Saturday
Feb252012

Food and Sex

Please Excuse

We’re passionate about this one thing:  The principles upon which Word of Wisdom Living is based have the power to change the world.  We believe this.  To help this happen we set a goal to grow our audience ten-fold this year.  That’s an audacious goal.  Thanks to you, the readers, we’re making progress—January viewers were twice those of December. 

This week’s views were even higher.  Curious as to why, I asked the beautiful wife, “Is traffic up because of the word “joy” in our titles—as in The Joy of Snacking, or The Joy of Coleslaw?  Are people drawn by “joy,” like moths to the flame?”  I thought about this for a while, and then had an idea only a guy could conceive.  “What,” I asked, “if we used the word s-e-x, would that work better?”  The beautiful wife gave me that long, eye-rolling look she saves for my worst ideas.  I confess to being a curious guy, so please excuse this post’s title.  It’s just an experiment—I won’t write s-e-x again.

Eat Different

An FDA advisory committee blessed a new weight loss drug the other day, so approval is likely.  The drug company is right now, I suspect, preparing a big marketing campaign.  Weight loss drugs have a troubled history; only one is currently approved and it has a scary list of side effects.  Remember the Fen Phen tragedy?  The truth is, it simply may not be possible to safely keep the body from storing excess calories for a rainy day.   

We all vary in our susceptibility to overweight and obesity, but one thing stands out:  It’s best to eat a diet high in nutrients and low in calories.  Traditional plant-based diets with sparing meat have loads of nutrients and just enough calories.  The modern American diet (MAD) is the opposite:  low in nutrients and high in calories.  The former fills you up, the latter leaves you wanting more.

America wasted two generations on the false idea that we could eat the MAD diet and not gain weight if we just counted daily calories.  Counting calories is everywhere recommended but it’s a fool’s game.  Hunger is a powerful force.  You can starve yourself for a while, but in the long run you’ll eat until you’re full.

You hear a lot about “eating less and moving more.”  People who should know better say it all the time.  A better statement would be to eat differently.  Or as Apple says, “Eat different.”  That’s the goal of the food reformation.  And be muscular.

Menu for Week #9

I was reading a cookbook, Our Best Bites, discouraged that more healthy recipes weren’t included.  “Be more positive,” I said to myself, “try the next healthy recipe you see.”  So in this week’s menu is “Louisiana-Style Red Beans and Rice,” page 205.  I substituted some sausage from the freezer for the Andouiolle sausage, adding smoked paprika and Creole sauce as suggested.  Might be better to stick with the Andouiolle sausage next time, the beautiful wife tactfully suggested. 

Monday

  • Skip’s Peanut Coleslaw (see prior post for recipe).
  • Baked sweet potato (with butter and brown sugar).

Tuesday

  • Louisiana-Style Red Beans and Rice (recipe cited above).
  • Broccoli salad.
  • Homemade Corn Bread (recipe off the box, but half the sugar).

Wednesday

  • Baked salmon with Bok Choy.
  • Long grain rice.
  • Leftover coleslaw.

Thursday

  • Leftover Louisiana-Style Red Beans and Rice.
  • Spinach salad.
  • Leftover cornbread.

Please comment:  Because it’s winter, we’ve tried to have a soup recipe each week.  The best recipes have been “Split Pea Soup with Hambone,” and “Potato and Onion Soup,” but the Chicken with Rice Soup was pretty good too.  Soup, especially the bean soups, taste great, offer great value, and warm the soul.  Next week we’ll work on a black bean soup recipe.  Please share your favorite soup recipe.

Thursday
Feb232012

The Joy of Coleslaw

Pringles and the Industrialization of Food

My first job out of college was with Procter & Gamble, a soap company that also sold factory foods like Crisco shortening and salad oil.  Desperate for new products, P&G had resorted to growth by acquisition (Duncan Hines cake mixes, Folgers coffee, Jiff PB, etc.).  The smart guys at the top, however, knew the most profitable growth came from creating new products.  They saw an opportunity in potato chips, which at that time was a regional business with many players.

So P&G food scientists invented a potato chip with a long shelf life that could be shipped cross-country from a central factory.  No woman who knew her way around a kitchen would ever think of the product that resulted—Pringles.  But a food engineer with his brain bound by industrial thinking would.  Pringles used a cheap ingredient (potatoes), factory-processed into a mash, then formed and cooked with hydrogenated oil (a P&G expertise). 

