Eat to Beat Anxiety

The connection between diet and mood is more than just food for thought. “A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health,” according to Felice Jacka, and she should know. She’s the president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. “A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.” As someone who suffers from both, I’m acutely aware of the difference in how I feel when choosing healthier whole foods, but what exactly is it that causes this shift? It’s tough to pick apart such a tangled ball of yarn, where so many elements are inextricably tangled together. When it comes to anxiety though, I’ve seen amazing and rapid improvement by focusing on a few select superfoods to keep all-out panic at bay.

Almonds are often praised for their high levels of healthy fats, touted for heart health. Moreover, these nutty superfoods bring iron and zinc to the table in ample measures, both of which are key nutrients for balancing one’s mood and overall energy level.

Hemp seeds are another good source of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help with anxiety. Naturally, it stands to reason that CBD oils derived from hemp has the very same nutritional properties, along with chemicals called cannabinoids that bind to specialized receptors in the brain. These affect everything from appetite and pain perception to mood and memory.

Chocolate, dark and intense, without added sweetener or milks, is more than just a feel-good flavor. Yes, it does help boost moods based on great taste alone, but it also has been shown to reduce cortisol, which is a stress hormone that can wreak havoc if left unchecked. Additionally, the flavonoids in the cocoa are protective for all the cells in your body. These antioxidants have shown promising results in lowering blood pressure, boosting the blood flow to the brain and heart, which all adds up to less anxiety. Just be careful not to overdo it, since the natural caffeine compounds could add up and have quite the opposite effect.

Maca root is bit less common, but particularly potent. Adaptogens are all the rage these days, promising protective properties against stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological. Maca in particular is a remarkably concentrated source of phytonutrients such as magnesium and iron, which are both critical for controlling anxiety.

Whole grains, packed with satisfying, satiating fiber, are the complex carbohydrates that help maintain a steady energy boost. If you’re hungry, you’re less rational, less patient, and quicker to irritation. Oats especially are said to help increase the production of serotonin, most famously known for addressing symptoms of depression.

Coconut, and all the individual ingredients it creates, from coconut milk, oil, flour, and butter, are made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are smaller fat molecules that are easily broken down and used as a backup source of energy. The brain is made of approximately 60% fat, so it needs these essential fatty acids to function properly. The brain can’t store energy and can continue to function properly for a very short amount of time without it. You need to consistently feed your brain these good fats to keep it happy and healthy.

Taken individually, these separate ingredients can do a world of good, but when they join forces in a fully balanced diet, they make the most impact. Beyond the powerful nutritional punch you get from the array of vitamins and minerals you get from so many unique sources, they happen to add up to a really delicious combination, too. Joining all of these anti-anxiety superfoods in sweet blended harmony, the resulting creamy shake will blow any powdered meal replacement out of the water. Malt shoppes only wish they had the true earthy goodness that maca brings to the table, playing off the subtle woodsy notes of true cocoa. Thick and rich with whole oats and fresh coconut, rather than sugary scoops of ice cream, you can drink it down to power up, rather than crash out from a sugar coma later.

There are no overnight cures, no quick fixes for holistic lifestyle changes, which can also be said of many medications, too. You really are what you eat, though; eat well to feel well!

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If it Ain’t Got That Spring, Then it Don’t Mean a Thing

Fleeting warm breezes tease on cool mornings, while sporadic rays of sun manage to break through cloud cover, gently kissing still frozen earth. Tempting, taunting, spring arrives in maddening snippets too short to savor at first. Right when you begin to peel back layers of heavy sweaters and fold up thick comforters, winter rages back in with a vengeance, more brutal than before, crystallizing budding sprouts into frosted popsicles or piling on a fresh coat of ice, depending on your locale. Every time it seems certain that the seasonal shift has taken place, hopes soar high on those fresh winds of change, and crash hard like a kite with no string, back down into the forbidding frozen tundra.

