Herb Crackers

herb crackers

Easy Herb Crackers

(gluten free, grain free, paleo, vegan, refined sugar free…nothing but the good stuff)

Unless you’re new here, you may know that I have a strong affinity for salty, crunchy snacks. I’m always on the look-out for convenient foods that will make my body function optimally, and of course, snacks should be tasty.

Hit with a crunchy craving recently, I went rummaging through my cupboard and nary was a salty snack to be found. Not feeling like going to the store, it was time to get creative, and thus these Herb Crackers were born. They’re gluten free, grain free, vegan, contain no refined sugar, and are made up of few simple ingredients. They’re also ridiculously simple and result in a house filled with savory scents while they bake.

I’ve had a couple bags of tapioca flour in my freezer that a friend gifted me while I was on the Autoimmune Paleo diet as part of a protocol to heal my adrenal fatigue and hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Prior to these crackers, I hadn’t baked with tapioca flour, so I’d put off using it for over a year. Today was the day.

I searched online to generate ideas and inspiration for the basic cracker process and to see if there was anything special to know about baking with tapioca flour. Tapioca flour is the starch extracted from the cassava root, while cassava flour is the whole root. Generally, tapioca is well-tolerated and avoids causing an immune response, as happens with many other grains. Plus, it’s fairly neutral and lends itself well to taking on any flavor you want. However, it’s still a starch and will therefore raise insulin, so eat in moderation and pair these crackers with a fat and a protein.

These crackers are quick and easy to make, even if you’re not an experienced baker and  have never worked with alternative flours. They only have a handful of ingredients, most of which you likely already have. The tapioca flour could be swapped out for other fours like cassava, almond, or coconut.

In addition to making your house smell glorious, and being able to tailor the herbs to your personal preferences, another benefit of homemade crackers is that you don’t get the myriad of preservatives, food coloring, and additives that are often found in commercial baked goods. That alone makes it worth the little bit of effort it takes to whip up these savory little crunchies.

herb cracker

Easy Herb Crackers (grain free, gluten free, vegan)

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time:  55-60 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups tapioca flour
  • ½ cup coconut flour
  • ½ teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 teaspoon basil
  • 2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon tomato powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 tablespoons filtered water

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine the dries in a mixing bowl. Feel free to use the combination of spices listed above, or create your own concoction. This is just what I had on hand. Add in olive oil and water. Combine thoroughly.

dough

Dough should be a somewhat sticky consistency, but it will stick together in a lump. It won’t be overly loose nor will it be so dry that it doesn’t stick together. You should be able to hold it without it falling through your fingers. Add more flour and/or liquid to adjust consistency as necessary.

crackers

Dump the dough onto a piece of parchment, flatten it into a rough rectangle with your hands, and place another piece of parchment over it. Smooth dough and press into an even 1/4″ rectangle(ish) with a rolling pin. Remove the top piece of parchment and pull the bottom piece onto a baking sheet.

crackers

Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and use a pizza wheel or knife to cut the dough into roughly 1 inch squares. Return squares to baking sheet with some space in between each. Bake another 25-30 minutes until golden brown and lightly crisp.

Cool completely and store in airtight containers. Enjoy with soup, nut butter, hummus, cheese or cured meat. 

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How to Eliminate Sugar Cravings for Good

wind river hiking

“How do you make desserts all day and not want to eat it all?” Working as a baker and pastry chef over the past handful of years, this is one of the most common questions I’m asked. And to be honest, it used to be a lot more tempting to snack on the sugary treats that were around me all day. However, now that I’ve learned to tame my sugar cravings and rely on fat for fuel, it’s easy to steer clear of sweets. It’s not that I have iron-clad willpower–I just rarely crave sugar anymore.

sugar

Eschewing candy and quick-burning carbs in favor of whole foods provides more consistent energy and endurance. It’s one thing to know this, but when it comes to putting it into practice, it can be a struggle to break the sugar habit and combat cravings.

If you identify yourself in any of these statements, you might be experiencing blood sugar imbalances, and you’ll likely benefit from keeping your sugar cravings in check.

  • You get hungry an hour after eating
  • You’re jittery and light-headed if you miss a meal or snack
  • You crave sweets after a meal
  • You need sugar and/or caffeine for quick energy
  • You get ‘hangry’ and hunger comes on immediately
  • Life without sugar sounds unbearable

Blood sugar swings result in that post-lunch slump and the inability to maintain energy for a long day in the mountains (or at the office). Blood sugar dysregulation can also have a host of other negative physiological consequences, including increased inflammation and oxidative stress, and decreased liver detoxification.

