Gently Spiced Beet + Orange Smoothie

It seems we’re fully into the new year now. The Christmas decor is all taken down, the neighborhood immersed back into winter darkness without the festive lights. We’re all back to work and school, business and workouts as usual. Back into our old routines and maybe struggling with any resolutions made at the turn of the decade.

I suspect like a lot of people, I didn’t actually make any concrete resolutions. But I did reflect on the old year, realizing a lot of good progress on ‘overall health and happiness’ was cemented in 2019. And since I like the changes I made to get there, I’m continuing to put an effort into them.

Because there’s still progress to be made. The last several years have brought so many health challenges my way, and I’m finally seeing real longer-term improvement.

Since I work within the public health and nutrition industries, I read a lot this time of year about the best diets, and this and that. Veganuary is under way, the climate crisis and wildfires in Australia are on the top of many individuals’ minds, and reducing plastics are a topic of discussion–in Oregon, we’ve finally instated a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags–which seems archaic that we’re only just now getting there when it was standard practice 12 years ago when I first traveled to Europe.

But that’s a topic for another day–though one I do want to get to.

It came across my newsfeed today that despite the massive media attention given to the best way of eating, of working out, of ‘self-care’ – ing, etc., the best way is still personalized nutrition and integrative health. Which means one size does not fit all. And sometimes one size doesn’t even fit most.

I made a big list this morning of the positive health changes I saw come to fruition last year and after looking them all over, I realized two big foundational pieces stood out. One, I received a comprehensive micronutrient test to measure my intracellular nutrient values – as opposed to the not as reliable serum markers that a doctor might measure (which don’t show whether nutrients are actually making their way into the cells to be utilized); and I drastically reduced my stress.

Even though I was already ‘walking my talk,’ through diet, my micronutrient test showed otherwise. You may have heard the saying ‘we aren’t what we eat, we’re what we digest.’ Coming in after marathon training and a particularly bad-timing autoimmune flare, my micronutrient status was sub-optimal in many random not obvious nutrients.

What followed were several months of repletion, and continued focus on gut health to actually absorb those precious nutrients. And feeling substantially better.

But I was also frequently reminded about the link between stress and nutrition. When stressed, we use up nutrients faster and we don’t absorb them as well, because the stressed brain and body is not a resting and digesting brain and body. That means we need to try to eat in a relaxed mindset. The smoothie I’m sharing below can cause me an uncomfortable, bloated tummy on days when I eat it at my work office in a rush, or when there’s too much stimulus in the building. And on other days when I’m relaxed, it has no such negative effects.

Likewise, partially ‘mechanically broken down’ foods like soups and smoothies help our stressed systems get more nutrients in the system when we need them.

Beyond practices that help me keep daily stress in check and continuing to work on optimally digesting / absorbing my foods, I’ve also given myself a little personalized nutrition challenge to incorporate more beets and greens in this winter season. I chose these two specifically given several months of bloodwork results, but they’re incredibly health promoting for most of us.

This daily smoothie, which I often have for a mid-afternoon snack, is my current go-to.

Spiced Beets and Orange Smoothie, makes 1 ~16 oz.
To prep for several days of smoothies, I wrap a few medium beets in foil and roast them all together to use as needed. Though the ingredients might seem tedious with this and that random seed and nut, I’ve included a range of them to hit more of the antioxidant micronutrients we need. Use whatever protein powder is appropriate for you, or if you don’t need extra protein – simply leave out.

1 orange, peeled and sectioned
1 medium beet, roasted
20 grams / 1/2 a scoop vanilla protein powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cardamom
a small handful spinach or other greens, or 1-3 tsp. moringa powder
1 tsp. chia seeds
1 Brazil nut
1 Tbs. raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds
1/2 – 1 cup water, to desired consistency

  • Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender and puree until smooth. Double batch, divide, and store in the fridge if you prefer a couple days’ worth at a time.

