From Nutrition

Dark Chocolate Detox Bark

February is American Heart Month! My family health history has proven to me that I have a ticking time bomb nestled in my chest, so heart health has always been extremely important to me. But just because I like to look out for my heart, doesn’t mean I miss out on delicious desserts. In fact, the ingredients in these little treasures can help defend against heart disease and loads of other illnesses.????????????????????????????????????

Bark Ingredients:

Dark Chocolate – Sometimes I think the main heart benefit of dark chocolate is the relaxing feeling you get when it hits your tongue (AKA euphoria), but experts say there’s a whole lot more involved (AKA science). Lucky for us, dark chocolate contains the highest amount of flavanols, which are a type of flavonoid. Our body naturally produces toxins on a daily basis and antioxidants, such as flavonoids, help fight against the damage toxins can cause over time, like the build up of plaque in our arteries. Flavanols also help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow – so three cheers for dark chocolate!

Nuts (Pistachios, Almonds, and Walnuts) – Nuts tend to get a bad wrap because of their fat content, but a little goes a long way since they are filled with healthy monounsaturated fat. A study done in 2008 by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition showed that just two servings of pistachios can help drastically lower LDL and total cholesterol. The unsaturated fats found in nuts can protect your heart and raise seratonin levels, which will help boost  your mood. Nuts also contain a good amount of fiber and plant sterols to help lower cholesterol, Vitamin E to help decrease plaque build up, and L-arginine to help make the blood vessels more flexible.

Pumpkin Seeds – At first we decided to add the pumpkin seeds because they are such a beautiful color, but it turns out these beauties are also packed full of healthy nutrients for your heart. The biggest powerhouse is Magnesium – a mineral that most Americans are deficient in. Magnesium can help regulate blood pressure and help prevent cardiac arrest or a stroke because of its role in helping the heart pump.

Dried Fruit (Cherries and Blueberries) – Just like dark chocolate, dried fruits contain a hefty amount of antioxidants, especially polyphenols. All of those antioxidants will help improve blood flow and keep the heart pumping for generations to come.

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  1. Line an 8×8 pan with wax paper.
  2. Break up 8 ounces of dark chocolate into small pieces and place in a microwave safe container.
  3. Microwave 60 seconds and stir. Place back in microwave for another 30 seconds, stir and repeat until chocolate is melted completely.
  4. Pour melted chocolate into the 8×8 lined pan and let cool for 3 to 5 minutes (do not allow chocolate to set completely).
  5. Top with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
  6. Eat it.

 

Probiotics – Gut Appreciation Day

What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving season?  My gut!  I declare today “Gut Appreciation Day”!  My gut has been there for me since day one, helping me to enjoy my one true love – food. But that is not all that the gut does.  Our guts always have our backs when it comes to staying healthy.  Our guts go to battle for us every day, helping to protect the body against infections and absorbing nutrients that are beneficial to our health.  Over 70% of the immune system is in the gut.  The gut has a big job and too many times we take that for granted and dump garbage into our system.  The gut flora contains hundreds of different microorganisms.  We can show our guts appreciation by eating foods that are naturally full of probiotics.  Probiotics are known to improve intestinal health, enhancing the immune system and the bioavailability of nutrients, help with constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas.  There is some evidence showing probiotics can even help with conditions such as IBS, lowering cholesterol and improving brain function.

You could already be assisting your gut in the daily battle and not even realize it!  Some common foods that contain probiotics are yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles.

Yogurt, as many of you know, is a cultured/fermented milk product that is probably one of the most frequently used food sources of probiotics. The most common probiotic used to culture yogurt is Lactobacillus. To pick the best yogurt, make sure you find one with a live, active culture and not a variety with huge amounts of sugar.

Pickles…A pickle? Say what?!  Yep.  Lacto-fermented pickles are made without vinegar so they are “alive” and have a good amount of probiotics. Maybe this is why pickles tend to make the weird pregnancy cravings list.  Other foods made in the same way, like pickled-peppers and olives, also make the list.

