Skincare, Wellness

Facial Oils Edit: Non-Toxic Skincare

I have previously written a post about my switch to non-toxic skincare products. In that post, I have detailed why I decided to discard my chemical-ridden skincare items. I also discussed how to read the ingredient labels of your products and identify the most common and harmful chemicals. I highly recommend that you read the original post if you are interested in knowing about non-toxic skincare. 

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So, facial oils, han! Everyone and their mothers are talking about facial oils. Growing up in a very desi, Pakistani home, I remember my grandmother using pure mustard, olive, and coconut oils to moisturize her body. I saw a sharp contrast during my teen years, as all my friends wanted oil-free skincare to avoid breakouts. Neutrogena and Clean & Clear were all the rage. Now in my twenties, I see facials oils becoming increasingly popular worldwide, especially in Europe and North America where I have lived my adult life.

My first foray into facial oils was in 2014 with the Josie Maran 100% Argan Oil I purchased at Sephora. It cured my dry, flaky skin in the harsh New England winter. So after discarding my old skincare products in February this year, I naturally turned to using facial oils in light of good past experience.

I could not find the argan oil I had previously used in Amsterdam, therefore I turned to using coconut oil as a make-up remover and sometimes moisturizer even. I assumed that since coconut oil is natural–and so hyped on social media–it should be good for my skin. Truth: no. It caused clogged pores, little white bumps under the forehead skin, and small black and white heads around my nose. I knew coconut oil was the culprit because I was not using anything else on my face at the time.

Why coconut oil, the miraculous superfood of our age, was congesting my skin when argan oil did not? I did my research. Turns out coconut oil is not as miraculous as we have made it out to be–not for the gut, not for the skin, not for the heart, and surprisingly not for hair even. For the sake of this post, we will only focus on the topical uses of coconut oil, as that is what I focused most of my research on. 

92 percent of coconut oil is saturated fat. While that may be good for some skin types, oily and breakout-prone skin types do not benefit from it. Craig Austin, MD, explains why:

“There are a few issues with putting it on your face as it’s considered a comedogenic product. When you use coconut oil, you’re applying an oil to your skin in combination with bacteria and dead skin cells—the oil essentially aids in ‘clogging’ the pore. Coconut oil is one of the thicker oils, and the thicker the oil, the harder it is to get adequately absorbed by your skin, so it essentially sits on top of the dermis and forms a film over the pore. Bacteria and dead skin cells will then fester under the skin and cause your body to produce excess sebum, which can result in acne.”

Austin refers to coconut oil as a comedogenic product. What does that mean? Comedogenic means the tendency to cause blackheads by blocking pores. Trends would have us believe otherwise, but coconut oil is consistently rated 4 out of 5 (5 being severely comedogenic) on the comedogenic index. Argan oil, however, has a comedogenic rating of 0, so that explains why when I used it long ago in winter, acne did not flare up. There are studies that challenge the comedogenic ratings being widely used by researchers and scientists, but they appear pre-mature and scarce.

Besides the comedogenic tendency, there are other factors to consider before slapping an oil on our faces. Lily Talakoub, MD and Naissan Wesley, MD write for The Dermatology News:

The chemical constituents of plant essential oils differ among species. Factors influencing these constituents include geographical location, environment, and stage of maturity of the plant. Furthermore, the stereochemical properties of essential oils can vary and depend on the method of extraction. There are over fifty different types of fatty acids in oils, and each oil has its own unique composition.

Choosing the right oil, however, is not easy. Most consumers shy away from pure oils because they fear breakouts or increased “oiliness” of their skin. Understanding the properties of the oils can help determine which oils will benefit specific skin types. Argan oil and sunflower oil, for example, are rich in essential fatty acids and vitamin E, which hydrate the skin and have antiaging properties. Tea tree oil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities which are great for acne-prone skin.

In addition, be wary of essentials oils that can irritate facial skin in some people. I had used the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate which is made up of many different oils, including essentials oils. It really plumped up my skin, but I must admit I occasionally got a rash from it. I did not understand why then, but after my research on oils and evaluating the ingredients of the concentrate, I conclude that it was due to the essential oil irritants in the product that caused me the occasional itch and rash.

