Vegan Chili Cook-Off at Natural Gourmet Institute

Evezich NGI ChiliMy First Vegan Chili Cook-Off. Here’s What I Learned.

On a whim, I recently entered the vegan chili cook-off at the Natural Gourmet Institute. Never having entered a cooking contest before, I had a ‘nothing to lose’ mindset. Besides, Chef Barb was running the gig. So, even if I didn’t have an award-winning chili, the event was bound to have decent entertainment value.

Did I Use a Tried and True Chili Recipe?

Not exactly. While many people have a favorite chili recipe, I’ve always used the (clean out the fridge and) kitchen sink approach. But, I always start with the same foundation, then adapt with what I have on hand. Continue reading

Umami – The Fifth Taste and Culinary Lifeline

Umami FoodsUmami, the fifth taste, mystified even our greatest philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. Even they believed that there were but four tastes; sweet, sour, salty and bitter, according to NPR’s Jonah Lehrer. In fact, that was the belief of every philosopher, scientist and cook until the 1800s when French chef Auguste Escoffier changed everything.

Escoffier invented veal stock. When he did, he gave the world much more than just another starter for soups and sauces. Neither sweet, sour, salty nor bitter, its earthy savoriness changed cuisine forever. He gave us the fifth, but yet to be named taste, umami. Continue reading

7 Immune Boosting Tips for Athletes: Part 2

lisa-miller-cyclocross immune boosting

IMAGE CREDIT: DENNIS CRANE PHOTOGRAPHY

As discussed in Part 1, training and racing put unique demands on an athlete’s immune system. Luckily, immune boosting isn’t difficult or time-consuming. In fact, there are some very simple things you can do to keep your immune system in high-performance mode.

In this post, I’ll cover some very strategic actions, such as focusing on gut health. Because, let’s not kid ourselves. While an athlete’s muscles and cardiovascular system may get all the attention, the gut is running the show. In fact, it’s  estimated that 70-80% of our immune system resides in our gastrointestinal tract. So, stop treating it like it’s nothing more than a food processor and give it some TLC! Other tips are much more tactical, both my personal recommendations as well as research Dr. Greger shares in his new book ‘How Not to Die‘. Continue reading

The Athlete’s Immune System: Part 1

Tom Phillips Cyclocross Athlete immune system

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

Honey Dijon Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussel Sprouts 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.  Brussels Sprouts Trunk

 

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.

Prepped Brussel Sprouts

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.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 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)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. 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.
  4. Roast the sprouts, stirring half-way through for even browning, until tender and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes, depending on their size.
  5. 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.

Roasted Brussel Sprout Dish

Revised 10.22.16. Originally published 12.24.14.

No-Recipe Spaghetti Squash Dishes

Overnight Oats -Your Breakfast BFF

Overnight Oats ParfaitI 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.  

Continue reading

Dairy-Free Cacao Fudgsicles

Healthy FudgsiclesFudgsicles 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

How to Select a Quality Probiotic Supplement

How to Select a Quality Probiotic Supplement

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.

Buyer Beware!

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

Not all probiotics are created equal. Strain identification matters. Probiotic Genus Species Strain

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.
Dachshund Sled TeamSee 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.

Inner Health ProbioticProbiotics must be tested in humans and shown to have health benefits. What do all the claims mean?

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 provenYou 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)

REFERENCES

Perdigon G, Fuller R, Raya R. Lactic acid bacteria and their effect on the immune system. Curr Issues Intest Microbiol. 2001;2:27-42.

Microbiologic characteristics of Lactobacillus products used for colonization of the vagina. Hughes VL1, Hillier SLObstet Gynecol. 1990 Feb;75(2):244-8.

Probiotics: A Consumer Guide for Making Smart Choice
The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics 

7 Healthy 4th of July Salads

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