Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy at the holidays

It’s the holidays. Do you feel joyful? Stressed? How about both? For many people, the holidays are the toughest time of the year, with extra activities, mile-long to-do lists, and constant entertaining high on the roster of stressors. So how do we stay sane and healthy during this crazy, zany time of year?

The first thing we need to do is check out how many chemicals we’re taking in. When we say “chemicals”, we mean any substance (like refined white sugar, caffeine or alcohol) that gives you a short burst of energy, and then a subsequent energy crash. And it’s important to note that we don’t just experience a physical roller coaster ride on these chemicals. Large fluctuations in our blood sugar levels drastically affect our moods as well. Have you ever felt yourself getting irritable as your coffee high wears off? Do you feel significantly juiced up after eating a bag of peanut M&Ms? If so, you’re riding the chemical roller coaster.

Now, add incredible amounts of holiday stress together with incredible amounts of chemicals, and you’ve got the proverbial perfect storm. No wonder we all end up with the flu in January!

This holiday season, focus on adding naturally sweet foods to your diet regularly. Root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, and pumpkin have lots of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and tend to have a calming effect on the body.

If you are making baked goods, use the highest-quality, organic ingredients available and substitute natural sweeteners for refined white sugar. For your favorite holiday baked goods, try substituting molasses, maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, barley malt, date sugar or raw honey.

And just to emphasize those root vegetables I mentioned, let's take a look at pumpkin as an example of what these bad boys can do for you. Pumpkin isn't just for Halloween decorations or Thanksgiving pie, after all!

Food Focus: Pumpkin

A staple around the holidays, let’s explore the nutritional powerhouse that is pumpkin. A member of the Cucurbita family, including squash and cucumbers, pumpkin its name from the Greek word "pepon" for large melon. Seeds (pepitas) from related plants have been found in Mexico, dating back over 7000 years to 5500 B.C.

Pumpkins are chock full of beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant. Research shows that people who eat a diet rich in beta-carotene are less likely to develop certain cancers. Pumpkins are also loaded with potassium, zinc and are high in fiber.

Pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses as well, and can be beneficial for people with kidney, prostate and gallbladder problems. They also help remove parasites from the intestines, and are a natural anti-inflammatory. Pumpkin seeds are high in protein, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper and essential fatty acids. All these nutrients are particularly helpful around the holidays.

Today I have 2 recipes for you! Yee-ha!

Recipe: Pumpkin Pie
From “Get The Sugar Out” by Ann Louise Gittleman

Serves 8-10 people

1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
1 ½ c pumpkin puree
1 cup milk (dairy, soy, rice or almond)
3 eggs, beaten
¼ c honey
1 ½ tbsp molasses
1 tsp natural vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Add seasonings to the pumpkin puree.
2. In a large bowl, mix milk and eggs, then stir in pumpkin mixture, honey, molasses and vanilla.
3. Pour filling into store-bought whole wheat crust*.
4. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 50 minutes longer.
5. Cool on a wire rack before serving.

Recipe: Roasted Root Veggies

6 carrots, peeled and trimmed
3 large parsnips, peeled, trimmed, and cut diagonally into 1-inch-thick slices
2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and halved, each 1/2 cut into quarters
2 large beets, peeled and cut into thick wedges
1 celery root, trimmed and halved, halves cut crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices
1 whole head garlic, separated into cloves, unpeeled
2 or 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, sage, or thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Put all the vegetables and the herb sprigs in a large baking dish. Season well with salt and black pepper, drizzle generously with olive oil, and toss them with your hands to coat them evenly.
Put the baking dish in the preheated oven and cook, stirring the vegetables occasionally, until they are tender and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Serve the vegetables from their baking dish or transfer them to a platter to accompany a roasted main course.

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