The result was a patented and trade marked, densely packed, salty treat that would keep a long time.  I think the uniform shape of Pringles appealed to the corporate mentality—regular potato chips, in their random shapes and sizes, defied their controlling instinct.  By 20th century standards, Pringles was the perfect food invention.  Customer health, to my knowledge, was never a consideration. 

P&G expected that national advertising and marketing muscle would let them dominate the regional potato chip business, even though Pringles didn’t taste any better.  It didn’t happen that way.  Instead, Frito-Lay bought or drove out the other chip companies and today dominates the supermarket chip aisle.  P&G’s Pringle brand is a distant #2 and now they’re going to exit the business by selling out to Kellogg’s.  I think P&G is the more forward thinking company here—starch fried into salty snack food belongs in the last century.  Funny how Kellogg’s can’t see that. 

A Better Idea

Smart 21st century home cooks will take the path less travelled—reinventing the food of our pre-Industrial Revolution ancestors.  Forget about potato chips, Pringles, or fast food French fries and check our delicious Oven-Roasted Fries (recipe here).

In Praise of Cabbage

You get a big health bang for your buck with cabbage.  Cabbage is full of bone-building vitamin K.  Cabbage contains cancer-fighting antioxidants (including vitamins A and C) and glucosinolates.  It’s also rich in anti-inflammatory compounds.   (Similar benefits are found in the other cruciferous vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, Bok Choy, and broccoli.)  To learn more about the benefits of cabbage read here.

Family Food Traditions

The beautiful wife’s father was an unusually good man who grew up on a family farm in one of Utah’s mountain valleys.  Before his passing, he reminisced about the hard time farmers had between the World Wars.  “There was no money in the house,” he recalled, “but we were happy and had plenty to eat.”  In the fall they packed the root cellar with the food that would carry them through the winter—apples, onions, potatoes, oats, wheat, and plenty of cabbage.  “We stored the cabbage on a bed of sand and it lasted most of the winter.  When it started to turn bad, Mom made it into delicious sauerkraut.” 

From my own childhood I have a memory of cabbage.  Before our nation got addicted to credit, people lived on the money in their pocket.  One night we were eating a cabbage salad for dinner and Mom remarked, “At the store I only had a nickel in my wallet, just enough to buy a cabbage.”  It’s been a few years since you could buy cabbage for a nickel, but my memory is still clear on the value of this cruciferous vegetable.     

The cruciferous family is so healthy you should include it in your menu most days of the week—so coleslaw is this week’s recipe.  Because healthy snacking is the topic of the week, note that coleslaw makes a good snack, and can be added to fish tacos for a tasty meal too.  I wanted a recipe that didn’t start with a cup of mayonnaise.  I also wanted one without sugar, but because most recipes require vinegar, a little sugar is needed to offset the bitterness. 

Skip’s Peanut Coleslaw

Ingredients:

½ cabbage (makes 4-5 cups when shredded)

2 carrots, coarsely grated

½ bell pepper, finely sliced

½ onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, finely cut on diagonal

¾ cup roasted and salted Virginia peanuts (or whatever’s handy)

Sauce Ingredients:

¾ cup yogurt (or sour cream, or half-and-half, but use more corn starch)

2 T cornstarch (to thicken)

1 T Red wine vinegar

2 T sugar (we used agave nectar)

1 T lemon juice

2 T horseradish sauce (adjust for the concentration of horseradish used)

½ tsp celery seed (okay to substitute caraway seed, or fennel seed)

½ tsp ground mustard (or 1 T Dijon prepared mustard)

Generous pinch of red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste (remember the peanuts may be salty)

Directions:

  1. Prepare vegetables.  Beyond cabbage, most any vegetable works in coleslaw.  Including red cabbage adds to the color.  If pressed for time, you can also buy coleslaw vegetables already prepared.
  2. Make sauce by combining wet ingredients and spices.
  3. Toss vegetables in sauce and refrigerate several hours before serving.
  4. Before serving, add peanuts.  (The peanuts get mushy if left in the coleslaw.)
  5. This recipe takes a little time but can be made in advance and used in several meals.  Feeds 8.

Please comment:  Cruciferous vegetables offer a great combination of healthfulness and value.  We try to include them on our menu most days of the week.  Share your favorite ways to enjoy cabbage. 

