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Friday, July 27, 2012

Lovely Bones

I used to think that only great-great-great grandmothers were susceptible to hip fractures, and that menopause was so far away from me as the Earth from the Sun. I eat my veggies, my salmon, my dairy I do yoga... I don't smoke, I drink very little and I cook with quinoa, kale and organic blueberries. Osteoporosis was a worry other people should have, not me... 
What has been my main concern for some years already, is my skin. I've had basal cell carcinoma and melanoma, which thankfully were detected and removed on time, but they scared me, or better put, warned me of the importance of staying away from Mr. Sun. I've actually developed a bit of a phobia (or paranoia) to our closest star, and a beach vacation is more stressful to me than no vacation at all. I always read about the best and latest sunscreens, UVA, UVB, I wear big hats, stay in the shade and I'm vigilant about my appointments with the dermatologist. Did I mention also that I'm pale as a ghost and sprinkled with a zillion moles?
Well, so it happens that despite being a rule follower, and a very obedient patient, not everything is all right, and my primary care doctor, pointed out the need to get a bone density test.
Within the last 15 years, a lot has been discovered about Vitamin D. It is way more important for our well being than anyone had ever thought. For along time, this fat-soluble vitamin had been related to bone health, and it was known to be obtained from our exposure to, yes, the Sun. Unfortunately, the same sunblocks that are saving our skin from burning and eventually developing skin cancer, are preventing our bodies to synthesize vitamin D, and a silent epidemic of the deficiency in this nutrient started, and has become the most common medical condition in the world.

As I said, there's been plenty of recent research regarding this compound. It's been found that vitamin D isn't only a vitamin, but more like a hormone that takes part in many metabolic pathways and cellular functions. It is indispensable to protect our bodies not only against osteoporosis, but also from at least 16 types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even depression. It supports our cognitive function and our immune system (it might be helpful even against autoimmune diseases) and lowers the risk of inflammation.
Basically, we need vitamin D for EVERYTHING!

The other day I received a call from my sister-in-law, who is an accomplished sleep (and pulmonary critical care) physician, and 11 days younger than me. She suffered a couple of toe fractures recently, and after testing her, her doctor found that she has osteoporosis. Thankfully, it was detected before menopause, which is a much better time to deal with it. She's now taking a nice dose of vitamin D supplements and she asked me to post about bone health and food.
I don't mean to mention her story for gossip, but just to show how common it is, and she's not the only one. I have osteopenia (kind of the first step into osteoporosis), and my pal Gwyneth (as in Paltrow) does too. Unfortunately, the problem is rarely detected before you break something (often more than once), because as I said above, vitamin D deficiency it a silent epidemic, and apparently, we need way more of it that it was originally thought. So, what has been started to be recommended by some health practitioners is moderate sun exposure (about 20 minutes/day for 2-4 days/week with NO sunblock), although since our needs of vitamin D are individual, depending on our exact geography, genetics, meds we take, time of the year, body frame, weight, skin color, and age, this should be tested and determined by your own physician.

Wild salmon, whole eggs (yes, the D is in the yolk), shiitake mushrooms and enriched products (like juice, cereal and I'm sure many more to come as the D issue becomes more popular) are a good sources of vitamin D, but even if I'm a huge believer in getting our nutrients from whole foods, not supplements, the foods that contain high concentrations of vitamin D, don't have enough to completely and realistically fulfill our needs, and since moderate sun exposure is on the tricky side, I do take supplements for it (which should be in the form of vitamin D3, its the most active form). What I'm suggesting is to spread the word about it, and that you check with your own doctor for your own particular case and needs.

But... don't think that if you're exposed to moderate sun rays and/or take vitamin D supplements you're off the hook from osteoporosis, as a diet full of wholesome foods is still necessary. To form and maintain bone mass you also need calcium (of course, you knew that), which you can find in dairy (including goat milk products), canned fish with bones (which unfortunately don't do the trick with my family), but also in vegetables such as kale, broccoli, collard greens, seeweed, and in nuts and seeds, mainly in almonds, chia, and sesame. We also need enough protein, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, fluoride, manganese, copper, boron, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C and B vitamins. It does sound overwhelming, but that's when the beauty of fresh ingredients and cuisine come to our aid. A squeeze of lemon juice can add the vitamin C, which make calcium and iron more digestible, dark leafy greens also  provide vit K, nectarines vit A, that will get absorbed even better with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, some nuts, pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds for crunch (and minerals like iron and zinc) and a some sesame and chia for the calcium and plenty of other nutrients. There you have a pretty nice salad. Cuisine, just like our body, leverages the interactions of all it's components. Just remember to add as many fruit and vegetable colors in your plate as you can, and you'll be adding a pretty good variety of nutrients. Some herbs, spices, or other things that enhance flavor, also maximize our body's absorption and use of certain minerals and vitamins. Add some cheese, organic tofu, eggs, tempeh or fish like sardines or wild salmon and all you need is a fork and a tiny bit of sunshine (or a pill with about 2000 I.U of vitamin D3) for some lovely bones!

