Food & Cooking

Build a Balanced Meal

It’s smart to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet and skip the processed food. But can you eat too many plant-based foods? On the other hand, can you eat too much protein or fat? Balance is crucial to avoid metabolic disorders, hormone disruption, blood sugar disruption, and disease.

How Many Vegetables is Enough?

Americans don’t get nearly the quantity of vegetables they should, so more than likely, you’re going to be adding, not subtracting! Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables – both raw and cooked. Raw vegetables will have more vitamins and enzymes, but cooked vegetables will be more digestible and their minerals will be more bio-available. Don’t count starchy ones, like corn, peas, and potatoes. They come under carbohydrates. But do prepare an array of colors – oranges, yellow, purple, red, and green. Pick a variety of vegetables that represent different parts of the plant, such as these:

  • Shoots and stalks:sprouts, asparagus, celery
  • Leaves: lettuces, chard, spinach, beet greens, mustard leaf
  • Buds and flowers: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, artichoke
  • Fruits:green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, squashes, eggplant
  • Roots: turnips, beets, rutabaga, parsnips, onions, garlic, carrots

Can I Get Sufficient Protein on a Vegan Diet?

Protein is tricky. It musn’t be too much or too little, but must be just right – like the porridge in Goldilock’s story. An excess of protein can cause gout and kidney disease. But because protein is what provides the building blocks for your body, if you don’t have enough, you have trouble making hemoglobin (blood cells), hormones (including thyroid), antibodies (to fight disease) and enzymes (the catalysts for every process from digesting to growing.) Even detoxification requires protein.

So try to make 25% of your calories, or at least 1/4 of your plate, protein. Women ought to target 20 grams per meal as a minimum and men would be well-served with at least 30 grams per meal. Those who don’t eat animal products should make a conscientious effort to add up their protein. Yes, quinoa is a high-protein “grain”. But it’s still 4/5 carbohydrate (32 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams protein). The same is true for most legumes. While they contain protein, they are around 75% carbohydrate. One of the best plant proteins would be spirulina, at 2 grams carbohydrate and 4 grams protein per tablespoon. Tofu also rates high in protein – but the processed soy is another story completely!

What is Carb-Loading?

While there are essential fatty acids that the body cannot make and essential amino acids that can only be derived from proteins in the diet, there are no essential carbohydrates. But being carb-free isn’t the answer either, as grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables all have vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that the body thrives on. The key is to focus on eating carbohydrates in their whole form, as close to nature as possible. Avoid refined sugar, white flour, and other processed forms of carbohydrate. Afterall, real foods don’t come with a label!

If more than 50% of your calories are coming from carbohydrate, you are robbing your body of its need for proteins and fats. I believe that most individuals do very well with no more than 1/4 of their plate coming from starchy carbs: whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables. So don’t load up, here!

But Go Easy on the Fat, Right?

Not exactly. Fat is the primary fuel source for your marathoning heart, and the very substance of your brain cells. If you don’t have enough fat, there isn’t a single cell in your body that won’t suffer as it tries to build the membrane around itself that lets nutrients in and siphons wastes out. While carbohydrates provide quick energy, fats provide sustained energy. Be sure to include both saturated and unsaturated types in your diet. But avoid hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated and trans-fats at all costs! Be wary of processed oils that may already be oxidized and rancid. It’s best to stick with unrefined and cold-pressed varieties, especially with those oils that are liquid at room temperature.

A general rule of thumb is to eat a couple of teaspoons of fat for every fist-ful of carbohydrate and palm-ful of protein.

You can learn more about balancing your macronutrients in this class.

Pretty Papaya Pudding

Oh, what a treat to find a perfectly ripe papaya at the market! Naturally sweet, these make a delightful dessert without adding sugar! This no-cook version is a cinch. It will be soft set and ready to eat in 5 minutes.

Simple Pudding Ingredients

1 whole papaya, peeled and seeded

1″ fresh ginger root, finely grated

1 c. full-fat coconut milk

3 Tb. chia seed

Extravagant Pudding Ingredients

All ingredients above

1 c. fresh or frozen berries

water

1/8 tsp. cardamom

1 tsp. lime juice

Directions

Blend fruit, grated ginger and coconut milk until smooth. Mix in chia seed until evenly distributed. Pour into dessert dishes and serve immediately, or for a thicker set, refrigerate an hour or more.

