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Summer Squash Soup with Chive Pistou

Summer Squash Soup with Chive Pistou

This light, creamy soup makes a simple, elegant lunch topped with bright green pistou (like pesto, but without the pine nuts). We enhanced ours with chives for a fresh, peppery bite. Use a blend of zucchini, yellow crookneck and delicata squash, or whatever’s available in your garden or at the market, and serve it hot or chilled. 

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small Vidalia or other sweet onion (substitute yellow onion)
2 thin-skinned potatoes, peeled and chopped  (1 1/2 cups)
3 summer squash, zucchini or any combination, chopped (about 4 cups)
4 cups vegetable stock
Pistou:
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cup packed basil leaves
1/2 cup packed baby arugula leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
Fresh chives and parsley for garnish

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and cook onion for 3 to 5 minutes, until just tender. Stir in potato and squash, and toss to coat with oil.
  2. Add 3 cups of the stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook, partly covered, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. While soup is cooking, make pistou: combine garlic, basil, arugula and salt in a small food processor, and process until ingredients are finely chopped. With machine running, slowly add oil until it’s completely incorporated, scraping down sides as needed. Add cheese, if desired, and process until well blended. Transfer to a small dish and set aside.
  4. When soup has finished cooking, add to the food processor and puree in batches, until smooth and creamy. Add additional stock as needed to reach desired consistency.
  5. To serve, divide soup between 4 to 6 bowls. Stir a spoonful of pistou into soup, and sprinkle with fresh chives and parsley if desired. Serve immediately.
Intuitive Cooking: Find your inner chef

Intuitive Cooking: Find your inner chef

We read a lot about intuitive eating. Just as important, and the first step in the process, is intuitive cooking. But it’s hard in our world. We’re pressed for time, and accustomed to looking outside ourselves to the experts — the celebrity chefs, the cooking show stars, the charismatic cookbook authors —for the latest word on what to buy and how to cook it.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for education in culinary and nutritional topics; it’s how I make my living. At some point, though, it’s exhilarating to rely on an internal compass rather than external directions. It’s not like celebrity chefs or we simple food writers have cornered the market on cooking. Food preparation is the most natural, instinctive activity in the world, right up there with nest-building and baby-making. And I believe it’s as important as intuitive eating in terms of our relationship with food.

Cooking by availability and intuition — shopping the market, choosing produce that looks fresh and appealing, and then combining it with ingredients on hand, according to taste and personal preference — is perhaps the oldest and most authentic way of food prep. My southern grandmothers cooked this way, without recipes or elaborate meal planning. They simply gathered vegetables from their garden, combined them with ingredients on hand, and added a pinch of this and a dash of that until it tasted good. At the end, it was invariably a feast.

Cooking without a recipe requires only a little skill, plus a lot of imagination, and a willingness to be bold and inventive. These five steps will get you started:

1. Head to local farmer’s markets. That’s where you’ll find an abundance of fresh, seasonal produce. Don’t write off local grocery stores; most larger natural markets carry an abundance of organic produce and a vast array of herbs, spices, oils, nuts, cheeses and specialty items. Shop around at smaller markets for more competitive prices, and check out mainstream grocers — most are doing a decent good job of offering more organic and local produce.

2. Start with color. It will be one of your main guides for choosing ingredients. Begin with one main ingredient — asparagus, for example — then look around the market or produce section for seasonal produce that would compliment their bright-green color. Look for what appeals to you — the pale lime hue of green onions, for example, and the soft tan-gray of wild mushrooms.

You could sauté these in olive oil, then top with a pinch of black sea salt and shaved Asiago cheese.

How would you cook them? Maybe transform them into a soup with a light broth, a little cream and nutmeg? Or sauté them in sesame oil with garlic and ginger, and top them with black sesame seeds? You get the idea; anything is possible. Don’t overlook fruit; pears, berries or citrus fruits compliment many vegetable dishes with a subtle, fresh sweetness.

3. Try something new. The first time I saw a rutabaga, I was consumed with curiosity. I purchased the monstrosity, which looked something like a mutant potato. At a loss, I chopped it up, boiled it and served it with butter, salt and pepper. It was delicious — sweet, clean, with a mildly nutty, cabbage like flavor. Try something new — celery root, cardoons, chanterelle mushrooms, tomatillos, fiddlehead ferns, chayote squash, kumquats. Ask for cooking suggestions at the market. Start by seasoning simply with a little salt and pepper, and branch out from there. You’ll know.

4. Stock up on basic cooking ingredients. An artist needs the proper paints, brushes and canvas upon which to express her creativity. You’ll need an assortment of oils, vinegars, salts, spices, fresh herbs and other ingredients to make the most of your cooking artistry. Basics include:
• A good olive oil and grapeseed or other neutral cooking oil
• Balsamic, sherry and red wine vinegar
• Kosher or coarse salt, sea salt and, if you like, a finishing salt, such as fin de sel, to be added after cooking
• Seven or eight spices you love (try cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, chili powder, black pepper, white pepper, paprika and curry powder) and a wide selection of fresh herbs, garlic and onions.
• A selection of dried beans, lentils, grains, nuts and seeds.
• Canned tomatoes, canned beans and a good, basic broth or stock.

5. Start with a great recipe. It sounds counter-intuitive, but having guidelines for a dish you love — pasta, salad, soup — creates a basic framework, the scaffolding upon which you can lay your own original design. A basic soup recipe, for example, might be 6 cups of broth, 2 cups of vegetables, 1 cup of beans, 2 tablespoons of oil or butter and 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs.

Armed with a recipe you love, head to your favorite market, and be willing to be bold. At the very worst, you’ll discover what doesn’t work — and that’s a valuable life lesson in itself.

How to be an intuitive eater.

How to be an intuitive eater.

