- Less calories: 70% less calories in 2 tablespoons in this recipe
- Less fat: 8 grams in this one vs. 14 grams of fat in the bottled ones
- Less saturated fat: .6 grams in this recipe vs. 2.5 grams in the bottled one
- Less salt: 70% less salt in this one
The word squash is derived from the Indian word askutasquash, meaning “eaten raw or uncooked.” Although Native Americans mostly ate it raw, we generally like to cook it. Squash is known as one of the “Three Sisters” planted by Native Americans. The three sisters include corn, beans and squash and were three native plants that were farmed. This was one of the first examples of sustainable agriculture, as each plant supported the others’ growth: corn provided stalks for the beans to grow, squash vines covered the weeds on the ground, and beans provided nitrogen for all three crops to grow.
Squashes are technically classified as a fruit, but have many culinary uses as a vegetable. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Some are big and round, while others are thin and short. They can come flattened or tubular and with straight or crooked necks. Colors range from white to yellow to orange to green – some with stripes, others that are solid.
They are classified according to when they are best harvested, in either the winter or summer. Summer squash is usually harvested during the summer. These plants have thinner skins and are smaller. Examples include zucchini and yellow crookneck. Winter squash are harvested at maturity, usually at the end of the summer through the winter. This type of squash generally has a harder shell, which allows them to act as storage containers for cooking their flesh along with other ingredients. They have thick skin and hard seeds and can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration. Examples include butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash.
Squash is extremely high in carotenoids (Vitamin A) – most orange fruits and veggies are high in Vitamin A.
It is also extremely high in the following:
It is rich in Lutein, a carotenoid that contributes to the dark orange color of butternut squash and pumpkin and serves as an anti-oxidant.
Squash can protect you against cancer, heart disease and cataracts.
Fun Fact: It has the same composition as a fruit, so is considered a fruit and not a vegetable. All squash is considered a fruit with edible flesh.
Parent tip for cooking with kids: Many varieties of squash contain seeds that can be toasted and eaten as a snack. Pumpkin is a member of the squash family, and its seeds can be made into a tasty Halloween treat that kids gobble up! You can toast any kind of squash seeds, including butternut and acorn squash, and then coat them with a little olive oil, cayenne pepper, cumin and salt and add them to their favorite squash soup.
A healthy take on regular old muffins.
Yields: 24 regular-sized muffins (two pans’ worth)
1 1/2 banana – mashed
1 cup butternut squash – baked or boiled
¾ cup apple sauce
1/3rd cup turbinado sugar or sucanat (or any other less processed sugar)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 cups whole wheat/white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Grease muffin pans or add muffin cake liners to pans.
• Mix together banana, squash, eggs, apple sauce, sugar and oil in a mixing bowl until well blended. You can also use an electric mixer if this is easier.
• In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking soda and powder and cinnamon.
• Make a hole or well in the dry ingredients. Dump the wet ingredients into the center and then start to blend the two ingredients together to form a batter.
• Pour batter into muffin tins and sprinkle with cinnamon.
• Bake at 350 degrees for 16-20 minutes.
• Let cool and then serve.
Optional: Top with a glazed cinnamon icing
Nutritional information (per muffin):
Carbohydrates 12 grams
Protein 2 grams
Fat 4 grams Saturated fat 1 gram
Fiber 2 grams
Vitamin A 1% of daily rec amt
Vitamin C 5% of daily rec amt Sodium 130mg – low
Calcium 1% of daily rec amt
Iron 4% of daily rec amt
Sugar 1.5 grams
Why is this recipe healthier than a usual squash muffin recipe?
- We used bananas instead of butter for moisture and tenderness.
- A lot of recipes call for a cup of butter, which adds 1,600 calories, 176 grams of fat and 112 grams of saturated fat to the recipe.
- 1 ½ bananas add only 158 calories, .6 grams of fat and .15 grams of saturated fat.
- We swapped out butter for sunflower oil.
- We added butternut squash for a boost of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.
- We lowered the amount of sugar added to the recipe – only 1/3rd cup.
- Some recipes call for 3 cups of sugar!
- We swapped out the sugar with apple sauce. You can also use fruit such as figs or dates, fruit puree or vanilla extract to cut back on sugar in a recipe.
- We used whole wheat/white flour to add more fiber and still make it appealing to kids.
