I love the Fall – the leaves are changing, there is a bit of a chill in the air, and we get to pull out the sweaters. But perhaps one of my favorite things about the Fall – is pumpkin!
Pumpkin is a member of the winter squash family – an excellent source of fiber, which supports a healthy digestive system. The deep orange color of the pumpkin flesh tells us that it is a rich source of beta carotene (vitamin A) – which is important for healthy eyes, and boosts the immune system too (important this time of year).
Growing up, it just never quite feel like Fall until my mom made a batch of her pumpkin bread. Moist, delicious, pumkin-y and fragrant with spices. But her recipe was made with white flour, lots of sugar, and vegetable oil (the recipe actually calls for ‘salad oil’). So I decided to reinvent her pumpkin bread into these delicious grain free anti-inflammatory pumpkin mini muffins – with healthy coconut oil replacing the ‘salad oil’, ground flax and coconut flour in place of the white flour, and waaaay less sugar. Plus, these are also nut free for my friends that can’t have nuts.
The plethora of spices in these muffins fill the kitchen with the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves while they bake.
Mini Pumpkin Flax Muffins
Makes about 24 mini muffins.
Serve & enjoy! These are extra yummy with a little grass fed butter on them.
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
I don’t think that Vitamin D gets enough credit for how important it is for our immune system to properly work, and in the fight against the flu and other viruses. Optimizing your vitamin D is perhaps is the #1 step to take to prevent the flu!!! Studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D could increase your risk of getting influenza. An estimated 70% of the population is deficient in vitamin D, and because the sun is the best source – Winter and Spring tend to be when it dips the lowest (it should come as no surprise that is when colds and flu spike too!). Vitamin D is very important for cancer prevention, and also shows some promise for asthma symptoms and several skin conditions too.
Vitamin D is very important for the immune system – without sufficient Vit D, our T cells (important immune cells) can’t be activated properly. This is important for fighting the flu, and also for prevention of cancer – it is estimated that 75% of breast cancers could be prevented simply by optimizing vitamin D levels. Vitamin D also is found to be effective in preventing and treating skin conditions like eczema, psoriosis, and even recurring infections like Staph, and MRSA as well. Other signs of deficiency can be muscle aches and pains, fractures, depression, blood sugar issues, and more.
According to studies optimal Vitamin D could also benefit asthma sufferers. Asthma makes kids particularly susceptible to getting more serious complications of flu and Enterovirus.
How to get it? Sunshine is your best source – which is why it is called the sunshine vitamin. But you can also supplement – make sure your supplement has the D3 form (cholecalciferol), which is better absorbed than D2 (ergocalciferol, which is a cheaper form, and also the kind added to milk).
How much to supplement? It depends. The right amount will depend on your blood levels of vitamin D, so it is a good idea to have your vitamin D levels checked this time of year. Ideal blood levels are between 40-65 ng/dl. If your levels are really low, your doctor might prescribe a high dose to quickly boost your levels. But generally, adults can very safely take 2,000- 2,500 IU daily, and studies show that 1,200 IU for kids ages 6-15 benefits the immune system. The RDA is 600 IU for kids, and 800 IU for adults, but many physicians and experts feel that those amounts are not high enough to get levels to where they need to be. Talk to your doctor or practitioner about getting your vitamin D checked, or ask how many IU that they recommend that you/your family supplements. Also – magnesium is needed for absorption, so make sure you are getting plenty of leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, raw cacao, nuts, or taking magnesium supplements (avoid the oxide form which is poorly absorbed).
In Sanskrit, coconut trees are referred to as “Kalpa Vriksha” which means: “The tree that gives all that is necessary for life.”
This is no exaggeration, because the coconut supplies water, oil, and it’s flesh can be made into many different products from coconut milk to coconut flour, which is popular with the Paleo crowd because it is versatile, grain-free and high in fiber and nutrients. The coconut really is one of the most amazing superfoods ever.
