Tag Archives: nutrition

The Quarantine Continues: Day 3 :ALL ABOUT HUMMUS

The news gets worse by the day and my heart aches for my hometown of NYC which is reeling from this pandemic and it looks like things are bound to get worse before they get better.  That said I hope everyone is staying put and only venturing out to exercise.  Now my vegan daughter eats a lot of hummus and it is no surprise that the large container, pint sized, I purchased on my last venture to the store which was Friday March 20th, was completely gone by Tuesday afternoon.  I have decided I will wait until Sunday, so I can also pick up a copy of the Sunday New York Times which I am dying to read,  before I venture to my small locally owned grocery, which I have heard has the best cleaning policies around. So we are stuck eating whats on hand.

Lucky for her I did have a bag of dried chickpeas, which I had set out to soak in cool water overnight. The next morning I rinsed them in cool water and then placed them in a stock pot and covered them with water, added a bit of himalayan salt, a 1/4 tsp baking soda and cranked the heat.  Let them boil away for 20 mins or so and be sure to skim any of the foam that gets produced.  Once they are soft remove from heat, drain in a colander and  rinse with cool water.

Now for those of you that don’t normally soak and cook your beans you will be amazed at the amount that $1.00 1lb bag of garbanzo beans turned into. So I took half the beans and placed them on a cookie sheet where I tossed them in oil and sprinkled them with my family’s  favorite new seasoning from Trader Joe’s and roasted them at 350 for 30 to 40 mins until crispy.

Now take the rest of the beans and using a food processor, blender, or even an immersion blender which is what I used since my large food processor is at my work kitchen, blend the remaining beans, a few garlic cloves, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tbs. of peanut butter or tahini, 2 tbs of olive oil.  Keep blending and drizzle warm salt water into the mixture until you reach your perfect creamy consistency.  The best part is this makes about a quart of hummus and a pint of delicious roasted chickpeas which I hope will tide us over until I decide to make my next venture out in public.

A Guide to Surviving Week # 2 in Quarantine

Many of us are starting week #2 of quarantine and trying our best to establish an actual routine.  So many of us thrive on routine, knowing what to expect and executing those tasks as needed.  This idleness, loss of purpose for those of us who are supposed to be at work or school is rough.  Sure we do some work remotely, but let’s not kid ourselves, it isn’t the same and we are all grieving our fundamental loss, our sense of purpose.

In the past we have heard retirees complain they are bored  and we say to ourselves, “are you crazy?” what I would give to have some time.  Well your wish has been granted because all of a sudden so many of us have more time than we know what to do with. For some of us this extra time will be a gift.  Time to finish projects long put off, maybe start a new hobby we have been wanting to try but simply didn’t have time, maybe you just love to read and now is your chance.

That said even these diversions can only hold us so long and finding a routine is the only way we will all survive this.  Feeding ourselves is one of  our most basic routines and I keep hearing from parents during this time that they feel like all they do is feed their families.  While this is probably true, I am grateful to at least have that purpose and am trying to make the best of it.  So I am sharing some recipes that we made yesterday.  Empanadas, which were essentially filled with the turkey meat from Saturday night’s tacos and for the plant based folks we filled them with the black bean and hominy filling from the same taco night.  Use whatever you have on hand for filling, this is a time to be sure to use everything you have on hand and WASTE NOTHING!!!!!!!!!! Empanadas are fun for the whole family to make, in fact once you make the dough, let everyone fill them themselves and don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy press to make them.  Simply cut the dough into circles and fill one side, fold over into the shape of a half-moon and press the edges with a fork.

So let’s try and make the best of all this and may this recipe bring your family some happiness through small acts such as this.

EMPANADAS

DOUGH

2 ½ tsp. Active dry yeast

1 ½ tsp. Sugar

½ cup milk

2 eggs beaten

1/3 cup sour cream

5 tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 ½ cup All-purpose flour

1 ¼ cup Cornmeal

¾ tsp Salt

  1. In a large mixing bowl place yeast with sugar and ¼ cup of milk and let rest of 5 min to activate the yeast
  2. Once it appears foamy go ahead and add the remaining milk, eggs and sour cream and butter
  3. In another bowl stir together flour, cornmeal and salt and using an electric mixer beat flour mixture into egg and milk mixture until the dough is smooth and elastic
  4. Form the dough into a large ball and place in an oil bowl and turn to coat with oil
  5. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 ½ hours and the ounch down the dough

FILLING

Traditionally empanada filling is made with beef or pork but to give a bit of a healthier twist we are making our empanadas with ground turkey. Like most fillings you can swap out and change some ingredients just be sure to keep the balance of flavors and textures the same. It is important to make sure the filling is moist but not wet or you will end up with some soggy empanadas.

