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I’m sure you’ve heard about the amazingly robust and powerful superfood, Maca. As one of my top favorite superfoods, next to Cacao and Goji Berries, I enjoy Maca on a daily basis. Whether I whizz a tablespoon into my morning smoothie or add half a cup to the batter while making yummy raw onion bread, Maca’s versatility and untold health benefits make it one of the most powerful superfoods in the world.
Hailing from the Peruvian Andes of South America, Maca is the highest altitude crop in the world, growing around 4300m. Since it grows in extreme conditions, it is good for people who push their bodies to the extreme. Whether you are an athlete, live in an extreme climate, or need to cope with the stress of modern life, Maca can benefit you in many ways.
Maca comes from the cruciferous family (kale, broccoli, cabbage, turnip) but have more of a nutty or butterscotch flavor. You can find Red Maca, Black Maca and Yellow Maca in powdered form in many health food stores. All three varieties are extremely healthful but have particular areas in which they benefit more or less than the other. Have a look here for more info on the different varieties.
6 Health Benefits of Using Maca
1. Relieves Stress – The oxford dictionary defines an adaptogen as “a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.” Maca increases blood oxygen content, thus helping us adapt to physical and environmental stressors. This normalizing effect is called homeostasis, our body in perfect balance as it should be in nature. Another well-known adaptogen is ginseng.
2. Increases Energy and Stamina – The Incans knew of Maca’s ability to prolong energy and stamina. They even used it as an Incan currency in Pre- and Post-conquest times in Spain.
3. Increases Libido – High in minerals such as calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sulfur, tin and zinc, Maca has aphrodisiac qualities and has been touted to increase libido for many centuries. Studies have found that Maca increases sperm production, boosts fertility and is also a natural anti-depressant. More of these studies can be found here.
4. Balances Hormones – Because Maca especially supports the endocrine system, it has positive effects on your adrenal hormones and can in fact repair exhausted adrenal glands.
5. Regulates Thyroid Function – Another positive health benefit of Maca is that it can help regulate healthy thyroid function, how fast or slow you burn this energy.
6. Increases Energy – By balancing hormones, providing plenty of protein and amino acids to build muscle, increasing stamina and oxygen in blood, Maca increases vitality and energy throughout the whole body.
For more info and recipes with maca, check out this article on easyhealthysmoothie.com!
Admit it, most of us eat fast, a little too fast. In the minutes it takes us to politely devour the food presented to us, do we really take the time to enjoy the hours of preparation and multitude of people behind its process from farm to table? And in those few minutes, how much of what we eat do we really taste? Over the last few years, I’ve had to teach myself to chew once again. I had realized that my multitasking persona was cramming ‘eating’ into the ‘to do’ list. As Simone Samuels gives us tips to improve digestion, food combining takes it one step further.
As the holidays have past once again, the focus on food and family blends back into our day to day. Surely some of us are still feeling the effects of the holiday feast. But, the holidays are not the only time we overindulge. Many of us from time to time, whether at a staff function or a best friend’s birthday party, tend to eat a little too much. The quick fix; undo the top button on our pants and park ourselves on the couch, undoubtedly with a big smile and a mild case of indigestion. How do our bodies so magically take the muddle in our tummies and turn it into fuel that nourishes us? In the case of the special occasion smorg, not so well. With a little foresight, we can evade the yawning and bloated belly every time we eat.
The concept of food combining has intrigued me for some time. In our stomach, sits the gurgling hydrochloric acid chalk full of digestive enzymes ready to destroy the next morsel that falls in. But this powerful brew can only handle so much at a time. When we reach for the potatoes and miso gravy, our tummy will be ready. When we start adding everything but the kitchen sink on top, it becomes a little confused. Starches and proteins take different concentrations of hydrochloric acid, different unique enzymes and also different amounts of time to break down into the simple sugars that fuel our bodies and minds. If the starches get broken down first, the proteins pass through the stomach improperly digested and thus a slew of digestive issues may occur from contaminated blood to decreased nutrient assimilation. And while proteins convert into amino acids during digestion, the starches will have already started to ferment and you may feel nauseous and bloated. Improper food combining over a long period of time may even cause degenerative conditions.
