Today’s Health Morsel: Nasturtium

The leaves on my nasturtium plants are getting so big, they’re reminding me of lily pads. I love having nasturtiums in my garden, as they’re both beautiful and functional. I’ve come across some articles mistakenly claiming that nasturtiums repel aphids. I saw one article suggesting making an infusion out of nasturtiums and spraying it on your garden. Don’t do that! Whoever wrote that has never had a nasturtium plant. Aphids love them! For that reason, some people plant them outside of their vegetable garden, at some distance, to attract the aphids away from their veggies.

That is not, however, my goal when I plant my nasturtiums. I have a single purpose in mind: to make as much nasturtium pesto as humanly possible, and freeze it so that I have enough for the whole year. It’s one of my favorite things. But I’ll get to that later. First, today’s daily dozen starts with…

breakfast_text

Normally, I have most or all of my fruits & berries during breakfast. However, it’s the first day of the year that we’re getting above 80 F (26 C), so I already know that I’m going to be having some banana ice dream with black raspberries tonight for dessert. Thus, I’m going to leave the banana & berries out of my usual breakfast routine. Also, because I already know that I don’t enjoy the texture of flaxseed with melon, I’m going to add it to the ice dream – we’ll see how that turns out. I think it’ll be really nice.

  • 1/2 charentais melon

Aside from drinks, that’s it.

Checklist items: 2 other fruits (2 out of 18 servings)


lunch_textThe entire above-ground portion of the nasturtium plant is edible. The base of the larger/older stems do tend to be a bit too fibrous, though, so I cut the leaves and flowers off an inch or two down. It tastes both peppery, like its namesake, watercress (a.k.a. nasturtium officinale), and sweet. In fact, mine are exceptionally sweet this year – almost like candy. Hailing from northwestern South America, the nasturtium has been used traditionally to treat urinary and respiratory infections, including colds & flu.

Nasturtium plants, like their cabbage cousins, contain kaempferol – a flavonoid/antioxidant which has been shown to aid in cancer prevention and treatment along with quercitin, also contained in nasturtium. We also find anthocyanins, carotenoids, vitamin C, iron, sulphur, & manganese. It’s best to eat both the leaves and the flowers, as they have different distributions of these beneficial elements.

Anyone who has been concerned about eyesight & nutrition probably knows the value of lutein, but a search for lutein-rich foods typically has kale at the top of the list, despite the fact that nasturtiums provide the highest lutein density of any edible plant – 45 mg per 100 g. Lutein is vital in preventing macular degeneration & glaucoma. In plants as well as animals, it helps to absorb damaging high-energy blue light rays, preventing free radical damage via antioxidant activity.

In a paper published in 2009, two researchers demonstrated that the essential oil in nasturtiums (benzyl isothiocyanate) kills harmful intestinal bacteria, such as E. coli and C. difficile, while leaving intact our gut microbiome’s beneficial bacteria, such as bifidobacterium & lactobacillus.

For all these reasons and more, I vote that we start paying more attention in general to edible flowers, and in particular to nasturtiums! Good thing the best pesto I’ve ever had is a nasturtium pesto! And my favorite way to use it is in sandwiches.

20170525_165522.jpg

You can find the recipe for my nasturtium pesto here. As I mentioned before, I make enough to freeze and use throughout the year. It loses its pepperyness when frozen, but that’s actually better for kids, and it still tastes totally amazing. So, for lunch, I’m having…

  • 2 slices of whole grain bread
  • 1/2 c nasturtium pesto
  • 2 slices of zucchini
  • 2 slices of bell pepper
  • 2 slices of cucumber
  • thinly sliced red onion
  • radish sprouts
  • 1 c arugula & lettuce, mixed
  • 1/2 c broccoli
  • 1/4 c hummus

I’ll put as much of this as I can into the sandwich, except for the hummus & broccoli – it will depend on the size of the bread, really. The rest I’ll just eat as veggies & dip. My whole grain bread is actually quite small – half the size of a “normal” sandwich-style loaf.

