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.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Spiced Quinoa Patties and a Beet Berry Smoothie

Quinoa and kale patties and a beet berry smoothie.

For all my devoted followers I am proud to announce that I am launching my private practice, Happy Belly Nutrition, dedicated to integrative and functional nutrition counseling!
I am so excited for this new chapter in my nutrition career. I hope to help make many positive changes in my patients' health and overall well-being. With that being said if you are interested in what I have to offer go check out my website under the “Work with Selva” tab. And for now I just want to thank my close family and friends for supporting me in making this dream come true, and I want to thank all of my readers, YOU, for your enthusiasm and dedication.

Today’s topic is a big one. One that impacts many women across the nation and worldwide. Oral Contraceptives. Two of my dear friends had many questions regarding the nutritional consequences of oral contraceptives, so I dug deep and here is what I have found.

Research has found that oral contraceptives have an impact on the metabolism of certain vitamins and minerals. If the diet is poor in the following vitamins and minerals and a woman is taking oral contraceptives, nutrient deficiencies can develop--especially if taken long term.  This is very important as these nutrient deficiencies may impact overall health significantly.

Magnesium plays a vital role in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including energy production and DNA synthesis. Poor magnesium intake is often associated with muscle spasms, anxiety, migraines, and much more.  In women taking oral contraceptives, magnesium levels are reduced significantly. Interestingly, due to magnesium depleted soils, our food also contains less magnesium than in previous decades. Therefore, women taking the birth control pills need to be more aware of getting adequate magnesium in their diet, or perhaps even supplement with a chelated form such as magnesium glycinate or magnesium malate (1-3).

These very important trace minerals are significantly reduced in women taking oral contraceptives. Both of these trace minerals act as important co-factors in enzymatic action throughout the body. Zinc and selenium are both vital for optimal thyroid function. Zinc also plays an important role in wound healing, immunity, and DNA synthesis. Selenium on the other hand is vital in supporting our innate detoxification and antioxidant capabilities aiding in reducing inflammation in the body (1-3).

Folate, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 are all impacted by oral contraceptive use. Nutrient deficiencies in any or all of these B vitamins can have many consequences moving forward. Most B vitamins do not store well (except B12) as they are water soluble, therefore daily changes in dietary patterns, and consequential poor intake, can quickly cause nutrient deficiencies. Studies have found that women taking oral contraceptives that supplemented with B2 had significantly decreased frequency, intensity, and duration of headaches. A recent large-scale study found that 75% of women taking oral contraceptives had significantly reduced B6, which can impact protein and carbohydrate metabolism and neurotransmitter production such as serotonin. Furthermore, researchers speculate that the low B6 many be independently associated with the increased risk of arterial and venous thromboembolisms found in oral contraceptive users. Yikes! Finally, deficiencies in folate and B12 can have many negative implications including the most commonly cited neural tube defects. However, low folate status itself can impair detoxification capabilities---low folate may cause an increased toxicity load in the body. Supplementing with bioactive vitamin B6 (P5P) and methylated folate and B12 may be beneficial to replete stores. B12 supplementation is especially important for individuals on a vegan diet (1-3).

RDA for females 14+
Excellent Food Sources
Cooking: relatively stable in plant foods unless boiled then 10-30% loss.
310-360 mg/day

Pumpkin seeds (1/4 cup = 190mg), Dark leafy greens (1 cup = 150g), Quinoa (3/4 cup = 118g) Black beans (1 cup = 120g), Cashews & sunflower seeds (1/4 cup = 115g)

Cooking: relatively stable in both animal and plant foods with 10-20% loss if plant foods are boiled, sprouting improves bioavailability.
8-9 mg/day
Oysters (6 each = 33mg), Grass-fed Beef/lamb (4 oz fillet = 4 mg), Wheat germ (1 oz = 5mg), Spinach (1 cup cooked = 1.37mg), Asparagus (1 cup = 1mg)

Cooking: pretty stable in cooking of animal foods, but processed grains lose substantial amounts.
55 mcg/day
Brazil Nuts (2 each =155mcg), Halibut (3 oz = 47mcg), Grass-fed liver (3 oz = 28 mcg), Cottage cheese (1 cup = 20mcg), Egg (1 each = 15 mcg), Whole grains (1 cup cooked = 13 mcg)

Cooking: substantial loss in canned and/or processed foods.
400 mcg/day

Lentils (1 cup = 358 mcg), Grass-fed Beef liver (3 oz = 215mcg), Spinach (1/2 cup cooked = 131 mcg), Black-eyed peas (1/2 cup boiled = 105 mcg), Asparagus (4 spears = 89 mcg), Brussel sprouts (1/2 cup cooked = 78 mcg), Avocado (1/2 cup sliced, 59 mcg)
Vitamin B2
Cooking: light damages B2, but stable to heat and refrigeration.
1-1.1 mg/day

