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Arugula and pickled beet salad recipe

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)
chopped pecans
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
Beet nutrition

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!
Melissa

Melissa’s medicinal soup

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.

Now what?

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.
Melissa

Talking bacteria and disease-fighting veggies

Even though I have a blog category called Super Foods, I don’t believe the astonishing claims of “super food” products (powders, pulps, supplements, etc.). The açaí trend is an example. There’s no science behind the claim that açaí powder can reverse diabetes, defeat cancer, help you lose weight, or increase boy-part prowess in older men. Those over-the-top claims have all been made, but there’s no evidence to back them up.

Geez, like life isn’t tricky enough. Now we have to vet our food for false health claims. If it’s not açaí, it’s Tahitian noni juice, or Himalayan goji berries. Each one of these plants have “medicinal” health benefits, but they aren’t going to cure Alzheimer’s or stop the aging process. There are no magic potions. No silver bullets.

Having said that, I’m a big believer in plant power to help resolve biological imbalances, rejuvenate our inner space, and boost overall health. Processed food, environmental toxins, stress, and poor lifestyle choices increase the risk of disease. The more we understand what’s going on inside (up close and personal, on a cellular level) and the more we focus on the foods that promote vitality and mental clarity, the better we feel. The more radiant we become. Who doesn’t want that?

Did you read my last post? How much of you is really you? If not, check it out as that post, this one, and my next one will all be connected. Last week’s was about bacteria and the importance of keeping our inner bacterial garden healthy and balanced. This post will touch on foods that inhibit disease-causing bacteria and help the “knights in shining armor” keep the cooties in check.

Okay, ready? Put on your geek hat.

Quorum sensing is cell-to-cell texting between bacteria. It’s their version of using a “cell” phone (pun intended) to communicate. But rather than an expensive iPhone, they use chemical signaling molecules to pass information around and gather the troops to do good things or to wreak havoc. Bacteria have an amazing ability to engineer their environment and to impact human health. They’re innately smart, very communicative, and quite creative, so it’s important to have the good guys calling the shots. According to a study in the June 2009 issue of PLoS One, a peer reviewed science journal, the human gut is home to about 9 million unique bacterial genes and once we lose control of proper balance, the s**t hits the fan, so to speak.

Probably the most famous example of quorum sensing is the bioluminescence of fireflies. Did you play with fireflies when you were little? I did, although I had no idea how they turned their little tail lights off and on. Fireflies individually regulate their light, but they receive feedback from the other light flashes around them. Peer pressure encourages them to flash in unison. Photinus pyralis is the firefly bacteria that produces light via chemical signaling (quorum sensing). How cool is that? They definitely glow from the inside out and they do it as a community.

That’s quorum sensing and it’s also how super bugs join forces and discuss how to outsmart antibiotics. It’s how your inner garden becomes overrun by weeds. We don’t want that.

Smart plant guys and gals have discovered that vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, horseradish, garlic, and cabbage (among others) inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, to be exact. MRSA (nasty staph germ) and pseudomonas aeruginosa are smart little critters. They’re becoming antibiotic resistant, which is not good.

Here’s the deal, though. If we eat right, avoid the over-use of antibiotics, and focus on health-promoting plant foods, we’ll at least be tending our internal garden in a positive way. We’re setting ourselves up to have an army of good bacteria working (quorum sensing) on our behalf. Go, good bacteria, go!

So, skip the expensive and exotic “super food” powders, supplements, and elixirs and go eat some broccoli. Plants can be potent therapeutic agents, but you don’t have to go to some far-off rain forest or spend a fortune to boost your internal fire power. Ride your bike down to the local farmer’s market and get yourself some green quorum sensing inhibitors.

Peace, love, and plant power.
Melissa
PS Stay tuned for a simple test to see how well you know yourself.

Food (scallions) as medicine

I’m sure you’ve all heard the famous Hippocrates quote, Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. He uttered those words in 400-something BC. Back in the day when food was actually—surprise—real food. That meant lots of plants and an occasional animal snack, but certainly not double-deep-fried, nacho-flavored, cheese-like chips; high-fat “Sunday” bacon; or 2-pound cinnamon rolls. When Hippocrates was talking about food as medicine, he was talking about plants. Whole foods.

See those scrawny little scallions in the above photo? Nothing all that special. They’re just onions, right? Well, those onions pack a powerful punch when it comes to health-promoting goodness.

I’ve been doing some research on foods that fight cancer, sometimes referred to as chemopreventive (or chemoprotective) foods and ran across an interesting, recently released (last week) study.

But first, a little background. The term chemopreventive was coined in the late 1970s and refers to the phytochemicals (plant chemicals) in natural products (fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices) that reduce the risk of disease. I mentioned Hippocrates because I figured most of you have probably heard the food as medicine quote. Here’s another similar, although more wordy, quote from a March 2010 Pharmaceutical Research Journal abstract on cancer chemoprevention.

