Thursday, December 23, 2010

DO YOU BELIEVE IN SPINACH?

A recent conversation between me and my 13 year old:

ALICE (as she eats): This is pretty good.

ME: Oh, I'm glad you like, it's really good for you.

ALICE (yelling and setting aside her plate): Why do you always do that? Now I don't even want to eat it! Who cares if it's good for me?

I mulled that conversation over and over forever. Why would knowing that something is healthy make a person upset? My final conclusion: If you have information it's up to you to make choices. Like if you know there's global warming you have to drive less or use less heating oil, or, or, or... So people choose not to know.

Before I came to the global warming conclusion, I wrote to Marion Nestle about Alice's response and she wrote me right back (and made my day because Marion Nestle is a really important food activist!) Of course her advice is excellent.

I feel your pain, having been the mother of kids who were hard to deal with at 13, to say the least. In her case, it’s easy. She likes your food! Just say thanks if she compliments it, make healthy meals, and talk about something else. In my experience, adolescence is not the best time to try to enforce food habits. Rather, make sure the foods you have at home are healthy. Don’t buy what you don’t want your kids eating—house rules. Outside of the house, you can’t control what they eat. But you can set an example at home and hope that when they grow up. With luck, they will grow up, will know what it means to eat sensibly, and will thank you for sticking up for what you believe. Courage!

I may give this some more thought and use it next year. Thanks and happy holidays. Marion Nestle
What is the appropriate age to start teaching kids about which foods are good for them and why? Do they teach nutrition at your child's school? In what grades? Do you teach your kids at home? I know that one reason nutrition isn't taught is because adults, including parents, teachers, and even doctors, don't have a firm grasp on the subject. Another reason, I'm afraid, is some adults choose to believe there's not a connection between good health and the foods they eat.

What about you? Do you believe in spinach?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

BEANS - TO SOAK OR NOT TO SOAK - THAT IS THE QUESTION

Alice and Geoff have made a big deal about a chili recipe I made a few weeks ago from the NYTimes so I decided to whip up a huge pot of it for our Christmas open house.   My concept was to start the beans soaking Thursday, make the chili Friday, let it sit in fridge overnight and serve on Saturday (Chili is WAY better after it sits in the fridge for a day).  But late on Friday Geoff said I should make two pots full.   This meant no way could I soak the beans.  I whipped out my Rick Bayless Mexican Kitchen cookbook and reread:

After having cooked almost 12,000 pounds of beans a year for most of  nearly ten years... I was taught to soak beans and I no longer do..... Soaking does practically nothing but reduce cooking time.  Soaking doesn't really make the beans much more digestible, which is what we were all told...What makes beans more digestible is a steady diet of beans, the diet nutritionists tell us we should have anyway.... If the beans are covered during cooking, they come out creamier (though more likely to stick on the bottom): when uncovered, they're more separate and nicely intact (especially if you use lots of water).  The more beans you cook at once, the more evenly cooked and better textured they'll be.  

Thanks Rick!  So it's 8:30 Saturday morning and the cooked beans sat in their pots in the fridge all night.  They have a lovely consistency this morning.  I did run out of steam yesterday, so I'm finishing the chili this morning and putting it back in the fridge to sit until tonight.   I'll let you know how it comes out.

Note:  They don't sell canned beans in my part of Morelia, if anywhere in Mexico.  Plus it would feel kind of heretical to use them here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

NIGHTSHADE FAMILY SQUARE DANCE

Chile peppers and tomatoes are mainstays of the Mexican diet.  I can't imagine living without them.

This is part of a series of food paintings I'm working on.

Peppers and tomatoes are both in the nightshade family as are potatoes, tobacco, and eggplant.  Sort of a weird family, don't you think?  They're common feature are alkaloids.   Nicotine is the alkaloid in tobacco, capsaicin is the alkaloid in peppers.  Is one as addicting as the other?  Sometimes when I start eating salsa, I can't stop  even when my mouth is on fire, so maybe!

A good site on nightshade plants:  http://www.getting-started-with-healthy-eating.com/nightshade-vegetables.html 

Acrylic on canvas (32cmX32cm).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

BEST THING I LEARNED ALL WEEK: COLD CHARD AND GARLIC

In an email Tuesday, my friend Lucille said she was going to let me try her chard with garlic when I came over to stretch canvases.  I have to say I wasn't that excited about the prospect, and when she plopped a dish of it in front of me straight from the fridge, I was less so.  HOWEVER, I was so wrong.  It was Delicious!  I now have my own batch in the fridge and it will definitely stay in my arsenal of anti-depression foods for the whole winter.

Ingredients:  2 big bunches of swiss chard (if you use less, it's hardly worth bothering because chard cooks down so much), 2 cloves of garlic (minced), 2 T of olive oil (maybe less -- I didn't measure), a pinch of salt.