What this means in real life for the endurance athlete is increased fatigue, decreased endurance, slower recovery, and being more prone to injury and illness.

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colorado trail

The key to balanced blood sugar is stepping off the sugar roller-coaster. Here are the primary approaches I’ve used to transition from relying on sugar for quick energy to the ability to go from meal to meal with steady energy.

  • Stay Hydrated

Whether on trail or off, start your day with at least a liter of water. Add sea salt and lemon, if it’s available, for a boost in minerals and energy. Drinking water before eating breakfast or a sugary snack ensures that you’re not confusing hunger for thirst. Staying hydrated also helps you avoid unnecessary blood sugar swings, keeping you from craving more sugar.

  • Get Enough Sleep

The amount and quality of sleep you get directly impacts your hormones. Your hormones impact every system in your body. In terms of blood sugar, a decrease in sleep causes higher cortisol, which results in higher blood sugar, which drives up insulin, which causes cravings for simple carbohydrates. Eating the simple carbs further drives up blood sugar and insulin, which further drives up cortisol, creating a vicious cycle.

journal stress reduction

  • Reduce Stress

Stress can come in many forms and it impacts your body negatively whether it’s real or perceived, physical or emotional. It could be stress from a fight with your partner or stress from walking 20+ miles per day. The result is higher levels of cortisol. As described in the previous tip, higher cortisol leads to higher blood sugar, which leads to higher insulin, which leads to even more cortisol, and round and round it goes. Find stress reduction techniques which work for you, such as meditation or journaling.

  • Eat a High Protein Breakfast

As this study indicates, eating a higher protein breakfast can decrease levels of ghrelin, a hunger-stimulating hormone. It also slows stomach emptying, which means you stay satiated longer and have more consistent energy. This keeps you from reaching for those simple carbs an hour after breakfast. A commonly recommended regimen is 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking.

salad

  • Eat Balanced Meals

A balanced meal is one which contains protein, healthy fat, and fiber. This will keep your blood sugar levels and hormones stable. You’ll have consistent energy and stay satiated between meals. Examples of balanced meals on trail include 1) a smoothie with greens powder (fiber), whey powder (protein), and hemp seeds (fat, fiber) or 2) rehydrated black beans (fiber, protein), chicken (protein), and olive oil (fat).

  • Consume Minerals and Electrolytes

Cravings for sugar can be masking mineral deficiencies. Chromium and Vanadium have been shown to affect glucose metabolism and the action of insulin. Magnesium affects the production of insulin, cortisol, adrenaline, and glucagon–hormones which impact blood sugar. Consider a product to add trace minerals to your water. Use an electrolyte replacement powder or make your own. Add pink sea salt, which contains over 80 minerals, to your food and water.

  • Boost Gut Health

This study on how gut microbes influence eating behaviors indicates that supporting a healthy level of microbial diversity can have a plethora of positive results, from decreased cravings to increased immunity and neurotransmitter production. Support your gut by eating more soluble fiber from sources such as legumes, veggies, and nuts. Also eat more probiotic-containing foods, such as yogurt and sauerkraut, or take a high-quality supplement.

Sustainable behavior change and new habits are formed gradually. Incorporate the above suggestions one by one and you’ll notice that your cravings for sugar and other simple carbs are drastically reduced. If you do still find yourself wanting to reach for something sweet, choose natural sources of sugar, such as fruit. The fiber slows digestion and the rise in blood sugar. Pair sweets with protein and fat to buffer the insulin and blood sugar response.

When you’re no longer relying on sugar for quick hits of energy, you’ll find yourself with more consistent energy throughout the day and fewer cravings. You’ll likely consume less food overall, thereby allowing you to carry less food on your adventures. You can miss a meal without becoming jittery, shaky, or angry. Perhaps best of all, you’ll have better metabolic resiliency and improved overall health in the long run.

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What’s Wrong With Me? (aka My Journey with Hashimoto’s)

summit wellness

It’s been years since I felt as strong as I used to.

Ever since finishing my thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, I’d had bouts of extreme fatigue, deep muscle soreness, cold intolerance, mood swings, and hair loss. An assortment of seemingly random symptoms that would come and go, leaving me feeling confused and frustrated.

Many of these symptoms have been present in my life for a long time, but after finishing the PCT, they became much more pronounced. I expected to finish feeling stronger than I’d ever been before. I’d jump right back into trail running and be at a new level of strength and endurance. Instead, I couldn’t run more than a few miles without feeling extreme exhaustion. I was depressed. I wasn’t having my cycle and I often felt sore for no reason.

