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Getting green…

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You hear it all of the time these days in the media and from your friends, and this particular message is true. Eat more greens! It is thrilling as a nutritionist to know that at least one truthful message is being spread by the media. Many other recent nutrition headlines are exagerations, misinterpretations, or misunderstood reports of results from health studies. That is a whole other blog post that I will tackle… but for now… let’s tackle greens.

Why greens you ask? Because they are among the most nutrient dense foods in the world. Nutrient dense means “bang for your buck” essentially so the most nutrients packed into just a small amount of calories. Which nutrients you may ask? The list goes on and on. For today I am going to talk about spinach. I see you cringing! I want you to know that I am not going to force you to eat spinach from a can like Popeye.

One cup of spinach will provide you a whoping total of seven calories. SEVEN! In that seven calories you get almost two days worth of bone building vitamin K and half a days worth of vitamin A. Vitamin A provides your immune system the boost it needs to function properly and also aides in the production of red blood cells. Additionally vitamin A helps your eyes adapt to dark and light. Not to mention how vitamin A is an antioxidant that fights off cellular damage. This is just the beginning of the story.

Spinach is also a good source of folate and vitamin C. Folate is a nutrient that helps our bodies build and break down necessary proteins and DNA. Folate is also essential to our cardiovascular health and iron status. Vitamin C is needed in our diet since it builds collagen, reinforcing your immune system, as well as making neurotransmitters and hormones for proper brain and organ function. Feed your brain spinach!

There are also lots of phyto-nutrients in spinach which are beginning to be studied. These are plant compounds (which sometimes gives the plant it’s color) that in preliminary studies are being found to be potentially anti inflammatory, and to have anti oxidant properties. With all of the toxic compounds that we unavoidably come into contact with daily from just the air that we breath let alone the food we may be eating shouldn’t we be maximizing our foods that fight off cell damage that can be caused by pollution in our environment?

How do I eat spinach so that I don’t hate it? And to maximize it’s health benefits?

To cook spinach I am not providing a recipe. Know why? Because you can add it to anything. Seriously, aside from perhaps desserts or muffins, ANYTHING. Stir frys, breakfast eggs, casseroles, sandwiches, roasts, and side dishes. Just go nuts. Start adding it where ever you can. I add just a handful of spinach/ greens to my egg pan in the morning right before I pour my egg mixture onto the skillet. Then I have a handful of raw spinach/ greens with olive oil, salt and pepper on the side (or dressing if I have dressing made in the fridge). Salad for breakfast?!?! I know I am crazy. But trust me this is a good idea. Then at lunch time I add a handful of spinach to what ever dinner I had the night before. At dinner… usually part of a salad. It goes with every type of ethnic food I can think of. Don’t be scared, just try it!

I have three words of advice on spinach to keep it healthy…

1) If you can, buy it organic. If not no worries. Less pesticides is always better.

2) Please do not over cook it. The idea with spinach is to either eat it raw (for maximum nutritional benefit) or to just lightly cook it. Add it to the last step of cooking ( ie: last one minute or so of cooking) so that it is a little wilted, but not over cooked and completely soggy.

3) The fresher the better. When it is in season and you have a farmers market nearby, it is best bought there. If not no problem get it at your grocery store. It is not bad for you when you get it at the grocery store it is still great for you! It just has been sitting around a little longer so some  of the nutrients may have dissipated.

Now get out there and start spreading the spinach all over your kitchen!

Have a healthy day 🙂

Sunny Sunday!

cfiles5116

There it is! The bright light coming from the sky that keeps us warm and our planet alive… the sun! It made an appearance today in Olympia just in time for a local 5 K race. It is quite encouraging to see that bright light lingering on longer and longer each day recently. Sunset tonight will not be until 6:00 PM tonight. Can you believe this? There is a light at the end of the winter tunnel folks. Day light until 6:00 PM gives us all a little more time to be active, even after work!

One thing I was reminded of this morning was how great a combination being active and socializing can be. Gone are the days when you have to go to happy hour after work to be social. While it may seem that the internet has made us some what anti social these days, (think, rooms full of people with their eyes and hands glued to their smart phones) there is no denying how much easier it is now more than ever to find organized social events. Many of these organized social events are centered around being active and cost little to nothing to join.

