Simplifying the anti-inflammatory diet

Anti-inflammatory

A friend was having health issues and her doctor prescribed an anti-inflammatory diet. It was a little overwhelming for her so she requested I put together something simple she could follow considering she was feeling sick, working a full time job and living by herself.

An anti-inflammatory diet is usually prescribed when your immune system is over-reacting like it would when exposed to an allergen or having a rheumatologic episode. It’s also a great diet to follow to reduce risk of heart disease, some cancers and possibly even Alzheimer’s.

Foods to avoid include red meat, dairy, sugar, coffee, caffeine, alcohol, peanuts, tomatoes, potatoes, simple carbohydrates, saturated or trans fats, gluten, and peppers of all kind, except for black pepper.

Good foods include green or herbal tea, eggs, poultry, fish, almonds, walnuts, avocados, beans, legumes, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, sweet potato, of course fruits and vegetables, and plain non-fat yogurt with live active cultures.

For dessert you can have your chocolate. Dark, only slightly sweetened, it’s one of your healthier desserts next to fresh fruit. Chocolate does contain caffeine, however, so only eat it in small doses.

There are some spices that do amazing things for your immune system. Try curry, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cilantro, parsley, turmeric, black pepper, rosemary, basil, cardamom, chives.

Omega 3 fatty acids are a main component of an anti-inflammatory diet. Omega 3 is naturally found in fish, eggs, olive, flax seed and sesame oil. Salmon is one of the highest sources of Omega 3 you can find. If you are curious about how much Omega 3 is found in other fish, there are plenty of lists on line that go into great detail.

How do you make this diet part of your ongoing lifestyle? Pick a few items to make into a one day menu and make multiple servings. Having leftovers makes life a little easier while you are trying to get the hang of it. Eat protein with every meal, including with snacks in between. Nuts and yogurt are great options.

Example day:

Breakfast – Steel cut oatmeal, hard-boiled egg, 100% fruit juice with no sugar
Snack – Piece of fruit, handful of almonds
Lunch – 4-6 ounces fish, quinoa cooked in chicken broth, fresh carrot sticks
Snack – Yogurt with fresh fruit and granola
Dinner – 4-6 ounces of chicken, wild rice, cooked mixed vegetable
Snack or dessert – dark chocolate covered strawberries with handful of walnuts

Use the seasonings listed to gain variety on your meat. For bigger variety, the Mediterranean diet is the closest to the anti-inflammatory diet. There are a lot cook books dedicated to this. Watch tomatoes though. They can go either way for some people with digestive issues.

If you are not fond of cooking, busy or too exhausted to cook, making large portions each time you cook and freezing the left overs simplifies it for you. Take frozen leftovers to work for lunch. Focus your cooking on the weekend so you have multiple options for the week.

I hope this gives you a good start!

Gluten Free labels are finally standardized!

Gluten Free

Do you have a digestive disorder related to gluten? Well I have good news for you!  Earlier this month the FDA finally rolled out standard requirements for companies to claim their products are gluten free!

For those of you who have heard about the gluten free hype but never really knew much about it, it’s mostly just that…………HYPE. Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, rye, barley, and derivatives of them and what gives baked goods their texture. Unfortunately there are some people with celiac disease and food allergies who medically can’t tolerate gluten and become seriously ill when they eat it.

At some point, a few people were prescribed a gluten free diet and found if they cut out anything that contained gluten, they lost weight. Do the math…….of course if you are eating less you will lose weight. That’s when the hype started. The problem is, to be well balanced, you should be eating alternative carbohydrates rather than eating no carbs at all.  The bottom line is there is no reason for you to go on a gluten free diet unless you have a medical condition that requires you to do so.

Can you imagine being one of the 3 million people with celiac disease and told to find foods that are truly gluten free? With the gluten free hype, picture yourself trying to wade through the sea of confusing food labels. They aren’t consistent. Food companies started making their own terms up like “free of gluten” or “no gluten” and some even created their own levels of gluten.

The FDA has put a stop to the insanity for the sake of people with celiac disease or allergies. Now, there can be no more than 20 parts per million of gluten in any food marked gluten free. It cannot contain wheat, rye, barley, and their derivatives. Companies can still use the terms “free of gluten” or “no gluten”, but they also must meet the new standardized requirements.

Keep in mind that companies have one year to comply with this new requirement so continue to thoroughly research your gluten free picks before assuming they are okay. If you have more questions on the new definition of gluten free, visit the FDA’s website. They have a lot of good information for you.

 

Size really does matter when it comes to Zucchini

Zucchini

A friend gave me this zucchini from her garden. It’s huge! Lesson number one, harvest your zucchini at the right time!

