Super foods for beautiful skin and hormonal woes

Skin.

Beautiful, glowing skin.

All of us want it. Some of us are just tired of breaking out in pimples and cysts, itching away at their eczema, counting their hives.

Just plain and simple tired of our protective coat rebelling against us.

I have struggled for 11 years to feed my skin and balance my hormones. I knew that the two were intimately linked because there have always been certain “monthly patterns” to my skin that only surfaced since that lovely, awkward time of puberty. Many times I refused to believe that my diet played any role in my outbreaks: “it’s all hormones, genetics, wrong products, stress!” 

Well, I don’t think that eating a “perfect” diet will rid anyone of their skin issues. In fact, I still breakout no matter what I eat. However, I have discovered foods and patterns of eating that greatly alleviate pain, inflammation, and may possibly contribute to clearer skin overtime.

You always hear that diet has nothing to do with acne, but this is only because it is difficult for researchers to make a direct causation between certain foods and breakouts.  Foods may not directly cause acne, but perhaps indirectly through eating grains and high glycemic foods. Nobody, even NUTRITIONISTS like to hear that they have to reduce or eliminate foods that they love–dates, bananas, certain gluten-free breads. It sucks, but sometimes you just gotta bite the bullet.

Feeding your skin

Green machines: kale, swiss chard, mustard greens, parsley, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, celery, cilantro, romaine lettuce

Orange good guys: sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots

Radiance boosters: berries, cantaloupe, apples

Beautifying Beans*: kidney, black, garbanzo, lima, lentils

Protein: salmon, halibut, tuna, yellowtail, grass-fed beef, lean chicken or turkey, other lean meats (preferably wild or organic).

Fabulous Fats: walnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, coconut, olives and their oil, borage and fish oil—all rich in essential fatty acids and zinc, both of which are necessary for reducing sebum buildup, infection, and inflammation

Greatest Grains: Quinoa (white, red, black), brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat

Other superstars: Green tea, cacao (unsweetened) or 70% and higher dark chocolate, cinnamon, ginger, garlic

*Note: some recommend soy for balancing hormonal fluctuations, but I caution its use because it is an endocrine disruptor and may not be your safest source of isoflavones. Other beans and cruciferous vegetables may be slightly lower in phytoestrogens, but may still effectively promote healthy estrogen/progesterone balance. My doctor once prescribed me Estrofactors, which includes red clover as a source of phytoestrogens, which worked pretty well.

Raw chocolate bark recipe

As if you need a more credible reason to eat chocolate other than its amazing deliciousness, research as shown that eating dark chocolate with a high flavonol content has been shown to protect skin exposed to UV light!

Some people worry about chocolate’s fat content, but it may have a neutral effect on cholesterol levels due to its combination of oleic acid (a monounsaturated fat found in olive oil) and palmitic and stearic acid (saturated fats found in solid animal fats shown to raise LDL). Likewise, coconut oil contains a high amount of saturated fat, but also contains lauric acid which may raise your HDL (good cholesterol). Obviously, the research is not conclusive. What we do know is that chocolate and coconut oil are traditional foods dear to many cultures–good enough reason for me to love them too.

low-glycemic, gluten-free, vegan. 

Reducing/avoiding sugar is key to maintaining healthy skin, and my raw chocolate bark satisfies cravings while stabilizing blood sugar and appeasing appetites. 

Cocoa nibs, ground into a powder (1 cup)

Coconut oil (1/2 cup)

Liquid Stevia (about 15 drops, adjust to taste)

Vanilla (1 tsp.)

Almond extract (1/2 tsp.)

Sea salt, pinch

Toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds, or whatever you want to toss in there: fleur de sel, goji berries, etc.

Line a 9″ glass baking dish with parchment paper. Toss a generous amount of nuts and seeds onto the paper. The chocolate mixture will be poured over the nuts to create the bark.

Melt coconut oil over low heat on the stove in a small sauce pot. Whisk in ground cacao and salt until chocolate is reasonably melted and mixture is smooth, like melted brownie batter. Turn off heat. Add stevia and flavoring extracts.

Pour over nuts and seeds. Sprinkle with fleur de sel if desired. Cool in the fridge or freezer until set (20 minutes in the freezer or nearly an hour in the fridge). Cut or break pieces to desired shapes.

Now go eat some chocolate and love the skin you’re in. 

Fun foods for fatigue and exhaustion

“I’m tired.”

