February 12th, 2014 by Melissa
How good does this one-pot roasted salmon, rice, and vegetable dish look? Amazing, wouldn’t you agree? This is my kind of meal — easy, healthy, and delicious.
No one knows gluten-free cooking and baking better than Carol Fenster. This post is about her newly revised and updated cookbook, Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking. It’s also your opportunity to win your own copy.
But first, I must disclose that Carol is a good friend of mine. We have lunch together often and we’re never at a loss for words. In fact, three hour lunches are common for us. Aside from being the visionary in the world of gluten-free cooking, she’s an incredibly nice person — one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. For someone who’s known world-wide for her expertise, she’s over-the-top humble and remarkably generous with her knowledge. All she wants to do is help people navigate the gluten-free lifestyle in a healthy and delicious way. Carol’s been doing this long before it was trendy. In fact, she’s been creating gluten-free recipes, writing cookbooks (10 to date), sharing information, and increasing awareness of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity for over 25 years. She’s the ultimate expert.
Having said that, there’s a touch of newsworthy irony to Carol’s story. She grew up on a wheat farm in Nebraska and went on to marry a wheat farmer. Imagine how life-altering it was for her to be diagnosed with an intolerance to gluten? Her family’s livelihood was defined by wheat. It was the main topic of conversation during family gatherings. Her journey from wheat farmer’s daughter to the queen of gluten-free cooking hasn’t been easy. But Carol has a delightful sense of humor, a supportive family, and an unwavering spirit, so that part of the story is just a tasty footnote to her success.
Now, back to the features of Gluten-Free 101. This book is designed for people new to the gluten-free lifestyle, but there’s enough interesting information for even the most experienced cook. The book describes how to read labels, offers alternatives to gluten, gives substitutions, and details how to successfully stock a gluten-free pantry. The book also highlights 175 gluten-free recipes, including everything from basic quick bread to ham quiche to lemon bars. It’s all there, whether you’re new at this or a seasoned gluten-free expert. The gorgeous color photos (see salmon photo above) also make it a fun book to drool over.
Who wants to win their own copy? Trust me, it’s worth a try. Here’s all you have to do to be entered. Choose to do one of the following (or all) and then leave me a message here on my blog as to what you did or why you’d like to have this cookbook. I’ll choose a winner at random. The contest closes at midnight on Sunday, February 16th.
Make sure you leave me a message in the comment section so I know who is entered and how to get in touch with you if you win (your email address will remain private). Good luck!
Here’s a delicious sample recipe courtesy of Gluten-Free 101: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Easy Gluten-Free Cooking, by Carol Fenster (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 14, 2014, printed with permission)
One-Pot Roasted Salmon with Mediterranean Vegetables and Rice
Makes 4 servings
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Roasting time: 40 minutes
- 2 cups gluten-free low-sodium chicken broth, heated to boiling
- 1 cup long-grain white rice
- 5 ounces baby spinach
- 1 (6-1/2 ounce) jar marinated artichokes, drained
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup red grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup pitted black olives, sliced
- 4 small salmon fillets (about 4 ounces each)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine or lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning or lemon-herb seasoning
- Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the boiling broth and the rice in a deep, 2-quart baking dish.
- In a large bowl, toss the spinach, artichokes, and garlic together and place on top of the rice. Arrange the tomatoes and black olives around the edges of the dish. Arrange the salmon fillets on top of the spinach, drizzle with the olive oil and wine, and sprinkle with the salt, pepper, and lemon pepper seasoning. Cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil.
- Roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue roasting until the fish flakes easily with a fork, 5 to 7 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 470 calories; 35g protein; 15g total fat; 4g fiber; 46g carbohydrates; 59mg cholesterol; 894mg sodium
Enjoy! Don’t forget to leave me a comment so you’re entered to win a copy of Gluten-Free 101.
UPDATE: And the winner is — Nicole (#8 comment).
December 11th, 2013 by Melissa
Here it comes — the onrushing freight train of holiday cheer. Parties, shopping, family gatherings, cake, cookies, candies, eggnog, overeating. Stress!
One thing leads to another and as the holidays approach, we eat more sweets, drink more wine, sleep less, skip yoga class, and often end up sick.
There’s a reason we overeat at times like this. It just so happens we’re soothed by high-calorie, high-fat, sweet foods. It alters our brain chemistry. We actually find comfort in comfort food when we’re stressed out.
Stress causes anxiety. Anxiety causes the release of stress hormones, which trigger an elevation in heart rate and blood pressure. It’s a physiological feedback loop whether it’s caused by high-volume traffic, crowded shopping malls, money issues, or family squabbles. That defense system is designed to keep us alive if we’re running from danger, but it’s not healthy to rev it up on a continual basis. Studies show the brain kicks into flight-or-fight mode regardless of the stressor. Once we’re stressed, since there’s usually no snarling wild animal to outrun, we often settle in with a tin of holiday cookies or a piece of pie to soothe our fraying nerves. It actually works — for a few minutes. High calorie, sweet foods send a message to the brain that all is well. We’ve outsmarted the predator and we’re celebrating with a well-deserved treat. No need to run, no need to escape, no need to search for food. It’s all good. Have a piece of cake.
When we repeat this behavior over and over, our brain stays on alert, our blood pressure and heart rate remain elevated, our immune system weakens, and we’re much more susceptible to cold and flu cooties. Physical defenses are expensive. Our immune system needs the nutrient energy for real threats, not fighting off crowds at the mall.
Alas, our best intentions don’t always cut it this time of year. It’s hard to avoid an uptick in stress during the holidays, but we can at least set the stage for a boost in immune function by adding healing foods into the mix. Call it a health savings account. Try this immune booster soup in between shopping trips, cookie exchanges, and office parties. The best defense is a good offense — nutritionally speaking.
