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Vitamin C pill vs. The Orange… FOOD FIRST!

vitamin-c

One of the most facinating things I learned in grad school was how powerfully healthy food is on it’s own when compared to individual supplements. When we eat fresh produce and obtain our nutrients in the context of food, we really do benefit from not just a few nutrients, but a whole package of healthy goodness that goes beyond just a few vitamins and minerals . Supplements usually are sold as a single nutrient or a limited number of nutrients.

Aquiring a cold for example leads many people to seek out vitamin C supplements. Often times people will purchase 1000% of the daily recommendation of vitamin C since they have heard many health claims that this is the power house against a cold. It may help don’t get me wrong. But do you know what else will help? Food. That’s right. Try an Orange.  “An orange??? How could that have enough vitamin C in it to boost my immune system?” You may be asking. We have somehow created this belief in our culture that we need megadoses of vitamins to help our bodies heal, or to boost immunity. We need food. It just so happens that food was designed (or evolved) to become quite supportive of our body’s needs. Additionally, often times our body can not even absorb the amounts of vitamins contained in some of these supplements and sports drinks. You just excrete them past a certain point, despite the “energy” that the label may claim it will give you.

Take the orange for example, 139% of your  daily vitamin C requirement is in one orange. That is plenty of vitamin C in one day for your body’s needs. Not only do you benefit from the vitamin C,  vitamin A, thiamin, folate, calcium, and potassium, additionally you are getting many different types of phytonutrients when you eat an orange. Let’s review what a phytonutrient is real quick. It is a plant compound that often times is responsible for the color of the plant. It is not an essential nutrient for a body process like it’s cousins vitamins and minerals are, but they often times are found to have anti-inflammatory or antioxidant properties. So they are non-essential nutrients with beneficial side effects. One of the stars of the phytonutrient show in oranges is a flavone compound called herperidin. This phytonutrient in animal studies has been found to have beneficial effects on blood pressure, and cholesterol results. Interestingly this compound is found mostly in the white pith of the orange… which you won’t find in the vitamin C supplement! You also will not find this portion of the plant in orange juice. UNLESS you pulverize your own whole orange with a little of the white pith attached in your blender. Which I highly recommend. With three ice cubes, a cut up pear, and a mint leaf.

My point is that fruits and vegetables are highly under rated for their nutritional content. And for whatever reason in our society… supplements are highly over rated in their nutrition potential (in my opinion anyways). Don’t get me wrong, supplements are certainly useful in certain situations! And I do take supplements daily for the vitamins that I find important for my life stage and difficult to obtain from food (vitamin D). However, after getting my Master’s degree in nutrition which I worked very hard to get, I am here to tell you… FOOD FIRST!

The many uses of… the lemon peel!

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Although it’s not a fresh herb, I feel compelled to complete our fresh herb week by talking about the ingredient that I pair most with it. Lemon peel may not be the part of the lemon you first think of as a flavor source, however it does contain some essential oils that pack a good punch! The citrus flavor in the peel or zest is a slightly bitter flavor as opposed to sour (like the juice) yet maintains that bright lemon flavor of the juice.

To zest your lemon you will need a cheese grater of some sort. The best kind is actually a Microplane (pictured above). These are high end cheese/ food graters made in the USA. They are about $15 to $20, and they will make your cheese and citrus peel grating experience much faster and easier. Once you go Microplane, you never go back. Be careful while grating to not accidentally grate your skin please… since they are quite sharp and will hurt your skin!

Once you have your lemon zest the same rules apply as with fresh herbs… a little goes a long way! After zesting a lemon for example you will only have about two teaspoons worth of  shredded lemon peel. That is plenty of zest for a four person dish.

One easy thing you can do with lemon zest is to add the zest of one lemon to some rice that you are cooking. Why not add some fresh kitchen herbs to the mix while you are at it? For bonus points I recommend cooking your rice in some type of soup broth as opposed to water.

Another idea for lemon zest is to combine it with some chopped up kitchen herbs (2- 3 tablespoons), 2-3 garlic cloves minced (finely chopped), 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon sea salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix all of this in a small bowl till you have sort of an oily paste. Rub this onto four servings (3-4 oz) of the protein of your choice (chicken, fish, red meat, or tofu). Now bake  your brightly flavored protein servings in the oven. Dinner is served!

