Category Archives: healthy food highlights

Macronutrient Superstar: Protein

The building blocks of our muscles, skin, tendons, bones, hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters- protein is an essential nutrient for the body. We hear lots of paradoxical reports concerning how much protein we should be eating… Some people would advise unlimited amounts, while others think we, as a society, eat way too much. This is why you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet- it’s just too damn confusing and conflicting!

The answer is this: there is no “right” amount of protein. It depends entirely on each individual and their specific constitution and biological make-up. While height and weight certainly play a part, they are certainly not the ONLY parts. Current health and immune status, genetics, activity level, and life stage all fit into the equation as well. Eat what works for YOUR body.

Major Roles of Protein

  • Used to build, maintain, and repair cells, enzymes, immune system, and hormones
  • Helps maintain volume and composition of bodily fluids
  • Transports nutrients to various parts of the body
  • Can be used for energy is necessary
  • Responsible for pigment of eyes
  • Provides the raw materials for collagen and elastin, which literally hold us together and are a primary component in our skin
  • Immune system and nervous system require protein to make their messengers

Healthy Sources of Protein

  • Eggs
  • Meats and poultry
  • Fish
  • Tempeh
  • Cheese- cottage, cheddar, feta, etc.
  • Whole milk yogurt (plain)
  • Whole milk
  • Spirulina
  • Nuts and seeds- almonds, chia and flax seeds, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, pistachios, pecans, etc.
  • Protein powder
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Beans
  • Quinoa
  • Peanut and almond butter

Ways to Increase Intake

  • Eat meat or fish (almost) daily. More specifically, aim for a 3 oz. portion 6x/week, with a 1 day break. Think meatless Mondays! It gives your body a break- proteins are the hardest of the macronutrients to digest- AND gives the environment a break- animal food production is notoriously energy exertive and greenhouse gas emitting.
  • Consciously try to eat a protein-packed food at EVERY meal.
  • Add nuts and seeds into your daily diet.
  • Make sure you always make or order salads with your choice of lean protein, i.e., fish, steak, chicken, or tempeh. Quinoa is a great addition as well.
  • Put a scoop of protein powder into your smoothie or yogurt each morning. You could also make a protein “shake”- simply put a scoop of the powder (chocolate would be preferable) and 1-2 Tbsp. of almond butter into a glass of almond or whole milk and stir. It’s really that simple. And tasty!
  • While any type of full-fat plain yogurt will do, Greek yogurt is great because it typically has double the protein. Add cinnamon, protein powder, walnuts, and chia seeds for a delicious, healthy, and filling breakfast.
  • Eat eggs for breakfast (or dinner!). Eggs are one of the world’s most nutrient dense foods, so feel free to eat 1-2 daily. Don’t worry about the cholesterol content- studies have shown that there is no clinically significant relationship between dietary cholesterol consumption and heart disease.

Healthy Food Highlight: Sauerkraut

I never ate sauerkraut growing up as a kid. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED hot dogs, but the only condiment I allowed to touch my dog was bright yellow in color. I didn’t even want ketchup joining in the party. Unfortunately, I may have been missing out on some key digestive juices (literally).

This is a prime example of the importance of choosing quality over quantity. A tub of Vlassic sauerkraut isn’t the same as the homemade variety. Unless you put polysorbate 80 and sodium metabisulfite in your food of course, like Vlassic does. Plus, it’s more expensive and its been pasteurized, destroying all the valuable enzymes in the process. So, make your own. It’s cheap, easy, and kinda fun!

Sauerkraut starts out as cabbage and is transformed into the pungent probiotic through the fermentation process. The friendly bacteria that are created during this process aid in digestion, increase vitamin levels, produce a variety of beneficial enzymes, and promote the growth of healthy flora in the digestive tract. Basically, if you want solid digestion, eat homemade sauerkraut on the regular.

In addition to its wonderful gut-healing properties, sauerkraut is also a good source of vitamin C (as long as its not pasteurized; vitamin C is destroyed by heat) and may even contain cancer-fighting, immune system-boosting compounds.

If that’s not enough, raw cabbage juice (NOT sauerkraut) has been shown to be an effective treatment for peptic ulcers. Drinking this juice daily can clear up an ulcer in under two weeks!

Making Sauerkraut makes roughly a quart

  • 1 large head of cabbage
  • 2 Tbs. sea salt

Directions

  1.  Shred the cabbage and place in a large bowl or pot. Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage.
  2. Crush the mixture with your hands until the liquid comes freely out of the cabbage.
  3. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, then a weight on top of the plate. I use a mason jar filled with water.
  4. Cover the bowl with a cloth towel and leave out, unrefrigerated, on your kitchen counter. Check after 2 days and scoop off any scum that may develop, repack and check again every 3 days.
  5. The sauerkraut should be freshly fermented and ready to go in about 2 weeks, with its flavors maturing as it ages. Like wine, another one of my favorite things.
  6. Put sauerkraut, with its juices, in an air-tight container in refrigerator. It will keep for up to 6 months.
This is what it should look like during the fermentation process

This is what it should look like during the fermentation process

Now doesn’t that sound ridiculously easy?! There really are few things easier. If you decide to try it out, please comment in the box below and let me know how it went!