Moreover, it has been recognized that single agents may not always be sufficient to provide chemopreventive efficacy, and, therefore, the new concept of combination chemoprevention by multiple agents or by the consumption of “whole foods” has become an increasingly attractive area of study.

Hmmm? Wow, the “new” concept of consuming whole foods as medicine? An “increasingly attractive area of study.” Very interesting (I say with a touch of sarcasm). Wasn’t Hippocrates the father of modern medicine? Back in 400-something BC?

Okay, so we’ve gone astray on many fronts when it comes to health and what we eat. I’ll save that rant for another day and get on with the exciting news about scallions, one of my favorite foods.

There’s an increased risk of intestinal cancers associated with celiac disease. The risk is small and if you’re on a seriously committed and healthy gluten-free diet (think whole foods), the increased risk is minimal. I’m not losing any sleep over it. But colon cancer is one of the most common forms of cancers in the general population, so it’s nothing to sneeze at.

What do scallions have to do with intestinal diseases and colon cancer? Well, according to a new study, scallion extract (scallions soaked in hot or cold water) suppressed key inflammatory markers and reduced the size of cancer tumors. Yes, in rats, but in some ways, we’re not all that different.

In summary, directly from the study: “We therefore suggest that scallion plant materials and their extracts may have the potential to be systematically developed as a chemopreventive agent(s) or medicinal food against specific colon cancers.”

Psst—you don’t have to wait until they’re “systematically developed.”

I say, load up on fresh, organic scallions right now. Chop them and add them to soups, stews, chili, whatever you can think of. Both the hot and cold extracts provided protection, but the hot (cooked) version topped the list. Sauté them and add them to raw salads. I do that all the time and they taste spectacular! Roast them in a medley of vegetables. Slice them length-wise and put them on pizza (check out this recipe: my new favorite pizza topping to see what I mean).

Here’s the good news about this study. It didn’t take much, just one scallion a day to provide the extra boost in protection. If that’s not enough, scallions impair genes that store fat. Yes! Okay, in obese rats, but still. Good news, don’t you think? Onions also help lower blood pressure and are anti-inflammatory.

What’s not to like about the scallion?!

Go, buy some now! Let food be thy medicine!

Melissa
PS Stay tuned for a roasted scallion pesto recipe. Oh my gosh! Delicious.

* P Arulselvan et al., “Dietary Administration of Scallion Extract Effectively Inhibits Colorectal Tumor Growth: Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms in Mice,” PLoS ONE 7(9), e44658. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044658, September 14, 2012.

Love is in the air (along with a zillion cold and flu cooties)

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m guessing you were expecting dark chocolate, candy hearts, and frilly cupcakes—not shiitake mushrooms, leeks, and spinach. I’m compelled to skip the sugar-laden Valentine goodies this year and go the medicinal mushroom route instead. It seems half the people I know are sniffling, sneezing, and coughing and although it’s hard to avoid being exposed, nourishing food gives your body the ammunition it needs to stay healthy in the midst of cold and flu season.

You want to be able to share the LOVE, not the flu cooties, right? That takes a powerful immune system. Shiitake mushrooms will help you boost your endurance in that department. I’m lucky to have a local source in Hazel Dell’s fresh organic mushrooms.

Shiitake mushrooms have a long and colorful history as cold and flu fighters. They’re a symbol of longevity in Asian cultures and there’s research to back up the claim. What is interesting about these mushrooms is the unique way they work in contrast. Let thy food be thy medicine. These little gems stimulate the immune system in a magical way, enhancing the beneficial aspects of immunity while suppressing the negative aspects. Perfect for those of us with misdirected immunity (think celiac disease).

Having said all that, I’m not a fan of the texture of mushrooms, but love the taste. I don’t like slimy foods like mushrooms or oysters. I can watch open heart surgery up close and personal, but can’t tolerate a runny nose. Mushrooms are plant boogers and they give me the willies. So, in order to take advantage of the medicinal attributes and wonderful earthy flavor of shiitake mushrooms, I cook them up and blend them with broth and a small amount of organic tomato sauce to make the most divine soup base you can imagine. I use this base for all kinds of soups and stews. It’s a cooking/health trick worth adding to your arsenal of radiant living tips.

Immune boosting shiitake mushroom soup

What you need (see fresh ingredients above) 
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, washed and chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 eight-ounce can organic tomato sauce
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, sliced in rounds (into the green section)
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 celery stalks, about 1 cup chopped (leaves included)
2 carrots, about 1 cup chopped
1 tomato, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh spinach, chopped
1 cup cooked chicken (option)

* Note that the total amount of broth should be 8 cups. You can substitute vegetable broth to make this a vegetarian soup.

