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True Grit: Five easy fiber sources

True Grit: Five easy fiber sources

You know fiber’s important, but you may not be getting enough. In fact, most Americans get only 4 to 11 grams of fiber a day—a fraction of the recommended 25 to 38 grams.

Part of the problem is, we still eat too many processed foods. That means most people aren’t getting enough fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and legumes. And that can set the stage for serious disease.

Dozens of studies have linked both soluble and insoluble fiber intake with decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Soluble fiber, found primarily in oats, oat bran, beans, peas, barley, apples and psyllium, helps lower cholesterol and glucose levels. Insoluble fiber, found mainly in whole grains, nuts and vegetables, provides intestinal bulk to prevent constipation; it may also help lower the risk of colon cancer, though study results have been mixed.  And both types of fiber help manage weight; they take longer to chew, they slow stomach emptying, and they’re generally more satisfying than low-fiber foods.

If your fiber intake is less than optimal, adding more is easier than you may think. Don’t rely on grains for fiber; most vegetables, fruits and legumes have far more fiber per calorie than grains. A cup of raspberries, for example, has the same fiber count as four slices of whole-wheat bread, and a cup of winter squash will net you twice the fiber as a cup of brown rice.

Ready to boost your fiber intake? Try these five flavorful sources, with easy ways to add more to your diet.

Raspberries. One cup of raspberries has 9 grams of fiber, the highest per-serving count of any fruit, and only 64 calories. Most of the fiber in raspberries is insoluble; blackberries and other berries have similar fiber profiles. Easy ways to eat more: Combine frozen raspberries with organic Greek yogurt and a few spoonfuls of honey, then top with chopped toasted almonds and shredded coconut for a creamy dessert; toss a cup of blackberries with bagged, pre-washed spinach and chunks of avocado, and drizzle with a dressing made of pureed blackberries, grapefruit juice and olive oil; combine mixed berries in a baking dish, scatter with a mixture of oats, chopped nuts and brown sugar, and bake until bubbly.

Navy beans. At 19 grams of fiber per one-cup serving, most of it soluble, beans top the list of powerful fiber boosters. Brown lentils, pinto beans and garbanzo beans have similar fiber and calorie counts (about 225 per cup). Easy ways to eat more: spread mashed, canned pinto beans on whole-grain tortillas, top with salsa, minced scallions, chopped black olives and crumbled feta cheese, and broil until warm; combine cooked lentils with finely chopped kale, crumbled goat feta, minced mint leaves and quartered cherry tomatoes, and dress with olive oil; combine garbanzo beans with minced dried apricots, slivered almonds and quinoa, for a Moroccan-inspired side.

Broccoli. A cup of broccoli has 6 grams of fiber, in equal proportions of soluble and insoluble, with only 52 calories; you’ll find a similar fiber lineup in Brussels sprouts, asparagus and kale. Easy ways to eat more: saute broccoli florets, minced garlic, Kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes in olive oil, and serve over whole-grain orzo; stir-fry broccoli spears and red pepper strips with mirin, ginger and low-sodium tamari, and serve with udon noodles and chopped cashews; cook frozen broccoli, onions and garlic in vegetable or chicken stock, puree until creamy, and top with shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Acorn squash. Half a medium acorn squash contains 9 grams of fiber, in equal proportions of soluble and insoluble, and only 110 calories; other varieties of winter squash have similar fiber profiles. Easy ways to eat more: halve an acorn squash, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary, and roast until tender; toss cubes of cooked butternut squash with toasted walnuts, cinnamon and honey; bake halved winter squash, then scoop out flesh, puree with coconut milk and season with curry for a fast, fragrant soup.

Artichokes. At 10 grams of fiber, with only 64 calories, artichokes have the highest per-calorie fiber count of any vegetable, most of it soluble. Easy ways to eat more: cut stems and tops from whole artichokes, arrange in a crock pot, add a inch of white wine and several crushed garlic cloves, and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours; quarter baby artichokes, brush them liberally with olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and minced thyme, and grill them until they’re tender; add artichoke hearts, chopped kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes to whole-grain penne pasta.

Good enough to eat: natural skin care

Good enough to eat: natural skin care

You’ll find lots of natural skin and body care products with botanical ingredients and earthy-looking packages. But what do the labels—“pure,” “natural,” “plant ingredients”—really mean?

In many cases, not much. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies cosmetics and personal care products, it does not require pre-market health or safety studies or testing. With the exception of a handful of prohibited ingredients, manufacturers may use almost any raw material in product formulations, without FDA approval. As a result, personal care products may contain all kinds of scary chemicals (see a partial list below).

A better option: good-enough-to-eat cosmetics made with organic food ingredients. Whip up a batch of each, and refrigerate leftovers in glass jars for healthy (and less-pricey) skin care:

Grapefruit and rosemary body scrub. Add 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, 5 drops of grapefruit oil and 3 drops of rosemary oil to half a cup of sugar. In the shower, wet skin thoroughly, scrub gently, and rinse well.

Honey-oatmeal facial scrub. Combine 2 tablespoons yogurt, 2 tablespoons very finely ground oats (use a clean coffee grinder), and 1 tablespoon honey. Smooth mixture onto damp face, let it sit for 5 minutes, then gently scrub and rinse off.

Banana and macadamia nut mask. Mash 1 banana, then beat by hand until creamy and smooth. Beat in 1 tablespoon macadamia nut oil and 1 tablespoon honey. Smooth onto face and let sit for 10 minutes, then rinse well and pat skin dry. Gently pat on a few drops of macadamia nut oil to seal in moisture.

Coconut-lavender hand treatment. Add 10 drops lavender oil to 1/2 cup coconut oil and mix well. Slather onto hands before bed, slip on thin cotton gloves, and allow the moisturizing oils to penetrate all night.

Chocolate-mint lip balm. Gently melt 1/4 cup cocoa butter. Let cool, then stir in 1 tablespoon coconut oil, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, and 7 drops peppermint extract. Smooth onto chapped, dry lips to moisturize and protect, and store at room temperature for up to 2 months.

Vanilla-almond and rose body moisturizer. Melt 1/4 cup shaved beeswax, 1/3 cup coconut oil and 1/3 cup rosewater over low heat, let cool. Whisk in 1/3 cup almond oil, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup aloe vera gel. Beat until creamy, and slather on skin after bathing.

Rose geranium bath milk. Combine 1 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup rose water and 10 drops rose geranium oil. Add to warm water and luxuriate for 20 minutes. Gently pat skin dry, or use your hands to wipe excess water from your body, leaving skin slightly damp. Slather on vanilla-almond body moisturizer before dressing.

Sandlewood-patchouli bath salts. Add 10 drops sandalwood oil and 5 drops patchouli oil to 1/2 cup finely ground sea salt. Mix thoroughly with fingers until oil is evenly dispersed through salt. Stir in 1 cup Epsom salts and mix well to blend. Add 1/4 cup to bath water, swirl to mix, and soak for 15 minutes.

Avocado-carrot antioxidant hair mask. Mash 1 avocado. Beat in 1/2 cup carrot juice until creamy and smooth. Poke a hole into a vitamin E capsule and squeeze contents into mixture. Repeat with a vitamin A capsule. Apply to clean, damp hair. Pile hair onto top of head, wrap in a towel, and let sit for 15 minutes. Rinse hair well, then let air dry.

Scary chemicals in your personal care products:

• Phthalates, found in synthetic fragrances, are endocrine disruptors that have been linked with developmental and reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, and organ system toxicity. If a product’s ingredient list contains the word “fragrance” (rather than “pure essential oils”), that product probably contains phthalates.

• Propylene glycol, linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity, and skin and eye irritation, is often included in lotions, creams, cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, and antiperspirants. It may be listed as 1,2-dihydroxypropane; 2-hydroxypropanol; methylethyl glycol; 1,2-propanediol; or propane-1,2-diol.

• Parabens, used as preservatives in a wide variety of body care products, are linked to cancer, developmental toxicity, and reproductive damage. They may be listed as 4-hydroxybenzoic acid, benzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-; p-carboxyphenol; p-hydroxybenzoic acid; p-salicyclic acid; 4-hydroxy- benzoic acid; or parabens.

• Mineral oil is a petroleum derivative that has been linked to cancer, organ system toxicity, and immunotoxicity. It may be listed as deobase, heavy mineral oil, hydrocarbon oils, light mineral oil, liquid paraffin, liquid petrolatum, paraffin oil, paraffin oils, paraffinum liquidum, prolatum oil, white mineral oil, or petroleum.

• Sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate is used as a foaming or sudsing agent in soaps, shampoos, bubble baths, and body washes; it can cause organ system toxicity and irritation of the skin, eyes and hair. May be listed as PEG- (1-4) lauryl ether sulfate, sodium salt; polyethylene glycol (1-4) lauryl ether sulfate, sodium salt, and other names.

• Oxybenzone, widely used in sunscreens and other skin care products with SPF protection, is linked with endocrine disruption, reproductive damage, allergies, and cell damage. It may be listed as benzophenone-3, 2-benzoyl-5-methoxyphenol; 2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone; (2-hydroxy-4-methoxyphenyl) phenylmethanone; and other names. For safer sun protection, avoid oxybenzone and choose a product with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Supercharge Your Plate: 8 energy-boosters to eat every day

Supercharge Your Plate: 8 energy-boosters to eat every day

Feeling tired, rundown, or just generally blah—especially as the weather changes? This is the ideal time to revamp your diet and ward off winter sicknesses. You can revamp your regimen to include more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and fish. Or get there faster, with superfoods that help increase immunity, boost energy and generally improve health and well-being. Added to smoothies, stirred into yogurt, or sprinkled on cereal, these booster foods can take you from run down to charged up. Eight of the greatest:

Chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica, or chia plant, a member of the mint family. It’s native to Mexico and Guatemala, and legend says that the seeds were used by the Mayans as an energy supplement.  Chia seeds are highly concentrated sources of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid, and they’re rich  in fiber; one ounce of chia seed contains 10.7 grams of fiber, a third of the recommended daily amount. Chia seeds also contain more protein than any other seed, and fair amounts of calcium and iron. You’ll find them in whole and ground seed form. My favorites: Greens Plus Organic Chia Seeds, or Fun Fresh Foods Omega Chia Seed.

Flax seeds. Like chia seeds, flax seeds are high in ALA and fiber. Additionally, they contain lignans, phytoestrogens that help protect against breast, prostate, colon, and other cancers; enhance immune system functioning; and may prevent cardiovascular disease. Flax is available as whole seeds (grind them at home to boost digestion and increase availability of nutrients), ground seeds and oils. I like Barlean’s Highest Lignan Organic Flax Oil.

Fish oils. Sourced most commonly from cod and salmon, these powerful oils are rich in  DHA(docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), omega-3 fatty acids that protect heart and brain health, boost immunity, improve joint function, and reduce inflammation. They’re available in flavored liquids which can be added to smoothies for a powerful boost. Or look for softgels and individual squeeze packs, especially good for kids and traveling. And make sure the fish oil you select has been tested for heavy metals, dioxins and PCBs.

Inulin is a fiber-like substance found in dandelion, Jerusalem artichoke, wheat, asparagus, jicama, burdock, chicory and a number of other foods. It’s similar to other forms of soluble fiber, and studies show inulin lowers total and LDL cholesterol and reduces the risk of colon cancer. It’s also considered a prebiotic, since it promotes the growth of probiotics, especially bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, in the gut. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are one common type of inulin; it and other inulins are sold alone in powder form, to add to smoothies or green foods drinks. You’ll also find them in combination with other fibers as a fiber supplement, or combined with probiotics in powder or capsule form

Fiber. It’s crucial for health, but most people get about half of the recommended daily amount. Both forms of fiber—soluble and insoluble—are important, and each works differently. Soluble fiber absorbs water and transforms into a gel-like substance that binds with sugars, fats and cholesterol in the stomach and slows their absorption. Insoluble fiber doesn’t absorb water; it moves through the digestive largely intact, and provides bulk to increase bowel movements. A diet high in fiber reduces the risk of heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity and certain cancers;  slows the absorption of sugar to improve blood glucose; lowers cholesterol; and enhances bowel regularity. If your diet is lacking in fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes, adding supplemental fiber can recharge your health, fast. It’s available in flavored or plain powdered form to add to your morning juice, almond milk or soy milk; look for a blend that contains both soluble and insoluble fiber.

Superfruits and berry concentrates. Superfruits and berries have more antioxidant potential than any other category of food, with enormous healing potential. Goji berries boost immunity and increase mental acuity and well-being; acai berries are anti-inflammatory effects and may protect against breast and colon cancer; maqui berries are rich in disease-preventive anthocyanins; cranberries protect against oral cancer; and blueberries have cancer-preventive, heart-protective and anti-inflammatory effects, and can prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Look for them dried or in powders, juices and purees.

Green foods. Algae and cereal grasses are concentrated sources of nutrition that can protect against cancer and heart disease, boost immunity and treat such disorders as fibromyalgia and colitis. They’re rich in chlorophyll, antioxidants and many vitamins and minerals. These powerful compounds are generally divided into four basic categories: spirulina, chlorella, blue-green algae (Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, or AFA) and cereal grasses such as wheat grass and barley grass; the nutrient profiles are similar, but in general, algae are potent immune-system activators.  Green foods may also include dried and powdered kale, spinach or other greens. You’ll find all of these in powders that can be added to beverages or salad dressings, or combined with protein powders or berry concentrates.  My all-time favorite: True Vitality green foods products; I love the wheatgrass and matcha green tea powders, and they make a delicious vegan protein powder that’s fortified with greens.

Infection Protection: part 2

Infection Protection: part 2

We’re at the start of cold and flu season, and inside your body, a series of small battles is being waged. The army, your immune system, is made up of a number of key players, all dedicated to protecting you from foreign invaders. How to keep immunity healthy and balanced? In part one, we looked at what to eat and what to avoid. Here, in part two, we’ll look at what to take, and how to live.

What to take.

The studies on herbs and supplements are mixed, but a few contenders shine through. The best:

Ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic herb traditionally used as an adaptogen to combat stress and boost energy, may also enhance immune function by increasing production of certain key players.7 One recent study suggested that Ashwagandha may also help protect against colon cancer.8

Propolis, a sticky, glue-like substances produced by honeybees and used to construct their hives, is strongly anti-bacterial actions. In one study, propolis was more effective than an antibiotic mixture against a strain of Enterococcus bacteria.9

Ganoderma lucidum (reishi mushroom) is a fungus traditionally used in Chinese medicine for health, longevity and recuperation. Many studies have pointed to the potent immune-supportive effects of reishi mushroom, and more recent research suggests that reishi inhibits tumor growth. 10

Olive leaf extract—from the Mediterranean olive tree—is rich in antioxidants and has strong anti-viral activities.11 In one study, olive leaf extract inhibited HIV-1 replication.12 It’s also been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce LDL cholesterol.

Astragalus, traditionally used in Chinese medicine to treat diabetes and speed healing, also has immune-supportive effects, and can help combat HIV.13 It’s especially useful in supporting the immune system during chemotherapy,14 and other studies have suggested that astragalus may also protect against some kinds of cancer. 15

Probiotics have a wide range of immune-supportive actions, especially in diarrhea, allergy, eczema and viral infections.16 Other studies point to their effectiveness in treating irritable bowel syndrome 17 and reducing inflammation. 18

How to live

Diet and supplements can go a long way toward boosting resistance and improving immune system function. But that’s only part of the story; if you’re sleeping too little, stressing too much and moving not at all, you’ll impact your immune system. Some important tips on how to live, to boost resistance:

Move more. Studies show that regular exercise diminishes inflammation and elevates compounds involved in immune function.19  The one exception is consistently exercising to the point of exhaustion, which seems to diminish resistance. Otherwise, dance, swim, jog, do yoga—whatever moves you.
• Walking versus running. Brisk walking appears to be better for overall immunity than hard-core running. While vigorous, intense activities like running can weaken immune function, more moderate exercise seems to strengthen it. In one study, women who engaged in brisk walking or other moderate exercise for about 30 minutes a day had half the risk for colds over the course of a year as those who didn’t exercise on a regular basis.
• Yoga supports overall immunity, through a couple of different mechanisms. First, a regular yoga practice helps prevent alterations in the number of immune cells.20 Second, yoga is associated with a reduction in stress, and a corresponding drop in levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that’s linked to suppressed immune function. In one recent study, breast cancer survivors who practiced yoga daily had lower cortisol rates and reductions in other markers of stress.21 In most studies, yoga also has auxiliary benefits, like reduced heart rate and blood pressure, increasing muscle strength, and lessening the risk of anxiety and depression.22
• Tai chi, a type of Chinese martial art, benefits both immune and autoimmune conditions, in addition to decreasing heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol.23 Other studies show that qigong also has similar benefits.24 One study showed that a moderate Tai Chi and Qigong practice improved immune response of older adults, after only five months of practice.25

Reduce stress. It’s one of the most important factors for improving immune function. Researchers have known for years that a wide variety of conditions and illnesses, from digestive disorders to heart disease, are linked to emotional stress. Most studies show that chronic, long-term stress—versus sudden, short-lived, intense stress—causes more damage to the immune system. Stress may impact immunity by disrupting communication between the immune system and other body systems, by causing a chronic release of stress hormones, like cortisol, that affect immune regulation, or by decreasing T-cell activity. 26

Have lots of friends. In an early and famous experiment on immune response and social life, researchers exposed healthy volunteers to the cold virus, and found that those with stronger social networks and friendships were less likely to develop colds. Other studies have consistently linked a strong support system with better immune function, as well as lower blood pressure and reduced mortality. 27

Meditate, with love. Mindfulness-based meditation practices have been linked in many studies with improved immune function. One recent study also noted that similar practices, called loving-kindness meditation and compassion meditation—geared toward encouraging a loving, kind mindset—improved immune response.28

Laugh. A good belly laugh can boost immunity and increase natural endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. In one recent study, laughter appeared to specifically impact the activity of natural killer cells.29 Rent a funny movie, go to a comedy show, invite your funniest friend to lunch. Your immune system will thank you.

