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Caffeine is an organic compound that is found naturally in plant foods such as tea and coffee.  The caffeine content of different beverages can vary greatly based on processing.  An 8 oz cup of green tea has 24-40mg, while 1 oz of espresso has 40-75mg.  Some energy drinks with added caffeine have as much as 200mg in 2 oz!  With the growing popularity of super-charged energy beverages, some consumers are drinking hundreds of milligrams of caffeine each day.  A recent study found that college students consume an average of almost 1500mg per week.

Caffeine has been designated Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the US Food and Drug Administration.  This means it can be used as an additive in foods, beverages, and over-the-counter drugs.  However some research has shown that caffeine in large doses can have adverse effects including sleeplessness, anxiety, and rapid, irregular heart beat.  A 2010 study found that chronic heavy caffeine use (950mg/day) might negatively affect blood vessels in the brain.

To avoid health complications, keep caffeine consumption under 300mg daily.  If you’d like to replace your caffeinated beverage with something else warm and tasty, there are herbal options available.  Roasted chicory and dandelion root have an earthy flavor like coffee.  Rooibos tea has many of the antioxidants that other teas contain, but without the caffeine.

To see the caffeine content of some common beverages, check out this page from the Mayo Clinic.

This article is a reprint of a post I wrote for Sound Integrated Health News.

 
Today we'll discuss some of my favorite resources for healthy recipes.  As I've mentioned before, investing time in the kitchen is an important part of taking care of your health.  It’s always nice to get some fresh ideas for new dishes from the experts, especially when it comes to trying a new ingredient (for example dark leafy greens).  You may have already perused some of these, most are them are linked through my “Other awesome sites” page.  I wanted to give a brief description of each of them here so you know what you’re getting into!

101 Cookbooks

This is the recipe site of Heidi Swanson, the author of Super Natural Cooking and Super Natural Every Day.  Her recipes are all vegetarian, and I like that they rely heavily on veggies for flavor instead of sauces or condiments.  I’ve made this Raw Tuscan Kale Salad from her site several times before; it’s a good dish to bring to a picnic!

Cookus Interruptus

This is the website of Cynthia Lair, author of Feeding the Whole Family.  Cynthia was my Whole Foods Cooking instructor at Bastyr University.  This site is great because every recipe has a video that goes along with it, just in case you need a demonstration!

Golubka

This website has creative vegan and gluten-free recipes, along with really beautiful photography.  It also has a lot of raw recipes, but they are not all uncooked.  I have a lot of stone fruit right now, so I’m going to try these Roasted Plum and Rosemary Popsicles tonight!

Good Fish

This is the website of Becky Selengut, author of a cookbook by the same name as her site.  Becky is also a culinary instructor at Bastyr (I see a theme here).  If you’re intimidated by cooking or shopping for fish, get thee to this website.  Becky has videos on all sorts of cooking techniques for seafood; they go step by step and are entertaining!

Green Kitchen Stories

This vegetarian website is authored by a married couple.  They are coming out with their first cookbook in 2013.  Perhaps you could try these Cinnamon Roasted Vegetables if you’re interested in adding healthy spices to your diet.

My Global Kitchens

This is the website of my friend Marilyn Weissman.  She is a well-traveled lady who creates recipes inspired by her international travel.  For an easy breakfast check out her simple Frittata recipe.

My New Roots

This vegetarian recipe blog (I’m not vegetarian, I just like vegetables!) is authored by Sarah Britton, a holistic nutritionist and chef.  This is another great resource for recipes that are centered around fresh veggies.  Since we’re knee-deep in squash season, maybe you could try her Summer Stuffed Patty Pans.

Post Punk Kitchen

This vegan website is authored by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a punky chef who was born and raised in Brooklyn (my former city of residence).  While her website does have a lot of dessert-focused baked goods, it also has a whole host of healthy main dishes and homemade condiments.

Roost

This gluten-free blog has a number of creative recipes that either use alternative grains or are totally grain-free.  The author of this site also has some instructive videos for her recipes like this one for cabbage salad.
 
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We all know by now that it’s important to include lots of fresh vegetables in your diet.  Colorful veggies are a great source of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.  On top of that they’re low in calories, so what’s not to love?

If you’re just starting to integrate more vegetables into your diet, it can be challenging to figure out how to prepare them.  Different cooking methods work best for different vegetables.  The list below suggests techniques for specific foods.  There are other cooking methods that would work for these foods; this list just provides a place to begin.

