Beautiful Autumn Foods

I haven’t been super active at blogging again- I find that sitting in a chair for too long to be painful nowadays. Being 7 months pregnant, I need to constantly stretch my legs and hips. However, it hasn’t stopped me from shopping at the farmers markets and eating well. I haven’t had strange cravings so far. My husband hasn’t had to run around the city in the middle of the night to satisfy my cravings. I am not sure if its just my well trained eating habits, but I’ve had no desire to binge or eat foods I normally would not eat. In May, I couldn’t get enough of blueberries. Throughout summer, I did have an insatiable appetite for all melons. Right now, I want everything pumpkin, cranberry, and apple!

Here are photos of all the foods I am enjoying right now. I do love this season and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite meals of the year. I am especially looking forward to November 28th this year!

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I hope you have been following me on all the other social media channels, as I am very active there.

Farmer’s Market Finds: Orange Raspberries, Gravenstein Apples, and a Field of Lavender

I had a crazy June- teaching six classes weekly at Mission High School, going to school, commitments for each weekend, and life in general had me on my toes. I am looking forward to a more mellow July. The first weekend of July was perfect. On Sunday, Satish and I went up to Sebastopol to visit one of my instructor’s farmhouse. Nori has a large lavender field that needed harvesting and she invited her students for an u-pick. On the way to her farmhouse, we stopped by the Sebastopol farmers market. Nori had told me it’s large and I thought it would be a good idea to pick up lunch to eat at the farm.

apples

For the last three years, I have mostly only highlighted farmer’s markets in San Francisco. It’s always a good surprise when I do visit farmer’s market outside of the city. Even though apples and pears will not be available at most farmers markets until late August, Sebastopol’s farmers market already had these fruits. The town is known for their Gravenstein apples and you can see apple trees all over  town.

raspberries

There were all sorts of berries, such as these orange raspberries. They are sweeter than red raspberries.

chiliChili peppers.

Plums

These are all varieties of plums, which I haven’t seen in the city’s farmers markets. Definitely eating the rainbow here!

Photo Jul 07, 12 38 43 PMThese huge things caught my eye- I thought they were large oysters or seashells. Turns out they are mushrooms. Wild.

entertainmentThe Sebastopol farmers market is run every Sunday in the town’s plaza. They have entertainment such as belly dancers, too!

After getting fruit and food to eat and share at Nori’s farmhouse, we made the short drive over there. Nori’s place is gorgeous, with lavender bushes lining the driveway up to the house. I had brought a book to read out poolside while I bathed in the warm sun that San Francisco desperately lacks. Though, I got too caught up in the conversations and touring the farm to pull out by book. Nori is growing a few varieties of squash and apple, pumpkin, jicama, strawberries, loganberries, amongst the vast lavender field. I, somehow, did manage to get sunburned shoulders.

pumpkin

loganberriesI would declare loganberries my new favorite fruit, except they are so hard to come by. I can’t wait to have my own farmhouse. One day.

lavenderThere are two varieties of lavender on the property. The Grosso variety (pictured) is much darker and fragrant. It also gives out more essential oil than the Provence variety. Lavender can be used in cooking. My favorite way is to add a few sprinkles to omelettes and asparagus. Lavender has a very calming effect and is recommended for people who are feeling anxious, nervous, or stressed. While in college, I used to rub lavender oil on my stomach to ease symptoms of IBS.

There were thousands of bees throughout the fields. Bees are so crucial to our environment and food supply and it was really nice to see them buzzing happily. They are actually quite harmless. Checkout the Instagram video I took while picking lavender. You can actually here the harmonious buzz of the bees.

Photo Jul 07, 3 37 27 PMWith a tiny bundle of lavender next to my bed, I will have a restful night’s sleep. I am using the rest to make lavender salt and to give away to friends. There is nothing more therapeutic than sharing!