Tuesday
Feb212012

The Joy of Snacking

The quick answer: Snacks are the barometer of a healthy diet.  If you don’t eat well, you won’t snack well either.

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Our Goal

Eat smarter, look better, live longer—that’s the stated goal of this blog.  If there’s a resource that will help you do it better than this blog, please tell us because we haven’t seen it. 

A disaster happened in the 20th century:  Food was industrialized for profit without proper consideration for health.  The deadly rise of chronic diseases was one consequence.  In the 21st century we’re sorting through the food rubble we call the modern American diet (MAD) and relearning how to live and be well. 

Sledgehammer Blows

In 2012’s first Healthy Changes we took a sledgehammer to the modern American diet (MAD).  Here is the effect of the first seven changes:

  1. Reduce dependence on sweets:  The average American drinks 96 oz. of soft drinks each week.  New goal: one 12-oz drink, or less.
  2. Eliminate man-made trans fats:  Zero deep fat fried foods.
  3. Take back control of your diet:  Write a weekly menu.
  4. Eat a healthy breakfast:  Cereal products must have more natural fiber than added sugar.
  5. Be muscular: Exercise 30 minutes most days.  It’s best if you sweat.
  6. Return to the plant-based diet of your ancestors:  Eat (USDA recommended) five vegetable servings daily. 
  7. Slow aging:  Eat a varied diet of whole foods (especially berries) to maximize antioxidant intake and minimize free radical damage.

Our goal is to rediscover the best way to live and be well.  We’re not trying to live forever, just more fully.

Snack Food

There’s nothing wrong with a snack between meals.  The problem started when Food Inc. decided to make a business of homemade snacks.  Here are some notable factory-made snacks, all featuring sugar as the primary ingredient: 

  • Cracker Jacks (first sold at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair);
  • Hersey bars (introduced in 1900, 10 cents);
  • Tootsie Rolls (1905, first wrapped penny candy);
  • Twinkies (1930, cake for life on the go).

Healthy, Affordable Snacks

The goal of this post is to rediscover healthy snacks.  In a prior post we summarized reader’s healthy snacks.  Here are ten ideas for traditional snacks that are wholesome and affordable:

  1. Fruit:  Nature wraps some fruits in individual servings, like the apple, banana, orange, and peach.  Purchased in season, they’re a nutritional bargain.  In winter, enjoy dried fruits.
  2. Veggies:  Carrot sticks and celery (with PB) are favorites.  But try broccoli, cauliflower, or zucchini with a little hummus.   Important point:  To get your daily five veggie servings, you should get at least one in your snacks.
  3. Green Smoothies; easiest way to eat your greens plus you get fruit too.
  4. Seeds:  Sunflower seeds are a healthy treat.  Popcorn is a real bargain—put popcorn in a paper bag, staple it closed, and pop it in the microwave.
  5. Nuts: But them in bulk at harvest, save them in the freezer, and enjoy year around. 
  6. Homemade bread:  This is my favorite snack, toasted with butter.  You can bake a loaf for under a buck if you buy yeast in bulk.  Homemade bran muffins make a great snack; put a batch in the freezer.
  7. Homemade granola makes a great snack too.  Try Katie’s Granola Recipe. http://wordofwisdomliving.squarespace.com/home/katies-granola.html
  8. Hard-boiled eggs:  A great treat: boil them on Monday and enjoy all week; pastured eggs are high in omega-3 fats.
  9. Cheese, especially with bread or healthy crackers, or in a quesadilla.
  10. Sardines:  For essential long-chain omega-3 fats, sardines are the best value.  Our grandparents ate them on crackers; we should rediscover the humble sardine.

Healthy Change:  We used the weekly menu rule to take control of food selection.  To control snacking, prepare a snack plate early in the day. 

Please comment:  When we eat regular, healthy meals, we snack less and make better choices.  You can find healthy store-bought snacks but ours are mostly homemade.  The best snacks are minimally processed—whole food snacks are best; we draw the processing line at granola and trail mix.  Please share your favorite snack ideas.

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

Friday
Feb172012

This Week’s Menu

A Love Story

We went out last night.  Saw that movie, The Artist.  The wife loved it; I thought it silly.  But it did make me want to tell a story.  May I?  I Googled “recipe books” and got 249 million responses—one more example of the overwhelming complexity of nutrition.  Nosing around I came across three characters, who I must introduce before the story telling begins:

Jennifer Reese is a Marin County mom, writer, and teacher of cooking.  During a period of unemployment, to save money, she tried her hand at making things at home you usually buy.  This led to her 2011 book, Make Bread, Buy Butter.  You get the point—baking bread is worth the effort but churning your own butter is too much hassle.  Actually, we’ve been working through such decisions on this blog, like the benefit of making your own breakfast cereal.

