Monday, September 13, 2010
Flax seeds are tiny little seeds, about the size of sesame seeds, crammed with nutritional goodness. They are ancient, originating in Mesopotamian river valley and have long been know for their healing properties.
Flax is a really good source of healthy Omega 3 fats; fiber; phytosterols, which block cholesterol absorption; and is the richest source of lignans. Lignans are phytoestrogens. What the heck is a phytoestrogen? It's a compound that either has estrogenic properties (behaves like the hormone estrogen in the body) or anti-estrogenic properties. Estrogen, as you know, is the female sex hormone, but in elevated amounts can lead to breast and other cancers. Whether a phytoestrogen mimics estrogen or develops anti-estrogenic properties depends on how much is ingested. Phytoestrogens can be divided into two camps, the flavonoids (found in soy) and lignans both groups are good sources of antioxidants. Studies have shown that eating lignans can have reduced rates of breast, prostate, ovarian cancers, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Flax has long been used for relieving gas and abdominal pains, improving digestions, preventing and treating constipation, stabilizing blood sugar and inhibiting tumor growth. Studies have also shown flax to be beneficial to lowering elevated cholesterol levels. These golden or brown seeds are best bought whole but must be ground so that the nutritional benefits can be absorbed. The pre-ground flax seeds are often rancid and should therefore be avoided. I grind mine in my coffee grinder or in my blender when making a smoothie. Flax oil is readily available but because it is extremely sensitive to light and heat, it also goes rancid quickly and there is no way of identifying rancid oil, so it is best to leave it on the shelf. There are some online resources where "fresh" flax seed can be ordered. If you buy the oil, it should always be refrigerated, sold in a dark bottle and NEVER used for cooking.
Flax seeds are high in Omega 3 fats (w3) which by now, we should all be aware are the "good" fats. Alpha linolenic acid is a health promoting fat that many of us do not get enough of. When we consume a diet rich in vitamins and minerals (by eating fresh fruits and vegetables often), the alpha linolenic acid can be converted to anti-inflammatory substances which can prevent many common diseases and illnesses.
You can get flax seeds at your local health food store or Whole Foods. Remember to buy them whole, grind them yourself and start adding them to salad dressings, smoothies, sprinkling on your sandwiches. Adding a couple of tablespoons each day of flax is a great nutritional boost.
For more information:
"Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill" by Udo Erasmus
Friday, September 10, 2010
My mom always had pearls of wisdom for me. One of her biggest sayings was to remind me to eat breakfast, "it's the most important meal of the day." You know what? She was right. Most of us consider breakfast a cup of coffee and a muffin from the local coffee shop. Well, that is not going to cut it! There is nothing nutritionally sound in that breakfast. More than lacking in nutrients, that version of breakfast is ultimately going to give you a short burst of energy, but then leave you feeling tired, hungry, grouchy or another whole host of not good feelings.
I totally understand that everyone is in a rush in the morning. I've been there. As a result, we turn to convenience food to satisfy us. When I lived in NY, Pick-A-Bagel used to deliver to my office a large coffee and bagel for $2.25. I didn't have to leave my desk. Now, I know better. Look, I am not going to tell you to give up your morning coffee, but if you cannot even think about starting your day without it, it might be time to consider reducing the amount that you drink. Instead of that muffin or bagel, though, there are plenty of convenient and quick breakfasts that you can have.
The above picture is one of my normal breakfasts. I put all of that into a blender and in less than a minute I have a really healthy smoothie. Not all smoothies are the same! There are tons of juice bars and the like that will sell you a perfectly terrible smoothie under the pretense of it being "healthy." I like to use frozen fruit, but remember if using thin skinned fruit like peaches or berries get the organic. I also add a scoop of non GMO whey protein powder, flax seeds, nutritional yeast, 1/2 an avocado and some almond milk.
It is important to have balance in your meals, a little bit of good fat (avocado, nut butter), protein (eggs, whey powder) and complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables). The protein from the whey powder and the fat from the avocado in my smoothie prevent your blood sugar from quickly spiking and then dropping. They will also keep you satiated longer. The blood sugar spike is something that many of us experience when we eat simple carbs like muffins, bagels, cold cereals or many smoothies that consist of only fruit or fruit and frozen yogurt. Flax seeds and nutritional yeast are two "super" or "booster" foods, meaning that they pack a powerful nutritional punch in a small dose. The flax seeds are a good source of omega 3 fats and the nutritional yeast is an excellent source of B vitamins.
Smoothies may not be your thing, but there are tons of other quick options for you. Eggs of course are a good idea, they have both fat and protein add to them some vegetables and you have a nutritionally sound meal. Bagels are still a staple, certainly for many of my east coast friends. Rather than slathering on some butter or cream cheese, consider cutting the bagel in half, scooping out some of the middle (like we used to do in college following an article where it was revealed that's what Jennifer Aniston did) add some lettuce, tomato, avocado, sprouts, maybe some roasted turkey or feta cheese.
