Hearts on Fire

Valentine’s Day week is a great time to share with students “foods that fuel their heart” – starting with the RED ones. When we are having a discussion about fruits and vegetables in our classes, I like to point out that the natural chemicals in them are responsible for their color. They give fruits and veggies vibrant, bright colors! These chemicals are known as “phytochemicals” or “phytonutrients.”  A good example is anti-oxidants, readily found in these foods. Although they do not contain nutrition, they are still responsible for helping to protect us from disease.

Although each color performs a multitude of disease-preventing functions that may cross over into other colors, I like to associate one color with one function to help students remember it.  Sooooo, the white ones protect your immune system, the orange/yellow protect your eyes and the green prevent against cancer.

So then what do the red ones do? Protects our “red” hearts of course!

The red ones contain a chemical called “lycopene” (found in tomatoes) that is responsible for its red pigment. Lycopene may inhibit the production of cholesterol and reduce LDL or the “not so good” cholesterol in your blood. Some studies have suggested too (although results are mixed) that higher concentrations of lycopene have been associated with a reduced risk of heart attack.

So what are some of the best “red” Valentine’s Day foods you could recommend to students to help melt their “beloved-ones” heart?

  •     Tomato soup
  •     Valentine’s Day salad topped with red heart tomatoes
  •     Red pepper dip
  •     Baked red snapper
  •     Spaghetti with red lentil pasta sauce
  •     Desserts with strawberries, raspberries or cherries

A simple, luxuriously sweet, “red” recipe that you can make with your students is Poached Pears in Raspberry Sauce.

Poached Pears in Raspberry Sauce  

poached-pears-in-raspberry-sauce

 

Ingredients:

  • 3 firm Bosc or Bartlett pears
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (not from concentrate)
  • ¼ cup raspberry jam or jelly (I use jam that is fruit-juice sweetened and not from concentrate)
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon or nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • Fresh raspberries, strawberries and mint leaves for garnish

 Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
  2. Cut pears in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds and core with a spoon.
  3. Place pears cut side down in a baking dish.
  4. Combine juice, jam or jelly, cinnamon or nutmeg and salt in a separate bowl.
  5. Pour sauce over pears and cover dish with foil.
  6. Place pears in the oven and bake until they are soft (about 25 minutes).
  7. To serve, place pears cut side up on serving dish. Spoon sauce from baking dish over them and garish with berries and mint.

A popular option now is instead of cutting pears in half; cook them whole and then serve  standing up dripped in raspberry sauce.   

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Sugar is Sugar is Sugar – Really?

I’ve had many people tell me that they avoid fruit because of its sugar content.  But is it really the same as other sugars?

Basics: When sugar is broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream, it causes the sugar levels in your blood to rise.  Your pancreas then releases a hormone called insulin to bring your sugar levels back down to normal, by pushing sugar into your cells. Your cells then release sugar in the form of energy to keep you going throughout the day. Sounds good, right?

But not all sugars have the same impact on your blood sugar levels.  Here’s the difference:

White table sugar or sugar is a highly processed, highly refined sugar.  It enters your blood stream rapidly and causes a significant spike in your blood sugar levels.  Large amounts of insulin are released from your pancreas to bring your sugar levels back down to normal, but sometimes it pushes them too low.  This results in what is known as the “sugar crash.” Headaches, feeling tired, lack of energy, inability to concentrate and craving more sugar may be the result.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is also an extremely refined, highly processed sugar – processed with sulfuric acid (think battery acid!). Because of their molecular structure, they are absorbed even more rapidly in the blood stream than sugar.  And they go straight to our liver where a bunch of chemical reactions turn them into fat. Over time, these fats build up in our liver and can result in a condition known as “non-alcoholic” fatty liver.  This condition may result in liver swelling or scarring (cirrhosis) and may even contribute to liver cancer or failure.

Fruit on the other hand is “sugar from nature.” It is absorbed much slower because of what it is packaged in.  Fruit is high in fiber!  Fiber slows the breakdown of sugar into our blood-stream.  This causes a slow rise in blood sugar and a small amount of insulin to be released from our pancreas.  This means that you have less blood sugar spikes and lows. A steady amount of blood sugar release gives you just enough to keep you alert and provides energy throughout the day. Fruit is generally high in water – so naturally low in calories and keeps you fuller longer. Plus fruit is generally loaded with Vitamin A and Vitamin C!

