Lentils have been part of the human diet since Neolithic (before pottery) times. Archeological evidence shows they were eaten 9,500 to 13,000 years ago! Lentils are part of the legume family because, like beans and peas, they grow in pods. They are an edible pulse (a grain legume grown for its edible seed), and they pack a protein, fiber, and nutrient punch. They come in a variety of colors, including yellow, red (they actually look more orange than red), green, brown, and black. The darker the color, the more dense they tend to be. The lighter the color, the less dense and they tend to fall apart when cooked. No matter the color, these seven qualities make lentils an excellent choice for any meal.
7 Reasons To Love Lentils:
- Quick cooking. Lentils are one of the fastest cooking members of the legume family. Thanks to their petite mass, lentils do not require soaking prior to cooking. (There may be advantages to soaking, though – see # 5 below!) Green lentils and brown lentils can be ready in about half an hour, and red lentils cook even faster. Pick a variety of lentils based on what you’re looking for in a recipe. Red lentils and yellow lentils tend to break down during cooking, making them ideal for soups and stews. Green, brown, and black lentils tend to maintain their structural integrity when cooked, making them ideal for salads, hearty main courses, and side dishes.
- Inexpensive (and readily available!). Lentils are super affordable, whether you buy them in the supermarket, at a farmers’ market, or right here from shopOrganic. You can stock up on organic lentils for just a few bucks a pound, which makes them accessible on any budget. Plus, they are available year round, so you can enjoy them during all of the seasons.
- Flavorful. Lentils have a mild, earthy flavor, often described as nutty or meaty. Some of them, especially the darker varieties, can have a smoky smell and flavor. They tend to take on the flavors of the spices they are cooked with, and you see them a lot in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. Popular spices to use with lentils include turmeric, cumin, curry, ginger, mustard seeds, coriander and garam masala.
- Nutrient dense – and heart healthy. Lentils have the second highest ratio of protein per calorie of any legume, second only to soybeans. In addition to being loaded with fiber and protein, lentils contain lots of other nutrients, including B-vitamins, folate, iron, phosphorus, selenium, and potassium. The fiber, folic acid, and potassium in lentils all support heart health.
- Easily digestible. We all know that a lot of legumes have some rather unpleasant side effects, in terms of causing bloating and gas. Lentils are a bit easier to digest than other legumes, and the ease of digestion can be enhanced by soaking (though lentils don’t require soaking to cook properly and quickly). Red lentils in particular are easier to digest than other legumes, in part because they begin to break down during the cooking process. Certain spices can also promote easier digestion, such as asafetida. Asafetida is a root herb that reduces the growth of flora in the gut, which directly helps to reduce gas. You can also add a piece of kombu to lentils as they are cooking to achieve the same effect.
- Hearty. Because they are packed with high quality protein and lots of fiber, lentils are quite filling. Their heartiness makes them a good substitute for meat in many dishes, like soup, chili, taco “meat,” and “meatballs.” You can, of course, also substitute them for beans in any recipe! Plus, lentils are lower calorie than ground meats, gram per gram, so you can eat more of them than you can of animal protein as part of a healthy diet.
- Versatile. The variety of dishes that can be made from this lovable legume is astonishing – the possibilities are only limited by your imagination! Lentil dishes can be eaten hot or cold, they can be a main course or a side, and they can be the star of a dish or transformed into something completely different, like vegan versions of classic meat-based dishes.
Hail to the humble lentil! Give them a try and see just how amazing they are. For an awesome lentil-based Thanksgiving main course, check out my Barbecue Lentil Loaf recipe – it’s sure to please vegetarians and omnivores alike.
Most of us are familiar with the term heirloom in the family context – those treasured items that are passed down, from generation to generation. In the gardening and culinary world, these treasures are known as heirloom plants. Perhaps you’ve noticed the unusual looking tomatoes in the produce aisle – you know, the ones that are all different sizes, shapes, and colors, like the deep purple Cherokee tomatoes? Or perhaps the white, yellow, or purple carrots caught your eye? Chances are, they are heirloom foods.
Barbara Richardson, a horticulturist with the National Gardening Association, defines heirloom plants as “vegetables, flowers, and fruits grown from seeds that are passed down from generation to generation.” While there is no official or standard definition of heirloom plants, the consensus is two factors are essential for a plant to be an heirloom: it must be old, and it must be open-pollinated.
Just how old is old enough for a plant to be an heirloom? This is the subject of some debate. Some argue plants should be at least 100 years old; some say at least 50 years old; and some argue that they must predate the end of World War II, which marks the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies. Most authorities agree that heirloom plants must be at least 50 years or three generations old.
Heirloom plants have generally been passed down through families that saved seeds through generations, or they came from seed banks. (Some purists argue that only seeds handed down within families are true heirloom foods!) They sometimes have fascinating stories – like the Mortgage Lifter tomato. It was developed by a man named Radiator Charlie in the 1940s. He sold the plants for $1.00 each, and his pitch was that one plant could feed a family of six. He was able to pay off his $6,000 mortgage in four years. Another interesting heirloom is the Ananas d’Amerique a Chair Verte melon. It dates back to 1794 and was grown on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate in Virginia.
