for Me?

In last week’s article, Glorious Grains, we discussed a variety of grains and the benefits of each. Whole grains are generally regarded as an important part of a healthy diet; however not all whole grains may be suitable for all people. In part two of this two-part series, we discuss the benefits of whole grains, as well as how to determine whether they are the right choice for you. Grains have been a source of confusion for years. A common question many people have is whether they are actually good or bad to consume. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer; however, the goal of this article is to provide some information to help you further explore options to discover what may be best for you.

It is important to understand the human body needs carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are used by the body for energy. The USDA recommends that 45% to 65% of your total calories come from carbohydrates. Whole grains are considered “complex” carbohydrates and an important source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In addition to whole grains, sweet potatoes, squash, beans, and fruits are all significant sources of carbohydrates. The carbohydrates we need to be more cautious about consuming are refined and processed carbohydrates, also known as “franken-foods.” These include white pasta, white bread, cookies, cakes, and other baked goods, which are considered “simple” carbohydrates and do not provide the same benefits as complex carbohydrates.

Some studies have shown that the intake of whole grain products, combined with a healthy diet and daily movement, is associated with reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, all of which are inflammatory diseases. One reason may be because of dietary phytochemicals found in whole grains, which have been associated with reduced risk of chronic disease. Plant sterols and stanols, which vary depending on the type of whole grain, may contribute to the maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels. Refined wheat flower, however, loses 83% of beneficial phenolic acids, 79% total flavonoids, and large amounts of other components. Therefore, strive to eat whole grains when possible and avoid their refined alternatives.

Despite the health benefits of whole grains, there are some health concerns you should be aware of. The phytic acid in many whole grains has been known to decrease mineral absorption, especially zinc, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Phytic acid binds to the minerals in the gastrointestinal tract, unless reduced or nullified by soaking, sprouting and/or fermentation before cooking. Bound minerals may lead to mineral deficiencies and phytic acid, in particular, may inhibit the enzymes needed to digest food. Certain grains, like quinoa, only need to be rinsed, whereas others are better soaked overnight to release the phytic acid. Doing so may help improve digestibility in those who may be less tolerant of grains.

Gluten found in some grains (like wheat, rye, and barley) is another health concern for sensitive individuals. Wheat allergies, gluten sensitivity, and Celiac disease affects about 10% of the general population, although not everyone is aware they have an issue. There are more than 250 symptoms of gluten sensitivity, include bloating, abdominal pain or discomfort, brain fog, headaches, migraines, acne, fatigue, and bone or joint pain. Celiac disease can be diagnosed with an intestinal biopsy, whereas wheat/gluten allergies/sensitivities only require a simple blood or skin test. Diagnosing a gluten intolerance, however, has no official method of diagnosis, so it can be difficult to know if you have one. Gluten may not be the only offender in grains and some may find that elimination of other grains in their diet makes them feel better.

If you suspect you may have a gluten or grain sensitivity, you may wish to eliminate all grains for 7 days and then slowly reintroduce each one at a time, two days apart from each other. Before starting the elimination diet, take stock of your symptoms -- are you looking to clear up your skin or solve digestive issues? This will help set you up to notice important changes during the elimination. After 7 days of being grain-free, start reintroducing grains one at a time. For example, add brown rice back into your diet, wait two days, reintroduce oats, wait two days, and repeat. See how you feel over the 48-hour reintroduction phase. If you have no reaction, eat the same food again and notice how you feel; from there you can determine whether to reincorporate the food on a regular basis. Most importantly, pay attention to your symptoms. Notice how you feel -- maybe your skin clears up, your energy improves, or you’re not as bloated as you were the previous week. Noticing how you feel will be important in determining how you proceed with grains in the future.

Finally, if you’ve ever read the book, “Eat Right 4 Your Type” by Dr. Peter D’Adamo, you’ll know Dr. D’Adamo states that those with “O” blood types do not possess the digestive enzymes to process grains. Whether you believe in this theory or not, if you feel you do not digest grain very well, you may consider working with your health care provider to determine whether trying digestive enzymes with grain consumption may improve grain digestibility.

There are lots of misconceptions when it comes to whole grains -- are they good or bad for you? The answer is dependent upon each individual. Regardless of your preference for grains, be sure you consume a healthy balance of carbohydrates, which may include whole grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, and legumes.

