Sunday, August 12, 2018

Why I Don't Promote Superfoods

Disclaimer: I'm feeling extra frisky and real about food stuff right now because I discovered Anthony Warner’s book The Angry Chef’s Guide to Spotting Bullsh*t in the World of Food: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating while at Powell’s, and just spent a week talking and thinking about food justice.

Since declaring myself a student of human nutrition 7 years ago and even more since graduating, one of the most frequent questions I'm asked is “have you heard about ~insert “super food” here~? I eat it every day and… ~person goes on to list incredibly vague and predictable benefits that would naturally come along with increasing their consumption of plain old water or literally any kind of fruit or vegetable~”.  Cue smiling and nodding as I say “I mean yeah I love açaí bowls but they're expensive so I just stick to Kirkland Signature’s frozen three berry blend”.

If you haven't figured out my opinion on this topic at this point, join me in this activity and continue reading below:

Go ahead and take a minute to search the tag “super food" on Instagram. What do you see? Açaí bowls, pitaya, matcha, chia seeds, quinoa… Perfectly assembled, lushly colorful, and wildly “exotic” looking dishes promoted as a magical, superior food that will bring you new vitality that things like apples, oranges, and tomatoes can't. And while these “super food” recipes are generally healthy, they carry their own toxicity that affects and exploits the communities who traditionally use or produce “super foods”, and perpetuates the idea that truly healthy food is an expensive luxury. In fact, “super foods” are just what I consider to be one of the most ingenious (and diabolical) marketing ploys in all of history.

Western “Super Foods" are Other Cultures’ Sacred and Staple Foods.

Quinoa is the first food that comes to mind when I think about this. Quinoa has been a staple crop in the Andes mountain region for thousands of years. The indigenous people in this region have used it for feeding livestock and themselves and it is considered the “mother of grains” by the Incas. Clearly, they knew how incredible quinoa was long before nutrition science was even a thought. But wouldn't you know, when Spanish colonists arrived, quinoa was deemed “Indian’s food” and replaced with wheat. Understanding this history and the history of other foods is important in knowing that no, no one “discovered” (or rediscovered) quinoa or any other “super food". They have always been there, and I hope that they will remain and the cultural significance of these foods will never be erased and replaced.

“Super Food” Production is Environmentally Unsustainable and Workers are often Exploited.

One of the reasons I stopped eating meat two years ago was because of the heavy burden large-scale agriculture has on land and natural resources, and for the treatment and conditions workers in the meat industry experience. However, even plant-based foods suck up plenty of resources on their own, and it's no secret that migrant workers in agriculture have been heavily taken advantage of and abused for decades now. Growing up in Arizona, even as a child, as we would drive past fields of watermelon or lettuce in the middle of the day in July, I always thought of how awful it must be to be directly under the sun for so long but still have little to show for the work you were doing. Unfortunately, unless you've grown it yourself or source your food from a an ethical local farmer, most of the food anyone eats anywhere in the world today is very likely the product of the exploitation of another human. Avocados, for example (I know, I know), take up massive amounts of water in California, and avo farmers in Mexico are under control of drug cartels. Often times, when a “super food” is commercialized, the original community who consumed it is no longer able to afford their own product. Here in Hawai’i, for example, it's cheaper for coffee farmers to purchase others’ coffee than to use their own.

