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.

 

Oatmeal Chocolate Chia Cookies

There’s truly nothing better than the smell of toasting oats. Except maybe these cookies baking. With the added scents of cinnamon and chocolate in this recipe, the smell of these cookies fresh out of the oven fills a home and a heart with happiness.

oatmeal chia cookie

This recipe was another experiment in making a slightly healthier version of an old staple. It contains sugar, so it’s still meant to be a treat, but with the added fiber from the extra dose of oats, and the healthy Omega-3 fatty acids from chia seeds, this version of the classic oatmeal chocolate cookie at least has a few redeeming qualities.

The chia seeds are ground (I used a coffee grinder) to increase the surface area. This makes them more bio-available to the body, and once moisture is added to the dough, forms a gel to hold the cookies together since they lack gluten.

If you look back at my Hemp Cocoa cookies, my goal when creating gluten free cookies is to not use other grain mixes, and to come up with a version that tastes as good or better than the original, has a better nutrition profile, and just happens to be gluten free.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chia Cookies (gluten free)

10 ounces butter

5 ounces cane sugar

5 ounces brown sugar

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 eggs

10 ounces instant oats, toasted

12 ounces ground oats

2 ounces ground chia

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

10 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips

Cream together butter and sugars. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Combine dries in a bowl and add to wets. Mix until well combined. Mix in chocolate chips. Allow dough to sit for 10 minutes before scooping with 2 ounce scoop. This allows time for the chia to become mucilaginous and holds the dough together better.  Flatten cookies into discs before baking. Bake 10 minutes at 325*F.

oatmeal choc chia cookie

Enjoy!

Healthy Holiday Cheat Sheet

‘Tis The Season

The holiday season officially kicks off with Thanksgiving this week, which means office parties, endless cocktails, elaborate meals, and tasty treats in abundance.

The holidays are a time of year to gather with friends and family to celebrate and commune, but it’s also a time of anxiety for many who wish to maintain their health and avoid feeling sluggish or less than ideal starting the new year.

Here are a few simple tips to help you feel fantastic when January rolls around. Choose a few that you know will move the needle for you and stick with those or employ them all (just don’t overwhelm yourself!). Either way, you’re bound to be feeling great and ready to take on the new year once the holiday madness dies down.

thanksgiving

The Tips

  • Eat a meal with 20-30g of protein within an hour of waking.

This sets up your hormones and metabolism to keep you from overeating later in the day.

  • Eat a small meal before going to parties.

Not showing up to the party ravished will keep you from diving in to the first food your eyes see, and make it less likely for you to over indulge.

  • Decide ahead of time that you’re only going to have 1 or 2 drinks.

Having a plan is always good. Not only do those drinks contain extra sugar and calories, but they lower your inhibitions, causing you to snack and drink more.

  • Make time for exercise. 

Exercise is not only great for stress reduction during this hectic time of year, but it likely gets you outdoors, which benefits your mind, body, and spirit. It may seem like you don’t have time, but maintaining your movement routine is crucial to staying healthy through the holidays.

  • Make sure you’re staying hydrated.

This might seem like common sense, but with cooler temps and long to-do lists on our minds, it’s easy to forget this basic tip, which keeps our bodies performing at their highest levels by removing toxins, carrying nutrients to cells, and so much more.

  • Fill your plate with the healthy items first. 

Having protein, fiber, and healthy fat at each meal will keep you satiated and less likely to over do the not so healthy items.

  • Avoid the “screw it” mindset.

If you over indulge at one meal, don’t let them snowball into an entire week or month of excess. Forgive yourself and move on. Each moment is an opportunity to make a new decision.

  • Get enough sleep.

This is the most important one on the list. Sleep is crucial for everything from reducing stress levels, to keeping cortisol levels in check, to reducing sugar cravings, to maintaining immune health, and more. If you know you’re going to be out late, clear your calendar the next day so you can sleep in.

Getting plenty of sleep is the biggest thing you can do for your health to greet the new year feeling vibrant and ready to pursue your dreams.

christmas

To your health and happiness

Enjoy the holiday season and soak up the spiritual nourishment of being with loved ones and communing over food. It’s a special time of year which can bring great joy and health if you set yourself up for success.

Top 5 Reasons To Eat Real Food as an Outdoor Endurance Athlete

If I’m performing well, why should I reconsider what I eat?

Let me start by saying that I’m not going to tell you that you should eat a certain way. Eat whatever works for you.

While I do believe there are some basic nutrition principles that can benefit everyone, there is no one perfect diet.  Further, the perfect diet for you may change throughout your life.  But that’s a topic for anther day.

Change Starts At Home

The objective of this post is to explore why we make the food choices that we do. As someone who gains her sustenance through time spent outdoors, I try to make environmentally conscious choices.

When it came time to pursue a career path, I wavered between my deep interest in human performance, my passion for outdoor conservation, and my desire to make an impact through working to change the food system. When it came down to it, I felt like working as a nutritionist and addressing peoples’ personal food choices, would check all three boxes.

