Ryan's mom likes to say that Fredrik is going to be a genius. That may or may not come true, but we do know that eating certain foods does appear to confer specific benefits to the brain. Max Lugavere, health & science journalist, wrote a book all about it, and aptly titled it "Genius Foods." I'm not going to do a lengthy review of the book, I'm just going to say that I really enjoyed it! Tons of well researched information, and presented in a way anyone can understand. Essentially it comes down to reducing inflammation, and providing the body with adequate vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. So what are the top brain foods according to Max; and how can you and your family eat more of these foods?
Check out some of these recipes for inspiration:
Cruciferous Vegetables (Broccoli)- Steamed with butter for infants, broccoli salad for adults (use Swerve instead of sugar in the dressing).
Dark Leafy Greens - Ryan and I's current favorite way to eat these are in salads. A bag of cruciferous crunch salad mix from Trader Joe's added to chopped romaine and spinach makes it easy to get in a nice combination of greens. If you prefer your greens cooked, a quick sauté is nice, but after living in Georgia, southern collard greens is a real treat for us.
Avocado - While I happily eat avocados with just a dash of salt, Fredrik will not. He actually cries when I try to feed it to him plain. However, mashing it with frozen/thawed raspberries is favorite breakfast. Making chocolate avocado pudding will get you bonus points with your family.
Fatty Fish - Fredrik likes smoked salmon and canned oysters. For budget conscious families, make a salmon salad using wild caught canned salmon. We always buy the big can from Trader Joe's.
Nuts (almonds) - Try this yummy yummy almond banana coconut muffin.
Eggs - scrambled/egg bake/frittata/quiche/soufflé are a favorites around here.
Berries (blueberries) - Just eat them up plain, or top with whipped cream. Fredrik has recently discovered that freeze dried strawberries are a great snack. They are also part of this Strawberry Fluff.
Grass Fed Beef - Fredrik likes ground beef with a little marinara sauce, mild salsa, or creamy stroganoff sauce on it. Meatloaf is also easy for him eat. But a slow cooked roast, shredded or cut into chunks also works well as a meal all three of us enjoy.
Dark Chocolate (80%) - Make a chia pudding with cocoa powder and cocoa nibs. Personally I just grab a couple squares of the Montezuma dark 100% chocolate, and top it with whatever nut butter I have in the fridge. It's a brain boosting Reese's.
Olive Oil - After listening to Max and and his guest Nicholas in this podcast, I definitely believe in buying a better quality olive oil now. As Nicholas says, just POUR the oil onto your food. Or make a sauce like pesto or chimichurri to eat with your grass fed bee.
Coffee - Drink it black, or with cream, with collagen, or bulletproof with coconut and MCT oil. Just please please please find a replacement for fake creamers that are made with processed oils and high fructose syrup.
Yummy Yummy gluten and dairy free, no sugar added muffins! Seriously...these taste good. Fredrik is a fan of grabbing big chunks and shoving them into his mouth. Ryan likes to toast and top his with peanut butter, but that's how eats all flavors of muffins. I like mine with a big smear of butter on top.
1.5 cups almond flour or almond meal
1/4 cup flax seed meal
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy)
1 cup mashed banana (2 large) or mashed sweet potato
2 Tbs room temp butter or olive/avocado oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut. (or use raisins, chocolate chips, chopped pecans...)
1. Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Prep muffin pan with either paper or silicone liners. I still give my silicone liners a little spritz of oil, just to prevent ANY sticking. It's probably overkill.
2. Combine the almond flour, flax seed meal, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ginger in a medium bowl.
3. In a blender, or a large bowl beat together eggs, milk, butter, and vanilla.
4. Stir/blend the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Then fold in the coconut.
5. Divide between the 12 muffin cups. Bake 20-30 minutes, until browned. (Mine needed about 23 minutes) Allow to cool completely before storing in a air tight container on your counter for a few days, or several months in a freezer.
