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We are a family of four, and three out of the four of us have become kombucha addicts. It’s supposed to be good for you–good for your gut, that is, which means good for your whole body. However, several months into this addiction, I saw a big jump in my grocery bills as a result. At roughly $4 a pop, those 8 oz bottles were beginning to take a larger than acceptable portion of our whole paycheck.

I know lots of people make their own kombucha, so I figured I’d join the movement. However, just about that time, I drank a larger-than-average-sized bottle (12 oz) of kombucha, and got a very upset tummy. My tummy wasn’t just a little gurgly, it was downright knotted up and in pain! (And as luck would have it, this happened the same day one of my dearest friends flew in from NYC, and we had a reservation at one of my favorite wine country eateries– Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch.) Had I been the only one to drink a “bad” bottle kombucha, I would have shrugged it off. But as things stand, I know several people who have experienced a very rough day (and night!) or two due to a bottle gone bad.

water kefirSo that was the end of my relationship with kombucha…. Well, sort of. I was determined to find a probiotic drink, and I’m not a fan of regular probiotic drinks, such as kefir, since they’re made with dairy and incredibly high in calories.

By chance, I had recently read about water kefir. It was marketed as a delicious, lightly-carbonated drink rich in probiotics, and since it didn’t carry any of the bad baggage I had with kombucha, I decided it would be my fermented drink of choice. (In all honesty, water kefir is remarkably similar to kombucha.)

I ordered my water kefir grains from Cultures for Health, the same company from which I got my yogurt starter. Through CFH, you’ll initially spend $16.99 for the grains plus shipping, but then settle in to a joyous period of spending just pennies for quart after quart of water kefir. Once activated, the grains can be used indefinitely!

Water kefir grains after rehydration

Water kefir grains after rehydration

It takes me 5 minutes–read: 5 minutes–to prep two quarts of water kefir, after which, you let the grains work their magic for 48-72 hours. Then voila! You have a lightly-carbonated, refreshing drink that’s delicious as is or flavored any number of ways. (I added fresh-squeezed lemon juice to the first few batches, which made the water kefir taste just like an Arnold Palmer, but now I love it best just plain.) Two quarts lasts us several days, which is how long I ferment my water kefir, so I always have one glass jar in fermentation, and one in the fridge for drinking.

But was it too early to start rejoicing? During a recent excursion to Whole Foods, I happened to overhear an employee lamenting the high sugar content–28 grams(!!), of a particular brand of kombucha (which I won’t name here because if you’re a kombucha drinker and you’re reading this post, I’m betting you’ll take 10 seconds to look at the “nutrition label” next time you reach for a bottle). Due to my nature, I panicked and contacted CFH the second I got home, asking the sugar content of water kefir.

CFH said, “About 80% of the sugar you use in kefir will be converted to glucose, which is used by the grains for nutrition and reproduction, leaving about 20% by volume of fructose. The fructose will continue to ferment and reduce. So if you start out with about 200 calories of sugar (about 1/4 cup) per quart, you’ll end up with about 40 calories of fructose after two days.”

They cautioned that this is a very rough estimate with many variables. However, considering I let mine ferment for three days, I can safely assume there is less than 2 grams of sugar per 8 oz. Whew!

In case you decide to make your own–I really can’t stress how easy and incredibly economical it is, you might like to know that I use 1/4 cup evaporated cane juice crystals and 1/4 cup sucanat per 2 quarts of water.

To happy tummies everywhere!

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Sorry Paleo enthusiasts! There are no animal products on this list of cancer fighting foods, but this list is just that, a list. It isn’t a dietary plan or specific approach to eating. This posting would be far too long if I attempted to describe all the purported anti-cancer benefits associated with specific diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, the Paleo Diet, vegetarianism, veganism, etc.

This list is a compilation of several lists from people I respect in the medical world including those of Dr. David Sevran-Schreiber (who survived brain cancer for more than a decade), the ever-popular Dr. Oz, renowned health guru Dr. Andrew Weil and the beloved Dr. Sears, as well as a few amazing cancer fighters, such as Oneanna65.

This list contains only plants. There’s simply too much controversy about the potential cancer-related health benefits of “meat”–with the exception of salmon. However, overwhelming evidence exists showing the ability of plants to lower our risk of getting some cancers and improve our ability to fight cancerous cells.

Plants protect us in a number of ways. They are full of natural plant compounds called phytochemicals. Some of these are antioxidants which protect and repair our DNA. Some appear to control how cancer cells grow or spread. Others simply lower our risk through the fiber they contain as in the instance of colon cancer.

