Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Gut Feeling + Happy Belly Porridge

Everyone has experienced some digestive distress at some point in their life, whether brief or chronic. I know, I have experienced both. Everyone vividly remembers that one time they ate something “off” and had to pay for it with hours of misery, vomiting and running to the toilet. For me, it happened to be an unwashed apple, for others I often hear sushi. However, some have become accustomed to daily gut distress, that over time they have come to consider it “normal” and cannot remember what it feels like otherwise. Do you think you have a healthy gut? Have you considered your daily symptoms as normal? And what does gut health mean to you? Well the scientific literature lacks a clear definition, as gut health incorporates many different aspects not yet quite fully understood. However, one might define gut health as a state of physical and mental well-being without the gastrointestinal complaints such as IBS, flatulence, bloating, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, food intolerances, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, cramps, heartburn, or any other confirmed bowel diseases (1). That’s a lot, right?

Well, five major criteria have been defined by the scientific community to better understand what gut health truly means (1). If everything is working right, then one should expect the following:

Successful Digestion and Absorption of Food: This includes normal nutrition status, regular bowel movements, no abdominal pain, normal stool consistency, and rare symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation or bloating.

The Absence of a GI Illness: Examples include, IBD, celiac disease, carbohydrate intolerances, acid reflux, inflammation, colorectal or GI cancer.

Normal and Healthy Intestinal Microbiota: No symptoms of bacterial overgrowth, antibiotic associated diarrhea, or GI infections.

A Balanced Immune System:  The absence of food intolerances or allergies, leaky gut, or high levels of inflammatory markers.

Feeling Happy: One’s quality of life is uninterrupted by GI distress and there is a balanced production of the feel good hormone serotonin in the GI tract to communicate with the enteric nervous system.

Luckily, diet and lifestyle can do a lot for your digestive health. And when your gut is happy and healthy, then in return you will have more energy, you will feel more satisfied, and you may even be able to prevent future disease. We live in a world that is constantly wrecking havoc on our gut, including chemicals, pollution, drugs, diet, etc, that it is time to make some simple steps towards rebuilding your delicate, yet amazingly resilient and wonderful GI TRACT.

My favorite way start to the day, is my Happy Belly Porridge, because it does just that, it keeps my gut healthy and me happy. It’s simple and it can be adjusted to be vegan. So here is what you will find within.

Soluble & Insoluble fiber: Chia seeds, flax seeds, and oats are great sources of fiber. Soluble fiber is very soothing to the GI tract easing constipation, and increasing transit time. Chia seeds, especially, contain a lot of soluble fiber, because they swell many times their size when added with water, to create a gel-like substance. Insoluble fiber on the other hand, acts as a broom, brushing off dead GI cells, almost like exfoliating your intestines. This helps eliminate cells that may become cancerous and it adds bulk to your stool, once again easing constipation. Just remember to increase your fluids as you increase your fiber to aid in bowel elimination (2).

Prebiotics & Probiotics: Insoluble fiber, found in the flaxseeds and oats, also acts as a prebiotic, or a food source for health promoting bacteria, allowing them to flourish in the colon. In combination with probiotics, such as fermented yogurt and kefir, which contain a wide variety of health promoting bacteria, the soluble and insoluble fibers transport them safely to the lower GI tract to colonize the colon (2).

Culinary Herbs: Many herbs and spices have powerful antibiotic properties, especially against harmful bacteria. With intestinal dysbiosis, or an imbalance of good versus bad gut bacteria, certain herbs have been found to be as potent or more potent than antibiotics, aiding in killing bad bacteria like E. coli and creating a optimal environment for the good ones to grow. Antibiotics on the other hand wipe out all the bad and good bacteria at once, which is not ideal. In a recent study published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal,  peppermint and coriander seed oil were found to be more potent in exhibiting antibacterial activity against E. coli, than rifaximin an antibiotic (3). Therefore, coriander and peppermint are great culinary herbs that can be incorporated into the diet to support a friendly balanced gut environment.

