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Dr. Amy Doherty

Let us seek health for ourselves, our community, and our world.

Summer Ratatouille

… aka do not let perfect be the enemy of good, and oh its so gooood….

Ratatouille is a Mediterranean recipe from the south of France. Despite the fact it is French cuisine, it is more of a throw-the-gloriousness-of-summer-produce-into-a-pot type of recipe than an haute couture follow-it-to-a-T recipe like you might expect of French cuisine.I am often making iterations of this recipe throughout the summer. The one thing that happens in each of those recipes is a combination of lemon juice, fresh dill and basil from the garden, freshly ground black pepper, and balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar instead of balsamic or an 18 year aged balsamic if you need to avoid sugar). As long as all those ingredients are present in sufficient amounts, put whatever you need to get rid of along with onions and garlic, and you are set. For us, we had a plethora of zucchini, tomatoes, and yellow squash this year. We would mix that with some canned beans to give it more of a stick-to-your-Ribs quality, and never got tired of it.

Chia Seed Pudding for dessert… or Breakfast…

Chia seed pudding is a tapioca-like pudding that gets its consistency from a type of soluble fiber in the chia seed called mucilage.  What a weird sounding name!  But! I am always talking about the benefits of getting soluble fiber into the diet, and here’s a tasty way to do that that could be considered dessert OR something for the breakfast meal that will set you up feeling full all day rather than setting you up for sugar highs and lows the way most sugary breakfast cereals and yogurts will.  Also, you can make this at the beginning of the week and have healthy breakfasts all week with little to no effort.

The chia seed absorbs water readily because of this fiber, so the OTHER thing to remember is that chia seeds aren’t supposed to be eaten raw.  It is better to put them in a recipe where they can absorb water BEFORE you eat them, otherwise it may be uncomfortable for them to be absorbing water/expanding in your stomach and GI tract.  Haven’t ever eaten them raw, but I’ve heard it’s pretty uncomfortable.

Health benefits of soluble fiber

  • Promotes release of leptin, the hormone that makes you feel satiated/full
  • Promotes healthy gut bacteria
  • Other than that… honestly it’s hard to pin down exactly, but it’s probably good.  Let me explain: people who eat high-fiber diets tend to have lower rates of most diseases I can think of (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol to name a few).  But often times if they test out the health benefits of taking a fiber supplement alone, and not getting fiber through healthy food, people don’t achieve the same benefits.  Foods that contain fiber, like chia seeds, fruits, and vegetables are healthy and show reduced rates of disease, whereas fiber supplements may lower cholesterol a bit but really don’t really have the same effects as eating the whole foods.

Health benefits of chia seeds

  • Contain cancer-fighting compounds like lignans
  • High in anti inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids; high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals
  • Vitamins and minerals it is rich in: calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, iron and niacin.
  • Also high in the macronutrient protein

So let’s get to this easy, healthy recipe!

 

Chia Seed Pudding

Prep time: <10 min of actually doing things, but will need to sit for at least 4 hours to create pudding consistency.

Serves: 4 generous servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of almond or coconut milk (lowfat dairy milk could also be used, but then may need to add almond flavoring)
  • 1/2 cup of chia seeds (found in most grocery stores including Wal-Mart, Aldi)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • If you have problems with processing sugar (sugar addiction, diabetes), use: 2 tsp sugar replacement containing stevia or monk fruit extract.  If no issues with this, then 2 tsp honey or maple syrup.
    • The link above goes to my favorite sugar replacement- it can be used in the same quantities you would use sugar, tastes sweet, and is relatively non-processed, but doesn’t spike blood sugar like sugar does or cause reactions the way some people get to saccharine/aspartame/etc.
    • If you are using actual Stevia, this is incredibly sweet, and only 1/4-1/2 tsp would be necessary.  Stevia is a South American plant that has very sweet-tasting leaves but doesn’t raise blood sugar the way real sugar does.

Directions

  1. Combined almond milk, chia seeds, been no and sweetener in a ball.  Mix well until combined in the mixture begins to thicken.  Store covered in the refrigerator overnight or for 4 hours.
  2. Stir well, then serve topped with fresh or frozen/thawed fruit and whatever else sounds yummy and is healthy… roasted pecans, toasted coconut, etc. 

  3.  

My new fave ingredient… shirataki noodles

I discovered a form of pasta with almost no carbs and plenty of fiber that tastes like glass noodles. Also, it’s easy to find- in the produce section at Wal-Mart or the health food refrigerated section of Festival Foods. AND it’s only about $3 per package.  AND if you are diabetic, you don’t have to give yourself insulin correction for it since it has no carbs your body can use (it’s all fiber).  This food is shirataki noodles.