- We added only a teaspoon of salt for 24 muffins.
- We included cinnamon for added sweetness and flavor.
What bell pepper is the most nutritious? Well the quick and simple answer is – it depends.
Many will say that the red are the most nutritious, because they are on the vine the longest. A red pepper starts out green, but then the longer it is on the vine it may transition to either the color red or to white, then purple and then red. Longer vine times mean a greater amount of Vitamin C. Plus the peppers taste sweeter!
NUTRITION BY THE COLORS:
1 large RED bell pepper provides 103% of our recommended daily amount of Vitamin A, 349% of Vitamin C, 10% potassium, 24% Vitamin B6 and is a really good source of fiber.
However, the YELLOW ones do give the red ones a run for their money. 1 large yellow pepper provides more Vitamin C (569%) and potassium (11%) and is a good source of Vit A, B6, potassium and fiber.
Don’t discount the GREEN ones yet, as 1 large one still provides 220% of our daily recommended amount of Vitamin C, 12% Vitamin A, 8% potassium, 18% Vitamin B6 and are a good source of fiber. Plus, they generally cost less as they are harvested quicker and are at less risk for spoilage in the field.
Most growers will tell you too that the nutritional content is dependent on the soil they are grown in, the varietal or type of pepper, how long they are kept on the vine before harvesting among many other factors.
Peppers come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, hotness and colors! This includes, green, orange, yellow, red, purple, pink, blue, white, black and brown and even rainbow ones (the transition stage from one color to the next). Bell peppers are great in the fall because they are most likely in season and so naturally taste sweet. And baby bells are some of student’s favorites!
Plus, they have really cool names like “Golden Summer”, “Purple Beauty”, “Chocolate Brown or Mulato.”
One of the cooking activities you can do with students is to give their typical bell pepper recipe a makeover by replacing higher calorie, fat and saturated fat ingredients with healthier ones. This recipe takes a little longer to make then most of our recipes, but well-worth the time and effort. If you don’t have enough class time to make it, you can prep the ingredients one day and make the recipe the next. Students can work in teams of 2-4 to complete it.
Peppers by themselves are pretty low in calories. A large pepper contains less than 50 calories for the whole pepper. Plus they are naturally low in fat and saturated fat.
However, what you stuff in it can have a huge impact on its nutritional value. For example, a typical Italian stuffed bell pepper is generally packed with meats, cheeses and salt. On average one serving contains almost 1,000 calories, 46% of your daily recommended amount of fat, 64% saturated fat and 157% of daily recommended sodium or salt.
To give it a healthy makeover, we replaced the meat with red lentils and dried green split peas (our favorite healthy protein!) and the cheese with omega-3 packed walnuts and black olives. One serving of the recipe below contains only 389 calories, 22% of your daily recommended amount of fat, 13% saturated fat and 38% of daily recommended sodium or salt. It also is an excellent source of fiber (10 grams!), Vitamin A and C and iron, plus a great source of potassium and contains calcium.
Here’s the made-over recipe:
Italian Stuffed Peppers
- 1 24-oz. jar of marinara spaghetti sauce – I like to use the spicy kind!
- 4 large different colored bell peppers – cut off about an inch from the top and scoop out the inside flesh and wash to remove the seeds. Keep both the tops and bottoms for baking.
- 2/3rd cups dried green split peas, rinsed
- 1/3rd cup dried red lentils, rinsed
- 1 cup wild rice blend
- Water for rice steamer
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 regular size shallot, diced
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¾ cup baby broccoli or broccolini
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 2 each chopped kale leaves
- ¼ cups walnuts
- ¼ cup whole black olives
- ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper
- Sprinkle of no-salt granulated garlic
- 3 each chopped Italian parsley leaves
- Pre-heat oven to 400º. Oven temperatures vary and you may need to raise or lower this temperature depending on whether or not you are in altitude.
- Cook wild rice, split peas and lentils together in a rice cooker until soft.
- Prepare peppers. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add peppers and cook for about 1 ½ minutes. Remove peppers from water and let cool.
- Heat olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the shallot, celery and garlic to the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Next add the baby broccoli and cook for another 3 minutes.
- Add in the zucchini and kale and cook for 5 minutes more until zucchini is soft and kale is wilted. Add a sprinkle of granulated garlic and another sprinkle of salt and pepper.
