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The Truth About Fat

February 6, 2011

Fat.

I’ve got your attention now. It’s hard to even mention the word without someone listening. We’ve been taught that this three-letter word should only appear with the word ‘no’ or ‘low’ in front of it. Everywhere I look I see how I should be eating a low- or no-fat diet; how my life depends on my being able to cut fat out; and how I will just simply be a more handsome, taller, and better person if I reduce the amount of fat I eat.

Really?

Here’s the issue I have with this thinking: it leaves out important facts. Fat is not a problem. By itself, it’s no more of a problem then any other source of nutrition that we put in our bodies. It’s how we get the fat that’s the problem. Think of this example. Alcohol by itself is not a problem. And many, many people drink alcohol with no negative repercussions. Heck, in small amounts certain types can actually be good for you. But when we drink too much alcohol, then there’s a problem. For example, a glass of red wine has many health benefits and has been shown to reduce inflammation (the importance of which we will see below), however a bottle of wine would not provide more of the same benefits, but could actually do harm. The same goes for fat.

Perhaps a quick and dirty primer on fat is in order. There are essentially two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Too much saturated fat is bad, as is not enough unsaturated. And that’s the issue in America. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, Americans eat way too much saturated fat, which usually comes in the form of dairy, red meat, and even some types of plants. Conversely, we don’t eat enough unsaturated fat, which usually comes in the form of nuts, seeds, and oils.

One reason that having too much saturated fat is bad is that our bodies already produce it. In fact, we produce all that we need. The other reason that it’s bad is that it contributes to a whole host of illness and diseases including heart disease.

There is, actually, one more type of fat: trans fats. This is the worst of the worst. If we were to make an analogy its sort of like being on the top 10 most wanted list. But just what makes it so bad? These are man-made fats that not only raise total cholesterol (as does saturated fat), but also LDL levels (again, as does saturated fat) AND at the same time lowers HDL levels (which saturated does not). For the most part, these fats do not occur in nature. These types of fats typically occur in foods like processed, pre-packaged snacks, baked goods, chips, and icings, and are added to increase food stability and shelf-life. These are also the fats that are most likely to cause unhealthy weight gain.

So, where does that leave us. The bottom line is that we are made of fat. No matter what your BMI or body fat percentage is, you are made of fat. Every cell in your body is encapsulated with fat. Our brain is fat. We need it to survive. Our organs are all protected by it. And it affects how we feel. It is believed that depression is caused, at least in some part, by inflammation. A diet high in saturated, trans fats, and unsaturated omega-6s can cause and/or aggravate inflammation in the body; whereas a diet high in most other unsaturated fat, which includes olive oil, avocados, and omega-3s, helps to lower inflammation.Additionally, in study after study, researchers have found direct links between inflammation and depression. For example, in one study researchers looked at a population in Spain (were they adhere mostly to the famous Mediterranean diet) and found that those who consumed the highest amounts of trans fats were up to 48% more likely to develop depression. If that isn’t enough to get you out of the fast food line, I don’t know what is! In case you actually needed more reason then there’s this: while trans fats are more likely to cause weight gain, most unsaturated fats actually contribute to weight loss. As a reminder, the key is moderation.

With these things mind, here are 5 of the best fats for your body and brain

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This is an amazing source of omega-3s. Not all olive oil is created equal, however, and just because it has the words ‘olive oil’ on it, doesn’t mean it’s actually good for you. One reason is that when olive oil is heated, some of the good stuff gets destroyed. The good stuff includes vitamins, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and other nutrients like phoyphenols. The key here is to buy high quality, cold-pressed, extra virgin, and organic, if possible, olive oil.

2. Avocados

Here is another example of how fat has given a great food a bad name. Avocados are high in fat. That’s true. However, they are high in monounsaturated omega-9 fats. These fats are the ones found in olive oil and macadamia nut oil. These sorts of fats have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer and diabetes. Further, avocados are a great source of fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin.

3. Nuts, nut butters, seeds and seed butters

Quality and variety are key here. Not all butters are the same. While this is a broad category that includes all sorts of amazing foods like sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and pecans, remember that most nuts and seeds have amazing properties, including helping with prevention of heart disease and relaxing constricted blood vessels. In addition, nuts like walnuts contribute omega-3s to a diet, and nuts like almonds can contribute to weight loss.

