How to reduce inflammation with Diet and Lifestyle

Many diseases are linked to chronic inflammatory. “For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of both prevention and treatment,” says Harvard Health. The good news is that anti-inflammatory foods combined with an active lifestyle can help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 percent of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy diet.

Chronic inflammation is often invisible without immediate or serious symptoms, but over the long-term it’s been linked to many chronic diseases such as:

  • Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Lung diseases (emphysema)
  • Mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
  • Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes)
  • Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)

How does chronic inflammation begin? 

It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—and then instead of shutting off, it becomes persistent. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol, not being very physically active, feeling stressed or socially isolated, and having excess weight.

Now that we see that inflammation underlies so many of our medical conditions, here’s what to do to put out those slow-burning, smoldering fires.

How to reduce Inflammation

Studies show that reducing inflammation can reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. There are medications used to help lower inflammation to treat some of these diseases such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics. However, there are also several lifestyle changes—including a healthy diet—that can be very helpful to prevent and scale down inflammation to reduce its many damaging effects on the body. 

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet 

  • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, bran), nuts (almonds), seeds, fish, poultry, legumes (beans, lentils), and healthy oils (olive oil)
  • Pay particular attention to foods high in antioxidant polyphenols, including colorful plants such as berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, avocados, onions, carrots, beets, turmeric, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
  • Omega-3 fats can help to reduce pain and clear up inflammation and are found in salmon, trout, mackerel, soy, walnuts, and flax
  • High fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes) encourage friendly gut microbes to help reduce inflammation
  • Avoid charring foods when cooking at high temperatures
  • Limit inflammatory foods such as red and processed meats (lunch meats, hot dogs, hamburgers), fried foods (fries), unhealthy fats (shortening, lard), sugary foods and drinks (sodas, candy, sports drinks), refined carbohydrates (white bread, cookies, pie), and ultra-processed foods (microwaveable dinners, dehydrated soups)

If you need a little help incorporating all these principles into your daily diet, check out Healthydigz’s anti-inflammatory eating plan . You will find weekly menus, delicious recipes, and shopping lists for your customizable meal plan.

Chickpea Quinoa Fritters (plant-based)

Be physically active

  • Regular exercise reduces inflammation over the long-term, so try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking) per week; about 20-30 minutes per day
  • To this add two or more strength training sessions (using weights or resistance bands) each week
A person training with resistance band.
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Get enough restful sleep

  • Disrupted sleep has recently been linked to increased inflammation and atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the vessels that’s linked with heart disease), so aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night to help the body heal and repair
  • Tips for better sleep: try to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule every day, get exposure to natural daylight earlier in the day, avoid caffeine later in the day, cut out screens an hour before bedtime, and create a relaxing nighttime routine

Quit smoking and limit alcohol

  • Quitting smoking can help reduce inflammation and several other health concerns by reducing exposure to toxins that are directly linked to inflammation
  • Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day

Manage your stress

  • Engage in relaxing stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi
Three women practicing yoga
Photo by Elina Fairytale on Pexels.com

Be social

  • New research suggests that feeling socially isolated is linked with higher levels of inflammation, so reach out to family and friends (or make new ones)

See your doctor or dentist

  • Get your cholesterol and blood lipids tested because high amounts of “bad” LDL cholesterol is linked to inflammation and negatively affects your vessels
  • You can request a blood test to measure levels of CRP (C-reactive protein) which is a marker of inflammation (this test is also used to check your risk of developing heart disease)
  • If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, this may be a sign of gum inflammation (gingivitis), so ramp up your oral hygiene and see your dentist

Final Thoughts

Chronic, long-term, low-level inflammation is linked with many health issues. The first approach to preventing and improving this is through food and lifestyle changes. Start by focusing on adding colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish to your diet. Then layer in lifestyle upgrades like physical activity, restful sleep, and stress management.

These changes can be integrated into your day-to-day practices. First try adding one additional fruit or vegetable to your day. Then, several times a day at each snack or meal. For inspiration, try recipes from my Anti-inflammatory Meal Plan.

If you’d like a plan designed to help you enjoy more of these anti-inflammatory foods, consult a registered dietitian/nutritionist who can provide personalized research-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals.


A Guide to Successful Gluten-free Baking

Baking is a science. Unlike traditional wheat-based flours, gluten-free flours typically require additional ingredients that contribute to successful gluten-free baking when it comes to binding, texture, and structure (due to the absence of gluten). Each flour has a different flavor, texture, and nutritional attributes. Understanding the personality of each gluten-free flour will help you choose the most suitable one for your recipe. 

