March 21, 2017

Treating Depression with Diet

Will the medical community begin treating depression with diet? Of course, I hope so. At Cooking2Thrive, we support healthy diet and exercise as a first step in treating and preventing any disease. If that first line of treatment works, there’s no need for the introduction of chemical medications that may have numerous adverse side effects. The use of diet and exercise first also reduces the cost of medical care. Finally, science has begun controlled trials that can show whether diet is effective treatment for specific conditions.
Diet as effective as drugs?

We know that exercise can be as effective as drugs for some conditions. How we fuel our cells is bound to affect how they perform, so in some ways this result doesn’t seem all that surprising. But don’t get too excited yet. One promising study doesn’t mean there will be any immediate change in protocol in psychiatric medicine.

For one thing, this study was small and small may or may not reflect the results you would find in a larger group. Before the medical approach changes, there will need to be larger studies that repeat this result.
It’s food, not drugs.

The good news is that this improvement was driven by food, not drugs. If you suffer from depression, it may be possible to improve your outlook by changing your diet on your own. Do not take this as a license to discontinue any medication you are currently taking without consulting your physician. Some antidepressants must be tapered down in order to avoid adverse reactions. Instead, work with your physician or therapist to revise your treatment plan to include nutritional counseling and dietary change.
In the SMILES study mentioned above, the experimental group received dietary advice and nutritional counseling that included goal setting and mindful eating. The specific dietary recommendations were:
5-8 servings per day of whole grains
6 vegetable servings per day
3 fruit servings per day
3-4 legume servings per week
2-3 servings per day of low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods
1 serving per day of raw and unsalted nuts
At least 2 servings per week of fish
3-4 servings per week lean red meat
2-3 servings per week chicken
Up to 6 eggs per week
3 tbsp per day olive oil
Up to two glasses of wine per day only with meals. Red wine preferred.

In addition, participants were encouraged to reduce intake of sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks, and any alcohol beyond two glasses of wine per day with a meal.

As you can see, there’s nothing radical here. The experimental group was simply consuming the kind of healthy diet that benefits all of us.
I know I told you not to get too excited, but if the results of this study hold true, the news is incredibly exciting!!!

According to the CDC, 3% of Americans (more than 9 million) over the age of 12 had severe depressive symptoms in 2012. Almost 43% of those reported serious difficulties at home, at work, and socially. Of that 43%, only 35% reported having contact with a mental health professional during the past year and those living below the poverty level were 2.5 times more likely to have depression than those above the poverty level. Dietary support can be a powerful way to help the approximately 1.4 million severely depressed people who do not have a mental health professional.

Dietary support and change can also improve the mood and resilience of those who suffer from diabetes, IBS, celiac disease, heart disease, fatigue, reflux, and eczema. All we have to do is overcome our resistance to change.

Okay, I know that’s a big obstacle. And that…is the challenge.

March 13, 2017

I Finally Learned How to Pop Popcorn!

I may have ruined a pan in the process, but I finally learned how to pop popcorn! Now, I don’t mean I just learned how to put a bag in the microwave or work some kind of popcorn popper. I mean I learned how to take a bag of kernels and pop them in a pan on top of my stove without using a ton of oil.

Why is this a big deal? It’s not, but it does give me a filling, crunchy, high-fiber, low-calorie, gluten-free snack that I can keep handy in the pantry. Okay, I must confess that it sometimes feels like a big deal when I’m craving chips, but know I’ll be satisfied by a bowl of popcorn topped with salt.
Popcorn is a healthy snack so long as it doesn’t have lots of oil and chemicals added. That means you’ll need to avoid microwave popcorn, movie theater popcorn, and even pouring a bunch of oil into the bottom of your pan when popping at home. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with tasteless, less toasty air-popped corn either.

What’s wrong with microwave popcorn?

That wonderful smell microwave popcorn generates comes from a chemical called diacetyl, a synthetic buttery flavoring. Diacetyl causes “popcorn lung” in popcorn factory workers, and can generate lung problems for those who make it frequently. Another chemical that lines microwave popcorn bags can cause thyroid issues, high cholesterol and bladder cancer.

In addition to the chemicals, standard microwave popcorn has added fat that boosts the calories to 413 per 2.5 oz bag. You have to eat less of it to reduce the calories or switch to low-fat popcorn that still has 300 calories per bag. And if you have to eat less of that, your crunch craving may not be satisfied.

Movie theater popcorn is better anyway.

As far as taste goes, movie popcorn is delicious. I’ve never liked to add butter because it makes the popcorn soggy and I just don’t like it, but even without added butter, a small movie popcorn has about 400 calories. A large can have as many as 1200 and most of those calories come from saturated fat.

What about air-popped?