In addition to being old, heirloom plants must be open-pollinated, which means that they are pollinated naturally by insects, wind, water, birds, or mammals. Seeds can be saved each year, and the plants grown from the seeds will have the same characteristics as the “parent” plants, also known as “true to type.”
In contrast to open-pollinated plants, many modern, mass produced seeds are crosses between plants, or hybrids, that will not produce seeds that grow true to type plants. Modern hybrids are developed for certain profit minded characteristics, such as high yields, uniform appearance, and thick skins so they can be shipped long distances without bruising. Unfortunately, taste is NOT the focus of mass produced produce!
Tomatoes and carrots may be the first heirloom foods that come to mind, but they aren’t the only ones. There are hundreds of thousands of heirloom plants available around the world. Common varieties of heirloom plants include:
Heirloom tomatoes: Black Krim, Red & Yellow Pear, Beefsteak, San Marzano, Cherokee Purple & more
Heirloom potatoes: Bliss Triumph, Early Rose, Early Ohio, Garnet Chile, Peach Blow, Snowflake & more
Heirloom beets: Bull’s Blood, Chiogga, Early Wonder, Ruby Queen, Detroit Dark Red & more
Heirloom squash/gourds: Sugar Pie Pumpkin, Black Beauty Zucchini, Early Straightneck Squash & more
Heirloom beans: Orca, Jacob’s Cattle, European Soldier, Flageolet, Cranberry, Tongue of Fire & more
Heirloom eggplant: Black Beauty, Long Purple, Listada de Gandia, Old White Egg & more
Heirloom cherries: Black Tartarian, Montmorency, English Morello & more
Heirloom watermelons: Charlseton Gray, Crimson Sweet, Moon & Stars, Mountain Sweet Yellow & more
Other than their fascinating history, why should you choose heirloom varieties? Here are 5 great reasons to choose heirloom foods:
1 – Flavor is king. Heirloom foods have unique colors, textures, and, most importantly, tastes not found in factory-farmed industrial produce. Commercial produce varieties are chosen for their stability, their uniformity, and other qualities irrelevant to taste. Heirloom varieties are all about taste – it’s the primary reason that heirloom varieties are grown generation after generation. They were and are prized for their flavor.
2 – They are naturally pesticide free.
Typically, heirlooms adapt over time and develop unique characteristics based on the climate and soil in which they grow. Due to their genetics, they are often resistant to local pests, diseases, and extremes of weather. This natural resistance makes the use of pesticides unnecessary.
3 – Buying them supports small, local farms. Heirloom plants are grown on a small scale using traditional techniques. Chances are when you buy heirlooms, you are supporting small, local agriculture, as these plants are not designed to be mass produced and travel long distances. So when you buy them, you are putting money back into your own community rather than supporting multinational, government subsidized agri-businesses.
4 – Purchasing heirloom varieties promotes genetic diversity. Large producers typically use monoculture, meaning they grow and produce a single variety or species of crop over a large agricultural area. This practice decreases the genetic diversity of our foods, and genetic diversity is important to the security of our food system. Remember the Irish potato famine of the 1840s? At that point in history, nearly half of the Irish population was dependent on the potato for their diet, especially the rural poor. The potatoes planted were mainly one or two high-yielding varieties of potatoes, rather than a larger variety of potato plants. This reliance on 1-2 species greatly reduced the genetic variety that would ordinarily prevent the decimation of an entire crop by disease, and the Irish were vulnerable to famine.
5 – FLAVOR. Have I mentioned that heirloom plants are prized for their flavor? If you’re a foodie like I am, it bears repeating!
Next time you’re at the farmers’ market or your local grocery store, keep an eye out for the unusual looking produce items and give them a try. Go easy on the spices and such so their natural flavor can shine – I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the taste and cooking possibilities with these amazing heirloom foods!
Gettle, Jere & Emilee, The Heirloom Life Gardener. New York: Hyperion, 2011. Print.
Iannotti, Marie, The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables. Portland: Timber Press, Inc., 2011. Print.
Ah, it’s that time of year. Thanksgiving is almost here, and Christmas is right on its heels. Holidays can be stressful for anyone, but they can be particularly tough when you’re the lone vegan in your family.
I’ll never forget getting the stink-eye from my mother my first vegan Thanksgiving as I passed up platter after platter of our family’s traditional holiday dishes. That was a few years ago, and I’m happy to say I’ve learned a bit since then!
Here are a few tips to help you navigate a healthy holiday season as a vegan in a non-vegan household.