“Super Foods” Create and Promote Classist Ideas in Food

I've heard it many times in conversation: “bougie” restaurants serving “Buddha bowls” overflowing with quinoa and locally-grown sprouted peas, açaí bowls topped with going berries and ancient grain granola, free-range grilled chicken breasts artfully sliced and resting on a bed of baby kale. There's an air of exclusivity and superiority because a restaurant uses buzzwords, hangs air plants from fishing line and uses windows instead natural lighting. Now, I do appreciate that oftentimes, restaurants like this are more expensive because they are trying to source ingredients from farms that treat their workers with dignity and pay fair wages, but to market it (and it really is all marketing) as the only true way to be healthy is flat out wrong. I've had many a conversation with concerned parents and peers about how they can't eat healthy because it's too expensive. And what I've realized is that what we consider “poor people's food” is also what we consider “unhealthy” or of low nutritional or culinary quality. I'm always the first to remind people that at one point in America’s history, lobsters were food for animals (seriously), prisoners, and the poor. Lobsters then were no different than lobsters now. There are just less of them (thanks, overfishing) and now they're considered a delicacy. Think back on quinoa being “Indian’s food” but is now $6 per pound compared to brown rice averaging $2.50 per pound. And for the record, brown rice has 5 grams of protein per cup, compared with 4.4 grams in quinoa. Neither grain is “superior” to the other, but the accessibility of the grains is different, and quinoa is trendy, so it ends up more expensive. Does this mean we should produce more quinoa so everyone can have it? Not necessarily. That would take up even more resources that we really don't have to use. Instead, creating awareness of how amazing the “everyday”, accessible food is that is already being over-produced really is. And while shelf-stable versions like grains and beans are by far the most affordable, fresh foods can be accessible, as well. And the availability of beautiful, healthy, every day food is different in every community. In Arizona, kale was one of our top crops and I could get amazing, organic kale for 99 cents a bunch whenever I wanted. So that is what I encouraged people to eat as a green if they enjoyed eating it. However, in Hawai'i, conventional kale can be as much as $5 per bunch, so if someone was trying to budget for food, I honestly would never recommend kale as something you “need”. The objective, nutritional value of the kale hasn't changed, but the availability of it has. So I choose more locally available “staple” crops now that I live in Hawai’i. The idea of “super foods” suggests that without these very specific types of foods in your diet, you're missing some magical nutrient and it will be all your fault when you die an early death because you didn't (see: couldn't afford to) make it a staple in your diet. That idea is NOT true, by the way.

I could go on about this forever, and I have in the past, so if you're curious to know more about my feelings about what constitutes a healthy food, check into my past posts on both my Instagram and on the written blog. A good place to start are my posts “What Is Health” and “What is Healthy Food”.

Finally, please do understand that I'm not saying you can't or shouldn't consume these types of foods (not really my place). It's obvious by a quick glance at my Instagram feed that I do eat a lot of these foods, but you'll never see me promoting them as superior to another food or a necessity to have a complete diet, but rather an option to try if you have the means to do so. I firmly believe thay food is one of the best ways to connect people and learn about other cultures. But I do encourage you to remain mindful and understand where they come from, their value outside of America's “super food/diet culture”, how to source them ethically and responsibly, and know that when it comes to whole foods, just like people, no food is superior - rather, every food has components that are important and useful, and we need a variety of these foods to nourish and sustain our bodies optimally.

Also, learning the history of all types of foods is super interesting all on its own. I very much encourage you to research into the origins of food we consider “common” today. For example, potatoes are pretty significant culturally for both my Irish and Latin roots. Also, I believe that our bodies probably function best when given foods that our ancestors ate, both because of genetics and the practices surrounding the food itself.

For more information on how to create and engage in a more fair food system, check out these links:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Peanut Buttery Chickpea Blondies


After making the super decadent, but still good-for-you dark chocolate black bean brownies from Straight Outta Compston’s Kitchen, I got super inspired to try using other beans in desserts. Back home in Arizona, I used to buy a dessert hummus which was oh-so tasty and guilt-free, so I knew chickpeas lent themselves well to be used for sweets, too.

And while beanie desserts might seem like a strange, or even desperate push by health professionals and food bloggers in America to get us all to improve our diets, beans are commonplace in desserts in other countries.  In Japan, what we know as beans in the west (pulses, by definition) are a very common dessert item. Sweetened azuki beans are used as toppings for ice cream, or mashed into a paste to fill pastries and mochi.

There's a crepe café here on the Big Island serving matcha crepes filled with adzuki beans, and they are amazing! In Dominican culture, there is a dessert called habichuelas con dulce, translating to sweet cream of beans which is typically prepared around Lent.
Photo from Goya. Click for recipe.

Dessert bars like brownies, blondies, and cookie cakes were born in the USA. But there's nothing stopping us from twisting them up a little bit to make them better for us. The best thing about bean-based bars is that you can have them as a dessert OR for breakfast 😉
So embrace the bean, and give my gooey, peanut-buttery blondies a try!