Infection Protection: part 1

Infection Protection: part 1

We’re at the start of winter cold and flu season, and inside your body, a series of small battles is being waged. The army, your immune system, is made up of a number of key players, all dedicated to protecting you from foreign invaders. How to keep immunity healthy and balanced? In part one, we’ll show you the best advice on what to eat and what to avoid. Stay tuned for part two, on what to take and how to live.

What to eat.

The immune system is like an army protecting the body from foreign invaders, and it’s important to keep the soldiers well nourished. But studies of supplementing with individual nutrients are mixed, and mega-doses of certain vitamins can adversely impact immunity. The best defense is a balanced diet, with ample amounts of certain key nutrients. Some of the most important:

Brazil nuts. They’re high in selenium, a powerful antioxidant that has been shown in a number of studies to significantly improve immune response.1 Other good sources of selenium include halibut, turkey and sardines. Easy fixes: chop Brazil nuts and add to steamed quinoa; puree Brazil nuts, garlic, fresh basil and olive oil for pesto.

Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A, which enhances immune functions, such as white blood cell activity. Vitamin A also has antioxidant properties, and studies have shown that a deficiency increases risk of infectious disease.2 Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, collards and kale are also high in vitamin A. Easy fixes: add pureed pumpkin to pasta sauce, halve sugar pie pumpkins and roast until tender.

Oysters are the richest source of zinc, an antioxidant mineral that’s essential for immune cell function.3 Many studies have shown that even mild zinc deficiency depresses immunity.4 Beef, crab, turkey and kidney beans are other good sources of zinc. Easy fixes: add oysters to stuffing recipes; combine oysters, crab and fish in a fragrant stew.

Red peppers contain vitamin B6, which is necessary for production of several important immune system cells.5  Other good B-6 sources: tuna, spinach, cod, bananas, soy and beans. Easy fixes: puree roasted red peppers and white beans for a quick dip; add minced red peppers to tuna salad.

Papayas are rich in vitamin C, long recognized for its immune-enhancing effects. Studies have shown that vitamin C improves many components of the immune system, including natural killer cell activities. Strawberries, grapefruit juice, peaches, peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are other good sources. Easy fixes: add frozen papaya cubes to smoothies; combine chopped papayas and peaches with minced jalapenos, red onion and lime juice for salsa.

Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E, essential for overall immune function; in studies, even a small vitamin E deficiency impaired immune response. 6 Other good sources of vitamin E: almonds, turnip greens, spinach and beet greens are other good sources. Easy fixes: puree sunflower seeds with cooked artichokes, swap sunflower butter for peanut butter on sandwiches.

What to avoid.

Some foods, toxins and drugs upset immune system balance and deplete the body’s ability to ward off toxins. The worst offenders:

Sugar decreases the ability of white blood cells to engulf bacteria—in some studies, as much as 40 percent. White sugar is the worst, but any concentrated sweetener—including honey, agave and maple syrup—has similar actions. Same with pasta, bread, baked goods and other refined carbohydrates that lack adequate fiber to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Stick to low-glycemic carbs, like sweet potatoes, quinoa, oat groats, buckwheat and beans, and use sugar in great moderation.

Coffee and other significant sources of caffeine tax the adrenal glands and central nervous system, increasing stress—which directly impacts immune function. Keep your coffee intake to one cup a day; or combine coffee grounds with Teecino ground herbal coffee substitute, and brew as usual. At coffee shops, stick to decaf coffee, chai or green tea.

Alcohol. Drinking wine, beer and hard liquor hamper immunity in much the same way as sugar: by reducing the ability of white blood cells to fight pathogens. Excessive alcohol intake—three drinks or more– also inhibits the ability of white blood cells to protect against cancer. Additionally, heavy drinking usually results in deficiencies of key immune-boosting nutrients. Stick to one drink a day, or less; if you’re drinking red wine for the health benefits, switch to red grape juice to get the same heart-healthy antioxidants (mainly resveratrol).

Allergenic foods. Food allergies, or even sensitivities, stress the immune system; the most common offenders are gluten, dairy, corn, soy and peanuts. Food additives, like artificial colors, preservatives and pesticide residues, may also cause sensitivities. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods (those without a label); if you suspect that you’re allergic to a food, work with a nutritionist to identify offending foods.

Obesity. Some studies suggest that excessive amounts of stored fat in the body trigger inflammation and upset the immune system; one theory is that some fatty acids “look” like bacterial invaders, leading the body to believe they’re foreign invaders. Additionally, obesity can lead to resistance to leptin–a hormone produced by fat cells that supports white blood cell production and enhances immune function.

Next up: Infection Protection, part 2—what to take, how to live

Sweet! The scoop on “natural” sweeteners

Sweet! The scoop on “natural” sweeteners

Confused by all the “natural” sweeteners on your grocer’s shelves? Here’s the scoop. White sugar from cane or beets is highly refined, with a pronounced, adverse effect on insulin and blood sugar. Natural sweeteners are less refined and rich in naturally occurring minerals, and many have less impact on blood sugar. On a culinary level, they’re rich and deep in flavor and color, and can add complexity to treats. While none are nutritional superstars, a few natural sweeteners shine a little brighter than others. Some to try:

• Agave. A golden-brown, liquid sweetener that’s less viscous than honey, but thicker than maple syrup. It was traditionally derived by boiling the sap of the blue agave plant, native to Mexico. Modern versions, however, are more refined and even the varieties labeled as “raw” are cooked at extremely high temperatures and highly refined. On the glycemic index scale, agave around 15—the lowest of any sweetener. However, the glycemic index measures only glucose levels; agave is 92 percent fructose, and only 8 percent glucose, so the numbers are misleading. Agave may actually impact your body in much the same way as high-fructose corn syrup—that is, by markedly increasing insulin levels. Use it in moderation and in small amounts. It’s best in smoothies, beverages and desserts like pies, puddings, cheesecake and custards, or those with a softer texture, but it can be used for baking breads, cakes, and cookies. Substitute 2/3 cup of agave for every cup of white sugar, and reduce liquid by about 1/3.

•Brown rice syrup. A heavy syrup with a thick, creamy texture, pale golden color and mild sweetness that’s reminiscent of butterscotch. Brown rice syrup is made by fermenting brown rice with enzymes to convert the starches to sugars. It’s about 50 percent complex carbohydrates, and only about 5 percent glucose, so it has a relatively low glycemic index of 25 , with about the same number of calories as sugar (45 per tablespoon). The downside: because it’s only half as sweet as white sugar, you’ll usually need more of it . Like agave, it’s best in sweets with a softer texture. Baked goods made with brown rice syrup tend to be heavy and hard, especially around the edges and surfaces. Use it instead for hard or crunchy baked goods, like cookies, biscotti or granola. It’s about a third as sweet as sugar; substitute 1 1/3 cups of brown rice syrup for every cup of sugar, and reduce liquid by 1/8 to 1/4 cup.

• Palm sugar. Made by boiling down the sap of flowers from the coconut palm, this sweetener has a more delicate flavor than sugar or honey, with slight earthy undertones that hint of caramel and maple syrup. It’s also known as “coconut palm sugar.” Palm sugar has a relatively low GI of 35, with 45 calories per teaspoon. It’s available in chunks of rocks, or as a granulated substance that looks similar to brown sugar.  Because it dissolves easily and provides bulk, the granulated form is ideal for baking. It’s slightly less sweet; substitute 1 1/8 cups of palm sugar for 1 cup of white sugar, in recipes where the mild maple-caramel flavor will be incorporated.

