Monthly Archives: February 2011

Go Nuts!

This post is dedicated to all things nutty.  With numerous health benefits, nuts and seeds make a great addition to a heart-healthy, whole foods diet.

Nuts are one of the best plant sources of protein, and they’re rich in fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants such as Vitamin E and selenium.  Nuts are also high in plant sterols and fat – but mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 – healthy fats) which have all been shown to lower LDL cholesterol.  These bite-sized super foods help us control our weight, protect our hearts and improve the health of our cells!

High in vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy fats, nuts and seeds are little powerhouses of nutrition.

The healthiest way to prepare and enjoy nuts:

Raw nuts contain enzyme inhibitors which help to protect the seed and keep it from germinating too early and dying off.  When introduced into the body, these enzyme inhibitors actually neutralize the enzymes in our own digestive tract exhausting the pancreas.  This explains why so many people say they have a hard time digesting nuts.  If you’ve had tummy trouble with nuts in the past, don’t give up on them just yet!

Soaking nuts is a simple way to make them more digestible.  In the soaking process, enzyme inhibitors are neutralized, phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of vital minerals, is reduced and the amount of vitamins your body can absorb increases.

Purchase raw nuts from your local health food store or farmer’s market, then soak them in room temperature water and 1 tablespoon of sea salt overnight.  Next, dry them off and spread them out over a cookie sheet and roast them at 100-150F for about 8 hours (turning occasionally), or until they are nice and crunchy again (Some people use a food dehydrator instead of an oven.).  You want to make sure the nuts are completely dry before storing to prevent mold.

Soaking nuts brings out beneficial enzymes, making them much easier to digest.

When roasting your nuts, keep in mind that low and slow is best.  Roasting nuts at a temperature higher than 170F will cause a breakdown of their fats and the production of free radicals.  This is why we should avoid buying roasted nuts from the grocery store, and stick to raw.  When nuts roasted at the high temperatures are consumed, the free radicals they contain can cause lipid peroxidation (the oxidizing of fats in your bloodstream that can trigger tiny injuries in artery walls), a first step in the build up of plaque and cardiovascular disease.

Besides being a bit time-consuming, the only downside to preparing nuts in this way is that they do not stay good as long once the enzyme inhibitors are destroyed.   You may want to store them in the refrigerator or freezer to maintain freshness as long as possible.

Nuts are great as a stand-alone snack, in salads, smoothies, stir-fry or over yogurt.  You can soak and roast almonds, walnuts and pecans all together, and then add coconut shavings, carob chips, raisins and other dried fruits to make a delicious and fresh trail mix that your family can enjoy for the next week or so.

Are nuts a staple in your family’s diet?

Be in the Know on GMOs

You may have noticed a lot of media hype around the genetic modification of our food supply in recent years.  Here’s a quick 4-1-1 if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about.

What are Genetically Modified Organisms GMOs)?

Genetic modification is the process of inserting the genes of one species into the DNA of another species.  The result is called a genetically modified organism, or GMO.   The acronyms GEO (Genetically Engineered Organism) or simply GM or GE are also used.  This technology was developed in the 1970s, and the result is that many foods (60-70% of the U.S. food supply) now contain ingredients that were never meant to be ingested.

The five major GM crops are corn, soy, canola, cottonseed and sugar beets.  Approximately 85% of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered to either produce an insecticide, or to survive the application of herbicide.  And 93% of soybeans are genetically engineered to survive massive doses of Roundup herbicide.

Sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup and glucose come from genetically modified corn.

Other common GM products include:

  • Some varieties of zucchini, crookneck squash, and papayas from Hawaii
  • Milk containing rbGH
  • Rennet (containing genetically modified enzymes) used to make hard cheeses
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet)

Are GMOs harmful?

According to the Center for Food Safety…

A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer.

How do I avoid GMOs?