Grass-fed Cheese (1 oz = .39mg), Almonds (1 oz = .28mg), Grass-fed Beef & Lamb ( 3oz steak = .73mg), Wild Salmon (3oz =.45mg), Egg ( 1 each = .26mg), Mushrooms (1 cup sliced = .35mg), Leafy greens (1 cup = .42mg)

Vitamin B6
Cooking: prolonged exposure to heat can degrade B6 in most foods.
1.2-1.5 mg/day

Chickpeas (1 cup = 1.1mg), Liver (3oz = .9mg), Wild Salmon (3oz = .6), Sweet Potato (1 cup =.57mg), Banana (1 med = .43), Leafy greens (1 cup = .20 mg)

Vitamin B12
Cooking: boiling foods may reduce up to 50%.
2.4 mcg/day

Clams (3 oz =84.1mcg), Grass-fed Liver (3oz =70.7mcg), Salmon ( 3oz = 4.8 mcg), Grass-fed Beef (3 oz = 1.4 mcg) Milk (1 cup = 1.2 mcg), Yogurt (0.9mcg), Egg (1 each, 0.6 mcg)

Reference: (4-6)

Quinoa and kale patties and a beet berry smoothie.

Although one can supplement to help replete deficiencies, I highly recommend that dietary choices need to follow as well. Aim to add the foods found in the “Excellent Food Sources” category to a whole foods diet to best support your overall health while taking oral contraceptives. Since oral contraceptives have shown to reduce the above mentioned vitamins and minerals, the RDA may actually be higher for women taking oral contraceptives than for the general healthy female. Remember food is fuel and food is medicine. Opting for nutrient dense whole foods will help your body function optimally.

To get you started here are two recipes which taste wonderfully together! The Spiced Quinoa and Kale patties are a great recipe to make on the weekend and have for the remainder of the week. They are easy to reheat in the microwave and even taste good cold. I love to add them to a salad, or topped with cooked greens and a fried egg for breakfast. Sometimes I eat a single patty as a quick snack. Plus the Berry Beet Smoothie just tastes so good that I have a glass or two almost every day—my body CRAVES it. So just for a little nutritional breakdown 2 patties and 1 serving of the smoothie will get you at least 30% if not more of each of the above mentioned nutrients. Isn’t tasty food just great??! I think so! 

Spiced Quinoa & Kale Patties
Makes about 10 patties

1 cup dry quinoa (I used ½ red and ½ white)
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 2/3 cups water
¾ cup gluten-free rolled oats
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika (smoked paprika)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili flakes
½ teaspoon sea salt
Fresh ground pepper—don't be shy
2 cups packed finely chopped curly kale (about 6 leaves)
1/3 cup feta, crumbled
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
4 eggs, lightly beaten


Add the dry quinoa, sea salt and water into a medium saucepan. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling turn off heat, LEAVE LID ON, and let pot rest on hot burner. Leave the pot undisturbed for 1 hour. Note: this can be done ahead of time—day old quinoa works fine too.

After the quinoa has sat for an hour, remove the lid, and pour quinoa into a large bowl, stir around to cool. Add the rolled oats, paprika, garlic powder, chili flakes, sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Stir around to mix evenly. Mix in the finely chopped kale (curly works best), both the feta and parmesan. Stir to mix evenly.

Then pour in the slightly beaten eggs. Mix with your hands, kneading the mixture until evenly coated and sticking together. Press the mixture into an even mass in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a baking pan with extra virgin olive oil. Make 10 patties and place onto the sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until slightly crispy, flip, and bake an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Store in a sealable container in the refrigerator. 

Note: these can easily be reheated in the microwave or in a skillet over medium low heat with a little olive oil or ghee.

Dairy Free adaptation: swap the cheese for finely chopped olives.

Beet Berry Blast Smoothie
Serves 3-4

1 medium red beet, skin peeled, and diced
2 inches ginger root, peeled and diced
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup red grapes
Optional: 2 teaspoons spirulina or chlorella
1 cup water
8-10 ice cubes

Add the beet, ginger, blueberries, grapes, spirulina (optional) and water into a high speed blender (vitamin or blendtec) and blend until smooth. Add the ice cubes, blend, and serve.

Optional: Adding spirulina or chlorella will increase the nutrient density of this can even just stir in a little bit afterwards to try it out first. 


1. Palmery M, Saraceno A, Vairelli A, et al. Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. 2013;17: 1804-1813.
World’s Healthiest Foods. Accessed August 17, 2015.
2. Dante G, Vaiarelli A, Facchinetti F. Vitamin and mineral needs during the oral contraceptive therapy: a systematic review. Int J Reprod Contracept Obstet Gynecol. 2014;3(1): 1-10.
3. Pronsky ZM, Crowe SR JP. Food Medication Interactions 17th Edition. Birchrunville, PA: Food-Medication Interactions; 2012.
4. National Institute of Health. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets. Accessed August 17, 2015.
5. USDA. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins . Accessed August 17, 2015.
6. World’s Healthiest Foods. Accessed August 17, 2015.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Rejuvenating Blackberry & Spirulina Smoothie Bowl

I have some very GREAT news! On Thursday I passed my board exam and am now officially a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist! No longer am I a graduate student or a dietetic intern. I am a nutrition professional ready to help the world! Pretty cool, huh? With that being said, I am sorry I haven't been posting much recently because my head was in the books every spare second I had. And although I so much wanted to create and write about nutrition, I knew it would not have been the best way to spend my time leading up to the exam. But now its done and I am BACK!