Air-popped popcorn is great if you have a hot air popper. It drops the calorie count to 31 calories per cup of popped popcorn. A cup of popcorn contains 1 gram of fiber and less than 1 gram of fat. It’s also contains protein and is high in antioxidants. It sounds like air-popped ideal.

The problem is, I used to own one of those air poppers. Not only did I find the popcorn less tasty, I don’t like having a bunch of electronic gadgets in my kitchen. For me, air-popped is not ideal. I went looking for other options, remembering my previous failures using oil and a pan.

In my research, I read that you can pop popcorn in a pan on top of the stove without any oil.

I tried it. I ruined my pan.
burned pan
I also read you can microwave popcorn in a brown paper bag. I don’t happen to have any brown paper bags lying around my house. I wonder if a white bag would work, but I don’t have one of those either.

I approached the problem like I would any recipe variation. I took a moment to think through the problem. I knew I needed a little something to keep the popcorn from sticking and burning into my pan, so I pulled out my olive oil cooking spray. A .25 second spray has no calories or fat. That sounded promising. I formed a new corn popping plan. Luckily, it worked.

My popping plan.

Spray the bottom of a 6 quart cooking pot with olive oil spray. Turn a large burner on medium. Place the empty, sprayed pot on the burner and allow it to get warm. Get out a timer that will count in seconds. Once the pan is hot, place one-third cup of unpopped popcorn in it and put on a lid. Gently shake the pan a few times every 10 seconds. Yep, again already – every 10 seconds. Do this before the corn pops. Do this while the corn pops. Do it until the popping slows.

When the popping slows, turn off the heat. Leave the lid on for a few seconds. A few kernels may pop after the heat is turned off so if you remove the lid immediately, it may pop right out of the pan which is kinda cool, but startling. Pour the hot popcorn in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. I know it seems like no salt will stick, but enough will hang on.

You’ll end up with about 8 cups of popcorn. That’s a snack with about 172 calories, 2.02 grams of fat, 5.76 grams of protein, 6.5 grams of fiber, and tons of crunch. The same volume of potato chips would have 1096 calories. Obviously, popcorn is a better snack choice than potato chips.

With this easy popping plan, you can enjoy popcorn at home with no special equipment. You’ll save money, calories, and pans while avoiding the toxic chemicals in microwave popcorn. Now you can have ice cream more often. I call that a win!

March 7, 2017

Five Minute Gluten-Free Dessert Tricks

Everyone needs some five minute gluten-free dessert tricks. When the kids start asking for a treat on a rainy school night, I bet you think of your mom’s five minute desserts. I’m pretty sure all moms have them.

I grew up on a farm about seven miles from town and 10 from the closest grocery store. If I wanted dessert some evening, no one was baking and no one was driving me to the store. Instead, my mom’s go-to treat was what she called “angels-on-horseback”.
If I search that name online, I find s’mores, but my mom’s version was a saltine cracker topped with a slice of American cheese (from a cheese brick, not a sliced single), and half of a large marshmallow placed torn side down. She’d place these on a baking sheet under the broiler until the top of the marshmallow was toasty brown and they were ready to serve. The mix of salty from the cracker and sweet from the marshmallow balanced by the slight tang of the cheese was a perfect bite for a kid who wanted dessert.

My mom had a couple of other tricks up her sleeve. She sometimes made icing with milk, butter, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla and then put it between two graham crackers. That was her favorite, so you might find some already made and wrapped in plastic wrap on the counter if you looked around for a minute.

I suppose these days it’s more likely that the pantry has prepackaged cookies, snack cakes, or oatmeal cream pies, but in the gluten-free home, that may not be the case. There are too many expensive, mediocre gluten-free products on the grocery store shelves. Homemade is better, but can mean that dessert is reserved for special occasions rather served every day. If that’s the case at your home, you need some five minute gluten-free dessert tricks handy when the family gets a craving.

Here are a few and they’re all gluten-free:

Stuffed dates. I often keep dates in the pantry. I like to use them to sweeten muffins, but I also like to eat them. If you have some dates, raw pecan halves and smoked gouda cheese, you’ve got dessert. Just slice a pitted date lengthwise and then insert a pecan half and a thin slice of smoked gouda. Voilà, dessert.
Chocolate dipped grapes. This is a great one person dessert and it will encourage your children to eat fruit. Place 2.5 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 tbsp smooth peanut butter in the microwave. Heat for 30 seconds and stir. Place back in the microwave for 15 – 30 seconds depending on the power of your microwave. Stir until smooth. Dip grapes, fresh pineapple, cherries, strawberries, bananas, or dates in the mix and eat. Cold grapes are my favorite.

Chocolate oatmeal. Fix a packet or cup of instant, single-serving gluten-free oatmeal. Once it is cooked, stir in a handful of chocolate chips and a spoonful of marshmallow cream.