Recipe:  Remove stems from the chard up to where they become thin. I do this by folding the leaf in half and cutting away the stem with a sharp knife.   Wash the leaves, and tear or cut them up -- they don't have to be in small pieces.  Heat a big pot on the stove with a tiny bit of slightly salted water in the bottom (1/2 an inch will do).  When the pot is hot, throw in all the chard and put the lid on.  Stir a couple of times as the chard reduces to about 1/4 of the volume you threw in the pot.  It only takes a few minutes for it to cook down.  Don't let it burn!

Dump it in a colander and let the excess water drain off.

In a big pan,  heat the garlic in the olive oil.  As soon as you smell the garlic, add your chard.  Make sure it all gets a coating of olive oil and garlic.  This takes about two minutes.

Now it's ready to serve BUT if you let it cool and then put it in the fridge to enjoy cold, you'll thank me later.

From whfoods.org:

Recent research has shown that chard leaves contain at least 13 different polyphenol antioxidants, including kaempferol, the cardioprotective flavonoid that's also found in broccoli, kale, strawberries, and other foods. But alongside of kaempferol, one of the primary flavonoids found in the leaves of chard is a flavonoid called syringic acid. Syringic acid has received special attention in recent research due to its blood sugar regulating properties. This flavonoid has been shown to inhibit activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase. When this enzyme gets inhibited, fewer carbs are broken down into simple sugars and blood sugar is able to stay more steady.


Note:  Yesterday I sautéed whole blanched green beans in garlic and squeezed a little lime on them.  Alice asked me to put them in the fridge, announcing, "this will taste better cold."   She's right.

Friday, December 10, 2010

TIS THE SEASON TO GUARD AGAINST DEPRESSION

We are a household that does not cope well emotionally with the short days of the year, so I've been researching diet as it relates to depression (I've included a lot of sources below -- lots of interesting reading).  The bad news:  neither white wine nor tequila are helpful, but I guess I already knew that.  The good news is that there are lots of foods that are helpful, even for those who are taking anti-depressants.
Based on what I've read, my food plan for the winter months is to avoid meats but increase our fish consumption to 3 times a week;  add flax seeds to the green smoothies I make in the mornings;  serve lots of beans (particularly lentils) and green leafy vegetables;  and snack on seeds and nuts. 

Plus we'll try to cut back on alcohol -- this can be hard when the days are short -- but drinking IS counter-productive if you're trying to avoid depression. And sugar isn't good either, though a little dark chocolate does have some proven benefits.

Important supplement: Exercise. My motto is -- the less I feel like getting it, the more I know I need it. The same goes for getting outside in the sunlight.

http://www.foodforthebrain.org/content.asp?id_Content=1635

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

BLANCHING FOR COMPLIMENTS

I don't know about you, but when I get compliments on my vegetables I take notice. After Thanksgiving I got an email from the hostess specifically about how much her husband liked my green beans. Yesterday my own husband enthused about my brussels sprouts. What's my secret? Blanching.

Blanching is a useful way to break down tough veggies like green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and broccoli (and to turn them a beautiful green) so you can quickly sauté them later. (Mollie Katzen in one of her cooking videos suggests blanching all your veggies right when you bring them home from the store.)

How I blanch: Before I do anything, I put a large bowl of water in the freezer and add a few ice cubes because you need to submerge the blanched veggies in ICE COLD water if you want them to stay bright green.   

Note:  Really cold tap water does not equal ice water.

Fill a big pot with slightly salted water and bring to a rapid boil. Put your veggies in and as soon as they turn bright green and are just tender to the bite (this can take a couple of minutes for broccoli florets or as much as 9 minutes for fat green beans -- watch the color turn and sample, sample, sample!) take them out with a slotted spoon or tongs and plunge them into the ice water bath. As soon as they're cool, dry them.  Then refrigerate.    

Note: Don't put blanched moist veggies in a sealed containter in the fridge or you'll end up with stinky, gross tasting veggies. THEY HAVE TO BE DRY.   I dry them by rolling them up in a kitchen towel.  (I have a couple rolled up towels in my fridge right now.)  

Note: I also dry lettuce by rolling it up in a towel (salad spinners are too expensive here in Morelia). I learned the rolling technique from an Alice Waters video.  

To Thanksgiving I brought: blanched green beans which had been snapped into thirds before boiling, a raw yellow bell pepper also cut in bite-sized lengths, and a baggy with minced garlic and ginger in it.  Minutes before dinner, after the turkey was out of the oven, I stepped to the stove, heated some oil in a big pan, threw in the bell pepper and sautéed it until it started to soften -- a couple of minutes.  Then I threw in the garlic, ginger, and green beans and sautéed them for about two minutes or until the smell of garlic and ginger was in the air and the beans were heated through.  At some point I added a little salt.  Ta-daa!  They were on the table in no time and I didn't get in anyone's way. 

For the brussels sprouts:  I sautéed an onion in butter.  When the onion was translucent I added a little more butter and my blanched and halved brussels sprouts.  I sautéed them till the flat sides turned just a little brown.  My husband ate half a dinner plate full and asked for more.




Monday, December 6, 2010

HOW REALLY BAD ARE PROCESSED FOODS?

Marion Nestle is a food authority I rely on for solid information. This article has so many good parts, you just have to read the whole thing. I colorized the line that ticked me off the most. 

