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You’ve been good at sticking to your diet and physical activity plan all year, and you have the results to show it — congratulations!

Now you stare at your calendar and see all the holiday dinners and parties that are scheduled and you start to break out in a cold sweat. How are you going to resist those delectable sweet potato pies, cranberry creations and gravy-slathered mashed potatoes? How are you going to get by without eating holiday cookies, or drinking that famous holiday cocktail your uncle (substitute your uncle’s name here) makes?

The shorter days and colder weather invite us to hibernate and take it easy, but our calendars are screaming a totally different message. Your inner introvert is crushed as you put on your winter coat and summon the energy for yet another party!

bigstock-Lazy-Turkey-Watching-Tv-2298130

bigstock-Lazy-Turkey-Watching-Tv-2298130

Or perhaps it’s just that cabin fever that sets in as your brother (insert name here) fires up yet another football game and you’re in for a long couch-sit complete with nachos and kettle corn.

I know you’re not feeling the stress of holiday shopping as you hear that holiday music frenetically reminding you that you have not even started thinking about the holidays BECAUSE IT’S STILL EARLY NOVEMBER!

Whatever your holiday challenges are — perhaps you are wondering whether there exists a way to break the cycle? Are you looking for a way to face the holidays with a new kind of energy — one that doesn’t wear you down or add inches to your waistline?

Here’s one for you. It’s really easy, and it’s something your body usually takes care of for you… it’s called breathing. That’s right, as you read this – take a deep breath. Don’t hold it. Just slowly fill your belly with air, and then exhale a little longer than you inhaled; then REPEAT. Do you feel your shoulders un-hunching, and your heart beating just a little slower? Remember, you always have this strategy with you as you face the winter holidays.

Taming the stress that holidays bring is one way of keeping yourself healthy this holiday season.

It’s not quite Halloween, but grocery store shelves have been exploding with bags and bags of candy since the first day of school. Avoiding candy might be easy for you – but throughout our days we are constantly invited to add sweet treats.

Photo License: CC0 Public Domain

Photo License: CC0 Public Domain

Starting with the sugar-laden morning drinks offered at your favorite cafe – or the snacks people bring in to share at work – or even the glorified candy bars labeled as “high fiber” that we are convinced we need as a post workout snack… We are constantly invited to load up on Sugar in some way, shape or form.

Yes, there are sugar substitutes that many people have turned to because they are lower in calories. These may be good options, especially if you are living with diabetes. The only issue is that once your tongue tastes sweet, your body wants more.

Photo license: CC0 Public Domain

So, in the long run, these sugar substitutes may increase cravings for (and therefore your consumption of) more sugary snacks. Ultimately, though we might avoid calories with one snack, that good deed is often undone by the increased desire for more sugar-coated calories.

In the past I have given workshops on this topic. Now, mostly I work one on one with individuals at Mary’s Center. If you are interested in meeting with me, schedule your appointment at 1-844796-2797.  We can assess your needs and to work out a plan of action!

 

It’s always surprising to see the places my foods have been! If only plants could write their history…earth-437670_1280

 

This winter, when I shopped for some of my kitchen staples, I paid attention to how far food travels to get to my kitchen. The lemons, garlic, mushrooms, avocado, carrots, celery, canned tomatoes, and assorted frozen berries now in my kitchen are renowned world travelers — visiting my home from Argentina, Chile, Italy, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, Spain, Turkey, oh and yes, unknown states in the USA.

While I do like to have many of these particular foods on hand for nutritional and gustatory reasons, there are many downsides to this long-distance relationship with the foods I love.

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Photo by Lisa Missenda

First, quality: To be packaged for shipping, many times these vegetables and fruits and picked before they are ripe. This is particularly true of tomatoes. At some point along the route to my table they might be sprayed with a little ethylene gas to make them appear riper. Truth is, in spite of shippers; best efforts, many fruits and vegetables do not continue to ripen once taken off the vine, out of the ground or once they stray too far away from the sun’s reach. So, when they get to my kitchen counter, they may look ripe, but they just don’t have the fresh taste of the ones I can get at the farmers’ market.

Second safety: The more food travels and the more hands it passes to get to my table – the more risk there is of food borne illness. Over the past 10 years the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has rejected numerous shipments of plant foods like green beans and mushrooms due to illegal pesticide violations, excessive filth and unsanitary conditions of the products. Luckily, the FDA is looking out for us.

ingathering-607121_1280

Strawberry Harvest Pixaby photo – Public Domain

Third – labor standards: I am never sure what the working conditions might be in the country of origin. Where children skipping out on an education to work in the fields and harvest my berries? Did a woman give birth in that same field because she was not allowed to take a day off? Where workers exposed to dangerous pesticides and fertilizers that we would not use in the USA?