Essential Spices in Indian Cooking and Their Benefits

Spices are beneficial not only to your taste buds, but to your health. They contain antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins, which are all essential for optimal body function and the prevention of diseases. Spices are booster foods. Only small amounts are needed, but add numerous health (and beauty) benefits. Even if you do not care about how and why spices are beneficial, they are vibrant and add depth and flavor to foods. Spices really can make bland foods taste amazing.

Spices do not necessarily mean hot or burn your mouth off spicy. There are many spices that give you a burn and those are usually derived from Capsicum family. Capsicum is used medicinally to improve circulation and acts a pain reliever. It also releases endorphins, making some people to love spicy hot food. However, spices have a broad range of flavors- not just hot. For instance, cinnamon is sweet and mild. Nutmeg is bitter and pungent, not spicy hot. Therefore, if you cannot handle spicy hot, you can leave out the chili powder. I always ask for my food to be cooked without chilies at restaurants, because I cannot handle the spicy hot flavors.

Spices are cost-effective, since you only need a couple of teaspoons at a time for lots of flavor. They also last up to a year when stored in an airtight container and in a cool, dark place. Unfortunately, light and heat destroys flavor and beneficial properties of the spices, so keep them far from the stove, microwave, oven, and direct sunlight. When spices start to loose their color, it’s time to toss them out and restock. Buy smaller quantities of spices unless you go through large quantities quickly.

onions and masala

Ethnic stores are the best places to find quality spices at lower prices, but regular grocery stores should carry mostly everything you need. Always make sure to read the ingredients label, to ensure no artificial coloring, sugar, salt, MSG, preservatives, or wheat has been added. Turmeric should only have turmeric listed in the ingredients. Cumin should only have cumin listed in the ingredients and so on. These additives can have a negative impact on your health, alter the flavor of the spice, and are just unnecessary. Spices naturally can withstand extreme temperatures. After all, most of them are grown, harvested, and prepared in scorching, tropical climates.

Spices stay longer when bought in their whole or seed form and ground up into a powder just before using it. A spice grinder, mortar and pestle, or coffee grinder will do the job, However, be sure to wash the coffee grinder well, before using it for coffee. Though, this extra step can add an extra few minutes to cooking and can be enough of a deterrent for you to skip spices altogether. Ground spices are just fine if you can use them within six months to a year. It is usually a good idea to toast the spices before adding them into soups and curries. Authentic Indian recipes will always ask you to cook them for one minute in a dry pan or along with the onions, before adding tomatoes or other ingredients. Spices release their flavor when heated and people often do not like the taste of raw spices.

Just start cooking with spices! Variety is the key to getting all of the different nutrients from spices. They are also naturally low in calories and easily transforms a tasteless to dish into something incredible.

indian food

Invaluable Indian Spices In My Pantry

I have a cupboard full of spices and cannot imagine cooking anything without using at least one or two spices. I think that by not adding spices to a dish, I am missing out on an opportunity for delicious flavor and health benefits. A single Indian dish can contain tens of spices, but I usually stick with only a handful. These are my staples for when I am cooking and I do not limit using them to just Indian food.

Curry Powder- This isn’t truly a staple in traditional Indian kitchens, but it’s a lifesaver. Curry powder is a British invention. It is usually a combination of chili powder, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and turmeric. Curry powder can vary greatly in taste, depending on the quality, ratios of spices, and types of spices used. For instance, I have found Sri Lankan curry powder to be a richer red and spicier, whereas curry powder from Northern India is golden and sweeter. For serious cooks, curry powder is personal and they usually have their own special blend. My personal favorite is this curry powder. Whenever a dish tastes dull, I add a teaspoon at a time of curry powder to liven up the taste. I always make sure to keep curry powder around, above all of the other spices. This chicken coconut curry is delicious.