Good to eat raw:
  • Bell Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Crimini Mushrooms
  • Cucumbers
  • Fennel
  • Jicama
  • Salad greens
  • Sugar Snap Peas

Good to eat steamed:
Video on how to steam here.
  • Asparagus
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Collard Greens
  • Green Beans
  • Kale

Good to eat sautéed:
Video on how to saute here.
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Snow Peas
  • Summer Squash
  • Zucchini

Good to eat baked:
Baked acorn squash recipe here.
  • Potatoes
  • Summer Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Winter squash

Good to eat roasted:
Basic roasted vegetable recipe here.
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Turnips


 
Inflammation can cause or exacerbate many different diseases, including heart, lung, joint, and skin conditions.  Certain foods have antioxidant compounds in them that fight inflammation.  As we’ve discussed before, virtually all fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants.  In addition to those, many spices also contain compounds that decrease inflammation.  Adding these spices into your diet is an easy way to pack more anti-inflammatory power into your food!

Turmeric:  The active constituent in this root, curcumin, has been shown to decrease inflammation in a number of different clinical trials.  While turmeric is a major component in curry powder, it does not have a very strong flavor when used alone.  Turmeric has a vibrant yellow color that can be used to brighten up soups, sauces, or grains.  Cynthia from Cookus Interruptus has a nice recipe for Golden Spice Rice here.

Cinnamon:  This commonly used spice has both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects.  That means it can both soothe inflammation and deter harmful bacteria.  Try using cinnamon in a savory dish, such as this Moroccan Vegetable Tagine recipe from Green Kitchen Stories.

Other spices that have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects include ginger, cloves, black pepper, and red chili.

Most studies have shown that consuming just a few grams of all the spices above can have an anti-inflammatory effect.  Help your body soothe inflammation by adding a dash here or there of different spices throughout your day.
 
Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards, and chard contain a wealth of nutrients that can help prevent disease.  Greens only contain around 30 calories per cooked cup, and 3-5 grams of fiber.  That means adding leafy greens into your diet can add a lot of bulk to your plate, and make you feel full longer.  Here are some of the ways a diet rich in leafy greens can help you avoid chronic disease:

Fight heart disease.  Greens are rich in folate, a nutrient that can help prevent arterial plaque development.  Folate is also necessary for healthy red blood cell growth, normal nerve function, and fetal development in pregnant women.  Beans are another great source of folate.

Keep your nerves and muscles in good working order.  Leafy greens are a good source of magnesium.  Many people’s diets are chronically low in this mineral.  In magnesium deficiency our nerves become over-stimulated, which can result in muscle pain, cramps, and spasms.

Lower your cancer risk.  Cruciferous greens like kale and other cabbages are rich in sulforaphane, the same compound in broccoli that could reduce your risk for cancer.  Several studies have shown that people who regularly consume sulforaphane-rich foods have a decreased cancer risk.

It’s best to cook leafy greens for a short amount of time to maintain their nutrient content.  The trick is to cook them long enough to increase the digestibility, but not so long that you cook all the life out of them!  Use your visual judgment; you want your cooked greens to be green- not brown.  A light steaming, pan sauté, or massaging greens with an acidic ingredient usually works best.

Here’s a good recipe for Massaged Kale salad from Cookus Interruptus.

Here’s where you can purchase an “Eat More Kale” t-shirt to show your love for greens!
 
Once again the idea for this snack came from Sara in the Human Nutrition Lab, I don’t know what I’m going to do for Healthy Snack Sunday when I don’t work there anymore!

Seaweed is a nutrient-rich food that is not often encountered in an American diet.  Sea vegetables are a great source of many minerals including iodine, calcium, and absorbable iron.  For more information on the health benefits of seaweed check out this page on The World’s Healthiest Foods.
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I called this recipe “sloppy” sushi because it has all the elements of sushi, but I didn’t bother to roll it up it a neat little package.  You just scoop it all up in the nori, smoosh it into a little bundle and eat it!

