After one of the coldest, wettest winters in recent memory, many Southern Californians are embracing that seasonal ritual known as spring cleaning.
Spring is also the perfect time to reflect on what you are using to fuel your body and mind. What foods make you feel tired or cranky? Which ones give you steady energy throughout the day?
Paying attention to how your daily diet affects you — in both good and bad ways — can help you prioritize the foods that renew your body and energize your brain.
"It's not unusual to crave certain foods based on the season,” says Katie E. Rankell, a registered dietitian and director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program. “For instance, many of us crave heartier meals in fall and winter. In the spring, we often desire lighter fare, like salads and fresh vegetables that detoxify the body. In the summer, we may choose fruit and raw foods to cool down as temperatures rise."
Incorporating more nutrient-rich seasonal foods can set you on the path to a leaner, healthier and happier you!
Try these refreshing recipes — created by Jessica VanRoo, executive chef of the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, part of UCI Health — to help you prepare for the longer, sunnier and more active days ahead.
Pear and Gruyère Bites
Serves 6, two per person (Total cost: $3.23/$0.27 per serving)
Calories: 231 per serving
Bartlett, Bosc and d’Anjou may be the most popular pears but there are more than 3,000 varieties grown around the world.
Pears are a powerhouse fruit, packed with 6 grams of fiber or about 21% of your daily fiber needs. They are also rich in pectin — a type of soluble fiber — that is not only filling but also is associated with reduced constipation, improved gut health and immune function.
In addition, pears are a rich source of flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants, as well as copper and vitamins C and K, which help ease inflammation and may decrease your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Be sure to eat the peel, which harbors many of this fruit’s most beneficial compounds.
Gruyère is a pale yellow, aged Swiss cheese that pairs beautifully with this delicious fruit. Made from cow's milk, it contains 8.5 grams of protein and all the essential amino acids in a single one ounce serving and is a great source of calcium to promote strong bones. However, a little goes a long way because most of its calories come from fat, more than half in the form of saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats to 6% of your daily calorie intake because they may increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels associated with heart disease.
This recipe mixes in the savory crunch of walnuts, which are rich in antioxidants and healthy fats that can lower LDL cholesterol, reduce inflammation and improve blood vessel function for better heart health.
- 5 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
- 3 tablespoons melted butter or neutral oil
- 3 oz gruyère, shredded
- 1 ripe pear, diced small (Bosc or d'Anjou)
- 3 tablespoons walnuts, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 2 tablespoons honey, more to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Gently brush one sheet of phyllo with oil or butter, then top with another sheet and brush with the oil or butter, repeating until all sheets are stacked.
- Cut phyllo into 12 equal pieces then gently set them in a greased mini-muffin tin.
- Bake 8 minutes, remove from oven and raise temperature to 400 degrees.
- Fill each phyllo cup with shredded cheese, diced pear, walnut nuggets and thyme, then top with a drizzle of honey.
- Bake 8-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and tarts are golden.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
White Bean and Spring Pea Dip with Roasted Shallots
Serves 8 (Total cost: $5.48/$0.69 per serving)
Calories: 218 per ¼ cup serving
This recipe is a new take on white bean dip, otherwise known as Italian hummus. Both spring peas and cannellini beans — a variety of white beans popular in Italy, particularly in Tuscany — are rich in protein, high in fiber and low in fat. This potent mix of fiber and protein helps to promote feelings of fullness, leaving you less likely to overeat.
Shallots and garlic are part of the allium family and contain powerful antioxidants, including allicin, a bioactive compound formed when shallots and garlic cloves are crushed or cut. They are also high in quercetin, a plant flavonoid thought to help reduce and manage seasonal allergies.
Fresh mint leaves and lemon add the final refreshing notes of spring. Mint is an herb that has been used for thousands of years to settle an upset stomach and lemons are laden with vitamin C, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Two other plant compounds found in lemons — hesperidin and diosmin — have been found to lower cholesterol.
Serving this dip with fresh vegetables — think baby peppers, broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumber, cauliflower and asparagus — provides high levels of antioxidants and fiber that help cleanse the digestive tract and detox the body.
- 2 large fresh shallots
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 15 oz can white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1¼ cups fresh or frozen peas (cook if frozen)
- 2 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup mint leaves
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh vegetables for dipping
- Whole-grain crackers
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Combine whole shallots and oil in an oven-safe dish, cover with foil and roast until shallots are tender, about for 40-60 minutes.
- Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
- Combine beans, peas, garlic, mint and lemon juice in a food processor, adding skinned roasted shallots.
- Blend until smooth.
- With blender running, drizzle in ¼ to ⅓ cup of shallot oil, reserving the rest for later use.
- Season to taste and serve with whole-grain crackers and fresh vegetables of your choice.
- Makes 2 cups, ¼ cup per serving.
Guilt-free Chocolate Truffles
Serves 16 (Total cost: $4.21/$0.26 per serving)
Calories: 34 per truffle (not including garnish)
Chocolate is a champion for mind and body. It leads the brain to produce anandamide, a neurotransmitter that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression.
It also contains flavanols, which help produce nitric oxide, relaxing blood vessels, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. Better blood flow protects the heart and improves cognition.
One of these delectable truffles is a perfect evening treat because chocolate is rich in magnesium, a mineral that regulates melatonin and helps body and brain relax for a better night's sleep.
- 80 grams unsweetened raw cacao powder (about ¾ cup, use scale for best results)
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened vanilla almond milk or other milk substitutes
- 5 tablespoons pure maple syrup, honey, agave or date syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- cocoa powder
- chopped nuts
- shredded coconut
- melted chocolate, for coating (optional)
- In a bowl, combine cocoa, milk, sweetener and vanilla, mixing very slowly until ingredients are fully blended.
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll chilled chocolate mixture into 16 balls, moistening hands as needed to prevent sticking.
- Coat truffle balls by rolling in garnish of choice.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.