When we think of protein, we often think of animal foods. Did you know that pulses, also known as legumes, provide a substantial amount of protein and carbohydrates along with numerous vitamins and minerals? I’m exploring peas (Pisum sativum) today since they are a favorite spring food of mine and plentiful at the local farmers markets. Generally, we enjoy peas as edible-podded sugar snaps, shelled garden peas or snow peas. Of course we can’t forget about those delicious, tender pea shoots, too! Peas can be consumed raw, steamed, sautéed in water or stock, used in a stir-fry or pureed into a dip, smoothie or cold soup. The delicate tendrils or shoots are great in a salad or swirled in a soup.
Now these beautiful spring green pulses pack a mighty punch. They are full of nutrients including vitamin K, C, E and several Bs, beta-carotene manganese, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, phosphorus, calcium and potassium. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids in the from of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Rich in antioxidants, peas are anti-inflammatory and have been show to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Their anti-inflammatory benefits can also be helpful in slowing cardiovascular disease.
Like other legumes, peas are rich in fiber and protein which makes them great blood sugar regulators. They are therapeutic for the digestive system and have an affinity for the liver, stomach, spleen and pancreas. One caution: peas ontain purines which can sometimes aggravate gout or kidney stones. So, if you fall into that category, you may have to moderate your pea intake.
Here is one of my favorite spring soups! This version was created by my friend and colleague Ellen Siegel. You can also minimize the water or stock and make it into a wonderful dip and serve it on toasted whole grain baguette or crackers.
Minted Green Pea Soup
- 4-6 cloves of garlic or 1 large shallot, minced and dry roasted
- ½ cup nut milk, yoghurt, crème fraîche, sour cream, heavy cream or half and half
- 1 – 1 ½ cups water or stock or to desired consistency
- 2 sprigs of mint, about 6 inches in total stem length
- 1 pound of frozen petite peas (or fresh, but they must be blanched first)
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- strips of fresh mint for garnish and a dollop of yoghurt, crème fraîche or sour cream
- In a medium saucepan (2 1/2 to 3 quart) dry roast garlic and or shallots for a couple of minutes.
- In a blender or food processor, add the peas, water or stock, nut milk or cream, garlic and mint springs and blend/process to a smooth consistency. Add more water or cream as necessary.
- Taste and correct seasoning.
- Chill in the refrigerator and let the flavors meld. You can also heat the soup to serve warm. Serve garnished with crème fraîche and mint strips.
Embrace Sweet Vegetables & Sweet Spices.
Incorporating sweet winter vegetables such as parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, sweet potatoes and winter squash into your diet is a healthy way to satisfy sweet cravings or prevent them in general. They beauty of these hearty sweet vegetables is that they can be used in savory dishes as well as desserts. Aduki beans and short brown rice and also be used to create healthy sweet treats. You can also experiment with spices such as allspice, cloves, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon which impart a sweet flavor to any dish. Cinnamon, cloves and bay leaves have been found to triple insulin’s ability to metabolize sugar and remove it from the blood so use them liberally this Holiday season!
Experiment with Natural Sweeteners.
Why use sweet vegetables and natural sweeteners in our Holiday cooking and baking? Refined sugars interfere with the absorption and transport of many important nutrients. Sugar and refined carbohydrates increase the excretion of B vitamins, vitamin C and most minerals including calcium, magnesium and chromium. In addition, minerals such as chromium, manganese and zinc are in short supply in the average diet (partly due to diet and partly due to the lack of minerals in our soils) and are needed to control blood sugar levels. Experimenting with natural sweeteners that still contain fiber, vitamins and minerals can keep your body from depleting vital nutrients and becoming acidic.