As obsessed as we are with food and diets, you’d think we’d be thin,  healthy and delighted with our physical bodies by now. So why are we still universally unhappy with our weight and battling the same 15 pounds?

The fact is, diet tips, rules and tricks won’t work if we’re ignoring the mental and emotional side of eating. Why do we still overeat — or eat the wrong things? Most of the time, when we’re craving cookies, we’re really hungry for love, sex, friendship, peace, a sense of purpose and meaning. And when you’re gripped by that kind of hunger, all the tips and tricks in the world won’t save you.

When your cravings are making you crazy, try something different: instead of focusing on the food, resolve to address the emotions that make you stray. Here’s how to start:

1. Feel your hunger. After a lifetime of denying our hunger, it’s hard to tell when we really need food. But we’re all born with the capability to eat when were hungry and stop when we’re full. As children, we eat in response to our bodies’ hunger signals. As adults, we eat in response to the clock, the latest magazine article, or our uncomfortable feelings.

Get back in touch with your body’s signals by carrying a small notepad and charting your hunger before you eat, rating it on a scale of 1 (starving) to 10 (uncomfortably full). If you do this day after day, feeling your body’s cues will soon come naturally. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you start eating in response to your body — a rumbling in your belly, a slight lessening in your ability to concentrate — instead of your thoughts or emotions.

2. Stop counting. That means calories, fat, carbs, grams, portions — whatever number you use that keeps you out of your body and in your head. When you count, measure, weigh or calculate your food, you’re eating according to your intellect rather than your body’s cues. For a life-long food counter, the prospect of free-for-all noshing can be scary. Start small: eat one meal a day without counting anything. After several days, eat two meals without counting. Continue at your own pace until you’ve stopped counting your food — and start eating in response to your body, not the numbers in your head.

3. Examine your cravings. When you’re feeling the urge to eat, what are you really hungry for? If you’re craving chips, does your jaw want to chew and crunch, to relieve stress and tension? Does the noise the chips make drown out the racket in your head? When you’re aching for ice cream, maybe the soft, creamy texture makes you feel nurtured, or fills up some empty spaces. Once you have a better idea of what you’re really craving, you’re better equipped to make a conscious choice. Maybe you massage your jaw, minimize sources of stress, visit a friend who makes you feel nurtured. Or maybe you have a scoop of ice cream — but you do it as a conscious decision.

4. Practice mindful eating. There you are, in front of the fridge at 9 p.m., noshing on leftover Chinese right out of the container, with no recollection of how you got there. It’s called “eating amnesia,” where the unconscious, hand-to-mouth action of feeding yourself becomes so automatic that, before you know it, you’ve wolfed down a whole box of cookies. Become fully aware of the act of eating. Always put your food — including snacks — on a plate. Then sit down at the table, remove distractions like television, and observe your plate. Notice the colors, textures, shapes and smell for 30 seconds to a full minute before you take the first bite. As you eat, notice the chewing action of your jaw, the taste of the food, how it feels moving down your throat and into your stomach. It’s such a pleasant practice, it will soon become second nature.

5. Be in your body. Many of us walk around all day in a state of half-awareness, not really present in the room, on the earth, in our bodies. And when we’re not in our bodies, we can’t tell if we’re hungry or when we’re full. How often are you aware of your body? Tune in right now, as you read this, and check in, starting your toes and moving up through your body. Pause at your stomach, and notice how it feels. Is it empty, or satisfied? Does it feel rigid and tense? Numb or dull? Or is it soft and relaxed? Once you become intimate with your stomach’s sensations, you can begin to identify true hunger.

6. Pause. When you experience a craving for food, just stop and observe it. Don’t try to make it go away, but don’t indulge it. Sit with the discomfort of the craving. It may become intensely distressing, even painful; that’s okay. Stay with it, and notice what comes up. You’ll often find a vast ocean of emotions like fear, anxiety, even grief, under the craving for food. It’s a powerful exercise — but quite illuminating, and sometimes life-changing.

7. Be happy now. Maybe you’ve been postponing your happiness until you lose ten pounds, give up sugar or eat more greens. But the happier you are now, the more likely you’ll be to stick to your eating goals. The “do-have-be” mindset tells us that success breeds joy when, in fact, it may be the other way around. Once you’re able to accept yourself exactly as you are, you’re more likely to achieve your dietary goals, and less likely to eat from stress, depression or anxiety. And anyway, there’s no point in postponing joy. Be happy now; the rest will come.

What’s eating you? The emotional side of holiday dining

What’s eating you? The emotional side of holiday dining

Don’t get me wrong: eating the right foods is important. But even the most creative dieting tricks and healthy stuffing recipes won’t help if you don’t follow them. Really, you already know what and how to eat. So why do you find yourself bent over a plate of brownies, or halfway through a second heaping helping of stuffing that you swore you wouldn’t take?

Tricks don’t work because they don’t explore the underlying issues, the mental and emotional side of eating. And the holidays, more than any other time, are fraught with emotions. We’re short on time, low on cash, and either overburdened with family responsibilities or feeling the pang of loneliness. Certain key dishes may also bring back happy memories of past holidays. And all those high-carb, sugar-rich holiday treats temporarily boost levels of serotonin, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter, which makes us crave more.

Most of the time, you’re not really hungry for pecan pie or holiday ham. You’re craving a quick boost of feel-good brain chemicals to counter the effects of holiday emotions, or you’re starving for connection, peace, happiness, a fond memory of past experiences.

This season, if you’re hoping to maintain some control over holiday binging, look to the underlying cause — the emotions themselves. Approach this exploration with a gentle, inquisitive air, rather than another must-complete item to cross off your to-do list. Here’s how you might start:

1) Stay in touch with your feelings. Most of the time, we don’t have a clue what we’re feeling in any given moment. Make it a habit to check in two or three times a day; just before meals is the perfect chance to stay on top of your feelings, before they run your food choices.