Cumin- Cumin relieves intestinal gas, pain, and bloating. When toasted, cumin is aromatic and pungent. It tastes bitter, which helps stimulate saliva. Digestion of food begins with saliva. Cumin can be used in its seed form or ground to a powder. I throw cumin seeds in the rice cooker along with the rice and ghee and call it a pilaf. Guests are always impressed by this trick. This delicious and colorful carrot salad gets its flavor from toasted and crushed cumin seeds. This Moroccan Mint Roasted Vegetables recipe makes use of cumin powder and seeds.

Ginger is referred as the universal medicine and has been used throughout the world for thousands of years for its healing properties. Ginger helps with colds, flues, indigestion, gas, bloating, vomiting, nausea, low appetite, arthritis, headaches, pain, and heart disease. Above all, ginger is widely used as a digestive aid. It is heating and ginger tea is often given to those who are feeling cold. I always have fresh ginger root around. I usually peel the ginger root, throw it in a mini chopper, and store the minced ginger in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week. It’s easier to use this way. Add ginger to juices and teas, soups, stir-fries, curry dishes, and in baked goods. My favorite way to use ginger is in masala chai and in all curries dishes.

Himalayan or Black Salt (Kala Namak) is not a typical spice to keep in the pantry. It is often my secret ingredient and is used in lieu of table salt. Black salt, despite its name, is pinkish in color due to its rich trace mineral and iron content. The taste is distinct and you actually need to use less of it than boring, old table salt. It does have a distinct flavor, so experiment to your liking. Always purchase naturally derived black salt, since synthetically black salt is stripped of most minerals and depth of flavor. Throughout India, black salt is used in chaats, chutneys, raitas, and on fruits. Just try a freshly sliced guava sprinkled with black salt- it’s amazing. Give this Kale Yogurt Raita a try with black salt.

Turmeric (Arad) has long been recognized for it’s natural antibiotic properties and anti-inflammatory actions. Turmeric also acts to improve intestinal flora and numerous studies have shown its superior ability to prevent and fight cancers and diseases. Turmeric is even used topically for facials and skin irritations. The powerful antioxidant in turmeric is called curcumin. You might be tempted to pop turmeric pills, but adding it to your meals will do the job just fine. It comes from a root that looks similar to ginger root. The root can be minced and added to hot water, to make an herbal tea. Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I try to drink one cup of turmeric tea a day. The powdered form is commonly used in cooking. It doesn’t really have a distinctive flavor, but adds a bright, beautiful color to any dish. Add 1/4 teaspoon in soups, salad dressings, curry dishes, marinades for meat, fish, and poultry, or grains. This is one of my more popular recipes on the blog.

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In January, I started volunteering at Mission High School as an aide for the school nutrition and leadership program. The class explores all types of cuisines and use their vegetable garden to cook. In May, I got the opportunity to teach the students about Ayurveda and the benefits of using spices. The students made Spring Pea Curry, Raita, Chai, Carrot Salad, Kumquat Chutney (pictured above), and Gluten Free Chai Spiced Biscuits.

Farmers Market Finds: Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes

I’ve been to the grocery store at least four times this past week. I know, it sounds ridiculous right? It wasn’t because I hadn’t planned properly or was cooking up a storm each night. I started a new job as the nutrition and culinary instructor for Mission High School’s summer school program. I am teaching a total of 150 students each week basic nutrition and cooking skills. It really is a great program to introduce these students to concepts delicious yet healthy foods. Last week, the students made kale and goat cheese frittatas and strawberry protein smoothies. I have to admit, I got a little ambitious introducing kale and goat cheese to the students at once on the first day of class. Most of them did not know what kale was and some of them were really grossed out by the fact that goat cheese comes from goats. Lesson learned.

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This week, I am going to teach them the importance of reading labels and choosing foods with as few ingredients as possible. Instead of using canned or bottled pasta sauce, they can make their own sauces and pestos from scratch using local, fresh ingredients. I bought cherry tomatoes and the ingredients to make basil pesto from the farmers market today. I will try to Instagram how everything turns out tomorrow during break or after class.

20130609-161311.jpgMy trunk full of tomatoes and ingredients for Monday’s meal.

