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Curries, more than just a Pun-gent Taste

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Curry . . .

Curry who?

Curry me back to Ole Virginny, or Curry on Wayward Son, for you Kansas fans.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Curry . . .

Curry who?

Curry –iosity killed the cat.  [Thanks, so much for the groans.  I’m here through Thursday]

The pun is one of the oldest forms of humor.  It is also one of the highest intellectual forms of humor due to depth of understanding a language and its connection to culture.

Curries are one of the oldest types of stew recorded.  The first being documented in Babylon around 1700 BC.[1]  And, according to my hierarchy of cooking skills, curries are one of its highest forms due to the spice complexities melding to a specific flavor.

The word curry is theorized to be an Anglofication of a Sanskrit word, Karli.  However, it appears that there are a number of words theorized to be the origin.  All I know is that the tastes are multi-cultural and multi-dimensional.  Oh yeah, I love them all.

In my search for the biggest health bang for the caloric buck, the spices used in curries are akin to finding The Nutrient Dollar Store.  A pinch of this and a dash of that have been used for centuries to vanquish more than the common cold.  I chose my most favorite flavor enhancers and share their incredible properties.

Cardamom – This spice is used in the most unique ways from Indonesian curries to Scandinavian cookies.  However, cardamom has been researched for use with chelation therapy and for its antioxidant properties with positive results,[2] as well treating hypertension,[3] kidney and urinary disorders, modulating gut activity and acting as a sedative.[4]  The evidence is fairly clear that I need to eat more cookies.

Cilantro/Coriander – AKA, Chinese parsley.  People have a love/hate relationship with cilantro.  Many times I use it in my guacamole when I make it with my garden produce.  It can have a fabulous drying quality to flavors when used fresh.  Be aware that cooking can dull the flavor.[5]

The health aspects are numerous.  The traditional use of cilantro to decrease hypertension is heavily supported in scientific literature.[6]  [7] Historically, it has been used to treat diabetes, indigestion, rheumatism and joint pain.  Current research is supporting its use to decrease blood glucose in diabetics, though the research is not conclusive.[8]  The claims of including cilantro or coriander as part of chelation therapy for high mercury poisoning is anecdotal and based on loosely documented case studies.

Coconut Milk – We have all heard about the problems of coconut milk: high in saturated fat.  Saturated fat is what you find in butter and steak.  Conversely, native cultures which regularly ingest coconut milk do not show that intake has any connection with heart disease.  Studies divided traditional coconut eating subjects into those with coronary disease and those without.  Results showed that animal product intake related directly to risk of coronary events.  Higher carbohydrate intake and low animal product intake was what kept you heart healthy.[9]  Obesity rates among Tanzania adults rose with a lower activity rate and high consumption of dairy milk.  Decreased obesity rates mentioned coconut milk as part of this regular diet.[10]  In addition to heart health, anecdotally, coconut with aloe vera is purported to cure hair loss.[11]

Cumin – That lovely dry heat which goes so well in my Aloo Gobi has been shown to kick butt when it comes to colon cancer cells [Pun intended, See Knock, Knock][12]  The property of cumin playing The Terminator role on cancer cells is Thymoquinone.  Additionally, another fun name, factor-kappaB has been seen to initiate such diseases as cancer, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, diabetes, allergy, asthma, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, psoriasis, septic shock, and AIDS.[13]  Cumin, black cumin seeds in particular, have been put on a list of herbs which stop the manufacturing of this substance in your body.  Thus cutting, “I’ll Be Back” from your metabolic movie quotes.

Fenugreek – Although the most common method of calming infants in the United Arab Emirates was breast feeding, when herbal teas were used fenugreek was in the top five.  Interestingly, 90% of these mothers preferred not to use pacifiers, but themselves and their motherly instincts to help their babies.  Historically, fenugreek has been used in the treatment of diabetes and current research appears to support this theory, although the evidence is not conclusive.[14] [15]

Galangal – Beginning its life in China and Java, galangal is similar to ginger.  Its distinctive flavor not only gives a richness to Thai curries, it has been traditionally used to relieve many GI tract problems such as bad breath, sea sickness, indigestion, ulcers and stomach inflammation and diarrhea.  This may be due to its antimicrobial properties.[16]  Like ginger it increases circulation especially to the hands and feet.[17]  No wonder Tom Yum soup does the trick on colder nights.

Garam Masala – The term, masala means mixture.  There isn’t a garam masala bush or tree.  I include this to help you shop for ingredients found in this month’s recipes.  However, not all masalas are the same.  If you know your store, you can explain your taste preference and they may be able to assist you in finding the heat and flavor mixture for your palate.

Kaffir Lime – In southeast Asian cooking you may use the kaffir rind or leaf in a recipe.  Each has a sour flavor which works so well with the sweetness of coconut.  The vodka company, Smirnoff, makes a mojito with kaffir limes and the beer company, Molson flavors its Blue Moon line with the leaves.[18]  Folk medicine uses the leaves as a gum disease prevention, and a digestive aid.  So far the beverages are covered for this year’s May 8th, Thai Royal Ploughing Day party. [Yes, actual holiday.]

Lemon Grass – The antifungal activity of lemon grass oil has been well documented.[19]  Perhaps that is why it was considered a sacred herb and used by warriors.  Its pungent taste comes from a chemical which also gives it antimicrobial qualities.[20]  The astringent properties not only help in wound healing, but promote gum and hair health.[21]

Turmeric – Not only will it make your tofu scramble a beautiful yellow color, turmeric has been shown to increase detoxifying agents in your body, lessen DNA damage and heighten DNA repair.15  Why does that matter?  When DNA misreads, “I am an Ear Cell” for “Stick it in your ear gel”, the cell can mutate into a cancer cell.  We want our DNA copy machine with a just cleaned plate and no paper clips.

With all of these cleansing, antioxidizing, fungi-eating actions going on inside, it is little wonder why gurus live so long.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Curry . . .

Curry who?

Curry up and end this diatribe.  We want to EAT!

[1] Grove P, Grove C. [2008] The origins of ‘Curry’, (Is it really English?)Retrieved from on April 25, 2009.

[2] Yadav AS, Bhatnagar D. [2007] Free radical scavenging activity, metal chelation and antioxidant power of some of the Indian spices, Biofactors, 31(3-4):219-27. [Abstract]

[3] Gilani AH, Jabeen Q, Khan AU, Shah AJ. [2008] Gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering, diuretic and sedative activities of cardamom, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Feb 12;115(3):463-72. [Abstract]

[4] Ballabh B, Chaurasia OP, Ahmed Z, Singh SB. [2008] Traditional medicinal plants of cold desert Ladakh-used against kidney and urinary disorders, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Jul 23;118(2):331-9. [Abstract]

[5] Loha-unchit K, [2000]. Cilantro – Pak Chee.  Retrieved from on April 25, 2009.