By Amy Kurtz BA, BS, CI-CPT, Certified Health Coach

Wellness Education Specialist


This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease. 

Glorious Grains

Whole grains provide complex carbohydrates, key vitamins and minerals, and fiber, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, reduce inflammation, and aid in weight management when consumed with a sensible diet and an active lifestyle that includes regular exercise. This is opposed to simple or refined carbohydrates, which lack beneficial fiber and nutrients.

Most Americans tend to get the majority of their servings of grains from breakfast cereals, pasta, and bread; however whole grains extend beyond these traditional sources. When looking at the different alternatives, you may find these varieties confusing or intimidating. The biggest question may be, “What do I actually do with them?” Next time you’re at the store wondering what to eat or looking for a new dish, branch out a bit and try one of the many varieties of whole grains. Be mindful of how whole grains can complement your healthy diet and lifestyle. A few examples include:

Amaranth – Amaranth is slowly becoming more mainstream and used to be referred to as “king seed.” It is gluten-free, has a higher level of protein compared to most grains (16%), contains 8 of 9 amino acids and is particularly high in Lysine. Amaranth can either be light and nutty or lively and peppery. Around the world, Amaranth is used for breakfast porridge, baked in sweet treats, or popped like corn.

Barley –Barley is one of the oldest grains and is high in fiber. Barley should be purchased in its complete or “hulled” form. Pearled barley should be avoided, as it’s not considered a whole grain because parts of the bran have been removed. Allow yourself some time when preparing barley, as it can take up to an hour to cook; it can be refrigerated or stored in the freezer as needed. Try it as an addition to baked chicken, stir-fries, or antipasto salads.

Bulgur - Bulgur is made when wheat kernels are boiled, drained, cracked, and sorted by size and may be referred to as “Middle Eastern pasta” because it is so versatile. Bulgur takes about 10 minutes to cook and is very nutritious. You can find bulgur in pilafs, salads, and in traditional Tabbouleh.

Oats – Oats are almost always found in their complete form, with their outer and inner layers, the bran and germ, in-tact. Both steel cut oats (also called Scottish oats) and rolled oats are nutrition superstars, however, steel cut oats have a chewier, nuttier texture then regular oats and take longer to cook. While oats do not contain gluten, they may be contaminated with gluten, so make sure you read your labels carefully.

Quinoa – Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a versatile grain that can be eaten alone, as a pasta, or added to soups, salads, or baked goods (see our peanut butter quinoa cookie recipe!) The Incas recognized quinoa as a food that would give its warriors stamina and has been a staple in South American’s diet for centuries. Quinoa is a complete protein (containing all 9 amino acids) with a nutty flavor. Try the black, red or gold varieties for a different taste and texture.

Rice – Rice is inexpensive, readily available, and as versatile as your imagination. Brown rice is high in fiber, a good source of B vitamins, and rich in minerals, such as magnesium and selenium. When you choose white rice, however, you are no longer receiving these nutrients because they existed in the bran and germ, which has been removed. Look beyond traditional brown rice and try black, purple, or red rice varieties, which all offer unique flavors. Note that different types of rice may take longer to cook. Although many people choose to use a rice cooker, a simple saucepan is all you need. Generally, the longer the grain, the less sticky and starch texture -- for example, long-grain rice is ideal in pilaf-type dishes, but short-grain rice is great stuffed in grape leaves.

This is just a small sample of whole grains, so don’t be afraid to get creative in the kitchen and expand your palate. Other suggestions you may try: Add barley in vegetable soup or stews; use bulgur in casseroles or combine with black beans to make veggie patties; or use rolled oats as a coating for baked chicken or fish. The possibilities are endless! The easiest way to buy whole grains is in bulk and then store them in a tightly-sealed container in a cool, dark, dry space. When stored properly, most grains can last up to a year. Be sure to RINSE your grains before cooking. Rinsing grains helps release the phytic acid. To learn more about phytic acid and how it affects your body, be sure to read our next blog, “Are Grains for Me?”

By Amy Kurtz BA, BS, CI-CPT, Certified Health Coach 
Wellness Education Specialist

This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.