Nutrition and public policy expert Marion Nestle answers readers' questions in this monthly column written exclusively for The Chronicle. E-mail your questions to food@sfchronicle.com, with "Marion Nestle" in the subject line.


Q: I may be preaching to the choir here, but isn't eating a variety of unprocessed (or at least minimally processed) foods the best way to make sure your diet is healthy?


A: Indeed it is, and processing is the healthful food movement's new frontier. Processed is code for "junk" foods - foods of minimal nutritional value. These crowd the center aisles of supermarkets, add loads of unneeded calories, rely on added nutrients for health benefits, last forever on the shelves and generate enormous profits for their makers.


Sodas are the obvious examples. They have no nutrients (unless fortified), and all their calories come from added sugars.


The food industry will insist that practically everything you eat is processed in some way. Unprocessed foods are rare exceptions - fruits direct from the tree or vine, vegetables pulled from the ground, nuts from wherever they come from, and raw meat, fish, eggs or milk.


Everything else is at least minimally processed - washed, aged, dried, frozen, canned, pasteurized or cooked. But these cause little, if any, loss of nutritional value and make some nutrients more available to the body.


In contrast, more extreme processing changes foods. It reduces the nutritional value of basic food ingredients, adds calories from fats and sugars, and disguises losses in taste and texture with additives such as salt, colors, flavors and other chemicals. Manufacturers add vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, omega-3s and probiotics expressly to make health claims.


Manufacturers say they make the products to give you what you demand: cheap, easy-to-eat-anywhere foods that require no preparation and give you the tastes you love. They back these contentions with increasingly far-fetched health claims, billions of advertising dollars and lobbyists galore.


The big issue is "ultra-processing," says Carlos Monteiro of the University of São Paulo in Brazil. Writing in the November issue of the online Journal of the World Public Health Nutrition Association, Monteiro ranks the effects of food processing on health as the most important issue in public health nutrition today.


Ultra-processed foods, he says, are the primary cause of the rapid rise in obesity and associated diseases throughout the world.


He charges the food industry with creating durable, convenient, attractive, ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat products that are so palatable that they are habit-forming. And they are meant to be eaten everywhere - in fast-food places, on the street and while watching television, working or driving.

Ultra-processed foods are much higher in calories for their nutrients than unprocessed and minimally processed foods. They have loads of fat, sugars and salt, but are low in vitamins, minerals and fiber.
They are often cheaper than relatively unprocessed foods, especially when sold in supersize portions at discounted prices. And they are often the only foods available in convenience stores or vending machines.


He notes that virtually unregulated advertising identifies ultra-processed foods and drinks as necessary - and, when nutrients are added, as essential - to modern lifestyles and health. Overall, Monteiro says, their high palatability, along with aggressive and sophisticated marketing, undermine the normal processes of appetite control and cause adults and children to overeat.


This is just another way of saying what former Food and Drug Administration head David Kessler says in his provocative book, "The End of Overeating." Kessler argues that processed and fast foods high in fat, sugars and salt have turned us into a nation of "conditioned overeaters" unable to recognize hunger or satiety.


Current policies ensure that ultra-processed foods stay cheap, and it's no accident that the relative cost of fruits and vegetables has gone up by 40 percent since the 1980s, while the relative price of sodas and fast food has declined.


If you can afford it, choosing relatively unprocessed foods is good advice. As I wrote in "What to Eat," it's best to stick to the real foods around the supermarket perimeter. My only slightly facetious shopping rules: Avoid processed foods with more than five ingredients, ingredients you can't pronounce, and those with cartoons on the package aimed at marketing to kids.


Marion Nestle is the author of "Food Politics," "Safe Food," "What to Eat" and "Pet Food Politics," and is a professor in the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University. E-mail her at food@sfchronicle.com, and read her previous columns at sfgate.com/food.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/12/03/FDTR1GJ2PS.DTL#ixzz17NazXfe1

Sunday, December 5, 2010

BYE-BYE WEIGHT WATCHERS?

The NYTimes story at the top of the on-line Most Popular article list this Sunday morning is: Weight Watchers Upends Its Points System. Amazing. Fruits and most vegetables are now 0 points. I think that's wonderful. I also think it could be the end of the $1.4 billion dollar "empire" that is Weight Watchers. But dying for a good cause is noble. Bravo Weight Watchers.

My prediction: Once folks get a taste for fruits and veggies (which are delicious) and see that weight basically pours off when you start filling each meal with them, the need for counting points will go out the window.

Of course all Weight Watchers are not happy.

“I don’t want to be forced to choose veggies. I do NOT like veggies or fruit,” one member wrote in an online discussion on the Weight Watchers Web site. “I feel like I am being forced to ‘diet,’ and that is what I DO NOT WANT.”

