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tea time

This post was inspired by a non-skid-faux-leopard-slipper-wearing British friend of mine. Don’t even ask, I’m not sure I could explain. She’s quite charming though.

Tea contains plant compounds called polyphenols, which have major antioxidant properties that may help lower cholesterol levels, promote bone strength, and boost the immune system. The polyphenols in tea include EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), one of the super antioxidants being studied for its anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory abilities. A recent study from Egypt even suggests green tea may enhance the effects of antibiotics.

The 4 basic types of true tea are black tea, oolong tea, green tea, and white tea. All true teas come from the buds or twigs of the Camellia sinensis bush. Herbal tea refers to an infusion of herbs (like chamomile or rosehips) and fruit and doesn’t normally contain any of the traditional tea bush.

Legend has it that one of the key spiritual leaders of Zen Buddhism, Guatama Buddha, discovered tea when some leaves from the Camellia sinensis bush fell into a pot of water he was heating. He drank the potion and decided it had medicinal and restorative powers. And here we are thousands of years later paying $7 for a can of dried bush leaves. Are we enlightened?

Whatever the case, tea does have some “enlightening” physiological powers. It can be spiritually and emotionally healing as well. Nourishment also includes slowing down, taking a break, and enjoying some quiet time. Having a cup of warm tea with a little honey might be a perfect way to do that.

Potent antioxidants are something we can all use, especially with our hectic lifestyle and the environmental toxins we’re sucking in on a daily basis. Antioxidants prevent or delay the oxidation process. They minimize the effects of free radicals on normal physiological functions. Blah, blah, blah — trust me, that’s a good thing.

I’ll touch on the basics of the most recognized types of tea. All have varying degrees of health benefits, but the least processed forms (exposing them to heat and drying methods) are the best.

White tea – grown in China, more expensive, and produced with the least amount of processing. It is almost colorless and has a delicate flavor.

Green tea – this is the one we’re most familiar with and comes in many varieties from all over Asia. It is stronger in color and flavor, but lower in antioxidant properties than white tea (but still on the high end with overall antioxidant ability).

Oolong tea – the word oolong means “black dragon” in Chinese. This version is more fragrant and flowery and according to some sources can vary between inexpensive Chinese restaurant tea to high-end versions that sell for $10,000 a pound. Huh? And I thought $7 a can was bad.

Black tea – is produced in large quantities in India and Ceylon. (Quick, where is Ceylon?) This is the mainstream stuff, the generic version, the most inexpensive and what we North Americans drink as iced tea. Ugh . . .

Bottom line? Add some green tea to your diet (along with dark chocolate and red wine). Buy organic versions and steep them properly. You can even eliminate most of the caffeine by steeping the leaves in hot water for about thirty seconds and then drain off the water. Now steep the leaves again as you normally would. This doesn’t impact the antioxidant abilities or the flavor for that matter, just the caffeine content

*Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972. So, where’s Sri Lanka?

http://www.srilankatourism.org/

P.S. Okay, I realize this isn’t exactly eating local (100 mile radius), which I’ve been accused of ranting about on occasion, but there are limits to my locavore attempts. Wait, on second thought, I have no idea where Sri Lanka is. Don’t tell me — maybe it’s closer than I think.

In good health,
Melissa

carnival of love

Don’t get all excited, it’s not like it sounds.

On second thought, maybe it is.

Carnival of Love is the name of the # 9 choice in Wine Spectator’s top 100 most exciting wine picks of 2008. The magazine’s editors reviewed more than 19,500 wines from around the world in a blind tasting to determine the top 100 list of the year. This post-toast is about the nutritional value of red wine, but before I launch into that, I have to mention something about this wine. Anything named Carnival of Love deserves a second look, especially on Valentine’s Day.

According to Wine Spectator, Carnival of Love is one of the few great Australian Shirazes priced under $100. Yes, $90 is under $100, but that’s still out of my price range, so no taste testing for me. I guess I’ll have to trust the editors unless they want to send me a case to ponder over.

Mollydooker, which is Aussie for left-hander, is the winery of Sarah and Sparky Marquis and home to this wonderful wine. No doubt a creative couple, they have several award winning wines with equally engaging names. Blue Eyed Boy is another one of Wine Spectator’s choices for most exciting new wines. Described as a blockbuster Shiraz with ripe and powerful fruit, seamless tannins, and a long finish, this one comes in at $55 a bottle (we’re getting closer). Goosebumps, Enchanted Path, and Velvet Glove round out my favorite Mollydooker names for reds, although none of them fall into my steadily slipping price range. Then again, it’s Valentine’s Day. What better way to spend your money than on a Carnival of Love or a Blue Eyed Boy?