So, what is shirataki? It’s a Japanese tuber or yam. It is purported to have health benefits like helping with weight loss/making you feel full because of it’s large amount of soluble fiber.  As far as the validity of these studies, the studies that show benefit were done with supplements that had the active ingredient in the shirataki pasta… so it would make sense LOGICALLY that the same benefits of the main ingredient in the pasta would have the same benefit in the food… but I don’t know of any studies done on the pasta by itself.  There is also a higher protein version of the noodle that includes tofu in the recipe.

The fact that it takes the place of pasta in recipes, but has nowhere near the amount of calories pasta has, and is high in fiber, is a great thing.  As far as taste, if you just open the package and start eating it, it doesn’t taste good.  However, it will take on the taste of whatever recipe you use it in, so it tastes good once you actually use it as an ingredient.

Other tips: the strands of noodles are long, so you may want to cut the noodles into halves or thirds before using it to avoid having a big bunch of noodles that doesn’t mix well with the rest of your ingredients. So here are some recipe ideas:

1.)  Drain and use instead of spaghetti in any recipe that calls for spaghetti.  You don’t have to cook it, though, you just need to warm it.  So drain it, rinse it, and add it to the cooked sauce to warm it for a few minutes before serving, but don’t boil it for 5-10 minutes like you would pasta.

2.)  At the end of a stir-fry, after sauteeing together the ingredients of your choice (leeks or onions, carrot, celery, beans of your choice, whatever veggies you have lying around in your fridge that need to be used up along with garlic, Chinese five-spice powder and sriracha to taste), add drained, rinsed shiritake noodles instead of cooked rice.

3.) Make a simple one-pot pasta, adding the shiritake noodles at the end instead of the beginning since they don’t need to be cooked: https://www.marthastewart.com/978784/one-pan-pasta.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Spicy Hummus dip

Coat halved, fresh Brussels sprouts in a high smoke-point oil like avocado oil, fresh ground black pepper, and three cloves of minced garlic. Roast until they look like this … 10-15 min? Dip in hummus mixed with sriracha and lime juice.

This is full of every important nutrient ever, fills you up, and is relatively easy.

Pumpkin Spice Pudding… aka healthy and delicious seasonal food instead of sugar-laden seasonal food.

img_3934 pie-pumpkins

Pumpkin is one of the best things you can put in your body; it’s full of fiber (3-5 grams per 1/2 cup serving!  That’s huge!), carotenoids, other fancy veggie phytonutrients that fight aging and disease.  It fills you up without using up all your calories for the day- about 7 net carbs per 1/2 cup serving and 50 calories.  The typical spice used with pumpkin, cinnamon, is also amazing for you, with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antitumor, pro-cardiovascular, and cholesterol-lowering effects… So then WHY do we typically screw up all those health benefits by processing pumpkin into a sugary pump to put in a coffee drink or making a dessert that’s basically sugar instead of enhancing the natural deliciousness of this incredibly healthy vegetable??? 😦  Fall should be a time of increased health from the rich variety of colorful produce we have, not a time to start packing on the processed, sugary food.  But anyways.

 

Here is an easy recipe using canned pumpkin (fresh pumpkin DOES taste more fresh but takes 1-2 hours longer to produce once you cut and bake it) and toasted nuts instead of butter.  Butter = increased cardiovascular disease risk.1, 2, 3  Nuts, although they still contain fat, contain the good kind of fat and actually DECREASES cardiovascular disease risk when eaten in proper portion size.4  You don’t have to toast the nuts but it really adds a caramel-y fall goodness to the dish.

 

Pumpkin Pudding– Serves 5-6

img_3931Ingredients: 

1 X 29 oz can pumpkin

1/4 cup real maple syrup or honey

1 cup roasted pecans, plus more for plating if desired

2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger

Recipe:

Put all the above ingredients in a blender, blend until it’s well-mixed while scraping down the sides, and you may need to add water or milk of some variety for it to mix fully if it gets too thick.  Split into ramekin dishes to serve as pudding or add more water or milk of whatever variety you choose to turn it into a smoothie.  If served as pudding, may sprinkle with roasted pecans and cinnamon to change up texture.

SUPER EASY snack/main course from Japan: Edamame

Aldi has a bag of Edamame for a few bucks. Boil it for 3 minutes, put some salt an/or whatever else you want on it… lemon, pepper, soy sauce… and you have an anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-busting meal in a few minutes.  Way easier than popping chicken nuggets or a pizza in the oven.