Immune-Booster Soup (Gluten-Free)
What you need
- 1 small to medium potato, peeled and chopped *
- ½ cup shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
- 8 cups chicken broth, divided (if not homemade, I use Imagine Gluten-Free Organic Chicken Broth)
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 small onion, about ½ cup chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
- 4 carrots, chopped
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped
- 8-ounce can organic tomato sauce (not tomato paste)
- 1 cup cooked and diced chicken
- 8-ounce can organic beans, rinsed (or dried and cooked beans) *
- 2 cups spinach
- herbs, sea salt, black pepper *
What you do
- Place chopped potato in a medium saucepan. Cover with about 2 or 3 cups chicken broth and bring to a light boil. Use enough chicken broth to simmer potatoes until fully cooked. After about 10 minutes of simmering, add the chopped shiitake mushrooms to the potato/chicken broth mix. Continue simmering for another 5 to 10 minutes, until potatoes are fully cooked and mushrooms are cooked, but not mushy. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- In a large soup pot, heat oil over low-medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often. Add 2 cups chicken broth, celery, carrots, sweet potato, tomato sauce, and cooked chicken. Turn heat to low.
- Place cooled chicken broth-potato-mushroom mixture into a VitaMix or other blender. Make sure the mixture has cooled enough to blend. Add 1 to 2 cups of room temperature chicken broth and blend until all ingredients are incorporated. Mixture should be a gravy-like consistency, but not too thick. Add more broth during blending as needed. Pour the mixture into the soup pot, along with any remaining chicken broth, and stir gently. At this point, all the chicken broth (approximately 8 cups), the cooked chicken, and the vegetables, with the exception of the beans and spinach, are in the pot simmering on low.
- Cook on low for 2 hours or more. This can simmer on low all afternoon. Add rinsed beans (I like pinto or cannellini beans, but any kind is fine), herbs, seasonings, and spinach about 15 to 30 minutes before serving.
- Enjoy and stay healthy!
Cook’s notes (worth reading):
- I normally use a small-medium, organic RED potato for this base, because it has less starch than a Russet or Yukon Gold. I use potatoes as a thickener in lots of my recipes, rather than using a processed gluten-free flour or starch, but I choose my potato variety according to how much thickening I want in the recipe.
- I often use dried, cooked beans, but when I’m pressed for time, I use a can of beans from Eden Organics. Canned beans retain their fiber and Eden Organics uses BPA-free cans. Canned beans are a healthy option in soups and stews.
- Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning is my favorite “go-to” seasoning. I use about 2 tablespoons in this recipe.
- Rather than adding the spinach to the soup, place ½ cup of raw spinach (or kale, chard, beet greens) in a bowl or soup mug. Ladle the hot soup directly over the spinach and gently stir. This warms the spinach, but also keeps it fresh and slightly wilted.
This article and recipe can also be found on this month’s NANP (National Association of Nutrition Professionals) E-Zine. If you’re interested in nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and upcoming conferences, check out the NANP website here and sign up for our newsletter here. Don’t worry, we hate SPAM, so your email address is safe with us. You can also Like our Facebook Page for more spectacular nutrition news.
Peace, love, and immune booster veggies!
October 24th, 2013 by Melissa
I’m lucky enough to live next door to the most prolific organic tomato gardener in all of Colorado. My geographic good fortune and love of simple food has sparked my produce-sparing creativity. Every few days I get another supply of tomatoes. Tossing even one of these gems into the compost pile is not an option. They are that good.
Here’s my way of saving the harvest and enjoying them all winter long. This is a “launching pad” recipe. Adjust according to what you have and how much you want to freeze. Once frozen, you can toss however many you need into soups and stews or thaw and blitz for pizza sauce.
Frozen roasted tomatoes (I used 10 medium-size tomatoes for the photo above)
What you need
Fresh tomatoes, washed and quartered (deseed and drain off most of the liquid)
Garlic, minced (I used 6 cloves for this bunch; garlic is optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
Silicone (not paper) muffin cups (these are the kind I use)
What you do
Place parchment paper on a large baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put prepared tomatoes and garlic in a large bowl. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over ingredients and toss gently. Arrange tomatoes in a layer on the baking sheet. Place in the oven and set the timer for about 6 to 8 minutes. Using tongs or a spatula, periodically rearrange the tomatoes so they roast evenly. It takes a total of about 30 minutes to fully roast them, but do it in increments and check often as they burn easily. Remove from oven and let cool. Once the tomatoes have cooled, using tongs, fill the silicone muffin cups with tomatoes. Place the filled muffin cups on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer. Once frozen, pop the frozen tomatoes out of the silicone muffin cups and place into a freezer container or plastic freezer bag. Use as needed.
The photo above was taken after the tomatoes were roasted and placed in the muffin cups, but before I put the cookie sheet into my freezer. Use silicone muffin cups. Paper muffin cups don’t work.
Next up, gluten-free roasted tomato and basil pizza. Stay tuned. You will not believe how good this is.
Peace, love and frozen tomatoes.
October 14th, 2013 by Melissa
Before I get to my favorite gluten-free products, let me start by saying, I’m not fond of food “products.” I’m a nutritionist specializing in healthy, active, gluten-free living. That means a focus on whole foods and an active lifestyle, not gluten-free Dunkin’ Donuts, processed food, and unlimited couch time. I advise people to stick with the real thing (vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, a few naturally gluten-free grains, small amounts of high-quality meat). That’s straight forward and simple enough.
Hey wait—back up. No, it’s not simple. It’s hard and frustrating at times!
What if you want an oatmeal cookie, a pumpkin muffin, some pancakes, a grilled cheese sandwich, or a pizza?
These are the most common questions/comments I get from people who are newly diagnosed with gluten-related issues. Help! Tell me what I can eat. Tell me what bread to buy. How can I possibly survive without wheat? All the gluten-free products taste like ground styrofoam.
I know. I get it. I like pancakes, cookies, and grilled cheese sandwiches, too. And there’s nothing better than a pizza piled high with fresh vegetables.