• Date sugar. Derived from dried, dehydrated and ground dates, date sugar has a grainy texture, a deep, earthy flavor and color, and rich sweetness. The upside: it’s minimally refined and processed, and is rich in minerals. The downside: drying, dehydrating and grinding dates concentrates and increases sucrose levels, so date sugar has a strong impact on blood sugar, even though the glycemic index and calories (12 per teaspoon) are relatively low. Date sugar is best used in baked goods that are forgiving of its color and texture, like spice cookies, nut breads, granolas, or anything with a darker color and dense texture; in light-colored cakes, cookies or puddings, it will show up as distinct brown flecks. Because it won’t dissolve in liquid, date sugar can’t be used to sweeten beverages, puddings, custards or pies. Subsitute 2/3 cup date sugar for one cup sugar. It browns quickly and burns easily, so shorten cooking times by several minutes.

• Florida Crystals. A brand name for organic sugar made from sugar cane grown in Florida. It’s unbleached and less processed than white sugar, with only a portion of the mineral-rich molasses removed; it’s also certified CarbonFree. Similar sweeteners include Sucanat (dried sugar cane that contains all the molasses;  Rapadura (similar, but more finely ground);  and turbinado (a less-processed version of sugar cane, with larger crystals).  All have essentially the same calories and glycemic index as refined white sugar .Because it’s finer in texture and lighter in color than other unrefined sugars, Florida Crystals can be substituted one-to-one for sugar in cakes,  cookies and other goods. Rapadura, Sucanat and turbinado add a light brown color and slight molasses flavor in cooking; best for recipes calling for brown sugar, like oatmeal cookies or quick breads.

• Stevia. Derived from a small shrub native to Paraguay, stevia is extremely sweet, free of calories, and has no impact on insulin levels. While stevia is not approved by the FDA for use as a sweetener, it is approved as a dietary supplement. Moreover, stevia has been safely consumed for centuries in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and other countries. One old study (1) suggested that a metabolite of stevia could be mutagenic, but subsequent studies have refuted that initial finding, or found the effect insignificant (2, 3). Some studies have also suggested that stevia may actually help control  insulin levels . Stevia is sold as a white powder, in individual packets, and as a liquid extract, in the supplement section of natural products stores. One teaspoon of the extract is about as sweet as a cup of sugar, and is ideal for sweetening tea, lemonade, smoothies or other liquids. Because it lacks bulk, it’s trickier to use in baking. In general, replace 1 cup of sugar with 1 teaspoon stevia plus 1/3 cup of a bulking agent like egg whites, apple sauce, mashed bananas, pumpkin puree, or yogurt.  Stevia works better for cookies, biscotti, granola, pies, not so much for breads, cakes or anything where texture is important. Be careful of adding too much: it can add licorice and bitter undertones to recipes.

• Xylitol. Originally derived from birch bark, most xylitol is now refined from corn; it’s a white crystalline substance that’s similar in appearance and sweetness as sugar, and can be used as a direct substitute in any recipe that calls for sugar. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, a class of sweeteners that the body doesn’t metabolize as sugar, so it has no effect on insulin levels, and contains about 1/3 the calories of sugar, about 9 per teaspoon. It’s extremely effective in preventing cavities (4),  and may also have some positive effects on bone health. The downside: because it’s not absorbed by the body, in large amounts it can cause gas, bloating and loose stools. It dissolves easily in liquid, so it’s ideal for sweetening beverages and smoothies. Though it has the same color, texture and level of sweetness as white sugar, it’s not great in baked goods or recipes that require large amounts of sweetener, because of the laxative effect; use it in combination with other natural sweeteners . One important note: xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs, so keep it on a pooch-proof shelf.

30 ways to make meals more nutritious

30 ways to make meals more nutritious

There’s no doubt that a nutrient-rich diet (see sidebar) reduces the risk of disease. But how to make that work? If you’ve tried, you already know that huge, sweeping changes–like swearing off sugar, eating fish four times a week, or tripling your intake of vegetables–rarely work. And when those efforts fail, it makes us more likely to throw up our hands in disgust and revert to our old (bad) habits.

A better approach to a more nutrient-rich diet: make one small change every day like swapping green tea for coffee or adding an extra cup of beans to soups and stews. Try these 30 sneaky ways to make your diet more nutrient dense every day:

1.    Make noodles more nutritious: halve the amount of (whole-grain or gluten-free) pasta and double the sauce. Better yet, go puttanesca-style with your sauce; add lots of garlic, onions, chili peppers, olives and anchovies (they’re high in omega-3 fats).

2.    Dress your salad with avocado, instead of store-bought creamy dressings, to increase your folate, lower unhealthy fats, and protect your heart. For a simple dressing, puree avocado and lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper.

3.    Choose an English muffin instead of a bagel for a 200-calorie savings (the average whole-grain bagel is 350 calories, versus 130 for an English muffin); spread it with almond butter instead of cream cheese, for the same calories and a big protein boost.

4.    Load up your pizza to boost nutrients and fiber: add green peppers (rich in vitamin C), onions (they contain cancer-preventive compounds), olives (for healthy monounsaturated fats) and artichoke hearts (they’re great for your liver).

5.    Use white bean spread instead of mayo on your sandwiches. You’ll add fiber and protein,  for fewer calories. Puree white beans, olive oil, garlic and a splash of apple cider vinegar to make a creamy spread; season with salt and white pepper.

6.    Spend your dairy calories on yogurt, not milk. Yogurt is rich in probiotics, beneficial bacteria that keep digestion healthy, boost immunity and may protect against some cancers. Instead of a bowl of cereal with milk, try a bowl of plain yogurt topped with homemade granola (see number 18).

7.    Fortify your mashed potatoes: use a combo of half potatoes and half cauliflower; cook in the same pot until soft, then drain and mash as usual. Try olive oil instead of butter, and load it up with garlic and herbs instead of salt.

8.    Drink smoothies; you’ll squeeze in five servings of fruits and vegetables. Add a handful of spinach for vitamin K and folate (you’ll never know it’s in there). Try this: puree frozen blueberries, half a banana, almond milk, a scoop of whey powder and spinach until creamy and smooth.

9.    Buy pastured eggs; they contain five times more vitamin D, twice as much omega-3, three times more vitamin E, and seven times more beta carotene. Look for them at farmer’s markets or local farms.

10.    Make a smart soda; swap your store-bought variety, and mix up your own blend of organic pomegranate juice and sparkling water; you’ll add cancer-preventive compounds and lots of antioxidants.

11.    Give your pasta sauce a boost; mix in a cup of pumpkin puree for a day’s worth of alpha carotene plus added fiber; or puree cooked broccoli, sweet potatoes and carrots, and stir into sauce for extra carotenoids and cancer-fighting compounds.

12.    Eat a raw salad every day, and make sure it contains at least three colors from five or more different sources–for example, spinach and arugula (green) combined with peppers (yellow) , carrots (orange), beets, tomatoes and shredded cabbage (red).

13.    Swap beans for meat. In soups, stews and chilies, cut the meat in half and add more beans; you’ll dramatically increase fiber and slash fat by 50 percent. Make ’em red kidney beans, and you’ll triple your antioxidant intake.

14.    Make your chocolate count. Cacao beans are rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. But you’ll only find the good stuff in raw cacao nibs and extra-dark chocolate–not the sugar-laced, watered-down versions of chocolate most of us grew up with. Cacao nibs are bits of dried, roasted and crushed cacao bean, with a rich, cocoa butter flavor; add them to nutrient-dense muffins (see 29) or smoothies. Or choose bars that are 70 percent cacao, or higher, for the most nutrition.

15.    Eat plants, not grains, for fiber; you’ll get added nutrients for fewer calories. A cup of raspberries, for example, has 9 grams of fiber–the most of any fruit–with only 64 calories. A cup of broccoli has 6 grams of fiber, and only 52 calories Compare that to brown rice: a cup has a paltry 2 grams of fiber per 100 calories.

16.    Cut your coffee with Teeccino, a caffeine-free mix of roasted grains, nuts and herbs; it’s acid-free, rich in potassium, and contains prebioitics that encourage the growth of beneficial probiotics in your intestines.

17.    Get your calcium from greens. They contain fiber, beta carotene and more nutrients than dairy, with a fraction of the calories. Collards are especially rich in this vital mineral; one cup of cooked collards has as much calcium as a cup of milk, with a savings of 100 calories. And collards and other greens are also rich in magnesium, another key nutrient for bone health.