How many times a day do you think or say this aloud?  Sometimes it seems as if I’ll never belong to the lucky legion of the un-sleepy.  You know them: bouncy women in Lululemon pants, darting from place to place without a huff or a puff, middle-aged leather-skinned men jogging shirtless along the beach (a common sight in Florida), anyone under 25.

My energy quest began a few years ago when I was diagnosed with anemia, which reared its ugly head again into my life earlier this year.  When I am eating well, sleeping regularly, taking my vitamins (especially iron, B-12, and folate), I am literally unstoppable.

Bursting with energy. My body weightless. My mind sharp.

I would love to share with you several short-term and long-term strategies that I have practiced and learned in my classes at Bastyr University to alleviate fatigue and exhaustion:

  1. SLEEP. So simple, so easy to fall behind on.  Affects everything from your appetite, hormones, mood, and overall energy to carry out the things you love to do, as well as exercise.  Strive to go to bed by at least 11 PM (10 is even better) and wake up whenever you can if you’re catching up, or around 7 or 8 AM to optimize energy levels.
  2. Eat every 4-6 hours.  Duh, food = energy, but choose whole foods like soups, salads, quinoa tabbouleh, whole grain toast with hummus or nut butter, fruits, leftover fish and cooked veggies–whatever you love to munch on.  Sure, donuts and meatball sandwiches give you energy, but they might be contributing to long-term lethargy due to their refined, heavy nature.  By all means, eat what you love, but let’s get real…Rome wasn’t built by donuts and 24-hour energy drinks.
  3. Don’t eat or drink yourself into a food coma.  This can be hard when you’re faced with gustatory delights everywhere, especially in Seattle. Eating a reasonable breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with 1-2 snacks in between will hopefully prevent over-eating.  If not, let it go. Tomorrow is a new day to feed yourself well with fresh yummy goodness.
  4. See your physician.  Sometimes no matter how much meat or lentils you eat, you may still be depleted in iron or some other important nutrient.  Plus, it’s always good to rule out any underlying cause not directly related to diet.

Eating small amounts of whole foods relatively often stabilizes your blood sugar, prevents crashing, reaching for coffee/caffeine, chocolate, or other things that might make you even more tired later. I noticed that when I eat more often, I have more energy to exercise and stay alert. It also lessens the likelihood that I will overeat during dinner.


Now onto the fun foods that will ninja-chop your fatigue in its face!

  • Lentils, apricot, beet, blackberry, broccoli, green bean, parsley, spinach, watercress, leafy greens, lemons [high in iron, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate–all important co-factors for delivering energy to cells and protecting cells from oxidative damage.]
  • Grass-fed beef or other lean meat, fish, shellfish, whole grains [meats are high in iron and B-vitamins–especially B-12.  B-12 is required to metabolize energy from protein and fats, and indirectly to . used by your brain Whole grains provide a nice range of other B-vitamins, which metabolize food into usable energy in your body.]
  • Green juices and smoothies with magical green powder always give me amazing boosts of energy.  Just like a leprauchan.  One of our favorite smoothies is from Fresh and it’s called The Shamrock.
  • Basil, mint, rosemary, cilantro [Energizing herbs]
  • Energetically speaking: eating local and/or seasonal foods may help shift your body into balance with the season.  Sprouts, tender greens, berries, and lighter herbs eaten during the Summer not only taste amazing, but are light foods that have captured the energy of the sun, and therefore align your body with the intensity of Summer.  These foods also cool your body from the heat.
  • When you do snack, combine fats like nuts with carbs like fruit or bread to stabilize your blood sugar.  This will prevent icky headaches and low blood sugar moodiness a.k.a. nobody likes you when you’re cranky.
  • If all else fails, eat a few squares of dark chocolate.  Fo’ real.  I read a study once where patients with chronic fatigue reported more energy, less depression, and better quality of life after consuming a small amount of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate a day [milk chocolate didn’t produce the same effects].


Menu for the Fatigued City-Dweller

Arugula and green leaf salad with fresh local peaches, toasted hazelnuts, mint, and honey-lime dressing

If this doesn't wake you up, check your pulse.

Black beluga lentils with grilled salmon, lemon olive oil and parsley gremolata

Earth meets Ocean = you defeat sleepy monster

This menu has so many exciting flavors, textures, and aromas. The lemon parsley salad energizes and lightens up the lentils and salmon, while the latter provides abundant protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, iron, and B-vitamins.  Plus it just looks pretty.

