Matcha Energy Bites

matcha energy bites

What to do on a snowy Colorado day (after going out to play in the snow)?

Play in the kitchen, of course!

I was craving vibrant colors, so in addition to trays upon tray of roasted veggies (meal prep for the week), and starting a new batch of purple cabbage & fennel kraut (yay fermented foods!), I whipped up these matcha energy bites.

They’re a delicious snack to have on hand when you’re craving a little something sweet in the afternoons, and they’ll definitely treat you better than a handful of candy and a latte.  They’re also easily portable, so they’re great for taking on a long run, ride or hike.

The carbs are good for immediate energy and the healthy fat and protein will keep you going through your afternoon at the office or your day in the mountains. Note: Matcha is a type of green tea and does contain a small amount of caffeine, so if you’re highly sensitive, avoid these in the afternoon or evening.

These bites are vegan, gluten free, and grain free. They don’t require baking and they’re quick to whip up with nothing but a food processor. Plus, these portable little energy bundles contain just 6 real food ingredients!

matcha energy bites

Match Energy Bites

Makes 10 bites @ 35-40 grams each

Ingredients

1.5 Tablespoons Matcha Powder

1.5 Tablespoons honey

4 Tablespoons almond flour

1 dash of cinnamon (optional)

2 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 Cup coconut flakes, unsweetened, finely shredded (plus coconut to coat outsides)

110 grams Medjool dates, pitted

 

matcha bites

Put all ingredients, except the coconut oil and dates into the bowl of the food processor. Process the mixture for 30 seconds to a minute, until well combined. Add dates, one a time, through lid, while processor is running. While processor continues to run, pour in coconut oil through the lid. Allow mixture to blend thoroughly, 30 seconds to a minute. Remove lid and dump contents into a bowl.

matcha bites

Add half a cup of coconut flakes to a separate bowl. Either with or without a scale, measure out chunks of ‘dough’ about the size of a golf ball, or 35-40 grams each. Roll into a ball, toss the ball in the coconut flakes to coat, and place on a napkin lined tray.

All done!

matcha bites

Transfer to an airtight container and store in fridge up to a week or in the freezer for longer.

Grab one the next time you head out the door and never be caught again without a healthy snack on hand!

The Best Diet

real food

When someone finds out I’m a nutrition coach, one of the first things they want to know is which diet philosophy I promote. Paleo or vegan, high carb or low carb, intermittent fasting or frequent meals?

There are so many different diet dogmas. We want to categorize people quickly; decide if they’re a friend or a foe.  It’s disappointing to many that I don’t advocate one perfect diet.

whole foods diet

Diet Dogma

Eating is central to what it means to be human. People often choose their dietary practices based on much more than nutrition science or taste alone. So much goes into a person’s food choices, from cultural history to their most deeply held values about themselves and their beliefs about the world. So, it’s no wonder that people often attach their identity to how they eat. They become diet evangelists.

Your identity is more than what you eat, and if you can move beyond the idea of one right way to eat, the good news is that you don’t have to worry about fitting yourself into a certain diet box and set of rules. 

 

The human body is incredibly adaptable, which is why many different diets have produced great results for many different people. Folks often assume that the diet that worked for them is the diet that will work for you.  It’s THE diet. The one right way. This isn’t always the case, and in fact, the diet that worked for you in the past may not even be the diet that works for you now.

The foods that best fuel you depend on a variety of factors, including your goals and your unique physiology. Without learning a bit about who you are, it’s impossible for me to give a blanket diet recommendation.

compare common diets

Comparing Common Diets

Nutrition science is always evolving and pop nutrition is constantly pushing the merits of the newest ‘diet of the month’. So how do you sort through it all and figure out how to be healthy?