For the extravagant topping, place berries in a saucepan and add water until they are 2/3 covered. Bring to a simmer, stirring and mashing until you have a jam-like consistency. Remove from heat and stir in cardamom and lime. Cool and spoon over pudding.

Why Does Stress Make Me Crave?

Stress. Even the word itself sounds, er, uh…stressful! You immediately conjure images of family quarrels, financial problems, road emergencies, sleep deprivation, a difficult boss, or life-sucking disease. But no matter the source, stress is a voracious monster that has a lust for only one victim: Energy. To mobilize…to escape… to ward off danger…to survive.

And whose job is it to supply the sacrificial lamb to this beast? The adrenals, those tiny glands atop the kidneys, best known for their production of adrenaline and cortisol. Instantly, they send out their fleet-footed messengers to recruit fuel for the energy factories in the body – those tiny mitochondria inside each cell. They sound the alarm for oxygen and food to be delivered promptly.

The bronchioles in the lungs dilate, the pulse quickens, all the better to ferry the goods to their destination. Digestion, reproduction, and other “non-essential” functions grind to a halt. All attention must be focused on responding to the demon’s demand.

The couriers dash to the liver to scrape up all the glycogen stores that can be converted to glucose – the quickest food that can be lapped up in such an emergency. They race to the muscle tissue to coax fatty acid and amino acid conversion into glucose. But inevitably, they sprint to the brain, where the commander-in-chief demands that rations be confiscated from outside the camp.  You receive an unquestionable order: Eat! Eat now! Eat quick!

No long-burning logs will stoke the fire soon enough. You need kindling! Intuitively, you seek carbohydrates that can be transformed into glucose rapidly. A fiber-ful bundle of buttered asparagus doesn’t quite pass muster. But ice cream – now, that sounds fine!

Two Keys to Kill Your Cravings

Outwitting your cravings will require clever strategy. Implement these assertive tactics:

  • Fight the stress itself! Instead of letting urgent bids take your attention, re-focus on the moment. Ascertain that you are actually okay – you are alive and functioning – then reprogram your breathing, your mindset, and your sensory input through deliberate, mindful exercises. (Check out our Stress Hacks class.) You can choose to respond from a place of peace.
  • Fuel up before the energy crisis. Having adequate amino acids from healthy protein, and plentiful fatty acids from natural, unrefined fats will guard against energy deficits. Make sure, especially, that your first meal of the day will meet your metabolic needs. It has been suggested that no less than 20 grams of protein are needed in the morning to establish your metabolism for the day. So if you want waffles or cereal, save them for dinner. Instead, try some Fisherman’s Eggs for breakfast! Rich in Omega 3’s, this dish is protective of those energy factories, your mitochondria.

Fisherman’s Eggs

2 Tb. coconut oil or unrefined red palm oil

1/2 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 package of frozen vegetables, optional (or any fresh ones, such as bell peppers, artichoke hearts, or asparagus)

1 can wild-caught sardines packed in olive oil

2 pastured eggs

Preheat oven to 350°. Using an oven-proof skillet, saute the onion, garlic and optional vegetables over medium heat in oil until soft. Add sardines to the pan. Gently crack the eggs over the mixture. Transfer skillet to the oven and cook until the eggs are soft-set, approximately 10 minutes.

A Little Indulgence

Boycotting refined flour and sugar doesn’t mean you must live a spartan life! Being healthy certainly includes joyful connection with family and friends over delicious and nourishing food. Why not replace low quality treats with something better? Deprivation only instills resentment and drives cravings.

Since brownies were once my downfall – the food that triggered my bingeing and was the gateway to my sugar addiction – I have chosen to give them a healthy makeover. Enjoy!

Ingredients

1/2 c. yam or sweet potato, cooked and mashed

1 c. almond, cashew, sesame, or sunflower seed butter

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1 egg

1/4 c. pure maple syrup or honey

1/2 c. cocoa or carob powder (I find carob less bitter)

1 tsp. vanilla

 

Beat the yam, nut/seed butter, salt, and cinnamon together until smooth. Add the egg, syrup, cocoa powder, and vanilla. Mix well, until batter is evenly colored and no lumps remain. Scoop into a sprayed or greased 9×9″ pan. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes. Don’t eat the whole pan!

