Cooking With Chayote

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During my 62 Outrageous Things to do for My 62nd Birthday, one of my activities read: try a new vegetable. I noticed bright green gourds in the produce section of my local supermarket. And I wondered about them. Is it a fruit? Is it a vegetable? They are a bit of both! Chayote squash is a fruit that is prepared and eaten like a vegetable.

Cooking with chayote became an interesting first experience. And I love the simple Chayote Mexican Skillet that I created.

Cooking with Chayote title meme

What Are Chayotes?

Chayote are a type of squash, originally grown in central Mexico and parts of Latin America. Also known as the mirliton squash or chocho, it is now grown around the world. Technically considered a fruit, chayote tastes like a vegetable. It is delicious raw or cooked.

The squash is full of nutrients including vitamins B6, B9, C and K, manganese, copper, zinc, potassium, magnesium and fiber. It is rich in antioxidants that fight inflammation, lower stress in the body and protect against cellular damage.

Benefits of chayote include:

  • promotes heart health
  • controls blood sugar
  • supports a healthy pregnancy
  • provides anticancer properties
  • slows aging
  • supports liver health
  • promotes digestive health
Cooking With Chayote Squash
Cooking with chayote squash. Look for these pear shaped fruits in the produce section.

Cooking With Chayote

After purchasing this new-to-me fruit, I felt inspired to create a Mexican themed recipe. Versatile and easy to prepare, the squash has a mild flavor that pairs well with other foods. Peel and dice chayote to add raw to salads. Add to soups or stir fries or steam alone for a cooked treat.

This festive Chayote Mexican Skillet came together in minutes.

Chayote Mexican Skillet

This festive, easy to prepare recipe using chayote squash as a main ingredient.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Chayote, Mexican Skillet
Servings: 4

Equipment

  • Skillet

Ingredients

  • 1 large chayote, peeled and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1 can non GMO corn, drained
  • 1 small can chopped green chile peppers, mild or hot
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil

Instructions

  • In a large non stick skillet, saute onion, garlic and chayote in coconut oil, until onions are softened and chayote crisp tender.
  • Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with sea salt, if desired, and serve over cooked brown rice. Makes 4 - 6 servings.

 

Cooking with Chayote Saute
Onions, garlic and chayote sauteed in coconut oil.
Chayote Mexican Skillet
Cooking with Chayote Mexican Skillet

How Did Chayote Taste?

While chopping up the chayote, I sampled a sliver. It reminds me in texture of a cucumber, however the flavor is much more mild. I peeled the squash using my favorite knife, as I would a potato. Some chayote are extemely wrinkled with deep folds, making peel removal more difficult. I deliberately chose smoother fruit.

The Chayote Mexican Skillet was excellent! Greg is my taste tester. Chayote is new to him as well however he trusts my creations and sampled this recipe without fear. He declared the meal delicious. I served the completed skillet dinner over cooked brown rice. (Prepare the rice in this easy to make vegetable broth for a rich flavor.)

I loved this chayote dinner. The recipe is quick and easy to prepare, making it a wonderful meal after a busy day. And clean up is a breeze, using only one skillet.

I think cooking with chayote will become a regular occurrence in my kitchen. I’ll try adding it to a chopped veggie salad next.

Have you tried chayote? If so, do you have a favorite recipe?

Cooking with Chayote Ready to Eat

Try out this non stick ceramic skillet set from Amazon:

 

 

 

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Foods That Ease Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

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As the days grow shorter and the nights longer, some people find that their moods darken as well. It’s not uncommon, during fall and winter, to feel sluggish, however those winter blues can become a depression that lasts for months.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that begins in fall and peaks mid winter. By spring, when longer days bring more sunshine, the symptoms ease.

Up to 20% of the population experience varying degrees of SAD. However, help is available…in the kitchen. Check out the following foods that ease seasonal affective disorder, naturally.

Foods That Ease Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD

What Causes SAD?

Doctors believe that the long dark nights of winter disrupt brain chemicals, such as melatonin and serotonin, that affect mood. Days and days of overcast skies that limit sunlight contribute as well to feeling glum. So there appears to be a connection between lack of sunlight and seasonal affective disorder. Some experts also believe reduced sunlight lowers vitamin D levels in the body, which in turn can cause depression.

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include weariness, anxiety, depression, craving carbohydrates, irritability, weight gain and avoidance of social situations.

Ten minutes of sunlight a day helps to ease SAD, by boosting vitamin D in the body. To improve symptoms even more, and for those days and days of gray skies, try adding the following foods to your diet.

Foods that Ease Seasonal Affective Disorder
Long winter nights are great for coziness. However they can disrupt chemicals in the brain.