Healthy Holiday Season: Five Survival Tips for Vegans
- Talk to the person hosting beforehand. Whether it’s your mom, grandma, aunt, or friend, it’s helpful if they know beforehand that you’re vegan. I had to explain to my mom what that meant when I first shifted my diet. Now, four years later, she sets some of the collard greens and black-eyed peas aside when she’s cooking – before adding animal fat – for me. I didn’t pressure her to do it, mind you, but she made the choice to accommodate me in her own time and way. (And let me tell you, being Southern born and bred and raised in a place where pork fat is ubiquitous, this is real progress!)
- Get your “mind right,” as my grandma would say. Take a deep breath, relax, and focus on the celebratory purpose of the holidays. If and when the subject of being vegan comes up, state your commitment to a vegan lifestyle in a positive, uplifting way. This one took me a few years to learn, but it’s become very clear to me that walking my talk and being healthy and happy is a more effective strategy for influencing others than being judgmental and preachy. When someone asks about my lifestyle at a gathering, here’s one of my go-to lines: “Being vegan makes me feel great physically, mentally, and spiritually.” If someone questions your choices in a confrontational way, continue taking deep breaths, smile, and be polite: “I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned about nutrition, animal agriculture, and the environmental impacts of factory farming another time. This really isn’t the best time and place. Let’s set up a time to get together, have coffee or tea, and chat further. I look forward to it!”
- Be strong in your convictions. Be confident in your lifestyle choices – you don’t need to justify yourself or feel apologetic in any way. If you’re a new vegan, there will be an adjustment period. Especially in my first year of being vegan, most holiday gatherings were filled with comments that went something like this: “What? You’re not going to have any of your grandma’s famous chocolate cake with butter icing? But it’s your favorite!” Be true to your values, and respond to your caring relatives and friends in a positive, neutral way. Thank anyone who comments for thinking of you, but let them know you’ll be passing on the non-vegan dishes this year. I’ll often say something like “I’m sure it’s delicious – maybe I’ll try making a vegan version of that for next year’s celebration!”
- Practice gratitude. The holidays are all about celebrating our blessings, right? We are fortunate to live in a part of the world where we have lots of choices about the food that we buy, prepare, and share, from being able to buy almost anything, whether it’s in season or not, to having access to awesome organic food. We also live in a country where we have the mobility to visit friends and family, whether we live down the block from one another or on different coasts. We are truly blessed, and remembering that helps keep things in perspective.
- Do some cooking yourself, and make sure you have plenty to share. They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, right? Think of the holidays as a great time to show off just how amazing vegan food can be. And don’t think you have to make “veganized” versions of traditional dishes. You can, of course, but vegan food doesn’t need to compete with the traditional stuff. It is amazing all on its own and offers an alternative to a lot of the heavier fare that is standard on a holiday table. Consider making a one-dish vegan casserole that can serve as the main part of your meal and will be hearty enough to impress the omnivores at the table. Also, take a dessert! It’s so easy to make awesome vegan sweets – vegan pumpkin bread and vegan “cream cheese” pie are two of my family’s favorites. (And I never thought that the words vegan and favorite would be used in the same sentence, with my family!)
With these simple strategies, you can enjoy the a healthy holiday season as a vegan, whether it’s your first one or you’re a long-timer. And you never know – you might even turn a few friends and family members on to a new way of doing things during the holidays! Happy feasting.
Around the office and around the house, it seems like Halloween candy is everywhere! The really scary treats are all of that candy loaded with high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, artificial colors and trans fats. With Halloween candy everywhere, tIt can make it really hard to avoid snacking on sugary and unhealthy foods when you want to be eating right and staying fit.
My mission this week is finding healthy Halloween treats that even kids will enjoy. I put together this fun recipe roundup from across the web. A lot of these suggestions would make great office snacks, party snacks, pre-trick or treating food. Just make sure to use organic ingredients whenever possible.
Skip the packaged junk foods this year and try making some of these easy, spooky, scary and sometimes gross looking snacks! Hope you enjoy these healthy Halloween snacks!
13 Fun & Healthy Halloween Treats!
- Candy Corn Veggie Tray With Dip – make sure to serve organic veggies and healthy dips like hummus, or Simply Organic’s dips.
- Veggie Skeleton – a super fresh alternative to sweet snacks and packaged treats.
- Spooky Spider Deviled Eggs – creepy, but oh so tasty!
- Halloween Spider Crackers – try using Late July’s Rich Crackers, Once Again Nut Butter and Newman’s Organic Thin Stick Pretzels
- Carrot-Rice Mini Jack O’Lanterns – great for kids who can’t have sugar but still want something sweet.
- Jack O Lantern Hummus Plate – use Pacific Red Pepper Hummus, organic canned black beans, a pretzel stick for the stem and surround with organic crackers or veggies.
- Ear Wax Snax – sure to gross out the kids! Make it vegan with Dandies Mini Marshmallows and Cadia Peanut Butter.
- Peanut Butter Pumpkins – try using almond or sunflower butter if you have peanut allergies!
- Banana Ghost Pops – coated in shredded coconut with chocolate chip eyeballs, they’re ghoulishly good.