Here’s the list:

asparagusAsparagus contains glutathione, a very potent antioxidant, and histones, which studies show control cell growth. Asparagus also contains anti-flammatory saponins, and the flavonoids quercetin, rutin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin. It’s also high in fiber and an excellent source of Vitamin K.

Preparation: Saute fresh asparagus in a little olive oil, and serve with a light sprinkling of coarse ground sea salt and a drizzle of truffle oil.

blueberriesBlueberries are thought to be one of the best sources of antioxidants. They also contain ellagic acid, which helps prevent carcinogens from latching onto DNA.

Preparation: Mix blueberries into pancake batter, bake them in muffins, blend them in smoothies and use them in fruit salads and for kids’ snacks.

carrotsCarrots may reduce your risk of heart disease and breast cancer. Carrots are high in the anti-oxidants beta-carotene and falcarinol which studies suggest may help prevent the recurrence of breast cancer and slow the grow of colon tumors.

Preparation: Toss with olive oil and roast in the oven until carmelized, dip them into hummus as a snack or make a creamy carrot soup.

peas

Beans and peas are rich in fiber which is believed to encourage good bacteria in your colon to produce cancer-fighting compounds as well as help move carcinogens through the colon.

Preparation: Add cooked beans to salads and soups.

kale choppedKale, brussel sprouts, broccoli and cabbage–they all belong to the Brassica family and contain indoles, which studies show may stop tumor growth.

Preparation: Blend kale with fruit into a delicious smoothie or combine it with brussel sprouts for a delicious salad.

onionsGarlic and onions–both are from the allium family of vegetables and are powerful cancer fighting foods. Studies indicate they can stop cancer growth in several areas including the stomach, colon, brain and breast. Onions contain sulfur, which fights cancer and harmful bacteria, and garlic helps protect against infections.

Preparation: Add both chopped into nearly every savory dish you cook! Onions are also excellent sliced thick, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and herbs and grilled on an outdoor grill.

Parsley contains cancer fighting polyacetylenes and flavanoids, which may prevent some cancers.

Preparation: Add fresh parsley to smoothies, juices and savory dishes.

shitakesShitake mushrooms contain lentian, which is approved as a treatment for cancer in Japan. In addition, shitake mushrooms contain a compound, known as 1,3-beta glucan, which has been shown to reduce tumor activity and lessen the side effects of cancer treatment.

Preparation: I serve Shitake mushrooms in pasta sauce for my kids, sliced thin and roasted on top of pizzas and in stir fry dishes.

tomatoesTomatoes contain lycopene which prevents cancer cells from growing and dividing. You have the best chance of absorption if you cook your tomatoes in a little olive oil.

Preparation: Make gazpacho to celebrate summer or whip up a marinara sauce for pasta or pizza.

Dr. Sears and Dr. Weil are also big proponents of soy, which contains isoflavones, phytonutrients that inhibit tumor growth. Soy has also been shown to protect against colon cancer by blocking the carcinogenic effects of bile acids.

Of course, there are many other fruits and vegetables which contain important nutrients and may help protect us from cancer. However, this is a good basic list to keep handy and think about when you are cooking for yourself, your family and/or your friends.

Be well!

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My husband and I just returned from a trip to Disneyland. I hadn’t been since I was 7 years old! In fact, since our children had stopped mentioning the trip promised to them when they turned 5, I figured I could just skate through the rest of my life without another visit. However, my mother–bless her heart–didn’t feel we should deprive the children just because a crowded, heavily commercialized amusement park, in the heat and middle of summer wasn’t high on our bucket list. So my sister and niece flew over from the East Coast, we packed up the SUV and drove south.

I have to give Walt a little credit… Yes, the park was crowded, hot and heavily commercialized, but it was also very clean, the people extremely friendly and helpful, and there was something for everyone. I saw the cleanest garbage cans ever, and was impressed by how there was always one within an arm’s reach. Despite the heat, the staff always gave a warm welcome, and voices were only raised if it was a question of safety.

As for the food, since this is a blog about eating and living healthier–I don’t know whether it was Walt himself or a recent change in thinking by the current powers that be, but the restaurants inside the park offered “Disney approved” meals, which meant my kids received organic milk, fresh fruit and green vegetables with their meals. I was impressed. That said, most of the rest of the meals, and nearly all the food outside the official park was remarkably unhealthy.