18.    Choose mustard, instead of mayo, when you’re eating out. If you’re buying condiments, choose ketchup varieties with no added sugar, and look for mayo blends made with heart-healthy olive and/or flax oils.

19.    Skip store-bought granola (it’s loaded with fat and sugar), and make your own: combine rolled oats with chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds; stir in a little honey mixed with hot water, bake at 200 until golden, then stir in dried cranberries and let cool.

20.    Make vegetables easy. Buy pre-cut versions or, better yet, cut a variety of vegetables at home and store them in air-tight containers. You’ll be more likely to use them if they’re ready-to-go. Good candidates: sweet potatoes, kale, broccoli, red peppers, celery.

21.    Rethink your plate portions; at least 50 to 60 percent of your plate should be vegetables, with small portions of protein and starch. Make sides count: steam asparagus and tie into bundles with chives or scallion tops; shred Brussels sprouts, saute in olive oil and shallots, and sprinkle with toasted walnuts; or steam artichokes, and serve with red pepper hummus.

22.    Make your fries count. If you choose sweet potatoes over white potatoes, you’ll get more beta carotene but less potassium; calorie and fiber differences are negligible. More important: swap frying for baking. Toss potato strips in olive oil, season lightly with sea salt and spices, and roast at 400 until crispy.

23.    Choose grass-fed over conventional beef. Studies show they’re lower in saturated fat and calories, and higher in omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a compound with cancer-protective and anti-obesity effects.

24.    Try cauliflower cous cous, instead of the grain variety; you’ll add tons of cancer-preventive nutrients, and save calories: chop cauliflower florets in a food processor until they resemble small grains, then cook in 1/4 inch of water until tender. Add coconut oil, cumin, curry and dried apricots, for a twist on the traditional Middle Eastern grain.

25.    Buy organic vegetables, whenever possible. Besides avoiding pesticide residues, you may get more nutrients; some studies and reviews have found that organic fruits and vegetables contain, on average, 25 percent higher concentrations of 11 nutrients than their conventional counterparts.

26.    Choose dried apples over dates or cranberries; apples rank higher on the ANDI scale (see sidebar) and contain half the sugar of  other dried fruits. Or choose prunes; they’re high in sugar, but rank at the top of the ORAC (see sidebar) scale.

27.    Try seaweed noodles, instead of grain-based varieties.  Kelp-based varieties are extremely low in calories and rich in iodine, for thyroid health. Serve them Asian style, with tamari, toasted sesame oil, ginger, garlic and black sesame seeds.

28.    Choose whole-grain instead of multi-grain. Whole-grain means the entire grain kernel, including all the fiber, has been used. Multi-grain means only that more than one type of grain was used–and those grains could be refined and stripped of fiber and nutrients.

29.    Supercharge breakfast muffins: make them with gluten-free flour, and add ground almonds, flax seeds, shredded carrots and shredded zucchini; swap applesauce for half the fat, and sweeten with mashed bananas and raisins.

30.    Eating out? Choose Chinese. Skip the fried rice and sauces, and order stir-fried vegetables; ask for extra bok choy, cabbage and broccoli, and you’ll get a week’s worth of cancer-preventive glucosinolates. Add shrimp, not beef, for lean protein.
What is Nutrient-Dense?

Nutrient density measures how many nutrients you get from a food, given the number of calories it contains. Nutrient dense foods give you the most nutrients possible, for the least amount of calories; for example, in some energy bars, you’ll get 15 percent of your daily need of folate for around 200 calories. A cup of raw spinach has the same amount of folate, and only 7 calories.

One way to measure nutrient density in foods is with the ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index). Developed by Joel Fuhrman, M.D., the ANDI scale measures the amount of  key nutrients in a food, relative to its calories. The nutrients included in the ANDI scale are calcium, carotenoids, lycopene, fiber, glucosinolates, iron, magnesium, niacin, selenium, B vitamins, vitamin C and E, and zinc, plus ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scores–a method of measuring the antioxidant capacity of foods.

The ANDI scale is only one way to measure nutrient density, and it does have some shortcomings; for example, it doesn’t measure protein, so even nutrient-dense sources of protein–like pastured eggs, wild Alaskan salmon and lean, grass-fed cuts of beef–have a low ANDI score. Nor does the scale measure fats, so high-quality monounsaturated fats like olives and avocados come up short in this system. Be sure to keep those points in mind when you’re formulating your diet. Otherwise, it’s a great way to start. On the ANDI scale, the top 20 nutrient dense foods include:

1. Kale
2. Collards
3. Bok choy
4. Spinach
5. Brussels sprouts
6. Arugula
7. Cabbage
8. Romaine
9. Broccoli
10. Cauliflower
11. Green peppers
12. Artichokes
13. Carrots
14. Asparagus
15. Strawberries
16. Pomegranate juice
17. Tomatoes
18. Blueberries
19. Iceberg lettuce
20. Oranges

Essential cooking oils

Essential cooking oils

A high-quality oil can take any dish from so-so to spectacular. Every well-stocked kitchen should have at least three different selections, in addition to olive oil: a sturdy oil for high-heat cooking, a neutral oil for dressings and baking, a flavorful oil for international dishes, and a cold-pressed nut or seed oil to drizzle on finished dishes. Try some of these essential oil selections:

RICE BRAN OIL: Rice bran oil is known for its high smoke point, but its neutral flavor and high monounsaturated fat content also make it a great heart-healthy choice for salad dressings, honey-roasted nuts, or other applications where you don’t want the flavor of the oil to take center stage. In the recipe below, massaging raw cabbage with rice bran oil also softens the assertive texture and flavor. Soaking the cashews overnight yields greater creaminess in the dressing; if you haven’t soaked your cashews, just add a little extra water and rice bran oil instead. Dried mango makes a beautiful, colorful addition to this salad as well.

Rainbow Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing and Spiced Pecans
Serves 4 to 6

1 small head purple cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
2 teaspoons rice bran oil
6 cups baby spinach leaves
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 large Asian pear, cored and diced
Spiced pecans
1 tablespoon rice bran oil
1/4 cup pecans
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 teaspoons coconut sugar or unrefined cane sugar
1/2 cup cashews, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons rice bran oil
1 medium lime, juiced
2 teaspoons honey

  1. Place cabbage in a mixing bowl and drizzle lightly with 2 teaspoons rice bran oil. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and massage with hands. Set aside.
  2. Make spiced nuts: heat 1 tablespoon rice bran oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add pecans and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden and fragrant, tossing and stirring almost constantly. Sprinkle with cumin, cayenne, coconut sugar, sea salt and black pepper; toss to coat, and cook for a few seconds longer. Transfer to a sheet of parchment or a baking sheet, and spread in a single layer to cool.
  3. Make dressing: combine cashews with oil, honey, lime juice and 2 tablespoons water. Starting on low, puree mixture, gradually increasing speed until dressing is smooth and creamy (2 to 3 minutes), scraping down sides as needed.
  4. To assemble salad, add spinach, scallions and dried cranberries to bowl with red cabbage, and toss to mix. Add just enough dressing to lightly coat ingredients, and mix well. Gently fold in Asian pears. Divide between individual plates, scatter pecans over, and serve immediately.

AVOCADO OIL: Avocado oil has a light, clean flavor and an extremely high content of monounsaturated fats, and is a great choice for salad dressing when the taste of olive oil would overwhelm. It also has an extremely high smoke point, making it a good candidate for high-heat cooking as well. This recipe uses macadamia nuts, but if they’re pricey or hard to find, substitute cashews or walnuts. Scatter edible violas over the top of this beautiful salad for an extra touch.

Endive, Avocado and Ruby Grapefruit Salad with Avocado-Berry Dressing
Serves 4

1 medium ruby grapefruit
2 large heads Belgian endive
2 cups packed baby arugula leaves
1/4 cup unrefined avocado oil
3 tablespoons blackberry fruit spread or preserves (substitute raspberry)
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 large ripe but firm avocado, pitted, peeled and sliced lengthwise
1/3 cup toasted macadamia nuts

  1. Grate 1 teaspoon zest from grapefruit skin; set zest aside. Supreme the grapefruits: using a sharp knife, cut off the peel and all of the white pith from one grapefruit. Holding the grapefruit over a bowl to catch the juice, cut segments away from the membrane and transfer them to a plate.  Once all segments have been removed from membrane, squeeze any remaining juice from the membrane into the bowl. Repeat with second grapefruit.
  2. Remove any blemished exterior leaves from endive. Cut off 1 inch from the bottom and separate leaves (when you reach the small interior where leaves no longer separate, quarter it). Combine in a bowl with arugula.
  3. Combine 3 tablespoons grapefruit juice with reserved zest, avocado oil, jam and shallot in blender. Puree until smooth. Season with sea salt, white pepper and cayenne pepper.
  4. To serve, add grapefruit sections, avocado and nuts to salad; add enough dressing to lightly coat and toss gently to mix. Divide salad between four plates and serve.