Zucchini is so easy to grow even a beginner can end up knee deep in the squash. That’s why you have so many friends giving you some of their harvest.  If you want to grow your own, all you need to do is buy a big bag of garden soil, drop it into a mound in a sunny spot and plant a small circle of 5 seeds at the top. Keep it well watered and 45 days later you have squash coming out of your ears!

When to harvest your zucchini depends on how you want to use it. Generally, the smaller it is the more tender it is. If you want to stir fry or sauté whole tiny zucchini, you will want to pull them as soon as possible. A 6 inch zucchini is considered the most tender for a gourmet style taste. For all purpose use, it’s recommended to pull them no greater than 8-10 inches. Anything larger will result in larger seeds and tougher flesh. From experience, I can guarantee if you are questioning whether or not to pull that zucchini now or leave it to grow a little more, pull it NOW. Depending on the growing season it could get over sized in a single night! Another good reason to pull early is your plants will respond by growing more squash faster, since it’s not putting its energy into creating Zucchzilla! You will have more, smaller, more tender zucchini!

Now, there are good uses for zucchini that reach a large size. They can be sliced into spears, battered and fried and still keep their shape. They will also hold their shape in dishes like Zucchini Parmesan or if sliced thin and used as noodles, Lasagna.  It can also be grated and used in baking.

Of course, the last lesson for today is why zucchini is good for you. As you can see, the cooking versatility of this veggie makes it an ideal staple for a vegetarian diet. It’s low in calories and fat, high in fiber, high in vitamin A and C, potassium, folate, magnesium and manganese.

If a friend offers you a giant squash, take it and say thank you! Whether its large or small, it’s a great vegetable that’s good for your health.

Hike your way to better health

Hiking

 

I don’t know about you, but I love taking short hikes.There are so many benefits. Not only do you get to enjoy nature at it’s best, it clears your mind and reduces stress. Hiking with another person can be romantic, or just help you reconnect with friends or family. Nature walks also give your body a nice shot of fresh air, sunshine to absorb vitamin D, and exercises your cardiovascular system. It’s great for your health.

I went on a hike in a new place the other day. Friends told me about a great trail that ends at some old house ruins. While I’m no stranger to doing a lot of walking, the trail was mostly uphill and prevented me from making it all the way to the top before I was too winded to go on. Keep in mind that trails have a variety of terrains. No matter how short one may be, it can be more difficult than others. People who exercise but don’t usually hike may find it’s a little more than they can handle. They could be using different muscle groups that haven’t been exercised before.

Instead of giving up on this trail, I’ve now made it my challenge to get to the top. I don’t know about your weather but summer will be ending soon. This gives me a narrow window to gradually push myself to the next level, going a little farther each time. I vow I will eventually make it!

If you want to start hiking, start off slow. Don’t laugh, but there are even books available categorizing “best hikes for children”. It’s a great way to start! Be prepared! At the very least, always bring a small, light back pack on your hikes with your cell phone, light jacket with a hood, water, snacks, a small first aid kit. You never know what could happen.

Now go out there and enjoy the rest of your summer!

How to cook beets

beet

At the farmers market, I overheard a couple talking about beets. The man said he loved beets but didn’t now how to prepare them. He asked the woman he was with if she knew how to cook them and she said no. I’ve always been surprised at how many people don’t know how to cook beets.

I couldn’t resist……..I said “I know how to cook beets. Do you want to know how?” They both nodded. Here is the recipe I gave them:

Slice beets, put in pot and add water until they are just covered. Put a lid on the pot and simmer for 10-15 minutes until tender.

The man asks, “but how do you make them sweet?” I explained you don’t need to add anything to beets to get that robust, sweet and slightly salty flavor. They didn’t seem convinced. “That’s it?” they asked. No matter how many times I say it, many people don’t believe that you get great flavor from just slightly cooking a vegetable.

Now that you know how to cook beets, its time to learn a little more about them. They are considered a root vegetable similar to carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips and are very easy to grow. They’ve been around as a main source of food since ancient times.

As far as health benefits, they are low in calories and fat, high in potassium, manganese, folate and vitamins A, B and C. The fiber type found in beets has been thought to prevent colon cancer. Beets contain antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory properties, and contain betaine which prevents heart disease. Betaine is also famous for reducing fatty deposits in the liver and may be considered a detoxifying agent in the body.

The only warning I will give is beets contain oxalates which for people who are prone to kidney stones or gall bladder issues could become an issue.

The biggest news about beets is because they grow so easily in almost every climate, they are cheap to buy and available all year. What more do you need to know to take advantage of such a great vegetable?

The history, growth, harvest and health benefits of blackberries

Blackberry

Blackberries are at peak season right now and are one of the most versatile fruits! They are eaten fresh, baked in cobblers, crumbles and pastries, used in sauces, jams and made into teas, wines and fusions. Blackberries are only 62 calories per serving, are high in fiber, Vitamin C and K, and loaded with antioxidants that result in this laundry list of potential health benefits.