Coconuts are technically what is called a “drupe,” which is a type of fruit.
A young coconut has a smooth green exterior, but usually when you find it in the store, that will have been removed, and it will look white. As the coconut ages, the exterior will become more brown and hairy. The flesh becomes more dense and nutritious as the coconut ages, because it soaks up more of the minerals from the water. So if you want to drink the water, make sure to get the young coconuts, because there will be more of water, and it will have more nutrients. The flesh of the young coconut is softer than the mature coconuts.
I recently discovered this really cool tool called the Coco Jack, which makes opening a young coconut a breeze (and it is fun to get a little bit of your aggressions out too). Check this video out to see how easy it is to use! It also has a cool tool that you can use to scoop out the flesh too. My 12 year old son is a coconut water snob – he only likes to drink it straight out of the coconut, and he is an expert at using the Coco Jack!
If you can’t get your hands on a young coconut, try Harmless Harvest raw coconut water – it is totally raw, so it is not pasteurized, which means it retains all the natural nutrients and tastes just like it came right from the fresh coconut – because it did!! Because it is raw, you will need to refrigerate it, and you will find it in the refrigerator section of the grocery store.
There are many different products that are made out of coconuts. One of the most amazing foods for our metabolism, is coconut oil, which is made by extracting the oil from the flesh. I like to put it in my tea or coffee every morning to stimulate my metabolism and energy. When choosing a coconut oil, make sure to look for quality unrefined, organic cold pressed virgin oils. If you are planning to cook it at a very high heat, you can use refined coconut oil. Read Cuckoo for Coconut Oil to learn more about the health benefits and uses of coconut oil.
Some of my other favorite coconut products:
One of the most interesting things about sweet potatoes, is that despite having “sweet” in their name, and tasting sweet, they are low glycemic. Low glycemic foods gradually raise your bloodsugar. Sweet potatoes spike your bloodsugar significantly less than a regular white potato!
They are a nearly perfect food with high fiber, rich in vitamins like beta carotene (which gives it’s flesh the rich orange color), and have been shown to aid in recovery for athletes. Read 15 Superfoods for Peak Performance to learn about how sweet potatoes and other foods are good for performance and recovery.
I actually prefer yams over sweet potatoes, because they are darker in color, which means richer in vitamins and nutrients (sweet potatoes and yams are often used interchangeably and confused). So this recipe should really be called yam pie – but that does not sound as good.
Last night we had roasted sweet potatoes and I sprinkled on some cinnamon and swirled in some applesauce into them. It was so good – it tasted like a cross between apple and pumpkin pie. So today I decided to recreate that yumminess with a Cinnamon Apple Sweet Potato Pie smoothie!
Cinnamon Apple Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie:
Whip this up before heading to the gym, because it is chock full of superfoods for peak performance!!
* Cinnamon is a wonderful spice for supporting healthy blood sugar levels. The more common form of cinnamon sold in the United States is cassia cinnamon. Cassia has coumarin, a compound that is toxic to the liver in high doses. Although less common in the U.S., Ceylon type of cinnamon is considered “true” cinnamon, and it does not contain coumarin. It might be a little more expensive, but I find Ceylon to be milder, a little sweeter, and more complex – definitely the best cinnamon choice!
First domesticated by the Mayans over 2,000 years ago, cacao is one of the most nutritionally complex foods on earth.
Cacao is the main ingredient in dark chocolate. The word “chocolate” comes from the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans.
The word cacao means “food of the gods.” It is aptly named, as cacao offers a myriad of health benefits. Raw cacao has historically been used as medicine, and was so revered, that the beans were used as currency. Although, not typically considered a sports performance food, raw cacao is definitely one superfood that athletes should consider adding to their regimen, because it delivers on so many levels.
