Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, affecting both men and women.  Although some heart disease is caused by genetic factors the vast majority is due to lifestyle and the environment.  By taking steps to protect your heart and cardiovascular system, you are making a valuable investment in your long-term health.  Below are some general recommendations.  If you have existing heart disease, be sure you consult a qualified health care professional before making any changes.

1)      Exercise – Exercise improves circulation, reduces stress, helps to control weight and strengthens the heart muscle.  It is important to find the appropriate exercise for your current state of health.  Pushing yourself to hard, may lead to injury.

2)      Strengthen your Blood Vessels – Proper nutrition is the key to strong, elastic blood vessels.  To form the muscles and connective tissue that makes up the vessel walls you need the proper building blocks. A diet rich in high quality protein, bioflavinoids, vitamin C, and other nutrients is essential for heart health.

3)      Reduce Inflammation – Most damage to the heart muscle and the blood vessels is a result of inflammation and oxidative damage.  Environmental factors, poor diet and genetics all play a role in promoting inflammation.  By making appropriate changes and using natural  anti-inflammatories, damage can be prevented before it occurs.

4)      Balance your Blood Sugar – Diabetes is one of the highest risk factors for heart disease.  This is because elevated blood sugar (even in the pre-diabetic range) leads to abnormal “Glycosylated” proteins or “AGEs”.  These molecules cause much of the vascular damage associated with diabetes.  In addition, the elevated insulin levels associated with high sugar consumption signal the liver to produce more fat and cholesterol.  For more information, watch for upcoming blog posts on blood sugar balance.

5)      Nourish your Lungs – The heart pumps all of our blood through the lungs to pick up the oxygen needed by the rest of the body.  If there is any illness in the lungs, the heart has to work harder.  Chronic lung disease can easily lead to heart disease. It is important to get appropriate treatment for lung disease to prevent these complications.

For sustained energy and focus it is important to eat protein for breakfast. The more traditional carbohydrate laden meals may provide a quick burst of energy, but it is followed by fatigue and hunger. For people who don’t like to eat much in the morning a simple protein shake will suffice. If you prefer a more filling meal try one of the options below. And remember you don’t have to eat traditional breakfast foods in the morning. Dinner leftovers, warming soups or stews are all great options.

Tofu Scramble

This tofu and veggie saute is savory and satisfying for breakfast or brunch. It is a tasty substitute for eggs, but is delicious in its own right. Be sure your ingredients are organic, especially the tofu. Non-organic soy is genetically modified!

  • 1 tablespoon of virgin olive or coconut oil
  • 1 lb of firm tofu
  • ½ large red or yellow onion, minced
  • 1 clove of minced or crushed garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder
  • 2 teaspoons of wheat-free tamari or Bragg’s liquid aminos
  • 2 cups of loose leaf spinach or 1 cup of diced broccoli
  • 2 tablespoons of water

Crumble your tofu in a bowl and mix it with the tamari and turmeric (be careful, turmeric stains). Heat the oil in a large heavy bottom skillet; cast iron works well. Add the onion to the oil and sautee it over medium heat until it is soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic and stir it until it is just starting to brown (be careful not to burn the garlic!) Add the tofu, vegetables and water. Mix all of the ingredients and cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. Continue to cook the mixture for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and the tofu is heated through. Serves 2 as a meal and 4 as a side dish with toast or rice.

Simple crock pot stew

Stew for breakfast? It may sound strange but a hearty stew fits all of the criteria for a perfect breakfast. It is warm, nourishing and high in protein. Long slow cooking makes all of the ingredients eat to digest and blends the flavors perfectly. You can make this stew overnight in a crock pot or in a low heat oven. For oven cooking you will need an enameled cast-iron pot such as a Le Creuset casserole dish. If you are using turkey or chicken do not use skinless breasts; the flavor is too bland. Instead use thighs or mixed pieces.