Sauerkraut is made from chopped, fermented cabbage.  During the fermentation process, several bacteria are involved. If you noticed the trend of fermented food items being great sources of probiotics, you are catching on very quickly! One serving of fermented vegetables can be equal to an entire bottle of over the counter probiotics.

Other probiotic-containing foods are miso, tempeh, kimchi, and kefir.

Miso is a fermented paste made from a mixture of soybeans with rice, wheat or oats. Miso has been used for centuries as a flavoring agent in Japanese cultures and is believed to help regulate intestinal functions, aid digestion, prevent gastric ulcers, and decrease risks of cancers.

Tempeh is a fermented, probiotic rich grain made from soy beans. Soy tempeh has been shown to stimulate the growth of Bifidobacterium, a healthy gut bacteria, which along with Lactobacillus, are the most well known probiotics. Since tempeh has a nutty flavor, it is commonly used as a meat alternative. An easy way to prepare tempeh is by cutting the patty into thin slices, pan frying until golden brown and slightly crispy, and serving with your favorite sauce.

Kimchi is made by fermenting vegetables with probiotic lactic acid bacteria.  Benefits include anticancer, antiobesity, colorectal health promotion, cholesterol reduction, antioxidant properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health promotion. Kimchi has a very unique taste that can take some getting used to, but with all these health benefits, it may be time to start getting used to it.

Kefir is a cultured milk product that contains vitamins, minerals and probiotics. Kefir is the highest natural source of probiotic and its name literally translates to “feeling good”. Kefir can be enjoyed by itself or used in smoothies for a probiotic boost!

Your gut is always looking out for you.  This is your chance to give back to your gut.  So go celebrate “Gut Appreciation Day”!  Get out there and drink some kefir, eat some yogurt and sauerkraut – maybe not all at the same time though… and tell your gut thanks!

Before changing anything in your diet, remember to always be sure to clear it with your doctor or dietitian first.

Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices

I’ve always been very proud of having my spice rack full of all sorts of herbs and spices.  I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I like to pretend it’s my body’s way of telling me what it needs because herbs and spices actually hold some very powerful health benefits we often overlook. Having all of them lined up perfectly in alphabetical order (this only happens once a year probably) gives my anxiety a break. Below is a list of the most common ones (in alphabetical order) we use in everyday recipes and how they may benefit health.

Cayenne
I remember several years ago being traumatized when a good friend placed a cayenne powder paste on his leg. In my mind I could see every tiny knick on my leg resulting from nonchalant shaving screech in pain. Turns out the capsaicin in cayenne can actually help relieve pain by inhibiting pain nerves. Other topical uses include treatment for psoriasis and cluster headaches. Cayenne pepper has unbelievable benefits for the circulatory system when ingested. It can help normalize blood pressure, preventing hypertension and it’s also capable of clearing out arterial plaque. With this in mind, a cocktail of water and cayenne may be a lifesaver when someone is experiencing a heart attack, but don’t rely on it because the research is not there yet. And finally, my favorite benefit of all is that just a small amount (about ½ teaspoon) eaten at each meal could decrease appetite and help you lose weight. If that’s the case, load me up with 16 teaspoons a meal, please!

Cilantro/Coriander
Mmmmm. Whenever a recipe calls for cilantro I just know it’s going to be primo and I also know I’ll probably add almost double what the recipe calls for. Lucky for me, I may be helping my body fight off illnesses and aging. Like many other plants, cilantro contains a variety of powerful antioxidants (beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin) that can help destroy toxins in the body. Cilantro may also be a good tool to help purify water and fight against salmonella! Unfortunately, not everyone can enjoy cilantro’s benefits because of the dreaded soapy aftertaste some people experience due to a genetic variant. What a miserable life that must be, my condolences.