Consider trying one or more of the following, this Holiday season:
raw unrefined cane sugar (Rapadura)
brown rice syrup
This is the time of year when folks pick up pounds of candy from Costco, Safeway, Target and other stores in anticipation of eager trick-or-treaters. Unfortunately, many of these yummy candy bars are full of partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavoring. So, what do you do if you want to give the kids a sweet treat, but aren’t comfortable with handing out artificial junk? If you have the time, making little snack packs with home-made trail mix or individually wrapped home-made cookies would be ideal, but many of us are busy can barely make it to the store to pick up something pre-made. So what is a parent to give to his/her costumed visitors that keeps the Halloween spirit alive without the scary ingredients? Well, fortunately there are some healthier alternatives out there that can be purchased at Whole Foods, a local natural foods store or ordered on-line. In the DC metro area, I have found some great treats at My Organic Market. So here are a few recommendations for you to check out:
Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks
Bare Fruit Snacks
Endangered Species Organic Bites
Envirokidz Mini Treats Koala Chocolate Rice Crispy Bars
Ms. May’s Naturals Freeze Dried Fruit Chips
Stretch Island Fruit Leathers
You can also give out packets of raisins, trail mix, and none food items such as pencils, stickers, fake bugs and other fun trinkets. I have to admit that I have had mixed reviews with the “healthy” candy that I have given out in the past. I generally do a combination of the fruit leathers, mini-chocolates, mini-rice crispy bars and dried fruit snacks. Kids either love them or are not impressed in the least and feel they have made a wasted trip to the door. I have had kids tell me that I give out the “best treats ever” while others have peered into my candy basket, turned around and muttered, “that wasn’t even worth the walk down the driveway.” I’m hoping that they remember me after they have tasted my healthier treat alternatives and visit again. In fact, I have had several repeat trick-or-treaters over the years who remember me as the “lady with the fruit leather.” We’ll see what happens this coming Monday. I encourage you to experiment with a variety of these products because you may just have given a kid one less fake sugar-laden, rancid fat-filled, artificially colored and flavored “candy bar.”
So, Parents, I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck you do with all that loot that comes home? The most important thing is too not make a big deal about the candy. Allow your child to indulge on candy for a day or two and then you can set some guidelines together. For example, you can tell you child they can only have one piece per day, but they can choose which piece of candy and when they will eat it. You can suggest to them that you donate the leftovers. At some point they will get sick of it – literally and figuratively. Also, if you’re rationing the candy, you might consider following the same guidelines so as not to create confusion or contradictions. Most importantly, be sure to share mindful eating techniques with your kids. Sit down with your child and show them how to savor that sweet treat and enjoy every moment of it. Explore and discuss the taste, shape, texture and smells of the candy. You don’t want your kids to feel any guilt around any type of food, no matter how “junky” it might be. This will go along way in developing healthy relationships around food for your child and even for you!
Fall is a time of transition both in our bodies and our minds. I love all of the beautiful fall crops, but I am particular fond of winter squash with all of their shades of orange and yellow flesh. Of course, I’m also a fan of sweet potatoes, dark leafy cool weather greens such as kale and watercress and root veggies like carrots, turnips, radishes, rutabagas and beets. These foods can help us to prepare for the changes that autumn and winter bring us. If you are a believer in food energetics, like me, you know that root vegetables are grounding and and strengthen the digestive system by detoxifying the liver and aiding the spleen and pancreas.
According to Paul Pitchford, pumpkin, a type of winter squash, relieves damp conditions such as “dysentery, eczema and edema.” The compounds in pumpkin help to clear out mucus from the longs and throat which is great news for fall allergy sufferers. It’s also a great treat for those sweet cravings and helps regulate blood sugar levels. Pumpkin and other winter squash are chock full of beta-carotene and help reduce inflammation in the body.
If you’re interested in learning more about these Fall Foods, Join myself and Whole Foods Chef, Ellen Siegel for our quarterly Fall Healthy Explorations Program, “Fall Foods & Soups,” at the Greenbelt Youth Center on October 4th at 7pm. Learn how to incorporate a variety of produce from the season into your menu plans. We’ll focus on healthy, hearty soups in particular. The event is FREE and sponsored by the Greenbelt Co-op Supermarket and Pharmacy, but you must register by October 3rd at email@example.com or 301.474.0522, ext. 205.
Here’s a soup recipe teaser from Food & Wine…
- 2 large butternut squash (5 pounds total)—halved lengthwise, peeled and seeded
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 leek, white and tender green part only, thinly sliced
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 6 cups water
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 thyme sprig
- Coconut shavings, for garnish (optional)