Happy February friends and welcome to the first official post of this holistic-food-wellness series! I'm not sure about you, but here in Pittsburgh, I'm completely over this winter weather. My seasonal depression is rearing it's stupid head and I just miss the sun on my face. Nina, on the other hand, is quite the lucky duck living in Boulder, CO where it's been around 50℉ and sunny. She has no trouble getting outside for a walk or bike ride to catch some rays (I'm not jealous, you're jealous). But with all that in mind, this week Nina and I want to talk to you guys about the ever important Vitamin D and how we can get it!
Long story short, vitamin D (aka the sunshine vitamin) is produced as the skin is exposed to the sun. For those of you living amid crappy weather like me, or if you live in a sunny area but spend most of the daylight hours indoors, there’s still hope. Yes, a lack of sunlight makes absorbing enough vitamin D more challenging, but meeting your daily need is not impossible! All it takes is 20 minutes of sun exposure (without lathering on the sunscreen first) to get the recommended 600 IU of daily vitamin D. Later in the year — during a more appropriate summer month — we hope to talk about foods that naturally protect our skin (like tomatoes!) and the potential dangers/lost benefits we face as a result of our sunscreen obsession and phobia of the sun. In the meantime, just know that short-term sun exposure (like 20 minutes) can help us meet our vitamin D needs, and food can help fill in the gaps from there.
If we nerd out here for a moment, vitamin D isn't actually a vitamin but rather considered to be a pro-hormone because humans can produce it naturally (whereas real vitamins are nutrients that can't be created in the body). A lack of vitamin D in your system can result in bone damage like osteoporosis and osteomalacia. It can also cause issues with your teeth and make you more susceptible to diseases such as cancer, type 1 diabetes, and even multiple sclerosis.
As kids, we are taught about vitamin D and calcium and their correlation to strong bones - which side note, vitamin D is actually the guy who primarily regulates your body’s calcium levels, meaning he’s basically the gatekeeper for your vitamin D stores (I don’t remember getting that in depth in school, but I also didn’t have to take any bio or chem classes in college). But have you ever thought about vitamin D and the immune system? Turns out that this nutrient activates our immune systems' killer T-cells. Once activated, T-cells act as an assassin – seeking out and destroying every trace of an enemy invader in our bodies. The only issue with T-cells is that they can’t be activated on their own, they need good old Vitamin D to drop in and save the day. So basically, when we have enough vitamin D in our system, our T-cell ninjas are always on guard ready to fight those pesky pathogens. But when vitamin D stores are depleted, we become that much more vulnerable to disease, infection, and autoimmunity...YIKES.
This is where supplementing and nutritional support come into play, as right now, laying out in the sun isn't exactly an option for most of us still dealing with freezing temperatures and scattered snow showers. You can always go the supplement route and take a chance with whatever brand Amazon or GNC is promoting at the moment, but we don't see a point in wasting your money on a capsule that may or may not be absorbed effectively by your body. Not to mention, the safety of such supplementation has not been proven! Anyone feeling they may require supplementation should consult their doctor and work with a registered dietitian to do so safely. Supplements are not evil, but in MOST cases, they are not necessary.
So let us meet the vitamin D players of the week shall we?
In the first corner, we have team carnivore which consists of animal products such as: wild caught fish, beef/calf liver, cod liver oil, eggs, dairy milk, yogurt, and cheese. All of these foods contain vitamin D and if you eat a well balanced, nutritionally dense diet - aka pair these foods with your fruits and vegetables - your body should naturally be able to do it's thing. Many people think we need to consume animal products in order to get the nutrition we need, but as veganism and plant based diets are becoming more mainstream, we're actually learning that may not be true. Yes, consuming animals and their bi-products is a way to get these needed nutrients, but it isn't the be all end all way. Which is why in the opposite corner, we have team plants (don't worry, we'll come up with better names as this series progresses). This team consists of plant based and fortified foods including: almond milk, tofu, orange juice, oatmeal, and our MVP of the week, mushrooms.
Now I know what some of you may be thinking, "Ew. Mushrooms are freaking gross." And I totally understand that mentality. I legit didn't eat and was afraid of mushrooms until I went to college. (As a kid, I was a fan of the Babar books - the stories of an elephant who went on adventures. Long story short, like three pages into the first book, the elephant king [Babar's father or grandfather, I can't recall and am too lazy to Google it at the moment] ate a poisonous mushroom and died! So I was traumatized and refused to eat mushrooms until I was like 20 years old...).
But bravely accepting the fact that mushrooms are not out to kill (for the most part...), let’s look at some of the important facts we should know about this weird fungus. We wanted to start off with a dad-inspired mushroom/fungus joke, but it might need time to grow on you (**insert rim shot here**). Something to consider is that mushrooms don’t naturally contain crazy amounts of vitamin D, but growers can expose the mushrooms to natural or artificial sunlight during the growing (or drying) process to up the vitamin D content. This is great, but it’s not the same vitamin D that our bodies produce from sun exposure. Yes, you read that correctly (see why I need Nina for this?!). To make things more confusing, there is more than one form of vitamin D; in fact, there are 5. Vitamin D3 is what our skin creates with sunshine. Mushrooms, on the other hand, produce D2. Do they share many of the same properties? Yes. Are they the same? No (and we say this with much sorrow, because the two of us could eat mushrooms everyday and would love if it meet all our vitamin D needs). If you’re interested in knowing more about which mushrooms are higher in D and “connect with other mushroom lovers”, here is a great resource for you. (If you click the link, yes, there is such a thing as a mushroom council.) Anyway...some research still suggests that mushrooms can be a reasonable source of D3 and D4. PLUS, the D2 in mushrooms has been show to help raise blood levels of the active form, vitamin D3, so we say have at it!
