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The Health Benefits of Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds usually get relegated to bagels and other baked goods — and they have earned a bad reputation for causing false-positive drug test results — but they are also one of the best things you can add to your diet. What are the health benefits of eating poppy seeds, and how can you include them in your daily diet?

 poppy seeds on a bagel

Health Benefits of Poppy Seeds

Other than tasting good on a muffin or bagel, poppy seeds have so much more going for them! Let's take a closer look at some of the health benefits of poppy seeds.

Fiber

You may not worry about your fiber intake unless you have a problem with bowel regularity. In addition to maintaining a healthy digestive tract, getting enough insoluble fiber in your diet can help with weight loss and can help control blood sugar levels.  Two teaspoons of poppy seeds contain roughly 14 percent of your daily intake of insoluble fiber, which helps you feel full longer and helps to lower your bad cholesterol.

Enjoy some poppy seeds on your salad or in a smoothie to increase your insoluble fiber intake – and try to enjoy more insoluble fibers like whole grains and fresh produce rather than soluble fibers like oats or non-whole grain products.

Calcium

A glass of milk a day keeps the orthopedic surgeon away, or so they say. Calcium is an essential mineral for bone growth and health.  It also helps your muscles, including your heart, and your nerves function properly and there are some studies that suggest that getting enough calcium in your diet can help to protect against diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer.

As adults, we don't drink milk as often as we should and are at risk for calcium deficiencies.  A serving of poppy seeds contains about 4 percent of your daily intake of calcium.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is one mineral that is often overlooked but it is essential for bone growth, healthy digestion, preventing bone problems like osteoporosis and arthritis, and even helps to ensure that your brain functions properly. It functions to help your body regulate your hormone levels and helps you absorb nutrients more efficiently.

You can get almost the same amount of phosphorus as calcium from a serving of poppy seeds. It's easier than you might think to get enough of this overlooked little mineral in your diet.

Iron

A lack of iron in your blood stream has its own name – anemia – so that gives you an idea of how important this mineral is. It helps to keep your immune system functioning properly, improves oxygen circulation, and can even help to treat neurological issues like insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

Iron gets stored in your blood and muscles and is an essential mineral for overall health. Women need more than twice as much iron a day than men, and you can get roughly 2 to 4 percent of your daily intake of iron from a serving of poppy seeds.

Zinc

Zinc is another overlooked mineral that is essential for overall health.  It helps to support both organ and immune systems and ensures skeletal and reproductive health. Not having enough zinc in your diet can lead to you getting sick more often, make it harder for you to heal from wounds and can even impact your concentration.

While zinc deficiency is uncommon in the United States, you still need to be eating at least eight to 11 milligrams of zinc every day. A single teaspoon of poppy seeds contains between 2 and 3 percent of your daily zinc intake.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants in food help ward off signs of early aging and may even have some applications in cancer prevention. You can find healthy antioxidants in everything from dark chocolate to red wine, but if you're not a drinker or not a fan of sweets you might be wondering how you can add these healthy chemicals to your diet. Enjoy some poppy seed bagels, that’s how – poppy seeds contain a high amount of antioxidants, as well as a healthy amount of protein.

Good Fats

Poppy seeds are high in a good fat, specifically oleic acid, which lowers bad cholesterol. Lower bad cholesterol can reduce your chance of developing heart disease in the future.  You can find these good fats in things like fish – especially salmon and other fatty fish – walnuts, oil and eggs but they can be a pain to cook – why not just add some poppy seeds to your diet?

Sounds pretty good for a humble little seed, right? You can get at least part of your daily intake of iron, zinc, and many other essential vitamins and minerals just by adding some poppy seeds to your diet. They can easily be added to smoothies, sprinkled on top of your favorite salad or yogurt, or incorporated into some very tasty desserts.  Their subtle earthy flavor compliments so many foods that you may find yourself adding poppy seeds to just about everything!

5 Reasons to Prepare Your Own Fermented Food

various ferments
Various fermented foods. Photo by Daniela Roberts.

You may not realize just how many fermented foods you regularly eat. All sorts of delicious foods undergo fermentation at some point in their preparation: sourdough bread, cheese, yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, dill pickles, beer, wine, vinegar, chocolate, coffee, tea...all the good stuff.

