The Supplement Pyramid: a new book & giveaway

It’s a question I commonly get: “Do I really have to take supplements? I eat a healthy diet.” The simple answer is “yes.” In addition to eating a healthy diet.  True, my focus is on diet, and how to maintain and manage your health with real food, however, I agree with the reasoning outlined in this book, that depleted soil health, increased toxicity of our environment, daily stress, food additives and unavoidable processed food have worked together to create a situation in which it is nearly impossible to obtain all the nutrients your body would like on a daily basis. That’s where supplements come in.

The more complex answer involves the personalization of what and how much you should take.  The process of personalization can seem overwhelming, and indeed you are certain to come across misleading and conflicting information along the way. To try to simplify the process, I often recommend the Life Extension Foundation (LEF) for well-researched information as well as high quality products.  It is certainly not the only source of independent research and reliable information, but it is one (of several) I use both personally and professionally.

SupplementPyramid_book-500px

The Supplement Pyramid, written by Dr. Michael A. Smith, Senior Health Scientist with Life Extension Foundation, and Sara Lovelady, provides a very accessible, easy-to-read explanation of why supplements are necessary, and how to determine which ones are right for you.  The book includes numerous health quizzes so it doubles as a workbook to help with the personalization process.  The quizzes allow you to evaluate and reevaluate the best combination of supplements through out your life, since your ideal supplement package is likely to vary as you age and health conditions change.  It offers short discussions of many common health conditions (from diabetes to irritable bowel syndrome to cancer) with suggestions for supplements and blood tests to determine your personal needs. Later, the authors guide the reader through four case studies. The book concludes with two useful appendices: a list of eleven recommended nutritional supplement companies (including, but not limited to LEF), and a long list of recommend nutrients with online links for even more information.

Here’s a video sneak peek:

The pyramid structure takes into account three levels of importance when it comes to taking supplements: foundational, personal and optimal.  If you can’t take the full pyramid of supplements (for financial or other reasons), this format clearly illustrates which to forego first.

LEF supplement pyramid

The Supplement Pyramid effectively explains which supplements fall into the Foundational level (for everyone). The next chapter guides the reader through quizzes (personal history and medical evaluations) to determine which supplements best fit into your Personalization level. The final level is about health optimization.  It includes recommendations for supplements which could help you live longer and healthier, such as additional antioxidants, amino acids, or a newly discovered longevity herb.Build Your Pyramid
If you prefer information online, the book’s authors provide an accompanying website, My Supplement Pyramid, with nutrient information and health quizzes where you can take, store and retake (when necessary) your personal information digitally.

In this book, the pyramid shape provides a beneficial structure with which to organize and prioritize your personal supplement regimen. Following the recommendations found on its pages, may result in improved health and/or extended longevity in a solid, long-lasting way not unlike the ancient pyramids (although it is generally believed that pyramids served as monuments to the deceased).

Until recently, the pyramid format was also used by the USDA to help us assemble our meals in balanced combinations from the various food groups.  That graphic was updated to a plate (with the clear visual cue in place), in the hopes of encouraging greater numbers of people to make healthy eating choices. Even if you typically fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables (which, according to Smith, is only true for 1 in 10 Americans), it is still unlikely that all of your nutrient needs will be fully met. That is where this very readable guide brings the pyramid back to the table, and aids you in making the best choices for your dietary supplements.

Dr. Michael Smith has kindly given me a second book to offer as a giveaway.  This easily digestible, handy reference will be sent to one lucky reader (randomly chosen) who leaves a comment. We are eager to hear about your favorite supplement – the herbal or nutritional supplement you wouldn’t want to go without. I have two at the moment: kelp and chia seeds. Please share yours in the comments below, and good luck!

 

Life Extension Foundation sent me two free copies of this book through the Life Extension Blogger Program, with the understanding that I would read and review one and offer the second copy as a giveaway to my readers. The opinions in this piece are all mine.  Other than being a part of their Blogger Program, I am not affiliated with Life Extension Foundation, nor am I being compensated. 

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Kids Cook Monday: Very Veggie Lasagna

kcm lasagna

A vegetarian lasagna is often not much more than many layers of pasta and cheese. Tasty as that can be, it strikes me as a lot of work for essentially a variation on stove-top mac and cheese, and a missed opportunity to add color, texture and nutritional excitement in the form of vegetables. Therefore, for our most recent Kids Cook Monday cooking class* (in which my daughter and I cook a full meal with a class of adult-child cooking pairs), we made this lasagna which uses two sauces, one with greens and one with red and orange vegetables.

Preparation takes about 45 minutes, followed by a little over an hour of baking, making it a great family dinner project. Many hands make the chopping, stirring and assembly fun and easy, and the hour of oven time can be filled with salad and dessert making (those recipe posts coming up shortly).