Take this mornings local 5 K race. There were likely 300 runners in the race and there were T-Shirts worn by many runners the sported local running clubs. I was not aware so many running clubs were up and running in this area! After I did some web searches I found that these groups have organized weekly runs for many different fitness levels, demographics, and that some hold social hours after the run (dinners out in town etc.) What a great way to get off of our Smartphones and make some friends! A much healthier option than going to happy hour to blow off steam. Not that happy hour is bad… it’s great actually. It just will not benefit your body as much as moving your body. This week if you have co workers at work (or friends in your neighborhood) in need of stress relief after a hard day, consider making plans to be active together after work or during your day, even if it’s walking a short distance together. If you do not have anyone in your life interested in physical activity then try some web searches for local groups that regularly meet up. It might surprise you the diverse options available. Being social is in our nature as humans and being active is in our nature as well… why not combine the two?

Hooray for carrots!

372px-Carrots_of_many_colors

These orange sticks of greatness sure are good for our body’s defense system against oxidative damage to our cells. Carrots are one of the best sources of beta carotene in the vegetable world. Beta carotene is a precursor to vitamin A. The health benefits of beta carotene and vitamin A include improved night vision, anti oxidant protection against free radical damage, and enhanced immune system function. One fun fact about carrots is that if you eat an unusually high amount of them (by juicing them) you may get orange pigmented skin! No need to panic though this is only likely to happen through excessive juicing of carrots. If you notice orange skin, this is not harmful to you and it is easily reversible by easing up on the carrots.

The skin of a carrot has most of the beta carotene, so it is better to wash carrots and scrub them with a vegetable brush instead of peeling them as a cleaning method. Besides the health benefits, you save time and a peeling mess! Buying organic carrots is always a good idea since ideally you do eat the skin. Another great thing about these free radical super heros is that they store very well in your fridge for about a month or sometimes even longer.

How to prepare these sticks of greatness? Try quartering them and tossing your quartered carrot sticks with two tablespoons of olive oil, salt pepper, and a dash of your favorite spice. Paprika, Cardamom, Ginger? Even Cinnamon may be good since carrots are naturally sweet. Roast them in the oven at 450 degrees F for 20 – 25 minutes on a greased cookie sheet.

Have a healthy Saturday! ☺

Bland Salads… NOT ALLOWED!

not_allowed

We’ve all seen it before, that lame not so exciting salad bar available at so many cafeterias, restaurants, and schools. Oh look not so fresh produce (some from cans) followed by an array of bottled dressings made months ago packed full of preservatives for their shelf life. How utterly enticing. NOT! No wonder most of us are packing our plates full of every food group besides veggies.

This phenomenon of sub par salads served all over America I believe is part of the problem with low vegetable intake in our country. What can be done? Well at home you can certainly make your salads more exciting. As for the cafeterias and restaurants… it may take a while for them to catch up. However let’s get started…

So you don’t like to cook perhaps. Salads require no cooking. So you prefer not to spend lots of time prepping veggies. No problem. And you’re not sure how to make these raw veggie combinations taste nice.

Lesson #1: DITCH the bottled dressing!

Well if you seriously like one, then OK you may use it. However, I would just like to express the absolute salad quality boost you will taste when you make your own dressing. MAKE MY OWN DRESSING?!?!? I know the alarms may be going off in the minds of some. But I promise this is NOT difficult. Especially if you invest $15-$20 in a 3 cup food processor. Here is a pic of one that I like.

black-and-decker-food-processor-1-4-cup-food-processor-ehc650-detail

Dressing can be EXTREMELY simple! Forget the food processor if you like. Olive oil and fresh squeezed lemons right onto your salad with a little salt and pepper. DONE! No mixing and no clean up.

But if you are ready for an adventure this weekend here is one of my favorite vinaigrette dressing recipes that I have come up with…

½ cup Olive Oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon pure Maple Syrup
1 clove garlic peeled
¼ teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

Yields about ¾ cup. Enough for 4-6 servings depending on how much you love this stuff.

Yes you may need to shop for some of these ingredients but they will be handy to have in your pantry. If you do not like the price tag on the pure maple syrup you may substitute 1 tablespoon of honey or 1 tablespoon of brown sugar.

Combine all ingredients in a three cup food processor, blend until well combined. That’s it. You’re done. You made your own salad dressing.

Note: Many food processors are easy to clean, dishwasher safe. Throw your blade and container in the dishwasher and just spot clean the base if it needs it.

Don’t have a food processor? OK you need to do the work of mincing the one garlic clove. Mincing means finely chopped by the way. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork or whisk. You should not need to mix for more than a minute. That’s it.