Perhaps you need no reasons to ferment food yourself other than the fact that it tastes absolutely delicious. But this ancient method of food preparation has been undergoing a renaissance of late for many reasons in addition to flavor.

1. Food preservation not food waste. Who hasn’t—with the best intentions—bought too many vegetables? If you have a cabbage on hand that you need to use up quickly for example, simply chop it, salt it and submerge it in its own juices for a few days. Your resulting probiotic-rich sauerkraut will keep for many months.

How does that transformation happen seemingly by magic? Immersed in liquid, the anaerobic lactic-acid bacteria present on the cabbage eat its sugars and produce lactic acid, which ferments and preserves the food. These acids not only give sauerkraut its tangy flavor, they also inhibit the growth of bad bacteria. As a result, fermentation is very safe.

Before the introductions of refrigeration and chemical preservatives last century and canning a century before that, people fermented or dehydrated food to preserve it. This was especially important in cold climates with short growing seasons. People could enjoy vegetables throughout the winter by fermenting them at the end of the summer. Cold weather slows down the fermentation, preserving the food longer, making this method a perfect, seasonal and natural fit in these parts of the world.

2. Health benefits. Fermentation preserves vitamin C and increases levels of B vitamins, such as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. It reduces phytates, anti-nutrients present in grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. Phytates bind to minerals, making nutrients unavailable for absorption. Fermentation breaks these bonds so the body can absorb the previously unavailable nutrients. Fermented foods also contain beneficial microbes that can improve your gut flora.

lemons and carrots
Lemons and carrots ready to prep. Photo by Daniela Roberts.

3. Savings. My family loves real dill pickles—the delicious fermented cucumbers that you will find in the refrigerator section of some grocery stores. Fermented dill pickles differ from the shelf-stable ones that you find in the center aisles of every grocery store in America. Those highly processed pickles have been pasteurized in vinegar. They lack the health benefits and flavor of naturally fermented pickled cucumbers. However, the fermented ones can cost a small fortune. I can ferment about three jars of pickles for the price of one store-bought jar.

4. Low energy consumption, low-tech. Fermented foods consume very little—if any—energy to prepare. To make my fermented salsa, for example, I merely prep and salt all the vegetables—tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, garlic, cilantro and so on—pack them into jars and set those out on the counter at room temperature for a few days while the food ferments. I don’t cook anything. I don’t turn on a burner. The energy required to transform my ingredients into tangy, mouthwatering and slightly effervescent salsa comes from the bacteria within the jar, not from an outside source.

.prepping vegetables
Only basic tools and skills required. Photo by Daniela Roberts

5. Minimal effort. Almost every time I ferment something new, I ask myself, “Is that all there is to it?” Fermentation requires very little of our energy to prepare and only the most basic cooking skills. If you can cut cabbage, you can make sauerkraut. If you can brew tea, you can make kombucha. Some dairy ferments require even less work. To make kefir, add kefir grains to milk and wait for a day.

To me a jar of homemade kimchi isn’t just a tasty, healthy snack. It’s a protest of our current broken food system. An act of defiance. I’m not saying fermentation will save the world. But I do believe preparing food this way does put you more in tune with the natural world. The food is alive after all. Sourdough is the new tattoo.

Scoby Invasion!

I was introduced to kombucha in 2009. Sadly, my introduction to this life-giving drink was due to my late husband’s terminal cancer diagnosis. During this difficult time I religiously researched alternative, natural, immune-boosting concoctions and gut health in an effort to return his body back to health. 

scoby1

This research led me to a health store which led me to kombucha. I was hooked. He wasn’t so much having lost the ability to handle many tastes after numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. He lost his battle with cancer in 2010, but my journey to health and wellness was only just beginning. 

Eight years later, I not only drink this health elixir on a daily basis, but I now make my own. What began with one tiny scoby that I ordered from Amazon (it’s amazing what you can get from Amazon!) has turned into over 50+ scobies! I avoid wastefulness with every bone in my body, and so instead of throwing these babies away, I often give them to friends or I bake them. Yep, you read that right.  I lay them flat on a baking sheet and bake them at 350 degrees until crisp and then I crumble them up into tiny pieces and attempt to pass them off as bacon bits, flax seed, wheat germ, chia seeds or whatever! The possibilities are endless. Once crisp and crumbled, they are virtually tasteless and unless you point them out to your crew, they won’t even question the tiny specks in their favorite dish. 