How can such different diets work for so many people? Even though some diets appear to have opposing rules, they actually may be much more similar than we realize. For instance:

  • Diets help you raise awareness of what you’re eating. Paying attention to something is the first step towards changing it. Furthermore, most ‘diets’ produce weight loss because they create a calorie deficit, whether that’s caused by eating an abundance of plant fiber which fills you up or animal protein and saturated fat which satiate you.
  • Many popular diets promote high food quality. They suggest you eat more whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods, and less packaged junk food. Making up nutrient deficiencies and eating adequate protein, fiber and essential fatty acids will help anyone feel better, whether those nutrients are coming from a Paleo diet or a vegan diet or any other diet. Again, eating more real food and less junk leads to natural appetite control.

personalized eating

Personalized Eating

Rather than adhering to a specific diet dogma, I find it far more useful and effective to look into who you are. As similar as we humans are, we all intuitively know that we’re quite different when it comes to our unique physiology. For example, Tim from HR seems to thrive on a high fat, low carb diet, while you can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed when you eat bacon and butter all day. 

Instead of a set of diet rules, reaching your specific goals begins with questions.

What does your diet look like now? How old are you? Do you have a history of extreme dieting or overtraining? What are your current exercise habits like? What are your stress and sleep habits like? What foods do you prefer? What’s your budget? What does your lifestyle look like? Do you like to cook? All these and more will factor into finding the “perfect diet” for you.

Everyone has a different genetic makeup, metabolic history, and hormone profile. Furthermore, everyone has different tastes and preferences, different budgets, and different lifestyle factors to take into consideration.

Rather than giving a client one prescribed diet as the only option, a good coach will work with a client’s unique situation to determine what will fit into the client’s life in a *sustainable* way. It doesn’t matter how healthy Brussels sprouts are if they’re on your meal plan and you’re not going to eat them.

Don’t Waste Mental Energy on Diet Stress

The important thing is to determine what works for YOU. That takes time and experimentation. It’s a strategic process. Whether you do this on your own or with the support of a coach, finding what works for you, at this point in your life, helps you reach your goals faster, with much less distraction and frustration.

So, my answer is that the perfect diet is unique to your physiology, your preferences, your lifestyle, and your budget. The magic is in using reliable principles and best practices. Instead of giving you a “diet plan”, we look at your habits, and strategically and gradually change them to give you lasting results.

Interested in finding YOUR PERFECT DIET? Click here to schedule a free call.

5 Immune Boosting Herbs You Already Have in Your Kitchen

garlic immune

There are morning routines, evening routines, and a hundred other healthy habits we’re ‘supposed’ to fit into each day.

You know herbs are good for you, but sometimes it feels like one more thing to fit into your day. You have to buy them, prepare them, take them. It can feel overwhelming, so we forego our herbs even though we love using plant medicines to enhance our daily lives.

Does this sound familiar?

The good news is that some of our most powerful herbal allies are likely already in your kitchen. With a few changes in your habits and mindset, you can up your ingestion of these potent plants and reap the myriad benefits with little extra effort.

An easy way to incorporate more herbs into your day is to include them into an activity you’re already doing. Eating is one such activity. As Hippocrates said, food is medicine, and eating is one of our prime opportunities to take in more medicine. Before each meal, ask yourself “How can I make this even healthier?”.

Building a strong immune system is always important, but it’s even more crucial this time of year when colds and flu are common. The following list includes 5 immune-boosting herbs and how to incorporate them into meals.

 

ginger immune

Ginger

Ginger is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb due to it’s rich phytochemistry, which includes compounds such as gingerols, shogaols, paradols, and zingerone. In addition to many other health benefits, it boosts circulation and has potent antimicrobial properties, which make it an ideal immune-boosting ally.

Ginger is easy to incorporate into any meal. Add raw or powdered ginger to your morning smoothie. Add ginger to your oatmeal. Drink ginger tea. Add ginger to curry dishes and homemade desserts.

 

turmeric immune

Turmeric

With over 10,000 peer-reviewed studies, turmeric is one of the most researched herbs with several wide-ranging health benefits. A member of the same family as ginger, turmeric also has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties, all of which contribute to it’s immune enhancing abilities.  