- Stuffed Roaches – nope, they’re not really roaches – they’re Medjool Dates stuffed with a cream cheese/walnut spread!
- Bloody Band-Aids – these will gross out even the adults! Use graham crackers, cream cheese and strawberry jam.
- Apple Smiles – An easy way to get some fresh fruit in with the candy treats. Use Dandies Mini Marshmallows and your favorite nut butter.
- Candy Corn Quesadillas – these would make a great dinner before trick or treating to get everyone in the spirit!
What are your favorite healthy Halloween snacks? Share with us in the comments below!
Organic produce is plentiful all year round. Local farmer’s markets, backyard gardens and your local grocery store are brimming with the vibrant colors of the finest organic produce. We’re all know that adding more veggies to each meal is beneficial, so what’s the best way to prepare organic produce so you can maximize the nutritional value?
Organic Produce From the Ground UpLet’s start from the ground up. Organic produce is grown in an organic and sustainable manner. Organic farmers use things like crop rotation and organic fertilizers to provide plants with the best nutrients possible for robust growth. Better soil, better nutrition, better produce!
Organic Produce: A Long Haul or Right Next Door?
Once produce is harvested, a number of factors impact what ends up on your plate. Time in transit and and methods of storage, can greatly influence the nutritional quality of your produce. The upshot is, the longer it takes between being picked and getting on your plate, the more nutrients are lost. The best choice is finding fresh, local, organic produce and consuming it within a few days. If finding local produce is challenging, simply eating seasonally will boost the nutrient value. If you’re eating blueberries in the middle of winter, chances are they’ve come from very far away and will have lost most of their nutrition by the time you eat them.
Organic Produce: Fresh and Raw
Of course, your best bet for the highest nutritional value of your vibrant, fresh organic produce is to bring it home quickly and eat it soon. Think fresh salads, adding raw fruits to your breakfast cereals, veggie/grain/bean side dishes, even juicing. Enjoying your produce when it’s at the peak of freshness will maximize nutritional value.
Organic Produce: Freezing and Blanching
Freezing fresh fruits and vegetables that you won’t consume immediately is the best way to preserve nutrient value of your organic produce. Freeze in small containers so you can pull out just what you need each time. Removing as much air as possible will help prevent the likelihood of freezer burn. Add frozen fruits and vegetables to a morning smoothie with organic protein powder, add frozen veggies to simmering soups and stews, the possibilities are endless.
Blanching is the process of boiling fresh vegetables just long enough to stop enzymatic activity to preserve color and flavor. It can be tricky, though, because over-cooking will contribute to vitamin and nutrient loss; under-cooking will fail to stop enzymatic activity. Be sure to follow time recommendations if you choose blanching before freezing.
Organic Produce: Canning and Drying
In addition to preserving organic produce through freezing or blanching, you can try canning or drying. Canning involves preparing the fruits or vegetables using high heat and sealing the container once the contents have reached a minimum temperature. High cooking temperatures will reduce Vitamin C content, but most other nutrients will remain intact and your summer’s bounty of organic produce will last well into the following winter, spring and beyond.
Drying is a process of reducing water from fresh, organic produce. This process reduces enzyme activity and thereby decreasing the likelihood that your fruits or veggies will spoil. Because water content is reduced, remaining nutrients are more densely concentrated, so you’re boosting your nutrients per serving.
Organic Produce: Heating Things Up
Last, but certainly most common, is cooking. You can steam, microwave, boil, broil or bake fresh produce in a variety of ways. The simple rule of thumb is this: the longer you cook fresh, organic produce and the more heat you use, the more vitamins you lose. Water soluble vitamins like Vitamin C and B vitamins are primarily impacted. Steaming is better than boiling since you are not losing nutrients by soaking your veggies in water. Microwaving is preferable to boiling – again because you retain more of your water soluble vitamins. Roasting, baking and broiling vegetables can caramelize the sugars in the food, creating a nice sweet flavor on your favorite veggies. High heat for long periods of time will reduce some of the nutritional content, but the delicious roasted flavors may encourage picky eaters to chow down on more organic produce than they might otherwise.
No matter how you choose to prepare your fresh, organic produce, you’ll be packing a powerful nutritional punch. Your body will thank you.
Just as important, it is incredibly flavorful, versatile, and easy to prepare. Read on for five quick and easy ways to prepare butternut squash that are sure to please even the pickiest eaters!
Favorite Fall Recipes: Butternut Squash, Five Ways!
1 – Simply Steamed. This is the quickest, simplest way to prepare butternut squash, and it retains the most nutritional value when prepared this way. Cut a large butternut squash in half and remove the seeds. Chop into large chunks (3-4 inches or so) to help them steam faster. Place in a steamer – you can use the metal insert that fits into a pot, or an actual steamer. Steam for approximately 20 minutes until a fork inserted in the thickest section of the squash penetrates it easily. Enjoy with salt and pepper, or indulge and add a little vegan buttery spread.
