Thursday, June 24

Get Yourself Into A Pickle

So what's the deal with pickles? Are they simply extra garnish on the plate, or a flavorful addition that some people relish (sorry, I can't help myself!) but others view as mainly decoration?

Nope, there's more to it than that. Ever wonder why sandwiches and hamburgers are often accompanied by a pickle spear, or why hot dogs are traditionally topped with sauerkraut (which is pickled cabbage), or why sushi comes with pickled ginger? These various pickled foods aren't just there for decoration, and not just for their burst of taste either- fermented foods, including vegetables that are "pickled", serve a very important digestive function. Pickles are almost always served with other foods, rather than on their own, and for good reason- they actually help us to break down and better digest our other food, especially when it comes to animal foods such as meat which require more energy and effort from the body to digest. In all of the above examples, a meat or animal food is served with a pickled vegetable...we may think of it as just "the norm", and not think about the reason, but in fact these pairings come from a long tradition of food wisdom from other cultures about what our body needs in order to most efficiently assimilate and then dispose of the food we consume.

So what exactly do these powerful pickles do for us when it comes to digestion? Fermented foods such as pickles provide active healthy bacteria, or "flora", which we need in the intestinal tract in order to effectively break down and digest our food and then dispose of the remains as waste. This may come as a surprise, but we have active bacteria at work in our bodies all the time, and it's a good thing we do- we need them to adequately process the food we take in, and to be able to dispose of what we don't need. When we consume fermented foods such as pickles, these healthy bacteria get to work in our intestinal tract, and we reap the benefits through improved digestion in every area from assimilation of nutrients to ease of bowel function. This is why you hear about people taking probiotics or eating foods containing probiotics to ease digestive problems- it's that healthy bacteria getting the job done.

The meat and pickle connection comes in because of the fact that meat and animal foods are primarily composed of protein and fat, and don't contain the necessary fiber to move themselves smoothly through the intestinal tract on their own-our bodies depend on adequate intake of vegetal foods (foods that come from plants) to provide the absorbent, bulky fiber that will soak up water, become heavy, and move the more dense, protein and fat rich animal foods through the intestinal tract. If we aren't getting a good balance of animal to vegetal foods and there are not enough high fiber foods to move the low fiber animal foods through the colon, then the animal foods can sit there for too long and begin to decay and putrefy, thus releasing toxins and bad bacteria into the intestinal tract, interfering with digestion and also creating extra work for the kidneys and liver. These toxins and bad bacteria can also be released if we are consuming poor quality animal foods, or accidentally consume a piece of animal food that was spoiled. Therefore, it makes sense to have a tradition around consuming pickles in a meal that contains meat or animal food, because they give us that good bacteria to 1) help us to maximize our digestion and assimilation of nutrients from our food and assist in the disposal of what we don't need, and 2) balance out any bad bacteria that could be released due to low fiber foods "stuck" in the colon, and to get those foods moving to where they need to go.

In Northern Europe, where pork consumption has always been popular, sauerkraut is a staple. In the Middle East, where lamb is a featured meat, it is usually served with fermented yogurt. The examples go on. The best news is, the good bacteria connection only one part of the pretty pickle picture- fermented foods are also generally alkaline in nature and therefore help to balance out an acidic state in the body, which can result from the consumption of too much animal foods without balancing vegetal foods, or from consumption of too much alcohol, sugars, or extremely fatty foods and refined/processed foods. An overly acidic condition in the body creates inflammation, which is increasingly indicated as the predominant precursor to serious degenerative disease, as well as more common discomforts such as headaches, muscle cramps, and constipation. To avoid an acidic state in the body, it is therefore very important to balance with alkaline foods, as well as to mitigate stress which is a major contributor to inflammation.