[6] Jabeen Q, Bashir S, Lyoussi B, Gilani AH. [2009] Coriander fruit exhibits gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering and diuretic activities. Journal of Ethnopharmocology. Feb 25;122(1):123-30. [Abstract]

[7] Dhanapakiam P, Joseph JM, Ramaswamy VK, Moorthi M, Kumar AS. [2008] The cholesterol lowering property of coriander seeds (Coriandrum sativum): mechanism of action, Journal of Environmental Biology. Jan;29(1):53-6. [Abstract]

[8] Eidi M, Eidi A, Saeidi A, Molanaei S, Sadeghipour A, Bahar M, Bahar K. [2009] Effect of coriander seed (Coriandrum sativum L.) ethanol extract on insulin release from pancreatic beta cells in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Phytotherapy Research, Mar;23(3):404-6. [Abstract]

[9] Lipoeto NI, Agus Z, Oenzil F, Wahlqvist M, Wattanapenpaiboon N. [2004] Dietary intake and the risk of coronary heart disease among the coconut-consuming Minangkabau in West Sumatra, Indonesia, Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 13(4):377-84. [Abstract]

[10] Njelekela M, Kuga S, Nara Y, Ntogwisangu J, Masesa Z, Mashalla Y, Ikeda K, Mtabaji J, Yamori Y, Tsuda K. [2002] Prevalence of obesity and dyslipidemia in middle-aged men and women in Tanzania, Africa: relationship with resting energy expenditure and dietary factors. Journal of Nutrition Science and Vitaminology, Oct;48(5):352-8. [Abstract]

[11] Retrieved from on April 25, 2009.

[12] Gali-Muhtasib H, Diab-Assaf M, Boltze C, Al-Hmaira J, Hartig R, Roessner A, Schneider-Stock R. [2004] Thymoquinone extracted from black seed triggers apoptotic cell death in human colorectal cancer cells via a p53-dependent mechanism, International Journal of Oncology, Oct;25(4):857-66. [Abstract]

[13] Aggarwal BB, Shishodia S. [2004] Suppression of the nuclear factor-kappaB activation pathway by spice-derived phytochemicals: reasoning for seasoning, Annals of New York Academy of Science, Dec;1030:434-41. [Abstract]

[14] Jetté L, Harvey L, Eugeni K, Levens N. [2009] 4-Hydroxyisoleucine: a plant-derived treatment for metabolic syndrome, Current Opinion in Investigated Drugs, Apr;10(4):353-. [Abstract]

[15] Krishnaswamy K. [2008] Traditional Indian spices and their health significance, Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition ;17 Suppl 1:265-8. [Abstract]

[16] Huang H, Wu D, Tian WX, Ma XF, Wu XD. [2008] Antimicrobial effect by extracts of rhizome of Alpinia officinarum Hance may relate to its inhibition of beta-ketoacyl-ACP reductase, Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medical Chemistry, Jun;23(3):362-8.

[17] Curry Simple. What is Galangal? Retrieved from on April 25, 2009.

[18] Wikipedia. [2009] Retrieved from on April 25, 2009.

[19] Mishra AK, Dubey NK. [1994] Evaluation of some essential oils for their toxicity against fungi causing deterioration of stored food commodities, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Apr;60(4):1101-5.

[20] Irkin R, Korukluoglu M. [2009] Effectiveness of Cymbopogon citratus L. essential oil to inhibit the growth of some filamentous fungi and yeasts, Journal of Medicinal Food, Feb;12(1):193-7. [Abstract]

[21] Organic Facts. Health Benefits of Essential Lemon Grass OiI. Retrieved from on April 25, 2009.

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The History of . . . What was I drinking?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ah, the summer heat.  There is nothing like cold water atop a mountain after a summer hike.  Or a lovely glass of that special something while you read under the shade of your favorite tree.  And while you nap away the hours in the summer sun does your mind ever wander to wonder where did we get these summer staples – lemonade, gin and tonics and ice tea?

Since my mind is constantly wandering, I researched a few of my summer favorites.  So you can just read their interesting bits of history while you relax . . . into that lovely . . .state where . . .um, just before . . .you fall into a . . .summer . . .snooo . .z.

Fruit Punch – I love punch.  I make mine with juices, seltzer and sorbet.  It looks pretty and tastes like liquid dessert.

The sorbet was not a part of the English punch borrowed from India in the seventeenth century.   Panch, the Hindi word for punch, was made from sugar, lemon, “spirit”, tea and spices.  Panch is close to the Sanskrit word panchan or Parsi word panj which means, five.

Life is a beach
Life is a beach

The drink, Panch has five ingredients.  Although there was no information I found on the type of “spirit” used.

English sailors brought the idea back to the motherland where it became a winter holiday drink with the spirit of brandy or whiskey.

When Jamaica began exporting rum to Britain, the rum became a part of the mix.  The punch referred to in A Christmas Carol has a rum base with different citrus fruits.

Our modern fruit punch generally refers to those sugary, teeth rotting drinks that a passed off to kids.    The idea of an alcoholic punch is rarely seen except at the frat houses in my neighborhood, otherwise known as Hairy Buffaloes.

I’m just an old fashioned girl trying to get Panch back into the party scene.

Mmm, organic chocolate porter
Mmm, organic chocolate porter

Gin and Tonic – I ask people about their alcohol intake when I work with them as a dietitian.  I am amazed at the people who drink almost nothing, except “in the summer I have gin and tonics.”  I have drunk about everything, but I hadn’t killed enough taste buds to endure gin until I was over 40.

Let’s start with the origin of gin.  The inventor of gin award goes to Dr. Sylius who was a professor of medicine in Leyden, Holland around 1650.   Gin was first called jonge[young] and oude [old] “Jenever” or “Genever”. It isn’t clear how it made its way to England, but it was in production by 1655.

One of the reasons it became popular was that it was cheap to produce.  England imposed a heavy tax on imported alcohol beverages and let free reign to local gin producers.  In fact, gin was thought to be therapeutic and probably was healthier than the water found in London.    Tonic was also used in a therapeutic manner several centuries later.
In the 1700’s, while rum was being exported by the “Colonies”, the Gin Act of 1736 set off riots in Britain.  The act levied high taxes on retailers.  It was rescinded in 1742.

As the British pushed to the East, soldiers were plagued with malaria.  Quinine, an ingredient in Tonic water, was a cure for malaria.  It also made gin much more palatable.  Add the lime to guard against scurvy [remember the nickname, Limey for British sailors] and the elixir is complete.

Keep your upper lip stiff while drinking.

Ice Tea – This drink appears to have its beginnings in England and the South of the United States.  These teas were cold and very sweet.  An 1839 cookbook states that the tea not only has sugar, but sweet cream.  Then you add it to a bottle of claret.   There were a number of ingredients added to teas, although the teas used were usually green and not black.   As I write this I fear a new line of Snapple’s are in the offing.

In 1890, cold tea was served at a reunion of Civil War veterans. Most stories state that iced tea was invented at the 1904 World’s Fair.

The beverage did make a huge splash because of the intense hot weather.  However, the first mention of ice tea as a commercial product was at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  The drink grossed over $2,000.   By World War I, tea was served in tall glasses accompanied with long spoons.

Ice tea lost its luster in the 1930’s to the 1950’s.  In the 50’s, tea began to be powdered and canned rekindling its popularity.  Today around 85% of tea drunk in the United States is iced.