Here’s the deal, though—those should be occasional treats, not daily indulgences. We thrive on real food, not meals from boxes with futuristic expiration dates. But don’t despair, there are ways to navigate the super market and make wise choices when it comes to gluten-free packaged food.
We have to live in the real world, right? Every once in awhile we’re going to want something we didn’t grow from scratch, hunt down, or buy at the farmer’s market. Here are my top 5 favorite gluten-free products.
Montana PrOatina Gluten-Free Oats
Ingredients: Whole-Grain Rolled Oats (see photo above)
These are 100% whole grain oats and although they’re processed to some degree, the processing is minimal and done with great care (dry milled, no heat applied). These aren’t your typical oats. They’ve been carefully selected (by nerdy plant scientists) for their high protein content and favorable amino acid profile. They’re also very low in avenin, the peptide thought to be responsible for allergic reactions. Yes, I know—as part of a gluten-free diet, oats are somewhat controversial, but recent research indicates that pure, uncontaminated oats are safe for most people with celiac disease and gluten-related issues. This study found no immune response to avenin in people with celiac disease, but check with your health care provider if you have concerns. It’s often the high fiber content that bothers people and not the protein. Aside from hearty oatmeal, these oats make the best cookies. If you don’t want to do the baking yourself, check out Gluten-Free Prairie. They use these oats for their “Granola Bites” and “Hunger Buster Oatmeal Cookies.” They’re delicious.
Tinkyada Organic Brown Rice Pasta
Ingredients: Organic Brown Rice, Water
I love pesto, but it needs to be tossed into a bowl of pasta for optimal enjoyment. I make pesto out of a variety of different greens, from spinach to mustard micro-greens to baby kale (check out this recipe on my other website, Artful-Aging.com). Tinkyada pasta is the best gluten-free version I’ve found. It’s organic, easy to work with, and never mushy. They also have a great selection of pasta types (spaghetti, elbow, penne, etc.).
Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix
Ingredients: Brown Rice Flour, White Rice Flour, Cultured Buttermilk, Natural Almond Meal (may appear as brown flecks), Tapioca Starch, Sweet Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Grainless & Aluminum Free Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Sea Salt, Xanthan Gum
I no longer blend my own gluten-free baking mixes because Pamela’s general baking mix is as good as it gets. This gluten-free mix rivals the best out there, whether gluten-free or not. I’ve use it for pancakes, waffles, muffins, quick-breads, and cookies and haven’t had any trouble substituting it for wheat flour. If you have a nut allergy, this mix is not for you as it contains almond meal.
Canyon Bakehouse 7 Grain Bread
Ingredients: Water, Brown Rice Flour, Tapioca Flour, Whole Grain Sorghum Flour, Eggs, Organic Agave Syrup, Whole Grain Teff, Whole Grain Millet, Xanthan Gum, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sugarcane Molasses, Whole Grain Quinoa, Whole Grain Amaranth, Whole Buckwheat Flour, Yeast, Cultured Brown Rice Flour, Sea Salt, Natural Enzymes
Canyon Bakehouse is a dedicated gluten-free bakery located in Loveland, Colorado. This 7-grain bread is my favorite, all-purpose, ready-made bread. It’s packed with healthy, whole grains like teff, quinoa, and amaranth and has a wheat-like texture. It’s even good without toasting it (the litmus test for good gluten-free bread).
Outside the Breadbox Pizza Crusts
Ingredients: Filtered Water, Tapioca Starch, Brown Rice Flour, Rice Starch, Olive Oil, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Egg White, Turbinado Sugar, Yeast, Xanthan Gum, Sea Salt, Cider Vinegar, Enzymes
Outside The Breadbox is a dedicated gluten-free bakery located in the historic district of Colorado Springs. These 12-inch pizza crusts are easy to prepare and make a delicious, thin crust. They’re hard to come by, especially if you don’t live in Colorado, but you can order them directly from the bakery.
Do you have any favorites that should be on this list?
Peace, love, and occasional treats!
April 11th, 2013 by Melissa
I wonder how many beets I’ve eaten in my lifetime?
As a toddler, my mom gave me roasted and smashed up beets for “dessert.” With no hesitation, she actually called beets “dessert.” So did I until I was set straight by Penny Bell at my first sleep-over. You can imagine my surprise when I found out other kids got Twinkies and Ding Dongs for dessert, while I was eating some version of root vegetable paté.
Such is life. We learn early on, that in one way or another, all families are weird, quirky, different, and wonderful. My mom was a mixture of Elizabeth Taylor (glamorous), Julia Child (a gourmet cook), Amelia Earhart (adventurous), and Lucille Ball (off-the-wall funny). “Beets for dessert” was just part of her unconventional culinary repertoire.
In all this time, it’s never dawned on me to pickle beets. In fact, I’ve never pickled anything. It was easy. I made a batch of pickled beets and ate them for four days straight. I have a new addition to my beet arsenal.
Arugula and pickled beet salad
What you need
For the beets
1 bunch fresh beets (I used 3 large beets), scrubbed with tops cut off (leave 2 inches)
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons raw cane sugar (I used organic Turbinado sugar)
For the salad
fresh, organic baby arugula (any salad greens)
shaved Parmesan or crumbled goat cheese
For the Dressing
1 tablespoon dijon mustard (I use Annie’s Organic Dijon Mustard, it’s gluten-free)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey or organic agave nectar
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
What you do
1. Place scrubbed and trimmed whole beets in a large saucepan or soup pot. Add enough cold water to cover with about 3 inches extra. Bring to a light boil, turn heat down and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and let beets cool. When cool enough to handle, slip the skins off and slice in thick rounds.
2. Place apple cider vinegar, water, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat, and slowly simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir often to dissolve sugar.
3. Place sliced beets in a shallow glass dish. Pour liquid over the beets, making sure all are covered. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Drain and store pickled beets in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
4. To make dressing, first place mustard in a glass jar. If you start with the mustard, it won’t separate. Add apple cider vinegar, honey, olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper (to taste). Replace the lid and shake like crazy.