2) Be in your body. Most of us walk around all day in a state of half-awareness, not really present in the room, on the earth, in our bodies. But if you’re not in your body, you have no way of knowing when it’s hungry or full. Get in the habit of checking in with your body, especially your belly, during the day. Where are your feet? How do your legs feel? Is your stomach tense, cold, empty, satisfied? Once you’ve practiced this for a while, it becomes automatic and makes it easier to choose foods based on what your body needs.

3) Examine your cravings. Binges and cravings are fraught with symbolism. The next time you find yourself in the throes of a craving, examine it. What is it about that food that you’re really longing for? If you like crunchy cookies when you’re stressed, is it the sweetness you’re craving, or the texture? Biting down on something hard and crunchy relieves tension in the jaw, and that loud, crunching sound as you chew may literally drown out the noise in your head. If you’re aching for warm eggnog, maybe the temperature and creamy texture is symbolic of what you need in your life: something warm, rich and soothing to fill up empty spaces.

4) Shift your focus. Imagine you’re alone in the house with a refrigerator full of holiday leftovers. Just before you plunge your hand into a box of chocolates, or your fork into an apple pie, quickly shift your attention. Take your focus to something outside of yourself. It may be visual: look out the window at the snow, the clouds moving across the sky, the blush of sunset. Or it may be auditory: the sound of your children playing in the living room, a favorite song. Focusing on sensory input calms the mind, gets you back in your body and helps you stay present. It’s also a fast, simple way to break the chain.

5) Be happy now. We think that once we get thin, or lower our blood pressure, or give up sugar once and for all, we’ll be happy. Most of the time, though, it’s the opposite: once you get happy, you’ll have a better chance of achieving your goals. A few years ago, a study found that happiness may breed success, rather than the other way around. The researchers suggested that happy people were more likely to seek out opportunities that would ensure their success. I believe happy people are more likely to stick to a way of eating that works for them, and less likely to eat from stress, depression or anxiety.

At any rate, there’s no point in delaying happiness, or loving your body and yourself, while you wait to achieve some possibly far-off goal. It’s all a process, and it may be a life-long one. Enjoy your holidays — and your life — in the meantime.

What we want from food.

What we want from food.

I spent last Thanksgiving in the Santa Fe State Penitentiary. It’s not what you think; I left after a couple of hours, having gone there as an invited speaker to lead a talk. Our topic: what makes us feel nourished. And though I expected the answers to be vastly different, they were heartwarmingly similar. Family. Love. Rest. Nature. And, not surprisingly, food.

What is it that makes most of us feel nourished, and what exactly does it mean to be nourished–truly, deeply nourished? For me (not surprisingly) as it is for many of us, the answer is food. It’s quick, easy, darn cheap compared to other pleasures, and can be had at all hours of the day or night.

Of course, we want nutrition from food: we expect it  to make us lose weight, lower our cholesterol, increase our energy, make us live longer, and generally render us infallible, if we can just arrange the appropriate line-up of vitamins, minerals, omega-3s and healthy fats. But we also turn to food for solace, comfort and joy, for company when we’re lonely, for peace when we’re feeling put upon, to make us feel whole, complete and nourished.

How does nourishment differ from nutrition? Not long ago, I had an illness that resulted in, among other things, an inability for me to chew and swallow. Needless to say, this greatly interfered with my ability to eat. Suddenly, my once-fertile culinary landscape–rich with fragrant sauces, tangy dressings, robust spices and interesting textures–was barren. I couldn’t eat harissa, coarse sea salt, pomegranate molasses, chipotle peppers, crisp lettuce. All I could eat were bland, lukewarm soups, pureed into a drinkable gruel. I made as many variations on these as I could; because I was sick, I often ate them alone. Brimming with sometimes a dozen different organic vegetables, legumes and nut oils, they were the gold standard for a nutritious meal. But I didn’t feel nourished.

The difference between nutrition and nourishment is easy to see. The difference between the soul’s need for nourishment and the mind’s desire for distraction can be trickier. When we turn to food for  comfort, indulgence, solace, company or peace, we’re not really seeking nourishment. The mind is looking for a quick fix, a way to get out of itself. It’s using food as a fix, a fast-acting, cheap and painless drug. We dig into a pint of ice cream while we’re standing in front of the freezer. That’s not nutritious, and it’s certainly not nourishing. It’s the “get me out of here!” reaction of the ego’s fear of discomfort. This concept is at the heart of understanding cravings: if a desire for a certain kind of food feels obsessive, desperate, intense, or as if immediate action is required, that’s usually the mind’s desire, not the body’s or the soul’s need. The whims of the mind can be distracted with immediate, enjoyable but simple tasks: a telephone call, a crossword puzzle, an interesting book, a funny movie. The body’s needs and the soul’s desires are not so easily avoided.

A long time ago, I cooked for groups of people in a spiritual environment, we in the kitchen came to cook after meditating, in a tranquil state of mind. We moved slowly and spoke in calm, happy voices, occasionally punctuating the air with laughter. We learned to sing beautiful chants as we chopped onions and stirred beans. The great peace and calm in the kitchen, the sweetness of the atmosphere, the melodic, rhythmic sounds of devotional chants—all conspired to render a meal as simple as dahl and rice a gourmet masterpiece. This sense of reverence for the practice of nourishing our bodies extended to how we ate the food. We paused before eating. We ate first with our eyes, taking in the colors and textures of the food. As we ate, we chewed slowly, breathed deeply, paused often to notice how the food was feeling in our bodies.

I’d like to say these practices are so automatic to me now, they’re almost second nature. It’s not true.  I still fall into bad habits—especially eating  at the computer, or when I’m stressed. When that happens, I may feel full, and righteous about my nutritional choices, but I usually don’t feel nourished. Incorporating mindfulness and discerning between nutrition, distraction and deep nourishment is a lifelong practice that, like any practice, requires patience, determination and, ultimately, compassion and forgiveness.