Very Veggie Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, chopped and divided
  • 1 leek, washed and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced and divided
  • 1 tablespoon butter, divided
  • 1 sweet potato, grated
  • 1 jar basic tomato sauce (24 oz)
  • several hardy pinches of Italian spices
  • 16 oz frozen greens (or 1 lb fresh greens, such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, etc)
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • several grinds black pepper and nutmeg
  • 9 pieces oven-ready lasagna noodles
  • 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚.
  2. Place ½ tablespoon of butter in each of two skillets or sauce pans.
  3. Divide onions evenly between two pans, and sauté until soft and translucent.
  4. Add chopped leeks to one skillet (this will be the greens-ricotta pan).
  5. Divide minced garlic between two pans.kcm adding garlic
  6. Add sweet potato and ¼ cup of water to other pan (this will be the red sauce pan) and cook until soft.
  7. Drain the greens and squeeze out any excess liquid over the sink. Add greens to greens-ricotta pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, and turn heat off.
  8. Empty jar of tomato sauce into sweet potato mixture for the red sauce.  Add ¼ cup of water to jar, close lid, shake to combine with remaining sauce, and empty jar into pan again. Add Italian spices, and salt and pepper to taste.kcm red sauce
  9. Beat 2 eggs in medium-sized bowl, mix in ricotta cheese.  Pour into greens-ricotta pan.  Add salt, and several grinds of black pepper and nutmeg.kcm ricotta
  10.  Assembly:  In a 9×13 (or similar-sized) baking pan, layer:
  • ¾ cup red sauce
  • single layer of lasagna pasta (3 pieces)
  • ½ of greens-ricotta mixture
  • ¾ cup red sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • single layer of lasagna pasta (3 pieces)
  • remaining greens-ricotta mixture
  • ¾ cup red sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • single layer of lasagna pasta (3 pieces)
  • remaining red sauce
  • remaining shredded mozzarella cheesekcm assembly

11. Cover with aluminum foil and place in preheated oven. After 1 hour, remove foil to allow cheese on top to brown.  Bake for another 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

kcm lasagna 1

 

* For more on the Kids Cook Monday movement, be sure to visit the campaign’s website, pledge to enjoy dinner together as a family at least once a week, and enjoy the recipes posted on this site as part of the “Kids Cook Monday” series.

A “Painted Rooster” for Meatless Monday?

If you’ve been to Costa Rica, you’ve likely been welcomed with the typical tico (Costa Ricans’ pet name for themselves) dish, Gallo Pinto, meaning “painted rooster.”  A delicious and easy-to-make version of the classic vegetarian rice and beans (despite its name, there is absolutely no poultry involved), it is traditionally served for breakfast with an egg on top, but can, of course, be enjoyed any time of day.

Gallo Pinto

I had the life-enhancing opportunity to live in Costa Rica for a semester while in college.  I stayed with a host family, with a host mom who cooked and fed us well. Very well. One of the things I loved about her cooking is how one meal gracefully became the next.  I don’t know that she ever started from zero, because she always seemed to have something already prepared which she would elegantly refashion into something new. This seemed to happen intentionally and artfully, and not, as we in the US would call it, “having left-overs.”

Gallo Pinto is a perfect example. Rice (often cooked with a chopped red pepper) is a dinner staple, as are black beans (prepared with onions and garlic), commonly served along side meat or fish with vegetables and tortillas.  When you cook more rice and more beans than you will need for dinner, you are just minutes away from a delicious breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) the following day.

Gallo Pinto: Costa Rican Style Rice & Beans

It is often made in its simplest form: cooked rice, cooked black beans, onions and cilantro, served with Lizano sauce. I liked that my host mother generally added color, flavor and texture with a few additional vegetables. So, this is how I make it too.  Gracias, Doña Isabella, for all the wonderful meals while I lived in your home and for the lasting inspiration to recreate them.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups cooked rice*
  • 2 cups cooked black beans*
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or grape seed oil**
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Costa Rican Lizano sauce/salsa
  • several grinds salt and pepper to taste

serve with:

  • fresh cilantro
  • 1 egg per person, sunny-side up
  • more Lizano sauce

Method:

  1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened and translucent.
  2. Add pepper, sauté 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add corn and garlic.
  4. Add spices and sauces and mix thoroughly.
  5. Stir in rice and beans until mixture is heated through and well combined.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. In a separate skillet, fry one egg per person.
  8. Serve warm topped with an egg, and garnished with plenty of cilantro and additional sauces to taste.

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* Ideally, starting with dried bulk ingredients, soaked overnight or for several hours, and cooked separately.

** Two good oils to use for hot applications. Less stable oils mix with oxygen when heated. Oxidated oils can be very damaging to your health. The praised extra virgin olive oil is best used for dressings and other cold uses.