You may wonder, is the skin edible? I buy organic squash and yes, I eat the skin – which contains a lot of the nutrients of the squash. (Also, to keep food waste to a minimum, you can roast the seeds for a nice snack!)
2 – Simply Roasted. Cut a large butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Rub the halves with coconut oil, inside and out. Place cut side down on a metal cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 40-60 minutes until tender (the amount of time depends on the thickness of the squash and your oven). Sprinkle with a little cinnamon, sea salt, and black pepper, and enjoy!
3 – Baked. Take a large butternut squash, remove the seeds, peel it, and cut it in to 1” cubes. Toss with 2 tablespoons of fresh minced parsley 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste, and about a quarter cup of nutritional yeast. Bake in an uncovered, ungreased shallow casserole dish at 400 degrees for 50-55 minutes until squash is tender.
4 – Mashed. Steam or roast a large butternut squash. Let it cool and remove the peel. Mash the squash with about a quarter cup of vegan buttery spread, a splash of plant-based milk, 2-3 tablespoons of maple syrup, ¼ teaspoon each of cumin, cinnamon, and coriander, a dash of cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.
5 – Soup. Roast butternut squash and a medium-sized yam (poke holes in it with a fork first) per roasting directions above. While the squash and yam are roasting, saute 3 chopped carrots, 1 diced sweet onion, and 4 chopped garlic cloves in a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil in a stock pot over medium heat. When they are softened, add about 6 cups of vegetable stock (more or less, depending on how thick you like your soup) and heat gently until the squash and yam are finished roasting. Remove the peels of the squash and yam and add them plus salt and pepper to taste to the stock pot. Puree with a stick blender until smooth, simmer until desired consistency and temperature, and enjoy!
And there you have it. These are just a few of the myriad ways to enjoy one of fall’s finest market finds. My collection of fall recipes definitely would not be complete without these easy go-to dishes.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy butternut squash? Let us know in the comments below!
What does it mean to eat a brain-healthy diet? Well, the brain needs the good balance of nutrients to function well. A variety of organic foods that are rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids is a great start. You’ll also want to make sure to get enough vitamins like C, E, B12 and folate. How do you make sure you’re getting the right organic foods for your brain? Use the guide below!
13 Optimal Organic Foods For a Healthy Brain
1 – Antioxidant Rich Fruits and Veggies
The best organic foods to reach for here are dark and colorful. Think spinach, kale, beets, red bell pepper, broccoli, blueberries, raspberries, red grapes, pomegranates and cherries. Some light colored veggies are a good addition: cauliflower and onion.
2 – Omega 3’s
Try eating small oily fishes like sardines and mackerel. Cold water fish like salmon, trout, tuna and halibut are good options. Fatty fish have been shown to lower the risk of dementia, and can help improve memory and attention. Our bodies don’t make essential fatty acids (EFAs), so they must be obtained through diet. They are good for healthy brain function as well as the heart, joints and general well being. Oily fish contains EPA and DHA in a form which enables the body to use it easily.
3 – Vitamin E Rich Nuts and Seeds
Some of the best are walnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and flax seeds. You can also eat nut and seed butters for the same benefit. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that a good intake of vitamin E might help to prevent cognitive decline, particularly in the elderly.
4 – Vitamin C Rich Foods
Some of the best are red bell peppers, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, spinach and cauliflower. Vitamin C is easily destroyed by heat so make sure to eat some of these foods fresh and raw to make sure you’re getting optimal levels.
5 – Zinc rich foods
Include in your diet oysters, beef, crab, beans, yogurt, cashews, chickpeas, oatmeal, almonds, pumpkin seeds and peas. Just a handful of pumpkin seeds a day is all you need to get your recommended daily amount of zinc, an important nurient for enhancing memory and thinking ability.
6 – Choline rich foods
Choline is a precursor to acetylcholine, a substance that helps stimulate the brain; a more stimulated brain is better able to make new connections, which is an important part of memory. Foods high in choline include eggs, liver, soybeans, peanuts, butter, potatoes, cauliflower, lentils, oats, Swiss chard, collard greens, sesame seeds, wheat germ and flax seeds.
7 – Water
It isn’t really a food but it is vitally important. Make sure to get enough water to keep your body and brain hydrated. Dehydration can cause a headache, and several studies have shown that dehydration can affect cognitive function. When a person becomes dehydrated, their brain tissue actually shrinks. How much to drink? A good rule of thumb is to divide your weight by two and drink that number in ounces.
8 – Whole grains & Beans
The ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate and steady supply of energy. Our brain feeds on glucose in our bloodstream. One of the best ways to make sure you have adequate levels is to choose whole grains with a low glycemic index. Oatmeal, whole-grain breads, brown rice, lentils and black beans are optimal for promoting glucose rich blood flow to the brain.
9 – Tea, Coffee & Chocolate
Boost your brain power with caffeine. Modest amounts of coffee or tea can enhance memory, focus and mood. Green tea is especially beneficial because it is rich in antioxidants that also promote brain health. Dark chocolate includes several natural stimulants including caffeine; it stimulates the production of endorphins, improving mood as well.