The salad is a perfect combination of soft crunchy lettuce and toasty nuts, sweeeeet peaches, refreshing mint, and slightly sweetly sour dressing.  Every bite awakens the senses and reminds you that food contains an energizing  life force not yet quantified by modern nutrition, best shared amongst friends.

Photos courtesy of the wonderful, sometimes sleepless Andy Wassyng–my official recipe tester, in-house photographer, and cutie pie.

Herbal Medicine Making Final Project

Winter foods investigation

Let’s play a game to lighten up the madness of studying for final exams. You tell me what your favorite food of the moment/season is, and I shall endeavor to research its historical usage and nutritional properties. Winter foods that are new to my diet and potentially worthy of investigation include:

chioggia beets
celeriac (celery root)
kuri squash

Surprise me!

Ode to the black sheep of candy: black licorice

Soft Panda black licorice was an important part of my childhood diet.

It was a special treat shared especially between my Father and I, the two black licorice lovers of the family. On certain trips to the health food store, we were each allowed a single, fat log of licorice, and if we were really good, maybe a whole small box of Panda to take home. Sweetened with molasses, softened by wheat, the licorice flavoring was spicy with heady anise notes.

Now I know that some of you may be frightened by the ugliness or stinkiness or weirdness of black licorice, but I assure you, dear friends, that there are so many different shapes and wonderful flavors of black licorice, that you will surely come to cherish it as you do other bitter or overly aromatic foods (black coffee, stinky cheese, but licorice goes down easier, I swear…). If you’re still skeptical as to the culinary power that licorice commands, Alinea Restaurant in Chicago paired black licorice with squab, watermelon, and foie gras, which sounds strangely divine. And if you like root beer, well, licorice root is a chief ingredient in good root beer.

My friend Claire once brought me salty German licorice that I loved, and I once shared Dutch licorice sprinkles with my friend Chris. Licorice is one of those foods that brings oddballs together, people who have tastes for the unfamiliar, the misunderstood.

A few years ago I discovered that I am severely allergic to gluten, which ended my licorice romance. Now I am sad, because I adored my occasional licorice treat: it was refined-sugar free and offered that little extra “kick” in my palate that plain dark chocolate doesn’t deliver.

Childhood nostalgia and culinary curiosity are pushing me to imagine a recipe for soft black licorice safe for celiacs. There are two brands on the market, but I haven’t tried them yet because I’ve never seen it in a store and they either contain corn or soy, which I also avoid for sensitivity reasons.

I would imagine the ingredients would be rice flour, molasses, sea salt, maybe some xanthan gum, and either licorice powder or licorice extract (I am unsure whether one is superior to other in terms of flavor, moisture, and texture). Maybe water would be needed, and I would try it with and without carnuba wax, because I don’t prefer a super chewy licorice, more soft and doughy like Panda. Perhaps these ingredients are just boiled down and then poured into oiled moulds? Any savvy confectioners out there?

If I was a Food Scientist, an allergen-free soft black licorice is definitely a product that I would make. Maybe I will just have to become a Food Scientist to make it happen…

Kidney cells as models of filtration for emotional experiences

The shift from studying Literature to the physical sciences has been stressful in terms of shifting my thinking from narratives to mechanisms, but I am slowly easing the pain by applying frameworks of thought learned in the humanities to science. The ironic part about how science has been taught for at least the past 100 years is the surprisingly deadened, isolated, mechanistic approach employed to talk about something as rich and vastly profound as LIFE and its chemical processes. While I agree that science texts strive for accuracy and clarity, and it is the “job” of philosophy, religion, or literature to help us explore our identities, purpose of existence, and impressions of human thought and feelings, I still turn the pages of my textbooks wishing for something more. Because as we all know, science does a terrible job of explaining the why’s of life, since it is too caught up with the how’s.

So I have taken to reading narratives into systems of science in an attempt to humanize their tedious abstractions. For example, this week I have been STRUGGLING to learn the Urinary System in Anatomy & Physiology II. For some reason, it just seems like the most boring, complicated information I have ever come across. Is it because urination is so automatic, so easy, so commonplace that we all take it for granted until something goes wrong? This can surely be said for other parts of the body, but their cells, tissues, and organs somehow offer more excitement, more pizzazz.

No, the problem with the urinary system is the amazing complexity of the nephron, microscopic tubular structures in the cortex of each renal lobe which produce urine. Each kidney contains roughly 1.25 million nephrons, with a combined length of 85 MILES if the tubes became uncoiled from their convuluted winding paths.