But it doesn't stop there- pickles have another trick up their sleeve! In Eastern medicine, they considered very grounding to the body and mind; before people knew anything about a calorie or a fat gram or a carbohydrate, they used a different kind of science to help them understand foods and how they related to the needs of the body. This wisdom was based on the perceived energy of a food; the energy that would be imparted to a person who consumed it. When we get moving too fast, or too caught up in our head, or when we can't seem to stop the wheels from spinning and are feeling distracted, we need some grounding energy- something to bring us down to earth and calm us down. Pickles pack a powerful punch in this area. To prove it, try this experiment: the next time you are craving sweets mid-day or late at night (which is a common but misguided craving when people are moving too fast and burning out or feeling distracted), snack on a pickle spear instead of a cookie, or nibble a spoonful of sauerkraut instead of some ice cream. A few minutes later, see if that sweets cravings hasn't bitten the dust, and if you aren't feeling more relaxed and grounded (which is the exact opposite of how you'd be feeling if you gave in and went for sugar, because sweets have the opposite energetic effect).

So now you're ready to party with pickles! One thing to remember, though: the beneficial elements of pickled foods do depend on the active bacteria, so don't heat them to temperatures so high that these active bacteria have been killed. Stick to pickles, sauerkraut, and pickled ginger and other veggies that have not been heated. You also don't need a large amount to enjoy the benefits, and pickles are best enjoyed in moderation: one small serving per day is plenty. Happy Eating!

*And when it comes to wine and beer (yes, they are fermented, and of course everyone asks!), it's important to remember that they are also alcoholic, and so drinking more than one or two drinks puts your body at a disadvantage in terms of processing the effects of the alcohol.

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

Thursday, June 17

Lunch Bigger Than Dinner = Healthier and Slimmer

So we have been talking about the idea of aiming to make lunch the bigger, more balanced meal of the day, and to have a lighter and smaller dinner. To many this sounds difficult at first, or even crazy- why try to have my bigger meal at a time of day when I am so busy? In fact, it makes perfect sense, and is the far better choice for your health, your energy levels, your digestion, and even your waistline.

The reasoning behind this is that in the middle of the day, your body's metabolism is burning fuel at peak efficiency; we are designed that way because we have the most demands on our energy in the middle of the day. We're working, we're out and about, we're getting exercise, we're taking care of children, we're running through the daily tasks. You've heard the expression "many miles to go before you sleep", right? This is true of you in the middle of the day. So to eat the majority of your fuel in the morning and the afternoon when you actually need it in order to have energy to take on those miles only makes sense. The body reflects this truth in that it is wired to most effectively digest, assimilate, and burn our fuel in these active daytime hours when we need it most. Meanwhile, come evening, you don't have many miles to go before you sleep- most of us are only awake for a few hours after dinner, and those hours are spent slowing down, relaxing, maybe watching some TV or helping with homework, spending quiet time with family and getting ready to turn in for the night. So why would we fill our bodies full of fuel right when we're slowing down for the day and no longer need it? This results in the fuel being stored as fat until we need it, meanwhile the body's digestion and assimilation of nutrients are hindered by the slowing down of the body's metabolism and systems, and likewise sleep and the nightly repairing of the body through rest is hindered by the fact that we are trying to digest food when we should be resting. But we can't be blamed for loading up on food at night if we only had a nibble for lunch- by the time evening comes around, we're starving! At that point, we're deprived, of nutrients and fuel but also of the satisfaction that comes from enjoyment of food, and so we're eating to replace what we've already burned and what we've missed all day rather than eating to fuel for what's ahead. We need to reverse this cycle if we want to get in tune with the natural desires and needs of our bodies for optimum health and balance.