1 medium onion finely chopped

1tbs garlic minced

2 jalapeno peppers minced (optional)

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tbs. Chili powder

1 tbs. Dried oregano

½ tsp. Cinnamon

1/8 tsp. ground Cloves

2 tbs. Oil for cooking

1 lb ground turkey

¼ cup tomato paste

28 oz can diced tomatoes

1/3 cup raisins

½ cup pimento stuffed olives chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Over medium heat saute onions in oil until soft and add garlic, jalapenos, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, clove and oregano
  2. After 3 min add ground turkey and cook until browned, breaking up any lumps
  3. Add tomato product, olives,raisins and salt and pepper to taste
  4. Simmer for additional 15 mins until the liquid has evaporated

PUTTING THE EMPANADAS TOGETHER

pre-heat oven to 425

take dough and seperate into 24 balls and cover with a damp cloth

on a lightly floured surface roll each ball into a flat circle, use a knife or cookie cutter for the edges

Place a small amount of filling on one side of the circle and fold over the other side to form a turnover, crimp the edges

Cook on an oiled baking sheet for 10-15 mins. Until golden brown

The Weekly Optimal Planner

Welcome to the First  Weekly Optimal Planner

After more than a decade running the Optimal Kitchen I think I may have finally come up with what we all actually need to maintain a healthy everyday diet. Even mainstream experts have caught on to the fact that trendy diets and food fads simply don’t work. They are not sustainable. We need to eat whole, primarily plant based food everyday. We can allow ourselves the occasional treat now and again, but be reasonable. This first month is a trial guide and please give me feedback which will allow me to make changes to better suit what you all want.

Feeding ourselves and our families isn’t rocket science but there is so much information, often conflicting, that it is almost impossible to not feel overwhelmed just going grocery shopping. I hope to provide you with a weekly framework to make your life a whole lot easier and more importantly tastier! Some recipes or ideas maybe outside your box but I promise all the recipes are easy, have been tested (not all recipes you find on-line are!) so that they work and taste great. Feel free to tweak recipes if you have food allergies or intolerances, but I do encourage you to try new things, maybe even things you didn’t like in the past.

Since the goal is to make weekly shopping and cooking easy we will aim to share ingredients in multiple recipes so there is little waste. The Optimal Planner also accounts for the fact that most people eat out a couple of times per week, consider these your cheat meals. The planner is based on 3 meals a day because that is what we should be eating essentially. If snacks are a big part of your families diet than those would be additional to the recipes and suggestions in the weekly Optimal Planner.

Breakfast is very different for individuals and is one meal that I find personal tastes and habits play a huge role. There are those who like smoothies, or maybe cereal, or eggs and avocado toast. It is also the meal I find that people eat the same thing almost daily, and you know what that is ok. Personally I am an avocado toast kinda gal and I admit I don’t always eat breakfast and when I do it is usually 4 or 5 hours after I wake up, keep in mind though I am a very early riser and cook for a living so that schedule works for me, but not most. Though I do think many people simply aren’t that hungry first thing, but become ravenous mid morning. Keep this in mind and if this is you, be sure you are prepared. The worst thing is to be hungry at 10am and then just wait until lunchtime at which point you are starving and end up eating way to much and not feeling great for the majority of the afternoon as a result.

Lunch should be your most calorie dense meal of the day, and is where you should consume the bulk of your starchy carbohydrates because you will have all afternoon and evening to use that energy. This is often a hard concept to wrap our heads around because we are so used to having a big meal at dinner. Change is challenging but shifting your caloric load to earlier in the day actually can have a significant impact on your health from promoting better digestion to improved sleep patterns.

Dinner is as much about connecting with our families as feeding them. If your family consists of growing kids, especially adolescents, I will often suggest adding perhaps a loaf of bread or a bowl of pasta or something else to satiate those never ending appetites, but remember just because you are living with growing kids who need a significant caloric load doesn’t mean you do.

The ideas and recipes below are suggestions to help make meal prep throughout the week simple and easy. The shopping list includes fruit recommendations based on grocery store sales and variety. Many of the recipes will leave you with leftovers so you can enjoy multiple meals. It is also much easier to have some kind of theme or region to base recipes on so that you can share ingredients. This week we feature Mediterranean inspired dishes which share some ingredients. It is crucial to remember that eating a varied diet is key to providing our bodies with the nutrients they need to thrive. Fruit is meant for breakfast and snacking. If smoothies are part of your everyday diet use frozen fruit for cost savings and ease, though limit to 3-4 per week and always add some greens and veggies!

Recipes and Meal Planning Ideas:

Breakfast is just the first meal of your day whatever time that may happen. After lots of back and forth about how many times a day we should eat, 3 meals a day is sufficient. If you are genuinely hungry, meaning you tried a glass of water first, have a snack, but this all day snacking is a big part of our struggles with food. Traditional breakfast foods are a completely modern phenomenon and you can eat whatever you want, if you want a salad have one. I often will just have last night’s leftovers. The key to every meal is to have plenty of fiber, from fruits, vegetables, and grains, some protein and a bit of fat, whatever form that takes is up to you.