At this point, we can say there is no one magic oil for all. How our skin reacts to an oil depends on many factors, including the oil’s composition, our genetics, and lifestyle. Prior to using an oil, check its comedogenic rating here–that can be your starting point for research. Mostly, it is learning through trial and error. That said, I will share the two oils that have worked for me. For reference, I have dry skin in the winter and combination during summer, and argan and rosehip seed oils have been tremendous to my skin.

Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil

Between 2014 – 2016, I used the Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil. It served as a great moisturizer day and night in the harsh New England winters. The oil is lightweight and absorbs quickly. I experienced no break outs or black heads. At the time of using Argan oil, I did not use any other moisturizers. I would recommend this oil for people that have dry skin. Whether or not it applies well under face make-up, I do not know because I did not wear any.

Buy in EU, UK and US.

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Trilogy Certified Organic Rosehip Oil

This is my current favorite face oil. With a comedogenic rating of 1, I have not found rosehip seed oil to block my pores. It has a nice orange color and light consistency. There is a strong smell, which does not bother me and disappears rather quickly.

I do not use this oil everyday, but I use two to three drops whenever I use a clay mask. It instantly restores the moisture in my skin and makes it glow slightly. When my skin is going through a rough, dry patch, I use rosehip seed oil on top of my regular moisturizer and I find my skin finds its moisture balance overnight. I have also traveled with this oil and used it as a moisturizer day and night–wears beautifully under concealer.

There are claims that rosehip seed oil reduces hyper-pigmentation, wrinkles, and more. I could not find any scientific evidence for these declarations. My hyper-pigmentation is lighter than it was when I switched to a natural skincare regimen, but that could be attributed to the general cell turnover and not necessarily a particular product that I started using. I guess I will never know, and that is okay! 🙂

Buy in EU, UK, and US.


I hope this post was informative, especially for those of you that sent me messages about facial oils. It has taken me a long time to write because of the research that has gone into the post, so thank you for sticking around. I will also be posting about non-toxic skincare beyond oils, sun-care, and body-care in the upcoming posts, so stay tuned!

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to leave me a comment or send an email. If you know something that I have not mentioned in this post, please do share your knowledge. 🙂

 

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Uncategorized

One-Year Anniversary Giveaway

It was last year in June when I decided to start My Quarter Life Surprise. Since then, it has been an amazing ride—thanks to everyone who decided to join me. 🙂

Over the past year, the blog has evolved into something I did not anticipate. I started the blog with a focus on food and wellness, but soon I noticed an interest in my work life. Questions about what I wore to work and how I prep my work lunches on the weekends became routine. That’s when I switched gears to provide my followers what they wanted: a peak into the life of a young career woman trying to do it all from putting together professional but cute outfits to meal-prepping on the weekend.

This wonderful first year of the blog was impossible without your support. The kind messages I have received everyday have motivated and inspired me.  To express my gratitude, I wanted to giveaway something that would add value to your life. I couldn’t think of anything better than a Daniel Wellington watch. I have worn mine every single day for the past two years and loved it.

To mark the first anniversary of My Quarter Life Surprise, I am giving one of you a Classic Petite Reading Daniel Wellington Watch. This giveaway is by no means sponsored by Daniel Wellington or another party. I have purchased the watch myself. 🙂

If you would like to enter the giveaway then:

  1. Follow me on Instagram.
  2. Tag two friends who you think would like my content in a comment on the giveaway post on my Instagram.

You can tag up to ten friends. Each tag will ensure an additional entry. The giveaway is open internationally and closes on the Friday, 30 June 2018 (CEST). 

Once again, thank you. And here is to hopefully many more years!

 

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Fitness, Wellness

Gym Wear Edit

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This post is long requested by the insta fam, so here it is finally. My workout routine is quite simple, so inevitably my gym wear is too. I do not have separate clothes for running and training. My outfits fit the bill for both. I spend approximately 40-50 minutes in the gym three times a week. More on my full (very simple) routine later. First let me walk you through my workout wear essentials.