Checklist items: cruciferous, 2 greens, 2 other vegetables, spices, 1 whole grains (7 out of 18 servings)


dinner_textDinner is quick, and not too filling, because we want to save room for banana & black raspberry ice dream for dessert!

  • 1 1/2 c black & pinto beans, mixed
  • 1 c corn kernels
  • 1/4 c cilantro

For flavor I added unknown quantities of lime juice, tamari, cumin, paprika, oregano, & sriracha, enough to suit my taste.

Checklist items: 3 beans, spices, 2 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


dessert_text

It’s so rare I have a dessert, so this feels like a treat, even though it’s basically just my breakfast in frozen form, with a little vanilla flavoring & nut milk added in. The basic recipe is here. Today, I used just 1 large banana, and added the following:

  • 1 T ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 c frozen black raspberries
  • 1/4 c crushed Brazil nuts

Checklist items: berries, 1.5 other fruits, flaxseeds, nuts (4.5 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

19.5 servings in total

We got at least the recommended servings of everything, plus extra spices and 1/2 an extra serving of other fruits.

Today’s Health Morsel: Peas

Ok, maybe I’m jumping the gun a little here, but it won’t be too much longer before fresh peas are coming out of the garden. Mine are currently flowering, and I’m getting excited. Like most of us, I wasn’t a big pea fan when I was a kid. I didn’t mind them – they just weren’t my favorite vegetable. Also like most of us (I think) I always thought of peas as a vegetable. After all, they were put on the side of my plate with a bit of salt and butter, just like the broccoli or the carrots or the Brussels sprouts. Nobody ever put a spoonful of plain beans with a little salt and butter on the side of my plate. But peas are actually a legume, and they have the high protein content to prove it. Like their bean cousins (& corn & potatoes), they’re also starchy. More about peas at dinnertime. First, the daily dozen meal plan for breakfast & lunch.

breakfast_text

Strawberries are in season – they tend not to last too long around here, and I have to fight to have some left for my breakfast.

  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 T ground flaxseed (sprinkled on the banana slices)
  • 1/2 charentais melon
  • 1/2 c strawberries

Checklist items: berries, 3 other fruits, flaxseed (5 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

Today I wanted something a bit lighter for lunch, so I made some lettuce wraps – I put the hummus, mustard, and other veggies on the lettuce, and folded it up like a burrito. Quick and painless. Add some sriracha for a little kick.

  • 1/2 c hummus
  • 1/2 c broccoli, chopped
  • 1/2 c cauliflower, chopped
  • 1/2 c yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 4 leaves romaine lettuce (this will depend on the size of the leaves)
  • mustard

Checklist items: 2 beans, cruciferous, 2 greens, 2 other vegetables (7 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

20170427_100022.jpg

I was surprised to find that there’s actually quite a lot to say about peas! We can use peas (and other legumes) to help us improve our own health and engage in environmentally sustainable agriculture at the same time. No wonder we’ve been eating them for thousands of years! According to wikipedia, the earliest archaeological evidence of pea use by humans goes back to the late Neolithic era (which began in 5300 BC) in what are now Greece, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, & Georgia.


Sustainable agriculture

Most of us are not solely concerned with our own health, but also with the environment, the possibility of a future for humanity on this earth, and protecting the rights of other beings with whom we share this chunk of rock hurtling through space. What connects all of these concerns? Our collective food choices, and peas have a specific and vital role to play.

Peas and other legumes benefit soil in multiple ways. They feed soil microbes, which help to decompose organic matter, fertilizing the soil. If the microbes in the soil were to die all over the earth, it would be the end of life as we know it. These microbes produce the food that plants eat, ensuring that the plants are healthy and able to resist disease & tolerate environmental stresses, like severe weather brought on by climate change. Legumes produce larger amounts & different kinds of amino acids than most other crops, so that the plant residue left in the field or garden plot after harvest (or added to the compost) helps to increase not only the amount but also the diversity of soil microbes. This leads to even greater protection against disease-causing fungi & bacteria.