Foods That Ease Seasonal Affective Disorder

Include these foods during fall and winter to combat SAD.

Mangoes 

Mangoes support emotional health, uplift mood, alleviate depression and ease seasonal affective disorder. They also promote a good night’s sleep. Eat mangoes on their own, or add to smoothies and fruit salads.

Atlantic Sea Vegetables 

These gifts from the sea remove heavy metals from the body. They are rich with nutrients that balance the body, ease stress and ground the emotions. Add dried Atlantic sea vegetables to salads and soups or blend them up in smoothies.

Oranges and Tangerines

Oranges and tangerines are called liquid sunshine! High in vitamin C, oranges and tangerines brighten mood when we are feeling sun deprived. Enjoy freshly prepared orange juice or add the citrus fruit to salads and hot ciders. Strive to eat a couple of oranges or tangerines a day, to receive all the goodness that they offer.

Foods That Ease Seasonal Affective Disorder
Oranges, pictured here in Spiced Hot Cider, are a great way to ease SAD.
Foods That Ease Seasonal Affective Disorder Bananas
Foods that ease seasonal affective disorder – bananas

Bananas

Bananas contain tryptophan, which calms the body. Their natural sugars and high potassium levels fuel the brain, while magnesium improves sleep and reduces anxiety. Add bananas to fruit smoothies, healthy breads and muffins, or eat them as a snack. For a special treat, blend frozen bananas into nice dream and top with berries.

Leafy Greens

Dark leafy greens, high in folic acid, boost mood by creating serotonin. During the cold winter months, enjoy a big salad daily for lunch, with leafy greens as the foundation. Or add greens to smoothies and juices.

Berries

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are all powerful anti-inflammatories that help to prevent the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. Lowering stress eases the symptoms of SAD. Berries are wonderful added to smoothies, salads and herbal teas or piled on top of gluten free oatmeal.

Foods That Ease Seasonal Affective Disorder Berries
Foods that ease seasonal affective disorder – berries
Foods that Ease SAD Turmeric
The spice turmeric is an effective way to ease SAD.

Turmeric

This powerful anti-inflammatory increases blood circulation and boosts the brain and mood. Use turmeric in curry recipes or add a spoonful to warm coconut milk, to create a soothing nighttime drink. Or take a daily supplement in capsule form.

Walnuts and Flaxseeds

High in Omega-3s, walnuts and flaxseeds provide essential nutrients that help to boost mood and lessen depression. Add flaxseeds to smoothies or baking recipes. Eat a small amount of walnuts daily or add to gluten free banana bread and salads.

Avoid This Food

In the list of foods that ease seasonal affective disorder, there is one food to avoid. Refined sugar negatively impacts the brain and slows it down. Limit sugar during the winter months, or avoid it entirely. Your body and your mood will benefit.

Frequently including the foods listed above, and ten minutes of sun bathing on bright sunny days, can greatly reduce or eliminate seasonal affective disorder. I know. I’m one who feels a bit blue when the sun disappears for days behind a mass of gray clouds. To feel my best, and avoid going into hibernation mode, I need sunlight and these natural mood boosters.

Are you SAD during winter? Talk to me about it, in the comments below.

Getting vitamin D
Soaking up the sunshine.

 


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5 Healthiest Nuts to Eat

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On a plant based diet, or any healthy diet, nuts are a great snack option. Most nuts are higher in fats, so a small handful a couple of times a week is optimal. And nuts are an ideal source of fiber and protein.

Nuts contain other important and beneficial nutrients. Read on for the 5 healthiest nuts to eat, to receive the most from your snack.

5 Healthiest Nuts to Eat Title Meme

Nutritional Nuts

Overall, nuts are a good source of healthy monounsaturated fats along with omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. They also deliver vitamins and minerals.

In spite of their higher fat content, nuts have many health benefits. Studies have shown that nuts help to prevent diseases and may even prolong life by reducing the risks of some types of cancers.

Here are the 5 healthiest nuts to eat.

1. Walnuts

Walnuts are an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). They are also a significant contributor of protein, fiber, vitamin E, melatonin and magnesium. Walnuts also contain a plant compound called polyphenols that reduce inflammation throughout the body, which in turn lowers the risk of many diseases, including cancer.

Walnuts also reduce bad LDL cholesterol while boosting good HDL cholesterol. They also contribute to better heart health, regulated blood pressure and increased blood flow through the circulatory system.

Additionally, walnuts are considered brain food. Eating walnuts increases cognitive function and reasoning abilities.

