Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Your friend with health benefits: Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut: I feel like you either love it or hate it. Either way, it loves you. If you can make it your friend, it automatically comes with health benefits.

Some thoughts of food for your daily food for thought:
"Fermented foods and drinks are quite literally alive with flavor and nutrition. Their flavors tend to be strong and pronounced. Think of stinky aged cheeses, tangy sauerkraut, rich earthy miso, smooth sublime wines... One major benefit of fermentation is that it preserves food... Captain James Cook, the eighteenth-century English explorer who extended the far reaches of the British Empire, was recognized by the Royal Society for having conquered scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) among his crew by sailing with large quantities of sauerkraut." (Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation)

So what's the deal, my "friend with health benefits"?* The friends I'm talking about are microorganisms, gut-friendly bacteria that have fermented the cabbage into what we know as Sauerkraut, creating a food with many amazing benefits for your body:
  • Aids your digestion by adding its own helpful bacteria into the process - your belly will love it.
  • Contains cancer-fighting compounds called isothiocyanates (whoa!) - which are produced through its fermentation process. We all have free radicals causing damage in our bodies - get your inner repair going on.
  • Has an alkalizing and cleansing effect on your body, meaning it brings you back to a balanced state. It's one of my top recommended foods for keeping sweet cravings at bay. Sometimes when I'm craving dessert foods, I put a few spoonfuls of sauerkraut into a small cup and munch - amazingly satisfying. No more cravings.
I recently brought home a jar of Wildbrine Sauerkraut Salad - Arame (sea vegetable) and Ginger. I've been trying to find ways to get more sea vegetables into my diet and this is definitely it. Delicious (Meaning I can't really taste the arame)! The ginger is an amazing touch. If you're not sure you like sauerkraut, some of these flavored or "salad" varieties might be a good place to start. One of my favorites is a Lemon Garlic Dill and one of my clients can't get enough of the varieties with beets, carrots and spices. Make sure you are buying RAW sauerkraut from the refrigerated section, otherwise it's been processed and pasteurized. Your friends with health benefits have been long killed off in that case.

Plus, if you can't get enough, it is super simple to make at home. Check out Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz (quoted above) or get your search on online! The book even has its own associated Wild Fermentation website.

Sauerkraut and fermented veggies are having a sort of revival. I see raw sauerkraut in lots of markets like Whole Foods, Rainbow Grocery and lots of other health food stores. Give it a try... what kinds, brands and flavors do you like? What is your favorite way to eat it? ( I love stirring a few spoonfuls into hearty soups like turkey, chicken or mushroom barley.)

*I totally lifted this amazing phrasing from the Wildbrine sauerkraut label I was eating!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Scoop on Coconut Oil

Q: Coconut oil is full of saturated fat, right? If I'm trying to be healthy or lose weight, isn't that something I want to stay away from?

A: Yes! And no! (Oh isn't nutrition fun!)

So what's the deal with fat? We've been told butter and coconut oil are bad (not true) because they're full of saturated fat. We've also been told how great olive oil is because of its high levels of heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (true). For a while, margarine, which is made of hydrogenated vegetable oil, was king. Scientists have since discovered that eating hydrogenated oils - aka pure trans fats - greatly increases your risk of coronary heart disease. (I and most scientists recommend reading your food labels and avoiding this kind of fat completely.)

It is essential, though, that we get appropriate amounts of healthy fats in our diet everyday - including saturated fat, which is crucial for our absorption of many vital fat-soluble nutrients (such as vitamins A and E). Read more about why and how fats are important parts of our diet here.

Ok. So what's so spectacular about coconut oil and how's it going to keep me looking and feeling simply radishing (haha, get it)? It's all about the quality of the fat's composition and the fatty acids it contains that make it so amazing.

Some of the health benefits of coconut oil include:
- Making your hair and skin shine (usually from rubbing it right in)
- Stress relief
- Maintaining good cholesterol levels
- Weight loss (that's right! we need fat to burn fat... follow the link below for more on this)
- Increased immunity
- Proper digestion, metabolism and bone strength
- Relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer

Read more about the specific composition of fats in coconut oil and its benefits here!

Researchers are now also exploring the possibility that the ketones found in coconut oil have slowed the progression of Alzheimer's disease in some people and may actually prevent it: Check out this amazing 5 minute video! Food really is medicine...

Coconut oil is also a great cooking oil because it has a very high smoke point and a delicate smooth, nutty flavor. I use it all the time when stir-frying (substitute it in place of your olive or canola oil) or creating the bases for sauces, especially anything spicy or curried. Try it in my Everyday Yellow Dal recipe!

