Saturday, July 24, 2010

article of the week, 7/24/10

Who:  Center for Science in the Public Interest
When: July 23, 2010
Why: While I don't agree with the FDA on all of its practices, I am pleased to see them "cracking down" on the food industry when it comes to deceptive health claims and other questionable labeling. This news report from CSPI announces that the FDA has received the go-ahead to continue on in their mission to reduce foods with misleading health claims; its target right now: Vitaminwater, a bottled beverage by Coca-Cola. I like this report in particular because it refers back to past court rulings to give you a better understanding of the recent history of this issue.
Read it here:
Learn more: Read about the FDA's current standards for health claims about food at
Speak out: How do you feel about health claims on food packaging? Do you think that its manipulative and misleading or that companies have a right to promote their product as they choose? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

give your favorite food a green makeover!

Eating sustainably doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite sinful sweets or savory snacks. Usually just a few ingredient adjustments can make your comfort food comforting for your conscience as well your tummy. While modifying your favorite recipes may require some extra effort at first, you'll quickly get the hang of it. To help you get started, though, I'm inviting you to send me a recipe you'd like to give a green makeover. Post a comment that includes the recipe or a link to the recipe, and I'll post back with a new, more earth-friendly version. Don't be shy!

Photo Credit: rore

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

great deal: local d'lish in minneapolis

If you're a Minnesota resident there's a great online deal today for Local D'Lish, a local and organic foods grocery store found in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis. Almost all of their products are made in Minnesota or the Midwest; Ann and Yuilin Yang, the owners, like to think of it as a "farmers market in retail format," which is great for Minnesota winters when outdoor farmers markets seem like a distant dream.

So what's the deal? A website called Crowd Cut is offering a $20 certificate to Local D'Lish for only $10. So basically you're getting $10 worth of free locally-produced groceries. The deal only lasts until midnight though, so if you're interested, don't wait!

Check out the deal here!
Learn more about Local D'Lish.
Join Local D'Lish's Facebook page.

Photo Credit: Andy Rob

Friday, July 16, 2010

article of the week, 7/16/10

I found this great new Huffington Post article today titled "How Real People on Real Budgets Afford Organic," by Robyn O'Brien. It lists eight easy ways to integrate organic food into your daily diet without raising your daily grocery bill. Read it here!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

play with your food.

Chances are you've heard of the Food Network's hit show, Iron Chef. If not, though, I'll give you a quick rundown: Two professional chefs are given an ingredient, any ingredient, from Andouille sausage to zucchini, and are given an hour (with a team of assisting sous-chefs) to prepare a multi-course meal. The rule is that each dish must contain the theme ingredient. Their dishes are then scored by a panel of judges after which a winner is dramatically announced.

So what does Iron Chef have to do with your journey towards healthy, sustainable, and affordable eating? Well, it's a bit of a stretch, but keep reading and we'll get there.

One rainy weekend  a couple of years ago my family decided to play-out our own version of Iron Chef. The chefs? My dad (Kris) and younger sister (Rachel). The ingredient? Apples. The judges? My mom, brother, and I. The winner? Rachel, by a hair. Our spontaneous new family activity was an instant success, and we've repeated it four or five times since, with my dad, sister, and I rotating as chefs. Sometimes my brother pretends to be the host of the "show" and has even videotaped us. And of course my mom needs to photograph the entire process as well as the finished dishes. Whether I'm a "chef" or a judge, my favorite part is always the presentation and tasting of the food. Each chef takes turns bringing in his or her finished products, one course at a time, giving each dish elaborate names and descriptions (parodying the TV show). Then the judges reciprocate with obnoxious critiques like "The soup was a potpourri of joyful flavors " or "This pie was the perfect blend of spring and summer. It tastes like June!" It's hilarious. And as far as the actual food is concerned, every time we get a little more creative and  adventurous with our cooking, and every time the food gets even better. 

Okay, so here's the point. In the midst of our busy lives it's easy to forget how the creation of a meal is more than the boiling of water and measuring out of spices, and more than the science behind the latest energy bars. Cooking is an event; cooking is an experience to be enjoyed, shared, and savored (literally). Playing "Iron Chef" reminds my family and I of this by pushing us out of our usual dinnertime routine. We buy unique ingredients, research culinary techniques and exotic recipes, and even put pains into the way asparagus is arranged on a plate. 

While I wish we could make Iron Chef a weekly or even a monthly tradition in my house, the fact is that life is crazy, and most nights we're lucky to all sit down for ten minutes together to eat. But I think that makes our crazy cooking-nights that much more special. 