Because we were on vacation, and perhaps because I was “feeling (a little too much of ) the magic,” I allowed the kids to order some standard fare. And naturally, I was shocked by how basic, bland and unhealthy most of the options were. It reminded me that I’ve been wanting to share some of my easy tips for making everyday kids’ classics healthier–and tastier. They’re small things, minor substitutions, that can have a big impact on texture, taste and nutrition.

 

french toastFrench Toast

Boost anti-inflammatory Omega 3s by adding 2 tbsp of ground golden flax to your egg mixture. My recipe: 2 eggs, 1/2 cup organic cow’s or coconut milk, 2 tbsp flax meal, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract, 1 pinch of iodized sea salt and 2-3 slices of whole-grain bread (spelt preferred).

 

oatmeal pancakesPancakes

Add healthy fiber and protein by making oatmeal pancakes. Here’s my super fast and easy oatmeal pancake recipe or try my egg- and dairy-free Banana Coconut Oat Pancakes. Serve your pancakes with real maple syrup and fresh whole fruit, such as bananas or berries.

 

quesadillaQuesadillas

Use whole-grain spelt tortillas, organic cheese, fresh avocado and black beans (for added protein and fiber).

 

Pasta with Sauce

Use regular or gluten-free whole-grain pasta, such as truRoots Ancient Grains Pasta made from quinoa, amaranth and brown rice, and blend cooked mushrooms, carrots or zucchini into the pasta sauce for added nutrition. My kids love pasta with Secret Vegetable Pasta Sauce even thought they’re old enough to know all the vegetables I’ve “hidden” inside.

 

French Fries

Boost Vitamin A, Vitamin C and B6 levels by making your own “fries,” using sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes, and oven-roasting instead of deep-frying your fries. Recipe here.

Lastly, you can significantly increase nutrition and decrease insulin spikes by substituting whole grain flours for all-purpose white flours, reducing added sugar and increasing fiber content. I would also suggest using organic ingredients where it matters most (see the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen).

 

Happy, healthier eating!

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granola close

 

A couple of months ago, I decided to take a food sensitivity test–one of many commonly referred to as IgG testing–that looks for the presence of antibodies as an indication of what foods a person might not tolerate well. Obviously, if I had a severe allergy to a particular food, it would be plain once I ate that food… I would get hives, shortness of breath, start sneezing, have stomach pain, etc. For example, I know I’m allergic to the sulfites in wine, and after drinking even half a glass, I tend to get a stuffy nose, slight headache and flushing (a “blush” on a good portion of my body). And I’ve known for a few years now that I don’t tolerate dairy very well. This is why you’ll often see me mention milk substitutes, such as coconut and almond in my recipes. Just like with wine, it’s not as though I go into anaphylactic shock or anything remotely close; my body’s reaction is much more subtle–a few annoyances or pains here and there, and a slightly crummy feeling, but not enough to keep me from enjoying the things I love.

The exception is quinoa… Ah, yes, my (formerly) beloved quinoa. I used to eat loads of it–with fresh fruit and almond milk as my morning cereal, as a substitute grain for wheat, and in salads and “burgers”–and then about this time last year, I started having a reaction. At first it was a little nausea and stomach cramping, which I quickly blamed on other things. However, over a three month period, the nausea and cramping became more and more severe culminating in an episode last October where I was in so much pain, and experiencing such horrific nausea, that 1) I was able to definitively pinpoint quinoa as the culprit; and 2) I had to call my doctor after hours to prescribe an anti-nausea medicine so I could get off the bathroom floor and sleep away some of the reaction. (It turns out many others have, over time, developed an allergy to quinoa, as a quick search on Google will reveal. The experts are undecided as to whether it’s a reaction to one of the proteins contained in the grain or a reaction to the natural insecticide the plant produces.)

Since I’ve suspected for years that I am intolerant of a few other things that I eat regularly, I decided to have the IgG testing done. My doctor (head of an integrative practice) ordered the test, which costs approximately $250 out of pocket, as many insurance companies do not consider it a reliable way of testing for food allergies. The lab tech withdrew a little blood, and I sat impatiently for several weeks, eagerly anticipating the news.