*Quick disclaimer, I, Kelly, am one of those people that has a really hard time following and creating a recipe because depending on the day, my cravings and taste palate is going to vary - hence why it's taken me this long to finally start recipe blogging. When I do follow a recipe, I tend to use it as a base and then "doctor it up" as I feel is necessary. I urge you to do the same if you want to try replicating. Use these measurements as a base and take as many taste tests as you need! And if you hate an ingredient, discard it and use something else in it's place! (Though, I guess if you hate mushrooms, you're kind of out of luck with this one...unless you want to use tofu...then use tofu!)*
Okay so this recipe is super simple. I wanted to create a base that you could technically make a huge batch of and then create other recipes from it. It's functional and allows you to meal prep without eating the same thing every single day for a week. Because no one actually wants to do that. (Well I do sometimes when I find something I love, but I'm a bit odd in that sense...)
For this recipe you will need:
1 tbsp oil of choice (I was out of avocado oil so I used just a tbsp of veggie broth and a small drizzle of EVOO) 1 large yellow onion (I used 2 small ones) One package of white button mushrooms
One package of shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp liquid smoke (you technically don't need this but gosh is it a game CHANGER)
1 tbpsp garlic salt
1 tbsp paprika
Nutritional Yeast (Totally optional - acts kind of like a vegan parm but has more of a cheddar undertone - it works really well in bringing out the smokiness here)
1. Put your veggie broth and oil in a pan and let it get a little warm (nothing higher than your medium setting) as you chop your onions. Add them first to the pan so they can start to caramelize.
2. Chop your mushrooms into tiny cubes. I (and Greg) love mushrooms, so I chopped the button mushrooms small as I suggested, then chopped the shiitake ones in quarters so they were a bit bigger. I personally just wanted different sized textures that night, plus mushrooms do shrink when you cook them, so remember you can always add more broth or water depending on your desired size.
3. Add the liquid smoke and cover for 5-8 minutes. Please note that liquid smoke is definitely a condensed, super strong flavor, so a little does go a long way. I personally didn't measure, and just drizzled some a bit generously over top and then covered the pan so the everything would marinate and steam together. I strongly suggest adding a little at a time and taste testing as you go. I also suggest not tasting the liquid smoke on it's own - it's not bad, but it's also not something I will be doing again...
4. As everything is marinating, I suggest using this time to prep the rest of your meal. I was craving a nourish bowl so I prepped a quinoa/rice blend and roasted butternut squash, cauliflower, and chickpeas in paprika, parsley, minced garlic, salt (I'm obsessed with the pink Himalayan salt trend), pepper, and a dash of nutritional yeast. But you can do whatever makes your heart happiest!
5. Once you feel your mushrooms are at their desired size and "smokiness" add dashes at a time of the rest of the spices. None of these spices are super strong (paprika is probably the strongest of the bunch) and they all pair well together so seasoning shouldn't be an issue. Again, I'm the type of gal who generously sprinkles her spices but I know my taste buds are not your taste buds. Do what feels right, taste test, and adjust as necessary. And again, increase the spices gradually - you can always add more spices, you can't take them away. Mix, re-cover your pan, and turn the stove top to a low setting as they continue to marinate and you prep the rest of your dinner
6. Plate as desired...
Okay guys, so that's basically it. Again I know this wasn't anything super special, but I thought it might be a wise idea to start basic before we get into anything crazy. So as I had mentioned in the recipe, I chose to put these mushroom crumbles into a nourish bowl. I plated it with the rice blend first, then laid my veggies and the chickpeas in their own "lines". I added a little more cracked pepper (because I personally love pepper), and topped it with actual garlic cloves (cats out of the bag - I'm not a vampire), black sesame seeds, roasted pumpkin seeds, and a cute little sprig of basil from my herb garden (JUST SAYING - Greg got me an Aerogarden for Christmas so I can grow my own herbs [and not kill them immediately] and the thing is amazing...I'm contemplating buying a second one to grow my own lettuce patch #notsponsored #iwish).
The great thing about this base is how diverse it can be. Friday I separated about a cup from the leftovers and added cumin, red chili powder, and freshly squeezed lime juice to it and put it into a "quesadilla" wrap with roasted onions, peppers, some taco inspired hummus, shredded lettuce, and salsa. For dinner tonight, I put the rest of the leftovers into my food processor and added cannellini beans, the leftover cauliflower, curry powder, onion powder, and Thai basil from the Aerogarden into my food processor to pulse. I formed them into balls and coated them with a mixture of panko, ground flax seed, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper to create an indian-flavor inspired "bean ball”, which I will pair with brown rice, marinated eggplant, and a Moroccan chickpea soup my mom found for me at Whole Foods (I'm using it more like a sauce instead of a soup). You could also turn the base into black bean burgers, or do a Thai inspired ramen/udon noodle/lo mein dish...the possibilities are honestly endless with this one!
Thank you for getting through this first post with us! We're excited to continue on in this holistic wellness food journey and can't wait to see how this grows (and how much better we get at this!) If you try the recipe, we hope you enjoy it and would love to hear any feedback you guys have! Cheers until next time!