fermented foods

The two things you absolutely MUST have on your Thanksgiving menu

I do like pie, I'm not going to lie! But in all likelihood pie is already on your menu---maybe even several varieties! So, I'm going to suggest a couple of things that you may not have thought of just yet. How did I settle on the two items you should add to your table? As I trained to become a health coach, I studied 100 different diets. As a fitness professional, I have read countless periodicals, journals, and magazines, all of which feature studies and all kinds of information exploring the effects of various foods on our bodies. And just last week I attended the Wise Traditions conference in California, where I learned more about the most nutrient-dense and nourishing foods.

All of this to say, I'm not just pulling these ideas out of thin air. I've boiled all of that info down to just two MUST-HAVEs to add to this year's Thanksgiving feast. Cranberry relish and stuffing! Just kidding. The two are listed below.

First, something FRESH! You are as alive as the food you eat. Think of the difference between being at a live concert and listening to a cd. Eating food from the supermarket is the cd--shiny and attractive but tasteless and difficult to digest. Eating food from a farm or your garden is the live concert--delighting and stimulating your tastebuds...and your whole body!

By the way, when I say fresh I don't mean something labeled "fresh" or a product with a cow drawn on the label or a cutesy illustration of a farm. I mean something that doesn't come in a package, food that you did not buy in a brick and mortar store. I'm not saying everything on your menu needs to be this fresh. But what if at least one menu item were that fresh?

You can get fresh food from your own garden if you have one or from a local farmers market. If you don't know of one, just google it or go to farmmatch.com. I bet there's one within a 10-minute drive or walk from your home!

Once you buy your one fresh item, get cooking, but keep it simple. There's no need to gussy up your ingredient by making it into a casserole or putting marshmallows on it. Farm fresh foods--like the sweet potatoes we had for dinner last night--don't need a lot of adornment. We just stuck them in the oven for an hour or so and slathered butter on them and they were absolutely delectable.

Note that this was only the initial butter I slathered on!

One of my daughters takes hers completely naked---the sweet potato, that is! The freshness is the condiment that takes them over the top. Of course if you want to get fancy, you may. You could make sweet potato gnocchi. Be my guest. Or better yet, invite me over and I'll be your guest.

The second must-have menu item is something FERMENTED. The Standard American Diet (also known as S.A.D.) doesn't often include fermented foods, but most all other diets around the world do! The bacteria and enzymes from fermented foods enhance your digestion, boost your immune system, and help you avoid chronic disease. At Thanksgiving, we're most interested in the first benefit on that list: aiding digestion. In other words, it'll be easier for your system to handle all the food coming its way, if you eat something fermented.

So what should it be? The choices are practically endless! Try pickled green beans, just plain pickles, krauts, kimchi, kalechi. Warning: you can't just buy something at your local grocery store and assume it's been fermented. (Even pickles aren't always pickled; they may just be cucumbers sitting in vinegar.) So be on the lookout for brands that indicate that they are fermented like Bubbie's pickles and sauerkraut. You can find brands like this one at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or Moms Organic Markets.

Serving suggestion for the pickled beets

Or go local with fermented foods (see point number one). Number 1 Sons has some amazing fermented foods that have made me fall in love with veggies in a whole new way---like okra and green beans. They sell their vast array of foods at many area farmers markets in the DC metro area.

So that's it: fresh and fermented foods. Were you surprised by these two suggestions? Did you already have these kinds of foods on your menu? If not, go for it! Yes, serve the usual suspects: turkey, stuffing, green beans, and mashies. But add a dash of life and spice by adding the fresh and fermented foods to the mix! Your family and friends will love you and thank you for it! And so will your body!

I have a bunch of invisible friends....

No, I have not gone off the deep end. Nor am I talking about an imaginary playmate (even though Jenny is always there for me when I need her)! (Just kidding.) Seriously, I have tiny friends that are not visible to the naked eye, but that nonetheless play a critical role in my health and vitality. They do the same in yours, as well. Here's the skinny on...probiotics!

Friends for life - These invisible, beneficial bacteria are our friends FOR LIFE. Yup, the word "probiotic" actually means "for life."  They do the opposite of what antibiotics do, obvi. Antibiotics have a scorched-earth policy---killing bad bacteria and good bacteria alike. Probiotics fight sickness and infection by strengthening the "good guys" and providing them with reinforcements.

It takes guts - Probiotics promote the healthy gut flora that we need for proper digestion, absorption of nutrients, and to promote health and well-being. If you struggle with constipation, headaches, bloating, gas or irritability, listen to your gut! different-headaches-400x400It's trying to tell you something. These symptoms could be a sign of an imbalance on the inside.

An inside job - Have you ever met someone who was just glowing with health? As much as Madison Avenue tries to persuade us to buy all of the right wrinkle-fighting and hydrating face creams, the real answer to outward beauty and vitality lies on what is happening inside our bodies. Probiotics help maintain the right balance of good and bad bacteria in our digestive tract, so that we can be healthy from the inside out.

So how do we introduce these popular little guys into our diets? You will see MANY foods touting them as ingredients. They are trendy. But a little sprinkling of probiotics is not the same as a product chock-full of them. Try any of the following to get the most bang for your bacteria buck:

1. yogurt - This is a delicious source of probiotics, but, pay attention! Not all yogurt has probiotics. Make sure the yogurt you buy has "live active cultures" on the label. (And, sorry, guys, even though it's fun to have a sweet treat now and then, frozen yogurt often does not meet this standard!)

2. kefir - fermented grains have many more strains of beneficial bacteria than just yogurt. Kefir is like yogurt on steroids. I get mine from the farm. It's a potent immune-system booster and has been shown to promote longevity. milk-kefir-01

3. kombucha - this fermented tea is one of my favorite ways to get healthy bacteria into my gut. It's tangy, fizzy, and yummy.

4. pickles or kimchi or carrots or beets or... - just about any fermented/pickled food is a good source of probiotics. I like to buy some of these products at the farmers market. They have zing and are so fresh. Our family likes to put these on our salads or in our tacos.

ginger-carrots What do you think of probiotics? I consider them my bffs---beneficial friends for life!