Turmeric is a great addition to smoothies, and goes well with most soups and stews. It’s great added to eggs or sauteed veggies, and is a natural fit for rice dishes and curries.

garlic immune

Garlic

Second only to turmeric in the amount of research supporting its health benefits is garlic. The antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties of raw garlic make it ideal for fending off colds and flus, largely due to the compound allicin.

Garlic is a great addition to any saute, homemade salad dressings and dips, soups and stews, or any meat and veggie seasoning blend.

turmeric immune

Cayenne

Cayenne is packed with immune-boosting beta carotene and antioxidants. It increases circulation, and helps break up and move mucus out of the body, reducing flu and cold symptoms.

Cayenne can be added to any drink, sauce, or meal that needs a spicy kick. Adding it to eggs, veggies, nuts, dressings, and meat are all great options.

cinnamon immune

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is at the top of the charts in terms of its antioxidant levels. Additionally, it has antibacterial, antiviral, and circulation stimulating properties. Its high content of the anti-inflammatory compound cinnamaldehyde make it essential for cold and flu season.

Adding cinnamon to oatmeal and smoothies is a great way to start the day. It also goes well in homemade desserts, chilli, curries, stews, and any dish needing a warming flavor.

Start slow and add any of these herbs in when you can. They’re sure to add a boost to the health and flavor of any meal.

Making Progress: Hashimoto’s Update

This is the second post in a series about my journey with the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Here’s part 1, in case you missed it. My intention with this series is to share my personal experience so that anyone who recognizes themselves in the symptoms can move forward with healing and know that lifestyle changes can make a HUGE positive impact. 

Contrary to my wildest hopes, my Hashimoto’s and adrenal issues did not spontaneously go into remission as soon as I started targeting them. Unconsciously acting in alignment with the negativity bias, I tend to see how far I still have to go and what’s still wrong more than I focus on how far I’ve come. Can you relate?

However, though I can’t say I feel 100% everyday, when I look back at how I felt 3 years ago, or even just a full year ago, without a doubt, I feel much better.

In this post, I’ll briefly discuss what symptoms have improved for me, what I’m still struggling with, and a brief overview of the protocol.

What has improved for me?

My energy levels throughout the day are much more consistent. I don’t struggle with afternoon fatigue much. I can go running and go to the gym again without feeling completely drained or experiencing the deep muscle fatigue that I couldn’t shake previously.

My hormones are becoming more balanced. I know this because, among other indicators, my monthly cycle is regular again. Also, my sleep cycle has regulated. I feel tired in the evenings and fall asleep easily, I sleep through the night, and I usually wake without an alarm, with plenty of energy to start the day. This also indicates to me that my cortisol level and rhythm is balanced. See this article if you’re curious to learn more about adrenal health, especially as it pertains to endurance athletes.

I no longer struggle with feeling cold as much as I used to, especially in my hands. I used to have constantly cold hands and feet. This was particularly a struggle in shoulder seasons and on winter adventures when my hands would get so cold (even with multiple gloves on) that I would need my adventure buddy to help me with zippers, clasps, and opening food wrappers. This was so frustrating and often unsettling on solo adventures.

My immune system feels strong. Despite several sick coworkers, being out in public places often, and having a very full schedule, I haven’t gotten sick this winter. I never used to get sick much either, but this is also confirmation that my immune system is healthy.

Finally, (and this is huge), I feel like my digestive system is working so much better again. As I mentioned in the previous post, leaky gut is one of the factors which contribute to the expression of autoimmune disorders, so getting my gut health in order is top priority for me. Pardon the graphic nature of this next paragraph, but this is a health website after all, so properly documenting my full experience is important and hopefully helpful to anyone else who is struggling.

How did my gut health change? I started digesting and assimilating my food much better. I know this because my BMs went from not-so-regular and loose to regular and well-formed. This is so important because it was very noticeable evidence that I was healing my leaky gut. Hooray! That translates to less immune system activation (a good thing in this case) because large proteins are no longer permeating the gut lining. Digesting my food properly has also given me more energy.