4. Coconut oil

Coconuts have a bad rap. Here’s the deal. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, in fact it is almost 100% saturated. However, these fats are of a kind called medium-chain triglycerides. These kinds of triglycerides are known for their antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antiviral functions. Also, coconut has a high smoke point which makes it great for sauteing. This is also helpful because at high heat coconut won’t loose it’s nutrients like other oils, such as canola.

5. Eggs

Eggs have been a huge victim of the anti-fat craze. Because egg yolks are known to be a fat source, products all over the grocery store now carry the claim to be just egg whites. But if you only eat egg whites you will also miss out on all the good stuff in the eggs. First, eggs are one of the best sources of protein on the planet (better then milk, beef, whey, and soy). Second, eggs are a great source of choline, which helps to prevent the build up of cholesterol. And here’s the kicker: it’s found in the yolk. And lastly it has been proven to protect against breast cancer and help with eye health. The key is to make sure the eggs you eat are organic and free-range.

So, how do you go forward? The first thing you do is include more of the above fats and oils in your diet. Second, cut out those processed and prepackaged foods. They create a toxic environment in your body that will negatively affect your physical and mental health. And lastly, enjoy what you eat! After all, you are, and feel, what you eat.

Star Food: Cinnamon

January 28, 2011

Have you ever had one of those days? You know the kind, where all you do doesn’t seem to be enough? The kind that has you feeling stressed 30 seconds after waking up. The kind that makes you want to run for the hills and hide under the covers. For me, today was one of those days. After waking up 30 minutes late, I realized that I had to be to my office 30 minutes earlier then I had planned. Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem, but I had forgotten to make both kids their lunches, ran out of bread for sandwiches, and didn’t put the clothes in the dryer the night prior; and really, who wants to wear wet underwear? That was just the beginning. Needless to say, I was just a little stressed.

And you know, I could feel it in my body. My muscles were tense, I was irritable, I felt defeated and it wasn’t even 8am. Not to mention that my children thought it was a great time to start a fight about who got to play with the only harmonica in the house (needless to say the youngest one got his way).

And here’s where this week’s star food comes in. Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known to man and has a long history as both a food and a medicine. In ancient times cinnamon was thought to be so valuable that it was considered more precious than gold. Today it is one food that can be used to decrease the stress we feel and the damage it does to our body.

So what can cinnamon do for our stress level? Plenty.

Here are the top 5 reasons cinnamon is a star food.

  1. Cinnamon is a complete protein. According to Nutrition Data, cinnamon has all the essential amino acids (as compared to the non-essential amino acids that your body can make on its own). This is important because of protein’s ability to combat anxiety.  One of the jobs protein has is to make neurotransmitters. And foods that are high in amino acids are able to produce more neurotransmitters. A lack of neurotransmitters is one cause of anxiety. And the more complete the protein (the presence of all essential amino acids), the better the quality the transmitters.
  2. Cinnamon is a calcium powerhouse. This is important as calcium is integral in nerve cell function. It has also been proven to be a natural tranquilizer. While it is not strong, such that it will really aid in sleep, it is strong enough to help with anxiety. What this means is that for just 2 tsp you get more calcium benefit then eating a similar amount of yogurt.
  3. It is an antioxidant powerhouse, and next to ground cloves, it has the highest level of all spices (according to the USDA). Why is this important? Think back to the issue with free radicals. One of the by-products of metabolism are free radicals. They are a problem as they will attach themselves to just about anything that moves and try to steal an electron (they are like little thieves). The way to fight this problem is with antioxidants. Good sources are colorful vegetables. But a great source is also cinnamon; just 6 grams or 1/2 tsp, does the job.
  4. Cinnamon reduces stress. In a study published in the North American Journal of Psychology in 2009, researches showed that inhaling cinnamon aroma reduced stress, fatigue, and anxiety and at the same time increased mental alertness and agility. The interesting thing about this is that the cinnamon doesn’t  have to be consumed, just sniffed (sort of like when you were a kid and you liked to smell Lip Smackers . . . you know you did).
  5. Cinnamon has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels. This is huge, and not just for those who suffer from diabetes. As I’ve talked about before, when we eat foods, especially refined carbs, our blood sugar levels rise. This has a direct effect on our mood, both in the short and long-term. But according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, cinnamon is able to slow the rate at which our stomach empties, which slows the rise of our blood sugar levels, which in turn can keep our mood more stable.