The bottom line, fruit can satisfy your sweet tooth without impacting your blood sugar levels, along with providing many other health benefits.  Sugar and HFCS – not so much.

Food for Thought: I’ve never heard of anyone experiencing the “sugar-crash” after they ate a piece of fruit! Have you?

Tune in for more discussions on sugar types in future posts……

Photo: Courtesy of “That Sugar Film”

Cauliflower, the New Comfort Food

In 1621 the pilgrims celebrated their first fall harvest. They held a ceremony to show gratitude for their good fortune and to give thanks. Over time this tradition became known as “Thanksgiving”. What you might imagine this to look like is quite a bit different than the stereotypical “Turkey Day” image of grandpa napping on a couch with a full belly, pumpkin pies, apple pies, pecan pies, stuffing, cranberry sauce, biscuits and a large juicy bird on the table and a football game.

While the original Thanksgiving was a gathering of family and community, their dining table looked a little different than what we are now accustomed to. The table they feasted at in 1621 had less overindulgence, less refined carbohydrates and saturated fat, and a wider variety of local and seasonal fruits and vegetables. I want to zoom in on one particular item on their Thanksgiving table, cauliflower.

Mark Twain said “a cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education”. That’s because the cauliflower plant actually is in the same family as cabbage, along with kale, collard greens, brussels sprouts and broccoli. These are cruciferous or brassica vegetables. One of the most significant characteristic of vegetables in the Brassica family is that they contain glucosinolates, a phytochemical in some plants that releases a pungent taste when chewed.  

Cauliflower can be found in white, green, purple and orange varieties, each one offering different nutrients, dependent on their color.  In general cauliflower contains:

  • Glucosinolates
  • High amount of vitamin C
    • A powerful antioxidant that protects the immune system
  • Potassium
    • Keeps your heart beating and muscles from cramping
  • Manganese
    • Important for metabolism, bone development and wound healing
  • Vitamin K
    • Needed for bone development and helps stop bleeding when you have a cut
  • Fiber
    • Aids in healthy digestion and makes you feel full
  • Omega-3
    • Cauliflower is one of the best vegetable sources of omega-3. It’s important to fight of inflammation, regulate cholesterol levels and have been shown to help with helps keep our minds sharp.

Fun Fact: Romanesco Cauliflower is a great example of sacred geometry in food. Sacred geometry is a term used to describe patterns we see repeating themselves over and over in nature. They are the building blocks or seeds of nature. Pinecones or nautilus shells are other good examples of this. This has got to get your students excited about cauliflower because. . . well, it’s really cool!

romanesco-cauliflower

How To Cook It:

The recipes below provide a twist on traditional Thanksgiving recipes. Imagine Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes or stuffing… no thank you. But what if instead of the heavy bread and eggs for the stuffing or the potatoes for the mash, we lightened it up with cauliflower? Changing an unhealthy habit into healthy choices is made easier when we just tweak what we already know and love. This is a way to help your students add more vegetables in their diet and get excited about what they are eating.

Here are some other ideas on how to use cauliflower:

  • Cauliflower pizza crust
  • Cauliflower buffalo wings
  • Cauliflower hash
  • Cauliflower tots
  • Cauliflower tacos (see recipe in previous beet article here)
  • Cauliflower fried “rice”

You can also throw it into an omelet, drizzle some oil on it and roast it, puree it into soup, toss it in a stew or curry, or make a sauce and to dip it in and eat it raw.

Mashed Cauliflower

mashed-cauliflower

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 heads cauliflower, florets, rough chop
  • 1 cup of vegetable stock per every cup of cauliflower
  • 3 tbs plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

(Optional) chives, rosemary or parsley for garnish or 2 tbs chopped and mixed in

Directions:

  1. Bring vegetable stock to a boil in a saucepan, add the cauliflower and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer until cauliflower is tender.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a small amount of the oil on a pan and lightly sauté garlic on low heat until it begins to brown. Set aside.
  3. Reserve cooking liquid and transfer cauliflower to a food processor. Add yogurt, garlic and seasonings and blend until smooth. Slowly add in the oil and then the cooking liquid until you reach desired creaminess.
  4. (Optional) Mix in fresh parsley or chives.
  5. Serve and eat.

