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(Originally posted February 6, 2013 at http://www.donnieyance.com/have-you-had-your-fermented-foods-today/)

Whether it’s sauerkraut from Eastern Europe, miso from Japan, or yogurt from Bulgaria, cultures worldwide have appreciated the unique benefits of fermented foods for thousands of years. Traditionally, people have used fermentation to preserve foods or to make them more digestible; in the process, they found that these foods also kept them healthy.

Have You Had Your Fermented Foods Today?

Naturally fermented, unpasteurized foods are rich in a variety of helpful bacteria called probiotics, and research shows that these beneficial microbes provide essential support for gastrointestinal, immunological, and overall health. There are many good reasons for including naturally fermented foods in your daily diet:

  • The regular consumption of fermented foods helps to restore the proper balance of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. Many common health issues (including irritable bowel syndrome, yeast infections, allergies, asthma, and eczema) appear to be rooted in a lack of healthful intestinal flora.
  • A healthy population of beneficial bacteria forms a living barrier that prevents harmful microbes from entering the blood and lymph through the intestinal walls. Although we may not think of our digestive tract as having much to do with immune function, almost 80 percent of our immune system is located in the intestinal tract, providing first-line defense against ingested toxins and pathogenic bacteria.
  • Fermentation improves the digestibility of foods. For example, many people who are lactose-intolerant and can’t drink milk can eat yogurt, sour cream, kefir, or other fermented dairy products. This is because beneficial bacteria digest lactose during the fermentation process.
  • The probiotics contained in fermented foods assist the body in its natural detoxification processes, including helping to extract and neutralize heavy metals and environmental toxins.
  • Fermented foods help us to better absorb the nutrients that we consume. By improving digestion, you improve absorption.
  • Eating fermented foods regularly is associated with a significant reduction in cancer. Miso, in particular, offers profound protection from radiation toxicity.

In recent history, fermented foods have all but disappeared from the modern American diet, much to the detriment of our digestive health and overall wellbeing. Many foods that were formerly excellent sources of probiotics (such as sauerkraut, pickles, olives, yogurt, sour cream, and cheese) are now subjected to pasteurization, which eradicates beneficial bacteria.

One of my favorite fermented foods is miso. It’s versatile and tasty and can be added to soups, stews, salad dressings, sauces, or made into a spread. We always have at least a couple of different varieties of miso—both dark and light—in the refrigerator.

Dark (red) miso is saltier and considered more suitable for winter. A bowl of red miso soup garnished with scallions is the perfect remedy for helping to ward off fall and winter colds. Light (white) miso is sweeter and less salty, which makes it more appropriate for spring and summer.

Try these simple recipes that we enjoy at home:

Miso-Carrot-Ginger Salad Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons sesame seed oil (untoasted)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 oz. rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons white miso
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 1-inch gingerroot, peeled and cut into small pieces, or 1-2 tsp. ginger juice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1-2 teaspoons raw honey
  • 1 tsp. tamari
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric powder
  • salt and pepper (white or black), to taste


  1. Put all ingredients except salt and pepper into a blender or food processor; pulse briefly several times to begin combining ingredients.
  2. Let machine run for a minute or so until mixture is chunky-smooth.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste and drizzle over mixed greens.

Sesame-Miso Spread

This simple and tasty spread goes well on bread or toast, rice cakes, crackers or chapatis. Makes 1/2 cup.


  • 4 tablespoons tahini
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1 level tablespoon brown rice or barley miso
  • 1 rounded tablespoon minced onion, scallion, or chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil or 1 teaspoon fresh chopped basil (optional)


  1. Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a small saucepan or skillet and bring slowly to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring constantly.
  2. Gently simmer for 1 to 2 minutes while stirring constantly, remove from heat. If too thick, stir in more water, one teaspoon at a time.

Gingery Miso Spread

This delicious spread is quick and very easy to make. For a mild flavor, use mellow white, yellow, or chickpea miso. For a bolder, saltier flavor, use red miso.


  • 2 Tbsp miso paste
  • 3 Tbsp toasted sesame tahini
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • Fresh lemon juice, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger root, plus juice
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 Tbsp slivered scallion greens or chives


  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients, mixing until smooth.
  2. Spread a thin layer on bread or crackers.

