Kale Avocado Salad

I’m always looking for new ideas for salads that incorporate dark leafy greens. Last week, I was traveling, so had dinner from the salad bar of the local Whole Foods. (Seriously, if you travel for business, WF is your best friend.) They had a delicious kale avocado salad that I tried to recreate. Mine’s a bit different, but I like it even better!

Crunchy, bright, creamy… Super healthy… What’s not to love?
Kale Avo Salad
Kale Avocado Salad
2c Kale, chopped
1 large carrot, shredded
1/2 ripe avocado
Juice of 1/4 lemon
1/2 teas. Apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Mush up the avocado with the lemon juice and vinegar. Massage into kale, toss in carrot. Let sit for 20-30 mins for kale to soften.

Leaky Gut and the “Allergic to Everything” phenomenon

Do you find that you’ve become “allergic” or “sensitive” to all of the “healthy” foods that you once loved? Headaches after a bowl of quinoa? Joint pain after a handful of almonds? Brain fog after refried beans? No, you’re not crazy. But, you may have developed Leaky Gut Syndrome. There’s no quick fix for this one, but it IS fixable.

clip_image004[1]

Leaky Gut can be precipitated by physical and emotional stress (like surgeries and new jobs) and preexisting/underlying/undiagnosed autoimmune conditions; and exacerbated by antibiotics, poor sleep, and poor/inappropriate diet.

Basically, through a series of inflammatory reactions and a lack of the proper nutrients, the junctions between the cells of your intestinal wall “open up”, allowing proteins and other molecules that should NOT permeate this barrier to get directly into the blood stream. When the immune system sees these proteins in the blood, it recognizes them as foreign bodies and attacks them, leading to a systemic immune response (the symptoms of which you will notice as aches/pains, brain fog, irritability, fatigue, etc.) This immune response eventually causes a cascade of other biochemical pathways to go haywire, and you feel worse and worse. As Leaky Gut progresses, you may find that you’re becoming “allergic to everything”. This is not necessarily permanent, and this is not unusual.

leaky-Gut

So, where to start to fix it? As I said, there’s no quick or easy fix for this one. It’s going to take commitment (which I know you’ve got plenty of!) Here’s what Functional Medicine calls the 5R approach for reversing autoimmune reaction and leaky gut:

Step 1: REMOVE Remove all possibly offending/inflammatory foods. This means a strict elimination diet (No grains, dairy, soy, corn, nuts, legumes, eggs, or refined sugar) for 3 months. We’re talking basically tons of veggies, a little fruit, and a little meat. As much organic as possible. You’ll be breaking some addictions to foods here, so it’s gonna be hard. You’re gonna have cravings. Power through. (If you’re working with a practitioner, and I suggest that you do find one, this is a good time to talk about IgG food sensitivity testing, along with the possibility of candida overgrowth and/or SIBO.)

Step 2: RESTORE – Give your body the tools for proper digestion. Take a high quality digestive enzyme before every meal. If you were on antacids or acid blockers, consider eliminating them to ensure you have proper levels of HCl in your stomach (always talk with your doctor before discontinuing medications).

Step 3: REINOCULATE – A healthy gut micro biome is essential for proper digestion and good health. Start rebuilding it by including as many raw fermented foods into your diet as possible (raw sauerkraut and pickled veggies, kombucha, water kefir, etc). Supplement with a quality probiotic. (Look for one with multiple species of lactobacilli and bifidobacilli. High quality supplements will need refrigeration.) Aim for 25 – 100 billion CFUs/day. Be sure you’re feeding all these good new bugs by including a ton of soluble fiber (and/or a prebiotic supplement).

Step 4: REPAIR – Give you gut the nutrients it needs to repair the damage. This may include supplements such as: L-glutamine, zinc, omega-3/fish oil, Vitamin C, and Aloe.

Step 5: REBALANCE – Your lifestyle choices, even beyond diet, can play a huge role in your digestion, gut, and overall health. Look to get plenty of sleep at night (that means about 8 hours, for most of us). Get some sort of exercise (at least 30 minutes of moderate effort) most days of the week. Find (healthy) activities and people who help you to de-stress and feel happy.

The 5R program is intense. The elimination diet can be difficult. Be strong, but be gentle with yourself. Activate your support network, and know that you WILL begin to feel better.

The power of good health is in your hands (and in your healthy gut!)

Easy Rainbow Salad

April showers are giving way to May flowers… and thank goodness for that!