Breakfast Suggestions:

AVOCADO TOAST, opt for sprouted breads, real whole grain (Dave’s is good) or sourdough

EGGS any way but a great do ahead the night before is a FRITTATA

SPINACH, POTATO AND MUSHROOM FRITTATTA

2 cups fresh Spinach

1 cup mushrooms, whatever variety you like

1 cup roasted new potatoes, or some of each

1 large shallot sliced

8 eggs

¼ cup flax meal or oat bran

¼ cup Fresh Herbs, spring chives are a favorite, parsley, thyme or basil

¼ cup shredded cheese, cheddar, mozzarella or even goat cheese (optional)

Oil for cooking

  1. Beat eggs and stir in fresh herbs

  2. In an oven safe fry pan toss in shallots and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil and saute until mushrooms begin to soften and shallots become translucent

  3. Add spinach and potatoes and cook for another minute or two

  4. pour in egg mixture (be sure pan is large enough or put vegetable mixture into a baking dish, be sure it is coated with cooking spray and then add eggs and put directly in oven)

  5. cook for a few minutes on the stove, bringing up the edges, sprinkle on cheese and place in a 375 degree oven until firm when shaken. If pouring the mixture into a baking pan the cooking time will be increased about 8 mins.

  6. Let cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving to allow it to tighten up.

Frittatas are a great way to use up extra veggies, both raw and cooked and still get yourself a solid dose of protein making it and ideal dish for any meal of the day. I often use oat bran or bread crumbs to help bind it and make it a bit more solid, but if you are gluten free you can easily just use potatoes, grated or shredded potatoes are great for this! Simply start with the egg base, keep proportions in line and keep in mind this recipe can easily be cut in half or even quartered,and just as easily doubled, then just go from there. Be sure to cook vegetables, especially those with a high water content before adding to the dish, I guarantee even the barest of fridges can yield some treats that will suit a fritatta.

Panko

Parsley

Asparagus

Tomato

Onions

Cheddar

Oat Bran

Rosemary

Broccoli

Olives

Garlic

Mozzarella

Shredded Potato

Basil

Zucchini

Spinach

Scallions

Goat Cheese

Wheat Germ

Oregano

Red Pepper

Roasted Potatos

Chives

Feta

Flax Meal

Rosemary

Mushroom

Green Beans

Leeks

Gruyere

Aim to have one from each column but by all means throw in lots of mixed fresh herbs and veggies to use up what you have on hand.

SMOOTHIE/SMOOTHIE BOWL, be sure to add greens like spinach or kale and other vegetables like cucumber or celery to cut down on the sugars. Also add some fiber and protein with choices like flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds or nuts. If you choose to use a protein powder opt for plant based fiber rich varieties.

OATMEAL

Classic 5 minute oats are a great way to start your day because they are high in fiber and protein that work to fuel you and keep you full. Add nuts, berries even some dried fruits for extra flavor and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup or honey for a touch of sweetness

LUNCH SUGGESTIONS:

WHITE BEAN AND BASIL HUMMUS (great in wrap with lettuce and tomato, or as a dip for veggies or chips )

½ lb. (1 cup) white navy beans or 1 can rinsed

4 to 5 cloves of garlic

¼ cup basil threads

zest juice from 1 lemon

olive oil

sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

1.soak beans overnight

2.rinse beans, place in pot and cover with water, cook for approx. 20-25 until beans are tender but not mushy

3.place garlic, basil, lemon zest and juice and beans in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, when necessary drizzle in olive oil and a bit of water to obtain proper consistency

WHITE BEAN TOMATO AND GREENS STEW

1 lb of winter greens (kale, spinach, cabbage or a combo)

1 lg can diced tomatoes

1 large can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 2 cups of soaked and cooked dry beans

3-5 cloves of garlic

1 quart vegetable stock

½ cup fresh herbs (parsley, basil, oregano or a combo)

olive oil for cooking

salt and pepper for seasonings

  1. saute greens in olive oil over med/high heat until they begin to wilt then add the garlic
  2. once the greens have been reduced to half add the tomatoes and lower heat to a simmer
  3. add white beans, the rest of the tomatoes and vegetable stock and continue cooking for an additional 10-15 mins until flavors have melded
  4. season with salt and pepper and then add the fresh herbs before serving.

ORZO TOMATO AND SPINACH SALAD

1 box of orzo

1 pint of cherry tomatoes halved or any tomato diced

several cups of fresh spinach

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup basil threads

2 cloves garlic minced (opt)

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook off orzo and run cool water over the pasta to cool it down
  2. Toss pasta with the rest of the ingredients and serve at room temperature

BEANS AND GREENS

1 box pasta penne, farfalle or whatever type you like

1 15 ounce can white beans beans or chickpeas

a few cups fresh spinach

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

olive oil for cooking

fresh or dried basil or oregano for seasoning

¼ cup shredded parmesan, mozzarella or asiago (optional)

sliced black olives (optional)

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Two minutes before pasta is ready, add spinach and then drain.
  2. Coat the same pot with olive oil and toss in onion, garlic and dried herbs. Sauté until clear.
  3. Add the rinsed beans to the pan and toss. Put pasta and spinach mixture back in the pot and sauté for another minute, adding fresh herbs and cheese. Stir gently to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients, and serve.

