I’ll admit it yet again: I’m a sucker for seasonal fruits. And what season is it now? Peach season. Plum season. Nectarine and apricot season.
Excuse me while I drool into the keyboard.
There was a time, believe it or not, when I didn’t like stone fruits. The texture bothered me, and I thought they were oddly tart. Turns out I was eating them all wrong! Stone fruits are best enjoyed at the peak of ripeness–which is right now, when they’re in season, not midwinter after they’ve been trucked to the store from halfway across the country.
These vibrant treats are as nutritious as they are tasty. No matter what your favorite stone fruit is, you get a blast of health-promoting compounds every time you bite into one and let the juice run down your arm.
Nutrition in Stone Fruits
Stone fruits of all kinds are high in vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants. Though vitamin C builds immunity and supports skin health, and potassium helps maintain healthy fluid balance, it’s the antioxidants that make these fruits truly amazing. Compounds known as polyphenols have been shown to posses anti-cancer properties, and tests on stone fruit extracts display the potential to help people struggling with insulin resistance and glucose sensitivity. In fact, these compounds are so powerful that they may be able to improve all aspects of metabolic syndrome, a condition closely related with the development of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Specific Stone Fruit Benefits
Each type of stone fruit has its own additional perks.
Peaches are high in carotenes and flavanoids, which may give them antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Vitamins A is good for your eyes and aids vitamin C in promoting healthy skin.
Plums serve as a source of vitamin K as well as several B vitamins. Phenolic compounds in the fruit display anticancer effects. Plum extracts may be able to kill breast cancer cells without harming the surrounding tissue.
The high levels of of beta-carotene in nectarines protect against free radical damage to preserve healthy cells. Antioxidants such as chlorogenic acid and anthocyanins may prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, thereby lowering heart disease risk.
Apricots are a good source of iron, which may be easier to absorb thanks to the accompanying vitamin C. Apricots also contain carotenoids and xanthophylls, phytonutrients that are correlated with eye health. Catechins help to protect against inflammation that can cause damage in the body.
Cherries are also considered a stone fruit and, according to The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, contain anthocyanidins that display COX-blocking power on par with that of over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. They’re also a source of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep patterns.
Selecting & Storing
Don’t make the same mistake that I did and settle for mediocre stone fruits! Here’s how to find the best and keep them as fresh as possible:
Peaches, plums and nectarines should give a little under gentle pressure. Apricots are ripe when they’re still firm.
Stone fruits retain their flavor best if stored at room temperature. Refrigerate if you can’t enjoy them within a couple of days.
If your peaches, nectarines, plums or apricots need to ripen, place them in a paper bag on the counter and check them daily until they’re ready.
The best thing about stone fruits, of course, is eating them! Enjoy your favorites straight up (with a napkin handy to catch errant juice trails!) or use them in recipes like crumbles, cobblers and pies. Add them to salads or pair them with savory dishes for a delightful twist. I’ve heard that peaches are even great on the grill! Whatever strikes your fancy, you’ll be supporting optimal health every time you dig in to fresh stone fruits.
Want to learn more about how stone fruits and other plant foods can help you achieve vibrant health? Schedule a FREE Power-Up Prep session with Quantum Vegan today! We’ll get on the phone, talk about your health concerns and set up a plan to get you on track to a healthier future.
Berry season is almost upon us! Soon farmers markets and grocery stores will be exploding with vibrant displays of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and every other kind of berry that you can think of. Berries are awesome in so many ways that I couldn’t help putting together a post that sings their praises.
Top 5 Reasons to Make Berries a Summer Staple
In addition to being delicious, berries have fabulous health benefits:
They’re Packed with Nutrients
According to The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, berries provide a beneficial combination of nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, several B vitamins and trace minerals such as manganese. Levels vary depending on the type of berry, so be sure to eat a variety to get as much as you can!
They’re High in Antioxidants
The abundance of free-radical-busting antioxidants in berries is what’s earned them their reputation as superfoods. Antioxidants are powerful protectors at a cellular level, and the more you have in reserve, the easier it is for your body to combat damage that can lead to heart disease, dementia and premature aging. The deeper and richer the color, the more antioxidants you get.