So why do we do this? How did we come to a place where we are habitually doing the exact opposite of what our bodies want and need? We got here because we got too busy, we got too fast in our daily lives, and we forgot to slow down and respect the rhythms of nature and how our bodies fit into that. We began to prioritize work over health. How often do you hear someone say "I barely have time for lunch, some days I skip it"? Probably all the time. Knowing what you now know after reading the above, think about the disadvantage this puts a person at when it comes to energy, digestion, weight management, and productivity at work (ironically, making this choice actually hinders your ability to work well), not to mention overall feelings of balance and well being. Now, how often do you hear someone say "I take an hour for lunch almost every day. I make it a commitment to myself"? Maybe not often...but that's what we all should aspire to, even if it means working a little later in the evening or coming in a few minutes early. Think about the advantage a person has in terms of balancing their energy and blood sugar (both of which prevent mood swings and energy crashes), optimally digesting and therefore best utilizing their food, and maintaining healthy weight if they are fueling up when their body needs it and can burn it rather than loading up at the end of the day when that fuel will be underutilized, poorly assimilated, and stored as fat.

Ready to consider making the switch but wondering how to make it happen? First, it is essential to make time during your day to eat a substantial lunch. This is non-negotiable; all of the above can only work if the mid-day meal is taken in a relaxed manner, where you can enjoy your food and your body has time to process it without being rushed. However, this is easier than you might think once you agree to prioritize it. For example, you wake up a few minutes early in order to prepare a lunch for the day, or you take a few minutes of your "slow down" time the night before to prepare something to bring the next day. Once at work, ideally you have an hour that you can use for lunch to either bring your food to a park or to someplace in the building that is away from the noise and distraction of work, such as a common area, where you can eat slowly and relax. BUT, even in the worst case scenario, if you can only take a 1/2 hour for lunch and it needs to be spent AT your desk or workspace, you can (and must) turn away from the computer or the work at hand, turn the phone off or to silent, and use that 1/2 an hour to eat slowly, chewing and breathing and enjoying your food. You don't have to bring your lunch from home to follow this model, you can run out and buy some food and do the same thing. The key is to have something substantial and balanced that you can eat and enjoy slowly to really fuel up for your day; then dinner becomes the supplemental meal that it is meant to be, hence "supper" (which actually comes from the word for "soup", a perfectly suited light dinner meal).

Remember: your body will devote it's attention and the energy expenditure to one primary thing at a time; if you are shoving down your lunch while typing an email or talking on the phone, that creates stress for your body which triggers a hormonal stress response and results in more storage of fat due to what the body perceives as an emergency- "Stop everything! We can only handle the emergency at hand!"- and in this stressed state, there is no way for you to process the intake of food effectively. You won't be satisfied either physically or emotionally, therefore you can definitely expect energy crashes, cravings, sleepiness, bloating, and moodiness later in the day, not to mention the long term effects: weight gain, chronic lethargy, hindered digestion symptoms such as constipation, sleeping problems (especially if consuming a lot of food at night before bed), and an overwhelmed and sludged up system.

So give it a try, and make the commitment to yourself- are you really going to prioritize that email or that phone call over your health? Even in the busiest and most demanding of jobs, 1/2 an hour to eat a substantial, balanced lunch slowly is not too much to demand. You need to be your own advocate on this, and be willing to do the preparation that will make it easier for you. Not to mention, eating a smaller and lighter dinner frees you up to spend more time in the evening doing what you really want to do- hanging out with your family and friends, enjoying down time and relaxing hobbies, winding down for quality sleep, and maybe spending a few minutes preparing your healthy substantial lunch for tomorrow! :)

Future posts will offer some ideas for just WHAT to eat for these bigger lunches and smaller dinners, so tune in!

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

Thursday, June 10

Brown Rice Reimagined

You've all heard that brown rice is good for you. Well guess what- it's not just good for you, it's great for you. It's one of the most nutritious foods available on the planet. It is packed with minerals that help with everything from boosting energy and building bone strength to improving brain function and mood elevation, while the high fiber and protein content (yep, brown rice is packed with protein) assure improved digestion and blood sugar regulation, which means no peaks and crashes in your energy. Say goodbye to that drowsy carb hangover feeling!