Message to this person: You haven't tried enough fruits and vegetables. Give your body a chance. There are people in the world who actually get up in the morning and CRAVE a green smoothie (fruits and leafy veggies combined in a blender). You CAN become one of these people. Imagine the quadruple pleasure you'd experience:
  1. This is "FREE" (0 points) -- whoopee!
  2. This tastes GREAT!
  3. My weight problem is GONE!
  4. I have an extra $12 ($15) dollars a week!
If, as the article suggests, the 1,750,000 members and adherents "rethink how they shop, cook, and eat", watch out! It's going to be crowded in the produce section.

Friday, December 3, 2010

LENTILS, CHILES, A RECIPE, AND A STUDY

Right after I finished an excellent bowl of lentil and rice soup this afternoon, I came across this posting on Rodale.com: Legumes Linked to Appetite Control. It's about how adding beans to meals makes you feel full longer and therefore you'll eat less and weigh less. The article gives a number of recipes.

I think my lentil/rice soup today was particularly good because I used a homemade veggie broth made by boiling up an onion, a carrot, garlic, a whole serano pepper and 1/2 a banana pepper. (They're the ones from this painting.)

The broth came out way too spicey, so I froze some to use as concentrate and watered some down to add to the soup. (Any store bought veggie broth would be good too, I'm sure.)

The soup couldn't be easier: In a biggish pot, dice and sauté an onion in some oil until it starts to brown. Add 6 cups of veggie broth and bring to boil. Add 1 & 1/2 cups of lentils and 1/2 cup of brown rice. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or just until both the rice and lentils are the perfect texture. Salt to taste. You could add a garnish or some yogurt or sour cream, but I didn't. Geoff and Alice finished every drop. I served it with rolls and a salad.

Here's the article:

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—An important solution for staying at a healthy weight might be residing in your pantry: beans and other legumes. As described in a recent article in the medical journal Advances in Nutrition, Purdue University scientists looked at available research on legume consumption, satiety (feeling of fullness after eating), and weight management. They concluded that people should increase consumption of beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils, since all these legumes have a beneficial effect on satiety and on weight loss.

Low-fat, inexpensive beans and legumes come with many essential nutrients, including protein, fiber, resistant starch (another type of fiber), and minerals, which all may aid in satiety, according to lead study author, Megan McCrory, PhD, assistant professor in the Foods and Nutrition department at Purdue. “There are several mechanisms behind this,” says McCrory. “One is that protein and fiber help delay the rate of digestion by slowing the progression of nutrients from the stomach to the small intestine. When the digestion rate is slowed, that slows the entry of digested carbohydrate (glucose) into the blood stream, which in turn delays the return of hunger.”

“Thus, as long as you keep away from snacking when you're not hungry, you’ll likely eat less during the day,” continues McCrory. “Also, fiber and resistant starch are broken down in the large intestine by bacteria that live there. This breakdown process creates by-products called short-chain fatty acids that we can use for energy, which also helps stave off hunger.”

All of which points to legumes as a tasty ally in the fight against weight gain—including that insidious and annoying “creeping” gain that can occur as we age. Ready to fight back? The Rodale Recipe Finder is full of options for cooking beans and legumes. For you non-vegetarians and non-bean-lovers out there, here are some great meat and bean dishes that will fill you up, not out. (Continue Reading)

Aside: Loved this tidbit from Wikipedia: Psychologist Paul Rozin suggests that eating chilis is an example of a "constrained risk" like riding a roller coaster, in which extreme sensations like pain and fear can be enjoyed because individuals know that these sensations are not actually harmful. This method lets people experience extreme feelings without any risk of bodily harm.[16]



Thursday, December 2, 2010

YACHTS, AGRI-BIZ, AND WIKILEAKS

Got around to exploring WikiLeaks.org this morning. Some of the cables read like spy thrillers! In the one below, a 60 million euro yacht is gifted by a Russian company in exchange for possible rights to drilling for oil or, it is speculated, for selling tractors or starting a chicken farm in Turkmenistan. Global agri-biz is so much more exciting than I realized.

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: According to expatriate sources in Ashgabat, a yacht that recently set sail on the Caspian Sea -- reportedly worth 60 million euros -- is actually a gift from Russian company Itera. Itera is working on signing a deal jointly with Russian state-owned companies Rosneft and Zarubezhneft and Turkmenistan’s Turkmenneft to develop blocks 29, 30, and 31 in the offshore Caspian area at some point in 2008. According to news reports, Itera is also an enthusiastic partner in the development of the Avaza free tourist zone located on the Caspian Sea, is funding the Ashgabat branch of the Gubkin Oil and Gas University, and is involved in importing farm equipment from Tatarstan, in competition with John Deere and Case New Holland equipment. In addition, the government forced a Swedish-owned shipping company to give up seven of its most valuable employees to become permanent crew on the yacht. Itera’s business activities are wide-ranging and difficult to isolate, and the reported gift of the yacht serves as a sign that the company’s willingness to go to great lengths to win business should not be underestimated.