Lemonade – Lemons were first cultivated in India and China where they were originally used as an ornamental plant.   Lemonade itself is to have been first squeezed in Egypt around 500 AD.  However, there are other sources which state that ancient Jews made a type of lemonade.  What may have lead to the discrepancies of the origin is the hybridization of lemons.  The ancient Hebrews may have actually been using the Citron.  The citron is like a large lemon, but with a thicker rind, more pulp and not as much juice. The source of the common lemonade we enjoy in the United States was Egypt and first exported to France just after the middle ages.  From there it made its way across the ocean.

Pink lemonade has a number of stories as to how it got its color.  One is it came from a jockey’s red shorts, and another that the inventor mistakenly dropped cinnamon candies into the mix.  Whatever  the derivation, we still have it as a product is because the first sales were so successful.  The lemonade stand owners saw a money maker and kept it on the menu.  Actually, there is no difference in the type of lemons or other ingredients except for the coloring.

Mint Juleps – Does the word, julab, ring a bell?  Well, it is the earliest known moniker for the Kentucky Derby favorite swill.   A julab was made with rose water and not bourbon, and drunk in areas around the Mediterranean Sea.

The next time we see mentioning of juleps is on Southern menus in the 1700’s.  In fact those drinks were made with whiskey or brandy.

 However, the post-Civil War south was poverty stricken and cheap bourbon moved to become the liquor of choice.  Mint juleps linked in with the Derby in 1875.

You don’t have to wait for the Derby to enjoy these, just make sure you wear a festive bonnet.

Piña Colada – “Strained pineapple” is not a really snazzy cocktail name, but translate it into a romantic language and you get a really cool appellation.    Although the New York Times first mentions this frothy imbibement in the Caribbean during 1950’s, there is a 1922 reference to a pineapple drink “rapidly shaken.”

Ricardo Garcia, the gentleman attributed with creating the concoction, may have made the first in Puerto Rico, but he was born above a bar in Spain.  He spent all of his working life in the hospitality business.  The original drink was called “Coco-Loco”, consisted of rum, coconut juice and cream served up in a piece of coconut cut from trees surrounding the restaurant.  When the coconut cutters went on strike, Mr. Garcia improvised a beverage container from hollowed out pineapples with a straw.

The drink grew in popularity as did Mr. Garcia.  He eventually joined the Hilton Hotel chain being a bar manager in their hotel in Madrid.  He took his fruity drink with him.

So, I know that alcohol kills vitamin C practically on contact, but what about if I slurp one of these down really, really fast?

Oops, I can tell by the clinking of my ice cubes that someone put a hole in the bottom of my gin and tonic glass.  What next?  Fruit punch with a kick?  Piña Mojito? Oh, I’ll just have the cabana boy surprise me.

1  BBC. [nd] The History of Gin (and Tonic).  Retrieved from May 30, 2009.
2  Wikipedia. [nd] Retrieved from on May 30, 2009.

3  Stradley L. [2004] The History of Iced Tea and Sweet Tea. Retrieved from on May 30, 2009.

4  Devlin KA. [2008], History of Iced Tea.  Retrieved from on May 30, 2009.

5  Bridge Port Lemonade.  Retrieved from on May 30, 2009.

6  Wright, Clifford. [nd] History of Lemonade. Retrieved from on May 30, 2009.
Cocktail Times. [nd] History of Mint Julep. Retrived from on May 30, 2009.

7  Stradley L. [nd] Mint Julep, Recipe and History of the Mint Julep. What’s Cooking America. Retrieved from  on May 30, 2009.

8  Wikipedia. [nd] Piña Colada Steve’s Frozen Chillers. [2008] The history of the Piña Colada. Retrieved from on May 30, 2009.

©Marty Davey, May 2009.  All Rights Reserved.

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Lose the Fat, Keep the Flavor

Thursday, April 26, 2007

There is a large movement to decrease or eliminate added oils to food.  But how do you do it?  Here are a few tips.

Most of the time oil can be cut in half, if not eliminated entirely in baking by substituting with plain apple sauce or prune puree.  My latest experiment is crushed pineapple.  I blend most, if not all, the wet ingredients with the sauce or pineapple with my immersion blender and it works just fine.  I almost never use oil in cakes. Click here for egg substitutes to take the cholesterol out of your baking.  The main substitution I use for eggs is flax meal – not flax seeds.  Humans do not have the enzyme to break open hull of the seed.  So, either buy flax meal or grind your own in a cheap coffee or spice grinder.  Not only will the flax bind like an egg, but it has few calories, lots of fiber and zero cholesterol.

For salad dressing, you can use orange juice or apple juice concentrate for a lot of flavor, yet no added fat.  Orange juice concentrate alone or with a tiny amount of toasted sesame oil is fantastic on fruit salads.  Also, pineapple juice and a little salt and fresh ground pepper.

When you saute, try using wine, broth or water instead or oil.  Adding more spices will pick up flavors without adding calories or sodium.  During the winter, I keep a small sauce pan on the stove and toss in the ends of my vegetables while making dinner to create a broth.  This broth can be stored in small containers in the fridge for use later in the week, or frozen in a large container and used later in the month.  I have a quart container in the freezer that I keep adding to.  I usually need at least a quart of broth or stock when I make soup.  I also add the leftover stock from stir-frys or other dishes.

Another type of cooking is searing.  When cooking without oil, you can sear vegetables to achieve a crispy browning.  The most important point is to have your pan hot enough.  Let the pan heat with medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle in a couple drops of water.  If the water sizzles off the pan is not hot enough.  The water should turn into small beads and run the interior of the pan.

Why worry about the amount of fat?  Well, one tablespoon of cooked quinoa is about 12 calories.  One tablespoon of any fat in a jar or tub, whether it be lard, corn oil or extra virgin olive oil, that never even thought about having sex, is 120 calories.  For those of us wanting to keep our girl-ish figures that can equal almost 10% of the entire amount of calories eaten in a day.  Something to think about.

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What’s Brewing in Tea?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

When I wake up in my cold house, I want nothing more than a hot cup of tea.  I should preset my coffee maker the night before, now hot water dispenser, but I never remember.  Although teas warm us up and fill the taste buds, they have health goodies that are worth the wait for the whistle of the kettle.

Teas are more than a warm comforter on a dreary day.  I thought I would give you further reason to challenge yourself and your regular recipe list by providing the health supporting aspects of this month’s focus.  I hope they’re worthy of curling up in a chair and reading while sipping a cup of your favorite brew.

Oolong – This is the semi-fermented cousin of Green tea, also known as Wu Long.  Oolong has been known for its digestive properties, although, it is higher in caffeine than Green tea.[1]   There are reports that Oolong can help maintain weight balance, but the studies are sketchy.  Also, the caffeine factor in Oolong may have assisted in any weight maintenance seen in the animal studies concerning this hypothesis.  There is more evidence that drinking Oolong tea can decrease risk of diabetes mellitus 2. [2]  Oolong does have the antioxidant and antiseptic properties of Green tea, but they are lessened due to the fermentation.  The one advantage supported in scientific literature is that black tea, Oolong, guards against cell mutation better than its Green tea cohorts.  It is cell mutation which leads to cancer cells. [3]

To reap the best taste benefits, put the leaves in a pot. Give the leaves a “hot bath” by pouring hot water over the leaves and dispose of the water immediately.  Supposedly, this pours off any dust, fumigants or other unwanted substances on the leaves.  Then pour more hot water on the leaves and let steep.