Whatever your preference, it is really important to eat breakfast everyday. Your body has gone hours without food and in order to function properly, it needs to be replenished. Remember to choose something that has some good fat and some protein rather than a simple carb which is nothing but empty calories. We are somewhat conditioned to want sweet things in the morning, but if we could break free from that, it would open a lot more healthy options.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
First, I must start by saying that I HATE when people say "I cheated" or "I was bad" when referring to something that they ate. It is ridiculous, which is why I took the opportunity to point it out by using it as today's title. This post is to illustrate to my legions of readers, that sometimes I eat out. Rarely, do I not want to cook, but often, I don't want to clean up.
Chipotle is about as close to fast food as you will ever see me get. Fast food is poison. Yes, it really is and if you remotely like animals, you should never eat it. Fast food supports factory farms that abuse and torture animals, yet allow you to eat a hamburger for under $1. Think about it, what the hell kind of meat are you eating if it costs less than $1. Yuck. Look, I am not saying that we should all become vegetarians, far from it, but if we are going to eat meat, we should be responsible for where it comes from and how the animals are treated. Would you buy anything if you knew it was made in a sweat shop using child labor? If you are friends with me, I really hope your answer is "no." So why is it ok for you to support business that use animals that are treated the same way as children in a sweat shop? That's all I'm saying.
Back to Chipotle. I love not only the establishment, but I love the flavor-smokey and spicy. They support local farms and use animals that are humanely raised. As a result, you can find me eating there from time to time and I always get the same thing. I always get the vegetarian burrito bowl-I love it. The husband hates legumes and guacamole so the burrito bowl is a magical combination that contains both and I cannot resist it. Today, I added the leftover kale from dinner into the bowl for a nutritional boost.
I love eating, I really do. When I plan a trip, the first thing I think about before airfare and hotels is the food. Where will we eat? What restaurants are around? It's all about the food. It is a huge part of any trip for me. Food is obviously a source of nourishment but it is also a source of comfort at times and pleasure often, but I still have a really healthy relationship with food. You will never find me getting a packaged donut from a gas station or ANYTHING from 7-11 as a source of food. I really believe that we are what we eat and as a result, I probably spend more time than most people I know planning out my meals. I know some people think I am really strict about what I eat, and they're right. I am because it is important to me and Chipotle has its own little place in my diet-in moderation.
Ugh. Just read some disturbing news about Chipotle not being as good as I thought they were. Here is a link to a new article that questions the practices they use with farmers. Sounds like we will be taking a break from Chipotle until this matter is addressed.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
There is rarely a night when the husband and I don't have dinner together, but tonight was one of those very rare times. I decided to make one of my favorites, scallops. I used to hate them. It was a textural thing, but now I love them, although I don't have them as often as I would like. I served them with a bunch of sautéed kale, thinly sliced potatoes and pea puree. The whole dinner took about 15 minutes to put together.
I simply roasted some potato slices in a 400 degree oven. While the potatoes were cooking, I sautéed the kale with some olive oil, shallots and red pepper flakes and dropped some frozen peas into boiling water for a couple of minutes. When the peas were done, they were drained and pureed with a hand blender but you could use a regular blender or mini cuisinart. Using the same pan that I cooked the kale, I cooked the scallops, about 2 1/2 minutes per side. Easy.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Za'atar or zaatar as it is also commonly known is a Middle Eastern spice mix. I guess like most spice blends, it varies a little by region. I have seen Lebanese and Syrian versions of zaatar in the local spice shop, but I can also get a sort of generic version from Whole Foods, specialty shops and even Cost Plus. It is a combination of sesame seeds, thyme, sumac, marjoram or oregano and savory. I've read that even among families, the recipe is very guarded.
I really like using zaatar with lamb. I'm making lamb burgers for dinner and was prepared to scrap the whole idea unless I could come up with some zaatar. Of course you can make this yourself, but it is just as hard to find sumac as it is to find zaatar. If you do happen upon sumac, it's another spice worth having. It's a little lemony, slightly floral and it goes really well with lamb too. Zaatar also pairs really well with feta a quick recipe is to grill some flat bread, drizzle liberally with olive oil, sprinkle on some zaatar and crumbled feta. Apparently, many homes in the Middle East serve a variation of this for breakfast, simply using pita, zaatar paste (which is typically the spices mixed with olive oil) and lebneh which is similar to yogurt.
Adding a teaspoon or so of a new herb can really change some of your traditional recipes. I try to avoid most blends that have salt or any preservatives or colors added, but if they are straight up spices and herbs I am game.
Middle Eastern Lamb Burgers
1 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons zaatar
salt to taste
cayenne pepper to taste
1/4 plain yogurt
1 lemon, juiced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
arugula or watercress
bun or baguette
In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and red onion. Set aside.
Mix zaatar, salt and pepper with the ground lamb and form into patties. Cook patties either on a hot grill or on the stove to desired doneness.
Drain the onions and serve on the burger with a drizzle of the yogurt and topped with the arugula or watercress.