Does your training plan address the needs of your immune system? Perhaps it should. You’ve trained for months, diligently following your plan, logging miles and / or time in the gym. You’re prepared to test your limits, land a PR and perhaps a spot on the podium. But, you’re probably NOT planning to get sick. However, if your training plan ignores your immune system, your post-race days could be filled with more than just memories, but also illness. In this two part post, I’ll explain why —and what you can do about it. Continue reading
When the farmer’s market has Brussels sprouts on the stalk, one is coming home with me and roasted Brussels sprouts are suddenly on the menu. I can’t resist. There is something so novel and (literally) fresh about pruning the little cabbages from their stem. For an urbanite, it is close as we get to the ‘harvesting’ concept. That is, unless you are one of those people who have actually attempted and succeeded with urban gardening. That’s not me.
According to Rebecca Wood, author of The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, Brussels sprouts become sweet and tender after a frost. So keep growing region in mind when purchasing. Most Brussel sprouts come from California’s mild coastal area. Deborah Madison, in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, recommends stronger flavors for sprouts harvested without a frost, such as mustard, capers, and lemon.
For the most flavor in Brussels sprouts from any region, select small sprouts with few yellow leaves. For best results, cut the sprouts in half or into quarters for bite-size pieces. They should all be cut about the same size for even cooking.
HONEY DIJON ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
This recipe is the Little Black Dress equivalent of Brussel sprouts recipes. It is classic and simple; a reliable ‘go-to’ recipe for weekdays or special events, which can not only be made in advance and reheat well, but can be dressed up in countless ways. It has just a hint of sweetness. So, you may want to increase the sweetener for some palates.
Try tossing in carmelized onions, roasted and chopped nuts, bacon, soaked current, chopped dried cherries or (of course) cheese to the roasted sprouts. You just might convert a skeptic with your creativity. And little will they know that with Brussels sprout’s glucosinolates and isothiocyanates, they are reducing cancer risk through with every delicious bite.
- 1 trunk prepped (or 1 1/2 pounds) Brussels sprouts
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (1 tablespoon reserved for after roasting)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/8th teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or fire cider or apple cider vinegar)
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons raw honey (or maple syrup)
- Preheat oven to 400° F degrees.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, toss Brussels sprouts with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Transfer the Brussels sprouts to the baking sheet.
- Roast the sprouts, stirring half-way through for even browning, until tender and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes, depending on their size.
- Return roasted brussels sprouts back in the bowl. Combine remaining tablespoon olive oil, vinegar and honey together and pour the mixture over the sprouts, tossing to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Revised 10.22.16. Originally published 12.24.14.
The stringy flesh of spaghetti squash resembles traditional pasta in appearance. But, does it taste like spaghetti? Does it have that unique ‘toothiness’ of an al dente pasta? Of course not. But, with about one-fourth the calories and carbohydrates of traditional wheat pasta, it can be a very satisfying, grain-free alternative —and a novel, creative way to enjoy a carotenoid and antioxidant-rich meal. And, like regular ‘noodles’ the spaghetti squash pulp is like a naked canvas for flavorings. Almost anything goes. Check out these 4 tips for making delicious spaghetti squash dishes and 5 ideas to get you started!
Just like preparing traditional pasta, the process can be as free-form and improvisational as you want. No recipes needed. In fact, think ‘Operation Fridge Clear Out’. Cooking spaghetti squash is as easy as making regular spaghetti noodles. But, you just need to allow for longer cooking time, about 40 minutes at 375° F, either whole or cut in two. (For step-by-step instructions, see above link.)
4 TIPS TO DELICIOUS SPAGHETTI SQUASH DISHES
- Preparation: drain off excess water. For the best and most pasta-like results, place the strands in a strainer and press out as much excess water as you can. This step is optional. But, it’s worth the effort, especially if you are cooking the squash ahead of time and/or are not using a fat-based sauce, such as a marinara.