1 muffin: 185 kcal, 15g fat, 9g carb, 3g fiber, 5g protein
I'm fascinated with blood sugar. Partly because I worked in a diabetes clinic for a couple years. As I have learned more about diet and nutrition my passion for helping people regulate their blood sugar has only grown stronger. Personally I also know that it's very important for me to keep my blood sugar steady all day long so I experience less anxiety (or racing thoughts), better moods, good energy, and less hunger. Recently I've started to really dial things in and have started following a ketogenic diet. While I don't recommend everyone do this, I do believe that many people would benefit from it some of the time. Wondering if you would benefit from a low(er) carb or ketogenic diet? If you start checking yes to any of these signs/symptoms the answer is most likely yes: PCOS, endometriosis, PMS, infertility, overweight, anxiety, ADHD, depression, bi-polar, cataracts, macular degeneration, acne, insomnia, constant hunger and/or cravings, fatigue, brain fog, chronic infections or always sick, high LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, unexplained swelling or edema, heartburn/acid reflux, family or personal history of: Alzheimers, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrigs(ALS), M.S., arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes/pre-diabetes.
Hmmmm....so that's just about everyone.
Why are so many disease states related to blood sugar?
When we eat carbs/sugar our blood sugar goes up, and this triggers an insulin release by our pancreases. This is normal, when it happens 1-3x day, not all day, every day. Unfortunately most people continue to subscribe to the 4-6 small meals/day mentality or if they have not adopted a healthier eating style continue to drink sodas and eat candy (like gummi worms or fruit snacks) and other snack foods (chips, pretzels, trail mix) all day. This causes their body to continually have elevated blood sugars and insulin which over time is extremely inflammatory to EVERY cell in your body.
What do I mean by inflammation?
Think about a sprained ankle, the swelling and bruising are visible signs of inflammation, the pain is inflammation the can be felt. Inflammation also occurs in our blood vessels and until we experience chest pain, we don't feel it. Inflammation in the brain shows up as ADHD, anxiety, migraines, and down the road dementia. Inflammation of the skin may not always be felt, but it can be seen in the form of acne and rosacea or psoriasis and eczema. By lowering carbohydrate intake and allowing time between meals for blood sugar to actually come back down, people lower their inflammation, and reduce/eliminate their symptoms.
How many grams of carb do I need?
Most people probably only need 30-50g of carbohydrate per day.
Very active individuals and women who are breastfeeding may need 50-100g.
Very Very Very active people may need 100-200g.
And some people may eat only 30g most days, but increase and eat 100g 1-2x week or a couple times per month. Nutrition is highly individualized; what works for me, may not work for you.
Find out what your personal carb tolerance is by ordering yourself a glucometer and checking your blood sugar. If 1 hour after you eat, your blood sugar is >130 mg/dl, whatever you ate was too much carbohydrate/sugar for you. Or it was too much carb without enough protein and fat to help prevent a big sugar surge. If 2 hours after you eat, your blood sugar is still >100 mg/dl, whatever you ate was again too much carbohydrate/sugar. IE: Don't eat this food on the regular. I realize these numbers are different from what the ADA recommends, but their ranges are not tight enough to prevent/reverse blood sugar related inflammation and disease. Robb Wolf does a great job of explaining this in his book Wired To Eat as well as in his videos describing the 7 day carb tolerance test.
Now, go forth, eat real foods, decrease your blood sugar, and reduce your inflammation.
For the past several years Ryan has planned a fishing trip up on Lake of the Woods for him and 2-3 friends. Despite having a 5mo old I told him to cary on with his usual plans, it's good to get away and de-stress! So what does one eat while trapped in an ice house for 3 days? I'm not saying that what these guys eat for 3 days is "healthy," but compared to what other folks bring, I think they are doing pretty good. No frozen Jacks pizza for these guys! After doing this for several years we have come up with a fairly standard menu, and do all the cooking/prep ahead time to keep things simple and easy for them.