Now, who wants an ENERGIZING AND PURIFYING smoothie bowl?? I do! Especially, since as of late my stress has overcome my ability to fully take care of myself. So today I have created a blackberry and spirulina smoothie bowl which is rich in nutrients and fiber that can support detoxification, help reduce inflammation due to loads of antioxidants, support thyroid health, promote a healthy gut flora, and can give you long lasting energy from a balanced carbohydrate, fat and protein content. 


This blue-green algae is a cyanobacterium (a bacteria that creates its energy through photosynthesis) that has a long history of culinary use going as far back as to the Aztec civilization.  And there is a good reason why! Spirulina is extremely nutrient dense as it is rich in protein, B vitamins (especially B12) minerals such as iron and calcium, carotenoids (powerful antioxidants), and iodine (1, 2). It is also a good source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which has been found to have anti-inflammatory effects much like omega-3’s and is a good source of the fat-soluble pigment called cholorphyll, which has been found to play a chemopreventive role by significantly reducing the growth of cancer cells (3, 4).  Also, interestingly chlorophyll and chlorophyllin (a synthetic version) have been found to reduce body odor and promote wound healing (5). Overall spirulina has many therapeutic effects and can be a great addition to any diet. However due to its very distinct flavor and aroma, it can be hard to get this superfood down unless it is hidden amongst other flavors—like this smoothie bowl.

Brazil Nuts

One to two Brazil nuts a day can keep the doctor away! Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, a trace mineral that plays critical roles in reproductive health, thyroid health, aides in reducing inflammation, helps eliminate toxins, and supports proper DNA synthesis. Large amounts of selenium is most commonly found in animal meats. However, vegan and vegetarian diets can be adequate in selenium as well. Interestingly, Brazil nuts are one of the most concentrated sources of selenium due to the selenium rich soil that the trees grow in. Since Brazil nuts are so selenium dense, you only need 1 per day to meet your needs, as on average 1 Brazil nut contains about 50 micrograms of selenium (6). Based on the recommended dietary allowances healthy adults should consume at least 55 micrograms per day and no more than 400 micrograms per day. Chronic high intake of selenium could cause selenotoxicity so it is important to get enough but not too much (7).


Whether you follow this recipe to a T, or use it as a guideline, adding in those superfoods like spirulina and Brazil nuts can be a great start to the day. This recipe is easily adaptable, and honestly I created it from what I happened to have on hand. So I encourage you to do the same! If you don't have blackberries, use blueberries. If you don't have a nectarine, use a peach, melons, or anything that is ripe, sweet and juicy! Also, if you are not a fan of basil, try mint, or just simply add spinach. Its fun to get creative so I urge you to come up with your favorite version of a nutrient dense smoothie bowl!

Also, if you are new to spirulina, try adding ½ a teaspoon first, taste test, and then add more as desired. 

Blackberry & Spirulina Smoothie Bowl
Serves 1 (or two as a snack)

1 cup fresh blackberries
1 ripe nectarine, pit removed
½ cup plain kefir or Nancy’s plain yogurt
¼ cup packed fresh basil leaves
2 Brazil nuts, chopped
2 tablespoons flaxseeds
½ - 1 tsp spirulina
½ tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
3 ice cubes

Toppings: blackberries, coconut flakes, and granola


Add all the ingredients to a high-speed blender like a Vitamix or Blend Tec, and blend until smooth. Then add the ice cubes, blend until smooth, and pour into your favorite bowl. Top with coconut flakes and a little granola for some added crunch.

Note: if you don't like the seeds from blackberries I recommend swapping with blueberries.


1. Hoseni SM, Khosravi-Darani K, Mozafari MR. Nutritional and Medical Applications of Spirulina Microalgae. Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry. 2013(13):1231-1237.
2. Karkos PD, Leong SC, Karkos N, et al. Spirulina in Clinical Practice:
Evidence-Based Human Applications. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.2008(2011):1-4.
3. University of Maryland Medical Center. Accessed August, 2, 2015.
4. Konickova R, Vankova K, Vanikova J, et al. Anti-cancer effects of blue-green alga Spirulina platensis, a natural source of bilirubin-like tetrapyrrolic compounds Ann Hepatol. 2014.13(2):273-83.
6. Thomson CD, Chisholm A, McLachlan SK, et al. Brazil nuts: an effective way to improve selenium status. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Feb;87(2):379-84.
7. Linus Pauling Institute. Selenium. Accessed August 2, 2015.
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