What you do
1. Place chopped mushrooms in a medium saucepan. Add 2 cups chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat when finished cooking so it can cool slightly.
2. While mushrooms are cooking, heat the olive oil in a large soup pot on low-medium. Add leeks and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often.
3. Add 4 cups broth to large soup pot with the leeks and garlic mixture. Add celery, carrots, chopped tomato, chicken if using, and seasonings. Turn heat to low.
4. In the meantime, pour mushroom and chicken broth mixture into a blender. Be careful—hot liquids can blow the top off your blender. Let the mixture cool before blending. Add the tomato sauce and 2 cups of room-temperature chicken broth to the blender. Blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour into stock pot.
5. Simmer soup over low heat until vegetables are cooked, but still crisp (about 1 to 2 hours).
6. Add a handful of fresh, raw spinach to the bottom of a large soup mug or bowl. Ladle soup over spinach and give it a stir. The heat of the soup will wilt the spinach to perfection without overcooking it.

Options: add cooked brown rice, quinoa, or Tinkyada brown rice noodles.

For sweet treats to go with your immune boosting soup, check out these recipes.

Double chocolate, double walnut, double heart cookies from Gluten Free Easily
Mexican chocolate brownies from The Book of Yum
Chocolate souffle from Celiacs in the House
How to choose gluten-free chocolate for baking (part 1) from No Gluten No Problem
Pecan and chocolate pie from The WHOLE Gang
Chocolate fondue from Cook It Allergy Free
No bake cookies and creme cheesecakes from Simply Gluten-Free

Peace, joy, and immune-boosting love!
Melissa

Are you a supertaster?

What’s a Supertaster, you ask?

Well, I hate to brag, but that would be me. I’m a supertaster. It’s kind of like being Wonder Woman without the warrior princess gadgets. My super powers are in my taste buds, not in indestructible click-click bracelets or projectile tiaras.

Okay, I’ll be honest. It’s not that big of a deal—25% of us are supertasters. We’ve inherited a higher-than-normal number of taste buds and are typically more sensitive to strong, bitter foods. Think raw broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, grapefruit juice, whiskey, wine, dark chocolate, coffee. We don’t like those foods.

Although I have the supertaster genotype, I do like (have come to like) all those choices with the exception of whiskey. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s take a brief look at the genetics behind food dislikes—or variations of that theme. Maybe your kid is a “picky eater” for a reason.

Supertaster’s have cell proteins on their tongues that detect intense, bitter flavors. All genes encode proteins with information from our DNA. I happen to have the gene that is the protein blueprint for an overwhelmingly bitter taste. But what makes all this interesting is the mix of our genes and our personal and environmental variations. I’ve managed to override some of my genetically predisposed, taste quirkiness by tweaking the quality of the food. That, and my willingness to experiment. Some of these bitter foods are incredibly healthy and contain cancer-protective substances, so broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts have become favorites of mine. That’s my phenotype at work. I haven’t turned the gene off, I’ve simply tweaked the stimulus (my food environment) in a positive way to pull a fast one on my supertaster gene.

Let’s take this one step further. By purchasing high quality versions of these foods (fresh, organic) and taking the time to prepare them in a way that accentuates the flavors I that I do like, I end up supplying my body with phytonutrients (plant chemicals) that promote good health. That way, I can get my foot (phytonutrient) in the door (cell) to turn certain other genes off or on. I can discourage disease-promoting genes and encourage health-warrior genes. We have the power to do that.

Back to supertaster foods. I don’t like raw broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower, but I do like all those vegetables drizzled with a small amount of olive oil, dusted with Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and lightly roasted. I don’t like most types of coffee (Starbucks is over-the-top bitter to me) or most types of wine, but I do like my mellow, organic, breakfast blend coffee mixed with a little coconut milk and I love having a glass of nice, smooth red wine. But, a lot of wine does taste bitter and acidic to me, to the point that I literally turn up my nose and shiver. There are only a few dark chocolates that I like and I much prefer them topped with a little sea salt. Grapefruit juice I can totally do without. I’m also a salt-aholic, but only with good quality sea salt. Salt masks bitterness, so it makes sense that supertasters are heavy-handed with the salt grinder.

Are you wondering how I know I’m a supertaster?

I took the test. Researchers have discovered a chemical that, when applied to a strip of paper and placed on the tongue, distinguishes between non-tasters, medium-tasters, and super-tasters. I ordered the test strips and was overwhelmed by the bitter taste. Seriously bitter. I actually thought I’d be a non- or medium-taster because I like most of the foods on the list, but after the test and some thought, I realized that I’ve simply adjusted to being a supertaster. I had a couple of other people take the test and they had absolutely no reaction. None. They didn’t taste anything. I couldn’t believe it as I could hardly stand the taste. Apparently supertasters experience flavors with about three times the intensity of others.