- Lastly, add the walnuts and black olives and cook for another minute. Remove from heat.
- In a large bowl, combine the vegetable mixture with the rice and peas/lentils, ½ jar of spaghetti sauce and the chopped parsley.
Assemble the peppers:
- Add a layer of the spaghetti sauce to the bottom of glass cookware or any other baking pan. I like to also add ¼ can of fire-roasted tomatoes (drained) to the sauce, but this is optional.
- Place the peppers in the cookware cut-side up and then using a tablespoon, stuff the peppers with the combined mixture.
- Top each pepper with some spaghetti sauce, leaving some aside for serving. Add pepper top to each pepper and then cover glass cookware with lid or foil.
- Bake for 30 minutes until peppers are tender.
- Serve on a plate with additional spaghetti sauce and a variety of fresh or dried Italian herbs.
We highly suggest that you take pictures of students with their finished peppers as they are so colorful and your network will adore them. And/or we would love it if you shared your favorite bell pepper shots on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AnOunceofNutrition/ , so that other teachers can enjoy!
The orange ones protect your eyes! Yep, that’s right, the orange colored fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene which is converted to Vitamin A in our bodies to help protect our eyes. And the orange flesh-colored cantaloupes are no exception to this rule. 1 cup of cantaloupe provides 120% of our daily recommended amount of Vitamin A.
Why do we need Vitamin A? When we eat foods rich in Vitamin A, they become part of a protein known as Rhodopsin. This protein converts light into a signal that is sent to our brain to create an image, which allows us to see in dim light or at night. It also helps our eyes adjust to darkness – think dark movie theatre!
Vitamin A Deficiency: So knowing that Vitamin A helps us see in the dark, it makes perfect sense that a deficiency in this important nutrient could make it difficult for us to see at in the evening, a condition known as night blindness. This ailment makes it extremely challenging for drivers to see at night!
Vitamin A also strengthens our eyesight by nourishing our corneas and helps prevent xerophthalmia or dry eyes.
History: I like to give students a little bit of history on foods grown locally, so that they have a better idea of where their food is coming from. For example, the burpee company introduced these “netted gems” in the 1880’s and Colorado has been growing them since that time. Although cantaloupe is grown all over the state, the majority are grown in the Rocky Ford region (about an hour southeast of Pueblo). This area has been coined the “sweet melon capital of the world,” because they also grow another extremely popular summer melon – watermelon. Consider doing some research on locally grown cantaloupe in your area (if applicable) and share with your students.
Now is a great time to have students prepare recipes using these netted gems as they are in-season right now and taste so sweet and juicy – yum!
Personally, I just like to cut up cantaloupe and eat as is (I could literally eat a whole cantaloupe in one sitting – it tastes so sweet!), blend it by itself to make cantaloupe juice or even freeze it to make a cantaloupe sorbet. However if you want to introduce students to new and different ways to use cantaloupe, here are a couple of recipes to try.
Cantaloupe Creamsicle Smoothie
Image courtesy of: http://www.kitchenfrau.com/creamsicle-smoothie/
- ½ medium cantaloupe
- ¼ cup plant-powered milk (I prefer soymilk because it makes it creamier, but you can also use almond milk.)
- ¼ cup fresh pressed orange juice – no sugar added and not from concentrate.
- Thoroughly wash and dry (if possible use a fruit and vegetable wash) the cantaloupe rind before cutting it. This may help reduce your risk of food poisoning.
- Then cut and dice your cantaloupe. This article does a good job of explaining the necessary steps to cut a cantaloupe http://www.onceuponachef.com/how-to/how-to-cut-a-melon.html.
- Add diced cantaloupe to a blender and then add plant milk, and orange juice. Blend until desired smoothness. Some like it smooth and even juice-like, while others like it a little thicker.
Nutrition Facts: Here is the nutrition label for this recipe. As you can see, per serving this recipe provides 104% of your daily recommended amount for Vitamin A and as an added bonus, it provides 85% of your daily recommended amount for Vitamin C. Plus it is a good source of potassium and contains iron.
|Per Serving||% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0.6g||1%|
|Saturated Fat 0.1g||1%|
|Trans Fat 0g|
|Total Carb 10.9g||4%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||4%|
|Vitamin A 104% · Vitamin C 85%|
|Calcium 1% · Iron 3%|
|*Based on a 2,000 calorie diet|
|Recipe analyzed by|
If you have a little bit more time, here is another fun, simple recipe to make with students.