Well, I have to say, the results proved surprising and perhaps a little disappointing. For example, the results confirmed my belief that I have a general intolerance to cow’s milk and cow’s milk products, but indicated goat milk is perfectly fine. I am somewhat skeptical of this, as I find that even goat milk products slightly aggravate my system. The results also indicated I have a moderate allergy to pineapple and green peppers. (I’ve never had an obvious reaction.) Aggravatingly, the test doesn’t indicate if I should avoid green bell peppers or all green peppers. (This would be an important distinction since I regularly eat jalapeño peppers in my guacamole, and occasionally use serrano peppers in my sauces.) I appear to have no problem with wheat or gluten, although I still think it’s wise to reduce these in my diet based on all the research that’s being conducted in this area.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was that the results indicate I am strongly–not severely–allergic to eggs, both the yolk and white. Now considering I believe eggs to be one of the most perfect foods in the world, and since I don’t eat mammals and rely heavily on eggs for protein, I wasn’t very happy to receive this news. My doctor said my allergy may not be permanent and suggested I give up eggs for 1-2 months to test my allergy. Right. Well I can’t seem to make it even one week without unwittingly consuming eggs. While I am not intentionally eating any (with one or two exceptions), eggs are in nearly everything I don’t make myself. Since I cook 90 percent of our meals from scratch, I will go for several days without eating anything containing eggs. Then suddenly, I have a piece of gluten-free sandwich bread and lo and behold–the bread was made with eggs! If there was widespread agreement that IgG testing is a reliable means of determining food allergies or intolerances, then I would make a much more concerted effort to avoid consuming egg for the suggested 1-2 months. However, since the value of the test is questionable, and since I’ve never had a noticeable reaction to eating eggs, I’m inclined not to give them up entirely.

That said, I’m doing my best to avoid eggs for the time being. Trying to avoid eggs has made my breakfasts a bit more challenging, and reminded me that I hadn’t shared my recipe for Maple Pecan Granola. This recipe is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and protein, and granola has to be one of the easiest things to make. Just add a little plain yogurt or almond milk and a handful of fresh berries, and you have a delicious, hearty breakfast. The biggest benefit to making your own is that you can control how much sweetener and fat (and which kinds) are in your granola. Most granolas found in your local supermarket contain loads of sugar and fats. That’s what enables the great, big crunchy chunks many brands contain. However, many of those granolas aren’t much different from a candy bar that happens to contain a few healthy ingredients. My recipe produces approximately 11-12 cups of granola using relatively little sweetener and the fat of your choice.

 

Ingredients

4 cups thick rolled oats

1 cup sliced almonds

2 cups organic pecans, coarsely chopped

1 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/2 cup ground golden flaxseed

8 tbsp coconut oil (you can use sunflower or safflower, too)

12 tbsp pure maple syrup

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 cup dried juice-sweetened cranberries, blueberries or dates, coarsely chopped

 

granola nutsgranola piles

 

Method

Preheat oven to 325F.

Combine coconut oil and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat until melted. Combine oats, almonds, nuts, seeds, cinnamon, salt and shredded coconut in a large rimmed baking sheet and stir to mix. Gently whisk the oil/syrup mixture and pour over the dry ingredients. Stir well to coat evenly.

Bake in the center of the oven for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the nuts are nicely toasted. Remove from the oven and stir in the chopped dried fruit while still warm. Allow to cool completely before putting in an airtight container. You can store it for up to 2 weeks.

Enjoy!

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crackers

 

In my recent quest to eliminate nearly any pre-made, cracker-like food from our home, I’ve managed to get the kids to nearly always come to expect and request only whole foods (carrots, apples, bananas). The exception is cheese, which none of us will be weaning ourselves from any time soon. I reserve cheese eating for special occasions, but the kids eat some amount practically every day. The only cracker-like food I still buy is organic, corn tortilla chips. We love guacamole and my husband and I are addicted to salsa.

We also recently implemented a new rule about sweets; we call it “Sweet Sunday.” Essentially, we abstain from eating any sweets every day except Sunday. But on Sunday, I don’t criticize WHAT they choose as their sweet indulgences. (They get two.) It can be a piece of cake and an ice cream cone. Or maybe it’s a piece of candy and a big cookie. I do draw the line at synthetically-colored, chemical-infused candies, but pretty much anything else goes. A friend recently visiting from Brazil made the suggestion. I seriously questioned whether our two little sweet tooths could come to accept this fairly rigid (even for me!) structure, but they have. Even the first week was a breeze, although I did get regularly asked, “How many more days is it until Sunday?”

