Thursday, October 8, 2015

Anti-Inflammatory Cocoa Truffles

I am sure you have all heard about inflammation…but what exactly is inflammation and is it as bad as it is made out to be??

Note: For those of you in the Bellingham, Whatcom County Area, I will be teaching a 2-hour class on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet (including cooking demonstrations) on October 27th at the Downtown Food Co-op. Can’t wait to see you there!

Imagine accidentally poking your finger with a safety pin, or even getting a paper cut. What happens?? The site of injury usually turns red and tender, right? This is due to the response from the immune system—the immune system was alerted to the foreign invader (the safety pin/paper and bacteria found on it) and began releasing chemical mediators to help cleanse the area, kill off the bacteria that is not supposed to be there, and facilitate the healing process. If you leave the injury site alone, the swelling will gradually decrease, the site will no longer be tender, and the cut will eventually heal. This acute setting of inflammation is designed to help the body, acting as a defense system, and fostering healing. In this scenario inflammation is a GOOD thing.

However, what happens if we have chronic inflammation? When the immune system is constantly activated? For instance what if you cut yourself in the same spot every day? The spot will never heal and may even get worse over time.

Luckily we have our immune system in place to help with acute injuries or infections. BUT when the immune system is constantly activated by our diet, lifestyle, sleep patterns, or even autoimmune disease it can be the fundamental denominator to chronic disease and illness. Although this may seem daunting, you CAN play a huge role in how much fuel you add to the fire.

What are some of the biggest contributors to chronic low-grade inflammation?

  • Obesity: Fat cells release inflammatory chemicals and hormones that stimulate the immune system and increase insulin resistance (1).
  • Food Allergies or Intolerances: These food proteins cause irritation to the gut lining, further fueling inflammation while reducing absorption of vital nutrients.
  • Bacterial Dysbiosis: Unfavorable ratio of good vs. bad bacteria and their toxic byproducts can cause inflammation in the gut.
  • High Stress Lifestyle: Being “stressed” causes the body to go into “fight of fight mode” releasing stress hormones (cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine) and pro-inflammatory mediators. Both stress hormones and pro-inflammatory mediators can promote insulin resistance.
  • Sleep deprivation: Aiming for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night can help quench inflammation.
  • Toxin Overload: Daily exposure to toxins/chemicals/molds via your work or living environment can burden your innate detox capacity causing chronic inflammation.
  • Aging: Studies have found increased levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in healthy subjects aged 55-75 vs those between 26-54 years of age, which are associated with the development of age-related conditions such as cognitive decline (1).
  • Excessive Exercising: Research has found that moderate exercise is very helpful in reducing inflammatory mediators and stress hormones (1). However excessive physical activity, without well-planned rest days and a good diet, can increase inflammation. Research studies have found that high intensity sessions longer than 20-30 minutes or low intensity sessions longer than 75 minutes can flood the body with increased stress hormones and pro-inflammatory mediators (2,3). Doing these inflammatory exercises a couple times a weeks is okay, but doing them constantly will become a source of chronic inflammation.
  • Poor Dietary Choices: more information below...
  • And more…

The Role of Diet & Inflammation: A Simple Overview

Over-Nutrition: In the Western world we have the luxury to have food available at every corner. However, often it is calorically dense and poor in overall quality nutrition. Eating more calories than required will eventually leady to weight gain and more fat tissue cells which release inflammatory hormones and chemicals.

Refined Grains & Sugars: Since refined grains and sugars are void of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals it is no surprise that they increase inflammation. Research has found that simply replacing refined wheat flour with a whole grain alternative reduces pro-inflammatory mediators in both diabetic and non-diabetic individuals (1).

 Low Fruit & Vegetable Intake: Studies have found that a diet high in fruits and vegetables significantly decreases pro-inflammatory markers (1). Researchers believe it is due to the synergistic effect of all the components found in the whole plant food. For example, if you eat a whole orange in place of drinking orange juice you will get all the beneficial goodies that have been removed during the processing of the orange, including the white pith which is rich in soluble fiber and phytochemicals.

Refined Vegetable Oils: Vegetable and seed oils are naturally very high in omega-6 an essential fatty acid responsible for the production of pro-inflammatory mediators. On the other hand omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in cold water fatty fish, some nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flaxseeds, and algae, produce anti-inflammatory mediators. Interestingly these fatty acids compete for the same enzymes. Therefore, if you have a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids, the enzymes will naturally produce much more pro-inflammatory mediators than anti-inflammatory mediators due to favorable omega-6 ratio. Research has found that a ratio of 3-4:1 of omega 6 to omega-3 is optimal. However, the Western Diet is often reflective of a 15-20:1 ratio! Simply reducing your intake of foods high in omega-6 and increasing your intake of omega-3 rich foods, will help increase the anti-inflammatory action of these enzymes.