Don’t Let Shame Be Your Dinner Date

Don’t Let Shame Be Your Dinner Date

What brings you pleasure? Real pleasure, so rich and deep that even thinking about it creates a visceral response? Right now, see if you can list a dozen things that bring you shivers of excitement or delight, elicit little mmmmms of satisfaction or make your lights burn a little brighter.

Your sources of pleasure may be as mundane as getting a manicure, as spectacular as skydiving. But more likely than not, food is somewhere on your list. Nothing wrong with that… until there is. When food becomes the primary — or sole — source of pleasure, that’s when problems arise. Food as a source of pleasure is natural; it tastes good. It’s comforting and reliable. Compared to other sources of pleasure, it’s cheap, fast, easy and legal. And like some other pleasures, it’s addictive, shame-provoking and harmful when taken to extremes.

Food was our first pleasure. When we were babies, we cried for food; it filled our tiny bellies. It gave us comfort in other ways — we associated being fed with being embraced, with the sensuous delight of being cradled in loving arms, held close, cared for.

As toddlers and preschoolers, we were praised for eating; we were good little boys and girls for finishing our peas. We got cupcakes when our plates were cleaned. When we skinned our knees or banged our heads, we were soothed with cookies and kisses. The link between food, physical comfort and love became ever more inextricably intertwined.

Then, as we moved toward puberty, the tables turned — especially for girls. Suddenly, eating mounds of food wasn’t good after all. Suddenly, we were encouraged to minimize and restrict intake. “Don’t eat so much, or you’ll get fat,” we were cautioned by peers, mothers, fashion magazines. Being “good” no longer meant cleaning our plates. It meant restricting food in a way that was perceived to encourage slimness. We were taught to make self-denial more important than pleasure. That message was reinforced through our adult years. So, for many of us, the simple act of eating has become a torturous, tangled web of love, comfort, guilt, shame and fear.

If food is one of your great pleasures, then celebrate it, in all its lush, robust glory. Start like this:

Make it beautiful. Whatever you’re going to eat, bring an element of beauty, grace and dignity to the experience. Set the table with utensils and napkins, maybe flowers or candles, too. Arrange your meal on a plate in whatever way you find most visually appealing. There’s nothing elegant or dignified about standing in front of an open refrigerator, furtively spooning chocolate chip ice cream from the carton and into your mouth. If you’re going to eat ice cream, serve it in small, lovely dishes (or anything besides the carton). Sit down at the table and really eat your ice cream.

Savor it. The last time you had a massage, did you rush the therapist, urging him or her to go faster, to just get it over with? Probably not. The same goes for any pleasurable experience, be it a trip to Provence or a memorable erotic encounter — you don’t want the experience to end, and the last thing on your mind is rushing. But that’s often what it looks like when we use food for pleasure: we eat hurriedly, even frantically, as if we’re racing to get it over with. The next time you decide to eat for pleasure, savor the moment: Maintain a leisurely approach, chew slowly, taste each flavor, enjoy the textures. Be exquisitely conscious of the entire experience.

Really get into it. We’re afraid if we really get into food, the pleasure will be so overwhelming that we’ll never stop eating. But some studies suggest that women who get less pleasure from eating actually eat more. In one study, as women overate and gained weight, they subsequently derived less pleasure from eating — but they still continued to eat more. They were chasing that first high they got from food. Conversely, women who are really into food — who find robust pleasure in a well-designed meal — actually eat less. It’s as if they’re so acutely aware of the experience, their senses are sated long before their physical hunger is.

Release the shame. In my experience, most women would rather talk about their sex lives than their food lives; they feel guilty about the hidden chocolate bars, the binges, the bags of chips and boxes of cookies furtively consumed in a shame-filled spree. Even a shocking number of “normal” eaters are bound up by guilt, fear and shame; we know too much about food — the sugar, trans fats and pesticides. It’s hard to be fully receptive to pleasure when a big hunk of your brain is screeching “Dear God, have you gone mad? What are you thinking, eating that?!” Or the low, menacing whisper that says “You are so bad. I am ashamed of you for eating that.” If you choose to eat a food you love — food that brings you pleasure — eat it slowly and mindfully, bring an element of beauty and grace to the experience. Tell the voices that they’re not invited to the party.

Find other pleasures. It’s okay to love food — to find joy in eating — but keep it in perspective. For all its sensory pleasures, food is ultimately fuel, not entertainment. While it can (and should) delight the palate and stimulate the senses, it’s no substitute for human touch, goals reached, adventures had and love fallen into. But it does make a pleasant way to power yourself through such endeavors.

 

Oil Change: the essential guide to cooking oils

Oil Change: the essential guide to cooking oils

From sauces to stir-fries, healthy cooking oils are essential ingredients. But overheating these staples can be hazardous. When an oil reaches the temperature at which it begins240_F_13720078_hmP9qxKvBnVZmz1JWQXaqNFcaAfwZ4R7 to smoke, it becomes damaged at a molecular level. In addition to compromising the taste of your food, those damaged molecules also create free radicals in the body that are potentially carcinogenic, given enough time and exposure.

That scary proposition has many health-conscious home cooks relying on high-heat canola oil alone. But any foodie worth his or her salt will say sautéing vegetables in olive oil or using sesame oil for a stir-fry adds a not-to-be-missed flavor complexity.

Can you get good flavor without getting burned? Yes! Use this guide to find the right varieties for all your cooking needs.

Almond Oil
Smoke point: 420°F
The scoop: This high-heat nut oil has a mild flavor and a pale-yellow color. Unrefined varieties have sweeter, nuttier undertones; look for “cold-pressed” on the label. Almond oil is high in heart-healthful monounsaturated fats and vitamin E.
Best uses: Sautéing, roasting, stir-frying, and baking. Use the unrefined variety for salad dressings, and drizzling over finished dishes.

