Author Archives: Grace Benkovitz

“Mother may I have more smoothie?”

Says my 15 year old kid who whines when presented with avocadoes to eat.  He will eat them because he is required to but he will sneer and complain the entire time.

Quintin drinking avocado smoothie

Well, this is Quintin eagerly slurping down a smoothie that contained…..avocado!

Sadie avocado smoothie
And this is Sadie (Quintin’s sister who loves avocado…I have been feeding it to her since she was 6 months old…but currently refuses to eat it likely due to watching her brother complain and sneer) happily eating the smoothie containing avocado!

So how did I accomplish this?  Well I simply made our typical smoothie and added an avocado and then neglected to tell them the ingredients.

I have added chia seeds (yes the pottery that grows is an extraordinary health food!), ground flax seed and wheat germ to smoothies and they gobble it up.  You can add anything you want to a smoothie and usually the kids will not notice.  Some people add raw eggs and even cod liver oil (for me these two items are a work in progress but I will get there one day!).

In order to successfully hide the less desired foods in a kids smoothie you have to make an exceptional smoothie.  My kids and I have been consuming smoothies for about 10 years and this is my perfected recipe.

1 cup plain yogurt
1/4-1/2 cup juice or kombucha
1.5-2 cups frozen berries or fruit
and then add anything else you like:  fresh fruit, chia seeds, sweet potato, anything you want to try just throw it in there
Blend contents in blender until smooth.  This will make 2-3 servings.

And here are some tips:

1.     I prefer to use raw yogurt but at present I am unable to find a farmer to purchase this from so my only option for raw yogurt is to make it…that is going to take me a long while, okay many years.  I did find a brand of yogurt, Seven Stars, that is pasteurized (not raw) but is from the next state over (almost local?) and is a beautiful yellow color and so is acceptable to me.  I also recommend not using Greek styled yogurt.  Although I do purchase Fage in a bind I find that a lot more juice is needed to make the blender work.  Essentially I am adding sugar (yes juice has a lot of sugar) in place of the fat (Greek styled yogurt has no fat) thus compromising the healthiness of my smoothie.

2.     I use frozen fruit because it makes the drink a thicker consistency (like how ice is used for frozen margaritas, I am sure you are all familiar with that!).  I started making smoothies using conventionally grown frozen fruit and found that I also had to add sugar because the berries had little to no taste and the smoothie was too sour for me and my son.  Then I switched to frozen organic berries and wowie zowie the taste went from mhhh to delicious with no sweetener needed.  Last year I froze berries from my mother’s blueberries bushes and strawberries I purchased at my favorite local farm stand, Riverside Farms on Rt. 7 in Bainbridge, NY.  I cannot find organic frozen berries to purchase less than 35 miles away since moving back to upstate NY.

Experiment and have fun.  You can make a very small batch of smoothie at first if you are timid.  I am sure you could also add things like peanut butter, vanilla extract, etc. to your smoothie and it will be delicious.  I used to add coconut oil but it hardens and clumps due to the coldness of the berries.  It is all trial and error.

Be well & enjoy 🙂

Why you want to eat more swiss chard!

A few weeks ago I picked a bunch of Swiss chard from the garden and then just did not feel like preparing it. I researched the best way to store Swiss chard as it wilts quickly and read that Swiss chard does not respond well to short term storage and that it is literally packed full of nutrients! I was so inspired by this leafy stalk of health that I proceeded to chop and sauté the chard in olive oil & butter, I added chopped and sautéed onions and garlic and was delighted to have whipped up a nutritious, flavorful dish for my family. Then and there I vowed that Swiss chard would never wilt on my watch again.

Despite this vegetable’s seemingly allegiance to Switzerland, it is a native of the Mediterranean region and was once honored for its medicinal properties in ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. The French confused this food with another Mediterranean vegetable and from then on it was named a chard. Swiss chard has a tall, crunchy stalk and a big proud leafy top. Swiss chard can be found in a variety of hues like white, red, yellow, green & purple.