Assam chai –  The Assam tea region of India professes a black, heavy tea that does well with sweets and liqueurs.   Chai is the Hindi word for tea.  Consequently, searching for specific properties of Assam Chai can be a challenge.  However, it does have much of the same health benefits of any black tea, and lower caffeine content than coffee.  But, Chai isn’t just the tea leaves.

When I was in Nepal, Chai was steeped with some type of milk and spices.  I smiled at my guests who provided the concoction and drank an indescribable rancid flavor that was ameliorated only by the more intense burning of my throat.  I learned to order Pica Chia [spelled according to the local pronunciation], or black tea minus the milk and spices.  The spice mixture could be cardamon, ginger or a host of ingredients that you actually enjoy.  So, unlike my experience, in addition to the antioxidant properties of black tea, you could be boosting the health advantage with the added benefits of the other spices and get a really great drink with a vitamin/mineral enriched milk.

Yerba mate – According to Consumer Reports, the jury is still out on this South American drink.  While there are more antioxidants in Yerba Mate than Green tea, it varies depending upon the processor.  The tea has a great deal of anti-carcinogens making it a possible cancer fighter.  The one consistent fact found was to steer clear of the stems, and only buy the leaves.  The stems have no known health properties, although they are touted to add fiber to the diet.  They absolutely could if you chew them up, but it won’ t happen if you merely steep and drink them. [4]

Gunpowder –    This tea, resembling little gun shot pellets, is from the Guangdong, or Zhejiang, providence of China.  It is another type of Green tea and is thought to defend the teeth against cavities due to its fluoride content, although not strongly supported. [5]  Whatever the use, Gunpowder tea packs a very smoky flavor and is combined with peppermint to make Moroccan Mint tea. [6]

Rooibos –    Otherwise known as Red Bush tea, Rooibos comes from the South African plant, Aspalathus linearis.  Dr. Ray Sahelian has done a great deal of research concerning Rooibos.  According to him, the antioxidant content of rooibos is very high.  Also, the studies listed on his website point to lower risk of tumor growths.  Although, the antioxidant properties were higher in the raw rooibos leaves,

Dr. Sahalian states that the difference in the amount in the raw versus the roasted is insignificant for health benefits.  So, pick the one that suites your taste buds. [7]

Longjing –    This is considered the best and most superior of Chinese teas.  One emperor wrote poems as well as studying the processing of the tea.  Anecdotally, it is said to fight cavities, treat food poisoning, control blood sugar and high cholesterol. [8]  The geography of the producing area has perfect tea growing weather.  Dragon Well tea, [the translation of the name], comes from a small town in the Zhenjiang province.  It is said to have a hint of chestnut in the flavor. [9]

Sencha – This is roasted green tea found in Japan.  During the processing, the leaves are air-dried, then roasted to create the fresh taste. The taste also is attributed to the fact that it gets lots of sunshine and is harvested in April.  The high levels of Theanine are said to produce the “relaxed” feeling when enjoying this tea.[10]   Theanine is an amino acid which counteracts the caffeine effect of green tea.  It stimulates calming alpha waves and regulates serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters which promote calmness. [11]  Threanine is being researched as a replacement for Ritalin and to help women maintain balance during the menses cycle.   All of the green teas are being studied more in their assistance to balance cardiovascular strength and overall metabolic health. [12]

Darjeeling –  Although Darjeeling is a product of India, it has the same health benefits as another black tea, Oolong.  It is grown at around 4000 feet in the Himalayas and is the most popular tea world wide.  That may be why it is also known as the Champagne of Tea.

Silver needle white tea – White teas are the least processed teas and have the lowest caffeine content of the White, Green and Black teas.  They are some of the rarest and most expensive in the world. [13]  Grown only in China, Silver Needle consists of only the unopened buds.  The “Silver Needle” in the name refers to the hairs on the buds. [14]  Because the leaves are processed less, they have higher concentrations of catechins. [15]  Catechins are the substances which give teas their protective qualities.  So, you may get a lighter flavor with a white tea, however, you will also reap a higher benefit of anti-tumor, anti-oxidant, and a possible reduction in plaque forming in the arteries. [16]

African white tea – A product of Malawi and Kenya, and has the same characteristics as the Silver Needle of China.  However, it is higher in caffeine.

I’m going to take a long stretch and put the kettle on.  I’ll peruse and sniff my odds and ends of teabags.  It is a snowy winter afternoon, just perfect to brew up what my Irish Nana referred to as a “cuppa”.

1  Oolong Tea. Org. [nd]. About Oolong Tea. Retrieved from on December 18, 2008.

2  Iso, H; Date, C; Wakai, K; Fukui, M; Tamakoshi, A.; JACC Study Group. The relationship between green tea and total caffeine intake and risk for self-reported type 2 diabetes among Japanese adults. Ann Intern Med. 2006;144(8):554–562. Abstract.  Retrieved from [PubMed] on December 18, 2008

3  Ohe T, Marutani K,Nakase S [2001] Catechins are not major components responsible for anti-genotoxic effects of tea extracts against nitroarenes. Mutation Research, Sep 20;496(1-2):75-81. [Abstract]

4 Yerba mate: Names and claims. 2008. Retrieved from on December 18, 2008

5  English Tea Store, Retrieved from on December 18, 2008

6  Wikipedia, Retrieved from on December 18, 2008

7  Sahelian R, [nd] Rooibos herb by Ray Sahelian, M.D. Information on Rooibos herb and Rooibos tea. Retrieved from on December 18, 2008

8  aaTea Genius. Your knowledge base of Tea, Retrieved from on December 18, 2008

9  Tea Spring, Retrieved from on December 18, 2008

10 Tea Genius, Sencha, Retrieved from on December 18, 2008

11  Perrini C, [nd], L-Theanine: How a Unique Anxiety Reducer and Mood Enhancer Increases Alpha Waves and Alertness, Retrieved from on December 18, 2008

12  Wolfram S.2007. Effects of green tea and EGCG on cardiovascular and metabolic health. American College of Nutrition, Aug 26(4):373S-388S. [Abstract]

13  Peli teas.[nd] Silver Needle White Tea. Retrieved from December 18, 2008

14 New World Encyclopedia. [June, 2008]. White Tea. The New World Encyclopedia, Retrieved from on December 18, 2008

15  Wikipedia. White tea. Retrieved from on December 18, 2008

16 Wikipedia. Catechins. Retrieved from on December 18, 2008

©Marty Davey, MS, RD December 18, 2008.  All Rights Reserved.

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Italian Cooking – Thinking outside the pasta box

Monday, August 3, 2009

What could a girl from a meat and potatoes, Irish background know about Italian cuisine?  Um . . tomatoes and pizza?  Putting my curiosity to the test, I researched for some “real” cuisine and found an abundance of ingredients.  Besides the traditional red sauce spaghetti bowl, true Italian dishes consist of eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, fennel, grains, legumes–  Grains and legumes?

Yes, much of Italian cooking is not merely substituting rice cheese for its cow-derived alternative.  Here is sample of the grains and legumes used in Italian cooking.  Some are well-known food staples such as semolina, and others I hadn’t known or thought of for years.

