Anti-Inflammatory Recipe: Spiced Squash with Cashews

There are two things that I am just absolutely head over heels for right now: acorn squash and ghee.  On their own, they’re both pretty freaking great... but the combo is legit OUT OF THIS WORLD.  This is hands down, my favorite fall combo this year (aside from a great boots and scarf combo, of course).Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you know what acorn squash is, but just in case you don’t (no judgment zone), I’m talking about this guy:

anti-inflammatory recipe
anti-inflammatory recipe

It’s squash season, so you should have no problem finding acorn squash in your local grocery store.

But, there’s a good chance you’re asking yourself, “What the heck is ghee?”

Ghee is “clarified butter” traditionally used in Indian cooking (note: I use the quotation marks because there’s a little more to the preparation process).  Ghee contains vitamins A, D, E and K, lipids that have anti-infective properties, and acids which have anti-viral and anti-carcinogenic properties, as well as omega 3 fatty acids.  Due to its preparation process, which removes all the milk solids, ghee is lactose and casein-free, perfect for our dairy-intolerant friends.  

Perhaps most importantly, though, ghee is known to be an effective carrier of lipid-soluble nutrients.  Herbs and spices coated in ghee can easily penetrate lipid-based cell walls in the body, where you really get the most bang for your buck – which is why this Anti-Inflammatory recipe is such a powerhouse.

You can get ghee in most natural food stores, or Whole Paycheck, but I’m personally really digging on OMGhee, which can be purchased right from the comfort of your own kitchen table.  It’s a bit pricey, but well worth the investment.

Ghee is still a form of saturated fat, so use it sparingly... it’s recommended to use no more than 2 tbsp per day.

Anti-Inflammatory Recipe: Spiced Squash with Cashews*

Makes 6 side-dish servings

½ tsp ground cumin½ tsp sweet paprika¼ tsp turmericPinch of cayenne pepper¾ lb (1 medium sized) acorn squash1 tbsp ghee2 tbsp chopped roasted cashews

1.    Half and remove seeds from squash and bake for approximately 30 minutes at 400oF (until soft)2.    Remove from oven and let cool, approximately 10 minutes3.    Scoop squash from skin and cube4.    Toss squash with spice mixture5.    Heat ghee over medium heat and add squash6.    Mash squash with a spoon as you stir, until completely mashed

*Recipe modified from Eating By Color for Maximum Health, Williams-Sonoma

What fall recipe or flavor combo are you totally digging right now?  Make sure to leave it in the comments so I can test it out (I double as a health food taste-tester in my spare time!).

Olive Oil vs. Vegetable Oil: What's better?

“What's your take on olive oil vs. vegetable oil?”

Last week this question was asked on my Facebook page.  I put together a quick response then, but felt that the question really warranted something more detailed. 

Oils (and fats) are a touchy subject in the health world.  There’s lots of conflicting information and misnomers due to “low fat” and “fat free” food labeling.  Your body absolutely needs some fat sources, the trick is incorporating healthy sources.  This week, I’m comparing olive oil and vegetable oil.  Spoiler alert: olive oil is the clear winner in my book.


Olive Oil

The Source:Olive oil comes guess it: Olives.  High quality olive oils (virgin and extra virgin) come from pressing olives, while some lower quality olive oils can include chemical processing.

The Content: Olive oil has the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat of any edible oil.  You cou gan think of monounsaturated fats as a mix between polyunsaturated fats (unstable) and saturated fats (stable); monosaturated fats oxidize quickly, but not as quickly as polyunsaturated fats.

Quality olive oil also contains lots of antioxidants, substances that have provide cardiovascular and anti-cancer benefits, including Vitamin E, carotenoids, and phenolic compounds.

Body Benefits: Olive oil’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects promote heart health and protect against cancer.   

Since monounsaturated fat is more stable than polyunsaturated fat, it is less likely to generate the free radicals that create “bad” cholesterol, aka LDL. LDL damages blood vessels and can create changes in genes that may lead to cancer. Olive oil does not contain omega-3 fatty acids, but it does help to strengthen omega-3’s anti-inflammatory effects.  Research suggests monounsaturated oils cause less production of the bile acids in the digestive tract that promote colon cancer development and may help to control insulin and blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for diabetics.

Vegetable Oil

The Source: Vegetable oils are extracted from seeds like the rapeseed (canola oil), soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, etc.  Vegetable oils can’t be extracted by pressing or naturally separating; they must be chemically removed, deodorized, and altered.  It should also be noted that commercial vegetable oils may be a hybrid of multiple oil sources.