Now do you want to try this porridge for yourself? I usually keep a small mason jar of flax and chia seeds mixed together half and half in the refrigerator just for this recipe. Also, if you cannot tolerate milk, the dairy products are easily replaceable with vegan products. I do recommend full fat dairy versions because they make this breakfast super creamy and give you a good dose of dietary calcium and protein.  I do use a little plain hazelnut milk for added flavor but this is easily substituted with something else. One serving gives you a whopping 9g of fiber, both soluble and insoluble, 15g of protein, and a ton of essential minerals such as calcium (30%), magnesium (22%), selenium (14%), zinc (10%), and iron (10%). Also, with the flax and chia seeds you get a good dose of anti-inflammatory ALA omega-3 fatty acids!

Happy Belly Porridge
Makes 1 Serving

¼ cup dry rolled oats, gluten-free
1 ½ tablespoons of chia/flaxseed mixture (½ and ½)
½ teaspoon ground coriander (see cooking tip)
1 cup water 
¼ cup hazelnut milk (or any other milk)
Pinch of sea salt
¼ cup plain full fat Greek yogurt
Drizzle organic pure maple syrup
¼ cup plain full fat kefir
½ cup blueberries


Place the oats, chia/flaxseed mixture, coriander, and sea salt into a small saucepan. Add water and cook over medium, stirring often. Allow the mixture to become gelatinous, as the chia seeds soak up the water. Add the hazelnut milk and cook to desired consistency. Make sure to stir, to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom. Remove from heat when done.

Place the Greek yogurt into the center of a medium bowl and carefully pour the porridge around the yogurt. Drizzle maple syrup over top. Then pour the kefir over top until it evenly covers the porridge.

Quickly heat the blueberries in a glass bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute. You can also heat them in a small saucepan on the stove instead. To garnish the porridge as shown in the picture, carefully pour the blackberry liquid in a circular fashion and spoon the berries into the center. Viola! You are done. Of course you can also mix everything together if you don’t care for the presentation.

Cooking Tip: If you are not getting much flavor from your ground coriander try using a motor and pestle and grind up the whole seeds fresh, that way you get more of the essential oils, which carry the flavor and the medicinal powers. If you don't like coriander, I really love cardamom as a more common spice replacement.

1. Bischoff SC. ‘Gut Health’: a new objective in medicine? BMC Medicine. 2011;9:24.
2. Gropper SS, Smith JL. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; 2013.
3. Thompson A, Meah D, Ahmed N, et al. Comparison of the antibacterial activity of essential oils and extracts of medicinal and culinary herbs to investigate potential new treatments for irritable bowel syndrome. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013;13:338.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Crazy COOL Coconut

It's summer and the temperatures are soaring here in Seattle! In the Pacific Northwest we pride ourselves with the mild temperatures seen through each season. Yet right now we are experiencing a heat wave that many of us are unable to handle. Anything about 90 degrees and we are complaining. I wish I could go outside and lounge in the sun, but the heat is so potent that I just hide away in the darkest corner of the house, antsy, annoyed, and wanting something cold. All I wish I had right now is a frozen treat and a swimming pool. That would be the life! Since a pool is out of the question, I decided to make the other wish come true with Gingered Coconut Banana Popsicles. Yum!

One of the great things about the coconut is its unique fatty acid make-up, as it is made of 65% of medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) as opposed to long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) found in other plant based oils.  Interestingly, these fatty acids do not require further breakdown before they are absorbed compared to other fatty acids (1). This makes MCT oils a great option for those with various GI disorders as it is able to bypass normal fat digestion and can be absorbed within the mouth directly into the bloodstream. Furthermore, lauric acid, the most abundant MCT in coconut oil, has been found to have potent antimicrobial properties, and is able to disintegrate and kill microbes including fungi, protozoa, and even viruses (1). In a 2008 study in the journal Dermatitis, researchers found that topically applied coconut oil was useful in the proactive treatment of atopic dermatitis (AD) by eliminating Staphylococcus aureus colonization in all but 1 of 20 subjects that were previously tested positive. Virgin olive oil on the other hand did not see the same drastic results (2).