I didn’t realize my digestion was so out of whack until it got better. I spent several years as a baker and pastry chef. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and when I would eat bread, it was organic and naturally-leavened (think sourdough), so it’s not like I was going crazy with pastries and bread on the daily. In retrospect though, I now realize that even that small amount of gluten was likely significantly contributing to my poor gut health, and the expression of autoimmune symptoms.

What still needs improvement?

It’s satisfying to reflect on the positive changes that have taken place, because healing any health condition with diet and lifestyle changes takes true dedication and commitment, and it can be challenging.

That being said, many autoimmune conditions can be put into remission, but you can’t expect them to disappear overnight. While I feel significant improvement in many of my thyroid symptoms, there are a couple things I still struggle with.

One is not feeling as resilient as I used to be. For example, if I don’t get the sleep that I need, I really struggle with energy levels the next day. My hope is that as I continue to repair my hormone profile, I’ll be able to bounce back quicker from a night of poor sleep.

Another issue is occasional brain fog. While I feel much more clear and focused and have better memory recall than I did a couple years ago, I still find that some days, I just don’t feel as on point as I know I’m capable of being. This is greatly impacted by diet and sleep.

Finally, and this is a difficult one for anyone athletic, or anyone at all really, is that my body is still holding on to some extra weight despite a clean diet and regular movement practice. This makes sense since the thyroid governs metabolism, but it’s frustrating none-the-less.

What’s the protocol I’ve followed?

I’ll briefly outline the protocol I’ve followed and then will dive in more deeply in a future post.

It was important to me to try as many lifestyle changes as possible to heal my thyroid gland before going on medication, so the protocol I used is based entirely around diet, sleep, stress management, and supplements.

It’s organized in 3 stages, including a liver cleanse, an adrenal reset, and a gut healing phase. Each stage progressively eliminated more trigger foods and focused on key supplements to start taking. Lifestyle practices, such as getting optimal sleep and reducing stress as much as possible, were also emphasized.

I definitely didn’t complete the program perfectly, but the changes I made were enough to elicit big shifts in my health. I understand there’s still a journey ahead, but the progress so far is promising.

Post questions/comments below or reach out to me via my contact form, and keep an eye out for the next installment.

 

How To Recover From Holiday Overeating

Recovering From Holiday Overindulgence

Hit the holidays hard this year? Perhaps you overate or ate foods that don’t sit well with you. Maybe your energy is feeling low or your digestion is off or your clothes are feeling a bit snug.

Maybe you’ve got big adventures planned for 2018 and are ready to refocus on your upcoming goals.

hiking

I’m not really into detoxes or cleanses, but I find that it’s nice to give the body additional rest and resources to repair after hitting it hard over the holidays.

Get back on track with the following tips:

*Enhance Liver Function

Instead of doing a harsh detox, I like to support the body’s own detoxification processes by supporting liver function. This includes starting the day with lemon water, sipping dandelion tea, and drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

lemon water

*Sweat It Out

Choose whatever you like to do (yoga, hiking, running, cycling, etc) and move your body at least a little bit each day. This will stimulate lymph flow and help move toxins out of the body. For additional benefit, find a sauna and get your sweat going there as well.

yoga

*Support Your Microbiome

Give your microbiome a little bit more love. Holiday treats are often rich and contain GMOs and foods additives (such as artificial colors and preservatives) that are harmful to healthy gut bacteria. Support digestion, assimilation, and elimination by enhancing your healthy gut bacteria. Eat more fiber from fruits and veggies to feed your healthy bacteria and help support healthy bacterial diversity by eating more fermented foods, like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir.

veggies

*Prioritize Sleep

Sleep is the time when your body repairs and recovers. Getting enough sleep also helps you maintain more balanced blood sugar levels and have fewer cravings. Sleep needs vary by person, but in general, aim for 7.5-8 hours per night.

sleep

Incorporate one or all of these strategies and you’ll be back to feeling strong, lean, and ready to take on your goals in no time!

My Top 3 Food Strategies to Optimize Performance

How I Use Food to Optimize Performance

If you were to ask me what has moved the needle the most in terms of reclaiming my health from an autoimmune condition, well, I’m afraid the answer is pretty boring.