Cooking Dried Beans

beans-handful

  1. Select dried, locally grown and organic if possible.
  2. Soak under 2-3 inches of water overnight. Alternatively, bring pot of beans and water to a boil for 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and allow to soak for “quick soak” method.
  3. Drain soaking water, and rinse beans.
  4. Cover with fresh water in ratio of 1 cup beans to 3 cups water.
  5. Add small piece of kombu seaweed (2-3 inch piece) to cooking water to increase mineral content and digestibility (reduce potential gassiness). 
  6. Cook until soft, 45-60 minutes, scooping off foam if/when necessary.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste near the end of cooking time.
  8. Use in any bean recipe or freeze or refrigerate for later use.

Cooking Rice

  1. Select organic and locally grown if possible. Brown rice offers more nutrition than white.
  2. To increase nutritional availability and digestibility, soak grains overnight or at least for 2 hours before cooking.
  3. Drain soaking water, rinse until water runs clear, and cook rice in clean water in a ratio of 2 cups brown rice to 3 cups water and a good pinch of salt.
  4. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Keep pot covered while cooking. Brown rice will take about 45 minutes to cook.

Reboot with Joe: From Pharmacy to Farmacy

On Thanksgiving Day, with a freshly made vegetable juice in hand, Joe Cross gratefully declares, “I’m thankful that I got sick, because, if I hadn’t gotten sick, I would have had a heart attack and died.  It was my body’s way of telling me to slow down and get well.”

Now, two years later, Joe is not only fit, healthy and very much alive, but encouraging others (perhaps you too) to join him and get healthy.  His Reboot with Joe program provides free tools, inspiration, recipes and a community of film viewers who are inspired to follow in his footsteps. On the new site, you’ll find these impressive statistics.

As a result of seeing the documentary, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”:

  • 93 million glasses of fresh juice have been consumed,
  • 93,000 US tons of produce have been consumed,
  • More than 6.2 million pounds of weight have been lost,
  • And over 55,000 people are now medication free.
  • Furthermore, the film has been credited with driving the explosive growth in juicing in the past two years. In January 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that, “Appliance retailers say it has been hard to keep up with demand for juicers since (the film) hit Netflix, in July 2011.”

If you have not already seen the full movie, you can do so here.  The documentary quickly draws you into Joe’s juicy life-changing road trip.  A hundred pounds overweight, loaded up on steroids and suffering from a debilitating autoimmune disease, Joe had been a patient of six different doctors, to no avail, when he decided to resort to a healthy diet. To jump start a dramatic lifestyle change, he took himself out of his regular routine in Australia, and spent two months in the US drinking nothing by freshly squeezed juice, and getting better.

Juicing – not to be confused with mixing up orange juice from concentrate or any of the many juice drinks on supermarket shelves – super concentrates the nutrients of more fruits and vegetables than one could consume in a sitting by chewing. This type of cleanse gives the body a break from heavy digesting and metabolizing, while offering easily absorbable micronutrients and plenty of water for flushing and rehydrating. Looking back to our Paleolithic ancestors who often fasted as food was not always and everywhere available, it’s likely a routine to which we are well-suited. Nonetheless, in our modern lives, most of us have taken up fast food eating fast (as in quickly) instead.  And we have a health crisis to show for it.

Joe starts his healing journey with Dr Joel Fuhrman, who explains that “you don’t get permanently well, if you don’t permanently change your habits.”  With 61% of the American diet being processed, 30% animal products, 5% a white starch and only 5% fruits and vegetables, trading that in for quality time with fresh produce is a drastic change in the right direction.  One from which the less drastic, longer term lifestyle changes will follow.

Along the way, he meets a few people willing to give juicing a try.  One woman, who suffers from migraines, commits to a 10-day fast and enjoys headache-free living.  Joe also meets a truck driver with the same rare autoimmune condition he has. What starts as a chance meeting at a truck stop in Arizona, turns into a beautiful ripple effect story.  After this own healing in well under way, Joe returns to the US to become Phil’s (the truck driver) personal juice-maker and health coach.  Without spoiling too much, Phil, weighing in at 430 lbs and suffering from several painful chronic conditions, commits to vegetables and a juicer and comes out a clear winner.

Both Joe and Phil have powerful personal stories to tell, in which they were able to trade in their costly pharmaceutical prescriptions for farm-aceutical fruits and vegetables and go on to inspire countless others to do the same.  They later attended the same holistic nutrition program I did (Institute of Integrative Nutrition) and through health coaching and the Reboot with Joe program are now supporting many more to get healthy and enjoy life.

Have you tried a juice fast? How was your experience? We’d love to hear your stories and any juice recipes you would like to share. A randomly selected commenter will receive a Reboot with Joe bundle (The Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead DVDcompanion book and Reboot Nutrition Guide with recipes to help you get started juicing!).

Have You Tried Acai? (Sambazon Review & Giveaway)

Sambazon

Have you tried the much touted acai berry? It has been raved about for its impressive nutritional profile and for its ability to encourage weight loss.  Despite the abundant positive press, I had yet to give it a try.  The Sambazon company offers a full line of acai juice drinks, smoothies and frozen fruit products all with non-GMO, USDA organic, vegan and gluten-free labels. From their website, I learned their drinks come in ten different flavors and blends.  I was only able to find the original flavor in my local health food store, but I imagine larger markets will carry a wider selection.