Note: Trans-fats (often found in baked goods, also known as partially hydrogenated oils) should be avoided at all costs as these have been found to significantly increase inflammatory markers at a rate much higher than other oils (1).

Diet Sodas & “Sugar-Free" Beverages: Researchers have found that the regular consumption of non-caloric sweeteners including saccharine, sucralose, and aspartame influenced unfavorable changes in the bacterial communities in both mice and humans. These microbial changes increased glucose intolerance and may possibly promote weight gain (4). Researchers state, “Artificial sweeteners may have no calories, but mounting evidence indicates that they do have metabolic consequences and may not be the solution for having a sweet taste without the calories”(5).

Food Allergies & Intolerances: Addressing food allergies and intolerances is a very important in reducing systemic inflammation. For example, if you are intolerant to gluten or dairy and continue to eat foods containing these proteins, you will continue to aggravate your gut lining. This is similar to constantly getting a sliver in the same spot in your finger. If you do not remove the food allergen, the gut cannot heal, and chronic inflammation will continue to cause unfavorable systemic consequences. 

There are many foods that have been highlighted as anti-inflammatory superstars including flaxseeds, walnuts, and cocoa! (If you are coming to my class on October 27th you will learn all about these and many more!) Therefore, I have created a whole foods chocolate truffle treat that is gluten-free, dairy-free, and uses only whole grains, natural sweeteners, and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Each truffle contains 0.6g of plant based omega-3 fatty acids, meeting 38-55% of the Recommended Dietary Intakes of 1.1-1.6g of ALA (omega-3) per day!

Although these treats are delicious and tasty alternatives to baked goods rich in seed oils, refined grains and sugars, please don’t rely solely on these treats for your omega-3 (ALA) daily intake. Aim to add more omega-3 rich foods into your diet via cold-water fish, flaxseeds/flaxseed oil and/or walnuts while simultaneously reducing foods rich in omega-3 (LA) such as refined vegetable and seed oils and grain-fed animal meats.

Anti-Inflammatory Cocoa Truffles
Makes 14

1 cup walnut halves (divided)
1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
2 tablespoons flaxseeds
2 tablespoons melted extra virgin coconut oil
4 tablespoons raw honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Generous pinch sea salt
Toppings: coconut flakes, cocoa powder, hemp seeds, etc.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. On a baking sheet pour the oats on one side and the walnuts on the other side. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Chop about half of the roasted walnuts, to make 1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts. Save the other half to sprinkle on your morning oatmeal or to toss into salads.

Place the cooled toasted rolled oats and the flaxseeds into a high-speed blender. Blend until the oats turn into flour.

Meanwhile in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil, the raw honey, the dark cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and sea salt until smooth. Stir in the oat flour mixture and the roasted walnuts.

Using your hands form a large “dough” ball. Then make your own individual nut truffle balls. I usually make about 14 from one batch. Roll each ball in your choice of topping (I like dried coconut flakes the best). Store in a container in the refrigerator.

P.S. If you want to get extra fancy melt your favorite dark chocolate in a double boiler, dunk each truffle into the chocolate, and then roll in your favorite topping! It adds one more step but an extra layer of chocolate increases the decadence factor by 10!

Note: The flavor gets better once the truffles are completely chilled. I usually make them in the evening and then have my first truffle the next day. 
1. Calder PC, Ahluwalia N, Brouns F, et al. Dietary factors and low-grade inflammation in relation to overweight and obesity. British Journal of Nutrition. 2011;106(S3).
2. Borer, K.T. 2003. Exercise Endocrinology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
3. Tiidus, P.M. 2008. Skeletal Muscle Damage and Repair. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
4. J. Suez et al. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature. 2014;514:181-186. 
5. Azvolinsky A. Sugar Substitutes, Gut Bacteria, and Glucose Intolerance. Accessed October 8, 2015.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Ever Changing Taco Bowl

taco bowl with turmeric spiced chickpeas and cumin spiced veggies

On busy workday evenings, or on a sunny beautiful weekend, spending a lot of time in the kitchen may not sound appealing. But if you are like me, you still crave a fresh healthy meal that can be whipped up together in no time. Welcome the TACO BOWL!

Living a gluten-free lifestyle, I usually always have corn tortillas hand. Either I bake them in the oven if I am feeding multiple people, I heat them up in a skillet with a little olive oil, or I toast them in the toaster for quick tostadas. In a way, they are my substitute for bread. And they are the only item that you must have in order to make your own TACO BOWL.

taco bowl with turmeric spiced chickpeas and cumin spiced veggies
taco bowl with turmeric spiced chickpeas and cumin spiced veggies

So the basic recipe is 2 organic corn tortillas plus….


