This hearty vegetarian stew is a warming and nutritious meal in a bowl. Cumin and cinnamon spice up the winter vegetables nicely with Moroccan flavours. Although many reserve cinnamon for sweeter fare, it is wonderful in savory stews like this one.
As with most soups and stews, exact measurements aren’t necessary. You can add more or less broth to adjust the consistency. Consider substituting other dried fruit for the raisins (chopped dried apricots work well). I kept the number of spices to a minimum to simplify the recipe, but feel free to add other spices: coriander, turmeric, and ginger would be good additions.
While this stew is delicious on its own or served with whole grain bread; you can also serve over a bed of couscous. Don’t forget the garnishes – they add texture, flavour, and colour!
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 1.5 cups)
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ to 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 cups vegetable broth*
1 can (29 oz.) diced tomatoes including juices
2.5 cups peeled butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 1 cup)
2.5 cups baby potatoes cut in halves or quarters (or chopped Yukon gold or similar potato)
4 cups cooked chickpeas (or two 19 oz cans, drained)
1/3 cup raisins
Salt and pepper to taste
*add more broth if you prefer more liquid or are serving with couscous. Check the consistency of the stew at the end of cooking and adapt as needed.
Garnishes (place in small bowls and allow diners to add their own)
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ cup chopped nuts
½ cup raisins
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add cumin, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes, and cook (stirring constantly) for 1 minute.
Add broth, diced tomatoes, squash, carrots, potatoes, chickpeas, and raisins. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes until vegetables are cooked through.
This week, read about how coffee drinkers live longer, anti-odor exercise apparel, how strong legs predict a healthier brain, the Mediterranean diet and breast cancer, healthful holiday baking, and a preview of Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story.
Coffee drinkers may live longer. Although many people believe that coffee drinking is a bad habit, a growing body of research is showing that coffee can be good for health. A new study published this week in the journal Circulation adds to this evidence. Researchers from Harvard University studied long-term coffee-drinking habits (3 decades) in three large prospective cohorts that included 208,500 men and women. They found that coffee drinkers lived longer, and had a lower risk of heart disease and neurological conditions. Other research has linked coffee drinking to reduced risk of diabetes, several types of cancer, and neurological conditions including Parkinson’s, MS, and Alzheimer’s. A prospective study such as this can’t prove cause and effect, but given the large body of evidence that corroborates these findings, further research into coffee drinking is warranted. (WebMD reporting on Circulation, Nov. 2015).
Muscle fitness predicts cognitive aging. The link between physical fitness and brain health is an exciting area of research, and this longitudinal study adds the body of literature showing that what’s good for the body is good for the brain. Researchers studied 10-year health and fitness data of 162 female twin pairs, using leg power as an objective measure of fitness. Women with the most powerful legs 10 years earlier had better thinking and memory skills than their weaker counterparts, and brain scans revealed healthier brains in women with strong legs. (Gretchen Reynolds, reporting on Gerontology, Nov 2015).
Eating nuts can lower cardiovascular disease risk. Nuts contain healthy fats that are associated with favorable blood lipid profiles. In this meta-analyis, researchers looked at 61 studies that examined the effect of treenuts on blood lipids (tree nuts include walnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts). They found that tree nut consumption was linked to blood markers associated with lower heart disease risk (lower total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and ApoB). The greatest effect was linked with consuming 60 grams of nuts or more daily (60 g nuts is equivalent to about 15 walnut halves). (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).
Why foods that make you fart can be a good thing. New research into the gut microbiome (the bacteria in your intestine) suggests that producing gas means that your body is hosting beneficial bacteria. Resistant starch appears to be a beneficial food component that offers cancer and disease protection. Beans and legumes are one of the best sources of resistant starch.
Mediterranean diet, olive oil & breast cancer risk. Another study adds to the growing evidence that eating a Mediterranean-style diet helps prevent disease. In this study (Predimed), women eating a Mediterranean diet reduced post-menopausal breast cancer risk by 51% compared to women in a control group. Karen Collins of the American Institute for Cancer research takes an in-depth look at this study, explaining how research typically characterizes Mediterranean-style diets by the amount of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, with olive oil as the primary source of added fat, and limited red meats or processed meats. The Predimed study found that olive oil consumption offered additional protection against cancer. Collins suggests that it’s possible that studies linking greater olive oil consumption with lower cancer risk may be “because olive oil use tends to go hand in hand with an overall healthy pattern that involves eating more vegetables and other healthful plant foods” and stressed that it’s important that increased olive oil consumption doesn’t increase overall calories, as being overweight is an established risk factor for breast cancer. (Karen Collins, reporting on JAMA Internal Medicine, Nov 2015.)