The Content:Vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fats, the least stable of the fats.  Polyunsaturated fats oxidize easily in the body and cause inflammation and mutation in cells

Let’s put oxidation into perspective for a second.  What do you get when iron is exposed to air and oxidizes?  RUST.  When polyunsaturated fats oxidize in your body, they create “internal rust”.   Doesn’t sound good, does it?

Body Benefits: Polyunsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol, however, due to their unstable nature, monounsaturated fats are preferred.  Vegetable oils, specifically, may contain omega-6 fatty acids.  Maintaining a good omega-3 to omega-6 ratio (approximately 1:1) in the body is important (many people are deficient in omega-3).  Consumption of vegetable oils can lead to too much omega-6 fats, throwing the omega-3:omega-6 ratio off balance, which can cause inflammation and increase cancer risk.

Tips for Selecting, Storing and Using Olive Oil

olive oil
olive oil
  • Virgin is best. Extra virgin means that the oil was not produced through chemical means; only by mechanical (pressing) means.  This makes EVOO the best quality olive oil, since being pressed without heat preserves antioxidants.
  • Go with quality.  Top quality extra-virgin olive oil has a natural peppery finish and a deep aroma of grass and artichoke.
  • Lights Out. Heat, light and air can affect the taste and health-promoting nutrient quality of olive oil.  Purchase oil in a dark bottle and store it in a dark, room-temperature cupboard, or even in the refrigerator.  The fats, nutrients, and taste can degrade over time, so its recommended to use it within a six months to a year once opened.
  • Drop it low.  Olive oil has a low smoke point and is best used over medium to low heat.  For higher temp cooking, like stir frying or pan searing, I recommend using coconut oil.

In the comments, tell me what other questions you have about oils and fats.  Let’s bust through to the truth together.

Feed Your Head. Vitamins for your brain.

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"

I’m a HUGE proponent of using food as medicine; what we put in to our bodies has a major impact on how we feel and what we’re capable of accomplishing.  So, it should come as no surprise, that the idea that certain foods or dietary additions could keep your mind sharp today and help to prevent diseases in the future GETS ME EXCITED.

For me, this is a topic that hits close to home: I have a family history of Alzheimer’s.  I’ve seen the disease up close and personal and it SCARES THE CRAP OUT OF ME.  But, history or no history, the stats are downright frightening:

According to the 2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, women over age 65 have about a 1 in 5 chance of suffering from Alzheimer’s, while men of the same age have about a 1 in 10 chance (note: researchers believe the discrepancy is related to life expectancy, not to gender).

These risks are only expected to INCREASE OVER TIME.

Maybe a future risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s doesn't grab you, so let’s look a little shorter term and closer to homeIn our fast-paced, tech-driven society, our ability to think, comprehend, reason, plan, and execute is what keeps most of us employed.   YOUR BRAIN IS YOUR LIVELIHOOD.  What could be more important than that?

There’s so much great info on this topic that I've decided to give you the goods in a five part series.  Today’s topic: VITAMINS

Vitamins can be overwhelming – there are so many out there.  I’m here to tell you what you need for brain health and how to get it naturally – no pills necessary!

Vitamin E

Why you need it: Good ol’ vitamin E is an antioxidant.  Antioxidants protect cells from free radicals, which are formed as the body converts food to energy.  Vitamin E neutralizes the free radicals, protecting your cells.

Where you’ll find it: Nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, spinach, broccoli, mangoes, sweet potatoes

How much you need for a healthy brain*: 8 milligrams per day (think 1.5 ounces of almonds)


Why you need it: Folate is a key component of the folate cycle (go-figure!).   A folate deficiency can lead to excess homocystein.  High levels of homocystein have been linked to brain atrophy and Alzheimer’s.

Where you’ll find it: Peanuts, beans, lentils, leafy greens, corn, asparagus

How much you need*: 0.8 milligrams per day (think ½ cup cooked spinach)

Vitamin B6

Why you need it: Studies indicate B6 may improve memory and increase attention.  It also regulates mood, prevents mental fatigue, helps the brain produce serotonin, and helps the body make hemoglobin, the part of your blood that carries energy-boosting oxygen to the brain and other organs. Vitamin B-6 may also improve your memory.

Where you’ll find it: Chickpeas, potatoes, fish, beef liver, and non-citrus fruits (like bananas)

How much you need*: 20 milligrams per day (multiple sources needed)

Vitamin B12

Why you need it: Similar to folate, B12 is a key component of the folate cycle and deficiencies cause excess homocysteine.

Where you’ll find it: Animal-derived (fish and shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products) and fermented foods

How much you need*: 0.5 milligrams per day (multiple sources needed)

 *Quantities needed are only those identified as beneficial to brain health; additional may be required as recommended daily value

Stay tuned for parts 2 through 5 of this series on brain health!  Until next week, feed your head!