Easy-Peasy Probiotics

Do you think of pills when you hear the word “probiotics”? Perhaps you envision yogurt. Or sauerkraut. So, if I told you to eat your probiotics every day – for life – you’d probably roll your eyes at me.

Probiotics Help with Cravings, Stress and Fatigue

The microbes in your gut are really a kind of organ that aids digestion, boosts immunity, manufactures vitamins, and communicates with your brain. The kinds of foods you eat influence the kinds of strains that live in your digestive system, and the kinds of strains that inhabit your body, in turn, influence the types of foods you crave, the emotional responses you feel, and the optimal wellness you attain. To feel better, most Americans need to boost their probiotic populations in both diversity of strains and sufficiency of each strain.

Probiotics Can Be Condiments At Every Meal

From kimchi to pickled beets, and from miso to capers, foods have been naturally preserved with probiotic cultures for centuries, with almost every society having vegetables, dairy products, or beverages that were probiotically active – until the industrialized age, when food preservation techniques changed to involve heat processing and sealing. Today, you can buy Gherkins and herring that aren’t actually pickled. You need to look for the words “live active cultures,” “on the label to know that you are getting a product that actually contains beneficial living organisms.

But while soy sauce and giardiniera may be mass produced today without adding helpful bacterial strains, you can easily turn your kitchen into a laboratory for probiotics without any fancy equipment. Some vegetables, a few mason jars, and some sea salt are all you will need to begin making your own active foods.

Then you can whir them into smoothies, dress up your meats, complement your salads, and enliven your desserts. Some of my favorites are Dilly Beans, Gingered Carrots, and Creme Fraiche.

One of my preferred sites for recipes is Cultures for Health. Traditional Cooking School also has some great resources. Below is a very simple, family-friendly recipe for gingered carrots that comes from Firefly Kitchens. Firefly’s recipe book, Fresh and Fermented, uses a few simple sauerkraut variations to make everything from peanut sauce for chicken satay to strawberry salsa for your fish fry.

But the gingered carrots are a good place to start because even children love these crispy, tangy shreds on their salads.

Yin Yang Carrots

8 c. (about 2 lbs.) coarsely grated carrots

6 teaspoons sea salt

2-4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

Put the carrots in a large bowl and sprinkle them with the salt. Use your hands to thoroughly work the salt into the carrots. When the carrots have shrunk down to about half their original volume and have generated a briny, watery base, taste and add more salt or water if necessary. Add 2 teaspoons ginger, making sure it’s evenly distributed throughout. Taste and add additional ginger if stronger flavor is desired.

Pack the carrots tightly into a quart jar until they’re about 2 inches below the rim, pressing them down until the juices completely cover the compressed carrots by about an inch.  You may need to weigh the carrots down with a small glass object or even a sterile rock. Add the lid to the jar, not so tightly that gasses cannot escape, and leave at room temperature for about a week. If needed, add more liquid to keep carrots covered (using a ratio of 1 1/4 tsp. salt for every cup of water). When flavor has developed to your liking, transfer to refrigerator and store for up to 6 months.

Savory or Sweet: Breakfast the Nutrient Dense Way

I’m a “cereal killer.” You could say my vendetta is to avenge the health wrongs instigated by the refined carbohydrate breakfasts of the American people: enriched flour waffles and pancakes drenched in maple-flavored high-fructose corn syrup; shortening-filled, baseball-size muffins and donuts; insulin-triggering juices; and energy-zapping cereals that create alternating waves of high and low blood sugars in the body.

If you look at non-westernized cultures, their breakfasts look the same as their lunches as dinners: an appealing blend of raw and cooked produce dressed in natural unrefined fats, paired with slow-burning whole starches (like plantains, cassava and brown rice) and wild-caught or traditionally raised animal products.

With the two recipes below, courtesy of the Nutritional Therapy Association, you can return to eating that is in harmony with your physiology. You can satisy your appetite for sweet or savory while eating an optimal balance of carbs, fats, and proteins that won’t send your energy dipping, your blood sugars soaring, and your health plummeting.

