In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Food Wednesdays: Food for your Mind and Body

Written by Donna Marie Desfor, Culinary Consultant and Chef | Sep 26, 2012 12:01 AM

Rare is the day food isn’t talked about, reported on, or questioned.  Food, in any form, has the unique ability to affect our body, our moods, and support (or undermine) our physical well-being.  If we know that we are what we eat, why do so many people (as many as 80% of Americans depending on what study you believe) fail to get the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients necessary to support a healthy body?  Factor in the daily assault of pollution, food additives, prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, genetically modified or altered foods, not to mention processed foods (which really aren’t food at all), and you'd think we’d be frantic trying to find something healthy to eat.  But we're not. 

Since early civilization, the external influences of such things as time, work, sleep, the seasons, and food have been recorded.  Today holistic and wellness practitioners suggest that every ailment from mood swings, tiredness, inability to concentrate, and anything we tend to blame (and accept) as age- or lifestyle-related, might just be related to our diet.  But learning about the right foods to help feed the brain, improve concentration, restore a sense of calm, or energize us is probably a more daunting task than enduring the irritations we’ve come to simply accept as part of our lives, and lifestyles. 

It’s all about balance.  A body’s weight is on average 60 percent water, 20 percent fat (slightly lower percentage for a man) and 20 percent is a combination of protein, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, and other naturally produced biochemical.  Since these components are extracted from the foods we feed our body it makes sense that we should eat the right foods (protein, carbohydrates, and fat – the macronutrients) to support our body’s functions.  Vitamins, minerals, and other trace elements (the micronutrients) are necessary for hormone production.  This means that to maintain a healthy metabolism we need to pay attention to what makes up our nutrient intake.  Not surprising, it’s all about balance.  We have to eat the right food types (not just the right foods) that provide the benefits specific to our own body.  And, yes, every person's needs are different.  There is no single formula we can apply wholesale to our population.  Perhaps this is why we throw our hands into the air and simply give up.  It’s easier to eat what is easy, even if it’s not what’s best.

The foods we need.  There are 3 basic (macronutrients) foods we need: proteins, unrefined, fiber rich, complex carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids.  Beyond that, there's a whole host of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements that support our natural biological and hormonal functions.  How we get these foods, the vitamins and minerals, into our bodies can determine how our body responds and reacts to our daily lives.

Protein foods are central to our healthy whole body.  They improve brain function; they are essential for muscle tone and growth, healthy skin and nails.  We need protein for tissue repair and in the manufacture of hormones.  What is great about protein, though, is that it comes in a variety of forms including vegetable-based proteins (think lentils, beans, tofu, peas, corn, broccoli, and nuts – all of which are low in saturated fats and high in fiber), and poultry, meat, and fish. 

Unrefined, fiber-rich, complex carbohydrates (think brown rice, whole wheat or oat-based cereals, whole grain breads, pastas, or legumes), and fresh fruits and vegetables help control mood.  These foods encourage the production of serotonin which helps calm the body and the mind. 

Essential fatty acids are needed by the body to function correctly, but they cannot be produced in the body.  Instead, they come from our dietary intake.  Typically we introduce these "EFAs" through the oils we prepare our food in, or by eating oily fish, and fruits like the avocado.   

Awareness.  One of the best ways to learn what your body needs (other than a whole series of nutritional, biological, and physiological profiling) is to become aware of how your body responds to the foods you feed it.  Begin to notice how you feel after a meal.  Notice the effects of what you ate on your mood, your concentration, and how your feel physically.  From that awareness comes curiosity and from curiosity learning and from learning, ultimately, there is understanding.  Understanding what your body needs in response to your lifestyle and discovering the foods that optimize your body’s function can literally change your life and support your health and overall well being. 

This is simple and yet difficult work.  I learned after my first year as a parent to a 4th grader that if I didn't want to spend the bulk of the school year sick I would need to find a way to boost my immune system.  It took a while, but along the way I learned what vitamins my body needs that I don't get in my daily meals.  I ultimately discovered my own formula of vitamins, minerals, and herbs that I mix each morning with a fruit juice that is loaded with vitamin C.  Now I manage to sail through the school year with little more than a sniffle, if even that. 

The same approach can be used to resolve stresses and change in our lives.  Everything from eradicating tension to smoothing dry skin to easing hay fever to relieving menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms, to improving libido can be affected by the effects of what we eat.  Taking the time and caring enough to fuel the body in a way that supports it is the most important step anyone can take toward feeling well in life. 

Jillian Michaels, fitness expert, life coach, and tough-as-nails-trainer from TV’s The Biggest Loser says in her recent best selling book Master Your Metabolism, “vitamins and other nutrients are necessary for hormone production.  Hormone production regulates metabolism so to maintain a healthy metabolism we need to pay attention to our nutrient intake.”  Until now paying attention to those needs was a near impossible task.  The information that was available to us was typically bad or just simply wrong.  Today information about diet and nutrition if prolific, but reliable sources are easier to find than ever before.