For people with health challenges and digestive issues, eating as simply as possible will allow for better nutrient absorption and more energy to spend elsewhere. The good news is that basic food combining for better digestion is easy to implement into your day to day routine. You’ll still have to be mindful of that home cooked buffet at grandma’s house but if you follow these few tips, your tummy will thank you.
My 6 Food Combining Tips
1. Eat simple meals. Foods eaten alone or with one or two other food will be the easiest to digest. No confusion there.
2. Eat the highest proteins first. Since proteins need the most hydrochloric acid than most other foods, best give them a head start. If eaten last, there may be no acid or enzymes left to break the protein down.
3. Don’t combine starches and proteins – these require different strengths of acidity in your stomachs and when battling each other, none really gets properly digested. If you just can’t give up beans and rice, certain spices such as ginger can help digest this lot together.
4. Greens such as kale, spinach and arugula as well as non-starchy vegetables such as carrots, broccoli and cabbage combine well with everything except dessert – which should be eaten alone.
5. Don’t drink water with meals since it can dilute the digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid, interfering with the natural digestive process. Drink water at least 15 mins before a meal and 1 hour after.
6. Eat fruits alone, especially watermelon. Fruits and other desserts with high sugar content break down quickly. Let them do their thing before adding anything else. Otherwise risk fermentation in the gut that can cause toxic by-products such as lactic acid and even carbon dioxide. This is indigestion at its meanest. Who wouldn’t like to eat dessert first?
Anytime I sit down to eat with friends and family, I remember to be thankful. How fortunate am I to be able to choose to eat whenever I feel hungry. I will remind myself to honor the connection of the food at my table and its complex processes that ripple through my body upon that first bite and beyond. A few moments of silence and a nod if you will. And remember to chew.
I’m fortunate to eat fresh veggies straight out of the garden and from local markets now, but as our approaching 2 month-long, living-in-the-back-of-a-truck honeymoon begins, I ask myself, how can we eat raw on the road? And better yet, how to pack fresh foods for expeditions deep in the forest for days on end? We aren’t just touring. We’ll be rappelling over waterfalls, caving in the deepest cave in Canada (aka. ‘Heavy Breather’), climbing mountainous monoliths and hiking in the backcountry of some of the most remote areas of the United States, the interior of Utah. We’re going to need sustenance, and plenty of it.
When coaching clients or for my own personal eating habits, I believe, it’s not about trying to become 100% raw. It’s a day-to-day choice coupled with a little foresight. Both my husband-to-be and I strive to eat as many unprocessed foods and as much organic, local produce as we can. At the moment of choice, there are those who can choose to eat raw or eat cooked, or really eat anything we want. That is our power of choice, and we are so fortunate to have such a choice. When on the road, our choices may be limited, especially where my fiancé and I end up – in the middle of nowhere. As my father would say, ‘beggars can’t be choosers’. And well, the only thing saving me from eating the lone apple, half wrinkled, sitting in a basket at the end of the convenience store countertop is foresight and preparation. (I would still probably eat the apple, crossing my fingers that it was organic!)Dehydrated Foods – How did the Native Americans preserve their food for long days on the prairie? They dried their summer bounty in the sun. Thanks to modern appliances, I have my own little drying sun, the Excalibur dehydrator. For a week before our departure, I made 10 trays of crackers – Lemon Dill Black Walnut and Kale Garlic Hemp Crackers. Yummy! We now have a seemingly endless supply for two months and it really only took me a few hours to make the ‘dough’ and spread it and the patience of letting the dehydrator do its thing for 12-18 hours at 115 degrees.