Thomas Keller has a world-class restaurant (three Michelin stars) in the Napa Valley called The French Laundry (the building originally contained a laundry operated by a French family).  The French Laundry may be the best restaurant in the U.S.; everything is very, very special.  Besides being a celebrity chef, Keller writes cookbooks for really fancy food.

Ree Drummond lives on a ranch, a big ranch, lots of cattle and horses, in Oklahoma.  She calls herself the accidental country girl, but she loves all the ranch stuff, and writes a popular blog, The Pioneer Woman.  She also writes cookbooks about ranch food.  Basic food, nothing fancy. 

So now the story.  Ms Reese, the Marin County mom, writes an article for Slate magazine where she prepares two meals for her family.  The first time she uses Keller’s fancy cookbook; it was a lot of work, took three days.  The second time she uses Drummond’s basic pioneer cookbook; much easier.  We’re talking about smoked paprika vs Lawry’s seasoned salt.  Same meal each time—fried chicken, salad, biscuits, and pineapple upside-down cake for dessert—cooked two ways, fancy and basic. 

The outcome?  Though Keller’s fancy food tasted better, the family preferred the Pioneer Woman’s down-home basic grub.  This is a Marin County family, mind you.  When a family gathers around the dinner table in a daily ritual as old as time, as Reese put it, “good enough is good enough.” 

There’s an important lesson here.  What makes food good is the love that mom cooks into it.  Home cooking puts the love in food.  Straining to make it fancier can get in the way of mom’s river of love.  Bottom line:  Cook healthy food, keep it simple, and don’t forget the love.

This Week’s Menu

Our pantry dictated this week’s menu:  Beside leftover bean, lentil and ham soup, I bought broccoli, cauliflower, green onions and cabbage from the Farmers’ Market.  The beautiful wife picked up a pineapple that was ripening. 

Monday

  • Skip’s Chicken Pineapple Stir-fry (see recipe in prior post).
  • Long grain whole rice.

Tuesday

  • Cauliflower with cheese sauce.
  • Broccoli salad.
  • Roasted sweet potato fries.

Wednesday

  • Bean, lentil, and ham soup (fortunately, we had soup left over from last week).
  • Cornbread.

Thursday

  • Crab salad
  • Leftover cornbread.

Friday

  • We don’t plan Friday dinners.  Last week we ate out, Mexican.  This week one of Clare’s friends brought over enchiladas.  So we made a simple salad and enjoyed.

Please comment:  The adventure this week was learning to cook stir-fry.  Next week we have a cabbage so maybe we’ll feature a coleslaw recipe.  Does anyone have one to share?  Any menu requests or suggestions?

Thursday
Feb162012

Secrets of Stir-fry

Learning to Cook

There’s a phrase among doctors that goes, “See one, do one, teach one.”  It means that some things can be learned simply by observation, and that having done one you’re qualified to teach the procedure.  Doctors sometimes laugh when they hear this, likely because they’ve learned by sad experience that everything not’s that simple.  Like cooking.

Because I’m fascinated by the Asian use of meat—as a condiment rather than the main course—I wanted to include a stir-fry recipe in our evolving cookbook.  Stir-fry can also use less edible portions of plants, like the stalk.  Stir-fry is also a good way to use the produce loitering in your fridge.

Did I mention I’ve never cooked stir-fry?  I didn’t even like it.  But any recipe that is plant based, sparing of meat, quick to cook, and affordable, deserves a second look.  I started by Googling the term, “secrets of stir-fry.”  After that I compared stir-fry recipes.  Bottom line:  Stir-fry is bite-sized pieces of vegetables with a little meat, cooked quickly in a hot pan.  Period.  Oh, and eat it while it’s hot, before it gets soggy.