But I digress. Back to my focus, which is the nutritional value of red wine.

Along with dark chocolate, which I fussed about and fawned over in my last post, red wine is now considered part of a healthy diet. That might be a bit of a stretch, but studies are showing that resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine may have beneficial effects on overall health and on the aging process. There are no human studies yet that substantiate the positive outcomes that have been documented in animal studies, but it’s something to think about. Moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, but that’s no reason to over-indulge. If you enjoy a glass of red wine on occasion, there’s mounting evidence that it may be good for you, although unsweetened grape juice may provide the same benefits. Breaking open a bottle of grape juice over a candlelight dinner just doesn’t create the same mood though. Nah, I’ll opt for the wine.

Since wine is gluten-free and I love red wines, a nice Pinot Noir, a smooth Merlot, or a velvety Cabernet is my indulgence of choice. Having said that, I find that more than one glass of wine can interrupt my sleep and most of the time sleep trumps wine for me. Alcohol might help you fall asleep, but it can interfere with your sleep cycles and mess with your deep REM phase of sleep. The REM stage is where your body and brain recover and regenerate. I don’t want that second glass of Merlot to barge in on any neuro-regeneration I’ve got going on at 2 AM. Seriously, I need all the help I can get.

Bottom line when it comes to wine?

It’s Valentine’s Day — the one day of the year that red wine and dark chocolate are nothing but health foods.

Now go forth and do some merry-making at the carnival of love.

Melissa
x o x o

must-have health food

Although I’ve been on the “chocolate as health food” bandwagon for ages now, I’m glad to see sources like the Journal of Nutrition coming out with verifiable research to back up my wishful thinking. I am, however, disappointed the research didn’t call for larger portions of this necessary and life-sustaining health food. As with most things in life, there’s a “tipping point” where the risks start outweighing the benefits. In this case, the point of healthy consumption is a mere 6 or 7 grams a day. Darn it, that’s only a half a bar per week.

But hey, I’m not complaining. I’ll take 6 grams of dark chocolate over a teaspoon of cod liver oil any day.

The findings, published last month by an Italian university research team, resulted from the largest epidemiological study on chocolate ever conducted in Europe. Leave it to the Italians to figure out that a few grams of high-grade dark chocolate paired with a nice glass of Chianti qualifies as health food. You do know that red wine is good for you, right? (The result of more Italian research and worthy of a separate post. Check back later.)

Thousands of people enrolled in the research project, which focused on several complex mechanisms of inflammation and how they factor into major diseases. This is one study I wouldn’t hesitate to take part in. Testing chocolate as medicine? Yes, count me in.

Lead author of the study, Romina di Giuseppe explains, “We started from the hypothesis that high amounts of antioxidants contained in the cocoa seeds, in particular flavonoids and other kinds of polyphenols, might have beneficial effects on the inflammatory state. Our results have been absolutely encouraging: people having moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly have significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood. In other words, their inflammatory state is considerably reduced. The 17% average reduction observed may appear quite small, bit it is enough to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease for 1/3rd in women and 1/4th in men. It is undoubtedly a remarkable outcome.”

Hats off to my favorite Italian researcher and new best friend, Romina.

This study was done with high-quality, 72% or greater cocoa content chocolate bars. Hostess Ding Dongs don’t count. Neither do Mars Bars. Vosges Chocolates (one of my favorites) do, but I’m not sure about Mo’s Bacon Bar (see below). Bacon? Are you serious? Who came up with the idea of mixing bacon with chocolate? That’s a guy thing, it has to be.

Girls prefer the Vosges cardamom, organic walnuts, dried plums, and Venezuelan dark chocolate. Or the dark chocolate and pasilla chillies. Or the chocolate and plantains. Or Ceylon cinnamon, Mexican ancho chili, and dark chocolate. Just thought I’d throw that out in case anyone wants to help me with my preventive health care needs.

One of my local favorites is Chocolove Chocolate, made with love, hugs, and kisses in nearby Boulder, CO.

So there you have it, a chunk of dark chocolate every day may reduce your risk of heart disease and elevate your mood in the process.

Go forth and eat dark chocolate — and savor every 6.4 gram bite.
Melissa
xo

gone fishin’

Did your grandmother ever tell you that fish was brain food? Once again, grandma was right. About 60% of your brain (mine too) is made up of fat — essential fatty acids (EFA). In fact, some evolutionary biologists attribute the fact that humans are at the top of the food chain to one specific food. That food is fish, which is full of healthy EFAs (the good fats).

