Gluten Free Coconut Flour Pancakes for the Holidays

I find this time of year to be a great one for experimenting with food. I am not as busy with farm chores, and the cooler weather makes me want to stay warm in the kitchen.

Recently, I have been experimenting more with gluten free baking. Nothing fancy. I have just been wanting a little diversity in what I am eating while still keeping it healthy and delicious.

This last part can be a challenge because many gluten free items are lower in fiber than the whole grain versions I would have normally chosen. So, I started experimenting with coconut flour because it is high in fiber and healthy fats. Coconut also has some antiviral benefits that may help us stay healthy during the holidays. But the pancakes I made with just coconut flour were too coconut for me. It was nearly like I was eating a macaroon. Don’t get me wrong. I love macaroons, but that coconut flavor and texture wasn’t what I wanted in a pancake.

This is my less strict version of coconut flour pancakes where I added other grains and flours to find a balance between health and taste. I find them to be so tasty that I eat them with just butter and no syrup. This cuts out additional pointless sugar in my diet.

coconut flour pancakes

Coconut Flour Pancakes
3 eggs
¼ cup yogurt
¾ cup milk (or can drop the yogurt and use 1 cup of milk)
1 tablespoon honey

¼ cup coconut flour
¼ cup flaxmeal (aka ground flax seeds)
¼ cup cornmeal

½ cup gluten free flour (I used a mixture of arrowroot and potato starch)
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Butter or coconut oil for cooking

Beat eggs until frothy. Combine yogurt and all but ¼ cup of the milk. Stir in honey, coconut flour, flaxmeal, and cornmeal to soak while the mix up the remain ingredients.

In a medium size, mix the remaining dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Add remaining milk if mixture is too thick.

Preheat griddle or pan and grease with butter or coconut oil. Ladle 1-2 tablespoons onto hot pan for each pancake. Cook for a few minutes on each side until browned.

Gluten Free Experiment

My mom is gluten sensitive so I knew I had at least a 50% chance of having the genes that can predispose one to gluten issues. I had experimented with going gluten free before and hadn’t found gluten to be a problem for me. Since these issues can manifest as we get older, I still was paying attention in case I developed a sensitivity later. Recently, I did notice digestive discomfort and bloating after I ate meals with lots of wheat in them.

So now I am going to be gluten free for 2 weeks. At the end of the two weeks, I am going to do a gluten challenge where I will eat a normal serving of wheat with all three meals on one day. This is a step that a lot of people skip. It helps us know how big of a deal it is for us to eat wheat or gluten. Without this step, I see people often slowing adding gluten back to their diets and not knowing whether to associate it with the symptoms they are having.

I don’t believe that everyone needs to go on a gluten free diet, but foods high in gluten are over consumed in America. This is partially due to the convenience of burger buns and wheat tortillas for making inexpensive foods for on the go. But overconsumption of wheat and other high gluten foods might be contributing to health issues in all people. Dr. Perlmutter claims that all grains in high amounts are bad for our brains. Another research found that gluten may cause some degree of leaky gut in all people. Again this doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be gluten free. I would like to see follow up research done on this new idea, and even if this theory is correct, we can rely less on wheat in our diets, but don’t have to eliminate it entirely necessarily unless it is a real problem for us.

Leaky-Gut-SI2

Gluten is a protein in wheat made up of smaller molecules called gliadin. Gluten is primarily useful for making bread since its stretchy nature allows bread to rise. When it comes to quick breads like pancakes, muffins, cornbread, and cookies, other flours can be easily substituted like the Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour. Your pancakes might not hold together quite as well, but they will often be lighter and fluffier. There are of course some tricks to learn about gluten free cooking such as coconut flour cannot be substituted in a one-to-one fashion for wheat flour. You use ¼ cup coconut flour for every cup of flour and add extra eggs to the recipe. I find the best success from using a mixture of gluten free flours. For instance, if I make pancakes with the Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free flour, I also add cornmeal and flaxmeal to give it a more whole grain texture.