Swiss chard is packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and protein. It is an excellent source of Vitamins A, C, E & K as well as magnesium, copper, manganese, iron and potassium. It is a very good source of B-complex vitamins such as choline, B2 & B6 as well as calcium and phosphorus. Swiss chard is a good source of B-complex vitamins such as pantothenic acid, folate B1 & B3 as well as zinc and selenium. These rich amounts of vitamins and minerals make Swiss chard a great supporter of bone health and cellular metabolism. With antioxidants abound, Swiss chard not only squelches cancer promoting free radicals it also reduces chronic excessive inflammation. Swiss chard contains a flavonoid called syringic acid which has been shown to inhibit alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme that breaks carbohydrates down into simple sugars. Syringic acid along with the high fiber and protein content lends to Swiss chard’s blood sugar regulating properties.

Swiss chard grows very well here in upstate NY. It can be thinned out and eaten while growing and enjoyed after it has realized its full potential. Swiss chard can be blanched and frozen for year round yumminess. My household enjoys Swiss chard sautéed as described above with or without beet greens and we found it pairs exceptionally well with eggs. Because Swiss chard contains large amounts of oxalates, those with existing and untreated kidney and gallbladder issues should avoid consuming it.

 

Sources:

The World’s Healthiest Foods

WebMD

Five tips to survive the holiday feast(s)

Most articles will tell you to count calories, eat less fat, take smaller portions, (or my favorite…) wear tight clothing to shame yourself into not eating, chew gum, don’t skip meals and on and on. Not only are these tips a really boring way to celebrate holiday parties and gatherings which always involve food, they don’t work. During a time like the American holiday season we need fewer things to remember, not long, shaming lists. So here it is, The Real Unprocessed Food’s guide to holiday feasting.

  1. Just Feast and enjoy it! Humans have been feasting for many a millennia. Religious, cultural and traditional celebrations have always revolved around a hearty feast. The American holidays happen just once a year, so feast and enjoy yourself.
  2. Feast mostly on real unprocessed foods. Go ahead and eat as many vegetable sides as you can stuff into your celebrating face! Skip the chips, pretzels and other processed foods. Stick to the high quality meats, the veggies, the fruits, the nuts, the cheeses and the specialty foods that many splurge on this time of the year.
  3. Fast along with your feasting. The holiest of religious celebrations often mix fasting and feasting – Ramadan and the Ramadan Feast, Lent, Yom Kippur… Check out the different methods of intermittent fasting and stick to one during the numerous holiday celebrations. When you fast for part of the day or week you will give your body the chance to use up all the extra fuel you are getting while intermittently feasting.
  4. Do not feast on alcoholic beverages! Alcohol is sugar and is quickly absorbed and stored away as fat. Inebriated, the more likely you will ignore your leptin hormone signals telling you that your tummy is full and you will be more apt to choose low quality processed foods.

P.S.     This tip is most highly advisable during any work related holiday function! 

  1. Get adequate sleep and exercise and keep the stress in check. The holidays should be fun and relaxing. Do not overcommit yourself. Know your limits with baking, children’s school activities, hosting and party attending. I find it useful to plan out my entire month of December as far as gifts and parties. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my gift budget as well as hostess gifts and the cost of a party or dinner I might be hosting that year. I use the entire month to prepare for gift giving and party hosting. Inadequate sleep and exercise coupled with high stress leads to overeating, usually too much alcohol & processed foods. Do not skimp on sleep or exercise in an effort to make time to get everything done.

So enjoy the feast and festivities. The American holidays are a much needed time for us all to work less, show gratitude for the ones we love and eat like royalty!

Ebola hysteria, a Grace Benkovitz commentary

It is October 2014 and the current media frenzy is Ebola. It has just recently arrived in the US and there has been one fatality in the US and per The Wall Street Journal, 4,400 worldwide. The media has successfully terrorized US citizens and many are now afraid to fly on airplanes. Facebook is amiss with fear, hysteria and the demand for a vaccine. Meanwhile US citizens continue to dine on edible foodlike substances, sit around, stress out and not sleep well.

So why have many people recovered from Ebola? What makes one person succumb to a painful death while others are able to win the fight? In my humble opinion, it likely has to do with the individual’s immune system, nature’s vaccine. The immune system becomes stronger when one eats real food, moves their body…a lot…, manages stress appropriately, sleeps adequately and gasp gets sick and recovers. The immune system is weakened by consuming edible foodlike substances, living a sedentary & stressed out life, from inadequate sleep and underuse.

A healthy lifestyle not only promotes longevity and a high quality life, it also gives us the best preparation possible for the next inevitable outbreak.