  • 2 lb of grass fed beef, lamb, or organic turkey or chicken
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 cups of filtered water
  • 1 large bunch of kale *
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cups of diced carrots
  • 1-2 cups of diced vegetables of choice such as zucchini, celery or peas
  • ½ cup of brown rice or quinoa (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, or oregano

If you are using beef or lamb dice the meat into 1 inch cubes. For poultry it is fine to use whole pieces such as legs, thighs or breasts. Place all of the ingredients into a crock pot or enameled cast iron pan and mix them well. If using a crock pot turn it into high until it comes to a boil. Then reduce it to low and let it cook 8 more hours or overnight. If using and enameled pot make sure the lid is on a tight and then cook it in a 250 degree F oven for 8-12 hours. Check it periodically to make sure it hasn’t run out of water. Stir the stew, add salt if desired and serve.

* All of your vegetables should be organic if possible, especially the kale. Commercial kale has very high levels of pesticide residues.

In the quest for a healthy diet, breakfast is one the most important meals of the day. It can also be the most challenging. It is ideal to start your day with something that is high in protein, low in sugar and easy to digest. Unfortunately that description doesn’t fit most of the the common American breakfast foods. Even foods we think of as healthy, like oatmeal or whole grain toast, lack protein and are loaded with carbohydrates. Without adequate protein the carbohydrates in a meal are quickly digested and energy drops. A breakfast of unbalanced carbohydrates will leave a person hungry, and tired within a few hours. No wonder so many people reach for a pastry and a latte mid-morning.

 

Fortunately, there are plenty of breakfast options that are tasty, filling and energizing. For people on the go, a shake or smoothie is a great option. These drinks combine nutrient dense fruits with protein powder and super foods (see the “immune smoothie” recipe in the 10-30-11 blog post) . They are easily prepared, portable and can be sipped through the morning.

Egg or tofu “scrambles” are good choices if there are no allergies to eggs or soy. Any number of vegetables can be added for a nutritional boost. Scrambles are easy to make in large batches and can feed a a group of people at breakfast or brunch.

Leftovers from lunch or dinner are fine breakfast foods. Often these food are more balanced in protein and carbohydrates than the standard morning fare. Soups and stew are especially good because they are warm, nourishing and easy to digest.

If you are still wondering what to make, don’t despair.   Read next weeks blog for some healthy breakfast recipes.

Jade Potstickers

These steamed meat dumplings were inspired by Chinese potstickers. Instead of wonton skins they are wrapped in chard leaves. Don’t worry if the chard seems loose when you first wrap it. The leaves will collapse around the meat filling as they steam.

  • 1 lb. of ground turkey, chicken or pork

  • 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil

  • 1 teaspoon of minced ginger

  • 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic

  • ¾ teaspoon salt

  • ½ cup of finely minced vegetables (try carrots, cabbage, broccoli, or celery)

  • ¼ cup of rice flour or ¼ cup of millet ground fine in a coffee grinder

  • 12 large chard leaves

Wash the chard leaves well and remove the bottom end of the stems. Be sure that you leave the top of the leaf attached. Mix together the meat, seasonings, vegetables and flour. Divide the meat mixture into 12 equal portions. Place each portion into the top, center of a chard leaf and roll the leaf around it tucking in the edges as necessary (like making a burrito). Repeat this with the other rolls. Place them in a steamer basket and steam them over medium-high heat for ~ 15 minutes (be sure to watch the steamer so that it doesn’t run out of water). You may need to rotate the rolls half way through cooking to make sure they cook evenly. Cut a roll in ½ and test it to make sure they are fully cooked. Serve the rolls hot with rice or noodles and dipping sauces*. This recipe serves 3-4 people. If you are serving more you can double it but you may have to cook them in 2 batches.

 *Dipping sauces can be very simple. Try tamari and rice vinegar with chopped fresh basil or cilantro.


Creamy Quinoa Pudding

This recipe works best if you soak the quinoa overnight before cooking it . If you don’t have time to soak it be sure to rinse it very well, because quinoa has a bitter coating that needs to be washed off prior to cooking.

  • 1 cup of quinoa soaked overnight and rinsed well. After rinsing, the quinoa may be stored int eh refrigerator for up to 2 days prior to cooking.