Overall, I am not eating very many of these substitute foods. Mostly I am eating foods that have always been gluten free such as vegetables, meat, quinoa, beans, nuts, etc. But here are a few of my favorite substitute products for when I want something that would normally have wheat in it:

Udi’s Gluten Free Bagels

Rudi’s Gluten Free Multigrain Bread (But my mom disagrees. She like Canyon Bakehouse 7-Grain Bread)

PaloWraps

Against The Grain Pizza (and everything else they make)

Applegate Gluten Free Chicken Tenders (a coworker who isn’t gluten free likes these better than the regular version)

Amy’s Gluten Free Indian Aloo Mattar Wrap

Blake’s Gluten Free Chicken Pot Pie

Blue Diamond Nut Thins

WOW Baking Company Chocolate Brownies

Jennie’s Gluten Free Macaroons

And last but not least the Gluten Free Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes from A La Carte

If get accidentally glutened or want to cheat on rare occasion, try the GlutenEase enzyme from Enzymedica.

New Hope for Migraine Sufferers

Migraines are not all the same. People can have different symptoms and different triggers, but the misery and disruption they can cause is pretty consistent.

headache

Another thing that many migraine sufferers have in common is an inability to process certain vitamins. Recent studies have revealed that people with migraines, especially with auras, are more likely to have genetic variations in the enzymes that activate folic acid. They are more likely to have elevated homocysteine, a compound that can be a marker for a lack of appropriate B vitamins that our nervous systems need. Elevated homocysteine can be toxic to nerve cells and is associated with increased risk of heart disease.

One still needs to determine and reduce migraine triggers, but there is hope that regular intake the active form folate, known as methyltetrahydrofolate or methylfolate, can reduce the sensitivity to those triggers. For people with this genetic variation, it is also important to avoid the common form of folic acid added to some supplements and many processed foods. And always take B12, again the methyl form of B12, when you take any form of folate.

I am already seeing good results with this approach with my patients. Just a month ago, I had a patient try a new product called Eye Folate, made by a local eye doctor that contains these vitamins plus others for nerve and eye health. Her recent report to me was, “I’ve essentially had no migraines since I started it! So it looks like it’s working, thank you!”

For many migraine sufferers, products like these could be an important part the solution to help prevent this common and debilitating issue.

Probiotics for Weight Loss

Every year I find myself wanting to write another blog about probiotics, but you can’t blame me. There is a huge amount of research going on right now about the microbiome, a term referring to the complex community of abundant microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. Several recent studies are showing connections between these beneficial bacteria and maintaining a healthy body weight.

One study demonstrated a possible link between antibiotic use in children and a tendency toward weight gain. The study showed that especially boys tended to gain excess weight if given antibiotics in the first year of life. The authors suggested that doctors be more selective about giving antibiotics to infants and toddlers. Many parents push the doctors for antibiotics even for viral infection like colds that will not be helped by the antibiotics. Other times it is appropriate or even critical for antibiotics to be used. For these instances, it would be appropriate to take probiotics afterward even though studies have not been done yet to show if can help prevent weight gain after antibiotic use.

Previous studies have shown that obese people tend to have less diversity of bacteria living it the gut. To explore whether this was a cause of obesity or the effect of it, another research team gave mice the bacteria from sets of twins where one was obese and the other was lean. The mice that got the bacteria from the obese people gained weight, while mice that received bacteria from the lean people didn’t. The mice that gained weight didn’t eat more than their leaner companions. Later, those obese mice were given the bacteria from the lean people and lost weight. This benefit only occurred when the mice were also given a low-fat, high fiber diet. Without the fiber and other nutrients, the bacteria that support healthy weight seem to not flourish.

602459_94970650

Lactobacillus gasseri is one probiotic that is of particular interest for weight loss. A 2013 study had 210 overweight participants consume fermented milk that either contained no Lactobacillus gasseri, a moderate amount of Lactobacillus gasseri, or a large amount of it. After 12 weeks, both groups getting the Lactobacillus gasseri lost belly fat while the control group saw no change. Lactobacillus gasseri is available in probiotic capsules such as Kyo-Dophilus.