A day’s worth of sugar in a single good. The current recommended sugar intake for average individuals is about 12.5 teaspoons of sugar daily (average individuals are unfortunately sedentary, which exacerbates the effects of sugar; if you’re active you can get away with eating more sugar). For an overall healthy diet, it’s a good idea to reduce sugar intake, especially when you’re not moving your muscles. This article shows surprising foods that have over 12 teaspoons of sugar . . . and most of them aren’t even desserts! (The Atlantic).
Healthful holiday baking. I do believe it is possible to produce great-tasting baked goods that are healthier than the typical holiday fare. Some smart ingredient substitutions can reduce the sugar, fat, and calories and add a bit of nutrition to traditionally empty calories. Leslie Beck offers some clever substitutions in Globe and Mail column (a year old, but still relevant!). Also check out the baked goods in my recipe section.
New in my Healthy or Hype Series: Gluten-Free Diets. There is certainly a lot of hype about gluten-free diets. In terms of diet trends assessed by Google, “gluten-free diet” searches have risen dramatically over the last 10 years. Gluten-free/grain-free diet books remain bestsellers. And along with the interest is a multi-million dollar industry catering to the growing demand for gluten-free products. But will going gluten-free benefit your health?
There is certainly a lot of hype about gluten-free diets. In terms of diet trends assessed by Google, “gluten-free diet” searches have risen dramatically over the last 10 years. Gluten-free/grain-free diet books remain bestsellers. And along with the interest is a multi-million dollar industry catering to the growing demand for gluten-free products.
But will going gluten-free benefit your health?
What Is a Gluten-Free Diet?
Gluten-free diets avoid any foods or food items containing gluten, a mixture of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. Individuals with celiac disease (about 1% of the population) need to absolutely avoid gluten because it damages their intestines. A poorly understood condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) may exist in some individuals, but this is a debatable condition that recent studies have called into question.
Proponents of gluten-free diets claim that avoiding gluten will improve overall health, help you lose weight, improve athletic performance, and “cure” a laundry list of medical conditions including digestive problems, skin conditions, depression, anxiety, autism, and much more. For example, in his book Grain Brain, David Perlmutter claims that a gluten-free diet can cure 38 different diseases and symptoms; you’ll find Wheat Belly author William Davis’ very long list of conditions caused by consuming wheat, or treated by removing wheat here.
Feeling better on a gluten-free diet?
It may have nothing to do with gluten
If a person notices health benefits after eliminating gluten, they will attribute the benefit to going gluten free. But it’s almost impossible to attribute any benefits to the absence of gluten, unless you conduct a carefully controlled and blinded experiment. Restricting gluten can impact many other dietary variables that influence health (for example overall calories, diet quality, carbohydrate quality, ratio of fat/carbohydrates/protein, fiber intake).
Most gluten-free diets recommend limiting processed foods and refined carbohydrates and eating more fruits and vegetables, habits that can improve diet and health tremendously.
Also, when people pay more attention to food labels and are more aware of what they are eating, they tend to eat more healthfully overall, which benefits health. Paying attention to what you’re eating can also help weight loss efforts, and losing weight can lead to a host of health benefits unrelated to gluten.
Potential downsides of a gluten-free diet
A gluten-free diet that relies heavily on commercial products might be lacking on the nutrition front. It can also be expensive, and many gluten-free foods aren’t fortified with iron or folic acid. Also, when manufacturers remove gluten from foods they may add additional sugars, sodium, and unhealthy fats. Many gluten-free products use a refined gluten-free flour that lacks the fiber of other grains. Consumer Reports provides several examples of gluten-free foods that are unhealthier than their gluten-containing counterparts (see their report for specific examples). One preliminary study suggests that a gluten-free diet may decrease the count of beneficial gut bacteria.
Also, gluten-free diets tend to be low in carbohydrates, which might not be an ideal eating style for most people, namely endurance athletes who need additional carbohydrates to fuel their body for workouts.
While gluten can cause problems in a minority of the population, there is no good evidence that gluten is problematic for most people. Many individuals are getting their information from popular anti-grain or anti-wheat books (for example, Wheatbelly, Grain Brain), which are not based in good science and have been widely criticized by most academics and nutrition experts. For example, here is how McGill’s Joe Schwarcz describes the lack of science behind Wheat Belly:
“But if you are scientific minded, it is worthwhile to read this book just to see how masterfully Davis blends cherry-picked data, inflammatory hyperbole, misused science, irrelevant references and opinion masquerading as fact into a recipe for a cure-all. Some of the “science” is just absurd.”