Image courtesy of: http://thekitchenmccabe.com/2014/06/23/cantaloupe-melon-sorbet/
- ½ medium cantaloupe (approximately 2 cups)
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons water
- Thoroughly wash and dry (if possible use a fruit and vegetable wash) the cantaloupe rind before cutting it. This may help reduce your risk of food poisoning.
- Then cut and dice your cantaloupe. This article does a good job of explaining the necessary steps to cut a cantaloupe http://www.onceuponachef.com/how-to/how-to-cut-a-melon.html.
- Place diced cantaloupe onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and place in freezer. Freeze for a few hours to overnight.
- Place frozen cantaloupe, lemon juice, honey and water into a food processor. Blend until it has a sorbet or ice-cream-like texture.
- Serve immediately.
I use this recipe as a starting point and then add other ingredients to make it even more spectacular. Try replacing the water with 6 ounces of blueberries or check out an additional recipe at the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/CFVGA/
The American Heart Association (AHA) is fighting back on the claim that “butter is back” (started by Time magazine’s cover article “Eat Butter” in 2014) by stating that saturated fat really does contribute to heart disease. And they’re taking it on in a big way – slamming coconuts! Well not coconuts really….coconut oil.
So many people, including dietitians are fired up about this statement. “What do you mean, coconuts are not healthy? Not only do I drink their milk and water and use their oils, but also put coconut creams and makeup on my face. How could this be?”
As a dietitian who reads just about every single label and nutrition fact on food, I never understood what the hoopla was about the coconuts; milk, water or oil anyways. There really isn’t any nutrition in them – except polyphenols, which I will get to in a minute.
The point that AHA is making is that coconut oil raises your LDL or “little devils”, the not so good cholesterol. This tropical fat contains saturated fats, which have been shown to raise LDL levels. We know that saturated fats raise your not so good cholesterol levels more than anything else and are strongly connected to heart disease.
Even Dr. Esselstyn, the renowned cardiologist who promotes eating vegan to prevent heart disease, recommends against coconut oil – or for that matter all oil.
So is the AHA correct in what they are saying? Well maybe…
One of the important items that the AHA didn’t address in their report is how the coconut oil is refined. When it comes to coconut oil, I think this is a critical component to consider. Some of the commercial brands of coconut oil are made by bleaching and deodorizing them. They may be extracted from the skin using a chemical solvent (e.g. hexane) and sodium hydroxide may be added to extend shelf life. This type of processing often kills the beneficial antioxidants in the coconut oil that help prevent heart disease and may contribute to other diseases.
I did wonder about their hasty decision to recommend other highly refined oils instead like soy or canola oil, so decided to dig a bit. One of their panel members receives significant grant money from Ag Canada and the Canola oil council and the AHA itself just received a huge grant ($3.9 million) from the Monsanto (GMO soybean seeds) Fund to reach 120 early care centers. I’m not saying this played a part in their recommendations, but it certainly may have contributed.
What the AHA is missing is that unrefined coconut oil contains polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants found in coconut and other oils (think olive!) that have positive effects on LDL cholesterol – they lower it. They also reduce inflammation, contain antimicrobial components (protect against disease-causing bacteria) and may even protect our bones. A number of studies have shown that when people consume diets high in phenolic compounds it actually reduces their risk of coronary heart disease.
The AHA admits that clinical trials showing a direct relationship between coconut oil and heart disease have not been reported. They are only basing it on the fact that it raises LDL levels.
My point has always been that most food is a combination of nutrients and ingredients that add pluses and minuses to our health. Our bodies do a good job of balancing these out. So focusing on one ingredient in a food (even though it is sky high!), may not be a valid approach until we have evidence that there are no other components that are working to balance it out.
So what do I recommend? As usual, my recommendation is to eat coconut in its whole form. This means coconut meat (the edible white part of a coconut). I read somewhere someone referring to it as “the other white meat.” Coconut meat is extremely high in fiber (excellent source!), and contains polyphenols, both which have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. As a bonus, it’s high in iron, phosphorus, selenium and is a good source of zinc!
PART 2 OF 2
What the research is telling us about soy?