For the first time in recent memory, the calendar date actually seems to align with the weather. Spring resonates through dewy grasses, shouting its arrival from the rooftops of micro gardens across the urban landscape. At least in the bay area, the changing of the guard has officially occurred, and I’m more than ready to reap the benefits.

Spring is all about fresh greens in so many forms. Tender, sweet curlicues branch out from between soft pea leaves, one of the best if underappreciated parts of the whole plant. Though it’s a tough sacrifice to cut these vines down in their youth, before pods appear bearing those toothsome green caviar, the greens themselves are a true delicacy that are worth a splurge. Typically found in Asian cuisine, stir-fried very simply with a splash of wine and a handful of garlic at the most, their full potential has yet to be realized in western culture.

Borrowing inspiration from Spanish tapas, the term “cazuela” simply indicates the terra cotta cooking vessel for the dish, much like you would refer to a tagine. Contents of that pot vary widely across countries, always encompassing some sort of vegetable, though sometimes meat as well. The version from Barcelona Restaurant, based on spinach and chickpeas, inspired my springtime spin-off.

Deceptively rich and complex but full of verdant, simple vegetables, think of it like a warm spread that falls somewhere between hummus, pea puree, and spinach dip. Masses of fresh pea leaves wilt down into a concentrated tangle, amplified by the fruit of the pods themselves with a garlicky, cumin-forward taste that will linger with each bite.

If Mother Nature remains stubbornly resistant to embracing a timely spring conversion in your area, sunflower sprouts or baby spinach might just be able to suffice in a pinch… But the best things remain for those who wait. Ask around at local farmers markets, search ethnic markets for dòu miáo (豆苗,) or head to the backyard and get growing. Though it may sound like great lengths to go for just a handful of tiny sprouts, you’re only 1 – 3 weeks away from the best taste of the season, and it won’t get any fresher than that.

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Long Live the Short Stack

From puritanical health food to reviled processed junk and back again, granola has gone on a wild ride in terms of public perception over the years. Toasted whole grains, enriched with fruits and nuts, it’s not hard to understand the appeal of the basic concept, or why it’s had such staying power despite unpredictable shifts in nutritional decrees. Indulgence needn’t be linked to unsavory ingredients or wanton disregard for sound dietary advice, though. Granola can be smart way to treat yourself, without any sacrifice.

Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday suffers from a similar image problem. Pancakes were originally singled out as the culinary splurge of choice because the traditional inclusions of eggs, sugar, and fat would be forbidden during the Lenten fast to follow. Using them up to make fluffy, sweet short stacks would make sure they wouldn’t simply go to waste. Why can’t we have our [pan]cakes and eat healthfully, too?

Boost your breakfast with a sweet yet smart way to celebrate. Fluffy pancakes meet the unbeatable combination of toasted oats, crunchy nuts, and chewy dried fruits with the simple addition of ready-made granola. This satisfying morning meal proves that with the right recipe, any food can not only taste good, but be good for you, too.

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Breaking Breakfast News

For anyone who ever wanted to skip the formalities of a balanced breakfast and dig straight into the cookie jar first thing in the morning, you’re in luck! Voortman Bakery, better known for their crisp wafer cookies, understands that impulse well, no doubt through decades of temptation by their own treats. Only that kind of experience could yield such sweet results, without actually adding any sugar or compromising on flavor. Voortman’s Breakfast Biscuits satisfy that early cookie craving while delivering all the nutritional benefits of a bowl of oatmeal, without the need for a spoon.

Brand new on the market, two of the three offerings in this fresh lineup are 100% vegan, which presents a more difficult choice than you might imagine! Rest assured that no matter which fruit calls to you first, there’s no risk of disappointment here.

Crisp, with a soft bite and slight chew, these are no mere granola bars presented in a new circular format. Not the least bit dry and crumbly as I had initially feared, these treats gain a uniquely coarse, toothsome texture from oats, as promised by their titles, but also rye flakes and buckwheat to round out the base. Surprisingly satisfying and hearty for two little cookies, they’re sweet enough for the kids, and healthy enough for adults.

