Love Thrives.

The environment(s) in which we spend most of our time have a large influence on our behaviors and mood. If those around us smile and laugh, go for walks, prepare their own lunch and do cross-word puzzles, we are more likely to engage in those actives as well. If the people we share space and time with everyday are complaining about their bad day, eating candy bars for breakfast and don’t move from their desk for eight hours, you are more likely to do the same.

Mirrored behavior is part of maintaining the social relationships you have within various environments, for better or worse. Therefore, the more you are able to build your social relationships around positive patterns of behaviors and attitude, the healthier you will be… and the more love you will receive and give.

Love is Health!

new years parents  freinds unit grandma love  sisters

pam cave  Linfield crew

Said a different way; Love is engagement in positive, meaningful relationships within your social environments. Not only does love set you up for better health, it sparks motivation and action.

Positive emotions that stem from love help build resilience so you might recover quicker from adversity, avoid anxiety and depression and overall enjoy life more fully. Love also helps build hope, a mindset of optimism when things get tough, and with hope and resilience you can accomplish so much more than you otherwise would have (or wouldn’t have) imagined. Love is eudaimonic happiness, or the highest human good.

From a clinical lens, feeling love (by the actions, words or emotions that come from quality relationships) releases chemicals that decrease cortisol, which helps with blood sugar regulation, overall inflammation and stress, and improves serotonin release for best mood and sleep. It has also been shown, in long-term clinical and behavioral studies of cognition and brain function, to slow the aging process and prevent memory decline.

Overall, those in happy, healthy relationships live longer and have less risk of disease.


How satisfied are you with your relationships, where can you put more focus to improve their quality?


“We are what we repeatedly do” – Aristotle

So why not repeatedly do- be and show- love? Reap the benefits of kindness!

Random Acts of Kindness Day is February 17th.

World kindness day is November 14th.

The Bend JOY Project is happening right now!

I encourage you to use these as an opportunity to evaluate how well you do with showing love, kindness, and joy, and how this builds upon relationships in your life.

Bendjoyproject.com

RandomActsofKindness.org

PayItForwardFoundation.org

Adultdevelopmentstudy.org

Other Sources:

Harvard Second Generation Study: Study of Adult Development, http://www.adultdevelopmentstudy.org/grantandglueckstudy

Marie-Josee Shaar, Positive Psychologist, http://mjshaar.com/

Debra Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez, "Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy". Journal of Health Soc Behav. 2010 ; 51(Suppl): S54–S66. Online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/pdf/nihms300162.pdf

 

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Stress-Be-Gone

payette lakeModified from SAIF Corporation, saif.com

Unplug from electronics

Tell a joke

Sing a song

Give yourself a massage

Walk barefoot in the grass

Take a deep breath

brasada

Put on some music

Pet a cat

Go for a brisk walk

Daydream

Take a break in nature

scout

Cut back on caffeine

Hug someone

Simplify

Organize

Go to bed early

Use incense

red rock canyon

Ask for help

Use positive self-talk

Find shapes in the clouds

Play with a dog

Write down your fears

eclipse

Angry? Talk about it

Go to work a different way

Set goals

Learn to say no

Plant a flower

Get up fifteen minutes earlier

Dance

eagle caps

Plan a walking meetings

Lift weights

Do something spontaneous

Tell someone you love them

Meditate

Go fishing

mt washington

Stretch

Take the stairs

Sit and watch the sunrise or sunset

Write a poem

Laugh out loud

Close your eyes and listen

Challenge yourself to do something new

broken top

Watch a bird

Eat vegetables for breakfast

Read a book

Forgive someone

Apologize

Make a list of things you are grateful for

suttle lake

Microbiome…what?

What if I told you that there is a community of over a trillion organisms living on and inside you? Does that bug you out? Seem pretty cool, or far-fetched?


microbes

luminexcorp.com/clinical/infectious-disease/gastrointestinal-pathogen-panel/


 


There is estimated to be as much, or more, microbial cells within us as there are our own human cells. Meaning there are lots and lots and lots of bacteria- and some fungi, archaea, protists and viruses- making a life in our tissues and bodily fluids. Collectively, we call this group of microorganisms our human microbiota. We can also call it our body flora, as a nickname (referring to a group of organisms native to a specific region).