Another great use for lemon zest in conjunction with your fresh kitchen herbs is to use it in a salad dressing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a good substitute for home made dressing is plain old lemon juice and olive oil. Lets’s build on this shall we? The quicker version of this is to use your three cup food chopper that I encourage you to buy. That way you may put the ingredients in there un-minced and let the blades do the work for you. Without your blender do this:  Mix together in a small bowl 1/2 cup olive oil, juice of one lemon, zest of one lemon, 1 garlic clove minced, 1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme minced, 3 basil leaves minced, 2 mint leaves minced, salt and pepper to taste. Mix with a fork and pour over your favorite salad!

What about the health benefits of lemon peel? Limonene is one of the aromatic compounds that is found in citrus peels that can produce that unique citrus flavor in lemon zest. In preliminary studies limonene has been shown to have cancer preventative properties. Great news! Specifically limonene was found in some cancer cells to signal a benign tumor to go down the cellular death pathway as opposed to the progression to cancer cell pathway. YAY for lemon zest!

Enjoy your Tuesday and I encourage you to sprinkle on the bright lemon flavored joy all over your kitchen this weekend 🙂

Healthy “Fast Food” with Fresh Herbs…

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Asian cuisine is typically high in fresh vegetables and low in saturated fat. As a result, Asia has always been an interesting region to research in the nutrition field due to the many differences between their eating habits, and the western world. Another benefit of asian cuisine is that it is typically friendly to those with food sensitivities. There is very little wheat and dairy in the majority of asian diets so for those prescribed to avoid those foods, eating asian cuisine will not leave them feeling as though they are missing out.

The fresh herbs often used in Asian cooking are basil, cilantro and mint and when combined together you get FIRE WORKS! When you add lime, toasted sesame, oil, and soy sauce to the mix as well…. Hold on to your hat! One dish that I like to “throw together” when I am in a hurry involves all of those items mentioned above, some crushed peanuts, and some chopped up veggies like green peppers & sauteed mushrooms, but as usual, it depends on what veggies are in my fridge at that moment.

Although I usually free style it, here are my basic instructions for this dish…

4 oz thin rice noodles, cooked according to package instructions

1-2 cups fresh or sauteed veggies chopped

1/2 cup crushed peanuts

Juice of 2 limes

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 – 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

a little lime zest (half a lime’s worth or so)

2 cloved finely chopped fresh garlic

3 tablespoons of any combination of basil, mint, and cilantro.

 

In a small bowl combine lime juice, sesame oil,  soy sauce, lime zest and garlic. Mix and pour over rice noodles. Add fresh/ sauteed veggies, herb mixture, and peanuts. Toss well. Take a bite and assess if you should squeeze any more lime, add any sesame oil, or soy sauce. With adding the herb mixture I would caution you to go easy on the mint and maybe the cilantro too. Mint can be overdone. Cilantro is very polarizing. People either love it or hate it so try it first if you’ve never had it. Basil has a milder flavor so if all you have is basil, you should be fine with three tablespoons of it.

This dish is so easy to make and loaded with lots of phytonutrients from both veggies and herbs. I actually like the crunch of fresh veggies in this salad, and additionally it’s faster to make it that way, however if you have 10 extra minutes to sautee your veggies it will be great that way too. Some good veggie ideas for this dish are shredded carrots, sliced green onions, sliced peppers (green or red), and boiled edamame beans (shelled). You can buy edamame beans shelled already in the frozen section of your grocery store. Edamame can provide a good protein source and is a whole food source of soy as opposed to a more processed version of soy. I always recommend organic soy products when possible. If you are sensitive to soy feel free to fill in the protein blank with your favorite protein.

Have I convinced you yet to go pick up a kitchen herb plant or two? Or to plant an herb garden? Chicken dishes, soups, pesto, and asian noodle salad. What other reason do you need?

Enjoy!

Home made Pesto… It’s easy I swear!!!

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In the spirit of further convincing all my readers that having kitchen herb plants yields tasty food, I am providing you with some fresh basil instructions. There is an appetizer I make for parties that always has party goers tracking me down to introduce themselves and asking for the recipe. It involves home made pesto. This is an easy go-to dish for me since I usually have a basil plant on hand which supplies a cup or two of basil leaves. And why not since basil leaves have been found to be chock full of antioxidants? When people ask me what kind of pesto did I buy for this dish? And I respond that its home made, they act hopeless like they could never do it. They have little faith! I have said it before and I will say it again people… buy that $15 to $20 dollar three cup food processor! Actually you can use a blender for this (or  for any of my three cup food processor recipes) however, it just seems silly to get out and dirty a whole big blender when you are only making one cup’s worth of volume. Right? The three cup food processor has the same function as your blender, just in a much smaller easy to use and easy to clean set up.