Cacao vs. Cocoa
Raw cacao powder is made by cold-pressing the whole beans, which keeps all the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and more unharmed. Because cocoa powder is heated and processed, it does not retain as many nutrients as the raw cacao has. So the raw cacao is superior nutritionally over cocoa. I like the brand Sunfood. They offer cacao powder, whole beans, paste, and nibs – which tastes nutty and chocolate (delicious as a topping – like in this Pumpkin Cacao Chip Smoothie)! When choosing chocolates, look for the highest percentage of cacao, which means it contains more of the cacao, and less sugar – if you can find chocolate made with raw cacao, even better.
Raw cacao has an oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) score of 95,500 per 100 grams, making it one of the best sources of antioxidants, which is helpful in preventing and repairing free radical damage. Exercising increases the formation of free radicals, so a diet high in antioxidants is important for athletes. There is also evidence that diets high in antioxidants could offer protection against many different diseases.
Cacao is also one of the best food-known sources of magnesium, which has been shown in studies to be very important for athletes and heart health. Magnesium is required for over 300 enzymatic reactions, including the synthesis of fat, protein and nucleic acids, muscular contraction and relaxation, cardiac health and bone building. Magnesium improves blood flow and plays a key role in the metabolism of adenosine triphoshate (ATP), critical for aerobic and anaerobic functions.
Low magnesium levels raise our risk of heart attack and stroke, and could be to blame in cases of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. It if estimated that most Americans do not get sufficient magnesium levels, and athletes could have more serious deficiencies since exercising further depletes levels. The following symptoms can be an indicator of low magnesium levels: muscle cramping, migraines or headaches, restless leg syndrome, twitching, heart disease, and anxiety. If you do choose to supplement instead of eating raw cacao – look for the citrate, orotate, or malate forms of magnesium (not oxide which is poorly absorbed). If the magnesium causes loose stools, make sure to reduce the dose.
Because of the antioxidant capacity and magnesium levels, it should come as no surprise that a recent study published in the Journal of Physiology found that cacao may help bolster exercise endurance. Cacao is also rich in other important nutrients for athletes including potassium, iron and more. Cacao offers a long list of health benefits including reducing heart attack and stroke, lowering blood pressure, boosting mood and brain function, lowering stress, relaxing muscles, boosting our skin’s internal SPF, and much more.
Try this Choco-Banana Super Smoothie – which contains raw cacao and 5 other Superfoods!! Don’t have time to make that? grab a delicious dairy-raw raw cacao Rau drink to go!!
Boosts Blood Flow to Heart, Brain, and Ahem…Other Organs
Raw cacao is also a food to consider in the fight against heart disease and Alzheimers – cacao has been shown in studies to improve blood flow to all organs in the body. It also has been found in studies to reduce dementia, and even improve the brain’s ability to perform math problems. Cacao has a protective effects on endothelial function, important for heart health. So having a square of dark chocolate or a couple of tablespoons of raw cacao daily is actually very good for you, and could even help to prevent heart attack and stroke. Plus, unlike Viagra, which improves blood flow to one region, the flavinols in cacao improve blood flow throughout the body – including to the same organ that Viagra targets! In addition, cacao contains a compound called threobromine, which has powerful mood-enhancing qualities, and also is a mild diuretic. Dogs can not metabolize theobromine, which is why it can be toxic to dogs.
Read Sara’s article 15 Superfoods for Peak Performance to learn more about how athletes can benefit from other superfoods. Also sign up to download Sara’s free Cooking with Superfoods eBook to get some superfood recipes. Sara offers nutritional counseling, and also eCourses – Sara’s popular 1 week Break up with Sugar Program eCourse is coming up on Feb 5th – it is an online program that you can take in 1 week, or at your own pace.
The other day I drove into a Rancho Santa Fe gas station, and just as I was about to jump out to go pump my gas, the nice attendant came up and asked me “I’d be happy to pump your gas for you. Premium fuel today?” Yes, please, I respond and get back in the drivers seat. “Wow, they have good service at this gas station,” I say to my son. I glance back at the pump and notice that they also have 100 octane fuel, I had never seen that before, and boy is it expensive – over $6 a gallon! I think to myself, that must be the super premium fuel for all those Ferrari’s and other high performance cars that you see zipping around Rancho Santa Fe all the time. It stands to reason that the higher performance car you have, the higher quality of fuel it needs.