I’ll give you a brief run-down of what EFAs are, how they enhance our health, and where you can get them, but first, just for fun, please check out this post on EFAs. It will give you a little background and a humorous take on omega fats and why we need them to survive, thrive, and carry on. It will also enlighten you as to one of the reasons men are attracted to J-Lo.

EFAs (essential fatty acids)
• EFAs are building blocks and are a necessary components for all body cells
• required for good health, can’t be produced by our bodies (hence, essential)
• they are the “good” polyunsaturated fats
• research shows they should be consumed daily
• two important families of EFAs include omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids
• both are necessary, but balanced intake is important
• studies show that the omega-3s, EPA and DHA, are the most beneficial
• GLA is a beneficial omega-6 fat
• unhealthy omega-6 fats can be found in refined vegetable oils and processed foods
• too many omega-6s and too few omega-3s can contribute to chronic disease, depression, and an assortment of behavioral disorders
• in the right combination, EFAs can decrease inflammation and support good health
• omega-3s (EPA and DHA) can be found in cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies and in 100% grass fed beef
• omega-6 (GLA, the good one) is found in borage, black current, and evening primrose oil
• plant sources* of omega-3s include flax, chia, camolina, purslane, lingonberry, kiwi, and some nuts

Benefits of DHA (omega-3)
• important to nervous system function
• research shows DHA may improve cognitive function, memory, and learning capacity
• DHA is important to mental well-being and stability
• deficiencies may cause depression, bipolar disorder, aggression, and increased suicide risk
• DHA is necessary for maintaining healthy brain function and cognitive ability as we age
• essential during pregnancy and lactation
• research also suggests DHA may reduce postpartum depression

Benefits of EPA (omega-3)
• boosts immune function
• beneficial for autoimmune and inflammatory conditions
• helpful for inflammatory bowel diseases (celiac, crohn’s, IBS)
• supports healthy cardiac function (the American Heart Association recommends omega-3s)
• helps control blood pressure
• may reduce joint pain and swelling and help with arthritis
• beneficial for asthma patients

Benefits of GLA (a good type of omega-6)
• supports skin and hair health
• may reduce eczema and psoriasis
• reduces inflammation
• beneficial in reducing the symptoms of arthritis
• may help alleviate PMS and symptoms of menopause

* Omega-3s fall into two categories — plant-based and fish-based. You also get omega-3s from 100% grass-fed meat. While the plant-based sources are healthy additions to the diet for many reasons, EPA and DHA derived from fish and meat are more bio-available. The body has to convert the shorter chain fatty acid, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) from the plant source, into EPA and DHA and studies show we aren’t very efficient in doing so. Fish appears to be the the best source.

* There are some conditions in which these oils may have a negative impact on the body, so it is important to consult your doctor before taking EFAs in the form of supplements. It is also important to avoid low-quality fish oil supplements as they may contain some icky stuff (heavy metals, toxins, etc.).

Tamari Salmon

what you need
1 cup sake (Japanese rice wine)
1/2 cup gluten-free tamari
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
12-ounce salmon filet, cut in two 6-ounce pieces (or something similar)

preparation
preheat oven to 425
cover a cookie sheet with tin foil and oil lightly

what you do
1. mix first 5 ingredients together in small bowl; reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade for later
2. rinse salmon under cold water, pat dry with a paper towel and place in glass baking dish
3. pour marinade (remember to reserve 1/4 cup for later) over salmon
4. cover and put in refrigerator for an hour or so (occasionally spoon liquid over exposed parts of the fish)
5. place fish on prepared baking sheet and put on middle rack in oven
6. bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork (it depends on how thick your filets are, you may need less time; don’t overcook)
7. pour reserved marinade over fish and serve immediately

Serve with yukon gold roasted potatoes or wild rice. Yum!

So, the bottom line is — ladies, celebrate your curves, and men, if we call you a fat head, take it as a compliment.

Enjoy!
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.

seasonal foods for december

Brrrr, it’s been a bit nippy here in the foothills west of Denver lately. For those of you in the midwest, I’m not complaining. I promise. Not after spending some time in Chicago recently. My gosh, talk about wind chill! I’m a mountain girl, a snow girl, a winter girl, but there’s something about that bone-chilling cold out there in middle American that just gets to you.

So, what better way to warm the spirit than to add some spice to your food (and to your life)! This month’s list of seasonal foods is all about spices and herbs. Enjoy!