Even though its been super windy and miserably gray in San Francisco, the farmers market is full of bright colors. I love to get a bag of mixed salad greens from Happy Boy Farms, because they always top the bag with edible flowers. Edible flowers also contain antioxidant properties.

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Farmers Market Finds: Stunning Apricots

I didn’t spend too much time at the market this week. These brilliant hued apricots caught my eye. They actually look like peaches.

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It was also nice to find several varieties of cucumbers. I picked up these lemon cucumbers. Maybe it’s the warmer weather, but I’ve had major cravings for crunchy food with high-water content. I’m looking forward to melon season.

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Anything caught your eye this week?

Farmer’s Market Finds: Heirloom Tomatoes and Boysenberries

I skipped the farmers market last week, because I was in LA. If I had more time, I would have made it a point to go to the Main Street Farmers Market in Santa Monica. Not to buy groceries, but just to visit an old favorite from when I lived in LA.  Usually, my time in LA is spent eating with friends at the latest hotspots or at my sister-in-law’s place. This time, we just decided to stroll Abbot Kinney (one of my favorite places) and go with the flow. My friend Katrina suggested we eat at Axe, a restaurant supporting local farmers and sustainability. The food was exactly what the body and soul needed that day. I love eating out at restaurants that inspire me to replicate the meal at home, which is exactly what we did a few days later.

restuarantA soul satisfying brown rice bowl with fresh vegetables, wild Alaskan salmon, and sesame lime dressing. I am going to make this over and over again until I can perfect the taste. I will try it will all sorts of protein sources- tofu, garbanzo beans, chicken, and other types of fish.

veniceAbbot Kinney in Venice, CA.

A few friends, Satish, and I went to Half Moon Bay yesterday, a scenic 45 minute drive from the city. On the way to a brunch, we ended up stopping at a farm stand.

farm stand

We were a little surprised to find fruit like mangos and bananas (not local) at the stand, but they did have plenty of local, non-organic produce too. Most people assume that cute, farm stands off-the-road are all organic, but it’s always a good idea to look for the organic sign or label and ask about the farming practices. This farm stand was situated right next to a farm, but it was unclear if they were related. Half Moon Bay is really beautiful!

farm

Lately, I have been craving green leafy vegetables and blueberries more than usual. I actually managed to get to the farmers market early today and was rewarded with plenty of eggs, asparagus, and squash blossoms. There were even boysenberries, which I don’t normally see at this farmers market. Boysenberries look just like blackberries, but they are larger and more tart. They are also a cross between blackberries, raspberries, and loganberries, thus having a reddish color to them. The tartness makes them less popular and are not commercially available. I think they make great desserts.

berries

As we are edging closer to summer, more and more stone fruits are available and the first of the heirloom tomatoes. I couldn’t resist getting some of the tomatoes, despite knowing that it is a little early for their season. Tomatoes taste like sweet fruit when they are harvested in July-September, when the weather is dry and hot. Nevertheless, I already used up half of them to make a delicious, thick tomato sauce to eat with eggs for Sunday brunch. I call the sauce my Magic sauce, because I can use it a thousand different ways.

tomatoes

tomato sauce

My tomato magic sauce.
plumsPlums are a purple food. I love the darker, juicier versions, where you have to eat them over the kitchen sink.

Green Beans

I am not a fan of green beans. For some reason, I just cannot get the bland taste from the school cafeteria out of my head. Truthfully, the real problem lies in the fact that I don’t know any good recipes for green beans. I love it at restaurants, just not to cook with. At my husbands request, I bought a couple of handfuls of them. I just don’t know what to do with them. Please share any recipes! 

Simple Ways To Include More Vegetables Onto Your Plate

Last week I discussed why you should eat more vegetables and in this post I am going to discuss how you should include more vegetables each time you eat. Vegetables can seem intimidating because there is some basic cooking required, but with the right mindset and plan, they too can be conquered and loved.