Using this idea you can just take what you have in the fridge or cupboard and make yourself or your family a quick, easy, and healthy balanced meal. Who doesn’t love filling up tacos with tasty goodies and toppings? The trick is you don't have to stick with Mexican flavors. Thinking out of the box and using the corn tortillas a vehicle to deliver delicious goods, is your only goal. You just can’t go wrong when building a taco bowl! Below are two instagram photos of only some of my random TACO BOWL creations. 

How to Assemble Your Taco Bowl

1. In a small skillet drizzle a little olive oil, sprinkle a little sea salt and place two organic corn tortillas per person on top. Heat over medium low. Cover with a lid and flip the tortillas occasionally. OR just warm tortillas in a microwave—they won’t taste as good, but it is easier and faster. 

2. Fill your favorite deep bowl with the taco fillings of your choice. 

3. Serve with two rolled corn tortillas and a side of sauces and toppings. Some of my favorites include salsa, chipotle aioli (½ veganaise + ½ sriracha), fermented sauerkraut, pickled jalapenos, goat cheese, feta, crème fraiche, and diced avocado.

taco bowl with turmeric spiced chickpeas and cumin spiced veggies

Some Tasty Taco Bowl Ideas:

Baked salmon left overs + Lentil salad + broccoli sprouts + avocado

Chicken sausage (chopped) + left over roasted sweet potatoes + sautéed kale + feta

Sautéed tempeh or tofu + turmeric chickpeas + sautéed bell peppers + chipotle aioli (½ sriracha & ½ veganaise)

Scrambled garlic eggs + paprika spiced black beans + diced tomato + pickled jalapeños

Shredded chicken + great northern beans + garlic sautéed spinach + roasted bell pepper hummus

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TACO BOWL COMBINATION?? Tag @poppiesandpapayas to share your creation!

turmeric spiced chickpeas with garlic and fresh parsley

Below you will find the recipes for what I happened to have in the fridge today. I made some tasty turmeric sautéed chickpeas (which I had previously soaked and cooked) and cumin spiced sautéed veggies…using the last few leftover vegetables from last weekend’s farmer’s market trip. To this you could add a sautéed chicken or vegan sausage or left over dinner protein. Easy peasy!

Turmeric Sautéed Chickpeas
Serves four

1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoons Real sea salt
¾ teaspoon turmeric powder
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Handful finely chopped parsley
~3 cups cooked chickpeas (soaked & sprouted) or 2 cans Eden chickpeas, rinsed and drained


Heat a sauté pan over medium, once hot reduce heat to medium low and add the olive oil, the onions, and the garlic. Allow the onions to cook until tender and glassy. Stir in the salt, turmeric powder, and fresh ground pepper and sauté a minute or two. Add the chickpeas and stir well to combine. Cook another couple minutes until heated.

Cumin Spiced Veggies
Serves four

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1 medium zucchini diced
4 leaves purple kale, deveined, and coarsely chopped
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Optional: red chili flakes


Heat a sauté pan over medium, once hot reduce heat to medium low and add the olive oil and cumin seeds—sauté until fragrant. Then add the cabbage and zucchini—sauté until tender. Add the kale and cook until wilted. Season with salt, pepper and optional red chili flakes for some added kick. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Lentil Salad That Could

To soak or not to soak---that is the question. You may have heard the words phytic acid before. Currently, there is a lot of media and attention surrounding the negative “anti-nutrient” effects of this compound. So what exactly is phytic acid? And should you be concerned?

Phytic acid is a storage form of phosphorous found in plants—specifically in the bran portion of grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes (although also found in other vegetables in lesser amounts). It’s role in the life of a plant to preserve and protect the seed until the seed is ready for germination. However, this compound can bind to minerals in the gut such as iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium sending them out for excretion in the stool rather than being absorbed. Phytic acid also reduces the digestibility of starches and proteins by inhibiting important enzymes required for their digestion found in the stomach and small intestine (1). Due to these properties individuals on a vegetarian or vegan diet need higher amounts of the aforementioned minerals. For example vegans need to consume more plant-based iron than omnivores because they consume more anti-nutrients, including phytates that reduce the bioavailability of iron and other minerals. Therefore the RDA for vegetarian diets is 1.8x greater than those for omnivores. For example females 19-50 years of age eating an omnivore diet require 18mg of iron whereas a vegetarian or vegan would required 32 mg (2). If the diet is poor in minerals and rich in phytates then nutrient deficiencies can develop. Children are often at an higher risk than adults due to their increased vitamin and mineral needs during times of growth.

