Many years ago, early spring meant foraging for small tender greens. Adding the first greens of the year to spring meals or tonics were made to build the immune system up after a slower paced winter. Since most of us don’t forage in the forest anymore, you can still add more greens to your meals if you haven’t already! One of the most popular greens in the US is kale. The number of farms harvesting kale more than doubled from 2007 to 2012 and the trend continues.
Kale is a member of the Brassicaceae or mustard family. Kale is also part of a family known as cruciferous and includes vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc) and is considered a superfood since it is packed with nutrients including Vitamins C, B6, and K, potassium, magnesium, iron and folate. Low in calories and high in fiber, kale is also known to help decrease risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and helps keep skin and hair healthy. Kale contains many nutrients which are anti inflammatory. For example, if you grill out frequently, evidence suggests that the chlorophyll in kale (and other green veggies) can inhibit absorption of a carcinogen called heterocyclic amines. This carcinogen is found in the char of grilled items so first work on not charring food and make sure to serve a side of a leafy green like kale when you grill for added protection!
The Environmental Working Group annually rates pesticide content in produce and added kale to the Dirty Dozen Plus list in 2016. Kale and hot peppers are frequently laced with pesticides so buy organic kale whenever possible. For more information on the dirty dozen check out the website: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php. If you can’t afford organic, wash well and eat cooked instead of raw as cooking tends to diminish pesticide residue.
Kale has a spicy, earthy flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. If you like a milder flavor, purchase baby kale. Use kale in salads, smoothies, as an alternative to lettuce on sandwiches or sauté with garlic and onions as a side dish. It’s easily added to soups, and stews. When eating raw, massage the greens to help break down the cellulose to increase absorption of all those wonderful nutrients. Nuts pair well with kale so toss in some nuts for a delicious flavor.
Honor spring with delicious greens and try out the recipes below.
Kale chips: Remove the ribs from the kale, wash and pat dry. Having dry kale is key for crispy kale chips. Toss in extra-virgin olive oil or lightly spray and sprinkle with your choice or a combination of cumin, curry powder, chili powder, roasted red pepper flakes or garlic powder. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-30 minutes to desired crispness.
What do collard greens, your car upholstery, and Mountain Dew have in common? They could all be interfering with your thyroid function.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland, below your Adam’s apple, on the front of your neck. It makes and secretes hormones that influence your calorie needs, heart rate and body temperature. After menopause, and especially after the age of 60, the risk of hypothyroidism (low thyroid) in women increases. It occurs in women more often than in men.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism can creep up on you very slowly, over a period of years and can include:
-feeling cold, constipation, weight gain, fatigue, slow heart rate, hoarse voice, feeling sad or depressed, constipation, dry thinning hair, joint or muscle pain, high LDL (bad) cholesterol
Keep in mind that many of these symptoms can be related to other health issues, too, so before convincing yourself that you have hypothyroidism, the best thing to do, is to discuss your symptoms with your primary care provider. If you have regular check ups, they are likely already screening your thyroid health by ordering a lab called TSH.
There are different types of hypothyroidism, with different causes. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is the most often diagnosed type in the U.S. It’s an autoimmune disease, meaning that there are antibodies in the blood that go haywire and attack and destroy, in this case, the thyroid gland. People with other immune disorders, like type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, are at higher risk for Hashimoto’s. If you have symptoms and your thyroid hormone levels are out of range, you would then be checked for antibodies.
The most common reason in underdeveloped countries for hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency. Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones. In western countries, iodine is added to salt, and so iodine deficiency is not typically problematic. There is a concern, however, that endocrine disrupters in the form of environmental substances and goitrogenic foods, can interfere with the thyroid’s ability to make hormones. And this is where the collards, your car upholstery, and Mountain Dew come in.
The car upholstery and Mountain Dew contain bromine. Bromine, chlorine, flourine, and iodine are substances called halogens and the first 3 can compete with iodine, and interfere with thyroid hormone production. Of the 3, bromine is considered to be the worst. So, where in your life would bromine be lurking?
-methyl bromide is a pesticide, used on produce, like strawberries
-the plastic cover on your computer could contain a flame retardant chemical called brominated flame retardant (BFR)
-potassium bromate is “dough conditioner” used in bakery products
-brominated vegetable oils (BVOs) are used as emulsifiers in many beverages
-fire retardants, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) used in fabrics, upholstery, carpet and mattresses (By the way, PBDEs are illegal in many countries)
Then there are the goitrogenic foods like the brassica vegetables: kale, collards, broccoli, and kohlrabi. The brassicas contain substances called isothiocyanates that can interfere with thyroid hormone production. Soy is another food, due to the isoflavones it contains, that causes the same problem. The good news is, if the food is fermented (for soy, think tempeh or miso) or cooked, it seems to alleviate the problem.
