Today’s Health Morsel: Oats

breakfast_text

Since I discovered how much energy I get from eating whole grains (whole-y energy, Batman!), I just can’t get enough. More often than not, whole grains are the basis of my meals (though I must admit that sometimes I’m perfectly happy just eating a big plate-full of oven-roasted potatoes). Of all these whole grains that I’ve learned to love, oats play the most important role. They’re a major part of my breakfast – I use a mix of whole grains for my homemade muesli, but oats comprise the lion’s share. I use old-fashioned, also known as rolled, oats. See the Kitchn’s explanation of the different kinds of oats. The nutritional profiles of the different kinds of oats are basically the same, except for glycemic index. Instant oats are higher on the glycemic index than either steel-cut or old-fashioned oats. I also throw them into a coffee grinder to make some flour to add to veggie burger mixes, among other things.

Oats are an excellent source of manganese & molybdenum. They are a very good source of copper, biotin, thiamine (vitamin B1), magnesium, dietary fiber, chromium, zinc, & protein. They also contain two important phytonutrients: beta-glucans (a specific type of fiber) and saponins. Here’s a breakdown of the role that each of these nutrients plays in health:

Manganese is important for bone health and collagen production. It also helps to protect skin from UV damage and oxygen-related damage. It also plays a role in blood sugar control.

Oats are among the top sources of molybdenum. This element plays an important role in supporting the body’s detoxification process, developing connective tissues, and antioxidant activity. It may also play a role in neurotransmitter metabolism.

Copper helps iron to be absorbed into our red blood cells, so that it is possible for a copper deficiency to be mistaken for an iron deficiency. There might be an even bigger problem with copper, though. High levels of copper is associated with cognitive decline, but only in the presence of saturated & trans-fats. So, obviously, eliminate the bad fats, and you don’t need to worry so much about higher copper intake.

Biotin plays an important role in the metabolism of fats & sugar.

Vitamin B1 (a.k.a. thiamine), of which oats are in the top 10 in terms of bang for your caloric buck. Thiamine is actually widely available in whole food sources, but is easily destroyed by our ways of processing foods, so that it’s relatively easy to be deficient unless you eat a whole foods plant-based diet. It is vital to our body’s system for producing energy out of dietary carbohydrates and fats. It is also important to the brain and the rest of the nervous system, likely because they require so much energy to function.

Even a mild magnesium deficiency can lead to significant bone loss. Magnesium has also shown an anti-depressant effect, helps to enable energy production and to control inflammatory processes and blood sugar.

Zinc is essential to skin health and a functioning immune system. It is also incorporated into the retina, and works alongside Vitamin A to detect light, and transmit nerve impulses to the brain.

β-glucans (beta-glucans) and saponins are both fibers. β-glucans are a viscous soluble fiber – see my post on Kale). Saponins do a lot of the same, binding with cholesterol-containing bile acids to prevent their re-absorption into the body, supporting digestion, antioxidant activity, antimicrobial activity, and perhaps helping to fight cancer cells.

So, that’s a lot of reasons to eat oats. And did you see how many times energy came up? No wonder I get so much energy from eating my morning muesli! I was buying muesli for a while, but I have a very limited selection of the stuff in the shops around my home. I had trouble finding one the didn’t include either banana chips or coconut shavings, neither of which I’m a big fan of, so I decided to make my own maple-walnut muesli, and I’ve been doing that for several months now. It’s not at all time-consuming, and I make enough for about a week and a half at a time. If you wanted to do the same, but you’re shorter on time, you could easily make enough for 2 weeks. What’s really nice about this is that I can take advantage of seasonal fruits. I have a dehydrator, so I just dry as many as I can, and add them to the muesli until they run out. I love when it’s mirabelle season – mirabelles are berry-sized yellow plums that only grow in the Grand Est region of France, and are rarely seen elsewhere. You could substitute whatever dried fruits you want.

Here’s how I make my muesli:

  • 500 g of 5-grain muesli mix (the one I use includes oats, wheat, barley, rye, & spelt)
  • 20 g sunflower seeds
  • 75 g old-fashioned (a.k.a. rolled) oats
  • 50 g toasted buckwheat (You can buy it toasted, or, for cheaper, toast it yourself)
  • 35 g hulled pumpkin seeds
  • 135 g sultanas/raisins
  • 100 g dried fruit & berries (I cycle through mirabelles, cranberries, gooseberries, apricots, goji berries, etc)
  • 55 g dried apple pieces
  • 120 g raw walnuts (pecans are also really nice, but more expensive in my area)
  • 3 – 4 T maple syrup

See the recipe page for detailed instructions.

And here’s how I eat it each morning:

  • 1 1/2 c muesli (that’s about 1 c whole grains + 1/4 c dried fruit + 1/4 c nuts & seeds)
  • 1 T flaxseed & 1 clove, ground and mixed into the muesli

Checklist items: berries, flaxseeds, nuts & seeds, herbs & spices, 1 whole grains (5 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

  • corn tortilla
  • 1 c beet greens cooked with garlic, cumin, paprika, lime juice, parsley, cilantro, & bouillon
  • 1/2 c black beans
  1. Use the above ingredients to make a burrito. I always make sure when I cook the beet greens to have plenty of sauce, which will season the beans.

Checklist items: 1 beans, 2 greens, herbs & spices, 1 whole grains (5 out of 18 servings). 


dinner_text

  • 1 1/2 c diced apple
  • 1 c diced turnip
  • 2 c fresh peas
  • handful of fresh mint or any herb you want
  • 1/2 c beets
  • piece of cornbread (oil-free, of course: recipe review up-coming)
  1. Cook & mash the apple & turnip together with some black pepper.
  2. Cook & blend the peas together with the mint (like mushy peas, but without the salt, butter, & cream).
  3. Beets are boiled, cooled, and seasoned with vinegar & black pepper.