Before we get into the types of gluten-free options and how to make DIY flour blends, let me answer a few basic gluten-free baking questions.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a type of protein found in some grains that provides structure in baked goods. The most common gluten-containing grains include wheat, barley, and rye. It’s also found In relatives of wheat like spelt and kamut.

Can I just substitute a gluten-free flour for all-purpose in my favorite recipes?

It might be tempting to sub a gluten-free flour for all-purpose 1:1 and hope for the best! However there’s a good chance it might not turn out quite right. Some baked goods are more forgiving than others. Use the information below to determine if and when you need to alter amount and/or add ingredients like starches or binders.

How will gluten-free flour affect the baking time?

Most gluten-free baked goods will require a longer baking time to prevent a gummy, mushy texture. The reason? More liquid. The “toothpick test” isn’t the best indicator of doneness so make sure your oven is calibrated properly and use the time instead.

What about store-bought gluten-free flour? 

Some popular flour companies now make 1:1 gluten-free baking flour blends that already have a proper mix of flours and starches (like xanthan gum). It’s a great option in a pinch because you can use as a 1:1 replacement for all-purpose flour and it mimics results of all-purpose flour. Just note that these are typically rice-based, so they aren’t as nutritionally dense as some of the other options mentioned here. They can also be expensive.

Photo by Klaus Nielsen on Pexels.com

Rice Flour

Light, mild and easy to digest. Often used to make noodles in Asian cuisines. It’s also rich in carbohydrates and low in fat. A common ingredient In store-bought flour blends because it’s texture is most similar to all-purpose.

Chickpea Flour

Chickpea (or garbanzo bean) flour contains significantly more fiber and protein than others on this list. It’s also a good source of plant-based iron. Popular in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking.

Millet Flour

Millet flour has a mild, sweet flavor and a cake-like crumb. It works great in muffins and quick-breads. It’s also a very nutritious whole grain.

Buckwheat Flour

Despite what the name suggests, buckwheat is naturally gluten-free. It’s often used to make noodles (soba), pancakes and Russian blini. This flour adds a beautiful deep brown color to baked goods and has a nutty flavor.

Almond Flour

This may be the most versatile of the bunch. Almond flour has a high fat content which equates to moisture, tenderness and rich flavor. It can produce a “heavy” final product at times which might not rise as easily as traditional wheat flour baked goods. 

Coconut Flour 

It has a sweet coconut flavor and is very high in fiber. Note that it is also highly absorbent, so you’ll only need a small amount (1/3 or 1/4 as much) and you’ll likely need to combine it with another flour for structure.

Oat Flour 

Oat flour is made from milled oats and has a mild flavor. It’s light texture lends soft and fluffy quality to baked goods. Remember that oats need to be certified gluten-free as they are often cross-contaminated. 

Cassava Flour 

Cassava is rich in carbohydrates and high in fiber. This flour is similar to wheat, so works well in a variety of baked goods.

Why use binders and starches? 

In baking, gluten allows dough to come together and become elastic (think pizza dough!). When working with gluten-free flours, you’ll need to add an extra ingredient that does its job. This is where binders (like gums) and starches come in. In baking, these ingredients help hold everything together. They also add much-needed moisture and a more pleasant texture. Too much can lead to a gummy final product so it’s important to use the correct amount. See below for a description of some of the more popular options available. 

CornStarch

Commonly used to thicken sauces and and soups. It’s not usually recommended in baked goods because it can taste too starchy. 

Arrowroot Powder

Flavorless. Similar to cornstarch and a great substitute for those who avoid corn. Use it to thicken sauces or pie filling. Sub 2 teaspoon for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. 

Tapioca Starch

Also known as tapioca flour and is used as a thickening agent. It also provides “chew” and elasticity. It can contribute to browning. 

Potato Starch

Similar texture to cornstarch and tapioca starch but derived from white potatoes. Helps bind recipes together and keep baked goods tender. 

Guar Gum

Adds structure or “glue” to baked goods as a way to prevent a crumbly texture. It has 8x the thickening power of cornstarch! 

Xanthan Gum

Similarly to guar gum, xanthan gum helps prevent crumbling in baked goods by providing structure and strengthening elastic networks. It’s corn-based. 

DIY Gluten-Free Flour Blends 

If you want to give gluten-free baking a try and prefer to experiment with your own flour blends, start with one of these! Option one is rice-based and will yield results most similar to all-purpose (wheat) flour. Option two is oat-based, which is a high-fiber choice. Option three is made with almond flour to create a dense, moist and ultra satisfying final product. 