Additional Ingredient Suggestions

Follow the above recipe, then add with the salt:

  • 3 cloves of chopped garlic and a sliced onion
  • 1-2 sliced poblano peppers
  • 5 chopped Brussels sprouts
  • Handful of seaweed or any other vegetable

I like to take bites straight from the container, 5-10 minutes before a meal, in order to get my digestive juices flowing, so to speak. Of course, you can eat it with sausages and in reuben sandwiches, but cooking it will destroy the enzymes you worked so hard to create/ferment. The point is, use your probiotic-loaded kraut in a variety of ways- eaten cold for its nutritional status and eaten warm for its ideal accompaniment to certain dishes.

Healthy Food Highlight: Brussels Sprouts

Like a lot of kids, I hated Brussels sprouts growing up. I actually enjoyed most vegetables from a young age, but sprouts never did it for me. They were just so big, hard, and bland tasting. That’s what she said. Fast forward to the present day- I now consider them one of my favorite foods! However, if you are in agreement with Young Rachel, then listen up- The trick to acquiring a taste for them is to incorporate them into tasty and creative recipes, instead of just steaming them and calling it a side dish. I’ll give a few of my own recipe ideas shortly, but first let’s take a look at WHY we should eat Brussels sprouts.

History

Brussels sprouts get their name from the first town in which they were mentioned, Brussels, Belgium, in the late 1500s. Their cultivation and use spread across Europe during WWI, though Thomas Jefferson introduced them to North America in 1812. They are now cultivated throughout both the United States and Europe, with almost all Brussels sprouts grown in this country coming from good ole’ California!

Description and Nutritional Profile

Brussels sprouts are members of the Brassica family and evolved from the wild cabbage, which would explain their similar features. They grow underground in bunches, growing to as high as three feet tall. You can even purchase them still attached to their stalk from some grocery stores.

In terms of their nutrient profile, these little nuggets pack quite a punch! They are an excellent source of vitamins C and K, folic acid, and vitamin B6. They are also a good source of fiber, potassium, and choline. In addition, they contain a plethora of cancer-fighting compounds, called glucosinolates. As you might expect, they are also low calorie, with 1 cup of cooked sprouts containing only 56 calories. A serving size is a 1/2 cup; eat 1-3 servings/day of Brussels sprouts and other vegetables from the cruciferous (crunchy veggie) group for general health maintenance. This really isn’t much at all- stop making excuses and just eat them! Your body will thank you.

Health Benefits

As a result of Brussels sprouts high nutritional value, they offer numerous benefits to the body. First, they provide detoxification support courtesy of their glucosinolate and sulfuric compounds. Also, they are a meaningful dietary source of vitamin and phytonutrient antioxidants, with evidence suggesting that the DNA in our cells is protected by these naturally occurring substances.  This is super important because environmental toxins can negatively alter our DNA, but these compounds protect against such unwanted changes. In addition, they prevent oxidative stress in the body, which is increasingly being viewed as a risk factor for developing cancer.

Speaking of conditions that increase the chance of getting cancer, inflammation is also now seen as a major risk factor for cancer and various other degenerative diseases. Brussels sprouts help us avoid this problem through their beneficial nutrients. Those special glucosinolates, as well as their vitamin K and omega-3 fatty acid content, are responsible for preventing inflammation before it starts. There is evidence to suggest that they provide cardiovascular support as well.

Brussels sprouts can even help with digestion. Is there anything they can’t do?! This is because of their high fiber content. Did you know that you can get half of your daily fiber needs from only 200 calories of Brussels sprouts? I didn’t either, but it’s pretty cool. Also, they contain another compound, called sulforaphane, that helps prevent bacterial overgrowth in the stomach.

Concerns

Due to the goitrogenic properties that Brussels sprouts contain, they should be eaten sparingly by those that have low thyroid function. This is because these compounds can negatively affect thyroid production, but have no fear- individuals with healthy thyroids don’t need to worry about this dilemma. All cruciferous veggies, including broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower, contain these compounds, so they will all have to be reduced in the diet for affected persons.  If you have such an issue, limit your intake to 2-3 servings/week and cook them. This releases some of the goitrogens.

How to Select, Store, and Prepare

When purchasing, look for Brussels sprouts that are firm, green, and similarly sized. This will assure that they all cook evenly. Their peak growing season is fall to early spring, so try to eat them during these months. Keep them unwashed and untrimmed in a plastic bag in the fridge. They will keep for about 3-4 days uncooked, and another 3-4 days after being cooked.

Though many people simply cook them whole, I find that they cook quicker and taste better when sliced in half, or even quartered. Also, cutting an “X” into the bottom of the stem can help them cook more evenly as well. I like to lightly saute them in butter for about 10 minutes, but steaming them and drizzling some olive oil over them works well too.

Recipe Ideas

  1. Saute the sprouts with an assortment of other vegetables in a tamari/maple syrup blend. Add marinated tempeh or chicken for protein.
  2. Roast them in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees in a small amount of water. Drizzle olive oil over them when done. Add pecans or walnuts if desired.
  3. Steam and allow them to chill overnight. Serve on top of salad greens for lunch the next day.
  4. Saute the sprouts with bacon and raisins for some sweet and savory goodness!
  5. Add them to any rice, pasta, or potato dish for a tasty nutrient boost.

Basically, I just add Brussels sprouts to whatever I’m cooking for the night, or use them as a side dish when I’m cooking a cut of meat. They go good with everything, so experiment for yourself and see what tastes good to you!