Believe me. I have 8 kids who will attest to this truth.

Enjoy a Wild Bounty with 3 Simple Nettle Recipes

Ask anyone in Northern New York’s Adirondack Mountains about stinging nettle, and you’ll get a story.

In my hometown haven of hiking and camping, the chances of accidentally brushing through a nettle patch while walking along an overgrown trail is more likely than not. Luckily, the itching and burning effects of nettle stings usually last only a few minutes, and the upsides to being surrounded by the edible and nutrient-rich wild plant are numerous.

Abundant in the woods, along trails, and near rivers and streams, stinging nettle (along with the similar wood nettle) is a seasonal must-have for creative cooks looking for a versatile green. Nettle harvest season begins before most cultivated crops send up fragile green shoots in our fields, and can last for months before the plants go to flower and then seed.

Be sure to prepare for your nettle-picking excursion by wearing long sleeves and pants, and by bringing along a pair of gardening gloves. Nettle patches can cover a large expanse of ground, and since you only want to pick the top 4 inches or so of plant (including the thin, fragile stems), you may need to travel through a patch to harvest your desired quantity. As soon as you wilt or dry your nettle it will lose all stinging ability and can be handled without gloves or tongs.

This mild and delicious green isn’t bitter like many other wild greens, and stands in well for spinach or arugula in soups, sauces, and pastas. Since the leaves are delicate and will break apart when stirred or blended, nettle works best in recipes where small pieces of greens are desired. You can also enjoy dried nettle as a steaming cup of tea in the cooler months to come.

Stinging nettle and wood nettle are both edible, both sting, and are quite similar in appearance. Be sure to wash nettle and allow to air dry before use, and collect leaves from areas that are unlikely to be exposed to pesticides or other contaminants. As with all foraging, consult trusted field guides and experts to ensure positive plant identification, and check with a doctor for any specific health concerns.

nettle patch

Creamy Nettle Dip

Ingredients:

• 4 firmly-packed cups of fresh nettle leaves
• 1 1/4 cups sour cream
• 1 cup thick plain yogurt
• 2 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
• 1/4 tsp ground smoked paprika
• 1 tsp garlic powder or 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 tbsp lemon juice
• Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Blanch the fresh nettle leaves. Squeeze out liquid and roughly chop. Yield should be about 1 cup of greens once blanched. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Reseason to taste, adding more lemon juice if desired.

Serve with chips or fresh veggies.

Dried Nettle for Tea

Place fresh nettle leaves on dehydrator trays (use tongs or gloves to avoid stings) with no more than two layers of leaves per tray.

Set dehydrator to 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit, and check after 4 hours. Leaves should be brittle and completely dry once done.

Let sit out for 24 hours to ensure leaves are completely dry before storing in an airtight container. Should keep up to one year. Great for steeping as tea, or bring camping to rehydrate and add some greens to your dinners.

Simple Summer Pasta with Bacon and Nettle

Ingredients:

• 3 packed cups of fresh nettle leaves, chopped (use gloves to avoid stings)
• 1/2 lb bacon, chopped
• 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
• 4 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 lb spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine, cooked
• 2 tbsp butter + 2 additional tbsp butter (optional to add in at the end)
• Fresh herbs such as parsley or chives to garnish, chopped

Preparation:

Melt 2 tbsp of the butter in a large cast iron skillet or heavy pot on medium heat.

Add chopped bacon and cook, stirring constantly until the fat renders out and the bacon begins to crisp. Add in garlic and cook until fragrant and slightly browned.

Set heat to low, and add in cooked pasta, stirring until bacon is fully incorporated and mixture is heated through. Add in chopped nettle one cup at a time, stirring until the nettle has completely wilted and is evenly distributed throughout the pasta. Once wilted, the nettle will no longer sting. Stir in ½ of the parmesan cheese and ½ of the chopped herbs.

Salt and pepper to taste. Add in remaining 2 tbsp butter if desired.

Plate and top with a small amount of parmesan and fresh herbs.

Crispy Rice Patties Recipe

Rice is a staple food of India. It balances all the three doshas—Vata, Pitta and Kapha. It's easy to digest and nourishes the body tissues.