While ultimately, I would love to be a locovore, eating only foods in my bioregion, I am happy these labels exist; they can be found at almost any grocery store. Consumers and non-profit groups like Food and Water Watch and National Family Farm Coalition fought hard to make the 2008 rule for mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL), for meat, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and several kinds of nuts. While the law is not perfect, at least I do know more, and have a choice when I reach for lemon and start my day. Learn more about the foods you eat using Food and Water Watch’s interactive shopping cart.

You may have heard that all of us with a human tongue can distinguish five basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. The last of these, umami, was discovered at the turn of the 20th century by a Japanese chemist, Kikunea Ikeda argued that this flavor was distinct from the four already recognized and accepted flavors (sweet, sour, bitter, salty). Scientists debated for several years whether humans had specific taste receptors for umami, and finally it was confirmed in the mid-1980s.

Ikeda identified this full, meaty and brothy flavor coming from Kombu, a seaweed that the Japanese often use in soups. He also identified that the natural compound glutamate salt is responsible for this flavor. Shortly after his discovery, the Japanese company, Ajinomoto began to make and export monosodium glutamate (MSG) chemically derived from wheat gluten (McKee, 2007).

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Chicken bone broth. Photo: Kathy McNeely

Today, people who know that they react poorly to eating gluten avoid bouillon cubes and broth because wheat gluten is often an ingredient from which MSG is made. Others avoid it because they suffer from “Chinese restaurant syndrome;” and experience sensations of burning, pressure, and chest pain after beginning a Chinese meal with MSG-laden soup (McGee, 2007). Scribner. In addition to the health reasons for avoiding MSG, consumers today have lost a flavor-packed nutritional treasure by embracing quick and easy broths and soups. In his book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Harold McKee writes: “The most unfortunate aspect of the MSG saga is how it has been exploited to provide a cheap, one-dimensional substitute for real and remarkable foods.”

Not only is MSG a health hazard for people with MSG sensitivities; it also represents a short-cut around a time-tested method of cooking good, nutritious food. Lost are the ingredients of a fabulous bone broth: the gelatin, amino acids and minerals that are released when bones are rolled on a simmer for several hours, as well as the minerals and phytochemicals the animal ingested by eating grass or other vegetation. All these elements that served to protect and support the health of the animal are passed on to the person when s/he ingests home-made bone broth. Try getting that out of a can, carton or bouillon cube!

Interested in learning more? Join us on Thursday, Feburary 19 at 7pm

Fallon Morell, S. (2014). Nourishing broth: An old-fashioned remedy for the modern world (p. 9). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Fallon Morell, S. (2000). Broth is beautiful. The Weston Price Foundation. Retrieved January 25, 2015 from: http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/broth-is-beautiful/

McGee, H. (2007). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen. Scribner. Kindle Edition. (Kindle Locations 3635-3641).

Nourished Kitchen blog (2014). Traditional foods 101: Bone broth, broth & stocks. Retrieved January 25, 2015 from: http://nourishedkitchen.com/bone-broth/

Wikipedia (2015). Umami. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; Wikipedia®; Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Retrieved January 26, 2015 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umami

At the risk of sounding like a lyrical jingle from the Minnesota Public Radio show Prairie Home Companion, today’s blog is brought to you by ketchup. Ketchup you ask? If you’ve ever read the ingredients on any of the popular brands you know that most of them contain high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and natural flavoring. These aren’t necessarily the first things you might want to see your kids eat, but almost any kid in this country loves ketchup – and the salty, fried foods that we tend to occupy the space aside the ketchup. Read on for a tip on how to make this popular condiment a better eating experience for your little one.

photo by Lisa Missenda

photo by Lisa Missenda

Read the rest of this entry »

July – absolutely the best time of year to source fresh, ripe, locally grown tomatoes. Farmers’ markets all around the metro DC area carry some really fabulous heirloom varieties. Here’s what to look for, and then how to store it and use it when you get home!

Look for red and ripe tomatoes. Lycopene, the star antioxidant available in tomatoes has a higher concentration when tomatoes are red and ripe.

Tomatoes should be FIRM, but yield to a little pressure; it is best to avoid tomatoes with bruises, cracks and a puffy appearance (Murray, et al., 2005).

Shy away from green: If the seeds of the tomatoes or any of the insides are green, than the tomato was most likely picked green and treated with ethylene gas to hasten its ripening. This is especially true for “vine-ripened” varieties that are priced higher than other conventionally grown tomatoes.

SMALL: There is more lycopene and vitamin C in tomato skins, therefore cherry and plum tomatoes are more nutritious and often taste sweeter than other varieties (Robinson, 2013).