NIKE bottle

Credits: https://shop.nordstrom.com

Water Bottle

Before I list my favorite gym wear, let me say that a BPA-free water bottle with a straw is an absolute essential. I prefer straws because they make it easy to drink water on the treadmill and cross trainer. In the past, I have used bottles with caps and such, and I find that with a built-in straw, I don’t have to pause or slowdown my running program. I use this bottle from Nike, which is BPA free and contains a straw for easy drinking.

Adidas Bra

Credits: https://www.zalando.nl

Sports Bra

A well-fitting sports bra is an definite must in my book. It makes a ton of difference in how you perform. Previously I used a bra from Lululemon and experienced back pains due to the lack of support it provided. Also, the material was too thick for my liking. Now I wear the Adidas Performance Techfit bra, and I have never felt better during my workout.

The mesh-jersey material is thin, airy, and sweat-wicking. The fit is snug, which makes running significantly more fun than a bra that is loose fitting. Instead of coming in the generic XS, S, M… sizes, the techfit bra comes in separate band and cup sizes, hence finding the perfect fit is easier. Out of the sports bras I have tried on and bought, this is by far my favourite! If that changes in the future, I will update this post and my insta story.

To find the perfect sports bra, I would suggest looking for a) a snug fit [try doing a few jumps to assess this] b) a band that rests on the same level all the way around your chest and does not ride up in the back c) the presence of any scratchy seams and/or tags that can cause irritation during a workout.

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Trainers

A good quality pair of trainers is as important as a well-fitting sports bra to achieve a great workout. Depending on what type of workout (weight-lifting, running, aerobics, etc) you do, the shoes you opt for may be slightly different. Considering I spend most of my gym time running, I like to wear shoes that are most suited to running.

The pair I have been using for two years now (time for a replacement!) is from Nike’s Free Run Flyknit range. It is foot-hugging, light-weight, breathable, and ideal for short runs. The only aspect I do not like as much is the relatively thin sole of the shoe. When I will purchase a new pair of running shoes, I will look for a style that offers more support than my current one.

Tops & Bottoms

For this category, I am a fan of Nike’s Dri-FIT range. I find the Dri-FIT material a) provides ample support for all types of physical activities b) is stretchy enough to be comfortable c) is sweat-wicking d) is opaque to allow bending without being transparent. I also find that the Dri-FIT range is offered at a great price point and many different colors and designs for anyone looking to have more fun with their gym outfits.

The tights and top that I use are pictured above, and available here and here respectively. The tights come with a drawstring waist, which I initially thought was odd but have grown to love overtime as it prevents the tights from slipping and sliding (people with small waists would know what I mean).

I do not like wearing shorts in the gym because I am a germaphobe. I find the most flattering tights styles to be high-waisted (up to my belly button) and 7/8th in length (slightly above the ankle). The high waisted styles also ensure that you can bend and sit as you please without worrying about the tights riding down. When you try a pair of tights, also look for any excess fabric around the crotch–that would be the reason for a potential camel toe and ain’t nobody got time for that.

Socks

I like ankle socks that are made from synthetic materials. Natural materials like cotton can cause scratchy, irritated skin during movement. The material also has to be sweat-wicking and thin for a lighter feel on the feet. Some people prefer thick socks for more cushioning, so if that is your preference, you do you. My favorite pair of socks is this.

Care for Gym Clothes

Lastly, I thought I would also include a few tips on caring for workout clothes. After every workout session, I throw my clothes in the washer on a gentle, cold cycle that lasts about an hour. In addition to the normal detergent, I also use a small amount of the Dettol Antiseptic Liquid. Fitness centers carry so many germs considering the number of daily visitors. Not everyone practices the best hygiene, so I hope using an antiseptic liquid rids my gym clothes of potential viruses and bacterias.

Bonus tip? Keep a dryer sheet in your gym bag or whichever bag you use to carry your gym essentials and your clothes will always smell fresh. 🙂

I hope this post was helpful! I am planning a full post on my workout routine, so keep a look out for that. Meanwhile if you have any questions, feel to comment below, email me, or send a direct message on my Instagram. Have a great rest of the Sunday and a fabulous week ahead!

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Skincare, Wellness

Why I Discarded My Skincare Products

Not many people do, but I enjoyed my best skin during my teen years. I never got acne and I was too lazy to slather any products on my skin. I washed my face with the same soap that I washed my hands with and that was that.

