Almonds 101

OK, time to have your mind blown…

An almond is not a nut. It’s a drupe – like a coconut. A drupe is a fruit that has an outer fleshy part that surrounds a pit (or stone), with a seed inside this pit. Typical drupes (also known as stone fruits) include olives, peaches, plums, cherries pistachios, coffee, and dates. True nuts are hard-shelled pods that have a plant’s seed and fruit within a single hard casing. Examples of nuts are chestnuts, hazelnuts, and acorns.

However, these distinctions are botanical, not culinary. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, we’ll refer to almonds as ‘nuts’ , as this is the typical custom in English. (The word ‘nut’ is tricky to translate into other languages for this reason).

Regardless of botanical distinctions, almonds are nutritiously awesome.

Nutritional Data

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Almonds are loaded with monounsaturated fats, the healthy fats found in olive oil and avocados. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders suggested that an almond-enriched low calorie diet can help overweight individuals shed pounds more effectively than a low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates.

Here are three more reasons to eat almonds:

Be more alkaline - Almonds are the only nut and one of the few proteins that are alkaline forming when you digest them. Many studies have shown the benefits of diets focused on alkaline forming foods.

Boost your brain - Almonds contain riboflavin and L-carnitine. These are nutrients that aid you in your brain activity.

Stabalize your blood sugar - Almonds lower the rise in blood sugar and insulin after meals.

 

How to Toast Almonds

 

Preheat oven to 350F.

Spread almonds in shallow pan.

Place pan in oven for 20-30 minutes

 

Make Your Own Almond Milk

Ingredients

1.5 cups almonds

4 cups water

Maple syrup (optional)

Honey (optional)

Vanilla (optional)

 

Gear

Blender

Cheese cloth

Big mason jar

Wood spoon

Strainer

 

Directions

Soak almonds for 4 hours. Overnight is best for them to blend easiest.

Blend with 1.5 cups water. Start with slow speed and work your way up. Stir occassionally with wood spoon. Go for 1-2 minutes.

Add any honey, maple syrup, or vanilla, if you are feeling like sweets. Add rest of water. Blend again.

Pour through the strainer.

Hold cheese cloth over top of big mason jar. Pour through cheese cloth.

Chill.

Enjoy.

 

Make Your Own Almond Butter

This is an endurance workout. You’ll deserve every dense calorie of goodness. Patience is rewarded.

Ingredients

3 cups almonds

Directions

Soak almonds for 4 hours. Overnight is best for them to blend easiest.

Put in food processor or blender.

Process for 20 minutes, using wooden spoon to stir often.

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picture credit: secretly healthy

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Eat Your Crucifers

A Closer Look at Brassica Oleracea aka Super-Veggies

by Jason Jaksetic

What do kale, broccoli, and brussels sprouts have in common? That is, besides being damn flavorful, densely nutritious, and hearty vegetables? They all fall under the umbrella of being Brassica oleracea.

Brassica oleracea is a species of the plant kingdom that contains some of the most nutritionally dense foods that you can pick up in the produce section of your local food store or co-op. Another common term for these species of plants as they relate to human consumption is cruciferous vegetables (or crucifers). Whatever you decide to call them, just file them away in your mind as ‘good foods’. In short, eat more cruciferous vegetables. So, what exactly is a crucifer?

In nature, when speaking of Brassica oleracea, or crucifers, one is speaking of wild cabbages. But in your diet (unless you gather your own wild cabbage), this species of plant boils down to a common vegetables that have been cultivated for human consumption for thousands of years, examples of which are cabbage, kale, broccoli, bok choy, collards, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.

It is thought that humans have been eating crucifers since the most ancient of times, but the first documentations of their cultivation for food can be traced back to the Greeks, specifically to the writings of Theophrastus (a guy who not only studied with Plato in his youth, but took over the Peripatetic school of philosophy after Aristotle – a very smart fellow, who obviously understood the importance of these vegetables)[1].

From the standpoint of your palate, these beefy vegetables are big on flavor. Some people find that they are, too, flavorful, in fact, and are taken off guard by the intensity of vegetable taste that has been lost in our contemporary diets of processed sweets, sugars, and syrups. They are like the steaks of vegetables – thick, luscious, and something dense to sink your teeth into. They fill you up like few items from the garden can. They make a soup a meal. They make a salad a feast. Stir fry them with rice, and you might be too full to worry about having to prepare a meat. However, they are not only big on taste, they are big on nutrition, delivering huge amounts of the vital elements that make your body go, and keep your immune and cardiovascular system in great shape.