Please leave your suggestions on how to eat more vegetables and what resources you use in the comments!

peas

1. Set up a game plan. The first step to eating more vegetables daily is to make a weekly meal plan. The more you meal plan and cook, the less time you will spend making a meal plan. A meal plan will also help you avoid filling up on processed foods. Collect recipes on Pinterest, subscribe to healthy recipe sites and/or blogs, download cooking apps, buy a good cookbook, or just make it up as you go. If you are new to cooking, stick with the vegetables you are comfortable with and introduce yourself to one or two new vegetables each week. Farmers love talking about the food they grow and can give you tons of tips on how to cook and store them. My favorite way to cook vegetables is to sauté with good olive oil until they are tender. I often add spices like ginger, garlic, cumin, smoked paprika, and/or fresh herbs for flavor. This cooking method requires minimal effort and the vegetables always taste good.

Next, you need to fill up your fridge and freezer with vegetables. The only way you can have vegetables in your refrigerator is if you make it a goal to shop for fresh vegetables. Make it a point to go to the farmers market, sign up for a CSA, or shop at the grocery store. Put it in your calendar or us a nifty phone app that will remind you to shop. Also, make sure to always have your favorite vegetables in the freezer for the times when you cannot buy fresh produce.

2. Choose quality vegetables. Most of us have pretty terrible memories when it comes to eating vegetables. String beans from a can, frozen crinkle-cut carrots, and mushy peas can make anyone want to shun vegetables- forever. Though, it doesn’t have to be that way. Fresh vegetables are not only very beautiful, they taste awesome raw and cooked. Actually, fresh vegetables require minimal cooking skills because their flavor excels on their own. Try to buy as local as possible to get the tastiest stuff. Vegetables that have traveled 2000 miles to get your plate are old, picked before their ripeness, and sprayed with chemicals to increase shelf life. On the other hand, local produce is picked when it’s ripe so the vegetables had time develop its natural flavor. The classic example is a mealy, pinkish tomato in the winter versus a sweet, incredibly juicy tomato in July.

When I think about fresh vegetables, my mouth waters. I think crunchy, colorful, slightly sweet, slightly astringent, and beautiful. This was not the case before I started shopping at the farmers market and this thought process has become a habit. When we dine out, we choose restaurants that source the highest quality produce. Most of the time I am more enticed to order the vegetarian main course or several vegetable appetizers, because of the quality of the vegetables and curiosity of how the chef prepared them.

vegetables tofuSautéed broccoli, kale, and spinach with walnuts and tofu.

3. Make it a habit. Make a conscious decision to eat at least 1-2 cups of vegetables with each of your meals. This might sound like a lot to vegetable newbies, but you will quickly realize that a cup of vegetables is hardly any food. Overtime, this great eating habit will become second nature. Most of my breakfasts consist of two eggs and lots of vegetables. A tasty salad of greens and seasonal vegetables with homemade vinaigrette is another awesome way to get more vegetables. Make vegetables the main meal and proteins and carbs the sides. I am also an advocate of Meatless Mondays and have been vegetarian on Mondays for over 20 years. It all comes down to mindfulness and habit.Vegetables should be the main star on your plate, instead of being cast aside as a side dish. They should be the largest portion on your plate and aim to eat at least 6 cups of vegetables a day. Don’t freak out, you can work your way up to this amount. The more vegetables you eat, the less you will reach for filler foods to satiate your hunger.

4. Green smoothies. Even though drinking your food is not the same as eating your food, vegetable smoothies are a good option to get more vegetables into your body. Invest in a quality blender and have a handful of recipes that appeal to you. Just make sure the smoothies are limited to one cup of fruit, so you do not end up consuming excess sugar and calories. Fruit smoothies are not the same as vegetables smoothies. Whole fruits contain fiber and can be quite filling, but fruit smoothies are stripped of fiber and has a concentrated amount of fructose (sugar in fruits), since you will need a lot of fruit to make one, satisfying cup. When you juice vegetables, you are removing all of the fiber (bad) and concentrating the amount of minerals and vitamins (good). Fiber is essential for slowing down digestion, feeling full longer, and lowering the risk of certain diseases. Smoothies should not be a replacement for eating vegetables. There is pleasure in chewing and tasting our food.

