Month: March 2014

What SUPP with My Brain?

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I’m sitting here eating an olive oil and spice crusted salmon fillet with a side of roasted asparagus, trying to decide if my topic is thought provoking enough for my first blog post.  To tell you the truth, I chose the topic “memory enhancing foods and supplements” not just because it’s a popular topic, but also to research for my own benefit.  Folks, I’m losing my mind.  Seriously.  While my sisters can remember things from our childhood, down to the very location a certain conversation was had, I can’t seem to remember entire months out of that same year!

funny-old-ladies-bad-memory

I’ve researched all the memory foods: blueberries, cruciferous veggies and leafy greens, walnuts, flaxseed, coconut oil, green tea, coffee, rosemary, cold water and oily fish like salmon… wait—salmon?!  That’s what I’m eating right now!  And come to think of it, I eat ALL of those memory foods quite frequently.  They are staples in my diet.  Although it seems I have the food aspect covered, I want to do more.

We hear so much about supplements that improve cognitive function like ginkgo biloba, Vitamin B12, and choline, to name a few.  In fact, ginkgo biloba has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years!  I did some research to try to connect these notions with science.  I knocked on science’s hopeful, shiny door and was discouraged to find a somewhat muddy answer.

Turns out most studies look at the effects of B12 in the elderly rather than in all adult age ranges, which makes sense as B12 absorption decreases while dementia increases with age.  But still, that’s not very useful to me.  Studies of choline, the essential micronutrient found in eggs, mainly focus on memory development in human infants and animal pregnancy.  Again, not quite what I’m looking for.  I was excited to see a meta-analysis by Laws et. al. look across a wide spectrum of adult ages and include over 2,000 subjects.  My excitement for a strong study faded when I realized they found no impact of ginkgo biloba on a range of cognitive functions like memory, executive function, and attention.

These studies are essential for moving forward, but really, we don’t know all the answers yet.  I trust scientific studies, but I also trust thousands of years of traditional, holistic medicine.  The atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 left at least 90,000 people dead, yet 6 trees within the site remained standing when the smoke cleared and still stand today.  Those hardy tenacious trees are none other than Ginkgo biloba trees.  They stand the test of time as well as radiation and destruction.  Something must be said for this observance, too.  I truly believe science is making great progress but really, more research is needed to fully understand the use of traditional medicines and herbs.

So where do we go from here?  How can we take this knowledge and increase our brainpower??  Well the first step is to focus on getting your nutrients from your diet!  Improve your diet by including a wide variety of whole, clean, unprocessed, nutritious foods, especially those listed above.  Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food (thanks, Hippocrates).

Looking at it in an individualistic approach, specific people could benefit from a supplement while others may not.  Different bodies respond differently to different stimuli. Therefore, it is important to speak with a professional before taking an herbal or supplement since they are not regulated by the FDA.  A professional will be able to help identify drug interactions and recommend safe amounts to take.  And even at safe limits, while a supplement may not harm your body, it may harm your wallet if you continue to take it without any noticeable benefits!

I, personally, think I might try an herbal supplement and see if I notice any benefits like quicker processing speed and better long-term memory.  Hey, I have a $20 coupon for a nutrition store that I received for completing a marathon last year; why not use it?  Maybe my memory will dig up some good, juicy, 10-year-old conversations I had with my sisters years ago, maybe it won’t.

Hmm…now if I could only remember where I put that coupon…

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Spicy Chickpeas with Carrots and Couscous

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Welcome, readers, to my inaugural food post!!  I hope you’re ready for a delicious, spicy weekday dinner recipe that will really titillate your taste buds.  But first, we have something to discuss.  And that something is couscous.  Couswhat?  You may be thinking “blah blah, trendy food alert” but I assure you, you are mistaken!

DSCN1677Couscous has been around for ages, and while it doesn’t look like it, it is actually a tiny pasta.  A staple in many parts of the world, especially North Africa and areas of the Mediterranean and Middle East, it is often served with vegetables and aromatic herbs and spices.   Traditionally it is prepared by hand and steamed, however supermarkets carry a presteamed and dried packaged version that needs only to be reconstituted in boiling water.  I admit I haven’t tried handmade couscous, but after reading about it I am ready to fly to Morocco to try some!

Marrakech dreams aside, the whole wheat couscous in my cupboard will have to suffice.  Most grocery stores carry couscous, whole wheat couscous, and flavored couscous.  I included pictures of various brands that are common in many grocery stores to help in your search.  I encourage you to avoid the flavored ones as they contain a spice packet that is loaded with salt.  Just dust off your spices and create your own flavors!  Between plain and whole wheat couscous, I suggest the whole wheat version.

plain couscous ww couscousseasoned

 

 

 

 

 

Both originate from durum wheat, a hard wheat with a high protein content, however the difference lies in the processing.  Plain couscous is made from semolina, which refers to a processing technique, in this case the grains left after the durum wheat is milled.  The whole wheat version retains the bran and germ of the durum wheat, resulting in a nutrient-packed product that has triple the fiber content compared to the plain couscous!