How to host your own "Iron Chef" night:
1. Assemble at least four people, and ideally not more than eight. Two will be the competing chefs and the rest will act as judges.
2. Judges determine a "secret" ingredient. Anything goes, but we like to pick something that can be used in both main dishes as well as dessert.
3. Chefs are told the ingredient and given one hour to plan. We like to do three courses: appetizer, entree, and dessert, but you can change this up. Access to the Internet and cookbooks is essential, unless you're working with very experienced cooks.
4. Chefs are given one hour to shop for ingredients.
5. Chefs and judges agree on a prep/cooking time and begin. This will vary, depending on what sort of prep/cooking times the recipes require.
6. Chefs present their dishes for the judges. You can do this two ways: 1) The first chef can present their entire menu to the judges, followed by the second chef. 2) The chefs can take turns presenting their dishes course by course ("one-by-one, 'til you shout 'Enough! I'm done!' Sorry, couldn't resist. Beauty and Beast is one of my favorites). Judges should score as you go along. Official Iron Chef scoring is up to 10 points for taste, 5 points for originality, and 5 for presentation. But you can definitely put your own spin on scoring. 
7. Judges tally the points and crown the new Iron Chef! Said-winner has bragging rights, at least until the next showdown.

Monday, July 12, 2010

mood food. PART II: supplements

As promised, I'm following up my "Mood Food" post with some supplements that are suggested for rebalancing brain chemicals. Supplements are a great alternative for medication if you're not ready to go that route, or you don't feel your symptoms are severe enough to warrant a prescription drug. Here's a quick run-down of some recommended supplements and their descriptions.

 Photo Credit: House of Sims

Brain-Balancing Supplements:
1. Fish Oil -  You can add brain health to the extensive list of reasons to take a daily fish oil supplement. Studies on fish oil have observed the following in people who consumed increased amounts of omega-3 fatty acids: improved mood, concentration, learning, IQ, slowed aging process, and reduced symptoms of depression. Why? Because EPA and DHA (2 types of omega-3 fatty acids) are the "building blocks" of brain structure and function. And it just so happens that fish oil is extremely rich in omega-3's. Here's a guide on how to pick a good fish oil.
2. L-theanine - This is a compound found in green tea, and is the reason you feel less caffeine-jitters after drinking a cup of green tea than after a cup of coffee. If you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, L-theanine supplements may help your mind stop spinning and give you a chance to relax and calm down in stressful situations. Read more about L-theanine at these two sites: LA Times and
3. Probiotics - While these are primarily utilized for promoting digestive health, their ability to reduce inflammation throughout the entire body includes the brain, and less inflammation can have a big impact. There is also a growing interest among the medical community about the link between gut health and brain health (called the gut-brain axis) that gives you another reason to take care of your gut. Learn how to choose a probiotic here.
4. Miscellaneous - There are many other supplements that have evidence of alleviating certain mood disorders. Some of these are 5-HTP, L-tyrosine, DL-phenylalanine, SAM-E, and GABA. Despite some encouraging evidence, none of these have enough clinical evidence for me to feel comfortable promoting them here. If you'd like to learn more about them however, check out the following sources:
1. This is Your Brain on Joy by Dr. Earl Henslin
2. The Mood Cure by Julia Ross
3. University of Maryland Medical Center

This is Your Brain on Joy by Dr. Earl Henslin, LA Times,,,

Thursday, July 8, 2010

food RX.

Photo Credit: mcfarlandmo

There seems to be a pill or powder for everything these days: Can't fall asleep? Take a Benadryl. Have a tummy ache? Pepto-Bismol to the rescue. Feeling irregular? Bring on the Metamucil. Now of course these concoctions have their time and place, but many people admit that they prefer to take the more natural route to healing whenever possible. And what you eat can play a huge part in remedying whatever ails you; check out the following articles to find out how.

Sleep Better For More Energy  
by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding
April 22, Yahoo! Health
This short-but-sweet article lists seven snacks that can help you get a better night's rest. And a glass of milk isn't one of them.

by Melissa Johnson
Everyday Health
Make this list your first stop for tummy aches and nausea.

by Experience Life Magazine staff
June 12, Care2
Sure, you could sprinkle on some Metamucil or Benefiber to get your daily 25+ grams, but there are so many yummier ways to get your fiber! This article gives some great tips to add a little more fiber to each meal.

Vitamin C: Stress Buster 
April 25, 2003, Psychology Today
Whether you're a student or a stay-at-home mom or a corporate executive, you almost certainly feel the effects of stress on a daily basis. And all that stress takes a toll on not only your emotional health, but your physical health as well. Read here to find out how Vitamin C can help reduce these negative effects.

Cold Remedies and Flu Remedies: Foods that Fight Infection
 This article gives a great overview of foods that can help fight off infections. Now there's proof that chicken soup is good for more than the soul.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

mood food.