¶8. (C) COMMENT: Itera has a deal to build a urea/ammonia plant, and also an $8 million deal for ambulances, but there are most likely other deals of which post is not aware. The company undoubtedly really wants a gas exploration contract, especially onshore, and the gift of the yacht is a nice enticement to move the process along. As local businessman XXXXXXXXXXXX said, “The gift of a yacht might be for an onshore gas deal, a chicken farm, or works already in progress. Nothing is free in this country.” IPC Group, official distributors of John Deere and Case New Holland equipment in Turkmenistan, have had concerns about Itera and the company’s ability to take over the farm equipment market in Turkmenistan at least since Berdimuhamedov’s visit to Tatarstan. Itera’s business activities are wide-ranging and difficult to isolate, and the reported gift of the yacht serves as a sign that the company’s willingness to go to great lengths to win business should not be underestimated. END COMMENT. CURRAN

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

BAD FEELING ABOUT THE FOOD SAFETY BILL

Yes, The Food Safety Bill passed in the Senate yesterday. But it looks like there will be problems in the House. Not the least of which is described in this Food Saftey News article:

To add to the uncertainty in the House, large produce industry groups, including the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marking Association, are working feverishly to convince lawmakers that the final legislation should not include the small farm exemptions, which were recently adopted into the Senate bill at the urging of Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT and Kay Hagan (D-NC).

The Tester-Hagan amendment intends to protect small farmers and the burgeoning local food movement from cumbersome regulation. The larger produce industry, which is in favor of broad safety requirements to help prevent dangerous and economically damaging foodborne illness outbreaks, has remained squarely against any blanket exemptions based solely on farm size or geography.


"We're pushing for a conference and for the removal of the Tester amendment. We think there is time to do conference," Robert Guenther, executive vice president of public policy at United Fresh, told Food Safety News yesterday. "[The amendment] fundamentally undermines the entire legislation, the rest of the bill is science- and risk-based."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A CHILI TO BELIEVE IN

I believe that if you impulsively buy dried black beans at the market because your eyes meet the eyes of the lady sorting and bagging them (which happened to me yesterday) and then a link to a recipe for Black Bean Chili from March, 2009 appears next to the Roasted Vegetables for Thanksgiving article you're reading in November, 2010  (which happened to me this morning) that you better make that chili (which I did). 

And guess what?!  Alice said, "That's the first thing you've made which I actually liked."  A miracle!!!!  I won't use up valuable blogging space to go on and on about my attempts to feed Alice healthy meals.  Let it suffice to say,  she's 13, has lousy eating habits, and is prone to hyperbole.    

Here's the recipe.  I did everything it said except I used fresh plum tomatoes instead of a 28 oz. can. ( There is no such thing as a can of tomatoes in my neighborhood whereas there are plum tomatoes by the bazillion.)

 She had a second bowl of it just now!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

S 510 - IS FOOD SAFETY REALLY THE POINT?

Have you ever bought food from a local farmer or at a farm market?  Cider from a roadside stand?  If so, and if you were happy with your right to do it, it may be time to come up to speed with Bill S 510 pending in the Senate.  Debate will start again after Thanksgiving.  In fact, Thanksgiving is a perfect time to think about the food on the table and where it comes from...

In 1996, I owned the Apple Barn Farm Market in New Boston, NH when E. coli in cider made  in Connecticutt and NY made people sick. The national media went nuts.  Everyone became afraid to drink unpasteurized cider, the government considered requiring all cider to be pasteurized (some would say ruined), and a lot of family businesses in our area  threw up their hands and quit.   Orchards turned into housing developments. 

The apple business in NH was tough enough because of the short growing season.   Profits, were never huge.  The added expense of pasteurization was unthinkable.  Not to mention that cider had been made for hundreds of years pretty much the same way.   

All this history came back to me reading yesterday's NY Time's article:  Small Cheesemaker Defies FDA Over Recall.  It offers both the small producer and the FDA's perspectives.
 
My sympathies are with the small farmer.  That's where I get all the food I can because I know it's freshest and it's raised with a "hands on" approach (I would say "with love" but I hate it when you roll your eyes).  Industrially produced food can't be.  I don't want my local farmers harassed, or burdened.   I trust the county extension services which are part of state universities, to keep them informed of the latest developments with their crops/products and problems that might effect them.
  
Also, I fear big agribusiness.  When you see headlines like:  Vegetables Are The New Meat, and read:   unrestrained vegetable eating has never been more eagerly pursued. Sunchokes are everywhere, black kale is all the rage, and even plain old broccoli—never mind boutique brassicas like spigarello and Romanesco—is hot. Vegetables, you see, are newly and increasingly fashionable, at least among a certain segment of fine-dining, CSA-belonging, Michael Pollan–reading, rooftop-garden-crazed New Yorkers.

This new breed of plant lover isn’t motivated entirely by ethical, environmental, or even health concerns (though those reasons come into play), but by culinary ones. Simply put, the once-meat-obsessed populace is realizing that vegetables actually taste good. Especially when fresh, in season, and carefully prepared ...You know that the meat lobby has to have a reaction.  They are very powerful in Washington. Remember what happened to Oprah?  Would the meat lobby try to make it tough on their competition by any means possible, including increased regulation?   Well, that's their job.
 
So I ask you to read about the bill and to weigh in with your senators.  (The bill has already passed through the House).  Going to Congress.org and typing in your zip code at the upper right is one easy way to find your senators and send an email (or snail mail, or CALL).

