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.

How to Heal Your Leaky Gut

Harvard Health calls it a “medical mystery” and “mysterious ailment.” It’s been linked to everything from gut troubles, autoimmune diseases, and even mental health concerns.

I’m talking about “leaky gut” or “intestinal permeability”—have you heard of it?

Many doctors and the established medical community may not recognize it, but there is growing research to suggest it is associated with many health conditions. Working in tandem with integrative medicine doctors, I have been able to help many people return to better health by healing their leaky gut.

What exactly is “leaky gut?” Do you have it? How does it happen? What can you do about it?

What is “leaky gut?”

Your gut (gastrointestinal system) is not just a 30-foot-long muscular tube (tract) that starts at your mouth and ends with you going to the bathroom. In fact, It’s a vast and complex system with many functions. It breaks down food into smaller digestible bits, keeps it moving through the gastrointestinal tract, and skillfully absorbs water and nutrients while keeping out harmful substances. More and more research shows that these essential gut functions are interconnected throughout your body—to everything from your heart to your brain.

Your gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of cells, all side-by-side in a single layer. In fact, this layer, if spread out flat, covers 400m2 of surface area! Those intestinal cells help the body to absorb what we need from foods and drinks, while keeping out what needs to stay out. It acts as a gatekeeper allowing in what your body uses, and keeping out the rest which ends up as waste. This ability to selectively allow some things in our gut to be absorbed while keeping others out is only possible if the cells are working properly and physically joined together very tightly. The bonds that keep the cells tightly together are called “tight junctions.”

Leaky gut happens when the tight junctions aren’t so tight anymore. The cellular barrier is irritated and weakened, allowing tiny holes to appear. These perforations allow things that normally would stay out of the bloodstream get into the bloodstream. Things like food particles, waste products, and bacteria.

When these get into the bloodstream your immune system is triggered to start fighting them. Similarly to how your immune system starts fighting the cold virus and causes inflammation. This immune reaction is normal and helps keep you healthy. 

Do you have a leaky gut?

The symptoms of leaky gut are similar to those of other digestive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease. Symptoms can include diarrhea, constipation, cramps, bloating, food sensitivities, or nutrient deficiencies. 

But, because the food particles, toxins, and bacteria have been absorbed into the bloodstream which travels throughout your body, symptoms can appear anywhere. Studies show that leaky gut may feel like fatigue, headaches, confusion, difficulty concentrating, joint pain, or skin problems (e.g., acne, rashes, eczema). Leaky gut is also linked with diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, liver disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis. There may even be links to anxiety and depression.

Many of these gut and non-gut symptoms and conditions are linked to chronic inflammation, but more research is needed to understand how they are connected.

Even if you have some of these symptoms, the fact is, it’s very difficult to diagnose a leaky gut, nor how leaky it is. This means that, while there are some biomarker tests, there isn’t a reliable diagnostic test available just yet. So, it’s difficult to say whether your symptoms are from leaky gut, or whether leaky gut is a symptom of another issue. 

What causes leaky guts?

It’s not 100 percent clear what causes those bonds to loosen and result in tiny perforations in the gut barrier. In fact, we’re just starting to understand how the gut barrier functions and there is a lot of ongoing research.

Part of leaky gut may be due to the genes you inherit from your parents. It can also be from medications or gut infections. Leaky gut is also linked to eating a diet that is low in gut-friendly fiber (adults should aim for 25-30 g of fiber per day). It can also be from consuming too much added sugar and saturated fat. Leaky gut may even result from stress or an imbalance in the diversity and numbers of your friendly gut microbes.

Also, as you age your cells can get damaged more easily and heal slowly, including the cells that line your gut. This can leave you more susceptible to loosening of the gut barrier.

What can you do about a leaky gut?

One way to approach a suspected leaky gut is to address inflammation and eat a more gut-friendly diet. This means reducing excessive alcohol and processed foods that tend to be high in fat and sugar or artificial sweeteners. It’s also a good idea to avoid foods that you’re allergic or sensitive to. For example, if you have diagnosed celiac disease, you want to be sure to stay away from gluten, as exposing your gut to it can cause a large inflammatory response.

Instead, enjoy more foods rich in gut-friendly probiotics and fiber – which is a prebiotic that feeds your friendly gut microbes. These include:

  • yogurt or kefir
  • fermented foods (e.g., kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso)
  • fruits and vegetables (e.g., berries, oranges, broccoli, carrots, and zucchini)
  • nuts and seeds (e.g., walnuts, cashews, and chia seeds)
  • Whole grains (e.g., oats, corn, and quinoa)
Photo by Marta Branco on Pexels.com

If you’re going to proactively increase your fiber intake, do it over several days or weeks because sudden increases in fiber can cause gas, bloating, and other gut discomfort. If you have IBS, check with a Registered Dietitian to see if certain fibers may worsen your condition and which are recommended.

Also, regular exercise can help your digestive system. This means taking even a 15- or 20-minute walk after you eat to help you digest your food. And don’t forget the importance of stress management, quality sleep, and not smoking.

If you plan on making changes to your diet and lifestyle, consider keeping a journal to help see if the changes are helping your symptoms.

Take Action

When it comes to leaky gut, a few simple shifts toward a gut-friendly diet can help you navigate your symptoms and start the healing process.

A leaky gut is associated with gut and non-gut symptoms. It’s an inflammatory condition that has been linked to metabolic disorders, autoimmune conditions, and even mental health. There is no good diagnostic test at this time to know for sure if you have it or not. And remember, this is still a rather new area of research, so more information emerges all the time. 