However, phytic acid also binds to toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and lead promoting detoxification. Phytic acid has also been associated with reduced risks of cancer due to its antioxidant capabilities, and can be beneficial in individuals with hemochromatosis (an iron overload genetic disorder) (1,3). Also, the foods that contain phytic acid have a whole host of other beneficial properties, as they are generally nutrient dense if properly prepared, contain powerful plant compounds called phytochemicals, and are a great source of both insoluble and soluble fiber. Not to mention eating more plants is very important for overall health and longevity. So the question is not should you eat beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, but rather the question is how do you prepare them.

So, are you confused? Stay with me.

So technically yes, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains contain anti-nutrients, such as phytates, which can play a role in developing nutrient deficiencies. However, there are a few things you can do to make these plant based foods, the superstars that they are, and increase the bioavailability of their nutrients. By no means do I want to deter you from eating beans, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds as they are a wonderful part of a healthy diet. It is just that generally speaking the more phytate that is reduced the more beneficial the food becomes (3). To find our answer we must look back at our fore-fathers and see what they did, and what we may be missing today. More often than not traditional practices are in place for a reason. 

One word—SOAK. Soaking grains and beans has been done for centuries. However, in today's day and age, we are just more crunched for time, and have forgotten the ways of the past. When we soak nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and grains before cooking them, the water stimulates an enzyme called phytase, which breaks down the phytate. This begins a natural phenomenon. A signal is sent to the dormant seed that it is now time to germinate, releasing the nutrients it needs to become a seedling. Although cooking does reduce some phytic acid, soaking the grains or beans in water prior to cooking will reduce the phytic acid by 8-50% depending on the duration and warmth of the water. The longer the seed is soaked, the more the phytic acid is reduced. Roasting grains, nuts, and seeds can also help reduce phytic acid content by about 40% (1,3). By reducing the phytate content, not only will you better absorb the nutrients, but YOU will also be better able to digest the foods in general. Most people experience less gas and bloating after consuming soaked grains and beans compared to the latter. 

So generally speaking SOAK or ROAST if you can. Yes, it takes more time than opening a can, but not only do you gain nutritional benefits, but the flavor and texture is so much better when prepared from scratch. However, if you are in a pinch EDEN carries soaked and properly prepared canned beans. Although the texture isn’t perfect, they can fill in last minute.

This lentil salad recipe is a great weekday recipe. It is so versatile and flavorful you can use it with anything. I add it to tacos, use it as a side topped with pan seared sockeye salmon or roasted chicken legs, or even toss into a leafy green salad to add more heartiness. Full of fresh garlic, parsley, and capers, this salad has a vibrant personality—and a very good one at that.  Rich in fiber and plant based protein, it can help fill you up and fuel you up simultaneously!

The Lentil Salad That Could
Serves 8-10

For the lentils:
1 cup dry beluga lentils
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Generous pinch sea salt
1 piece of kombu
Optional: low sodium vegetable or chicken broth

For the Salad:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
¼ cup capers, drained
1 bunch flat leafed parsley-finely chopped (~ 1 cup)
2 handfuls raw walnut halves


Cover the dry lentils with about 3 inches of filtered water. Mix in the teaspoon apple cider vinegar and pinch sea salt and allow to soak 4-8 hours.  Then strain the lentils through a fine mesh sieve and rinse with cold water.

Transfer the lentils into a medium saucepan and cover with filtered water (or low sodium vegetable/chicken broth). Add in ½ kelp frond and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low (it should barely bubble) and leave the lid off. Set timer for 10 minutes. Taste test for tenderness—they should be firm, yet tender, and somewhat creamy in the inside. If not quite tender enough set timer for 2 more minutes…always make sure the lentils are covered with water. Do not overcook them because they will turn mushy. Once they are finished, strain through a fine mesh sieve, and rinse with cold water. Set the lentils aside.

Meanwhile preheat oven to 350 degrees—once preheated place the walnuts onto a baking sheet and toast for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and finely chop.

In a medium bowl mix together the first 6 dressing ingredients. Add the lentils and mix well with a spoon. Stir in the capers and the finely chopped parsley. Finally, add the chopped walnuts, stir to combine, and pour the salad into a nice serving dish. 

1. Weston Price A. Price Foundation. Living with Phytic Acid. Accessed August 23, 2015.
2. National Institute of Health. Iron. Accessed August 23, 2015.
3. Coulibaly A , Kouakou B, Chen J. Phytic Acid in Cereal Grains: Structure, Healthy or Harmful Ways to Reduce Phytic Acid in Cereal Grains and Their Effects on Nutritional Quality. American Journal of Plant Nutrition and Fertilization Technology. 2011. 11-22.
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