Of course you can certainly find studies that support your views on any topic. And the research on soy is “mucky” at best.
- Claim #1: Soy promotes breast cancer – High levels of estrogen in the body have been linked to breast cancer because cancer cells attach to estrogen causing them to grow and multiply. Because soy contains “phyto” estrogens, some have speculated that they will have the same effect in our bodies. However, phyto-estrogens are not the same as body made estrogen. PE are naturally formed dietary estrogens found in plants. Most research indicates that soy in its “whole, organic, food” form exhibits weak estrogenic effects and does not lead to breast cancer growth or development. Instead, some studies demonstrated that it has a protective effect and may even decrease the risk of breast and other hormone-related cancers.
- Claim #2: Soy causes hypothyroidism – Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid doesn’t make enough of certain kinds of hormones. This can result in severe fatigue, weight gain, a puffy face, depression and even goiters (abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland). The mineral iodine, mostly found in foods from the sea (e.g. seafood and seaweeds), but also in iodized salt is essential to produce thyroid hormones. Soy has been shown to lower the amount of iodine in our body, which eaten alone could certainly lead to hypothyroidism. However, with the “enormous” amount of iodine consumed in most people’s diets from iodized salt, deficiency of this nutrient is rare.
- Claim #3: Soy blocks the uptake of essential nutrients – Soy contains phytic acid (phytates), an anti-oxidant found in whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Phytic acid has been shown to interfere with the uptake of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Interestingly enough, no scientific evidence shows that this leads to deficiencies of these nutrients, so the impact is unclear. Phytic acid is also deactivated when cooked, although the degree of deactivation is debated.
In conclusion to these three claims, eating large quantities of any single food or excessive supplementation may cause imbalances or even health issues. Our best advice is to eat soy (or any other food for that matter) in moderation, so that you can incorporate other healthful foods along with it.
What is moderation for soy? The recommendations are 1-2 servings a day. 1 serving is 1 cup of soymilk or ½ cup of tofu or whole soybeans. If you are interested in the least processed soymilk possible, you can make your own.
Here is a simple recipe:
Serves: 4 (1 cup servings)
- ½ cup whole dried soybeans
- 2-3 cups water for soaking beans overnight
- 4 cups water for blending
- 2 tablespoons vanilla
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Place dried soybeans in a bowl. Cover with 2-3 cups water and soak overnight.
- Pour soaked beans into a colander and drain water.
- Rub beans between fingers to remove skins. Discard skins.
- Place skinned beans in a blender. Add 4 cups of water, vanilla, sea salt and honey.
- Blend until smooth.
- Strain the blended mixture by pouring it through a jelly or nut bag into a large pot.
- Twist the bag tightly to squeeze out the liquid completely.
- Pour mixture into a pitcher, let cool and then refrigerate until chilled.
Serve over oatmeal, cereal or drink plain.
The bottom line is that you can certainly find studies for or against eating soy or any other food for that matter. Easy to do! The important thing to remember is that your body is in a constant state of adding and subtracting nutrients all the time through a variety of different foods. So the key is to eat the right-size portion of a wide variety of “real” foods every day. This will add pluses that balance out the minuses to promote health and reduce deficiency.
PART 1 OF 2
I hear from many, many, many people that they avoid soy because it’s “so dangerous!” And I think; really? How did this way of thinking start? When did this come about? After all, it’s just a bean. Well, it’s a little more complex than that, mainly because how soy is processed.
I would place soy products into 2 different categories; the highly processed kind and the minimally processed ones.
Let’s start off with the minimally processed kind:
The minimally processed soyfoods consist of:
- Whole non-GMO soybeans (edamame)
- Organic soymilk
- Organic tofu
- Natto (fermented soy)
Soy in its minimally processed form has many benefits. Namely it is:
- 41% protein – so a great source of protein!
- Considered a “complete” protein because it contains all of the amino acids your body can use to build (e.g. muscle, tissues, hair, skin, etc.). Some of you may say that it’s low in certain amino acids, but it does still contain them.
- Rich in isoflavones which have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties.
- A good source of omega 3 fatty acids.
- An excellent source of fiber.
- Packed with iron, Vitamin C and calcium.
- Naturally low in calories and saturated fat.
- Loaded with B vitamins and folate.