Other super-easy Aldi finds… they typically have some type of veggie burger with a base of quinoa, kale or beans instead of meat.  This means your burger could have fiber instead of fat and reduced calories for the same volume, but be just as easy to prepare.  There are also bags of grains, beans, and veggies that make a meal in minutes.  If beans, grains, and veggies do NOT sound appetizing to you right now, do not despair.  It may take a few weeks to get your palate more used to veggies and less used to junk food.  In fact, it normally takes about two weeks.  img_3780

Berries are in season!

Berries are one of the best things you can put in your body, AND they are in season right now!  Flyte Family Farms has had berry picking open since June 16th, they are in most Farmer’s Markets around the area, and they are cheap and delicious in the store.  Although strawberry season is almost over, we are in the middle of cherry season, blueberries/rasberries/strawberries should be here soon, and I’ve been picking mulberries off trees in the street when I go on walks with the dog (they aren’t as sweet or as expensive as the other varieties but I think they are still good…).

So why are berries so good for you?  Let’s start with the anti-inflammatory compounds like anti-oxidants and anthocyanins.  The short way to say this: higher consumption of berries has been linked to slowing cognitive degeneration, reducing risk of cancer, improving glaucoma, improving immune function, decreasing arthritis… it would almost be easier to ask what berries DON’T help rather than what they DO help as that list would be shorter.  Oxidation is how the body rusts or ages, and berries contain compounds that prevent or reverse this from happening.   All fruits and veggies have these compounds to some degree, but berries are especially rich in them.

Next, let’s talk about glycemic index.  Glycemic index is a measure of how fast a food raises your blood sugar.  The faster your sugar rises, the harder it is for your body to deal with the sugar you just consumed and respond appropriately.  High glycemic index foods, like those containing sugar and white, processed flour, will skyrocket your blood sugar, then make you crash a few hours after eating them.  High glycemic index foods can increase risk for diabetes or make diabetes harder to control.  Temperate fruits, or fruits that are grown in areas like Wisconsin like apples and berries, are relatively low glycemic-index fruits.  This is in contrast to high-glycemic index fruits that are grown in tropical regions, like mango, banana or pineapple.  This means that although temperate fruits are sweet, the balance of sweetness, fiber, and other ingredients helps it to be absorbed by your body in a way to not put too much strain on the system to digest.  Any fruit is typically going to have a lower glycemic index than typical processed, sugary desserts or treats though like doughnuts or cake… so even though temperate is best, fruit is best in general as a sweet treat.

As far as a quick recipe with berries, one way I will add cream to berries for a quick and healthy dessert is by making cream from a can of Coconut Milk instead of using whipping cream.  Although coconut oil still contains saturated fat, which is the fat you are supposed to avoid because it can wreak havoc on your vascular system causing plaques, it has a short-chain saturated fat instead of a long-chain saturated fat like animal-based fats do. Eating less fat is best, but if you are going to indulge might as well do it with an oil that is associated with lower rates of heart disease instead of higher rates of heart disease.

Recipe

To make coconut milk cream, take a can of CHILLED coconut milk… like put it in the fridge.  This is important because coconut oil is more likely to be liquid at room temperature/temperatures above 72 degrees, partly because of those short-chain saturated fats I talked about. Take out the top, white, creamy part of the coconut milk, and about half of the clear liquid underneath.  Blend it together using any type of blending tool- a Kitchen-Aid, immersion blender, classic blender, whisk, egg beater, something like that- and blend for several minutes until the coconut becomes light and creamy like whipped cream.  Add to berries for a summer-y dessert perfect for the 4th of July (especially if you have red and blue berries to go with the white cream!) or any summer get together where taste and health should be the forefront.

Quick, Easy Breakfast

To get right to the point, this is a quick, easy breakfast idea that takes about as much time to make as a pop-tart, but will make you feel good the whole morning instead of giving you a high-then-low sugar roller-coaster without nutrients.

Ingredients

  • 2 slices whole-grain bread
  • 2 Tablespoons nut butter of choice
  • Enough fresh, frozen or dried fruit to cover top of each slice of bread

Directions: Take some type of high-quality whole-grain bread, spread it with a nut butter like peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter, and add a fresh fruit on top.