Avocado Oil
Smoke point: 520°F
The scoop: Emerald-green avocado oil has the highest smoke point of any plant oil. It adds a full texture and flavor without leaving foods greasy. Unrefined varieties have a buttery, grassy taste with mushroom undertones. Avoca240_F_11299731_bsLUlRFfXg3HzdemrY9vNJ2r8d7iLtTmdo oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which can lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels while raising beneficial HDL levels. It also contains vitamin E.
Best uses: Sautéing, roasting, frying, stir-frying, and baking. Unrefined avocado oil adds a luxurious touch to salad dressings and soups, or use it as a dip for bread.

Canola Oil
Smoke point: 400°F
The scoop: Though it’s considered a good source of heart-healthful monounsaturated fats and alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, canola is still the most controversial of all oils. Developed from the rapeseed plant, a variety of mustard, canola oil has been blamed for everything from glaucoma to Mad Cow disease, though research has failed to substantiate those claims. It’s neutral in flavor, color and aroma; has a high smoke point; and is good for frying. If you do use canola oil, only buy organic varieties to avoid GMOs.
Best uses: Roasting, broiling, baking, sautéing, and stir-frying, or as the base for mayonnaise or salad dressings.

Coconut Oil
Smoke point: 350°F
The scoop: Extracted from the fat-rich flesh of the coconut, this oil has a creamy texture and buttery flavor with caramel undertones. Unrefined varieties have a pronounced coconut taste and aroma; refined versions are more neutral. Though it’s mostly saturated fat (11.8 grams per tablespoon, compared to 1 to 2 grams for most other plant oils), coconut oil may reduce total and LDL cholesterol, while raising beneficial HDL. It’s also high in lauric acid, a compound that has antimicrobial properties. Because many mass-market brands are bleached, deodorized, and chemically extracted during the refining process, look for “expeller-pressed” on the label.
Best uses: Light sautéing, low-temperature stir-frying, and baking. Unrefined coconut oil adds a distinctive Thai or Asian flavor to baked goods. Or use it in smoothies, cookies, and sauces, or mixed with olive oil for a spread.

Grapeseed Oil
Smoke point: 390°F
The scoop: Extracted from the seeds of grapes, usually those used for making wine, this deep green oil has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point, making it a favorite among cooks. Two caveats: grapeseed oil has more omega-6 fats than any other oil. Research suggests that too much omega-6 relative to omega-3 fat promotes inflammation in the body, so use grapeseed oil in moderation. In addition, many grapeseed oils are chemically extracted using solvents such as hexane, so look for expeller-pressed versions, which are free of solvent residues.
Best uses: Roasting, broiling, sautéing, and stir-frying; making homemade mayonnaise; or blending with stronger-flavored oils such as walnut or toasted sesame to soften their flavors.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Smoke point: 320°F
The scoop: With its robust flavor, health benefits, and moderate smoke point, olive oil is a necessity in every kitchen. Extra virgin, from the first pressing, is the highest quality, and has grassy, herbal undertones and a green-gold hue. High in monounsaturated fats and antioxidant polyphenols, it may help protect against cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and inflammation. Because extra virgin olive oil may be adulterated with other oils, choose organic versions.
Best uses: Use extra virgin varieties for dressing salads, dipping bread, drizzling over finished dishes, or marinating kale and other raw vegetables. Pure olive oil— is a blend of refined and virgin olive oils—has a smoke point of 420°F and is best for roasting, broiling, sautéing, and stir-frying.

Sesame Oil
Smoke point: 410°F
The scoop: Distinctly flavored sesame oil adds instant Asian flair to recipes. There are two main types: golden sesame oil, which is pressed from raw sesame seeds; and toasted sesame oil, which is pressed from toasted seeds and has a dark brown color and powerfully nutty flavor. For best quality, choose unrefined cold-pressed sesame oils, and look for those from quality sources.
Best uses: Refined sesame oil works well for roasting, broiling, sautéing, and high-heat stir-frying. Unrefined sesame oil is best for light sautéing, low-heat stir-frying, drizzling over vegetables, adding to cooked brown rice, or in Asian-inspired sauces and dressings. When it comes to toasted sesame oil, a little goes a long way; the flavor is intense, so use sparingly.

Oil Basics
Certain rules apply to all oils. Follow these guidelines for buying and storing.

Refined versus unrefined Refined oils, which are free of tiny impurities that can burn and lower the smoke point, are best for higher-heat cooking. Unrefined oils have a fuller flavor and aroma, but a lower smoke point; reserve them for salad dressings, low-heat sauces, or drizzling over finished dishes.

Packaging Glass bottles help you avoid toxins that may leach into oils from plastic bottles. Dark glass is best; exposure to light can damage oils and destroy antioxidants. Buy smaller bottles, so you’ll use the oil while it’s fresh.

Extraction Most conventional oils are extracted with chemical solvents or high heat; expeller-pressed oils are mechanically extracted. Cold-pressing, a method of expeller pressing that keeps temperatures low during extraction, is best at avoiding damage to the subtle flavors of nut and finishing oils.

Storage To further protect oils from light damage, store them in a cool, dark cupboard away from the stove. To further extend an oil’s shelf life, store it in the refrigerator.

Eat to Beat the Blues

Eat to Beat the Blues

It’s so widespread that doctors and researchers have dubbed depression “The common cold of mental illness.”  In spite of its frequent manifestation, few good treatments have emerged. Now, researchers are finding that the right balance of nutrients, combined with lifestyle changes can effectively treat depression, often better than drugs.

“The brain is, essentially, a chemical factory that constantly produces neurotransmitters–brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinepherine and endorphins that pass messages between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain,” says William Walsh, Ph.D., a leading brain researcher and president of Walsh Research Institute. “The raw materials for these neurotransmitters are in the foods we eat. B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients have powerful effects on brain chemistry, and can often right imbalances that cause mood disorders such as depression. In fact, says Walsh, nutrient the240_F_66273034_X12IYPcNN6zPAecuWIVqqebHTTXgTFkqrapy may well be the best treatment for depression.