Peanut Butter Chickpea Blondies
(Makes 9 bars)

Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 35 minutes

1 can organic, no-sodium chickpeas
½ cup aquafaba (liquid from the chickpeas)
¼ cup coconut oil
¾ cup creamy peanut butter*
¾ cup raw sugar
½ cup brown rice protein powder
3 tbsp ground flax + ⅓ cup water OR 2 eggs
½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt

*If making these for someone with peanut or treenut allergies, use 2 tbsp coconut milk and 1/2 cup shredded coconut for a friendly twist. Or try these with sunflower seed butter!

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F and oil a 9” x 9” pan.
  2. If making the vegan version, combine ground flax seeds and water in a small bowl and let sit for 5-6 minutes.
  3. Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor. Blend until the batter is a smooth consistency.

  1. Pour batter into greased baking dish and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top appears dry and begins to crack.

  1. Allow to cool completely before cutting into 9 bars.
  2. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. These freeze well and will keep for 3-4 weeks in the freezer.

I really enjoy these reheated in the toaster oven with some chia jam on top. It makes for a fun pb&j bar, and the jam adds a little extra sweetness to the bar! You could also try swirling strawberry jam into the batter before baking, or add dark chocolate chunks to the batter!
If you weren't already enjoying beans in your deaserde, o hope I've opened your eyes to the possibilities and potential that my favorite fibery food contains! Does your family or heritage have bean-based desserts? Share in the comments! I would love to hear and learn all about it!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

National Minority Health Month

Did you know April is National Minority Health Month in the United States? This month, the Office of Minority Health will be raising awareness of the health disparities in the United States, and celebrating some of the work that is being done to improve healthcare for all.

What is a health disparity? There are two types: access to health care and health status. The first focuses on the differences groups of people may have to healthcare resources, like doctors, hospitals, and nutrition education. The second covers the differences between groups in health outcomes like disease and disabilities.

Unfortunately, even though the US is a developed nation, health disparities do exist here, and minority communities tend to be in the bubbles where health disparities take effect. From my standpoint, having access  nutritious food and education could be considered healthcare disparities.
Our dietary patterns can have a direct impact on our health outcomes throughout life. Accessibility to nutritious food and nutrition education can have an impact on those outcomes, especially for sensitive communities who are disproportionately affected by chronic disease.

For example, African American people are more likely to develop high blood pressure, but are also less likely to receive the proper treatment for it than their white counterparts (1). Type II diabetes is an epidemic amongst those of Native American descent, and obesity, heart disease, and type II diabetes are all prevalent in Hispanic populations, as well (1).
Proper nutrition is incredibly important for everyone to have access to, as it works as preventive health care for these diseases. However, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Health Disparities and Inequalities Report, access to grocers is most limited in rural, low-income, and minority-heavy communities (2).

Food deserts are a concept that people are becoming more aware of, and there are several movements in place now to try to serve areas where access to good food is scarce. There are mobile food trucks bringing fresh produce to urban and rural areas across the nation, community gardens are becoming more and more popular, and there are programs incentivizing grocers who build in underserved areas. However, simply having access to healthful food isn't the only thing that needs to happen for these communities.

There are lots of factors that contribute to our food choices. Accessibility is a big one, but a person’s social and cultural surroundings, environment, language barriers, disabilities, age, gender, employment, and level of education all effect what they do with that accessibility (3).
One study showed that although two different neighborhoods - one wealthier and with a better educated, majority white population, the other low-income with more minority groups who on average hadn't received the same level of education - had similar foods in their local grocers, the choices people in each neighborhood made reflected access disparities (3). While there were more healthful choices at the first neighborhood's stores, the second neighborhood still had access to a lot of the same foods being offered, but those foods weren't being purchased.
The biggest influence on the disparities in this example was actually education, not access.
What we can do as nutrition professionals to improve is tailor our education to fit the needs of different groups of people.