It’s not an exciting new human optimization hack ,nor is it an exotic supplement, or an obscure superfood.

The biggest factors in getting my thyroid and adrenals back online has been a strategic diet and intentional rest. People often want the latest, greatest thing, especially in the health space. The next wonder pill that will take away all that ails us without any additional effort on our part.

The new, the exotic, and the obscure are more sexy, that’s true, but time and time again in my life and in my health, I find that it always comes back to the basics. It’s the simple things I do consistently that create lasting change.

In this post, I’ll focus on the dietary strategies I’ve employed to use food as fuel to get back to performing at my fullest potential.

Eat a Whole Foods Diet That Turns On Intracellular Antioxidants

We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat an antioxidant rich diet, but there’s more to the story than the common adage to ‘eat your fruits and veggies’. That’s great advice, but for those of us who like to be efficient and strategic, we need to go a bit deeper.

Food is information for the body. I’m not being metaphorical here. There are actually specific foods that contain phytonutrients which have the power to upregulate or downregulate the genetic pathways which control inflammation in the body.

We’re living in a time where more than 80% of inflammation-induced chronic conditions are caused by lifestyle factors*. Eighty percent!

All of us are being exposed to more stressors than ever before. We’re constantly producing damaging free radicals, both internally from normal physiologic processes such as respiration, and externally from lifestyle choices (e.g. smoking, stress, fried foods, strenuous exercise), pesticides, environmental pollution, food preservatives, and more.

Traditionally, dietary education has focused on antioxidants from the diet to prevent free radical damage. Examples include beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium.

However, a far more effective way to approach oxidative stress is to stimulate our genes to produce proteins that are more efficient at sequestering free radicals than are dietary antioxidants. These intracellular proteins, which include superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase, quench free radicals at a rate of millions per second while dietary antioxidants quench free radicals at a rate of 1 to 1. Think of putting a house fire out with a fire truck hose versus a garden hose.

chard

The exciting part is that we can upregulate these intracellular proteins by eating certain phytonutrients from specific foods. The most well researched of those phytonutrients are in cruciferous vegetables, alliums, berries, herbs and spices, legumes, nuts and seeds, and olive oil.

Instead of eating by numbers, counting calories or calculating RDAs, the better approach is to ask ourselves: what instructions is my food giving my genes? Eating foods which activate our intracellular antioxidant enzymes is far more efficient at addressing free radical damage than relying solely on dietary antioxidants.

Balance Blood Sugar

Have you ever been hangry (hungry angry)?

I used to get hangry a lot. Besides causing my mental, physical and emotional well-being to suffer, and causing my friends and coworkers to avoid me, having chronically low blood sugar was having serious consequences on my health.

Allowing blood sugar to drop too low causes the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. We all know that feeling of being sweaty, weak, dizzy, and shaky.

Cortisol has been correlated with increased obesity and BMI, and is a catabolic hormone, which means it breaks tissue down. This is disadvantageous for those of us trying to build or maintain muscle.

Cortisol must be managed, and while there are several ways to do this, diet is one of the most effective. Avoiding excessive release of cortisol is accomplished through avoiding extreme spikes and crashes in blood sugar.

metabolic fire

When considering our metabolic fire, the campfire analogy is one of the best. Carbohydrates are the kindling. Fats and protein are the logs. When we put kindling on the fire, it lights quickly and burns out quickly. When we put logs on the fire, it burns slow and steady. Carbohydrates cause a quick spike and crash in blood sugar, causing stress on the body and excessive cortisol to be released. Fats and proteins are broken down and assimilated by the body more gradually and allow for more sustained energy.

Favoring fats, proteins, and fiber over carbohydrates helps the body maintain balanced blood sugar and avoid the excessive release of cortisol.

Improve Gut Health

People like to say “You are what you eat”, but I believe the saying “You are what you absorb” is more accurate. You can eat the best diet in the world, but if you’re not absorbing and assimilating your nutrients, it’s a wasted effort.