Fast forward to turning 16 and moving to the US, I discovered a whole new world of skincare: cleansers, moisturizers, oils, wipes, serums, and whatnot. I gaped at drugstore aisles stacked with “promising” products, but was still largely unaffected by the marketing because I had no skin concerns to treat.

That changed in my senior year of undergrad for two reasons. Number one: I got acne for the first time in my life because of the stress of being *potentially* unemployed after graduation (silly me). Number two: I discovered the world of YouTube beauty gurus who made me aware of skincare “problems” I never previously considered, for example “pores”–aren’t we just supposed to have pores?

Top the stress of finding employment with the stress of planning my wedding, which was scheduled six months after my graduation, and you have a manic 22-year-old trying to do it all. In those months of vulnerability, I broke my bank buying every product the YouTube beauty gurus swore by. Nothing changed the state of my skin. I remember sitting with my mom and friends with an egg white mask on my face a day before the wedding. In retrospect, that is hilarious.

After the wedding, I moved to Amsterdam and finally did what I should have in the first place for treating acne. I saw a dermatologist. Within a month of proper treatment, my acne was gone. Phew. At that point I should have stopped using the products I was using, but I did not in hopes to treat hyper-pigmentation left from the acne.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year when I was diagnosed with a rare skin illness. It was clear that the illness was not prompted by the products I was using, nonetheless it made me curious to learn about what makes up the products I slather on my skin day and night. I was startled to find so many questionable chemicals in my everyday skincare products. I asked myself if those chemicals were doing anything significant for my skin, and the answer was a resounding no. So, I decided to throw out nearly all of my skincare products.

A list of all products I have thrown out (and why) is on my Instagram story highlights for anyone interested. In this post, I want to share a more general overview of chemicals that I found in my skincare products and the resources I used to identify those chemicals. There is a ton of conflicting information online, so let’s try and walk through it step by step in this post?

Here are the most common potentially harmful chemicals that I found in all of my skincare (each name is linked to the Skin Deep database of the Environmental Working Group):

1. Sodium laurel sulphate

*most common foaming agent in personal care products *known skin irritant *read more here and here 

2. Parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl, and more)

*common preservative *strongly evidenced to disrupt the human endocrine system among other concerns *read more here  and here

3. Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs)

*mixture of various compounds *used as an emollient and emulsifier *often contaminated with toxic impurities like Ethylene Oxide and 1.4 Dioxane, which are strongly linked to cancer * read more here

4. Fragrance/Perfume

*mixture of “secret” chemicals used to scent personal care products *linked to allergies, immune toxicity, carrying carcinogens, dermatitis, and more *read more here and here

5. Urea

*used as a preservative *although a natural compound, most urea used in cosmetics is man-made in labs *releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen *read more here

6. Silicones (ending with cone or siloxane)

*not necessarily toxic to the human body, but proven to increase absorption of ingredients that may be toxic *pore-clogging *non-bio degradable, so toxic to the environment

7. Propylene Glycol

*linked to organ system toxicity *proven to increase absorption of ingredients that may be toxic *classified skin irritant *read more here and here

Several studies conclude that chemicals like sulphates, PEGs, parabens, and fragrance are harmful, whereas others declare that those chemicals–as long as used in small amounts–are not harmful.

What are small amounts though? At least, I do not know. And in all honestly, most of the products I discarded had questionable chemicals listed within the first six ingredients. The ingredients of a label are listed according to their concentration in the product, so first listed ingredient is supposed to have the highest quantity and the last ingredient the lowest.

Oftentimes brands hype up the product by one miraculous natural ingredient, making us believe that the ingredient largely makes up the product. For example, one product I discarded is the Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. If you see the picture on the left from Kiehl’s website, the key ingredients  of the cream are Antarcticine and Imperata Cylindrica. Now look at the picture on the right which is the list of full ingredients. The “key ingredients” come much after questionable chemicals. Why do we need a larger amount of chemicals to preserve a smaller amount of natural ingredients?

Similarly, oftentimes the packaging of a product claims it is 100% natural or organic. Considering the packaging in the beauty industry is not regulated, those claims do not have to be true. It is therefore important to check the list of ingredients to validate the claims on the packaging.