Here's the menu
Breakfasts: Eggbeaters (don't need to worry about breaking or freezing) + sausage or bacon
Lunch: Ham or turkey or PB&J sandwiches
Snacks: Goldfish crackers, trail mix, beef jerky. I also make a batch of cookies each year and put them in individual bags for each guy. In the past I have made Paula Deen's PB monster cookies. They are super tasty. This year I made a batch of plain chocolate chip cookies.
Drinks: Coffee, Zevia, Bottled water, beer (lots of beer)
If you read my post on Foods 4 Focus, you know that iron and zinc are two important minerals for brain health, and many people/kids are deficient in them. But how to get them? Add anchovies! And I don't mean to your pizza. These briny, fatty, little fish are full of nutrients.
"A portion of five anchovy fillets (canned in oil and drained; about 20g) has 42 calories, 5.8g protein, 1.9g of fat, and no carbohydrates. Anchovies are an excellent source of calcium, iron, and zinc."
If you are scared of adding these tiny fish to your diet, but enjoy eating tuna, or salmon, or other canned fish try mashing them into a tuna salad; you'll never know they are there. Personally, I buy skipjack tuna since it is lower in mercury than albacore, or yellow fin. This 'recipe' could also be done with chicken or egg salad if you are not a fan of fish. The anchovies just add a little salty flavor.
1, 5oz can tuna, drained
1, 2oz can anchovies, drained
1 Tbs Mustard
1 Tbs lemon/lime juice or apple cider vinegar
1tsp dried dill
1/4 cup diced celery
2 small dill pickles diced
Ground Black pepper
1. Combine and mash all ingredients together in a medium bowl.
2. Serve on a bed of lettuce, wrap, sandwich, crackers, cucumber slices, whatever works for you and your family. Use fresh lemon/lime wedges or vinegar for extra moisture on your salad.
Want another delicious recipe using anchovies, try my crockpot Chicken Puttanesca.
For more info on anchovies, the difference between oil packed, and salt cured, check out Precision Nutrition's post.
While grabbing a hot drink from Lakewinds Co-op a couple weeks ago I noticed a new product on the counter. I asked the Barista what it was and if it was any good. Apparently it's a coconut butter product you add to coffee. She informed me that it was very tasty, and she really liked the vanilla but..."I'm not ready to give up sugar, so I can't use it".
I must have given her a quizzical look as she proceeded to tell me that it's for keto people and that since she still eats sugar she shouldn't use it. I responded, "do you think if you did use it, it might help with your sugar cravings?"
Barista, "Maybe, but I'm not ready to give up sugar."
As I left the counter I thought, "What you're really saying is I don't want to give up sugar." I was also reminded of the late Charles Poliquin who would have said that she is still prioritizing her taste buds over whatever physical change she wants to see by giving up sugar. To some extent I would agree. But I posed the scenario to two RD friends as well Ryan and here is what they all said.
My friend Katie of the Best You Plan would ask you, "What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of failing yet again...another diet?" She has seen this with many women. Just the mention of "giving up" a food, sugar or processed carbs in particular seems to elicit a look of terror in many of their eyes. While at a networking event, she had women refuse to take her business card after they learned what her program is about.
My friend Lucy from Well Balanced Nutrition would ask you, "What do you mean give up sugar? Are you a moderator being asked to abstain? Is this a temporary or permanent change you are trying to make? Why do you want to give it up, what is the benefit?"
My husband Ryan asked "what are you doing to be/get ready?"
So this coming year, before you make another I'm going to (lose weight, get healthy, exercise, give up _____) resolution maybe you need to ask yourself a few questions first:
1. What change do I want to make and WHY? If you're why isn't good enough, you will never be 'ready' and the changes will never stick. I have found that losing weight for the sake of weight loss is never a good enough why. Focusing on a health benefit such as less joint pain, or better digestion are typically better motivators.
2. Is this a change YOU WANT to make for YOU? Or is it something you think you SHOULD do, or feel guilted into doing? Shame is never a good motivator.