Checklist items: 2 beans, 1 1/2 other fruits, 1 cruciferous, 2 other vegetables, herbs & spices, 1 whole grains ( 8.5 out of 18 servings)


dessert_text

  • 1 1/2 c fruit salad

Checklist items: 1 1/2 other fruits (1.5 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

20 servings in total.

We got at least the recommended servings of everything today, plus extra herbs & spices.

 

Today’s Health Morsel: Kale, Obviously

We all know kale is healthy – it’s even sometimes used as a standard against which to measure the health benefits of other veg. But not that many of us could pinpoint those benefits, so I’ll go over exactly what kale is doing for you, and share my favorite way to prepare it – the one way that really makes me want to eat it every day.

Most of my ‘health morsel’ posts include a full meal plan for the day. However, my favorite way to eat kale is not in a full meal, but see my Misr Wat recipe for an excellent lunch or dinner that includes kale.


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Oxidative stress results from compromised oxygen metabolism. Among the key players in oxygen metabolism are antioxidants. Kale has an unusually high concentration of flavonoids & carotenoids – two types of antioxidants. Oxidative stress plays a role not only in cancer development, but also in the development of cataracts, glaucoma, atherosclerosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Setting aside only nasturtiums, kale has the highest lutein (an antioxidant) density of any food, meaning that it’s protective against light and oxygen damage to the eyes. Even less than one cup of kale per week has been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing glaucoma.

Another contributor to a number of health problems, including cancer, is chronic inflammation. Fighting inflammation is a job that kale does well due to its ridiculous amounts of Vitamin K, and its omega-3 fatty acids. One should also eliminate inflammation-causing foods (animal products, salt, refined sugar, etc.) to feel the full benefits.

Kale also helps to lower cholesterol: certain components of the fiber bind bile acids, causing them to get ‘stuck’ in the digestive tract, leading to excretion. The liver uses cholesterol to make bile acids, so the more are bound, the more cholesterol the body uses up. In a head-to-head study, kale and collard greens bound more bile acids than any of the other vegetables tested. By eliminating dietary sources of cholesterol (animal products) and eating a diet rich in kale & other cruciferous veggies, many people have been able to reduce or stop taking cholesterol-lowering medications (this should not be construed as medical advice).

Glucosinolate is a phytonutrient contained specifically in cruciferous vegetables, which is turned by your body into the strong cancer-fighting isothiocyanates. Like in other cruciferous veggies, these anti-cancer agents form from the combination of 2 elements released by cutting or breaking the plant tissue. To allow for the full effectiveness to develop, you can chop the greens 40 minutes before cooking them (since only one of the elements survives the heat of cooking) or you can add powdered mustard seed to your dish after cooking.

Isothiocyanates, along with sulfur compounds also found in kale, help in our bodies’ cellular detoxification processes. In the modern world, there are toxic agents, such as exhaust fumes from vehicles, everywhere. We really need all the help we can get in this respect.

So, which type of kale is best? As Dr. Greger often says – it’s the type that you’ll eat the most of. But for an extra edge, go with the curly-leafed varieties. They tend to have higher concentrations of glucosinolates than the broad-leafed varieties.

My favorite way to eat kale is kale chips, very simply prepared and oil-free. They can be eaten on the side or sprinkled on top of various meals, or by themselves as a snack. The beauty of kale is that it’s so hardy – I’ve found that I can freeze kale from my garden, and still turn it into crispy chips! That is amazing! If you don’t want to bake them, as I do, look up a recipe for making them in a dehydrator. I haven’t tried it yet, but I certainly will at some point.

Kale Chips

Remove the stems and rip or cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces, and place in a mixing bowl. Add black pepper and nutritional yeast to taste. Now you have 3 choices –

  1. Add a very small amount of salt, and just enough lemon juice to coat the leaves, without leaving any liquid in the bowl.
  2. Blend lemon juice together with some miso paste so that it’s got enough fluidity to incorporate well with the kale. Then mix everything together. Again, you don’t want any fluid sitting at the bottom of the bowl.
  3. Use about 1/3 tamari and 2/3 lemon juice to coat the leaves, as described above.

Spread onto a baking sheet covered with a silicon mat or baking paper. Bake at 350°F/175°C for 10 – 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t start to burn around the edges.

Can I steam tempeh meatballs?

YES!! Yes, you can!

I recently searched high and low for this information, wanting to make some vegan Chinese steamed meatballs using tempeh to celebrate the Chinese New Year. I didn’t know what would happen to them – would they fall apart, or gum up, or in some other way make them inedible for my intended guests?

Well, I didn’t find an answer, so I didn’t make them for guests. I made them for myself & my partner. And they turned out great! They didn’t fall apart; they didn’t gum up; and they didn’t do anything else that would have been embarrassing or yucky.

The meatballs I made were based on this recipe, and you can play around with herbs & spices without losing the texture, so you could be relatively certain of the same end result vis-à-vis steaming. I ended up steaming them for about 25 or 30 minutes, and that worked out just fine.

I just thought I’d share the info in case anyone else out there had the same question.

Today’s Health Morsel: Parsley

If you’ve never tried Persian food, you are seriously missing out. For me, a hallmark of so many of the wonderful Persian dishes that I’ve had is a liberal use of fresh herbs. It makes for meals that are both incredibly tasty and wonderfully health-promoting. The Ash (soup) that I’m making for dinner today uses a truckload of fresh herbs, including 2 cups of parsley. Read on for today’s daily dozen meal plan…


breakfast_text

  • 1 1/2 c muesli (that’s about 1 c whole grains + 1/4 c dried fruit + 1/4 c nuts & seeds)
  • 1 T flaxseed & 1 clove, ground and mixed into the muesli
  • 4 kumquats

Checklist items: berries, 1 other fruits, flaxseeds, herbs & spices, nuts & seeds, 1 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

  • 1/2 c cooked pinto beans
  • 1/2 c chopped kale
  • tamari
  • sriracha
  • lime juice
  • corn tortilla
  • 2 cups fruit salad
  1. Mash the beans, and heat them gently along with the the kale, tamari, sriracha, & lime juice.
  2. Make a burrito.