In the meantime, if you have symptoms that suggest a leaky gut, you can move toward a more gut-friendly diet. Try cutting down on alcohol, processed foods, and any that you may be allergic or sensitive to. Replace these foods and drinks with ones higher in gut-friendy probiotics and fiber. And remember that regular exercise, stress management, and quality sleep are great lifestyle strategies for your gut and the rest of your body.


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!


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.
Photo by Vie Studio on Pexels.com

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.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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


Earth Day Plant-based Meal

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day today, I am cooking a plant-based meal for dinner. With shelter-in-place, we have more meals together as a family so our food is central to our conversation at mealtime. This presents a great opportunity to talk to our kids about how our food choices impact the environment.

Working with the ingredients I have in my pantry during this COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities to be creative! I know most people are stocked up with dried goods such as pasta, rice and canned beans because these items are as depleted in the grocery stores as toilet paper. Just because we are using these staples day after day, it doesn’t mean our diet has to be boring. Whether you are new to eating meatless or just looking for a fresh vegan recipe, I hope you will enjoy this tasty and nutritious bean dish made with one of my favorite spices from the well-loved Oaktown Spice Shop in Oakland, California. For more plant-based recipes, you can click on the link for a free copy of my e-book on Plant-Based Eating.

Braised White Beans and Greens with Harissa

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

1 white or yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon flake salt
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons Harissa Paste or 1 tablespoon Harissa Powder
½ cup dry white wine
3 cups cooked white beans (such as cannellini), or 2 cans of white beans
2 cups vegetable stock
4 cups chopped greens, such as mustard greens, baby kale or spinach
Juice of half a lemon

Directions:

Heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add onion. Sauté until golden brown, about 7 or 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to avoid burning. Add Harissa, salt and garlic; cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until fragrant. 

Add wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add beans, stock and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook on low, covered, until the beans are becoming soft and creamy, about 20-30 minutes. If you like more of a stew consistency, smash some of the beans with the back of your spoon. Add greens and simmer until tender, about 5-10 minutes depending on the heartiness of the greens you use. 

Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread.


Vegan Food – Trick or Treat?

Plant-based diet is all the rage but is it healthier for you? There is no argument that eating less animal products is better for your body and for the planet. For years I have been advising the general public, eating a typical North American diet, to reduce meat intake and use meat as a condiment rather than the main focus of their meal. For some, my husband included, it is easier to go cold turkey and avoid meat altogether rather than tease the taste buds and be left feeling unsatisfied. The craving for the flavor of “meat” combined with the desire to go meatless has fueled the surging popularity of meat alternatives in grocery stores and restaurants, including fast food chains.

Trick

The plant-based food space grew 11% between 2018 and 2019 to $4.5 billion in the US which provided more options and also more confusion than ever for consumers. Have you noticed the growing number of plant-based milk, such as soy, almond, cashew, rice, and oat milks, on your grocery shelves? It can certainly be tricky to find vegan foods with the same nutritional profile as the animal products you are replacing. I recently replaced cow’s milk with almond milk and realized that I now only get 12.5% of my usual amount of protein (1 gram of protein in 1 cup of almond milk rather than 8 grams of protein in cow’s milk). That means I need to adjust my diet to eat other high protein foods to make up the deficit. Not easy to do without some nutrition knowledge and meal planning skills!

Plant-based foods designed to replace milk, cheese, and meat often have a lengthy list of ingredients and full of fillers. Have a look at the 18 ingredients in a Beyond Burger: water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, natural flavors, cocoa butter, mung bean protein, methylcellulose, potato starch, apple extract, salt, potassium chloride, vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, sunflower lecithin, pomegranate fruit powder, and beet juice extract (the beet juice give the burger its meat-like “blood”). Pretty scary! If you are interested in a complete nutritional comparison between a Beyond Burger and a regular burger, check out this article  in Good Housekeeping. It’s clear that plant-based foods can be highly processed and may not be the healthy alternative we think we are eating.

Treat

Eating a vegan or plant-based diet is not just about avoiding animal products or eating meat look-a-likes. It is about eating an abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Now, that’s a treat for your health!!!

Plan the main event of your meal around “meaty” vegetables such as mushrooms, eggplant, and squash.  This will easily increase your daily vegetable servings. Consuming enough fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity. The 20152020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume 1.5–2.0 cup equivalents of fruits and 2.0–3.0 cups of vegetables per day. These goals are much more attainable on a plant-based diet.

The best vegan food comes in its natural form. Nuts, seeds, and legumes are never processed and provide a signifiant source of protein and fiber. Many research studies have shown that the high fiber content in some nuts and legumes is good for your gut bacteria and provides protection to the gut lining and creates a healthier microbiome. The gut microbiome plays a vital role in helping with digestion and benefiting your immune system and many other aspects of health.

Another great source of plant-based protein is whole grains.  Whole grains have much more fiber, B vitamins, and iron than refined grains. Experiment cooking with some of the high protein grains such as quinoa, spelt, kamut, amaranth and millet, just to name a few. Their names may sound intimidating but they boil a lot like rice – just follow the cooking direction on the package and you can’t go wrong. To maximum your nutrition at each meal, learn to combine grains with legumes for complementary protein.

Meat is not necessary a villain. But in a culture where meat consumption is excessive and climate change is a concern, it is definitely a treat to have the food pendulum swing in favor of vegan food.