Healthy Walnuts
5 healthiest nuts to eat: walnuts

2. Almonds

Almonds provide a significant amount of protein, fiber, vitamin E and magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, calcium and iron.

This tree nut improves cholesterol levels and supports heart health. Its high fiber content aids in weight loss and lowers blood pressure. And consuming a few almonds during a meal helps to regulate blood sugar levels that can rise after eating, in people with diabetes. For those with type 2 diabetes, almonds can lower inflammation.

Almonds also improve gut health by supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria.

5 Healthiest Nuts to Eat Almonds
Almonds, one of the 5 healthiest nuts to eat.

3. Pistachios

This popular green nut, typically packaged still in its shell, is high in fiber and protein and provides vitamin E and magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron and phosphorous.

As with walnuts and almonds, pistachios improve cholesterol levels. Eating just a couple of ounces of pistachios a day also increases good HDL cholesterol. Additionally, pistachios decreases the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and help maintain a healthy weight. Their antioxidant properties prevent oxidative damage to cells.

And pistachios help to keep blood sugar levels down after a meal.

Healthy Pistachios
Health boosting pistachios.

4. Cashews

Cashews have a creamy texture, making them perfect for baking and vegan sauce making. They are also an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamin E and calcium, iron, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium. Cashews also provide antioxidant properties.

This tree nut reduces blood pressure, improves blood lipid levels and increases good HDL cholesterol.

5 Healthiest Nuts to Eat Cashews
Fiber and protein rich cashews.

5. Hazelnuts

Nutritious hazelnuts have a distinctive flavor. They are also an excellent source of fiber, protein, vitamin E and calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium.

They lower the risk of heart disease and reduce bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Hazelnuts ease inflammation throughout the body and improve overall blood vessel health. Additionally, they increase the amount of vitamin E in the blood.

Healthy Hazelnuts
The last of the 5 healthiest nuts to eat, hazelnuts.

Ways to Benefit from Nuts

Try including nuts in your diet, in these ways:

  • combine them with unsweetened raisins, dried cranberries, unsweetened dried coconut and seeds to make a homemade trail mix
  • drink nut milks such as cashew milk, almond milk or hazelnut milk
  • use sugar free nut butters that only contain nuts and a small amount of sea salt
  • add raw nuts to salads
  • use in baking recipes
  • make vegan sauces from cashews
  • eat plain, as a snack
  • make your own vegan cheeses and milks, from nuts

Remember to enjoy nuts in moderation, due to their fat content. Eat a small handful at a time or include in recipes on days scattered throughout the week. And check out some of my favorite recipes below, that include healthy nuts.

5 healthiest Nuts to Eat Tabbouleh
Parsley Tabbouleh with almonds.

 

Favorite Recipes Using Nuts

Dairy Free Potato Soup with Cashew Sauce

Broccoli and Macaroni Bake

Raw Blueberry Pie with Cashew Crust

Vegan Banana Blueberry Bread with Walnuts

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Parsley Tabbouleh

Amazon finds:

 


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6 Gluten Free Pastas to Try

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A question I’m frequently asked is, “What about pasta? Don’t you miss it?”

The answer is, I do enjoy pasta. Since switching to a plant based lifestyle, I still eat pasta. It’s vegan and gluten free pasta.

Pasta came back into my diet shortly after going plant based. I discovered a wide selection of gluten free and vegan pasta available. Although I’ve settled in on brown rice pasta as my favorite, there are other varieties made from plants and wheat free grains.

Here is a line up of gluten free pastas to try so you can decide which is your favorite!

6 Gluten Free Pastas title meme

Why Avoid Gluten?

Gluten is a chewy protein found in some grains including wheat, spelt and rye. For people with celiac disease, avoiding gluten is a must as the protein attacks the small intestines and causes damage. Another form of celiac disease attacks the skin rather than the small intestines, causing a painful rash.

Additionally, people with autoimmune disorders and gluten sensitivities should avoid gluten as well. I fall in the latter category. People with a gluten sensitivity don’t process the protein well. Symptoms of sensitivity range from digestive disorders to irritable bowel syndrome to skin rashes to headaches and joint pain. Gluten, along with other allergens and proteins found in grains, can create inflammation and weaken the immune system, which is our first line of defense against illness.

For more information about gluten sensitivity, see this post: 8 Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance.

Gluten Free Rotini

6 Gluten Free Pastas

Fortunately, for those with gluten intolerance or sensitivities there are options.

Brown Rice Pasta

This gluten free pasta is one of the most popular. Brown rice, with its mild flavor, adds chewiness and texture to the pasta, in the same way that wheat does. It is an excellent one-on-one substitution for wheat pasta, holding its shape well during cooking. In addition, brown rice is a rich source of fiber and nutrients including selenium and magnesium. Brown rice also supplies the body with antioxidants that fight against oxidative damage to cells.