Why do you think some people are supertasters? Is that an evolutionary advantage or a disadvantage?

Say you’re out doing some gathering during the Paleolithic era and you grab a handful of leaves. You take a bite, find the leaves extremely unpleasant, nasty-tasting and bitter, so you spit them out. Maybe you just saved yourself from an untimely death due to ingesting toxic plant chemicals. Good one. I’m glad I’m a supertaster.

But wait, food was scarce back then. You can’t be picky. My non-taster neighbor will eat anything, therefore having more chance of survival when times are tough.

What’s your theory? Are you a supertaster? Is that good or bad?

While you think about it, here’s a recipe for roasted broccoli and cauliflower.

Roasted broccoli and cauliflower
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning (I have nothing to do with this company, I just love this seasoning and use it on everything.)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2. Place florets in a medium bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss to cover. Sprinkle with herb seasoning, sea salt, and pepper. Toss again.
3. Place florets in a shallow baking dish and sprinkled with garlic.
4. Place baking dish on the center rack of oven and roast for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Stir occasionally to insure even browning.

Note: Broccoli stalks are wonderful roasted. All these foods are almost undetectable used raw in small amounts blended into smoothies.

Okay, what do you think? I’m curious. What’s the point of the supertaster gene? Did it evolve as a protective mechanism or was it a detriment to survival?

Peace, love and the wonderful world of genetics!
Melissa

raw power greens

To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art. – Duc Fransois de La Rochefoucauld

Duc Fransois de La Rochedfoucauld, aka Prince de Marcillac, was a writer of mildly cynical and somewhat pithy maxims. He was born in Paris in 1613, hung around the royal court and spent most of his time making snippy comments about what he saw as the disturbing state of human affairs. Considered an intellectual harbinger of the Enlightenment – I imagine him as a 17th century Dennis Miller with an over-the-top, hoity-toity name. Much more uppity and not as funny as Dennis, but concise, satirical and witty nonetheless.

While I don’t always eat intelligently, I like this general maxim. It’s a good reminder and is there a better way to eat intelligently than to choose nutrient-dense, vibrant, unprocessed, living plants? Like the ones featured above. Look at the colors. You can literally see the phytonutrients, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and chlorophyll.

Okay, maybe seeing vitamins and enzymes is a stretch, but you can guess by looking at these greens that they’re full of nourishing goodness. Plus, they’re low in calories and alkalizing to the body. This is perfect food.

Now compare that to a donut or a plastic-wrapped sweet-roll from a gas station vending machine.

Which one is the artfully intelligent choice?

This photo is of the 3 cups of mixed greens I used to make power smoothies this morning, wonder woman and super man food. It’s a smart way to start the day, even if it doesn’t match up with the new USDA MyPlate thing the government designed to help us figure out how to feed ourselves?

Really?

We’ve “evolved” to the point that we need a plate icon with food on it to show us what to eat?

I’ll bite my tongue, keep my snippy, food irony comments to myself and offer you a power greens guide to ease your transition into the world of nutrient-dense green food.

Power Greens Flavor & Nutrition Guide
This is the abridged version. If I included every green I could think of and all the nutrient goodness, this post would be a mile long. What’s your favorite power green and how do you like to serve it? Add it to the list in the comment section.

Swiss chard
Chard has a slightly bitter taste, so when I use it raw in smoothies I add something sweet like a Fuji apple to counterbalance the bitterness. It also has a very salty taste to me when pulverized in my VitaMix, so I like cinnamon mixed in. One cup of chard is off-the-charts high in vitamin K, A and C, along with a host of other botanical wonders. All for a measly 35 calories.

Spinach
Spinach is mild, slightly bitter and versatile. It’s a good power green to add to kid-friendly smoothies as it’s fairly easy to hide if you add a pear or ripe banana and a little goat yogurt into the mix. Speaking of vitamins K and A, one cup of spinach has 1110% (K) and 377% (A) of the recommended daily values. Add in the high concentration of folate, iron, vitamin C, potassium, etc. and there’s a lot of bang for your 41-calorie-buck in a cup of spinach.

Kale
Kale is a little confusing. It has a mildly bitter taste, but it can also taste slightly sweet. It’s hearty (and hardy) and full of volume, if that makes sense. The power green nutrition profiles just keep getting better. One 36-calorie cup of kale gives you almost 200% of the daily value of vitamin A, close to 100% of vitamin C and a whopping 1328% of vitamin K. It even contains a jolt of omega 3 fatty acids.