I’ve always been athletic and health conscious. I was doing everything I knew to do to be healthy. And I still felt horrible. After a few months of rest and experiencing only minimal improvement, I went to see a doctor. I had some blood work done, everything came back “normal”, and I was told that perhaps I needed to improve my diet, exercise more, and that essentially, it was just in my head. This was frustrating, as I was a health conscious vegetarian who exercised daily, and I knew my body well enough to know something was not right.

At this point, it became clear I’d have to find my own answers. Due to a background in biochemistry and decades of reading health publications, I had a good foundation to start from. I read and listened to anything I could find having to do with adrenal and mitochondrial health. I sought out mentors, I interned under wellness practitioners, and I completed a Botanical Medicine Certification to understand what would truly support my body rather than cover up symptoms. I studied functional nutrition and began a certification to become a Holistic Nutritionist.

I experimented with different diets, training protocols, and supplements. Symptoms would come and go. I was continuing to train for ultra marathons and my performance would come in waves. Sometimes I’d feel great and run for hours with no problem.  Other times, I was weak, tired, and lacked the stamina needed for long runs. Despite the times when I didn’t feel well, I continued to push myself to run daily.

I’d built an identity around being athletic, outdoorsy, and tough, and pushing through is what you did whether you felt like it or not. While this mentality has served me well in several endeavors, including long distance hiking, I was causing my body to be further depleted without even realizing it.

Eventually, I found my way to a functional medicine practitioner who did an extensive intake, including a full thyroid panel. It was then that I discovered I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks it’s own thyroid gland.  The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones, which have wide-ranging functions in the body, including regulation of metabolism, growth and development, and temperature control.

When I finally received the diagnosis, it was somewhat of a relief. I’d been struggling with an array of unexplained symptoms for quite some time. Despite all the research and self-experimentation I’d done, I still had no real answers up until this point.

My reaction came in waves. At first, I was glad to have something to target. I knew my direction. I could make a plan. Next came the frustration of knowing that autoimmune conditions are hard to treat and something you manage for the rest of your life. My identity as a long distance hiker and ultra runner was in peril. What if I never fully recovered? What if I had to give up long treks in the wilderness–the activity that filled my soul the most?

And during all this time, I was in denial of the heaviness, the seriousness of what this meant for me. I thought I would remove trigger foods from my diet, take a break from training, and be back to 100% in no time, right? Not quite.

I realized this is a pattern for me. I tend not to acknowledge the heaviness of an event or situation. I put blinders on and convince myself that everything will turn out fine. This lens of optimism and guaranteed triumph over hardship has served me well in life. I often push forward instead of letting fear get in my way. But it finally came crashing down on me that this tendency has also kept me from fully experiencing life and fully feeling my own struggle and that of my loved ones. Not fully feeling kept me from being as empathetic and present as is necessary to process and move through hardship.

There are many factors that go into developing an autoimmune condition, including a genetic predisposition, a trigger (or several), and gut impermeability. It’s hard to know the trigger for sure, but for me, I believe it was a rattlesnake bite and brown recluse bite in the year before I hiked the PCT, coupled with the stress of the trail and a significant break-up that caused Hashimoto’s to surface for me.

Autoimmune conditions are not an easy fix. You don’t take a pill and get cured. In the conventional medical model, those with Hashimoto’s take thyroid medications for the rest of their lives. These provide synthetic thyroid hormones to manage symptoms, but taking the medications don’t actually get to the root cause to stop the body’s immune attack on it’s own thyroid gland.

I’ve always avoided pharmaceuticals when possible, opting to focus on the root cause of the problem and restoring the body to balance, rather than suppressing symptoms. My approach to Hashimoto’s is no different. I found experts who had put the condition into remission through changes in diet and lifestyle. The science and evidence was there to support this approach so I would try that before considering medications.

It’s been about 6 months since learning about the condition and I’ve been on a protocol that supports my liver, adrenals, and gut health. While my symptoms have improved dramatically, I still struggle occasionally.

However, I’ve learned an incredible amount about autoimmunity and health through my journey. I’m far enough on the path to have learned how to deal with the condition, what exacerbates symptoms, and what relieves them.

pct hiking sierras

I have high hopes for big adventures in 2018. I’ve felt so deeply the struggle of not being outside doing what I love because of how terrible I’ve felt. It motivates me to get well, learn as much as I can, and to guide others who get sustenance from being in the outdoors, but who struggle with their health.

I’ll post more on the protocol I’ve followed and on my journey with Hashimoto’s in a future article, but if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to post a comment below or use the contact form to reach out. I read every response.

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