This recipe is one of my absolute favorites. It’s easy; it’s made from 100% healthy, whole foods; it’s delicious; and it’s pretty enough to serve to guests. I’ve been waiting until spring to post it, because it’s perfect for spring and summer BBQs. But another reason I love this recipe is because it doesn’t have to be a dessert. You can just as easily serve this for breakfast on top of some yogurt or oatmeal.
I adapted the recipe from one I found on the World’s Healthiest Foods website (here). I just added a few things – almonds, other berries, and some fresh lemon juice. And, I reduced the honey because I think the berries make it sweet enough. I’ve passed this recipe along to some family and friends and it always gets great reviews. You can make it with any type of fruit – I’ve done all berries but I also made one last summer with peaches and blueberries.
The nutritional value is pretty obvious: berries, nuts, dates. And we learned Tuesday that frozen berries can be just as nutritious as fresh, so if you don’t want to spend a fortune on fresh organic berries, frozen will work really well. Usually I use a mix of fresh and frozen, but today I used all frozen. I chose cherries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries.
Oh, and we usually serve this with ice cream. I’m hoping I have time today to pick some up! (Don’t worry Ed, I’ll make time).
2 ½ cups walnuts (I used about 1 ¾ cups walnuts, ¾ cup almonds)
1 ½ cups dates (don’t forget to buy pitted dates or remove them yourself, which only takes a few minutes and saves money)
5 cups fresh or frozen berries (or any fruit)
2 tbsp raw honey
1 ½ tbsp arrowroot
2 tbsp water, or juice from frozen berries
1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Combine nuts and pitted dates in food processor until well ground, but not smooth (about 45 seconds for me). Press into a pie pan and refrigerate.
Thaw the frozen fruit. Place 2 cups of fruit, water, and arrowroot into food processor or blender and puree. (If you’re using some frozen and some fresh fruit, use the frozen for this part).
Place puree into a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 4 minutes. When puree thickens, remove from heat. Mix into a bowl with the other fruit, raw honey, and fresh lemon juice. Pour mixture into tart shell, cover, and refrigerate for 2-3 hours (or more) before eating.
I made this when I got up this morning, but had pulled the recipe out last night and set it on the counter. Apparently Ed saw it and decided to add something… see below.
(In case my iphone photo isn’t clear enough, it says “1 happy husband” – ha! It's his favorite dessert and he always will casually ask when I'm going to make it again!)
As promised on Monday, I am going to give a quick overview of oxalates. I think it’s important for people to understand what they are, which foods they are in, and how they impact which nutrients you obtain from your foods.
What are they?
Oxalates are organic acids, and are made inside of plants, animals and humans on a regular basis. They are considered binders, because they combine chemically with nutrients to form certain substances that the body simply cannot absorb. Oxalates occur naturally due to the incomplete oxidation of carbohydrates. Oxalates or oxalic acid is found in many foods in high levels; however, they are found in certain household products in toxic levels. These include things like bleaches, anti-rust products, and metal cleaners.
Which foods contain high amounts of oxalates?
- Purple grapes
- Swiss chard
- Beet greens
- Collard greens
- Kale (so sad!)
- Green beans
- Sweet potatoes
- Soy products
- Wheat bran
- Wheat germ
- Black tea
What do oxalates do to the nutrients in our food?
The oxalates in food will bind with certain nutrients and carry them right through our digestive tract and out of our body through the urine, preventing absorption. And if the nutrients are not absorbed, we are not getting any of their health benefits. It’s as if the food never contained them in the first place. Nutrients that are affected by oxalates include calcium, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, and vitamin B6. The main nutrient affected, though, is calcium.
People with kidney problems, gout or rheumatoid arthritis are advised to avoid foods containing high amounts of oxalates as much as possible. This is because the oxalates form crystals that are very sharp, and although they are small, they are still large enough to irritate the body. When these crystals are deposited into our tendons, joints, kidneys or organs, we experience pain and eventually more serious health problems like the ones listed above. If you are trying to increase your calcium or iron intake, it may also be a good idea to cut back on foods high in oxalates. However, I’m hesitant to give this advice because so many foods that contain oxalates also contain many other beneficial nutrients that our body needs. I think a varied diet will help ensure that you are receiving all essential nutrients, and not consuming too much of one food that contains high amounts of oxalates.
For most people who do not have serious health problems, including foods with oxalates in the diet is fine. Just make sure you eat a varied diet and don’t consume large amounts of oxalate-rich foods for extended periods of time (for example, don’t make spinach your one and only green vegetable).
When we cook our foods, the oxalates decrease by about 10% at best. There is really no easy way (so far) to reduce oxalates in the above foods. The farm that Ed and I do our CSA with, Grant Family Farms, is supposedly working on a spinach plant that is very low in oxalates. Some of the farmer’s assistants came to our classroom last week to talk to us about organic farming, and mentioned this. I got really excited – hopefully that spinach will show up in our CSA box at some point!
So now you know about oxalates. Hopefully it’s not too disheartening – just remember that there are still so many good things in vegetables and eating all the oxalates in the world is still better than eating processed foods!
If you read yesterday’s post about blackberries vs. blueberries, you learned that they are both excellent super-fruits that have outstanding health benefits. But I got a good question – are frozen just as good as fresh?
It’s a great question, because frozen fruit is so convenient and also less expensive. Frozen blueberries and cranberries are a regular item on my grocery list, because we use them in smoothies and hot cereal and yogurt and pancakes. Fresh berries are sometimes hard to come by in the middle of winter, and if you’re someone who relies on blueberries or cranberries or blackberries for your daily dose of antioxidants, frozen is your only option.
So what does freezing do to the nutrient value of a berry?