Farro – This grain, also known as Emmer Wheat, was what the Roman legions fed their troops oh-so-many years ago.  It was one of the early domesticated plants in the Mideast.[1]  The grain almost went out of existence or would have been relegated to a tiny, local crop except that the French introduced it into the high-end restaurant trade.  They found it worked well with hardy soups and sauces.

While farro resembles spelt, the two are extremely different with regards to cooking methods.  Spelt can be cooked directly, while farro needs to be soaked.  Farro also has a str

Spring Pesto from 2015-2016 Farmers Market Recipe Book
Spring Pesto from 2015-2016 Farmers Market Recipe Book

ong texture and spelt can become mushy.  Historically, farro was ground into a paste and cooked.[2]

I found recipes for farro in soups from the Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, and Garfagnana areas.  They used all types of vegetables including kale and other greens.  It is also used as a cold dish with vegetables and spices from many other areas of Italy.

Since spelt is a virtual twin, read any packages closely to make sure you are getting the real thing.

Semolina – Semolina is not a grain itself, rather a course remnant of durum wheat particles separated from the bran.  This is the heart of the durum kernel or semolina.  There is a soft semolina called “farina”, generally used as a breakfast cereal. It is the hard and coarse, ground semolina or “durum flour” which is used to make pasta, couscous and many bread products.[3]  The high gluten and protein content allows the flour to be shaped into the many pasta derivatives.[4]

Polenta – When corn meal met Italian cooking expertise, polenta was invented.  Originally combined with farro or chestnut flour, polenta can be milled fine or coarse to create a mush or firm meal component such as polenta cakes.  Polenta is found in northern Italy and can be cooked with mushrooms, rapini or other vegetables to create a truly Italian dish.

            In traditional cooking, polenta takes at least an hour and required constant stirring.[5]  However, there are methods using a microwave that take about 12 minutes.[6]  Polenta can also be used as a coating or batter for baked vegetables or even made into a simple cake for dessert and topped with fruit compote.[7]

Risotto – When is rice, not rice, and when is pasta, not pasta?  When it is risotto.  I have to confess I had no idea they actually grew rice in Italy.  In fact, Italy is the largest rice producer in Europe, especially northern Italy.  During the Middle Ages, rice was considered medicinal and was only in seed form.  Then some nameless brain-child got the idea to plant it in the Po valley, and, VOILA! the Italian rice market was born.  There is a natural water flow which floods rice fields in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions.  The hot summers also add to necessary climate conditions for cultivation.[8]  It was a small industry until 1839 when an unnamed friar ripped off some seeds from the Philippines, planted them and began experimenting to germinate a disease resistant strain.  An irrigation system was put together and in the early 1900’s the Experimental Rice Centre was established.

Risotto is made from one of three types of rice grown in Europe: Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone nano.[9]  Many people confuse the pasta Orzo with Arborio rice.  Orzo stays  in separate pieces while Arborio creams together.  Arborio is the most popular rice for risotto in the United States, whereas Carnaroli is more popular on the other side of the Atlantic.

What I found interesting is that Arborio is cooked so differently than its Asian counterpart.  Asian rices are added to boiling water, lidded and boiled for a time.  Risotto is heated with oil, stirred until it absorbs the oil, and then a stock is added.  We are all told not to lift the lid on Asian rice; risotto is constantly stirred and made in small batches.  Unlike rice which is fluffed with a fork at the end of cooking time, risotto should, in the words of Wisegeek, “ooze on to the plate much like a lava flow.”  Could risotto be a tip of the hat to Pompeii?

Borlotti beans – These beautiful beans come in red and white streaked pods.  When the pods are opened the beans have red and white streaks in the opposite direction.  They may not seem like a bean you can get in North America, but according to the United States Department of Agriculture, they are exactly like cranberry beans found in many natural foods stores throughout the US.[10]   Most recipes researched simply had the beans cooked until tender, not soft, and added a few spices with olive oil.  They have a nutty taste.  Though bold in color when raw, they turn brown during the cooking process.  That’s something to keep in mind, if color is key to your meal presentation.

Cannellini – These are the ones used in most Italian soups, although theiry origin is Argentina.[11]   In Tuscany, the cannellini bean became a principal crop.  In fact, Tuscans are known for their bean consumption and are called, mangiafagioli, translated to Bean Eaters.  Many beans species were eaten throughout Italy; however, since Cannellinis were from the New World, they really didn’t take on nationally until the 17th century.[12]  White and delicate in flavor, the cooked beans stay in tact.  This makes them very versatile as the base of a bean and veggie salad, hot meals including zucchini and summer squashes, antipasto spread with pickled onions or as a lettuce salad topper.

Chick Peas – Is there a cuisine which doesn’t use chick peas somewhere?  The origin of chick peas is not clear.  What is clear is that Italian cooking includes the Ceci peas [chick peas] for salads, soups, and spreads.  There are a number of recipes which call for cecis to be soaked for eight hours or more.[13]  I haven’t found this necessary.  I will soak them in hot water for 20 minutes before cooking, but not much more is really needed.  Italians serve them just cooked with oil and a few spices or as part of more elaborate dishes.  With a blender or food processor you can create chick pea flour which is used to make a type of polenta called panissa.  It is mixed with onions and greens to make a one dish meal.  Sounds like lunch to me.[14]

Fava Beans – Once used as currency, fava beans are traditionally planted November 2 or All Souls Day, a holy day in the Catholic religion.  Supposedly there are small cakes made to resemble fava beans eaten that day called, fave dei morti, or Beans of the Dead.  Having a fava bean in your pocket is considered good luck since you carry with you the essentials of life.[15]

Fava beans are also known as broad beans and are only available fresh a few weeks a year.  They are labor intensive when used fresh because you must first boil them to open the skins.  Then, boil again.  However, the flavor is worthy of some of the work.  Other than use in soups, fava beans are in side dishes with artichokes, eggplant and a host of vegetables and broths, including one recipe with a mélange of root vegetables.  One of the easiest and tastiest is with onions, garlic and beet greens in a fava bean puree.[16]  However, you use them; they’ll increase your nutritional currency exponentially.

Lentils – Back when I was young, during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic ages [13,000 – 9,000 B.C.], I used to park my dinosaur at the Franchthi Cave  in Greece, and chow down on lentils.  They didn’t serve lentils with coriander chutney then, just a little salt.  And I have to confess that I just couldn’t talk Esau, the guy from the old Jewish and bible story, out of giving up his birthright for a plate of them.[17]  That was either one hungry dude or one great plate of lentils.

Lentils didn’t hit it big in Italy until the Bronze Age. [And Italians think they are so cutting edge!  My people had already built Stonehenge.]  After that it became a core component of Italian cooking.  The obelisk in St. Peter’s Square dates back to 37 A.D. and was shipped from Egypt to Italy packed in a crate of lentils.[18]  [I wondered where the idea of packing peanuts came from.]

Two types of lentils are grown in Italy, mainly in the south.  Neither strain was stated as used more than another. Of course, lentils are used in soups, but also side dishes such as lentil fritters, and appetizers.  On New Year’s Day, lentils are a must.  They symbolize coins and bringing financial success in the new year.[19]

Again, I found many recipes suggesting soaking them for hours before use, something I have not found necessary especially if you are pressure cooking them.