Also, MCT oils have been shown to support weight loss due to their increased ability to be utilized as energy, giving them less opportunity to be deposited as fat. In a study released in the March 2008 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that MCT oil consumption did in fact increase thermogenesis and lower fat deposition more so than olive oil. As part of a 16 week weight loss program, 49 overweight women and men, aged 19-50, consumed either 18-24 g/d of MCT oil or olive oil. MCT oil consumption resulted in a lower endpoint body weight than did olive oil, with an average of 3.7 lbs more lost than those consuming olive oil (3).

Besides its antimicrobial powers, and its ability to support weight loss, coconut oil has been shown to decrease inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, and increase HDL cholesterol levels (1). Although it does have a high saturated fat content, newest research has found that there is no association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease. In a 2010 meta-analysis of 21 epidemiologic studies, researchers found no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is indeed associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease (4).  Researchers further suggest that perhaps the replacement of fats with refined carbohydrates, may more be the issue of concern.

Finally, coconut oil is also great for high heat cooking, as it is more stable and less prone to oxidation at high temperatures, than is olive oil. Therefore, when frying or grilling, coconut oil can be a great addition to any meal. Leave the extra virgin olive oil for low heat sautéing or even just for cold dishes such as salad.

I especially like coconut in frozen treats…so here is the recipe for the delicious and cooling vegan and gluten-free popsicles. This recipe can easily be doubled as you will have enough ingredients to make a second batch. 

Gingered Coconut Banana Popsicles
Makes 6 popsicles

3 ripe bananas
1 can of full fat organic coconut milk
½ bar of Green & Blacks Organic Dark Chocolate with Ginger
½ tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil
Hemp seeds as garnish (optional)


Cut the bananas in half and poke each half with a wooden popsicle stick (I used thick wooden skewers because that was all I had at home). Place them onto a parchment covered baking sheet and put into the freezer for an hour.

Open the can of coconut cream and make sure it is thoroughly stirred.  Dip each frozen banana into the coconut milk and place back onto the baking pan and return to the freezer for half an hour. Repeat entire process one more time. (If you would like them a bit sweeter you can sprinkle coconut sugar onto each before putting them into the freezer the first time around.)

While the bananas are freezing for their third time, create a double boiler by filling a small saucepan with a little water and placing a small ceramic bowl inside. Make sure the water level doesn’t overflow into the bowl. Heat the double boiler on medium. Meanwhile cut the chocolate into thin small pieces and pour into the small ceramic bowl in the saucepan. With a small spoon stir until completely melted. Add the ½ tablespoon of coconut oil and stir until fully incorporated.

Remove the bananas from the freezer, and generously drizzle the chocolate over the bananas and sprinkle with hemp seeds as a garnish. Return to freezer to harden for about 10 minutes. Enjoy as needed!

1. Jacob A. Coconut Oil—Learn More About This Superfood That Contains Healthful Saturated Fats. Today’s Dietitian. October 2013;15(10):56.
2. Verallo-Rowell VM, Dillague KM, Syah-Tjundawan BS. Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis. Dermatitis. December 2008;19(6):308-15.
3. St-Onge MP, Bosarge A. Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil. Am J Clin Nutr. March 2008;87:621-626
4. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91:535-546.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pavlova and a Celebration!