Mustard Greens
Swiss chard tastes salty and mustard greens have a strong, peppery taste. If you use these in a smoothie, mix a small amount in with some lighter greens like romaine lettuce or spinach. Warning: don’t use raw arugula and mustard greens together! Whoa, that makes for an intense smoothie with a peppery kick. You get the idea on the nutrition part. Most leafy greens are ridiculously high in all kinds of powerful nutrients and mustard greens are no exception.

Turnip Greens
I’ll admit, not my favorite. Especially raw, turnip greens have a intense and bitter taste. They’re very high in plant-based calcium, which may account for the bitter bite. Only 26 calories per cup, they’re worth adding to your arsenal of power greens, but go easy on them and mix them in with some milder vegetables and sweeter fruits to mask the bitterness. Turnip greens are great sautéed lightly in a little broth.

Collard Greens
Aside from the “rubber glove” texture of collard greens, I like these greens for their mild and somewhat smoky flavor. They’re absolutely wonderful blanched quickly, cooled, dried and used as a wrap for chicken salad. You can also add some chopped collard greens to smoothies, but do it in small doses to see how you like them.

Romaine Lettuce
Mild, crisp and somewhat sweet. I love Romaine. This is a perfect “beginner” green and blends in well with other veggies and fruit for a nice mellow smoothie. It’s perfect raw, but I’ve also lightly sautéed lettuce before and it tastes great. Romaine is the low calorie winner at 15 calories for 2 cups and while it’s not the power-house that kale or Swiss chard is, it’s a rich source of plant nutrients.

Arugula
Arugula, also called rocket or Italian cress, is a touch spicy with a hint of mustard. It’s best mixed in with some milder greens for a salad as it tastes bitter by itself. It can also be used in small doses in smoothies and is wonderful sautéed or thrown into a soup at the last minute. I like it on pizza with olives and sliced tomatoes. Like the rest of these greens, arugula is very low in calories, high in antioxidants, is low glycemic, anti-inflammatory and even has a little protein, calcium and iron.

Tatsoi
Tatsoi is part of the bok choy family and although it’s slightly bitter (not bad), it’s excellent in a tossed salad, lightly sautéed or as part of a green smoothie mix. Because of it’s dark green leaves, like the rest of these, it’s rich in antioxidants and is even a good source of calcium and iron. Sauté it with some onions and garlic and serve it with brown rice. It makes for a wonderful “Buddha bowl.”

Frisée
Frisée is that curly, lighter green lettuce that is often added to mixed salad greens. It’s not as hardy as kale, spinach and the other more intense greens. It will even wilt if you put vinegar on it, so wait until the last minute to dress your salads if frisée is part of the mix. It has a mild, very slight peppery taste with a nutty hint to it. It pairs well with bananas and berries in a smoothie (I’m sounding like a leaf sommelier). For a delicious summer salad, try a bed of frisée topped with roasted and sliced beets, pecans, crumbled goat cheese and a drizzle of vinaigrette. Divine.

Here’s a great resource for greens and herbs, complete with pictures so you’ll know which green is which.

You might also like
Green Lemonade from Elana’s Pantry
Spicy Kale Salad with tomatoes and chiles from Tasty Eats At Home
Raw Super Green Salad from The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen

Peace, love and power greens!
Melissa

(for girls only) nutrition for women

Last month I did a blog post on super foods for men. I also threw in some basic (and not so basic) differences in male and female brain function. This time I’ll focus on us girls.

Is there a better place to start than hormones and chocolate? Maybe fashion, hats, and shiny things. I’ll see if I can weave them all together, but the launching pad has to be hormones. A brain sloshing around in a pool of estrogen looks and behaves quite different from a brain infused with testosterone. I touched on a few cognitive gender differences in my last post, but since I find this so fascinating, I think I’ll keep this neuro-thread going.

I’m a research nerd and guess what I’ve discovered after logging zillions of hours reading scientific papers (plus, years of field study)?

Men really are from Mars.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I might be gender-biased in my observations, I’ve also discovered that women are from BabbleOn. See – if I was going to fudge my findings, I’d pick something far more flattering.

Here’s the deal. Women do better than men on tasks that require verbal communication and memory of personal experiences. Men excel in the manipulation of complex spatial information.

What does that mean?

Women talk a lot and remember everything. Men can park 2 cars, 1 motorcycle, 3 mountain bikes, a fishing boat, a side-winder circular saw, 6 pairs of skis and 300 pounds of camping gear in a 2 car garage.

Like I said before, we’re different.

Back to the hormone part. Scientifically speaking, aside from all the other stuff estrogen does, it also provides females with the ability to outperform males in associating stimuli across time. It even shows up in more adult-generated neurons in our hippocampus.

What’s a hippocampus, you ask?

It’s a little doo-hickey in the brain that just so happens to be a long-term memory consolidation station and an emotional storage bin. It’s like a jewelry box for stuff you can dig up and throw into a heated conversation years later.