Nutrients, like antidepressant medications, work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain—chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinepherine, and endorphins that send messages between nerve cells, called neurons. In order for neurotransmitters to form, the brain needs nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. If the brain has a shortage of these nutrients, an abnormal number of neurotransmitters can result. For example, vitamin B6 plays a major role in the production of serotonin, which regulates anger, aggression, mood, and metabolism. If vitamin B6 is lacking in your diet, odds are you’ll also be deficient in serotonin.

A multivitamin may not do the trick. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science, says food is often more effective than supplements when it comes to brain health. “In most cases, a balanced and varied diet is the best way to influence brain chemistry,” says Gomez-Pinilla. When good-for-the-brain nutrients are consumed in whole-food form, they work optimally because they’re accompanied by other nutrients and compounds that help the body absorb them better, enhancing their effects.

Even better? If you get these brain-healthy nutrients from food, you’re less likely to exceed safe limits, which is not always the case when taking supplements. For example, overly high doses of folate in supplement form may have secondary effects like causing cardiovascular problems and increasing the risk of colon and breast cancer, says Gomez-Pinilla.

If you suffer from occasional bouts with the blues, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and regular exercise, which further stimulate the brain to produce mood-enhancing neurotransmitters. It’s also important to eat a balanced and varied diet that includes foods packed with these mood-boosting nutrients:

Amino acids help the body produce neurotransmitters that affect your mood. For example, the body uses the amino acid L-tryptophan to make serotonin, and the amino acid L-tyrosine to make norepinephrine. Both are neurotransmitters that positively affect your mood. Find amino acids in: Turkey, cheese, chicken, fish, beans, almonds, avocados, bananas, and pumpkin seeds.

Vitamin B6. The body needs B6 to convert the amino acids mentioned above into neurotransmitters. If it lacks this vitamin, this conversion process will falter, and mood- elevating serotonin levels are likely to drop. Find vitamin B6 in: Beef, tuna, chickpeas, bananas, turkey, and prunes.

Vitamin B12. Another essential vitamin, B12 also plays a role in converting amino acids to those all- important brain neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine. Vitamin B12 helps the body make SAM-e as well, a compound that’s involved in optimal neurotransmitter production and function. Some studies suggest that low levels of SAM-e can lead to symptoms of depression. Find vitamin B12 in: Clams, oysters, chicken, crab, salmon, turkey, tuna, milk, and eggs.

Folate. An important nutrient, especially for women of childbearing age because of its role in neural tube development in the fetus, folate may be a major factor in forming SAM-e and the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine as well. Research shows that people who suffer from depression almost always have low levels of folate, which causes symptoms of anxiety and in severe cases, schizophrenic behavior. Find folate in: Turkey, lentils, pinto beans, chickpeas, spinach, black beans, asparagus, collards, and turnip greens.

Magnesium. Crucial for the synthesis of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, magnesium is usually lacking in those with depression. In fact, one study reported “rapid recovery from major depression” after treatment with magnesium, and found that magnesium helped relieve the anxiety and insomnia often associated with depression.Find magnesium in: oat bran, halibut, spinach, barley, pumpkinseeds, beans, and artichokes.

Zinc. The brain requires zinc to produce GABA, a compound that eases anxiety and irritability —which often increase in conjunction with depression, says Walsh. A high level of anxiety can exacerbate depression, manifesting in a condition known as anxious depression. Find zinc in: oysters, crab, turkey, lentils, barley, yogurt, and pumpkinseeds.

Vitamin E. This powerful antioxidant keeps nerve cell membranes flexible, says Gomez-Pinella, which allows neurotransmitters to travel between cells seamlessly. If the membrane becomes rigid, signals “bounce off” the exterior of the cell, disrupting the transfer of information. Find vitamin E in: sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, tomato sauce, turnip greens, hazelnuts, and sweet potatoes.

Omega-3 fats. Like vitamin E, these heart-healthy fats keep nerve cell membranes flexible, says Gomez- Pinilla. Omega-3s also boost oxygen levels in the blood. The extra oxygen increases the body’s ability to convert amino acids into neurotransmitters. Studies show that a deficiency in DHA, a form of omega-3 fat, impedes the transmission of the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.Find omega-3 fats in: salmon, sardines, tuna, walnuts, and flaxseeds.

Brain Drains: What to avoid when you’re battling the blues

Diet cola. Aspartame, the chemical sweetener used in diet sodas and other sugar-free foods and beverages, is an excitotoxin: a compound that decreases the efficiency of neurotransmitters in the brain, hampering their ability to transmit information.

Coffee. Overdoing it on the java—more than four or five cups a day—can increase symptoms of depression for some people by blocking serotonin. Try cutting back to no more than a cup in the morning, and see if symptoms improve in a couple of weeks.

Sweets. Just like caffeine, sugar has a powerful effect on neurotransmitter production and brain function. Simple sugars and carbs cause a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels, creating mood swings, fatigue, and grogginess. Blood sugar imbalances also deplete vitamin B, which can worsen a bad mood. Keep blood sugar steady by eating four or five smaller, protein-based meals throughout the day, and avoid refined sweeteners (including honey and “natural” sweeteners) and simple carbs like bread, pasta, and cereals.

Alcohol. More than two alcoholic beverages a day can worsen symptoms of depression. First, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and can slow neurotransmitters. Secondly, alcohol disrupts the REM stage of sleep, which is necessary for serotonin production.

Simply Sad—or Depressed?