Lesson # 2: Keep it simple

Now onto what to put into your salad… I will do another whole blog post on this soon since I could talk all day long about salads… Nutrition nerd alert! However to give you an idea of some easy to prepare ingredients, try this…

1 bag or 6 oz bulk spinach (or which ever greens you prefer)
1 orange (or grapefruit) cut into ½ inch cubes.
¼ cup of your favorite crushed nuts or seeds (maybe the seeds do not need to be crushed)
½ red onion finely sliced (or caramelized)

That’s it! Salads do not need to be complicated with long ingredient lists to be delicious. Feel free to doctor my basic recipe up however you like with substitutions, deletions, or additions.

Now go home and make some salad. Have a healthy weekend ☺

Onions… our savory savior

Red-Onions

Who doesn’t love the smell of onions simmering on the stove? And is there any savory recipe in the world that does NOT taste good with onions added?
Onions both red and yellow are wonderful sources of polyphenols (natural plant derived antioxidants) and specifically the polyphenol quercetin. Quercetin has been found in preliminary studies to have anti oxidant properties, and diets high in quercetin have been associated with lower rates of lung cancer… even among smokers! Along with it’s anti oxidant function it is believed to also stabilize inflammation in the body, which helps to prevent disease, and organ malfunction. Although this compound is found in several types of fruits and vegetables, among the allium vegetable group (garlic, onions, leeks) quercetin and polyphenols are found in the highest amounts in onions. In order to get the most quercetin content from your onions, avoid over peeling them. Most of the quercetin and polyphenols in general are contained in the outer layers so peel off only the paper layer and no others please. So feel good about piling on those onions to your dishes to add flavor, because you are also piling on the antioxidants.

Have you ever caramelized onions? It is quite easy and adds a wonderful flavor to any salad. My favorite onion to caramelize is a red onion but any will do.

Just heat up a skillet/ fry pan (cast iron tastes best) to about medium and add a tablespoon or two of either butter or coconut oil. Add the onions and flavor them with salt and pepper to taste. Stir the onions often to prevent them from sticking to the pan. Add extra butter/ oil if needed. Continue to cook the onions until you get a nice brown color to them. I prefer mine to be even a little burnt and crispy. Once the are browned to your liking transfer them to a plate to cool. When they are cool enough that they will not wilt your salad greens go ahead and add them as a topping to your salad. A total crowd pleaser!

Have a healthy day!

Beets… WAIT don’t click off… they are good I swear!

beets

How can I contain my love for beets into just one page! Any nutrition nerd will just get GITTY at the mention of this nutrient packed vegetable. Unfortunately I often see people cringe when I mention beets. I hear friends say… “Yuck my mother used to serve them out of a can and they were nasty!”. Luckily when I am able to have these friends over to try fresh cooked beets as opposed to canned, they change their minds completely.

Where to begin, well…this brightly colored vegetable gets its color (and concurrent staining of clothes hazard) from its unusually high level of nutrients. Of the many studied health benefits that beets offer, two of the most important is their high folate content, and their support of our body’s detoxification system.

Folate is a micronutrient highly involved in our body’s cardiovascular metabolism, DNA synthesis, and formation of red blood cells. The body can only make healthy red blood cells (which transfer oxygen/energy to the entire body) when there is sufficient folate present. One demographic especially in need of folate are women of child-bearing age since a folate deficiency can cause birth defects.
Beet’s well deserved reputation as detoxification agents are due to studies that have found phytonutrients which assist the body’s ability to excrete toxic compounds.

In order to keep your beets at their peak nutrition it is recommended that you not roast them for more than one hour, and not steam them for more than 15 minutes. Don’t throw away the green tops! They are healthy too, wash them and use them in any recipe or method of preparation that you would spinach.
Here is one of my favorite salads to make, a beet and beet green salad. In the summer, you will notice at the farmers markets that beets are growing larger and their beet greens are also large. Sometimes you may even get a whole salad out of the beet greens contained on only one bunch of beets! If not no worries just mix in some other greens (spinach, arugula, or anything you have is fine).

How to cook beets? A very good question.

Wash the beets and cut the greens off. TIP: Leave the base of the beat stems intact with the beet. Why? Because that way the skin remains intact throughout the boiling process and fewer nutrients are leached out into the water.
Place the beets into a large saucepan with enough water to cover them. Put the burner on the high setting and let them coming to a rolling boil.
Once the beets have reached a rolling boil turn the heat down to the low setting and let them simmer for approximately one hour. When you can pierce the beets with a fork fairly easily they are done. Larger beets will take longer to cook and vice versa. Start testing them with a fork at 45 minutes.