5. Snack on vegetables. Whether you are at home, work, or a BBQ, snack on vegetables instead of chips, nuts, or crackers. Vegetables are low in calories and fat, so you do not have to worry about overconsumption. Use carrots and celery instead of crackers to scoop up dips and nut butters. Eat half of an avocado with salt and pepper for an afternoon snack. Since, I do not digest raw foods as well as others, I keep two cups of roasted or sautéed vegetables in my fridge for easy snacking. I heat up the vegetables in the microwave and sprinkle seeds, nuts, fresh herbs, or hard cheese to give it a fresh taste.

avocadoBaked avocados with cherry tomatoes, basil, sea salt, and black pepper.

Resources and Recipes:

You can follow me on Pinterest, where I am always collecting delicious recipes. I also Instagram some of my meals and inspirations to eat better. Search Club Dine In for easy and quick plant-based recipes, such as Broccoli with Toasted Sesame Seeds. Lastly, I publish many recipes on Snapguide.

My new source of inspiration is the school garden and nutrition program where I volunteer weekly. The students make delicious meals using vegetables from their garden and I am always going home with new dinner ideas. I usually post what the students made on my Facebook page.

I also follow people who inspire me to eat and live better. Here are some of my favorite recipes and sites:

Thyme Roasted Baby Beets With Mint by Kiss My Spatula
Roasting vegetables require minimal supervision and you can make them in large batches. It’s perfect for busy lives.

Rainbow Chard Tartlets With Rosemary Almond Meal Crust- The Roost
This is a great dish to make ahead for the entire week or to freeze for later use.

Moroccan Carrot and Chickpea Salad- 101 Cookbooks
I have made this quickly for when I had unexpected guests and they loved it. I actually eat this as the main dish, by adding watermelon radishes, parsley, and finely chopped dino kale to balance out the bean to vegetable ratio.

Quinoa with Spring Vegetables and Walnut-Kale Pesto- Gluten Free Girl and The Chef
I love pesto recipes, because pesto is an awesome way to get a concentrated amount of vegetables and they can be used for multiple dishes. I take the extra pesto and have it over roasted potatoes, pasta, chicken, and fish. This dish is a full meal on it’s own and does not require sides (IMHO). There are multiple steps and a few of the steps can be done ahead of time. You can also make large quantities- leftovers make great lunches.

This is part two of a three-part series on vegetables. Last week, I discussed reasons why you should eat more vegetables and next week, I will include a protein-balanced vegetable recipe.

Farmers Market Finds: Mother’s Day

It was gorgeous day at the Farmers Market. Everyone seemed livelier, maybe because the sun was briefly out and it was Mother’s Day. There were more people than usual too. I was in bit of a hurry and could not chat much with familiar faces or stop to take beautiful photos. I needed to pick up a few ingredients and quickly prepare for our Mother’s Day picnic and hike. Though, I was delighted to find lots and lots of squash blossoms. We are going to eat amazing frittatas and snacks this week!

squash blossomsSquash blossoms are the flowers of zucchinis. They are delicate and are a special treat. The blossoms go quickly at the market and don’t last long in the heat or fridge. I usually use them up within a few days of buying. They can be eaten raw, slightly sautéed, or stuffed and fried. The blossoms come off as exotic, so it’s fun too serve them at a special meal. At restaurants, I loved eating them on pizzas, but it’s hard to find speciality gluten-free pizza. 

blueberriesI couldn’t resist taking a photo of these beauties.