I can’t end this section on beans without referencing Maccu de San ‘Gnuseppi, or Legume soup for St. Joseph.  The story goes that one year all of the crops failed in Sicily except for beans.  The beans kept everyone from starvation.  The grateful population gave thanks to St. Joseph for this food crop.  The commemorative soup uses all of the aforementioned dried seeds in a broth flavored with a native herb, borragine, which can be substituted with greens.[20]  Made at the spring equinox, this dish incorporates the old winter staples the housewife clears from her pantry making room for the fresh yield of the coming seasons.

So, beans and grains are used throughout Italy with greens, onions, root vegetables, squash, fresh herbs, and artichokes.  Oh yeah, they also have some dishes that use . . . tomatoes.

[1] Wisegeek.  What is Farro? Retrieved from on January 26, 2009.

[2] Phillips K. [nd]. Farro: Grain of the Legions. Retrieved from on January 26, 2009.

[3] Semolina, Wikipedia.  Retrieved from on January 26, 2009.

[4] Conent, P. [nd] Grain products basics – semolina and couscous. Epicurean Table. Retrieved from on January 26, 2009.

[5] Wikipedia. [nd] Polenta. Retrieved from on January 26, 2009.

[6] [nd] Microwave polenta. Retrieved from,1629,148162-224203,00.html on January 26, 2009.

[7] Mele D. [2008] Olive Oil Polenta Cake With Poached Pears. Italian Food Forever! Retrieved from on January 26, 2009.

[8] Italian Institute for Trade. Five centuries of Italian Rice. Retrieved from on January 27, 2009.

[9] Wisegeek. [nd] Is Risotto Rice or Pasta? Wisegeek.  Retrieved from on January 27, 2009.

[10] Ehler JT. [nd] Borlotti Beans. Retrieved from on January 27, 2009.

[11] Ehler JK. [nd] Cannellini Beans. Food Reference. Retrieved from on January 27, 2009.

[12] Belanger L. [2006] Cannellini Beans. HighBeam research. Retrieved from on January 27, 2009.

[13] Phillips K. [nd] Ceci! Chick peas or garbanzos. Retrieved from on January 27, 2009.

[14] Phillips K. [nd] Panissa. Retrieved from January 27, 2009.

[15] Wikipedia. [2009] Vicia faba. Wikipedia.  Retrieved from on January 27, 2009.

[16] Phillips K. [nd] Fava Beans and Beet Greens. Retrieved from on January 27, 2009.

[17] Wright C. [nd] A short history of lentils. Clifford A Retrieved from on January 27, 2009.

[18] Barrett J. 2004. Fagioli. Pennsylvania. Rodale.

[19] Phillips K. [nd] Lenticchie, That’s Lentils! Retrieved from on January 27, 2009.

[20] Phillips K. [nd] Legume Soup for Saint Joseph’s – – Maccu di San ‘Gnuseppi. Retrieved from on January 27, 2009.

Spring Pesto from 2015-2016 Farmers Market Recipe Book
Spring Pesto from 2015-2016 Farmers Market Recipe Book
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Breaking the Fast keeps you in the Fast Lane

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The word breakfast literally comes from the Breaking of the Fast.  Before we had electric lights everywhere, when the sun went to bed, so did we.  There was no midnight snack because we were up before the dawn and sacked out through the night after a hard day in our agrarian lifestyle.  The biggest meal was at lunch when we had the most light with which to cook it.  The evening supper consisted of a simpler fare and was the last food eaten before a long slumber.   Generally, there was about 10 to 12 hours between the last meal and breakfast.  However, in the 24-7 fast paced 2009, it is a different story.

Many people I counsel eat later and later.  They eat dessert while watching TV after work.  Many tell me they just aren’t hungry in the morning.   Here are some interesting facts I read from Dr. Caroline J. Cederquist.[i]

The time cruising between meals tends to shorten as the day continues.  So, breakfast at 7:30 or 8am is followed by a 5 hour break until 12pm.  Perhaps we drink some liquids during the morning hours.  Then, we tend to want a snack in the afternoon, usually 3-4 hours later.  Next, comes dinner at 2-3 hours after that.  The day rounds out with a late night snack 1-2 hours after dinner.  Do you get the idea of where extra calories can pack in and hunger may not be so prevalent?

Why is breakfast important?  Well, a number of reasons.  Let’s start with weight management.  Shifting calories to the beginning and middle of your day and lightening up on the end of the day uses the most amount of calories during your busiest time.  Unless you go for an evening constitutional stroll, most people are fairly sedentary with some electronic device in the twilight hours.

Also, many studies show that people who eat breakfast tend to eat less throughout the day.  This is reiterated in the National Weight Control Registry.  In this group, subjects lost at least 30 pounds and kept off the weight for at least 1 year.  One of the most common factors of these successful folks was that they ate breakfast.[ii]

If you think about it, going without breakfast just doesn’t make sense, especially if you exercise in the morning.  You have very little fuel in your body, you have your whole day ahead of you and your are facing all the day’s challenges with nothing to keep you going.  If you tax your body with a run or an hour of strength training, you are really depleting your energy stores.  What does your body do when it has to work hard with no assurance of steady fuel?  It goes into reserve mode.  Your body feels it has to hang on to every calorie that comes in.  Your metabolism slows down to cling to those calories you do eat.  A increased weight disaster in the making.

Other facts about breakfast eaters is that they have better concentration, improved brain function for morning tasks and better hand-eye coordination.  It also keeps you from being grumpy or irritable.  My first job was a deli-bakery counter next to a metropolitan train station.  People got their first coffee and donut from me.  There were a lot of nasty folks grabbing coffee that were as nice as you please when they came for lunch.  When 2 kids, who were playing just fine start fighting, ask them if they’re hungry.  The answer is usually, yes.

I know there are those of you, who are like me and not hungry first thing in the morning.  Not a problem.  I have water before my run and I eat right afterward.  My body is used to this routine.  If I am going to do a long workout- more than 60 minutes- I have something very small, such as a dab of nut butter on a cracker or apple slice before the workout or have it ready during the workout.

Okay, so now you will think about breakfast.  But, what is the best breakfast?  Purdue University researcher Wayne Campbell, PhD, was quoted on WebMD, as saying that protein blunts your hunger the most and is the most satisfying.  Very true.  Also, fiber has been shown to extend satiety.  Satiety means feeling satiated or not hungry.  Unfortunately, lean protein at breakfast isn’t a part of trendy marketing.

According to Nutrition Health Letter – Dessert for breakfast is the new trend[iii], and it hasn’t left out any of the population, even vegans.  We may think we are eating healthier, but we are still subject to the issues of folks on the go.  Cereal and cereal bars can be nutritionally as different as a fruit bar and a martini bar.  Cereals such as shredded wheat, rye flakes, quinoa or other low sugar, high fiber products are great for breakfast.  Add a couple of ounces of soy milk and you have a low calorie, high protein breakfast that is satisfying for the whole morning. On the other hand, toaster pastries and breakfast bars can have a protein content that is lean to almost none.  The fiber content is also may not be substantial.  The sugars in many of them rival their more conventional and mass marketed counterparts.  Whereas, vegan breakfast foods such as pancakes and waffles tend to have less fat due to the shunning of eggs and butter, a plate full of tofu scramble can have a high fat and calorie content especially when you throw the soy cheese on top.