That stop at the Rancho Santa Fe gas station got me thinking about sports nutrition. Athletes are kind of like high performance cars. Just as we expect sports cars to perform better than an average car, athletes put higher demands on their body and seek superior performance. Putting the wrong gas into a Ferrari can mean lower performance, and overtime could land it in the shop for repairs or even create damage to the motor/inner workings. The same is true for young athletes – if they are choosing lots of junk food, they might not end up with optimal performance, or over time could end up with chronic inflammation and be plagued with injuries.
Endurance and elite athletes burn a significant amount of calories, so they can and need to regularly eat a lot of calories to replenish their energy reserves. But just because they can polish off a box of donuts or a large soda and a couple 20 piece nuggets and still not gain weight, does not mean that they should. Just like a Ferrari, athletes should consider putting in the best possible fuel if they want peak performance.
Because of the extra demands they put on their bodies, it is important for athletes to consume a diet rich in plant-based foods, high quality (ideally grass-fed) protein sources, plenty of healthy fats, and limit nutrient-deficient and inflammation-causing foods (foods that contain a lot of sugar, trans fats, or too many omega 6 fats – found in vegetable oils, soy oils, etc).
One of the best foods an athlete can add to their training regime are superfoods. Superfoods are highly nutrient dense foods that provide an abundance of nutrition and can potentially improve performance and overall health…kind of like “super premium” fuel.
At the top of my list of functional foods for athletes are these 15 superfoods.
15 Superfoods for Peak Performance:
It’s the hottest new accessory – everyone seems to be carrying a bottle of fresh pressed bright green juice nowadays. Press it yourself, grab it to go from your grocery store, or pop into the new juice bar that has popped up near you.
A medium sized juice can contain a couple pounds of plant-based foods per bottle, so cold-pressed green juices are certainly nutritional powerhouses with loads of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And because so many plants are concentrated in that little bottle – many people are smart to go organic to avoid a pesticide hit. So what could be a more perfect way to get more plant-based foods into our daily diets than a bottle of organic green juice? But what if I told you that you might as well as be dumping some of that $9 bottle of organic green juice right down the drain?
Now wait a second, don’t get me wrong – I love an energizing and delicious green juice as much as the next girl. But the thing is – a good amount of the vitamins in that bottle are the fat-soluble kind. You see, it is not what we eat (or drink), it is what we absorb. And in order to absorb fat soluble vitamins, there needs to be fat present. So if you are not consuming your green juice with a little bit of healthy fat, you might not be effectively absorbing all those wonderful nutrients that have been so carefully cold pressed into that bottle for you.
So what is a green-juice loving gal or guy to do? No, I am not suggesting that you give up your green juice habit. Just serve up a little healthy fat* on the side if you want to maximize your absorption of those vitamins. *Note: healthy fats (I am not suggesting a doughnut on the side!). You could soak some chia seeds in your juice, or toss back a handful of nuts with it. If you are juicing at home, you could put a teaspoon of avocado or medium chain coconut oil into it, or just take your daily fish oil supplement with it. A little bit of fat will go a long way to help you absorb those fat-soluble vitamins.
If you don’t have fat with your greens every single time – don’t worry – our bodies only need a small amount of the fat soluble vitamins, and they also store them in the liver for later use (unlike the water soluble vitamins that need to be replenished more frequently).
Just remember – healthy fat is your friend. In addition to helping us absorb vitamins, it stabilizes our blood sugar, helps to control hunger hormones, and much more. So go get your green juice on – just try to maximize it’s benefits with a little healthy fat whenever possible, your blood sugar will thank you later too!
Learn more about healthy fat in Sara’s eCourses. And get Sara’s green lemonade and some other superfood recipes in Sara’s free Cooking with Superfoods ebooklet (just remember to add your favorite form of fat)!