DINNER IDEAS:

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SALAD

½ head cauliflower

2 tbs. Olive Oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tbsp capers

1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cut florets into small pieces and toss with half the olive oil and the minced garlic
  2. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 mins. And then remove from oven and using tongs toss cauliflower so it cooks evenly on all sides
  3. Remove and let cool and then combine with the parsley, capers, olives, left over oil, lemon juice and seasonings, serve room temperature

CAULIFLOWER, POTATO AND HERB PUREE

½ head caulifower

3 medium Red Potatoes

1 tbs. Chopped fresh Rosemary or 1 tsp dried

Olive Oil

Parmesan Cheese opt.

  1. Wash potatoes and boil until they start to become tender

  2. Add cauliflower in small chunks and cook until it is soft and potatoes are completely tender

  3. Strain potato and cauliflower and place in a food processor, or use an old fashioned masher and blend until smooth, add oil if necessary

  4. Add chopped fresh rosemary and season with salt and pepper

RIBBON SALAD WITH GARLICKY VINAIGRETTE (RAW/VEGAN)

3 medium sized Zucchini

3 medium sized Summer Squash

1# bag of Carrots, peeled

2 cups Cabbage (green or Savoy) Shredded

DRESSING

4 cloves of garlic

¼ cup fresh parsley

¼ cup other fresh herbs you have on hand basil, cilantro or thyme choose just 1

¼ cup Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

½ cup cold pressed Olive Oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Using a mandolin, or veggie slicer julienne thick threads of carrots and squash
  2. toss in the shredded cabbage
  3. in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender, add the next 4 ingredients and blend while slowly adding the olive oil which will help to emulsify the dressing
  4. toss the dressing with the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and serve

Now let’s take these same noodles with out the dressing and do something completely different

  1. Toss in a pan with olive oil and garlic and cook until soft and top with Marinara or a Spicy Puttanesca
  2. If you have some pesto maybe you froze or a jar in the fridge saute up the noodles in that
  3. you can even add to some cooked spaghetti for a hearty pasta primavera

MINESTRONE

1 quart vegetable broth

1 15 oz. can kidney beans

1 cup ditalini pasta or rice if you are gluten free

1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes

1 onion diced

2 celery stalks diced

3 carrots diced

1 zucchini diced

1 tbs. dried oregano

1 tbs. dried basil

olive oil for cooking

salt and paper to taste

  1. In a large stockpot sauté garlic, onions, celery and carrots until soft
  2. Add tomatoes, beans and herbs, then cover with broth and bring to a boil
  3. Add pasta and zucchini then reduce heat and simmer for 10 mins until pasta is cooked

SHOPPING LIST

This weeks menu was chosen because many of the items are on special. My fruit suggestions are sale items. I encourage you to buy organic when you can as far as produce but following the dirty dozen is the most important. That said many organics are priced almost as low as their conventional counterparts, example carrots, bananas and sweet potatoes so I encourage you to make those choices, but staying on budget is important as well and any vegetables are better than none. I also realize many people using the planner will still be eating meat and may be supplementing these dishes with chicken and fish which is fine.

There are some basic pantry supplies I assume most have on hand. If you don’t, add these items to your weekly grocery list.

olive oil

red wine vinegar

cider vinegar

garlic

onions

celery

dried herbs and spices (oregano, basil, rosemary, crushed red pepper)

capers

sea salt

pepper

nuts

dried fruit

frozen fruit

PRODUCE

cauliflower 1head

potatoes

4 -5 zucchini

4 summer squash

5lb bag organic carrots (if you shop at Shaws it is a 2lb bag)

1 medium green cabbage

1 bunch basil

1 bunch parsley

lemons (much cheaper in the mesh bags)

large box of organic baby spinach

tomatoes

avocados

fresh fruit (cantalope, berries, grapefruits and oranges are on sale)

eggs

DRY GOODS:

2 cans diced tomatoes

white bean 1lb dry or 3 cans

1can of garbanzo beans

1 can of red beans

1 box orzo

1 box ditalini

1 box of penne

oats

2-3 quarts vegetable stock

I assume you will need additional items such as breads, tortillas, peanut butter and snacks that your family likes.

Trendy Diets: The Ketogenic vs. Whole Foods Plant Based

Anyone who knows me and my work at The Optimal Kitchen, knows I am continually striving to further my education and knowledge of food and food systems. The field of nutrition, and really just about anything these days is dynamic, constantly changing and evolving, and in order to stay on top of things you need to continually educate yourself. Anyone who follows nutrition is aware there is a new fangled diet coming out every few years and there will be some scientific data to support it. But does that mean it is the best way to feed ourselves?