Although I enjoyed the drink, I found it too thick and too sweet for regular drinking, but when I used it as the base of a slushie, I loved it!  Beyond the product, what really impressed me, is the vision, mission and practices of the company. Sambazon, whose name comes from the Sustainable Management of the Brazilian AmAZON, is thoroughly dedicated to socially and ecologically sustainable development in the Brazilian rainforest while bringing acai nutrition to the rest of the world.  According to their literature, they support two million acres of Amazon Rainforest and over 10,000 family farmers with their berry harvesting and juice making operation.  Their products are certified Organic as well as Fair-Trade.

Sambazon juice (which is not exactly pure acai juice, but a juice drink consisting of acai puree, water, agave, lime juice, natural flavors, soy lecithin, citric acid, and fruit and vegetables juice for color) straight from the bottle was thicker than I would have liked.  I would love to see the juices packaged in glass, as I picked up on the plastic aroma when drinking out of the bottle, and would prefer to move away from plastic packaging whenever possible.  The Acai Original was much sweeter than I think is necessary (or enjoyable). I poured my next bottle over ice, to test it chilled and to see how it reacted to a little watering down. I liked it better. Still finding it thicker than I would like, I realized it was ideal smoothie/slushie/sorbet material. A chilled nutrient-dense tropical berry refresher can be the perfect companion on a hot and humid afternoon, of which, I imagine, there are many in Brazil.

Acai Slushie

Pineapple-Acai Slushie:

In a blender, such as a Vitamix, blend 1 banana, 1 bottle of Sambazon Acai Original, 1/2 teaspoon bee pollen, 5 tablespoons pineapple juice concentrate, 1 single package (or 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds and about 15 ice cubes. Add vitamin supplements, if you wish (I added 2,000 IU of vitamin D and 2 probiotic capsules).  Run the blender until all the ingredients are mixed and the ice cubes have turned to slush.  An incredibly nutrient-filled, tasty and refreshing beverage awaits you.

Acai is celebrated for its high concentration of antioxidants (particularly anthocyanin, which the deep purple color would suggest), fiber and essential fatty acids. The Tropical Plant Database finds acai to be nutritious, but not quite the standout we have been led to believe.  Acai contains up to 4% protein, 25% sugar and trace amounts of calcium, phosphorous, iron, sulphur, vitamins B1, A and E.
A bottle of Sambazon juice contains 10.5 fluid ounces. The serving size and corresponding nutrition facts, however, are for a serving size of 8 ounces.  Something to be aware of if you are checking the label for calorie or sugar counts.  Make sure to add roughly a third more to the numbers if you consume a bottle.

To visit Sambazon online, there’s the company website and their facebook page (including a $1.50 off coupon) and in California, there are now two Sambazon Cafes along the Pacific Coast Highway.  Built according to strict ecological design guidelines, the company’s commitment to doing business sustainably continues. Pull up a chair to a long table (made from reclaimed wood and metal), slide your spoon into a typical Amazonian “acai bowl” of fruit and granola, and allow the rush of nutrients and tropical flavors to sink in.

Or, bring the taste of Brazil to you!  Post a comment below, and one lucky winner (US residents only) will receive three free product vouchers (coupons) plus one of these beautiful wooden bowl and spoon sets (a $45 value). A random drawing will be held on June 30, 2013.

Have you tried acai?  Did you like it?  Any particular products or recipes you would recommend?

Sambazon bowl

Disclaimer: I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer.  As a Moms Meet Blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.  For more information about Moms Meet, go to http://www.greenmomsmeet.com or join the social media conversation using #momsmeet.

Have a Beet in Your Roots?

Beets- farmers marketTo eat locally and seasonally, it is often assumed that making it through the winter is challenging.  True, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers are missing, but they are easily replaced by pantry shelves full of canned tomatoes, sauces, ketchup, chutneys and pickles while the freezer holds, among many things, frozen whole tomatoes, and all produce which stores well is comfortably tucked away.  It is spring that is sparse. Yesterday I used my last two pie pumpkins and butternut squash from last summer and made a note to grow more this season in an effort to make it through not just the cold seasons, but all the way to the following harvest.

Fortunately, my root drawers are not yet empty.  So beets, turnips, carrots, kohlrabi, celeriac, rutabaga, etc, often associated with fall cuisine, are actually common ingredients in our spring and early summer meals, increasingly paired with fresh new greenery.

Growing beet

Today, we’re having beets.  According to The Secret Life of Food, the name “beet” comes from the French bête, meaning beast.  Apparently, early cooks, alarmed at the bright red color beets turn their cooking water, were reminded of bleeding animals, and labeled these roots “beasts”.