Turmeric and Curcumin
Turmeric is part of the ginger family and is one of the main curry spices. It is native to Asia and has been used as a flavoring, dye, and for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, especially in Ayurvedic medicine. India is the main producer of turmeric, where it’s used as a cooking spice, an antibacterial agent, and as a medicinal dietary supplement.

The potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent in turmeric is curcumin. Research involving curcumin is exploding and studies indicate it may be helpful in a variety of inflammatory diseases, including IBS, pancreatitis, liver disorders, colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and intestinal cancers. I decided to showcase this zippy little spice because these inflammatory conditions can be symptomatic of celiac disease and using food in healing is my interest and protocol for people with celiac (that includes me).

You’ll be hearing more about curcumin, as it’s the new super-star of antioxidants (new to the west, not to the east). There are clinical trials currently underway at the National Institutes of Health, Yale University, and UCLA (just to name a few) about the health benefits of the spice. Hundreds of research papers have appeared in the past few years, touting the medicinal properties of curcumin, the magic agent in turmeric and curry.

* I did a post specifically on turmeric back in my early blogging days. I’m lifting the above information from that post. For a scrumptious pork and curry recipe from my favorite English chef, Miles Collins, click here.

Basil
Basil is an absolute favorite of mine, whether dried, cooked, or fresh. Plus, it’s another healthy herb to add to your arsenal of natural healing substances. It is used in India to help boost the immune system and fight off colds and bronchial infections. You can throw some in a big pot of steaming water, put a towel over your head and breath in the healing properties. It has antimicrobial compounds and may even reduce coughing fits. Add a bunch of fresh basil to a plate of sliced tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella cheese, drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette (yum!).

Cinnamon
I use cinnamon on a daily basis and search out different varieties. Although a touch mundane, cinnamon is my favorite spice. Even my new love, cardamom, takes a back seat to cinnamon.

Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known and is indigenous to Sri Lanka. It was treasured as a flavoring, sought-after as a medicinal herb, and even used as an embalming agent (probably limited to royal mummies). Legend has it that the Roman Emperor Nero burned a full year’s supply of cinnamon at the funeral of his wife in 65 AD. Sweet tribute. Cinnamon is also mentioned in many classical writings as well as several places in the Bible (don’t ask me where).

On to the nutritional benefits of cinnamon, which are numerous. I’ll list a few of the reasons I like it, other than the wonderful sweet – and even savory – taste.

• helps reduce fasting blood glucose levels in diabetics
• helps reduce triglycerides, LDLs, and total cholesterol
• works as a circulatory stimulant
• has antibiotic abilities
• is anti-ulcerative
• helps with digestion
• is a carminative (fancy word for helps relieve gas and bloating)
• is a diuretic

The healing abilities in cinnamon come from three essential oils found in the bark: cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol, along with some other good substances. So, use it in baking; sprinkle it on hot cereal; use in curries; and add it to smoothies, teas, and other beverages.

Garlic
This is a another wonder food as it helps lower blood pressure, improves cholesterol ratios, and has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It’s especially helpful in combating colds. Add it to everything! For a detailed post on garlic and how it can help you boost immunity and avoid icky cooties during flu season, click here. There’s also a garlicky green bean recipe on that post.

Sage
Aside from the fact that wild sage is a staple in New Mexico and Colorado and I love the smell of sage after a rainstorm, it’s also one of my favorite savory herbs. I much prefer fresh sage and have found the taste and smell differs each time I grow it. Soil and climate affects the aromatic strength and “notes” of the plant (to use a wine phrase). I love fresh stage in stews and soups, but it’s not a subtle herb, so use sparingly. Sage is another herbal remedy for colds and respiratory problems. Drink sage tea or use as a steam inhalation for congestion.

Go forth and spice up your life (and boost your immunity at the same time)!
Melissa

seasonal foods for November, recipe included

Here I go again, rushing to publish my seasonal foods list for November before December takes over. I’ve been putting it off as I don’t want to be reminded that my weekly CSA delivery of locally grown produce is about to come to an abrupt stop. I don’t even want to think about it. Seriously. Those of you who have been following my blog for the last 24 weeks know how much I love having my big red tub of Grant Family Farms seasonal fruits and veggies delivered every Thursday. I have two more weeks left and then I will be in mourning. Deep, dark mourning.

In the meantime, I’ll get right to the point. No whining or complaining as this is supposed to be a time of expressing gratitude. No feeling sorry for myself. At least not openly. Well, maybe a little bit. Sniff, sniff.

