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.

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. 

How to Shed the Pounds When They Won’t Seem to Budge

Cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream

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Little Black Dress Personal Training is based out of New York by Anne Marie. Anne is a personal trainer who writes about practical ways to include fitness into our daily routine, staying motivated, and eating healthy. Follow Anne on Twitter or Facebook.

How to Shed the Pounds When They Won’t Seem to Budge

Sometimes you do all the right things and yet, you’re still not losing weight. It’s frustrating and annoying to say the least, and it causes a lot of people to mosey on down to the Golden Corral, pausing ever so slightly before opening the door to reconsider, and then pushing forward and diving head first into buffet bliss. I can’t blame you. Many times I’ve been equally frustrated and annoyed and drowned my sorrows in chocolate covered caramels and white chocolate truffles. (Shockingly those did nothing to make me feel better afterwards.)

If you feel you’re in a weight loss rut, there are a few things you can review about your lifestyle that maybe with a minor adjustment here and there can translate into newfound weight loss joy. With me, once I started keeping a food journal I found that I was able to shed a few of the stubborn pounds, plus I ate much better (because who wants to see buttered popcorn, chocolate chip cookies and three glasses of wine staring back at you in your own handwriting? It’s eye-opening when you begin to become accountable for what you ingest!)

So here’s another list (before starting this blog earlier this year, I was never a list person… and now I’m all about them, a rabid list maker if you will) on things you should take a look at to see if maybe a little adjustment is all you need to get your body burning those calories again!

1 – Are you getting enough sleep? Big important question here. I pretty much always get eight hours of sleep. I’m a sleeper, I love my bed and I love being in it. Now some people are five to six-hour sleepers and then set off for a marathon kind of day, shuttling kids off to school, attending all sorts of work meetings, then preparing dinner and helping with homework. Half way through the day they’re bleary eyed looking for their next caffeine fix. Your body needs rest and relief from the day’s activities. Some proper sleep just may be the ticket that will allow you to eat better and exercise more.

2 – You’re skipping meals. Going too long without eating sends messages to your brain that you’re in starvation mode and guess what? It’s the fat cells that bunker down and refuse to burn off in times like these. Instead your body starts looking at your lean mass as proper food and starts churning away at it. Not good. Don’t go too long without eating, it messes up your metabolism and your blood sugar levels. Eat every three hours so you never hear the rumbling of the belly beast…  besides, it leads to embarrassing moments and comments/smirks from others!

3 – You’re not exercising enough. Or at all! Please don’t be an “or at all” person, that just makes me sad. If you’re consuming calories on a daily basis, then you should be burning some of those same calories on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be anything major, just look at what Monday’s blog suggested (another list) and try to incorporate some of those fabulous ideas into your life. And for the casual exerciser, once a week ain’t gonna cut it if you’re looking for weight loss. It’s commitment time and your number is up. Make it a point to attend more classes or hire a personal trainer, they’ll help keep you honest and motivated. Exercise does a body good so make sure you’re getting in enough of it.

4 – You’re ODing on mocha frappucinos. Calories galore lurk in all sorts of creative drinks that specialty shops create in some ill-conceived effort to inject the population with sugar, causing them to all come back for more. (Sugary drinks = More money for the Man.) Just the other day a barista informed me before I ordered that they were out of the gingerbread flavor so he couldn’t make a gingerbread latte but he happily suggested a peppermint mocha latte with a shot of caramel and whipped cream on top or a creme brulee latte with the caramel and whipped cream additions, they’re both delicious he said. No kidding. A drink with a bucket of sugar thrown in would probably taste great and get my head and body spinning in all sorts of directions for the next hour. I declined both offers for an iced tea (but not after having to say no six times to the dude… he was very persistent that I consume a bucket of sugar. My guess is he was flying high from a caramel mocha creme brulee peppermint gingerbread—that’s where it must have all gone—latte himself.) Be careful what you drink, those calories count just the same as food calories.

5 – Your weekends are an orgy filled food fest. I used to be of the thinking that since I was so good all week-long that the weekends didn’t count, like the calories lifted magically off my body and into the vast black hole that was my weekend. Not the case. Dinner and drinks with friends on the weekend add up big time. Going out to dinner can easily lead to an extra days worth of calories being consumed and you don’t even realize it because, hey, it’s the weekend… I deserve a little fun. If your weekends are turning into diet pitfalls, you need to rethink your plan. Don’t ‘save’ your calories for when you’re out, that’s bogus and doesn’t work. Eat throughout the day and even right before you go out because a slightly filled belly won’t have you jumping into the bread basket when it rears it’s warm, soft and crusty head. You’ll have more control and will feel much better come Monday.