Generally speaking, crucifers are noteworthy for a few reasons:

- They contain a type of flavonoid that activates liver detoxifying enzymes.[2]

- Crucifers are high in vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants.

- They regulate white blood cells and cytokines. White blood cells are the scavengers of your immune system, while the cytokines are the messengers that coordinate the activities of the immune system’s cells, in general.[3]

- They are great preventative weapons against cancer.

Cancer Fighting Properties of Cruciferous Vegetables

Most research and documentation about crucifers focuses on the anti-cancer qualities of these vegetables. A review of research published in the October 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that 70% or more of the studies found a link between cruciferous vegetables and protection against cancer.[4] These studies ranged from examinations of reductions in oxidative stress (the overload of harmful molecules that called oxygen-free radicals) to the benefits of phytochemicals (specifically sulforaphane, which stimulates the enzymes involved in detoxification of carcinogens).

In short, the badass nature of these vegetables in the anti-cancer realm is well documented. Do some research and you’ll find more reasons to eat crucifers that you’ll fell like reading.

Nutritional Values of Common Crucifers

A quick peak at the nutritional values of common crucifers. [5]

How to Cook Crucifers

Like with most things Spartan, less is more. Raw consumption of these vegetables insures that you are getting the most of the good stuff, without breaking down and boiling away the good stuff (like phytochemicals). Light steaming is second best to raw. But, ultimately, just eat your crucifers, your body will thank you.

Tips for Including More Crucifers in your Diet

- Use kale on your sandwiches instead of lettuce
- Scooping hummus? Use broccoli or cauliflower.
- Add them to soups and salads alike.

A Spartan Crucifer Recipe: Kale, Broccoli and Sweet Potato Soup

Kale, Broccoli, and Potato Soup

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
6 garlic bulbs, chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, chopped
2 broccoli crowns, chopped
3 cups of chopped kale
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon of fresh or dried thyme

Directions
In large sauce pan heat up olive oil. Add chopped onion, garlic, and sweet potatoes. Saute on medium heat for 5-10 minutes.
Add vegetable broth, water, salt, and thyme. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and then let simmer 10-15 minutes.
Add broccoli and kale, and let simmer additional 10 minutes before serving.

 

 

[1]Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of plants in the Old World, third edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 199.
[2]Trivieri, Larry, John W. Anderson, and Burton Goldberg. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2002. Print.
[3]Ibid.
[4]Clinic-Feature, Elaine Magee, MPH, RDWebMD Weight Loss. “The Super-Veggies: Cruciferous Vegetables.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
[5]Ibid.

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Spartan Thanksgiving Feast Week

 

This Thanksgiving try to these Spartan takes on traditional favorites.  Simply changing a few key ingredients can make these classic dishes into fitness friendly supplements to your training.  There is no reason to have your training and dieting plans derailed by the holiday – subscribe to the Spartan FOD and get recipes sent to your inbox daily.

Corn

Sweet corn is a gluten-free cereal, and may be used much like rice and quinoa by those with celiac disease and those wishing to maintain a gluten-free diet. In addition, corn is also a source of high quality fiber.

Spartan Roasted Corn

by Jason Jaksetic

60 minutes
Serves 4
140 calories per serving
Vegan, gluten-free

Ingredients

4 ears of corn
2 tablespoons of coconut oil
1 small onion
1 small garlic bulb
Salt and pepper

Directions

1.  Soak corn (still in husks) in water for 30 minutes.
2.  Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
3.  Chop up garlic cloves and onion into small pieces.
4.  Remove corn from husks.
5.  Rub coconut oil all over each ear of corn. The easiest way is to slather it on with your fingers.
6.  Put each ear of corn in a piece of foil along with 1/4 of your chopped garlic and onions.
7.  Salt and pepper everything and then wrap up your corn, garlic, and onions in the foil.
8.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 F, unwrap, and serve.

Cranberries

Following decreased risk of urinary tract infections, increased health of the cardiovascular system is perhaps the best-researched area of the health benefits of including cranberries into your diet. The combined impact of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found in cranberries help ensure that your cardio will be top notch.