Before you grab the hand sanitizer, you must realize that these tiny creatures are not out to hurt us; well, most of them, anyway. The majority of the body flora is harmless, and at best, they are actually helpful. A probiotic is the term coined for microorganisms that provide a benefit to their host. Harmful microbes are called pathogens and they typically do not reside inside us permanently.

We humans have know we have bacteria within us for many years, however it has only been in the last decade that researchers have upped the game and we are able to study these microbes more specifically. In 2007 the Human Microbiome project was funded through the National Institute of Health in order to establish a database of the genetic make-up, or genome, of the body flora. Microbiome, therefore, is referencing the sequencing of the genome of the trillions of microbial cells inside us.

TELL ME MORE!

Much is yet to be learned about the human microbiome, but here are a few snippets of what we know, or think we know:

  • There can be an 80-90% difference in body flora from one person to another; your microbe community is nearly as diverse as your fingerprints.
  • Babies are born without flora. It is established at birth upon baby’s exposure to the flora of the mother’s vagina, or that of her skin if it is a cesarean delivery.
  • Within the first few years of life an infant’s flora will develop rapidly and is highly influenced not only by mode of birth, but breast milk, formula used, introduction to solid foods, fever or cold, and any antibiotic use.
  • Our body flora works to our favor, alongside our immune defenses, to fight off harmful pathogens that might enter our bodies. See picture below.

Gut Flora

The gastrointestinal tract, or gut for short, has the most abundant flora in the body:

  • Gut flora break down food into short chain fatty acids, vitamins B and K, bile acids and various sterol compounds, all of which our bodies absorb and use for best health.
  • It is also suggested that a byproduct of gut probiotic metabolism is GABA, or gamma-amino butyric acid, whose job is to inhibit neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (CNS) and is also responsible for muscle tone.
  • If chemicals produced by bacteria can cross the blood-brain barrier, which they are theorized to do, then the gut flora can moderate our behaviors, and our mood, by these chemical effects on the brain.
  • Wait… is this good or bad??

human microbiome
what-when-how.com/medical-microbiology-and-infection/innate-immunity-and-normal-flora-medical-microbiology-and-infection?

Due to the making and releasing of substances by the gut flora, as mentioned above, the gut microbiome acts as a sort of independent endocrine system, therefore affecting not only our gut-brain relationship, but emphasizing a strong connection to our immune system and inflammation responses, as well as other yet to be determined body processes and responses.

If not kept in balance, the gut flora has the power to cause disarray within our human-made tissues and systems. Or, vise versa, where poor health and disease in our tissues and body systems may cause disarray to our body flora.

Either way, there is a clear connection between the balance, or imbalance, or particular flora and our health, including:

  • Central nervous system conditions: anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, memory loss.
  • Autoimmune conditions (of which there are many), including:
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Diabetes
    • Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
  • Atomic dermatitis (eczema).
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome. (This condition has increased by 400% in the last fifty years, thought to be due to a drop in diversity and other environmental disruptions to gut flora ecology.)
  • Colon cancer, other cancers??

What causes imbalance of my flora?

Pathogens, for one, will upset the balance. Ideally, our bodies- both our flora and our innate immune system- will destroy pathogens upon arrive and we will be non the wiser. However, as anyone who has had the stomach flu knows, this is not always the case. It can take some time to re-kindle the regular flow of a healthy life after such as attach from pathogens.

Antibiotics can kill the pathogenic bacteria, but it will also kill the similarly structured good bacteria living in our body. The good flora can be re-established after stopping the use of these drugs, however not all will reproduce and those that do may not come back to the full extent they were previously. This can cause a disruption to the symbiotic relationship of your flora with adverse consequences.

Food choices can change the make-up of your gut flora, in as short of time as a few days, and permanently if diet changes last. Higher fat versus protein versus plant based diets, as well as cooked versus fermented versus raw foods, all result in the death or growth of different types of organisms in your gastrointestinal tract.