Nitrogen is extremely important for the healthy development of practically all plants. Peas and other legumes are unique (with few exceptions) in their ability to draw nitrogen from the air. Most plants rely on whatever nitrogen is available in the soil. This is why nitrogen-based fertilizers are of such importance. Current standard farming practices rapidly deplete the soil of nitrogen, requiring the use of manure or chemical fertilizers, both of which produce huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. And they are highly problematic in other ways. Animal feces (i.e., manure) can introduce e. coli and other pathogens into our vegetable supply, the ingestion of which can be deadly. And fertilizers don’t contain just the right amount of nitrogen to be used by the plants – they contain excessive amounts, and the excess runs off into rivers, lakes, and ocean water causing algal blooms. The algae uses up all the oxygen in the water, creating dead zones, like the massive one in the Gulf of Mexico – one of the world’s largest – read more here.

Chemical fertilizers are also increasing in price, along with the fossil fuels required to make them, which is devastating for people in developing countries who have been sold the idea that they have to rely on these chemical fertilizers for productivity.

Finally, some of the nitrogen that runs off ends up converting into nitrous oxide, a particularly damaging greenhouse gas, with 296 times the global warming potential of CO2. Most nitrous oxide production, by the way, is actually from cows and other livestock bred for meat, which create around 22 – 27 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of beef, the worst offender being Kobe beef at 36.4 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of beef. Peas and other pulses produce 0.5 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of food.

In addition to a low carbon footprint, peas and other legumes have a low water footprint. 1 kg of beef requires 43 times more water than 1 kg of legumes.


Human Health

All legumes are beneficial to health in several ways – they help to reduce cholesterol, control blood sugar, prevent diabetes, and increase lifespan in general, so what’s so special about peas? Their phytonutrient profile.

Coumestrol is a phytonutrient – a phytoestrogen – found in peas as well as soybeans, Brussels sprouts, spinach, alfalfa, and red clover. Coumestrol is thought to reduce the risk of breast, stomach, and prostate cancers. According to traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, it may also play a role in helping with menopausal symptoms and digestive issues. Plants tend to contain higher levels of coumestrol when they have been damaged by aphids, bacteria, viruses, and fungi, so it may be part of the plants’ natural defense system, but this is currently not well-understood.

The scientific name for peas is pisum sativum, so you can guess where the phytonutrients ‘pisumsaponins’ and ‘pisomosides’ got their names from. They appear almost exclusively in peas. As a group, saponins engage in antitumor and antimutagenic (fighting gene mutation) behavior, as well as cholesterol reduction, antioxidant activity, and immune-function boosting. We do not yet know what the precise role of the pea’s unique blend of phytonutrients might be, but we do know that they’re both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

Did you know that peas also have the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids necessary to absorb their fat-soluble vitamins, like beta-carotene & vitamin E? Small amounts of high-quality fats – just what the doctor ordered.

There’s something else rather interesting in peas – spermidine. Like pisumsaponins, you can probably guess where it was first discovered. No, not the whales. But it is also found in food, peas being at the top of the list along with whole grains, mushrooms, leafy greens, soybeans, pears, broccoli, cauliflower, other legumes, potatoes, corn, & mangoes. Though there are no completed human trials, studies on yeast, fruit flies, mice, and in vitro studies using human cells all suggest that spermidine may help to prolong lifespan by inducing ‘autophagy’ (also promoted by fasting). This is the process by which your cells take out the trash, so to speak. As we age, we tend to have less spermidine. As with almost everything that we are required to get from food, it’s probably not the best idea to take supplements. Spermidine also plays a role in cell growth and regulation, so it could be cancer-promoting in high concentrations. As always, the balance that is available in nature is most likely the balance that we evolved to be ideally suited to.

After reading all of this wonderful information about peas, I bet you’re excited to eat more of them! This recipe will accomplish just that. I first found the basis for it on Cookie + Kate, but my version is vegan, healthier, simpler, and cheaper (not that the original is expensive). It’s enough for 2 people, with the pesto liberally applied. I get annoyed with people who skimp on the sauce.