They’re Low in Sugar
Many conditions including diabetes, candida and Lyme disease require a low-sugar diet, which can mean missing out on a lot of fruits. Berries, however, are low enough in sugar to allow most people on restricted diets to enjoy a natural sweet treat. They’re also a good choice if you experience blood sugar imbalances unrelated to diabetes or are simply looking to reduce your overall sugar intake.
They Fill You with Fiber
Fiber is partially responsible for feelings of fullness and satisfaction, and berries are a great source of it. Eating more fiber helps you feel full longer, preventing cravings and aiding in weight maintenance. Fiber also slows the delivery of sugar to the bloodstream to help balance glucose levels, and of course it promotes regular, healthy digestion!
They Fight Inflammation
Quercetin, an antioxidant that’s particularly abundant in berries, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. By helping to block the production of histamine and other inflammatory markers, quercetin can stop inflammation before it starts. This makes it beneficial for everything from allergies to arthritis. It may also explain the apparent protective properties that berries have when it comes to heart health. Excessive inflammation is suspected to be a catalyst for heart disease as well as other degenerative conditions, and cooling it off can have far-reaching benefits.
If you’re curious about properties of specific berries, the Mother Nature Network has an informative article on how 11 different varieties work to promote health.
Making the Most of Bountiful Berries
So how do you get all the most benefit from berries? It depends on what you’re in the mood to eat! Berries make any meal or snack sweeter and more satisfying. Try these tasty ideas to enjoy more berries this season:
Make a parfait with vegan yogurt, a crunchy nugget cereal such as Ezekiel 4:9 and your favorite berries.
Top oatmeal with sliced fresh berries or stir blueberries and raspberries into overnight oats.
As with any produce, freshness counts when choosing berries. If you can find a local farm that offers pick-your-own, take advantage of it to load up on your favorite berries when they’re at peak ripeness. At this point, they’ll have the highest nutrient content and, incidentally, the best flavor.
The next best thing to picking your own berries is to buy them at a farmers market or farm stand. They’ll still deliver a big boost of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and sometimes you can find buy-one-get-one deals or quantity discounts.
If you don’t have access to either of these options, look for organic berries at the grocery store. Check the origin and choose brands that come from as close by as possible.to minimize the nutrient loss that occurs during transportation. Berry prices should be more reasonable this time of year thanks to seasonality, so keep an eye on ads to find the best deals.
No matter where you shop, be discerning when choosing your berries. After all, to truly enjoy the seasonal bounty, you want the best possible berries you can get!
Finding a huge haul of perfect berries is exciting, but once you’ve got them home, you have to be able to keep them fresh. Berries should be washed (Better Homes and Gardens has a useful guide to this) and either stored in the refrigerator or laid out on cookie sheets and placed in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer to freezer-safe zipper bags or airtight containers. I did this with a bunch of blueberries that I bought last year and was still putting them in oatmeal in December!
To keep berries fresh longer in the refrigerator, I recommend using green bags. These BPA-free bags extend the life of produce by a significant amount to preserve freshness and reduce waste.
Incorporating berries into your daily diet is a delicious way to fight cellular damage, protect yourself from degenerative diseases and promote an overall feeling of wellness. How do you include berries in your meals? Share your favorite recipe in the comments!
If you’ve been reading the blog for any length of time, you know that I get stupidly excited about farmers markets. And why not? There are so many reasons to love shopping at these unique local venues. This time of year is especially fun because, at least here in the Northeast, the winter markets are moving outside and the seasonal markets are just starting up.
With all the markets that have sprung up across the country in recent years, it’s easier than ever to find fresh, local produce and one-of-a-kind artisan goods right in your own backyard. If you haven’t checked out your local market yet, here are five great reasons to make this year the year you become a regular!
1) You’ll Find Unique Goods and Produce
How many times have you seen a suncrisp apple, purple pepper, speckled heirloom tomato or celeriac (10 reasons, n.d.; Dansereau, 2012) at the supermarket? You’ll come across all this and more on a typical visit to the farmers market. Produce grown for chain stores has to conform to certain specifications so that it can be packed and shipped all over the country (or the world), and farmers growing for “Big Ag” are focused more on profitability than diversity. Small farms, on the other hand, tend to grow a vast range of fruits and vegetables in multiple varieties. There are no restrictions on size or appearance, so these farmers are able to aim for flavor and quality (Alterman, 2012).