Beets, which come in shades from the common deep red to golden yellow and even white, are full of valuable nutrition.  They are often used for blood cleansing, liver and kidney support (commonly included in juice fasts).  They are great sources of vitamins A, C and B-complex, folate (particularly in raw beets), manganese, iron, potassium and antioxidants polyphenol and betalain (a powerful, recently recognized nutrient, prevalent in red beets).  Additionally, they exhibit an enviable combination of low calorie, high sweet and very low glycemic index.

With all of this going for them, it’s hard to believe that beets used to be relegated to animal feed. Originally they grew wild in North Africa and in coastal areas in Europe and Asia. People first became interested in their nutritious greens. Early Romans started cultivating the full plant and prepared the roots by cooking them in honey and wine (which I had to try, recipe below) and today cooks worldwide prepare them in many different ways.

roasted beets

roasted beets 2

Roasted Beets: my favorite way to prepare beets. With very little prep work, you fill your 400˚ oven, and let the beets cook themselves until done (45 minutes or so).  The flavor is rich using this cooking method and nutrients are better preserved than when cooking beets in water.  Once roasted, they peel easily, and quickly become salads, soups and stew additions, can be puréed and even incorporated into baked goods.

Drinkable Beets. Beet juice is often used in cleanses for its ability to nourish the blood.  You can add digestive and immune support by fermenting the juice into beet kvass.  Or enjoy a quick smoothie by adding milk to a puréed beet soup, such as Red Velvet Borscht.

Red Velvet Soup

Baked Beets, either as a purée of roasted beets or grated raw ones, they can easily be included in baked goods. This is not an original idea, but deserves as much publicity as it can get.  They combine particularly well with chocolate, and add a bit of natural sweetness, rich color and antioxidants to your treats, such as in Choco-Beet Muffins. Or whirl a beet into hot chocolate (mix puréed beet into your warming mixture on the stove or if making Mexican-style cocoa, toss a roasted beet into the jar of the blender or vitamix).

Roman beetsRoman beets 4

Ancient Roman Recipe. Absolutely delicious!

  • 1 bunch red beets
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Cook unpeeled beets in a sauce pan with enough water to cover them, bring to a boil and cook until soft. Allow to cool and peel. Cut into small pieces.

Melt butter in the sauce pan, add wine and honey and allow to warm while mixing.  Add beets and keep on a low simmer until about half the liquid has evaporated.  Beets in this sauce are simply heavenly.

Color it red:  The deep pigments of beets are related to their antioxidant health benefits, and they generously share their beautiful hue with just about anything in their vicinity such as pasta, mashed potatoes, pancakes, smoothies, etc… and your hands.

If you have fresh beets with the greens attached, you have the makings of a complete package. The colors and nutrients of the greens compliment those of the roots, so whenever possible use both ends in a the same recipe (in salads, pasta dishes, a vegetable side dish) or in the same meal.

Speaking of both ends, should beet’s red color pass through your system and out the other side, don’t be alarmed – remember that you recently ate beets, and that you have a common condition called “beeturia.”

Heart Healthy Month….Year

For the love of soup

February offers a variety of hardy eating opportunities, with Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras and those snack-filled tv nights in front of the Superbowl or the Oscars. In addition to these occasions for special feasts, February is also Heart Healthy Month. So while chocolates and candy tend to our hearts symbolically this month, the following foods will help keep it healthy and strong all year long.

A key heart-healthy nutrient is omega-3 fatty acids.  What’s important about these essential fatty acids is that you obtain them in the correct ratio of omega 3, 6 and 9.  Since the typically Western diet is (overly) abundant in omega-6, the simplified nutrition advice is add omega-3s to your diet.

Though they vary somewhat depending on their source, omega-3s can be obtained from both animal and plant foods. Some of the richest sources include wild Alaskan salmon (farmed salmon does not offer the same benefit), tuna and other cold-water fish, pasture-raised meat, organic grass-fed dairy and organic pastured eggs.  Good plant-based sources include flaxseed (which should be ground in order to enjoy their nutritional goodness), other nuts and seeds, and purslane.

BB Brownies- heart

Beans are a great source of plant-based, nutrient-dense, fiber-rich, inexpensive heart support. Adding beans to salads, soups, stews, making dips and spreads for sandwiches, (and making heart-shaped black bean brownies) allows you to enjoy bountiful fiber (good for cholesterol-lowering and blood sugar balancing), folate, manganese, magnesium, and very low-fat protein. Soy bean products, such as tofu, tempeh and natto offer similar benefits.

Whole grains such as brown rice, oat groats, wheat berries, amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa provide beneficial fiber, B vitamins, and minerals such as magnesium, manganese, selenium and potassium.  Be aware of the growing selection of supermarket packages claiming “whole grain” status.  The best nutrition comes from grains which are indeed whole.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly the large array of colorful ones (broccoli, spinach, winter squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries, papaya, cantaloupe, etc.) contain heart-healthy antioxidants which help protect blood vessels and lower blood pressure.