Cauliflower Stuffing

Cauliflower Stuffing.jpg

Ingredients:

  • 1 head cauliflower, florets rough chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, dice
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/3 cup polenta, dried
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 tbs rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tbs parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp sage powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Directions:

  1. Put cauliflower florets into food processor and pulse until it is small and rice-like.
  2. Bring vegetable stock to a boil. Add the cauliflower, salt, pepper and sage and bring to a low simmer. Allow to simmer until it becomes tender and reaches a porridge like consistency, stirring occasionally.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, add the vegetable oil. Over medium heat, add the onions, carrots and celery. Once these have softened, add the mushrooms, garlic, rosemary and parsley for an additional minute or two.
  4. Once the cauliflower has finished cooking, add the polenta and stir for about 3 minutes. Then, combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  5. Serve and eat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cherry Baby

Cherries eaten from nature are incredibly sweet, juicy and flavorful!  There are over 1,000 different kinds with the most popular being the Bing, Rainier, black and sweetheart. The rainier are considered the “princess” of the cherries because they are the sweetest and most expensive.

Cherries are great in salads, jams, cookies, muffins, breads or scones or dried and mixed with nuts, in a cherry pie or cobbler or covered in chocolate (see healthier version of chocolate covered cherries below).  They are the “cherry on the top” of a lot of rich desserts including cheesecake or cherries jubilee (doused with sweet liquor that is lit on fire).

Cherries are naturally low in calories (makes them a great snack!) and fat. They are a good source of fiber and potassium and are high in Vitamin C. They contain some protein, Vitamin A, calcium and iron.

Something you may not know is that there is about ½ cup of water in each cup of cherries.  This not only contributes to your daily water requirements, but also helps provide fullness.

They are naturally sweet, so you don’t need to add sugar to them.

And they contain the flavonoid anthocyanin (responsible for their red color), which is why they provide a variety of health benefits including:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Protecting the liver
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Improving eyesight
  • Suppressing cancer cells

They play a significant role in preventing cancer, diabetes, heart and neurological disease. Plus drinking their juice can reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of gout.

For a special treat, try chocolate covered cherries. Most of these recipes use jarred maraschino cherries that are bleached with chemicals and other additives. Plus they contain added high fructose corn syrup and red dye #4.  This recipe contains only “real”, whole cherries from the stem.  To make it a bit healthier, we swapped out butter and milk chocolate with dairy-free dark chocolate. We also used raw honey and 100% pure organic maple syrup instead of refined white sugar.

Delectable Chocolate Covered Cherries

Yields: 12-15 cherries

Ingredients:

  • 1/3rd pound stem removed and pitted cherries (approximately 12-15) – one for each chocolate covered cherry
  • ½ cup honey or maple syrup – use maple syrup if you prefer a vegan recipe
  • ½ tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Sprinkle of almond extract
  • ½ tablespoon arrowroot
  • ½ tablespoon water
  • 1 cup (approximately 2 bars) dairy-free dark chocolate 72% cacao – use one sweetened with coconut sugar to reduce added sugar amount.
  • Chocolate covered cherry mold

Directions:

  1. Mix together cherries, honey or maple syrup, vanilla and almond extract and then place in a medium sauce pan.
  2. Heat on medium heat until mixture simmers.
  3. While cherries are heating, mix together arrowroot and water in a small container until it forms a thick paste.
  4. Raise heat to medium high and then add paste to cherry mixture.
  5. Mix in arrowroot and cook until mixture is thick. You may need to add more arrowroot if mixture is runny and won’t thicken.
  6. Remove cherry mixture and set aside.
  7. In another pot, melt chocolate on low heat. It only takes about a minute or two to melt chocolate.
  8. Place chocolate mold on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  9. Using a teaspoon, drizzle chocolate into bottom of each cherry mold. Add 1 cherry and some juice on top of it.  Cover with another drizzle of chocolate.
  10. Place cookie sheet in freezer for 30-40 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.
  11. Turn candy mold upside down and pop candy out of mold. Serve immediately.

 Tip: I would highly recommend purchasing a cherry pitter to remove pits as it will save you a significant amount of time (cost is around $7-10 for this).