As the weather warms, I find myself craving more of the flavors of Summer – lots of salads and fresh foods! But while the evenings are still cool, I still want something that feels hearty and filling.

So I whipped up this simple Rainbow Salad. Kale and red cabbage make it hearty. The crispness brings the “fresh”. And the simple dressing makes it easy and yum!

It keeps well, so whip up a great big batch, and eat it all week!

Taste the rainbow, my friends.

11041926_621538437946388_8637390482396127480_o

Easy Rainbow Salad

1/4 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
3 carrots, thinly sliced
2 c chopped kale
3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs. Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Toss all ingredients well, allow to set for at least 30 minutes for flavors to develop, and kale to become tender.

Add sunflower seeds or toasted pepitas, if you like. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a grass-fed burger on the grill!

A St. Paddy’s Day Ode to the Lowly Cabbage

Ah, Mid-March… a winter-weary world turns its attentions to melting snows and budding trees. And many of us spend a few days celebrating our Irish heritage (or complete lack thereof).  The internet is awash in recipes for corned beef, colcannon, and Irish Cream-infused everything this time of year.

Never one to turn down a chance to celebrate, I thought an Irish-themed recipe of my own would be in order.  While corned beef is delicious, the pre-brined versions you find in the grocery store are full of nitrates, which have been linked to various cancers.  Irish Cream is a delicious libation, but the sugar and dairy in it contributes to systemic inflammation.  Cabbage, however, is an Irish staple, and an unsung nutritional powerhouse!

IMG_0002_2_FotorAmong the cruciferous vegetables, cabbage has the highest amount of some powerful antioxidants – including sulphoraphane, essential for detoxification. A serving of cabbage also provides 85% of your daily Vitamin K – important for bone metabolism and brain health.  Believe it or not, cabbage packs a bigger Vitamin C punch than oranges! Cabbage is also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin B6, folate, and manganese, as well as healthy amounts of thiamin (vitamin B1), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). It also provides iron, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium for strong bones, and potassium for regulating the heart rate and blood pressure.

Not bad for such an affordable little veggie, eh? (My local market had green cabbage on sale for $0.19/lb this week!  Talk about a budget stretcher.)

The nights here are still cool, and I find myself still gravitating toward classic comfort foods. Salads, spring peas, and fresh tomatoes will have their day, but now, I still crave the deep warming flavors of stew, slow braises, and casseroles. I’ve always loved cabbage rolls. To me, they epitomize the simple comfort food of the farm-country of my youth. But they’re a bit fussy.  Rolling the filling into the individual leaves, skewering each, and placing them into the dish just-so.  Why not, I thought, skip the fuss? So I took those delicious little cabbage rolls, and unstuffed them.

The result? A homey, earthy casserole, chock full of veggie goodness and clean protein. Totally gluten free, totally paleo friendly. Totally delicious.

Join me in toasting the Irish and singing the praises of the lowly cabbage this St. Patrick’s Day, won’t you?

IMG_0006_2_Fotor

Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls

1 medium-large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef (grass-fed, or organic, if possible)
1 1/2 tea. paprika
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 tea. salt
3/4 tea. black pepper
6 oz. tomato paste *
1 1/2 C. chicken stock
2 C. sliced crimini/baby portobello mushrooms
1 medium head green cabbage (about 3 lbs.)

Sautee diced onions in olive or coconut oil until translucent. Add garlic, ground beef, paprika, and 1 tea. salt. While the meat browns, quarter and slice the cabbage, toss with 1 1/2 teas. salt. When meat is browned, add tomato paste, stock, bay leaf, and mushrooms.  Cook for 5 minutes to allow flavors to develop.

In a large casserole (I used my favorite lasagne pan), incorporate cabbage and meat/sauce mixture.  Remove bay leaf.  Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until cabbage is crisp-tender and brown bits begin to appear on the top.

While it’s great on its own, Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls would be fantastic with mashed cauliflower or pureed root veggies.

Sláinte!

Sustainable Seafood

In the Midwest, Fridays in the early Spring are synonymous with one thing: the Friday Fish Fry!

While I can’t say that I’m a proponent of the beer-battered and deep fried fish entrees that grace so many menus this time of year, fish contains important nutrients to fight inflammation.  Chief among these are the Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Fatty fish from cold, northern waters tend to have the highest levels of these important fatty acids. Wild salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and bluefish are all good sources.