This post was originally published on December 7, 2010.

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Farmer’s Market Finds: The Color Purple and Antioxidants

All I could notice at the farmers market this weekend was the color purple. It reminded me of my high school English teacher, who asked us to look out for the color in nature. We were reading The Color Purple by Alice Walker in class. All of us agreed that purple was a rare color in nature. Though, I completely disagree with that conclusion now.

purple turnipsPurple turnips

I have always kept Mrs. Kindle’s observation in mind and subconsciously seek out the color purple wherever I go. The color purple is everywhere, especially at the farmers market – year round. Fruits, vegetables, and plants get the purple pigmentation from anthocyanins, which are antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that prevent oxidation (which is what happens when a sliced apple turns brown). Oxidation causes free radicals to form and free radicals cause damage and death to cells. Some free radicals are formed through natural processes, but free radicals can “spiral” out of control and disrupt living cells. To put it in a very simple manner, when the levels of free radicals in your body become disproportionate (due to aging, poor eating and lifestyle choices, and environmental triggers) disease and cancer happens.

purple radish asparagusPurple asparagus, chive flowers, and purple radish

Antioxidants protect your body from the harmful effects of free radicals. Eating foods rich in antioxidants prevent and delay cell damage, which in turn prevent cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and immune dysfunction. Luckily, there are plenty of fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants available year round. It’s important to eat a variety of foods, because not all foods contain all the antioxidants your body needs. Supplements do not provide the same benefits as eating whole foods do. Antioxidants in purple foods particularly help boost memory, slow down the aging process, prevent heart disease, and prevent and shorten the duration of colds.

Purple lettucePurple lettuce

Purple foods in the Spring
ArtichokesAsparagus, blueberries, chive flowers, chocolate mint, purple top turnips, radishes, and spring onions

herbs Chocolate mint and chive flowers

Other purple foods by season: 

Summer
Basil, berries, eggplants, figs, lavender, peppers, pluots, plums, and tomatoes

Fall/Winter
Dates, grapes, potatoes and olives

Year Round
Beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, endives, kale, kohlrabi, lambsquarter, lettuce, orachi, and radicchio

purple asparagusWhat are your favorite purple foods? Which purple foods did I leave out? Please add in the comments. 

5 Really Good Reasons To Eat Seasonally

Eating seasonally makes me feel happier and there are traditions around seasonal food around the world. In India, mango season is celebrated religiously. Actually, most people in India refer to seasons by the foods available at that time of the year. Having grown up in the United States, I didn’t really experience the joys of seasonal eating, since most foods were available year round. Though, I distinctly remember mango and green flat bean season, since my family made a huge celebration out of them. These foods were bought at an international market and were internationally imported foods. I have never appreciated fresh food as much as I do now until I started eating them in season. That is when mango and bean season clicked and I gained a better appreciation for how the world works.

dino kale garden

Aside from culture, there are many reasons to eat seasonally. From a health perspective, eating fresh, seasonal food makes the most sense. Hopefully, the points I make below are enough to convince you to include seasonal foods in your life.

1. Variety. Cooking with the seasons breaks up the monotony of your meals. There comes a time at the end of each season, where I cannot wait for the arrival of new crops. I become bored with the flavors and crops by eating them at home and at every  local restaurant all season long. It almost makes me want to stop eating the vegetables and fruits altogether, which I suspect is the case for many people. However, by shopping at the farmers market, I am constantly introduced to new vegetables and fruits which help stave off boredom on the plate and palate. Even dining out at local restaurants becomes exciting, be able to experience and taste what the talented chefs can make with the seasonal food.

strawberry lentils

2. Healthier. There are many health benefits to eating in season. Vegetables and fruits have the most nutrients when they are at their peak ripeness. The antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in the food starts to decrease as soon as they are picked. Vegetables and fruit that are grown to travel long distances (1,500 miles on average) are picked before they can develop their full range of nutrients. Fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits usually travel a lot less and are exposed to a lot less heat and light (both degrade delicate vitamins). Also, you can buy seasonal food in its whole, unprocessed form, instead of canned or frozen varieties. Canned foods are usually soaked in sugars, salts, BPA and are highly processed. Frozen foods are a pretty good option when you do not have fresh food available, however, there is a bit of processing and nutrient loss that goes on when freezing the food.