COCONUT OIL: In this creamy vegan soup, coconut oil adds richness without dairy and blends perfectly with coconut milk and the flavors of curry, ginger and lemongrass. Refined coconut oil also has a high enough smoke point to stand up to light roasting. When you roast the mushrooms, be sure to spread them in a single layer on the pan, so they crisp up nicely instead of steaming.

Red Curry Cauliflower Soup
Serves 6

4 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
2 to 3 cups vegetable broth
3 cups chopped cauliflower (substitute frozen and thawed)
3 small carrots, chopped
2 kafir lime leaves (substitute 2 teaspoons lime zest)
1 4- to 5-inch lemongrass stalk
2 cups shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped basil leaves

  1. In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened but not browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and curry, and cook for 1 minutes, stirring. Stir in coconut milk, 2 cups of broth, cauliflower, carrots and lime leaves. Cut stem end from lemongrass and remove outer layer. Smash lemongrass with a knife to slightly crush it, and add to pot. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, until cauliflower is soft.
  2. While soup is cooking, preheat oven to 400. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons coconut oil. Arrange mushrooms on a baking sheet and pour oil evenly over. Mix with hands to coat and spread in a single layer; sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Roast until browned and crispy, 12 to 15 minutes, being careful not to burn. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
  3. Remove and discard lemongrass and lime leaves from soup. Puree soup in batches, until creamy and smooth, adding remaining stock as needed to reach desired consistency. Return to pot and stir in cilantro and basil.
  4. To serve, divide soup between four individual bowls. Garnish with mushrooms, and serve hot.

PEANUT OIL: Peanut oil  is the classic choice for Chinese stir-fry dishes. Its high smoke point and heat-stable monounsaturated fat profile make it an ideal candidate for high-temperature wok cooking. Chinese long beans are available at Asian and international markets, and at some large grocery stores. If you can’t find them, green beans make a good substitute.

Spicy Beef and Chinese Long Beans
Serves 4

1 pound Chinese long beans (substitute green beans)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound beef fajita strips
4 medium red Fresno peppers, sliced crosswise (substitute 1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips)
1 small Thai chili or 1 serrano pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 small shallots, thinly sliced crosswise
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari
1/3 cup skinless roasted peanuts, chopped

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. Drop beans into boiling water and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. (If you’re substituting thin green beans, cook them for 2 to 3 minutes, depending on thickness.) Remove beans with tongs and drop into a bowl of cold water; drain and pat dry, then cut into 2-inch pieces on a strong diagonal.
  2. Heat oil over medium-high in a wok or deep saute pan; add beef and brown on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Add beans, Fresno peppers, Thai peppers, garlic, shallots and tamari. Cook for 2 minutes, until beef is cooked through and vegetables are hot, turning with tongs. Taste and adjust tamari, and season with pepper.
  3. To serve, divide mixture between four plates, and sprinkle with peanuts. Serve hot, with cooked brown rice on the side.

GRAPESEED OIL: Grapeseed oil is the classic neutral oil for mayonnaise, and this vegan version lends itself to many variations. Chipotles mask the green hue of grapeseed, but you can play up the color as well: eliminate the chipotle and substitute tarragon or basil leaves instead, or make a citrus mayonnaise by using lime juice in place of the vinegar. Or thin this version with additional oil and vinegar to make a creamy salad dressing. In spite of its high smoke point, grapeseed oil shouldn’t be heated to high temperatures; it’s high in polyunsaturated fats, which are easily damaged by heat.

Vegan Chipotle Mayonnaise
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces silken tofu
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon honey
1 small chipotle pepper
1 garlic clove, pressed in a garlic press

  1. Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor, and puree until very smooth and creamy, scraping down sides as needed (2 to 4 minutes).
  2. Taste and adjust honey and/or vinegar if needed, and season to taste with sea salt and white or black pepper. Store in a small glass jar for up to 10 days.

SESAME OIL: The light, nutty flavor of sesame oil pairs perfectly with the Asian flavors of sesame seeds, cilantro and tamari, and has a moderate smoke point that stands up to quick sautéing.This recipes also uses toasted sesame oil (also called Asian sesame oil), which is made from toasted sesame seeds and has a strong, rich flavor; use it sparingly, to avoid overpowering the sauce. You’ll find rice paper wrappers and red chili oil in the international section of your grocery store, or at Asian markets. Rice paper wrappers can be tricky to work with, so make sure you have enough to discard any that tear.

Spring Rolls with Sesame-Orange Dipping Sauce
Serves 4 to 6 (makes 12 rolls)

3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 pound medium (40 to 50 count) shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili oil
1 orange
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons grated ginger root
1 teaspoon tamari
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds (substitute brown sesame seeds)
2 small carrots, shredded
1 1/2 cups shredded green cabbage
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 small bunch scallions (white and pale green parts), chopped small
12 8-inch rice paper wrappers

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp, garlic and red chili oil; toss to mix and cook, stirring and tossing, for 1 to 2 minutes, until shrimp are just cooked through. Remove from heat, season to taste with sea salt and pepper, and set aside to cool.
  2. While shrimp are cooling, make dipping sauce: zest one teaspoon of zest from outside of orange and juice orange. In a small bowl, whisk together juice, zest, remaining 2 tablespoons sesame oil, honey, ginger, tamari, toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds. Set aside. Combine carrots, cabbage, cilantro and scallions in a bowl; set aside.
  3. Fill a bowl with hot water and, using tongs, dip one rice paper wrapper into the water for 30 seconds to soften. Remove wrapper from water and place on a clean, lint-free towel. Repeat with remaining wrappers. (If wrappers stiffen before rolling, dip again in hot water to soften.)
  4. To assemble rolls, stir cooked and cooled shrimp into the bowl of cabbage and carrot mixture, scraping oil and garlic from the bottom of the pan and into the bowl. Mound about 1/3 cup of the mixture in the center of one wrapper. Fold bottom edge of wrapper over filling, roll halfway up, fold sides in, and continue rolling. Arrange, seam side down, on a serving platter. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. Serve immediately, with dipping sauce on the side.

ALMOND OIL: The light, clean flavor of almond oil makes it a great substitute for canola oil in baking; it also has a high smoke point that makes it a good choice for sautéed foods as well. Use a little almond oil to coat your knife before chopping the figs, to prevent them from sticking; when the cookies have cooked, dip them in melted bittersweet chocolate for an extra-special treat.

Almond-Fig Soft Biscotti
Makes about 12 biscotti

1/2 cup chopped almonds
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup coconut or palm sugar (substitute brown sugar or Sucanat)
3/4 cup evaporated cane juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs
2 tablespoons almond oil
2 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 cup dried figs, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet or jellyroll pan with parchment Heat a small skillet over medium heat and toast almonds for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden. Transfer to a plate to cool.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat 2 of the eggs with almond oil and almond extract. Stir wet ingredients into dry to make a thick batter (batter should be very stiff, but still sticky); stir in figs, but don’t overmix.
  3. Roll batter into two logs, about 5 inches long by 2 inches wide, and arrange on baking sheet, leaving 2 to 3 inches between. Bake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for 5 minutes. Using a very sharp knife, cut on a slight diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Serve warm, or let cool completely and store in an air-tight container.

TEA SEED OIL: Long used in Asian cooking, tea seed oil comes from the seed of the Camilla sinensis plant—the  tea plant. It has the highest monounsaturated fat content of any plant oil, and a smoke point that withstands frying and other very high heat applications. It’s gaining popularity, but if you can’t find it, rice bran oil is a great substitute. In this recipe, ice water and minimal mixing are key to a light, crispy batter that doesn’t get oily or soggy; if you don’t think you’ll work fast enough to keep the batter cold, mix half at a time. Pressing the tofu removes excess water, but be careful not to add too much weight on top of the tofu or you’ll crumble it.