Once they have passed your fork test pour them carefully into a colander in the sink and run some cold water over them to cool them down. Wait a few minutes as they cool. Then after you’ve waited, pick one up and put it under more cold running water. Carefully push with your fingers to remove the skin. WARNING: The beet may still be hot under the skin! The skin should slide off very easily if it is fully cooked. Repeat this process with remaining beets.

Your hands will be stained from handling them but I promise it will be worth it and the pink will wash off within a 2 or 3 hand washes.

Place beets on a cutting board, halve them and slice them.

Cat’s Beet and Beet Green Salad

1 bunch of beets cooked and sliced
1 bunch of beet greens washed and sliced
Additional greens (if needed)
1 Avocado sliced
1 orange sliced
Zest of one orange (optional)
½ cup walnuts (or any nuts/ seeds that you like)
½ cup of cheese crumbles either feta or blue cheese (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Any preferred salad dressing or ¼ cup of olive oil.

Home made salad dressing resource:
http://www.cookusinterruptus.com/balsamic-vinaigrette-4136-67.html

Salad Instructions:

Remove the stems from the greens. Wash and dry the greens with a clean kitchen towel. Chop them into small strips. Place in a large salad bowl. Not enough volume for your party? Add some additional greens, any that you have around the house are fine.

Add your diced beets, chopped avocados, nuts (or seeds), orange slices, orange zest, and cheese crumbles.

Add preferred dressing, or just plain olive oil.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

No more potato bashing!

spicy sweet potato2

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.

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 🙂

 

Dietary Fiber

 

Fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods that our bodies need for optimal digestion.  The two main types of fiber are soluble and insoluble.  Both types of fiber are important to our health for different reasons.

 

Soluble fibers are commonly found in fruits (especially pear, apple, and citrus fruits), oats, barley, and legumes.  These water-soluble fibers form gels within the digestive tract, and provide many beneficial health effects including:

  • Contributes to feelings of fullness and decreases appetite.
  • Slows the absorption of carbohydrates which can reduce blood sugar.
  • Helps to lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides.

 

Insoluble fibers are commonly found in wheat bran, corn bran, whole grain breads and cereals, as well as vegetables.  The main beneficial effect of insoluble fiber includes:

  • Facilitating the movement of food through the digestive tract, thus preventing constipation.

 

Tips for increasing fiber in your diet:

 

Breakfast

  • Choose breakfast cereals, hot or cold, that contain a minimum of 5 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Add flax meal, oat or rice bran, or wheat germ to yogurt or hot cereal.
  • Choose cereals that say 100% whole grain on the label.
  • Add some high fiber fruit like an apple, pear, orange, or berries.

 

Lunch

  • Choose 100% whole grain breads with a minimum of 3-5 grams of fiber per slice.
  • Add fresh cut up vegetables to lunches – carrots, celery, peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower.
  • Add a piece of fruit for dessert.

 

Dinner

  • Add garbanzo or cannellini beans to your tomato sauce.  This adds protein and fiber.
  • Use tempeh, made from fermented whole soy beans, instead of meat in your stir-fry or chili.
  • Add bran cereal or oatmeal to meat loaf, meatballs or hamburgers.
  • Serve a salad at dinner – choose dark green lettuces, spinach, or arugula.
  • Instead of mashed potatoes, try brown rice, millet, or quinoa or baked winter squash.
  • Steam or sauté a green vegetable to go along with dinner, such as broccoli, kale, or bok choy.

 

Snacks

  • Try hummus with raw vegetables for a satisfying fiber-filled snack.
  • Choose crackers with a minimum of 2-3 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Add nut butter to an apple or pear.
  • Have a small handful nuts or seeds with some dried fruit.

 

Dining out

  • Order extra vegetables with your meal.  This usually costs only a dollar or two extra.

Food Sources of Fiber

 

Food

Serving Size

Total Fiber (grams)

Soluble fiber (grams)

Insoluble fiber (grams)

