Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Free radicals are atoms or molecules that have unpaired electrons in their outer shell and cause oxidative stress to the body.  Meanwhile, antioxidants donate electrons to free radicals repairing the damage caused by them.  Harmful free radicals come from UV radiation, smoking, air pollution, smog, as well as normal metabolic processes.  Too much inflammation in the body can cause a number of health conditions including diabetes, cancer, arthritis, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, cirrhosis of the liver, cataracts and macular degeneration, etc.

Fortunately, consuming an anti-inflammatory diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals will help to quench the free radicals and help protect yourself from health conditions in the future.  Vitamins A (beta-carotene), C, and E, minerals including zinc, selenium, copper, iron, and manganese, along with glutathione, cysteine, methionine, lipoic acid, and Coenzyme Q10 are powerful antioxidants, which help to eliminate free radicals in the body.

FruitsAs you can see, the food you eat is important to how you feel, as some foods can promote inflammation, while others can help to alleviate it.  For example, a poor diet of excess sugar, alcohol, chemicals, and pesticides, as well as a lack of physical activity, stress, and smoking all contribute to increased inflammation.  Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is a great place to start, as they contribute many of the vitamins and minerals mentioned above.  Essential fatty acids (omega 3) must be included in the diet, as the body cannot produce them, and are found in flaxseeds, walnuts, soy, and seafood (wild salmon, sardines).  Other herbs and spices are excellent for reducing inflammation including turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cinnamon.  It’s also important to limit fried, fatty foods, refined and processed foods, excess sugar, and to eat organic foods when possible.

Dr. Weil has a wonderful anti-inflammatory food pyramid if you wish to learn about more foods that are beneficial in reducing inflammation.

Here’s a great anti-inflammatory meal I love to cook using wild salmon… crush walnuts with a spice blend of your choice, coat the salmon with them and bake it in the oven until the salmon is cooked.  The salmon can then be served over a bed of quinoa (cooked with vegetable, chicken, or bone broth, turmeric, onions and red peppers), and steamed broccoli.  Enjoy!

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Hidden Sugars in Foods

Surveys from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that the consumption of sugar has been steadily on the rise almost yearly since 1982. Individuals may consume more than 20 teaspoons of sugar in their diet (about 100 grams) and most of this excess sugar is consumed from fruit drinks and soft drinks. Excess sugar can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, a compromised immune system, candida, as well as vitamin deficiencies. High consumption of sugar depletes calcium, magnesium, Vitamin E, chromium, and copper from the body, as well as interfering with your absorption of protein.

sugarHow much sugar do you think you eat in an average day…? Sugar can creep into your diet in unexpected ways from canned vegetables to canned beans, to condiments, salad dressings, yogurt, crackers, peanut butter, and fruit juices. What about fruits? Even though fruits are beneficial and supply vitamins/minerals, certain types are high in sugar such as dates, prunes, raisins, pineapple, and watermelon. These fruits are considered medium to high on the glycemic index, which can lead to a higher blood glucose response in the body. If you choose to eat these fruits, pair them with quality protein and/or fat (nuts and/or seeds) to help to keep the body’s glucose at a steady rate. If your diabetetic or have high blood sugar levels, better fruit options include strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and kiwis.

One thing that always surprises me is when I look at the ingredient label of various types of yogurt. Besides being aware of, and avoiding high fructose corn syrup, I often see evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrates, honey, and maltose, etc., which are just other ways of incorporating sugar into what would be a great, nutritious, calcium-rich snack. Instead, buy plain, non-fat yogurt and add your own granola or fresh fruit to make it a bit sweeter if need be. Snacks aimed for kids, such as fruit roll-ups, fruit juices, cereals, jello’s, and puddings may also have many hidden sugars.

The next time you shop, take the time to read through ingredient labels to be sure you are buying the best product for yourself or your family. Look out for those hidden words in which sugar hides.

Fresh Vegetables From Farm to Table

Have you had the chance to visit your local farmer’s market to wander through the assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables being sold? Recently my sister and I visited the Root Connection Farm in Redmond, WA to sample out several different dishes of food that came straight from the farm. We were volunteering to create dishes that come straight from customer’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes. A CSA box is filled with fruits and veggies straight from the farm (pesticide free) that are in season. Each week as you pick up your box, you can look forward to lettuce, corn, Swiss chard, beans, summer squash, potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, winter squash, and pumpkins (fruits and vegetables may vary from farm to farm). As customer’s came to pick up their CSA boxes at the Root Connection Farm, we had a variety of food samples on display to show ways the food from the box can be utilized, as well as to inspire the customer’s with new ideas of how to use their farm fresh food.