Rice Flour Blend

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice flour 
  • 1/4 cup white rice flour 
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour 
  • 1/2 cup potato starch 
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing. 

Oat Flour Blend

  • 1 1/2 cup [certified gluten-free] oat flour 
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour 
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing. 

Almond Flour Blend

  • 2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour 
  • 2 1/4 cups buckwheat flour 
  • 1 3/4 cup potato starch 
  • 3/4 cup arrowroot powder 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing.

Baking with gluten-free flour may seem a little intimidating at first. But you really can’t go wrong if you start with one of these flour blends. Once you determine the flavor and texture you desire in your baked goods, you can fine tune your flour recipe. Have some fun in your discovery and put your personal stamp on your creation. Happy Baking!


How to cook squash – from Kabocha to Delicata

I agree – they’re intimidating! The mounds of colorful, tough-skinned squash and gourds arranged in boxes outside the automatic grocery doors as their more approachable, thin-skinned cousins nestle in their cozy produce-aisle beds. There’s no doubt that members of the Cucurbitaceae family, notably pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash, are beautiful, if not interesting, ornamental works of Mother Nature. But it seems that many are destined to be arranged on the front stoop of every suburban home from November through December.

Underneath their colorful, sometimes rough, exteriors is nutrient-dense flesh that does really well in soups – it’s just the right amount of starch to yield a creamy texture. But don’t stop there. They are also delicious baked and roasted along with protein of your choice….think sheet pan dinner! Many varieties have edible skins and do not need to be peeled. This makes them easy to prepare and high in fiber. No lie – it was a game changer for me when I discovered I can cook and eat the peel.

In addition to fiber, winter squash is an excellent source of beta carotene, vitamin A and vitamin C. If the nutritional attributes alone have not convinced you to make this healthy plant-based food a part of your regular diet, I hope you will give it a whirl once you learn all the delicious and versatile ways to use them in recipes. Personally, I love adding roasted squash to salads and puréed squash to baked goods (recipe below). Here I share with you some top picks for edible varieties.

Kabocha

Also known as Japanese pumpkin, kabocha squash has green skin, orange flesh, and a shape similar to pumpkin. The flesh is super sweet when cooked and is rich in beta-carotene – 1 cup has more than 200% DV (daily value) of vitamin A! Before preparing for cooking, place whole squash in a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes to soften the skin. It will make cutting, peeling, and chopping an easier and much safer experience. Try using kabocha in place of the butternut squash in your favorite soup.

Kabocha

Acorn

Acorn squash varies in color from dark green to tie-dyed green with orange shades. The flesh is less sweet than kabocha and is more yellow than orange. Just one cup provides more than 25% DV of vitamin C. You can soften the squash if needed by heating in the oven, although it is small enough that this may not be needed. Trim the top from each squash, invert on the cutting board, and slice from bottom to top to create two halves. Remove seeds. You can bake the halves with a drizzle of olive oil and a touch of maple syrup for 30 minutes at 350°F – an excellent side dish. You can also slice into half moons to prepare for roasting.

Acorn

Sugar Pumpkin

Sugar pumpkins look a lot like carving pumpkins so be sure to select those marked especially for cooking. They are sweeter than those cultivated for jack-o-lantern displays. The best way to cook the flesh is to roast the entire pumpkin – this allows the flesh to remain moist and helps the sugars to develop. Remove stem from pumpkin, rinse, and make several slits through the skin with a sharp knife. Bake at 350°F for about an hour. Remove from the oven and let sit until cooled. Cut off the top portion (around where the stem would be), remove seeds, and scoop out flesh. Try adding pumpkin to hummus or stir some into yogurt. Of course, you can always use it for baking!

Sugar Pumpkin

Delicata

Probably on the top of my list for ease of preparation! Delicata squash has a mild, nutty flavor, firm flesh, and thin edible skin. Preparing this variety could not be simpler: rinse, cut in half, remove seeds, slice into half-moons, toss with some olive oil and salt and bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes until browned. Delicious enough to eat on their own as a fiber-rich snack!

Delicata Squash

Now that you have a little more culinary knowledge about squash, why not put it to use and impress family and friends over Thanksgiving dinner. Here’s a recipe to inspire you:

Chewy Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup almond flour
  • 1/3 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/3 cup Tapioca Starch (tapioca flour)
  • 1/4 tsp xantham gum
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 325ºF and combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Combine all wet ingredients in another bowl. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet until well incorporated. Pour into a greased shallow 8×8 pan or mini muffin pan. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool before serving.


Nutrition


Per Serving: 167 calories; 9.2 g fat; 20 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 0 mg cholesterol; 125 mg sodium.