There are numerous health benefits from having a healthy population of bacteria living in our digestive tracts and helping us to maintain healthy weight is just one of them. Likewise, taking probiotics is just one component of maintaining healthy weight. Eating high fiber and nutrient rich foods helps the good bacteria thrives and provides our bodies with balanced nutrition to help us thrive too.

Natural Ebola Prevention Strategies

So far there are no new confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States, but there have been 5000 false alarms since Thomas Duncan’s diagnosis in Dallas. This tells you how worried people are. On one hand, the Ebola virus has a particularly high mortality rate. On the other hand, Ebola is not as easy to spread as other viruses. The chance that we really need to worry about this is the United States is low, but this seems like a good time to review immune support and antiviral basics since we will have our normal viral infections to cope with as the cold weather hits.

First practice basic hygiene. This is washing your hands before you touch your face, especially your eyes, nose, mouth, or open wounds. Ebola is spread through bodily fluids and it not spread through the air, though scientists are worried about Ebola mutating to this type of dispersal.

The key to preventing colds and flu and possibly to surviving an Ebola epidemic is having a strong immune system. Ebola weakens the immune system. Survivors of past Ebola outbreaks seemed to have stronger and faster immune responses compared to those who didn’t survive. As my Ayurvedic colleagues point out, “For an infection like Ebola, which has no apparent clinical cure, natural reinforcement of the immune system may represent an oasis of hope in the desert of fear and panic.” So start with the lifestyle basics: healthy diet, moderate exercise, proper hydration, and adequate sleep.

For basic wintertime immune support, I also add probiotics, vitamin D, and vitamin C to my daily routine. When it comes to fighting viruses, some of my favorite supplements are colloidal silver, oregano oil, elderberry, and medicinal mushrooms.

None of these have really been studied with Ebola so we have to extrapolate from what we know about other viruses and remember that not all viruses are the same. For instance, elderberries have been shown to slow the replication of influenza viruses, but this does not mean that it is going to work with all viruses. On the other hand, colloidal silver has shown benefit from a wide array of viruses.

Agarikon

Agarikon

Other agents that might be theoretically useful are turmeric and agarikon. Turmeric could be useful in two ways. As an inflammation modulator, it could calm excessive inflammation that contributes to tissue damage and depletes the immune system. Turmeric also activates an enzyme called heme oxygenase-1, which in test tubes has been shown to reduce Ebola replication. Agarikon is a medical mushroom available in some of my favorite immune supporting blends like MyCommunity and MycoShield from Host Defense. Agarikon, like colloidal silver, has the potential to be active against a wide array of viruses and the other mushrooms in the blends are great immune supporters.

Please remember that all of this information is speculative since this virus it too new for us to have the studies that we would want to make confident claims. But strengthen your body and immune system to help prevent the more likely threats of colds and flu and donate to some of the many funds providing aid to those suffering in Africa.

Stevia Beats Artificial Sweeteners For Blood Sugar

When I learned that artificial sweeteners are contributing to blood sugar problems, I decided that I needed to review the research on stevia to see how it compared. It turns out the news is good on stevia.

A recent and very thorough study on artificial sweeteners demonstrated that they are contributing to higher blood sugar levels after meals. The study showed that people consuming artificial sweeteners have different bacteria living in their gut. Then, healthy people who didn’t use artificial sweeteners were given saccharin for 6 days. Four out of the seven developed high blood sugar. The researchers used mice to determine that changes in gut bacteria were the cause. These new bacteria contributed to the absorption of some of the carbohydrates we don’t normally absorb. These new bacteria seem to make it as if we had eaten a higher carbohydrate meal. In studies on rats, saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet) were all shown to have equal negative effects on gut bacteria and blood sugar. The researchers are suggesting that these artificial sweeteners are contributing to both diabetes and obesity.

Stevia

Stevia

So this left me with the question of whether stevia might do the same thing. Stevia is a plant from South America that is now popular as a natural non-caloric sugar alternative. But unlike the artificial sweeteners, stevia holds promise of helping people with blood sugar problems. Participants eating stevia-sweetened foods before a meal showed lower blood sugar and insulin levels after the meal compared to participants given aspartame or sugar-sweetened foods. The study also showed that eating stevia before a meal didn’t lead to increased calorie consumption during the meal. Many other studies are pointing to stevia as an agent that may help with insulin resistance, the issue responsible for most cases of diabetes.