Digestion and metabolism also change in response to diet’s effect on gut microbes, as these little guys break down compounds in foods to make nutrients that human cells cannot, as well as regulate absorption of key metabolites, including glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides.

Fiber is a pre-biotic (food for bacteria) that is highly recommended in anyone’s diet to aid in a healthy gut flora.

FIBER FOODS= veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds.

foods-high-in-prebiotics

Other lifestyle factors may be synced with your body flora, including exercise, sleep and stress. More exploration is needed for specifics on mechanisms of influence in these areas.

THE FUTURE

With research on the human microbiome advancing as it is there is hope to be able to use our knowledge to manipulate the body flora for desired results; to improve health conditions and disease and positively impact our well-being.

The speed of our discoveries, however, are racing against the threat of a decrease in overall mammalian microbiota diversity as animal populations are declining and species are going extinct at a rapid pace.

This is where probiotic supplements come into play, as potential influencers on the body flora…

but for good or evil?

Probiotic Supplements

A supplement is anything that you consume to “supplement” your regular diet; in most cases with the intent of enhancing your health. Probiotic supplements, therefore, are beneficial bacteria consumed with the purpose of growing new, or more, healthy flora in order to improve our microbiota balance.

The trouble is how do we know which of the trillions of microbes you might be lacking? And how much is enough, or too much? And do we have the ability to cultivate every single possible microbe you may need? If we don’t know the answers to these questions, how do we prevent aiding in microbe diversity decline as we work to figure it out?

We do not yet have answers to these questions. There are only a handful of live bacterial cultures available in foods, and another handful available in supplement form. When you blindly pick a probiotic off the shelf and start taking it every day in the hopes of eliminating your chronic stomach cramps, for example, it is like searching for a needle in a hay stack regarding the odds you will experience any relief, or if you might actually be doing a disservice to your flora.

THAT SAID…

Not all is lost when it comes to use of probiotic supplements. Some studies have shown their use to be realistic with positive results.

To help guide you through the probiotic supplement world check out ProbioticAdvisor.com

First, make sure (as sure as you can be) that the underlining reason behind your desire to take a probiotic supplement is indeed due to a flora imbalance.

Traditional uses are, for the most part, gastrointestinal in origin. These have been the most common uses for probiotics for the past 40 years and are still common reasons for taking probiotic preparations” ProbioticAdvisor.com

“Novel uses are based on research that has been conducted in the past 15 years. As can be seen, there is a substantial increase in the number of uses of probiotics and they are now being used for a number of systemic conditions.” ProbioticAdvisor.com

 

Second, do your research. Determine if there is any data or replicable recommendations based on sound science for your specific need. What do the experts say? Consider the type and dosage of the probiotic(s) in question.

Third, once (if) you determine which probiotic(s) to take, find a reputable source. Again, do your research; determine the efficacy of the product and company. Be sure the probiotic(s) offered are live cultures.

Fourth, give it a whirl! Be consistent in the use of the supplement until strong conclusions can be drawn as to its effectiveness. Keep notes on symptoms, signs of improvement or related consequences.

When in doubt, seek the assistance of a trusted dietitian, nutritionist or health care provider.