Cranberries — are a rich source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. High in antioxidants, they are also thought to protect against urinary tract infections and prevent kidney stones. Cranberries also help promote gastrointestinal health and protect against cardiovascular disease.

Winter Squash — there are lots of varieties of winter squash, including acorn, kabocha, butternut, Hubbard and even pumpkin. Each one is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and most are also rich in dietary fiber, potassium, and folate. Winter squash also provide anti-inflammatory protection, so enjoy often!

Sweet Potatoes — are available year round, but November and December are peak harvest times. You can get 265% of your daily value of vitamin A in one small sweet potato! And for only 95 calories. They are also high in vitamin C, manganese, fiber, B6, potassium and iron. Don’t save sweet potatoes just for Thanksgiving, eat them year round. They are over-the-top healthy.

Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup
what you need

• 3 medium sized sweet potatoes (about 3-4 cups peeled and cut in 1 inch squares)
• 1 cup peeled and chopped carrots
• 4 cups chicken broth
• 1 cup coconut milk
• 1/2 cup diced onions
• 1 teaspoon minced ginger
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/4 teaspoon cardamom (or eliminate if you don’t have it)
• sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
• small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of olive oil, butter, or ghee

There’s no right or wrong way to make soup. The whole point of soup is to use what you have on hand. Play with the ingredients and try different combinations. Other seasonings to try in sweet potato soup include 1 teaspoon of mild Indian curry paste, 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, a pinch of cayenne or turmeric.

what you do
• Sauté onions in oil or butter in large soup pot over medium heat until lightly browned.
• Add minced ginger, cumin, coriander, or whatever spices you’re using. Stir and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute).
• Add chicken broth, coconut milk, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Bring to a light boil, turn heat down to a simmer, cover and cook until veggies are tender and can be easily pierced with a fork (about 30 minutes).
• Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes or so. Puree with a handheld immersion blender or puree in batches in a regular blender. Be REALLY careful if you use a conventional blender as the hot soup can blow the top of the blender off. Trust me, it’s not a pleasant experience. Pour back into soup pan and warm thoroughly.

Go forth and make soup!

In good health,
Melissa

kabocha squash soup & roasted pumpkin chunks

I’ve fallen in love.

All three of these winter squash and pumpkin varieties were in my recent CSA delivery box. I liked the way the sugar pumpkin looked so I positioned it as the star in this photo (roasted pumpkin recipe below). I threw the kabocha squash on top at the last minute, mainly to add a splash of green to the photo. As a “food” person, I’m almost embarrassed to say I had never made anything using kabocha squash before. Silly girl.

One shot at making kabocha soup and I’m totally in love with this sweet, rich, and creamy squash. Seriously, this soup tastes like it’s made with sweet cream and butter — all because of the squash. What a wonderful find for my dairy-free (most of the time) lifestyle!

I’m on a mission to use every item I receive in my CSA share, no wasting organic veggies, no buying stuff at the market. So, I’m making things up and experimenting and using other recipes for launching pads and substituting with whatever is in my weekly harvest box. Last month I did a post on the nutritional value of pumpkins and said I had no desire to actually deal with them — that I would just use the canned stuff. I totally take that back! Forget I ever said it.

I used my sugar pumpkin from Grant Family Farms and it was so good, I am forever converted. I’m committed to fresh pumpkins from here on out. This is SO much fun. When your ingredients are wholesome fresh veggies to begin with, you can’t go wrong.

I’ll give you a brief rundown of the nutritional value of kabocha squash and get right to the recipe; if I can remember what I did. It doesn’t matter. You can’t mess it up (famous last words).

Kabocha is the generic name for a Japanese variety of winter squash. They taste a bit like a cross between a sweet potato and a pumpkin. One cup has only 80 calories, but is packed with vitamin A (145% DV), vitamin C, potassium and fiber. It’s also a good source of manganese, folate, omega-3s, and B vitamins. All good stuff. These things are pumped full of antioxidant richness.