So think about that one for a minute.

Estrogen, emotions, new neurons, and memory storage? It’s no wonder we never forget things men do (or, don’t do). Sorry, but I have to take this one step further (female trait, babbling on). Gender differences in memory and learning are facilitated by differences in hormones and brain anatomy. But it doesn’t stop there. That also gives us the ability to further change our brain anatomy by forming new neurons. The actual structure of the brain changes allowing us to remember more stuff you guys did for longer periods of time.

Like f o r e v e r.

Oh my gosh, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

Although I took a rather convoluted, gender-driven journey to get here, I want to stress the importance of balancing blood sugar (glucose) and hormones when it comes to women’s health. Those two things form the foundation for radiant energy, stable emotions, and better stuff in your jewelry box – both pleasant memories and shiny things.

To function optimally, the body must maintain blood sugar levels within the proper ranges. Extreme fluctuations cause roller-coaster hormones, which can lead to hissy fits, dish tossing, and crying jags. It also leads to all kinds of health problems down the road. We can avoid the drama by keeping glucose and hormones in balance. That starts with nutrition and exercise. Yoga is my preferred form of movement-induced, hormone balancing (pun intended). Here are my food favorites.

Melissa’s top 10 super-foods for women (in no particular order)

1. Cinnamon
Cinnamon has a long history as a functional food. Not only does this sweet spice smell and taste wonderful, it also helps control blood sugar and makes you feel full longer. It’s anti-microbial, helps fight candida and is a good source of fiber, calcium and iron. I add about a teaspoon of cinnamon to all my smoothies. I also sprinkle it over yogurt, add it to homemade granola, power bars and whatever else I can think of. I try to eat at least a teaspoon of cinnamon a day.

2. Broccoli
According to cancer researchers at the University of Michigan, a natural compound in broccoli inhibits breast cancer stem cells and helps block their self-renewal pathway. There are all kinds of studies regarding cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and similar green leafy vegetables) and their positive role in cancer prevention. Good stuff!

3. Fiber
Although not a food per se, fiber is so important for blood sugar balance, weight loss, and overall health. I’m a huge fan and eat way more than the recommended amount. For a detailed post I did on fiber several years ago, check here. You’ll find all the information you need to boost your fiber intake. Make sure you do it slowly and drink lots of water.

4. Avocados
Avocados are high in fat, but it’s a healthy fat and worth adding to your arsenal of super foods. Plus, if you add avocado to a big green salad or a fresh salsa mix, you greatly increase the absorption of the other nutrients. Carotenoids (in tomatoes, peppers, carrots, greens, etc.) are fat-soluble nutrients that need to tag along with high-grade fat to be adequately absorbed and assimilated. Avocados are also a low-carb, high-fiber food source, which is great for balancing blood sugar and hormones (once again, so important).

5. Coconut
Another high fat food, but again, this is good stuff, so don’t be fat-aphobic. The key is to be very picky about your fats. Please check here for a detailed post I wrote a couple of years ago on the health benefits of coconut. I love the stuff! Eat it, cook with it, put it on your skin, slather it on your hair.

6. Dark chocolate and red wine
Hey, what can I say? Girls are programmed to lust after chocolate. Resveratrol, a substance in cacao and red wine, is the “it” supplement right now. But, in most cases, I believe we’re better off eating the whole food rather than taking supplements. Treat yourself on occasion (moderation, moderation) and eat a small chunk of high-grade dark chocolate. You might even pair it with 4 ounces of a nice Pinot Noir.
Past resveratrol posts: dark chocolate as health food, enlightened hot chocolate, carnival of love (red wine)

7. Beets and berries
Those of you who have following this blog for the past 4 years know I’m passionate about beets. Ridiculously so. I’ve been a beet girl my entire life. My mom says I ate them as a baby and grew up thinking they were dessert. I was lucky. I had a mom who fed me beets, spinach, and broccoli during the explosion of processed foods. I can’t remember ever having a Twinkie, sugary cereal, or Hamburger Helper. We ate real food, made from scratch. There are so many studies linking the nutrients in beets to good health that I won’t even try to list them all. Just trust me, they’re amazing. I have a lot of beet blog posts in my archives, but since summer is around the corner, here’s an ice cream recipe.

8. Apples
Apples are high in fiber, help balance blood sugar in several different ways (they’re magic), are anti-inflammatory, high in antioxidants, support healthy gut bacteria and are packed with goodness. Studies show positive results with age-related health problems as well (macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, etc.). I’m taking this “apple a day” thing seriously. Apples are sprayed with some seriously nasty stuff, so choose organic.