Tofu and Vegetable Tempura with Ginger-Lime Dipping Sauce
Serves 4

8 ounces extra-firm or hard tofu
2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped ginger
2 large garlic cloves, chopped small
1 serrano pepper, chopped small (remove seeds for less spiciness)
2 limes
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons tamari
1 head broccoli
1 medium red bell pepper
1 medium yellow bell pepper
2 large carrots
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups ice water
1/8 teaspon sea salt
1/4 teaspon black pepper

  1. Place tofu block on a wooden cutting board lined with several layers of paper towels. Cover with several more layers of paper towels. Place a weight (about a 2-inch-thick cookbook or a heavy skillet) on top of the tofu and let stand for 1 hour.
  2. Make dipping sauce: combine ginger, garlic, serrano pepper, lime juice, honey and tamari in a blender. Puree until well-blended and finely chopped, about a minute. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate.
  3. While water is pressing out of tofu, cut stem from broccoli and reserve for another use. Cut broccoli into large florets. Cut peppers into strips about 1 1/2-inches wide. Cut carrots crosswise into pieces 3 inches long, then quarter each of those pieces lengthwise.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large mixing bowl with ice and water. Drop broccoli into boiling water for 1 minute to blanch; remove with tongs and drop into ice bath. Repeat with peppers and carrots. When all vegetables have cooled in ice bath, strain and pat dry. Remove tofu from pressing board, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Line a baking sheet with paper towels nod set aside.
  5. Pour 3 inches of oil into a deep skillet and heat until temperature reaches 325. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine flour, ice water, salt and pepper, and stir until just mixed; don’t over mix (some small lumps will remain). Working quickly and using tongs or chopsticks, dip vegetables one at a time into batter, letting excess drip off, then carefully lower into hot oil. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes, and transfer to prepared baking sheet to drain.
  6. To serve, arrange all vegetables on a platter and serve immediately, with dipping sauce on the side.

HEMP OIL: Hemp oil has a rich, nutty flavor and beautiful green color that make it the perfect counterpoint to this creamy, spicy polenta. It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, but has a very low smoke point, and should never be heated. Reserve it for drizzling over cooked foods. For more color and nutrition, “saute” shredded spinach in a tiny amount of broth, then toss with hemp oil and serve on top of polenta.

Pumpkin Polenta with Pumpkin Seeds and Hemp Oil
Serves 4 to 6

4 cups chicken broth
1 cup polenta
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (substitute canned)
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle chili, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2  teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
2 to 3 tablespoons hemp oil

  1. Bring broth to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Add polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and cook, covered, until polenta is tender, 15 minutes.
  2. Stir in pumpkin, garlic, chipotle, onion, cumin and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes longer, until polenta is very thick and creamy. Add additional broth or water if needed. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
  3. To serve, stir 2 tablespoons hemp oil into polenta. Drizzle with additional oil just before serving, and serve hot.

FLAX OIL: Flax oil adds a nutty flavor and lots of omega-3 fats, in this simple, nutty take on Waldorf salad. Flax oil has a very low smoke point and should never be heated, so it’s great for salad dressings and paired with grains. When you’re toasting the seeds, residual heat from hot skillet is sufficient to toast the seeds, without damaging the oils. You can also use pears, dried cranberries and basil in this salad, for a different but equally delicious flavor profile.

Wheatberry, Walnut and Flaxseed Salad
Serves 4 to 6

1 cups uncooked wheat berries
1/4 cup flax seed oil
1/2 lemon, juiced and zested
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons flax seeds
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 celery stalks, cut in a small dice
1 small red-skinned apple, unpeeled, cored and cut in a small dice
1/3 cup dried currants
1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced tarragon
2 ounces goat feta (optional)

  1. Combine wheat berries and water to cover by 2 inches in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook on a high simmer, partly covered, for about 1 hour. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flax seed oil, lemon juice and honey. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a small skillet over medium-low heat and toast walnuts, shaking and stirring frequently until lightly toasted. Transfer walnuts to a plate and add flax seeds to hot skillet (don’t return skillet to the stove); shake skillet until flax seeds begin to pop. If the pan has cooled down, put it on the stove on the lowest possible heat, and remove immediately when flax seeds start to pop. Transfer flax seeds to plate with walnuts.
  4. In a large salad bowl, combine cooled wheat berries, scallions, celery, apples, currants, parsley and tarragon, if using, and stir to mix. Pour dressing over, and mix well. Stir in walnuts, flax seeds and goat cheese, if using
  5. To serve, divide salad between individual plates and serve immediately, or refrigerate for 2 hours and serve chilled.
Raw Data: turn off the stove

Raw Data: turn off the stove

I’m no expert on raw foods. I like things like roasted root vegetables, sautéed greens, and a good hot soup on a cold winter day. But on sweltering summer days, the last place I want to be is in a steamy kitchen. And given the abundance of the seasons’ farmer’s market offerings – lush, leafy greens, voluptuous tomatoes, crisp peppers and cucumbers, basil by the fragrant armful – you can make many a fine meal, without going near your stove on scorching days.

Based mainly on the idea that cooking destroys essential enzymes and nutrients in foods, the raw diet is made up of unprocessed, organic, animal-free foods – mostly raw and dried fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and oil. It’s said to heal chronic health conditions like allergies, arthritis, eczema and other troubling disorders, and help prevent more serious illnesses. The raw foods diet is also more environmentally friendly, since less packaging is involved, and it’s easier to eat regionally and seasonally.

As compelling as the advantages of eating raw, as alluring as the abundance of seasonal greens, most of us can’t subsist on salads drizzled with oil and vinegar. My raw-food friends and acquaintances over the years have shared their secrets for preparing substantial uncooked fare that’s as satisfying as the heated equivalent. Indeed, after Brigitte Mars, longtime friend and local raw-foods genius, made me a raw BLT (the bacon was smoked strips of coconut, the bread was made from dehydrated flax), I almost would have sworn it was the real thing.

It’s true that every time I’ve gone mostly raw, I’ve felt better. But I struggle with 100-percent raw; the best I can do on most days is 80 percent, a ratio that works for me. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Try adding more uncooked foods to your diet. You may end up at 90-10, or 50-50 may work for you. Either way, you’ll eat a lot of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Which is never a bad thing.

Sun-Dried Tomato-Basil Sauce
Makes about 3 cups

2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked 1 hour
2 small garlic cloves
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
? Drain sun-dried tomatoes, squeezing out excess water. Combine soaked sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and oregano in a food processor. Process for 45 seconds. Stir in olive oil (if desired) and pulse for 5 seconds. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Avocado-Corn Soup
Serves 4

4 medium ears corn
1 cup almond milk*
1 medium avocado, cubed
3 small scallions, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish
Edible flowers for garnish

Cut kernels off cob; set aside 1/2 cup of kernels. In a food processor, combine remaining corn kernels, almond milk and avocado. Puree until smooth. Stir in scallions, cilantro and reserved corn kernels. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, garnish with cilantro sprigs and edible flowers, and serve.

*To make almond milk, soak 1 cup almonds overnight; drain and rinse. In a food processor, combine with 3 cups filtered water. Process until very smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth or nut milk bag into a clean jar; store, covered, in refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.

Pasta Primarawva
Serves 4

2 yellow squash
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked for 2 hours
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tomato, chopped
1/2 cup sun-cured olives, pitted
1/4 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon Celtic salt

Slice the squash into long, thin noodles, or use a Spiralizer to “spiralize” it; set it aside. Combine the remaining ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well-blended but still chunky. Toss the sauce with the squash noodles and serve.

Courtesy of Brigitte Mars, Rawsome! (Basic Health Publications, 2004)

Spring Green Rolls
Makes 8 rolls

8 collard green leaves, washed, stems removed and discarded, and leaves cut in half lengthwise
2 avocados, pitted, peeled, and finely chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup chopped red pepper
1 cup almond butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Lay the collard leaf halves on plate. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and mix well. Place a large spoonful of the mixture on the end of each leaf, taking care to divide the mixture evenly among the leaves. Roll up each leaf around its filling and serve.

Courtesy of Brigitte Mars, Rawsome! (Basic Health Publications, 2004)

Raw Pad Thai
Makes 4 servings

3 cups shredded purple cabbage
2 large carrots, julienned
1 bunch cilantro, chopped finely
1 large zucchini, julienned
Meat of 3 young coconuts, sliced into long, thin strips like noodles
1 cup of Amazing Raw “Peanut” Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 cup chopped raw cashews

Mix the cabbage, carrots, cilantro, zucchini, and coconut strips in a large bowl and toss. Serve this mixture topped with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the sauce and a sprinkling of cashews.