Dried Fruits and Veggies – Of course then there are the abundance of dried fruits we can stock up on – pineapple, bananas, mulberries, Incan berries, apple rings, apricots and goji berries. un-dried tomatoes are also great for snacking on. Chop up a bunch of carrots, celery, onion and kale, toss with olive oil, a few pinches of salt and dried Italian spices, then dehydrate. A little later on when you are camping and it turns a bit chilly, just add warm water to this little veggie medley and Voila, you have your own soup!
Greens and Superfood Powders – Instead of bringing individual jars of powdered greens and superfoods, we thought; why not just mix them all together! This is in our mash-up: Vitamineral green, broccoli sprout powder, spirulina, shilajit, chaga and reshi medicinal mushrooms. We also made a sweeter mix. It’s nice to take a break from green tasting everything! Our sweet mix: Cacao, Maca, Lucuma, Mesquite and ground Chia seeds.
Nuts & Seeds – Don’t forget the nuts and seeds… walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, hemp hearts, sesame. You can sprout them and dehydrate them before hand or purchase pre-soaked and sprouted nuts and seeds. If you are keen on flavor, you can make your own mixed nuts with additional spices.
Here are two amazing recipes – and when you are going on a long vacation, you can even double or even triple the recipe:
2 cups sprouted walnuts
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup sunflower seeds
Instructions: Mix the following together in a separate bowl: ½ cup lemon juice, 2 tbsp of coconut aminos, 1 tbsp of coconut nectar, ½ tbsp of minced garlic, 2 tsp of minced ginger, 2 tsp of spirulina. Toss all together until the nuts are well coated and dehydrate for 10 hours, flipping after 3 hours.
Cinnamon Raisin Nuts:
3 cups of sprouted almonds
1 cup hemp hearts
1 cup of raisins
Instructions: Pre-soak the raisins for 3 hours in filtered water. Rinse the drain before blending the following together in the Vitamix or blender: 3 apples, ½ cup shredded coconut, 1 tbsp of coconut nectar, 1/2 tbsp of cinnamon, 2 tsp of nutmeg, 1 tsp of vanilla powder or extract, a pinch of salt. Add to the almonds, hemp hearts and raisins, toss all together until well coated and dehydrate for 10 hours, flipping after 3 hours.
Drink Water – One thing to always keep in mind… be sure to drink lots of water when consuming dehydrated foods. They are, well, dehydrating. Before being able to properly assimilate the vitamins and minerals found within the fruit, your body must rehydrate them and if you are not drinking enough water, the fruit will take up the water you already have within. And when you are deep in the desert looking for gold, you might get a little thirsty. If you are a little more thirsty than normal, reach for Coconut Water. Whether canned or powdered, young coconut water is bursting with electrolytes and trace minerals. It also helps you stay hydrated.
Fresh Food – Here is a little list of fresh fruits and veggies that can withstand a beating and don’t mind the warm temps.
Pineapple – With a hard rind, it’ll stay solid and get only sweeter with time. Pineapple also has Bromelain, a natural digestive enzyme which has anti-inflammatory effects.
Carrots – A big bag last longer than a week and they don’t need to be refrigerated.
Avocados – When they are immature, they are perfect to carry around… as they soften treat them well. Sprinkle with a little chili power and Himalayan salt and a drizzle of fresh lemon juice! Yum!
Cabbage – This stout ball of compact leaves can do with a little rough and tumble. When ready to eat, just peel away the outer layers. I like to toss cabbage with salt. The salt will draw out the cabbages bitter juices and soften it up a little. Add Ethiopian berebere spice for an interesting combo.
Apples – An apple a day… short on bruising, treated well, these iconic fruits will last a long while in the backpack.
Seaweed – Nori sheets and dulse flakes are amazing on the road. You can roll anything up with a raw nori sheet, such as mashed avocado and spinach with some sun-dried tomatoes and a pinch of salt. I think there may even be some dulse flakes already in our greens mash-up powder. Add a pinch of wakame flakes and a tablespoon of miso to hot water for a yummy brine before bed.