No bake cookies. For a more elaborate dessert that the whole family can share, you can stir up some no bake cookies by combining 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips, 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter, and 2 tbsp water in a medium microwaveable bowl. Cover with a paper towel and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir until smooth. Add 2 packets of maple brown sugar gluten-free oatmeal and stir until evenly distributed. Drop in spoonfuls on wax paper and let sit at room temperature until hardened – about 20 minutes or eat them with a spoon right away.

These gluten-free dessert tricks are all fast and easy! They’re also a tiny bit healthier than the typical dessert. Each one of them contains something healthy – fruit, whole grain, or nuts and a minimum of sugar. Some of them are based on single servings providing automatic portion control.

Best of all, these simple solutions satisfy that desire for a sweet treat after a meal. Who knew gluten-free dessert could taste this good with this little effort?

February 28, 2017

Easy Peasy Recipe for a Last Minute Gluten-Free Dinner Party

Sometimes life throws a curve ball and we’re required to host a last minute gluten-free dinner party. For the unfamiliar, this sounds really difficult. It doesn’t have to be. With a combination of home cooked and home enhanced items, you can deliver a simple, but tasty feast easy peasy!

My son’s birthday recently coincided with an unplanned visit from my sister & brother-in-law, unexpected work deadlines, and recovery from a cold. A reasonable person could advise us to celebrate at a restaurant, but my best birthday memories are the meals my grandmother prepared for each member of the family. We’d gather at her house for a home cooked meal and dessert of our choice. I appreciate the time and energy she invested, the delicious food she prepared, and the grace with which she made the difficult look easy.
burrito bowl
I want to give my kids the feeling of specialness that my grandmother gave us. I also recognize that there are times when I need to keep things simple. A make-your-own burrito bowl party followed by homemade gluten-free cinnamon rolls and locally made artisan ice cream filled the bill this year. My family loved it. Yours can too.

Here’s how I made it easy.

I purchased a pound of pulled pork and a half pound of beef brisket from a local barbecue restaurant. The meat is smoked, neutrally seasoned, and gluten-free. Then I bought a savory rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. This meant I didn’t have to cook any meat for our burrito bowls.

I also purchased pico de gallo, Wholly Guacamole®, white cheese dip, salsa verde, deli fresh salsa, corn tortillas, and tortilla chips already prepared from the grocery store. In addition, I picked up a head of iceberg lettuce, fresh jalapeño peppers, tomatoes, green onions, limes, cilantro, sour cream, Ro*Tel® Original diced tomatoes and peppers, and chopped green chiles in a can plus a peeled and cored fresh pineapple.
At home, I prepared white rice and black beans from the pantry using a Cooking2Thrive recipe for the beans. Once the rice was cooked, I added chopped cilantro, green onions, and lime juice. I placed the pulled pork in a pan to warm and added green chiles, garlic powder, cumin, and a spoonful or two of Ro*Tel® with some liquid, then let is simmer. In similar fashion, I chopped the brisket into thin strips, sprinkled it with chipotle pepper and garlic powder, placed it in a skillet and added the remaining Ro*Tel Original diced tomatoes and peppers. I removed the white meat from the rotisserie chicken, chopped it into small cubes, and simmered it in sour cream and salsa verde with a little chopped cilantro.

While the meat was warming, I mixed a little salsa verde into the jarred cheese dip and placed it in a dish by the microwave. From that point, I chopped the fresh tomatoes, jalapeños, pineapple, and green onion and placed each in a separate bowl. I chopped the lettuce into thin strips and put it in a bowl. I also placed my store prepared pico, salsas, guacamole, and sour cream in individual bowls.

Just before serving time, I lightly coated the corn tortillas with some melted butter, wrapped them in foil, and warmed them in the oven. While I placed all the burrito bowl toppings on the table, I microwaved the cheese dip. All that was left to do was put the tortilla chips in a bowl and dish up the hot items.
Of course all of this took time, but we ended up with a feast — cilantro lime rice, black beans, green chili pork, chipotle beef, salsa verde chicken, cheese dip, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeños, green onion, pico de gallo, red salsa, salsa verde, guacamole, sour cream, pineapple, tortillas, and tortilla chips that could be mixed and matched in any proportion to create a burrito bowl. Everyone went back for seconds. Some even fixed a third bowl.

And what’s better after a burrito bowl than ice cream? I bought several pints of ice cream in a variety of flavors like buttermilk, egg nog, salted caramel, chocolate, and strawberry sorbet. This ice cream is made in small batches about 7 blocks from my house. I really didn’t need to bake anything. I just happened to have a batch of cinnamon rolls from a recipe I was testing, so I warmed them up and served them as well.

The time I spent preparing this meal was small in proportion to the amount and variety of food I served. Sometimes combining homemade with carefully selected prepared food is a great way to make your family feel special without making yourself too tired. In fact, it can be the recipe for delivering a delicious last minute gluten-free dinner party…easy peasy!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”