It's impossible to pinpoint a single reason for nutrition disparities, as the people who comprise “minority people” in the US cover countless ethnicities and cultures. It isn't right, even, to apply the same intervention practices to people of the same ethnicity but from different countries. One study saw better diet-related behaviors and health outcomes in men of Cuban-American descent when compared with men of Mexican-American descent (1).
One form of  successful intervention was the concept of peer education. I strongly believe that customizing education to be culturally relevant and to have an awareness of other factors, like access, is important when reaching out.

Peer education is promising because it includes individuals from an area and engages them with others from their same community. The peer teachers are given a training, usually over a weekend, and share what they've learned. Who understands the needs of a specific neighborhood and group of people better than someone who has grown up or lived there for a very long time?

When looking at this in practice, a study performed in a hispanic community asked older women, who were seen as abuela (grandmother) figures in their community, to teach nutrition to young mothers (4). Six months later, the young women who responded to a follow-up survey reported that they maintained a more nutritious diet after the education (4). Positive outcomes were seen in how type II diabetes was being managed and in breastfeeding amongst those who were included in the study (4).

On an individual level, we all have differences in our lives: where we grew up, how we were raised, the level of our education, and where we live now. There is no denying that in the US, there is an underlying system which pushes minority people into lower income areas and creates disparities in education and health. But we can change that. We can start with education. I am raising awareness of this issue by writing about it here. Embrace your own family's cultural heritage by cooking food from it. Make healthy amendments to family recipes.

If you are interested in getting more involved in food justice and serving in your local community, try reaching out to food banks, community gardens, and leaders in the food and nutrition industry in your area.

Some places to help you start:



Saturday, March 31, 2018

Birds' Nest Easter Macaroons

Another Easter treat here, this time featuring coconut, macnuts, and chocolate. Name a better trio. I'll wait.

These delicate coconut macaroon nests are the perfect lightly sweet, all-natural treat that you have just enough time to make in time for tomorrow, because they are so. simple! They're so cute and impressive, no one will know it took less than 20 minutes from start to finish to put these little nests together. Plus, they're entirely vegan so long as you use vegan chocolate, so they're safe and fun for even those with dairy and egg allergies to enjoy.

Bird's Nest Easter Macaroons
20 minutes
Makes 12 macaroons

1.5 cups unsweetened dessicated coconut
3 tbsp agave or maple syrup
1.5 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp coconut milk
1 tsp spirulina powder
¼ tsp vanilla extract

12 raw macadamia nuts
2 tbsp vegan dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350° and grease a baking sheet with coconut oil.

Add all ingredients to the base of a blender or food processor and pulse until the coconut shreds are consistently green and everything sticks together loosely, like rice.

If you're using a blender, this will probably take a little extra work on your part to shake things up and mix the ingredients with a spoon to ensure that everything gets hit by the blades evenly.

Using a round tablespoon measure, scoop and gently pack the mixture, depositing onto the sheet pan. Using your thumb or a ½ teaspoon measurer, gently press on the top of each mound to make an indent. You might have to re-pack the nests a little, but I found that they kept their shape pretty well.

Bake for 8 minutes, or until the bottoms of the macaroons are toasty brown. Your kitchen will smell amazing.

While the macaroons cool, melt the dark chocolate using 15-second intervals in the microwave. When melted, dip one side of the macadamia nuts into the chocolate and place into the indent on each macaroon. The chocolate helps the macnuts stick to the macaroons and makes them that much tastier.

Kids will love the fun, springy green colors these get from the spirulina, and they might even enjoy helping to make the nests!

For those with nut allergies, leave out the macnuts and just use chocolate instead.
You can also skip the nest-making and simply bake these as mounds, drizzling chocolate over the tops after baking.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Sweet Saturday - Psychedelicious Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Nicecream

I'm well aware that the past several recipes I've shared have been desserts. What can I say? My dream job in high school was to be a baker (and I've worked at a couple bakeries), so making sweet things is a habit I have yet to break. At least these desserts are healthy-ish, right?!

This recipe comes from the Kona Avocado Festival I went to a few weekends ago. Loko Wraps, a local restaurant here in West Hawai'i, brought an avo-mazing chocolate açaí bowl AND the super rad dude working there shared the recipe! So now, I'm sharing it with you, because it's seriously so. Freaking. GOOD. I added that funky swirl of almond buttery goodness because I'm obsessed with almond butter and also like to make things extra decadent.