Savory Kale and Hemp Salad

The apple cider vinegar marinade makes this massage kale salad as tender as if it had been cooked, while still retaining all of the live enzymes. Serve it with egg and avocado for a well-rounded breakfast.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch dinosaur kale, washed, thick part of stem removed, and cut in chiffonade (fine ribbons)
  • 1 tsp unrefined salt
  • 2 tsp raw apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp hemp seeds
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

Place kale in bowl and add salt. Using your hands, massage the salt into the kale. Almost immediately, the kale softens. Continue for 1-3 minutes. The longer you massage, the softer the kale becomes, acting as if it is cooked. As when you cook greens, the volume reduces greatly. You will create a deep green sauce as well from the massaging technique.

Then add raw apple cider vinegar and toss. Add hemp seeds and toss. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil and add chopped tomatoes. Toss once more and serve.

Sweet Omega 3 Smoothie

Spring is all about enjoying the abundance of fresh produce available using easy preparation. Boost the antioxidant content of your smoothie by using dark berries as the fruit component!

Ingredients:

  • 1 serving of your favorite protein powder
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh fruit
  • 1⁄4 cup frozen fruit
  • 1 tsp of your favorite liquid Omega-3 supplement
  • 1 Tbsp full fat plain yogurt or coconut cream

Blend and enjoy!

A Love Affair with Curry

This is a guest post from Kathryn Akomah-Mordi, owner and mastermind of Mordi Photographie. She loves ethnic cooking almost as much as she loves natural light photography.

The first time I ever had curry, I fell in love! The flavors were incredibly warm and bright!

Not too long after, I came down with strep throat. I vividly remember sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for the lab results while my mom read a magazine. She excitedly quoted that curry could help relieve sore throats!

I currently have over 8 varieties of curry in my pantry, but only recently did I learn that the health benefits of curry extend beyond sore throat relief. Curry is one of those foods that supports gut health. It helps us break down and assimilate our food.

A good curry is a balance of all 5 flavors: sweet for building the body and storing energy, salty to maintain fluids and for electrolyte balance, sour to tonify the liver and improve sluggish digestion, bitter for detoxification and movement, and umami to insure enough protein to create blood cells, anti-bodies, enzymes and hormones.

Not only are curry dishes balanced in flavor, they also have a balance of macro-nurients. This means that the ratios of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats (the healthy ones, like coconut milk) are just what your body needs to stay fueled for hours. This balance even helps curb your cravings, so that you don’t go looking for potato chips or cookies later on!

Finally, curry is a blend of many spices, each of which have their own health benefits, such as improved immunity, decreased inflammation, lowered blood sugars, and better digestion.

 

Here are some of the most common curry ingredients, and what they purportedly have to offer:
  • Cumin – aids digestion, improves immunity
  • Turmeric – anti-inflammatory, improves antioxidant absorption
  • Coriander – lowers blood sugar, eases digestive discomfort, decreases blood pressure, improves cholesterol
  • Ginger – aids bile flow, digestive stimulant
  • Fenugreek & Fennel – anti gas/bloating
  • Mustard seed – omega 3 fatty acids
  • Cloves – reduce inflammation, improve digestion
  • Nutmeg – relieves pain, soothes indigestion, detoxifies, improves cognitive function
  • Cinnamon – antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, fights diabetes and infections, supports heart health
  • Cardamon – GI protection, cholesterol control, improved circulation, helps fight infection
  • Cayenne – relieves migraines, prevents blood clots, supports detox, boosts metabolism, supports weight loss
  • Lemongrass – treats digestive tract spasms, stomach ache, high blood pressure and vomiting; relieves muscle pain
  • Kaffir Lime Leaf – helps the liver and lymphatic system cleanse the blood, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, stress reducer
  • Galangal – anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, eases stomach pain

Now, I don’t go around promising any food as a guaranteed cure to illness, but I definitely like to stack the odds in my favor! So why not use curry as often as you can? You can use these 3 basic principles for creating a good curry dish:

Principle 1: Be generous with your spices. Spices not only bring flavor, but also texture to dishes. Most supermarkets sell spices in misleadingly small containers, so it’s easy to skimp on how much you use. You can buy bigger packets from Asian supermarkets or online to encourage spooning in the spices with a freer hand. (You can store them in the freezer to stop them from going stale.)