Stevia is very sweet and can have an aftertaste somewhat similar to artificial sweeteners. I find it helpful to use a little bit less than I think I need so that my food is not overly sweet. This cuts down on the aftertaste too. I am also a big fan of the flavored stevia liquids, such as the cinnamon flavored on I like to put in my tea. To read more about stevia and xylitol, the other sugar alternative I use sometimes, here is a great article from LifeExtension.

Grain-free Nachos: A delicious way to eat your veggies

I created this recipe less because I wanted to avoid grains and more because I wanted to find another delicious way of eating more vegetables. When it comes to health, we seem to get more benefit from adding healthy foods to our diet as opposed to cutting out the bad ones. Increased vegetable consumption is one of the more important things we can do for our health, along with eating fruit, nuts, legumes, reduced-fat dairy, whole grains, and fish.
A recent Swedish study found that men who ate healthier diets reduced their risk of heart attack by 18%. When combined with 4 other healthy habits, they reduced their risk by 80% compared to men who did none of these things. These healthy habits were drinking alcohol in moderation, not smoking, exercising, and avoiding excess belly fat.
This study only included Swedish men, but clearly we can guess that these healthy choices could make a huge difference for anyone.

This recipe uses several of the foods on the list of healthful foods used in this study. Eating peppers in particular has been linked to lower rates of Parkinson’s disease.

Grainless nachos #1

Grain-free Nachos

3-4 peppers (I used poblanos, but bell peppers are fine)
1 cup cooked beans
1-2 cups reduced fat Monterey Jack or other cheese
½ – 1 cup onions, chopped
½ cup sliced black olives
1-4 jalapenos, sliced (I use Jalapenos En Excabeche that I make from this recipe)
1 cup tomato, chopped
1 avocado, chopped

Optional additinal toppings: sour cream, guacamole, seasoned meat, chopped green onions, cilantro, shredded lettuce or other greens, salsa or pico de gallo, or whatever else sounds good

Cut peppers in half and remove the cores.
Flatten with your hand onto a baking sheet.
Toss on the beans, cheese, onions, black olives, and jalapenos.
Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes until the cheese starts to brown and peppers get a little bit soft.
Sprinkle tomatoes and avocado and anything that you like on top and serve.
Note: In these pictures, I was making a double batch because they make awesome leftovers when reheated.

Grainfree nachos finished

Longer Telomeres for Longer Lives

How do we live longer healthier lives? Is it inevitable that our cells will stop functioning properly and we will get chronic degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and dementia? My goal is to support my body now so that I can delay the “inevitable” for as long as possible.

We can keep our DNA and therefore our bodies functioning optimally by emphasizing healthy diet and exercise. A recent small study by Dr. Dean Ornish demonstrated that following a healthy lifestyle plan could actually lengthen our telomeres. Telomeres are the genetic caps on the end of each DNA strand. I think of them like these plastic protectors on the ends of shoelaces.

shoelaces
As our cells divide, our DNA is copied. With each copy, the telomeres get a little shorter. Eventually, we can lose so much of our telomeres that our DNA is not longer protected. The cells produced at this point don’t have all the tools they need to be fully functioning cells and our health can suffer.

The shortening of telomeres has been linked to many chronic diseases including some forms of cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes. Because of this, some people regard telomere length to be the best marker of our true biological age.
In Dr. Ornish’s study, participants followed a plant-based diet, exercised regularly, and participated in stress reduction activities like gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing exercises, and meditation. The 10 men doing these lifestyle interventions had a 10% increase in the length of their telomeres over 5 years. The control group showed a 3% decrease in their telomere length during that time.