We’ve all been blue from time to time, usually in response to stressful or traumatic life situations. A painful divorce, a scary medical diagnosis, or the loss of a job can trigger lack of appetite, insomnia, and a feeling of deep sadness—all symptoms of “minor depression,” a transient and time-limited condition. But if your blues last longer than a few weeks, or if they occur outside the context of a major life change, you may have what’s known as “major depressive disorder,” or MDD. Signs of MDD include sad, anxious, or empty feelings; feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness; insomnia; changes in appetite; loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities; and, at the extreme, thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.

If your sadness seems like more than transient moodiness, or if it’s accompanied by severe changes in sleep, appetite, or behaviors that interfere with your life, contact a health care professional. And if you have any thoughts of suicide, seek immediate medical help. Call the National Suicide Hotlines at 800.784.2433 or 800.273.8255 if you’re in crisis; they can get you the help you need.

Forever Young: the anti-aging diet

Forever Young: the anti-aging diet

You can’t avoid getting older, but the foods you eat play a crucial role in keeping your body healthy and your brain functioning well into your senior years. Researchers and anti-aging experts agree that eating an abundance of antioxidants, monounsaturated fats, and omega-3 fats can help you stay strong, healthy, and looking fabulous through the years. Start with the following 10 foods, all rich in these key nutrients. They’re easy to incorporate into your diet, and they all taste good, too.

1. Berries are packed with polyphenols, antioxidants that we know guard against age-related changes in the brain. Polyphenols work in two major ways. First, they donate an electron to harmful free radicals in the brain, which neutralize240_F_88743776_DB4xQoiHZoQ6yzv0LNQcssLExIrzzJv3s the free radicals and keeps them from causing damage to the brain cell membranes. Second, polyphenols block the body’s production of compounds that cause inflammation, which encourages the formation of amyloid plaques that damage the brain by killing neurons. Cherries, cranberries, and prunes also contain an abundance of these protective polyphenol compounds. 
How much to eat: At least half a cup a day. Try to consume a variety of berries throughout the week, because the body absorbs and uses each of them in slightly different ways.

2. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale contain a chemical compound called diindolylmethane (DIM), which, studies show, protects women against age-related hormonal changes. As we age, the body’s ability to metabolize estrogen tends to decline. DIM helps the body metabolize estrogen into a safer, more usable form, so it becomes protective against breast cancer and cancers of the reproductive organs. Crucifers are also rich in indole-3-carbinol, a potent cancer-preventive nutrient. Research shows that it slows the ability of cancer cells to grow and multiply, and helps keep pre-cancerous cells from developing further. Other cruciferous veggies include cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and mustard greens.
How much to eat: 1 cup, at least four times a week.

3. Garlic contains a compound called allicin that helps protect the heart in several important ways. Garlic helps lower blood cholesterol, and slows down the development of atherosclerosis and hardening of the arteries by decreasing the thickness of blood. Studies have also shown garlic may help lower blood pressure. Thinner blood and lower blood pressure allow the blood to flow more freely through arteries, making it less likely to cause the tiny tears and other artery damage that eventually results in decreased blood flow to the heart. How much to eat: One raw clove a day, if you can stomach it. Otherwise, toss a clove into cooked food three or four times a week.

4. Turmeric, used mostly in curry powder and Indian cuisine, may benefit the immune system. Animal studies suggest that turmeric may help prevent autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. When the immune system is overstimulated, it’s more likely to turn on itself, attacking and damaging its own tissues, which is the case in arthritis. Studies also suggest that curcumin may strengthen the immune system. This not only protects against arthritis, but it helps us fight off infection—especially important as we age and our immune system functions less efficiently. How much to eat: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of turmeric, three to four times a week.

5. Beans pack an anti-aging punch because they’re loaded with lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that protects against breast cancer in post-menopausal women. In one new study, women who ate a diet high in lignans had a 17 percent reduction in breast cancer risk. Lignans help protect the body from xenoestrogens, toxins from hormones in meat and dairy, plastics, and other environmental compounds that mimic natural estrogens. These wreak havoc on the endocrine system and can increase the risk of hormonal cancers. Lignans also help protect against a variety of other cancers, including colon cancer. Additional sources: flax seed and lentils.
How much to eat: Half a cup of beans, two or three times a week. (The more variety you have, the better.)

6. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a relatively hard-to-get antioxidant that protects against cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol. A recent study found that eating tomato paste significantly lowers harmful LDL levels and increases protective HDL levels.. The lycopene in tomatoes also reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke by preventing platelets from clotting in much the same way aspirin does—without the side effects. Other studies show that tomatoes reduce the risk of prostate and breast cancer, and protect against skin damage from the sun. Research shows that eating tomato paste or tomatoes cooked with olive oil offers the most benefit, because processing and cooking break down the tomato’s cell matrix and make the lycopene more available. Furthermore, eating tomatoes with olive oil increases our absorption of fat-soluble lycopene.
How much to eat: Aim for half a cup of cooked tomatoes daily or at least twice per week.

7. Spinach contains carotenoids, plant pigments that have powerful antioxidant effects. One of these carotenoids, lutein, is especially helpful in protecting the eyes from macular degeneration. Researchers think it works by donating an electron to harmful free radicals in the lens of the eye, which prevents them from causing damage. In a similar way, carotenoids also neutralize free radicals in the skin, which slows down the aging process—and the appearance of wrinkles. Other dark green, leafy vegetables like kale, chard, and collards also contain lots of carotenoids, as do orange-red fruits and vegetables like carrots, pumpkin, and red bell peppers.
How much to eat: A cup of spinach, three times a week.