We all love to have a bagel every once in a while.  For those of you who looked at that last sentence and were aghast at the words “once in a while”, realize that bagels are 4-5 servings of bread.  So eating even half of one packs some calories.  If you decide to put anything on top, you could move right into calorie overload.  Also, most people add nut butters, vegan cream cheese and some jam.  Not bad for a weekend brunch, but a disaster when eaten as a daily fare.

Some experts go into explaining the need for carbs at breakfast, but as vegans every food you will eat will have carbs, so I wouldn’t concern yourself with this unless you are a competitive athlete.  Again, we are looking for good fiber with lean protein.  What are some good lean vegan proteins?

Beans and grains are great sources.  Beans pack the biggest wallop, and should become part of your breakfast line up.  Here are some suggestions:

Cereal with soy milk and fruit
Breakfast bean burrito with corn or whole wheat tortilla
Nut butter on high fiber toast
Tofu scramble made with NO OIL.  [Recipe on my website]

For more specific protein information, Vegetarians in Paradise has a very nice set of protein charts at[iv] had a number of reasons why folks skip breakfast.  One mentioned was one of my favorites: I hate breakfast foods.  Sometimes I am just tired of the normal breakfast stuff.  Well, who says you have to eat breakfast for breakfast?[v]  One of my most memorable breakfasts was miso soup with tofu over brown rice.  It was served at a holistic learning center and I was so satisfied.  Guess what?  It contains all of the ingredients mentioned above – lean protein, fiber and carbs, plus it was low fat.  How beautiful is that?

For those parents out there, if you don’t eat breakfast your kids won’t.  If you are not a morning person, figure out breakfast the night before.  It doesn’t need to be difficult.  The cereal with fruit and a beverage takes no time at all.  You can change it up with tofu you scrambled the night before or at least put together and having waiting to cook.  Microwave it in the morning with some veggies and a piece of whole grain bread and you are ready to rock.  I used to throw together a smoothie and have a tablespoon of nut butter with a ½ teaspoon of fruit spread on 2 whole grain cracker breads.  The whole meal took about 5 minutes to put together, was around 400 calories and could be eaten in the car.

Being happy and focused in the morning is one of the benefits for you from eating breakfast.  In addition to keeping you fitting in your pants, it will keep your family and co-workers from dealing with grumpy pants.

[1] Cederquest, C. 2006. The Early-Eating Effect: Breakfast Calories Keep Overall Counts Down, News Blaze. 4/5/2006.  Retrieved on March 24, 2009 from

[2] National Weight Control Registry. nd. Research Findings. Retrieved from on March 25, 2009.

[3] VanTuinen I. 1999. The Best and Worst Breakfasts, Nutrition Action Letter.  Retrieved from on March 25, 2009.

[4] Allen Z. nd. Protein Basics, Where Do You Get Your Protein. Vegetarians in Paradise.  Retrieved from on March 27, 2009.

[5] Jegtvig S. 2009. Don’t Skip Breakfast.  A Healthy Breakfast Means Good Nutrition. 3/24/09.  Retrieved from on March 24, 2009.

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Holiday foods that truly give

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cranberry Stuffed Acorn Squashed - from Ebook You're Not Dead, Yet: Nutrition for the Over 50 Crowd
Cranberry Stuffed Acorn Squashed – from Ebook You’re Not Dead, Yet: Nutrition for the Over 50 Crowd

I have a love-hate relationship with the end of year holiday season.  I hate the responsibility of finding gifts or making gifts, making cookies, and the travel.  In this country we start with Halloween, hit a speed bump for Thanksgiving, do a dance crazier than the Tarantella for Chanukah/Christmas/Kwanza, and end with New Year’s Eve.

My personal experience of the holidays is different. I begin by a march around the ‘hood collecting implements of dental decay with a small skeleton, shoehorn in my birthday and my husband’s, spend a day and a half chained to a small kitchen in someone else’s house creating food for 10 [minus frozen poultry], try to remember  our anniversary, endure the annual trial of traveling to, and being a plant-based eater with, my in-laws in the tinseled-town of Omaha, create a memorable experience for my son’s birthday, hide from the world while ringing in the New Year, jam in a holiday get together with my family, and end with an actually birthday party for my son in January.

A blizzard in January comes as welcome relief.

However, there is no denial that the seasonal foods are full of nutritional goodies to keep up with the pace.  Many of them are better than the sum of their parts, while some parts of others do some heavy health lifting [Did you groan?].  [I got a million of ‘em]

Here’s a list of some favorites and what they do best:

Cranberries – No, not the jellied cylinder in the can.  These are the red pebbles that only show up in the grocer’s at this time of year.  According to the Cranberry Institute, not only are cranberries everybody’s friend for clearing up urinary tract infections, but other infections as well.

Holiday Cranberry Roast“Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs) that can prevent the adhesion of certain of bacteria, including E. coli, associated with urinary tract infections to the urinary tract wall. The anti-adhesion properties of cranberry may also inhibit the bacteria associated with gum disease and stomach ulcers.” [1]

The good news continues as British researchers found that LDL [Lousy cholesterol], is less like to form when cranberries are a part of the diet.  Again, the properties of cranberries stop the adhesion of LDL to the vascular cell wall.  This helps decrease clogs in the vascular system.[2]  A really good idea for avoiding strokes.  It also maybe helpful in increasing HDL [Happy cholesterol].  Anti-adhesion also aides in decreasing adhesion by cancer cells in the breast and free radical cells to brain cells.  Free radicals can damage brain cells causing decrease cognitive functions which would put a crimp on ever finishing the New York Times Crossword puzzle, even on Mondays.

Other health benefits attributed are increasing function of medications for ulcers, decrease in cavities, kidney stone formation, macular degeneration, and protect against herpes.[3]  All this and it looks gorgeous in a stuffed acorn squash.

Cinnamon Sticks – Containing this substance, Cinnaldehyde, cinnamon assists in preventing blood platelets from forming or clumping together.  This is very important to maintaining blood flow.

It also has anti-microbial properties.  These properties not only can inhibit bacterial growth in the gastrointestinal tract in humans, but the essential oils can inhibit bacteria growth in foods.  It was even better than the commonly used preservatives BHT and BHA.[4]  Another great thing it does for the GI tract is slow stomach emptying.  Consequently, this slows the rise in blood sugar after a meal.  Even just the smell of Cinnamon increases brain functions.  Bring on the Hot Toddies!

Hot Cocoa – Okay, you don’t do alcohol.  Well, use the aforementioned cinnamon in your hot cocoa to not only get the non-clumping blood platelets, but the anti-oxidant properties of cocoa.  The compound, epicatechin, [try saying that 3 times fast], [5] has been seen by researchers to be such an important nutrient for humans that they are thinking of redefining the properties of a vitamin as to include it in the list.  Dr. Norman Hollenberg of Harvard has researched epicatechin extensively.  He was quoted in Science Daily as saying, that epicatechin, “could potentially get rid of 4 of the 5 most common diseases in the western world . . .”[6]  Those diseases being stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes.  Dr. Hollenberg puts the research of epicatechin in the same reverence as penicillin and anesthesia.  And I thought the use of chocolate was releasing the needed endorphins to stave off the afternoon doldrums.  [Endorphins are hormones that reduce sensitivity to pain and stress.[7]]

So where do you get this fantastic stuff?  Dark cocoa.  Possibly regular chocolate.[8]    It is also found in tea, wine, and some fruits and vegetables.  I was going to search out which fruits and vegetables, but, REALLY.  Who cares when you take some non-dairy milk, date sugar and dark cocoa, release some epicatechin to nourish your insides and release all those happy-making endorphins to put a smile on your outside?