10 – Avocados
Avocados help to lower blood pressure. Since hypertension is a risk factor for the decline in cognitive abilities, eating foods which lower blood pressure may promote brain health. Eating avocados contributes to healthy blood flow and healthy blood flow means a healthy brain.
11 – Garlic
Garlic may help stave off some forms of brain cancer, according to research published in Cancer, the medical journal of the American Cancer Society. Investigators found that the organo-sulfur compounds in garlic worked to kill glioblastoma cells,a type of malignant tumor cell.
12 – Vegetables rich in Betacarotene
Some of the best organic foods in this category are carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach. They have all been shown to improve the health of the brain.
13 – Spices
Certain spices like sage, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron, basil, thyme, rosemary and ginger have been shown to improve brain function and stave off disease. These spices are anti-inflammatory and contain many antioxidant compounds that are protective for the brain.
It seems that organic quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a food superstar – and it’s showing up on menus all over America. So, what is quinoa and what can you do with it? Is it really nature’s perfect food? Let’s find out!
A nutritionist I once knew had declared beans the perfect food for their fiber, protein and nutritional power. And she’s right, but organic quinoa has many of the same attributes.
Organic Quinoa: A little history
Quinoa is a plant that was originally cultivated by pre-Columbian civilizations in the Andes in Peru and Bolivia. It was a staple food at that time, but was replaced by cereals when the Spanish arrived. Evidence suggests it was cultivated sometime between 3,000 and 5,000 BCE and was a primary food source later replaced by corn, millet and other grains.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013 was declared the International Year of Quinoa “in recognition of the indigenous peoples of the Andes, who have maintained, controlled, protected and preserved quinoa as food for present and future generations thanks to their traditional knowledge and practices of living in harmony with nature.” [Source: FAO.org].
Quinoa is related to amaranth, spinach, Swiss chard, and beets.
Quinoa production worldwide has more than quadrupled since the 1970’s and quinoa has gained popularity due to its unique crunchy texture, nutty flavor, high protein and nutrient content and fast cooking time.
Organic Quinoa: Nutrition Packed
On a pound for pound basis, organic quinoa has about the same calories as corn, rice or wheat. Nutritionally, it has more protein, iron and zinc. Due to the manner in which all of these foods are typically processed, quinoa also generally has more fiber than these other grains.
Also available is sprouted organic quinoa. Sprouting does not mean that you’ve got live plants in your hand, but that the plant was germinated, activating even more nutritional super powers. Sprouted organic quinoa can be prepared just as regular organic quinoa though lower heat and shorter cooking times make the sprouted variety really easy to add to your culinary cupboard.
Organic Quinoa Varieties
Organic quinoa comes in white , red, black and rainbow (also called tricolor). White quinoa is the most commonly used, but red and black quinoa add great color to your dish and make a perfect choice for a side dish like quinoa salad or quinoa cakes.
Organic Quinoa Preparation
You can serve quinoa as a breakfast cereal, mixing with oatmeal, add cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, vanilla, raisins, walnuts, pecans, dates, you name it.
You can make it as a salad – use instead of bulgur wheat for tabbouleh, add roasted vegetables such as asparagus, beets, onions, mushrooms or eggplant; add fresh chopped veggies like scallions, onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery – add chopped nuts, dried fruit (raisins, figs, cranberries), dress lightly and enjoy an energizing lunch, side dish or salad or add quinoa to a hearty Cobb salad.
You can also add organic quinoa or use organic quinoa flour for tasty and nutritious oatmeal-quinoa-raisin cookies, almond-cranberry-quinoa cookies or any recipe that calls for a bit of crunch.
Organic Quinoa Reigns Supreme
It should be pretty clear why organic quinoa is such a rock star in the food realm. Valued for high nutritional content, high fiber, great texture and quick cooking time, there’s so many delicious, nutritious reasons to keep organic quinoa in your pantry for a regular addition to your healthy meals.
Click HERE for some great organic quinoa recipes!
It can be intimidating to stock a kitchen for plant based living, especially if you don’t have a lot of cooking experience or a health coach guiding you. One of my number one tips as a plant based living educator is this: set yourself up for success. If you have a well-stocked pantry, you can be prepared to make all kinds of amazing plant based meals – with just the addition of fresh produce – without a lot of fuss! Read on for my top ten must-have vegan pantry items.
10 Must-have foods in my plant based pantry:
- Beans: Inexpensive, filling, and versatile, beans are a staple in my kitchen. I keep both dried and canned organic beans on hand, and I often cook a batch in the slow cooker on Sunday for use in various dishes throughout the week. My favorites are black beans, green split peas, and pinto beans.
- Lentils: Did you know that lentils are “pulses,” the edible seeds of legumes? They are good sources of fiber and protein and also contain high amounts of calcium and vitamins A and B. The most common varieties are brown, green, yellow, and red lentils. The yellow and red ones break down a lot during cooking, while the brown and green ones hold their shape. Make your choice based on your desired outcome, in terms of texture! I use the red ones for my Red Lentil Dal.