All that aside, we still use maple syrup on our waffles and pancakes, so it’s not as though there’s no added “sugar” to our Mondays through Saturdays. And to make sure they don’t feel deprived, I blend up naturally sweet fruit smoothies and occasionally make my own “crackers.” These* are somewhere between a cookie and a cracker since they use a little sugar. They’re fun to make because everyone can participate, which makes eating the eating even sweeter.

crackers doughcrackers

 

Ingredients

1/2 cup whole-grain spelt flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I use all-purpose Einkhorn flour)

1/4 cup pulverized walnuts or almond flour/meal

1/2 cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut, pulverized

1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil, softened

1/4 cup natural cane sugar

1/4 tsp salt

Dash of ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1-2 tbsp large-grain turbinado sugar

 

Method

In a medium-sized bowl, blend coconut oil, sugar and vanilla until the mixture is the consistency of frosting.

In another bowl, whisk together the flours, pulverized nuts and coconut and salt until well blended. Add to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Divide into two balls. Wrap each ball in wax paper and refrigerate for 1 hour.

When you’re ready to roll the cookies, preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two baking trays or line with parchment paper.

Sprinkle a clean surface with the flour of your choice. Carefully roll out one dough ball until it’s 1/8-inch thick. Using floured cookie cutters, cut out shapes and place on cookie sheet. Sprinkle with the large sugar granules. Note: if the cookie dough is crumbling too much, let it sit out at room temperature for a short while and try rolling again.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until outermost edges start to golden. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Store completely cooled leftovers in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

Happy snacking!

 

*Recipe adapted from 101 Cookbooks

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banana oat pancakesAdapted from Whole Living Magazine

Naturally sweet and high in fiber and protein, these  gluten-free pancakes will keep you going from breakfast to lunch without needing a snack in between. The coconut gives a little “crunch” (for lack of a better word), and the banana and orange juice add great flavor and sweetness. These pancakes also provide a high amount of Omega-3–2,100 mg per serving!

You can leave out the egg if you want to make your pancakes vegan in addition to gluten-free. I think the egg makes for a slightly better consistency, and I like the added protein.

banana oat pancakes 2Ingredients

1 ripe banana, mashed

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

6 tbsp flaxmeal

4 tsp coconut oil, melted

1 large egg (optional)

3/4 cup orange juice (1/2 cup if adding the egg)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup oat flour

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp sea salt

Preparation

Mix first four ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl and let stand until thick, about 10 minutes.

Whisk in the orange juice, vanilla extract and egg (if using). Stir in remaining ingredients and mix until well blended. The batter will be very thick.

Heat 1 tsp coconut oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, spoon approximately 1/4 cup batter into pan and flatten into a 3-inch round with the back of a large spoon or spatula. Cook until golden brown, flipping once, about 4-6 minutes per side.

Serve immediately with a drizzle of maple syrup or honey and fresh orange segments or other fresh fruit.

Serves 4.

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lentil soupMaybe it’s due to the constantly changing weather we’ve been having where I live–hot enough for shorts one day, cool, wet and sweater-required the next–but I starting craving lentil soup. I must have 10 recipes for lentil soup, not all of which I’ve made, and not one of which I’ve made did I love. However, I happened upon a version of this recipe in a past issue of Martha Stewart Living, and had it tucked away in my mind and in my recipe binder.

I made the soup last night, tweaking the original recipe just a tad–delicious! I loved the balance of the curry with the coconut, and the sweet/sour combination in the dried cherries. The color combination of golden orange, dark red and green was beautiful to the eyes as well.

In addition to being tasty and easy to prepare, this soup is hearty and nutritious. Lentils are an excellent low-fat, low-sodium, high-protein (17 grams per cup!) and high-fiber (nearly 16 grams per cup) food. They also pack a punch of folate which your body needs for iron production. This recipe also contains a hefty amount of ginger and garlic–two ingredients with known anti-cancer properties, and carrots, an excellent source of Vitamin A and beta-carotenes.

You could serve this as a starter, but I find lentils so hearty that I recommend making this your main dish accompanied by a simple side salad.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp finely chopped peeled ginger (approximately a 2-inch piece)

4-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2-3 carrots, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 tsp mild curry powder

1 1/4 tsp sea salt

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (quality matters; I like Native Forest Organic Coconut Milk)

1 tbsp maple syrup

1 cup red lentils

1/3 cup chopped dried cherries (unsweetened)

3 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves

Preparation

Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add ginger, garlic, shallot and carrots, and cook, stirring frequently until all have softened, approximately 7-10 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant.

Add salt, 1/2 cup of the coconut milk, maple syrup, 4 cups filtered water and the lentils. Bring to a boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils and carrots are completely cooked, 10-12 minutes. Puree to desired consistency in a blender.

Divide into four bowls. Swirl in the remaining coconut milk, and garnish with the chopped dried cherries and cilantro. Serve immediately.

Eat well, be well, live well!

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