kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

We have survived another year dictated by covid, ugly politics, and increasing climate change. We are asking ourselves if we can attend holiday parties, should we fly, as Omnicron  takes over will it send us back to the rules of 2020?

Life is unpredictable, so rather than starting the year with resolutions, I am going to take time for some New Year’s reflection.

We felt good when we clapped for healthcare workers throughout 2020 as they finished their shift. This year, we stood in lines, six feet apart to get the jab. Most of us did and those who didn’t all believe they have good reason not to. But, a new strain threatens to send us back indoors, back to our bubbles. For some, these bubbles strengthened family and friendships. For others, the pandemic has been very lonely.

Psychologists say that reliving/reviewing helps to build on the lessons we have all learned. I have learned to control my frustration at covid restrictions with patience because I had to but I am tired of feeling like we are all living our lives half-way with many of our decisions dictated by mask-wearing and fear.

People all over the world are gathering again but as Frank Bruini wrote in a recent New York Times editorial we are all impatient. We are increasingly a country of either/or, pro/con, virtuous/deplorable, all/nothing. And the pandemic right now can’t be squeezed into any dichotomy. Nor will it be hurried to its end.

It asks that we take fresh stock every few days. That we reshuffle our responses accordingly. It asks us not to be only one way or only the other but to make informed and enlightened decisions dependent on context and to accept that there won’t be a eureka moment, when the clouds lift, the waters part and we’re free. Instead, we’ll proceed, inch by inch.

In a certain psychological sense, is the current chapter perhaps the most challenging of all? We thought we’d turned the corner, only to learn we hadn’t, and we’re neither isolated nor liberated.  We’re not being told to suspend all activities as usual, but we’re being encouraged to suspend or alter many activities, maybe for the next week, maybe for this whole month, maybe not for the following one but maybe again soon.

“I don’t think we have given ourselves enough credit,” said Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and the author of “The Willpower Instinct.” “I don’t think we have had the emotional appreciation that we need and deserve for the kind of year many people have had. The reflection that’s needed right now is a real, honest and self-compassionate look at what’s been lost, who’s been lost and what it is that you want to choose to remember…”

“Reflection is a way of being ready to move forward into the new year,” says McGonigal,” but I think that it’s especially true for this year.” She was referring to 2020, but, unfortunately, the same applies to 2021.

Studies consistently show that New Year’s resolutions don’t work. By February, most people have abandoned them.

The problem with many resolutions is that they tend to be inherently self-critical and stem from a sort of magical thinking that with one big change – some weight loss, regular exercise, more money – life will be transformed. “It’s just too easy to look for a behavior that you regularly criticize yourself for, or feel guilty about,” Dr. McGonigal said. “It’s that false promise of, ‘If you change this one thing, you’ll change everything.’”

Studies show that one of the best ways to change behavior and form a new habit is to bundle it with an existing behavior. This is called “stacking.” It’s the reason doctors, for example, suggest taking a new medication at the same time you brush your teeth or have your morning coffee: You are more likely to remember to take your pill when you piggyback it onto an existing habit. Adding steps to your daily commute often is a better way to add exercise to your day than trying to carve out a separate time for a daily walk.

By reflecting on the lessons of the past year, we can stack and build on the good habits we started in 2021. Maybe that involved figuring out new ways to exercise when gyms were closed, strengthening friendships forged through our social bubbles, organizing our homes for 24-7 living and learning, discovering how to cook healthier meals or making ourselves accountable for the care of others.

Hopefully, with the distribution of vaccines, you don’t need to abandon those changes but, instead, try building on them.

Reflecting on the past, I decided to build a gratitude habit. Numerous studies show that people who have a daily gratitude practice, in which they consciously count their blessings, tend to be happier, have lower stress levels, sleep better and are less likely to experience depression.

In one study, researchers recruited 300 adults, most of them college students seeking mental health counseling. All the volunteers received counseling, but one group added a writing exercise focused on bad experiences, while another group wrote a letter of gratitude to another person each week for three weeks. A month later, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health. And the effect appears to last. Three months later the researchers scanned the brains of students while they completed a different gratitude exercise. The students who had written gratitude letters earlier in the study showed greater activation in a part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex, believed to be related to both reward and higher-level cognition.

You can send emails or post feelings of gratitude on social media or in a group chat. Or think of someone in your life and write them a letter of gratitude. (You don’t have to mail it.) Fill your letter with details describing how this person influenced your life and the things you appreciate about them. Or keep a daily gratitude journal.

“I think the full potential of gratitude is realized when people are able to express gratitude in words,” says Y. Joel Wong, chairman of the department of counseling and educational psychology at Indiana University. “When we are able to say what we’re grateful for and explain why, it shifts our attention from what’s negative to what’s positive in our lives.”

I am grateful for all my readers and wish you all a healthy, happy and peaceful 2022!

Escarole

Escarole (pronounced “ES-ka-roll”) is a leafy green vegetable and member of the chicory family along with frisée, endive, and Belgian endive. Like other chicories, it is popular in Italian cuisine and can be served either raw or cooked.