One brand that I am conflicted about is Lush. I have loved using their products. They are marketed as if they are “straight from the tree,” an insta follower of mine Sundus aptly puts. That is unfortunately not true. If you look at the ingredients of a Lush product, you will find parabens. For example, this pictures contains the list of ingredients for Lush’s Sympathy for Skin body lotion.

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It contains four questionable ingredients: Triethanolamine, Methyparaben, Fragrance, and Propylparaben. The Skin Deep database of the Environmental Working group classifies these ingredients as toxic both to the environment and the human body. Lush claims that it uses those parabens in quantities that are not harmful. That may or may not be true. I wish I had a definitive answer. I have not thrown out my Lush body lotion because the chemicals appear towards the end of the ingredient list, but I am not sure if I will repurchase my Lush products that contain controversial chemicals.

One reason why I am wary of the “quantity” argument is that one product may contain the quantity suitable for daily use, but let’s be real. How many products do we use on a daily basis? Far too many! The cumulative amount of ingredients from all the products we are feeding our bodies may be far greater than the suitable amount.

What is the bottom line? Personally, I do not think products filled with a long list of chemicals are worth my hard-earned money. The chemicals in our personal care products not only impact our skin, but also our internal organs like respiratory, reproductive, and endocrine. May be it is not a coincidence after all that more than half of my circle of friends is battling PCOS or some other kind of hormonal imbalance?

That said, I strongly believe in the “to each their own” philosophy. That is why the links I have added in this post are balanced not sensational, so all of you can make informed decisions for yourself. I am not 100% toxic-free in my personal care products, but I do want to slowly start taking away chemicals from my lifestyle.

When I threw out everything, I went to using apple cider vinegar as a deodorant, castille soap as my body and face cleanser, and coconut oil as a body and face moisturizer. That may be stretching it too far, but hey, I was afraid and wanted to do my body good. Since then, however, I have been doing research on natural skincare brands and will be sharing my findings in a later post. 🙂

Until then, hope you have found this post helpful. If you have questions or comments, feel free to share them so we all can educate ourselves better.

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Food

One-Bowl Healthy Banana Muffins

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The sight of fully ripe bananas calls for baked banana goodness. So, I had to oblige when I saw a bunch of bananas in their full glory on the kitchen counter. This time, however, I wanted to try something different than banana bread. As heart-warming as a loaf of banana bread is, sometimes I am too lazy to slice it and then individually wrap each slice in cling wrap for breakfast on the go. Muffins, on the other hand, are easy-peasy for this lazy girl–especially if they require just one-bowl.

I used this recipe with a few tweaks of my own like switching to coconut oil and reducing the honey content. It turned out pretty darn good–the muffins were dense, hearty, and sufficiently sweet and moist from the honey and mashed bananas.

Serves 12

Ingredients:

  • Wholewheat flour (2 cups)
  • Oats (1/4 cup)
  • Baking soda (1 tsp)
  • Cinnamon (1/2 tsp)
  • Sea salt (1/2 tsp)
  • Mashed bananas (3)
  • Eggs (2)
  • Organic honey (1/3 cup)
  • Cocount oil, melted (1/3 cup)
  • Fat-free milk (1/4 cup)
  • Vanilla extract (1 tsp)

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Grease a muffin tin with coconut oil or line with liners.
  • In a large bowl, mix the mashed bananas, eggs, honey, coconut oil, milk, and vanilla extract.
  • Add flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt to the bowl. Give it a good mix, but don’t over-mix. You could fold in chocolate chips, dried fruit, or nuts if your heart desires.
  • Divide the batter into 12 muffin moulds. You could sprinkle oats, cinnamon, and/or sugar on top if you want to be extra like yours truly.
  • Bake muffins for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

    banana muffins

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Food

Chicken Tikka Drumsticks

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Without complaining about how the South Asian diaspora has transformed my childhood favourite BBQ item chicken tikka into a saucy, messy staple takeaway item “chicken tikka masala,” I shall begin writing this post.