ORGANIC: A ten-year study revealed that under the same climate conditions, organic tomatoes contained increased levels of the antioxidants, quercetin and kaempferol than conventionally grown tomatoes (Mitchell, et al., 2007). Choosing organic will also reduce consumer exposure to organophosphates, insecticides that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified as acutely toxic to bees, wildlife and humans.

Or if you want to skip the fresh tomato and go straight for the salsa or sauce… Tomato products are great because processed tomatoes are more bio-available than raw tomatoes, pastes and sauces are a good choice if one is looking to increase dietary antioxidant intake.

When buying tomato products, consider the packaging. U.S. products follow more strict packaging regulations related to exposure to toxic metals, and plastic-lined cans which may release bisphenol A (BPA). This hormone disrupter more actively leaches into acidic foods like tomatoes. It is much safer to buy tomato products packed in glass jars or Tetra packs (Murray, et al., 2005 and Robinson, 2013).

References:

Environmental Protection Agency website: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/about/intheworks/clothianidin-registration-status.html#basic Gartner, C., Stahl, W., and Sies H. (1997). Lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66(1), 116-122.
House, P. (n.d.). Top 10 Foods Highest in Lycopene. http://www.Health.Alicious.Ness.com, Web. 03 Jan. 2014.
McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen (Revised). Scribner: New York, NY.
Mitchell, A.E., Hong, Y., Koh, E., Barrett, D.M., Bryant, D.E., Denison, R.F., and Kaffka, S., (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 55, 6154-6159.
Murray, M. Pizzorno, J., and Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. Atria Books: New York, NY.
Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.

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July is typically when tomatoes ripen in northern climates. Farmers’ markets are heavily stocked with delicious ripe tomatoes in all types of heirloom varieties. The flavors offered in local fresh tomatoes are a giant leap from what you might find on supermarket shelves because tomatoes are one of many vegetables that taste much better when they are locally sourced or locally grown. Tomatoes also have healing power – especially when you convert them into a delicious sauce, salsa or juice.

photo by Lisa Missenda

photo by Lisa Missenda

The medicinal power of tomatoes is primarily attributed to their lycopene content. A red-colored plant nutrient from the carotenoid family, lycopene is one of the most efficient antioxidants; it prevents disease by scavenging and neutralizing free radicals before they can damage cellular structures (Murray, et al., 2005). To a lesser degree, tomatoes also contain beta-carotene, vitamin C, biotin, vitamin K and the flavonols, quercetin and kaempferol (Mitchell, et al., 2004 and Murray, et al., 2005).

Although other foods contain lycopene, tomatoes are the most popular source of lycopene in the U.S. diet, so tomatoes and tomato products are widely studied especially for their cancer-fighting potential. Most notably, a 22-year Harvard study showed a 21 percent decreased risk in prostate cancer in men who consumed 6.5 mg of dietary lycopene daily as compared to those consuming less (Murray, et al., 2005).

Other sources of lycopene include:

Tomato juice

1⁄2 cup

8,250 mcg*

Tomato, raw

3⁄4 cup

3,000 mcg

Guava, raw

1 medium

5,500 mcg

Watermelon, raw

3⁄4 cup

4,000 mcg

Guava juice

1⁄2 cup

3,500 mcg

Pink Grapefruit

Half

3,500 mcg

Rose hips puree

3/4 cup

800 mcg

Apricots, dried

3⁄4 cup

900 mcg

Papaya, fresh

3⁄4 cup

1828 mcg

Red cabbage, raw

3⁄4 cup

20 mcg

* stands for micrograms, also noted as μg; most phytonutrients are needed in small quantities measured in micro and milligrams. (Wildman, 2006, p. 57 & House, n.d.)

In terms of bioavailability, for the body to fully use tomato’s star nutrient, lycopene, it must be released from the food matrix, that is, all the components of the food and their molecular and chemical relationships to one another. As a carotenoid, lycopene’s chemical structure dictates that it can be released for the body’s use in the presence of fat and when the fiber content of the food is low. Therefore, processed tomato products (tomato juice, tomato paste, etc.) ingested with fat are better sources of bio-available lycopene than fresh tomatoes served with no fat (Gartner et al., 1997 & Brown, 2004).

That’s another reason why canning tomatoes and homemade tomato sauces is a great summer activity! You take advantage of local farmers’  fresh, ripe tomatoes, and then add them to make a super nutritious meal on a wintry day.

