Tart Cherry + Apricot Oatmeal

Just in time for summer, here’s a delicious new way to start your day.

So many athletes and active individuals tend to eat oatmeal as a morning go-to, and inevitably get stuck in a rut with the same ingredient and flavor combinations day in and day out.

Oatmeal is super nourishing, filling, fiber-rich, and generally an all-around superb breakfast option. But changing it up every now and again is also optimal to encourage digesting and absorbing a wide range of micronutrients as well as feeding diversity in the gut microbial community.

Another challenge that you might find yourself in, is that active individuals often don’t start the day with “enough” food.

Classified as a “within-day energy deficiency,” an example is starting your day with a small breakfast, slightly larger lunch, and then having a moderate to large dinner. OR expending more energy than you’ve consumed (through both activity and daily living), in the early hours of the day and not topping up the tank until hours later, creating metabolic and physiological stress.

I also used to eat this way. It was part of my restrictive eating and diet mentality paradigms.

Not only is this style of consuming most of the day’s caloric energy late in the day problematic for digestion, since eating larger meals late at night is challenging for the body to digest and negatively impacts sleep quality, but it also creates a feast and famine cycle in the mind and body.

When I was caught in this pattern, I was routinely hungry all the time because I was training fairly heavily, and not proportioning all my meals to be adequate for what I needed.

For more information on the topic of Within-Day Energy Deficiency, here and here are two great articles.
And two of the scientific studies frequently referenced on this topic:
Within-Day Energy Deficiency and Reproductive Function in Female Endurance Athletes
Within-Day Energy Deficiency and Metabolic Perturbation in Male Endurance Athletes

The portion size below is “larger” than usual, but just about right for moderately active individuals. If you’re more or less active, or in a larger or smaller body (than average), feel free to adjust portion size accordingly.

Tart Cherry + Apricot Oatmeal 

Prep:  none  | Cook: 10-15  minutes  | Serves: 1

1 1/2 cups water
1/8 tsp. mineral salt
⅛ tsp. ground ginger
⅛ tsp. ground cardamom
¼ tsp. fennel seeds
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats, certified gluten-free as needed
2 Tbs. dried tart cherries
2 apricots, diced (approx. 150 grams)
2-3 tsp. sunflower butter
1-2 tsp. chia seeds

  1. On the stovetop, bring the water, salt, and spices to a boil in a small saucepan.
  2. When boiling, turn down to medium-low, and stir in the oats and dried cherries. Let cook until it is soft and nearly all the water has been absorbed, about five minutes.
  3. Then add in the diced apricot and stir. Turn off the heat and stir in the sunflower butter, and chia seeds, making sure they are spread evenly throughout.
  4. Spoon into a bowl and enjoy!

Notes / Substitution Suggestions:
– adjust the spices as needed for your energetics
– omit the tart cherries and increase to three apricots
– for a smaller portion, use ½ cup rolled oats
– omit either the sunflower butter or chia seeds and double the amount of the one you keep in. 

Within my nutrition practice, I specialize in endurance athletes and digestive imbalances. If you’re curious about how to improve your performance, health, and digestion, I encourage you to reach out to me for more personalized support.

Making Beans More Digestible – And the Fiber Connection

When it comes to digesting beans and legumes, complaints about not being able to digest them, or suffering with a painful balloon belly is a common concern. 

One of the common reasons for this has to do with your gut microbiome — all those microorganisms that live in the GI tract.

Your digestive system is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria that ideally live in a symbiotic relationship with you. This means you and they both benefit from them being there. Just like you, the microbes need to eat to live and grow, so they obtain nourishment from the food you eat. In the case of beneficial bacteria, they feed on the undigested part of the food, (fiber,) that is passing through your large intestine by fermenting it into short chain fatty acids such as Butyrate. And beans and legumes are rich in fiber. 

When we introduce any food that we haven’t routinely been eating into our diet, what often occurs is a readjustment period at the microbiome level. Think of it like the first day of a new job or school year. There’s going to be some shakeup to the internal routine and homeostasis. This means there might be more uncomfortable symptoms before optimal digestion occurs because the type of bacteria that eat the food you’re eating is growing its population, while die off of the type that no longer has a food source is also happening. 

But if we can make that transition smoother and get to the optimal digestion that occurs when we can tolerate eating beans and other fiber-rich foods, we’re setting ourselves up for increased intestinal health. This is because short chain fatty acids, produced by those beneficial bacteria in the intestine, play an important role in the maintenance of the intestinal barrier. 

Whereas we don’t want an overgrowth of bad bacteria, having ample and diverse beneficial bacteria is a hallmark for optimal health. Low beneficial bacteria can impact your protective mucus lining in the intestinal tract, which supports up to 80% of our immunity. The commonly used phrase “leaky gut” comes into play here when the interplay between a low fiber diet, low beneficial bacteria count, and difficult to digest macromolecules poke holes in the cheesecloth-like fragility of the intestinal lining and then opens the way for the immune system to do its job –in overdrive – resulting in sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies to many foods that are in your normal routine. 

Tips for Increasing Digestibility of Beans and Legumes

If you struggle with tolerating beans and legumes, first try out the smallest, quick-cook split mung beans, red lentils, and whole green mung beans. They are easiest to digest. The larger beans are more drying in nature, and tougher for the body to break down. Red lentils and split mung beans break down and cook quickly in 20-30 minutes, and they don’t usually need soaking or planning ahead. However, if you are already having tummy troubles, soaking is a good idea. 

Below are a few more tips to help make lentils and beans more digestible:

– Introduce beans and lentils into your diet slowly. Because beans are rich in fiber and will take a few days or couple weeks to repopulate the type of bacteria in your gut that will break them down and digest them, introduce them in small amounts. If you’re particularly sensitive, start with 1-2 tablespoons per meal, and work up from there to a standard ½ – ¾ cup serving.