3. Environment. Seasonal produce usually means local produce, which is also great for the environment and local community. As pointed out in #2, local foods travel a lot less and are fresher, thus they retain much of their nutritive value. Fewer green houses are produced and less fuel is used in transporting local food. Food that is closer to the source also has less, if any, preservatives and pesticides sprayed on them and are unprocessed. The best place to find local, seasonal food is at the farmers market or by subscribing to a CSA. Though, if these are not options for you, look for the local sign in the produce section of your grocery store. More and more grocery chains are catching on to the fact that people want higher quality food. Spring does not arrive in San Francisco at the same time it does in New York City; seasons change at different times everywhere. Seasonal food gives you the opportunity to connect with the land you live on and the people who grow your food.

4. Wide Range of Nutrients. This one is a slight combination of #1 and #2. Eating seasonally ensures you are eating a variety of nutrients. A magical vegetable or fruit that has all the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, and fiber your body needs just does not exist. There are some pretty powerful fruits and vegetables out there, but even they lack a little something. Thus, it’s important to eat a variety of food and the best way to avoid eating broccoli year round is to eat the food that is in season.

5. Taste. Quite simply, food grown in its rightful season tastes better. If you are not convinced, do a taste test. A winter tomato, grown indoors or in hot houses, does not taste anything like a tomato grown under the hot sun, picked right off the vine just before it got to you. The better the fruits and vegetables taste, the more likely you will eat them. The more you eat them, the more health benefits and happiness you will gain. Give the vegetables and fruits you wrote off a second chance, by eating them in the season they were always meant to be grown.

tomatoes

Just shortly after experiencing seasonal food, I started to anticipate what the newest food will be at the farmers market. A partial reason, why I started Farmers Market Finds. I look forward to each season equally. Towards the end of winter, I start to look forward to asparagus, strawberries, and English peas. By mid-June, I can almost taste the heirloom tomatoes, peaches, and squash blossoms. And, by the end of September, I am making roasted butternut squash and thinking about Thanksgiving. In February, I am obsessing over blood oranges and kale.

What is your favorite food season and what do you anticipate eating most?  Please share your culture and food traditions with me. 

All About Eggs: They Are Good For You

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egg yolks

Eggs have gotten a lot of press over the years- “they are bad for you, they are good for you, nope-they are bad, well, we take that back, they are good again”. The assumption that dietary cholesterol causes cardiovascular disease is false. There have been many, well-designed studies done which prove that eggs, including the yolk, are good for you and do not increase cholesterol or cause heart disease. Cholesterol in eggs is dietary cholesterol, not the cholesterol that is measured in blood tests. Dietary cholesterol has no impact on blood cholesterol. Overconsumption and the quality of the eggs should be more of a concern than these health issues.

Eggs are a nutrient rich food, providing an excellent source of protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins. The yolk especially works to keep your brain healthy.  The yolk contains essential fatty acids, which are necessary for proper brain and eye function, healthy skin, hair, libido, reproduction, growth and response to injury. Eggs are a complete protein and contain the “good fats”. Complete protein foods contain all of the essential amino acids, which our bodies need for healthy bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. High quality eggs can contain omega-3 fatty acids, which work to lower the risk of cholesterol. Therefore, when people only eat egg whites, they are literally throwing out these needed essential nutrients.

I invest in my health by buying high quality food. I do pay extra upfront for pastured eggs. I try to buy eggs from the farmer’s market, but they sellout pretty fast. Remember, the massive egg recall in 2010? That kind of stuff usually only happens in factory farming. Pastured eggs are higher in nutrient value and come from healthy, happy hens. Pasture-raised hens are raised on pasture and fed grass and whatever else is on their pasture. You can see the richness of nutrients by the color of the egg yolk, usually a dark yellow to orange. This is because pastured eggs have more beta-carotene and vitamins. Though, the color of the yolk does vary from the changing seasons and pasture availability. Hens naturally lay eggs in the spring, when there is more daylight and greener pastures. Even the eggs shells are all different hues, but mostly due to the breed of the chickens. These eggs come from one farm that usually has a variety of breeds, so you will get a variety of sizes and colors in the carton.

farm fresh eggs

The less fortunate hens are confined in cages that are too small for them. They are cramped in and have a variety of physical issues. The cages are also stacked up on top of each other. This poses many health dangers for all of the hens in the factory farm, which in turn poses risks for consumers of these eggs. These factory-farmed hens are given antibiotics and hormones (usually without the supervision of a veterinarian) to survive these filthy conditions and grow bigger and faster. The results of this kind of farming are cheap poultry and eggs that cause environmental degradation and antibiotic resistance. In short, cheap foods come with a high cost to people’s health, animal welfare, and the environment.