  • Buy Organic. This is especially important when buying frozen, canned and other packaged foods (think cereals, baby food, baked goods, condiments and lunch meats).  Certified organic products are not allowed to contain genetically engineered foods.  It’s not enough for the label to say “made with organic ingredients,” because only 70% of the ingredients have to be organic to make this claim.  To ensure the products you buy are GMO-free, you have to buy 100% organic.  These days, most grocery stores have a natural section where you can find organic packaged goods, or you can head to your local Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or health food store for more selection.
  • Watch out for the Big Five. Try to reduce your intake of foods containing corn, soy, sugar beets, cottonseed oil and canola oil.  Most processed foods contain one or some combination of these foods.  I try to avoid products with soy, cottonseed oil and canola oil all together.  Since I cook a lot of Mexican food at my house, I look for the Non-GMO label or the Certified Organic label on any tortilla chips I buy.  To avoid products containing genetically modified beet sugar, bake with and look for products containing 100% cane sugar, evaporated cane juice or organic sugar.
  • Buy Wild Rather Than Farm-Raised Fish. This will help you avoid consuming fish raised on genetically modified feed, and you’ll reduce your mercury intake as well.  (Atlantans, you can get wild Alaskan salmon and other high-quality seafood from the Dekalb Farmer’s Market.)
  • Buy Grass-Fed Beef and Organic, Free-Range Poultry and Eggs. This will also help you avoid ingesting genetically modified feed.  Stay away from soy substitutes like veggie burgers.

Where can I find more resources?

I hope this helps you make some sense of all the GMO chaos.  Contact me with any further questions, and I’ll do my best to find an answer, and your comments are always welcome.

I know that more and more food corporations, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, Ben & Jerry’s and Starbucks, are committing to being GMO-free.  Please send me other companies you know of that are making this pledge!

Have a great weekend!

For the Love of Chocolate

Just in time for Valentines Day, this post is all about CHOCOLATE!  As with most holidays, chocolate comes with the territory during this fiercely loved and hated time of the year.  We get bombarded at every turn – the office break room, your child’s class party, the endless aisles of pink and red candies at the grocery store, and of course, from your sweetie.

There's no escaping it!

Hold up…I know what you’re thinking!  “Here she goes.  She’s going to give us all these strategies for avoiding chocolate and eating healthier items like kale.”  But you’re wrong!  I say, there’s room for a little chocolate in our diet (in moderation of course), but here are a couple of suggestions for making the best choice for your Valentines Day indulgence.

Choose Dark Chocolate

Believe it or not,  chocolate contains some of the same health benefits as vegetables!  (YES!!!) Flavonoids, which act as antioxidants, protect the body from aging caused by cell-damaging free radicals.  Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants (Nearly eight times the number found in strawberries!).  Flavonoids also help relax blood pressure through the production of nitric oxide, and balance certain hormones in the body.

And here’s some good news for the ladies: Nibbling a little dark chocolate a few times a month could protect women from heart failure down the road, according to a recent study from Harvard Medical School (Unfortunately, gorging out can erase all the benefits!).  The chocolate-eating habits of 31,823 women ages 38 to 83 were monitored over a nine-year period and the results showed that women who ate up to three one-ounce servings of dark chocolate a month had a 32% lower risk of developing heart failure compared to women who ate little or none.  Women who ate one or more servings a week showed no benefits to their hearts, and risk actually increased in women who consumed three to six weekly servings.

The chocolate with the greatest benefits in this study was high-quality without a lot of added sugar.  The higher the cocoa content, the more protection the chocolate gave.   Studies also show eating dark chocolate in small doses helps to decrease high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

I like to buy high-quality dark chocolate and put it in the freezer, so I have it on hand when my nightly sweet tooth kicks in.  If it’s frozen it takes me longer to eat and enjoy, and I feel more satisfied with a small amount.

Choose Fair Trade Certified Chocolate

Chocolate manufacturers get their cocoa from a limited number of places around the world. About 70% of commercial chocolate is produced from cocoa beans grown in the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon, where child slave trafficking is common.  Even in places where child slave labor is not used, cocoa farmers are impoverished and environmental degradation is rampant.  If you want to ensure that your Valentine’s chocolate comes from a place where people are paid a living wage and where it’s environmentally sustainable, check out this list of Fair Trade chocolate manufacturers.

Endangered Species Chocolate is the top selling all-natural and organic chocolate made from ethically traded cocoa beans sourced from small family-owned properties.

One final word about consuming chocolate.  When we’re eating balanced meals the majority of the time, we’re much better able to handle a little chocolate consumption without it sending us on a sugar roller coaster.  The whole reason I try to eat healthy is so I can afford little splurges from time to time!

So Happy Valentines Day to all you chocolate lovers out there!  Have a wonderful weekend.

Forget love – I’d rather fall in chocolate!!!
~Author Unknown