You won’t see couscous on a list of superfoods (quinoa, I’m talking to you), but that doesn’t mean it should be disregarded.  It has a mild taste that lends itself well to many dishes, and if you prepare the whole wheat version, you’ll be getting 28% of your daily fiber needs in one serving.  Now that is an excellent source of fiber!  If you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to check it out at your local grocery store, and if you like spicy food, then try the recipe below.  As a recent poor graduate student, this meal is budget friendly and quick to prepare on a busy weeknight.  The ingredients reflect 2 servings, and it makes a great next-day lunch.  Most importantly, it’s packed with lots of nutritious goodness from the vegetables, chickpeas, and COUSCOUS!

Spicy Chickpeas with Carrots and Couscous
Spicy Chickpeas with Carrots and Couscous

Ingredients (2 servings)

  • Spice rubDSCN1633
    • 1/2 tsp cumin
    • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
    • 1/4 tsp black pepper
    • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
    • pinch of salt
  • 1 14 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3 med carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 med red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 med onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 1 1/4 cup cooked whole wheat couscous (~1/2 cup dry)
  • handful cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp Sriracha (per serving, optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400⁰

Prepare couscous according to package instructions.

Mix together ingredients for spice rub.DSCN1640

Drain and rinse chickpeas; lay them out on paper towels to dry.  Transfer to a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil.  Sprinkle chickpeas with the spice rub (save some to season the veggies) and toss to coat.  Bake for 30-40 minutes until browned and crispy.

While the chickpeas are roasting, peel and thinly slice/julienne the carrots.  Thinly slice the bell pepper and onion and dice the jalapeno.  The amount of jalapeno used will make the meal more or less spicy, so use as much or as little as you like.

Heat remaining teaspoon of olive oil on med-high in a large skillet.  Add vegetables and sauté, occasionally stirring for 4-5 minutes, until vegetables are crisp-tender.  If you have leftover spice rub, add some of the seasonings to the veggies while they cook.

Combine veggies, couscous, and roasted chickpeas in a large bowl.  Add the cilantro, and if you like, add a bit of Sriracha to your bowl for some added kick.

Nutrition Facts

  • 500 calories
  • 88 g carbohydrate
  • 18 g fiber
  • 20 g protein
  • 10 g fat
  • 340 mg sodium
Dogs want to be healthy, too!!
Dogs want to be healthy, too!!

How to Trust a Nutritionist

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Hi! My name is Allison and I just graduated with a master’s degree in nutrition. I am, essentially, a nutrition expert.  But should you trust me?  Should you believe all of my trendy nutritional factoids?  Let’s experiment with my thoughts on coffee:

Coffee. God I love coffee. The rich flavor.  The heavy aroma. The deep succulent taste that wakes me up with the confidence to tackle life.  Plus, emerging research shows that coffee can prevent depression, keeping drinkers happy and productive.  It is also brimming with antioxidants that fight cancer and keep us energized.  You can feel safe and guilt free drinking coffee regularly.

How was that? A little too bright? Let’s try again:

Coffee is terrible for you. As a nutritionist, I never drink it.  It is an unregulated and addictive substance that yellows your teeth and blackens your heart.  Studies have shown that coffee causes anxiety and depression in regular users.  Plus, it is brimming with carcinogenic toxins that damage your body. You should feel guilty about every cup you drink.*

coffee

Neither paragraph is wrong.  Both are substantiated by scientific studies.  But the nature of science allows us to test and retest theories.  It causes the information we base our recommendations on to improve. To become more complete. 

However, this makes communicating nutritional information tricky. When our opinion on something like cholesterol and heart disease takes a dramatic turn, it causes confusion and distrust.  A recent study showed that seventy-one percent of consumers do not trust food claims from experts.  Seventy-one percent!

The truth is, science, and especially the science of food, is skewed by subjective opinions. With countless nutritional claims, and research studies to support them, almost any statement can be made.  However, not all research is current.  Not every study is legitimate.  And not every expert knows what they’re talking about. Being skeptical about information is healthy.  As a nutritionist, that is my job.  I use my background in hard sciences to interpret the legitimacy of nutritional information, connecting the pieces into one comprehensively delicious picture.

So, hey!  We’re nutritionists and we’re starting a nutrition blog. Our posts will be current, fun and tasty.  But, please, don’t passively believe everything that’s said. Make it a conversation. And together we’ll build some sense of the food we love.

*Allison is a passionate coffee drinker. It pains her to write anything critical about the wonder brew.