Secrets of Stir-fry

After a day of research and a half-day of cooking, here’s what I learned:

  1. There are four steps:  a) prepare ingredients, b) cook meat and remove, c) cook vegetables, and d) add sauce and meat to vegetables and finish cooking.  Actually, if you like stir-fry over whole grain rice, you better start the rice first.
  2. Need a wok?  No. A frying pan is actually easier to keep at the hot stir-fry temperatures.  The main advantage I see in the wok is the high sides keep your stovetop cleaner when the splattering starts.
  3. Which meat?  Chicken is most used with stir-fry, but you can use anything for protein, including peanuts and cashews.  Actually, the nuts save the meat-cooking step.  The chicken is often marinated while the vegetables are being prepared; they say it keeps the meat from getting tough during frying.
  4. Best oil?  Among the healthy oils (like peanut oil, coconut oil, olive oil, or organic canola oil) they all work.  I stir-fried four batches of chicken using the oils above and asked the beautiful (and discriminating) wife which she preferred.  They tasted all the same.  Don’t use butter—the pan’s too hot.
  5. Which vegetables?  Whatever.  About everything works, including the aromatics (celery, carrot, onion) the cruciferous family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or cabbage), asparagus, bell peppers (any color), bok choy, or snap beans.  There’s a stir-fry secret here: cheap, less-desired plant stalks are made edible.  You can also add bean sprouts, water chestnuts or bamboo shoots.  One recipe even uses watermelon rind.  Limit yourself to four or so; cut vegetables into bite-size pieces but slice carrots thinly as they take longer to cook.  Put onions and hard veggies in to cook first, and add leafy vegetables like bok choy last.
  6. How to season?  Most recipes start with a little soy sauce (though any Asian sauce will work) and may include ginger and/or garlic, plus something hot (red peppers, chile powder, or cayenne).  Green onions are also used.  You can make great stir-fry with these plus salt and black pepper.  Some recipes include cumin, coriander, and curry or just turmeric. 

Skip’s Chicken Pineapple Stir-fry

It takes a lot of nerve to put your name on a recipe that billions of people have cooked in thousands of ways—but I did.  Makes me smile.  This recipe is for four people:

Ingredients:

½ C chicken stock

2 T soy sauce

1 T red wine vinegar (or whatever you have)

1 T agave nectar (or some form of sugar)

1 T cornstarch (to thicken)

2  Boneless chicken breasts (about 1 lb.)

Peanut oil (or any healthy oil)

1 C white onion

1 C celery

½ C carrots, sliced thin

½ C bell pepper

½ C green onions

1-2 C pineapple (optional)

1 tsp garlic, grated

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

½ tsp red pepper flakes (or any hot spice)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

  1. Prepare the sauce by combining chicken stock, soy sauce, vinegar, agave nectar, and cornstarch.  Set aside.
  2. Cut chicken breast into equal size cubes or strips, and marinate if desired.  A marinate can be made using soy sauce, vinegar, agave nectar and cornstarch in the quantities above, plus ¼ cup cooking oil.  Note: If chicken is not to be marinated, prepare the vegetables first.
  3. Prepare the vegetables and pineapple by chopping into ½” to ¾” pieces, and slicing carrots.  Other vegetables can be substituted as needed.  When washing vegetables, dry them before cutting to reduce spattering when cooking. 
  4. Heat a pan until a drop of water sizzles, then add 2 T cooking oil.  Caution:  Be sure water is gone before adding oil as it will cause spattering of hot oil. Continue heating until cooking oil shimmers.  Add meat and cook until browned on each side.  Remove meat but leave liquid in pan.
  5. Add more cooking oil and heat until shimmering.  Add vegetables in sequence, beginning with onions and other hard vegetables and finishing with softer vegetables (which need less cooking).  Do not add pineapple.
  6. While vegetables are cooking, add minced ginger and garlic, and red pepper flakes.  If these are used in powdered form, simply add to the sauce in step #1, but use a little less.
  7. Add in order: the sauce from step #1, pineapple, and meat.  Stir to coat.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Cook until done al dente, you don’t want it mushy.  Remove and serve over rice, say the dinner prayer, and enjoy.

Please comment:  Share your best stir-fry recipe or tip.  Stir-fry is another good way to add vegetables to your diet.

Sunday
Feb122012

Staying Alive

The quick answer:  To slow aging and protect against cancer and other chronic diseases, eat an antioxidant-rich diet of whole plant foods.

