Thursday, April 30, 2015

Yay for Bacteria!

When the word bacteria is mentioned, I would imagine that for many of us, things like Clorox wipes, Soft Soap and trash bags come to mind. Although the word may have a generally negative connotation, bacteria can go both ways, just like people. Meet your intestinal microbiota. This term microbiota refers to the good bacteria or probiotics that live inside the body and help to keep you healthy. When we eat foods that contain these probiotics, they inhabit our digestive tract and perform many functions to help with digestion, processing of nutrients and the body’s immune defense against pathogens.

What exactly do these ‘good’ bacteria do?
Our bodies are exposed to pathogens countless times throughout the day; one major source for these potentially harmful microorganisms is in the substances that we ingest. Sometimes the food we eat contains potentially harmful bacteria, fungus or other pathogenic substances. As a part of the mucosal barrier in the intestines, the microbiota functions in the first level of immune defense against these substances. They recognize and signal the immune system to initiate an inflammatory response in order to defend and rid the body of the pathogenic cell. In turn the microbiota also initiates an anti-inflammatory response once the pathogenic material has been rid of in order to restore the gut environment back to normal. Failure of this anti-inflammatory action to occur could play a role in development of certain conditions like IBD or IBS.

The microbiota also helps the body to digest the foods we eat, absorb some of the nutrients from those foods as well as promote digestive regularity.  Some gut bacteria help to produce essential B vitamins such as vitamin B12, folate, vitamin B6, biotin, niacin, and thiamin which are needed for proper carbohydrate metabolism. These bacteria also help to synthesize vitamin K which is important in proper coagulation and clotting of the blood. The fiber in certain cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli is digested and fermented as a fuel source for the gut bacteria. When the bacteria digest the fiber from these foods, it leads to an end product of short-chain fatty acids, which also help to regulate inflammation in the gut. These short chain fatty acids help to regulate intestinal acid-base balance, fat, carbohydrate and cholesterol metabolism . This is one of the many reasons why consuming vegetables is such a crucial component to a healthy diet and a happy digestive system.

How does this affect your health?
Probiotics are especially noted for their role in gut health, this can be especially beneficial in those experiencing consistent symptoms of constipation or digestive discomfort or those who battle certain digestive diseases and may help to reduce symptoms of gas and bloating as well. For those who participate in regular, intense and/or long-duration exercise, the gastrointestinal lining can get irritated and thus lead to non-desirable symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, cramping and pain. Consuming probiotics can help to significantly reduce the amount of symptoms experienced, especially for those who are prone to these issues.

In addition to a happier digestive system, probiotics are a key player in a healthy immune system. A flourishing microbiota could help to reduce the duration or number of occurrences of certain illnesses. This immune-enhancing effect could be particularly useful for athletes and highly active folks under rigorous training. The effect of a high training load can damper the effectiveness of the immune system and leave one more vulnerable to upper respiratory illness. Supplementation with probiotics or regular consumption of food sources of probiotics could help to reduce the incidence and duration of upper respiratory illness symptoms, especially if you are one who has a tendency to experience illness when under training.

So where do you get them?
Note the live and active cultures listed in the ingredients list
Note the live and active cultures listed in the ingredients.
Two ways. Either by consuming a probiotic supplement (usually in capsule or powder form) or certain foods. Yogurt is the most recognizable source for most of us, but you can get some probiotics from other dairy products as well.  Another source is Kefir, or fermented milk. This is usually found in multiple flavors with the other dairy products and is a slightly more acidic, thicker substance than milk. Pickled, fermented vegetables, such as Kimchi, a Korean spicy blend of vegetables and spices, or Sauerkraut, can provide another source for gut healthy bacteria. Fermented soy products like tempeh, miso and natto are sources as well. Both tempeh and natto also offer the benefit of being good vegetarian protein sources. Double whammy with these foods. Lastly, beverages and tea blends made from kombucha mushrooms can be another good source of probiotics. I’ve grown fond of several varieties of these which are found in the refrigerated juice section of many grocery stores and health food stores.  Tangy and effervescent in taste they are quite a refreshing treat on a hot afternoon or not a bad replacement for a soda craving! You can also find some tea blends containing kombucha in the tea section of your local market.

A few natural sources of probiotics
A few natural sources of probiotics
Like all nutrients, whole foods are best when trying to increase your probiotic consumption. However, if supplementation is more sensible or is of interest to you, work with your doctor and local dietitian to determine if probiotic supplementation would be appropriate and if so what variety would work best for you.

Aureli, P., Capurso, L., Castekkazzi, A. M., Clerici, M., Giovannini, M., Morelli, L., et al. (2011). Probiotics and Health: an evidence-based review. Pharmacol Res , 63, 366-376.

Besten, G., Eunen, K., Groen, A. K., Venema, K., Reijngoud, D., & Bakker, B. M. (2013). The role of short-chain fetty acids in the interplay between diet, gut microbiota, and host energy metabolism. J Lipid Res , 54 (9), 2325-2340.

Getz, L. (2011, October). A Healthful Dose of Bacteria–Yogurt is the Best Probiotic Source, but Clients Do Have Other Options. Today’s Dietitian , 13 (10), p. 46.

Pyne, D. B., West, N. P., Cox, A. J., & Cripps, A. W. (2014). Probiotics supplementation for athletes-Clinical and physiological effects. Eur J Sport Sci , 15 (1), 63-72.

Vandenplas, Y., Huys, G., & Daube, G. (2014). Probiotics: an update. J Pediatr , 91 (1), 6-21.