I peeled and chopped the squash (see below) before cooking it because that seemed like the best way to make soup, but some sources I read also suggested baking it with the skin on and then eating the skin as well as the meat. Apparently the skin gets nice and soft and tastes great. I’ll try that next time. Or if you’ve done that before, let me know how it worked out.

kabocha squash soup
what you need

1 medium-sized kabocha squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-2 inch chunks
1 box (32 oz) vegetable or chicken broth (I like Imagine Organic Vegetable Broth, it’s GF)
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 cups fresh spinach, washed and drained

what you do
Put the garlic, onion, and squash in a large pot. Add enough broth to cover the squash, put a lid on it and simmer and steam until it’s nice and soft (about 20 minutes). Mash with a fork or potato masher, add the rest of the broth and mix well. (You could also zitz it up in your food processor or blender.) Let it cook on low for 30 minutes or so. Add spinach and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Once you ladle it into a bowl, you can add some crumbled cheese (feta, goat cheese, or mozzarella) and cilantro on top for garnish. YUM!

sweet and zippy roasted pumpkin chunks
what you need

1 medium sized sugar pumpkin, seeded and cut into 1-2 inch chunks
1 & 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 & 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
2-3 gloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/4 teaspoon red chile pepper flakes (or more if you like spicy, none if you don’t)
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

what you do
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put pumpkin chunks in a large bowl. Combine oil, syrup, garlic, red chile pepper, salt and ground black pepper in small bowl and whisk well. Pour over pumpkin and toss gently to cover. Depending on how big your pumpkin is you might need a touch more oil and/or syrup. You want it lightly covered, not drenched. Spread out on rimmed baking sheet and roast in oven for about 20 to 30 minutes — until tender (I like it a little firm, not completely soft and mushy). Toss once or twice while roasting. Serve as a side dish.

I made a big pan of this, served some for dinner and saved the rest in the refrigerator for mixing into a fresh green salad the next day. It was awesome!

Go forth and play with your food!

In good health,
Melissa

cracking the egg mystery

No, I don’t have the answer to which came first — the chicken or the egg.

But I do know I love eggs. And because I enjoy my CSA egg share delivery (I also get veggie and fruit shares) from Grant Family Farms so much, I decided to do a post specifically on eggs. I’m into week 21 of this year’s 26 week CSA harvest and I’m already starting to freak out about Josh and the gang ditching me for the winter. Okay, so I understand (sort of) how hard these farmers work and I understand (sort of) how they endure long days and erratic and volatile weather and I understand (sort of) how much they deserve a short break — but what about me? What am I going to do when I don’t have my weekly delivery? How will I get by for the other 26 weeks of the year?

Okay, okay. I’ll get a grip and suffer through the long winter without you, Josh.

And in the meantime, I’ll appreciate and enjoy the abundance of incredible veggies, fruit, and eggs I’m receiving right now. Oh my gosh, the kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin) from last week was amazing (kabocha bisque recipe to follow in my next post)!

Those of you out there contemplating joining a CSA, run right now and do so. Hurry, hurry, hurry! Opening my big red box of produce on Thursday evenings has become the highlight of my week. Yeah, I know, I have a very boring social life.

If eating fresh, local, straight-off-the-farm, organic food isn’t enough to tempt you, think about the positive impact this lifestyle has on the environment. Most food travels an average of 1500 miles before it lands on your plate. By joining a CSA and supporting local farmers, you are not only enhancing your own health and the health of the ecosystem, you are also building a relationship with the people who grow your food. For more information on CSAs, small farms, and sustainability in Colorado, please refer to the articles and links listed at the end of this post.

I’m a nutrition therapist, so health is my business. I also have celiac disease, which is a genetically predisposed autoimmune disease. I know first-hand how important it is to nourish your body and boost your immune system with healing foods. There’s no better way to do this than to eat a variety of fresh, organic vegetables and fruits.

Oh, and eggs, too. Colorful ones — and no I didn’t dye these. The eggs pictured here are from the chickens at Grant Family Farms. Different breeds lay different colored eggs. Farm fresh eggs from free-range chickens also have much darker, orange-colored yolks that even look heartier and more substantial. And they are. Chickens that eat a varied, natural diet produce more nutritious and tastier eggs. The chickens are happier and so are we.

There’s been a long running debate about the frequency of egg consumption and the increased risk of heart disease. People have been shying away from eggs because of a fear their cholesterol levels will go up. I’ll give you my take on it, but first and foremost, if you have concerns about cholesterol, heart disease, and eggs — please consult your health care practitioner.

I’m not a doctor and I don’t have low cholesterol levels, so you’ve been warned.

According to Mayo Clinic cardiologist Dr. Gerald Gau, “Eggs are high in cholesterol, and a diet high in cholesterol can contribute to elevated blood cholesterol levels. However, the extent to which dietary cholesterol raises blood cholesterol levels isn’t clear. Many scientists believe that saturated fats and trans-fats have a greater impact than does dietary cholesterol in raising blood cholesterol.”

There are a variety of studies that have shown no connection between egg consumption and heart disease. In fact, one recent study published in the European Journal of Nutrition suggests 2 eggs per day could actually help LOWER cholesterol levels. Eggs have been given a bad rap. It’s the junk food, highly processed foods, hydrogenated and trans-fats, stress, lack of exercise, and an occasional contrary gene that contributes to heart disease, not the misunderstood egg.