  • 2 c (300 g) peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 c (65 g) raw cashews
  • 1/4 c mint leaves (If you don’t like mint, substitute basil)
  • juice from half a lemon (1 T)
  • 1/3 c (80 ml) aquafaba
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water (take some of the cooking water from the peas or pasta)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (don’t add any salt if you’re using aquafaba from canned garbanzo beans)
  • 3 c cooked whole wheat pasta
  1. Blanch the peas.
  2. Add everything except for the pasta in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pre-soaking the cashews for 1 hr in hot water is a good idea, but not essential if you’re in a rush. This blog disagrees with that last part.
  3. Mix with pasta & serve!

Checklist items: 1 beans, nuts, spices, 3 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

18 servings in total

We got the recommended servings of everything today.

Today’s Health Morsel: Beets!

Today’s daily dozen meal plan starts out hot & sweet, ends with ice cream, and incorporates the beautiful beet. Plus, i’ll explain why nitrates are beneficial in beets but bad news in bacon.


 

breakfast_text

cornmeal_20160627_135454As the weather gets colder I have less desire for fruit in the morning. I’m a lot more interested in putting something warm in my belly. So, this morning I went for cornmeal mush.

  • 1/2 c. hot cornmeal mush w/
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 1/4 c. dried figs
  • 1 nectarine

Checklist items: 2 other fruits, 1 whole grains (3 out of 18 servings)


 

lunch_text

Even though it’s late September now, I still have loads of fresh lettuce in the garden, so I’m having a nice big salad of beans & greens, all from the garden, with Chef AJ’s House Dressing for lunch.

  • 1 1/2 c. borlotti beans
  • 1/2 c. arugula
  • 2 c. kamikaze lettuce
  • 1 T ground flaxseed to sprinkle on top
  • a little fresh basil, coriander & mint

Checklist items: 3 beans, cruciferous, 2 greens, flaxseeds, spices (8 out of 18 servings)


 

dinner_text

beetroot-687251_640

Surprisingly, there’s a lot to say on the topic of beets. Let’s start with nitrates. Beets are high in nitrates. Nitrates can form nitrites, which are fine in themselves, but they can go on to form either nitric oxide or nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are carcinogenic – cancer-causing – so we definitely want to be sure that our beets are not giving us cancer. No worries! Nitrosamines form from nitrites in processed meats, in the absence of plants. This occurs in the meat itself before it ever makes it onto a dinner plate, so, even though a measly 20 mg of vitamin C blocks nitrosamine production, adding a salad to your sausage dinner isn’t going to help.

Nitric oxide, on the other hand, is what we get when we eat beets or other nitrate-rich whole vegetables. Our bodies love nitric oxide! It makes energy production more efficient by requiring less oxygen. This increases athletic performance, as well as endurance of any physical activity in people with emphysema, high blood pressure, and peripheral artery disease. It also helps to reduce blood pressure, increasing blood-flow especially to at-risk areas of the ageing brain. A side-effect of the body being able to produce energy more efficiently is metabolism reduction. That might sound scary, like beets will make you gain weight, but slower metabolism is actually associated with longevity. Nitric oxide is also effective at removing carcinogenic bile acids from our bodies. Of several vegetables tested, beets were #1 for this particular task (even beet-ing out kale).

There’s just one down-side. Though the best way to prevent most kidney stones it cutting meat out of the diet, people who are predisposed to absorbing oxalates may want to limit their consumption of beets, as they are a high-oxalate food. And, just in case you want to be extra sure that nitrite doesn’t turn into nitrosamine – you can always eat nitrate-rich foods with a single slice of bell pepper, or eat 2 strawberries before dinner. That’s all the vitamin C you’ll need (see sources).