Fruit salad for dessert!

Checklist items: 1 beans, 2 other fruits, 1 other vegetables, 1 whole grains (5 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

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Tonight, the spotlight is on parsley! Italian or curly – take your pick. I prefer the Italian (or flat-leaf) parsley for 2 reasons: it has a more robust flavor, and it’s easier to chop. The curly variety flies all over the place, and as much ends up on the floor as in the dish. Okay, I’m exaggerating. A bit. But whichever you choose, it’s still a potent leafy green, which we humans seem to be particularly well-suited to eat! Its role in restaurants as an uneaten garnish is downright insulting to this phenomenal aromatic.

There are two different types of components in parsley that are rather uncommon, and that provide unique health benefits: their volatile oils & flavonoids.

First, the volatile oils – myristicin, limonene, eugenol & alpha thujene. These have all been shown to inhibit tumor growth, particularly in the lungs and breasts, by  different mechanisms. To give just one of many examples, myristicin neutralizes benzopyrenes which are carcinogens inhaled with cigarette smoke and charcoal-fired grills. (This study, among others.) As a former smoker myself, I cross my fingers and sprinkle that parsley liberally.

Next up, the flavonoids – apiin, apigenin, crisoeriol & luteolin. While the volatile oils are busy protecting you from carcinogens, these guys are working on oxygen-induced damage. During normal metabolic processes, your body produces small amounts of oxygen radicals (yes, the free ones). While oxygen radicals aren’t all-bad (they are also produced by certain white blood cells to help attack pathogens), they can lead to damage to macromolecules, like lipids (fats), nucleic acids, and proteins. The flavonoids in parsley function as antioxidants, binding the radicals and preventing cellular damage.

Parsley is also particularly rich in vitamin C. The amount of vitamin C recommended to avoid deficiency is around 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women, but studies suggest that the optimal dietary intake is around 200 mg per day, which is roughly 5 servings of fruits & veggies. Parsley contains approximately 40 mg per half cup, which will certainly provide a significant boost. It does lose some of its potency with cooking, so adding it fresh to salads & sprinkled on other dishes is always a great idea. Having said that, we are cooking it today, but we’re also using a lot!

Parsley is an excellent source of folate, vitamin A, and iron. These are important for the nervous system & cardiovascular health; vision, immune, & inflammatory systems; and energy production.

And now on to the part where we get to eat yummy stuff.

This recipe is Persian – Ash-e Reshteh, meaning noodle(reshteh) soup(ash). The name of this soup, from my perspective, is a testament to just how par-for-the-course it is to use fistfuls of fresh herbs in Persian cooking. You will know why when you see the ratio of noodles to herbs in the recipe.

We’re making enough for 2 servings, and the checklist below is for 1 serving. Because we’re using large quantities of fresh herbs, as opposed to small amounts of dried herbs, we’re counting them as greens.

  • 1 lg onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 c garbanzos (1/4 c dry)
  • 2/3 c red kidney beans (1/3 c dry)
  • 2/3 c lentils (1/3 c dry); I use beluga, but you could also use puy/green lentils. I would avoid red lentils here, because they disintegrate and will significantly thicken the soup
  • 1 tbsp spelt (or other whole grain) flour
  • 2 T turmeric
  • 2 c, packed, fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 c, packed, fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 c, packed, fresh dill, chopped
  • 10 sprigs of fresh chives, chopped
  • 1 c kale, (chopped at least 45 mins ahead of time)
  • 1/4 c mint
  • 4 c bouillon or water
  • 7 oz (200 g) whole wheat pasta (linguine works very well)
  1. Sauté onions & garlic
  2. Add (cooked) garbanzos, kidney beans, lentils, turmeric & spelt flour, and sauté with the onion & garlic for a few minutes.
  3. Then add all the greens, along with bouillon or water, mix well, and simmer for at least half an hour. The longer you cook it, the better the flavors will be. Add more liquid as needed.
  4. Finally, add the pasta – when the pasta is ready, the soup is ready.

Checklist items: 2 beans, cruciferous, 3 greens, 1 other vegetables, 1 whole grains, spices (9 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

20 servings in total.

We got at least the recommended servings of everything today, plus an extra serving of greens, and herbs & spices.

Recipe Review: Mushroom gravy

I love potatoes! And I love gravy because it helps me eat potatoes! Being able to make a fantastic, rich, hearty, vegan, oil-free gravy was initially a worry for me. I thought it would be difficult to get something that wasn’t a bit insipid without using some sort of fat. Turns out, it’s fabulously easy to make a lovely, satisfying gravy. I tried out a number of different recipes, and here is my absolute favorite…

I adapted this recipe from one I found in the NYTimes Cooking section. The original recipe, though, starts out with 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil. Wow – that’s a lot of oil, and it’s completely unnecessary because, as I’ve discovered, the oil is NOT the flavor foundation. It’s caramelization! For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s when you cook something until the sugars come out and convert into a sweet brown sauce, like syrup. Many cooks will add a sugar source, like honey, to onions when caramelizing them but that only adds extra sweetness – there’s enough natural sugar in the onions (and pretty much any other vegetable) for them to caramelize without the help of external sugar sources. So, that’s what we’re going to do with our gravy, and then we’re going to balance it with soy sauce, and it’s going to be amazing. Try it out!

One more note before we begin: bouillon! Having an excellent bouillon is going to really make your gravy stand out. I make my own in large batches and freeze it. It’s salt-free, but loaded with herbs & spices, and I use the scraps from all the vegetables I cook. I just throw them in a bag in the freezer to keep until I’m ready to make my next batch. Because this recipe uses soy sauce, you should try to find a salt-free vegetable bouillon if you don’t make your own.