Our intestines are about 25 feet long and contain an estimated 100 trillion bacteria which help us digest our food, produce certain vitamins, regulate our immune system, and keep us healthy by protecting us against disease.

There are many lifestyle factors that drive gut flora imbalance, but one of the primary ones is diet. When the microbiome is out of balance, we can experience disease, fatigue, anxiety, depression, immune suppression, food sensitivities, weight gain and overall diminished quality of life.

The health of your microbiome plays a role in which vitamins and minerals make their way to fuel your muscles, and this is why gut health is the foundation of using food as fuel.

Consuming a range of insoluble and soluble fibers may be the best way of maintaining a healthy gut microbiota population. Specifically, foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes act as prebiotic food which feed your good gut bacteria. Probiotic foods, which help support healthy bacterial populations, are also important and examples include cultured and fermented foods.

It’s Our Choice
Diet is one of the biggest factors in determining our health and one which we have complete control over. Focusing on these dietary strategies has been crucial in recovering my health from Hashimoto’s. Our bodies have an incredible capacity to heal if we allow them. How amazing is that?!

Garden Fresh Basil Hummus

Fresh Basil Hummus

fresh basil hummus

Garden Goodness

July has flown by and it’s already mid-August! The garden bounty is at it’s peak and we have an abundance of vibrant, verdant, fragrant basil.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is pesto. I whipped up a big batch yesterday and froze most of it for the winter months when something green and homegrown will be a special treat.

I was craving hummus today and my preference is always to innovate with what’s on hand, so I decided to experiment with making a fresh basil hummus. The smell of the kitchen while making this recipe is fantastic and the greenish hue of the finished spread is awesome!

Summer is the Season for Fresh

Even if you don’t have a garden, fresh herbs are abundant at farmer’s markets in the summer. Pick some up and add them to your next dish. Beyond being loaded with flavor, fresh herbs are some of the most nutrient dense foods we can eat.

This basil hummus recipe is as quick and straightforward as it gets. Whip it up as detailed below or use this as a starting point and make up your own based on your preferences and what’s available near you!

garden basil

Fresh Basil Hummus

Ingredients

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves

2 cloves garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

15 oz canned chickpeas, drained (but save the juice for adjusting hummus to desired consistency)

1 tsp liquid aminos

¼ cup tahini

¼ walnuts (or pine nuts)

Salt, pinch

Pepper, pinch

Cumin, pinch

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until thoroughly combined. If the hummus is too thick to be processed or thicker than desired, add juice from the drained chickpeas a little bit at a time to reach the desired consistency. I like mine creamy, but still thick enough to stick to cut veggies, like celery and carrots. Adjust to taste. I often add an extra clove of garlic and a bit more lemon juice and cumin because that’s what I enjoy.

When you learn the basic method, you can ditch the recipes and create based on what YOU enjoy. Cooking, like art, is a creative and personalized process!

 

 

5 Tips on How to Choose the Most Nutritious Greens

Wouldn’t it be great to know you’re choosing the freshest, most nutritious greens possible at the market or grocery store?

As I mentioned in my last post, the same type of fruit or vegetable can vary widely in nutrition from one variety to the next. The ‘best’ choice is not always intuitive.

In this post, you’ll learn 5 tips on how to select, store, and prepare the varieties that are going to give you the most flavor and nutrition. I’ll also list specific varieties to look for. This information is sourced from the fantastic book Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson.

Food As Medicine

Most of the people reading this have access to almost any vegetable they want 12 months of the year. This separates us from the seasonal cycles of plants and also means we are consuming vegetables and fruits that have been picked unripe and shipped across the globe. This is not optimal for nutrition or for the planet.

Seasonality

After a long winter of eating preserved meats, roots, fruit, and herbs, traditional hunter-gathers were hungry for fresh food. The bright green plants that appear in spring are full of phytonutrients and were both food and medicine after a long winter.