3. What is holding you back from starting now? Why have you waited?
4. What are you afraid of? Failure? Judgement? Struggling? Hunger? Being alone?
5. Are you making excuses and putting off making the change? Or is your reason for not starting valid? Excuse: it's the holiday season so it will be too hard. (Truth: there is always a holiday, birthday, vacation, or other event) Valid reason: Your parent just died, you just had a baby, your house flooded or burned down. (Truth: high stress times, especially when coupled with sleep deprivation are not the time to make a major change. Wait a few weeks or months until the clouds pass and you are sleeping to tackle your change.)
6. Who will support you vs Who will derail you? Are you willing to spend less time with those who will derail your efforts? I know many people who have given up friendships, cut ties with family, and gone through divorces in the name of health & happiness. It may seem extreme, but we only get one life, so why surround yourself with negative people. Also, the reason many people consciously or unconsciously sabotage other's efforts is because of their own fear and insecurity. "If they change, then I have to change... change is hard, and I'm scared of failing if they succeed. I'm not ready! I should buy them a box of their favorite cookies."
What are you willing/wanting/ready to change?
Need an easy and delicious dinner idea? Here you go, Crockpot Chicken Puttanesca! You can make it low carb by skipping the pasta, potato, or polenta; and even without the starch, this dish is very filling and satisfying. The anchovies add a touch of Omega 3 fats, as well as calcium from their bones. This is the perfect dish for a dreary, cold, fall evening; and would be great to serve to family or friends. I used the leftovers to make an Italian version of shakshouka, which is what I have pictured here, along with baby kale.
1.75-2# Chicken Thighs or Breast (2-3 cans drained chickpeas or white beans to make it vegan)
2, 15oz cans diced tomatoes (only use 1 can to make a less 'saucy' version)
1/2 cup chopped green or black olives
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2-1 Tbs Italian Seasoning
6 anchovy fillets
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 tsp Red Chili Flakes (optional)
1+ Tbs capers (optional)
1. Brown the Chicken in the olive oil
2. Combine the chicken with the remaining ingredients in your slow cooker.
3. Cook on high 3hrs or low for 5+ hours. Or Instant Pot, high pressure or poultry setting for 15 minutes.
4. Serve over pasta, baked potato, polenta, spaghetti squash, or zucchini noodles.
Feel free to sprinkle with fresh parsley or parmesan cheese.
Having a baby is hard work, bringing one home and having your life turned upside down is even harder. Between feeding, diapering, cuddling, and frantic attempts at calming a screaming baby, there's not always time to cook. However, mom and dad need to be well fed to keep up their stamina for that constant care giving. (Even when that's just snuggling on the couch-See picture) Living on coffee and dry cereal just won't cut it. The same could be said for people going through any major life change such as moving, home renovation, divorce. Or other stressors such as the death of a loved one, a miscarriage, someone having major surgery that impacts their mobility, chemotherapy and other medical treatments.
If you know someone who could use several meals I highly recommend starting a meal train. My MOMs club members used this takethemameal.com to organize a meal train and brought us 2 meals a week for 3 weeks. The website has great ideas for meals specific to different diets, but I've also listed some yummy links and ideas below. It was so nice to not have to think about going to the store, let alone cook a meal. Our favorite meals where ones that required very little assembly and could be easily re-heated in the microwave or pot/skillet. Leftovers were also HIGHLY appreciated, so consider doubling the recipe. Something else to consider is if the family has kids or food allergies/sensitivities, or other dietary requirements such as being Kosher or Vegan. Example: After my grandparents died several people brought lasagna or spaghetti to my parents house where we were staying. My sister is very lactose intolerant and canned tomato products also give her digestive issues, so she couldn't partake from any of these offerings.