Some other foods, that despite not being high in water content, when paired with fluids, can help to rehydrate (and even prehydrate) the body as well:
Artichokes do not get the credit that they deserve as a superfood. But their antioxidant capacity puts them in the top four vegetables and seventh overall according to a study conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The Artichoke, also known as cynara, is a member of the thistle family, a group of flowering plants that have sharp leaves (and also Winne the Pooh’s friend Eeyore’s favorite food!). The edible part of the plant is the flower base which if allowed to blossom, can create a beautiful huge purple flower.
A wonderful spring vegetable that are packed with phytonutrients, artichokes were prized in Ancient Roman times as an aphrodisiac. A wonderful natural remedy for elevated cholesterol, the artichoke doesn’t just lower cholesterol, it optimizes it – lowering LDL levels, and raising HDL levels. A double-blind placebo controlled German study found 1,800 mg of artichoke extract to lower LDL by 22.9% in just 6 weeks (compared to 6% in the placebo group), read more! Artichoke is also supportive of liver detoxification, which is important for healthy cholesterol levels, hormone regulation, and much more.
Although most people’s favorite part of the artichoke is the heart, the leaves contain the vast majority of the cynarin, which offers the powerful health benefits. You can buy the extract, or artichoke supplements, but one of the best ways to extract the nutrition is to make organic artichoke tea.
The green liquid left in the pot that most people throw away after you cook an artichoke is basically artichoke tea!
Note: if your tea is a drab brownish green color, you might have overcooked it. Sometimes, the tea will start out a lightish green and will brighten in the refrigerator over a few hours.
Artichoke tea supports the liver to cleanse by enhancing the excretion of unwanted toxins in bile. When the liver is better supported, it can help to improve hormone regulation, and improve the quality of the skin:
The above recipe is one of the over 50 recipes in Sara’s book The Perfect Metabolism Plan.
Note: Persons taking prescription medications or with an existing health condition should consult a doctor before taking the above foods, herbs, vitamins or supplements to be sure there are no interactions. Do not stop taking your prescription medications without consulting your doctor.
When there is a bit of a chill in the air, curling up on the couch with a nice cup of hot chocolate is a delicious way to warm up. My kids love hot chocolate – but I don’t love the kind made with those hot chocolate packets – each cup contains 20 grams of sugar (5 teaspoons!) and a bunch of other no-so-healthy ingredients we try to avoid. Here is the ingredients list from a popular brand:
SUGAR, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, VEGETABLE OIL (PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COCONUT OR PALM KERNEL AND HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN), DAIRY PRODUCT SOLIDS, COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI, AND LESS THAN 2% OF CELLULOSE GUM, NONFAT MILK, SALT, SODIUM CASEINATE, SODIUM CITRATE, DIPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM ALUMINOSILICATE, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, GUAR GUM, ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS.
Then I found the perfect solution – delicious and healthy hot chocolate – thanks to Barleans Chocolate Greens! First of all, these greens are like no other – they do not taste “greenish” or look at all green – so they are great for kids, especially picky ones. They are not grainy at all either – they stir in totally smooth into your liquid. Each serving contains more than 5 servings of vegetables, probiotics, superfood greens, and much more! So when I read that it makes a yummy hot chocolate – we decided to give it a try – and it definitely makes a delicious and super healthy cup of hot chocolate (or chocolate milk, or chocolate smoothie)!
I wasn’t expecting my daughter to like it, who is a mostly reformed, but still a little bit of picky eater, and definitely a supertaster – so when she gave it the thumbs up, I was totally elated.
There are a couple ways to make it:
Pour your hot chocolate into a mug, and serve. Optional – you could even use a mini organic
candy cane to stir – it will give it a nice minty taste. Or top with some Elyon gluten free mini marshmallows, available at Whole Foods markets.
© copyright 2015 Sara Vance