So, what can you do to help with stress? First cut down or eliminate caffeine. Second, exercise regularly. Third eat your veggies, fruit, and whole grains. Lastly, eat more cinnamon. Sprinkle it on your oatmeal or cereal, add it to french toast, or try this fabulous recipe for Cinnamon Girls from one of my favorite cookbooks RAWvolution.

Cinnamon Girls

This recipe, as adapted from the cookbook RAWvolution, is a great snack. They are healthy, sweet, and filling; a perfect substitute for traditional cookies.

2 cups raw almonds, finely ground

1/3 cup cinnamon

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup agave nectar

2 tbsp olive oil

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the almonds, cinnamon, and raisins. Stir until the dry ingredients are mixed well. Add the agave nectar and olive oil to the bowl, and mix until a dough-like consistency is reached (you may have to add more oil). Using your hands, roll the mixture into ping-pong-sized balls. Serve as is, or cover and freeze before serving until thoroughly chilled for a more solid consistency.

Makes about 20 balls.

Yummy Mummy’s Tamari Seeds

January 17, 2011

Parenthood is an ongoing surprise education. No matter how much I think I’m prepared, it’s never enough. And they don’t tell you enough (whoever “they” are, they sure seem to know a lot). They don’t tell you how many diapers you’ll go through in a night (up to 31), or how little food your child will eat after you spent all day cooking especially for them, how much they will want to eat the day before you’re scheduled to go to the supermarket and the fridge is completely empty, or how many times in a night they will wake up to either go the bathroom, get a snuggle, or try to plan an outfit for next Halloween. And they sure as heck don’t tell you that this lack of sleep will last for the next seven years. But I don’t appear to be the only one not sleeping.

One of the biggest complaints I get in my office is lack of sleep. Unfortunately for these individuals it is typically not young children keeping them awake, but rather other issues such as depression, stress, or anxiety. The individuals I see often complain that they either can’t sleep through the night, can’t go to sleep in the first place, or that they haven’t slept for 21 years. But whatever the issue is, they’re tired. So tired in fact that on rare occasions they will fall asleep on the couch in my office (I don’t judge as I’ve done that too).

But here’s the thing, not sleeping can lead to many issues including depression, irritability, emotion disregulation, and lack of concentration. In these cases a lack of sleep can create a vicious mental health cycle with depression and anxiety creating sleep loss and that sleep loss exacerbating the depression and anxiety. While it is true that a few nights of not sleeping probably won’t do huge amounts of damage, if left unchecked you might be in for a roller-coaster ride of feelings, emotions, and thoughts in the weeks to come.

What I have noticed is that many people, many more than in just my practice, struggle with lack of sleep. So many, in fact, that entire bookshelves at Barnes & Noble have been dedicated to the subject. Just look at some of the books: The Harvard Medical Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep, I Can Make You Sleep, Restful Insomnia, Lights Out, and Dr. Suess’ Sleep Book. While I’ve not read all the books available, mostly because I was fearful that they would just make me fall asleep, I have done enough research on the topic to know that there are certain things that do work and things that do not.

Let me start with the things that don’t work. Many of my clients suffering from insomnia have tried substances such as alcohol, drugs, and medication to help them with their sleep issues. The problem is that none of things really get to the heart of the issue and can create health issues of their own. Sure they might have an immediate effect, and in the case of prescription medication it may be temporarily necessary. However, in the long-term, they only put a bandage on a much deeper issue.

Here are a few more natural techniques that have been proven to work. The first is to cut caffeine consumption. This may seem like an obvious answer, but if my professional experience stands for anything, it is not as obvious as it may seem. There have been a fair number of people who have come to my office with their 42 ounce Mocha Cappuccino in hand and talk about their inability to sleep. When asked how much coffee or soda they drink, they generally answer 3-5 cups a day. Some have even gone as far as a 12-pack of Mountain Dew. But coffee and soda are only but two obvious places that caffeine is found. Some hidden sources include candies like jelly beans, chocolate, tea (even green), and Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Fudge Frozen Yogurt. Of course there’s nothing wrong with these things in moderation, but if you’re having sleep issues perhaps cutting your consumption or limiting how much and when you consume them would be helpful.