Black and green tea contain some of the same healthful antioxidants.

Tip 4- green tea

There are several established heart-healthy diets, such as Dr. Andrew Weil’s Anti-inflammatory diet, which suggests many of the same foods, since inflammation is a leading cause of heart and blood vessel issues.

Dr. Esselstyn claims his no-oil, plant-based approach will leave you “heart attack proof.” Former President Bill Clinton adopted this diet after his heart surgery.

The Dr. Dean Ornish Spectrum also recommends a mostly plant-based, very low oil diet, but is not quite as strict.

And to keep things interesting, a new study shines the light on a more Mediterranean-style diet, including a significant daily helping of olive oil, nuts and fatty fish for optimal heart health.

What these dietary programs (and this is by no means a complete list) have in common is a focus on fresh whole foods with a high intake of vegetables and fruit, and very low (if any) consumption of processed and sweetened foods. Unless you find the most recent study definitive, the amount and type of animal foods (meat, fish, eggs and dairy products) as well as the amount of oil in a heart-healthy diet seems to still be keeping researchers busy.

So Long Salmon?

IMPORTANT UPDATE:  as reported by the Food Revolution Network:

“The FDA has been overwhelmed with more than a million comments and petition signers, many of them stressing massive health, environmental, and ethical concerns. Faced with such a deluge of response, the FDA decided this issue was hot enough that it warranted further examination, and has officially extended the comment period for another two months. “

This is an unusual opportunity to have your voice heard.  The public comment period has been extended until April 26, 2013. 

We spent Christmas Eve around a long dining room table at our friends’ house immersed in the abundance of a Seven Fishes Feast: seven courses of fish, followed by a dessert lasting until almost midnight is a marvelous way to welcome Christmas Day. I prepared the sides and helped serve the third course: smoked salmon (delicious, and highly nutritious, wild Alaskan salmon) with potato-celeriac-sunchoke mash, red and green cabbage slaw, and a caviar-creme fraiche dip.  While I was busy cooking, the FDA moved a step closer to approving genetically engineered salmon.

What we stand to gain from genetically modified (or GM) salmon is faster growing fish ready for market and consumption in about half the current time, as illustrated by the following image from Science Progress.

What we stand to lose includes unknown impacts to human health, wild ocean ecosystems and remaining wild salmon species.  Unlike existing GM foods (corn, soy and canola among the more common), against which there are plenty of objections, the genetic manipulation of a wild animal introduces new and additional concerns: the possible escape from farm enclosures and contamination of the wild population; untested health implications for the fish, oceanic ecosystems and human consumers; and the precedent for further manipulation of animals and other wild species.

Nevertheless, after a preliminary investigation, the FDA (the federal Food and Drug Administration) found GM salmon, produced by AquaBounty Technologies of Massachusetts, to pose “no significant threat,” and moved it closer to full approval.

Senator Mark Begich (a Democrat from Alaska) called the FDA’s findings a joke, saying, “I will fight tooth and nail with my Alaska colleagues to make sure consumers have a clear choice when it comes to wild and sustainable versus lab-grown science projects… People want to know they are eating natural, healthy, wild salmon.” Republican Representative Don Young called the FDA’s decision “foolish and disturbing.”

The “finding of no significant impact” or FONSI focused only on environmental questions, since in 2010, the FDA had already declared Frankenfish “as safe as food from conventional salmon.” The full report on the human health impacts can be read here.  The environmental assessment, released on December 26, 2012, will be available for public comment for just 60 days.

Despite increasing public concern surrounding both the human health and ecological implications of genetically altering species, the Organic Consumers Association explains that “the FDA considers any genetically altered animal a “new animal drug” for approval purposes. That means the genetically modified animal – in this case a salmon intended as food for humans – is subjected to a less rigorous safety review than if it were classified as a food (for humans) additive.”

Unlike conventionally farmed salmon*, the GM fish would start as fertilized eggs in Canada. The all female population would then be transported to an inland tank facility in Panama where they would be grown to maturity, processed into filets and shipped to US markets.

As with other genetically modified foods, the US does not require any labeling, so when buying or ordering salmon, the consumer would not know if the fish is wild, conventionally farmed, or GM farmed. A poll conducted by Thompson Reuters and National Public Radio found that 93% of Americans would like all GM foods labeled and that only 35% would be willing to eat GM fish.

There are numerous ecological and healthy reasons to be concerned.  Monterey Bay Seafood WatchFood and Water Watch and Food Poisoning Bulletin are excellent resources for additional information about seafood safety.  To speak out against GM salmon, visit The Center for Food Safety’s GE Fish Campaign to sign petitions urging the FDA and Congress to stop genetically engineered fish.  You can also add your name to the Organic Consumers Association‘s petition against GM fish.

Interested in filling your freezer with freshly caught, wild Alaskan salmon? There are several online companies which sell directly to the consumer. I often order from Great Alaska Seafood (and recommend joining their mailing list to enjoy special pricing).