FRUIT

Apple, with   skin

1 medium

3.3

0.4

2.9

Banana

1 medium

3.1

Pear, with   skin

1 medium

5.2

1.1

4.1

Orange

1 medium

3.2

2.1

1.1

Prunes

¼ cup

4.6

2.5

2.1

Raspberries

½ cup

4.0

Strawberries

½ cup

1.7

0.4

1.3

VEGETABLES
Asparagus

½ cup

1.8

0.3

1.5

Broccoli,   cooked

½ cup

2.6

0.3

2.3

Brussel   sprouts, cooked

½ cup

3.2

1.1

2.1

Carrots

1 large

2.0

0.9

1.1

Corn

½ cup

3.0

Potato,   baked with skin

1 medium

4.4

1.1

3.3

Spinach,   cooked

½ cup

2.2

0.7

1.5

BEANS, LEGUMES, NUTS and SEEDS
Black   beans, cooked

½ cup

7.5

2.1

5.4

Garbanzo   beans, cooked

½ cup

5.3

1.3

4.0

Green peas,   cooked

2/3 cup

5.9

0.8

5.1

Kidney   beans, cooked

½ cup

5.7

2.3

3.4

Lentils,   cooked

2/3 cup

10.4

1.7

8.7

Lima beans,   cooked

½ cup

5.4

1.5

3.9

Pinto   beans, cooked

½ cup

7.7

 
Peanut   butter, chunky

2 tbsp

2.6

0.7

1.9

Psyllium   seeds, ground

1 tbsp

6.0

5.0

1.0

WHOLE GRAINS
Barley,   cooked

½ cup

6.8

1.4

5.4

Bran flake   cereal

¾ cup

5.3

Brown rice,   cooked

½ cup

1.8

0.2

1.6

English   muffin, whole wheat

1

4.4

1.3

3.1

Rolled   oats, cooked

¾ cup

4.2

2.0

2.2

Whole-wheat   bread

1 slice

2.8

0.4

2.4

Creatures of Habit

As any other animal on this good green Earth, we humans have needs. We have lots of needs. And coincidentally, (though the basis is a great dispute) we have wants- lots of wants. However, due to Science, we only have 24-hours in a day. This means that our brains have to figure out how to squeeze all of this need-meeting and want-fulfilling into a single day! We breathe without thinking, make breakfast while getting dressed, drive while cell-phoning, and all manner of other curious combinations that have become habitual. Do you ever come out of the shower thinking, “did I even wash my hair?!” Read more

Carb Moon

I used to hold fast to the idea that you are what you eat, and that mentality wreaked havoc on my health, both physically and emotionally. I, and many people involved in various diet plans as well as those struggling with eating disorders categorize foods into “good” and “bad,” labels that are often in tandem with particular categories of macronutients, i.e. carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Our society has designated the “bad” foods according to their membership in a particular macronutrient family, i.e. the nearly national fear of fat or avoidance of carbs.

There are, however, smaller, and just as significant (if not more so) nutrient bits called micronutrients. The energy of the macros cannot be absorbed for optimal function in the body without various micro-buddies because they act as cofactors for enzymes that break down the macro-guys. This is particularly true for malnourished patients, as is the case more frequently than the media, or even general public knowledge would have you believe. The distinction between undernourished and malnourished is a subtle, but important one. Undernourishment refers specifically to quantity, while malnourishment refers specifically to quality, both factors of vital importance in one’s health.

Basic chemistry tells us of the importance of carbon (the element of LIFE) in the diet. There are various designations within the overarching macronutrient group of carbohydrates, however, that you may be familiar with, in the common diet lingo of “good carbs,” and “bad carbs.” These labels refer to the carbohydrate categories of monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides, aka, simple sugars, and complex carbs. Simple sugars are smaller molecules, and are more quickly broken down because of the lack of.. ehrm.. complexity.. Complex carbs, on the other hand, have more stuff attached to the carbon chain- stuff like vitamins and minerals that are, like, really important in the functioning of the endocrine, hormone, and digestion systems. We know, also, that the more slowly digested a food is, the more stable blood sugar and insulin levels remain and the longer satiety lingers.

One good rule of thumb, however, is to eat minimally processed, whole, and carbohydrates that are closer to the earth rather than the factory or processing plant.

Another take on all of this comes from more ancient traditions, which relate more closely to the agricultural cycles of the land, seasonal cycles of weather, and lunar phases. Jessica Prentice’s book, Full Moon Feast, traces the historical associations of the month’s moon to food. This month is Corn Moon! She elucidates,

“In the United States, the word corn refers the species Zea mays, the tasseled plant that produces cobs of kernels in earthy hues of yellow, white, blue, and red. In Northern Europe the Germanic word corn simply means “grain.” When Northern European colonists first encountered the plant Zea mays that had been cultivated and developed over many millennia by the indigenous peoples of this continent, they named it Indian corn, meaning Indian grain. Over time, the plant became known simply as corn in American English, while barley, wheat, rye, and other familiar cereal crops came to be known as grains.”

I find it very grounding, and really fun to connect to these other perspectives of relating to food through history, and cycles of seasons. Plus, I get to try new recipes and keep my pantry fresh with these new ideas, rather than getting caught up in a rut of a pattern!- particularly a pattern of exclusion or denial of any food or food group which isn’t very sustainable!