Crock Pot or Instant Pot:
Buffalo Chicken + tortillas +ranch or blue cheese + carrots & celery sticks
Indian Butter Chicken + sliced cucumbers + Rice/Cauliflower Rice
Beef Roast + Fresh Veggies
Pulled Pork + Buns + Slaw
Chicken Puttanesca (with vegan option)
Vegan White Bean Soup
Picadillo + Rice/Cauliflower Rice + Plantain Chips
Eggroll in a Bowl + Sriracha Mayo
Sloppy Joes or Maidrite + Buns or Baked potatoes + Cole Slaw
Curried Lentils + Rice/Quinoa/Naan + Cucumber Salad
Egg Bake + Fruit + Salad
Meatloaf + Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Spaghetti Squash Pizza Pie
Salmon Cakes + Green Beans (frozen or fresh) + Winter Squash
Black Bean Enchilada Casserole
No Cook/Store Bought:
Rotisserie Chicken + Bag Salad/Dressing, Frozen Sweet Potato Fries
Gyro Meat + Pitas + Tzaziki & Hummus + Fresh Cut Veggies or big salad
Smoked Salmon Salad (just buy pre cooked/peeled hard boiled eggs)
Canned or Store-Made soup + Baguette + Really Good Cheese
Sushi + Seaweed Salad + Frozen Edemame
Tuna Salad from the deli + Crackers + Fresh Fruit
Brownies, black bean brownies, keto brownies, vegan brownies
Fruit + Dip
Canned Cold Brew Coffee
Bottle of Wine or 6pk Beer
As I prepare for maternity leave I couldn't help myself but to find a way to thank my co-workers for all of their support during my pregnancy. While it's been a fairly easy pregnancy; knowing that I get to go into an office twice a week with a team of people who have my health and safety and wellbeing in mind was so nice and reassuring. Everyone was always asking how I was doing and if I needed anything to be more comfortable. ( I almost always said no.) To thank them, I thought a light and fluffy desert before my departure would be highly welcomed. I found this yummy looking No-Bake Strawberry Cream Pie recipe and decide to make just the filling and bring a few toppings for people to build their own 'parfait' with. I did make a few changes such as omitting the strawberry extract, and I used the Kite Hill Greek almond milk yogurt in place of the cows milk yogurt, and it turned out perfect! I made a second batch with whipped coconut milk and it too was super delicious. It was a bit more dense and rich since you don't get same lightness with coconut milk as with heavy cream.
If you don't like strawberries or are allergic, I'm sure you could try this with any freeze dried fruit such as blueberries or raspberries. I used 1 bag of the Trader Joes brand freeze dried strawberries.
While this is technically a desert, the protein and fat in it make it perfectly suitable for a kids afternoon snack or even a breakfast.
1.2-1.5oz freeze dried strawberries
1 cup plain greek yogurt (or plain almond/coconut milk yogurt)
1/4 - 1/2 cup swerve or coconut sugar (depending how sweet you want it)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks (or use canned coconut milk to make it 100% non-dairy)
1. Pulse the strawberries in a coffee grinder or blender until most of it turns into a powder. Let it sit a few minutes to let the powder settle.
2. Combine the strawberries and the next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl.
3. Add 1/3 of the whipped cream to the strawberry mixture.
4. Fold in the remaining whipped cream with the strawberry mixture.
5. Serve immediately or refridgerate.
To serve, top with: toasted coconut, shaved chocolate, cocoa nibs, granola, chopped nuts, fresh/frozen berries. Or use as a dip for fresh sliced fruit (apples, banana, pear, strawberries...)
As we enter the last month of pregnancy there are several things Ryan and I are doing to get ready for baby T's arrival. I know we won't be completely home bound, and thanks to Amazon Prime, almost anything can come to our home in 2 days. Many people and websites suggest stocking your freezer with quick meals before baby comes, so I've done a little of that. I also saved and froze a few servings of stews this past winter knowing we might want them come this time. When you have a big garden though, some of your stocking takes the form of freezing extra green beans, canning beets, and freezing raspberries. We also have another family member who needs taking care of, Samoa our cat. Chuck and Dons might be right down the road, but I'd rather not worry if we have enough cat food on hand when she is super hungry, and so is baby. Here is a list of things we are doing to get ourselves ready, hopefully it gives you some ideas too:
I'm a dietitian with a passion for good nutrition, bold flavors, playing in the dirt, and being with my family.