To read more about S 510 and what's at stake, check out Slow Food USA.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

IN THE NEWS: COCA LEAVES, BACON, SEEDS AND NUTS

Three interesting articles appeared in the last 48 hours about food being more effective than drugs for treating many diseases.  The one that kept me reading late into last night, Epilepsy's Big, Fat Miracle - NYTimes,  is about a little boy who had over 100 epileptic seizures A DAY! After trying 11 different drugs, his parents put him on the ketogenic diet.  It's cut the seizures by 75%.  Remarkably, this diet has been around for 80-90 years.  That's the interesting thing about food as medicine, so much of it has been replaced by drugs.  Drugs don't necessarily work better than food, and drugs are expensive -- particularly for those 50.7 million Americans without health insurance.  

About 3 million Americans have epilepsy, and finding a food cure for the million who have drug resistant epilepsy, would be wonderful, but what if there was a food cure for heart disease, something that effects over 80 million Americans and is the number 1 killer of both men and women?  That would be STUPENDOUS, right?   Dr.  Joel Fuhrman's article in the Huffington Post today claims he's got the food cure and has already helped 100's of people reverse their disease.  Here are some excerpts but please read the whole article.

What is the optimal diet for heart disease prevention and reversal?
Certainly not the small dietary changes recommended by government agencies and other organizations -- these are only modest changes to the average American's diet, and the average American starts developing heart disease during childhood. (5) Unfortunately, these widely voiced recommendations have made many people think by eating reduced-fat, processed foods and replacing red meat with egg whites, fish and chicken, they will be protected. They will not. These changes are simply not rigorous enough to assure predictable reversal.

I propose that a high-nutrient, vegetable-based diet can be even more effective.   90 percent of calories (must) come from nutrient-rich plant foods: vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts and seeds.

To provide optimal levels of protective micronutrients, a diet must be vegetable-based, not grain-based. Vegetables and beans are far superior to grains and white potato when it comes to nutrient density.  Seeds and nuts are indispensable for cardiovascular health. The protective properties of nuts against coronary heart disease were first recognized in the early 1990s, and a strong body of literature has followed...

Finally, also today in The Huffington Post is Dr. Andrew Weil's article, Why Plants are (Usually) Better than Drugs Please read the whole article.  Here's a small excerpt to get you interested:  

...For Andean Indians, whole coca leaf is the number one medicinal plant. They use it to treat gastrointestinal disturbances; specifically, for both diarrhea and constipation. From the perspective of Western pharmacology, this makes no sense. Cocaine stimulates the gut, it increases bowel activity, so obviously it would be a good treatment for constipation, but what could it do for diarrhea except make it worse?

However, if you look carefully at the coca leaf's molecular array, you find 14 bioactive alkaloids, with cocaine in the greatest amount. While cocaine acts as a gut stimulant, other coca alkaloids can have precisely the opposite action, they inhibit gut activity.

This means that when you take the whole mixture into the body, the potential is there for the action to go in either direction. What decides it? The state of the body, which is a function of which receptors in the gut's tissues are available for binding. 

Herbs  that can "tone" the body and bring it back to homeostasis are known as adaptogens... Asian ginseng, for example, has an array of active constituents known as ginsenosides. One of them, Rg1, can stimulate the nervous system, while another, Rb1, has been found to calm it. But even this is an oversimplification. Other constituent cofactors apparently increase the adaptogenic properties of ginseng, making the therapeutic whole more than the sum of its parts. Ultimately, this non-specific response boosts resistance to stress -- whether the stress is physical exertion, infection, or some other problem.

So using whole-plant remedies is a fundamentally different -- and, I would argue, often better -- way to treat illness. In Western medicine, we typically give the body no choice. We use single compounds that, essentially, shove physiology in one direction.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

OLIVE OIL IN THE CHEAP KITCHEN

Times are tough for a lot of people these days, including us.  My big contribution is to cook.  We used to go out to eat a lot.  We've stopped.  Instead I make good, almost always vegetarian meals every day.  This takes time, but involves so much color and creativity I can't think of anything else I enjoy as much.  And it's made us healthier!   We are saving on doctor's visits and medications.  I now have few headaches and my daughter's tendencies to pick up viruses is way down.  Still, one big expense I was allowing myself was cooking with extra virgin olive. Until today.
  
Thanks to Harold McGee's article today in the NYTimes:  Is It Time for and Oil Change in the Kitchen?  I can stop the insanity of cooking with olive oil.  It did seem counter-intuitive to make the healthiest, cheap dish in the world, Muhjadarrah (consisting of lentils, rice, and an onion) with 4 T. of olive oil, but until I read this article I would've been afraid not to. 

Not that I'm going to stop using olive oil altogether.  I love the flavor, and the health benefits are very well documented, but from now on I'll only be using it raw.  Two places where it makes taste and money sense to me is in dressing salads (I never buy salad dressing anymore) and dipping bread -- it's healthier than butter and butter isn't cheap either. 