9. Swiss chard and leafy greens
Greens are true super foods. All greens are great sources of beneficial plant nutrients, but I’ll focus on Swiss chard since I’m on my “balance your blood sugar” rant. There’s a substance in chard (syringic acid if you must know) that has warrior princess power when it comes to blood sugar regulation. Chard (like beets) also contains a group of phytochemicals called betalains, which are high in antioxidants, are anti-inflammatory and promote detoxification.

10. Chick peas
How could I not include chick peas?  Lucky for us, these little nutrient-dense namesakes help regulate blood sugar and are packed with fiber. I know, this blood sugar/fiber thing is getting tiresome, but it’s so important for long-term health, artful aging and hormone balance. Chick peas are also super high in the mineral manganese, which is an antioxidant involved with energy production. Who doesn’t want more energy? Check here for one of my favorite roasted chick pea recipes from Shirley at GFE.

Just as important is what you don’t eat. Avoid processed foods, refined sugar, soda pop, too much caffeine or alcohol, and junk food. Stick to whole foods with an emphasis on veggies and fruit.

Peace, love, and real food!
Melissa
Image of Robert Lewis Reid painting courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

(for boys only) nutrition for men

This is part 1 of a 2-part series on gender-specific nutrition. I’ll start with my top 10 super-foods for men. Although we can easily eat the same foods, I thought I’d have fun with this and focus on specific nutrition needs for men and for women.

We’re very different, you know. I’m inspired and enchanted by the differences, even the ones that drive me nuts.

Ladies, do you think the 3 Stooges are funny?

No?

See – that’s a boy thing. A gender trait.

Back in 2005 the president of Harvard University resigned over a comment he made at an academic conference about the innate differences between male and female brains. He suggested that these functional differences might explain why women aren’t equally represented in the math and science fields. I have no desire to expand on this or to share my opinion (well, maybe a little), but as a female science nerd, I agree and I’m not offended by his comments. We’re different – our brains are even architecturally different.

Different doesn’t mean smarter. It just means not the same. There are evolutionary reasons for that. We excel in different ways.

I could write a 5000 word essay on why men and women communicate differently, but please don’t make me take a spatial orientation test. Or quickly process mathematical equations. I love science, but I’d rather read about, think about, write about, or discuss this mass of neural wiring we have in our heads than do math problems under pressure. Just the thought of that makes my neurons smolder.

Seriously.

That whole thing about a train leaving the station at 6 PM going due east at 75 miles an hour and blah, blah, blah – gives me a massive headache. I can smell smoke right now. If you add in another train leaving an hour later going due west at 85 miles an hour, I’ll blow a gasket.

But I digress. Spiraling is in my DNA. Another gender difference.

Bottom line? Men and women have specific traits that have been selected through evolution and specific traits that are developed through cultural and social conditioning. We also have very different biological demands and nutritional needs. Regardless, we’re just plain different in a zillion ways, so we might as well rejoice in that and have fun with it.

Let’s start with food.

Melissa’s top 10 super-foods for men (in no particular order)

1. Hops (see photo above)
As in beer. Researchers at Oregon State University discovered a flavonoid in hops called xanthohumol that appears to reduce inflammation and may inhibit the development of prostate cancer. According to Fred Stevens, professor of Medicinal Chemistry at OSU, xanthohumol is only found in beer that is produced from hops and not in beer made from hop extracts. (Drink alcohol in moderation, there are health risks associated with over-consumption. I have to say this, I’m a woman. You know, that whole nurturing thing.)

2. Bison
Once upon a time, men did the hunting, women the gathering. We evolved with different roles for a variety of reasons. In general, men are more aggressive, bigger, stronger and tend to take greater physical risks. Personally, I’d rather wrestle with a blueberry bush than a 2,000 pound bison, so I’m good with that. Our gender-specific food roles are linked with social and cultural perceptions of masculinity and femininity. No way around it. Men burn meat, women bake pies. By the way, baking a pie (especially a gluten-free pie) takes a greater understanding of chemistry than throwing a steak on the grill. Women rock at science, we just don’t always get credit for it.

As far as  nutritionally dense food and masculinity is concerned, I’m choosing 100% grass-fed, organic and humanely treated bison because of its wonderful amino acid profile (good protein for building muscles to protect the berry pickers), low glycemic index, and high amounts of B vitamins, zinc, and selenium. B vitamins are important for metabolism, zinc plays a role in prostate health and selenium is a powerful antioxidant.

3. Cranberries
Studies show that a mixture of flavonoids in cranberries help inhibit LDL oxidation and may decrease the risk of atherosclerosis. Whole cranberries in food form not only protect the heart, but the liver, kidneys and urinary tract as well. Eat the whole food, rather than relying on supplements or extracts. The synergistic value of the various nutrients working together is what makes up a super-food.