Feeding kids on Halloween to Avoid a Sugar Crash

Feeding your kids a healthy meal on Halloween night may not be the first thing on your mind. But it should be high up on the check list for a successful Halloween. Fueling their bodies with some high quality food before they dash out for a long night of trick-or-treating may prevent a sugar crash!

A blood sugar crash is a result of eating too much simple carbohydrates – in this case Halloween candies. When the body gets a flood of sugar, it triggers the active production of insulin which is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. This may cause the blood glucose to decrease suddenly, resulting in a drop in energy level, also known as hypoglycemia. Some of the common symptoms are irritability, fatigue, anxiety, headaches, excess sweating, jitters, shakiness and dizziness.

Although the response to a sugar rush is very individual but why take a chance on Halloween night when kids are out on the busy streets in the dark.

Frozen pizzas, mac & cheese packages, and the like may seem like a quick solution for feeding your kids when you are busy. Surprisingly, in the time it takes to preheat you oven or boil water for packaged food, you can whip up a nutritious kid-friendly meal without preservatives, food-coloring, and added chemicals. The recipe below, Easy Pumpkin Mac & Cheese is easy (of course), fun, nutrient-packed, and only takes 20 minutes to make. Pumpkin is a very nutrient-rich ingredient – high in vitamin A, C, and fiber. If you want to boost the antioxidants even more – without doing more work – just add your kids’ favorite vegetables (chopped broccoli is my kid’s choice) to the pasta cooking water in the last minute of the cooking time. For more healthy food and cooking tips, check out my Instagram feed. Happy Halloween!

Homemade Mac & Cheese with Broccoli

Easy Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

Ingredients

  • 8 oz dried pasta
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1 cup lowfat 2% milk
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tsp granulated onion
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until it forms a paste, then slowly add the milk while whisking constantly. Cook 1-2 minutes until it comes to a simmer. 
  3. Stir in the pumpkin, cheese and spices then continue to cook over medium low, whisking often. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Once pasta is done, strain and transfer to the warm cheese sauce. Stir until completely coated.

Makes 6 servings

Nutrition Facts

Per Serving: Calories 248; Protein 10g; Total Fat 7.9g Saturated Fat 4.3g Trans Fat 0.0g; Total Carbohydrates 34g Dietary Fiber 2g  


How to Build a Foundation of Self-Care for Kids

Guest blog by Ana Willis, http://fitkids.info 

As parents, it’s up to us to teach our children how to care for themselves. We can never start building a foundation of self-care too early. Children today are under exponential stress, and giving them permission to take care of their own personal physical and emotional needs will help them stay healthy into adulthood.

Model Healthy Behaviors

It is simply not enough to tell your kids they have to do things like sleep and eat well. If you want to truly have an impact, you have to model healthy behaviors yourself. This is especially important if you work remotely, like many parents across the country, and also have children at home. Working at home with kids is difficult in the best of times. We are not living in the best of times! The pandemic has put a great deal of stress and strain on working parents to the point where it’s taking a toll on their physical and mental health.

As a remote working parent, you have to find ways to reduce stress on yourself. Start by asking your employer for a flexible schedule. You will then want to set rules with your family, especially with kids, so that they are not continually interrupting you while you are trying to focus on making a living. Make a schedule, and then ensure everyone in your family understands when you are and are not available.

Other ways to model healthy behaviors are to make sure that you get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat the right balance of food so that your body has ample stores of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function at its peak. It can also help to take care of your outward appearance. Make a point to shower each morning and get yourself dressed as though you are going into the office. This will help keep you on a schedule and instill in your children that it’s wise to transition from “home” mode into work or school mode.

Make Fitness Fun

You don’t need statistics to tell you that kids today don’t exercise nearly as much as they did in the days before high-definition video games and the internet. Children as young as 11 are living sedentary lives, according to Cleveland Clinic. This is an alarming issue as lack of activity can result in a host of health problems, including obesity and heart disease.

Fortunately, there are many fun and exciting ways to get the kids off the couch, even during the digital age. You can even use their electronics to encourage fitness. One great example is the game Beat Saber, which is available on the Oculus VR system. This game is just one of many active games that can help children keep their bodies moving while burning a similar number of calories as they would if they were outdoors playing tennis. 

You can also eliminate tech time for a few hours each day, and go outside with your children. Build a fort, toss a football, or simply go for a walk around the neighborhood. Your activities don’t have to be extreme or regimented to be beneficial. Keeping your own self up and moving will ensure that your children do so throughout their lifetime!

