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Christina El Moussa's got a brownie addiction. She eats them all the time, sometimes for breakfast. "I seriously had them, like, every single day for four months," she says.
And her nutritionist is totally fine with it.
"My girls had them this morning, actually," El Moussa's nutritionist, Cara Clark, says as she whips up a batch in El Moussa's sunny, Southern California kitchen. "They were like, 'we're allowed to have these for breakfast? Wait - why?!'"
"How did they react when they found out they have black beans in them?" El Moussa asks, smiling. Ah, there it is. The big secret.
"I didn't tell them," Clark laughs.
El Moussa's the first to admit she's not a baker - she's made a name for herself as one half of the hit HGTV show, Flip Or Flop, renovating homes - but this recipe, from Chocolate Covered Katie, has become something of legend. Nothing about the words 'black bean brownies' sounds remotely appealing. If anything, it raises all kinds of questions. That's why El Moussa rarely tells people it's the secret ingredient in this fudgy treat - until they've had a bite. Or devoured half a pan.
"At first, I thought they'd taste like beans, basically, and I kind of thought they'd taste really gross. But, when I had one, it didn't at all. It's probably my favorite brownie I've ever had," the HGTV star says. "[My daughter] Taylor loves them, but I'm not going to tell her what's in them any time soon," El Moussa says. "There's no way she'd eat them anymore, just on principle."
She knows what people want. That's part of the reason she's built a real estate and entertainment empire, with a show so successful it's spawned half a dozen spin-offs and a nationwide tour teaching other people how to flip homes. But in the frenzy to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, it's easy to neglect yourself. So El Moussa searched for ways to boost her energy; to live a healthier lifestyle so she could physically keep up with everything she wanted to do.
That's how she met Clark. Like all great relationships of the post-You've Got Mail era, the two met online (when El Moussa was searching for a nutritionist), and they soon realized they were fitness soulmates. The two started working out together, hitting up OrangeTheory classes and even filming a prenatal yoga DVD together.
"Then we got to share the experience of pregnancy together, so we were beastly at the same time," Clark says. The duo became fast friends, joking over Clark's unabashed love of TJ Maxx and the crazy tabloid rumors that'd swirl around El Moussa, particularly as her fame rose.
Before long, Clark revamped El Moussa's diet entirely - and the HGTV star was amazed at the results. "She really showed me what I should be eating in a day, and it's provided me with so much extra energy," she says. "I feel so great."
The biggest change was the exact opposite of what you'd expect. Most people go to nutritionists to cut out junk food and eat cleaner; Clark wanted her to eat more.
"She, like so many other 'healthy' Americans, was actually undereating, so she was super tired," Clark says. "She needed something that could fuel her busy lifestyle."
Clark broke up her meals throughout the day, and yes, on this meal plan, El Moussa's favorite brownies were allowed. She approves of them because they're loaded with fiber and have a good mix of all three macronutrients - protein, fat, and carbs - but hey, nobody needs to know just how virtuous they are.
Considering El Moussa's hectic schedule, Clark focused on simple meal prep - a hallmark of the wellness challenges she hosts on Facebook - so that there would be no excuse not to choose a healthy, filling option.
"Christina actually likes very simple things, and she can eat the same thing every day, which is awesome from a nutritionist standpoint, because I don't have to give her tons of meal plans," Clark explains. (Plus, mo' meal plans, mo' problems sticking with the routine.) She recommends five small meals a day; these are El Moussa's tried-and-true favorites.
BREAKFAST: OVERNIGHT OATS
"Once I know I like something, I could probably eat it every day, but this has been my go-to since we met, so about four years now," El Moussa says.
She combines equal parts oats and almond milk with two tablespoons of chia seeds - "for protein," Clark says - chopped peaches, and a dash of cinnamon and vanilla extract in a jar, leaving it in the fridge overnight to let the oats absorb the liquid.
"It never gets boring, because you can always put a different fruit in, or add peanut butter. I like pumpkin in the fall," El Moussa adds.
LUNCH: COBB SALAD
"My go-to for lunch, especially when I'm filming Flip Or Flop, is to pack a salad to go," El Moussa says. "My favorite is any version of a Cobb Salad."
Clark recommends a mix of romaine, chopped cabbage, tomato, egg, jicama, sunflower seeds, carrots, cucumbers, toasted quinoa, and a little cheese. El Moussa usually dresses it with a balsamic or raspberry vinaigrette (she's a big fan of Trader Joe's varieties), or low-calorie ranch. Sometimes she'll add turkey or chicken.
"Studies show that when your meal is crunchy, it's more satisfying," Clark says.
LATE AFTERNOON SNACK: GREEN DETOX SMOOTHIE
Clark's published two smoothie cookbooks, but El Moussa's hooked on one version in particular: the Green Detox Smoothie. It's loaded with spinach, kale, parsley, celery, rhubarb, apple, mango, hempseed, and maca powder. Her blueberry muffin smoothie's another favorite.
"I love chili. I could eat chili five days in a row," El Moussa says.
"What about when it's hot out?" Clark interjects.
"I still like it."
"What about when you eat chili, and then all the beans in the brownies?"
"Well, that's okay too," El Moussa shrugs.
"Does your tummy feel good after that?"
"It feels great."
El Moussa makes hers with lentils sometimes, instead of meat, and incorporates four kinds of beans, as well as corn, zucchini, and other vegetables.
DESSERT: BLACK BEAN BROWNIES
Yup, dessert counts as one of El Moussa's meals.
"They're delicious, easy, even my kids like it," El Moussa says. "Sometimes I'll put nut butter on top, then it's like a healthy Reese's peanut butter cup brownie."
"You still eat nut butter?" Clark asks.
"Uh, yeah. It's all I eat."
"Nut butter and beans, this girl," Clark laughs, shaking her head as she cuts into the brownies. Before filming's wrapped on the recipe video, the two have already dug in, snacking on the freshly baked treats and offering pieces to friends.
"They're just too good," El Moussa says. "On a splurge night, both of us like either a glass of red wine, glass of Champagne, or one of my go-to's, vodka, soda, pineapple juice."
"Yes, and I do the vodka, soda, grapefruit," Clark adds.
The reality star nods toward her wine fridge. Nothing goes better with a batch of black bean brownies than a great cab or a glass of bubbly, after all.
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