Free-range and cage-free eggs are significantly different from pastured eggs. Free-range and cage-free are less regulated terms. Free-range means that the chickens may have access to the outdoors. Cage-free chickens are not locked up in battery cages, but they still maybe overstuffed in large hen houses with thousands of other chickens. The term organic in this concern means that the feed was organic, hens cannot be raised in cages, molting must occur naturally, and antibiotics can only be given in the case of an infectious outbreak. Thus, organic eggs are better than non-organic eggs. You can checkout the score of the organic eggs you buy here.

There is also significance to the phrase “farm fresh eggs”. Eggs do have a long shelf life when stored properly in the fridge, but they are not nearly as good as eggs that are recently laid. Truly farm fresh eggs are no more than a week old. Sometimes, the farmers do not wash these eggs so it is better to wash them at home. The pastured eggs at the farmers markets are probably only a few days old, but you can ask the farmer directly to be certain.

When hens in factory farming lay eggs, there is a shipping and handling process. These eggs go to a plant, where they are washed in ammonium or chlorine, graded, and placed in the carton. So by the time they get to the grocery store and by the time you bring them home, they could be already a couple of weeks old. Check the numbers on the egg carton to verify freshness of the eggs. There should be three sets of numbers on the carton. The long set of numbers indicates the plant/factory from which they came, the sell by date is the expiration date, and the three digit number is the Julian date the eggs where picked. In Julian date, the date is read starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365. Today’s date is April 4th, so the Julian date is 094 (94 days into the year).  

Obviously, all of these points factor into the cost of the eggs. Factory farmed eggs are really cheap and pastured eggs are expensive. To make the right choice for you and your family, you have to weigh what is important to you when you feed your family. Again, I value the quality of the eggs and invest in the health of my family and myself. Pastured eggs also contribute to my sanity, knowing that I made a choice that is environmentally and ethically conscious. We eat fewer eggs per week, limiting to one carton of pastured eggs and increase the intake of vegetables, lentils, and beans.  Even though we are eating fewer eggs, I am guaranteeing we are getting more nutritional benefits and superior flavor.

kale eggs

Homemade Gluten-Free Citrus Granola {Recipe}

Since I figured out that I am gluten intolerant, I’ve been on a constant search for delicious and affordable replacements. I discovered that most gluten-free packaged food is almost twice the price. Also, most of the ingredients in them are not natural or whole. I will actually discuss this topic in great depth in another post.

oats

Initially, one of the toughest things about practicing a gluten-free diet was finding good breakfast cereals. Like a typical American, I grew up eating corn flakes, pop tarts, and toast for breakfast. As I became smarter about my food choices, I stuck to more natural types of cereal which didn’t contain much added sugars and processed ingredients. All of the gluten-free cereals on the shelf just seemed exorbitantly priced or full of questionable ingredients. Eventually, I discovered gluten-free granola with minimally processed ingredients. It was almost love at first taste, but it was hard to swallow the extra sweet taste (after months of conditioning myself to have a less sweet palate) and price tag. Unfortunately, most gluten-free granola is really, really expensive. I mean really expensive. Also, prepackaged granola is loaded with sugar! Though, I kept eating store-bought granola because I thought it was more convenient than any other breakfast option.

maple syrupI also thought buying granola was more convenient than making my own. I had seen many recipes and heard about people making their own granola (it’s actually become a thing), but I just never got myself to do it. I made it out to be really complicated and time consuming in my head. I had even bought certified gluten-free oats but let them sit in my pantry for 6 months (they don’t spoil easily) before I said I am going to do it. Making my own granola turned out to be a lot simpler than I had envisioned. I have since come up with at least four unique recipes for my own granola and have started giving jars to friends as gifts.

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The thing about homemade granola is that it is highly customizable for YOU. You as the maker are in charge of the ratios. I like granola with more oats, and less dried fruit and nuts. You can choose the types of nuts, seeds, dried fruits, spices, sweeteners, and fats to add to the oats to make your own unique creation. Unlike baking a cake, the measurements of the ingredients mentioned above do not have to be precise. Just pay attention to the wet ingredients so the oat mixture is coated evenly, but not soggy.