Empower kids to take charge

Modeling self-care behaviors and encouraging exercise are an excellent start. But, self-care is more than just this. Self-care is a broad term that refers to everything we can do to keep ourselves mentally and physically well every day.

An important part of our self-care efforts is teaching our children how to make healthy food decisions. Even the youngest members of your family can do so, but they do need your help. Get in the kitchen with them, and let them whip up their own healthy snacks after school. Smoothies, fruit trays, and peanut butter and apple pitas are all options that children in the ten and under crowd can make for themselves.

Self-care also means paying attention to how we feel about how other people treat us. Kids today are exposed to so much negativity in the real world and the media alike. It can be difficult for them to distinguish healthy relationships from those that take a toll on their mental health. Unfortunately, children are not immune from having toxic friendships, which are often emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive. Talk to your children about what types of behaviors are acceptable and which are not. And, if you have friendships that make you question your own worth, it’s time to cut ties to these.

The hope here is that kids will learn how to recognize what makes them feel good. Whether this is eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, or even playing games that incorporate their favorite music, self-care is crucial to build them up. As a parent, you can model healthy behaviors by taking care of yourself and giving your children opportunities to do the same.


Chickpea Quinoa Fritters (plant-based)

Plant-based Diet helps to reduce inflammation

Sugar, trans-fats, and alcohol are known to contribute to many diseases. But did you know that red meat, especially processed meat, and dairy foods may be pro-inflammatory and can lead to chronic inflammation? Before we get into how a plant-based diet can help, let’s have a look at how inflammation happens in our body.

Acute Inflammation

Can you remember the last time you cut yourself, were stung by a bee, or injured a joint? Your body reacted in a way to heal itself – to return the injured tissue to a normal state. The reaction that caused the uncomfortable pain, redness, and swelling is the result of a protective response known as inflammation. Inflammation is necessary and is not bad, but it has its place – as in the cases cited above when there is an acute injury. The benefit of an inflammatory reaction can be life-saving, so suppressing inflammation completely is not possible. When inflammation becomes chronic, however, extinguishing some of the fire can have big health benefits.

Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is harder to identify than acute and is a state of prolonged inflammation. The same cells that help with acute injury healing actually do damage if they hang around too long when the inflammatory switch gets stuck in the “on” position. While chronic inflammation is not known to be the primary cause any one disease, it is now widely accepted that it plays a role in diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, metabolic disorders, such as overweight and obesity, as well as neurological diseases. Causes of chronic inflammation may include persistent infection, food sensitivities, leaky gut, poor diet, poor sleep hygiene, environment, and exercise without proper recovery. Also, visceral fat, which is the fat tissue stored close to organs in the mid-section, can be a driver of chronic inflammation as it is dynamic and produces a variety of pro-inflammatory hormones.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

The easiest, low-risk approach to addressing chronic inflammation is with diet. An anti-inflammatory diet is described in research as one that is appropriate in calories, low in processed carbohydrates, high in fiber, high in mono and polyunsaturated fats, higher in omega 3 than omega 6, and high in antioxidants. Translation: High in whole, plant foods with a focus on healthy fats and moderate animal protein intake –at least 75% plant foods and no more than 25% animal proteins.

This type of 75/25 dietary ratio hits all the anti-inflammatory buttons as whole plant foods are almost always less calorie-dense than processed foods, they are high in fiber, and contain a wide variety of disease-fighting antioxidants. Certain plant foods such as chia seed, avocados, walnuts, and olive oil are rich in healthy fats. The other 25% of your plate? High-quality animal proteins. Salmon, sardines, and mackerel are animal proteins of note as they are also excellent sources of omega-3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory.

Transitioning to a Plant-based Diet

By reducing intake of processed foods and replacing them with colorful, whole plant foods you are well on your way to reaping the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet and reducing risk of many chronic diseases. Curious as how to transition to a plant-based diet with success? I have created an e-book that shows you how to plan, shop, and cook plant foods, including an extensive pantry list to stock up on essential ingredients. This FREE e-book is a great resource to get you started on plant-based eating.


Healthy Greens To Eat Now: 5 Not-So-Basic Leafy Greens

When it comes to leafy greens, most of us rely on the basics like romaine, leaf lettuce and spinach week after week – and while all of these provide health benefits, there is a huge selection of leafy greens in the produce aisle that you could potentially be missing! Shaking things up can help keep things fun and interesting in the kitchen while also diversifying your nutrient intake.

We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat those green vegetables and I have to say, that age-old recommendation has merit! Leafy green vegetables are a total nutrition powerhouse providing plant-based calcium, iron and magnesium, plus vitamins A, C and K (vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and bone health). 