There is a lot of hype these days around the ketogenic diet and almost as much buzz about a whole food plant based lower fat diet. Both have various scientific studies to support their claims and even as a professional in the industry it is significantly challenging to decide what is best for our bodies. First off we are all individuals and as such, many of us have starkly different nutritional needs than friends and even members of our own family, but isn’t there some kind of common ground?

First let’s lay out exactly what these diets are and how they work.

The Ketogenic diet: there is not much difference here from the Paleo Diet , the Atkins Diet or even the South Beach Diet since they all work on the same premise. These high fat, high protein diets drastically reduce the amount of carbohydrates a person eats forcing the body to use ketones for energy instead of carbohydrates. Foods that people eat on these diets consume are avocados, nuts, seeds, grass fed meats (including lard), olive oil, vegetables, fish and eggs. The ketone diet is anti-inflammatory in nature and has proven extremely successful, especially among children with Autism. By depriving the body of carbohydrates, it forces the body to convert fat to energy, resulting in an initial weight loss for so many which is great. For many suffering from chronic diseases with inflammatory origins this diet works and has profound positive affects on their illness.

Whole Food Plant Based: No animal products of any kind, meat, dairy, eggs etc and no processed foods of any kind. The diet is includes whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits. The benefits of a plant based diet is an abundance of phytonutrients from fruits and vegetables and the balancing of your body’s ph. This diet has been proven to lower total cholesterol levels and starve cancer cells, as well as helping many to lose weight.

So now we know what they are and the question is which is best? Well, that is a matter of how you look at it. There are benefits to both of these diets for the human body, but when I look at the bigger picture I always find myself going back to the Whole Foods Plant Based Diet. Here are my reasons:

1)Sustainability: the reality is that our population is growing by leaps and bounds and in order for everyone to have enough food to eat; we need to stop growing crops for animal consumption and focus on growing foods for human consumption.

2)Environmental: consuming animal products, even pastured and grass fed have a significant impact on our environment. Our agricultural production is one of the biggest polluters of our water systems not to mention greenhouse gases, and even rainforest destruction due to the increased demand for pastures.

3)Cost: pastured meats are expensive, much more expensive than whole grains and legumes which makes this way of eating out of the financial reach of so many.

4)Body ph: Every now and then the nutrition conversation shifts to the body’s ph and how the acidic body, a result of a diet that is made up of animal products and processed foods, leads to a myriad of poor health outcomes. It is in the acidic state that cancer cells flourish and inflammation takes hold. The only way to reduce your body’s ph is to consume huge amounts of fresh raw fruits and vegetables which help to bring the body into a more alkaline state

5)Ethics: How we raise and slaughter animals these days is not always humane. This is not to say there are not small regional farmers doing their best to humanely raise livestock for human consumption, it is simply that this is not the norm and often out of financial reach for so many.

So I will continue along my path of trying to show everyone how easy it can be to shift to a Whole Food Plant Based Diet by offering these food from The Optimal Kitchen. Yes, we are omnivores and having a bit of meat every now and then is ok but remember there is a reason meat rhymes with treat. If you want to feed yourself and your family well, have it be affordable all while being a good steward of the planet this is the best change you can make.

To educate yourself I suggest you watch 2 documentaries, each profiles these ways of eating and decide for yourself which you think is the best choice for you and your family.

On Netflix:

Hungry For Change (Plant Based Whole Food)

The Magic Pill (Ketogenic)

 

Summer will be here soon!

Even though it may not feel quite like spring,  the calendar says we are deep into spring ,which means that bathing suit season is just around the corner.  This can be a stressful time for many of us as we start to peel off those winter sweaters and turtlenecks only to realize we are a bit squishier and a tad larger than we were last fall before winter came.  First off give yourself a break.  It is entirely human to pack on pounds for the winter to keep us warm and prevent starvation from a lack of food.  However, modern society and food systems ensure that it is no longer difficult to access food in the winter, but the evolution of our digestive systems  still likes to hold onto those calories when it gets cold because that is what nature tells us.

This is a constant challenge for humans and their weight, and it doesn’t matter what special diet program you try or what food you decide to eliminate in a desperate attempt to have that beach ready body by Memorial Day weekend.  The simple fact is that our bodies are still designed to handle periods of starvation, which simply never come anymore.  Another example of advances by modern man which rather than making life much easier has layered on even more challenges and a whole host difficulties related to our weight and health.

However the solutions can be easy.  Get active, whatever you do, get that body moving.  Our bodies are designed to move and when we don’t, problems arise.  Eat real food.  Stop trying magic potions or powders, they may work in the short term, but it is not a realistic solution.  Focus on consuming copious amounts of fruits and vegetables balanced with a bit of meat and grains and of course those healthy fats, which are key to our health and yes even our weight management.  I won’t lie to you, most of us eat too much, simple.  And  when I say we eat too much, I am not talking about fruits and veggies, it is usually the junk, or even the food disguised as healthy, such as cereals, granola and health bars and the like, that doom us.