Exercise is another proven way to combat insomnia. It has been shown that those who engage in a regular workout routine are far more likely to not only go to sleep, but also sleep through the night. But there’s more. Exercise is not just for sleep, it also helps you feel better overall. Exercise is a great way to combat depression, anxiety, stress, and overeating . . . you name it. How much you do depends on you. The secret is to just move your body and do it regularly.

And then there’s pumpkin. I know that you’re probably saying not pumpkin again, but in fact I am saying pumpkin again. But before I get to that, let me first mention tryptophan. You know what tryptophan is, right? . . . that stuff in Turkey that gets blamed for making us tired at Thanksgiving. Well tryptophan is much more than that.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s responsible for synthesizing protein. This is great. I mean, we all need protein. But more importantly, at least for the sake of this topic, is that it is a precursor for serotonin, which helps regulate sleep and mood. And here’s the thing about tryptophan – you don’t need to take a pill to get the necessary amount to help you sleep. A study, published in the April 2005 edition of Nutritional Neuroscience concluded that tryptophan found naturally in food can help people fall asleep relatively quickly.

And that is what brings me to pumpkin. Pumpkin, or actually pumpkin seeds, are a rich source of many nutrients, including tryptophan. In fact, pumpkin seeds have one of the highest sources of tryptophan of any non-animal product. The recommended dose of tryptophan to help improve sleep is 100-300 mg, and for 1 ounce of pumpkin seeds you get 122 mg of this amazing nutrient. Not bad for 142 seeds!

So, here are my recommendations for getting and staying asleep:

  1. Cut caffeine intake to as close to zero as you can. And if you’re going to consume caffeine, do so prior to 3 p.m.
  2. Start to exercise. Not only will this help you feel better overall, it will help with your sleep. Choose an exercise that you enjoy and that you will look forward to doing.
  3. Make your bed only for sleep (or at least for as few activities as possible). Try to limit your eating, reading, or watching television in bed.
  4. And lastly, try eating Yummy Mummy’s Tamari Seeds (recipe below). Not only are these a tasty before bed snack, but they are loaded with tryptophan, omega-3s, and trace minerals.

Well, I think I hear one of my little ones crying our for daddy. Perhaps she needs to discuss her invitation list for her next birthday . . . in 325 more days.

Yummy Mummy’s Tamari Seeds

We first started making these seeds when we lived in England. They were a great healthy snack that was easy to take with us on the road. Not only do they have pumpkin seeds but they also have sunflower seeds, flax seeds (a great source of omega-3s), and sesame seeds (a fantastic source of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese).

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup pumpkin seeds

1/3 cup sesame seeds

1/3 cup flaxseeds

3 tbsp tamari

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp cumin seed (optional)

4 whole cloves garlic, peeled, do not mince or chop (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix seeds together. Add tamari and sesame oil and optional ingredients, if using. Bake until brown, about 10-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

A note of caution: ovens vary in temperature. How long you need to cook these seeds will depend on your specific oven. The key is to check on them and notice how they’re doing. The goal is a light, golden brown. Any darker may result in loss of nutrients.

Pumpkin, Sweet Potato, and Ginger Soup

January 9, 2011

Every year since we moved to England (2005), we have had a garden. I know its strange to be mentioning this as it is the middle of winter and, here in Minnesota, the temperature is something like -100 f without the windchill (for those of you who may not know what windchill is, it is the way the temperature feels as you lose circulation in your face). Or maybe it just feels like this. But I bring this up for good reason. As the garden catalogs start to roll in touting new varieties of seeds and claiming that their heirloom tomatoes are the best, or how I can get super fast results from my peas, I become giddy with zeal because this is the most exciting time of the year for me.

The excitement comes from the anticipation of starting to grow. It builds for the next 5 months and then, before we know it, it has passed. I don’t say this to be a bummer, I say it because every year I try so hard to make the season memorable. How do I do this? I plant everything that I can pronounce. Sure that typically leaves me with tons of kholrabi, rows or kale, mounds of zucchini, and what seems like acres of cucumbers, but it is a joy to watch grow.