If you don’t like the taste of one variety, chances are you can find an alternative. It might also be a matter of preparation method, so don’t hesitate to do some experimenting.  Here are some of my favorites healthy greens along with simple ways you can try incorporating them into your regular rotation:

Arugula

Swapping arugula for romaine is a great way to spice up a salad (literally!). This  leafy green has a peppery bite and delicate texture. It pairs perfectly with a light citrus vinaigrette and some shaved parmesan cheese (aka – the ultimate no hassle dinner side salad).

Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable, like its cousins broccoli and cauliflower, and therefore has added disease-preventative effects. Try tossing some arugula in a balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkle on top of baked flatbread and pizza – great way to amp up the nutritional value and add a refreshing flavor!

Arugula

Lacinato Kale

You might already be familiar with traditional “curly” kale that has become a grocery store staple in recent years. Lacinato or “dino” kale is the one that has a long flat leaves with a bumpy texture and newer to the scene. Add it to your favorite soup or stew near the end of cooking time for a pop of bright green color and an extra element of texture.

Cooking kale mellows its bitter flavor, so a quick sauté in some olive oil with a bit of lemon juice is a delicious way to enjoy this nutrient powerhouse. If you don’t want to turn on the stove, try massaging the chopped kale with a little salt and olive oil to soften the leaves for a more digestible salad.

Lacinato Kale

Chard

This leafy green comes in many varietals. The stem color ranges from white to purple and bestows its varietal name, such as red chard. Swiss chard is most commonly known and typically has a gorgeous bright pink or yellow stem.

Due to the large size of the leaves, chard makes a nice swap for tortillas (a great low-carbohydrate option!). Use the leaves to wrap hummus and vegetables or stuff with your favorite filling. You can also sauté the delicate leaves, as they cook up quickly. The stems are full of nutrition so chop them and sauté first with some onion and garlic for an amazing side dish. For an easy plant-focused meal, simply add in some chickpeas.

Red Chard

Watercress

Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable with long stems and small, circular leaves. It makes a great sandwich topper in place of traditional leaf lettuce for a fun presentation.

The bright, peppery taste does well with just a bit of vinegar and olive oil. You can also drop into soups just before serving for a burst of flavor. One of my favorite salads includes watercress, cucumbers, and radishes – fresh and delicious!

Watercress

Bok Choy

Bok Choy is a type of Chinese cabbage with a bright white stem surrounded by dark green leaves. Baby Bok Choy has a green stem and tends to be a little more tender.

It’s most commonly used in Asian cuisines including stir-fries and soups like ramen, but feel free to add it to salads and slaws. You can also cook Bok Choy on a sheet pan very easily –  simply place quartered bok choy on parchment-lined sheet pan and toss with freshly grated ginger and sesame oil.  Roast at 350° F until softened and serve with fresh lime wedges. Baby Boy Choy is also delicious grilled – place the quartered Baby Bok Choy on an oiled grill and brush with your favorite Asian-inspired marinate and cook for approximately 4 minutes or until tender.

Baby Bok Choy

Take Action

Leafy greens are available year-round in the supermarket. Make it a habit to add greens to your grocery basket very time you shop. Produce should be eaten as fresh as possible for maximum quality and nutritional value – greens are no exception. With such vast varieties, it’s time to try a couple new ones!


Food Allergies and Sensitivities: How to Shop

Food allergies and sensitivities are soaring to an epidemic proportion! Over 32 million Americans have a serious and potentially life-threatening food allergy. That number explodes to nearly 85 million people impacted when you include those with food sensitivities and intolerances.

May is Allergy Awareness Month and there is no better time to learn more about food allergies to help yourself and those you love.

My 2 children both have serious allergies to egg and peanuts since day one. It required lifelong learning for our family to manage their diet. I accepted the challenge of reading every food label in the grocery store, making all our meals from scratch, and baking every birthday cake . As a result, our kids grew up on minimal amount of processed food and mostly healthy home-made meals. There is a silver lining if you can look beyond the often cloudy picture of an allergen-free diet.

Food Allergies vs Food Sensitivities

Food allergies and sensitivities have a range of severity and mechanism. Food allergy is an immunologic response that shows immediate symptoms within minutes to several hours after consuming the allergen. In many cases, it can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. On the other hand, food sensitivity is a non-immunologic response to food and the symptoms may appear over a period of days. The range of manifestations may include stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, brain fog, headache, skin rash, muscle/join pain, fatigue and insomnia. For those of us who are affected, it can be very frustrating to pinpoint the foods that are causing the problem. Be sure to consult a qualified health practitioner to help you with diagnosis and treatment.

