Living with Nuts

Health benefits of nuts

You might think the title of this post was inspired by the impending holidays, when many of us consider ourselves to be surrounded by nuts, but no – I’m talking about living LONGER with nuts! New research out of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School found that regular nut-noshers had a 20 percent reduction in mortality from *any* cause.

That means eating nuts can be linked to reduced risk for heart disease and cancer, among many other diseases. NPR’s report extrapolated another perspective from the findings: “Men and women who were regularly munching on peanuts or tree nuts like almonds, pecans and walnuts in their 30s and 40s when the study began were significantly more likely to reach their 70s, compared with folks who didn’t eat nuts.”

The researchers – none of whom read my blog, obviously – don’t know exactly why nuts are so beneficial. They suspect that it has something to do with how nuts affect the metabolism, helping to control blood sugar and food cravings, essentially helping to reduce weight – but they’re also interested in further study of how magnesium, fiber and protein (all found in nuts) work in the body. With all of the good fats and nutrients found in nuts, supporting everything from brain function (reducing stress and improving memory) to metabolism (supporting weight loss and steady energy flow), it’s pretty easy to figure out why nuts help people live longer, healthier lives!

Since the holidays are coming up fast, here’s a DIY gift idea: Make a batch of spiced nuts, put them in mason jars with ribbons and holiday-appropriate labels, and give a homemade gift that is healthy and delicious! For more Holiday DIY gift inspiration, check out my Pinterest board: Holiday-Healthy Gourmet Food Gifts.

Healthy Food Gifts

Want to learn more about what nuts can do for you? Check out what I have to say on pistachios, flax seeds & almonds, and walnuts.

Your Holiday Table Is Missing Brussels Sprouts

Brussel Sprouts

“Brussels sprouts?!” I hear you ask. Yes, I can sense your surprise through my computer screen, and I completely understand your distrust of Brussels sprouts. You’ve been burned before – I get that. You have a bad history with these mini-cabbages because someone in your life cooked them the worst way possible: steamed. Yes, steaming your vegetables is healthy (much better than boiling), but this method of cooking does no favors for the cabbage family – at least taste-wise. Prepare to be amazed, because I will show you TWO ways to love Brussels sprouts so much, you won’t want to have Thanksgiving without them.

1. Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pistachios, Cranberries & Parmesan

  1. Chop a brown onion finely and saute with olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to caramelize.*
  2. While the onions are browning, chop 10 Brussels sprouts in half, through the root, then slice into thin shreds.
  3. Add the sprout shreds to the pan with the caramelized onions and stir, cooking until they’re tender but still bright green.
  4. Add shelled pistachios, dried cranberries and Parmesan cheese – and serve hot!

*Carnivores might like to add one slice of bacon to flavor the onions, and to crumble over the top of the finished dish.

Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

2. Brussels Sprouts Hot Harvest Salad*

  1. Dice 1 apple, 1 butternut squash, 1/2 brown onion, and 5 Brussels sprouts.
  2. Toss the apple, squash, onion and sprouts with 1 Tb olive oil, and add torn sage leaves, a sprinkling of salt, and pepper.
  3. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, stir, then roast for another 20-30 minutes until the sprouts, onions and squash are nicely browned.

*Add croutons or wild rice and thyme and this recipe makes a delicious turkey dressing!

Roasted vegetable salad recipe

3 Weeknight-Simple Fall Salads

Fall salad recipesThere is a rainbow of Autumn colors happening right now on Pinterest as all the food bloggers are creating fabulous Fall salad recipes. If you love Autumn flavors as much as I do – butternut squash! pumpkin! beets! carrots! sweet potatoes! – then it’s like being a kid in a candy store. These salad recipes, inspired by Pinterest, are so easy that you can whip them together any night this week for a quick appetizer, dinner or side dish. But what I love best about them is how they combine sweet, savory, and healthy.

Rainbow Carrot Amuse Bouche

If you see rainbow carrots at the store – get them! These deep purple, dark red and yellow carrots are the result of selective carrot-breeders trying to increase the amounts of nutrients found in the pigments. So not only do they look pretty, they’re even more packed with anti-oxidants.

For the best visual appeal, shave off thin slices of rainbow carrot for a raw salad, combine with slices of avocado or beets, and drizzle with a tangy ginger-lime salad dressing.

Ginger-Lime Dressing Recipe –

Combine: 3-4 Tb lime juice, 1 Tb agave nectar, 1 Tb fresh grated ginger root, 3 Tb extra virgin olive oil.

Sweet & Savory Roasted Side Salad

Chopped apples, chopped butternut squash, chopped sweet onion, and sliced brussel sprouts – with a drizzle of maple syrup or agave nectar and olive oil – are all you need for a delicious roasted salad. Toss the vegetables with the maple syrup and olive oil, then bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, tossing once or twice. Take out when nicely browned and serve hot! Perfect for a chilly Autumn night.