References:

Brown, M. J., Ferruzzi, M.G., Nguyen, M.L., Cooper, D.A., Eldridge, A.L., Schwartz, S.J., and White, W.S. (2004). Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80, 396–403.
Gartner, C., Stahl, W., and Sies H. (1997). Lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66(1), 116-122.
House, P. (n.d.). Top 10 Foods Highest in Lycopene. http://www.Health.Alicious.Ness.com, Web. 03 Jan. 2014.
McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen (Revised). Scribner: New York, NY.
Mitchell, A.E., Hong, Y., Koh, E., Barrett, D.M., Bryant, D.E., Denison, R.F., and Kaffka, S., (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 55, 6154-6159.
Murray, M. Pizzorno, J., and Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. Atria Books: New York, NY.
Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.
Wildman, R.E.C. (2006). Handbook of nutraceuticals and functional foods (2nd ed.). CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL. Google eBook.

In July, farmers’ markets in mid-Atlantic states are overloaded with fresh ripe tomatoes. Ask anyone who’s eaten a store-bought tomato – they just aren’t what they used to be… It’s true, tomatoes have come a long way through selection and breeding practices — but not all their flavor has been lost – and there are efforts afoot to rescue their long lost flavor and healing capabilities!  

Through centuries of plant breeding tomatoes were transformed from a bitter, berry-sized fruit that grew on bushes in the deserts of western South America, to a popular sweet-tart fruit, that most people consider a vegetable (McGee, 2004, p. 329). Over the past 30 years, however, careful selection of specific traits sacrificed its unique flavor to transform the tomato into a more hardy plant, that grows uniformly round, resistant to disease and able to grow on vines that do not sprawl (Beckles, 2012; Robinson, 2013).

Tomatoes found in supermarkets today are not allowed to ripen on the vine. If they were sold that way, by the time they were shipped to the supermarket they would be overripe, or on the verge of rotting. The tomato industry will pick tomatoes before they are ripe, usually when they show the first hint of color (at the breaker stage). This gives the industry up to 2 weeks to get the tomatoes to wherever they will be sold before they turn red. Ripening can also be speeded up through spraying them with ethylene gas at regional warehouses. This way consumers see red tomatoes in the market, that are not fully ripe. This is why people complain that tomatoes lack flavor these days.

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Because the tomato varieties most available today have less taste and nutrient content than their predecessors, agronomists are now experimenting with heirloom varieties and with breeding back in some of the chemical components of the original fruit to improve their flavor (Allen, 2008). In spite of the losses, today’s tomato still delivers a number of specific phytonutrients optimized through growing processes, selection, storage and preparation.

One interesting study compared conventional and organic production of tomatoes over ten years and demonstrated statistically higher levels of the plant nutrients quercetin and kaempferol aglycones in organically grown tomatoes. Researchers saw increased levels of these nutrients in plants grown using organic methods (Mitchell, et al., 2007).

Try heirloom tomatoes at your local farmers’ market. They will have much more flavor than store bought tomatoes, because they will have been allowed to ripen on the vine.

 

References:

Allen, A. (2008). A passion for tomatoes. Smithsonian magazine, August, 2008 Retrieved December 14, 2013 from http:// http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/passion-for-tomatoes.html
Beckles, D. M. (2012). Factors affecting the postharvest soluble solids and sugar content of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) fruit. Postharvest Biology and Technology 63(1), 129–140.
McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen (Revised). Scribner: New York, NY.
Mitchell, A.E., Hong, Y., Koh, E., Barrett, D.M., Bryant, D.E., Denison, R.F., and Kaffka, S., (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 55, 6154-6159.
Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.

Inventing your own pesto is easy! Mix and match the herbs you like (or have on hand) as well as the nuts and/or seeds you prefer most and follow the basic instructions below:

  • 3-1/2 cup of herb leaves (basil, cilantro, anise hyssop, mint; you can also use the flowers of plants like basil, sage and rosemary.
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1/3 cup of roasted nuts or seeds (pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds….)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

To prepare you will want to put the leaves, garlic, salt and Cheese, if you are using it in a blender and mix until you have a paste. drizzle in the oil slowly and blend until you have the consistency you desire. Note that if you use a nut like cashew, you will get a somewhat creamy result, especially if you add a tablespoon of lemon.

Keep tasting your creation. If your pesto tastes a little bitter, try throwing in a little basil or nuts like almonds or cashews; any one of these ingredients will sweeten it up – without sugar. If it tastes a little too oily, you will want to throw in some more herb leaves. And if it just seems like it’s missing something a teaspoon of lemon may just be the right touch.

Let yourself explore until you come up with the perfect pesto! Let me know how it goes!

If you are not feeling all that adventurous, check out these recipes, and do let me knowhow it goes.

More from the Rt. 1 Farmer's Market & Bazaar

Cooking Demonstration: How to make the most of your summer greens – salad dressings and pestos

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