Dried Herbs & Spices – After a while on the road, one can get accustomed to a limited palette. Bring a swath of dried herbs and spices and change your avocado into an Indian curry avocado, dill and tarragon avocado or a chocolate dream avocado with a little bit of cacao powder and coconut nectar.
Tea – Brew your own cold infusion of rooibos tea. Tulsi or Holy Basil tea is also an amazing road companion.
Be Open to Local Fruits & Veggies – When you’re unable to choose organic, try to stay away from the ‘dirty dozen PLUS’. This list of produce is the highest ranking in harmful pesticide residue according to the Environmental Working Group. You can aim to reach for the ‘clean fifteen’, which EWG has publicized as fresh produce that ranks the lowest in pesticide residue.
THE DIRTY DOZEN PLUS
Sweet bell peppers
THE CLEAN FIFTEEN
Most of all take only photos and leave only footprints in the great wild yonder we call nature.
The Thai people are no strangers to the abundance of delicious flavor of spices, which you’ll find infused into their every meal. Carefully wielded herbs and spices traditionally grown since ancient times are what make Thai food so delicious and mouth-watering. I’m sure most of us have tasted Pad Thai at least once in our lives and perhaps we’ve tried our hand at this delicious All Raw Zucchini Noodle Pad Thai recipe. Now I’d like to help you explore a little further into the amazing world of healing Thai spices.
Prepare For Paradise
In a tropical paradise, where fruit grows omnipresent on trees as far as the eye can see, fresh is best. But if you are far from the tropics and long for that far away flavor, a pinch and dash of a few key spices can transport you to the land of smiles. I’ve listed a few of those key spices here.
Kaffir Lime Leaf – Also known as Makrut by the Thai people, this plant is known to cleanse the mind and the body according to popular culture. As an essential oil, it makes an amazing household cleaner, and can be used to get problematic stains out of clothes. The leaf is actually a double leaf, with one seemingly growing out the other. They are not so easy to digest as they are very fibrous, so either mash into a pulp with a mortar and pestle or add to a warm broth and remove before munching down. This little leaf is what gives Thai cooking its distinctive flavor and no dish would be complete without it.
Lemongrass – Matching the potency of Kaffir Lime Leaf head to head, this lemony grass has a distinct flavor of its own and is common in many Thai dishes. It makes its appearance in the very popular Tom Yum Thai Soup and has long since been used by the Thai people for relief of fever, Backache and helps to cope with cough and cold. Next time you’re feeling under the weather, chop up some fresh lemongrass, brew a tea and read a lovely book curled up in bed.
Turmeric – Slightly peppery and bright yellow in colour, this tiny root is a fighter of all bad things. Not only famous in Thailand, it has been recognized in India and China and in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years. The active compound in turmeric is Curcumin and it is anti-bacterial, anti-vital and anti-inflammatory. While living in a reforestation camp in Haiti, we would cover our wounds, cuts, bruises and burns with turmeric to ward off nasty infections and promote healing. Turmeric stimulates apoptosis, a process that triggers the self-destruction and elimination of damaged cells which in most cases are cancerous. With numerous health benefits, turmeric should well be on its way to being the spice you reach for at every meal.
Galangal or Siamese Ginger – Just as the mighty ginger root and turmeric too, it’s cousin galangal is part of the rhizome family and is full of anti-oxidants. More commonly found in an Asian market, this delicious tuber lends a helping hand towards improving digestion and relieves diarrhea by calming the stomach and intestines, just as ginger does. It’s anti-inflammatory and is known to calm symptoms of arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It even helps curb nausea due to motion sickness – sailors behold!