Some people advocate seaweed in the diet to ensure optimal iodine, as well as other minerals. Ryan Drum, Phd with degrees in chemical technology and botany, is considered an expert on thyroid and on seaweed. He cautions that some are very sensitive to iodine and can develop symptoms of hyperthyroidism, when supplementing their diet with seaweed. He has written extensively and you can check out his articles at ryandrum.com.
There are herbs (coleus, guggul) and supplements used for thyroid support. L-tyrosine is a nutrient necessary for thyroid hormone production, in addition to iodine and is often in thyroid support supplements. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) does not recommend supplementation, as there has not been enough clinical research done. In addition, the AACE standards of care on hypothyroidism state that many thyroid support supplements are adulterated with L-thyroxin or L-triiodothyronine (thyroid hormones). If a person needs to take these hormones, they should be carefully titrated in the amount they need.
There is controversy about optimal levels of thyroid hormones and when medication is indicated. In fact, in one recent study, a slightly slower underactive thyroid was actually correlated with longevity.
In spite of how complicated this all is, we are offering some recommendations:
-Keep up with your regular medical visits and labwork
-Let your primary care provider know if you have symptoms of hypothyroidism
-Take you thyroid medication if it’s prescribed. The dosage will be individualized.
-Keep your thyroid healthy by:
-Eating organic produce and washing your produce thoroughly
-Using ceramic and glass for food and beverages instead of plastic
-Reading labels on breads and other baked foods, avoiding those containing potassium bromate
-Airing your car out before driving
-Including selenium in your diet. Selenium is necessary for thyroid hormone production. It’s widely available in animal products and Brazil nuts are a good source for vegans.
-If you decide to supplement:
-Be careful with adding iodine or tyrosine–if you don’t need them, you can actually cause hypothyroidism
-Let your provider know what you are taking
-Consider Gaia Thyroid Support. The main ingredient is tyrosine and it has not been adulterated with L-thyroxin or L-triiodothyronine. Gaia is a company offering full transparency of the ingredients contained, in all of their products. They even produce their own capsules. Our winter garden is stocked with collards and kale, so eating these vegetables in a variety of ways, means including kale salads and smoothies. Therefore, I take Thyroid Support more often in winter months, to help balance the effects of eating raw kale.
Part of feeling great as we women get older, means keeping a well nourished and cared for thyroid!
In Great Health,
One of the comments I hear frequently is “It’s too expensive to eat healthy!” While food costs have been steadily rising, you can take measures to eat healthy and not break the bank. My answer is, “It doesn’t have to be expensive if you have a plan.” Planning means prioritizing meal planning, shopping and prep instead of eating out or choosing convenience foods. Here are my top tips for eating healthy on a budget.
Plan Menus Ahead and Make A List. I might sound like a broken record but this tip is essential for saving dollars. Each week set aside time to plan, shop and prep 2-3 simple breakfasts you can rotate along with 3-4 healthy lunch and supper ideas you can eat at least twice.
For example, healthy breakfast options might include oatmeal, peanut butter toast or egg muffins, each with a side of fruit. For lunch and supper meals, your plan might include a pot of soup, baked chicken breasts , roasted veggies, and healthy lasagna or spaghetti. You can use these options for several meals by adding salads and wraps to these options. Then add ingredients for 2-3 additional quick dinners and you’re good to go for the week.
When you make your list, stick to it. This means not shopping for food when you’re hungry. Hungry shoppers spend more and usually these items are junk!
Think Real Food. Staples include fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, lean protein and dairy, healthy fats. These can be fresh, in bulk, frozen or canned. Real foods are usually located on the outer perimeter of the store. Keep a running list of stock items and check your list once or twice a week. Check out this simple Mediterranean Diet shopping list from Oldways for ideas: http://oldwayspt.org/system/files/atoms/files/MedDietGroceryList.pdf
Replace or Combine Meat with More Veggies and Whole Grains. Animal protein is expensive plus it’s better for the body to eat less meat and more veggies and whole grains. Stretch animal protein with more veggies in casseroles, soups and stews . If you’re using ground meat (beef or turkey) take one pound and add half to chili with beans/other veggies and the other half to spaghetti sauce with grated veggies over whole wheat pasta. Serve meatless meals such as bean burritos, veggie soup and salad once or twice a week..
Think Staple, Seasonal and Sale. Staple items are shelf stable such as dried beans, brown rice and rolled oats. Basic frozen veggies can save dollars and are lower in sodium than most canned versions. Seasonal fruits and veggies are usually less expensive. Look for weekly sales in your primary grocery store when meal planning.
Buy in Bulk, Choose Store Brands and Use Coupons. These simple tips can also save you money. Buy in bulk and portion out servings or freeze extra. Store brands are cheaper than name brands and are usually right next to each other on the shelves. While many coupons are for processed foods, you can still save money on non food items (detergent, soap, cleaning supplies, etc) so you have more money to spend on food. Buy on double or triple coupon days for those food items you know you will use.