And every year, right about this time, I sit down and talk endlessly to my wife about how this year will be different; how this year we will only plant what we actually like AND can eat. Each year I truly believe that I will, in fact, follow through with my plan. And each year I somehow manage to forget I ever had this conversation and plant all that I can put my hands on. In spite of this, however, there are a few things I grow that I don’t ever seem to get enough of. One of those things is Pumpkin.

I love pumpkin and so does my family. It is one of my favorite foods. I have yet to eat it in a way that I didn’t like. Whipped, baked, steamed, or baked with butter and brown sugar, they are all to die for. They are sweet, creamy, and laden with vitamins and minerals – the kind that fight free radicals. But the best part of the pumpkin is watching the kids’ eye’s light up as they keep checking how big the pumpkins are growing. Big or small, they are wonderful and easy to grow.

Now it’s time to get back to the catalogs and dreaming.

Pumpkin, Sweet Potato, and Ginger Soup

This recipe, as adapted from Wholefood, by Jude Blereau is just so luscious, creamy, sweet and spicy, and warm on a frost-bit Minnesota day. It has ginger, to give it spice, that mixes perfectly with the pumpkin and sweet potato. Add in some tamari and pepper and you’re set. Try adding some thick-sliced home-made bread for an added comfort.

olive oil, for frying

1 – 2 leeks, well rinsed and finely sliced

2 shallots, sliced

1 1/2 piece ginger, finely chopped

2 – 3 garlic gloves, minced

1 bunch coriander (cilantro), stems only and chopped (keep the leafs for later)

3 pound pumpkin (winter squash (jap, Kent, or butternut)), peeled and roughly chopped

1 medium sweet potato, roughly chopped

5 cups vegetable stock

tamari, to taste

finely ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat olive oil in large pan (large enough for 5 cups of stock). Add leeks, shallots, ginger, garlic, and coriander stems. Saute gently over low heat for 10 minutes.

2. Add pumpkin, sweet potato, and stock. Cover with a lid and cook over a gentle heat for 30 minutes (until pumpkin and sweet potato are soft and easily pricked with a fork).

3. cook the soup slightly, then transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Add coriander leafs and blend until smooth. Check for taste, adding tamari and pepper if necessary. Return to a clean pan and gently reheat the soup and serve sprinkled with coriander leaves, or drizzled with a little coconut milk.

Real Food: Deconstructing the PB&J

January 6, 2011

The holidays have come and gone and all that’s left are memories and bits of wrapping paper in the corner. If your house is anything like mine, the children are still reeling from all the excitement. For two weeks we were fortunate enough to have had the entire family home together, enjoying long lazy days of cooking and playing. Monday morning, however, was a huge wakeup call for all of us. Now, instead of being able to sleep in to the late, late hour of 6:00 a.m., we are up at 5:00 with one of the blessed cherubs and 5:30 with the other. Once again our mornings are back to juggling breakfast and packing lunches, getting kids dressed, breaking up fights, reminding them to brush their teeth and hair, and getting everyone to their respective school/daycare/workplace on time.

As may be the case for you, I often find myself turning to the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a lunch option for my kids. So today, as I was making lunch for the one with the peanut butter fancy, my mind drifted and I thought about all the different peanut butters on the market. Of course before I could give too much thought to it, my attention was quickly brought back to reality when my youngest started to hammer on my leg with his new toy ‘boom boom’ (that’s hammer in toddlerese).

But now that I can return to thinking about this without the threat of losing a leg, I have decided to dedicate this post to the deconstruction of the average PB&J sandwich. Advertising tells us that the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a quick and healthy kid (and adult) favorite. But is it really as healthy as we think? For decades mothers have been told that for a quick, easy, and healthy meal they should smear some peanut butter and jelly on bread and off to school their children can go. And on the face of it, this is indeed a good option. But there is more to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich than meets the eye.

While peanut butter is a good, healthy choice for a food, not all peanut butter is created equal. Take for instance the ingredient list of Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter: peanut butter, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed, soybean and rapeseed (which is canola oil)) to prevent separation, salt. Or how about what choosy moms choose, Jif: roasted peanuts and sugar, contains 2% or less of: molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean), mono and diglycerides, salt.

And now compare that to fresh ground peanut butter at your local food co-op: peanuts. Or my personal favorite, 365 Everyday Value Creamy: peanuts and salt. Either way you look at it, there are fewer ingredients, and that is important because those extra ingredients have been proven to be harmful to both our physical well-being AND our emotional well-being.