Sources
NIH Integrative Human Microbiome Project; online at: https://hmpdacc.org/ihmp/
Jason Hawrelak, Probiotic Advisor: Unique evidence-based information. probioticadvisor.com
Clay F. Semenkovich, Jayne Danska, Tamara Darsow, Jessica L. Dunne, Curtis Huttenhower, Richard A. Insel, Allison T. McElvaine, Robert E. Ratner, Alan R. Shuldiner and Martin J. Blaser, “American Diabetes Association and JDRF Research Symposium: Diabetes and the Microbiome”. Diabetes 2015 Dec; 64(12): 3967-3977. Online at: http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/64/12/3967
Joseph P. Tiano, “The Human Microbiome Project And the Intramural Connection” NIH Catalyst. Dec 2015; 12(3). Online at: https://irp.nih.gov/catalyst/v21i6/the-human-microbiome-project
 Ruth E. Ley, Catherine A. Lozupone, Micah Hamady, Rob Knight, and Jeffrey I. Gordon “Worlds within worlds: evolution of the vertebrate gut microbiota” Nat Rev Microbiol. 2008 Oct; 6(10): 776–788. Online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664199/
Seesandra V Rajagopala, Sanjay Vashee, Lauren M. Oldfield, Yo Suzuki, J. Craig Venter, Amalio Telenti and Karen E Nelson, “The Human Microbiome and Cancer”, AACR Journals Cancer Prevention Research. Published OnlineFirst January 17, 2017 doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-16-0249.
Luke K Ursell, Jessica L Metcalf, Laura Wegener Parfrey and Rob Knight “Defining the Human Microbiome” Nutr Rev. 2012 Aug; 70(Suppl 1): S38–S44. Online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426293/
Linda Duffy, Ph.D., M.P.H. NCCIH Research Blog, “Exploring the Gut Microbiome’s Connection to Human Behavior – Lecture by Dr. John Cryan”; Dec 2015. Online at: https://nccih.nih.gov/research/blog/gut-microbiome-behavior
Michael J Breus Ph.D.“Unlocking the sleep-gut connection: New research on sleep and the world of the microbiome”. Psychology Today, Jan 2016. Online at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleep-newzzz/201601/unlocking-the-sleep-gut-connection
Deborah Halber, “The Micorbiome” Tufts Now, Sept 2013. Online at: http://now.tufts.edu/articles/microbiome
Joel Mason, “Can probiotics keep my gastrointestinal system healthy?”Tufts Now, Sept 2013. Online at: http://now.tufts.edu/articles/can-probiotics-keep-gastrointestinal-health
Harvard University, The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences blog, “The Human Microbiome and Media Confusion” , Feb 2015. Online at: http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/the-human-microbiome-and-media-confusion/

FNCE 2017

I had the privilege to attend the 2017 Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) this past October, held by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This well attended conference was celebrating it’s 100th year and had over 12,000 attendees. I fully admit my initial allure to dive into this mass of dietitians was for continued education credits (of which our profession needs to accumulate on a five year rotation). However, upon reflection of the experience my takeaways were far greater than logistical numbers to hold my credentials.

What I learned at FNCE 2017: Food is powerful.

Food creates and enhances happiness, despair, sickness and physique. It is simple -food is fuel- and complicated –insert any number of questions or comments here- all at the same time. It can not be avoided; it touches all lives to suffer or thrive, for without it we would not survive.

chicago from Sears tower

Case in Point:

I attended a session on nutrigenomics, where we heard about individual phenotypes response to caffeine, salt, and sugar, as well as what current research is still being done on potential individual nutrition needs based on genetics.

I sat in on a talk regarding the new theories of daily need for vitamin B12, based on severe symptoms experienced by vegetarians, and which lab values to assess to determine true deficiency.

There was a detailed talks on hypothyroidism and body composition (spoiler alert this condition has little positive to say about related weight and lean mass outcomes).

What about allergies and intolerances? They have increased, mostly in kids, by 18% in the last ten years. That is just those with allergies, systemic responders, not those with self report of negative food-related symptoms disrupting their lives. There are a plethora of self diagnosed food conditions; is this a product of the modern food system and environment or a psychological cry for power over food choice?

I marveled at the development of vertical farming inside large containers in Brooklyn. This is a concept spreading across the country and attracting young farmers who want to marry agricultural science and technology to control the growing environment to feed their neighborhoods.

I heard about the predicted future technologies that will allow you to blink against a contact computer chip to see the nutritional and economic data of a particular food item. Versus the hard facts of today, how 900 million people die of hunger every year; that’s one every four seconds.

Genetic engineering has advanced our abilities to grow more food and be more sustainable per region, we are headed in the right direction to conserve water, land and health of the environment, but not fast enough, as our population is predicted to rise to 9 billion by 2050. Then the issue is how do we not only feed those people, but nourish them as well, all while being kind to the earth.