- Dressing: go fat! Due to the high water content of spaghetti squash, I prefer fat-based sauces. Healthy fats in moderation will help modulate the blood sugar response and increase satiety as will adding in some protein. Or, indulge with a little browned butter. Try these!
- Seasoning: go bold! Like regular pasta noodles, spaghetti squash provides is a neutral vehicle for any variety of flavors. But, unlike regular pasta noodles, the spaghetti squash pulp won’t absorb the sauce and its flavors very well. And, these noodles don’t have much flavor of their own other than a slightly sweet earthiness. So, go a bit more bold with your seasoning than you might with regular pasta.
Try these seasonings!
- Basil, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme
- Black pepper, Cinnamon, chili flakes, nutmeg
- Garlic, onions, scallions
- Soy sauce or shoyu
- Tomatoes (sun-dried or paste)
- Add contrasting textures. Fold different textures into the strands and on top of the dish. These variations in texture gives makes the dish chewy similar to al dente pasta. Try these additions and toppings!
- sautéed mushrooms
- Toasted, chopped nuts, such as hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts
- Bread crumbs or panko (regular or gluten-free).
- Beans, such as adzuki, black, garbanzo or kidney
- Cheese, such as mozzarella, parmesan or Gruyère
Base: Olive oil and garlic
Seasonings: A generous amount of fresh ground black pepper and sea salt
Additions: sautéed onions and shiitake mushrooms, roasted and shopped walnuts
Garnish: Italian parsley and basil
Spaghetti Squash with Cinnamon-Nutmeg Vegan Cream Sauce and Nuts
Base: Cashew cream sauce
Seasonings: Cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and sea salt
Additions: sautéed onions and shiitake mushrooms, toasted and chopped walnuts.
Garnish: Italian parsley
Indian-Inspired Spaghetti Squash
Base: Store-bought Indian simmer sauce (Maya Kaimal brand)
Additions: Garbanzo beans
Garnish: Cilantro or Thai Basil
Southern Italy-Inspired Spaghetti Squash
Base: Olive oil, garlic and tomato paste
Seasonings: Red chili pepper flakes, black pepper and sea salt
Additions: sautéed onions, chopped or pureed sun-dried tomatoes
Garnish: Italian parsley or Basil
Spaghetti Squash Tossed with Avocado Pesto and Kale
Base: Vegan avocado pesto
Seasonings: Lemon, garlic, black pepper and sea salt
Additions: Wilted kale
Garnish: Basil and roasted, chopped pecans
- USDA National Nutrient Database
- Page, Karen. The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2014.
How do you like to prepare spaghetti squash? Share a tip! Leave a comment below.
Cooling temperatures mean apple season, at least where I’m from (Washington State) and where I live (New York). So, those of us in harvest mode head to the farmer’s market or apple orchards in search of our favorite freshly off the tree varieties. Right?!
Actually, this is a mistake. Or, at least a missed opportunity. While in season, this is THE time to try buying, snacking, serving or baking with new-to-you apple varieties. Selected mindfully, veering onto the apple path less traveled could have game-changing health benefits compared to the same old, same old grocery store varieties. Here’s why.
WHAT ARE THE MOST NUTRITIOUS APPLES?
Let’s talk phytonutrients, those near-magical chemicals that plants produce in response to stress. Phytonutrients are a plant’s security detail, protecting them from threats ranging from UV rays to pesky predators. Sadly, apple growing in the United States has bred the phytonutrients out of most varieties of this beloved fruit.
As Jo Robinson (fellow Seattleite!) explains in Eating on the Wild Side, we’ve also bred out the diversity. In fact, “nine out of every ten apples we eat come from a mere dozen varieties. We’ve gone from fifteen thousand varieties to twelve in just three generations.”
However, while the ‘apple a day’ heritage remains, variety matters – literally and figuratively. Jo doesn’t leave us perplexed at the market. Rather, she recommends these 12 apple varieties as the most nutritious and phytonutrient-dense apple options. Here are some guidelines for selecting among these apples, according to your preferred flavors and intended use.