Thai basil – Basil is a rich and earthy herb that is known worldwide for its presence in pesto. According to World’s Healthiest Foods, “The tradition of reverence of basil has continued in other cultures. In India, basil was cherished as an icon of hospitality, while in Italy, it was a symbol of love.” In Thailand, fresh basil is added upon serving. If cooked, much of its intense flavor is destroyed. The delicate leaves are used in so many ways by many of the southeast Asian countries. I’ve heard people using Thai basil for ice cream flavourings, or even with chocolate truffles. Experimenting is fun. Why not try your hand at a newly inspired Thai Basil delicacy?
Shallot – Being in the Alliaceous family – sibling to the onion, garlic and leek – these potent root bulbs contain Allicin, an active component which inhibits blood clotting, which in turn decreases the overall potentiality of coronary diseases. High in vitamin C, potassium, iron and folic acid, shallots also contain Prostaglandin A-1, a potent anti-inflammatory enzyme that alleviates the biological consequences of stressful conditions responsible for cancer cells. They might make you cry, just as the tear jerking onion, but shallots are sweeter and milder in their punch yet still fight more than just the common cold. Be sure to store your shallots in a cool dark place away from moisture as their shelf life is less than the onion.
Thai spices sure inspire me in the kitchen. While creating my Global Cuisine Series, I invented this amazingly delicious soup that actually uses all of the inspirational Thai herbs and spices mentioned in my previous post: “6 Healing Thai Spices You Can Include in Your Cooking”. I shared some of my favorite healing spices from Thailand, their traditional uses and health benefits. Hope you enjoy it!
Kaffir Lime Carrot Soup
1/2 cup of fresh lemongrass, chopped finely.
1/4 cup kaffir lime leaves, chopped finely.
3 cups of water (water to steep the above ingredients)
1 cup of chopped carrots
1/2 cup of mango (fresh or frozen)
1 cup young coconut meat
2 tbsp. Coconut Nectar
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. coconut oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
½ inch sized piece of Siamese ginger or Galangal
½tbs of minced shallot
1 tbsp. coconut aminos
½ tsp of turmeric
a pinch of salt to taste
fresh Thai basil to garnish
1. Prepare the lemongrass and Kaffir Lime leaf, place in two cups of boiling water and steep for at least 10 minutes. This flavourful water will be the base of the soup. (Always be sure to use organic ingredients if available).
2. Remove lemongrass and lime leaves from the water and add this water along with the rest of the ingredients in the blender and blend until steamy and smooth, about 3 minutes.
3. Pour into bowls, and garnish with a generous Thai basil chiffonade and serve immediately while warm.
We’ve already heard how Fermented Foods Can Heal Your Gut and Make Your Skin Glow thanks to health and wellness expert, Simone Samuels. But where does this ancient preservation technique come from and why has is gotten away from us? Could it be our busy, fast paced, instant-gratification lifestyle? Have we lost the patience for cultivation?
As I delve into the complex history of fermentation within human culture, my eyes are opened to a long lost art. Those on the forefront of whole foods nutrition and healthy digestion are not privy to this ancient preservation technique but they hope to share its secrets of longevity and well being for the benefit of all. Fermentation has been around as long as humans have cultivated crops. Once we gave up living in small nomadic groups and settled into larger communities, the need for a constant, reliable food source was apparent. With seasonal growing patterns, farmers began to farm on a grander scale and preserve harvests in various forms. At the forefront of this preservation was fermentation. Fermentation gives us our basic staples – bread and cheese. It also gives us our sinfully delicious desserts – chocolate, coffee and wine.
The process of fermentation begins when decay consumes one form and new life takes over, new life in the form of millions of microscopic interactions and processes. Complex organic molecules begin to breakdown and form smaller, more digestible organisms. The microscopic wizardry happens as bacteria and fungi, yeasts and molds do their thing, an absolutely essential process in the complex cycle of life. With the addition of salt and the air barrier created by the brine, harmful bacteria are kept at bay. This also creates the right conditions for beneficial bacteria like lactobacilli to thrive. When we eat food that has been fermented, these microorganisms help us digest efficiently and stimulate our immune system to function as it should.