As a child, chicken tikka with paratha (fried flat bread that looks like this) was my most anticipated meal all week. My father used to honk the horn after reaching home on Friday evening, and myself, my three siblings, and my mother would quickly get into the car and be on our way to eat some BBQ. As we grew older, we would also BBQ chicken tikkas for family picnics by the beach or on cool winter evenings at our roof terrace. Such beautiful memories!

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I have always loved the charred flavor of a delicious chicken tikka. Full disclosure, this recipe will not give the taste of a Pakistani streetside chicken tikka because a) it is not made in open air on a charcoal grill b) it is meant to be clean so it does not use a lot of oil. That said, I think it comes pretty close to the taste of a juicy BBQ-ed chicken tikka, but with a lot less mess and time, and a ton more convenience.

I use drumsticks for this recipe instead of full chicken leg quarters because drumsticks are easier to work with. And I like to pair them with brown rice and some yogurt or coriander chutney. The meat from the drumsticks can also be used to make a killer chicken tikka salad (see tips for more). It was actually this salad that I posted in my insta story, prompting several requests for the recipe. So without further boring you with my incoherent stories, I will get down to the deets of how you cook up this deliciousness.

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Don’t mind the Fresh face mask container…I tend to recycle pretty much everything and these little containers are best to carry sauces for lunch to work.

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How delicious does that look? I love myself on days that I have healthy lunches at work. Yay to Sunday meal-prep.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • Yogurt (3tbsp)
  • Tandoori masala (2tbsp)*
  • Garlic powder (1tsp)*
  • Organic skinless drumsticks (4)
  • Lemon, juiced (2)
  • Olive oil (1tsp)

Method:

  • Mix the tandoori masala & garlic powder in the yogurt.
  • Place diagonal slits on the drumsticks.
  • Marinate the drumsticks in the spiced yogurt. Also add oil and lemon juice at this point.
  • Leave in the refrigerator overnight for maximum flavor, or for at least half an hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 425F/220C and bake for 40 minutes flipping the drumsticks halfway through.

Tips:

  • I used this store-bought tandoori masala, but I have also tried this recipe with homemade tandoori masala and it works just fine. The recipe for the homemade tandoori masala is here.
  • If you don’t have garlic powder, you can use two garlic cloves minced.
  • The meat from the drumsticks is delicious with mixed greens, quinoa, and some greek yogurt as dressing for a “chicken tikka salad.”
  • In a food processor, pulse 1 cup of mint and coriander, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 lemon juiced, and 2 green chillies. You will have yourself the best chutney to serve with these chicken tikka drumsticks.

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Food

Chia Pudding Breakfast

I am rather late to the chia pudding bandwagon, but I have to say that I am thoroughly enjoying this discovery for breakfasts. Last night, I decided to make some overnight chia pudding to take with me this morning. It literally takes two minutes to make and in the morning it is ready to be thrown into the bag before closing the door behind you.

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Today when I posted this picture of my chia pudding in my insta story, I received a ton of messages asking for the recipe of the pudding. I honestly was not anticipating this much interest that is why I did not take blog-worthy pictures of the recipe with my DSLR. So, I am just going to share the pictures I took from my iPhone 8 plus this morning—they are not too bad either, and it is the taste that counts, right?

Let’s keep this post short and simple since it is Monday night, after all. On that Monday note, hope you all had a lovely start to the new week, and will try this chia pudding recipe as a breakfast option. The recipe includes how I make the base for the pudding. Read tips to learn more about customizing the puddings for variety. 🙂

Ingredients:

  • Chia seeds (2tbsp)
  • Fat-free milk (1/2 cup)*
  • Vanilla essence (1tsp)
  • Maple syrup (1tsp)*

Method:

  • Combine all ingredients in a container and place in the refrigerator overnight or until chia seeds swell up (about four hours).

Tips:

  • You could use any milk, including dairy and plant-based varieties.
  • Maple syrup was my choice, but you could use agave syrup or honey as well.
  • This chia pudding can be topped with any toppings of your choice. I used fresh banana and blueberry before, but this time I thawed ¼ cup frozen cranberries in the microwave for 1 minute and added them to the chia mixture before refrigerating it. Overnight, the juice from thawed cranberries released into the pudding making it extra delicious. You could try this with any kind of berries.

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