Most Nutritious Apple Varieties for Eating
- Braeburn – A blend of sweet and tart
- Cortland – Resistant to browning, great for salads
- Discovery – Sharp and sweet
- Fuji – Stores well for weeks
- Gala – Fragrant and juicy
- Granny Smith – A bit tart, firm texture
- Honeycrisp – Honey-like sweetness
- Liberty – Sweet
- McIntosh – Crisp and juicy
- Newtown Pippin – A blend of sweet and tart
- Ozark Gold – A mellow blend of sweet and tart
- Red Delicious – Sweet and mild-tasting
Most Nutritious Apple Varieties for Baking
- Braeburn – A blend of sweet and tart
- Discovery – Sharp and sweet
- Fuji – Stores well for weeks
- Granny Smith – A bit tart, long baking time
- Idared – A blend of sweet and tart
- Melrose – A blend of sweet and tart
- Ozark Gold – A mellow blend of sweet and tart
- Newtown Pippin – A blend of sweet and tart
Most Nutritious Apple Varieties for Applesauce
- Idared – A blend of sweet and tart
5 TIPS TO GET THE MOST NUTRITION FROM APPLES
- The Most Color Wins! How to compare apples-to-apples —of the same variety? Go red. When you’re sorting through the bins, look for the most colorful apples, which generally means the most red. These apples will be the most phytonutrient-dense. These likely grew at the top of the tree or on outer limbs, with more sun exposure triggering much more phytonutrient protection than those grown on the interior or the low-hanging fruit.
- To peel or not? That was a rhetorical question. Because, if you don’t eat the peel, more than half of the antioxidants go in the garbage, disposal or ideally, the compost. In the case of the former, the soil gets all that magic, not you. That’s just sad. : (
- Go organic, when possible. Year after year, apples are the winner (or loser…) or runner-up on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of the most pesticide-laden produce. However, there are many farmers who don’t spray or minimally spray their orchards, but can’t afford the organic certification. So, if possible, have a chat with the vendor and ask about their growing practices.
- Go local, buy often and store appropriately. Apples love to chill out in the cool humid environment of your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. There, they will last up to ten times longer than they will out on the counter. And, buy them as you need them, ideally eating your apples as close to harvest as possible. Like most good things, their health benefits fade over time.
- Wash (as in scrub, not rinse). Always use a produce wash, or simply a vinegar and water or salt and water solution to remove any debris or traces of pesticide on produce. For apples, consider using a non-toxic soap to remove the wax on commercial apples. No matter what cleaning solution you select, put some elbow grease into it, scrubbing them with a brush. Simply running them under water isn’t enough.
What are your favorite apples? Leave a comment below!
Robinson, Jo – Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
Wood, Rebecca – The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York: Penguin Books, 2010.
Washington Apple Commission
www.nyapplecounry.com – Accessed Oct. 1, 2016
I know, I know… Overnight oats are hardly a culinary innovation. But, they’re the ultimate no hassle, no-cook, nutritious whole foods breakfast. Besides, who doesn’t love waking up with breakfast already made? —even if the breakfast fairy was you. And, simply layer your overnight oats ingredients into a parfait and you’ve got a colorful feast worth waking up for. But, for the ‘parfait look’ assemble the parfait after you’ve soaked the oats. Otherwise, just wake, stir and eat.
With endless ingredient options, think of it as breakfast arts and crafts. Keep just a few staples on hand you can have breakfast prepped in about five minutes. Include the little ones and have them make their own. Or, better yet, make one of them your personal overnight oats chef.
Everyone loves to grill it up. Grilling is incredibly easy, quick, fun and can be one of the healthiest ways to get a meal on your plate —if done correctly. The good news is that no matter what food you are putting on the grill, simple changes in what you do before it hits the grill, how you grill and what you eat with your grilled food can make a very significant difference in the health of your meal. Fire it up!
What Makes Grilling Unhealthy?