There are misconceptions that while fermenting, one must use precise and complicated technology. According to the research of Sandor Ellix-Katz in his book Wild Fermentation, “cave paintings in locations as geographically diverse as India, Spain and South Africa depict images of people gathering honey in the Paleolithic period, as long as 12,000 years ago” (13). Still to this day, honey collectors from Ethiopia use nothing more than common sense, a keen sense of smell and a whole lot of patience when brewing mead, a fermented honey wine. While discovering the western world, Captain Cook knew the benefits of fermentation. With barrels upon barrels of sauerkraut on board, he and his crew evaded scurvy due to high amounts of Vitamin C present in the sauerkraut. In Korea today, kimchi is on the table at every meal and tempeh, originating in Java is one of Indonesia’s staple sources of protein. If it can be done with limited resources then we can certainly brew up a multitude of fermented magic in our own kitchens.
My intention is to inspire you to experiment for yourself. With a little patience and a little effort, you’ll discover what has been common knowledge for millennia, the way to build a healthy army of intestinal flora to boost your immunity and improve your digestion in your very own kitchen.I do indeed have an array of jars with many a veggie inside, fermenting nicely under the protection of its salty brine. My husband and I experiment by making our own cold brewed rooibos kombucha, strawberry vanilla coconut kefir and of course a random sampling of herb and veggie kraut, the most recent being a fine-tuned Bold Brassica Kraut. It was so yummy, that I just had to share it!
Bold Brassica Kraut
Time frame: 1-4 weeks (more salt, more time)
Ceramic crock pot or one-gallon food-grade plastic bucket
Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
A weight of some sort (a jug filled with water, a scrubbed and boiled rock)
Cloth or mesh to cover and an elastic band to secure it with (a clean dish towel, a mesh nut milk bag)
5 pounds of mixed vegetables including a medley of at least 50% cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale.
3 tbsp. pink Himalayan Crystal salt
2 tbsp. cumin seeds
2 tbsp. crushed, dried curry leaf
A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, minced (about 1 inch)
1. Thinly Slice the Cabbage/Veggies (leave a few large leaves for the top layer)
2. Layer and Salt the Cabbage/Veggies Slices
3. Punch the Cabbage! (or pound it with a pestle). In order to get the culturing process started you’ll need to press (punch) the cabbage down into the crock or food-grade bucket for 5 or so minutes. Combined with the salt, this draws the water out.
4. Weigh Down the Cabbage. When ready to cover, arrange the whole leaves of cabbage over the top and make sure it is totally covered. The kraut should be submerged in its own brine after all the punching. Over the first 24 hours, check the kraut often and press it down to make sure that the water level rises to just above the cabbage. If after 24 hours there isn’t enough water to completely cover the cabbage, mix 1 teaspoon of sea salt with 1 cup of water and use this brine to fill in the water line to just above the level of the cabbage.
5. Check Sauerkraut to see if it is ready. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, the humidity of your climate and the amount of salt used, the sauerkraut will take at least a week to ferment. I always leave it for 4 weeks! After the first day, you don’t have to check it until you are ready to eat it. You may see a slight scum on top, this is normal but I discard this top layer.
6. Store the Sauerkraut. Transfer the kraut to a mason jar and store in the fridge. It will keep for months in the refrigerator. Enjoy as a side dish, in salads, or on its own with a big spoon. Yum!
Suggested Resources and Reading on Fermentation
The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz
Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture by Sandor Ellix Katz
Fermentation and Biochemical Engineering Handbook, 2nd Ed. By Henry C. Vogel , Celeste C. Haber , Celeste C. Todaro
Real Food Fermentation: Preserving Whole Fresh Food with Live Cultures in Your Home Kitchen (Paperback)By Alex Lewin
Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Mary G. Enig and Sally Fallon
Making Sauerkraut and pickled vegetables at home: Creative recipes for lactic-fermented food to improve your health by Klaus Kaufmann and Annelies Schoneck
Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation by The Gardeners and Farmers of Centre Terre Vivante