With a rapidly increasing population to feed and a current food system which is destructive to humans and the environment, I believe the biggest impact each of us can make is to think about what we do day in and day out.  Choosing to use green cleaning products, choosing to spend our dollars with socially conscious companies, and choosing how we nourish ourselves most likely has more of an impact on our future world than signing a petition or donating a coupe dollars to a non-profit. While those are important actions as well, it’s what we do consistently over time that changes our lives and the world. 

Why I Choose to Eat Real Food

As an outdoor endurance athlete, here are the top reasons I continue to fuel myself with real food as opposed to the sugary, processed, easily accessible fare I see filling the backpacks and bellies of fellow hikers, runners, bikers and other athletes.

Health

The most obvious reason to eat real food is enhanced personal health. Processed cakes, cookies, chips, and bars are often laden with preservatives, artificial colors and sweeteners, and a ton of sugar. These are linked to adverse health effects, including rhinitis, weight gain, brain tumors, and even cancer.  Diets high in processed foods promote obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases.

As someone who wants to perform at my best and live a long life, full of adventure, eating well just makes sense.

Price

Many people argue that it costs more to eat healthy. The price of real food, especially organic, may be more expensive than conventional produce or packaged products. However, when you consider the hidden costs of a junk food diet, it’s more cost effective to just eat real food.

What hidden costs?

Junk food often causes us to eat more, causing us to buy more, and causes long term health implications (discussed above) that lead to more medications and healthcare expenses.  Plus you’ll save money (and your stomach lining) by laying off that Vitamin I.This article from the Huffington Post expands on these hidden costs.

Beyond the monetary cost, what’s the cost of not being healthy enough to complete your outdoor adventure, whether that’s a thru-hike of the PCT or a bike trip across the country or your first marathon? What’s the cost of not achieving your dreams? What’s the cost of missing important life events, like weddings and births of grand kids, because of poor health?

Environment

As someone who spends a lot of time outdoors and cares about the preservation of those spaces, I feel a certain responsibility not to support companies that are blatantly destroying our natural resources in the name of profit. These companies act with total disregard for planetary and personal health.

As outdoor enthusiasts, we’ve experienced first hand the power of time spent in nature, and we have a responsibility to protect those spaces not just with our voices, but with our purchasing power as well.

Freedom

I don’t like to feel like I’m owned by the big corporations. I like to believe I’m still independent-thinking, to some extent. I want to be able and wiling to go against the grain of what is ‘normal’. 

As with thru-hiking, it’s an act of rebellion to choose to eat outside the junk food paradigm. We live in a time when we’re constantly brainwashed from every direction with adverts for one new product or another. Don’t be a pawn in their game. Don’t be complicit. Step outside the box.

Self-respect

Eating is one of the most fundamental acts of being human. It may be strange to say, but eating is one of the most intimate acts of being human. We take food into our mouths and literally become composed of that food. Do you want to be made up of sodium nitrate, MSG, and Red #40? Or do you want to be made of something that was once alive? Something that was made in a lab or something that grew or grazed on real grass and drank in the sun and the air which you so love?

Eat like you give a damn about yourself and the planet.

Real food is interesting and beautiful and complex. It has the ability to connect you to a place, a culture, traditions. This is obvious when comparing a Happy Meal with a traditional Mediterranean meal cooked by a Turkish grandmother. Of course, processed foods are often chosen for convenience, and you can’t always take home-cooked meals on a 2000 mile backpacking trip, but you can apply a similar mindset when choosing food for your next adventure. For example, when I consider a bag of M&Ms versus a bag of dried fruit, such as figs, apricots, and goji berries, the fruit has so many more flavors, textures, and aliveness. It supports the health of the body and the planet.

It’s never made sense to me that we celebrate our ability to crush miles while eating the most nutrient poor food imaginable. Why not celebrate eating food that nourishes our bodies and the planet we so love?

I try to be thoughtful and intentional about my choices in all other areas of life, from how I spend my time, to what I do for work, to the companies I buy my gear from. Why wouldn’t it be the same for food?

Hemp Cocoa Cookies

Cookies For Breakfast

I’ve been expanding my healthy baking horizon lately and have been playing with creating a vegan cookie that is nutritious and delicious.

I prefer not to use gluten free baking mixes that utilize starches and gums. I enjoy creating my gluten free baked goods from ground nuts or seeds, which add a level of nutrition (with healthy fat and protein) and flavor that I don’t find in the pre-made mixes.

So, this cookie is made from ingredients you probably already have on hand, except maybe the hemp hearts.

It took a few iterations to get the consistency right, but the final result ended up super-chocolaty (as desired), not too sweet, slightly nutty, and a little crunchy with the hemp hearts on top.

hemp cocoa cookie

Hemp Cocoa Cookies

(10 cookies) Vegan, Gluten Free, Grain Free

Ingredients

1 cup almond meal

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup brown sugar

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon white vinegar

2 tablespoons ground flax seed

2 ounces coarsely chopped dark chocolate

⅛ cup cocoa powder

2 ounces coconut oil, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ cup peanut butter

Directions

Mix vinegar and baking soda in small cup. Combine dries in the food processor bowl. Add vinegar and soda. Add coconut oil, vanilla, and PB. Blend until well mixed. Scoop into golf ball size mounds. Dip in whole hemp hearts.

Bake for 8 minutes at 375*F.

Enjoy.

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.