Diverse planting also helps to preserve heirloom strains that would otherwise be lost. Some of the plants that farmers are growing now have may have been handed down for over a hundred years and offer truly unique flavor that you won’t find in supermarket produce.
When you’re wandering the farmers market, take the time to stop by vendors selling locally produced goods such as jams and nut butters, hummus, pesto, soap and bread. You might even find gems like homemade pasta and granola or be able to grab a bite at a vegan-friendly food vendor. Many of these products are starting to make their way onto grocery store shelves, but you’ll find the best selection right at the market.
2) It’s Easy to Shop With the Seasons
Many a food writer has made the point that there are no seasons at the supermarket. You can buy salad mix in the dead of winter and potatoes in July. Strawberries, apples and mangoes are always available no matter what the weather. To provide this ever-constant selection, produce is often picked before its prime, ripened artificially, packed into trucks and shipped as far as 1,500 miles to reach the shelves. The result? Poor taste and poor quality that detracts from the enjoyment of the food.
Greenhouses and cold storage make it possible for farmers market vendors to offer some items, such as fresh greens and apples, out of season, but in general what you see at the market on any given day is what’s at peak. Vendors pick produce the day before or sometimes even the day of the market and rarely travel more than 50 miles to sell it. That’s why a tomato you buy at the farmer’s market in July or August tastes so much better than one you get off the store shelves in December and the asparagus you enjoy in your spring salad blows the imported midwinter crop out of the water.
To know what’s in season, all you have to do is take a stroll around the market as the months go by. You’ll be treated to a rainbow of colors and tastes from spring to fall, starting with fresh greens and ending with squashes and root vegetables.
3) The Food is More Nutritious (and Tastier!)
The “seasonal and local” combination brings you food that not only tastes better than supermarket selections but is also better for you. Fresh food starts to lose its nutritional value the moment it’s picked, so if the apples you’re buying today spent a week being shipped halfway across the country and another several days on the shelves, chances are there’s not much left to benefit your health. Plus, since most of the produce in supermarkets is picked before it’s completely ripe, flavor and nutrients aren’t given the time they need to develop to their fullest.
Farmers market produce, on the other hand, is picked exactly when it’s supposed to be and sold within a day or two of leaving the field. As you enjoy the delicious flavor, you get an infusion of nutrients that comes both from the freshness and the fact that small farms tend to practice much better soil management than big agribusinesses. Instead of planting hybrids and GMOs made to withstand unnatural conditions and excessive chemical treatments, local farmers focus on tried and true methods of fertilization and pest management.
Look for certified organic and certified naturally grown vendors to find food grown without the use of chemicals. If you’re not sure about a product, ask the vendor. Organic produce has been shown to have a higher nutritional value than conventional due to better soil quality and farming practices. To ensure you’re getting the most out of your fruits and veggies, choose the brightest produce possible and check for ripeness. Nutrient content peaks around the time that produce is meant to be picked and eaten (Alterman, 2012), making the farmer’s market your best bet when it comes to eating healthy.
Photo (c) Alistair Williamson
4) You’re Supporting Local Farmers
The buzz surrounding local food is about more than flavor and nutrition. When you buy produce and goods from nearby farms, you’re supporting people who live and work in your community. Your money goes into the local economy rather than funding the inefficient and environmentally damaging practices of the standard agricultural system. Each purchase at the market helps to keep small farms in business, and buying local shows that you care where your food comes from and how it’s grown. It also conserves a great deal of resources since what you buy is grown in viable farmland in your area rather than a large-scale farm that then ships its yields to far-flung areas.
Shopping at the farmers market gives you a chance to get to know local growers and develop lasting relationships. You can pick up interesting tidbits on how to prepare unfamiliar ingredients and get alerted to when new products are on the way. As you strike up conversations wiith more people, you’ll find that visiting the farmers market becomes the highlight of your week.
5) You Can Get a Great Deal
Comparing prices at the farmers market to those at the grocery store gives many people the mistaken impression that it’s too expensive to eat healthy and local. Remember that the produce on store shelves is the result of large-scale international agriculture with a focus on high volume. Locally grown food, on the other hand, requires more personal care and attention, and you get much more out of it than something you grab from the supermarket. Looking at it that way, you’re getting quite the bargain.