  • Supports the immune system by reducing inflammation
  • Prevents or assists in digestive issues (fiber)
  • Potentially assists in weight loss (fiber)
  • Assists in blood sugar regulation (fiber)
  • Prevents macular degeneration of the eyes
  • Prevents heart disease
  • Prevents many types of cancers
  • Assists is calcium absorption preventing osteoporosis (Vitamin K)
  • Protects skin from sun damage and wrinkles
  • Prevents memory loss
  • Prevents PMS in women

Don’t forget, eating these berries in its most natural form results in the highest health benefit.

Blackberries grow in many countries around the world and have been around many years. People in Rome made tea from them claiming healing properties.  In the United States in the 1700s they were discovered in the South, growing wild as high as 7 feet tall.

Blackberries grow on very hardy, thorny vines or bushes, are considered brambles similar to raspberries and other berries that have drupes, or small individual fruits that make up the one. Mostly wild, they are a very important source of food for wildlife around the world. Australia and Antarctica are the only locations where blackberries are not found.

It’s easy to grow these plants in your own yard, but beware, they can be invasive! These plants grow by runner which can cause the plant to spread, overtake and cover anything in its path. Some ways to avoid this is to cut the runners with a shovel every week, or to plant them in containers.  There are also containment plastics you can purchase. Dig out the soil where you plan to plant your blackberries and line it with thick plastic that keeps runners from traveling. The deeper the better!

Where I live, blackberries grow wild and are easily picked by everyone. They are ready to harvest June through August. You know the berries are ripe when they are easily plucked off the vine. If they resist, they will be too tart. If you find too many to eat at once, pull as many as you can. You can freeze the remainder. Lay them on a cookie sheet, not touching each other and put them in the freezer. Once they are frozen, you can pour them in a plastic freezer container or bag and only use as much as you need.

Who would have thought that one of the top 10 antioxidant bearing fruits would be so readily available and easy to grow!

 

An apple a day?

Apple

Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away? I have to admit, I always heard this saying but it was a while before I took the time to find out why.

First, apples contain no fat, are only 100 calories and from a nutritional standpoint contain a high amount of vitamins A and C. Apples also have one of the highest levels of fiber available in a fruit. This level of fiber can help you lose weight, improve your digestive track, prevent gall stones, and lower your cholesterol. Apples can also boost your immune system, help regulate your blood sugar, detoxify your liver and, a fun little fact, they do a great job of cleaning your teeth!

Apples contain a high number of antioxidants including quercetin, chlorogenic acid and anthocyanins. A number of studies show these antioxidants prevent multiple types of cancer. Recent studies also show these antioxidants may also help control cholesterol by oxidizing LDLs.

More health benefits from apples includes prevention of cataracts, degenerative diseases of the eyes, asthma, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis and diabetes. The list goes on and on supporting the saying “an apple a day”!

Keep in mind that most of the sought after antioxidants are found in the skin of the apple, so to get the most benefits, eating it whole is a must. Pick your apples during the prime season which is usually late summer through fall.  If it’s off season, it’s been sitting in cold storage and has lost some of its nutritional value. Watch out for the wax that is sometimes put on apples to make them shine and extend their shelf life. You want to wash it well.

One final word…..although the saying is “an apple a day”, remember that other fruits have antioxidants and health benefits. In order to expand your benefits, eat a variety.

Why everyone should go to farmers markets

Farmers Market

You already know I love farmers markets, but do you want to know why you should go to one?

First you meet interesting people; the people who shop there and of course the vendors. Unlike shopping in a grocery store, you get insights into where the food came from. Farmers like to share pictures of their farms and talk about how they care for the animals. They even like to give tips on how to cook what they are selling. If you are environmentally conscious, you can make a connection and support vendors who have the same views as you.

Shopping at farmers markets supports your community financially and keeps jobs local.  Farmers only make 10% of the profit when they sell through a grocery chain. Taking out the middle man means you get a cheaper price, the family farm gets a better share of the money, and you get the full variety of produce the farmer grows. Grocers select only a certain number of items rather than the full breadth you see at a farmers market. At the farmers market you’ll find specialty items like unique heirloom tomatoes. That’s one of my favorites!

Know where your food comes from! Grocery items may not just come from out of state, they may come from other countries where regulations are different than our USDA requirements. One survey showed more than half of farmer market vendors drive less than 10 miles to their market. This means not only is the environment subject to less pollution from transportation, produce is picked in the right season, at peak of ripeness. Large scale farms pull produce before its ripe, and then let them ripen over a 14 day period traveling 1200 miles, sometimes with the use of chemicals. Most of the farmers at the farmers market tell me they pick their crops the night prior or the morning the bring it to market!