Try these brown rice pastas by clicking on the photos:

Brown Rice Pastas
One of my favorite gluten free pastas, brown rice.

 

Brown rice and quinoa blend pasta.
The Great Value brand, which is a blend of brown rice and quinoa, is excellent as well and available in the gluten free section at Walmart.

Quinoa Pasta

This pasta is not only entirely plant based, it supplies all nine of the essential amino acids that the body requires. Quinoa is also a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Pasta made from this grain boasts a mild, nutty flavor with a grain-like texture. It is often combined with other gluten free grains or legumes to create a pasta that holds together well.

Try the brown rice/quinoa pasta pictured above, or this one from Trader Joe’s:

 

Quinoa and brown rice pasta
Quinoa and brown rice pasta from Trader Joe’s.

Chickpea Pasta

This recent addition to gluten free pastas is gaining in popularity. The flavor is slightly stronger than the brown rice varieties while the texture is very similar to wheat pasta. Chickpea pasta is high protein and high fiber, making it a very filling choice for pasta recipes.

Banza and Barilla both produce an excellent chickpea pasta:

 

Banza chickpea penne
Try one of the gluten free pastas from Banza. This is penne.

Barilla Chickpea Rotini
Barilla chickpea rotini

Soba Noodles

Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour. The noodles have a slightly nutty flavor and a chewy texture. They are available in a variety of shapes, not just noodles. Soba noodles are a good source of protein and fiber and they are lower in calories than most other pastas. They also provide manganese and thiamine.

Get soba noodles here:

Organic Soba Noodles
Soba noodles are another gluten free pasta option.

Green Lentil Pasta

This is another legume pasta, similar to chickpea. It is typically combined with quinoa and has a mild flavor and a good chewy texture. Green lentil pasta is an excellent source of fiber and protein.

Try this brand:

Green Lentil Pasta
Pow green lentil pasta.

Multigrain Pasta

Some gluten free pastas combine a blend of grains including rice, quinoa, buckwheat, corn, millet and amaranth.

The taste and texture of multigrain pasta is very similar to wheat pasta. However, the nutritional value varies greatly with these pastas, depending on the combination of grains. Read the labels carefully so that you know what you are getting. I only use non GMO corn, so I typically avoid multigrain pastas unless I know corn is not included.

Barilla Gluten Free Penne
Barilla is a reliable brand for multigrain pasta.

Preparing Gluten Free Pastas

To cook gluten free pastas, use these tips:

  •  use a large container with plenty of water
  • bring water to a roiling boil and keep it there while pasta cooks, stirring frequently
  • begin testing pasta several minutes before end of specified cook time
  • remove from heat when pasta is al dente for best texture – overcooking results in mushy pasta
  • drain pasta and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process
  • toss with a small amount of olive oil, if desired, to prevent pasta from sticking together
  • add cooked pasta to sauce to finish cooking, if necessary, or serve with sauce immediately
Gluten Free Macaroni Bake
Gluten Free Broccoli & Macaroni Bake

Enjoy Gluten Free Pastas

I’ve discovered many ways to enjoy gluten free pastas. The easiest is to pair gluten free spaghetti, penne or rotini with simple marinara sauce. I keep a package of pasta on hand and for convenience, a jar of organic, sugar free pasta sauce.

Pasta isn’t served daily in my house, however it is nice to know that when I want a quick and nutritious meal, I can have it. I make sure it is a gluten free pasta that supports my healthy lifestyle, rather than one that creates a negative reaction in my body.

Gluten Free Pastas with Pesto
Another idea for gluten free pastas, freshly prepared pesto. I enjoyed this delightful meal in Italy.

Try One of These Gluten Free Pasta Recipes

Goulash

Broccoli & Macaroni Bake

Oil Free Basil Pesto for your gluten free spaghetti

 

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Pumpkin’s Health Benefits

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Photos of scrumptious pumpkin treats are filling my Instagram, a sure sign of the season. Some pumpkin flavored goodies, such as lattes and donuts, are full of sugar and not the healthiest of options. However, pumpkin’s health benefits are many. From soups to breads to muffins, enjoy one of the signature flavors of fall and appreciate the boost to health that pumpkin provides.

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More Than a Jack O’Lantern

Pumpkins are an orange winter squash, native to the US and extremely popular in the fall. As summer draws to a close, bins of pumpkins replace bins of watermelons. From fall décor to jack o’lanterns to Thanksgiving pies, pumpkins are an integral part of the season.