5. Place arugula on salad plates, arrange beets on the greens, sprinkle chopped pecans and grated Parmesan over the salad. Drizzle with dressing and serve.
And the beet goes on—you might also like
From my blog
Deadly serious beet and spinach salad very similar to this salad
Beet greens and brown rice with tips on preparing and storing beets
Performance enhancing beets why beets should be on every athlete’s table
Chocolate beet cupcakes
Beet ice cream
From Alta at Tasty Eats at Home (she’s also a beet fanatic)
Orange and beet salad with basil vinaigrette
Raw summer beet salad a favorite of mine
Roasted squash, caramelized beets, and beet greens
Roasted beet humus this is a new “must try” post
Peace, joy and beet love!
April 8th, 2013 by Melissa
Here we go again.
The “what to eat and why” plot thickens. So do our artery walls if we’re not careful.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US for both men and women. Back in my exercise physiology days, I had a fascination with heart disease. I wrote my thesis paper on the effects of exercise on coronary collateralization, worked in cardiac rehab, helped develop an outpatient exercise program, watched up-close-and-personal heart procedures, and was convinced I’d make an awesomely fantastic cardiac surgeon (some of the docs back then were alpha males and not the best listeners). If not for that sternal saw thing, I might have given it more thought.
What I did learn from that experience, though, is that heart disease is a complex condition and doesn’t always follow a direct line to diagnosis or treatment. Researchers are now questioning some of the basic assumptions about causes, lab biomarkers (blood chemistry), nutrition protocols, drug therapies, and invasive surgeries. Some in the medical community are even rethinking our obsession with low cholesterol and statin drugs. I’ll resist picking up that rope, but suffice to say, there’s no easy answer. Throw in genetics and lifestyle choices and there’s a lot to consider.
And now, like there’s not enough to think about regarding heart health and that all-too-common side effect known as sudden death, researchers have discovered those pesky gut bacteria are also playing a role. It appears there’s a type of meat- and egg-loving microbe that produces a substance, which in turn, increases the risk for heart disease. It’s a convoluted pathway, but these microbes convert carnitine (in meat) and choline (in eggs) into a chemical the liver quickly converts to TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide). TMAO ends up in circulation and is associated with an increased risk for atherosclerosis. That’s not good.
For a variety of reasons, I’ve never been much of a meat fan. I’ve always felt we’re better off sticking to a diverse, plant-based diet. If I eat red meat at all, it’s on very rare occasions and in condiment-sized portions. Plants high in beneficial fiber encourage the proliferation of good gut bacteria. Those are the microbes I want on my disease-fighting team, not the carnitine-fueled, gas-belching, TMAO-producing critters. There’s also growing evidence that carnitine and choline supplements promote higher TMAO levels. Beware.
The conclusion from the scientific and medical community might be (is) to develop antibiotics to eliminate these microbes. If we wipe out the bacteria that play a part in TMAO production, we solve the problem, right?
Hmmm? I wonder what the unintended consequences of that will be? How about we support the magic of our own innate healing power and skip the drugs?
Bottom line (in my humble opinion)? Eat more plants and rethink the use of supplements and energy drinks.
If you’re on a meat-laden Paleo diet, you might want to read the research.
For more information about plants, fiber, and gut bacteria, check my last post.
Plants, peels, fiber, and gut bugs
If you’re still with me, thank you. I’ll post some recipes that promote good bacteria later this week. No science talk, I promise. Just good food.
We’re all in this together. Peace, love, and plant power.
Husten, L “Researchers Find New Path Linking Heart Disease to Carnitine.” Forbes, online. http://www.forbes.com/sites/larryhusten/2013/04/07/researchers-find-new-pathway-linking-heart-disease-to-carnitine/ (accessed April 7, 2013)
Kolata, G “Culprit in Heart Disease Goes Beyond Meat’s Fat.” The New York Times, online. http://www.nytimes.com/pages/health/index.html (accessed April 7, 2013)
Wang Z, et al. “Gut flora metabolism of phosphatidylcholine promotes cardiovascular disease.” Nature 472, 57-63 (April 2011).
Willyard, C “Pathology: At the heart of the problem.” Nature 493, S10-S11 (January 2013).
March 26th, 2013 by Melissa
Do you peel lemons before tossing them into your morning smoothie? How about beets, cucumbers, or kiwis?
The peelings provide added nutrition; no reason to toss them out. I’m also a big fan of fiber, so I don’t peel most fruits or veggies. Plus, my personal entourage of microbial critters, the hundreds of thousands of bacterial species (gut flora, AKA microbiome) that call me home, thrive on this diet as well. Yes, my body is a temple, complete with a bazillion little symbiotic worshipers.
At least that’s the idea. We need a healthy, diverse, and thriving microbiome as part of our internal ecology. That helps keep the immune system strong, autoimmunity in check, and may reduce the risk of some forms of cancer, especially those associated with the GI tract. We’re bombarded today with chemicals our grandparents weren’t exposed to. Many of these toxic substances (pro-carcinogens) become genotoxic (mess up our DNA) upon metabolic activation by our gut bacteria.
Our world is toxic. We eat, drink, breath, and expose ourselves to harmful substances on a daily basis, many of which are in our food supply. Research indicates that a large percentage of known carcinogens require enzymatic activity to trigger malignancy. The bacterial composition of the gut microbiome (good bugs vs bad bugs) and the metabolic byproducts from all those critters can either protect us or do us in.
The idea is to encourage the good bugs to flourish. It’s also important to keep things moving along, if you know what I mean. A plant-based, high-fiber diet not only provides nourishment for our friendly bacteria, it also helps fight disease and prevents us from being full of poo.