Oh yes and then there is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). As professionals in nutrition we must be careful with our relationships with other health care providers. As the healthcare community as a whole strives to bring the best services to patients for prevention and treatment we must be aware of antitrust laws, anti kickback statutes and state licensure and billing laws, on top of our defined scopes of practice.

Then still more sessions I attended focused on the consumer. The average person in the United States wants to eat less fat, sugar and salt but they still don’t know how to do this, as more and more products and more and more media bombards them with controversial food information.

Following this I sat in on an almost two hour talk on the latest “diet” trend of intermittent fasting and all the potential positive outcomes of such a practice. This talk ended with the conclusion that there is not enough research to say with certainty that it is an evidenced based practice for health improvement; not surprisingly, more research is needed. No truth and more confusion for the masses.


More research is needed in every facet of food and nutrition, as theories in our field are young and vulnerable. Yet in the background I’m thinking sure, but more research means more time and what will happen over that time? What will become of the next thirty years as we continue to live longer, yet still have few answers to improve quality of life through our most basic need of food?

And to that, again I say, Food is Powerful. I listened my way through this conference sitting in on only a handful of over 100 available sessions, which collectively covered more areas of food and nutrition than any one person can hope to comprehend.


If all of that was an overwhelming whirlwind don’t worry, the takeaway I have for you is more simple. As provided by FNCE 2017 keynote speaker Kimbal Musk: #realfood. That’s (hashtag) Real Food. At the very least use it to nourish yourself. Find what that means for you and be well.

If you want to do more I encourage you to seek out the research and read it with a critical eye; get in in touch with food and nutrition professionals to ask questions and have discussions; learn about and get involved in your local food and/or health care system.

Determine what piece of the powerful food puzzle you are passionate about and make a stance towards using the power of food for good.

Thanks for tuning in to my conference debrief! Please feel free to reach out to me for details, comments and questions.

Foods to Boost Your Immune System

….and prevent a cold virus from catching you this winter season.

The fall and winter months provide an ideal climate for cold viruses to thrive and wiggle their way into our body systems. So once the leaves start changing colors and the frost covers the ground it becomes all that more important to take preventative measures to stay well.

Contributing wellness factors include getting moderate activity for fresh air and blood flow, adequate sleep for body recovery and rejuvenation, and self-care for avoiding emotional distress.

Oh yes, and food. Nutritious, immune boosting food!

Certain nutrients help the immune system directly or indirectly by: prevention of cell damage from unstable molecules (antioxidants protect against free radicals), preventing the growth of or killing off microbes (which include bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites) and decreasing inflammation in cells and tissues.


Here are a few key foods, and their highlighted nutrients, to include in your diet to help prevent those annoying cold symptoms.

  1. Garlic and onions. Contain the phytonutrient allicin, among other compounds= antimicrobial.**
  2. Peppers, all varieties! Contain vitamin C and capsasin= antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.IMG_20150511_184332740IMG_20150308_172540942_HDR
  3. Salmon. Contains vitamin E and omega-3 oils= antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
  4. Lentils and pumpkin seeds. Contain minerals zinc, selenium and iron= help with activity of antioxidant enzymes.
  5. Green tea. Contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)= antimicrobial and antioxidant.

IMG_5513

Plus any produce that is naturally blue, purple or green; these colors represent thousands of phytonutrients that work in sync with your body to prevent and fight sickness and disease. 

Meal and snack ideas to cover all the bases:

  • Lemon and ginger green tea with cayenne and dab of local honey.
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds and handful of blueberries.
  • Lentil soup with onion and garlic, flaxseed crackers on the side.
  • Salmon fajitas with sautéed peppers and onions, avocado and salsa.

**Have you ever eaten a raw clove of garlic? It is spicy and potent! Raw or lightly cooked garlic is shown to have more antimicrobial benefit than roasted or fully cooked garlic. The more pungent your breath the better!

More information can be gained online with the OSU Linus Pauling Institute.