The whole Times article is well worth a read for just how extensive the taste testing went, and as a heads up on that store brand olive oil that always seems so price appealing...  but here is the key excerpt:  
 

I investigated the flavor question by heating 15 oils — 4 olive and 11 seed oils — with nothing else in the pan, so I could taste what heat alone does to them. And I served some of them to trained oil judges.

We were surprised at how thoroughly heat obliterated the flavors in cooking oil until they all tasted more or less the same. Even prize-winning, and costly, extra-virgin olive oils lost much of what makes them special, though they retain their apparently healthful pungency. To get food with the green and fruity flavor of good olive oil, it seems more economical and effective to  fry with an inexpensive refined oil and drizzle on a little fresh olive oil after cooking.

My cooking oil of choice for now will be canola.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

MORE THAN MINIMALLY CHEERED UP

I try to cook at least one tasty, healthy meal every day, and because I like to experiment, some days things don't work out so well.  Today I made an awful lentil vegetable soup.  I can't even explain all the ways I hated it, but the lentils not being soft was only the beginning.  So I got depressed.  

After feeling like a loser and a failure for an hour or so,   I decided I needed some new inspiration and watched a few cooking videos at the Alice Water's Green Kitchen site.   That cheered me some.  But then a foody angel took over my computer and opened The NY Times Minimalist Video site, a site I never knew existed.  Why not? I read the Times on the internet ALL THE TIME.  Mark Bittman saved my day.  Tomorrow I will wake up excited, go to the market, and cook once more.   Thank you foody angel!


Meanwhile I wonder if I can fix my lentil soup by puréeing it in the blender....  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A PERFECT STORM OF HEALTHY EATING?

Just read a short interview at www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com with Dr. Ayala Laufer-Cahana, MD.  Here is my favorite excerpt:

What’s the most important news story today that you think we all need to pay more attention to?
I think that the news about the obesity epidemic’s global dimensions, combined with growing concerns about rising healthcare costs, and the growing awareness of just how poor our eating habits and food have become, are creating a perfect storm. I have a feeling we’re reaching a tipping point in which being health conscious will become mainstream.


I so hope she's right about health consciousness becoming mainstream.  People need to have more positive things in common.  To this end, I think it's key to keep food politically neutral and to encourage everyone to share food and health research.   

Here's to your health!  

 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

PEEL APPEAL

Just read that you should eat banana skins.  They're very nutritious and may combat cancer. But in further reading about bananas I find there are about a billion different varieties of banana, whereas usually only one, the "Cavendish" is commercially available where bananas don't naturally grow.  Cavendishes have rather thick skins and may not be conducive to baking. Many cultures bake bananas in their skins and eat the whole fruit.  Here in Morelia, I have found tiny bananas in the market with very thin skins, so I think I may stick those in a blender drink and see how it tastes.  

In general, lots of nutrition is available in fruit and vegetable skins -- potatoes, apples, eggplant... the skins (particularly colorful skins) have nutrients the fruit inside may lack. Carrots are more wholesome on the outside than inside, making those "baby carrots" you buy at the grocery store of less nutritional value than the whole unpeeled kinds because babies are really carrot cores.

Dr. Cynthia Geyer in the talk that induced me to start eating 1/2 a plate worth of fruits and vegetables at every meal, explained that scientists trying to find the healthiest part of the blueberry so that it could be synthesized into supplements, found that it was the WHOLE blueberry -- the pulp plus the skin working together -- that made it nutritious.  Why wouldn't the same hold true for other plant foods?  It certainly appeals to my common sense.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

EATING BERRIES, YOU CAN'T GO WRONG




Black chokeberries or aronia berries, have so many health benefits that I won't even bother to list them all, but cancer, heart disease, and kidney problems are three issues they may address.

Serviceberries (also called Saskatoonberry or Juneberry)  from the amelanchier shrub/tree have very similar properties and health benefits to blueberries.  And don't forget the valuable Elderberry!

Red raspberries and strawberries have over-the-top nutritional benefits too.  

In general, eating berries is an excellent idea and mixing them up and eating them in season is smartest. All of these berries are native or naturalized in the US, so consider growing them or picking them in the wild -- certainly the best way to insure freshness and lack of pesticides.

Note:  As a long-time garden center owner/operator I can tell you that blueberry, chokeberry (aronia), and serviceberry (amelanchier), and elderberry plants are quite ornamental and turn lovely colors in the fall making them both useful for eating and landscaping.   

Raspberries and blackberries need more care.  They are thorny, not very attractive, and can quickly spread out of control.  Prepare them a bed of their own, away from other plants.  


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

MEDITERRANEAN FOOD DIET DEFINED

When I hear "Mediterranean Diet"  I visualize a small round table with a white tablecloth. There's a glass of red wine, a loaf of bread,  a plate of olives, and there's turquoise water in the background....  I didn't know Mediterranean Diet had a medical definition and a food pyramid chart.  

MayoClinic.com is my go-to-site for all health related issues  (I love their symptom checker).     Today I ran into their Mediterranean diet post and thought I should share it along with the pyramid.  