I did post one granola recipe on this neat website/iOS app called Snapguide. You can get step-by-step visual instructions on many of my recipes there, particularly my Gluten-Free Citrus Granola recipe with video. The guide is actually being featured on the app/website right now. Please note that I use a whole lot less sugar than the granola you get at the grocery stores. I always use honey and maple syrup, not granulated white sugar or corn syrup, as a binder and sweetener for granola. I like granola to be less sweet and I can always add local honey or fresh fruit on top. I estimate my granola has about 1.5 teaspoons (6.3 grams) of sugar per 1/2 cup of granola. The sugar comes from the freshly squeezed orange juice, maple syrup and dried cranberries. I am working on trying to reduce the amount of added sugar even further. Most store bought granola has about ~4 teaspoons (14 grams) of sugar per 1/2 cup serving size and the sugar is usually from corn syrup, white sugar or barley malt (gluten).

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Please let me know in the comments about your favorite granola recipes, toppings, and cooking methods. How do you like to eat granola?

Social Eating: Tips To Stay On Track

It’s finally time for another 3-day holiday! Who couldn’t use a break from the normal Monday routine? Though, the holiday is no excuse to completely throw your health goals off track. Adopt these simple rules and you will not have anything to regret (at least not about your health goals)!

With summer and 4th of July upon us, what better excuse (weather permitting) to dust off the barbeque and enjoy some time outside in the fresh air with family and friends. Creamy macaroni salad¸ buttered corn, burgers, and an 8 layer United States flag cake. Sounds delicious, but not good for any health and fitness goals! Following these simple survival tips will save you hundreds of calories and guilt, without you feeling deprived¸ and keep your health and fitness goals on track.

1. Have Healthy Options Available

Bring or make healthy alternatives to processed meats, dips and macaroni salads. This way you can fill up on the healthiest foods first, without worrying about bad calories and unhealthy fats.  Chicken, fish, vegetables and even fruit are delicious cooked on the barbeque. Chicken Kebobs with tons of veggies grilled are delicious and super simple to make. Other alternatives include fresh salads (made with greens, fruits/vegetables, nuts, and a light dressing) and summer fruits (peaches, plums, berries¸ melons).  This could also be a way for you to introduce your family and friends to tasty¸ healthy foods. Other great recipes can be found here¸ here, and here.

2. Small Plates, Big Health Benefits.

If you keep portion sizes reasonable, it’s easier to eat the foods you want and stay healthy. By using smaller dishes, you can easily avoid “accidentally” eating too many calories. Use a dessert plate or grab one from the children’s table.

3. Mix and Mingle

Choose three or four items you really want to eat, and then step away from the food table so you’re not tempted to graze. You will be less likely to keep mindlessly refilling your plate if you are in the middle of an interesting conversation and standing on the other side of the room from the food. Being with friends and family and having a great time at a BBQ also contributes to overall good health.

4. Go for the Greens

 Skip the chips, bread and crackers. Refined carbohydrates spike your insulin levels, leaving you hungry and craving for more.  Unless it’s amazing, it’s not worth the calories. Make sure to complement any meal with lots of vegetables – especially green leafy veggies like kale or spinach.

5. Make Room for Dessert

Instead of saying “There’s always room for dessert,” actually leave room for it. Eat a little less of everything else so you can have a piece of that cake, cookie or ice-cream. Also, remember portion control!

6. Think before you drink

A drink that is not a glass of water has calories and sugar. Drink at least eight ounces of water or so that your thirst is quenched and stomach already feels a little full.  You will be less likely to chug the alcoholic drink to quench your thirst. Make your choices worthwhile and sip on a glass of wine or beer.

Club Dine In! is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow @clubdinein for daily health, fitness, and social news, recipes and delicious tips! Join the Club Dine In! community on Facebook to connect with like-minded individuals and find out about exclusive Club Dine! events. Be sure to sign-up to receive posts and updates straight into your inbox!

Eating Well On A Tight Schedule: Kale and Quinoa Pilaf

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In the last several months, I have had little time do anything else but work on my startup. It’s a really exciting and busy time for Glamour Games, which means I have very little time for Club Dine In. Though, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been eating well. My health is a priority, so I still try to squeeze in 3-4 workouts per week, grocery shop, and cook. I don’t devote my free time for elaborate meals, but stick to the basics. I still cook and eat fresh, unprocessed food that take 30 minutes or less to make. I am also becoming an expert on making large batches of food, so I only have to cook about 3 nights a week. I mostly make Indian curries, sauteed vegetables over soba noodles or quinoa, and hearty salads.

