Monday, November 30, 2009

Coconut: A functional, flavorful food

Coconut is a versatile staple food in many different cultures. The milk is used in sauces, and as the base of soups and stews. The oil is used for frying and in baked products. The “meat” of the coconut is shredded into baked products and used in custards, puddings and porridges. Beyond its culinary applications, coconut has a number of controversial yet beneficial health effects which deserve attention and exploration.

Coconut is high in saturated fat which has been associated with cardiovascular disease and weight gain. However, the structure of fat in coconut, medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), is different from the fat found in animal products. MCTs are not deposited into fat tissue like their long-chain counterparts. They are rapidly digested because they don’t require bile for absorption. Because they are digested so quickly, they are converted into energy thereby boosting metabolic rate and weight loss. In fact, some practitioners prescribe coconut oil to patients undergoing weight loss.

Coconut oil also contains special health promoting constituents such as lauric acid and caprylic acid. These constituents have antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial properties and have been used to treat Candida, yeast overgrowth, and weakened immune systems. In addition, a recent study demonstrated that these constituents increased HDL levels, the "good" cholesterol.

In addition to its health effects, coconut has a low allergen potential. Coconut-based milks, yogurt, butter and ice cream may be suitable substitutions for those with dairy sensitivities. Similarly, coconut flour can be a tasty, nutritious alternative to wheat and grain-based flours and may be worth exploring by individuals with wheat and gluten intolerances. Consult a qualified health practitioner if you need additional guidance on how to make appropriate substitutions.

Coconut curry chicken with plum wine

1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil (for frying)
4 chicken thighs (organic and pastured are best)
1 can whole coconut milk
1 cup plain rice milk
3 teaspoons curry powder or 1 tablespoon curry paste
2 tablespoons raw honey or agave nectar
1/4 cup plum wine (can substitute cooking sake or mirin)
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped, for garnish
Lime to taste

Heat skillet to medium-high, then add coconut oil. Brown chicken on both sides. Add coconut milk, rice milk, curry powder and stir. Then add honey and plum wine. Reduce heat to low, cover skillet and let chicken simmer for about 20 minutes. Top off with fish sauce before serving. Garnish with cilantro and lime.

Prep time: 25 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
Copyright 2009, Genevieve Sherrow, Original Recipe.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why Balance Blood Sugar?

Blood sugar refers to the amount of sugar or glucose in the blood at any given time. Glucose is the body's preferred source of fuel. The brain, nervous system and red blood cells cannot function without continuous supply of energy from blood glucose; however, we must pay close attention to the quantity and quality of glucose/carbohydrate that we consume, the food source from which it comes, and the quality of its ingredients.

The glycemic index or GI is a value assigned to a carbohydrate-containing food based on the rate at which it affects blood sugar levels. Factors that affect the GI include total fiber content, protein and fat content, and carbohydrate quality (that is, whether the carbohydrate comes from a refined source or from a whole foods source). Foods with a high GI rapidly increase blood sugar levels and include highly refined and processed foods such as breads, pastas and crackers; and sugars and sugary foods such as candies, pastries, soft drinks and corn syrup. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas and carrots also have a high GI. Foods with a low GI help balance blood sugar, reduce carbohydrate cravings and are effective for weight management. Whole foods such as lean meats, fish, beans, legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole grains typically have a low glycemic index.

Balancing blood sugar is important for optimal physical and emotional health regardless of whether you have diabetes, hypoglycemia or blood sugar management issues. A steady supply of glucose is essential to fuel optimal brain function, and therefore, low blood glucose can cause headache, irritability, anxiety and depression, dizziness, fatigue and poor endurance. Low blood sugar can also cause sugar cravings leading to erratic eating patterns.

Here are some general recommendations for sustaining blood sugar.

·Eat at regular intervals, about every 3-4 hours, including 3 meals and 1-3 snacks daily.
·Avoid skipping meals and eating excessively large portions of refined carbohydrate such as white flour or corn syrup.
·Eat balanced snacks or meals that include whole foods containing protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy and high quality fats, and fiber. A balance of macronutrients will slow digestion and moderate blood sugar.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Warming Foods to Combat the Cold

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), optimal health is based on the harmonious flow of Qi or energy in our bodies. Our daily diet and nutrition provide an easy means to help harmonize this flow of energy. In TCM, it is considered healthy when our diets help our bodies to maintain a healthy interaction with our environment. The simplest way to accomplish this is by eating foods that counteract and balance the extremes of the season in which we consume them. For example, during the summer, warm and dispersing foods help to move our heat towards the surface of our body where it can be released, via an opening of the pores and sweating, and thus help prevent our interiors from overheating. Conversely, during the wintertime, TCM teaches us to utilize more salty and bitter foods which tend to cool our body’s exterior while helping to conserve and move our inner core heat deeper within our bodies.

Occasionally the extremes of a particular season can overwhelm us and lead to an imbalance and illness. This can occur with overexposure to either extreme cold or heat. If we find ourselves chilled after long exposure to cold, warming foods can help our bodies to regain equilibrium. According to TCM, getting overly chilled can lead to illness, so it is important to avoid long exposure to cold conditions.

A bowl of warming soup or stew can be particularly enjoyable and beneficial after a long day outside in very cold conditions. Here are some tips to increase the thermal nature of foods. 1) Try cooking methods that use a lot of heat, such as roasting, stewing, baking, or braising. 2) Use garlic, fresh ginger, and onion in vegetable sautés, soups, or stews. 3) Add warming foods and spices to cooler foods. For example, grate ginger on a salad, sprinkle cinnamon on cold milk. 4) Drink beverages room temperature or warmer, and avoid ice-cold beverages.

While these suggestions can help most healthy people, you should always consult a qualified nutrition practitioner if you need additional guidance on how to balance your diet individually.

Rainbow Root Vegetable Soup
Root vegetables are warming and sweet. This colorful stew-like soup will nourish you on a cold winter day.

2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4-5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into half moons
2 medium carrots, cut into half moons
1 large rutabaga, peeled and cubed
2 medium purple potatoes, cubed
6 cups vegetable stock
Sea salt and crushed black pepper to taste

Heat stock pot to medium high, add olive oil. Sauté ginger and garlic for 1 minute. Add onion and a pinch of salt and sauté until they become translucent. Add carrot, parsnip and rutabaga and 3 pinches of salt and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add stock and bring pot to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust salt as needed.

Prep time: 40 minutes
Makes: 4-5 servings
Copyright 2009, Genevieve Sherrow, Original Recipe.