But like any other grain or carb, brown rice can seem a little bit boring unless you do something fun with it. Brown rice especially has an unfortunate reputation for being somewhat unpleasantly chewy and bland, but it doesn't have to be! Read on for some great ways to enjoy your brown rice, starting with how to prepare it.

Before cooking, wash raw brown rice very well in lukewarm water and drain through a mesh sieve (the holes in a colander are too big). If you have time, soak it in a bowl covered with lukewarm water for several hours (or even overnight), and then wash it well and drain. Soaking helps to open up the grain and remove the layer of acid on the outside of the grain, but washing is fine if that's all you have time for. Then, combine 1 part rice with 2 1/2 parts clean water in a pot, bring to a boil, then turn to low heat, cover with the pot lid, and simmer covered until all water is absorbed (25 to 30 minutes roughly, but check to avoid burning). This will make a lovely moist, fluffy, dense, and somewhat sticky rice. If you like your rice "drier" and less sticky, use closer to 2 parts water per 1 part rice. Part of the beauty of brown rice is that it has a delicious natural sweetness, and the longer you cook it, the more this sweetness comes out. Using the extra water results in longer cooking, and therefore a sweeter rice. But it is a matter of taste.

Once you have cooked your brown rice, read below for some fun things to do with it. Don't hesitate to experiment with brown rice or other grains and mix it up with your own ideas; grains are like bread, they are a medium upon which you can add all different textures and tastes without really going wrong. The possibilities are endless!

Here are some that I've created in my kitchen laboratory:

Candy Rice

This dish is so sweet and colorful that I couldn't help but name it Candy Rice, even though the health benefits it provides make it the furthest thing from candy! Packed with grounding, vitamin rich and fiber full root vegetables, this dish will have your body thanking you even more than your taste buds that's sweet.

2 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut into rounds or small chunks
1 medium beet, scrubbed well, top and bottom removed, cut into small chunks
1 small to medium onion, cut into chunks
1 cup cooked brown rice (cooked beforehand)
1 tablespoon unrefined sesame oil
Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Add the chopped vegetables to a medium size roasting pan or cast iron skillet and drizzle all over with the 1 tablespoon sesame oil, moving them around in the oil to make sure all pieces are coated. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so. Remove, shift vegetables around in pan to distribute heat and evenly coat with oil, and put back in oven for another 15 minutes or so. They will be done when they are sizzling and soft to pierce with a fork, but not brown or falling apart. Remove the pan from the oven, and add the cup of cooked brown rice right into the pan. Gently and thoroughly stir all the ingredients around to mix well; the rice will soak up the extra sesame oil in the pan, and will turn a lovely mottled pink color from the juice of the beets. Serve immediately, or leave to sit covered at room temperature to let flavors combine and all the oil be absorbed. Due to the earthy sweetness, this makes a great accompaniment to a dish with a contrasting flavor, such as spicy or bitter; I served it with a dish of lightly sauteed radicchio and kidney beans seasoned with coriander and topped with a raw sauerkraut garnish. The bitterness from the radicchio and the tartness of the coriander and sauerkraut were so perfect when paired with the sweetness of the candy rice! Who needs dessert after a meal like that?

Breakfast of Champions:

If you're ready to try something truly different for breakfast, try this savory, Asian-inspired treat that will give you buckets of energy due to its high protein and mineral content, with just enough good fats to keep you satisfied well until lunch. The sauerkraut, since it is a fermented food, provides powerful grounding energy and a boost to intestinal health by balancing intestinal bacteria and thus assisting in digestion and assimilation. Also makes a great brunch or lunch option. Who says breakfast can't be savory?