Oil pulling – Tried it, hated it? My trials and tips

oil pulling

I first heard about oil pulling earlier this year. Being a coconut oil freak and always looking to live as healthy as our human ancestors did, I was eager to give it a whirl. I researched and read several articles and gathered that loosely the directions were to swish 1.5-2 tbsp’s of coconut, olive or sesame seed oil in my mouth for 15-20 minutes (although one article emphasized the utmost importance of oil pulling for 20 mins!), spit (Never in the sink they all warned!) the oil out and then I’m not sure exactly what we were directed to do at that point but personally I opt to rinse my mouth out with water and/or brush my teeth. If you google search ‘oil pulling’ I’m sure you can find several articles that will tell you exactly what to do minute by minute after the spit… 🙂 So my experience started with putting 1 tbsp of hard coconut oil in my mouth to let it warm and melt before I began the swish, just like this one healthy blogger does. I gagged pretty quickly and spit it out. I immediately went to olive oil. I measured the oil, put it in a bowl and poured it in my mouth. I swished cautiously, I looked at the clock feverishly and got my 15 minutes in. I spit out in the garbage and awed at the foamy mess that I produced. I did it! I rid my mouth of bacteria and toxins and my teeth were whiter for it. The very next day I enthusiastically tried it again (couldn’t wait for even whiter teeth, and yes I would be healthier!), this time going right for the olive oil. I measured it into a cup and poured it in my mouth and swished, waaaayy too gingerly and got a harsh bit of olive oil in the back of my throat, gagged and immediately spit it in the sink. FAIL. Well since coconut oil was out for me due to the recent gag along with a bad gagging experience years ago when I tried to swallow a teaspoon of coconut oil and olive oil was out because of the recent gag experience…I gave sesame seed oil a try. I bought it at my favorite health food store that has the best gifts ever and very carefully ‘pulled’ about 1.5 tablespoons for what I deemed to be an appropriate time frame for me. The spit was very foamy/frothy. SUCCESS. I got out of the habit for a few months but I’m back on the wagon and enjoying the experience and health benefits daily by using these tips each time:

  1. Sesame seed oil is mild and has less of a pungent taste than olive and coconut oils – start with sesame seed oil
  2. Begin with 1 tablespoon and work your way up to 1.5-2
  3. Swish implies a vigorous or gingerly movement. Instead, slowly ‘pull’ the oil from side to side in your mouth
  4. Do not think about what you are doing or what the foam spit will look like to avoid a gagging episode
  5. Do not watch the clock, you will be able to feel when the oil is less oily and more foamy (that’s usually when the foam image appears in my mind and I start to gag and need to immediately spit)

BTW, I will work my way up to oil pulling with coconut oil, my ultimate oil love! I’m getting pretty good with the sesame seed oil, so good that I recently remembered to look at the time when I began and at the time when I spit – 18 minutes had gone by quite easily and no dry heaving from the slick feeling on my lips after the spit! I do think that I will melt the coconut oil first though and maybe years from now I will be sticking a spoonful of solid coconut oil, letting it melt in my mouth before the pulling begins!

Update:  I have been successfully oil pulling with coconut oil for over 8 months now.  I oil pull five times a week and I melt the coconut oil in a small bowl in a pan of water.  I also have ditched toothpaste and solely use coconut oil and baking soda to brush my teeth.  They look white and bright and best of all I don’t have that funny aftertaste that comes with toothpaste 🙂

real unprocessed snacks

An administrative assistant by trade, a wellness writer by choice and don’t forget a wife, mother, daughter, friend, sister, gardener, aunt and farmer am I!  I know most of you fill similar roles and more.  So it’s understandable how the convenience of a vending machine is a luring way to get something down your gullet and fast.  But with a little bit of preparation your snacks can turn from chemical laden, highly processed, cell saturating, 10 year shelf life junk to a plethora of fresh nutrients that boost physical energy, immune function, brain function and satisfy your taste buds.

Grace’s real unprocessed snacks for this week:  zhena’s gypsy tea (my new favorite tea!), raw milk & honey (which makes my new favorite tea the best cups of tea that I’ve ever had!), vita coco coconut water, iced chamomile tea, synergy triology kombucha, walnut halves, apple & peanut butter, banana and dark chocolate bars

snack 2

Salmon, the pink and perfect protein

Salmon are strong and mighty fish built to travel 1000’s of miles and thrive in both fresh and salt waters.  After a life of feeding and growing in the ocean, salmon return to their birth streams to spawn and die, their carcasses providing nutrition to the whole ecosystem lending to lush trees and foliage.  Wild salmon seek out the highest quality zooplankton, invertebrates, squid, shrimp and other small fish to eat.  And in turn salmon is a high quality, nutrient dense food for bears, eagles and humans too.  Currently The Monterey Bay Aquarium3 lists wild Pacific salmon as the healthiest most sustainable choice.

Salmon’s protein keeps our muscles strong.  Bioactive peptides are unique, short protein molecules found in salmon that are thought to decrease joint cartilage & gut inflammation and increase the effectiveness of insulin.  Salmon is an outstanding source of omega-3 fatty acids and boasts a systemic friendly omega-3:omega-6 ratio of 5.5:1.  Your heart, cardiovascular system, brain (better mood!), joints and eyes all benefit from omega-3 intake.  And cancer risk has been shown to be significantly lowered with omega-3 consumption from fish.

The abundant serving of selenium we get from eating salmon helps decrease joint inflammation, prevent colorectal cancer and keeps the cardiovascular system pumpin’ well.    Salmon also gives us a good dose of the B-complex vitamins choline, niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), B6, B12 and biotin along with the fat soluble vitamin D and the minerals potassium & phosphorus.  B-complex vitamins are involved with the nervous system, help decrease inflammation, assist with fat metabolism and have heavy involvement with the electron transport system which passes an oxygen molecule from B vitamin to B vitamin (and other substrates) resulting in ATP, energy.  Energetic cells equals energetic you!

Salmon should be enjoyed as often as possible.

Sources:
1. the world’s healthiest foods
2. Trout Unlimited
3. Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
4. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, Gropper, Smith & Groff, ISBN:  0-534-55986-7

Tunalicious!

The tuna fish exhibits a sleek & strong design which allows for some very fast travel over very long distances.  For example, a tuna fish that calls the Gulf of Mexico home will travel to the European Coast of the Atlantic Ocean to feed and then back to the Gulf of Mexico to hatch young.  Tuna species are varied in size and represent a nutrient dense food for humans packed with protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.

The omega-3 fatty acids found in tuna prevent systemic inflammation and is particularly important in cardiovascular health.  Omega-3’s from fish also offer antioxidants that can protect against colon, prostate & renal cancer.  Tuna provides an excellent source of protein which keeps us strong.  Steaming, searing and broiling tuna creates special antioxidant protein fragments called peptides.  Tuna is also an excellent source of B-complex vitamins like thiamin (B1), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), and choline which are used by our cells to metabolize properly resulting in an overall energized feeling.  Choline is specifically essential for optimal fat metabolism and brain function and choline deficiency is linked with fatty liver.  Potassium helps maintain good blood pressure and tuna provides an ideal potassium:salt ratio.  Vitamin D, potassium, magnesium & phosphorus are all important for strong healthy bones and all of these nutrients are found in tuna.  Very interestingly tuna contains selenoneine, a form of selenium that binds with mercury and lowers the risk of mercury related problems within the fish.

Despite these abundant health benefits, the tuna fish is surrounded by controversy over fishing methods and mercury contamination.  But for most people eating sustainably caught and prepared tuna several times a month is both palate pleasing and part of the healthiest lifestyle!
Sources:
1. the world’s healthiest foods, tuna
2. Greenpeace, tuna
3. Hawaii Longline Boats Face Lower Tuna Catch Quota, ABC News
4. Linus Pauling Institute, phosphorus
5. the worlds’ healthiest foods, choline
6. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, Tortora & Derrickson, ISBN-13: 978-0-471-68934-8, page 172
7. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, Gropper, Smith & Groft, ISBN:  0-534-55986-7, pages 62-69

Avocado, the green delight

Native to Central and South Americas, avocados surprisingly have only been available in all 50 US States since 2007.  That might explain why so many people inquire “What is that?” when they see an avocado in the skin sitting on my desk or in my produce bowl.

When fully ripe the avocado has a very light subtle taste which in my opinion is much like the taste of a raw, fresh kernel of corn.  The avocado’s smooth, rich & creamy texture lends to enhanced palatability of many foods.  An avocado can be eaten by itself or with some salt, pepper and/or a touch of olive oil.  Avocados are a magnificent addition to salads, sandwiches and burgers and can be added as slices, cubes or spread.  Guacamole is pretty much salsa with mashed avocado.  Avocados can be used as an emulsifier when making homemade ice cream or as a partial butter substitute in baking.  Avocados are a fantastic first food for baby!

Avocados provide your cells with a wealth of nutrients found particularly concentrated in the outer green flesh.  The unique mix of antioxidants and fats in avocado makes it an anti-inflammatory superstar which can help prevent osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  Avocados contain a plethora of carotenoids – antioxidants that come from plant pigments, which gives fruits and vegetables their color and protects our heart, skin, eyes, lungs & immune system as well as prevents cancer.  But unlike most produce avocados also contain a good amount of fat which needs to be present in the intestines in order for the carotenoids to be absorbed through the intestinal cells.  Researchers have found that more fat soluble nutrients are absorbed from other vegetables when they are eaten with avocados.  In addition to providing our cells with cancer preventive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, avocados have shown to do the exact opposite in cancer cells.  By promoting inflammation and oxidation in cancer cells avocados can produce enough stress that the cancer cells perform apoptosis (cell suicide)!  Avocados are also a good source of fiber, potassium, vitamin K, vitamin C, folate and vitamins B5 & B6.

When purchasing avocados I always select the fruit that is firm which tells me that it is not yet ripe.  I then ripen avocados at home by leaving them out at room temperature for a few days or putting them in a brown paper bag if I need to accelerate the process.  Avocados are ready to eat when they are soft and give slightly to the touch.  Once ripe avocados will need to be consumed fairly quickly.  Ripe avocados can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days to extend their life.

Real Unprocessed Cleanse

This morning I’m doing a cleanse, a real unprocessed food cleanse.   I strive to incorporate this cleanse into my life 5 days a week.  My cleanse of choice is a big salad.  My big salad today contains baby mixed greens, red pepper (I love the sweetness it adds to salad), red onion, avocado, portabella mushrooms and raw cheddar cheese.  I chopped all of the vegetables into bite size pieces (and use baby greens) because one of my first world problems is that I detest having to bite off a piece of salad.  Give me a salad that comes in bite sized pieces and I’m totally happy. I’m doing my cleanse at breakfast so that my intestines have all day to work it out…!

A liquid cleanse comprised of juiced veggies and fruit can absolutely be yummy and healthy, especially if it’s replacing processed foods.  A liquid cleanse can provide a wealth of nutrients and be gentle on the digestive tract.  It typically leaves the person feeling lighter relative quickly.  Incorporating a liquid meal into your life can be a great weight loss/management tool.  But is this Jack LaLanne inspired concoction actually cleansing or is that word another food industry marketing trick, I mean tool?  Me thinks it’s the latter.

What is the difference between a whole food and a juice cleanse?  Mainly fiber along with substrates and co-substrates that exist in whole foods, many of which, science has yet to be able to identify.  Much of the identified micro nutrients such as vitamins and minerals need to be attached to these unidentified substrates and co-substrates in order for optimal nutrient digestion and absorption to occur in the intestines.  Some of these unidentified substrates and co-substrates exist in the pulp that is left on the juicing room floor, decreasing nutrient bioavailability.

Fiber is the part of food that actually does the cleansing!  Fiber is a matrix of cells that are held tightly together with microscopic thread like substances.  It’s the part of food that is considered indigestible because it is not broken down by the stomach into itty bitty nutrients and absorbed.  Instead its job is to stay in tack, travel down the digestive tract and literally grab shit off the walls of the intestine and carry it down to the bowels for evacuation.  What exactly gets stuck to the sides of your intestinal walls?  Mostly refined flours and other icky, gummy processed food ingredients get stuck to your intestine walls.  The digestive tract is designed to not only absorb necessary nutrients but also to keep toxins out of the body.  As the toxins are desperately trying to gain access into intestinal cells to travel throughout the body and wreck havoc, the intestinal cells are working harder to keep the toxins out.  And along comes fiber and whisks that toxin away!  Also, meat digestion is a very slow process and can literally take days.  Fiber will help keep the meat moving along at a much better pace.

Fiber will keep you feeling fuller, longer.  And when you eat your cleanse in a whole food form the added fat from the dressing will also keep you satiated longer.

Whether you like to liquid cleanse or not consider adding a whole food cleanse into your diet for a cleaner you!