How to manage your diet

Whether you have food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances, it is necessary to avoid the problem foods to feel well. The first step is to determine what food ingredients you need to eliminate from your diet. This may be done by food allergy (IgE) or food sensitivity (IgG) testing by your doctor or the use of an elimination diet with the help of a Registered Dietitian. The next step is to learn to recognize what food is safe to eat by deciphering food labels and sourcing trusted food companies that make allergy-friendly food.

These eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergy reactions:

Peanuts
Tree nuts (cashews, pecans, walnuts, etc.)
Milk
Egg
Wheat
Soy
Fish (halibut, salmon, etc.)
Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp, crayfish). Not including mollusks (oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, squid)

Avoiding these food allergens is not easy because they are often found in prepared dishes or hidden in processed and packaged foods in different forms. It is key to learn all you can about your problem food including its various names and derivatives, so you can detect them. Some examples of the not-so-common names are sodium caseinate (milk), semolina (wheat), albumin (egg), and lecithin (soy). You can learn more about these common allergens and how to avoid them at www. foodallergyawareness.org.

Sharpen your food shopping skills

According to FDA food labeling law, manufacturers must list all food ingredients in descending order of concentration. In addition, The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) requires these 8 most common allergens be declared on the food label. Under the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021, sesame is being added as the 9th major food allergen effective January 1, 2023. 

Although these labeling regulations are extremely helpful to consumers, they only cover a fraction of the 160+ foods identified to cause food allergies in sensitive individuals.

Best practices for buying allergen-free foods

  • Avoid highly processed foods. Less is more here – fewer the ingredients the better!
  • Never buy packaged food without an ingredient list.
  • Don’t buy any food with ingredients unknown to you.
  • Read food labels carefully, including foods you have purchased before. Food manufacturers may change their ingredients without warning.
  • Beware of general and non-specific ingredient terms, such as natural flavoring which may contain allergens unless you know the ingredient used in the flavoring.
  • Don’t just go with claims on the label. Phrases such as “peanut-free” and “egg-free” are not regulated by law. Be sure the allergen is not on the ingredient list.
  • Beware of cross-contamination. Allergen-free products could still be made in facilities where the allergens are present. Always check with the manufacturer if you are unsure.
  • Be careful with imported foods. They may not comply with domestic food labeling laws.
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Plant-based Eating for a Healthier Planet

Happy Earth Day! What lifestyle changes are you making to help save our planet? You might be walking instead of driving to run errands or refashioning and recycling your house decors rather than trashing them. There is no change that is too small to make a difference in our environment!

The earth friendly changes I made consciously this past year include eating more plant-based food and reducing plastic bottles beyond disposable water bottles – think food containers and body care packaging. Eating more plant-based is not only better for the earth but it’s better for the body. Shifting to a plant-based diet contributes greatly to the reduction of greenhouse-gas emission. According to an Oxford University study, people who eat more than 0.1 kg (3.5 oz) of meat per day—about the size of a hamburger patty—generate 7.2 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each day, while vegetarians and vegans generate 3.8 kg and 2.9 kg of CO2e, respectively. That means you can reduce your carbon foot print by more than 50% by eating a meatless meal. Just like any lifestyle change, it’s not easy to switch to a meatless diet overnight. You don’t have to go vegan if that’s not your thing. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Think of it as a sliding scale – the more plants you eat instead of meat the less CO2e is produced – and make that shift gradually!

As I push forward with my quest for a more plant-based diet, I want to share with you some of my flavorful and interesting ways to incorporate more grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables into everyday meals. If you want a step-by-step guide to show you how to transition to a plant-based diet, you can get click the link to get my free e-book.

Have some fun making the shift to a plant-based diet

1. Explore some new plant-based foods

  • Try a new vegetable weekly. Don’t be intimidated just because you haven’t tasted or cooked it before. Check out your weekly farmer’s market for inspiration.
  • Buy fresh and seasonal to add interest and variety to your meals. Avoid processed plant-based food.
  • Experiment with high protein grains such as kamut, quinoa, spelt, teff, millet, and wild rice. They are easier to cook than you think. If you know how to cook rice, you can cook other grains.
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2. Discover new seasonings

  • Use chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, and dill to flavor your grains
  • Add nuts and seeds to vegetables and grains for texture and taste.
  • Try spices from around the globe. You can learn a lot about cooking with spices from visiting a spice shop. If you don’t have one near you, try Oaktown Spice Shop (one of my fave) and they will ship your order to your door.
  • Sauce it up with tahini, hummus, sriracha, pesto, etc to heighten the flavor.
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3. Learn new cooking techniques

