From Nutrition

Spirulina Spirulina

(I hope the majority of you just said the title of this in the mouse’s voice from Cinderella)

Spiru- what? Spiru- who? Spiru- where have you been all my life?!  But seriously… what is spirulina, you ask? It is a type of blue-green microalgae (stay with me now) that is packed with nutrients and known for it’s health benefits. Spirulina has been around for a very long time… think Aztecs. It can be found in most health food stores in the form of tablets, capsules, flakes or dark green powder.  Before it makes its way to the store, it is first found in very alkaline freshwater and saltwater sources, where it is grown and harvested.

Spirulina is used in many different cuisines, but is probably used the most by those who follow a plant-based diet due to it’s bioavailable, easy-to-digest proteins (4 grams per tablespoon).  Not only is it an excellent protein source but it is also a great source of other nutrients.  One tablespoon (7 grams) of spirulina contains:

 

  • 20 calories
  • 1.7 grams of digestible carbohydrate
  • All essential amino acids, making it a complete protein!
  • polyunsaturated fatty acids
    • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Omega-6 fatty acids
  • Antioxidants
  • Chlorophyll
  • Copper (21% of RDA)
  • Significant amounts of Magnesium, Potassium, Manganese, Zinc and small amounts of most other nutrients needed by the human body such as Calcium, Niacin, Iron and B Vitamins.

But that’s not all!  Spirulina has other health benefits.  One of those is in the area of heart health.  Studies have shown that spirulina can lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and sometimes may raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol. Other studies have shown spirulina reduces blood pressure.

In addition to heart health, another potential benefit of spirulina is blood sugar control.  With more than 29 million of adults being Diabetic in America, this could prove to be a very important supplement.

Spirulina is also a great source of antioxidants such as phycocyanin, which help protect our bodies from oxidative damage.  Oxidative damage contributes to inflammation, cancer and other diseases. Spirulina is specifically well studied in the area of oral cancer and has been shown to have positive effects on cancerous lesions in the mouth.

Studies have shown improved symptoms of allergic rhinitis with spirulina use. What the heck is allergic rhinitis? If you suffer from this you may know but for those that don’t, allergic rhinitis is also known as hay fever.

Because of the strong smell and taste of spirulina, some prefer to take it in tablet/capsule form, but most people use the powder in smoothies. Bananas do a great job of masking the earthy flavor of Spirulina. Others have added it to things such as pesto, energy balls, tea and even… (wait for it…) no-bake cheesecake!

In the Kitchen with Kids

Becky and I work closely with moms of young ones every day as dietitians and one of the biggest complaints we hear is “they won’t touch anything I make because they are just so picky”. The first thing I say back is “Have you tried letting your son or daughter cook with you or even cook for you?”

This question is usually followed by a blank stare, so let me break it down for you. The last time you made dinner, how many times did you taste the food to see if it was coming along nicely? Personally, I taste my food at least 2 times while I’m cooking. Once to check the seasoning and once after I correct the seasoning. Truthfully, most of the time it’s closer to 10 times I am sure. If your kiddo gets hands on in the kitchen, they are more likely to taste new foods (at least 1 time). Also, after you are finished cooking don’t you feel excited to sit down and eat what you just made? Your kiddo is no different! Kids are far more likely to eat the food that they make themselves.

Another comment that I hear very frequently is “They only eat that kind of food when they are at their grandparents house”. Can you guess why? I don’t know about you but when I was a kid I would be all over the kitchen when my grandma was making dinner. She would let me wash the vegetables, roll out the dough, set the table, and usually make some crazy dessert concoction that everyone HAD TO TRY. Some of my favorite memories in the kitchen are at my grandmas house. I don’t know how many times she had to clean her orange shag carpet after I was done cooking (yes, her kitchen was wall to wall carpet). Thank you, grandma.

Transformations don’t happen over night. Don’t get upset if your kid doesn’t want to eat the food they prepared. Eventually they will. I promise.

Some additional things to try for picky eaters would be have them go grocery shopping with you and pick out which new foods they want to try that week. Also have your kiddo put his/her own food on the plate because you know if it is “their idea” they are way more likely to do it (including eating).