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How We Age

If the cells of our bodies are constantly being replaced, why do we get old?  It’s a good question.  In 1956 a scientist brilliantly proposed that aging was primarily caused by free radicals.  Here are the basic steps:

  1. Energy:  Cells produce the energy needed for life in their mitochondria.  Not all cells are equal:  Heart muscle cells work hard so contain many mitochondria.  Fat cells contain much less.
  2. Oxidation:  Mitochondria produce energy by burning (or oxidizing) fuel called ATP.  (The cell makes ATP from the sugar delivered by your blood.)
  3. Free radicals:  During oxidation an electron is lost, which creates free radicals.  If free radicals can’t replace the lost electron they become toxic to the DNA of your mitochondria.
  4. Aging:  The accumulated damage from free radicals is a major part of aging. Free radicals are also a risk factor for cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and age-related vision loss.
  5. Antioxidants:  The missing electron can be supplied—and cell damage avoided—by the antioxidants in our diet.   
  6. Longevity:  If your diet supplies enough antioxidants, aging is significantly slowed.

Antioxidant Sources

Whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts) are a rich source of antioxidants.  (Processed foods are not.)  Antioxidants play a protective role in plants, protecting them against UV damage from the sun.  There are many types of antioxidants and more are being discovered.  Here are some common sources:

  • Vitamins:  The vitamins A, C and E are powerful antioxidants if taken in whole foods.  Pills do not provide the same benefit and can even be harmful.
  • Minerals:  The minerals in food, like selenium, are antioxidants.  (This may be why Brazil nuts, rich in selenium, are protective of prostate cancer.)
  • Food:  Different food groups produce different kinds of antioxidant so it’s a good idea to eat a varied diet.  The skin of berries is loaded with antioxidants.
  • Sleep:  The body also produces antioxidants.  Melatonin, produced when we sleep, is a potent antioxidant.
  • Pills vs whole foods:  Studies have failed to find a consistent benefit of taking antioxidants in pill form.  Getting your antioxidants in whole foods, complete with other helper nutrients, is the safest answer.  There is also a synergistic effect in eating a variety of whole foods. 

The Modern American Diet (MAD)—Whole Foods vs. Processed Foods

What part of the American diet is whole foods vs. processed foods?  It's not pretty to see, but here’s a breakdown provided from government sources:

  • Processed foods:  62.5% of calories come from factory foods made from refined grains, refined oils, and sugar or HFCS.
  • Animal products:  25% of calories come from meat, fish, dairy and eggs.
  • Plant foods:  Just 12.5% of calories come from whole plant foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, or nuts.

This is just a horseback estimate, but I would put the diet of someone following the 52 Healthy Changes from Word of Wisdom Living at something like this:

  • Processed foods:  10-15% of calories.
  • Animal products:  10-15% of calories.
  • Whole plant foods:  75% of calories.

The latter diet—with 75% if calories from whole plant foods—provides a rich source of natural antioxidants, as well as vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other helper nutrients. 

Healthy Change: 

Cancer: In closing, a word about cancer:  we noted above that free radical generation was linked to oxidative stress, which the body resolves with antioxidants.  Studies have linked low levels of antioxidants to a greater risk for cancer, including breast cancer.  For example a low blood level of vitamin A doubled the risk of breast cancer.  Women with low vitamin E had triple the risk.  In other studies, elevated markers of oxidative stress are an independent risk factor for breast cancer.  A whole foods diet rich in antioxidants protects against breast and other cancers. 

Please comment: Please share what you do to provide adequate antioxidants in your diet.

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

Saturday
Feb112012

Menu #6

The Farmers’ Market

It was overcast this morning but not too damp for a visit to the farmers’ market.  We’re stuck between winter tubers and spring greens but it’s good to visit with the people who actually grow the food.  I got a bunch of carrots, some green onions, spinach, broccoli, snap peas, and a bundle of asparagus.  You’ll see them on next week’s menu. 

Wandering about, I sampled Fuji apples (nice and sweet), and artisan olives (for which I haven’t quite developed a taste).  Visited with Katie, an ambitious girl who offers prepared foods, like her 36-hour chili.  It made her laugh that I won the church chili cook-off by adding some beans to her chili sauce.  (I was short on time and yes, it was great and I took all the credit.)