A tradition only started last year, my brother and I choose a local state park to have a picnic and hike with our parents. We thought it would be a nice way to spend quality time with our parents and get them to hike, something they normally do not do on their own. We try to keep the hike moderate, so it’s enjoyable for everyone. Walking amongst the giant trees sparks interesting conversations. It’s also a nice alternative to worrying about reservations and dining out.

treesThis year, we went to Roberts Regional Park in Oakland. We live nearby so many state parks, but have not visited half of them. Mother’s Day is our new reason to explore the parks and trails around us.

picnic

After a small, homemade picnic, we went for a moderate hike. We had pea pesto marinated chicken, turkey stuffed bell peppers, poha (spiced flattened rice dish), lentil and chard pilaf, dolmas, spicy hummus, mangos, and cherries. A very ethnic and delicious picnic.

treesI am so thankful to live within half an hour of these beautiful redwoods. The air was amazing.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend!

Reasons To Include More Vibrant Vegetables In Your Life

carrots

Food has always been regarded as medicine in cultures throughout the world. People reached for plants, vegetables, and even animal proteins to cure ailments. Food was the first source people went to before seeking other kinds of treatments. With the advantages and brainwashing of convenience food, we  forget what is essential for us to maintain and improve health. As pointed out by many scientists and doctors, our health became complicated with the introduction of packaged and processed foods, overproduction of wheat, corn, and soy, and the industrialization of meat, poultry, and dairy.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) consists of highly processed meats and wheat. Americans are over-consuming food with little nutritional benefits and not consuming enough of whole foods- mostly vegetables. The SAD diet has no room for fresh, whole foods and has lead to the rise of Western Diseases- breast cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. The dependency of processed foods is also giving rise to allergies and sensitivities to foods like wheat and diary.

All of us need to eat more vegetables for good health, weight loss, and reversing diseases. I am not advocating vegetarianism. What I am saying is that the more vegetables and plant-based foods you consume daily will have the most positive impact on your health. The best possible sources of obtaining micronutrients that your body needs to function healthily come from plant-based foods. Vegetables are grown on a farm, not manufactured in a lab, and do not require a degree to figure out that they are good for you.

Plant foods are complex systems and are the best sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber. These nutrients have hundreds of roles in the body. Our body uses them to make hormones, send nerve impulses, maintain bone and teeth strength, bolster the immune system, prevent cell and tissue damage, increase digestion and absorption, and maintain a normal heartbeat.

Examples of minerals include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and sodium.  Minerals are mostly found in plant foods and are essential for healthy minds and bodies. Minerals are not vulnerable to heat and cooking does not destroy them. It is much easier to obtain minerals from food than vitamins. Vitamins are easily destroyed due to heat and storage duration. Examples of vitamins include vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, and carotenoids. Vitamins and minerals depend on each other to be useful. For example, vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption from food. Similarly, too much of one nutrient can cause a deficiency of another nutrient, since they can interfere with each other’s function. Though, this is rarely the case when you eat varied, whole foods.

Vegetables come in a vibrant array of colors, not just green. These colors signify the type of vitamins and antioxidants are present in them. Purple foods have the antioxidant anthocyanins, which is prevents aging, boost memory, and fights off diseases like Alzheimer’s. Red foods include strawberries, pomegranates, and tomatoes. These foods are known to prevent cancer, reduce pain and inflammation, and lower blood pressure.  Orange foods include pumpkins, bell peppers, and carrots. These foods are high in vitamin C and beat-carotene, which help support the immune system, delay cognitive aging, and rebuild collagen in the skin. In order to ensure you are getting all of these different nutrients, you have to eat a variety of foods. Sticking to just a few vegetables throughout the year will make you loose out on the benefits other plant-based foods offer. Eating a varied, vibrant diet is the best way to get sufficient amounts of the vitamins and minerals your body needs.

peppers

It is pretty difficult to overdose on micronutrients that come from whole, unprocessed foods since they contain low levels.  We only need miniscule amounts of them, hence the name micronutrients. On the contrary, supplements may contain fillers and additives, and come in high dosages that can be harmful. Many supplements also contain contaminants such as arsenic and mercury. Our body stores certain nutrients and releases them as needed, thus toxic levels can build up. Dietary supplements are unregulated and do not have to go through testing for safety. Supplements are not intended to replace whole foods, but support people with certain conditions who just cannot get all the nutrients. It is wise to talk to a doctor or nutritionist before taking supplements. Whole foods are complex and contain many nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber that a pill cannot provide. Vegetables are also a lot more affordable than quality supplements.