Grow Your Own. If you garden or like the idea of gardening, start gardening or include more veggies in your garden. Easy fruits are figs trees and blueberry bushes. And herbs are easy and beautiful and add lots of phytonutrients to your dishes. Remember that seeds are cheap! If you don’t want to grow your own, visit local farmer’s markets to find cheaper seasonal produce.
One of the most popular New Years resolutions is to lose weight.
Typically, diets and other weight-loss gimmicks, though possibly effective in the short term, will not help you keep the weight off. What DOES work, however, is establishing some new habits with respect to eating and moving – habits that are realistic for you to incorporate into your daily life.
What’s going on in your kitchen? Are you intimidated by the idea of the time and effort it takes to cook?
Preparing meals at home is often healthier than eating out and will save money.
Whether you are working on weight loss, lowering your cholesterol or just improving overall health for you and your family, here are some areas to think about when cooking healthy at home:
>> Everyone pitches in. Involve the whole family when planning meals. You’ll get better buy-in from the pickier members. Establish a set time, once a week, for the family to work on the menu and use the menu to make your grocery list. On less hectic days, plan to cook extra that you can freeze and then use for times when you need something fast and easy. The crock pot works well for busy days, too.
>> Begin with quality food. Choose produce that’s local and seasonal, like from your winter garden or local farmer. If you’re at the grocery store, avoid the aisles full of overly processed foods in boxes and cans and stick to the store perimeter where the produce, meats and dairy are found. Remember, when it comes to produce, fresh is best followed by frozen. Also, canned is better than none!
>> Preparation techniques. Bake, stew, or broil instead of frying. We need small amounts of fat at every meal, but frying adds A LOT of fat, which translates into A LOT of calories. Include some raw veggies every day, too, as some nutrients absorb easier from plant foods when eaten raw.
>> Gadgets in action. What cooking gadgets are in your kitchen? You’ll want to retire the Fry Daddy or put it in the attic, only bringing it down for special occasions. Some better choices include an air fryer, George Foreman grill, crock pot, microwave and a vegetable or rice steamer.
>> Spice it up! Keep your pantry stocked with onions, garlic, vinegar, hot sauce and plenty of herbs and spices to add flavor. Getting in the habit of seasoning with these ingredients will help you use less salt.
Have more money than time? If you are busy and can afford it, you may want to try one of the meal delivery companies like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron or Sun Basket. You’ll be mailed recipes and all of the ingredients that you need to prepare a meal at home. Using a service like this can help with portion control, too.
If you are still wary of tackling healthy home cooking, consider joining an area cooking class or group.
My first exposure to chia seeds was in my childhood during the Chia Pet rage. For those that don’t know, chia pets are little terra cotta animals that come with a packet of chia seeds. You wet the chia seeds and spread them on a designated area and they sprout after a couple of weeks to look like hair or fur. They are very cute but I never thought about eating the chia seeds!
In the past decade chia seeds have become a popular superfood. These tiny black seeds originated in Mexico and South American and were part of Aztec and Mayan cultures. The word chia means strength and these small black seeds were used as a source of sustainable energy for long distance runs and also during battles.
Chia seeds might be tiny but are filled with nutrients including fiber, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and omega 3 fatty acids. Compared with flaxseed, chia seeds provide more omega-3s, calcium, phosphorus, and fiber. One tablespoon of chia seeds contains approximately 70 calories, 5 g of fiber and 2 grams of protein.
If you place chia seeds in water, you’ll see a gel form around each seed. This gel is soluble fiber and can help keep your digestive tract regular, lower blood cholesterol levels and keep you full longer which is helpful for those trying to lose weight. In following Mayan and Aztec history some long distance runners still use chia seeds in their food regimens for endurance. Chia seeds also supports healthy skin as well as bone health.
If using chia seeds for regularity, start with 1 teaspoon per day and go up to 1-3 Tbs as an upper limit. Make sure to drink plenty of water. It can take up to 3 weeks to see daily results. Since chia seeds can absorb up to 27 times their weight in water they can cause bloating. There is one documented case of an esophageal obstruction when a man consumed a large number of dry seeds and they are contraindicated for people with swallowing issues. They also may cause trouble in those who have had colon surgery therefore flaxseed or psyllium husk may be a better alternative. Check with your doctor if you have any medical issues.
Chia seeds are easy to use and have slightly nutty flavor. Here are a few suggestions on how to incorporate them:
Overnight Chia Pudding
Place milk, chia, vanilla and cinnamon in a glass jar with a lid (I used small mason jars). Shake well and place in the refrigerator. After 20-30 minutes give it a good stir and then refrigerate overnight. This keeps for 3-5 days. When ready to serve place in a bowl and add toppings of your choice. Great for a quick breakfast or snack.
Do you like things to stay the same or do you like trying new things?
Looking for creative gifts for loved ones?
The holiday season is officially here and while I love this time of year it is busy and stressful