All along the nephron, reabsorption and secretion of ions, drugs, water, organic nutrients, etc. occurs via specialized cell membranes, osmotic pressures, carrier proteins, etc. etc. etc. Basically, nephrons perform the grand, orchestrated purification of our bodily fluids by retaining what is necessary (amino acids, proteins, ions needed for balance), and discarding what is harmful or unnecessary (drugs, toxins, too much of a good thing: sodium potassium, even glucose in diabetes).

I began to think of the way in which pressures within the tubes make all of this possible, and how it relates to human interaction. When one part of the convuluted tubule through which filtrate must pass is thinner, pressures increase (see Boyle’s law of how decreasing volume in a space increases pressure). Water descending through the tube travels faster, and for some reason, in this part of the tube, the solutes (suspended particles like sodium and potassium) cannot escape out of the walls of the tube. So the increased pressure goes through a loop, ascends upwards, pressures decrease because the tube becomes wide and thick and generous with its space, and the suspended particles diffuse outwards.

It is the same with people when you constrict them or approach them from a narrow point of view. The solutes (molecules of emotions, experiences, pearls of wisdom) do not diffuse from their minds and hearts into space. They become pushed down as a protective measure. If cells react in this way when placed under high pressure, and humans are a mass collection of cells, then is it not fair to assume that certain laws may also govern human interaction?

The loops in the nephron represents a turnaround in the situation, or the person’s consciousness, to the effect that the threat is diminished, the stress resolved, the pressure decreased. The scope of the tube widens, and the solutes are free to leave the self and be shared with the environment.

In effect, if one desires to be privy to the emotions and thoughts of others, we must create an environment of deference, of low pressure, of openness to the needs of others. There are some who complain of being deaf and blind to the thoughts and emotions of others. But the mass cacophony of lived experience can be filtered out like the nephron filters waste in our bodies. We can become more sensitive to the movement of emotions and thoughts being directed towards ourselves and what we choose to share with others, by opening our vessels, releaving us of the constricted effects of fear and pain in our lives.

Simple distillation yields a purified substance

My first organic chemistry lab experiment taught us the basic technique of simple distillation and fractional distillation. My lab partner and I distilled the cyclohexane out of a 1:1 ratio stock solution of cyclohexane and toluene. I was fascinated by all of the glassware that we had to assemble: I secretly felt like I was part of a private club, or that I was doing something illegal–like making drugs.

Basically, a simple distillation purifies or distills something you want to obtain from a heterogeneous solution. You heat up a solution which then turns into a vapor (or evaporates it), then the vapor passes through a condensing chamber which is being circulated with water, the condensation then turns back into a liquid and voila! you collect your purified substance.

simple distillation set-up

I began to think of some potential food applications for distillation, especially after reading that you can take cheap wine and distill it into ethanol (plain ol’ alcohol). In fact, I didn’t fully understand what “distilled spirits” meant until after I did this lab. Distillation also separates the lovely pure plant water from its essential oils. If you’ve ever sprayed your face with lavender hydrosols, you know how magical and soothing the pure plant water feels as it soaks into your skin, free from its oily grease.

As far as the kitchen goes, I remember the pain-staking time and effort we put into first preparing a standard beef, lamb, or chicken stock, and then reducing it down, crudely purifying it by skimming off the scuzzy impurities off of the top. Creating a consommé from this already cloudy stock, also seemed ridiculous, with its use of egg whites and other such tomfoolery employed to extract impurities.

Now if I had access to the lab for my own devices, I would first prepare a meat stock at home, then I would place it into the simple distillation flask in hopes of obtaining something resembling a consommé. I hypothesize that it might not be as richly flavored as a consommé, but it might produce a certain purified essence of the stock, which would then be poured table side into the bowl, with the meat from which it is derived as its centerpiece. The guest would experience the essential essence of the meat, not unlike the flower hydrosol.

Additionally, other vegetables or fruits could be distilled to produce “pomegranate hydrosol,” or “ginger hydrosol,” or even “brussels sprouts hydrosol,” which might product many interesting effects upon diners.

My goal this summer is to find a cooking application for each technique learned in organic chemistry lab. My long-term goal is to read more books on kitchen chemistry, potentially study this in graduate school, and maybe even work in one of those really fun “molecular gastronomy” kitchens:

moto restaurant

bacon & egg ice cream

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