One of my go-to recipes is the One Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf I found on the Food 52 website. It has a nice balance of protein (quinoa, pine nuts), healthy fats (walnut oil, pine nuts), carbohydrates (quinoa, pine nuts), vitamins and fiber (kale, chives, quinoa). Good quality walnut oil can be expensive, but it’s worth the investment. Walnut oil is delicious and a little really goes a long way. You can also just use a good quality olive oil, but I really do love the flavor the walnut oil lends to this dish. In this recipe, I substitute chives for scallions often. It really is about what I can find at the farmer’s market. When we are tired of kale, I add in arugula (without steaming it) or spinach. I’ve even added a few sprigs of fresh mint to the mix. It’s easy to make this recipe vegan, by nixing the goat cheese altogether. The texture and taste is lighter without the goat cheese and the walnut flavor really comes thru.

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I refuse to eat takeout food near our office, so I bring in food for us everyday. With this dish, I introduced one of our engineers to quinoa and kale. After that, I decided to bring this dish in every Monday for the team. The pilaf also costs a lot less per serving than fast food. A little prep and planning does go a long way for your budget, time and health!

Club Dine In! is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow @clubdinein for daily health, fitness, and social news, recipes and delicious tips!

Farmer’s Market Find: Strawberries and Asparagus!

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We got the first crop of strawberries and asparagus already! Subtle signs that Spring isn’t too far away.  I am not entirely sure, but I think the two strawberry vendors at today’s market were from Southern California, where the weather is much warmer than here. Strawberries are just lovely, but they have a really thin, delicate outer and absorbs the pesticides and is listed number 1 in EWG’s Dirty Dozen list. The Dirty Dozen lists fruit and vegetables exposed to the most pesticides. I will have a lot more on the strawberry issue soon enough- California did silently pass the use of methyl iodide, scientifically proven to be very dangerous.

The take home message here is that buy organic strawberries and ask the farmer questions about their farming technique. I remember seeing one of the strawberry farmer’s last summer and spring at this market but I never talked to them. I wanted to ask them a lot more questions, because I am conflicted on  eating non-organic strawberries, but I got shy! It happens. Though, I did taste the pesticide-free strawberries and it was so good.

Smoked Salmon from Montery Bay’s Blue Ocean Smoke House

I splurged a little and got smoked salmon today ($10/6 ounces). We started eating smoked salmon much more after hiking the Kalalau trail in Kauai.  We packed smoked salmon, hard goat cheese, nuts, and grass-feed roast beef deli meat to sustain us on the two-day, 12 mile hike. Now we eat it for breakfast, a quick snack, or topped on a bed of different vegetables. Of course, we only eat wild Alaskan salmon from sustainable resources. If you are not sure about which fish are safe or sustainable check out the Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch.

Celery Root- Swank Farms

We recently had celery root dessert at Ubuntu- I had no idea it looks like this in its original form.

Cheddar Cauliflower- Swank Hill Farms

No, they don’t taste like cheddar cheese! They are higher in vitamin A (the color) and taste like white cauliflower.

Tat Soi flowers- Happy Boy Farms

The tatsoi flowers are related to broccoli family and have a really nice taste to them. They are not as delicate as they look and taste wonderful sauteed with garlic, ginger, and little soy sauce.

I was at the Ferry Building for breakfast with a friend on Tuesday morning and the Tuesday market was going on. I bought a few oranges, asparagus, and ranunculus. There were tulips too, but I just adore ranunculus. The farmer gave me an awesome tip of just putting a spoonful of sugar in the water to help them bloom. They are still blooming!

Other purchases:

Spinach (Serendipity), Meyer lemons (Hamadas), Cara Cara oranges (Ken’s Top Notch Produce), Leeks (Happy Boy Farms), Button mushrooms (Far West Fungi), and Roma tomatoes (Swank Farms). I spent a total of $32 this week at the farmers market.

 

Did you know that Club Dine In! is on Twitter and Facebook? Follow@clubdinein for daily health, fitness, and social news, recipes and delicious tips! Join the Club Dine In! community on Facebook to connect with like-minded individuals and find out about exclusive Club Dine! events.