Also known as broad-leaved endive, Bavarian endive, Batavian endive, and scarole, escarole has broad, curly green leaves, and a slightly bitter flavor. The outer leaves tend to be darker in color and more bitter, while the inner leaves are more tender.

Like other members of the chicory family, escarole gets its bitter notes from a plant compound called lactucopicrin, which is also known as intybin.

Every 2 cups of raw escarole, about one-sixth of a medium head, provides:

  • Calories: 15
  • Carbs: 3 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Iron: 4% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Vitamin A: 58% of the DV
  • Vitamin K: 164% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 10% of the DV
  • Folate: 30% of the DV
  • Zinc: 6% of the DV
  • Copper: 9% of the DV

Escarole has very few calories and no fat. It is high in micronutrients and fiber.  Just 2 raw cups deliver 12% of the DV for fiber. This same serving provides 9% of the DV for copper and 30% for folate. Copper supports proper bone, connective tissue, and red blood cell formation, whereas folate helps ensure proper metabolism and create red and white blood cells.

The two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, act differently in your body.

While soluble fiber bulks up your stool and feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut, the insoluble type passes through your digestive system unchanged, promoting gut health by pushing food through your gut and stimulating bowel movements. Escarole provides mostly insoluble fiber.

Escarole is rich in provitamin A, providing 54% of the DV in only 2 cups. Vitamin A promotes eye health, as it’s an important component of rhodopsin, a pigment in your retina that helps discern between lightness and darkness. Vitamin A deficiencies are also associated with macular degeneration, an age-related decline in eyesight that results in blindness.

Escarole has many powerful antioxidants, which are compounds that defend your body against oxidative stress and unstable molecules called free radicals. Long-term oxidative stress may trigger inflammation. Studies suggest that kaempferol, an antioxidant in escarole, may safeguard your cells against chronic inflammation.

Vitamin K is important for normal blood clotting, as well as regulating calcium levels in your heart and bones. Leafy greens like escarole deliver a subtype called vitamin K1. Two cups provides 164% of your daily needs of this nutrient. A 2-year study in 440 postmenopausal women found that supplementing with 5 mg of vitamin K1 daily resulted in a 50% reduction in bone fractures, compared with a placebo group.

A 3-year study in 181 postmenopausal women found that combining vitamin K1 with vitamin D significantly slowed the hardening of arteries associated with heart disease.

Like any raw vegetable, escarole should be thoroughly washed in clean, running water before eating it. This reduces the threat of food-born illnesses by flushing out harmful bacteria.

Blood thinners like warfarin are known to interact with vitamin K. Rapid fluctuations in levels of this vitamin can counter the effects of your blood thinner, putting you at risk of serious side effects, such as blood clots, which can lead to stroke and heart attack. Limit your intake of escarole if you are taking these drugs.

Eating escarole regularly can exacerbate kidney stones in people with kidney problems. Its high content of oxalate, a plant compound that helps get rid of excess calcium, is filtered by your kidneys.

How to Buy

You can find escarole bunched in with the kales and lettuces at the supermarket.

Look for the vegetable, which can range from the size of a grapefruit to a large head of lettuce. For the freshest escarole or when buying locally, look for it in the cold weather months. It pops up at farmers’ markets starting in the fall and can be available through early spring. Choose heads that have firm, bright leaves without brown spots or wilting.

How to Store

Keep fresh escarole in the crisper for up to five days. Don’t wash the leafy green until you’re ready to prepare it since water will encourage deterioration. It will lose crispness the longer you store it, so use as soon as possible for the best results, especially when serving raw.

Cooked escarole will keep for up to three days in an airtight container in the fridge. Freezing is not recommended since it will break down the delicate leaves.

How to Cook

The wider, darker outer leaves of escarole tend to be a bit chewy and bitter, making them ideal for cooking. The leaves can be sautéed or braised similarly to collard greens and are frequently used in pasta and soup recipes, especially in Italian cuisine.

An acid like lemon juice or vinegar counters the bitterness of raw escarole.

For a salad, the inner, lighter-colored leaves are a good choice.

Escarole has a fresh, vegetal taste with light bitterness. It’s less bitter than other chicories, with the level of bitterness varying throughout the head. The inner, lighter-colored leaves are sweeter than the outer, darker green leaves. The flavor is brighter and more pronounced when raw, and more mellow when cooked.

Easy White Bean and Escarole Soup

Chris at Sweet Simple Vegan

4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 32 oz. vegetable broth
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 medium heads escarole, chopped
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can fire roasted tomatoes*
  • 1 (15 oz.) can cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 sprigs of thyme, stems removed
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • Pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, add in 2 tablespoons vegetable broth. Once warmed, add in the shallots, salt, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the shallots are softened, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Once the shallots are softened, add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable broth or as needed to prevent burning.
  3. Add the escarole and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the escarole is wilted. You can put a lid on to speed up the process. Add in fire roasted tomatoes, cannellini beans, thyme, oregano, and remaining vegetable broth. Mix everything well and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot with a lid and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and adjust seasonings to taste.
  5. Serve the soup with a sprinkle of vegan parmesan cheese and toasted gluten free Italian bread.

Resources

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