Life Style Changes_graphic_v2

This was just a small study using participants who had prostate cancer, so we cannot definitely say that everyone making similar healthy changes will see the same results. We also need more studies that confirm that longer telomeres contribute to longer healthier lives, but we know that these types of beneficial changes make sense anyways. Additionally, another study showed that women who took multivitamins had longer telomeres that their peers the same age who didn’t.
I consider studies like these to be further motivation for us to make these types of healthy changes to our lives. They give us hope that we can even undo some of the damage we might have already done by making better choices today.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I started making my own vanilla extract a few years ago, and I am hooked. I even did a taste comparison between my vanilla and a store bought one. As you can probably guess, mine won. My recipe is a tiny bit more complex than some, but it is worth the extra effort. If you start your vanilla in the next month or two, you can give it as gifts during the holiday season.

Vanilla

Homemade Vanilla Extract

2-4 vanilla beans

3 ounces of vodka

1 ounce of bourbon or dark rum

1 Tablespoon glycerin

Cut vanilla beans into about ½ inch pieces. Combine all ingredients in a jar. Let sit in a dark place for 2-4 weeks. Strain and enjoy in your favorite recipes.

I get my vanilla beans from Frontier, which is a cooperative distributor of bulk herbs, spices, and more. I spent the last few days visiting their operations in Iowa and was very impressed by their emphasis on quality and their dedication to improving the lives of the farmers who supply their products.

For instance, vanilla is one of their biggest sellers, especially their Bourbon vanilla beans grown in Madagascar. In general, Frontier makes efforts to ensure fair treatment of farmers and workers, sustainable production, and adherence to food quality and safety standards. Additionally, they really care about the communities where their farmers live. Whenever they visit, they take soccer balls for the local children’s groups. This is hugely popular, but even more important they help provide schools, meals for school children, and more. In a recent initiative, they dug wells in 38 villages in Madagascar that supply their vanilla beans. This provided clean drinking water to over 25,000 people.

Additionally, the farmers use this clean water to wash the vanilla beans. This helps ensure that the vanilla beans and other spices are safe for us to consume. On top of this, Frontier has multiple layers of quality control at their facility to guarantee that all herbs and spices are correctly identified, have the best flavor or medicinal constituent profile, are free of contaminates, and safe for our consumption.

It feels good to support businesses like Frontier who care so much about the herbs that I get and the people who grow them. So enjoy some delicious vanilla and some of the good that is done in the world by companies that care.

Potassium Powerhouse Foods for Stroke Prevention and More

I frequently recommend foods high in potassium to my patients with high blood pressure. A recent study has me thinking I need to recommend these foods to more patients. This new study revealed that postmenopausal women who consumed the most potassium reduced their chance of stroke by 12% compared to those who ate the least. Women who didn’t have high blood pressure noticed an even better outcome from eating more potassium with a 27% reduction in strokes. Potassium is thought to improve the functioning of small blood vessels in the brain and throughout the body, partially by improving nitric oxide formation which can help open up blood vessels.

Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

In truth, I recommend high potassium diets to most of my patients by encouraging them to eat a lot of vegetables. I believe that one of the reasons we need to get our 5-7 servings of veggies and fruit every day is to make sure we get adequate potassium. The average adult needs about 4700 mg of potassium a day. Many of the best potassium-rich foods are vegetables. For instance, a cup of cooked Swiss chard offers around 900 mg of potassium. Other high potassium foods include spinach, bok choy, beets, nuts, and dried beans. For a great list of potassium-rich foods, I like the chart available from World’s Healthiest Foods. My husband and I additionally take an electrolyte mixture that includes potassium when we work on the farm during these hot summers. Another good choice might be coconut water to help replace some of the potassium lost through sweating.

By emphasizing potassium intake, we get all of the benefits offered by this crucial mineral. Potassium is essential for nerve function throughout the body and especially in the heart. Getting adequate potassium can help preserve bone density and prevent the formation of kidney stones. Potassium deficiency might contribute to premenstrual issues and possibly the development of diabetes. As I mentioned above, eating high potassium foods can be one of the steps to help people reach a healthy blood pressure goal. And when we eat high potassium foods, we also get the full range of powerhouse nutrients that these foods provide. It is likely that these additional minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants from fruits and veggies contribute to some of the cardiovascular protection seen in these studies.

So figure out what high potassium foods you love to eat, and if you want some tips on getting more vegetables in your family’s life, check out my blog on getting kids to eat veggies.