Hearty Dinner Spinach & Pear Salad

Spinach is one of the healthiest dark leafy greens you can eat, packed with iron and anti-oxidants. For a delicious and filling Fall salad, I like to combine spinach with ripe sliced pears, blue cheese, candied walnuts, dried cranberries, and pumpkin seeds – dressed with your favorite balsamic vinaigrette. The protein in the nuts and the fat in the cheese will help you feel full after having “just a salad” for dinner, but be careful not to overdo them. Spinach should be the main ingredient.

Want to see what other recipes I’m pinning? Follow Intelligent Gourmet in Pinterest for daily inspiration

3 Ways to Boost Your Willpower Before Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving apple pie

I don’t know about you, but as soon as November hits, I feel the Holiday pounds getting ready to pounce. Thanksgiving and Winter Holiday goodies are irresistible – or are they? If you can free your brain chemistry from its dependence on refined sugars and processed carbs, it is possible to look at a delicious Thanksgiving spread without wanting to eat all of it. The secret isn’t so much self control as it is learning how to help your body work better.

Blood sugar, brain chemistry and hormones all influence our abilities to make good or bad food choices – but once you understand that these physiological factors are responsible, you have the power to stay on track with your goals. If you’ve noticed that your self-control is strongest in the mornings, but by 8 p.m. your hand is in the cookie jar – that’s normal. Like any muscle, your resolve wears out over the course of the day. And, studies have shown that if you exercise self-control over too many areas of your life at once, you’ll lose it faster. Don’t try to be too “good” this year – just try to be healthy. Here are some ways to help you do that.

3 Ways to Boost Your Will-Power Before Thanksgiving

  1. Do a mini-cleanse – either by spending three days juicing, or even just avoiding all starches, alcohol and processed foods. The goal is to clean out your system of unhealthy fuels that spike the desire to eat unhealthy foods. Stick with vegetables, nuts, and legumes for at least three days and you’ll feel better able to say no to seconds on pie.
  2. Keep your blood sugar steady with small meals and protein-rich snacks (walnuts, cashews, almonds and pistachios are all nutrition-packed superfoods!), since even a small dip in blood sugar can tip you over into losing control.
  3. Start off on the right foot each day by exercising first thing in the morning, followed by a “clean” breakfast (egg white omelet with spinach is one of my favorites). By lunchtime, you’ll probably want to keep the positive momentum going with a great salad.

Just because the Holidays are here doesn’t mean you have to give up on your health goals – and it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a feast with friends and family either. You can have both!

Pumpkin Power!

healthy vegan pumpkin soupPumpkin season is so packed with super-food goodness, I don’t know why we don’t eat pumpkins year-round. Did you know that just one cup of pumpkin contains half your daily recommended dose of fiber? It’s got antioxidants that prevent everything from wrinkles to cancer, contains more potassium than a banana, and is a great source of vitamin A and iron.

Pumpkin seeds are also incredibly good for you as a source of unsaturated fats and oils, zinc, and the amino acid tryptophan, which helps your body produce the feel-good chemical serotonin. In short, pumpkins make you look better AND feel better – but don’t help yourself to seconds on pie yet.

Whole V. Canned Pumpkin?

The argument against canned pumpkin is that the pumpkin goes through an intense heating process to pasteurize it for safe storage. Any cooking will, of course, destroy some of the nutrients, but considering that raw pumpkin just doesn’t taste the same (and I challenge anyone to make it into a pie-like substance), I’m going to say that it’s okay to cook this one. The canned version is usually sold with no preservatives or additives – so just be sure to look for “100% Pumpkin” on the label and check the ingredients list.

Canned pumpkin is also more concentrated, which means that one cup of canned pumpkin will actually have a higher density of nutrients than 1 cup of fresh cooked pumpkin.

Quick and Easy Vegan Pumpkin Soup

I love making a hearty Fall soup out of pumpkin using chopped onion, vegetable broth, ginger, nutmeg, salt and pepper – and, of course, a garnish of pumpkin seeds and crispy-fried sage leaves!

  1. Saute the onions in the pot first until they caramelize, then add the ginger and nutmeg, stirring until fragrant.
  2. Add 1 can of pumpkin (or the cooked meat of 1 small cooking pumpkin) and mash it together with the onion mixture.
  3. Pour in enough broth to get the creamy consistency you like best. Add salt an pepper to taste and cook for a few more minutes to let the flavors combine.
  4. While the soup is cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet and fry a handful of sage leaves until crispy, sprinkled with a little salt.
  5. Serve the soup garnished with the crispy sage leaves and pumpkin seeds.