8. Green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC), another potent polyphenol antioxidant that helps prevent the formation and growth of tumors and encourages apoptosis, or death, in cancer cells. Over time, free radical damage can cause the body’s cells to lose their ability to regulate growth and division; the result is cancer. ECGC works by binding to free radicals, which keeps them from damaging cells’ DNA. A recent study found that green tea also protects against sun-related skin cancer by reducing DNA damage caused by UVB rays. Another remarkable finding is the power of EGCG to reactivate dying skin cells, a finding that may benefit skin diseases such as psoriasis, ulcers, rosacea, wounds—and, yes, even wrinkles. Drink your green tea caffeinated, says Pratt; the decaffeination process removes about 50 percent of the protective antioxidants along with the caffeine, which studies have shown may also protect against sun-related skin damage and skin cancers. How much to drink: One or two cups a day should suffice, but if you can tolerate the caffeine, drink as many as four to six cups a day.

9. Salmon has a potent anti-inflammatory effect in the body, thanks to its high omega-3 content. Growing and widely accepted evidence shows that persistent, low-grade inflammation plays a role in age-related disease, from cardiovascular disease and cancer to Alzheimer’s. Chronic inflammation leads to tissue damage and, eventually, to cell death. Studies also suggest that omega-3 fats may help prevent mood disorders and depression—conditions that increase in likelihood as we age. One study of older Americans found a link between lower levels of omega-3 fats and a higher risk of depression. Whenever possible, opt for wild Alaskan salmon, which may be even more beneficial than farmed salmon.
 How much to eat: 3 ounces of wild salmon, three to five times a week.

10. Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, one of the few fats that may lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol levels. Studies show that monounsaturated fats are especially effective at preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, an important factor in cardiovascular disease; when LDL cholesterol oxidizes, it’s more likely to form plaque in the walls of the arteries. Monounsaturated fats also keep skin cells supple, glowing, and wrinkle-free. Hydroxytyrosol is an antioxidant compound that can actually slow the aging process in the skin by stabilizing the cell plasma membrane, which lines the cells’ walls. Other foods high in monounsaturated fats: avocados, almonds, and most other nuts.
 How much to eat: 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil a day, or a handful of olives.

Six Simple Foods to Support Your Body

Six Simple Foods to Support Your Body

You can nibble on goji berries, whip up noni juice smoothies and stock your shelves with antioxidants. But if you’re looking for what really works for optimal health and disease prevention, the best approach is to focus on foods that are rich in disease-fighting phytochemicals.

Basic foods that have proven health benefits: that’s what you want to emphasize. Less-than-exotic offerings, like blueberries, broccoli and tomatoes, have been shown in dozens of peer-reviewed published studies to protect against cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. And unlike fancy fruits and vegetables, they’re readily available, inexpensive and have other benefits, like a wicked high fiber content. And they’ve been used for thousands of years, with no drawbacks, side effects or toxicity.

None of the foods on this top six list will surprise you–but they may inspire you and help you feel good about the food you eat.

1. Broccoli240_F_59162097_4yQfgo2YTmBhGw9nLV5hubbcm5CnQoHL

It’s still true: few foods measure up to broccoli for cancer- fighting potential. Broccoli is rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant linked with a reduced risk of a number of cancers, especially lung, stomach, colon and rectal cancers. The phytonutrients in broccoli help detoxify carcinogens found in the environment. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, and we know that an important factor in reducing the risk of disease is to decrease inflammation. How to eat more: Saute broccoli florets with shallots and pine nuts, and drizzle with lemon juice; steam broccoli rabe and toss with a honey-mustard dressing.

2. Pumpkin

It’s not just for pie: pumpkin is one of the best sources of carotenoids, antioxidants that reduce the risk of cancer. Like sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash and other orange-red vegetables, pumpkin is rich in disease-preventive beta-carotene. And pumpkin is also one of the highest sources of alpha-carotene, a powerful member of the carotenoid family that’s inversely related to cataract formation and boosts immunity. How to eat more: Serve warm pumpkin puree with maple syrup and finely chopped pecans; make a simple pumpkin soup with pumpkin puree, vegetable or chicken stock, onions, black beans, cumin and cilantro.

3. Blueberries

Fragrant and sweet, blueberries are rich inanthocyanins, compounds that help protect the heart, and may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Studies suggest the blueberry anthocyanins protect against neurodegenerati240_F_110170233_2lQpHE7iIYNI0MTxlERwVQnDVqNu3Kevve diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and can slow and even reverse age-related memory loss and decline in cognitive function. How to eat more: loss fresh blueberries with baby spinach leaves, chopped walnuts, thinly sliced red onions and olive oil; combine chopped blueberries, diced mango, minced jalapeno peppers and cilantro with lime juice for a tangy salsa.

4. Fish

It’s a great catch in terms of heart disease. Salmon and other fatty fish-like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines and tuna- are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke, and may cut your risk of death from coronary artery disease in half. Omega-3 fats also have immune-enhancing and anti-inflammatory effects, reduce the risk of prostate and colon cancers, and ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and some psychiatric disorders. How to eat more: Top braised spinach with poached salmon, chopped tomatoes and black olives; combine chopped, cooked salmon with capers, minced onion, lemon juice and olive oil, and serve on crackers.

5. Spinach

Boost your vision and protect against cancer with spinach, one of iln- richest dietary sources of an antioxidant called lutein. Lutein helps protect against heart disease and some cancers, and has been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Spinach is also rich in beta-carotene, which may protect against cancer. Other lutein-rich foods include kale, collard greens, chard and beet greens. How to eat more: Saute baby spinach, diced tomatoes, minced garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil; toss steamed spinach with tamari, toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds.

6. Tomatoes

Another reason to eat pizza: tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces the risk of prostate, breast, lung and other cancers, and has heart-protective effects. Research shows the absorption of lycopene is greatest when tomatoes are cooked with olive oil. In one study, a combination of tomato and broccoli was more effective at slowing tumor growth than tomatoes or broccoli alone. How to eat more: Simmer chopped tomatoes and broccoli in olive oil, top with black olives and grated Asiago cheese; drizzle halved Roma tomatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with pepper and minced rosemary leaves, and roast.