Of course, peanut butter is but one of a triad in the PB&J. What about jelly? A comparison of ingredients will show that most jellies and jams are really just a lot of sugar mixed with some fruit. Take Smucker’s for instance. Their ingredient list for grape jelly contains not one, but two added sugars and no actual fruit: concord grape juice, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, fruit pectin, citric acid. In addition to the sugar in the fruit, you are also getting a lot of added corn syrup. In fact 1 tablespoon has almost half of what is thought to be the acceptable daily limit for adult women. Again there other alternatives available; ones with no added sugar. My personal favorite is Bionature Organic Fruit Spread which has no added sugar.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the bread. Most bread sold in supermarkets, regardless of color, is made from white processed flour. And because it’s processed, nutrients have been added back in (actually it’s a federal requirement that this happens) in order to make it more closely resemble the wheat from which it came. The bottom line is that refined carbs, like white processed flour, enter our blood stream in the same way that sugar does and will likely result in a sugar crash not too long after.

So what does that mean for the standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It means that if we choose the traditional PB&J we are consuming 21 grams of sugar in one sandwich. The National Heart Association states that adult women should not get more than 25 grams of sugar a day. With 21 grams coming from one “healthy” peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that doesn’t leave much room for the rest of the day!

My final point is this, food choices matter and it’s not always clear what the best choice is. But if you’re going to think about food in relation to both physical and mental health, try to read the ingredient list first. Think about how many different ingredients you want to be putting into your body and how they might affect your health. Ask yourself if there is an alternative that might be less processed. You can still enjoy your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but by changing the quality of the ingredients in the sandwich you can end up with something that doesn’t compromise your physical and mental health.

I’m going to go now and attend to the bruise that was left after I was boom-boomed.

Star Food: The Amazing Sunflower Seed

January 3, 2011

Sometimes the simplest foods are the most amazing. But before I get to that, let me first talk about a new segment to the blog: Star Foods. This segment will be devoted to foods that go above and beyond in their ability to not only generate good physical health, but also good emotional health. These foods are nutritional powerhouses and able to lift our emotional well-being with nothing more than a quick crunch or slurp. So, without further ado, I present to you the . . . Sunflower Seed.

The sunflower seed, or Helianthus Annuu, which dates back at least 4,000 years, has its roots in Russia. According to the National Sunflower Grower’s Association, the history of the sunflower is one of migration. While it has its roots in Russia, it was the Native Americans who cultivated and domesticated it. So what make the sunflower seed so wonderful? Here is a list of the top 5 things that make the sunflower seed wonderful for both your physical and mental health.

1. It is high in Folate. As it turns out, sunflower seeds are a great source for this essential nutrient. For just a handful, a mere 1 oz., you get 16% of your daily intake of folate. Why is this important? Research has shown that those who suffer from depression and cognitive impairments generally suffer from a folate deficiency. One function that folate does so well is help produce and maintain new cells. According to the National Institute of Medicine, folate is an important part of staving off anemia which can lead to a decrease of oxygen to tissue.  This can have a direct effect on one’s brain functioning and the ability to fight depression.

2. Sunflower seeds are high in thiamine. Thiamine is a required vitamin that is essential for metabolizing glucose in the body. And why is this important? Because glucose is the brain’s energy source. And without energy, the brain doesn’t work as well and we can start to feel despondent and lethargic. One serving gives you a whopping 28% of your daily needs.

3. Sunflower seeds are high in selenium. Why is this important? Maybe you’re saying I’ve actually never heard of selenium. Is it a planet? Selenium is actually a trace mineral that works with protein. This is important because selenium, when combined with protein, is turned into an antioxidant which, as you will see below, helps fight the war on free radicals. One serving of sunflower seeds has a good amount of selenium, 21% of your daily intake. Not bad for such a little seed.

4. Sunflower seeds are a good source of protein. For just a handful, you get 12% of your daily protein in return. Not too bad an investment. Protein is one of the nutrients that help us keep alert and able to concentrate. And when we feel more alert, we feel more able to face challenges and stress in our daily life.