Recent studies show that Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) for example, fights viruses and bacteria, and blocks the growth of human breast cancer cells. Another common springtime treat, Dandelion leaves have eight times the antioxidants, two times more calcium, three times more vitamin A, and five times more vitamin K and vitamin E than spinach.

What about the Taste?

The flavor of wild plants is more complex and intense than anything you’ll find in the grocery store. This is attributable to bitter, sour, and astringent compounds, which give these plants their deep nutrition and medicinal qualities.

As mentioned in the original post of this series, much of the medicine has been bred out of these wild plants, and we’re left with incredibly mild varieties, such as our most popular variety, Iceberg lettuce. This equates to a loss in vitamins and minerals in our diet, as well as calcium.

Tips to select, store, and use the most nutritious greens

To reclaim some nutrition and flavor in our diets, and to take a step into eating on the wild side, including nutrient rich greens is a great way to begin.

  1. Choose the most intensely colored lettuces (preferably red, red-brown, purple or dark green) that have the loosest arrangement of leaves.  The most nutritious greens have a more intense flavor. To moderate this, mix greens with a milder variety or add a fat, such as avocado or unfiltered olive oil.
  2. If buying bagged varieties, inspect them carefully, and skip over bags with yellow, brown, or withered leaves. Check the “use-by” date. Look for mixes with red or dark green leaves and choose the freshest one you can.
  3. Preserve nutrients and flavor by separating a head of lettuce into individual leaves or open a bag of loose greens and soak them in very cold water for 10 minutes. Dry in salad spinner or with a towel. Store greens in a resealable plastic bag poked with 10-20 pin-sized holes. Press the air out. seal the bag, and store in the crisper drawer.
  4. For a nutrient-dense salad, add in non lettuce varieties, such as arugula, radicchio, endive, and spinach. Find a greater (and fresher) variety of options at the farmer’s market. Take 5 minutes to make your own salad dressing. Bottled varieties often contain trans-fats, preservatives, and added sugar that would be a shame to pour over your delicious greens. For a simple, tasty, and nutritious dressing, toss your greens in some good olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and a dash of salt and pepper. Or search the Internet for easy home-made salad dressing.
  5. Keep an eye out for the following lettuce varieties and salad vegetables at your supermarket:
      1. Arugula
      2. California salad (mixed greens)
      3. Frisee (curly endive)
      4. Looseleaf lettuce with red or dark green leaves
      5. Rosso di Chioggia (a variety of radicchio)
      6. Rosso di Trviso (also a radicchio)

    nutritious lettuce

And the following varieties at the farmer’s market or specialty stores: Blackjack (looseleaf lettuce), Cimarron (romaine), Cocade (Oak leaf), Concept (Batavian), Dazzle (romaine), Eruption (romaine), Fire Mountain (looseleaf), Flame (looseleaf), Galactic (looseleaf), Lollo Rosso (looseleaf), Merlot (looseleaf), Marvel of Four Seasons (butterhead), Outrageous (romaine), Prizehead (looseleaf), Red Icerberg (crisphead), Red Oak Leaf (looseleaf), Red Sails (looseleaf), Red Velvet (looseleaf), Revolution (looseleaf), Rouge d’Hiver (romaine), Ruby Red (looseleaf)

With a bit of attention to variety selection, storage, and preparation, your salads can be more flavorful and nutritious than ever before!

Keep an eye out for the next post in this series about alliums (onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, etc) and how to choose for optimal flavor and nutrition.

To tasty salads and good health!

How to Select the Freshest, Most Nutritious Food Possible

Fueling to Reach Your Potential

Have you ever asked yourself “What can I eat right now to give me sustained energy for everything I need to get done today?”

We’re all familiar with the advice to eat more fruits and vegetables. What we also need to know is which fruits and vegetables to eat to get the most benefits from our food.

This is the first post in a series on how to choose fruits and vegetables with the most nutrients, flavor and freshness.

Inspiration

A while back I picked up an excellent book titled Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. Robinson details how to select, store, and prepare foods to reclaim the nutrients and flavor we’ve lost through decades of breeding fruits and veggies to be more palatable. Much of what I’ll share in this series is directly sourced from or inspired by her book. It’s a valuable resource which I highly recommend you purchase from your local bookstore.