4. Pumpkin seeds
Here’s another food rich in zinc to keep your boy parts healthy. According to the Journal of Fertility and Sterility, zinc concentration in sperm directly relates to its motility in that all-important, nano-yard dash. If you’re looking to reproduce, you want fast, agile swimmers once an egg is launched. And keep in mind, zinc has to be replenished. Men produce about 300 million sperm per day. You read that right. PER DAY. Us girls have 1 very special egg per month. I feel like such a princess. Guys – snack on pumpkin seeds. They’re much easier to carry around in your briefcase or backpack than oysters (also high in zinc).

5. Oysters
No explanation needed.

6. Turmeric
Turmeric contains a yellow substance called curcurim, which is the spice that gives curry its name. Rather trendy right now, turmeric shows promise of anti-cancer properties, especially in the gastrointestinal tract. This wonderful spice (I love curry) also helps promote liver detoxification. Check here for one of my recipes for sweet and spicy Moroccan stew. The smell alone is intoxicating.

7. Beets
Beet root contains inorganic nitrate, which researchers have determined, decreases human oxygen requirements during sub-maximal exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise. This is a performance-enhancing substance that might turn your pee pink, but you won’t flunk the drug test. Beet root also helps lower blood pressure. This is one of my favorite functional plants. I eat beets in one form or another 4 or 5 times a week.

8. Blackberries
According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health, blackberries have a very high antioxidant capacity. Antioxidants are believed to play a role in neutralizing the effect of free radicals. Free radicals cause cellular damage and contribute to age-related degeneration. Eat blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. That’s much better (and more fun) than taking supplements.

9. Kale
Kale is a wonder plant. It’s over-the-top high in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and is a good source of fiber, protein, iron and a host of other vitamins and minerals. It’s also highly anti-inflammatory and low in calories. Good stuff. Skip the fat-filled potato chips and opt for kale chips instead.

10. Sardines
Sardines are absolutely packed with vitamin B-12. In fact, there are few more concentrated sources. B-12 helps promote heart health by keeping homocysteine levels in balance. Elevated homocysteine is linked to cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Sardines are also a rich source of good fats, high-quality protein and vitamin D, a nutrient that is hard to come by and one that promotes bone health.

Next up – food for warrior princesses. Sign up for my email updates so you don’t miss anything.

Peace, love and healthy men!
Melissa

kitchen sink soup

I admit it.

Although I may appear normal on the surface, I’m no stranger to odd behavior (or so I’m told). Every time I sit down to write a blog post, I struggle with controlling my internal evil twin. The one who wants to launch into a long-winded political diatribe or write a geeky poem about genetic expression or transcription pathways. Maybe link to a current climb of Mount Everest, write a book review, or evangelize about the healing power of yoga.

Anything but food.

Writing recipes is not easy for me. I don’t follow recipes, how can I write one? When I cook I just throw stuff together, taste, adjust, add more stuff, taste and on it goes until I have something I like. Or something my guy Fairbanks will eat.

This soup was absolutely delicious. Explaining in a coherent manner how I came up with it won’t be easy, but I’m going to give it a try. It was that good.

kitchen sink soup – you could also call this clean out the fridge soup
what you need (whatever you have)

4 shitake mushrooms, washed well and chopped
1/2 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery (and leaves), chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 cup shredded cabbage
6 cherry tomatoes, chopped
8 cups broth (I used a combination of chicken and vegetable broth)
1 cup cooked rice (I used a mix of brown and wild rice)
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
herbs: bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, oregano
* chopped means in small 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes (something like that)

what you do
1. In a large soup pot over low/medium heat, sauté mushrooms in a small amount of olive oil until fragrant. Remove mushrooms and place in a blender. Set aside until later.
2. In the same pot (add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of olive oil if you need to), sauté onions, garlic, celery, carrots and zucchini for about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently to combine flavors.
3. While veggies are sautéing, add 2 to 4 cups of broth to the mushrooms in the blender. Purée well.
4. Pour mushroom/broth purée over veggies and add the rest of the broth to the pot. Add sweet potato, cabbage, tomatoes and rice. Stir, turn heat to low and simmer for at least 2 hours. Season and taste as you go.

This is better the second day and even better the third. You may have to add a little water to it over the next day or so. Adjust according to whatever you have in your fridge. It’s kitchen sink soup, it really doesn’t matter.

One of my all-time favorite British chefs gave me some tips on seasoning soups. Miles of milescollins.com suggests bay as a base ingredient in cooking. From there, he says hardy herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage and savory go well in mixed vegetable soups. I don’t always follow directions well, but when it comes to seasoning, I pay attention to what Miles has to say. He’s a master. Thanks, Miles!

Go forth, clean out your fridge and make kitchen sink soup! As another wonderful mentor of mine once said, everything you need, you already have.
Melissa

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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