Miso Vegetable Soup

This soup makes a healthful lunch and is especially beneficial when recovering from a cold or flu. I also recommend miso soup for weight loss; enjoy a cup before 1-2 meals a day. Feel free to substitute whatever seasonal vegetables you have on hand. You can use tempeh instead of tofu, which is another naturally fermented food. This recipe serves 4.


  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 carrots, sliced into matchsticks
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/3 pound tofu, cubed
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 strip kombu or wakame
  • Fresh juice from 1 small piece ginger
  • Splash of tamari
  • 2-3 teaspoons miso
  • 1 scallion, sliced thinly


  1. Sauté onion, carrots, celery, and tofu in sesame oil.
  2. Add stock, kombu, ginger, and tamari. Simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  3. Dilute miso with a small amount of hot broth, add to soup, and stir well.
  4. Garnish with scallions and serve.

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(Originally published December 28, 2012 at http://www.donnieyance.com/a-healthy-holiday-treat-chocolate-brownies/)

As I write this, our home is filled with the welcoming scent of home-baked cookies. Over the past few weeks, Jen and I (with plenty of help from our children) have been busy baking treats for the holidays, which we enjoy sharing with family, friends, and neighbors. I believe that treats can be a part of a healthy diet, if made with good quality ingredients and eaten in moderation.

Dark chocolate, in particular, provides a sweet, sensual, and sin-free pleasure food as well as some significant health benefits. Chocolate is a good source of magnesium, a nutrient that many people don’t get enough of in their diets. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a natural compound that promotes mental alertness, clarity, and enhances the ability to concentrate and retain information (dark chocolate has even been shown in studies to reduce the onset of dementia). Many people feel happier and calmer after consuming a bit of chocolate, and there’s a scientific reason: Chocolate contains the amino acid tryptophan, which makes the neurotransmitter known as serotonin; together with the neurotransmitters dopamine, and the compounds phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide (known as the “bliss chemical”), these natural compounds exert beneficial effects on the brain and nervous system and help to prevent depression. Finally, research indicates that dark chocolate has positive effects on blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, apparently through reducing inflammation.

Chocolate Brownies Recipe

To be beneficial, chocolate must be dark (milk or white chocolate doesn’t have the same healthful properties). The cacao bean from which chocolate is made is rich in antioxidant phytochemicals known as flavanols, however, the concentration of the flavanols in chocolate depends on how the cacao bean is processed. When choosing chocolate, buy dark, good quality chocolate (at least 70% cacao content or higher). For baking chocolate, choose unsweetened cocoa powder that has not been “Dutch processed” (a process that washes the beans with an alkali substance that destroys the beneficial flavanols).

These brownies are made with rich dark unsweetened cocoa powder, which is an excellent source of healthful polyphenols (our favorite cocoa powder is Dagoba or Ghirardelli). They also contain coconut in several forms: coconut flour makes them appropriate for those who must avoid gluten, and coconut oil provides beneficial medium chain triglycerides, which have been shown to increase beneficial HDL cholesterol. Coconut oil is a good substitute for butter in any recipe. Sweetness is provided by coconut palm sugar, a natural sugar lower on the glycemic index that doesn’t wreak havoc with blood sugar levels. Finally, they’re loaded with shredded coconut, pecans, and dark chocolate chips. These brownies are a delicious, satisfying, and healthful holiday treat. Enjoy!

Healthy Chocolate Brownies


  • 1/3 cup coconut oil (plus additional for pan)
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup coconut palm sugar
  • ¼  teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon powdered cinnamon
  • ½ cup coconut flour
  • ½ cup roughly chopped pecans, lightly toasted
  • ½ cup flaked coconut (unsweetened)
  • ½ cup bittersweet dark chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 8×8 baking pan with coconut oil.
  2. Melt 1/3 cup coconut oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and mix thoroughly. Set aside and let cool.
  3. In large mixing bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add cooled coconut oil-cocoa mixture and blend.
  4. Add coconut flour and cinnamon, blending until smooth.
  5. Stir in pecans, coconut, and chocolate chips.
  6. Spread batter into prepared pan, and bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until done. (Brownies are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.)

Cool, and cut into 16 pieces.

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