Cinnamon
Cinnamon always brings back the memories of cooking with my grandma on Christmas Eve; the scent of this spice radiated through her house on the holidays, leaving everyone in a euphoric Christmas coma. Not only does cinnamon help foster positive mental health, but it also provides a great deal of physical health benefits. Cinnamon helps fight against Metabolic Syndrome— a condition characterized by a combination of elevated blood pressure, high blood sugar levels from insulin resistance, atypical cholesterol levels, and extra body fat around the waist (AKA a “fat tire”). Metabolic syndrome increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Most cinnamons found in the pantry are unfortunately not ceylon cinnamon, or “true cinnamon”, and contain a compound that could lead to health problems when used frequently and/or in large doses. When it’s time to restock the cinnamon, try looking for Ceylon online or in your local health food stores!

Garlic
Everyone knows garlic is fierce.  I mean, if you can keep vampires away, you have got it all going for ya!  Not only can it kick vampire butts, recent research has shown that certain components of garlic are potential cancer slayers!  One component of garlic in particular, diallyl disulfide, proved it’s ability to kill leukemia in laboratory studies.  Another known battle for garlic is against heart disease and atherosclerosis.  Evidence is mixed, but those who took 900mg in a study over 4 years did slow the development of atherosclerosis.  So we are looking at a powerhouse of antioxidant that can possibly fend off cancer and heart disease.  Sign me up.  And if you love the flavor of garlic as much as I do, it isn’t even a small price to pay, “garlic breath” aside to get those kind of benefits!  Garlic goes great in just about any kind of dish.  I add it to soups and casseroles, salsas, pizza, you name it!  And most of the time I throw in more than the recipe calls for.  What can I say?  I like to stay fierce!

Ginger
No, I am not talking about my adorable children.  I am talking about the plant, the root to be exact.  Ginger root has been used for medicinal purposes for over 2,000 years and as a cooking spice for over 4,000 years.  Most of us have only known it to be good for nausea, particularly of the pregnancy kind.  Ginger snaps and ginger ale, that’s it.  But ginger has so much more to offer!  Ginger may help with inflammation.  “Ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and antioxidant activities, as well as a small amount of analgesic property,” says Roberta Lee, MD, vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.  It has been studied particularly in those with osteoarthritis.  Ginger contains a variety of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium (to name a few).  This spice goes very well with some seafood dishes, pumpkin, apples and also paired with oranges.  Ginger can be grated over a salad or added to stir-fry for a little kick.

Mint
One of my first flavor loves. *Sigh*  I can remember my grandma giving me chocolate covered mint candy as a child.  To this day I am still a sucker for the two together!  For most people, something like mint candies or even toothpaste are the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of the word “mint”.  These types of products contain mint oil.  There are many types of mint (a.k.a. mentha).  Peppermint oil has been studied in the relief of IBS symptoms where it is believed to active an “anti-pain” channel in the colon.  Other uses for mint, such as in tea or food, incorporate the leaves of the plant.  Mint contains the antioxidant rosmanic acid which has been studied in the relief of seasonal allergy symptoms.  There are many other benefits that this powerful herb has been linked to such as with helping fight colds by breaking up mucus.  So if you are feeling a little under the weather try adding some mint to your day.  Mint contains modest amounts of Vitamins A & C, potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorous.  A quick and easy way to enjoy mint is to make your own flavored water combining mint with other flavors such as berries, cucumbers, etc.  Mint can also be added to salsas and salads by gently cutting the delicate plant with a sharp knife and added right before serving.

Turmeric
I think I may have stained all my bowls and the bowls at my work with this spice. Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its color and has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal properties. Now, turmeric is starting to pick up popularity in the field of research due to a compound it contains, curcumin. This special compound is an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. Long term, low level inflammation is believed to be the root cause of almost every chronic disease. Every. Chronic. Disease. So, idealistically, this spice should be a staple in almost every home. Sorry dishes, I guess you will just have to be yellow from now on.

Using spices in replace of salt for flavor can help prevent high blood pressure, so almost every spice and herb could be beneficial. The herbs and spices listed here are only a few in plethora, but as always, before changing anything in your diet or activity level  consult your physician.