Rainstorm in your Sinuses

We have to admit that mother nature has been upping her game recently; hurricanes, tropical storms, fires and earthquakes… even without these natural disasters, every season of the earth’s rotation brings new weather patterns.

Have you ever stopped to think about how the weather may be affecting your health?

Clamming 2014

“You better check yo self before you wreck yo self. Cos I’m bad for your health, I come real stealth…” –Ice Cube

Ice Cube has got it right. When it comes to our health we must stay aware of all aspects of our environment, internal and external, and this includes what the sky looks like out your window every morning.

Not that we as individuals have much control what nature will bring us, but the more in-tune we are to our own bodies as they fit into the world around us, the better clarity we will have as to our well being. Knowledge equals power to make the best informed choices for us.

Here are a few awareness tid-bits on how changes in our surrounding climate may stealthily sneak up on us:


Sudden temperature changes, humidity changes, smog and smoke in the air:

  1. Can cause allergy-like symptoms= sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, nosebleeds, ear infections, fatigue; also associated with asthma and sinusitis (inflamed sinuses).
  2. How to prevent, help, or not make these unwanted affects worse during these times= avoid alcohol, spicy foods, polluted air, cleaning chemicals, and scented products; rinse sinuses with saline solution as desired.
  3. NOTE: there weather-related symptoms have nothing to do with the immune system, however they mimic actual allergy or cold symptoms so be mindful of which you may be experiencing!

Cold weather or sudden drops in temperature:

  1. Can be hard on the heart, as the body works to regulate your body temperature.
    • Avoid vigorous activity in the cold, especially if you have heart disease.
    • Keep indoor temperatures at 64-75 degrees Fahrenheit (World Health Organization).
  2. Can cause joint stiffness and pain.
    • Avoid weight –bearing activities during these times, or seek a warmer environment if pain persists.

Sudden weather changes; thunderstorms, rain storms, windstorms and the like:

  1. Can cause headaches and migraines due to barometric pressure changes.
  2. If you make the connection between the weather and your headaches, do your best to avoid up and down swings in weather by finding a consistent climate to live, work or play.

IMG_20150221_173301298_HDR

There is also a condition called Seasonal Effective Disorder that is worth noting. This condition includes experiencing poor mood or negativity, irritability, extreme fatigue, change in appetite, or just pure sadness, when the seasons change. There is controversy over why this occurs; some studies show drops in the production of hormone serotonin when days get shorter and darkness comes sooner, however it can also occur throughout the summer months as well. The best remedy is to spend time outside each day in the daylight, no matter the season, as the light and fresh air has been shown to boost serotonin levels, energy and happiness. It may also be worth having your vitamin D level checked, as it may drop off in the winter months and deficiency has been linked to some symptoms of seasonal effective disorder.

There may be other effects of the natural environment on your individual wellbeing, no matter if they have been scientifically researched or not. Pay attention to how YOUR health responds to climate patterns and do what you feel is best to ensure the consequences are for the better, no weather… I mean worse.

IMG_20150321_131847531

Sources:

WebMD, “The Weather: Wreaking Havoc on Health”, by Elizabeth Heubeck; online at http://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/the-weather-wreaking-havoc-on-health#1

National Institute of Mental health, Seasonal Affective Disorder; online at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

Mayo Clinic, Vitamin D; online at http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/vitamin-d/evidence/HRB-20060400

 

Fig Rich

I will be honest, I did not know much about figs until this blog.

I knew they were delicious! I knew they had decent fiber and fairly high natural sugars… but that’s about it. So when I was given the opportunity to explore with fresh figs, I happily took advantage.

In short, a family gathering of which a family member has a fig trees means I was sent home with almost 20 fresh, very ripe, green and purple figs. Like many of my food adventures, the best way I have found to learn a new food is to dive in! Making lemonade from lemons as the saying goes… (although figs are much sweeter to start).


IMG_5105Searching for information on fresh figs led me to many new discoveries. Coulis, for example, is not a culinary term I was previously familiar with. Now I know, by definition courtesy of Wikipedia, a coulis is a form of thick sauce made from puréed and strained vegetables or fruits. A vegetable coulis is commonly used on meat and vegetable dishes, and it can also be used as a base for soups or other sauces.” See below for my fig coulis recipe!


