Minimize Allergies with Your Diet

Spring time is not always a welcome time for those who are suffering from seasonal allergies. With allergy season now in full bloom, I want to take this opportunity to talk about how foods can help to relieve some of the allergy symptoms.

Below are 3 key food components that can help to make this allergy season more tolerable.

  1. Studies have shown that probiotics can help to control allergy symptoms by regulating the immune system within the gut. This helps to control inflammation and lessen allergy symptoms. Probiotics can come from eating fermented foods and natural yogurt. Check out my fermented food entry for food suggestions.
  2. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and have shown to fight against the immune aggravation associated with allergies. Research shows omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines in your body, responsible for causing allergy symptoms. Foods rich in omega-3s include fish, egg yolk and krill oil.
  3. Antioxidants, especially vitamin C, can help to minimize many seasonal allergy symptoms. Try to incorporate kale, tomatoes, berries and other foods high in vitamin C to help against congestion and inflammation. It is important to note that some allergy sufferers might have cross-sensitivity to foods as well. Be cautious of food allergies, especially if you have pollen and/or grass sensitivity.

Getting adequate vitamin D is also crucial for managing allergy symptoms, especially for those who have asthma. The best way to get vitamin D is through the sun, but vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplements might be necessary depending on where you live.

-NZ

April = Asparagus

April brings in asparagus season. Asparagus season only lasts as long as the spring and its quality of taste deteriorates fast after picking. Asparagus is best eaten during its fresh season.

Asparagus has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. High fiber content and umami taste makes asparagus healthy and filling. Compared to other vegetables, asparagus contains the highest amount of folic acid. It is also high in vitamin K, B vitamins, vitamin C and E.

I don’t like eating asparagus by itself so I try to find creative ways to incorporate this healthy veggie into my diet. Below are some tips:

  1. Creamy Asparagus Soup

    Creamy Spring Asparagus Soup from WF

    Creamy Spring Asparagus Soup

The taste of asparagus is changed completely when pureed into a soup. It taste refreshing. Whole foods has a good asparagus soup recipe.

  1. Asparagus fried rice

Diced asparagus mixed with onions and other vegetables helps me to forget that I am actually eating asparagus. Sautee the asparagus and onions with carrots, corn, and eggs, then add cooked rice to complete the dish.

  1. Shaved asparagus salad

    Shaved Asparagus Salad from CHOW

    Shaved Asparagus Salad from CHOW

Use a vegetable peeler to thinly slice the asparagus into strips. Season it with olive oil, roasted pine nuts, and lemon vinaigrette to make an easy and tasty salad. Check out the recipe from CHOW.

How do you enjoy asparagus? Please feel free to share!

-NZ

5 Simple Vegetarian Meal Ideas

Meals don’t have to be pre-packaged and microwaveable to be fast and simple. At Practice Vitality, we try to give you different ways to eat healthy, but not all meals require a recipe. You can use ingredients that are already in your refrigerator and pull together a tasty meal. Below are some suggestions for a quick and easy vegetarian meal ideas to help you get cooking!

1. Huevos Rancheros inspired plate

Huevos Rancheros isnt just confined to brunch. Heat a can of refried beans, roast whatever vegetable suits your fancy (or make a side of raw greens), and add an egg or two, cooked to your preference. Voila, you have a filling meal in less than 10 minutes.

2. Sandwiches

People often associate sandwiches with deli meats & cheese, but its just as easy to make a healthy vegetarian sandwich. Key to making readily available sandwiches is to stock up spreads in the house. Examples would be hummus, babaganoush, pesto, or guacamole/mashed avocados. You can add vegetables (such as kale, mushrooms, beets or onions) – cooked or raw, on top of the spread. You can also top it with cheese or variety of cheeses if desired. I like to make my sandwich then toast it on a frying pan with some butter for an added flavor and crunch. For a hardier option, fry an egg and put it over your sandwich.

3. Soups

Don’t be intimidated by the idea of making a soup-base. We love our hardy soups, like this vegetarian chilli, but a liquid-based soup can still be very filling and take less time. You can also add a number of vegetables into the blender to make a creamy soup. A great example is our creamy vegan cauliflower and mushroom soup. If you want something sweet, you can do a puree of steamed or roasted butternut squash and ginger. Mark Bittman recently wrote a great article in The New York Times on customizable soup.

4. Hearty Salads

Salads don’t have to be completely raw or follow a recipe. Everything in the fridge is fair-game. Mix cooked and raw greens, other cooked veggies and beans. You can be creative with your dressings: lemon-juice and oil, tahini with a little salt and lemon, yogurt with salt, and lemon and dried or fresh herbs are all easy options aside from ready-made salad dressings.

5. Casseroles

This one pot dish is fast and makes an easy cleanup. Just dump whatever veggies you have in the fridge (fresh or frozen!) into a casserole pan, add your favorite seasonings, cooked grains such as quinoa or brown rice, and cheese if you want something creamy. Put it in the oven covered at 375-400 degrees. An 8x8in casserole pan might take about 20 minutes. See our vegetarian casserole dish as a recipe example.

We hope these tips will inspire you to be creative and start cooking!