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 1 can of organic coconut milk (Native Forrest brand does not use BPA)

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or a 2 inch section of vanilla pod, split

  • ¼ teaspooon ground nutmeg (or ½ teaspoon cinnamon)

  • 2-4 tablespoons of maple syrup or honey

Place the quinoa in a pot with 2 cups of water and the salt. Bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer the mixture for ~20 minutes, until all of the water is absorbed. Blend in the coconut milk, vanilla, nutmeg and 2 tablespoons sweetener. Bring the mixture back to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer it covered, stirring ~ every 5 minutes for ½ hour. You may add a little water if it seems to be running out of liquid. Taste the mixture and add more sweetener if desired. Allow the pudding to cool to room temperature and serve it topped with chopped nuts or fruit. You may also chill it in the refrigerator before serving it.

Variation: Instead of coconut milk use homemade nut milk. Combine ½ cup of nuts (hazelnuts, cashews, almonds, etc.) with 1 cup of water in a blender. Make sure the lid is on tight and process the mixture until it is very smooth. Then slowly add 1 cup more water to the mixture while blending. Use this in place of the coconut milk.

The new year provides us with an opportunity for reflection. What are we proud of; what needs to be different? A New Year’s resolution is a wonderful way to affirm the changes we want to make. Too often though, resolutions are focused on punishment and deprivation. It is healthier for the body and the mind to focus on what will enrich our lives. Instead of taking something away, try adding something in. Unhealthy habits or patterns will naturally lessen when our time and energy is focused on something enjoyable. Below are four suggestions for a healthier, happier new year.


  1. Drink Water. Without proper hydration your body can’t shed toxins and metabolism slows. Pure filtered water is one of the most important medicines. Light herbal teas, soups and juicy fruits and vegetables are also good sources of water.

  2. Eat your vegetables. Vegetables are a nutritional powerhouse, packed with vitamins, minerals, bioflavinoids and fiber. Darkly colored vegetables are usually highest in beneficial phytochemicals. Each day try to eat at least 1 ½ cups each of green and red/orange vegetables.

  3. Move. Whether it is structured exercise or or an active lifestyle, people need to move their bodies to be healthy. Don’t have time for a gym or exercise class? Try biking or walking instead of driving. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get up from your desk and stretch every few hours. Humans were not meant to sit still all day.

  4. Spend more time with the people you love. It is easy to get distracted and overwhelmed by responsibilities. Sometime it seems like there is no room for friends and family. But it is important to take time out each day to focus on the people who are dear to you. It will nourish you and your relationships.

During this time of year we come together to celebrate with friends and family.  With so many gatherings it is easy to over indulge in foods that make us feel sick and tired.  Buy adapting classic recipes with wholesome ingredients you can maintain your health and enjoy the party.

Gluten-free Latkes

 These crispy fried potato pancakes are served on Hanukkah, but they can happily be enjoyed year round.  Traditionally they are served with sour cream and applesauce, but any dip or spread may be used.  There are a multitude of different adaptations and recipes.  This is my current favorite and it is gluten free.

-       3 large potatoes (a starchy variety like russets work best)

-       ½ of a medium sized onion

-       2 eggs

-       ¾ teaspoon sea salt

-       3 tablespoons of rice or millet flour

-       ¼ cup each butter and olive oil – you may use any heat stable oil, but I like this combination.  Refined, non-hydrogentated palm oil (sold as “organic shortening”) also works well.

 In a large mixing bowl beat together the eggs, salt and flour.  Peel the potatoes and the onion.  Grate the vegetables in a food processor or by hand.  Place the vegetables in cheese cloth over a bowl and press out as much liquid as you can (if you don’t have cheese cloth use a mesh strainer).  The potato starch will settle at the bottom of the bowl.  Pour off the liquid on top and add the starch and grated potatoes and onions to the egg mixture.  Stir everything together until it is well blended.

Heat 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil in a sturdy skillet.  I like using a well-seasoned cast iron pan for this. The oil should be hot but not smoking.  To test the temperature drop a small amount of batter into the oil; if it browns within a minute the pan is ready.  Spoon the batter into the oil ½ cup at a time and flatten each pancake with the back of your spatula.  Cook the latkes for 4-5 minutes, until the edges are very brown and then flip them over and cook them on the other side for 4-5 minutes.  Remove them from the pan onto a plate lined with a paper towel.  Cook the rest of the pancakes adding oil as needed to keep a thick layer to the bottom of the pan.  These are best served hot, but they can be kept warm in the oven for a few hours.  Leftovers can also be reheated in the toaster oven.