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Ingredients
  • 1 medium onion (about 110 g), very finely diced
  • 4 oz (120 g), or 1 c very finely diced mushrooms
  • 3 T arrowroot starch or 1/2 c (65 g) flour
  • 4 – 5 c bouillon (depending on how thick you want it)
  • 1 T soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
Cooking Instructions
  1. Sauté the onions & mushrooms in a large pan until nicely caramelized.
  2. Mix in thickening agent and cook for a further 3 – 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Slowly whisk in bouillon until the gravy is smooth and starting to thicken.
  4. Stir in soy sauce/tamari & pepper, and simmer until the gravy has reached the desired thickness.

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s so malleable. You can use whatever kind of mushrooms you want, to get exactly the flavor that you’ll enjoy the most – if you love cèpes, use them; if you love porcini, use them. Hell, if you can afford Périgord black truffles, and this is how you want to use them, go for it. But plain white mushrooms give it a great flavor, and they’re inexpensive.

You can also use whatever thickening agent works best for you, and play around with the amounts a little bit. If it gets too thick, just add a little more bouillon – easy enough.

Finally, if you like chunky gravy, like I do, serve it as-is. If not, just pass the mixture through a sieve before serving.

Nutrition Information

First – ignore the sodium content if you’re using a homemade salt-free bouillon. I generated the nutrition info using cronometer. They don’t have homemade salt-free bouillon in their food list, for rather obvious reasons. I selected low-sodium vegetable bouillon. (And, frankly, I’m left wondering what they think “low” means.)Mushroom gravy nutrition info

As this is just a gravy, we’re not going to be getting a whole lot of our checklist items taken care of, but that’s not the point here. In order to get all those lovely veggies and grains, we need some good sauces to help them go down!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s Health Morsel: Fenugreek

Fenugreek is related to clover. The leaves, called methi in Hindi, can be eaten, but I’ve never seen them for sale in any place that I’ve lived. I’m familiar with the seeds, which are used as a spice. They are also sold as a supplement, but are effective at edible quantities, and taste so good that I have a hard time seeing the point of the pill version. I prefer to buy the seeds whole, but where I live now I can only find them pre-ground, so that’s what I’m currently using. I’ll get into all that after breakfast & lunch…


breakfast_text

I was ready for a change in the mornings, so I’ve switched up my routine breakfast a bit, but I still get in my flaxseeds and some fresh fruit.

  • 1 1/2 c muesli with 25% dried fruit (that’s 1 1/8 c whole grains + 1/3 c dried fruit)
  • 1 T ground flaxseed mixed into the muesli
  • 2 apricots (fresh)

Checklist items: 2 other fruits, flaxseeds, 1+ whole grains (4+ out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

Here’s what’s awesome about chopped salads: you can cram a lot of high-nutrient-density food into a small space if you chop it up real good.

  • 3/4 c corn
  • 1/4 c buckwheat, toasted
  • 1/4 c pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 c carrot
  • 1/4 c onion & garlic
  • 1/2 c broccoli
  • 1 c arugula
  • 1 c lettuce

I chopped up the greens and vegetables before adding the corn, seeds, and buckwheat. Then I mixed it together with a little bit of tamari, lime juice, sriracha, and seaweed flakes.

Checklist items: cruciferous, 2 greens, 1 other vegetables, nuts, 2 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

 20170816_145209.jpgI wish you could smell this picture, but you can’t, so you’ll just have to go buy some fenugreek. It’s like a blend of curry and maple syrup.

Fenugreek is most noted for its potent anti-cancer properties, and for its ability to help nursing women lactate (though not recommended for pregnant women because of uterine side-effects). What most people don’t know, though, is that the seeds are also antimicrobial and anti-parasitic.

Based on studies done with rats, which may be translatable to humans, fenugreek fights kidney stones by reducing calcium oxalates in the kidneys. It also helps to combat heartburn and acid reflux, and to reduce cholesterol by binding to it and ushering it out of the system.

In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, using fenugreek significantly impacted body strength and composition compared to the placebo in men working on resistance training (a.k.a. weight lifting).

Fenugreek is also a good source of protein & fiber, and is rich in iron, copper, potassium, zinc, manganese, magnesium, & phosphorus.  Did you know it’s important to consume copper, iron, & zinc in roughly the right ratios? I was curious when I learned about this, so I entered a bunch of random fruits & veg into cronometer – everything I happened to enter respects the general bounds of this ratio. So, it’s really only a worry if you’re supplementing. For example, too much iron can prevent the body from absorbing zinc and copper. Supplementing with zinc also prevents copper absorption. The ideal ratio of copper : iron : zinc is 1 mg : 18 mg : 12 mg for women (men need less iron at 8 mg, but more zinc at 15 mg). Fenugreek, like most whole plant foods, is also in the ball-park, with 1.1 mg : 33 mg : 2.5 mg. It could have a little more zinc, but it’s not way out of whack.

Last but not least, just like its relative, clover, fenugreek fixes nitrogen in the soil, so it can be used in crop rotation to restore nitrogen to depleted soil in a more sustainable way than manure or chemical fertilizers. A great reason to increase demand for it in the marketplace! Aaand, now that I’ve brought up manure, let’s talk recipes. Sorry.

This is a healthy, fast & simple way to enjoy fenugreek. It also happens to be one of my favorite things to make with all the beets I’ve been taking out of my garden.