I also carry a small jar in my purse to use in place of lotion when my hands, elbows, face and lips are feeling dry (just try not to eat yourself after you put it on!). I recommend finding a pure, raw and virgin coconut oil. It should be white and solid at room temperature, but melt to a clear liquid when it gets to be about 70 degrees or so.

Are you ready to try it? Or do you already use it? What do you love about coconut oil? What are your favorite ways to cook with it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Snacking 101

Imagine this: it's only two hours since you last ate and you're practically starving! You feel slow and tired, you're craving a muffin or cookie or soda or coffee or chips or .... Ok. Almost anything. I'm sure you're not a fan of sitting at your desk struggling to focus, feeling hazy and heavy midday at your computer. What's the deal? Why do I feel like a lump? And what the heck should I snack on to get back to feeling sharp, motivated and energetic?

Learning how to eat and snack well during the day can help prevent overeating later, will keep you focused and alert at work and play, and will keep you in a cheerful and optimistic mood. And who isn't happier feeling happier?

This feeling of sagging energy (which I find often sneaks up on me mid-afternoon) generally comes from having low blood sugar. We've had breakfast or lunch and our body has already used up what we've given it and is feeling LOW and SLOW. It's the time when my body most often is screaming for sugar. It's important to realize that what it really needs is energy, and sugar is only a quick fix that won't last you till the next meal.

Our bodies are excellent at quickly using sugar for energy - this is why we crave it when we're at our lowest. But it's also why eating a carb-heavy snack might only help us for the next 20 minutes before we're hungry again. Adding protein to your meals (first and foremost) and your snacks will help slow down your digestion of sugars, keep your blood sugar stable, and have you feeling satisfied and motivated for longer.

Here are some fun and simple snack ideas that have protein to keep you running:

- Almond or peanut butter with an apple, dates/dried fruit, sweet potatoes, rice cakes
- Ants on a log! (Ah, nostalgia in a snack: celery logs with peanut butter and raisins...)
- Hummus with carrots, peppers, cucumbers, celery, 100% whole grain pita/toast/crackers
- Organic plain yogurt with fruit, drizzle of honey, nuts, seeds
- Nuts and seeds with fruit (aka make your own trail mix!)
- Canned salmon or sardines on crackers, toast, or wrapped in lettuce
- Small amount of organic cheese with fresh fruit or veggies
- Edamame
- Smoothie with almond/nut butter, chia or flax seeds, cinnamon
- Leftover grains with a sprinkle of nuts/seeds, nutritional yeast
- Small piece of lean meat or fish with fresh cut veggies
- Bean burger or a falafel with pickles or sauerkraut
- Hard-boiled egg

Think ahead! If you know you get hungry at work and there won't be anything healthy available, pack a stash along with you. Making healthy choices can sometimes be all about forethought and knowing yourself and your needs.

What snacks do you love that keep you going? How do you keep yourself fueled?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dinner for One: Salmon Salad over Greens and Quinoa

Easy Dinner (or pack it for lunch) for One:

Salmon Salad over Steamed Kale and Leftover Quinoa
*feel free to substitute any steamed green and leftover grain

Steamed Kale (or other green): Wash and destem your kale, rip into smallish pieces and steam for about 3 minutes so that the leaves are still bright green but tender. Drain and lay on your plate as the base.

Leftover quinoa (or other grain): You made a double batch last night for dinner, remember? Ah, well it's a good trick for next time! If not, quinoa is the quickest option for a whole grain, as it only take about 20 minutes to prepare. Spoon about 1/2 cup (cold or warm) on top of your greens.

Basic Quinoa
1 cup quinoa : 2 cups water (or broth)

1. Using a fine mesh strainer, rinse quinoa with cool water until the water runs clear. (You MUST rinse quinoa to remove its natural dusty bitter coating.)

2. Combine with water in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil.

3. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to cook covered for 15 minutes, until all water is absorbed.

4. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes covered, fluff with a fork. Voila!

Salmon Salad: Drain one can of wild salmon and combine in a bowl with a spoonful of mayo, juice of at least half a lemon, black pepper and your choice of about 1 cup or more of finely chopped extras:
- celery
- carrots
- onion
- kale stems
- radishes (red, daikon, whatever)
- olives
- pickles
- apples
- soaked/softened seaweed
- bok choy
- avocado
...and whatever's in the fridge or that you can dream

I also love adding a splash olive brine/juice and olive oil into the mix. This salmon salad is also great with crackers or sliced rounds of daikon radish and a fresh green salad.