All sources are not created equal.  In 2008, about 40 billion dollars was spent in the diet industry, according to a report in Business Week.  With so many sources of information, choosing a reliable one can leave you navigating a minefield of uncertainty.  But you don't have to feel alone.  Ask anyone and you find that most people instinctively know what foods make them feel good.  And, if they are someone you think of as healthy, they probably have some basic knowledge about the vitamins, minerals, and dietary needs that keep them that way.  And then there's the Internet.

Michaels relies on The Linus Pauling Institute's Micronutrient Information Center as her source for scientifically accurate information about the roles of vitamins, minerals, other nutrients, and some foods in preventing disease and promoting health.  Promoting health.  Now there’s an idea worth finding some time to get interested in.  From The Linus Pauling site, Michaels creates a short list designed to add certain nutrients back you’re your diet.  For Michaels, this list is about bringing natural balance back to your hormones and, consequently, your metabolism.  Does it work?  That’s a question only you can answer. 

Day-by-day.  If you decide to give it a go the rest is relatively simple.  It’s a step-by-step, day-by-day process:  become aware of how the foods you are eating make you feel and then search for food corrections that might provide the answers to help you change your body, your moods, or both.  What is it that could be making you feel bad?  Or good?  Adjust your diet to provide your body with the fuel it needs and notice what happens.  Learn what you like to eat and how those foods can become part of your nutritional plan.  Michaels has a cookbook  (The Master Your Metabolism Cookbook) out to help guide you.  Or, you can begin with these recipes that are created to support your body and your mood. 


WITF Oatmeal Muffin.jpgRecipe:  Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins
Makes 6 muffins

Foods that sustain energy levels throughout the morning are a great idea.  Choose foods low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates, such as cereal and baked goods made from whole grains.  Spices, like cinnamon and ginger can wake up a tired mind and ease sluggish digestion.  Oat products are high in protein and a rich source of soluble fiber. They also contain vitamin E, zinc, selenium, copper, iron, manganese, and magnesium. 

This tasty muffin is like eating baked oatmeal.  It will fill you up and keep your body going all morning long.  Earlier in the summer when blueberries were in season, I froze a few pints.  If you have some of your own, toss a few into each muffin and enjoy

1/2 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
1/4 whole wheat flour
1/4 whole grain oat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup spelt flakes
1 tablespoon oat bran (optional)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 egg
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 tablespoons Lyle’s golden syrup (substitute pure maple syrup)

Frozen or fresh fruit pieces, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Spray a 6 muffin tin with non-stick spray. 

In a large bowl, combine the flours, oats, spelt flakes, oat bran (if using), baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, combine the egg, buttermilk, oil, and syrup.  Use a whisk or hand-held mixer to thoroughly combine.  Pour the liquid into the flour mixture.  Mix until just combined using a large spatula.  Over mixing will result in muffins with a tough, rubbery texture.

Bake as directed or cover and store the batter in the refrigerator overnight.  The oats and spelt will absorb the liquid mixture.  To lighten add an additional 1/4 cup buttermilk, if desired. 

Fill each muffin cup almost to the top.  Bake until the edges are golden brown and a tester comes out clean, about 18 to 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool in muffin tin on a wire rack about 5 minutes.  Carefully remove the muffins from the tin returning to the rack to cool until just warm.  Serve.



WITF Cranberry Walnut.jpgRecipe:  Cranberry Apricot Walnut Jam
Makes about 1 cup

Walnuts are especially rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a plant based omega-3 fat that’s been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.  Walnuts are also rich in antioxidants and contain valuable manganese and copper, plus iron, magnesium, and B vitamins.  That combined with the wallop of vitamin C in the Cranberries and vitamin A in the Apricots make this Jam a near perfect addition to any meal.  Add some warmed chunky jam to your oatmeal or other hot cereal, or slather it on toast.  At lunch use the jam as a condiment to a turkey sandwich, or as a delicious warm side to a healthy salad.  For dinner, spoon some jam over roasted meats.

1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup Demerara sugar (raw sugar)
Scant 1 cup dried cranberries (substitute a generous full cup fresh)
1/2 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1 cup fresh chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon orange zest (from about 1 small orange)

In a medium saucepan combine the orange juice and raw sugar with 1/2 cup filtered water.  Bring to a boil over medium and boil for 5 minutes stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Add the cranberries and apricots.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes more, until the dried fruits are rehydrated and plump (or if using fresh, the berries are beginning to burst).  Remove from the heat and stir in the walnuts and orange zest.  Let stand to cool and thicken about 20 minutes.  Serve warm or refrigerate covered and serve cold. 

Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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