Food from a farmers market is fresher, tastes better and is literally more nutritious. Nutrients in your food deteriorate over time, so the sooner you can buy and consume it the better! Don’t worry if you can’t eat your produce right away. Grocery food can be as old as 2 weeks when it lands on the shelf. That means the produce you buy at the farmers market can store longer and still be fresh.

You may ask……….what happens to the food that doesn’t sell? Left over produce doesn’t go to waste. Some vendors make juice and sauces to sell, some donate to the needy, and worst case scenario it’s composted and used for the next crop as fertilizer.

What else can you find at a farmers market besides produce? You can find fresh cut flowers, eggs, meat, cheese, juice, baked goods, honey, lotions, soaps, arts and crafts and some even have small distributors of beer, wine and spirits! The ones I’ve been to also have vendors who serve lunch and even entertainment. There is usually a band playing during the peak hours.

The last statistic I heard was the number of farmers markets grew by 17% in a single year! This means you should have one close to you. How do you find one? Go to http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/ ,enter your address and how far you are willing to drive. It will come up with all the details on the farmers markets in your area. Don’t forget to bring reusable bags, although many are prepared with paper or plastic if needed. Many even take credit cards now.

I hope to see you there!

Live simply through preventative health care

health

I’ve been planning on buying new tires for a few months now, knowing they were well past their life. This morning I was on my way to work when a tire low air pressure warning light came on. I stopped at the closest gas station,filled the one up that was low and made it to work. At lunch time the tire had lost air again so I had to spend my afternoon trying to fix the tire and in the end having to buy new tires. Having not planned this in advance, I missed a half of day of work, paid full price for my new tires, waited for hours to get my car back and ended up stuck in rush hour traffic going home.  Not a good day.

Lesson learned…..If I purchased my tires when I should have, I could have bought them when they were on sale and got a convenient appointment around work and high traffic hours.

Your body is a lot like a car. It needs routine care and maintenance to keep it in great shape and lengthen its life. Don’t wait to get medical care if you think you have an issue. It could be costly, inconvenient and could possibly shorten your life. Do your preventative health care!

-Go to the dentist once every 6 months.
-See your eye doctor every year, twice if you have an eye condition.
-Have a hearing test done every year.
-Women, get your annual gynecological exam, pap smear, mammogram and bone scan for osteoporosis.
-Men, an annual physical exam is a must including standard blood panels that test for cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar.
-Specific screenings suggested by the government also include testing for glaucoma, diabetes and a colonoscopy by age 50.

Of course it’s not just about a trip to a professional. Just like your car, you need to take care of your body including keeping it clean and well fueled. Also consider……..racing around at 120 miles an hour could result in a terrible accident, but at the same time…..not driving a car or leaving it in the garage may just lead to deterioration. Find that happy middle ground.

Focusing on preventative health care will allow you to plan your hospital visits, avoid health surprises and may just save your life!

Are duck eggs healthy for you?

Duck Egg

I always wondered if duck eggs were healthy for you but never tried them. I was at the farmers market yesterday and found a woman selling duck eggs. She had some adorable pictures of her ducks enjoying a large pool on her farm and gave me the basics on what duck eggs were like. I bought a dozen, researched and was surprised by the difference when compared to chicken eggs.

Duck eggs are much larger than chicken eggs and the shells are thicker. They say this thick shell helps duck eggs store longer and protect it from contamination. When you crack open the shell, there is a small amount of white with a very large orange yolk. It’s thicker and richer than a chicken yolk.

Unfortunately, a single egg has 10 grams of fat and a whole day’s recommended limit of cholesterol! Because of this fat, bakers are starting to use more duck eggs because they make their food richer. The whites whip up fluffier due to a higher amount of protein; 30% of the 130 calories in the egg. I did not try this, but can you imagine cooking custard or crème brulee with this kind of yolk? Yum!

If you decide to bake with a duck egg, use one duck egg for every two chicken eggs in your recipe.

From a nutrient standpoint, duck eggs are high in vitamin A, riboflavin, phosphorus, selenium and folate. They are also a great source of vitamin B12 and iron. Another health benefit of duck eggs it the high amount of Omega 3 fatty acids. Not too shabby!

So now you have your duck eggs and you are wondering…..how do I cook these? I scrambled mine, but it’s recommended to hard boil them. Apparently you get a nice orange center from the large yolk.

Did I like it?…………… It was different. It’s hard to compare. Nutritionally it’s superior to chicken eggs in many ways, but the fat and cholesterol need to be taken in consideration for those with heart disease. I think I will save the rest of my dozen for baking and see how it turns out.  I’ll keep you posted!