Here's a snack to satisfy your sweet tooth and is crispy and delicious.

fresh rice crisps with coffee
Photo by Arya Krishna

Ingredients:

• 1 cup white rice, soaked in water overnight
• 2 tbsp boiled rice
• 7 tbsp powdered sugar, more if needed
• 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
• Pinch of salt
• Oil for deep frying

Method of Preparation

Blend all the ingredients well in to a smooth paste. The consistency of the batter should be slightly watery like a pancake batter. Keep this batter to ferment for at least 8 hours. After 8 hours heat oil in a stuffed pancake mould. Pour the batter to each mould and fry until crispy and soft.When its getting cooked, flip it over to the other side with a spoon or a skewer. Let the other side get cooked uncovered. Once cooked well transfer to Paper tissue and serve warm.

This recipe is my personal favorite and it is tasty and definitely your kids are going to love them.

Baked Fruit Desserts: Crisps, Cobblers, Betties and More

For a true locavore, spring is a time of transition.  Roast the last of the stored beets, chop up any lingering cabbages and scour the freezer for remaining fruit.

Leftover fruit?  That’s a bonus!

And what better destination for icy sliced peaches, frosty blueberries or even fresh fruit than a baked fruit dessert!  When you combine the health value of fruit and the joy of dessert, how can you go wrong? 

Of course, baked fruit desserts come in many different varieties. Crisps, cobblers, buckles, Brown Betties…How’s a baker to decide?

A Guide to Baked Fruit Desserts

Crisps

A crisp, sometimes called a crumble, is a fruit dessert where fruit is topped with crumbs of flour, oatmeal and sugar, then baked.  One of the most basic fruit desserts, it is super-easy and amenable to changing up for special diets.  Gluten-free?  Use a gluten-free oatmeal and flour.  Sugar-free? Sweeten with maple syrup or stevia.

freshly baked cobbler
Photo by Inger Wilkerson

Cobbler

A cobbler is a baked fruit dessert crowned with a clumpy, biscuit-like topping.  In one version, the dough is dolloped atop oven-ready fruit, while in another, dough is spread on the pan bottom and magically rises over the fruit while baking.

A slump or grunt is a variation on a cobbler that is cooked stovetop in a lidded pan rather then baked in the oven.

Clafoutis

A clafoutis (pronounced KLAH-foo-tee) is a fruit-studded, slightly cake-y custard—kind of like a sweet fruity quiche. Although it isn’t usually included in baked fruit dessert lists, it fits perfectly into a brunch menu (or as an elegant dinner dessert), so I had to include it here!

homemade buckle on plate
Photo by Inger Wilkerson
 

Buckle

A buckle is kind of like an uber-fruity coffee cake.  Loaded with berries or other fruit and topped with streusel, it may be your answer when coffee cake feels guilty!

Brown Betty

By now, I thought I’d made every kind of fruity dessert imaginable.  But I’d never made a Brown Betty.  A Brown Betty is a baked dessert of fruit layered with bread crumbs or bread cubes tossed with sugar and spices.  I went with the bread cube version after hearing reports the bread crumb style can get soggy.

Probably the simplest fruit dessert of all, the Brown Betty blew me away.  The amount of flavor you get is amazing and it’s super easy (especially if you have a tub of frozen apple slices).  It’s even relatively healthy, low in fat and sugar.

Like the crisps, you can change up a Brown Betty for special diets, using gluten free bread and the sweetener of your choice.  Want to give it a try?  Check out the recipe below!

Other Fruit Dessert Options

Of course, these desserts just scratch the surface of baked fruit dessert options.  We’re all familiar with fruit pies, but did you know you can top a single pie crust with fruit, then fold in the sides for a galette?  Then there are kuchens, pandowdies …

So many baked fruit desserts, so little time!

brown betty with ice cream
Photo by Inger Wilkerson

Apple Brown Betty (serves 4)

Ingredients

• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 2 slices sandwich bread cut in 1/4-inch cubes (I used honey whole wheat)
• 1 tablespoons melted butter
• 1 tablespoon lemon zest
• 3-4 cups apple slices (about 1lb) – no need to peel
• 2 tablespoons apple cider or water

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Combine the cinnamon and the sugar and set aside 2 tablespoons. Put the bread cubes in a bowl and toss with the rest of the sugar mixture, the melted butter, and the lemon rind.

3. Line the bottom of a casserole with half of the bread cubes. Layer the apple slices over the bread and sprinkle with the cider or water.  Top with the remaining bread cubes and sprinkle with the reserved 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Cover the casserole and bake for 40 minutes, then remove the lid and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until apples are tender and the topping is brown.

4. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream for a special treat!

Serving a crowd?  Double the recipe, use a larger casserole, and make with five layers instead of three.  Easy-peasy!    


Join Inger at Art of Natural Living for great local food, gardening fun and green lifestyle tips. From (mostly) healthy recipes to natural body care, living naturally is an art

Have You Heard of the Macrobiotic Diet?

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If you’ve ever meditated, then you likely appreciate balance — balance of the mind and balance of the body. Meditation originated in ancient Asia, as did the macrobiotic diet, so it’s no surprise that, like meditation, the macrobiotic diet is based on balance. This diet is more than a particular combination of healthy food; it can have mental benefits as well. Like meditation, the macrobiotic diet has been around for centuries, and it’s based on the principles of eating to meet your body’s needs.

What is the Macrobiotic Diet?

In the modern world, eating is seen as an activity. You go out for dinner with friends, you cook family dinners and have one-on-one time with your kids, or you order something different, possibly strange, for the experience. Comfort food and junk food are always a temptation, and eating when full is a common occurrence.

The macrobiotic diet, however, is based on your bodies needs more than anything else. A few of the principles include eating enough nutrients, but not eating until you’re full, eating healthy food rather than indulgent food, and eating natural food without artificial ingredients.

Unlike other diets, the macrobiotic diet has recommended guidelines, but you also need to adjust for your own body’s needs. As much as possible though, you should stick to the following breakdown:

  • 60% whole grains
  • 30% vegetables
  • 10% protein

When picking out your meals, you should keep in mind that the macrobiotic diet is pescatarian and eco-conscious. Though you can eat fish, like salmon, it is recommended you only do so 2-3 times a week. The rest of the time, you should be eating tofu or tempeh, or seaweed. Not only does seaweed tie in with the pescatarian them, but sea vegetables are also a surprisingly great source for protein.

When eating your food, you should take the time to eat slowly, and chew your food extensively before swallowing. One factor that sets this diet apart from other diets and diet recommendations is about drinking water. You should only drink when thirsty, and be careful not to drink excessively. When it comes to what you drink, you should essentially only drink water, tea, or coffee.

The Macrobiotic Lifestyle

In order to make any diet work, you need to make it more than a temporary mix of food guidelines; it needs to be incorporated into lifestyle. However, when talking about the macrobiotic diet, it truly becomes your lifestyle. As mentioned before, the macrobiotic diet is based on the same philosophies as meditation, and there is a lot of focus on balance.

In this diet, you want to listen to your body and feed it right, but you also need to treat it right apart from that.

  • Yoga, martial arts,
  • Practice being grateful
  • Drink liquids in moderation
  • Do not eat a few hours before bed
  • Spend time outside, but be careful of sun exposure

In addition to those guidelines, you want to make sure that you use natural products around your house. The macrobiotic diet emphasizes eating whole, natural food, and extends that to your lifestyle. For example, you should opt for clothing made out of cotton over polyester and other synthetic material, and you should keep ceramic dishes over plastic ones.

Is the Macrobiotic Diet Right For You?

Whether or not you should take on the macrobiotic diet depends on your lifestyle. If you already incorporate or have a deep interest in meditation, yoga, martial arts, and other Eastern practices, it is a good sign that this diet is right for you.

If you have kids, you should consider how this diet will fit into their lives. While it may not be a good idea to have them on this diet, you can introduce them to healthy eating habits in a few ways. For example, juice is a major source of sugar for children, so you can give them water and tea to drink most of the time over juice, or even soda.

While forcing healthy diet habits on them can lead to struggles with healthy eating, teaching them little by little about the needs of their bodies is a great lesson for them to learn. Just keep in mind that you may have to cook separate meals for you and your kids at times.

One great thing about the macrobiotic diet is that it passes through the tests of Jennifer Brown, a registered dietitian and faculty associate at ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion. She offers advice for eating healthy — aimed for her students at ASU, but can be applied to anybody trying out a new diet on a busy schedule. These include eating mindfully, finding a long-term diet, listening to your body, and not choosing an unhealthy, trendy diet.

Once you have jumped into the macrobiotic lifestyle, you will be on your way to a more balanced, wholesome life. This lifestyle can help with your physical and mental health, as well as providing delicious and nutritious foods for your stomach.







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