Slow Cooker Salsa

My garden just happens to be overflowing with tomatoes right now….so it’s time for my favorite homemade salsa! Super easy to prep the veggies and let it simmer in the slow cooker for a few hours. Once it’s blended, it’s ready to enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 10 plum tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 jalapeno peppers
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, optional

Directions

  • Roughly slice tomatoes and onion. Place tomatoes, garlic and onion in slow cooker.
  • Cut stems off jalapenos; remove seeds if a milder salsa is desired. Place jalapenos in the slow cooker.
  • Cover and cook on high for 2-1/2 to 3 hours or until vegetables are softened (some may brown slightly); cool.
  • In a blender, combine the tomato mixture, cilantro and, if desired, salt; cover and process until blended. Refrigerate leftovers.

 

Be Good to Your Gut

Dieting, cutting calories and avoiding entire food groups in the name of health could be sabotaging your gut health. And that’s no small consequence.

The colon, once thought to be a rather dead place where undigested waste sits until you are ready to poo, is actually brimming with activity primarily from trillions of active, beneficial bacteria. Researchers now know the gut microbiome plays an important role in strengthening your immune system and helping to regulate important daily bodily functions, including hunger signals and your mood fluctuations. In fact, 95 percent of the feel-good hormone, serotonin, resides in the gut, meaning what you eat can impact your ability to respond to stress, reduce anxiety and help the body fight foreign invaders that could make you sick.

Turns out, your gut bugs love to eat plants. Bacteria take the undigested plant carbohydrates and use them for energy, creating fatty acids that can refuel your brain and body. The more varied the plants you consume – fruits, veggies, beans, legumes, whole grains, seeds and nuts – the more varied the “good” bacteria are that survive in your colon. They are like picky toddlers who will only feast on certain foods. The best way to optimize the health of your gut is to give the bacteria enough variety of the types of foods they love to eat.

One of the best ways, then, to hurt you gut health is by dieting. Here are three gut-unfriendly dieting practices – and how you can correct them:

  1. You restrict calories.

If you cut calories to try to lose weight, you may not get the amount of food and fiber you need to allow the best bugs to thrive. Most Americans already fall short of the recommended 25-35 grams of fiber per day.

In order to consume enough fiber to keep your good gut bacteria happy, you need to eat enough calories from high-quality plant foods. Low-calorie diets tend to be low in fat and may not have much in the way of seeds, nuts and avocados, which contribute to both your fiber totals and healthy fat intake.

When your calories are low, your eating needs to be pretty darn near perfect in order to hit optimal nutrition. A perfect diet isn’t always fun, and when your diet isn’t enjoyable, you lose motivation to follow it. Then you probably blame yourself and where does that leave you? Being hungry all the time means you aren’t eating enough, and there’s a good chance your gut bacteria are starving too.

Instead of making yourself miserable, make healthy foods tasty. It doesn’t take but a dash of salt and some fat to liven up a humble head of broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage. Splashes of citrus juice, herbs and spices are excellent choices to brighten up and layer flavor in the dish. Don’t feel an ounce of guilt using a little oil to get delicious vegetables. In fact, a moderate amount of fat with plant foods helps your body better absorb fat-soluble vitamins that plant foods provide.

  1. You eliminate food groups.

Some popular diet plans today prefer the term “lifestyle” because they don’t promote calorie restriction, but to me, they are diets in disguise because they don’t allow you to get a robust variety of nutrients.

Low-carbohydrate diets, for example, are notoriously low in fiber and excessively high in fat and protein, which has been shown to reduce the diversity of bacteria living in the colon. The paleo diet and the Whole30 plan, meanwhile, don’t allow for resistant starches such as beans, legumes, whole-wheat foods and white potatoes, but these carb-heavy foods are key players when it comes to a healthy and happy gut. These diets also eliminate dairy foods. However, there is good research showing that fermented dairy foods, such as yogurt and kefir, are key probiotic foods that help replenish bacteria in your gut. Of course, if you are allergic to dairy, this would be a reason to avoid it.

To be sure you get the right variety of foods, aim to put plant foods on three-quarters of your plate. Even on your least healthy burger nights, adding a side of carrots and a piece of fruit makes a big difference. Any little effort leads to the next best choice, so just go for it.