Principle 2: Decide what to add to your curry (which meat and vegetables), then how to cook your ingredients. Many curries start with onion, ginger, and garlic. This trio provides the deep base flavor of most curries, equivalent to onion, carrot, and celery in the French tradition. You may choose to simply sweat them for a lighter curry, or cook them long and slow to carmelize them for a richer, darker dish. Next decide whether you will sautee/stir-fry the meat(s)/vegetables, grill them, or simmer them in the sauce.

Principle 3: Choose what will give your curry sauce its body. This will normally be one, or a combination, of the following: tomatoes, pureed peppers or chilies, yogurt or cream, coconut milk, spinach, or finely diced onion.

As you follow these basic principles, you will find the use of curry to be simple and enjoyable. With a little practice, you will be improvising and creating your own curry recipes! You may even wish to create your own curry blend. Heres is a basic yellow curry spice blend to get you started. Adapt it to match your palate perfectly!

 

Yellow Curry Recipe
2 Tbsp ground coriander
2 Tbsp ground cumin
1 1/2 Tbsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground ginger powder
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or ground chilies

Inside-Out Sushi

These quick snack “coins” are a twist on sushi because the cucumber is on the outside! Fill them with fish, or go crazy with other international ideas, such as Mexican-, Italian-, or Mediterannean-themed fillings. These are a great way to stabilize blood sugars and stave off your sweet cravings!

  1. Peel your cucumber, then slice it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.
  2. Fill the halves with one of these pairs:
    • tuna & daikon radish
    • guacamole & refried beans
    • sausage & marinara
    • hummus & sundried tomatoes
    • cottage cheese & grape tomatoes
    • crab & pico de gallo
    • salmon & cream cheese
    • shrimp & spicy rice
    • olives and feta
    • devilled eggs and pickles
  3. Put the cucumber halves back together.
  4. Slice perpendicular to your first cut, creating “coins.”

 

Sweetheart Pancakes for Valentines Day

Want to show your love through cooking? Your dear ones will cherish these adorable pancakes that won’t put them on a sugar roller coaster all day. They may be showered with candy at work and school, but at least you’ll know you sent them out the door on the right foot.

Ingredients

1 c. flour of your choice (but not coconut flour)

2 Tb. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 c. mashed cooked beets

4 Tb. coconut oil, melted

2 c. coconut milk

Greek yogurt and raspberries for serving

Instructions

Combine dry ingredients. Mix in eggs, beets, and coconut oil. Slowly stir in coconut milk until batter is smooth. Bake on a 325 degree griddle until bubbly on top and browned on the bottom. Flip and cook 2-3 minutes more, until golden brown and set. Serve with yogurt and raspberries on top. Makes about 16 small pancakes.

Superfood Snack for the New Year

Here’s a treat that will treat you! With 3 superfoods to supercharge your energy and boost your immune system, these power balls have enough protein and healthy fat to keep your blood sugars from surging.

Goji berries are purported to improve immunity and fight cancer, help stabilize blood sugars, detoxify the liver, boost your mood and increase fertility. But that’s not all. They are loaded with trace minerals.

Hemp hearts have a complete profile of essential amino acids (think protein) and have a perfect ratio of Omega 3 fatty acids to Omega 6 fatty acids.

Cacao powder is not only a mighty anti-oxidant, it is also high in iron and magnesium.

Keep a batch of these Hemp-Cacao Bombs in the freezer for those blood sugar emergencies when you need a boost now.

Ingredients

1/4 c. dried goji berries, processed to a gritty meal

1/2 c. chopped nuts

1/4 c. hemp hearts

1/2 c. chopped pitted dates

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. vanilla

2 Tb. 100% cacao powder

1/8 c. unsweetened coconut flakes + 1/8 c. hemp hearts

Instructions

In a food processor, process the berry meal, nuts, 1/4 c. hemp hearts, dates, salt, vanilla and cacao until the mass becomes uniform, sticky, and forms a lump.

Roll into 1″ balls and roll in the mixed coconut flakes and hemp hearts. Keep refrigerated or frozen.