- Jarred or canned tomatoes: Tomatoes are an excellent base for a variety of soups, stews, and sauces. I keep a variety of them on hand, both canned and jarred tomatoes . Diced tomatoes, spiced or not, are preferred for some recipes, while whole or stewed tomatoes may be better for others. I also keep sun-dried tomatoes on hand for some recipes, as they have a depth of flavor and a richness you don’t get from regular tomatoes.
- Whole grains: Whole grains contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions. When processed, meaning cracked, crushed, rolled, or cooked, the grains deliver the same rich balance of nutrients found in the original grain seeds. Brown rice and quinoa are my go-to grains. They are great on their own or with a little sauce/dressing, and they can be incorporated into tons of dishes, like soups, stews, vegetable stuffing, and cold salads.
- Nuts: Nuts are versatile in the kitchen and contain healthy fats. Cashews are probably the nut I use most often. With just two base ingredients – raw cashews and water – and whatever spices or flavoring you prefer, you can make cashew cream cheese (enjoy plain or add your preferred flavors – I add walnuts and agave nectar), cashew sour cream (add lemon juice and garlic powder), cashew creamer, and cashew milk. For the creamer and milk, I usually add a little agave nectar and a little vanilla.
- Seeds: My favorites are flax, chia, and sunflower. I use the first two in smoothies and breakfast dishes, and I use sunflower seeds in a variety of ways! My favorite way is to soak them and make a white sauce for pasta that is absolutely divine. You can also put them on salads, roast them with spices as a snack, or incorporate them in a stuffing – the possibilities are endless!
- Plant-based milks: You can find plant-based milks in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, but I prefer the aseptic (shelf-stable) packaged milks. They aren’t as perishable, of course, and they come in smaller containers! My personal favorite is hemp milk, as it tastes good and hemp is a nutritional powerhouse – packed with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
- Nutritional yeast: Affectionately known as “nooch” in the veg community, this is a deactivated yeast in powder or flake form that is sold commercially as a food product. It contains folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein, and it is often fortified with vitamin B12. It has a nutty, “cheesy” flavor, so it’s an excellent substitute for dairy cheese in many recipes. I like nutritional yeast best on organic popcorn and as a pasta topping in place of parmesan.
- Tahini: It’s hard for me to imagine that just a few short years ago, I had never heard of tahini. Now, it’s one of my go-to ingredients for salad dressings and sauces! It’s simply ground sesame seed paste, and it is commonly used in North African, Greek, Iranian, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisine. It is remarkably versatile, and it packs a ton of flavor. It’s usually my dressing base instead of oil – this Tahini Lime Dressing is my absolute favorite!
- Agave nectar or maple syrup: I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but a lot of savory recipes need just a touch of sweetness. Agave nectar and maple syrup are my preferred sweeteners. I use one of the two in my plant-based milks when I make them from scratch. I also use one or the other in veggie chili, in some salad dressings, and in a lot of the soups and stews I enjoy.
If you stock your pantry with these staple ingredients, an easy, plant based meal is at your fingertips every day. Just add fresh produce, and the variety of dishes you can make is limited only by your imagination. Bon appetit!
You’ve heard the term gluten or gluten free somewhere, but you’re still wondering what the heck is this gluten business all about, right? Well trust me, I’ve been there and I am still learning new information all the time. When I was first diagnosed in June 2015 as being severely intolerant to gluten, a wave of confusion fell over me.
Time and time again I had observed all of the gluten free products on store shelves, I even knew a couple gals who were gluten free and I saw the GF bread at the farmers market, but I had no clue why one would elect to go GF unless it was just another stupid diet fad. (i.e. Atkins, South Beach, The Zone, etc.) Being highly unsupportive of diets, I always snubbed my nose to the gluten free living craze. I figured it was bound to fade out and it would be replaced by something new such as grinding animal bones into powder and drinking them in smoothies. I mean seriously, who knows what the next diet fad will be? That was until I started to learn more about my diagnosis and that for people who are indeed allergic, intolerant, or worse, have an autoimmune disease such as Celiac where gluten can do serious damage to a person’s digestive tract and make them very ill, gluten is no joke. What being gluten free means to this category of people definitely isn’t a diet fad.
Okay so what is gluten? It’s the elastic protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten literally means glue in Latin. Do you love how doughy a fresh loaf of bread feels or how cake springs back from your fork after pressing down on it? That would be gluten doing it’s magic and creating the elasticity most people love and crave.
Not only is gluten found in a lot of cakes, cookies, breads and pastas, but guess what, gluten is also found in barley. Barley is in beer. Beer has gluten. Beer, people. I was so sad to learn this news. I don’t drink beer often, but with all of the valley breweries to choose from, I do enjoy having a glass of local craft beer here and there….I now weep for Mr. Pineapple.