The role of the gut microbiome is a hot research topic these days, and although the findings are intriguing, they can also be confusing. Or weird, especially when you throw cootie genomics into the mix. It’s not just our DNA floating around in the gene pool, it’s also the genetic elements of our personal collection of microbes. We’re one big complex ecosystem. Hopefully our microbiome is living in harmony with the rest of us. Food choices, pre- and pro-biotics, and how much fiber we consume can shift the bacterial composition to either enhance our well-being or encourage disease. Here are a few details.
Microbiome: the interaction of all the microscopic organisms, including their genomes, in one specific environment.
* In this post, I’m focused on the human gut microbiome. If you’re interested in the skin microbiome and you’re not germaphobic, check out this article on women’s flat track roller derby in which the skin microbiome of individual contestants was analyzed and matched to team membership. Each team had its own specific microbe community. Not only did they have team colors and team mascots, they had team cooties. Very cool. And weird.
Prebiotics: Nondigestible food ingredients (fiber) that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics are food for microbes. Feed your microbes well.
* Gluten-free sources of foods containing prebiotic fiber include Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, asparagus, banana, dandelion greens, onions, leeks, garlic, raw oats (make sure they’re certified gluten-free), chicory root, and yacon. Unrefined wheat and barley are also good sources, but those foods are off limits for those of us with gluten intolerance.
Probiotics: live microbes that provide health benefits to the host (you) by augmenting beneficial intestinal bacteria.
* Probiotics can be found in supplement form. I don’t take supplements, so I try to get my dose of probiotics from fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir.
Fiber: The nonstarch polysaccharides found in plant foods that are not broken down by human digestive enzymes, although some (prebiotics) are digested by GI tract bacteria. Fiber is often categorized as soluble or insoluble.
Insoluble fibers are called “bulking agents.” They help keep us regular (poo-wise). This is the fiber most people refer to when they talk about constipation. It literally sweeps out the GI tract, which is a good thing. Remember the Elvis story?
Soluble fiber helps that process, but it also has therapeutic effects. Soluble fiber delays the absorption of glucose (insulin response), helps us feel full, and decreases cholesterol levels. There’s even research suggesting soluble fiber may help reduce blood pressure and improve the absorption of minerals.
That last part is especially interesting. Some people avoid grains and legumes because of the phytic acid (phytate) content. Phytic acid isn’t classified as fiber, but is common in fiber-rich foods. It’s a non-nutrient, found in the husk of grains, legumes, and seeds. It can bind with certain minerals (zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium) and decrease their absorption.
But — researchers have also demonstrated that rats absorb more calcium, iron, and magnesium when fed a diet rich in soluble fiber, which is found in those same plants. We’re not rats, but these are interesting findings. Another article suggested that when soluble fiber ferments in the colon, it enhances the absorption of minerals. We eat the plants that contain both phytic acid and soluble fiber and what happens? Beats me, I’m not a biochemist, but the type of fiber appears to be important when it comes to mineral absorption. Soluble fiber that promotes intestinal fermentation and an increase in beneficial bacteria has a positive effect on mineral bioavailability. It’s a convoluted puzzle with lots of variables and depending on what you want to prove, you could cherry-pick data from either side to make your case. Having said that, I’m not convinced phytic acid is anything to worry about, especially if your diet is based on whole foods (lots of plants) rich in micronutrients and fiber.
Soluble fiber in the form of prebiotics is the stuff our gut microbes call dinner. The names don’t really matter, but if you’re interested — inulin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), arabinooligosaccharides (AOS), and to some degree, pectin, are soluble fibers with prebiotic properties. As mentioned above, they help increase good bacteria at the expense of bad bacteria.
Here’s where it gets even more interesting. You’re fascinated by all this, right?
You’ve probably heard of leaky gut (intestinal permeability), especially if you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, Crohn’s disease, IBS, or any other autoimmune or GI related condition. We don’t know all the causes of leaky gut, but one thing is clear. The “Standard American Diet” (processed food, low fiber, high animal product diet) compromises food transit and waste elimination.
In other words, if stuff doesn’t move along at the right speed, you end with a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam.
When that happens, it alters nutrient availability to good gut bacteria and stimulates an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria. The bad bugs start partying, produce icky byproducts, and our intestinal cells take a beating. That abnormal balance alters gut permeability and allows funky stuff to slip through the cracks and be absorbed into the bloodstream. Security is breached, alarms go off, and every system in the body becomes a potential target for invaders (antigens). Antigens are substances that invoke an antibody response, but sometimes our antibodies, which are produced to protect us, get confused and target our own tissues (autoimmunity).
Does that sound familiar? Who’s had antibody testing for this or that?
Is this making sense?
Here’s how it all ties together.
See the smoothie ingredients pictured above? They include a mixture of fiber types, along with a rich assortment of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. The American Dietetic Association’s daily recommendation for fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. After age 50, the ADA recommendations drop to 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men.
YIKES, in my opinion, that’s way short of what we should be consuming. I’m over 50 and that smoothie of mine alone contains close to 17 grams of fiber. I’m almost at my daily recommendation before 6 AM. Twenty-one grams is not enough to encourage and support a healthy gut microbiome. Not even close.
Recent archeological findings suggest that at least a few of our hunter-forager ancestors consumed up to 135 grams of prebiotic fiber per day. Whoa, I’d call that high-carb, optimal foraging. Not exactly most modern day versions of the Paleo diet. Although 135 grams of fiber per day is a bit much (don’t try that at home, you’ll explode), American’s are definitely short-changing themselves when it comes to fiber — and overall health.
In a nutshell. Eat more plants.
Prebiotic, plant powered smoothie
* Use organic vegetables and fruit, especially if you’re eating the peels. Scrub the peels well before using (see my little veggie scrubber shown above).
2 cups raw greens (add some dandelion greens)
1 medium pear, seeded and chopped
1 medium celery stalk, chopped
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
2 dates, pitted and chopped
1 lemon (with peel), cut into wedges (pick out the obvious seeds) *
2 tablespoons raw oats, finely ground in a coffee grinder *
4 walnut halves, chopped
2 to 4 cups filtered water
Options: I also use raw beets, jicama, burdock root, broccoli stalks, asparagus, bananas, berries, and whatever else I can think of in my smoothies.
Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender (VitaMix, Blendtec, etc.) and blend until smooth.
Nutrition and health bonus
* Retaining the lemon peel doubles the fiber and significantly increases the vitamin C. The peel also contains a phytochemical called d-limonene, a component of the essential oil in citrus. Studies show this substance is chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic, meaning it helps fight against cancer.
* I always add a source of protein to smoothies. Hemp, chia, various nuts and seeds, or raw oats are favorites of mine. Raw oats provide carbohydrate, but the kind I use are also high in protein, iron, and soluble fiber, which in turn provides prebiotic fuel for beneficial microorganisms like bifidobacteria. If you’re worried about phytic acid, some oats have no hull, lessening the content. At least that’s my assumption, although I couldn’t find any research to back this up. My Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition book defines phytic acid as: a non-nutrient component of plant seeds; also called phytate. Phytic acid occurs in the husks of grains, legumes, and seeds and is capable of binding minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, and cooper in insoluble complexes in the intestine, which the body excretes. If phytic acid is found in the husk and there is no husk, it makes sense that there’s less (none?) phytic acid in hull-less oats.
I get my certified gluten-free, high protein, hull-less oats from Montana Gluten-Free Processors or Gluten-Free Prairie.
Some people with celiac disease don’t do well with oats, even gluten-free oats, so ask your healthcare provider if oats are a good choice for you.
For a little background and a list of what good bacteria do for human health, check out this past post of mine (How much of you is really you?). Check this post for some plant magic, (Talking bacteria and disease-fighting veggies).
I signed up for the American Gut Project to determine my gut microbial makeup. It will be interesting to see how those of us with celiac disease compare to the rest of the participants. I’ll keep you posted. If you want to know what you’re made of, check out the open source, community driven effort to characterize the microbial diversity of the American (and global) gut. Let’s compare bugs!
Peace, love and gut checks!
Chadwich RW, George SE, Claxton ID (1992) “Role of the gastrointestinal mucosa and microflora in the bioactivation of dietary and environmental mutagens or carinogens.” Drug Metabolism Reviews. Vol 24, Issue 4, 425-492.
Crowell P. (1999) “Prevention and Therapy of Cancer by Dietary Monoterpenes.” Journal of Nutrition. Vol 129, No 3, 775-778.
Jenkins et al. (1999) “Nutritional and Health Benefits of Inulin and Oligofructose: Inulin, Oligofructose and Intestinal Function.” Journal of Nutrition. Vol 129, No 7, 1431-1433. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/129/7/1431S.full.pdf+html
Kolida S, Gibson G (2007) “Prebiotic Capacity of Inulin-Type Fructans.” Journal of Nutrition. Vol 137, No 11, 250-256. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/137/11/2503S.full
Leach JD, Sobolik KD. (2010) “High dietary intake of prebiotic-type fructans in the prehistoric Chihuahuan Desert.” British Journal of Nutrition. 103(11):1558-61. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20416127
Lopez HW, et al. (1998) “Intestinal Fermentation Lessens the Inhibitory Effects of Phytic Acid on Mineral Absorption in Rats.” Journal of Nutrition. Vol 128, No 7, 1192-1198. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/128/7/1192.full
Meadow JF, et al. (2013) “Significant changes in the skin microbiome mediated by the sport of roller derby.” Peer J 1:e53. http://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.53
Vigsnaes LK, et al. (2011) “In Vitro Fermentation of Sugar Beet Arabinooligosaccharides by Fecal Microbiota Obtained from Patients with Ulcerative Colitis to Selectively Stimulate the Growth of Bifidobacterium spp. and Lactobacillus spp. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Vol 77, No 23, 8336-8344. http://aem.asm.org/content/77/23/8336.full
Whitney EN, Cataldo CB, Rolfes SR. Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. Belmont, CA. 2002.
Wong et al. (2007) “Carbohydrate digestibility and metabolic effects.” Journal of Nutrition. Vol. 137, no. 11, 2539-2546. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/137/11/2539S.full
Tags: American Gut Project
, gut health
, insoluble fiber
, soluble fiber
Posted in Artful Aging, Celiac & Gluten Intolerance, Nutrition Therapy
| 14 Comments
February 8th, 2013 by Melissa
File this one under, get well soon.
I never get sick. I can’t even remember the last time I had a cold. In fact, I can hang out with the sickest of the sick and it doesn’t faze me. My immune system scoffs at cooties.
At least until last weekend’s all-day, convoluted flight aboard a Delta 757 hack-a-thon.
There was no where to run. No where to hide. I couldn’t escape the recirculating, germ-infested, potently disgusting, cough cloud.
Drats, I’m down for the count.
Here’s my answer — shiitake mushroom, vegetable, and chicken soup.
Take that, you cold cooties.
I’ve been making different versions of this soup for years. I don’t have a recipe. I made it up and it varies depending on what I have on hand. One thing that doesn’t change is the base, which I make out of chicken broth, mushrooms (usually shiitake, but others will do), and a potato. That’s my medicinal launching pad.
Here’s how it goes, but remember, this is an outline, not an exact formula. Be creative.
Melissa’s medicinal soup
What you need
1 small to medium-sized potato, peeled and chopped *
handful of shiitake mushrooms (about 1/2 cup), cleaned and chopped
8 cups chicken broth, divided (if not homemade, I use Imagine GF Organic Chicken Broth)
2 tablespoons oil (I use coconut oil, but any will do)
1/2 cup chopped onions
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
1 sweet potato or yam, peeled and chopped
8-ounce can organic tomato sauce (not tomato paste, I use this version)
1 cup cooked, diced chicken
beans (one 15-ounce can, or dried cooked beans) *
2 cups spinach
herbs, sea salt, black pepper
What you do
1. Place chopped potato in a medium sauce pan. Cover with about 2 or 3 cups chicken broth and bring to a light boil. Use enough chicken broth to simmer potatoes until fully cooked. After about 10 minutes, add the chopped shiitake mushrooms to the potato/chicken broth mix. Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, until potatoes are fully cooked and mushrooms are cooked, but not mushy. Turn heat off, set aside to cool.