There are ways to stretch your market day budget even further. “Seconds,” items that are cosmetically flawed in some way, generally cost less as do late-season items that are starting to go past their prime. Some vendors will sell large amounts of produce in bulk such as 50-pound bags of potatoes or entire bushels of apples at discounted prices. Shopping seasonally comes in handy here as well; abundance and availability may drive down prices (Henry, 2014). Striking up a relationship with farmers could earn you a little extra here and there as well, but don’t try to haggle for lower prices (Crouch, 2014). Everyone at the market works hard to bring you the best of the best, and their livelihoods depend on people like you choosing to buy food at a local market rather than chain grocery stores.
Of course, these are just a few of the perks of shopping at a farmers market. If you want to discover more for yourself, check out the USDA Farmer’s Market Directory to find the locations and hours of farmers markets near you! Remember that some run all year, so you can always find fresh, local produce to enjoy.
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Beans, beans, they’re good for–just about everything! Whether you toss them on your salad, simmer them in chili, use them to bulk up soup or mix them in with pasta, you’re enjoying one of the most delicious, nutritious foods you can have on a plant-based diet. Here are five of the many amazing things that beans can do:
Unless you’re already consuming a plant-based diet, chances are you’re not getting enough fiber. According to WebMD, the average American adult only takes in 15g per day, far below the recommended 25g for women and 38g for men (Zelman, 2014). Beans have one of the highest fiber contents of any food, with navy beans serving up a whopping 10.5g per 100g serving (5 reasons to eat more beans, n.d.). This shouldn’t be surprising considering that pretty much the entire bean is made up of soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which play important roles in digestive health (Swalin, 2015).
Soluble fiber digests slowly, keeping you full and satisfied for longer (Swalin, 2015). It also feeds the beneficial bacteria in your GI tract, which in turn produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that nourish the colon walls. You wind up with stronger digestion and a better balance of intestinal bacteria, a combination that works to reduce common GI complaints such as constipation.
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and promotes regular bowel movements.
Another benefit of fiber-rich foods, including beans, is their ability to lower cholesterol. The cholesterol your body doesn’t need is meant to pass out of the body, not wind up in your bloodstream. Too much cholesterol in the blood, especially dense LDL cholesterol, increases the chances of plaque formation and therefore the risk of heart disease. Fiber helps reduce that risk by binding with cholesterol in the digestive tract to ensure proper elimination.
Interestingly enough, a study published in the Canadian Medical Journal showed that eating one serving of beans per day can actually reduce LDL cholesterol concentrations by 5% (Swalin, 2015). Whether this was just because of the fiber or because study participants replaced high-cholesterol foods such as meat with beans is unclear, but it’s a big benefit all the same.
Stop the Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
Carbohydrates have earned a bad reputation no thanks to the refining process used in most commercial flour-based products. The carbohydrates in beans, however, digest much slower than those in refined grains due both to the fiber and the protein content. Slower digestion means steadier absorption of carbs and a slower climb in blood sugar. Refined carbohydrates send blood sugar spiking and crashing, leading to swings in energy and mood. These swings also result in high levels of insulin flooding the blood stream in an attempt to keep blood sugar stable. Eating beans induces a much more moderate insulin response, helping to protect against the insulin resistance that can be a precursor to Type II diabetes (Swalin, 2015).
Pack a Nutritional Punch
Beans may well be the original “superfood.” They offer a wide range of nutrients including iron, B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese and potassium, which not only makes them good for general nutrition but also protective against some of the major causes of death such as heart disease and cancer (Murray, 2005). Beans help to combat iron deficiency, the most common mineral deficiency in the US, though for best absorption it’s a good idea to eat them with foods that contain vitamin C such as bell peppers, kale, collards or broccoli (Murray, 2005).
Soybeans have added benefits due to their essential fatty acid content. EFAs are necessary for maintaining the health of your brain, circulatory system and cell membranes (Murray, 2005). They’re also anti-inflammatory, an important characteristic given that chronic, low-grade inflammation is now thought to be the root of many common diseases.