We sampled a tomato corn salad from Katherine Oldfield who is a PCC cooks instructor, as well as a fresh vegetable salad utilizing lettuce, green beans, snap peas, cucumber, zucchini, and squash with a lemon/olive oil vinaigrette. We decided to keep the salad simple so that the taste of the fresh vegetables was not masked behind a strong dressing. What’s wonderful about this salad is that it can be taken in any direction…add beans or chicken to make it a more complete meal or if you have fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, etc.) on hand, add them in. Since we had a bunch of fresh parsley and cilantro, we made a pesto with raw pumpkin seeds and sampled it with cucumbers and turnips.
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I would love to hear your favorite dishes from your local farm or your CSA box. If you have left over vegetables in your box that you do not know what to do with, let me know. I would love to help you create a wonderful way to incorporate this vegetable into your next meal.

The Versatility of Quinoa

For those of you who are not familiar with quinoa (keen-wah), it is an ancient grain of the Incas that imparts a fluffy, nut-like taste to it when cooked. It is the only grain that contains all nine essential amino acids, meaning it’s a complete protein, as well as being high in magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorous, and manganese. Quinoa cooks up in about fifteen minutes, making it a great choice for a quick meal and can be substituted for almost any grain in your recipe.

Quinoa can be utilized in all of your meals from breakfast to dessert! Here are just a few ideas for incorporating quinoa into your diet. For a wholesome breakfast, have quinoa topped with cinnamon, walnuts, and a few fresh berries (while still in season) or topped with some dried fruit of your choice.

A great lunch is quinoa tabouli (http://www.quinoa.net/181.html), which is a middle-eastern salad usually made with bulgur (another whole grain). This salad has wonderful flavors from parsley, basil, mint, and scallions, along with fresh, squeezed lemon juice.

Here’s a great dinner recipe utilizing quinoa and fresh vegetables. The recipe was adapted from Jenny Stacey from What’s Cooking Vegetarian, Thunder Bay Press, 1999.

Vegetable Quinoa Bake

  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup water or stock
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 3/4 cup broccoli, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup grated part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup herb millet croutons, crushed (any croutons/breadcrumbs will work)

Rinse the quinoa and drain well.  Place quinoa, water, and salt in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer 15-20 minutes or until all water is absorbed.

Heat the vegetable stock in a large skillet.  Add the onion and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until softened.  Add the garlic, carrot, zucchini, and broccoli and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Mix the quinoa with the sunflower seeds and mixed herbs and stir into the pan.  Stir in half the mozzarella cheese, tomato, and season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the mixture into an ovenproof dish and top with the croutons and remaining cheese.  Cook in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the cheese begins to turn golden.  Serve at once.

I would love to hear your favorite quinoa recipes or creative ways you incorporate this wholesome grain into your diet.

Quick Healthy Meals

Perhaps you know, have heard, or maybe read in a book or magazine that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Not only does a healthy, delicious breakfast jumpstart your metabolism and give you energy for the day, it also sets an example for the rest of your day.  For instance, if your breakfast is rushed or you’re eating in the car or on your way out the door, did you happen to remember what you are going to have for lunch?  Did you remember to pack a wholesome lunch or just tell yourself that you will order something from work?  Although you can find healthy, nutritious foods from restaurants and delis, wouldn’t it be nice to save money and bring yummy food or leftovers from home?

I would like to share with you a few great recipes for both breakfast and lunch that are easy to prepare, taste great while providing plenty of fiber and protein to fill you up, as well as vitamins and minerals to keep you both strong and healthy.

YUMMY BERRY SMOOTHIE

  • 1 cup plain, low fat yogurt (I like Greek Gods non-fat plain Greek yogurt) http://www.greekgodsyogurt.com/html/ynonfat.php
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen mixed berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup unsweetened hemp milk or another liquid of your choice (more can be added depending on the consistency you choose)
  • 2 teaspoons of shelled hempseeds or ground flaxseeds
  • 1-2 teaspoons raw cacao powder (optional)

This is a great breakfast with the yogurt and milk providing protein along with the fruit having antioxidants to protect against diseases and fiber to keep you full until lunch!  Both hempseeds and flaxseeds have fiber and beneficial omega 3’s to keep your heart healthy.  Raw cacao is a Mayan superfood, which contains fiber, antioxidants, iron, and magnesium.

Other great ideas for a healthy, quick breakfast include:

  • Whole grain Ezekiel bread with almond butter and an apple (http://www.foodforlife.com/sprouted-grain-difference/ezekiel-4-9.html)
  • Hard-boiled or scrambled eggs with nutritional yeast and a handful of fresh spinach
  • Yogurt with berries and a handful of granola
  • Cottage cheese/hummus on crackers with sliced carrots and bell peppers
  • High fiber cereal with fresh fruit and unsweetened hemp milk, almond milk, or soymilk

Quick lunch ideas include:

  • Whole grain pita pockets with hummus, chicken, spinach, and tomatoes
  • Beans/lentils mixed with salsa rolled up in a brown rice tortilla
  • Mixed green salad with canned tuna or salmon and lots of vegetables with fresh lemon juice
  • Don’t forget to include chopped vegetables and fruits for snacks!