Pumpkins are a fruit, with edible seeds. Nutritionally, however, these squashes are more similar to vegetables.

Pumpkins are not only fun to carve, they are delicious. In addition, they provide impressive benefits. Here are seven ways pumpkins improve health.

Pumpkin's Health Benefits Winter Squash
This fruit is technically a winter squash.

Pumpkin’s Health Benefits

High in Vitamins and Minerals

This brightly colored squash is high in vitamins A, B2, C and E. Additionally, pumpkins are a significant source for potassium, copper, manganese, iron, folate and beta-carotene, a carotenoid that the body converts into vitamin A.

Pumpkins are nutritionally dense, low calorie and high in water content. They are also a good source of fiber, making them excellent for managing weight.

Antioxidant Properties

Free radicals are produced naturally as part of the body’s metabolic process. We need some free radicals. They destroy harmful bacteria. However too many free radicals in the body create oxidative stress, which is linked to cell death, rapid aging, and chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Pumpkins contain powerful antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and prevent them from damaging healthy cells. Antioxidants also protect the skin from sun damage.

Roasted pumpkin slices
Pumpkin’s health benefits can be delivered in tasty ways, such as roasted pumpkin slices.

Supports the Immune System

Pumpkin’s nutrients provide a helpful boost to the immune system. Beta-carotene, that the body converts into vitamin A, strengthens the immune system and helps to fight off infections.

Pumpkin is also high in vitamin C. This potent vitamin increases white blood cell production, which boosts the immune system further and helps the body to heal faster. Finally, pumpkin’s vitamin E, folate and iron content all support the immune system as well.

Protects Eyesight and Promotes Healthy Skin

Pumpkin helps to protect eyesight. Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness. Pumpkins are rich in vitamin A, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin that combine to support eye health and lower the risk of age related macular degeneration and cataracts. And the antioxidants in pumpkin prevent free radicals from destroying eye cells.

The nutrients in pumpkins also promote healthy skin. Carotenoids are a natural sunblock, protecting the skin from harmful UV rays. Vitamin C is essential for healthy, youthful skin. It boosts the production of collagen, a protein that keeps skin strong and supple.

Lowers the Risk for Cancer

Cancer occurs when cells grow abnormally. These cells produce an abundance of free radicals, which help them to multiply more quickly. Pumpkin’s carotenoids function as antioxidants. They neutralize the free radicals, which helps to protect the body from certain types of cancers, including stomach, pancreas, throat and breast cancers.

Pumpkins Health Benefits Soup
Luscious pumpkin soup, another way to enjoy pumpkin’s health benefits.

Improves Heart Health

The potassium, vitamin C and fiber found in pumpkins are linked to improved heart health.

Potassium lowers blood pressure, a leading cause of strokes. High blood pressure and strokes increase the risk for heart disease. Pumpkin’s antioxidants also prevent bad cholesterol from oxidizing and clumping on the walls of blood vessels. This helps to lower the risk of heart disease as well.

Pumpkin Seeds

The edible seeds in pumpkins are full of health boosting properties too. They are a great source of magnesium, zinc, potassium and iron. Additionally, they are full of powerful antioxidants.

Pumpkins seeds support prostate and heart health, balance blood sugar, ease post menopausal symptoms in women, promote healthy cholesterol levels and lower the risk for cancer.

Roast your own pumpkin seeds, see link for instructions below, or purchase organic non GMO seeds at your favorite health conscious store.

Pumpkins Health Benefits Seeds
Pumpkin Seeds are excellent health boosters.

Enjoying Pumpkin’s Health Benefits

Pumpkins are so versatile for baking and cooking. Add pumpkin puree to cookies, breads, muffins, pancakes and pies. Or roast chunks of pumpkin and add to vegetables, soups and sauces.

Cut through the hard outer skin. Remove seeds (save those for roasting) and the stringy part. Slice remaining pumpkin into wedges or chunks. Coat with sea salt and pepper and a small amount of coconut oil, if desired. Roast in the oven until tender. After cooling puree to use in baking or soups. Or enjoy the roasted pumpkin as is. Check out this awesome site for full instructions on roasting a pumpkin. And this one for roasting pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin is also available canned, which is convenient for baking. Read labels carefully and only purchase 100% pureed pumpkin, without added sugar.

During this season of warmth and family fun, enjoy this fall favorite in all its versatility and reap pumpkin’s health benefits as well.

Watch next week for my roundup of plant based and gluten free pumpkin recipes. Here’s one to get you started!

Vegan & Gluten Free Pumpkin Bars

Health Boosting Pumpkins

Organic Pumpkin Seeds from Amazon:

 

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