The OG avo-sundae 😍

I've heard a lot about how the thought of avocado in something sweet and chocolatey is a turn-off. But when you think of how mild avocado is, when it's blended and masked with deep, dark, decadent chocolate, it really just turns into a creamy fat element just like heavy cream, minus the digestive system-destroying after effects of all of that lactose that comes with it. So, if you're lactose intolerant, I call that a win.

It all starts with some avocado and bananas. With avocado season seemingly in full swing on the Big Island, and banana trees firing off sweet yellow nuggets like there's no tomorrow, this ice cream recipe was the perfect opportunity for me to use up the abundance of free avos and bananas I've been blessed with by my hanai family and the school garden. With a couple of add-ins that just so happen to be staples in my pantry, and this recipe comes together within minutes - no heating or churning needed.

What you'll need:

Psychedelicious* Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Nicecream

1 ripe avocados, frozen
2 ripe bananas, frozen
1 cup (8 oz) coconut milk
1/4 cup dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
Cacao nibs
1/4 cup Almond or peanut butter for swirlin'

*No actual psychedelics used in recipe. That nutty swirl, tho 👌🏽

Since I don't own a food processor, I used a blender to make this. To make things easier, I mashed and froze my avocados inside of sandwich baggies, then cut the frozen squares into cubes to make for easier blending. I also cut the bananas into 1"-thick slices. If you're using a food processor, you can probably get away with just throwing everything in frozen and whole.


Add the avocado, bananas, coconut milk, and cocoa powder to the blender and, well, blend it. With my blender, I needed to mix everything up with a spoon in between pulses so that everything would get evenly blended and there would be no random avocado chunks floating around. It should have a very thick consistency, like buttercream frosting or cream cheese.

Scrape the mixture into a 9"x9" dish and place in the freezer, covered, until frozen, about an hour or so. You could also enjoy it straight out of the food processor like soft serve, but I think scooping it is more fun. 

If you want extras mixed in, drop a few tablespoons of nut butter on top of the nice cream and swirl it in with a knife. I also tossed some cacao nibs in and on top for a little extra crunch. I'm also pretty sure that there might have been some açaí juice in the original recipe, but honestly, I zoned out into a chocolate-induced trance whe homeboy was telling me because the ice cream was that good. 

Nevertheless, it was still delicious even with the absence of açaí as I made it today! 
Turn this into a sundae by topping with granola, nuts, coconut, berries, and whatever else your heart desires.

Just remember, this is still a dessert so watch your portions! This recipe (which is a half batch) makes 8 -1/2 cup servings! 

And I promise to share some more savory recipes soon. I've got some exciting plans upcoming for the blog as far as content goes, so stay tuned! 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pi Day/National RD Day!

⚫⚪Happy Pi Day!⚪⚫

In honor of the world's most delicious number (and National Registered Dietitian Day), I whipped up this beautiful, incredible, absolutely delectable plant-based French silk pie this morning 😍 it turned out so much better than I thought it would!

This pie uses a nut butter and oat-flour based crust to create a nutritious, gluten-free, high-fiber Graham cracker-like base for the creamy, dairy and egg-free chocolate pudding filling.

I'm beginning to realize I need more nut-allergy friendly recipes in my collection. After all, my mission is to enable all people to eat DELICIOUS, healthy meals, and a lot of the really tasty egg/gluten/dairy free recipes use nuts! If anyone has fun recommendations for ingredients, let me know!

🍪Oat Crust🍪
1/4 cup oats, blended into flour
1 tbsp almond butter (or whatever you've got!)
1 tsp cold water
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Sprinkle of salt

Blend the oats into a powder, or use store bought oat flour. Add to a bowl with the cinnamon and salt. Add the almond butter and mix with a fork until crumbly add water to make it stick together. Form into a round and bake at 400°F for 10 minutes.