So  stop beating yourself up for gaining weight this winter, instead start living by this easy to follow rule “If your grandparent would not recognize it as a food product or if you can’t pronounce more than 1 ingredient, put that food back, or better yet get rid of it.”  Respect your body by feeding it what Mother Nature intended.

The Grocery Store Challenge

Grocery store aisle.

About 10 years ago just, after I finished my coursework in nutrition, I started giving classes on How to Navigate the Grocery store. Soon after you could find loads of articles on-line and in magazines on how to tackle the massive grocery stores and find only the best quality whole foods, ideal for your health. The rules were simple, shop the perimeter, that is where you will find produce, seafood and meat and dairy (though if you have read any Optimal Kitchen blogs before you know I am a bit anti-dairy). Once you have stocked up on those whole foods do a quick check of the organic section for any dry goods you may need and your ready for the check out.
We should have known that once us nutritionists starting talking about the hidden dangers lurking within those aisles, that the supermarket companies would devise some kind of plan to get us back in there. Alas one of my local grocery stores has fallen victim to this type of deceptive marketing and this past month has completely rearranged the store and removed my beloved organic/health food section. Of course I was the obnoxious customer who asked why in god’s name they thought this new layout was beneficial to anyone. Keep in mind I had just spent 20 minutes looking for my organic tamari which I buy regularly. I was told they decided to co-mingle the organics with their conventional counterparts so that shoppers could do price comparisons and be more informed shoppers. Sounds good, right. Well, if that was the case why wasn’t the tamari in the Asian section next to all the other soy sauce products? If you can believe I found it next to the barbecue sauce, the only explanation I could muster was that they thought tamari was akin to terriyaki sauce and belonged with the marinades and bbq sauces!
All I can conclude from this absurd re-organization is that customers where getting too smart, and those looking to improve their health through the foods they eat were avoiding those center aisles, chock full of all sorts of unhealthy goods. But why would the store want customers to load up on those unhealthy processed foods, what difference does it make to them if you only buy produce and other whole food products? It is quite simple really, the mark-up on those processed goods is far greater than that of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, eggs and even dairy. It is in the store’s best economic interest to get you in those middle aisles shopping so they will do all they can to drive you there. This is not meant to demonize grocery stores, which are a big part of any community’s economy, but it is meant to inform you that you these practices exist and why they do. Ideally we would all be getting the majority of our food from local farmer’s markets or co-ops but that is simply not realistic. Instead I urge you to try and shop at smaller, locally owned grocery stores that don’t decide to re-arrange the store every year simply to keep customers wandering the aisles, eyes glazed over simply throwing things into their cart because they are unable to find the goods they really want and need.
Where we choose to spend our money will have a great impact on how stores operate. If you decide to no longer frequent those mega grocery chains, even though it might save you some money and instead shop at your local farmer’s market and specialty stores, we might just change how these stores operate. Knowing who and where your food comes from is definitely worth the extra cost. And remember when you support local stores you support your community not some corporation.

 

 

New Products to help you Keep the Holidays Healthy

It seems like summer was just here but already we are starting to think about the holidays.  The Optimal Kitchen is about helping people  focus on the prevention of illness and maintaining optimal health, so I have developed a few new products specifically designed to aid clients in this quest.   These new items will be available at the Eastham Turnip Festival, the Wellfleet Harvest Market, and the Orleans Indoor Market as well as on line.  Come visit me at any of these locations and learn more about how the Optimal KItchen can help you and your family stay healthy this Holiday season and all winter long.

HOLY HABANERO:  This tincture with its high levels of capsascin is great for reducing inflammation, especially for those suffering from arthritis and other types of pain.  Add to foods to give them a kick or use in cocktails.

GINGER STEVIA SYRUP:  This sugar free simple syrup is a healthy sweetener with the added bonus of ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties.  It is ideal for sweetening everything from cranberry sauce to homemade ginger ale.  However I believe many people use this for making cocktails helping reduce the amount of sugars in your drinks which helps  prevent those holiday hangovers.

OPTIMAL BOOST: This is our answer  to fire cider.  Optimal Boost blends together the Ginger Stevia Syrup, Holy Habanero and Raw Apple Cider Vinegar all infused with  fresh Tumeric root.  This powerhouse blend  helps boost your immune system, reduce inflammation and promotes overall wellness.  I even got a ringing endorsement from my 15 year old who last night asked if I had any Optimal Boost because as she said, when she drinks a shot everyday she feels much better, and her skin is even better!

November and December can be challenging months for many reasons.  There is often an emotional toll layered on top of the physical, not to mention all the demands put on us by the holiday season.  Staying strong and healthy can make a big difference and here at the Optimal Kitchen we are doing all we can to keep our community healthy and strong.

Tackling Obesity: Low Carb vs. Vegan

Listening to the news this morning rates of obesity in American adults has hit 40%  and 20% for children, with higher numbers for teenagers.  Ironically the report praised initiatives because the rate of obesity has actually slowed.  If as a nation we are satisfied with  almost half of our adult population being obese than read no further.  If you are horrified how we let this happen and what we can do to change it, read on.