This recipe is for 2 people; the checklist below is for half the recipe:

  • 1 1/4 c dry red lentils (≈ 3 c cooked)
  • 1 c onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 c bouillon, homemade if possible
  • lime juice
  • 1 tsp fenugreek, ground or whole pieces
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander, ground
  • s&p, to taste
  • 3 c of beets, pre-cooked
  1. Sauté onion & garlic with fenugreek, coriander, s & p. Deglaze with a little bit of lime juice & bouillon.
  2. Add lentils and bouillon, cook covered for about 15 – 20 minutes, until lentils are tender.
  3. Add the beets and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes more.
  4. At the end of cooking, add lime juice, to taste, about 2 T. This really brings the flavors together! Don’t skip it!

Checklist items: 3 beans, 4 other vegetables, 2 spices (9 out of 18 servings)

By the way – this recipe contains an insane 40 g of protein per serving. At my weight, that’s my day’s worth in one meal! So, never let anyone tell you vegans can’t get enough protein. It also contains 44 g fiber per serving, which you won’t find in any animal products.


dessert_text

  • 1 banana, frozen
  • 1 cup berries, frozen

Make yourself a small bowl of banana ice dream like this.

Checklist items: berries, 1 other fruit (2 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

21 servings in total.

We got at least the recommended servings of everything today, plus extra spices, and 2 extra servings of other vegetables.

Today’s Health Morsel: Beet Greens

As amazing as beets are, they got nothin’ on beet greens! Health-wise, that is. In terms of taste, it’s another story for me, though I know people who love them. If you’re more like me in that they aren’t your favorite thing, don’t worry because I came up with a recipe that has me excited to eat more, and reap the benefits of the “unusually comprehensive nourishment” (according to World’s Healthiest Foods) of beet greens! More about the amazing beet green after breakfast & lunch…


breakfast_text

  • 1/2 charentais melon (a huge one)

Checklist items: 2 other fruits (2 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

I made a huge batch of mixed beans a little while ago, which makes it super easy to mix together a nice big bean-veggie-green lunch salad with whatever came out of my garden. If I remember correctly, I included black, pinto, red kidney, coco, & white kidney beans.

  • 1 c mixed beans
  • 1/4 c hummus, homemade, of course
  • 1 c red leaf lettuce, chopped
  • 1/2 c zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 c corn kernels
  • dressing made with lime juice, tamari, & sriracha

Checklist items: 3 beans, 2 other vegetables, 1 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

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Beet greens! Just listen to me – I never thought I could be excited about beet greens. Their health benefits sound great, but I can’t get excited about eating something unless I know I’m also going to enjoy it. That’s why I can’t wait to share this recipe. It’s awesome, and so nutritious! Good thing I planted so many beets this year…

Beets are an excellent source of both calcium & magnesium. Magnesium is important for bone health, blood sugar regulation, glucose metabolism & energy production, mental health (deficiency in magnesium is associated with increased risk of depression), and control over inflammatory processes. Beet greens are also:

  • an excellent source of Vitamins K, A, C, B2, & E, copper, potassium, manganese, & fiber;
  • a very good source of Vitamins B1 & B6, iron, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, & protein;
  • a good source of zinc, folate & Vitamin B3.

Beets, along with chard, quinoa, epazote, & spinach, are chenopods. This sub-family of plants has unique characteristics, not found in other commonly-eaten plants. The red and yellow pigments – betalain pigments – are antioxidants comparable in potency to the anthocyanins in blueberries. They are heat-sensitive, though, so to get the most out of the betalain pigment, add some raw beet greens to salads, or keep cooking times to a minimum. The specific epoxyxanthophyll carotenoids found in this sub-family are effective anti-inflammatories, especially in the stomach, as well as being supportive of the health of our eyes, and, indeed, our entire nervous systems. Oh, and they’re associated with decreased cancer risk, too! People who need to avoid oxalates, though, shouldn’t eat a lot of beet greens.

All that for less than 40 calories per (boiled) cup. Okay, great, so how do you make them taste good? Make them into patties, of course! I got the idea from the patties I remember my dad making out of swiss chard. This recipe makes 2 servings, but I calculated the checklist items below for 1 serving/half of this recipe.

  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 3 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 c rolled oats
  • 1/2 c breadcrumbs (made from whole grain bread)
  • 1/2 c pumpkin seeds
  • 4 packed cups beet greens, chopped
  • 4 T lemon juice
  • 1/4 – 1/3 c dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp ground coriander, plus 1/2 tsp grains if you have them
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 T flour
  • 2 flax eggs (2 T ground flaxseed + 6 T water)
  • 4 large potatoes (~ 2 1/2 lbs or 1.15 kg)
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
  1. Cube and bake the potatoes for 1/2 hour at 230° C (450° F), turning them after 15 minutes. Pro-tip: agata potatoes taste amazing if you can get them; it’s a cultivar originating in the Netherlands, and I don’t know if they’re widely available outside of Europe.
  2. In the meantime,  mix the beet greens with the lemon juice and half the mustard, and let them sit until the potatoes are finished.
  3. Mash the potatoes, then mix everything together except for the broccoli.
  4. Form the mixture into small patties and bake in the oven, same temperature and time as the potatoes, flipping them over half-way through.
  5. While those are going, steam the broccoli, and serve with whatever flavoring you like. I used a mix of homemade bouillon, lemon juice, tamari, & black pepper.

Checklist items: cruciferous, 2 greens, flaxseed, nuts, spices, 2 whole grains (8 out of 18 servings)


dessert_text

Well, we have to round out our Daily Dozen with some fruit & berries. Today, that’s some fresh raspberries from the garden and a bowl of fruit salad that I put together yesterday, with mangoes, pineapple, peaches, kiwis, plums, & passion fruit. It’s to die for!

  • 1/2 c raspberries
  • 1 c fruit salad

Checklist items: berries, 1 other fruits (2 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

18 servings in total.

We got the recommended servings of everything today.