Also, I now have the pleasure to share with you these fun facts on figs:

  • Figs are OLD, originating back to 5,000 BC, in Asia.
  • There are at least 18 different varieties of figs.
  • Over the many years of their existence figs have been used for a variety of purposes including: fertility, an aid in digestion, to quit smoking, as a humectant for freshness, to treat diseases of skin pigmentation, and I believe fig leaves where the first clothing used by mankind, according to the bible.
  • Figs grown on a tree. These trees flourish in sunny, dry regions and can be anywhere from 10 to 50 feet tall when planted in the ground (smaller if kept in a pot).
  • Anyone can keep a fig tree if tended to with adequate sun, warmth and nitrogen rich soil; large indoor/outdoor pots will suffice. Often when fig trees are contained they will appear more like a bush than a tree, with wide, outward growing branches.
  • As mentioned above, as a fruit, figs have a high fiber and natural sugar content, but they also have decent levels of minerals potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. Per the nature of most fruits, figs have no fat or cholesterol.
If you decide you would like to grow figs, I suggest consulting more in-depth information than my brief sinopsis here, such as found at the California Rare Fruit Growers website, link below.

The recipes I modified after some “research” online, and of which are outlined below, include: fig coulis (as mentioned above), fig coulis bruschetta, fig jam, and fig and cherry cake. For aesthetic pleasure a fresh garden salad with figs, grilled figs and yogurt with figs.

IMG_5120IMG_5141IMG_5134

IMG_5135

 

Fig Coulis

  • 6 ripe, fresh figs, cut into chunks
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (I used aged spicy mango balsamic)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (I used lemon olive oil)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Store in airtight jars; keeps in the refrigerator for a few months, or freeze for longer storage. Use as a sauce on meats, poultry or fish, or as a dip or spread with cheese, crackers, or veggies.

I have used mine as a salad dressing, to bake with, as well as to make bruschetta with fresh cherry tomatoes, watermelon and parsley, pictured below.

Fig Jam

  • 3 ripe, fresh figs, cut into chunks
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ½ teaspoon lemon extract (or 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice)
  • ⅛ cup water

Put first three ingredients into small saucepan on medium heat and bring to a low boil, turn down heat, add water, stir and let cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool 5 minutes before pouring into airtight jars. Jam will store in the refrigerator for several months, or freeze for longer storage.

Fig and Cherry Cake

  • 4 ripe, fresh figs; 3 cut into chunks for the fillings, 1 sliced for the top
  • 1 cup cherries, fresh and pitied, sliced in half; ⅔ for the filling, ⅓ for the top.
  • 3 eggs
  • ⅔ cup honey
  • ¾ stick butter, melted
  • 1 ½ cups unbleached flour (whole or white pastry)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of salt

Cream the honey and butter with mixer in medium bowl. Add the eggs and blend again. Add remaining ingredients except the sliced fig and cherries reserved for the top, blend until smooth. Greece the bottom of a springform pan and dust with flour. Pour batter into pan and spread evening. Decorate the top of the cake with the remaining figs and cherries, pressing them lightly into the batter. Turn oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, place pan on the bottom rack of oven and let cook for 35 minutes. Move pan to top rack of oven and cook another 20 minutes, until golden brown on top and a knife comes out clean when inserted towards the edge of the cake. Let cool for 20 minutes before removing springform and enjoying!

We ate ours with lemon gelato and it was AMAZING!

 

After trying all of these recipes, slicing and dicing many plump, juicy figs, I have to say that my favorite way to eat them is straight up- raw and sweet!

IMG_5138

 

Resources:

US Davis Fruit & Nut Research & Information, onine at http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/dsadditions/Fig_Fact_Sheet/

California Rare Fruit Growers, online at https://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/fig.html

Valley Fig Growers, Fresno, California, online at http://www.valleyfig.com/about-us

California Figs, online at https://www.californiafigs.com/index.php?pageid=11