As you know, thanks to my incessant reminders, I had a birthday a few days ago! (I turned the big 2-8.) And my birthday activity of choice this year was a bit unusual. Normally, we spring for a fun and fancy date night on the town at a nice restaurant. But this year I decided to re-allocate those funds toward a shopping spree at a fancy grocery store.
I’ve been amassing a list of special ingredients I want to cook with, but unfortunately they would never fit into our normal grocery budget (which is quite tight and, at the same time, wonderfully rewarding.) My birthday seemed like the perfect opportunity to procure a few of the awesome ingredients I’ve been coveting lately.
I held an informal poll on the Pretty/Hungry Facebook page (because I was curious) to find out what others would buy on their own shopping spree at a specialty grocery store. Most answered that they’d buy gourmet cheeses, organic steaks and seafood, etc. And believe me, if I’d had a thousand dollars to work with, those things would’ve been on my list too. But my budget was closer to $100 than $1,000, so I had to narrow it down to the items I could only find at a special store. (For example, I can buy salmon cheaper at Kroger and still make it taste good… so it got bumped off the list. You get the idea.)
I thought you might like to hear about the elite list of items that did make the cut and why I’m so excited to cook with them. This post might be a little science-y for some people’s tastes… but I, for one, love knowing fun nutritional facts about food and the awesome benefits it can have for my body. I figured some of you might enjoy that as well. Most of my information comes from Sarah Britton, who is a cookbook author, blogger, and Certified Nutritional Practitioner.
So without further ado, here were my purchases…
1) Hemp Seeds-
Most people don’t realize it, but hemp is grown for more than just recreational marijuana. Industrial hemp has been grown for centuries, all over the world, to be used for its seeds, oils, and fibers for weaving. It is heavily regulated to contain no more than 0.03 % THC (compared to the 7-20% commonly found in marijuana.) That means that no matter how much hemp you add to your morning smoothie, you will not be getting high from it.
Hemp seeds are often referred to as “hemp hearts” and they have a delicious, nutty flavor that blends well into smoothies, granola, snack bars, etc. I actually sprinkled a hefty amount onto a meatless pesto pizza last night to add some protein, and I didn’t even notice they were there! You can also buy them in powder form to use as a protein supplement, or even as hemp butter and hemp oil. Hemp delivers powerful nutrition, all in a vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, trans fat-free, cholesterol free, and THC-free (ha!) package.
Nutrition-wise, hemp is one of the elite few plant sources of complete protein (meaning that it supplies you with all 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential ones.) Quinoa is another popular plant food that supplies complete protein. The protein in hemp is also highly digestible and easily absorbed by the body, making it especially perfect for post-workout recovery. It provides essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (in the ideal 3:1 ratio), and this makes it a great source of energy as well as an excellent way to curb food cravings and inflammation. It contains healthy carbohydrates and dietary fiber (both soluble and insoluble) which stabilizes blood sugar, ensures regularity, and won’t cause bloating, gas, or bad breath like other protein/fiber supplements tend to do. Plus, it is a great source of Vitamins a, B1, B3, B5, D, and E, as well as iron and magnesium. Wow! Yay for hemp… riiiight, guys?
(Note: These and other facts about hemp can be found via Sarah Britton at mynewroots.org)
2) Spirulina Powder-
Spirulina is found naturally in tropical and subptropical lakes and is, essentially, a type of algae or seaweed. It is a food source that dates back as early as the Aztecs! It contains roughly 50-70% protein, and it is a complete plant protein (like hemp and quinoa), containing all 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential ones. It is high in B vitamins (including folic acid, which is essential for the brain development of babies in utero), as well as Vitamins C, A, and E. It is also a source of potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, sodium, and zinc.
It blends well into smoothies, adding a boost of complete plant-based protein to kick-start your day. Since I drink a green smoothie almost every day, I definitely wanted a bottle of this stuff to amp up the nutrition level of my usual breakfast.
Maca is an ancient root that hails from the Peruvian Andes. It is actually the highest-altitude crop on earth, and therefore, it has to be extremely resilient to survive the harsh conditions of its environment. I’m excited about incorporating maca into my diet, because it is an “adaptogen” (meaning it has the ability to balance and stabilize the body’s hormonal, nervous, and cardiovascular systems.) This is especially appealing to me since my hormone levels have been a little haywire ever since my mastectomy. (And of course, being pregnant probably hasn’t helped either.)
Because of its hormone-balancing properties, maca has the ability to help us cope with stress, stabilize mood and energy, and even improve libido It’s also chock-full of minerals and trace elements, making it a nutritional powerhouse for one’s diet.
The flavor of maca is described as “malty and sweet” and potentially overpowering if used in large quantities. (I cannot testify to this firsthand, because I’ve been advised to delay my use of maca until after pregnancy. Not because it is in any way dangerous, but because I am currently enrolled in a nutritional research study at Children’s Hospital, and they do not want participants using herbal supplements that could potentially skew their results.)
Maca (like sun exposure) is best for your body in small, frequent doses, rather than in large doses every once in awhile. Therefore, it is recommended that you begin adding maca to your diet in small amounts (like a teaspoon at a time), and work your way up, if desired. The flavor tends to work well in sweet foods like creamy desserts and smoothies. I’m especially looking forward to trying it in this recipe for Superfood Haute Chocolate.
(Note: These and other facts about maca can be found via Sarah Britton at mynewroots.org)
4. Raw Cacao-
Most of you have probably heard of the awesome benefits of dark chocolate, and cacao powder is chocolate in its healthiest form. It delivers all the magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, copper, sulfur, and potassium that chocolate boasts… without the additions of sugar and saturated fat. Research has shown that chocolate with high concentrations of cacao enhances feelings of physical and mental well-being, thanks to its chemical proteins, alkaloids, and beta-carotene. Plus, it is rich-flavored and totally luxurious. I can’t wait to sub it in my regular Hot Chocolate recipe.
5. Psyllium Seed Husks-
These little flakes are pretty incredible. They help to reduce bad cholesterol, aid digestion and weight loss, and alleviate both diarrhea and constipation. How do psyllium husks do this? Through the power of soluble and insoluble fiber! The soluble fiber dissolves in water and soothes the digestive tract, while the insoluble fiber retains its integrity and sweeps the colon free of damaging build-up and toxins. It is commonly used during dietary detoxes and cleanses, but can also be part of a regular, every-day diet. And amazingly (like maca) it is adaptable… in this case helping to get your bowels moving or slowing them down, whichever happens to be needed.
It can be deliciously incorporated into baked goods (although bakers will need to account for its extreme absorption capabilities. Psyllium husks are able to suck up more than 10x their weight in water!) And (as with many of the other items I’ve described above), it also blends well into cereals such as oatmeal and granola, smoothies, and snack bars. Keep in mind that you should not slack off on drinking water if you are adding phsyllium seed husks into your diet, since they do absorb quite a bit of it.
I intend to try making this loaf of bread very soon, using my new Psyllium Seed Husks. I am very excited!
I also bought a few (slightly more normal) ingredients, such as dried chickpeas and dried cherries. Sadly I had to forego re-stocking my supply of vanilla beans and picking up some raw honey to smear on my face… the budget didn’t allow for it this time. But I’m very happy with my purchases and excited to start using them!
If you haven’t told me yet, I’d love to hear what you would do with $100 at a specialty grocery store! Leave me a comment below… it’ll make my day.
Happy Mid-Summer and happy healthy eating to all!
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