Today’s Health Morsel: Nasturtium

The leaves on my nasturtium plants are getting so big, they’re reminding me of lily pads. I love having nasturtiums in my garden, as they’re both beautiful and functional. I’ve come across some articles mistakenly claiming that nasturtiums repel aphids. I saw one article suggesting making an infusion out of nasturtiums and spraying it on your garden. Don’t do that! Whoever wrote that has never had a nasturtium plant. Aphids love them! For that reason, some people plant them outside of their vegetable garden, at some distance, to attract the aphids away from their veggies.

That is not, however, my goal when I plant my nasturtiums. I have a single purpose in mind: to make as much nasturtium pesto as humanly possible, and freeze it so that I have enough for the whole year. It’s one of my favorite things. But I’ll get to that later. First, today’s daily dozen starts with…

breakfast_text

Normally, I have most or all of my fruits & berries during breakfast. However, it’s the first day of the year that we’re getting above 80 F (26 C), so I already know that I’m going to be having some banana ice dream with black raspberries tonight for dessert. Thus, I’m going to leave the banana & berries out of my usual breakfast routine. Also, because I already know that I don’t enjoy the texture of flaxseed with melon, I’m going to add it to the ice dream – we’ll see how that turns out. I think it’ll be really nice.

  • 1/2 charentais melon

Aside from drinks, that’s it.

Checklist items: 2 other fruits (2 out of 18 servings)


lunch_textThe entire above-ground portion of the nasturtium plant is edible. The base of the larger/older stems do tend to be a bit too fibrous, though, so I cut the leaves and flowers off an inch or two down. It tastes both peppery, like its namesake, watercress (a.k.a. nasturtium officinale), and sweet. In fact, mine are exceptionally sweet this year – almost like candy. Hailing from northwestern South America, the nasturtium has been used traditionally to treat urinary and respiratory infections, including colds & flu.

Nasturtium plants, like their cabbage cousins, contain kaempferol – a flavonoid/antioxidant which has been shown to aid in cancer prevention and treatment along with quercitin, also contained in nasturtium. We also find anthocyanins, carotenoids, vitamin C, iron, sulphur, & manganese. It’s best to eat both the leaves and the flowers, as they have different distributions of these beneficial elements.

Anyone who has been concerned about eyesight & nutrition probably knows the value of lutein, but a search for lutein-rich foods typically has kale at the top of the list, despite the fact that nasturtiums provide the highest lutein density of any edible plant – 45 mg per 100 g. Lutein is vital in preventing macular degeneration, including cataracts, & glaucoma. In plants as well as animals, it helps to absorb damaging high-energy blue light rays, preventing free radical damage via antioxidant activity.

In a paper published in 2009, two researchers demonstrated that the essential oil in nasturtiums (benzyl isothiocyanate) kills harmful intestinal bacteria, such as E. coli and C. difficile, while leaving intact our gut microbiome’s beneficial bacteria, such as bifidobacterium & lactobacillus.

For all these reasons and more, I vote that we start paying more attention in general to edible flowers, and in particular to nasturtiums! Good thing the best pesto I’ve ever had is a nasturtium pesto! And my favorite way to use it is in sandwiches.

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You can find the recipe for my nasturtium pesto here. As I mentioned before, I make enough to freeze and use throughout the year. It loses its pepperyness when frozen, but that’s actually better for kids, and it still tastes totally amazing. So, for lunch, I’m having…

  • 2 slices of whole grain bread
  • 1/2 c nasturtium pesto
  • 2 slices of zucchini
  • 2 slices of bell pepper
  • 2 slices of cucumber
  • thinly sliced red onion
  • radish sprouts
  • 1 c arugula & lettuce, mixed
  • 1/2 c broccoli
  • 1/4 c hummus

I’ll put as much of this as I can into the sandwich, except for the hummus & broccoli – it will depend on the size of the bread, really. The rest I’ll just eat as veggies & dip. My whole grain bread is actually quite small – half the size of a “normal” sandwich-style loaf.

Checklist items: cruciferous, 2 greens, 2 other vegetables, spices, 1 whole grains (7 out of 18 servings)


dinner_textDinner is quick, and not too filling, because we want to save room for banana & black raspberry ice dream for dessert!

  • 1 1/2 c black & pinto beans, mixed
  • 1 c corn kernels
  • 1/4 c cilantro

For flavor I added unknown quantities of lime juice, tamari, cumin, paprika, oregano, & sriracha, enough to suit my taste.

Checklist items: 3 beans, spices, 2 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


dessert_text

It’s so rare I have a dessert, so this feels like a treat, even though it’s basically just my breakfast in frozen form, with a little vanilla flavoring & nut milk added in. The basic recipe is here. Today, I used just 1 large banana, and added the following:

  • 1 T ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 c frozen black raspberries
  • 1/4 c crushed Brazil nuts

Checklist items: berries, 1.5 other fruits, flaxseeds, nuts (4.5 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

19.5 servings in total

We got at least the recommended servings of everything, plus extra spices and 1/2 an extra serving of other fruits.

Today’s Health Morsel: Peas

Ok, maybe I’m jumping the gun a little here, but it won’t be too much longer before fresh peas are coming out of the garden. Mine are currently flowering, and I’m getting excited. Like most of us, I wasn’t a big pea fan when I was a kid. I didn’t mind them – they just weren’t my favorite vegetable. Also like most of us (I think) I always thought of peas as a vegetable. After all, they were put on the side of my plate with a bit of salt and butter, just like the broccoli or the carrots or the Brussels sprouts. Nobody ever put a spoonful of plain beans with a little salt and butter on the side of my plate. But peas are actually a legume, and they have the high protein content to prove it. Like their bean cousins (& corn & potatoes), they’re also starchy. More about peas at dinnertime. First, the daily dozen meal plan for breakfast & lunch.

breakfast_text

Strawberries are in season – they tend not to last too long around here, and I have to fight to have some left for my breakfast.