  1. You put your gut in a rut.

Even if you’re not dieting, food ruts are bad for your gut. Often, when you’re uninspired by food, you become very rigid in your routines and do not consume nearly enough volume or variety to satisfy your healthy bacteria. When this happens, you are essentially starving your good gut bugs, causing them to become weak and scarce. Over time, this leads to a lower microbial diversity in the gut.

The good news? Coffee, wine, tea and chocolate – in moderation, of course – all contribute to a healthy microbiome, studies suggest. That’s one way to expand your palette. Another way is simply by giving yourself a break. Don’t make cooking and eating more complicated than it needs to be. Any vegetable-and-bean combination will taste good sauted with a little sauce. Then, add your protein. Try taking advantage of an hour on a weekend to roast veggies all at one and reheat them different days.

Building a pattern of eating well means establishing eating habits that are sufficient in calories, heavy on plants, rich in variety and, most importantly, enjoyable. That’s how you’ll keep those gut bacteria thriving right along with you and working hard for you every single day.

Simple Sauted Shrimp

I love the garlic-lime flavor of these and no dipping sauce needed. Easy to mix up and only a few minutes to cook. These will definitely be added to my quick-meal recipe cue! Serves 1, but double/triple the easy recipe for more 🙂

Ingredients:
4oz frozen shrimp, thawed

1/2 a lime, juiced and zested

Grated garlic clove

Squirt of olive oil

Red pepper flakes to your liking

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Place shrimp in a bowl and top with the above ingredients. It can marinate in the fridge or cook up right away. Saute in a pan for 2-3 mins each side.

Chocolate Chip Oat Bars

I saw this recipe in my Food & Nutrition Magazine (one of the few I still get and actually read!) and wanted to give it a try. I’m not adverse to mixes as this one starts with just that and then kicks it up a notch with some added oats, nut butter, goji berries etc. Easy to make and a new treat for the fam.

Ingredients:

1 box Simple Mills Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix

1/2 cup oats

1/4 cup goji berries (or other dried fruit)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

2 Tbsp oil

2 Tbsp nut butter

1 tbsp maple syrup

1/2 cup water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine wet ingredients. Stir in the dry ingredients. Spread mixture into a loaf or cake pan. Bake 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

barcookie1

Favorite Food: Eggs

Next up in my Favorite Foods series is the incredible egg!

Eggs have gotten a rotten rep over the years because they are a high cholesterol food. We once thought that eating high cholesterol foods would increase the cholesterol in our body. However, that’s rarely the case. I will say in some cases it may be a wise choice to cut back on eggs in certain people with elevated blood lipids, but it’s really an individual case by case situation.

Cholesterol is affected by the fat you eat and can be affected by concentrated sweets as well. Trans fats and saturated fat increase the LDL (bad) cholesterol in your body. Trans fats also decrease the HDL (good) cholesterol which is the opposite of what we want to happen.

Monounsaturated fats decrease LDL and increase HDL while polyunsaturated fats lower both LDL and HDL. I’ll go into more detail in a future post about fats, but this is the main gist.

Eggs are a very inexpensive, nutrient dense food. They are high in protein and are a good source of other important nutrients like vitamin D, phosphorus, riboflavin and selenium. Eggs have one of the highest amounts of choline of any food. Choline is involved in memory, mood, and other brain/nervous system functions. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are two antioxidants found in an egg which help protect and maintain eye health.

I pretty much eat eggs daily. Sometimes it’s the egg whites, but either way, they are a good source of protein for me. I buy them in the big packs from Costco weekly 🙂 It’s one of those foods I really don’t get tired of eating.

Another no-brainer recipe in the Instant Pot is hard boiled eggs! Simply add 1 cup of water to the bottom of the instant pot pan. Place the rack (which comes with the Instant pot) inside and place the eggs on top. Choose high pressure on manual, 5 minutes. Natural release 5 minutes then use quick release placing a towel over the valve so steam doesn’t get everywhere, then quickly place eggs in a cold water bath. Eggs are perfectly cooked and easy to peel!

egg1

For more nutrition facts on eggs, check out this post from Real Mom Nutrition.