Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Research Round-Up: Mediterranean diet and gut microbiota

I've been reading a lot of research lately: research for my second book, research on heart health for a consulting contract I have coming up at Microsoft, and just general interesting tidbits here and there because I think it's fun.  Yes, you heard me. Fun. I love keeping up on current research trends and assessing study construction to see if the author's interpretation of the results is a true assessment of the data.

Since I'm preparing for Microsoft, which is counseling for mainly cholesterol and weight loss, I've been focusing on dietary trends that affect those two topics, and this study popped onto my radar.

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the Mediterranean diet. If I had to pick one diet to rule them all, one diet to recommend to clients, this would be it.  In fact, this is the diet I recommend to clients. It's also how we model our eating at home. (For a quick Mediterranean diet starter guide from the University of Wisconsin click here).  I'm always on the lookout for any new research about the diet and to be honest, I haven't seen anything negative.

This latest piece of work, examining how the Mediterranean diet impacts the gut microbiota seems really basic: you eat more vegetables and fiber and your have healthier gut flora because all the little bacteria in your gut eat it (check out this informative infographic from Scientific American), but I think it's worth talking about because so much emerging research is examining the impact of the microbiota on our health. It effects everything--our weight, our mood, our nerves and of course, our gut. For a quick article on the microbiome's impact on our overall health, click here.

So how was this study designed? The took a group of Italians and broke them down by eating pattern: vegan, vegetarian and omnivore. Most of the vegans and vegetarians and about 30% of the omnivores followed a Mediterranean-style eating pattern. They then assessed the health of the gut flora and determined that the more vegetables and fiber you eat, the healthier your microbiome. If you follow a vegan Mediterranean diet, your intestinal bacteria will be the healthiest, but if you follow an omnivore Mediterranean diet, you won't be doing too badly. And of course, the more meat you eat, especially red meat, the worse off your gut flora will be.

What are the practical implications? Eat vegetables at lunch and dinner, and snack on fruits and nuts. Eat beans most days, whether it's refried beans with tacos, hummus with carrot sticks or a garbanzo beans in a curry chicken stew. And eat whole grains like whole wheat bread, quinoa, millet, brown rice and bulgur. I know this all seems like old hat, but changing this one thing can drastically improve your mental and physical health.  You could have more energy, suffer less depression and have an easier time losing weight (if that's one of your goals). An apple a day really can keep the doctor away.

Want more science? Check out my posts on non-celiac gluten sensitivity and FODMAPs here and here.

Want more Mediterranean diet-style recipes? Before Baby has a fantastic balance of vegetable-rich recipes, plus a little meat.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Salmon Cakes with Sriracha Mayo and Ratatouille

I've started and stopped writing this post several times over the past couple of weeks, never quite sure how to start or what to say. I want to write something peppy and merry about Fall or perhaps talk about all the great and wonderful activities we did over the summer but the truth is, we've suffered a tragedy and it's cast a pall over the Hoverter household. Ben, Teo and I are fine.  Well, mostly fine.  Teo is amazing, a vibrant soul with unimaginable energy.  It's his parents that are feeling a touch beat up.  Recovery has been slow, measured in inches rather than miles, but I know it's going to be OK because I'm cooking again.  Actually, saying I'm cooking again feels like an understatement: I'm spending hours and hours in the kitchen, taking copious amounts of time preparing our meals.  We have soups and stews and casseroles and fresh stir fries and salad and bread.  When I'm feeling particularly anxious or stressed I bake cookies or brownies or muffins. We are eating so well.

This brings me to salmon cakes. These salmon cakes won't take you hours to cook.  They take minutes!  I got the recipe from The Kitchn so I will send you there for guidance on their actual preparation.  The only thing I would change after making the salmon cakes twice is that I like using two eggs instead of one. I feel like the cakes hold together better.  And the Sriracha mayo is a must.  If you don't have Sriracha, try mixing smoked paprika or another hot sauce with mayo.  The creamy spice finishes the dish and even Ben, who doesn't care for mayo, loved the dressing.

So, what did I serve with these delicious cakes? What is that indistinct brown blob in the back of the photo? Why, ratatouille of course. I've made Grilled Ratatouille in the past and honestly, that's the only time I've managed to take a decent picture of it.  Whenever I make it in the oven, which is my preferred method, it's a giant brown heap, albeit a delicious giant brown heap. I cribbed off of Mark Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything, though ratatouille is so simple, you can probably make it without even reading my barebones recipe.

I used Japanese eggplant because you don't need to peel and salt it.  You can really add any baking veggies you want, including yellow summer squash and bell peppers, but I used what I had in my fridge. If you choose to use large tomatoes, peel and seed them before adding them to the baking dish.

Oven Baked Ratatouille

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Roughly chop two medium zucchini, 4 Japanese eggplant, and one onion. Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper and scatter on the vegetables. Toss in two handfuls of cherry tomatoes, stems removed. Peel 4-5 cloves of garlic and add them to the vegetables. Drizzle on a generous amount of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and add a few whole oregano leaves or a pinch of dried oregano. Toss the vegetables gently with the oil and then roast for about an hour, stirring about every 15 minutes. The vegetables should be tender and falling apart when the dish is finished. Garnish with fresh basil and serve at room temperature or slightly warm.


Want more awesome recipes? Check out my book, Before Baby, today!