How to make your brown rice sticky

The white rice that is traditionally used for sushi is sticky because it is high in a gluey kind of starch.  Brown rice sushi usually falls apart easily because the rice is much lower in sticky starch.  To make my rice sticky I added the traditional rice vinegar plus some ground up flax seeds.  Flax meal gets gooey when you add warm water to it, so I stirred it in when the rice was just about finished cooking but still had a lot of moisture in it.  I don’t have any specific measurements for you, it was around 1/3 cup of flax meal to 2 cups rice, plus a big splash of rice vinegar.  This also adds some healthy omega 3 fatty acids to your snack.

I also added a dash of toasted sesame oil to my rice for flavor.

Sloppy sushi
  •   3 sheets toasted sushi nori
  •   ½ cup cooked sticky brown rice
  •   A smattering of veggies of your choice

Nori usually comes in larger sheets, so cut yours down into a piece you can comfortably hold in your hand.  I cut mine into fourths.

Scoop a Tablespoon or two of rice into your nori, then top with vegetables.  Smoosh it all up into a little ball and put directly in your mouth!

For my vegetables I used radishes mixed with some pickled ginger, and it turned out great.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can get locally harvested nori from Sound Sea Vegetables.
 
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The foods that you eat (or don’t eat) have a huge impact on your energy level.  When your body doesn’t have all the materials it needs to generate energy, you’re going to feel like you need a nap.  Here are some guidelines for keeping the spring in your step with nutrition:

Don’t eat sugary foods when you’re starving.
This scenario may sound familiar to you:  it’s mid-afternoon and you haven’t eaten for hours.  You spot a (insert sugary treat here) in the vicinity and scarf it down.  About an hour later you can’t keep your eyes open!  This is due to something called reactive hypoglycemia, the drop in blood glucose that follows a sugar binge on an empty stomach.

When you’re feeling ravenous, go for a snack that is high in protein and contains some fiber.  This will help bring your blood glucose up in a slow and steady manner.  You can find more information on maintaining regular blood sugar in this post from a few weeks ago.

Watch out for excessive caffeine.  Oddly enough, this stimulant has been associated with many cases of fatigue.  Caffeine can interfere with falling asleep and quality of sleep when consumed in excess.  Consume caffeinated beverages in the morning and keep the serving size reasonable.

Eat your B vitamins.  A variety of B vitamins are necessary for energy production in the body.  When B vitamin stores are depleted, the whole thing grinds to a halt.  Here are some good sources of the vitamins you need to get the energy level you want:

  • Thiamin:  Tuna, beans, peas
  • Riboflavin:  Dairy products, soybeans, mushrooms, spinach
  • Niacin:  Meat, fish, mushrooms
  • B5:  Avocado, yogurt, corn
  • B6:  Meat , fish, potatoes, sunflower seeds
  • Folate:  Beans, dark leafy greens
  • B12:  Meat, fish, dairy

 
Most of us could use a good stretch.  Whether you’ve been sitting at the computer or up on your feet all day, your muscles could benefit from some stretching time.  Today we’ll discuss some of the benefits of stretching, which can be both physical and mental.

Stretching can prevent injuries and pain.
Our muscles work best when our joints are aligned properly.  As we go through repetitive motions and postures throughout our day, some muscle groups tighten up and can pull our joints out of alignment.  This can result in chronic muscle pain or exercise injuries.  A regular stretching routine helps keep your joints aligned so your muscles can move freely and easily.

Stretching can help you breathe deeper and more effectively.
Getting more oxygen to your brain is a good thing!  The diaphragm is the major muscle that expands and contracts your lungs, but there are many muscles around your neck and ribcage that help out in the process.  Unfortunately these muscles get short and weak with prolonged slouching, like the kind of slouching we all usually do over a computer desk.  A stretching session can free up those muscles to take a deep, refreshing breath of air!

Stretching can help reduce emotional stress.
The act of stretching signals to your central nervous system that it is time to relax and heal.  This decreases the release of stress hormones, resulting in a calm state of mind.

If you’d like some ideas for a stretching routine you can do at your desk, check out these ideas from my teachers at Slobody.
 
We established earlier in the week that whole grains in moderation are part of a healthy diet.  Today we’ll cover which grains are good to keep on hand, and how to store them.

Just like oils, it’s a good idea to keep a few different textures and tastes of grain in your pantry.  Here are some examples of grains you could keep in your kitchen, going in order of soft to crunchy.

Teff:  This African grain is very tiny, so it cooks quickly and results in a creamy porridge texture.  There’s a nice recipe for teff breakfast porridge from Lorna Sass here.