Variations:

1)    If you are using a food processor you can add ½ of the grated potato and onion mixture back into the processor and coarsely chop it with the chopping blade.  Then mix the chopped potatoes with the grated potatoes and press out the liquid as directed above.  This makes a finer batter that holds together well.

2)    You can replace 1 cup of the potato mixture with 1 cup of any grated vegetable such as carrots, zucchini, or yam.

3)    For vegan latkes replace the eggs with 2 tablespoons of finely ground flax blended with 2 tablespoons of water.  Omit the flour.  Be sure to fry these crispy.  The flax can be gummy if they are undercooked.

Ginger Bread Creatures

 Rich molasses with sweet, spicy ginger, the smell alone brings back holiday memories.  This recipe is low in sugar and gluten-free, but it doesn’t compromise on flavor.  Remember that whole grain flours need to be sifted before use or your final product will be heavy.

-       1 ½ cups of gluten free oat flour

-       ½ cup of rice or millet flour

-       2 tablespoons of arrowroot starch

-       ½ teaspoon of baking soda

-       ¼ cup of organic, salted butter or coconut oil

-       ½ cup of organic, unsulfured molasses (you may use light or dark depending on your taste.  If you are using black strap molasses you may want to add 1-2 tablespoons of honey or 10 drops of white stevia extract to bring up the sweetness)

-       ½ teaspoon of cinnamon

-       ½ – 1 teaspoon of dried ginger (depending on how much you like ginger!)

-       ¼ teaspoon of cloves

-       1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

-       ¼ teaspoon salt (if using coconut oil or unsalted butter increase the salt to ½ teaspoon)

-       ½ cup of rice flour (reserved)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Sift together the oat flour, ½ cup of rice flour, arrowroot starch and baking soda.  In a separate bowl cream together the butter, molasses, spices and salt.  Pour the flour mixture in to the butter mixture and blend them well.  The dough should be smooth and soft.  Chill the dough for at least 1 hour before rolling it out; you may store it overnight.  Divide the dough into two pieces and flatten one into a disk.  Place it on a floured piece of parchment paper.  Then dust the top with flour and place another piece of parchment paper on top.  Roll the dough out ~ ¼ inch thick.  Remove the top paper and cut out the dough with cookie cutters.  If the dough seems too sticky your can work a little extra rice flour into it.   You can make classic gingerbread men or any other shapes that you desire.  Place the cookies onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake them for ~ 8-10 minutes depending on the size of the cookies.  Cool the cookies completely before decorating them with dried fruit, nuts and jam.  These cookies keep over week in a sealed container if undecorated.

 

 

 

As day length decreases in the winter months, people may find themselves suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  This syndrome shares many of the same characteristics of clinical depression but is only present during the fall and winter (note: some people have a type of seasonal depression that is only associated with the spring and summer.)  This disorder is more common in the northern latitudes because the day length is shorter.  It is thought that the reduced sun exposure decreases serotonin production in sensitive people.  Common symptoms are lethargy, increased appetite, depression, excess sleep and antisocial feelings.  It is likely that people with jobs that keep them indoors during the day have greater risk.  Cloudy or rainy days that decrease sunlight exposure may also increase the frequency of this disorder.

If you think you are suffering from SAD you should consult you doctor for treatment. There are lots of things you can do to prevent and treat this disorder.  Increasing your exposure to available light by getting outside during the day is very helpful (be sure to wear sunscreen).  Using broad-spectrum lights that mimic the sun’s light may also provide benefit.  Exercise, especially aerobic exercise improves the mood for hours or days afterward.  It is also very important to eat enough protein so that your body has the building blocks to make enough serotonin.  Foods high in tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin, are especially helpful.

If these simple tips aren’t enough be sure to seek medical attention.  Untreated depression causes needless suffering for many people.  A trained naturopathic doctor can use herbs, vitamins, amino acids, homeopathy or medications to help bring you back into balance.

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