This depends on when the berry was frozen. Obviously, if you’re at a berry farm picking berries, it will have the maximum amount of nutrients if you pop it into your mouth right there on the spot. Since berries (and all fruits and veggies) begin to lose nutrients immediately after being picked, they will retain most of their nutrients if frozen right away. A berry frozen right after picking will have more nutrients than a berry that was picked somewhere across the country and then packaged, transported by truck, stocked in your grocery store, and eventually ended up in your refrigerator. The berries will be losing nutrients every step of the way, and by the time they make it to your house, they may only have a few days of life left.
Freezing preserves the nutrients, and the more quickly the fruit is frozen, the better. Freezing inhibits growth of microorganisms and prevents enzymes in the fruit from activating. This is what helps to preserve essential vitamins and nutrients.
Berries that are frozen whole (sometimes you find frozen sliced strawberries or frozen pureed berries) are best because they retain more of the nutrients. Anytime you work with the berries (cutting, removing stems) prior to freezing, you risk nutrient loss, particularly vitamin C loss.
One thing to watch out for when choosing frozen berries: make sure they are unsweetened. Many times frozen fruit will have sugar added and when you thaw the fruit, it will be sitting in a thick, sugary syrup (gross). This not only destroys nutrients, but it provides many unnecessary sugars to your body. Until you find a brand you can trust, I’d read every label to make sure the only ingredient is the fruit itself.
Frozen berries are wonderful for so many things. When berries are not in season, I recommend frozen berries because they are much less expensive and probably have more nutrients than the fresh ones in the grocery store. One brand I really like is Stahlbush Island Farms. It’s a farm in Oregon that is 100% natural and certified sustainable. But when berries are in season, there’s nothing like fresh berries for breakfast or any time of day, for that matter. Depending on where you live, I recommend trying to plant your own berries too. One of my great childhood memories was picking the raspberries from the bush in our backyard and immediately using them on our cereal or ice cream.
Below is a photo of our little raspberry bush in Denver. It looks healthy to me and I hope we get fruit eventually!
I was lucky enough to get to spend my Saturday touring houses in Denver. We have some friends who are casually looking at houses, and her parents came into town to help them out. Since touring houses (especially old houses, like the ones we have in the beautiful Denver neighborhoods) is one of my absolute favorite pastimes, I was in heaven! Not to mention my friend’s mother is an architect and her insight into how the space was used in each house was so interesting to hear.
We were so engaged in “house talk” that she threw me for a loop when she told me she had a question about blackberries (the fruit, not the phone). But it was a great question: are blackberries as good for us as blueberries? She loves blackberries, so was hoping for a favorable answer.
I didn’t have an exact answer on the spot, but I had a hunch. And my hunch was that they were both really good for us, but that blueberries just get more hype because they may have a bit more antioxidants and are a little bit less expensive and easier to come by. If you’ve ever bought fresh or frozen berries, you know that the blueberries or strawberries are usually a better bargain than the blackberries or raspberries. Whenever I buy fresh blackberries it’s a treat, because they are expensive. But they happen to be Ed’s favorite fruit, so I try to get them whenever they look too good to pass up.
And blueberries do get a lot of hype. They’re linked to lower cholesterol, prevention of heart disease, and cancer prevention. They are packed with antioxidants and we read about them everywhere. But for some reason, blackberries aren’t quite so popular.
Well, when I got home that evening I did some research on blueberries and blackberries. I wanted to see if my hunch was right. And guess what I found? Blueberries do have more antioxidants than blackberries, but not by much. Blackberries are still in the top three for antioxidant-rich fruits, behind only blueberries and cranberries. But this was particularly exciting: a recent study found that blackberries are the healthiest berry of all in terms of disease fighting and prevention. They are (get ready) a big 40% more potent than other antioxidant-rich foods when it comes to fighting disease. This is because of a certain substance they contain. In one study, this certain substance in blackberries was applied to lymphoma and leukemia cells and half of the cancer cells died within 18 hours. And when they increased the amount of substance they applied, all of the cancer cells died. (Berry in Black Makes A Comeback, Natural Health on the Web)
One cup of blueberries has about a third of our daily vitamin C requirement, as well as smaller amounts of manganese, fiber and vitamin E. They are the #1 fruit for antioxidants, and protect the cells involved in things like cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, ulcers, heart disease and cancer. They also improve the strength of our capillaries, which allows for better blood flow. Blueberries support brain health and are great for people who want to prevent brain diseases associated with aging, like Alzheimers. However, they also have a high amount of oxalates. Oxalates are natural substances found in certain plants or animals, and can cause health problems and deplete nutrients. I won’t go into detail today – maybe I’ll write about them later this week though because they are important to be aware of.
One cup of blackberries has over half of our recommended daily value of vitamin C – that’s more than we’ll find in blueberries. The antioxidants in blackberries help with things like skin protection, healthy digestive tract, reducing inflammation, and destroying cells associated with cancer and heart disease. The phytoestrogens in blackberries can help with things like hot flashes, bloating, immunity, heart health and brain health. Blackberries also contain large amounts of fiber and vitamin K, as well as some folate, manganese, copper, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium.
So I guess the verdict is this: both blackberries and blueberries have major health benefits and are super foods that can protect against disease. And on top of it all, they taste so good! So take your pick – or, do both. I think after all this research I am going to start incorporating more blackberries into our diet. This will give us the extra health benefits not found in blueberries, and it will also make Ed very happy. And to my friend’s mother who asked this great question, thank you! And, you may continue eating all the blackberries you want because they are so good for you!
All this berry talk makes me think about my healthy berry tart… it’s springtime now so maybe I’ll make it this week! Check back here for a recipe…