  • Checkout Instagram and YouTube for cooking demos to learn various cooking techniques.
  • Invest in a couple good cookbooks. One of my favorite cookbook by a fellow dietitian is Vegetable Cookbook for Vegetarians. It’s a perfect book for newcomers to the adventure land of vegetables. There are 200 recipes from artichokes to zucchini so you can be sure to find something new to try!
  • For plant-forward global recipes, I recommend Spicebox Kitchen, a new cookbook released in March, 2021 that throws a healthy twist to traditional recipes, such as whole wheat onion pancakes.

My Cooking Demo – an easy delicious plant-based meal


How Does a Virtual Cooking Class Work

I took my first virtual cooking class last Saturday night! It introduced me to the flavors of Ethiopia, a cuisine I don’t know much about but eager to discover. I learned a few lessons, beyond the cooking lesson that will help you have a better experience at your first or next virtual cooking class.

This cooking class, Cooking with Mekdes: An Ethiopian Experience, was a fundraiser to support Rare Trait Hope, a non-profit organization with a mission to develop a cure for Aspartylglucosaminuria (AGU), a fatal genetic neuro-degenerative disease. A friend in Canada adopted a little girl, Makeda from Ethiopia who was diagnosed with this rare disease at a very young age. Her mother hopes for a cure in Makeda’s lifetime! If you want to support this worthwhile cause , the recording of Cooking with Mekdes is still available.

Virtual cooking classes offer you the opportunity to learn new knowledge of various ethnic cuisines and develop new cooking techniques. When traveling is limited by the Pandemic, this is a fun and entertaining way to escape to all corners of the globe and taste local food without leaving your home.

Ethiopian dishes I made when Cooking with Mekdes

  • Ginger with Garlic Paste
  • Asa Tibs Wet
  • Green Lentil Salad
  • Gomen Wet

Steps to consider for a Zoom cooking class

  • Register for the class well in advance! Some cook-along classes limit the number of participants so the chef can interact with the participants online and provide some handholding throughout the class. Some classes are more instructor-centric and done in a demo style so there’s no cap for the number of attendees. You can still submit questions in the chat box but the instructor may not get to your questions. The class I attended was a hybrid where you can choose to cook-along live or just watch and cook later at your own speed.
  • Check if the class is recorded, just in case you can’t attend at the scheduled time. Most class organizer will email the recording to you if it’s available. Cooking along side a class recording may not have the same energy as cooking with a live class. But the upside with a recording is that you can pause, chop, eat and sip at your own pace. Cooking with a live class can be very fast-paced and even frantic at times, especially if you are not well prepared.
  • Get menu, recipes and grocery shopping list before your class. Be sure to allow adequate time to locate specialty ingredients if necessary. I registered for my class early which allow enough time for my friend to mail me the Ethiopian spices (ground rosemary, berbere, and koreima). Some online cooking classes may include pantry ingredients delivered to your door but be prepared to pay a higher price for that kind of service. Review the steps of the recipes to make sure you have cooking tools in you kitchen. This is especially true if you are cooking global cuisine where you may need tools like a paella pan, a clay pot or a steam basket.
  • Get a link for the zoom meeting. It should be sent to you at least a day or so before the class. Be sure you have great working wifi to avoid interruptions during your class. Log in at least 10 minutes before the scheduled class time to test the link and wifi to avoid any snafu. Set up your device in a place where you can see what the chef is doing as you cook. Test the volume to ensure you can hear well over cooking noises. Consider lighting and reflection on the screen of your device for image clarity. The set-up can be tricky depending on your kitchen space and configuration. I used a laptop so I was able to move it to various parts of the kitchen. Don’t forget to cover your keyboard to protect it from food and liquid spills.
  • Set up all the ingredients and tools needed for the recipes within your reach before the start of the class. You don’t want to be digging in the bottom cupboard for your lemon squeezer while the instructor is already onto the next step of the recipe . It’s ideal to pre-squeeze your lemons, prewash and slice or dice any meat and vegetables, and even precook some ingredients. I made the mistake of not reading through the recipe instruction for the lentil salad, calling for cooked lentils. Luckily, my cooking partner caught that step early in the class so I was able to cook the lentils in time for the salad. Having a friend as a sous chef was invaluable and loads of fun – highly recommend it!

Now that you are all set for your virtual cooking class, make yourself a cocktail or pour yourself a glass of wine. Relax and enjoy your culinary experience!