  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 T ground flaxseed (sprinkled on the banana slices)
  • 1/2 charentais melon
  • 1/2 c strawberries

Checklist items: berries, 3 other fruits, flaxseed (5 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

Today I wanted something a bit lighter for lunch, so I made some lettuce wraps – I put the hummus, mustard, and other veggies on the lettuce, and folded it up like a burrito. Quick and painless. Add some sriracha for a little kick.

  • 1/2 c hummus
  • 1/2 c broccoli, chopped
  • 1/2 c cauliflower, chopped
  • 1/2 c yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 4 leaves romaine lettuce (this will depend on the size of the leaves)
  • mustard

Checklist items: 2 beans, cruciferous, 2 greens, 2 other vegetables (7 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

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I was surprised to find that there’s actually quite a lot to say about peas! We can use peas (and other legumes) to help us improve our own health and engage in environmentally sustainable agriculture at the same time. No wonder we’ve been eating them for thousands of years! According to wikipedia, the earliest archaeological evidence of pea use by humans goes back to the late Neolithic era (which began in 5300 BC) in what are now Greece, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, & Georgia.


Sustainable agriculture

Most of us are not solely concerned with our own health, but also with the environment, the possibility of a future for humanity on this earth, and protecting the rights of other beings with whom we share this chunk of rock hurtling through space. What connects all of these concerns? Our collective food choices, and peas have a specific and vital role to play.

Peas and other legumes benefit soil in multiple ways. They feed soil microbes, which help to decompose organic matter, fertilizing the soil. If the microbes in the soil were to die all over the earth, it would be the end of life as we know it. These microbes produce the food that plants eat, ensuring that the plants are healthy and able to resist disease & tolerate environmental stresses, like severe weather brought on by climate change. Legumes produce larger amounts & different kinds of amino acids than most other crops, so that the plant residue left in the field or garden plot after harvest (or added to the compost) helps to increase not only the amount but also the diversity of soil microbes. This leads to even greater protection against disease-causing fungi & bacteria.

Nitrogen is extremely important for the healthy development of practically all plants. Peas and other legumes are unique (with few exceptions) in their ability to draw nitrogen from the air. Most plants rely on whatever nitrogen is available in the soil. This is why nitrogen-based fertilizers are of such importance. Current standard farming practices rapidly deplete the soil of nitrogen, requiring the use of manure or chemical fertilizers, both of which produce huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. And they are highly problematic in other ways. Animal feces (i.e., manure) can introduce e. coli and other pathogens into our vegetable supply, the ingestion of which can be deadly. And fertilizers don’t contain just the right amount of nitrogen to be used by the plants – they contain excessive amounts, and the excess runs off into rivers, lakes, and ocean water causing algal blooms. The algae uses up all the oxygen in the water, creating dead zones, like the massive one in the Gulf of Mexico – one of the world’s largest – read more here.

Chemical fertilizers are also increasing in price, along with the fossil fuels required to make them, which is devastating for people in developing countries who have been sold the idea that they have to rely on these chemical fertilizers for productivity.

Finally, some of the nitrogen that runs off ends up converting into nitrous oxide, a particularly damaging greenhouse gas, with 296 times the global warming potential of CO2. Most nitrous oxide production, by the way, is actually from cows and other livestock bred for meat, which create around 22 – 27 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of beef, the worst offender being Kobe beef at 36.4 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of beef. Peas and other pulses produce 0.5 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of food.

In addition to a low carbon footprint, peas and other legumes have a low water footprint. 1 kg of beef requires 43 times more water than 1 kg of legumes.


Human Health

All legumes are beneficial to health in several ways – they help to reduce cholesterol, control blood sugar, prevent diabetes, and increase lifespan in general, so what’s so special about peas? Their phytonutrient profile.

Coumestrol is a phytonutrient – a phytoestrogen – found in peas as well as soybeans, Brussels sprouts, spinach, alfalfa, and red clover. Coumestrol is thought to reduce the risk of breast, stomach, and prostate cancers. According to traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, it may also play a role in helping with menopausal symptoms and digestive issues. Plants tend to contain higher levels of coumestrol when they have been damaged by aphids, bacteria, viruses, and fungi, so it may be part of the plants’ natural defense system, but this is currently not well-understood.

The scientific name for peas is pisum sativum, so you can guess where the phytonutrients ‘pisumsaponins’ and ‘pisomosides’ got their names from. They appear almost exclusively in peas. As a group, saponins engage in antitumor and antimutagenic (fighting gene mutation) behavior, as well as cholesterol reduction, antioxidant activity, and immune-function boosting. We do not yet know what the precise role of the pea’s unique blend of phytonutrients might be, but we do know that they’re both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

Did you know that peas also have the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids necessary to absorb their fat-soluble vitamins, like beta-carotene & vitamin E? Small amounts of high-quality fats – just what the doctor ordered.

There’s something else rather interesting in peas – spermidine. Like pisumsaponins, you can probably guess where it was first discovered. No, not the whales. But it is also found in food, peas being at the top of the list along with whole grains, mushrooms, leafy greens, soybeans, pears, broccoli, cauliflower, other legumes, potatoes, corn, & mangoes. Though there are no completed human trials, studies on yeast, fruit flies, mice, and in vitro studies using human cells all suggest that spermidine may help to prolong lifespan by inducing ‘autophagy’ (also promoted by fasting). This is the process by which your cells take out the trash, so to speak. As we age, we tend to have less spermidine. As with almost everything that we are required to get from food, it’s probably not the best idea to take supplements. Spermidine also plays a role in cell growth and regulation, so it could be cancer-promoting in high concentrations. As always, the balance that is available in nature is most likely the balance that we evolved to be ideally suited to.

After reading all of this wonderful information about peas, I bet you’re excited to eat more of them! This recipe will accomplish just that. I first found the basis for it on Cookie + Kate, but my version is vegan, healthier, simpler, and cheaper (not that the original is expensive). It’s enough for 2 people, with the pesto liberally applied. I get annoyed with people who skimp on the sauce.