Being the ravenous non-fiction reader that I am, I just devoured a new book called This is Your Brain on Joy, by Dr. Earl Henslin. The book combines new brain-imaging research findings, spirituality, and the author's clinical experiences to help explain (in layman's language) what's physically going on in the brain of people who suffer from depression, anxiety, anger, relationship issues, compulsive behavior, and just about any other mental health issue. And not only did Dr. Henslin do a great job of making it simple to follow some complicated brain chemistry and anatomy (he refers to the Cingulate Gyrus as "The Circular Gerbil Wheel"), he also provides a comprehensive set of suggestions for healing, from prescription medications to prayer to movies (aka: cinematherapy). And, relevant to this blog, he devoted quite a few pages to the important of diet.

While I found all facets of this book interesting and extremely informative, I obviously paid special attention to the nutrition sections. I've always been aware of the importance of diet in all aspects of health, but have always wished to learn more about its role in mental health. This book was a great start, and I'm excited to share what I've learned with you. I think this information can be helpful for everyone, not just those with diagnosable mental conditions. As my mom likes to say, "Everbody's normal 'till you get to know them" (which is actually a book title).

Important Components of a "Joyful" Diet:
1. Fat: Your brain is mostly made of fats, so making sure your diet contains adequate amounts is crucial for a well-functioning cranium. And both saturated and unsaturated fats are needed. Fatty-but-healthy foods to incorporate into your diet? Olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish.
2. Organic and Hormone-Free: Pretty self-explanatory. Pesticides can be toxic to every part of your body and added hormones can mess with your own hormones; sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. The naturally-occurring hormones in your body can singlehandedly mess with your mood, so consuming large quantities of artificial hormones in addition can only complicate the issue.When you can, buy organic produce and hormone-free dairy products.
3. Fish: As mentioned above, there are many different fats essential for a healthy brain, but omega-3 fatty acids (specifically DHA) are especially important for a happy brain. Why? Omega-3's help keep serotonin levels up, serotonin being a major factor in relieving depression and other mood disorders. And fish is one of the richest sources of omega-3's. But the brain benefits of fish don't stop there. They're also high in protein. Eating protein-rich foods provides the amino acids necessary for producing the neurotransmitters dopamine and phenylalanine, which are essential for alertness and focus. Consequently, protein-rich diets are recommended for people with ADD and ADHD. My top 3 fish? Salmon, sardines, and tuna.
4. Complex Carbs: Carbohydrate-rich foods increase production of serotonin, which is the chemical most responsible for calmness and relaxation. Dr. Henslin recommends incorporating more of these into your diet if you deal with compulsion issues (such as OCD, eating disorders, addictions, and rage) or fear and anxiety-related disorders. A good calm-inducing menu? Anything that includes pasta, potatoes, or bread. Snack ideas include popcorn and pretzels.
5. Tryptophan: Often associated with turkey and post-Thanksgiving dinner sleepiness, tryptophan is an amino acid needed for serotonin production. Foods high in tryptophan include poultry, beef, seafood, eggs, spinach, beans, soy, and dairy.

In addition to his diet recommendations, Dr. Henslin also recommends certain supplements to help balance-out brain chemicals. I'll talk about these in my next post!

Sources: This Is Your Brain on Joy by Dr.Earl Henslin,,, and WHFoods.

P.S. If you or someone who care about deals with mental health issues (which is highly likely, as the NIMH reports that 26 percent of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder) I strongly urge you to find this book. While it shouldn't replace the advice of a personal physician, it's a great supplement. Check it out at your local library, buy it directly from Dr. Henslin's website, or get it used or new from Amazon. It can only help!

Dr. Henslin's book and other diet-and-mood books he recommends:

Photo Credits:, *clairity*, bucklava, and

Thursday, July 1, 2010

food independence day

I'm about to head "up North" to my cabin for the holiday weekend, so won't be posting again for few days. But chances are you'll all be too busy with your own summer celebration plans to miss them. But before I go I thought it would be fitting to honor America's Independence Day by letting you know about Food Independence Day, an awareness campaign being coordinated by non-profit Kitchen Gardeners International. So what's it all about? Basically, the group is encouraging Americans to celebrate the 4th of July by purchasing some or all of their grilling/picnic food from local producers. Why on Independence Day? Because buying local is about as patriotic as you can get; you're buying food grown in American soil, supporting your neighbors and your environment, and exercising your independence from chain stores and giant food manufacturers. Not to mention that fresh food that only had to travel a few miles to your plate is about as delicious as food can get.

So where to go to get this fresh, local food? Here are a few guides that should point you in the right direction, whether you live in "the lakes of Minnesota," or "the hills of Tennessee." Happy 4th!
Serve Your Country Food
Eat Well Guide
Local Harvest
Farm Locator
Green People

Photo Credits: J.W. Photography, Mykly Roventine

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