High-quality bread includes Ezekiel bread or bread that says “100% whole wheat” (not just “multi-grain” as that’s often code for “mostly processed white flour”).  Ezekiel bread is so healthy because it contains a variety of whole grains without added sugar, but it can be twice as expensive as normal bread ($4.99/loaf) because it is so rich in nutrients.  Processed white bread can sit on the shelf forever and not go bad because, if it’s mostly sugar, salt and processed white flour, not even bacteria and mold want to eat it, and longer shelf-life= less cost.  Ezekiel bread is often sold in the freezer section, and I will store it that way at home, too, until I use it.  Then I will warm it up in the toaster oven to defrost it.

Breakfast seems like the meal that seems to fool people the most.  There are many breakfast cereals that purport being healthy, however the first ingredient on the ingredients list is sugar.  With names like “Blueberry Morning,” “Apple Jacks,” and “Quaker Oats Oh’s!”, or “Cap’n Crunch All Berries,” I mean, they sound healthy.  They look healthy.  But they’re not, and it’s super frustrating when you are trying to make a healthy decision but the packaging thwarts your efforts.  As a rule, most breakfast cereals are just junk :-(.  Yogurt is also very rich in sugar, typically.

Breakfast options that normally aren’t junk include steel-cut oatmeal flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, and fruit; plain yogurt that you flavor yourself with fruit, maca powder, or stevia instead of sugar.  Maca and stevia are just sweet-tasting things that don’t ramp up your blood sugar like white sugar does, and often have important nutrients sugar doesn’t have.  Firm tofu can be made into a scrambled-egg like dish if you add smoked paprika and turmeric for color and flavor, along with garlic, onion, soy sauce, black pepper, and nutritional yeast if you have it on hand.  Other good breakfast options include any type of non processed fruit, veggie, bean or grain product.

Asparagus: Spring in a Vegetable

 

        SPRING

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing.
Sonnet 98, 1-3, William Shakespeare

Spring does not have the bounty of summer produce, but the foods that are available are full of personality.  In old French cookbooks, they would note that certain recipes needed an “April egg,” because it would be lighter flavor and color than eggs the rest of the year. If there aren’t a lot of insects for the chickens that produce them to eat, you can tell in the egg they produce.  This mindfulness about where food comes from, how it is produced, and how we fit into the amazing ecosystem where we live always makes me pause in wonder.  Community Supported Agriculture shares are a great way to regularly get seasonal produce this year.  I am very excited to start getting our CSA share from Luna Circle Farm!  It’s not too late to sign up for many area CSAs.

Back to spring foods with personality… Asparagus has a creamy freshness reminiscent of whipped cream immediately after it is picked, and then begins to become stringy and bitter within days (even within hours) after picking.  It is incredibly crisp in the cool beginnings of the season, bringing forth multiple harvests starting mid-April, and dries away as the season heats up by the end of May.  It has a satisfying, saturated crunch.  What better vegetable to showcase the cool, dewy, ephemeral, unprocessed seasonality of spring than asparagus?  When I see asparagus in the store in winter, I die a little bit inside because I know it must have traveled a long way to get to the store and it just won’t have the same texture and flavor it does in its proper season.  If this is the way you’ve tried asparagus in the past, don’t give up!  You’ve seen its worst side!  It is no surprise that many people don’t like the old, processed asparagus they find in the store if they try it off-season.  Additionally, the worst thing you can do to prepare asparagus is to overcook it.  That’s the opposite of the spirit of this vegetable.  A vegetable that is the harbinger of spring should be undercooked, if anything, just like the season from whence it came.

The best way to eat asparagus in my opinion is straight out of the garden or a wild place you find it.  However, there are some ways to cook it, even if it’s not in its spring-y, youthful self.  Note the common theme in all these recipes is short cooking times to avoid the stringy mess that asparagus becomes when it has been cooked too long.

Roasted Asparagus

Preheat an oven to 425 F.  Lightly coat as much asparagus as you like in olive oil, then sprinkle with freshly ground pepper, a dash of salt and a dash of garlic powder to taste.  Cook in preheated oven for maybe 10-12 min.  Remove, squeeze some fresh lemon over the top, and enjoy.

Sauteed Asparagus

Use all the same ingredients as above, but sautee asparagus over medium heat for about 5 min, so it is slightly wilted but still crispy.

Blanched Asparagus

Blanching involves heating water to boiling, then just barely letting the item being blanched touch the water.  Often having a metal sieve/colander/something you can quickly get the veggie in and out of the water helps. For asparagus, get the water to boiling, put as much asparagus as you’d like to eat in the boiling water for 5-10 seconds, then remove asparagus from the water, plate, and add ingredients from the first recipe.

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