Obesity isn’t about body image  or ego, it is about health.  Whether we want to talk about Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Arthritis, and even Cancer, we will find the root causes of these chronic degenerative diseases in the diet we fondly refer to as the American diet.  The American diet consists of a large amount of animal products, meat and cheese, refined grains and sugary drinks, a completely unhealthy and quite frankly unsustainable way of eating.

How have we as a nation tried to address these problems?  All you need to do is look at a magazine rack and you will see cover after cover touting some new diet secret or quick fix to a problem that probably had years to take hold.  The latest trend made popular is the Whole 30, a low carb trend not much different than the Atkins diet popular 30 years ago and is helping many lose weight but is this the right way?

Years of working in the food and nutrition world I have deduced some simple facts about weight loss.

#1 Eat less of  EVERYTHING but vegetables, simply put most of us eat too much, it isn’t just what we eat but the amount

#2 If you want to eat meat, drastically reduce grain consumption because you can’t have both, but remember as soon as you reintroduce carbs you will gain back some of that  weight, you can’t isolate carbohydrates out of the diet

# GO VEGAN: believe it or not this in my mind is the simplest and best way to shed pounds, improve health outcomes and protect the environment.  In relatively short amounts of time , 2 weeks, people have been able to improve health outcomes enough to be taken off many pharmaceutical drugs, simply by avoiding animal products.

Historically meat was a luxury and as a result eaten sparingly.   It was also in the early winter when most societies feasted on meats, slaughtered a pig or hunted for  deer and  cured and conserved the meat to sustain them through the winter when other foods become scarce.  This is not an issue for humans anymore and we need to recognize that the way we are feeding ourselves is killing us.

The great thing about diet and lifestyle is with some commitment and little financial investment you can make significant changes in just a short time.

Return to our Roots: How 21st Century Humans Should be Feeding Themselves

Who would have guessed that the abundance of available food would hearken our nation’s and perhaps the world’s biggest health crisis. Until the mid 20th century almost every country on the planet grappled with food insecurity and as populations continued to increase, governments looked to scientists to help solve these problems. Rather than enlisting the help of farmers and food producers, we looked for answers from people who did not have a relationship that bound them to the earth or the bounty nature provided already. While I have no problem with science and the amazing strides the past 65 years have brought in technology, healthcare and other vital areas, I struggle with the connections between science and food in recent decades.

The problem I have is with the fact that science looks for answers and solutions that are measurable and can produce data; we are a data driven society these days in case you hadn’t noticed. However nutrition is often individualized, think blood type, or dictated by the environment. People who live near the equator on the coast are going to have very different diets than those who live in the mountains to the North. As a result of the environment they live in, their diets will vary and thus their bodies will react differently to different foods. This is not news and their have been several books recently published that talk about blood types and the types of food those particular individuals should eat, all of which stems from the types of food their ancestors from the region have been eating for centuries or more.

I want to interject here with the reminder that in the hundreds of thousands of years humans have existed, it is only within the last 100 years or less that we have significantly changed our diets. In fact until we started to focus on the science of food production, we simply used to grow our own food or raise our own livestock for consumption. Ironically during that time we had far fewer chronic illnesses that were linked to poor diet even though many faced starvation.

To respond to food insecurity we started to change not only the foods we grow, but how we grow them. Family farms that fed their communities started to fail as government subsidies started propping up mono culture industrialized growing practices designed to feed the masses. For the regular citizen out there these farms could not exist without those government subsidies so if free market forces were the real driver, these farms would cease to exist. The masses these farms feed are actually just another step in the food chain since most of the corn and soy grown on these farms are for animal feed. So here is simply another step in the huge modern agro-business.

Here is the funny thing, we all know that these practices are making us sick. We know that eating processed foods made from refined grains, most genetically modified, mixed with copious amounts of refined sugars leads to inflammation, making us unhealthy. Yet as a nation we are slow to change. Since embracing the scientific approach towards feeding ourselves, rather than the practical, we now require data to prove it is in fact not healthy for us to consume particular foods. So whu we are more likely to believe some new product all wrapped up and packaged in a way that appears healthy is better for us than that knobby potato sitting in the bottom of your produce drawer. But that is simply NOT TRUE.

The only foods that are healthy for us to eat are those that grow in the mineral rich soil nature intended. Fruits, vegetables, grains and the animals that feed on these foods are what we as human omnivores are meant to eat. Does this mean you should shift and buy all the food you eat from your local farmer’s market, well YES. But don’t worry, I am pragmatic if nothing else and affordability and accessibility is key, so if shopping in conventional markets drastically reduce your meat consumption, which we should all do anyway, and buy as much fresh produce as possible. If your budget allows for organic, great, if not follow the rules of the dirty dozen and buy those organic whenever possible.