Polenta:  This is coarsely ground cornmeal.  It does take some care and attention to cook polenta without burning it, but it my opinion it’s worth the time!  Polenta also results in a creamy texture, which will firm up when cool.  I like to portion it out in muffin tins so I have servings of polenta pucks ready to go.  Top a puck with some cooked veggies and a protein and you’ve got a nice little meal!

Steel cut oats:  We talked about this whole grain in our breakfast article yesterday.  Keep some handy in your pantry for a warm meal option in the morning.

Millet:  The texture of this small round grain will vary based on whether you toast it before cooking or not.  It has a pleasant nutty flavor, which is also more pronounced post-toasting.  There’s a good article on toasting and preparing millet here.

Brown rice:  This whole grain can be used in so many dishes, will last in a dry pantry for months, and is inexpensive.  What more is there to say?

Quinoa:  This complete vegan protein has a sturdy texture that will hold up in soups and chili.  Quinoa has a nice subtle flavor, rinse it before cooking to avoid any bitter aftertaste.

Wild rice:  This grain is chewier than brown rice, and will also hold up well in soup.  I like to use it for grain salads because it won’t get mushy in the fridge.

Popping corn:  Always good to keep in your kitchen for a fast snack!  It’s cheap and will store for months in your pantry.

There are so many different whole grains out there; these are just a few viable options.  These are all grains intended to cook whole; we’ll cover flours another time.  The use and storage of flour is a little different.

Here are some tips for storing grains:
  • Keep your grains in a dry, cool, dark, cupboard.
  • Store grains in an airtight container- I reuse jars and yogurt tubs and whatnot.
  • Label everything, and write the water/grain ratio right on the label for easy reference.

If you’d like a cookbook that has many different whole grain recipes, check out Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way by Lorna Sass.
 
This topic was on my mind this morning, I taught a 6am Kinesis class at 5focus and had to make my breakfast quickly (and quietly, so as to not wake up the husband).  We know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it can be tough to fit meal preparation into your busy morning.

Here are some ideas for breakfast in a jiffy:

Green Smoothie:  This meal has two advantages; it’s fast and you can take it with you.  You can get creative with what you put it: frozen fruit, fresh fruit, yogurt, coconut milk, dates.  For the green element a handful of fresh spinach, chard, or kale will give it a nutrient boost without a very detectable flavor.  If you’d like to follow a green smoothie recipe you can check out this site here, or there’s even a green smoothie app available here.

Microwave Scrambled Eggs:  Okay, so these eggs will not come out quite as fluffy as eggs from a pan, but they’re fast and nutritious.  Here are the cooking instructions:
  • Break one or two eggs into a microwave-safe coffee mug.
  • Add any spices you want to and scramble with a fork.
  • Cook in the microwave: about 40 seconds for one egg and 1 minute for two eggs.
  • I like to combine this with avocado, hot sauce, and salad greens in a corn tortilla.  It’s ready in minutes and I can take it with me!

Trail Mix:  To make this portable meal you’ll need unsweetened dried fruit, some raw or dry roasted nuts, and a crunchy element (pretzels, whole grain crackers, or granola works well).  Mix everything together in a zip baggie and you’re good to go.

Here are some ideas that require a little advance preparation, but can be quickly reheated:

Steel Cut Oats:  These are less processed than rolled oats and reheat really well in the microwave.  Here are the cooking directions:
  • Boil 3 cups water in a medium stockpot.
  • Add in 1 cup oats and a pinch of salt, reduce heat to medium-low.
  • Simmer until liquid is absorbed and oats are thick but still easily stirred.
  • Portion into muffin tins, let cool.  Store in fridge or freezer.
  • When reheating, it helps to add some milk, vegan milk, or even water to keep the oats from drying out.
  • Add in some fresh fruit, nuts, or spices.

Bean-wah:  This is my husband’s name for quinoa and beans combined.  Make one pot of quinoa, one pot of beans (spiced however you like) and mix them together.  Add in any veggies you have on hand: shredded carrots, spinach, tomatoes, or onions are some ideas that come to mind.  Portion into single-serving containers and store in the fridge.  This could also be eaten cold in a pinch!

We’ll continue the Whole Foods Pantry Series tomorrow with a discussion on stocking grains.

I don’t know that I can condone cookies for breakfast, but I saw that Melissa has a breakfast cookie recipe on her site and it looks pretty darn good!