🍫Chococado Filling🥑
1/2 avocado
1 perfectly ripe banana
1 tbsp chia seeds
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tbsp alt milk of your choice

Add all to a blender or food processor. Pulse, and add additional milk to thin out as needed to get things moving. It should have the consistency of pudding. The chia seeds help give it that thick, jiggly structure.

🥥Cocochia pudding
🍫Cacao nibs or chopped dark chocolate

As I was making this, I realized there are so many variations I could make with this. Lemon/lilikoi curd, apple, haupia... Get creative with what you like! But everyone loves chocolate, right? 😉😊

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pozole de Garbanzo (Plant-Based Pozole!)

I come from an Arizona family with roots in Central/South America and in New Mexico as chile farmers, and, having spent most of my beach-time in my life in Southern California, I've been spoiled my entire life with the best Mexican and Latin American food north of the border. So naturally, the most troubling thing about living in “paradise” for me is the complete lack of good Mexican food. And what Mexican food there is, isn't even vegetarian.
So every once in a while (see: any Taco Tuesday I don't work at night), I take it upon myself to make some delicious Mexican or Latin cuisine.

The best part of today’s recipe is that as it is, it's super easy and super cheap to make. Its also super customisable: feel free to substitute the other vegetables for whatever is cheapest or in season where you live. Squash, sweet potatoes, and zucchinis would all be delicious in this, as well.

My idea of a perfect day is waking up before the sunrise, going to the beach with a bomb breakfast burrito and peanut butter mocha (which are both also hard to come by in Hawai'i), listening to a good playlist while watching the water, spending the day out and about surfing and swimming, jamming out on instruments, and wrapping it all up watching the sunset on the same beach, this time with the incredible pozole I've created (cause it'll be cold on the beach and this stuff is toast-ay) and a frosty passion-guava nectar (if it's a Friday, I might add a lil tequila to it). This has yet to happen to me, but I'm off to a start with having tons of pozole left over and an incredible imagination.

Pozole de Garbanz-OMG This is the Bomb

A hearty and flavor-packed, plant-based, protein-rich version of the traditional Mexican chile stew.

Vegetables and Proteins
½ sweet onion, diced ~ ¼”
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced ~ ½”
4 common mushrooms + stems, roughly chopped
½ - 14 oz. can black beans OR 1 cup cooked black beans
½ - 14oz. can chickpeas + liquid OR 1 cup cooked chickpeas*
1-25oz. can hominy + liquid OR 3 cups cooked hominy*

*If you prefer to use home-cooked beans and hominy, save 2 cups liquid from the beans or use 2 cups vegetable stock.

Chile base
4 dried ancho chiles
1 cup hot water
3 cloves
2 tbsp minced garlic

¼ cup avocado oil
2 tsp sea salt
1.5 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp Mexican oregano
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp mesquite liquid smoke (optional)
1 tbsp piloncillo or brown sugar

Lime juice
Raw onion
Sliced jalapeño
Sliced radishes

Other Topping Suggestions
Pickled red onion
Crispy corn tortillas
Roasted squash seeds
Non-vegan: plain, non-fat yogurt
Non-vegan: crema
Non-vegan: cotija cheese
Non-vegan: over-easy fried egg

1. Prepare dried chiles by removing stems and place into a blender. Add 1 cup hot water and let soak for 15 minutes.

2. While the chiles soak, chop onions, bell pepper, and mushroom. Heat oil on low-medium heat. Add the vegetables and allow to “sweat”. The vegetables are “sweated” once the onions just start to turn clear.

3. Add dry spices to the vegetables and stir. Turn heat down to low.

4. Add minced garlic and cloves to the blender with the chiles. Blend until smooth. Add water if necessary. The paste should be thick, but easily pourable, like barbecue sauce or ketchup.

5. Add liquid smoke, chile mixture, chickpeas, black beans, and hominy to the pot and stir. Allow to simmer at least 30-45 minutes. Be sure to taste test the pozole and adjust seasonings to your taste (more/less salt, more chili powder, etc.). If too spicy or salty, add a little more water.

6. Serve hot, topped with cilantro, avocado, cabbage, diced onion, and radishes. Squeeze lime juice over and enjoy!