A shout out to the alcoholics out there—What’s better at the end of a meal than dark chocolate and port?

Pumpkin Seeds – Little packages can be deceiving.  The little pepita [another name for pumpkin seed] gives big protection against prostate cancer and kidney stones.[9]  Preliminary research also links pepita intake with possible treatment of anxiety and mood disorders because it has as much L-tryptophan as cow’s milk.  L-tryptophan synthesizes serotonin, a neurotransmitter which regulates anger and aggression.  Hmm, another seasonal food to keep you happy during the long winter nights.

Ginger Snaps – Of course, I’m talking about cookie made with whole grain flour, date sugar and other organic ingredients.

Ginger has been used for centuries to calm stomachs and nausea, ward off colds and other nasty bacteria and viruses due to its gingerols.  Gingerols also have lead to the death of different types of cancer cells.[10]

The secret to my ginger snaps is fresh grated ginger, not the powder.

Peppermint Sticks – Again leaving the white sugar behind, winter was made for peppermint.  The flavor of peppermint leaves the mouth cool as fresh snow.  However, it has many uses beginning with taking care of over-worked holiday tummies.[11]  Peppermint is right up there with garlic as the world’s oldest medicine.[12]

Tooth paste is flavored with peppermint, not only for the taste, but there are antiseptic aspects which promote good gum health.  Make sure the ingredients include peppermint oil, not just “flavors”.  Tinctures and chest rubs generally have peppermint in their ingredients. It is also found in hair and skin care products.

Peppermint oil has been used to relieve discomfort from irritable bowel syndrome[13], colonoscopy, gastroscopy and double-barium enemas.  Use the oil further up on the body to calm headaches, stress and depression.  I think this is a must in the car for post-shopping parking lot anxieties.

Sweet Potatoes – It just doesn’t get much better than this.  A vegetable incredibly packed with anti-oxidants, beta-carotene, fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamin C.  Sweet potatoes were named the Number One vegetable due to nutrient content by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.[14]  Just think of those hot, creamy, orange, sweet yummies with tangy cranberry sauce.  I now believe there is a point to Thanksgiving.

Mushroom Gravy – We are all so jaded into thinking that only shiitakes rate for nutrition.  Kids, I’m here to tell you that the little white button jobbies you snub at every grocery store is fabulous for nutrition.  According to Dr. Michael Gregor, this ubiquitously slandered food has been shown to have preventative effects against breast cancer.  I list a few sources to back up what I heard him say at a conference.[15] [16]  White mushrooms are also being researched to substantiate a connection between their intake and enhancing the body’s natural killer cells [cells that kill foreign cells in the body] and bone maturation.

Dried Fruits – The end of the fresh fruit season doesn’t mean the end to fruit consumption.  Dried fruit are have a lot of nutrition.  Newer research is showing that prunes are helpful avoiding colon cancer.  [Some how that seems like a no-brainer]

As a group, dried fruits are high in potassium and fiber.  I went to the Nutrition Data website listed below.  While perusing what was positive about these sweet deals, I noticed that you could look at nutritionally complimentary foods.  Dried fruits are high in some amino acids [protein] and low in others.  So, I clicked to search what would fill in the blanks.  Low and behold pumpkin seeds and almonds.  Mother Nature is a pretty smart cookie having dried fruits on the tree or vine match up with the nuts coming into harvest.

Because dried fruits are concentrated, you only need a few.  A cup of grapes is 62 kcal.  A cup of raisins is 429.[17] Those few extra dried figs or cranberries on your cereal every morning can begin to add up so use them as condiments to add a touch of pizzazz to dishes.

After viewing these tasty choices, my holiday dinner is set:

Mushroom soup as a starter
Salad of hearty greens with roasted pepitas and dried cranberries with a mint dressing
Baked sweet potatoes with tempeh sautéed with cinnamon and ginger
Ginger snap cookies
Dark chocolate [70% cocoa] and 20 year old Port

Sometimes you just have to sacrifice and have healthy stuff for family and friends.

[1] Cranberry Institute. [2008]. Health Research. Retrieved November 11, 2008 from

[2] Ruel G, Pomerleau S, Couture P, Lemieux S, Lamarche B, Couillard . [2008, February] Low-calorie cranberry juice supplementation reduces plasma oxidized LDL and cell adhesion molecule concentrations in men, British Journal of Nutrition, 99(2):352-9. [Abstract]

[3] The George Mateljan Foundation. [2008]. Retrieved November 11, 2008 from

[4] Valero M, Salmeron MC, [2003]. Antibacterial activity of 11 essential oils against Bacillus cereus in tyndallized carrot broth. International Journal of Food Microbiology, 85 (1-2), pp. 73-81. [Abstract].

[5] Schroeter H, Heiss C, Balzer J, Kleinbongard P, Keen CL, Hollenberg NK, Sies H, Kwik-Uribe C, Schmitz HH, Kelm M.  [2006, Jan 24] Epicatechin mediates beneficial effects of flavanol-rich cocoa on vascular function in humans. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 103(4):1024-9. [Abstract].

[6] Society of Chemical Industry (2007, March 12). Cocoa ‘Vitamin’ Health Benefits Could Outshine Penicillin. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from­ /releases/2007/03/070311202024.htm.

[7] Concept Fertility Center. Retrieved November 11, 2008 from

[8] Bordeaux B, Yanek LR, Moy TF, White LW, Becker LC, Faraday N, Becker DM. [2007, Fall]. Casual chocolate consumption and inhibition of platelet function. Prevention of  Cardiology 10(4):175-80. [Abstract].

[9] Wikipedia [2008]. Pepita. Retrieved November 11, 2008 from

[10] The George Mateljan Foundation. [2008]. Retrieved November 11, 2008 from

[11] American College of Gastroenterology (2007, December 10). Tips To Ease The Heartburn Of Pregnancy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from­ /releases/2007/12/071208145406.htm

[12] Organic Facts. [2006]. Health Benefits of Peppermint Oil. Retrieved November 11, 2008 from

[13] University of California – Los Angeles (2008, May 2). Antidepressant Found To Alleviate Symptoms Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome In Adolescents. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/05/080501154222.htm.

[14] Center for Science in the Public Interest. Ten Super Foods for Better Health. Retrieved November 11, 2008 from

[15] Chen S, Oh SR, Phung S, Hur G, Ye JJ, Kwok SL, Shrode GE, Belury M, Adams LS, Williams D. [2006, Dec 15]. Anti-aromatase activity of phytochemicals in white button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus). Cancer Research, 66(24):12026-34. [Abstract]

[16] Grube BJ, Eng ET, Kao YC, Kwon A, Chen S. [2001, December] White button mushroom phytochemicals inhibit aromatase activity and breast cancer cell proliferation. Journal of Nutrition. 131(12):3288-93. [Abstract]

[17] Agricultural Research Service. [2008]. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Retrieved November 11, 2008 from