Healthified Cranberry Sauce

by Andrew Thomas

20-30 minutes
Serves 3-5
Vegan, gluten-free

Ingredients

3 cups of cranberries
2 oranges
1/3 cup of honey
1/4 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons of nutmeg

Directions

1.  Peel orange, remove white rind, and chop into 1/2″ pieces.
2.  Add cranberries, orange pieces, honey, water and spices to saucepan.
3.  Bring to boil.
4.  Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring every now and then.
5.  Remove from heat and pour into bowl. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

Potatoes

Potatoes are a great source of vitamin B6, which plays numerous roles in our nervous system, many of which involve our neurological activity. B6 is necessary for the creation of amines, a type of messaging molecule or neurotransmitter that the nervous system relies on to transmit messages from one nerve to the next.  Potatoes also contain healthy doses of iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, copper and potassium.

Rosemary and Garlic Mashed Potatoes

by Andrew Thomas

25 minutes
4-6 servings
Vegetarian, gluten-free

Ingredients

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons of organic butter
4 tablespoons of organic heavy cream
1 teaspoon of olive oil
3 cloves of fresh garlic
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper

Directions

1.  Put potatoes into a saucepan. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add water until potatoes are covered. Bring to boil.
2.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes.
3.  Warm cream and melt butter together in a pan on the stove.
4.  Drain water from potatoes. Put hot potatoes into a bowl.
5.  Add cream and melted butter. Use potato masher or fork to mash potatoes until desired consistency.
6.  Dice garlic and rosemary, then add to mashed potatoes. Mix thoroughly and serve!

Turkey

Plan a wicked hard workout before sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, for there are about 32g of protein in a 4-oz. serving of turkey, making it a solid source of essential amino acids. In fact, just one serving of turkey provides 65 percent of your recommended daily intake of protein.

Turkey is also considered a good source of vitamins B3 and B6. A serving of turkey meat has 36 percent of the daily allowance of B3 and 27 percent of your recommended intake of B6. Additionally, turkey also contains selenium, which is essential for the healthy function of the thyroid and immune system, and also plays a role in your antioxidant defense system, helping to eliminate free radicals from your body.

Spartan Turkey

by Andrew Thomas

3-4 hours
4-6 servings
Gluten free

Ingredients

12 lb turkey
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F. Rub the lemon juice, salt, and pepper on outside of the turkey.
2.  Place the turkey breast side down in a shallow roasting pan. Roast un-stuffed turkey 3.  for 15 minutes for each pound.
4.  45 minutes before it is done, measure the internal temperature with a thermometer. 5.  When it reaches 125°F, turn the turkey and increase the oven temperature to 400°F for the remaining roasting time.
6.  The turkey is cooked once its internal temperature reads 165°-170°F while the thermometer is inserted into the mid-thigh.
7.  When it is done, place turkey on a large platter and let it sit for 15-20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to be redistributed and the meat to become moist throughout.

Pumpkin

Make pumpkin a part of this holiday season and harvest for yourself the benefits of its mood enhancing amino acid tryptophan – a serotonin boosting agent that can positively affect your mood.

Pumpkin Mango Pudding

by Rose Marie Jarry 

15 minutes
2 servings
154 calories per serving
Gluten-free, vegan

Ingredients

1 cup of frozen diced mango
1 cup of cooked pumpkin
2 tablespoons of chia seeds
1 tablespoon of agave syrup

Directions

1.  Blend together the fruits and agave syrup.
2.  Add the chia seeds, and mix well.
3.  Serve immediately or refrigerate for a more jellylike texture.

Cinnamon

When cooking desserts, reach for sweet and savory cinnamon. Seasoning a high carb food with cinnamon can help lessen its impact on your blood sugar levels. This is because cinnamon slows the rate at which the stomach empties after a meal, thus reducing a rise in blood sugar after eating.

Cinnamon Apple Crisps

by Andrew Thomas

40 minutes
Serves 6-8
Vegan, gluten-free

Ingredients

6 apples, peeled
1 lemon, juiced
1 cup of almond flour
1/4 cup of coconut oil
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Directions

1.  Peel and slice the apples, then lay them into a 9 X 11 baking dish.
2.  Squeeze lemon juice onto the apples to prevent browning.
3.  In a bowl, mix the almond flour, coconut oil, maple syrup, cinnamon, and sea salt, 4.  until it resembles a crumble.
5.  Sprinkle crumble over the apples, and place in the oven at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.
6.  Remove from oven, let cool, and indulge!

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