Mediterranean diet: Choose this heart-healthy diet option

The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan combining elements of Mediterranean-style cooking. Here's how to adopt the Mediterranean diet.

By Mayo Clinic staff

If you're looking for a heart-healthy eating plan, the Mediterranean diet might be right for you. The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating — plus a splash of flavorful olive oil and perhaps a glass of red wine — among other components characterizing the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Most healthy diets include fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, and limit unhealthy fats. While these parts of a healthy diet remain tried-and-true, subtle variations or differences in proportions of certain foods may make a difference in your risk of heart disease.

Benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. In fact, a recent analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of overall and cardiovascular mortality, a reduced incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, and a reduced incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

For this reason, most if not all major scientific organizations encourage healthy adults to adapt a style of eating like that of the Mediterranean diet for prevention of major chronic diseases.

components of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)

The diet also recognizes the importance of enjoying meals with family and friends.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains

The Mediterranean diet traditionally includes fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice. For example, residents of Greece eat very little red meat and average nine servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the "bad" cholesterol that's more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.

Nuts are another part of a healthy Mediterranean diet. Nuts are high in fat (approximately 80 percent of their calories come from fat), but most of the fat is not saturated. Because nuts are high in calories, they should not be eaten in large amounts — generally no more than a handful a day. For the best nutrition, avoid candied or honey-roasted and heavily salted nuts.

Grains in the Mediterranean region are typically whole grain and usually contain very few unhealthy trans fats, and bread is an important part of the diet there. However, throughout the Mediterranean region, bread is eaten plain or dipped in olive oil — not eaten with butter or margarines, which contain saturated or trans fats. (Read rest of article.)


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A IS FOR AVOCADO

Avocados are good for your brain, eyes, and for restoring muscles.  Avocados fight aging, cancer, and heart disease.  If you have bad cholesterol numbers or trouble absorbing vitamins, avocados are the fruit for you. High blood pressure?  Avocados might help. 

Avocados are particularly high in folate, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C and pretty high in lots of other nutrients.  They're also an excellent plant source of protein.  

Since you eat them raw, avocados are easy to consume.  Cut one in half,  leave it in the skin, lightly salt the flesh, maybe squeeze some lemon or lime on it, and eat it with a spoon. The skin makes a fine bowl.  When I was a kid, I thought that was the coolest lunch.  

Like apples, avocados begin turning brown almost as soon as their skin is removed, so don't start cutting until you're ready to serve.  If you want to try to save an avocado after it's cut, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and store in the frig. 
 
Easy ways to use avocado is chopped in salad or on sandwiches or as a standalone side dish, or spread avocado on a sandwich as a mayonnaise substitute.
   
There are many recipes for guacamole (mashed avocado dip) on the internet, but just mashing an avocado with some jarred salsa makes a fast, impressive condiment. 
 
Buy avocados hard and store them in the refrigerator until 2 or 3 days before you want to use them.  Let them ripen at room temp or put them in a bag with an apple for quicker ripening.    

Monday, November 1, 2010

VEGGIES IN THE NEWS: WHY DON'T AMERICANS EAT HEALTHY FRUITS AND VEGETABLES?

Here's an article from yesterday's Enterprise News.

GLOBAL CONVERSATIONS: Why don’t Americans eat healthy fruits and vegetables?Dr. Michael Kryzanek  is executive director of the Center for International Engagement at Bridgewater State University.

The current “big thing” at universities here in Massachusetts and throughout the United States is what is commonly called internationalizing the campus. Here at Bridgewater State there are over 100 international students, whose presence on campus enhances the learning opportunities of the entire student body.
 
For international students, however, making sense of the American style of living takes some getting used to and often leads to telling questions about how we do things here in the United States. I teach a group of international students, mostly from China, on American culture and society and each class I begin by taking questions from my confused students. This exercise is supposed to be a learning experience for the students, but often ends up making me think about our way of life.

 In the first few classes this semester many of the questions were not about Barack Obama or baseball, but rather food. The Chinese students often ask, “Why do American students each so much?” This question is usually followed up by “Why don’t Americans eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables?” The Chinese students, who are not weight challenged and have a lifestyle based on the consumption of fruits and vegetables, have hit on one of the bedrocks of growing up American.

 The perception of these Asians, and I suspect other international students, is that Americans have grown up in a country with such abundance and media blitzes that accent the value of “super-sizing” and couch potato video games that little thought is given to what is on their plate or why they are 20 pounds larger than their fellow students from abroad. My Chinese students know this is the land of plenty, but they also suspect that Americans haven’t really thought about food, other than gobbling up huge portions of burgers, pizza, cupcakes and soda.  (Read rest of the article)

It's really sad when Americans are being known foremost for their bad diets!  This article reminds me of a recent Thomas Friedman (NYTimes) column, also about the Chinese perception of the American diet.

According to my son Jack at Trinity College in Hartford, these foreign students are going to have trouble eating a decent fruit and vegetable based diet if they're eating on campus.    I'm sure that has to do with demand... possibly another fertile topic for discussion with foreign students.