The recipe I’m making comes from the Kitchn: Vegan Beet Pesto Pasta. I eyed it skeptically for a while before deciding to try it. It was amazing!! I absolutely loved it. And, as you might imagine, the color of your pesto makes this a fun meal to try with kids or guests. Plus, it’s super-fast to make – you basically throw the ingredients in a blender and it’s ready, making it the perfect dinner after a busy day. I made just 1 change from the original recipe, which was wp-1474350881956.jpgto replace the olive oil with the same amount of aquafaba. The amounts below reflect 1/4 of the original recipe, which was my serving size.

  • 1 1/2 c. cooked & drained whole wheat pasta
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • 2 T crushed almonds
  • 1/2 large purple beet, cooked & peeled (a/b 1 c.)
  • 5 T aquafaba
  • 1 1/2 tsps red wine vinegar
  • salt, to taste
  • chives, minced (optional)

Put everything except for the pasta into a food processor or high-speed blender and blend until smooth (or see the Kitchn’s instructions, which are a bit more…complete. Don’t worry it’s only one more step). Toss with hot pasta and garnish with chives, if desired. Also, see the original recipe for much more beautiful pictures of this dish.

Checklist items: 2 other vegetables, 1/2 nuts, spices, 3 whole grains (6 1/2 out of 18 servings)


 

dessert_text

Banana-raspberry ice dream for dessert will finish off our fruit & nut requirements for the day. Life’s hard, eh?

  • 1 large frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 T crushed hazelnuts

Put everything into a high-speed blender. Pulse until the bananas are broken into small chunks and then blend until it’s the consistency of ice cream. Serving with crushed nuts on top.

Checklist items: berries, 1 other fruit, 1/2 nuts, spices (3 1/2 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

21 servings in total.

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything today, plus 2 extra servings of spices & one of whole grains.

Adzuki, Mint & Broccoli

Breakfast_textA friend of mine from Shanghai recently told me how to make a couple of different bean porridges, and I’m giving the first one a shot today! It’s simple, but must be made ahead! I recommend making large batches.

  • wp-1467207822899.jpg1/4 c. barley
  • 1/2 c. adzuki beans
  • 1/4 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 c. raisins
  • 1-2 T maple syrup
  • 1 T ground flaxseed

Instructions:

  1. soak beans & barley together for 4-5 hours
  2. boil together for 2-3 hours (depending on how mushy you want it)
  3. at the end, mix in raisins, walnuts, and maple syrup & flaxseed

Checklist items: 2 beans, 1 other fruits, flaxseed, nuts, 1 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


lunch_textOne of my favorite summer dishes, and practically the only thing I ate while I was doing my Master’s thesis: Lebanese tabbouleh! The abundance of fresh herbs make this dish wonderful.

  • wp-1467207406055.jpg1/2 c. cooked bulgur (prepare as instructed on package)
  • 1 1/2 T aquafaba (the liquid in your can or jar of garbanzos)
  • 1 c.fresh flat-leaf parsley (from 3 bunches)
  • 1/4 c. fresh mint
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1/3 cucumber
  • 1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper

Get ready!

  1. to get 1/2 c. cooked bulgur, you should use a/b 1/4 c. raw
  2. finely chop the herbs & tomato
  3. peel, core & finely dice the cucumber
  4. mix all the ingredients together and let stand in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour to develop flavor
  5. YUM!!

Checklist items: 2 other vegetables, spices, 1 whole grains (4 out of 18 servings)


snack_textGotta get them berries in sometime! It may as well be now. I’m going out to the garden to grab some raspberries.

 

  • 1/2 c. raspberries
  • 2 c. papaya

Checklist items: berries, 2 other fruits (3 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

Have you noticed yet that I have a page dedicated to recipes? You’ll find my favorite Hummus recipe there, as well as the recipe for Nasturtium Pesto.

This is a 3-dish meal!

  1. mix the pasta & pesto, serve
  2. mix the greens & dressing, serve
  3. dip the broccoli in the hummus

Checklist items: 1 beans, cruciferous, 2 greens, 2 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

19 servings in total.

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything.

In addition, we had 1 extra serving of whole grains.