Eggs are one of the best sources of quality protein available. In fact, eggs contain all the essential amino acids and are used as the reference standard to measure other sources of protein. One egg has only 75 calories and is an excellent source of choline, riboflavin, folate, lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin D. Lutein and zeaxanthin contribute to eye health and help prevent age-related eye degeneration. Eggs also contain Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, thiamin, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, iodine, and zinc. All for a measly 75 calories. The egg is definitely a nutrient-dense super food. So, if you want an inexpensive and low calorie way to boost immune function; support bone and muscle tissue; promote healthy thyroid function; and encourage brain, heart, and eye health — make eggs part of a healthy diet.

Now, one little minor thing about eggs — they’re considered one of the eight major food allergens. Although adults can have allergic reactions to eggs, it’s more common in children. Signs and symptoms include skin rashes, hives, nausea, vomiting, and respiratory problems. Avoid eggs and egg products if you have a known allergy to them.

If not, find yourself a good source of organic eggs from happy, free-range chickens. If you’re in the Denver area, check out Grant Family Farms. (The first article listed below has information from Josh Palmer, CSA coordinator for GFF.)

Go forth and eat eggs.

In good health,
Melissa

Sharing Organic Produce
Wyoming News, April 2008

The Face of the New American Farmer
Edible Front Range, Spring 2008

CSAs: Standing for Sustainability
Colorado Springs Independent, April 17, 2008

Sharing the Farm: CSA projects provide people with fresh food from local land
Loveland Reporter-Herald, June 2, 2008

Changing Economy Changing our Behavior
Fort Collins Forum, June 12, 2008

seasonal foods for october, recipe included

P.S. Yes, I know the postscript normally goes at the end, but just in case you don’t make it that far, I want you to know there’s a great recipe awaiting you. Yum!

As seems to be my pattern, I’m barely getting my October post of seasonal foods in under the wire. I figured since tomorrow is Halloween, I’d start with pumpkins, which are incredibly nutritious. However, we all have our culinary limits and one of mine is that I refuse to wrestle with a pumpkin. I’m over it. I organized and managed too many pumpkin carvings when my kids were little. Now I prefer using organic canned pumpkin. It’s so much easier to open a can than it is to dig out the flesh from a whole pumpkin.

Most (99%) of pumpkins used in the US are for jack-o-lanterns. These are those big stringy-type pumpkins that work best as a launching pad for little-kid art. Or big-kid pranks. The smaller “Sugar Pumpkins” are a much better choice for cooking (if you really want to do that). I spend a lot of time in the kitchen because eating healthy gluten-free food is a priority to me, but in this case, I’m going for quick and easy, especially since many of the canned choices are so good. (Recipe for pumpkin buckwheat pancakes to follow.)

Pumpkin is rich in fiber and full of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Beta-carotene can be found in orange colored veggies like squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins. It supports eye health and may even help protect against cancer and heart disease.

Raw pumpkin seeds are one of my favorite things to add to granola, trail mix, hot cereal, power bars, wild rice, or to toss on fresh salads. They were considered a medicinal food by Native Americans and although the Indians didn’t know the sciency details, they were right — the seeds are a rich source of zinc, which supports healthy immune function and promotes bone mineral density.

Hey guys, pumpkin seeds also contain phytonutrients called cucurbitacins, which help keep your boy parts running smoothly. Studies show this substance to be beneficial to prostate health, so keep that in mind next time you reach for a snack. And get this, pumpkin seeds are also a concentrated source of protein, so skip the high-fat, high-sugar candy bars and go for a handful of pumpkin seeds instead.

More seasonal foods for October
Apples (for more information on the health benefits of apples, check this post).
Lima beans (butter beans) are an excellent source of fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and promote balanced blood sugar levels. For more information on fiber and the gluten-free diet, check this post.
Onions are a staple in my kitchen. I love grilling onions, which have been a regular part of my CSA box of veggies lately. Onions are a true super food as they’re an excellent source of vitamin C, folate, fiber and contain an important phytonutrient called allicin, which may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Plus, onions add wonderful flavor to almost any dish.
Kale (for more information on the health benefits of kale, check this post).