If approved, would you eat it?  Or would you avoid salmon all together, since it wouldn’t be labeled and wild sources may become contaminated?  Will the bagel with lox be lost?

* It is worth making the distinction between conventionally farmed and wild salmon.  While wild salmon feed mostly on highly nutritious krill, providing Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and other difficult to find antioxidants, and contributing to the fishes’ naturally vibrant pink color as well as heart, brain and anti-inflammatory benefits for the consumer, farmed salmon is feed everything from wild fish (sometimes more fish than it produces) to corn and soy (safe to assume of the GM variety), turning the fish an unappealing shade of grey, which is then corrected with red food coloring. Instead of containing the desired Omega-3 fatty acids, farmed salmon often contains more Omega-6s, which generally trigger inflammation. You may want to read this, if you eat farmed salmon.

Sharing a Superfood Breakfast

I love getting new ideas, great recipes and most importantly inspiration from blogs. Nourishing Words is one of those.  I’ve been a subscriber for some time, and always look forward to a new post.  On this snowy, icy morning without power or internet, Eleanor’s post on her Super Superfood Breakfast seems like just the thing to keep me going today and throughout the winter months to come.  I hope it inspires (and nourishes) you as well.

A Super Superfood Breakfast

Originally published on December 3, 2012 by Eleanor Baron of Nourishing Words.

Superfood Breakfast Ingredients

When is good good enough? When it comes to nourishing our bodies, it makes sense to eat high-quality food—the best. Nutritionists agree that skimping on breakfast is a bad thing. When we rush out the door without breakfast, by mid-morning, we’re hungry, cranky, light-headed or worse. Developing a reliable breakfast routine is one of the basic building blocks of a healthy day.

I’ve long been fascinated by the so-called “superfoods.” Foods that pack so much nutrition that they’re set apart from other foods, by virtue of having something special to contribute to building health. The term itself has no legal meaning, and some say it’s become a useless marketing term. I use it here to loosely refer to any densely nutritious food that contributes to building health or preventing illness. No matter which foods are on the list or not on the list (there are many lists), it’s a challenge to figure out how to fit more healthy foods into the day.

Breakfast is the perfect opportunity to load up.

In warmer weather, I whiz up a remarkably good green or fruit smoothie, loaded with kale, fresh berries, flax seed, hemp seed and more to get me off to a good start. Come autumn, my tolerance for holding an ice-cold smoothie drops in direct proportion to the outside temperature.

Frosty Oak Leaf

It’s time to turn to something more warming. Something aromatic and comforting. Something hearty. Something with a good amount of protein and that will sustain me into the early afternoon.

Here’s a peek at my go-to winter breakfast routine.

Imagine me, in my fluffy sheepskin slippers, flannel pajamas, a fleece (or two) and a thick wool cap. I’ve made my way down the stairs, with a clatter of eight paws behind me, around me and in front of me. Out to the back porch I go, freeing the dogs for their morning constitutional and other wake-up routines—all of which, I must say, they embrace with more gleeful enthusiasm than I’ve ever been known to muster first thing in the morning. This gives me a few moments to breathe in the cold air, greeting the day with my sleepy version of a sun salutation—at least the part of it that keeps me upright.

Inside again, where the previously chilly-feeling house now feels toasty, I feed the dogs while water boils for a cup of green tea, which is to be my first superfood of the day.

The night before, if I remembered, I would have soaked a quarter cup of steel cut oats in warm water, covering it with a dish towel and tucking it away on top of the fridge. Soaking softens the oats up for cooking and removes the phytic acid, which inhibits mineral absorption in the body. It’s an easy step, well worth taking, that potentially doubles the minerals my body absorbs from that one serving of oatmeal. (Soaking grains in general is a good thing, but more on that, later.)

Oats are available in at least three different forms, from thick and chunky to thin and flaky. Steel cut oats are whole oats (known as groats), just cracked up into little chunks. They’re very hard and would be impossible to chew uncooked. Rolled oats are simply flattened groats, and they also retain all the goodness of the original grain. Quick oats are further processed and lack the bran portion of the grain. And the stuff that comes in little sweetened packets? Quick oats with flavors and plenty of sugar added.

Steel cut oats take about 30 minutes to cook. Some people cook them overnight in a crockpot, but I’m cooking for one and have an aversion to electrical gadgets, rendering the crockpot option clearly overkill. Because I mostly avoid dairy products, I cook my oats with a lot of extra water, making the finished product super soupy. (Soupy is necessary to handle the ground flax seed and chia seeds that will come later. Such thirsty ingredients will greedily pull water from my body if I don’t offer it to them first.)