Provide an Inexpensive (and Healthy!) Protein Source
While its true that meat, dairy and eggs all contain high amounts of protein, they’re also high in saturated fat, contain naturally occurring trans fats and are full of the hormones, chemicals and antibiotics that are used in modern factory farming processes. Beans, on the other hand, have all of the previously mentioned benefits plus a wide range of health-promoting phytonutrients (Taraday, n.d.). Soy in particular is a great protein source that contains all nine essential amino acids. Choose soybeans and whole soy products such as tofu and tempeh from non-GMO sources to enjoy a healthy protein boost.
In terms of economy and affordability, beans have meat beat, hands-down. One pound of meat contains about five servings; one pound of dried beans provides as many as 12 servings. With a pressure cooker, it’s easy to load up on bulk dried beans and cook them in minutes whenever you need them. Doing this also eliminates the added salt found in canned beans, yet another benefit for overall health.
Looking to get more beans in your diet? Try these tasty recipes:
Is it the texture? The flavor? The versatility? The way it can encourage even the biggest veggie-phobe to plow through a plate of carrot sticks?
The way I see it, there are four elements that make hummus amazing:
Creaminess. Whether or not you make it with tahini, hummus should be smooth and creamy. Well-cooked chickpeas (or white beans, if you’re feeling adventurous) and a powerful food processor create the right texture in no time.
Spice. Depending on the seasonings you choose, hummus can be pungent, bright, earthy or spicy. It can have Italian flavors or Mexican, Indian or Middle Eastern. It can even taste like dessert!
Tang. Lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice…any of them balance out hummus spices with a citrus overtone.
Mix-Ins. What’s great straight up is even better when you add a finishing touch like caramelized onions, sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs or even pumpkin puree. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t be afraid to toss in a few chocolate chips!
Today I have spices on the brain because, thanks to the generous folks at Kaiulani, I now have an impressive array of spice blends to try out in all manner of dishes, including hummus!
Spicy curry, front and center!
Made in Hawaii, Kaiulani spices are organic, vegan, gluten-free and contain no MSG or other strange ingredients. (Have you ever read the labels on some of the mainstream spice blends? Scary!) They can be used as seasonings or rubs and range from mild herbal blends to spicy-hot. Many include Hawaiian salt, not something I’d normally go for, but I’m not one to say no to free food. When I found myself getting low on hummus, I grabbed the Exotic Curry blend and went to it.
I may have mentioned more than once on this blog that I am a sucker for all things curried. I’ve been searching for a good curry powder blend and just can’t seem to find one that fits my taste for the right balance of pungent and hot. Kaiulani’s Exotic Curry includes coriander, tumeric, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves and crushed red chilies along with a touch of salt and evaporated cane juice. Sounds promising, right?
Turns out that “promising” is far too inferior a word. Amazing, maybe. Super, perhaps. WowthisissogoodIcouldeatthewholebatch. (Is that a word? It should be.)
Tasty vegan curried hummus snack plate!
Say hello to Garlic Curry Hummus with Siracha. Spicy, pungent curry flavor meets zippy siracha hot sauce for a little extra kick. When I was at the Toastmasters fall conference in CT, the nearby Whole Foods had siracha at the salad bar and I put it on everything. It pops up in recipes from time to time as I’m flipping through cookbooks and I never have it on hand. So naturally I had to buy a huge bottle when I found it on sale at the store last week.
And the garlic…well, what’s hummus without garlic? Unless you’re making one of those dessert hummus recipes, in which case garlic would be kind of weird.
This is a seriously flavorful hummus that’s good on crackers, raw veggies and toast. You could use another curry powder for it, but I recommend trying the Kaiulani. It’s not easy to impress me when it comes to curry powder, but they’ve done a heck of a job with their bold blend. Kudos to them!
Garlic Curry Hummus with Siracha
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 15.5oz can, drained and rinsed
5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 1Tbsp)
1T Kaiulani Spices Exotic Curry blend
1t siracha hot sauce
pinch of smoked paprika
water as necessary
Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl. Add water as needed to achieve the desired consistency.
Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with seed crackers, pita bread or raw veggies.
I can’t wait to try more of Kaiulani’s interesting spice mixes. Tonight I’m giving their Kona Coffee spice a test run in a batch of red bean chili. Coffee as a seasoning? Yes please!