Vitetta, L., Briskey, D., Alford, H., Hall, S., & Coulson, S. (2014). Probiotics, prebiotics and the gastrointestinal tract in health and disease. Inflammopharmacol , 22, 135-154.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

For the past several days I’ve been craving something sweet. Specifically something involving a key ingredient to a happy life, chocolate. While sometimes, a bowl of fresh strawberries will somewhat subdue the craving, there are other times where something else is warranted. So I bought a bundle of bananas last week and have been patiently awaiting them to reach peak ripeness so I could make this recipe.


Healthy and Wholesome Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or other flour of choice i.e. oat, rice etc)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1 1/2 cup mashed banana (I used 3 large ripe, speckled bananas)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
  • other add-ins as desired, chopped pecans or walnuts, cranberries, raisins
  1. Grease one large bread pan or 2 small ones. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix together in a large bowl eggs, honey, applesauce and vanilla. In a separate bowl combine flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and spices.
  3. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until blended then add mashed bananas to mixture. Add chocolate chips and any other desired mix-ins.
  4. Pour mixture into bread pan(s) and bake for 45-55 minutes until when a toothpick is inserted, it comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, cut into slices and enjoy!


 12 servings per recipe. 
Nutrition info per serving: 217 calories, 42g carbs, 25g sugar, 5g fat, 5g protein.

Recipe adapted from Yammie’s Gluten Freedom.

More cake like than bread-like this recipe is a perfect, healthy go-to to satisfy those chocolate, sweet cravings. And you don’t have to feel guilty about having a slice because with whole food ingredients like banana, applesauce, honey and eggs and whole wheat flour as the base, this is actually quite the healthy sweet treat. I ended my day today with a steaming slice of this delicious treat and a cold glass of milk. Tomorrow morning I’ll probably treat myself again to a toasted slice as a post-workout treat with a hot cup of coffee. An active body loves nothing more than whole grains and whole foods!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Slow Cooker Red Curry And Rice

Another twofer in the books. Cross-training is a big part of my routine these days so this morning my ever-so-early alarm sounded just after 5am. Sweat Therapy‘s Group Row started promptly at 6am so I had to get up early and get going. After work I hit the weight room for a strength session, so between that, an appointment and my usual daily work duties, my time for the day was spread a bit thin. I’m sure many of you have found yourself in such a time predicament as well. This could only mean one thing, if I was going to eat a decent dinner, I’d have to turn to my handy friend, the ever-faithful slow cooker.

After row, I had about an hour to shower, get ready for work and prepare my slow-cooker meal before my morning appointment; I quickly chopped up a few vegetables and tossed my to-be dinner into old faithful. Quick push of a button and call it a day. Here’s what the good ol’ crock-pot and I served up last night.

Slow Cooker Red Curry and Rice
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 cup peeled and diced carrots
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 2 Tbsp lemongrass, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 4 cups eggplant cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 Tbsp red curry paste, or to taste
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cup canned bamboo shoots, drained
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 8 to 10 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 2 Tbsp cane sugar
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 2 cups fat-free plain greek yogurt
  • 1 block extra-firm tofu, pressed and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 cup whole grain brown rice, cooked
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • Sesame seeds, pea shoots and Lime wedges for garnish
1. Grease slow cooker pot and place the onion, carrots, celery, lemongrass, red bell pepper, garlic, eggplant and bamboo shoots on the bottom. In a separate bowl, mix the vegetable broth, red curry paste, ginger, basil and coconut milk until blended. Pour mixture over vegetables. Should look something like this.


2. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-6 hours. If cooking on high reduce slow cooker to low and stir in the cane sugar and greek yogurt until blended. Toss in chopped tofu and stir. Allow to cook for about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile mix together cooked brown rice and beans sprouts.

3. Serve vegetable curry mixture over brown rice. Top with a dash of sesame seeds, a squeeze of lime juice and a small handful of pea shoots if desired.


Recipe adapted from the Thrive Energy Cookbook by Brendan Brazier.

There are so many vegetables in this recipe, I love it! The variety of colors presented in this recipe represents an array of different phytochemicals and antioxidants provided. This is great for promoting body recovery and repair after a hard day at work but especially a hard day at working out.  Just a few vitamins well represented by the vegetables in this dish include, vitamin C, vitamin A, and folate. While the vegetables provide all sorts of vitamins they also provide a dose of heart-healthy fiber. Brown rice offers a dash of protein, heart-healthy soluble fiber and provides a good portion of manganese, magnesium, selenium and several B vitamins.

One of the key ingredients to a good curry dish, as present in this recipe, is coconut milk. Although coconut milk is higher in saturated fat, over half of the fat in coconut is classified as medium-chain fatty acids. The body processes medium-chain fatty acids differently from other fatty acids by absorbing them directly into the bloodstream to be used for energy, therefore bypassing processing in the liver. This effect may help to aid weight loss, decrease inflammatory markers in the body, be helpful in certain heart and neurological conditions and be a healthful fat choice in certain digestive disorders. All this being said, coconut milk is still high calorie and should be used in moderation so for this reason I chose to include greek yogurt for half of the coconut milk in the recipe in order to maintain creaminess but keep the caloric content in check. The greek yogurt also provides a boost of protein and calcium. Overall, the combination creates a taste balance in this creamy dish.

I went with tofu in this recipe because not only does it go well with curry dishes, but it also soaks up anything it is marinaded in to give it a great blast of flavor. In this dish, allowing it to soak in the curry mixture for a while really helps it to absorb the rich, curry flavors present. Tofu is a great lean protein source, especially if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. All this being said, if you’re not a big tofu fan, you could easily substitute chopped chicken in this recipe, just cut up the chicken, add to slow cooker with the vegetables and allow to cook for the entire duration of the cooking time. Whether it’s tofu or chicken or something else, having that protein source in this dish really rounds this recipe out as a complete meal.