This has been the mantra over the last week. On Monday June 23rd, 38 Bastyr Masters of Nutrition students, including myself, walked at commencement at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. Who knew that a total of four years of schooling could go so fast! I vividly remember four years ago when I took my first postbac class, biology 101, to start towards my goal of becoming a Bastyr student. I considered myself knowledgeable in nutrition, and those that knew me called me a “health nut”. Then 2 years ago, I took my first steps on the Bastyr campus as a MSN DPD graduate student, nervous and excited to be apart of the new experience. Amongst my peers from all over the United States, the East Cost to the Mid West, to those that grew up here in the Pacific Northwest, we were nervous, big-eyed, different, yet also very much the same. Now, we get to put MS after our name. How time flies! I learned a lot, made wonderful friends, and most of all, I got even more passionate and excited about the impact I can make in my community and my surroundings. Every tear, every sleepless night, and every minute I was unable to spend with family and friends, was worth it.  We, together as a cohort, sacrificed a lot, ironically even at times our health. However, throughout these past years we have grown from nutrition nerds to educated professionals with a huge responsibility to the citizens of this world. With that being said, I have a little something for you my Bastyr peers, friends, and future colleagues.

We are the dandelion. We have struggled together, making our way through long winter nights studying micronutrients. We have grown together, as we take our education and implement it as student clinicians. And we have culminated together, as bright new energy bursting into the nutrition field. Now, with each new gust of wind, we fly into different directions, as the seeds of a dandelion. Some of us will soon begin internships, while others find immediate work within the community. Wherever the wind takes us we will bring the Bastyrian spirit, keeping us forever bonded, as we continue to grow with the untied goal of “being the change we wish to see in the world.” I wish you the best, and can’t wait to hear about the seeds of change you plant within your community.

Therefore, in celebration of our huge success, I was inspired to create a delicious summer inspired pavlova, topped with fresh local berries and mint. Its gluten-free, dairy free, and surprisingly easy to make….and it looks impressive! It is even red, white, and blue! So, dig in, celebrate, and share with your favorite family and friends. 

Minted Berry Pavlova with Lemon Coconut Whipped Cream
Makes 12-14 servings

2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons cider or white wine vinegar
5 large egg whites
Pinch of sea salt
½ vanilla bean, scraped
1 cup caster sugar (regular cane sugar is fine too)
¼ cup finely chopped unsalted pistachios (can substitute with almonds as well)
1 pint strawberries, washed, dried, and quartered
1 pint blueberries, washed and dried
Fresh mint, finely chopped

For the coconut whipped cream:
1 can full fat coconut milk
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Zest of 1 lemon


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the can of coconut milk into the refrigerator. If you have not shelled and chopped the pistachios, do this now. Then whisk together the vinegar, cornstarch, and vanilla until smooth and set aside.

In a large stainless bowl, beat together the egg whites and the pinch of sea salt until very soft peaks form. Then gradually add the sugar while continuously beating on high.  Beat until smooth, glossy, and stiff peaks form.  One spoonful at a time, add the cornstarch/vinegar mixture. Beat on medium to incorporate. Fold in 3 T of the chopped pistachios.

Using a spoon, drop 6 generous spoonfuls of the meringue onto one of the parchment covered baking pans. Mold them into a circle, giving more height to the edges. This way you are making a meringue bowl. Swirl with the spatula or your finger to create fun swirls. On the second baking pan, use the remaining meringue to make one large pavlova, forming the wall and then filling in the center. Sprinkle all the bowls with the remaining tablespoon of pistachios. I made 6 small servings on one baking pan, and then one large one on the second. This way you can have individual servings and bring one to share with friends.

Turn down the oven to 200 degrees and place both the baking sheets into the oven. Bake the meringue for 2-3 hours, checking at one and a half hours to make sure it isn’t browning too much. If it is, reduce the oven temperature. When it is done the outside should be crispy and firm. The small ones will be done sooner than the larger one. Allow the meringue to cool in the oven with the door ajar.

Remove the coconut milk from the refrigerator, and spoon out the hard cream, leaving behind the watery liquid. Using a mixer beat together the coconut cream and powdered sugar until smooth. Fold in the lemon zest.

Spoon the cream on top of the cooled meringue, top with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and mint. Serve immediately.

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