The third biggest gluten culprit is rye, but I never really ate much with rye in it so I don’t worry as much about that. Gluten can also be found in other wheat related grains so take a look at this link for the full list. My main focus is wheat because wheat is in so many products. Even products you wouldn’t suspect, wheat can lurk, especially in condiments. Take a look at this list from Gluten Free Girl and my own research of where gluten can hide:
|soy, fish & oyster sauce||soups||licorice, hard candy|
|seasoning packets||natural flavoring||BBQ sauces, ketchup, mayo|
|chocolate||ice cream||broth and bouillon cubes|
|chipotles in adobo sauce||yogurt and other dairy products||miso|
|cold cuts, hot dogs||mole and Mexican sauces||beverages- iced tea, sports drinks|
|beer, vodka, wine coolers||breaded foods||oats|
So what was my first step with receiving the gluten free blues news?
Initially I thought…okay not a big deal. I will just take this with a 80/20 approach and as long as I’m gluten free most of the time, I can do this. No sweat. For the first couple of weeks I did just that. I mainly ate the same way I was eating before which was a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, organic chicken, fish, nuts, whole grains and dairy. However, a girl steers off the course sometimes and wants a brownie, crackers & dip, pizza or sushi. Or she goes out to eat and may order something that contains gluten that she would have never suspected. This is where I needed to tighten up and stop making assumptions that I knew what was GF and what wasn’t. I needed to start questioning more and accept that this will be a learning curve and it’s okay to not have a handle on this new challenge immediately. I needed to educate myself further and do some research.
Once given the diagnosis, a lot of stuff began to make sense. I’ve had digestive issues since all the way back in high school. I’ve always gotten sick from fried foods, anything with heavy sauces, pastries & cake, salad dressings, fast food, even beer occasionally. I had seen a Gastroenterologist in my early 20’s and had a colonoscopy at the ripe age of 23, but there were no polyps, cysts, Crohn’s or other diseases detected. The diagnosis was IBS. I was prescribed medicine and was on my way. The IBS was so bad that often I would have to plan my night around it. I never liked going to parties because if I had an episode, I didn’t want to mortify myself and hang out in the bathroom half the night. I was never tested for gluten intolerance or even told to change my diet so I didn’t. I continued eating the way most 20 something year olds eat, and suffered the consequences for many years. In addition to digestive issues, gluten can also cause brain fogginess, headaches, bone & joint pain, chronic fatigue, depression, diarrhea and bloating. I have experienced a lot of these symptoms especially the brain fog, pain, bloating and fatigue.
Interesting enough I don’t look at gluten free living as this life-altering complication I now have to face. I’m actually excited by the challenge to try and make myself healthier. Thankfully I started looking at my health differently in my late 20’s and I realized that diet is so key to everything. For the past 5 years or so, I have been on a quest of eating healthy, cooking, taking supplements, exercising and trying to live a healthier lifestyle. Once I recognized the diet and IBS connection, my IBS symptoms reduced significantly, but not 100%. Even with all of the positive changes I’ve made, there was still the gluten issue that I was unaware of until recently. Now that I have this piece of valuable information, I look at it like a piece of a puzzle. I have been looking for the missing piece for so many years and now I have it. I can choose to use this new wisdom to really get to that next step of feeling vibrant, energized and pain free.
I learned that when you are GF, there is no halfway. You are either gluten free or you’re not. This totally shot down my plan on just being 80/20 with it. Kerri Kreuger of Natural Healthy Concepts sums it up well…
The gluten-free diet is put into action to not only keep gluten damage from occurring, but to help your gut heal, too. In those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, ingesting gluten causes varying levels of sickness. That sickness can last for days, and if you’ve been faithful to the gluten-free diet for any amount of time, you know how great being gluten-free can make you feel. So, why would you willingly make yourself miserable?
Well I guess I’m 100% gluten free then. I have read other information online about the havoc that gluten can do on a sensitive digestive system along with the wildfire of inflammation that it spreads into bones and joints. I want to feel better so I want to commit. I want to go GF for real, not just part time. It’s been almost 2 months now and so far so good. I have been exploring different gluten free products, cooking a lot more at home and researching GF friendly restaurants. I have had a few mishaps not by choice, but by not realizing there was gluten in something I ate (condiments and sauces are the biggest culprits for me). I am learning and that is okay. I’m also learning to deal with the comments from people like “well what do you eat then” or “it’s just this once.” Also the misconceptions others have about my reasoning or what gluten intolerance even is, and the label of being a “picky eater.” People often judge what they don’t know. Just because someone is GF, doesn’t mean they judge you for eating gluten. I’m a “picky eater” because I care. Sometimes I wish I didn’t, but I do. I am super excited to see where this road takes me on my path to wellness. How will I feel in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years? As a cancer survivor, I have dealt with a lot of medical issues that I had no control over and if this is something I can put a leash on and control to feel healthy and strong, you bet your bagels I’m on board.