2. In a large soup pot, heat oil over low-medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add 2 cups chicken broth, celery, carrots, sweet potato, tomato sauce, and cooked chicken. Turn heat to low.
3. Place cooled chicken broth-potato-mushroom mixture into a VitaMix or other blender. Make sure the mixture has cooled somewhat. Add another cup or two of room-temperature chicken broth and blend until all ingredients are incorporated. Mixture should be a gravy-like consistency, but not too thick. Add more broth during blending as needed. Pour the blend into soup pot, along with any remaining chicken broth. At this point, all the chicken broth (approximately 8 cups), the cooked chicken, and the vegetables, with the exception of the beans and the spinach, are in the pot simmering on low.
4. Cook on low for 2 hours or more. This can simmer on low all afternoon. Add rinsed beans (any kind is fine), herbs, seasonings, and spinach about a half hour before you’re ready to serve the soup. Canned beans get mushy if you cook them too long, add them add the end.
5. Serve and get well soon.
Cook’s notes (important):
* I normally use a small-medium Red potato for this base, because it has less starch than a Russet or Yukon Gold. I use potatoes as a thickener in lots of my recipes, rather than using a processed gluten-free flour or starch, but I choose my potato variety according to how much thickening I want in the recipe.
* I often use cooked, dried beans, but when I’m pressed for time, I use a can of beans (any kind) from Eden Organics. Canned beans retain their fiber and Eden Organics uses BPA-free cans. Canned beans are a healthy choice in a meal like this.
* Simply Organic All Purpose Seasoning is my favorite “go-to” seasoning. I use about 2 tablespoons in this recipe.
* Rather than adding the spinach to the soup, a half a cup of raw baby spinach can be placed in the bottom of a soup bowl or mug. Ladle the hot soup directly over the spinach and gently stir. That way the spinach is warm, but also fresh and just lightly wilted. That’s my favorite way to add spinach to soups.
Peace, love, and cootie-busting soup.
January 21st, 2013 by Melissa
Have you noticed the deluge of Paleo books flooding the market today? Do you know what Paleo nutrition is? Did our hunter/gatherer ancestors do more hunting than gathering? Were they hyper-carnivores? Did a large percent of their daily energy needs come from meat? Should we eat like that today?
Holy mastodon, what are modern humans to do? It’s confusing.
Channel your inner-caveman, grab a drumstick, and let’s unleash the past. On second thought, grab a bowl of baked beans or some goat yogurt, because I’m going to propose we’ve overestimated Paleolithic meat consumption and that, long term, the Paleo diet isn’t the best choice.
But first, a disclaimer and a friendship flag. I’m no evolutionary biologist. I can’t tell you the historical time-lines of different populations, or even who the populations were. Neanderthals, sapiens, upper-lower-middle Paleolithic, pre-Neolithic?
Or who was where? Northern Europe, west Asia, the Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa, the Bronx?
In order to propose a specific behavior (archeologically speaking), you need to know what you’re talking about. You also need to have a sound understanding of historical perspective and some scientific evidence. Like cave drawings of ancient BBQs, stone-age meat cleavers, or a well-preserved Neanderthal clutching a mastodon femur. I don’t have any of the above. No artifacts, no fossils, very little knowledge of the time period.
I’m also of the notion that one-sized diet doesn’t fit all. Now or 200,000 years ago, so each to their own.
But, if we’re honest, our fragmented knowledge of the Paleolithic era doesn’t clearly indicate who ate what when. There’s a wide range of possibilities with a zillion variables. If we sift through the research, there’s evidence of fossilized plant particles and starch grains embedded in Neanderthal dental plaque, meaning they ate a variety of plants, including legumes and tubers. Ancient encampments are often littered with animal remains (bones), which gives the impression that early humans ate a lot of meat. But if you think about it, there’s not much evidence to leave behind if you’re a plant. Bones survive thousands of years, plants don’t — they decompose. It’s like searching for an ice cube after it melts. How do we know the Paleo diet wasn’t predominately plant-based, with a little meat thrown in on rare occasions? Recent research is suggesting that theory might be closer to fact than all the hoopla about the caveman diet.
My ancestors ate a plant-based diet, with a little meat when they happened upon fresh road kill, a slow rabbit, or whatever else was around during that time period. I doubt meat was a major source of energy. Since I can’t text my ancestors and ask, this is obviously speculation. For an older post I wrote on this and my thoughts on Paleo and how HLA DQ2 genes add to the mix, please read “Confessions of an HLA DQ2 Cave Woman.”
To make this information easier to “digest,” I’m simply going to compare the modern Paleo diet to what people who currently live the longest eat (Blue Zone communities, see below for details and references). Yes, you could say this is simplistic, misleading, and doesn’t do justice to the Paleo diet. I agree to some extent, but there are too many variables (individual biochemistry, unique gut ecology, genetics, lifestyle, outlook on life, activity levels, food quality, etc.) and not enough accurate historical information to give the Paleo diet a science-based thumbs up or thumbs down. Having said that, I’m not a fan.