Pesticide exposure is linked to many health concerns and should not be overlooked. Though, the health benefits of vegetables outweigh the alternative of not eating them at all. Nutrient deficiencies from the lack of vegetables are also the cause of many health issues. Fresh, whole foods are often replaced with processed foods when they are eliminated from the diet, causing more health troubles. I recommend choosing food from sustainable farms. If you are not sure about where or how the food is grown, opt to buy organic, local, and/or seasonal. Local and seasonal food is usually sprayed with less or no pesticides, since they do not have to travel as far. Of course, the best way to learn and ensure you are getting high-quality food is to shop at the farmers market or join a CSA. You can ask the farmers directly about their farming practices. Buying 100% organic produce may not always be possible, but you should at least try to get organic for the vegetables (and fruits) that have the most pesticide residue. You can download the list onto your phone.  If none of these are options for you, start your own vegetable garden. Do what you can to feed yourself and your family more fresh vegetables.

Vegetables should be the star of your plate, not cast off to the side. So what are you waiting for?

radish

This is part one of a three-part series on vegetables. Next week, I will discuss simple ways to eat more vegetables and include a protein-balanced vegetable recipe. 

Farmers Market Finds: Blueberries, Cherries, and Nectarines!

I was totally blown away at the farmers market today. My most favorite fruit ever is in season! Blueberries. I love blueberries. They are just so beautiful, taste heavenly, and are a purple food. Blueberries rate among the highest in fruits and vegetables for antioxidants. Researchers have found that the compounds in blueberries reduce the effects of age-related conditions (e.g. Alzheimer’s and age-related macular degeneration). Blueberries act in the same ways as cranberries to promote urinary tract health. They are also full of fiber, loaded with vitamins and minerals, and are low in calories.

blueberries

Blueberries are one of those foods that you should buy organic. The blueberries I bought today are not certified organic, but the farm is in  transition and it will take them sometime before they will become certified. I also bought the blueberries from Serendipity Farms, who is selling it on the behalf of another farm. Jamie, the farmer, has become my friend over the years. I trust her and visit her stand weekly.

When Jamie posted a picture on Facebook about their first crop of blueberries, my mouth started to salivate. I immediately wanted to make buttermilk blueberry pancakes (gluten-free, of course), compote, salads, and top them with my homemade granola. I just ended up eating the entire basket of blueberries with my husband and dad. Next week, I’ll find more interesting uses for them.

blueberries

Spring is really short at the farmers markets. Summer and winter produce last for months and months, but ramps, green garlic, asparagus, and English peas seem to only be around for two short months. Even though it’s foggy and cold in San Francisco, it has been really hot in the farm country just outside of the city. Which means, the early arrival of summer produce. This week there were stone fruits, zucchini, squash blossoms, and three varieties of basil!

cherriesCherries from Hamada Farm

The intermingling of spring and summer produce at the farmers market is going to make for some delicious meals. Checkout my Pinterest boards for recipe ideas.

Photo May 05, 11 56 47 AMSpring onions, sugar snap peas and zucchini from Happy Boy Farms.

Photo May 05, 11 54 31 AMNectarines from Ken’s Top Notch

squash blossoms

I absolutely love squash blossoms as well. They have a delicate, nutty flavor and taste great on salads, pizzas, and frittatas. However, I refused to buy these since they were unnecessarily packaged in plastic bags. Major environmental fail.

kale blossoms

Kale blossoms are also a short-season food. Cook them like you would broccolini. Happy Boy Farms.

What is your favorite super food?