IMG_2998

But, many of our favorite species of fish are being harvested at unsustainable rates, and some fish communities are in serious danger of collapse.  Today, a full 75% of major fisheries are overfished.  The top predators in the food-chain are often the most popular eats, so they’re the first to go.  When fishing these species becomes too difficult, fishers move down the food chain, eliminating essential prey for those large predators.  It’s a vicious cycle.

How some of these fish are being harvested often ends up also harvesting “innocent by-swimmers”.  This bycatch is typical of large net and longline styles of fishing.  Hook and line fishing is the least likely to produce bycatch, as unwanted species can be quickly released, unharmed.  Shrimp, one of our favorite eats, is one of the largest producers of bycatch.

The best types of shrimp to buy/eat, can be found here.

Canned tuna can be a great protein source for salads and quick meals. But it can be hard to know which brands are most sustainable.  Greenpeace recently released a handy list.

Tuna_Guide_from_Greenpeace.png.662x0_q100_crop-scale

Then there’s the matter of what else is lurking in that tasty fish your eating.  Mercury.  Many of our waterways and fisheries are contaminated with this heavy metal.  Mercury is released into the air through industrial pollution.  It eventually “falls” into the water, where it becomes methyl mercury.  This substance is easily absorbed by the fish, as they feed, and by humans, as we feed on fish.  Nearly ALL fish have some level of mercury.  Children and pregnant women are cited by the EPA and FDA as the most vulnerable populations, but there is a growing body of evidence that mercury and other heavy metals in our bodies can lead to everything from fibromyalgia to autism.  Generally speaking, the higher you go up the fishy foodchain, the higher the mercury levels of that fish.

MercuryFoodChain-01

Species generally considered to be low in mercury by the FDA and EPA are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

So what’s a seafood lover to do?

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a host of resources to educate yourself, including a pocket guide to sustainable seafood species, as well as an iphone app!

Our Pets, Ourselves

On this morning’s walk, I struck up a conversation with a fellow dog walker. (Dog owners generally being the friendly folk that we are.)  She began telling me about how she’d recently switched her pooch to an organic grain-free food, and how much of a difference it’s made to her dog’s energy, skin/coat, teeth, and allergies. Full of ingredients like organic blueberries, sweet potatoes, spinach, and organic meat, she quipped that perhaps she ought to start eating the dog food herself!

While I can’t recommend consuming dog food, in a way, she’s right.  If we fuel a body with the foods that it’s been engineered to utilize, the body will be healthier.

Many of us have heard stories of the elderly cat, diagnosed with early stage renal failure or feline diabetes, and the primary prescription from the vet is dietary.  (For this carnivorous animal, that generally means raw meat/fish.) When I first adopted my dog, he was having “digestive issues” that were, shall we say, producing lots of methane.  He could clear a room!  Within a week of changing his food to a more natural diet (no “fillers” like corn, wheat, or soy), my little toot machine was no more!

If our instincts tell us, when it comes to our pets, that higher quality food will make them happier and healthier (and likely, more long-lived), why can we not apply the same instinct to ourselves?

I know that I, for one,  thought that this neighborhood dog’s diet of blueberries, sweet potatoes, spinach, and meat sounded pretty darn appealing!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll make a salad for lunch.

Embracing the Cold Spring

The warmth and sun of Spring have been taking their sweet time making it to Wisconsin this year.  The last week has been in the 40’s and rainy.  While I’m just as impatient as the next gal to break out peep-toe shoes and short sleeves, Mama Nature runs on her timeline.

All we can do is try to embrace this cold, cold Spring.  It is the perfect excuse to continue making Comfort Food!

I’ve always found myself drawn to cabbages.  I like to think of them as the unsung heros of the cold-weather-veggie world.  They’re packed with antioxidants and vitamins like A, C, and K.  The humble nutritional powerhouse.

red cabbage

Growing up with my German grandmother, bayrisch kraut was a staple. (That’s sweet and sour purple cabbage, to the rest of you.) As much as I love it, at this point in the season, I found myself craving something different for my little violet beauty.  Enter, the oven.

This roasted red cabbage couldn’t be easier.  If you like roasted brussels sprouts (especially if you LOVE the little crispy leaves that fall off), you’ll love having this in your quiver.  You may even be glad for these extra weeks of comfort food weather.

ROASTED RED CABBAGE

1 medium head red cabbage, sliced thinly
1-2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 tea. Sea Salt (to taste)

Preheat oven to 410F. Slice cabbage and toss with olive oil on a sheet pan.  Sprinkle with salt. Toss it in the oven for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Roasted Red Cabbage