Sample 1-day 2200 kcal Paleo menu (“The Nutritional Characteristics of a Contemporary Diet Based Upon Paleolithic Food Groups.” Loren Cordain, PhD, Department of Health and Exercise Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado)
Cantaloupe, broiled Atlantic salmon
Vegetable salad with walnuts (shredded Romaine lettuce, sliced carrot, sliced cucumber, quartered tomatoes, lemon juice dressing, walnuts), broiled lean pork loin
Vegetable avocado/almond salad (shredded mixed greens, tomato, avocado, slivered almonds, sliced red onion, lemon juice dressing), steamed broccoli, lean beef sirloin tip roast
Orange, carrot sticks, celery sticks
According to Loren Cordain, macronutrient percentages for a contemporary (2200 kcal) diet based on Paleo food groups (meats, seafood, nuts/seeds, fruits, vegetables) should be:
38 % Protein
23 % Carbohydrate
Food groups not included in Cordain’s version of the Paleo diet are: grains, dairy, dried beans, legumes
Sample 1 day 1900 kcal Blue Zone menu (this is an estimated compilation of several global Blue Zone diets, which are all similar in content)
Herbal tea with honey, corn bread, fruit, goat milk or yogurt
Rice and beans, garlic, onions, large green salad
Stir fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, spicy curries, red wine
Vegetables, orange, nuts/seeds
According to Dan Buettner, longevity researcher and author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, the typical food groups of Blue Zone inhabitants include: grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts/seeds, limited dairy (from local goats, for example), small amounts of meat or fish on rare occasions, red wine.
Although neither way of eating includes processed foods, junk food, or fast food, they are quite different in macronutrient composition. One is animal protein heavy (Paleo) and one is unrefined carbohydrate heavy (Blue Zone). Paleo doesn’t include grains or legumes, Blue Zone meals regularly include beans, corn, rice, lentils.
There’s a lot more to the longevity story than diet alone. I’ll focus on that another time, this post is about food alone.
So, what do you think? Paleo or plant-based?
Peace, love, and each to their own.
References (aside from my own way of intuitive eating)
Blaser, Martin, et al. “What are the consequences of the disappearing human microbiota?” Nature: Reviews Microbiology, December, 2009.
Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. National Geographic Society, Washington DC, 2012.
Cordain, Loren. “The Nutritional Characteristics of a Contemporary Diet Based on Paleolithic Food Groups.” JANA, Vol. 5, No. 3.
Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. W.W. Norton & Company, New York. 2005.
Hardy, Karen, et al. “Neanderthal medics? Evidence for food, cooking, and medicinal plants entrapped in dental calculus.” Naturwissenschaften Journal, Vol. 99, Issue 8.
Henry, Amanda, et al. “Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets.” PNAS, November 12, 2010. http://www.pnas.org/content/108/2/486.
Image credit: WikiMedia Commons
January 16th, 2013 by Melissa
I’ve been contemplating a post on the highlights and lowlights of 2012 and what I think the hot trends in health, nutrition, and food will be for 2013, but I’ve had trouble putting it all together. It’s not easy to take internal chit-chat and make it into a concise list. Plus, I don’t like conflict and many of my lowlights are “in vogue” and my predicted trends aren’t all that trendy. I probably can’t call them “trends” if I’m alone on the bandwagon.
What to do?
We made it through another presidential election and we survived the Mayan Apocalypse, so I’m guessing you (my loyal readers) can endure my non-objective, totally biased, opinionated views of what’s going on in the world of food and health.
Here’s what I consider the highlights and lowlights of 2012 and my trends for 2013. This is the abridged version. If there’s anything you’d like me to expand on, please let me know in the comment section and if there’s enough interest, I’ll do a whole post on it.
Highlights of 2012 in no particular order
1. Gluten-free becomes mainstream
2. Increased awareness of non-celiac, gluten sensitivity
3. Pressure to label genetically modified foods
4. Research indicating the importance of a diverse and healthy microbiome (check here for details)
5. The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition & Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance & and Active Gluten Free Life is released (obviously a highlight for me)
6. An appreciation and focus on farmers, sustainability, and local food
7. Increased awareness of unhealthy food industry practices and factory farming
8. Perceptions are changing regarding cholesterol levels and the importance of healthy fats
9. Lots of choices when it comes to food and nutrition philosophies, one size doesn’t fit all
10. Hearty greens take center stage
Low-lights of 2012 in no particular order
1. Gluten-free becomes mainstream (the good, the bad, and the ugly)
2. Dr. Oz and his over-the-top, magic, fat-busting claims
3. Dr. Mercola and his scary, hyped-up marketing tactics
4. Dr. Davis (Wheat Belly) goes too far with his “wheat equals crack” campaign and becomes joke fodder for Stephen Colbert
5. American’s consumed 1 billion pounds of beef at McDonald’s in 2012
6. Hospital food — my mom was served white bread, this sherbet, and Ensure upon admission (she had diabetes)
7. Dunkin’ Donuts test markets gluten-free donuts
8. Lance Armstrong
9. Too many supplement choices, drug options, ridiculous diets, and “super foods”
10. Low-quality, fast food on every corner, marketing to kids
Food and nutrition trends for 2013
1. Increase in personal genetic testing: epigenetics, nutrigenomics, and a focus on how genetics influence individual health traits, disease risk, carrier status, reactions to medications, ancestry, food likes and dislikes, etc. (I had this done, very interesting)
2. Consumers seek organic, non-GMO, local food
3. Less meat, more plant-based eating
4. The “bacon in everything” trend is over
5. The US has plenty of its own super foods, no need to resort to exotic Himalayan or Rainforest plants
6. Old fashioned oats (certified gluten-free) and dried heirloom/heritage beans make a high-protein comeback
7. Made-from-scratch food is in, processed food is out
8. Chefs take charge of their own health, lead by example
9. Gardening, walking, nature, exercise, quality sleep, whole foods, and a good attitude are in, whining about what you can’t eat is out
10. Basic “recipes” for longevity are in, exaggerated health claims are out
Next up, a recipe and the winner of a big bag of gluten-free oat bran from my farmer friends in Montana. If you haven’t entered to win, check out my “oat bran power bar and giveaway” post and leave me a comment.
Wishing you peace, love, and good joo-joo in 2013!
Image of Evgenia Antipova still life painting from WikiMedia Commons
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should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.