-DS & NZ

Quick and Easy Vegetarian Casserole

A casserole is one of the easiest and most versatile dinner ideas. The one-pot dish is quick and painless to whip up, with minimal cleanup. Plus, you can use whatever vegetables you have available in stock. You can substitute zucchinis with potatoes, corn with peas, and/or onions with leeks, etc. It is easy to make it into a vegan option by omitting the cheese, or a gluten-free option by avoid adding bread crumbs. I also like to add some curry powder to give the dish an extra kick. Feel free to experiment with a variety of vegetables and seasonings to accommodate your taste.

casserole zucchini and tomatoIngredients (serving size: 4)

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium zucchinis, thinly sliced
  • 1 tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup of fresh or frozen corn
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried basil
  • Olive oil
  • 1/3 onion, diced
  • ¼ tablespoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper

Optional:

  • 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tablespoon curry powder

Directions

  1. Cook brown rice (you can also use leftover rice if you have some in the fridge)
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Coat a baking pan with oil.
  3. Add a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in onions, garlic, and zucchini and cook until soft and translucent. Season with salt and pepper for taste.
  4. Place the cooked brown rice on the baking pan in a thin even layer, then layer the cooked onion/zucchini mix from the skillet on top of the brown rice.
  5. Add oregano, basil and paprika (and/or curry powder) on top of the layered casserole
  6. Arrange the sliced tomatoes on top, then spread bread crumbs and parmesan cheese on top
  7. Cover with foil and bake in a oven for 20 minutes.
  8. Serve while hot!

-NZ

Amazing Argan Oil for Your Hair and Skin

Winter dryness can be harmful for your skin and hair. My knuckles become dry and itchy, and my hair develops knots and split ends more easily…until I started using Argan oil.

Made from the kernel of the Argan tree, the Moroccan Argan oil is extracted from a cold-pressed process by hand. Renowned for its anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and sun-protective properties, Argan oil is rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin E that are great for reducing scars and wrinkles.

Once applied to hair and skin, it is virtually odorless so it is great for those who want a fragrance-free option. Argan oil is considered a dry oil, so it absorbs quickly without being greasy. It hydrates hair and skin protecting it from the split ends and cracking. I apply a few drops on my wet hair after shower to prevent split ends as a form of conditioner. I also use it on areas of my skin that are prone to dryness such as my knuckles and knees. I simply apply a few drops of oil to my body moisturizer before application.

Note: Argan oil is sensitive to light so it should be stored in a cool area in a dark glass bottle.

How do you use Argan oil? I would love to hear from everyone!

-NZ

Wood Ear Mushrooms

In my last post, I mentioned the ingredient wood ear in my vegetarian rice cake dish. For those unfamiliar with this ingredient, wood ear is a type of mushroom that are common in Chinese cuisine and medicine. While wood ear in itself is pretty tasteless, it absorbs the surrounding flavors. Its texture is crunchy, like seaweed. They are usually sold in a dry form at an Asian grocery store pre-packed and sealed.

cucumber and wood ear salad

cucumber and wood ear salad

A great source of fiber (it is composed of 50% fiber), wood ear is also rich in micronutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Wood ear is also anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and has a cardioprotective effect. Animal studies have shown that wood ear can shrink tumor size in rats and reduce blood glucose level and insulin resistance. The cardioprotective effect comes from its blood-thinning ability and its ability to reduce bad cholesterol, LDL.

One healthy way I love to cook wood ear is to make a wood ear and cucumber salad. This tangy marinade makes a great side dish.

Ingredients: (2 servings)

  • 1/4 cup of wood ears (dry form)
  • 1 cup of cucumbers
  • 2 tsp of light soy sauce
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs of white vinegar or Chinese black vinegar
  • 2 tbs of sugar
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tbs of sesame oil

Directions:

  1. Soak dry wood ear in water for 4 hours or overnight (Note that the wood ear expands by over 100%, so be sure to place in a large container)
  2. Peel cucumber then cut them into thin circular slices and place on a plate
  3. Remove the knot at the end of each wood ear and cut the rest into long shreds, then place them with cucumber
  4. In a separate saucer, mix the garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and salt together to make the dressing.
  5. Pour the dressing onto the cucumber and wood ear and gently toss the salad
  6. Add sesame oil and toss. Let it marinade for an hour before serving. (This will assure that wood ear will absorb the flavor)

-NZ

Celebrate Lunar New Year with Vegetarian Shanghainese Rice Cake

Shanghainese Rice Cake (上海炒年糕)

The word rice cake in Chinese, means yearly growth. Serving a rice cake dish is a must for most Chinese on their New Year. This recipe is a vegetarian version of the traditional recipe my grandma would prepare.

vegetarian rice cake

vegetarian rice cake

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • coconut oil, 1 tbsp
  • garlic, minced, 2 cloves
  • ginger, minced, 1 teaspoon
  • napa cabbage, sliced, 2 cups
  • sliced rice cake (1/2 package, or 3 cups)
  • shiitake mushrooms, sliced, ½ cup
  • baby bok choy (or regular bok choy), 1 cup
  • wood ear, sliced, ½ cup (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoon black bean paste
  • crushed pepper, for taste

Directions

  1. Soak the rice cake in water to soften (I usually soak it for at least an hour)
  2. Heat the oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the minced garlic and ginger and cook for ~1 minute.
  3. Add napa cabbage and cook until the cabbage is wilted. You should see the liquid from the cabbage come out.
  4. Add rice cake, then cover the wok with lid until rice cake softens, about 2 minutes
  5. Add soy sauce, black bean paste and sugar. Cook until everything is mixed well.
  6. Add bok choy, wood ear, and shiitake mushrooms. Cook until the bok choys are wilted. Add pepper for taste
  7. Serve hot and enjoy!

-NZ