Aren’t all fruits and vegetables basically the same?

As it turns out, no.

An apple is not an apple. A tomato is not a tomato.

One tomato on the supermarket table, for instance, can have ten times the amount of nutrients as the next. How can we know which to select to get the most nutrients and flavor? More on that to come.

 

There is also a common belief that heirloom varieties are superior in nutrition to modern fruits and veggies, but this is not always true.

For example, the Golden Delicious apple, a 100 year heirloom, has half the nutrients of the Liberty apple, which was released 75 years later. Heirloom crops have a variety of other advantages which I will not go into here, but choosing heirlooms is not always a guarantee of superior nutrition, which is our current focus.

What have we lost?

As our ancestors began to take cuttings of wild plants to grow in gardens, they selected varieties that were tender, low in bitterness and astringency, and high in sugar, starch, or oil. Plants that were tough, seedy, bitter, or in any other way unpleasant to eat were left behind in the wilderness.

This transformation of our native plants into our supermarket varieties has resulted in the loss of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and healthful fats. Some of the varieties in our supermarkets are so low in nutrients and high in sugar that they actually contribute to health issues rather than alleviate them.

The ancestor to the banana, for example, is a fruit which comes in many different shapes, colors, and sizes. It’s full of hard seeds, and has a peel which is so thick and firm that it must be peeled with a knife. Thousands of years of selecting for certain traits has yielded the Cavendish banana, the variety we see in our supermarkets, with sweet and soft flesh, nearly non-existent seeds, and a peel that comes off easily.

Most nutrition experts agree that a healthy diet is high in fiber and low in sugar. Keeping our blood sugar at optimum levels is linked to a reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, obesity, and diabetes-the primary ailments of modern civilization.

With the shift in our diet from wild foods to an industrialized food system, we’ve not only experienced a loss in nutrition, but also in flavor. Every aspect of farming has become mechanized and produce now spends days or weeks in transport and storage before it is eaten. This results in fewer nutritients, picking before ripeness, and higher acidity and bitterness.

Eating Wild

Phytonutrients are the substances plants produce to protect themselves from insects, disease, UV light, weather, and animals. These phytonutrients are antioxidants for our bodies. Among the many potential health benefits of consuming plants with high amounts of phytonutrients is the protection we get from free radicals, which can inflame our artery linings, turn normal cells cancerous, damage our eyesight, and intensify aging.

Wild plants contain the highest levels of phytonutrients, and therefore, nutrition and flavor. It’s not likely that most modern humans are going to hunt and forage for most of their food. What we can do though is learn how to select the freshest, most nutrient dense varieties that are available to us at markets.

In the Kitchen

How you store, prepare, and cook your produce will also impact nutrition and flavor. You can reduce, maintain, or enhance their flavor. Cooking techniques change the bioavailability (ability to be absorbed by our bodies) of certain nutrients.

Potatoes, for example, can be stored for months without impacting their nutrition, while broccoli begins to lose it’s cancer-fighting compounds within 24 hours of picking. Simmering tomatoes for hours, as in traditional Italian sauces, not only enhances flavor, but triples it’s lycopene content.

Let Food Be Thy Medicine…

As the title of Robinson’s books states, we can learn to eat on the wild side. We can learn which varieties to select for optimal nutrition, flavor and freshness. We can learn how to use them.

The part of my brain which enjoys trying to optimize everything loves to know that I’m getting the most nutritional bang for my buck. Knowing how to select for optimal freshness, flavor, and nutrition reassures me that I’m spending my hard-earned money on the best available option.

Each post in the remainder of this series will focus on a different group of vegetables or fruits. I will name specific varieties that Robinson discovered through researching thousands of studies in the US and abroad. I will detail simple storage and cooking techniques that enhance nutrition and flavor.

As in the famous Hippocrates saying, discover how food as medicine can truly become a daily practice.