All Healing Anti-Inflammatory Green Soup

This time of year with the dark days, cold mornings, and heavy clouds, my system desires to go internal even more than usual. If I had my way I’d stay home, work from home, and spend the winter in the remote countryside or forest to calibrate even more with what nature does in this season (i.e. rest) rather than partake in all the festivities.

This is not to say I don’t enjoy socializing, but too much noise, people, stimulus, clutter, travel, and food really compromises my wellbeing. I think a lot of us can relate.

This is especially true when it comes to how the holiday season can be havoc on the digestive system. For the last few years, I’ve taken to making the first couple months of the new year about resetting my system with healing anti-inflammatory meals because the time between mid-November and January can mean weeks of need for digestive ‘rest’ and healing, even when I try to be careful and deliberate about what foods I choose during these weeks. I believe a big part of this is because digestion is so much more that what we eat. It’s also how we eat, and in what environment.

It is very difficult to digest, absorb, and assimilate properly when the nervous system is not in rest and digest mode. And for those of us that are a bit extra sensitive, that state of relaxation can be challenging to achieve in these special, celebratory weeks.

I’ve spoken to a number of nutrition clients the last few weeks with similar dietary constraints as mine. They’ve all reflected how I’ve felt and dealt with the season: trying to simultaneously take care of themselves while not wanting to be too much of a bother to others or completely self-deprive from the feasting foods. Over time, I’ve been slowly advocating for myself more, speaking out about my needs and being an assertive houseguest by opting for my own meals rather than risk options that I know will lead to discomfort later. For some, this is especially important–but so too is taking a time out and getting into a state of relaxation as much as possible between or during the holiday gatherings.

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A few things I’ve taken to lately is adding Ayurvedic spices to many meals such as cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, cardamom, turmeric, and ginger, as well as loading up on lots of anti-inflammatory greens, warm soupy meals, and herbal tea to support my extra finicky digestion. This soup is a good base for this type of eating and it’s high on my list to make this week after Thanksgiving. I tend to cook the split mung beans or red lentils, and then puree the greens and remaining ingredients raw, gently warm them, and then serve. That way the nutrients and good bacteria from the miso that degrade with heat are still present, and food that is pureed makes eating even easier on compromised digestion.

Anti-Inflammatory Green Soup, serves 3-4

1 cup split mung dal or red lentils
2 ounces (2 handfuls) turnip greens, kale, or spinach, de-stemmed
1
 large celery stalk
1
 ounce parsley leaves (1 handful)
1
 ounce cilantro leaves (1 handful)
1
 clove garlic
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. ground fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. turmeric
1
 tablespoon white miso
2
 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/4 cup whole-fat coconut milk (or 1 Tbs. coconut butter)
2 cups
 water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt and black pepper
Optional Toppings: Sunflower + Brazil Nut Sprinkle (below), thinly sliced spring turnips or radishes, minced celery, parsley, or cilantro

  1. Combine the split mung dal and water in a medium pot. Bring to a boil and then turn town to low simmer and cook until they are soft. Cool slightly, and then transfer to a high speed blender along with the greens, celery, parsley, cilantro, garlic, spices, miso, nutritional yeast, and the water. Puree until smooth.
  2. Transfer back to the pot and add the coconut milk, apple cider vinegar and salt and pepper. Heat gently until hot but not simmering. Taste, and adjust with a bit of salt, vinegar, or more miso, if needed.
  3. Serve topped with whatever toppings you have on hand or prefer.

Sunflower + Brazil Nut Sprinkle
1/2 cup brazil nuts and sunflower seeds, toasted
1 1/2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

  1. In a food processor, combine 1/2 cup of toasted nuts and seeds (in ratio you desire) with the nutritional yeast and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse until broken down into a ‘sprinkle’ texture, but not yet a paste. Add to the top of soups, salads, and other meals for a nutrient boost and texture contrast.

a primer on cooking with fats and oils + quick-sautéed greens

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One of my goals for this space this year is to share a nutrition tip each month which can guide us towards preparing and enjoying better meals. I’ve been sitting on this first topic for the better part of the last year, and it’s one that has been increasingly on my mind.

Let’s talk about cooking with different types of fats and oils.