I have never used a recipe for this pesto, I just keep throwing ingredients into the three cup food processor until I like how it tastes! However here are the basic ingredients and approximate amounts. I encourage you to keep tasting it until you like how it tastes.

Serves 4

2 cups of loosely packed washed & towel dried basil leaves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup of parmesean cheese grated

2 cloves of fresh garlic peeled

1/4 cup of crushed walnuts (or whatever nuts you have crushed)

Juice of 1 lemon

salt & pepper to taste

 

Put it all in the three cup food processor (or blender), and hit the button for like 30 seconds. That’s it. You’re done. Now was that so hard?

I do encourage you to taste it and adjust ingredients as you see fit. I like mine pretty thick for the most part, but you may prefer this a little more oily. If you were planning on using your pesto as a sauce on pasta you may want to make it more oily so it will pour better. So up the oil until you get your desired consistency. I tend to love lemon and salt so I go heavy on those. But everyone’s taste buds are different! Feel free to start with just a tablespoon of lemon juice. Now most pesto recipes call for pine nuts and you will notice that I have substituted walnuts. I have nothing against pine nuts, but they are pretty expensive. When I have made this with walnuts I do not find that it tastes any different than the pine nut version, so I left my walnuts in the recipe.

The actual party appetizer that gets so much attention is a dish my mom used to make for parties. So easy. A couple logs of goat cheese  placed in a microwave safe dish. Pour the pesto on top. Microwave for maybe 30 seconds. If it is still not soft, put it in for longer. When the cheese has become soft it is done. Dice up tomatoes to put them on top of the dip. Place the dip on a platter surrounded by bread cubes, veggies, and/or crackers. Within minutes the whole party will be gathered around it dipping like crazy.

Have a healthy day!

 

No more potato bashing!!

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No more potato bashing! These root vegetables do in fact have nutritional benefits. All potatoes with skins on (very important to eat the nutrient containing skins) have a healthy dose of fiber which will help your blood sugar level stay healthy. The vitamin C in the potato is great as an anti oxidant in your body as well as an essential compound for the maintenance of our body’s connective tissues like your gums. A third of your daily manganese requirements are met in just one baked potato. Manganese has many functions in your body including keeping your thyroid gland healthy (important for hormone regulation and metabolism), keeping your bones strong, and building and metabolizing fatty acids needed in the body as fuel and in your cell membranes. Potatoes also provide you with almost half your days worth of vitamin B6 which helps you synthesize neurotransmitters, build/ break down proteins, as well as breaking stored energy down for use as fuel. The biggest surprise of them all… blood pressure regulating potassium. Potatoes have one of the highest amounts of potassium compared to any other piece of produce. In fact potatoes beat out bananas, they have more than three times as much (on average) than bananas do per serving. So why all the negative press on potatoes? I blame the French fry. When French fries are made they often peel the potato which holds much of its nutrients, and also fry the potato at such high temperatures that the nutrients are broken down leaving you with only a high fat, high carb, low fiber, low nutrient product. Feel free to enjoy your potatoes. Preferably baked, roasted, or mashed with the skins on. One more tip, the more colorful the potato, the more antioxidants it will hold. Think, sweet potatoes (orange) and even purple potatoes… be brave, they are just as easy to prepare as their less colored counterpart. We do encourage everyone to eat a colorful diet. With lots of colorful produce. So please enjoy your potato with a nice salad or colorful veggie.

Here is a simple and delicious recipe to try this week with some antioxidant rich sweet potatoes…

2 or 3 whole sweet potatoes
3 table spoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
black pepper to taste

Pre heat oven to 450 degrees F. Wash and cut sweet potatoes in half length wise, then dice up the sweet potato halves into approximately a one half inch size. Mix your sweet potato pieces with remaining 4 ingredients either in a large bowl, or a ziplock bag to distribute oil evenly. Pour your sweet potato mixture onto a cookie sheet or roasting pan in one layer. Roast for 20 – 25 minutes or until they are soft when you put a fork in them.

Delicious! Have a healthy week 🙂