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity questioned. Experts question the existence of gluten sensitivity in non-celiac individuals. A recent study followed 392 patients complaining of gluten-related symptoms for 2 years. Researchers concluded that self-perceived gluten-related symptoms are rarely indicative of the presence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, finding that 86% of patients who thought they were sensitive to gluten did not have celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This study corroborates other research showing that the vast majority of people who think they’re sensitive to gluten aren’t.
In terms of athletic performance, there is no evidence to support a gluten-free diet. A study in competitive cyclists used a controlled randomized double-blind, cross-over design to examine the influence of gluten. Investigators found that a gluten-containing diet did not influence performance in a 15 km time trial, GI symptoms, well-being, and other inflammatory markers or indicators of intestinal injury in non-celiac endurance athletes. You can read more about the evidence for athletes avoiding gluten and grains here.
Beyond the 1% percent of North Americans have celiac disease who need to strictly avoid gluten, scientific evidence that a gluten-free diet will benefit others is lacking. A gluten-free diet is beneficial if it means that individuals start replace gluten-containing grains with vegetables and fruits and avoid processed foods.
If you feel better after eliminating gluten, your new healthy habits likely don’t need to be at the expense of limiting a wide array of foods with known health-promoting properties.
This past weekend, Ottawa-Gatineau nordic ski clubs hosted the final event in the National Capital Region Time Trial Series, a classic sprint race. The Series has run monthly over the summer, allowing local and visiting cross country racers many opportunities to develop their racing strategies, compete against other athletes, and monitor their progress. The cross country ski dryland training season can be a long one, so events such as these are important to keep athletes motivated and allow them to stay in touch with that racing feeling.
Technical downhill turn on the course
Over the last few years these time trials have grown in number, often approaching almost 100 athletes per event. Local ski clubs Nakkertok Nordic, Chelsea Nordiq, and Skinouk have come together to coordinate these races, and the hard work of coaches and volunteers has benefited the ski community tremendously.
The venue for these events is the Gatineau Park parkways, a true rollerskier’s paradise, with over 30 kilometers of paved roads that includes long uphills and downhills. The parkways are closed to vehicular traffic at this time of year, and relatively few cyclists are still riding, making it a safe venue for such an event. During the Spring and Summer, parkways are closed at designated times on weekends, which is popular with many recreational athletes.
Classic Sprint Event
The King’s Court sprint venue was based at P5, and featured a fun 1 km loop. After racing a time trial to determine subsequent heats based on speed, racers competed in three head-to-head 6-person heats. The top 2 finishers in each race moved to a faster heat; finishers 3 and 4 remained in the same heat, and finishers 4 and 5 move to a slower heat.
Although gender and age typically designate who you race against, this format is purely based on speed (athlete and rollerski wheel speed!), which mixes things up in ways that are beneficial to learning, and you’ll get a mix of women, men, and age categories in the same event.
Mixed age and gender heats lined up and ready to start
During the ski season, sprint races don’t allow all racers to develop the necessary skills and tactics needed to succeed at sprint racing. Typically, only the top 30 racers in the time trial advance to heats, and after the quarterfinal only 12 racers move on to the semi-final and final. Some racers never move beyond a time trial and don’t experience (or have a chance to improve) in head-to-head competition. This “King’s Court” format ensures that everyone has a chance to develop their sprinting abilities.
With 95 starters and a challenging course with U-turns, there was a lot of movement among competitors and ample opportunity to work on different strategies. A few racers tried double poling some of the heats (on skate rollerskis). This is a strategy sometimes used in some World Cup classic sprints, and most racers don’t typically have the chance to practice in head-to-head racing situations, making this event a great opportunity to try it out to see when it works. . . .
Double poling on skate skis was an advantage at this point in this heat
and when it doesn’t . . .
Double poling only can have disadvantages with an uphill start (can you spot the double poler?) but you may make up for it later. It depends on the course, and takes learning experiences such as these.
All in all it was a great event that showcased a terrific venue and a collaboration among clubs that has led to some pretty fine organization and athlete development opportunities for the nordic racing community. Many thanks to to the organizers from Nakkertok, Chelsea Nordic, and Skinouk for making this happen.
Here are some more pictures of the event, and you’ll find a full a lot more here.