-1 cup cooked brown rice
-2 tablespoons unshelled and toasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds (toasted by stirring in a dry skillet over medium-low flame for just long enough for them to begin to pop and change color slightly, but not burn. Can be made ahead of time.)
-2 tablespoons kimchee, sauerkraut, or other pickled vegetable, OR, if pickled anything isn't your thing, throw in some leftover roasted veggies such as carrots instead
-1 tablespoon dried seaweed flakes (such as dulse, nori, or a mix, available at health food stores)

Special addition optional: top with one organic egg, soft boiled or soft fried

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and enjoy! It's that simple. If you are using the egg, mix all ingredients in a bowl first and then top with one boiled or fried egg, soft cooked so that the yoke mixes into the rice and when cut up. This is delicious, and if seaweed and pickled vegetables anytime before noon (or anytime EVER) sound crazy to you, try it without those ingredients and throw in some diced up leftover cooked veggies or just season with sea salt and pepper and enjoy a simpler version. You can start there and experiment more later. Like it sweet? Try the same idea, but nix the seaweed, sauerkraut and veggies and opt for some dried fruit and a drizzle of maple syrup, honey, or agave nectar.

Money Rice

Collard greens are traditionally associated with a hope of wealth in Southern culture, but it's your body that will be getting rich off of this dish- dark leafy greens are incredibly detoxifying due to their vitamins and high chlorophyll content, while pumpkin seeds provide healthy fats and zinc which strengthens the immune system, especially beneficial for women's health issues.

1 cup cooked brown rice
1 bunch collards greens, center ribs removed, sliced into thin ribbons
2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds (see instructions above for toasting seeds)
2-3 tablespoons finely diced onion
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Sea salt and pepper

Once the collard green leaves have been stripped of their center ribs and sliced into thin ribbons with a sharp knife, submerge them in a deep bowl of cool water and move them around to release any stuck on dirt, then drain. Add still-wet collard green leaves to a saute pan or skillet, cover, and turn heat to medium-high. Within a few short minutes, the small amount of water on the leaves from washing will have heated up and provided enough moist heat to cook down the leaves to a wilted state while preserving their bright green color (this method is called "water saute", and can also be done with a small amount of water in the skillet). At this point, remove from heat and place back in strainer to drain out any excess moisture. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in the same skillet (dry the skillet in between if necessary) and saute the 2 tablespoons of diced onion until well cooked and fragrant, even caramelized. Toss in cooked collard green leaves and toasted pumpkin seeds and coat well with the oil and onion. Finally, mix in the cooked brown rice and toss all ingredients in the skillet to combine and spread the oil and flavor throughout. Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. This dish received very high marks from the Husband, and is versatile because it can be switched up to include pretty much any other dark leafy green, and the pumpkin seeds can be switched for sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, or even pine nuts.

Possibilities with brown rice and other whole grains are endless, so get to know and love them! Brown rice works particularly well in the above recipes, but you could substitute a grain like quinoa or barley as well, with an equally nutritious and delicious result. Happy Eating!

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

Wednesday, June 9

Green Smoothie

Here's a great way to boost your intake of vegetables and fruit, especially on hot days when you just want something light and refreshing or on busy days when you don't have as much time to prep and cook. Making this recipe as a smoothie as opposed to a juice ensures that you get all of the fiber as well as the vitamins and chlorophyll from the fruits and veggies. Due to the protein, fiber, and healthy fat in avocado, it's also surprisingly filling and very creamy, so drink up and get ready to feel great!


-1/2 a ripe avocado, cubed
-juice of 1/2 a lemon or 2 tablespoons lemon juice
-1/2 an apple, washed and cut into pieces
-Small amount of sweeter fruit, like a small handful of strawberries or other berries
-2 big handfuls washed dark leafy greens (kale, watercress, or collard greens work best)
-Small handful of washed fresh parsley (optional, great for cleansing!)

Once all ingredients are washed and chopped, combine in a blender with 2 1/4 cups water and blend until completely smooth. Enjoy! This is a great breakfast option when you want something light but substantial and filling, and this recipe makes enough for 2 servings and keeps well in the fridge for you can have the rest at lunch or dinner!

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation: