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    Archive for the ‘coconut’ Category

    Q & A Roundup

    I thought it would be fun and informative to feature some of the more interesting questions I have received via email and social media over the past few weeks. Here they are — with my answers, of course — for your perusal.

    Continue Reading »

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    Quick & Healthy Recipe: “No Flour? No Problem!” Pancakes

    oats-280wThis recipe was created out of true laziness one morning when I craved pancakes and quickly realized I had no flour of any kind in my kitchen.

    Oh, yes, I could have walked all of three minutes to the store around the block to buy some, but… then you wouldn’t be reading this.  It was all part of the plan!

    Some quick FYIs before we get to the deets:

    1. While sturdy, these pancakes have a more delicate texture than conventional ones.

    2. Some of the ingredients (i.e.: xanthan gum, unsweetened shredded coconut) are only available at health food stores (or Whole Foods).  They are not expensive, though, and all you need is one short trip to buy them all.

    3. The inclusion of whey or hemp protein (as optional ingredients) is for individuals looking for a more substantial meal, as is the inclusion of extra nuts and seeds.  I like to have these pancakes for brunch, so I like making them in a way that keeps me satisfied for several hours.

    4. A large majority of the saturated fats in this recipe come from coconut products, which are significantly less damaging than other saturated fats.  You are welcome to use other plant oils if you would like, though coconut oil is my favorite for this recipe.

    5. For optimal flavors, these pancakes should be generously topped with blueberries, strawberries, and banana slices.

    Yields: 2 large pancakes

    INGREDIENTS:

    2 Tablespoons ground flax
    5 Tablespoons water OR milk of choice (ie: dairy, almond, soy, etc.)
    1 cup quick-cooking oats
    1.5 teaspoons double-acting baking powder (if aluminum-free, even better)
    1 teaspoon xanthan gum (can buy this at any health food store)
    1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    2 scoops protein powder of choice (optional; if including, I highly recommend unsweetened, but flavored, whey or hemp)
    1/4 cup chopped nuts of choice OR 1/4 cup seeds (i.e.: chia, hemp) (optional)
    2 Tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
    1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
    2 teaspoons coconut oil

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    In a small bowl combine the ground flax and liquid.  Allow to rest for five minutes.

    In large bowl, combine oats, baking powder, xanthan gum, vanilla, cinnamon, protein powder, nuts/seeds, and shredded coconut.

    Add applesauce and coconut oil to ground flax mixture.  Stir briefly.

    Add contents of small bowl to large bowl.  Fold wet ingredients into dry ones.

    On stovetop, heat griddle at medium heat until surface is hot.

    Add 1 Tablespoon of coconut oil or vegan butter or conventional butter.  Use paper towel or spatula to spread evenly on surface.

    Pour batter onto griddle and form two pancakes.

    Cook pancakes until top surface begins to bubble.  Flip, cook for another 2 or 3 minutes.

    Serve.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per pancake, made with whey protein, chopped pecans, and using water for flax mixture):

    512 calories
    7.5 grams saturated fat
    360 milligrams sodium
    8 grams fiber
    24 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: Alpha-Linolenic omega-3 fatty acids, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, thiamin

    Good Source of: Folate, vitamin B6, vitamin C, zinc

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    You Ask, I Answer: Nut Allergies

    walnuts-bowl-m

    I’m hoping you can clarify some things for me regarding nut allergies.

    One of my sons has a tree nut allergy.  I have consulted with four different allergy specialists, and there is no consensus on whether coconuts and pine nuts are safe for him to eat (or not).

    I don’t want to experiment and “see what happens”.

    I really hope you can shed some light on this.  I would hate to restrict his diet any more than it already is if I don’t need to.

    — Monica (Last name withheld)
    Santa Cruz, CA

    Welcome to the complex world of food allergies!  Let’s make this as simple as possible with some handy dandy bullet points:

    • “Tree nut” is a vernacular term.  From a botanical standpoint, many “tree nuts” are drupes (“fruits… with an outer skin, a usually pulpy and succulent middle layer, and a hard and woody inner shell usually enclosing a single seed,” as so perfectly defined by the folks at Dictionary.com) or seeds.  For the sake of simplicity, I will use the general “tree nut” term throughout the remainder of this post.
    • Allergic reactions are caused by seed-storage proteins in these tree nuts.
    • As Kenneth Roux of the Department of Biological Science and Institute of Molecular Biophysics at Florida State University explained in a thorough article published in the August 2003 issue of the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, seed-storage proteins have “defense-related properties”.  In other words, their job is to repel insects and fungi in order to allow these tree nuts to grow.
    • Some tree nuts are related.  For example, cashews and pistachios belong to the same family, as do walnuts and pecans.  This results in what is known as “cross-reactivity”, meaning that the same seed-storage protein is present in more than one tree nut.
    • Since most individuals with tree nut allergies react to more than one tree-nut, the general advice is to avoid all varieties.
    • Even though pine nuts are seeds, there is sufficient cross-reactivity with other tree nuts to make them completely unsafe for anyone with a tree nut allergy.
    • The coconut issue, meanwhile, is extremely convoluted.  In October of 2006, the Food & Drug Administration added coconuts to the list of foods that must be labeled as “tree nuts” under Section 201 (qq) of the 2004 Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.
    • Interestingly, coconut is not considered a “tree nut” from an allergy standpoint by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology or the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
    • I choose to side with the allergy experts and consider coconut a safe food for anyone with a tree nut allergy.
    • Keep in mind that some individuals are allergic to coconut.  However, the research literature has yet to establish any relationship between those allergies and tree nut ones.  Of the small handful of individuals diagnosed with coconut allergies, some are also allergic only to walnuts, others only to hazelnuts, and others to no tree nuts at all.  The vast majority of individuals with tree nut allergies are able to consume pure coconut with no problems.  I specify “pure coconut” as opposed to processed coconut by-products which may be prepared and/or stored in facilities where cross-contamination with tree nuts may occur.

    My verdict: Pine nuts are definitely on the “avoid” list, while pure coconut (assuming it is stored and prepared in such a way that cross-contamination with other tree nuts does not occur) is generally safe.

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    Quick & Healthy Recipe: Sweet Potato, Kale, and Coconut Soup

    kaleI modified this recipe from an original — and wonderful — one whipped up by Registered Dietitian Jane Harrison of My Optum Health.  If you are on Twitter, you can follow Jane there.

    My version retains 95 percent of Jane’s original (I mainly changed a few ingredient proportions and tacked on a few more spices).

    Jane is absolutely right when she explains that “this hearty soup has it all, including fiber, protein, antioxidants, and a host of vitamins and minerals.”  I was very happy when I tallied information for the recipe and came up with the terrific values posted towards the end of this post.

    I made this soup slightly more caloric than the original recipe, so depending on your calorie needs, it can be followed by a standard entree, a half-sandwich, or a salad.

    YIELDS: 4 servings

    INGREDIENTS:

    1.5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    3 large garlic cloves, minced
    1 small onion, diced
    6 cups raw kale (pictured, right)
    1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
    4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
    1 can low-sodium chickpeas
    2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
    2 teaspoons curry powder
    1 teaspoon ground ginger
    1/2 teaspoon paprika

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    1. Sauté garlic and onion in olive oil for about 5 minutes over medium-high flame, until lightly browned.
    2. Add kale and stir continuously for 2-3 minutes.
    3. Add broth and sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until sweet potatoes are tender.
    4. Add garbanzo beans and coconut milk. Stir for 2 – 3 minutes.
    5. Add spices, stir for 30 seconds, and serve.

    OPTIONAL: Top with chopped scallions

    NUTRITION FACTS (per serving)

    354 calories
    7.2 grams saturated fat (see NOTE)
    300 milligrams sodium
    10 grams fiber
    6 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: Manganese, monounsaturated fat, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K

    Good Source of: Calcium, copper, iron

    NOTE: The saturated fats in coconut — along with those in cacao — are the least harmful of the saturated fats.  Coconuts are high in lauric acid, a saturated fat which increases LDL cholesterol but also simultaneously raises HDL cholesterol.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Fats in Avocado

    hass avocado openIs the fat contained in avocado 100% good?

    How much fat is too much?

    — Coco (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Avocados are largely made up of healthy monounsaturated fats, hence its status as a nutritional darling.

    However, there is no such thing as a “perfect” fat.

    The “downside” to avoados, for example, is that they offer a fair share of omega-6 essential fatty acids and practically no omega-3 fatty acids.

    Although both omega-6 and omega-3 fats are essential (meaning we must get them from our diets), the typical US diet is too high in the omega-6 variety and too low in omega-3s.

    People — and diet books written mostly by quacks — love to characterize foods as “100% good” or “100% bad”, but nutrition is more complex than that.

    Avocados are an absolutely wonderful addition to the diet (the fact that they are high in omega-6 does not make them “bad”), but they should not be your only source of fat.

    Look to other sources for omega-3 fatty acids (flax, hemp, walnuts, fatty fish, brown kelp seaweed).

    Remember, too, that different fats offer a variety of different antioxidants and polyphenols.

    Olives and olive oil, for example, offer a high amount of monounsaturated fats along with exclusive components that have been found to benefit cardiovascular health.

    How much fat is too much?  Again, it depends on what kind of fats you are speaking about.  Here are some general guidelines:

    • The majority of your fat intake should come from monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids
    • Saturated fats are okay in smaller amounts (for healthier saturated fats, look to coconut and cacao).
    • Avoid trans fats at all costs

    Remember, too, that most foods are a combination of different fats.  Avocados and olive oil contain some saturated fats; similarly, bacon contains a fair share of monounsaturated fats.

    In general, you can safely have up to forty percent of your diet come from fats (remember the hierarchy, though!)

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    You Ask, I Answer: What Is Up With Saturated Fats?

    40709058coconutI know that unsaturated fats are very good for us. I know that trans fats should be avoided at all costs. I know that saturated fat isn’t so hot for us, but I’m not sure to what degree.

    Although there is a certain percentage of daily intake allowance for saturated fat, should one try to limit that as close to zero as possible?

    — Mackenzie (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Wonderful question!  The answer isn’t super straight-forward, so I recommend re-reading it once or twice.

    The first thing you need to know is that “saturated fat” is an all-encompassing term for many different types of saturated fats.

    Saturated fats differ from one another depending on the amount of carbons they contain.  In nutrition circles, this is referred to as their “chain length.”

    When you examine saturated fats individually, varying properties pop up.

    Lauric acid — found in high amounts in coconuts — is a saturated fat that, like all saturated fats, increases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.  However, it also increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol!

    Similarly, stearic acid — predominantly found in chocolate — is unique in that a good chunk of it is converted by our bodies into a monounsaturated fat known as oleic acid.

    In fact, stearic acid has less of a detrimental effect on blood cholesterol levels than other types of saturated fat.

    Then there’s palmitic acid.  This saturated fat — found in plentiful amounts in beef and butter — has been found to substantially increase the risk of atherosclerosis (that’s medical jargon for “clogged arteries”).

    Myristic acid, found mainly in dairy fat, has also been shown to negatively impact HDL levels.

    One of the issues with saturated fats, though, is that they are usually coupled together in food.

    For example, coconuts contain a fair amount of lauric acid, but they also contain palmitic acid.

    Similarly, foods high in heart-healthy fats (like olive oil and its monounsaturated fats or wild salmon and its omega-3 polyunsaturated fats) also contain some saturated fats.

    A tablespoon of olive oil, for instance, provides 14 grams of total fat, of which 9.8 grams are monounsaturated and 1.98 are saturated.

    This helps explain why the guidelines for saturated fat are not to completely shun them (as they are with trans fats), but rather to keep them below a certain amount.

    Unless you go on an extremely low-fat diet (which I do NOT recommend), it would be impossible to keep saturated fat intake very low.

    Since the standard US diet is so absurdly high in omega-6 fatty acids — a phenomenon that has been shown to cause its own share of problems — I would much rather someone consume saturated fat (without surpassing daily recommendations) than attempt to get it as low as possible and consume omega-6 fatty acids in its place.

    Let’s conclude with my fat suggestions:

    • Prioritize monounsaturated and omega-3 fats in your diet.
    • When it comes to saturated fats, try to consume them mainly from unsweetened coconut (which also offers fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals), unsweetened cocoa/cacao (which also offers a good share of phytonutrients — here’s a great recipe that calls for it; here is another delicious one), and as part of healthier fats (i.e: olive oil, salmon, nuts, seeds).  Be sure to stay within designated limits.
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    Quick & Healthy Recipe: W-O-W!

    almondsThe recipe below appears in Ani Phyo’s cookbook Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen.

    I usually do not post recipes from cookbooks, but this one is so delicious, nutritious, and easy to make that I must share it with you.

    Ani, who credits another chef as the inspiration/creator, calls these “raw vegan donut holes”, but I refer to them as “one of the most amazing things you can create in 15 minutes using a food processor and your hands.”

    These “rounds” make for a terrific snack or dessert.

    YIELDS: 20 pieces

    INGREDIENTS:

    1 1/2 cup raw almonds
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract or vanilla powder
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped (I prefer Medjool dates, which lend a caramel flavor)
    1/2 cup unsweetened dried pineapple, chopped
    1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
    1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, for rolling

    Note: Although not listed in Ani’s recipe, there are plenty of variations you can make.  Here are some of my suggestions:

    • Add some cinnamon to the food processor almond mix
    • For extra crunch, add raw buckwheat groats to the general mix
    • Replace the dried pineapple with dried apple
    • Add quick-cooking rolled oats to the general mix

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    In a food processor, mix almonds, vanilla, and salt.

    Process until almonds have a finely chopped (as opposed to ground up) consistency.

    Transfer mixture to a large bowl (you will be mixing ingredients by hand in this bowl for approximately five minutes, so make sure it provides plenty of room)

    Add chopped dates, chopped pineapple, and 1/2 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut to bowl.

    Mix all ingredients by hand until you get a dough-like texture (Hint: rinse your fingers under running water a few times to make this process easier)

    Rip off small chunks and make them into small ball/circular shapes by hand

    Roll in coconut.  Enjoy!

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (for 2 pieces):

    250 calories
    3.5 grams saturated fat
    240 milligrams sodium
    0 grams added sugar
    6 grams fiber
    6 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: Fiber, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E

    Good source of: Niacin, protein, riboflavin

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    You Ask, I Answer: Coconuts/Coconut Oil

    I have a question about coconut oil and lauric acid.

    [A] co-worker was doing some research online, and found out that coconut oil is supposedly antimicrobial.

    The main fatty acid is lauric acid, which supposedly helps boost metabolism by activating the thyroid.

    Is there any truth to those statements?

    — Brandon
    (via the blog)

    Coconut is a controversial fruit. Although almost entirely made up of saturated fats, there are plenty of books and websites dedicated to its “miraculous” weight-loss and healing properties.

    However, two red flags immediately go up.

    Number one? Most websites that hail coconut oil as a holy food that cures you of all ills while simultaneously helping you look years younger inevitably — and predictably — end up hawking some sort of coconut product.

    Number two? My “BS” radar always beeps loudly when one food is referred to as a “miracle” or “cure-all”.

    The links between coconut oil and thyroid function have never been even remotely established in any studies. I believe that “fact” stems from an article in health and diet supermarket trash tabloid Woman’s World, which is as reputable as a Vegas used car salesman.

    Although lauric acid is one of the least unhealthy saturated fats, it still raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.  Mind you, it is one of the “least unhealthy” saturated fats because it also raises HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.  In that sense, the demonization of all things coconut as “bad for your heart” are alarmist and completely uncalled for.

    While I would recommend consuming your saturated fat from coconuts rather than heavy cream, the majority of your diet should consist of unsaturated fats (particularly omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids).

    Before I continue, let me share one of my biggest nutritional pet-peeves. I always find myself counting to ten and taking deep breaths when I hear someone say something along the lines of, “but there are tribes in Polynesia that LIVE on coconuts and their heart disease rates are really low!”

    The problem with that statement is that those Polynesian tribes also have extremely different lifestyles, dietary patterns, and environmental factors affecting their health.

    Extracting only the coconut eating and adapting it to a traditional United States diet does not guarantee YOUR risk of heart disease is suddenly going to match that of a random member of that Polynesian tribe.

    With that out of the way, let’s continue.

    My verdict on coconut oil?  As with all oils, okay to use in small amounts on a daily basis.

    Also, I would much rather you consume coconut meat (or shredded unsweetened coconut, which goes great in homemade trail mix, by the way) rather than pure coconut oil, since the actual fruit provides more nutrients.

    If antimicrobial properties of food are your thing, coconut oil is not the only source. Garlic, green tea, cumin, and cayenne pepper also have antimicrobial components.

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