Try my antioxidant salad here. You can substitute pomegranate for berries during the summer.
I've also been making this super easy and delicious herbed salmon from the Barefoot Contessa that I totally recommend (I didn't have scallions so I just used extra dill and parsley).

For more information about vitamin D, click:
Here which is very complete and includes references; or for a simplified, but good version, visit my BFF's little blog (goop) here. Dr. Andrew Weil also covers the topic (and will be willing to sell you supplements) here.

RECIPE
GREEK YOGURT BISCUITS WITH ROASTED STRAWBERRIES AND TOMATOES WITH MAPLE-VANILLA YOGURT

This recipe is a personal achievement. I'm a huge biscuit and scone lover, but despite many attempts, I was never satisfied with my wholesome versions, until this one I made yesterday. I'm really proud and I hope you like it as well. The biscuit is dense, but has a lovely consistency and is charged with nutrients from the seeds, protein and calcium from the yogurt, is made with whole grain spelt flour (which although it has gluten, is easier to digest even for some people with wheat sensitivities) and a little extra virgin olive oil. I couldn't stop eating them, but my husband found them a bit bland, if you feel that way, feel free to add 1-2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup when you add the yogurt. Don't forget to freeze the olive oil for the dough!
Last note, I did roast strawberries and tomatoes. I loved the combination and so did everyone who tried it. Only my daughter was able to decipher the identity of the tomatoes, but that didn't stop her from loving the sauce. If you feel weird by using them in a sweet dish, first remember that tomatoes are technically a fruit in botanical terms, but if that doesn't do it for you, just substitute the 1 pound of tomatoes with an extra pound of strawberries.

INGREDIENTS

- BISCUITS
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon hulled raw pumpkin seeds
8.7 ounces (1 3/4 cup) whole spelt flour
2 teaspoons non-aluminum making powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons mild extra virgin olive oil, left in the freezer 3 hours to overnight
8 ounces (1 cup) organic Greek plain yogurt (preferably not fat free)
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup, optional

- ROASTED STRAWBERRY-TOMATO FILLING
1 pound strawberries, hulled and cut in halves
1 pound beefsteak tomatoes, hulled an cut into 3/4-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon mild extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
squeeze of fresh lemon juice

- MAPLE-VANILLA YOGURT
8 ounces (1 cup) organic Greek plain yogurt (preferably not fat free)
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

METHOD
- BISCUITS
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Grind each tablespoon of seeds in a coffee or spice  grinder and place them into a large bowl. Add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to blend.

Add the chilled olive oil to the flour mixture.

Pressing the whisk against the mix (not spinning it) or using a pastry blender, or why not? your hands, rub the oil into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles sand.

Add the yogurt and 1 tablespoon maple, if using, and stir just until a moist dough forms. Don't overmix.



Using an ice cream scoop, scoop out the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1-inch in between each biscuit.

Flatten each a bit with your palm and brush with the remaining maple syrup. 

Bake until the biscuits are lightly golden, 8 to 10 minutes. 
Let cool a bit, slice in half and fill with strawberry-tomato sauce and a dollop of maple-vanilla yogurt.


- ROASTED STRAWBERRY-TOMATO FILLING
Preheat oven to 400 F (you can use the oven at the same time as the biscuits). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place cut up strawberries and tomatoes on prepared sheet and season them with salt, drizzle them with maple, balsamic, olive oil and vanilla and mix them all together with your hands. Spread them into one layer and bake for 15 minutes, until some of the juices caramelize and the fruit softens.

Place warm fruit into a large heat-resistant bowl and try to scrape as much of the cooked juicy goodness as possible and add it to the bowl. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice into the fruit and use when ready...

- MAPLE-VANILLA YOGURT
If you bought a 16-ounce container of yogurt, just use what you have left after using the 1 cup for the biscuits, there's no need to even take it out of the tube. Otherwise place yogurt in a medium bowl and whisk it with the vanilla and the maple.


Serve it by the dollop once you are ready to assemble the biscuit, strawberry-tomato, yogurt sandwiches.

Enjoy!!!
PS: I apologize for some of the pics being in the wrong direction. For some reason that, I of course do not understand, blogger turned them and if I were a tiny bit more adept in technology I could fix it, but it's me...Please let me know if you have any suggestions.
Have a great weekend!

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