  • 2 c (300 g) peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 c (65 g) raw cashews
  • 1/4 c mint leaves (If you don’t like mint, substitute basil)
  • juice from half a lemon (1 T)
  • 1/3 c (80 ml) aquafaba
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water (take some of the cooking water from the peas or pasta)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (don’t add any salt if you’re using aquafaba from canned garbanzo beans)
  • 3 c cooked whole wheat pasta
  1. Blanch the peas.
  2. Add everything except for the pasta in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pre-soaking the cashews for 1 hr in hot water is a good idea, but not essential if you’re in a rush. This blog disagrees with that last part.
  3. Mix with pasta & serve!

Checklist items: 1 beans, nuts, spices, 3 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

18 servings in total

We got the recommended servings of everything today.

Recipe Review: 10-minute toddler-friendly pasta

I have a tendency to cook spice-heavy dishes. I love cumin, paprika, coriander, fennel seeds, caraway, turmeric, & fenugreek, to name a few, but it’s not for everybody.

In the region of France where I live, the craziest that people tend to get is a few dashes of nutmeg – people’s palates here are generally accustomed to much more salt, fat, & sugar (much like the standard American diet), and not to a lot of herbs and spices. I rarely have to tone it down for my partner, luckily, but if I’m cooking for his family, I have to be a little more conservative when it comes to the spice cupboard. I’ve found that the dishes my friends & family in the U.S. might consider to be “toddler-friendly” tend to go over better.

This particular recipe is an intersection – it’s friendly to the more subtle palate, and I happen to love it, too! It’s the second I’ve tried that uses a mix of hummus & tomato sauce very successfully. It was, for me, an unexpected match made in heaven. What is particularly nice about this recipe is that you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand as add-ins. They’re puréed and the flavor is masked by the stronger flavors of hummus and marinara, so little veggie-avoiders are none the wiser. If you’re making it for adults, well, most adults, you can leave the extra veggies whole. I like to add peas to the cooking pasta 2 minutes before it’s finished. It takes almost zero extra effort, and it’s both beautiful and tasty.

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I found the original recipe on Oh She Glows, one of my go-to sites for amazing vegan food. Many of the recipes I find there, I adapt by eliminating oils or reducing salt, but this one required no mucking about. The only thing I changed from the original was to exclude the hemp hearts – that’s not something I can get around here, and it’s not worth ordering online, for me. Visit the link above for lovely pictures and the original recipe. This is how I made it:

Ingredients
  • 6 c (715 g) cooked whole wheat pasta, which is 3 c (340 g) dry
  • 2 c (475 ml) marinara
  • 1/2 c (125 ml) hummus (store-bought tends to have a lot of oil, so follow the link for my oil-free hummus recipe)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 c (200+ g) chopped cauliflower or whatever other vegetable you want
Cooking Instructions

This one’s crazy fast & easy.

  1. Boil cauliflower for about 10 minutes, until softened, and drain. Remember, to get the most benefit from cauliflower, you can cut it 45 minutes before cooking it, or just mix a little bit of mustard powder into the finished dish.
  2. Combine marinara, hummus, cauliflower (or other vegetable), and garlic powder in a blender until thoroughly mixed.
  3. In a large pot, combine cooked pasta & sauce, and cook until heated through. You can skip this step if your pasta is hot off the stove, especially for younger kids – the hot pasta will warm up the sauce without making it too hot to eat right away.
Nutrition Information

This recipe is meant to feed 4 adults, so I used the appropriate amounts of pasta and cauliflower to fit in with the daily dozen. The information below is for 1 serving, or 1/4 of the above recipe, including the pasta.

10 minute pasta nutrition info
generated using cronometer.com

The high sodium content here is due in large part to the fact that I used a commercially produced marinara sauce to generate the nutrition facts. For a lower sodium content, make your own marinara or buy one that is low in sodium. My favorite thing about making my own marinara is that I can add as much tarragon as my heart desires. For me, that really makes the sauce. It’s the sole purpose for which I grow tarragon in my garden.

Hey, where is all that protein coming from? It’s not from that small amount of hummus. It’s actually mostly from the pasta! There’s a fair amount in the marinara sauce, too.

So, that got me thinking – I’ve heard people say loads of times that animal products provide us with so-called “complete” proteins, while vegan foods do not. I should look at the in-depth protein profile of whole wheat pasta versus a beefsteak! Here it is – can you tell which is which based on presence vs absence of any particular amino acids?

Incomplete protein
Generated to compare protein composition, assuming the same total amounts of protein, not the same amounts of food.  Made using cronometer.com

I’ll give you a hint – even though both contain higher amounts of glutamic acid than any other amino acid listed, it’s the highest in pasta. And that’s good news for vegans! Glutamic acid is essential for making glutamine, one of the most important amino acids. Glutamine is necessary in coping with stress and for recovery from illness and strenuous exercise. It even helps to reduce fat storage. Read more here about why scientists have referred to it as an “internal fountain of youth”.

Are any of the essential amino acids (the ones we must consume because we cannot synthesize them ourselves: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine) missing from the pasta? No! They are not. So, let’s put all of this monkey-business about incomplete protein in vegan diets to rest, shall we?

Back to the recipe. So far, everyone who I’ve forced to eat this has liked it. And so do I! Plus it’s so cheap to make, and so fast & easy to put together, that I think it could easily become a staple for a lot of people who try it.

Checklist items: .5 beans, cruciferous, 1 other vegetables, spices, 3 whole grains (6.5 out of 18 servings)

For easy reference, here’s what you’ll need to round out the day:

  • 2.5 beans
  • berries
  • 3 other fruits
  • 2 greens
  • 1 other vegetables
  • flaxseeds
  • nuts