Caution, meat eaters! Yes, science can be a killjoy at times. But, meat eaters simply need to use a bit more caution than vegetarians when getting their grill on. This is not an opinion. It’s basic chemistry. Cook meat at a high temperature and carcinogenic compounds will form. Grill it, and they will come. In fact, the higher the temperature and the longer the cooking time, the more of these compounds will form in the food. The result when you eat these foods? Damaged DNA and increased risk of cancer and many other chronic diseases. Continue reading
Fudgsicles were one of my favorite summer cool treats. There was something about the way they slowly morphed from a frozen solid into creamy, chocolate pudding. Unfortunately, three of the top six ingredients in those fudgsicles are sugar, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. Keep reading the label and you will find other goodies, such as cellulose gum and polysorbate 80. No thank you.
The good news is that it is incredibly easy to make fudgsicles that are actually healthy. These fudgiscles also have the rich, creamy texture, which makes a fudgsicle a fudgsicle. No dairy. No gluten. No cooking. No kidding! Continue reading
Could you benefit from a probiotic supplement? Properly chosen, probiotic supplements can play an important role in regaining or preserving gastrointestinal health, which just might make us healthier overall.
Our gastrointestinal tract, that 30-foot tube inside of us does a LOT more than just break down food. Impacting much more than digestion. Rather, the health of our largest organ is considered the cornerstone of overall health. It makes up about 70% of our immune system and influences our mood, inflammation levels, the foods we crave —and even how much we weigh!
Recognizing the important role of good bacteria in gut health, many people take a probiotic supplement to improve specific health conditions. And, many more people take them daily for general health.
But, how do you know which probiotic is right for you?
If you need a probiotic for a specific health condition, consult your licensed health care practitioner. They can recommend the specific strain and dosage which have been clinically researched for your needs. But, if you are looking for a general all-purpose probiotic for prevention or to resolve digestive discomforts (bloating, indigestion, changes in regularity), the choices are easier. However, anyone using probiotics needs to be an informed consumer.
According to research by ConsumerLab.com, many products on the market simply do not contain what is advertised on the label. In 2009, the majority (85%) of probiotics they selected for testing did not contain the listed amounts of live organisms. It was later learned that improper shipping and warehousing may have been at least partly to blame for their testing failure.
When ConsumerLab.com repeated this test in 2012, the results were better. But, 17% of the products still failed to meet their label claim. And in a research study of 16 lactobacilli acidophilus products, 11 of 16 (69%) products were contaminated and only four (25%) products actually contained any Lactobacillus acidophilus.
The take away? Use caution in selecting a probiotic or you could be buying dead microbes or different microbes than you had expected, possibly wasting your money. So…
How do you select a quality probiotic product? Who should you trust?
Many healthcare providers rely on the recommendations of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the science behind probiotics and prebiotics. ISAPP collaborates with related organizations* on probiotic preparation and usage guidelines. In short, they do the research for you and have published a consumer’s guide for selecting a quality probiotic product. Here are some of the highlights.
A Consumer Guide for Making Smart Probiotic Choices
Adapted from the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics
A probiotic is defined by its genus (e.g. Lactobacillus), species (e.g. Acidophilus) and strain designation (often a combination of letters or numbers, such as NCFM). The concept of a bacterial “strain” is similar to the breed of a dog – all dogs are the same genus and species, but different breeds of dogs have different attributes and different breeds are good for different tasks. I.e., would you select a team of dachshunds for dog sledding? It would be incredibly cute, but not so effective. Just as Dachshunds and Siberian Huskies are the same genus and species, the breed makes all the difference.
See what I mean?!
Similarly, different strains of even the same probiotic species may be different from each other. Dont’ assume they will have the same effects. In fact, only a handful of probiotic strains have been clinically shown to support human health. Further, products that contain strains without scientifically established health benefits may not be health-promoting bacteria at all! The probiotic names may be long and sound complicated, but are important to linking a specific probiotic strain to it’s published scientific literature.
But —don’t be confused by trademarked (™) or registered trademark (®) names for strains.