In most countries 20-25% of an individuals earnings goes towards food. In the Untied States that number is on average less than 5%. We want cheap food and have been willing to pay with our health for the past 5+ decades, but as you can guess this is not sustainable. Healthcare in this country is in crisis, much of this connects with all of the chronic diseases plaguing our population. All of these diseases are connected to the foods we eat so how is it as a nation are we not outraged by this? Change how we grow and eat our food returning to the ways of the past and many of these diseases will simply vanish, along with the expensive pharmaceutical interventions.

Most would consider these ideas alternative or even slightly radical, but returning to the ways our grandparents and those before us does not seem like a radical idea to me. For those of you there so ingrained in the scientific, just look at the Amish and how adhering to their historic traditions of feeding themselves, they have managed to avoid being plagued with modern day diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In fact try and find an obese member of the Amish community, I guarantee it will be a challenge. So try to be a part of a positive change and take small steps to improving your health, the health of your family and the health of the environment. Each small step we make has a ripple effect and can make waves in ways we simply cannot measure.

Springtime in the garden

 

A Dose of Reality Nutrition

Perhaps it is because I just returned from vacation, where I had  some free time to read up on recent Nutrition news, that I am sitting here cringing from much of the information out there on the web.  What strikes me as fundamentally screwy is that almost every nutrition blog I read connects to some e-commerce site where they try and sell you some magical potion or powder to improve whatever ailment you may be suffering from.  I am not here to sell you anything, but I am here to tell you that good nutrition is key to lifelong health and wellness. 

What we eat profoundly affects our bodies, and no amount of exercise can make up for a poor dietconsisting of sugar and fat laden processed foods.  In fact 80% of weight loss comes from dietary changes, not exercise, so as much as I support being active everyday, what we eat is far more critical to our bodies ability to function optimally.

First I want to address the issue of supplements which is what I see pandered most on the internet.  I am going to be bold enough to go out there and say “how is it humankind managed to survive hundreds of thousand of years without supplements, which have only been popular for the last half century.”  The answer is easy, we ate a variety of whole foods, primarily plants, vegetables, grains and fruits, with a bit of meat, eggs, and either some butter or lard to make it all taste good.  We have had access to some sweet foods for a few hundred years, but history books make it quite clear that these were luxuries that only a few could afford and only occasionally.  Can you imagine?  We managed to get the nutrients we needed to not only to survive but to thrive as a species from the simple foods we ate.  Ok, I will concede that herbs and spices have always been a vital part of health and nutrition and even though Tumeric may be sold in capsule form today, I do not consider any culinary or medicinal herbs that grow on this planet to be supplements.

My issue with supplements is simply the fact that manufactured forms of vitamins and minerals are never as readily absorbed and used by our bodies as when they are consumed in foods in which they naturally occur. Here is an example, for many years consumers bought and used Calcium Carbonate as a supplement to prevent bone loss which could lead to osteoporosis.  However after decades on the market, we  realized that without the presence of Vitamin C the body did not absorb the calcium so the money spent on all those calcium carbonate supplements quite literally was flushed down the toilet.  Now companies pander Calcium Citrate which contains Vitamin C to aid absorption, but keep in mind every food that is rich in Calcium, dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and many types of seafood have copious amounts of vitamin C present already.  Mother nature makes sure to create foods that match our bodies actual needs.  This same rule applies to Iron, so when you wonder why if you are prescribed an iron supplement and your doctor tells you to take it with orange juice, this is the reason.  But again if you ate copious amounts of greens and some red beans you probably would not need an iron supplement.

Another example is the explosion of probiotics on the market.  Did you know that most probiotics are found in healthy soil?  Our current system of farming which depletes the soil of these organisms is the reason so many of us lack the proper intestinal flora living in our gut.  Refrigeration has also eliminated the need for fermenting foods which was the other way humans have insured they had enough probiotics in their system for centuries.  Purchasing organic or even better biodynamic produce from your local farmer is a great way to get a wide variety of probiotics into your system.

It is always best to get the nutrients you need from the abundance of healthy foods available to us, they are designed especially for human consumption with nutrients that simply are not understood.  I encourage clients to shift some of the money they spend on these pricey supplements and instead improve the quality of the foods they purchase and eat.  However there are those suffering from illness and malnutrition that may need an extra boost of particular Vitamins and Minerals and for those  people supplements may be the best way to go, in addition to improving their overall diet to include massive amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits. But these people are more unique than mainstream.

Our addiction to these expensive and untested supplements proves an unwillingness to make the difficult changes to our diet to ensure our good health.  So many of us would rather eat a burger or pizza and take a handful of pills than eat a nutrient rich vegetable stew or a bowl of fruit salad.  History proves to us that feeding ourselves has always been challenging and it consumes a significant amount of our energy and resources.  How we face and address those challenges today is very different from our past and the state of disease in this country should be a warning bell that we may not be making the best decisions for our bodies.

As always remember GOOD HEALTH STARTS WITH GOOD FOOD