Cinnamon Apple proved my favorite of the two, bursting with assertive, bright apple aroma as soon as I opened the pouch. Contrary to the norm when it comes to spiced treats, the cinnamon actually takes a backseat to the sweet but tart apple flavor. Sizable chunks of dried apple introduce another dimension of texture. You can actually see and taste the whole fruit here! Blueberry Oatmeal is no slouch either, with cobalt sprinkles of ground berries present throughout, but the flavor is admittedly a bit more subtle. If you want to ease into your morning with a bit more of a gentle taste, this is the biscuit for you.

While they’re called breakfast biscuits, they’re smart snacks, too, earning stellar grades in the nutrition department. Easily graduating at the top of their class with an A+ for fiber, they’re the crunchy cookie that every healthy eater has been dreaming of. Now the time has come to finally wake up and chow down!

This post was made possible thanks to the support of Voortman Bakery and Towers Marketing Group. All content and opinions are unbiased and entirely my own.

Unholy Guacamole

Don’t judge a book by its cover, a person by their clothing, or a dip by its color. The comparison is inevitable so I’ll go ahead and say it: The following recipe, no matter how brilliantly described or lovingly plated, will always and forever look like a glorious mountain of cow plop, steaming away on a hot summer’s afternoon.

Just avert your eyes and dig in. The smoky, spicy, earthy flavor of cocoa mole awaits your taste buds if you can suspend disbelief. Presenting a bold alternative to the ubiquitous green guacamole filling bowls across the country for Super Bowl festivities, it won’t score any points for presentation, but may just win the snacking game.

Yield: 2 Cups

GuacaMole

GuacaMole
When guacamole meets mole, the results may not be pretty, but the flavor is out of this word. This creamy, smoky, spicy, and earthy mashup will tempt you to double (or triple) dip.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1 Teaspoon Chipotle Powder
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground White pepper
  • 2 Avocados
  • 2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
  • 1 Small Heirloom or Medium Roma Tomato, Chopped
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 2 Tbsp Fresh Cilantro, Minced
  • 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced

Instructions

  1. Combine the cocoa, spices, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well.
  2. Pit, dice and scoop the avocado flesh out, adding it to the bowl along with the lime juice. Very roughly mash with a fork, incorporating all of the dry ingredients but keeping the texture rather chunky.
  3. Mix in the tomato, garlic, cilantro, and scallions last, stirring until the vegetables and herbs are equally distributed throughout the dip.
  4. Serve with chips or cut vegetable crudites.

Notes

Enjoy right away or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1/4 cup

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 68 Total Fat: 6g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 71mg Carbohydrates: 5g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 0g Protein: 1g

Thai It; You’ll Like It!

Laap, laab, larp, lahb, larb; there’s about as many ways to spell the dish as there are to make it. Regarded by many as the national dish of Laos, it shows up in numerous different forms in neighboring countries. Thai cooks present their own fiery rendition of the traditional minced meat salad flecked with aromatic herbs and bold spices in perfect balance, but meatless versions aren’t hard to find in the surprisingly vegan-friendly nation. Inspired by my own journey to the Land of Smiles, I’ve taken to a hearty blend of tempeh and mushrooms, swaddling the hot mixture in cooling lettuce leaves. The combination of so many contrasting tastes and temperatures creates incredibly satisfying, harmonious little bundles.

If the original inspiration remains of reach, fear not. You can take a trip to Thailand in less time than it would take to order takeout! Join me at the Sacramento VegFest this Saturday, January 26th at 11:30 AM when I’ll share my secrets for whipping up a quick fix tempeh larb without compromising flavor, nutrition, or your budget, even during the busiest weekday dinner rush. Pick up more tips and tricks for faster, tastier meals across the board, based on my latest cookbook Real Food, Really Fast.

If only for the free samples, you won’t want to miss this. Hope to see you there!