Fall Harvest Recipes: Sweet Root Ground Vegetables…Food for the Brain
The brain, made largely of fat and cholesterol, runs on glucose. Only 3 pounds and 2%-3% of body weight, it burns 20% of our calories, even when we are at rest. The brain “consumes energy at 10 times the rate of the rest of the body per gram of tissue.”1 How easy it is to crave sugar when we are hard at work and need to concentrate, memorize, and stay focused. It is our body telling us that our brain needs energy to keep processing.
Stress — mental stress — is contractive. Sugar (and alcohol, etc.) are expansive and help offset the contractive nature of stress. Little wonder after a stressful week of intense concentration that we enjoy going to the kitchen to bake delectable sweet treats like a batch of cookies, a cake, or a pie. If we shun baking, perhaps we run to the store for something sweet and expansive. Or, we crave a lively Friday night, partying at the local pub or sharing with friends a good bottle of wine and yummy treats around the fire. These are all natural reactions to stress and an overworked brain.
Just recognizing that the brain runs on glucose can be helpful. It means that when we crave sweets, we do not have to feel “guilty.” We do not have to feel ashamed… “if only I had more willpower.” It has nothing to do with willpower. It simply means that we are listening to our body telling us to supply it with the right type of fuel. (Recall that hypoglycemia can itself do harm to the brain, so it is good to listen to these messages.) The trick is to learn to reach for sweet fruits and vegetables in place of sugar or alcohol. These can lead to depression and adrenal exhaustion (in Chinese theory, sugar is part of the Earth phase, the controlling element of the kidney, Kidney essence, and the adrenals). So excessive sugar, which we crave to overcome exhaustion can, in fact, exacerbate it.
Harvest vegetables for stress and the brain. October is the time when chilly, shorter days signal the true time to get back to work. In a rhythm now after the warm, freer days of summer, we begin in earnest to settle into study and mental tasks. Nature serves up in this season just the antidote to cooler days and the need for sweet, wholesome foods to fuel the brain. She gives us a rich harvest of deliciously-sweet root and ground vegetables…squashes such as acorn and butternut, and root vegetables, round ones like onions, turnips, beets, and rutabagas, and long roots like parsnips, carrots, and burdock. What a wonderful rainbow of complex carbohydrates and antioxidants to fuel and protect our brains as we settle into serious mental tasks.
Each vegetable group has its own special type of energy. Round and root vegetables aid the digestive tract in absorption and assimilation of nutrients. They also convey stability and stamina.2 And, they are grounding. By selecting specific ones, or combinations, as well as by varying cooking techniques, we can adjust the way energy flows in our body and even tweak our mood. Let’s see how this works:
• Tubers like yams and sweet potatoes create dampness and warmth in the lower body, to aid digestion and counter contraction.
• Round roots generally mature earlier than long roots and contain more water. They bring a calming nature and dampness to the lower digestive tract.
• Long roots, when cooked, bring warmth to the lower digestive tract and help strengthen these digestive organs, as well as the bladder and reproductive organs3 (the “doctrine of signatures” at work!). All are good antidotes to stress and concentrated mental work.
Cooking also affects the energy of foods. On a scale of the most expansive to the most contractive of the preparation ideas below are: boiling, steaming, and, baking. Boiling, the most expansive, adds water and leaches out minerals, making foods heavier and denser.4 Stewing (when a variety of ingredients are simmered gently together with a bit of water) helps meld the flavors of foods and is appropriate for dry days and dry conditions in the body. Stewed vegetables hold their heat much longer than when steamed.
Steaming adds less water and preserves nutrients (except for heat-sensitive vitamin C…steaming is hotter than boiling), and makes foods lighter and less-dense. While steaming is a very popular preparation today since it preserves nutrients, in excess, it can sap energy and stamina and cause poor circulation to the extremities, resulting in cold hands and feet.(( Gagne, 147.)) Baking, which is the easiest way to do root and ground vegetables, is drying and helps concentrate the energy of foods.
The following “recipes” are really just the simplest of preparations to emphasize the natural goodness of harvest vegetables. The first three, which involve cooking vegetables in their skins, require almost no preparation. They are so easy, you can prepare them in the morning while you eat breakfast and are getting ready for work or school. Then, you are ready for quick snacking throughout the day, when your brain “runs dry” and needs a quick infusion of sweet, wholesome energy. Add your favorite healthy oils, nuts, seeds, and seasonings for variety and interest.
Simple Baked Butternut or Acorn Squash
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Wash squash and cut length-wise. Invert on a baking sheet pan. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes. Scrape out seeds as you go. Sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds, for extra nutrition and to balance the carbohydrates with good fats.
Simple Baked Sweet Potatoes
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash potatoes and place on an oven rack, with a drip tray on the shelf below (some caramelized juice may drip out). Bake about one hour. The skins hold in the moisture and the flesh bakes to a custardy, sweet-smoothness. Delicious sprinkled with fresh lime juice!
Bring a stock pot of water to a boil. Add onions, with all the outer skins in tact. Boil for about 30-45 minutes, until tender. Remove onions from liquid and allow to cool on a plate. At the table, allow your guests to squeeze the sweet flesh (it will pop out of the skin) onto meat, grains, other vegetables, etc. This is fun and delicious!
Steamed Round and Root Vegetables
Place an inch or so of water in a stock pot, then a vegetable steamer basket, making sure the water level is lower than the basket. Wash and slice a variety of vegetables. Place the harder ones like beets and carrots in to cook first, adding the softer ones later. Or, slice the harder ones into thinner slices than the softer vegetables. Bring the water to a boil and cover the pot to steam until vegetables reach the desired degree of softness.
Stewed Round and Root Vegetables
Wash and slice a variety of sweet vegetables, place in a stock pot. Add water just to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn the flame down to simmer. When vegetables are tender, puree with an immersion wand. [Season with your favorite herbs/spices].
A Pumpkin “Stew” (This requires a bit more effort, but well worth it):
In a stock pot:
1 cup solid packed pumpkin, fresh or canned 1. Saute vegetables in butter til soft.
3 cups organic chicken or vegetable broth 2. Sprinkle flour over veggies and blend
2 leeks or 1 large onion, chopped 3. Add pumpkin and broth
1 carrot, diced 4. Simmer, covered for 30 minutes.
1 celery stalk, diced 5. Allow to cool
2 Tbs. butter 6. Blend in food processor or with “wand”
2 Tbs. flour, preferably whole wheat 7. Add salt and pepper to taste
Fresh nutmeg Grate nutmeg on top each serving, to taste.
Copyright 2008 Pathways4Health