After learning a few big points pertaining to non-processed soy products, let’s take a look at a few big points pertaining to processed soy products.
Soyfoods sales have climbed from $500 million in 1992 to $5.2 billion in 2011.
Part of the reason for its growth in popularity is that soy is highly subsidized* by the government, which means that farmers will grow a lot of it. The harvested soy needs to go somewhere, so why not create a monstrous amount of highly processed meat look-a-likes.
*Agricultural subsidy – money paid to farmers to grow a certain crop. This helps supplement their income and keep them going in times of bad weather or drought.
Examples of highly processed soy foods include:
- Meat alternatives like veggie burgers and dogs.
- Soybean oil
- Soy yogurt
- Soy formula
- Texturized vegetable protein
- Soy sauce
Soy is also added to meat products as a filler – “think fast food burgers” – to save on costs.
So, what is it about these highly processed versions that cause issues?
- Soy Protein: Soy protein isolates, concentrates and texturized vegetable protein (the ingredients used to make fake-meat patties and baby formulas) are highly refined extractions from soy beans. The refining process isolates these proteins, making them more concentrated and more difficult to digest. The main concern is that they are removed from the bean using Hexane; a petroleum-based product (a result of gasoline refining – also used in cleaning products, show making, brake repair and textiles). Regular exposure to hexane may result in headaches, dizziness, headaches, eczema and even neurotoxicity (poisoning of the nervous system). Plus, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has data that indicates “hexane is a widely occurring atmospheric pollutant.”
- GMO’s: The vast majority of soy food (91% of it is grown in the US) is genetically modified. GMO’s are plants created in a laboratory and do not occur naturally. They consist of taking the DNA or genes of a plant and combining them with genes of another organism (could be another plant, animal, virus or bacteria) in order to make it more resistant to insects, weeds and to maintain the integrity of the plant. Although “unbiased” research on GMO’s is new, we do know for sure that “cross-breeding” or genetically altering certain foods with other foods may cause allergic reactions. After the passage of a national bill, you can now tell whether or not a product has been genetically modified (small print on the back of the package, a QR code or direct consumers to a phone number or website). To avoid GMO soy, choose the organic versions or ones that are verified by the non-GMO project. **Always remember to read the labels of the foods you are putting into your body**
- Artificial Additives: The highly refined versions of soy foods have nutrients stripped out that are replaced with a huge amount of salt and a bucket-load of artificial additives and preservatives. For example, veggie burgers and veggie hot dogs contain ingredients like modified cellulose, caramel color, corn syrup solids, dextrose, carrageenan, maltodextrin, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, hydrolyzed torula yeast, gum Arabic and red 40 and blue 1. Helpful tip: If you have no idea what the ingredients are in the foods that you are consuming; you may want to stay way!
Lately it seems that everyone I come into contact with is Vitamin D deficient. It is estimated that 50% of the American population, 50% of kids ages 1-5 and 70% of kids ages 6-11 are deficient in this vital nutrient. We had a lively debate about it last week in one of our nutrition sessions, as there were many opinions as to the root cause of it. Some said “kids don’t play outside enough anymore”, some said “we wear too much sunscreen” and quite honestly, I’m not even sure we fully understand what the daily recommendations should be – it’s hard to say.
What exactly is Vitamin D?
The “Sunshine” Vitamin or as it is commonly known – Vitamin D is not a vitamin at all. Instead it is a prohormone synthesized by the skin when it is exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun.
Why do we need it? Vitamin D is essential for building bones. When most of us think of building bones we tend to focus on one single nutrient – calcium. In reality it takes several nutrients including calcium, protein, magnesium, zinc, Vitamin K and oh yes, Vitamin D to build bone. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium and phosphorus from the GI tract and moves it into our bones. Since young people are growing so rapidly, they need a lot of these nutrients every day!
D FACTS: As Vitamin D levels are decreasing in children, we are seeing a re-emergence of the bone disorder Rickets. Rickets causes softening and weakening of bones in children (may produce bow legs) and is caused by prolonged Vitamin D deficiency.
Where do we find it? Of course the number one recommendation is to soak up the sun. Vitamin D from the sun seems to stay in the body longer than getting it from diet or supplements. Kids and teens that are active outside have a better chance of maintaining healthy Vitamin D levels.