Amazing Raw “Peanut” Sauce
Makes 2 cups

1 cup raw almond butter
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, whole or chopped
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons Nama Shoyu soy sauce
4 teaspoons sesame oil
2 to 3 cloves garlic
1/2 serrano or jalapeno chili

Blend all ingredients at high speed until smooth. Serve over Raw Pad Thai or use as a dipping sauce.

Raw Pad Thai and Raw “Peanut” sauce recipes courtesy of Natalia Rose, The Raw Food Detox Diet (Regan Books, 2005)

12 healthy shortcuts

12 healthy shortcuts

Sane and practical advice for living your best life

Every day, you’re faced with dozens of directives from doctors, health experts, and well-meaning family members: exercise 30 minutes a day, eat fish twice a week, floss every night. But it’s just not possible to do everything perfectly. You can’t cut corners on some things, such as quitting smoking or giving up trans fats, but other health mandates offer wiggle room for sane shortcuts. Want real-life advice for healthy tipshealthy living? Here are a dozen easier ways to do good-for-you things:

1. Eat breakfast. Ideally, you’d like to have protein, complex carbs, and healthy fat, with about a third of your daily caloric intakes. Studies show that people who eat regular breakfasts maintain their weight and have a lower risk of diabetes.

Sane shortcuts: Breakfast bars are a tempting shortcut, but many of them have too much sugar, too many calories, not enough fiber, and very little protein. Read labels carefully. Other ideas:

  • Keep a supply of boiled eggs in the refrigerator for quick breakfasts.
  • Combine whey protein, milk of your choice, and fruit in a blender the night before, so all you have to do in the morning is grab it and go.
  • Spread almond butter on a whole-grain toaster waffle.
  • Try an apple with a few cubes of cheese or a packet of salmon.

2 Boost cardiovascular health with daily activity. About 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day—or even most days—can improve cardiovascular health, reduce LDL cholesterol, and normalize weight.

Sane shortcuts: If a 30-minute run seems out of your reach, break it up into manage-able bursts of intense activity—anything that gets your heart beating faster.

  • Park several blocks away from your office and sprint to work.
  • Use a bike for transportation whenever distance and weather allow.
  • Stow a jump rope in your car, office drawer, briefcase, or backpack, and jump rope on your lunch hour.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

3 Get at least 8 hours of sleep. Less than that, and you’ll increase your risk of high blood pressure and weight gain; other studies show skimping on sleep is linked to a lowered immune system.

Sane shortcuts: Make sure your bedroom is the ideal sleep environment—quiet, dark, comfortable—and follow good sleep hygiene: avoid caffeine in the late afternoon, don’t watch scary movies, and follow a calming pre-bed ritual. Other ideas:

  • Take an afternoon siesta.
  • One study showed that nappers lowered their risk of heart disease, so grab a 20-minute snooze after lunch or work.
  • Try NADH: 20 mg can boost mental alertness and concentration, and help you perform better on mental tasks when you’re sleep deprived.
  • Close your eyes and do deep-breathing exercises for 10 minutes to temporarily refresh your mind.

meditation4 Meditate. A number of studies show that a daily meditation practice lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.

Sane shortcuts: The idea behind meditation is to calm the nervous system, slow your heart rate, and lower stress. Close your eyes, listen to your breath, and repeat the word “calm” or “relax.” If spending 30 minutes cross-legged on a cushion is unthinkable: Get comfortable (you don’t have to sit on the floor). Choose a comfortable chair that keeps your spine erect, but not so comfortable that you’ll doze off. Start with short—no more than 10 minutes—sessions to establish the habit.

  • If your mornings are rushed, try meditating at lunch or right before bed.
  • Do mini meditations throughout the day. Set an alarm for 2-hour intervals, and check in for 2 minutes with your breathing.
  • Invest in a set of meditation CDs to guide you.

5 Eat 5—9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. They’re rich in fiber and disease-preventive antioxidants, and they help protect you from heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and many other illnesses.

Sane shortcuts: Fresh, seasonal, organic produce is the ideal, but that’s a tall order for many Americans. Other options:

  • Stock your freezer with a variety of frozen vegetables for side dishes.
  • Purée a handful of baby spinach leaves, frozen blackberries, and half an avocado into smoothies.
  • Buy bags of precut vegetables and add to chopped romaine lettuce for fast salads
  • . Keep cucumber slices, strips of red peppers, and celery and carrot sticks in the fridge for fast snacks.

6 Eat fish twice a week. Fatty varieties—such as salmon, sardines, and tuna—are rich in omega-3s that protect against heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and inflammation.

Sane shortcuts: Flaxseed, walnuts, and a few other plant foods are also rich in omega-3 fats, but in a form that must be converted by the body, so they’re not your best source. Fishy ideas:

  • Swap salmon for white fish or shrimp in many recipes.
  • Sardines are cheaper than salmon and lower in toxins than tuna.
  • Swap boneless, skinless sardines for tuna in salads.
  • Take omega-3 supplements that contain DHA and EPA, and look for brands that also include vitamin E, rosemary, or another antioxidant to keep them fresh.

7 Always wear sunscreen. One recent study found that using sunscreen on a daily basis reduced the risk of melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer.

Sane shortcuts: The idea is to reduce cancer risk and protect against aging and skin damage. But wearing sunscreen inhibits the skin’s production of vitamin D, and the American Medical Association recommends 10 minutes of direct sun exposure several times a week. Some ideas:

  • Use a foundation or moisturizer with built-in sunscreen.
  • Carry a lightweight jacket, wear a big-brimmed hat, and seek out shade.
  • Choose safe sunscreens, and avoid toxic ingredients.
  • The Environmental Working Group ( has a complete list of the safest choices.
  • Drink green tea. It contains antioxidants that protect against damaging ultraviolet rays.

8 Eat 20—35 grams of fiber daily. Soluble and insoluble fiber are linked with a decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Sane shortcuts: Don’t count on grains. Calorie-for-calorie, beans, vegetables, and even some fruits are better bets. Other ways to get more fiber:

  • Eat more beans. Most contain half of your daily fiber needs.
  • Serve broccoli spears with dipping sauce for a fast alternative to salad. You’ll get 6 grams of fiber—and only 50 calories—per cup.
  • Top salads with a cup of raspberries, for 9 grams of fiber and only 68 calories.
  • Take a daily dose of ground psyllium fiber to promote regularity, or add ground flax to salad dressings and smoothies.

9 Brush after every meal, and floss daily. Besides preventing cavities, good oral hygiene protects against disease. In one study, people with periodontal disease were almost twice as likely to have heart disease.

Sane shortcuts: Brush after at least two meals when you’re eating at home, and tote a toothbrush when you’re out. If brushing is out of the question:

  • Use a toothpick to dislodge food particles, and rinse with water.
  • Chew xylitol gum after meals. It increases saliva production to wash away bits of food, and xylitol protects against cavities
  • . Make flossing easier with individual flossers. Or invest in an electric toothbrush with sonic waves to blast plaque.

10 Lift weights. Pumping iron encourages bone density and lowers body fat, which increases metabolism and lowers heart disease risk.

Sane shortcuts: Get a personal trainer to show you the ropes. Even one session will give you the tools and know-how to stick to a regular regimen. If you can’t lift weights at the gym:

  • Practice squats, lunges, or pushups. They use your body weight as the resistance.
  • Invest in a set of graduated weights, and lift for 15 minutes most days of the week.
  • Any exercise that requires your body to work against gravity also boosts bone. Follow a bone-healthy diet, which includes calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and other nutrients.

11 Stay hydrated. Try to drink at least eight glasses of water per day. It helps maintain blood pressure, promotes bowel regularity, and may prevent heart disease.

Sane shortcuts: Eight-a-day has long been the standard recommendation, but it depends on your size, level of activity, and overall diet (coffee, for example, acts as a diuretic, increasing your body’s need for water). How to hydrate:

  • Drink a glass of water each time you go to the bathroom.
  • Keep a jug or pitcher of water on your desk. You’ll drink more if it’s convenient.
  • Drink from a straw. You’ll automatically drink more.
12 Wash your hands. Studies show that frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent colds and flu.
Sane shortcuts: Wash your hands as soon as possible after you return from the grocery store, bank, work, or other highly trafficked public places. If you can’t wash:
  • Use a hand sanitizer gel or wipe; look for natural versions with essential oils and aloe
  • To avoid chemicals and prevent dry, chapped hands, choose natural sanitizers with antibacterial essential oils and aloe vera.
  • Avoid touching your eyes or nose. Delicate membranes in both can transfer pathogens into the body.
  • Strengthen your immune system with probiotics, vitamin D, and herbs such as ashwagandha.