For quite some time, I’ve tended to use olive or coconut oil for a lot of recipes. Up until a few years ago, I almost exclusively used extra virgin olive oil for all purposes outside baking sweets, at all temperatures. While I was familiar with the term “smoke point,” I never thought much of it, because I never saw smoke. What I didn’t realize was that I was wrong.

While there are many different kinds of fats and oils, some are more delicate than others, meaning their beneficial compounds break down or oxidize easily, creating harmful chemicals in the process. Those chemicals damage cells, promote widespread internal (and invisible) inflammation, and lead to a vast number of health concerns now considered common such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The three factors that cause fats and oils to oxidize and create harmful chemicals include exposure to heat, light, and oxygen, and the more unsaturated a fat is, and thus a lower smoke point, the more easily one of these factors will cause it to become highly inflammatory to our system.

My longtime go-to, extra virgin olive oil, is similar to most vegetable/plant oils, and is not particularly stable at temperatures above 320 degrees F (its smoke point). This means it is not suitable for stir-frying, sautéing, baking or roasting, or other high-heat cooking methods. What’s more, unsaturated oils such as corn, soybean, sunflower, and others which we’ve heard can stand up to high heat have instead been found to break down extremely easily at high temperature. In research, these were found to be some of the worst types of oil to cook with.

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So the question remains: what type of fat or oil can you use (safely) for high temperature cooking, such as roasting, baking, sautéing, and stir-frying?

Essentially, I no longer recommend cooking much above 350 degrees using any type of fat or oil unless it’s a special occasion. But when those high-heat-necessary meals are prepared, using fats that are more stable (and thus more saturated), hold up the best. This means coconut oil, butter and ghee (if you’re not sensitive to or actively avoiding dairy) are best. The other option is to choose a lesser quality (non virgin) olive, sesame oil, and possibly small amounts of non-gmo canola oil for baking. These oils are rich in monounsaturated fats, which tend to be slightly more stable at temperatures up to 350 degrees. And because they’re less refined and ideally cold-pressed, that fatty acid oxidation won’t be happening as much during the processing/pressing, since we’re aiming to avoid oxidized and rancid oils, especially before they even makes it home to cook with!

This also leaves the really-good-for-you extra virgin olive oil, as well as omega-3 rich flax and walnut, for drizzling on dishes after they’re off the heat. And if you really want to get right down to it, using less oil of all types and more fat-rich whole foods (like nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados) can never be a bad way to go.

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Quick Sautéed Greens, serves 1-2
Early in the new year might be the time when some of us are actively adding more greens to our routines, but a cold kale or green salad is often not the best when it’s cold outside and we’re bundled in layers. This is my favorite way to eat greens in the winter. The cooking process takes but a minute and the result is garlic-y, lightly spiced, and delectable. They’re a great addition to almost any meal. 

1 tsp. unrefined coconut oil
1 large clove garlic, smashed and minced
1 bunch winter greens (Collards, Kale, Swiss chard, etc.), stems chopped, leaves sliced
1 tsp. grounding masala, optional
salt and pepper to taste

  • In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high. Add stems from the greens and allow to cook until beginning to soften.
  • Then add in the garlic, sliced leaves, and masala and heat just until the leaves begin to wilt. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

RESOURCES:
Malhotra, A. (2016). The toxic truth about vegetable oil: Cooking with ‘healthy’ fats increases the risk of disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3574810/The-toxic-truth-vegetable-oil-Cooking-healthy-fats-increases-risk-heart-disease-type-2-diabetes-cancer.html?utm_sq=fjjqojxgyn.

Peng, C.Y., Lan, C.H., Lin, P.C., and Kuo, Y.C. (2017). Effects of cooking method, cooking oil, and food type on aldehyde emissions in cooking oil fumes. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 324(Pt B), 160-167. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2016.10.045.

Pitchford, P. (2002). Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Uribarri, J., Woodruff, S., Goodman, S., Cai, W., Chen, X.,…and Vlassara, H. (2010). Advanced glycation end products in food and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(6), 911-16.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.018.