The next best thing is from your diet. Cod liver oil has the highest amount followed by maitake mushrooms and fatty fish. Since plant-powered milks (think almond milk) are all the rage, they too are fortified with Vitamin D.
Lastly is to supplement. For kids and teens, the jury is still out on this. One researcher found limited benefits from giving adolescents Vitamin D supplements.
Why are we so deficient? Definitely more time spent indoors can cause it, along with reduced sun exposure from wearing protective clothing outside and increased sunscreen use. For example, using an SPF 30 sunscreen reduces your body’s ability to manufacture and use Vitamin D by 95%. Does this mean you shouldn’t wear sunscreen? Absolutely not, the cancer risk is real. Just try to balance it out. Dark skin pigmentation, health conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, living in Northern states and lower consumption of D-rich foods (especially in teens), can also cause a deficiency.
How much do we need? It has been hypothesized that we should expose our arms and legs to between 5-30 minutes of sunlight, twice a week. However, no official recommendations can be made, because sunlight can be impacted by pollution, the angle of the sun, latitude, your age, skin pigmentation (dark skin), time of day and other factors. The daily dietary recommendations currently sit at 600 IU’s a day (ages 1-70) including teenagers. The endocrine society recommends a daily intake of 1,500 to 2,000 IU’s for those that are deficient. Megadoses are discouraged.
Promising research: Some speculate that Vitamin D recommendations should be significantly higher, because it has the potential to do so much more than help build bones. Small, mostly observational studies have suggested that Vitamin D may be beneficial for preventing cancer, heart disease, diabetes; Parkinson’s and even the common cold. Long-term mega studies are already in the works on this.
So with summer coming up, know that you are not only having “fun in the sun” but also are filling up your body with a good dose of Vitamin D!
Black garlic is a 4,000 year old Korean recipe for curing garlic in order to preserve it and now their latest health trend product. It went mainstream in the U.S. in 2008 and is growing in popularity.
BG is made by a fermentation-type process of exposing garlic to high heat and high humidity for more than a month (usually 35 days). The high heat causes what is known as a Maillard reaction* a caramelization reaction that causes the garlic to turn black.
*The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between an amino acid and sugar brought on by the addition of heat. This process results in the browning or caramelization of food.
Although this type of fermentation process does not produce “live bacteria” like probiotics, it does produce a significant amount of disease-fighting anti-oxidants. The most common one being S-allylcysteine; a water-soluble component easily absorbed by the body.
S-allylcysteine is known to naturally lower cholesterol levels, prevent strokes, work as an anti-inflammatory or immune booster and may help reduce diabetic complications.
Black garlic produces as much as 3 times the amount of anti-oxidants as regular garlic, plus it doesn’t exude the strong, “off-putting” odor!
The optimal fermentation time for BG is 21 days as that is when anti-oxidants are at their peak. After that time, they decline a little every day up to the 35 day fermentation period.
Chefs like to use black garlic to make sauces, purees and salad dressings. They also use it as a sandwich spread, in deviled eggs and even to make ice cream. Check out their recipes at http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/09/what-to-do-with-black-garlic.html.
Picture courtesy of restaurantgirl.com
In sticking with our theme of gut microbe trends, I thought I would highlight a couple of probiotic powerhouses. One of the best – “fermented” vegetables.
Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. It is high in fiber and provides a good source of iron, Vitamin C and Vitamin K. It is also considered a “cruciferous” vegetable, which have been shown to lower your risk of cancer.
Kimchi is also made from fermented cabbage. It also includes radishes, scallions and cucumbers and seasonings. Kimchi is an excellent source of Vitamin K (64% of the daily recommended amount in a cup), iron (25% of the daily rec amt) and folate. It also provides Vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and zinc. And since it’s a cabbage, it is also a “cruciferous” vegetable.
Pickled cucumbers, beets, onions, carrots, etc. – You get many of the vegetable benefits from these including Vitamins A and C. Plus, they have been shown to lower blood sugar, are excellent sources of anti-oxidants, help relieve muscle cramps and may treat restless leg syndrome. Just make sure it is the live, raw, fermented kind to help keep sodium levels low.
One final note:
The Vitamin C in cabbage becomes more bioavailable (more able to be digested and absorbed) when it’s fermented to become sauerkraut and kimchi. The process also creates beneficial enzymes, B-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and various strains of probiotics such as Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus that improve digestion and gut health.