I prefer steel cut oats because of their flavor, chewiness and the way they sustain me through the morning, but they’re also a healthy choice, although not a true super food. They’re rich in soluble fiber and have been proven to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure. They take a little longer to digest than rolled oats (which take just ten minutes or so to cook), but are otherwise about the same nutritionally. Steel cut oats have a considerably lower glycemic index than quick (instant) oats, however (42 versus 65), helping to avoid an early morning spike in blood sugar. One quarter cup serving of steel cut oats (dry) is worth 5 grams of protein—but that amount increases with all the ingredients I stir in later.

The Bowl

By the time I’ve finished my tea and checked my morning email, my oats are close to cooked. Now comes the fun part, creating a veritable compost heap of superfoods. To start, I grind up a couple of tablespoons of golden flax seed in the blender and pop it into my beautiful blue hand-thrown bowl that, to most people, looks way too big for a breakfast bowl. It may indeed be too big, but it gives me pleasure to hold it, and sensual pleasure is an important aspect of eating.

This is my current favorite heap of ingredients, some of which pack enough nutritional punch to qualify them as superfoods:

  1. 2 tablespoons of ground golden flax seeds (an excellent source of fiber as well as the short chain omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid, plus 3 more grams of protein) Read this post if you want to learn more about why flax seed is a true superfood.
  2. 2 teaspoons of chia seeds (adds fiber, healthy omega-3 fatty acids and 1 more gram of protein)
  3. 1 rounded tablespoon of hemp seeds (fiber, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, including alpha linoleic acid and 4 grams of additional protein)
  4. shredded coconut (high in vitamins, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants; rich in fiber)
  5. 1 tablespoon of fresh virgin coconut oil (a healthy fat with easy to metabolize medium-chain fatty acids; coconut oil’s lauric acid converts to monolaurin in the body, a powerful antiviral, antibacterial compound)
  6. a few almonds (cholesterol lowering, heart-healthy fats and another 2 or so grams of protein)
  7. two pieces of fresh fruit, chopped (sometimes just one)
  8. a few fresh cranberries, because they’re in season locally at this time of year (cranberries are loaded with antioxidants, making them the most powerful fruit at scavenging free radicals in the body, protecting cells against cancerous changes)
  9. lots of cinnamon (lots!—it lowers bad cholesterol and blood sugar, soothes arthritis pain—just smelling it boosts memory and cognitive function)
  10. a splash of maple syrup, if the fruits were tart ones or I need a little sweetening up.

Stirring in the soupy oats, the coconut oil (solid at room temperature) melts, the cinnamon releases its fragrance, the flax seed and chia seeds soak in the extra liquid, and it all generally mixes together to perfect porridge. If including coconut oil in the mix seems strange to you, I can assure you that it disappears beautifully, leaving just an additional hint of coconut flavor and, more importantly, a bit of healthy fat that makes this a filling, sustaining breakfast.

Oatmeal with Superfoods

The combination of soft and crunchy textures, along with contrasting sweet and tart flavors, makes it all more interesting than the average bowl of oatmeal. The combined nutritional power of so many superfoods in one bowl makes me feel like I’m giving my body the very best start to the day. I’m a lifelong oatmeal lover; this blend is delicious and keeps me going for hours. It’s a good breakfast.

It’s fun to shake things up now and then with other breakfast choices, but this is my reliable routine during the colder months. It’s plenty flexible to accommodate any ingredients I have on hand, and it always satisfies.

I’ll keep working on that sun salutation. Who knows, there might even be a downward dog in my future, if I can squeeze a few more superfoods into my diet.

Ginnie

Confetti Frittata

confetti frittata slice

The following recipe was developed for the Hunger Free Vermont Learning Kitchen.  A fantastic program which not only provides education and advocacy around the issues of hunger and food insecurity, but also offers hands-on cooking classes to help support the health and nutrition of families in the program.

This frittata was created with my children, as a quick, colorful and healthful meal, with plenty of room for flexibility. There is no need to make a special grocery store trip (or purchase) if you don’t have a carrot, a zucchini, or a particular type of cheese. The bright, healthy and tasty result can be created with just about any combination of differently colored vegetables (which are grated for maximum enjoyment by most children, and for the “confetti” effect), and can gracefully host left-overs as well.

Confetti Frittata

  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 zucchini, grated
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 (or more) garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pepper and/or nutmeg to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • a sprinkling of fresh or dried herbs (optional)

Method:

  1. Grate vegetables and set aside (or gather up some youthful help and a box grater).
  2. Warm skillet and melt 1 tablespoon butter.
  3. Sauté onion unit soft; add carrot, zucchini and garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a med-sized bowl, beat eggs, add milk, salt, pepper and/or nutmeg.
  5. Pour egg mixture over sautéed vegetables, turn the heat to low and cover to allow to cook. When top is almost set, sprinkle on herbs (if using) and grated cheese and cover until melted.
  6. Cut into wedges and serve with a fresh salad and/or toast, pasta, potatoes, etc.

If you are interested in more simple, healthy, affordable recipes, Hunger Free Vermont has a recipe section, and the Facebook It’s a SNAP community page is a good place for sharing recipes and planning healthy meals using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.