Kale

Kale, kale, bo bell, banana nana fo fell, fee fi fo fell – kaaallee. This leafy green can make some mouths drool and others afraid to come to the dinner table. Obviously, for Becky and I, it is the former (ya know, since we named our blog after it and all). It is not just the taste that gets us so excited to eat kale, it is also all the nutrients packed in it. This post is only going to go over the basic nutritional benefits of kale, but believe me, there are so much more than what is listed here. For starters, just one cup of kale contains enough vitamin K, A and C for the entire day. JUST ONE CUP (gasp).

But what do all of these vitamins do for you and why is kale so important? Great questions! We covered antioxidants in some of our previous posts, but I can’t stress how important they are for daily intake. Every day our body undergoes stress and this stress creates free radicals. Whenever I picture free radicals in my head I see little hooligans with California surfer dude accents, beating up my cells while saying “radical dude”. Vitamin C and Vitamin A are both powerful antioxidants that have the power to fight against those California hooligans, so eating kale regularly can help keep you from getting sick, prevent cancer, and keep you looking and feeling young. Vitamin K is an important fat-soluble vitamin that helps with blood clotting. I’m sure you are wondering why blood clotting would be a good thing, and yes many times we want to avoid clots within our cardiovascular system, but the fact is our body still needs to be able to make clots when necessary. All those tiny knicks from shaving or bruises you get from running into the end of the bed in the middle of the night require Vitamin K to heal up nicely.

Something that I learned more recently is that kale contains a tiny bit of fat. In general, vegetables have pretty minimal fat contents, so I never would have imagined that it could be another one of kale’s amazing health benefits. The reason why the fat content in kale is so special is the ratio between omega-3s and omega-6s. A western diet typically contains an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of 15:1 to 16.7:1, but the recommended ratio is 1:1. Kale has the exact ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s recommended to achieve ultimate health and keeping a balanced ratio can help fight inflammation, which is suspected to be the main cause of the majority of diseases. Kale is also a great source of fiber, a key component in keeping your bowels regular and your heart healthy!

Cooking kale can be tricky and I think that is why many people don’t find it enjoyable. One of the most common complaints I hear is how long it takes to eat kale because of its hard to chew center, but the easy fix to this is removing the center before using kale in recipes. Experimenting with new vegetables can be tons of fun, so try to include it in several different recipes until you find what you like. I love to include kale in almost every soup I make and I also love to chop it up really fine and include it in salads. Check out our recipe page for tasty kale recipes and share some of your favorite recipes in the comments!

Matcha Matcha Matcha

There could not possibly be a better superfood to focus on in the month of March than matcha. The vibrant green color screams St. Patrick’s Day and the name itself sounds eerily like March – so in my eyes, they were made for each other.

When I was a teenager I worked at a huge health food supermarket and I stumbled upon the magic powder that is Matcha. Obviously, the health benefits of green tea have been widely known for years, so what makes Matcha so magical? I’m glad you asked because I could go for days!

For starters, matcha has an unbelievable amount of antioxidants. When you brew a cup of normal green tea the water can only extract a portion of the antioxidants housed in the tea leaves, so tons of antioxidants are thrown in the trash with the tea bag. Matcha powder, on the other hand, is produced by grounding the entire tea leaf, so a serving of matcha tea houses the same antioxidant power as 10 cups of brewed green tea! In fact, the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) for matcha is 1573 units per gram which outshines many vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other Superfoods. As you may remember, antioxidants are a great defense for the body against illnesses and can even help prevent aging and chronic diseases like cancer. One type of antioxidant that matcha contains, known as catechin EGCg, is known specifically for its anticancer properties. Catechin EGCg fights body damaging free radicals formed from UV rays, radiation, pollution, and other chemicals.

Matcha also contains L-theanine, a special amino acid that has the capability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Because of this property, L-theanine has the potential ability to decrease mental and physical stress and boost mood and cognitive performance. Matcha is believed to contain almost 5 times the amount of L-theanine found in other common teas.

To round out that awesome magic housed in matcha we present you with caffeine! I can’t even pretend that I could make it through a day without ingesting some form of caffeine – two children and the bags under my eyes are a dead giveaway. Luckily for me (and everyone I come in contact with), matcha contains about twice the amount of caffeine found in other teas, but because of the calming effects of L-theanine, matcha will not leave you feeling jittery like a cup of several cups of coffee. In fact, for years Buddhist monks have used matcha green tea to stay awake and alert for long periods (we are talking days here) of meditation.