GF/DF Buckwheat Pumpkin Pancakes

what you need
• 1 cup gluten-free buckwheat flour*
• 1 & 1/2 tablespoons pure maple sugar*
• 1 & 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon allspice*
• 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 &1/3 cup brown rice milk
• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 3/4 cup canned pumpkin (no sugar added)
• small amount of coconut oil for cooking

what you do

1. Whisk together buckwheat flour, maple sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and salt. Set aside.
2. In another bowl, whisk together rice milk, eggs, and vanilla.
3. Pour liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and blend until combined. Don’t overmix.
4. Gently fold in pumpkin.
5. Pour about 1/3rd cup of batter onto preheated and greased griddle. Flip when the edges of the pancakes fold in and the bubbles pop. Cook until each side is golden brown.

* Make sure your buckwheat flour is GF. Lauren (see comment below) from daringtothrive is right about Bob’s Red Mill. They don’t advertise their buckwheat flour as gluten-free because it doesn’t test out as gluten-free. Buckwheat is naturally gluten-free, but make sure the source you use guarantees that it has not been contaminated.

* I added the maple sugar the first time I made these simply because it was sitting on the counter and there was about 1 & 1/2 tablespoons left in the jar. I add a little to the mix when I make up my own pre-packaged hot cereal for backpacking. It’s great when you’re out in the wilderness and you want a nice sweet bowl of hot cereal before you hit the trail. Maple sugar is expensive, so don’t run out and buy some just for these pancakes. Leave it out or substitute something else.

* If you don’t have allspice, use a pinch of nutmeg.

These pancakes are so good! You can save the extras, freeze and pop in the toaster later. They also make great hiking snacks.

Happy Halloween!

In good health,
Melissa

Beans and greens (recipe included)

Who loves collard greens?

Have you ever eaten collard greens? Be honest. Those of us out here in the Rocky Mountain West don’t make a habit of eating these hearty (hardy) plants, but you Southerners do, don’t you?

Okay, we’ll start from scratch. Although collard greens have the exact texture and feel of household rubber gloves, they’re actually quite tasty if you prepare them right. And they are SO healthy — they definitely deserve super food status.

Just look closely at these pictures I took of my Grant Family Farms organic collard greens. Look at the veins, the deep green color, and the firm, fresh leaves. You can literally see the vitality of the plant, the life-force. Not to mention all that fiber. Now, don’t you know this stuff has to be good for you?


Why collard greens are on my list of super foods: 

• contain compounds that help the liver detoxify icky (scientific word) substances
• one of the highest sources of plant-based calcium (yeah! good for us dairy-free people)
• low in calories, high in nutrients
• excellent source of vitamins K, A, C
• excellent source of manganese and folate
• high in fiber

How to prepare and store collard greens:

• rinse well, but avoid soaking as some of the nutritional value will be lost
• I use stems and all; stack or roll-up leaves and cut in 1-inch slices
• the stems contain a LOT of fiber, so use the whole plant
• sauté in small amount of broth or olive oil for about 5 minutes
• store in plastic bag in refrigerator; they stay fresh about 5 or 6 days

Nutritional considerations

Collard greens are part of a class of foods that contain goitrogens. Goitrogens are foods containing certain substances that can disrupt thyroid function in humans. Cruciferous veggies, which include collard greens, and soy-based foods are the main sources of goitrogens (see complete list below). Although there is some controversy about goitrogen foods and thyroid activity, there are also no definitive research studies indicating these foods should be avoided if you have a healthy functioning thyroid. Discuss any concerns you may have regarding this with your health care practitioner.

Goitrogen containing foods

cruciferous veggies
broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi

soy-based foods
tofu, tempeh, soybeans

other goitrogenic foods
millet, radished, peanuts, spinach, strawberries, peaches

Collard greens and beans recipe
what you need

• one small onion, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 cup diced squash (I use zucchini or yellow squash, but it doesn’t matter)
• 3 cups or so of washed and sliced collard greens
• 1/2 (or a little more) cup of GF chicken or veggie broth
• 1 can cannellini beans, drained (15 ounce can, drained)
• 1 can diced tomatoes (reserve a little of the juice)
• sea salt and ground pepper to taste

what you do
Chop onion, garlic, and squash and set aside. Rinse and chop greens. Heat a few tablespoons of the broth over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Once broth is steamy, add onions, garlic, and squash and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the broth, tomatoes (and a touch of the juice if you need more liquid) and the beans and simmer on medium-high (almost to a boil). Add collard greens and simmer for another 5 minutes. You want the liquid to reduce so it’s like a big warm bowl of salad, not a sloppy bowl of soup. This is one of my “launching pad” recipes, so there’s lots of room for changes.

Go forth and play with your food!

In good health,
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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(co-written with Pete Bronski)



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