– Soak and rinse in a big bowl of water, overnight or for 1-6 hours, depending on the type of legume. For large beans, you’ll need an overnight soak. For smaller beans such as adzuki and mung beans, a six hour soak will do. And for lentils and split mung, a soak of an hour is sufficient. Discard the soaking water before using in your recipe.

– If there is foam that rises to the top of the pot while cooking, skim it off. The foam contains a type of protein that is hard on your digestive system. When in nutrition school, my cooking instructor Eleonora constantly repeated, ‘skim your beans’ so often that I hear her voice every time I see foam! 

– Make sure the lentils – or other beans – are cooked thoroughly. This means they are soft, not al dente. One of the biggest challenges with digesting canned canned beans is that most of them are not actually cooked as well as they should be for proper digestion. Cooking until the lentils or beans begin to break apart, or in the case of red lentils and split mung, turn into mush completely, is the best way to know they’re done.

– Add spices! Carminative spices, meaning they boost the digestive capacity, makes meals more digestible. This is why a big soup pot with beans and meat often contains a bay leaf. Other carminative spices include ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel seed, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, and more. Virtually every cuisine of the world is ripe with carminatives in the traditional recipes for the exact purpose of not only adding flavor, but also boosting digestion!

– Add a squeeze of lemon, lime juice, or vinegar. Ideally every meal contains a slightly sour flavor addition, since sour helps to activate digestive enzymes. Most meals don’t need to taste outright sour, however. A little addition at the end of cooking goes a long way and often balances the recipe that’s missing ‘just a little something.’

– Eat your foods warm. If you think of an ideal digestive scenario as a nice little cozy fire in the digestive system, eating cold foods is like throwing cold water on it. Not so great for turning food into nutrients and energy! 

– Reduce stimulus during mealtime. Eating while multitasking with your phone, computer, while reading or watching a video, and eating in a loud, overstimulated environment or while upset or anxious is a recipe for continued GI problems. Our gut and brain are incredibly closely linked. We can go a long way to improve tolerance to the foods we eat just by eating slowly, chewing each bite upwards of 30 times (yes, really!), and not doing anything else while eating, other than eating. If you try these tips, you might also find you enjoy your food more, which is always an added bonus.

Signs of Balance and Imbalance

Ultimately, the goal is to feel good in your body and mind. Signs of imbalance include lack of appetite, bloating or gas, pain or cramps, chronic fatigue, sluggish or rapid digestion, extreme Appetite, bodily aches, skin irritations, itching and rashes, brain fog, and irritability. 

Reach Out 

If you’re ready for more individualized nutritional guidance, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support on digestion, sports nutrition, or both. 

Simple Non-Dairy Hemp Seed Milk

Spurred on by the realization that I was contributing a lot of plastic to the landfill since they were no longer recyclable, I stopped buying cartons of non-dairy milk a couple years ago. When I stopped, I didn’t like the waste or the time it took to soak, blend, and filter nuts to make traditional homemade nut milk. So I began using raw nut butters, such as cashew, to make an easy DIY nut milk in a quick minute.

But in the last few months, I suddenly remembered another option that is arguably even easier and more accessible.

Hemp seeds!

Hemp seeds as a food product are often overlooked in the nut and seed category. But what they’ve got going for them is that they are highly digestible, especially compared to most other nuts and seeds. And they contain a truly optimal fatty acid profile, with a 3:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids (1). 

It’s important for us to eat a variety of fatty acid types from foods, but when it comes to the polyunsaturated fats which contain omega-6s and omega-3s, our modern diets tend to be less diverse and mainly have an abundance of omega-6s. 

The omega 6 fats are found in large amounts in soy, corn, safflower, sunflower and peanut oils, as well as sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds, and nearly all nuts. 

In whole food form, omega 6 containing fats are healthy and essential, but need to be balanced with omega-3 fats such as freshly ground flax, chia, walnuts, hemp, and if you eat fish, wild caught cold-water fish such as salmon, halibut, anchovies, cod, and sardines. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3’s should be under 5:1 to be considered anti-inflammatory and for most individuals, this ratio is at least 20:1 or more in the daily diet.  

If you have an inflammatory condition such as a chronic gut health imbalance, autoimmune conditions, arthritis of any type, and/or you are an otherwise healthy athlete looking to improve recovery between workouts, eating an optimal balance of omega 3s and 6s can be incredibly helpful.

Adding hemp seeds, and this simple hemp milk, can be another way to do this.

One other note about hemp seeds: try not to boil the hemp milk or the seeds – since they contain more heat-sensitive omega 3s, the oils will break down and oxidize – becoming inflammatory – at higher than medium heat. 

Simple Non-Dairy Hemp Seed Milk
Prep:  5 minutes   | Makes: 4 cups

3 Tbs. hemp seeds
4 cups water, divided

  1.  Combine hemp seeds and 2 cups of water in a high-speed blender until smooth, about 1 minute. Then add in the remaining 2 cups of water and gently blend for a few seconds more. Pour into a quart jar with a lid and store in the fridge until ready to use.

NOTES: For a slightly richer milk, you can bump up the hemp seeds to use ¼ cup instead of 3 tablespoons.
If you have an extra large blender, add all 4 cups of liquid and blend, rather than separate them. I have a smaller blender and prefer to give it a smaller ratio of seed to liquid to blend well.

Other Recipes that Feature Hemp Seeds:

References:
1. Da Porto, C., Decorti, D., and Tubaro, F. (2011). Fatty acid composition and oxidation stability of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) seed oil extracted by supercritical carbon dioxide. Industrial Crops and Products, 36(1), 401–404. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2011.09.015