So matcha can help you stay awake, calm you down, make you smarter, help you lose weight, prevent you from getting sick, ward off cancer, detoxify your body, and lower cholesterol and blood sugar (which I didn’t even get to, I know!). But, does it taste good? YES! Matcha powder has the earthy taste that most green teas have but it has a surprising sweetness to it. So what are you waiting for, whip up this simple recipe and ENJOY!

Vanilla Matcha Green Tea Latte
1 teaspoon matcha green tea powder
1/2 cup water
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1 teaspoon honey/maple syrup/agave

  1. Bring water to a simmer and remove from heat. Whisk in matcha green tea powder and sweetener.
  2. Warm soy milk and add to tea mixture. Mmmmm. Yum.

5 Important Ingredients for a Healthy Breakfast

As a dietitian, I find it aggravating that breakfast is considered the “most important meal of the day”, #everymealisimportant. Why do I find it aggravating? Mainly due to the fact that in America breakfast is another excuse to eat dessert – pancakes, waffles, cinnamon rolls, frosted flakes, French toast, and pastries/doughnuts! Breakfast could be one of the most important meals of the day if it actually contains ingredients that are nutritious. A grrrrreat, and important breakfast, would include these 5 ingredients!

  1. Lean Protein – Proteins are the main building blocks of the body! Protein helps build muscles, hormones, neurotransmitters, skin, etc. – without protein, life would not be possible. Proteins must be broken down into amino acids to be digested though. This process requires more energy and time than digestion of carbs and fats, which results in a feeling of fullness for a longer period of time. So, not only do you burn more calories eating it, but you also eat less over time! It gets even better though (*gasp). Since protein slows down digestion, it has the ability to prevent sugar highs and low – and as Trinh Le, MPH, RD points out, a lot of bad diet decisions can be made on a sugar low. Choose lean proteins, like those listed below, to limit intake of saturated fat.
    1. Whole Egg
    2. Fish
    3. Turkey Sausage
    4. Beans
    5. Nuts
    6. Tofu
    7. Yogurt/Low-fat milk
  2. Healthy Fats- Healthy Fats provide a great source of Omega-3 Fatty acids which have numerous health benefits for your body including reduced inflammation, decreased depression/anxiety, improved risk factors associated with heart disease and many more!  Fat also helps with satiety,  helping you to feel more satisfied.  And let’s face it, fat makes everything taste better.  If food doesn’t taste good then we aren’t eating it!  Healthy fats can come from foods included in the list below.
    1. Avocado
    2. Fish
    3. Nuts/ Nut Butters
    4. Olive Oil
    5. Whole Egg
    6. Flax/Chia Seeds
  3. Fiber – Fiber feeds the good bacteria in the gut.  When the good bacteria are fed and functioning at optimal levels this leads to reduced inflammation, improved status of GI disorders like IBS and Crohn’s, and an increased production of nutrients in the body.  Foods that have fiber in them tend to be lower on the glycemic index, which helps those nasty hunger “highs and lows”. So, take care of your gut and it will take care of you!  Sources of dietary fiber are listed below.
    1. Fruits
    2. Whole Grains
    3. Beans
    4. Vegetables
    5. Nuts
  4. B Vitamins – The eight B vitamins — B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6, B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid),  and B12 — aid the processes in which the body makes and uses energy. So, basically they help convert all those healthy proteins, fats, and carbs eaten during breakfast into energy.  It’s simple, without B Vitamins, it is more difficult to be energized, regardless of how much coffee you drink with breakfast!
    1. Fruits
    2. Vegetables
    3. Nuts
    4. Eggs
    5. Meat/Fish
    6. Fortified Grains
  5. Antioxidants – Our bodies naturally produce toxins throughout the day. These toxins can damage cells and lead to heart disease, cancer, hearing loss, and even aging but antioxidants can help prevent these side effects. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals (aka toxins) by donating an electron and making them stable. The foods below are rich in antioxidants, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Flavonoids, etc.
    1. Citrus Fruits
    2. Berries
    3. Coffee/Tea
    4. Nuts
    5. Avocados

Mmmmmm breakfast.