Manufacturers often use a consumer-friendly name for the strain in their product. These are for marketing and branding purposes. These are not scientific names and don’t reflect product quality.
Most probiotics are sold as dietary supplements or ingredients in foods. This means their labels can’t legally declare that the probiotic can cure, treat or prevent disease. But, while claims which connect the product to health are allowed, even general product claims should be truthful and backed up by research.
- “Clinically proven” You might have to do some homework. Product claims of health benefits must be based on sound research and conducted on the product’s particular probiotic(s). The product should contain the specific strain(s) of bacteria in the same quantity used in published research. The studies should be performed in humans and published in peer-reviewed, scientific journals. Check product websites to see study results. Your pharmacist or healthcare provider should be able to help you sort through the scientific language.
- Just because it says “probiotic” doesn’t mean it is a probiotic. Some products labeled “probiotic” do not have clinically validated strains or levels in the product.
Choose a product at the right quantity
- What is the minimum CFU I should look for? Probiotics are measured in colony forming units or “CFU”. CFU is the measure of live microbes in a probiotic. The CFU amount should be the same as the amount shown to be effective in clinical studies. More CFUs does not necessarily mean better.
- One size does not fit all. Different probiotics are effective at different levels. There is no single universal optimal CFU count. In the scientific literature, you’ll find documented health benefits for products with CFU counts ranging from as little as 50 million to more than 1 trillion CFU/day. The proper dose depends on the strain.
Pick a product from a trusted manufacturer.
Look for a GMP-certified manufacturer who will guarantee its probiotic product has the same genetically verified strain(s) and potency as what was used in clinical studies. They will also guarantee the CFU count until the expiration date, not just at the time it was manufactured.
Here’s what the label should tell you:
* Strain: What probiotic is inside?
* CFU (Colony Forming Units): How many live microorganisms are in a serving?
* Expiration: When does it expire? Packaging should utilize materials, such as amber-colored glass, to protect the live microbes from light, moisture and oxygen. This helps ensure that the level of live bacteria is at least as much as the amount on the label all the way through the “best by” or expiration date. Pass on a probiotic if the label says “viable at time of manufacture.” Everything could be dead when you buy it.
* Suggested serving size: How much do I take?
* Health benefits: What can this product do for me?
* Proper storage conditions: Where do I keep it to ensure maximum survival of the probiotic?
* Corporate contact information: Who makes this product? Where to do I go for more information?
Don’t forget to ask your integrative healthcare professionals. They will be able to share brand and dosage recommendations based on what they have seen work with their patients. For general health, they will most likely steer you towards a multi-strain product as the research is trending heavily in the direction of diversity for daily maintenance.
And finally, gut health involves much more than buying a carefully selected supplement! Stay tuned for future posts as I cover ways to improve gut health through diet. We’ll explore food sources of probiotics and the prebiotics to feed them.
*the American Gastroenterological Association, World Gastroenterology Organisation, National Academies of Sciences, International Life Sciences Institute, Harvard Division of Nutrition, Food Chemicals Codex and the New York Academy of Sciences)
Perdigon G, Fuller R, Raya R. Lactic acid bacteria and their effect on the immune system. Curr Issues Intest Microbiol. 2001;2:27-42.
Want to balance your holiday indulgences with some flavorful, yet healthy salads? Look no more. Following are some tasty, dairy-free and gluten-free options for your picnics and BBQs all summer long. From kale to coleslaw to quinoa and everything in between. Here’s to independence from boring deli salads! Continue reading
Put a fork in us. We’re done!
Last weekend our group, Natural Gourmet Institute’s 255th Chef Training Program class graduated. It was bittersweet. We expected the program to transform us as cooks. But I think we were all surprised by the harmonic group dynamic which developed. Like a variety of spices, we started as 16 cooks with nearly no common thread other than our passion for health and cooking. But, very early into our year in the kitchen, we melded into a masala — a harmonic team, as much family as classmates. As such, the numbers 2-5-5 will forever be dear to our hearts. Continue reading