5. When it comes to antioxidants sunflower seeds carry big payoffs. A single serving of sunflower seeds has almost half of your daily value of Vitamin E. Why is this important? Because antioxidants fight free radicals. In all our bodies there exist free radicals. These are molecules with crazy ideas; ideas that eventually can lead to cancer and cognitive impairments, amongst other things. But we know how to stop them. We send in the defenders of health, antioxidants, to fight them off. The reason it’s important to fight off free radicals is that they also affect our brain function, which of course affects our emotions and thoughts. More antioxidants equal better health and mood.

So, there you go. Five reasons to eat sunflower seeds as part of your regular diet. There are many ways to get these into your diet. They are great on salads, thrown onto a casserole, or just eaten plan. Most stores sell them either raw or roasted. The choice is yours. Enjoy!

What’s a Dad to do?

December 30, 2010

Children will be children. And by definition they are picky and finicky. They like what they like and hate everything else. Take this for an example: “Mia (my daughter), would you like to have a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner?” I ask. “No, I don’t like grilled cheese anymore,” she says. “Oh really, but you just had it for lunch yesterday,” I say. “Yeah, I know, Daaad.  But that was then and this is now,” she says.

What’s a dad to do?

I struggle with this constant change of heart. One moment she likes pasta and red sauce, the next she refuses to have sauce if the word pasta is anywhere on the jar (and don’t even get me going on home-made sauce). One moment she likes almonds, the next she won’t eat any nuts unless they’re the kind in shells and are called pistachios; and even then they have to be from the right store, on the right day, in the right package.  I know better; nevertheless, I can’t help but find this struggle completely infuriating, and it sometimes causes me to act in completely illogical ways.

I’ve done all the things parents have done for aeons prior to me. I’ve tried to bribe her into eating her peas by offering the biggest, tastiest, chocolatiest dessert. I’ve offered to buy her a pony if she just tries one spoonful of vegetable (which actually worked until yesterday when she figured out that she wasn’t really going to get a pony out of the deal). I’ve tried to convince her that if she doesn’t eat her food she won’t grow big and strong. I know, according to the experts, that I’m really not supposed to be resorting to threats and bribery, but here’s the thing–I’m fairly convinced she will die of malnutrition if left to her own devices. Okay, that’s probably not true, but my logic is not always sound–especially when it comes to my kids.

Of course I know in truth that these tactics don’t work with kids. In fact, these are things I tell my clients NOT to do. These things never have worked and they never will. I know that most children change their minds about what food they like more often than they change their underwear. I know that what I need to do is be patient and let her guide her own food choices. I know I have a choice. I can either continue to fight this battle and ultimately lose, or I can compromise and create a calmer me and a more enjoyable food experience for her . . . and hopefully avoid feeling like I want to run screaming and yelling that the sky is falling because she has eaten nothing but peanut butter sandwiches for the past week.

So, what do I do? I acknowledge that each kid is different and trying to find some magic answer is impossible. It doesn’t exist. What does work, however, is listening to my daughter; hearing what she wants, having conversations with her about food choices and nutrition, and trying to present tasty, nutritious foods to her that she will enjoy.

And if that doesn’t work I can always offer her a trip to Disneyland.

Spinach Pancakes

We actually have one recipe that she likes even though she is aware that there are vegetables in it. I can’t tell you how many nights we eat these. When we first served these pancakes we told Mia that they were leprechaun pancakes. She asked if we had to kill many leprechauns to make the pancakes green. I assure you, and her, that no leprechauns were hurt in the making of these pancakes. The great thing about these pancakes is that they don’t taste at all like spinach–they’re light, and tasty.

2 eggs

1 1/4 cups unsweetened soy milk (or any milk)

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons coconut oil

1/2 cup – flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 tbsp salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 – 3 cups fresh baby spinach

1. Blend eggs, milk, vanilla, and spinach in a blender or food processor until light and airy (about 3 minutes).

2 . Mix dry ingredients together (flour, salt, baking powder,sugar) in a large bowl.

3. Gently fold egg mixture into dry ingredients and stir until completely mixed.

4. Let the batter rest while the griddle is heating (batter will thicken upon standing). Heat coconut oil until hot, but not smoking, and pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter on the griddle.

5. Cook on one side until bubbles begin to form. Then turn the pancakes and cook on the other side until brown.

Serve with your choice of topping such as strawberries, yogurt, or maple syrup.

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