Calcification: The Aging Factor

I bought the spinach, broccoli, and asparagus because of a book I read last night, Calcification: The Aging Factor.  Much of the public’s disease knowledge, unfortunately, comes from drug company marketing.  So if a disease lacks a profitable drug to market, we may remain unaware until someone we know is diagnosed.  Calcification is such a sleeper disease.  Calcification goes hand-in-hand with osteoporosis; if the body can’t store calcium in your bone, it may store it in your soft tissue.  Kidney stones, bone spurs, and cataracts are examples.  Calcium deposits, also cause arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, a serious coronary condition.  (But different from atherosclerosis, where fatty deposits build up in the arteries.  The goal of this blog is to minimize our risk for both conditions.)

Like most chronic diseases, the exact mechanism behind calcification has not been discovered, so doctors don’t give preventative guidance.  The author of this book does give some suggestions that may help:

  1. The calcium problem:  Americans, especially older women, are counseled to eat calcium-rich dairy products and take calcium pills to prevent osteoporosis.  One fact should cause us to reconsider this guidance:  Other nations eating traditional diets consume far less calcium yet have superior bone health (as measured by hip fracture rates).  It may be better, the author suggests, to get our calcium from plant sources, especially leafy green vegetables.
  2. Bad diet:  A diet of processed foods (62% of calories in the US) and animal products (25% of calories) is acid producing.  Because the result is way too acidic, the body must use calcium from our bones to buffer the acid.  The resulting calcium compound overloads the elimination process so is deposited in soft tissue.    Better diet:  A plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains (just 13% of the modern American diet)—that is sparing of meat and dairy—is alkaline and counteracts excess acid so inhibits bone calcium removal.   Bottom line:  Eat whole foods.
  3. Mineral imbalance:  Calcification is worsened if our diet is high in phosphorous (found in processed foods and cola drinks) and low in magnesium (found in nuts, whole grains, and leafy greens).  So eating a plant-based diet also restores mineral balance.
  4. Vitamin insufficiency:  Most are unaware of this, but the body needs vitamin K (found in dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts) to build strong bone.  It also needs vitamin D (freely available from the sun except during winter in northern climes). 
  5. Exercise:  Strong muscles make for strong bones—they’re connected.  To put your calcium in the right place, live a muscular lifestyle.

Menu #6

This week’s menu didn’t follow the exact course because I got busy doing tax returns and forgot to make the lentil soup, which was my assignment.  (I’ll make it after I get this post up.)  Last night (Friday) we went to the local Mexican food place and had shrimp tacos.  Old friends were there so we had a good time.  Knowing of this blog, they all looked at my plate as they left.  The rice was white, but I reminded that one meal a week one can eat whatever delights.  (Why don't more restaurants offer whole-grain rice?)  The week’s menu didn’t go as planned, but this was the plan:

Monday

  • Cauliflower with cheese sauce.
  • Spinach salad (the beautiful wife makes a great salad, using whatever’s at hand).

Tuesday

  • Bean, lentil, and ham soup (fortunately, we had soup left over from last week).

Wednesday

  • Salmon (using Rik’s recipe from last week’s comments, we baked it with Dijon mustard, encrusted with Panko crumbs, butter, and Italian herbs).
  • Asparagus (steamed).
  • Wild rice (we started too late and the rice takes almost an hour to cook, so we’ll save it for next week).

Thursday

  • Leftover soup.
  • Cornbread.
  • Salad (a simple salad, spinach with tomato, avocado, and green onions).

Please comment:  What did you eat this week that was extra healthy?  Please share.

Thursday
Feb092012

Broccoli Salad Recipe

The quick answer:  Salads are the easiest way to add vegetables to your dietary.

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Salads and Fats

The imbalance between our omega-6 and omega-3 fat intake—we consume too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3—is a critical problem with the modern American diet (MAD).  We need both fats­—they’re deemed essential—but we need a balance.  As a rough metric, we should eat 1/3 as much omega-6 and three-fold more omega-3. 

There is true irony in our omega-3 fat deficiency—it’s the most plentiful fat on the planet.   Omega-3 is found in green plants of the field, and in the algae of the seas.  We suffer scarcity in the midst of plenty because we don’t eat enough green stuff, or animals that feast on green foods.    So leafy dark greens are one source of omega-3 fats; they’re also rich in youth-preserving antioxidants.

There’s seasonal rhythm:  Omega-3 peaks with the green of spring.  Omega-6 has its zenith in the fall, when seed crops are harvested.  In olden times the winter diet of preserved foods and meat caused a deficiency of vitamins and omega-3 fats.   But feasting on the green leaves of spring—what we call salad—restored their health. 

Nature reflects this rhythm.  Omega-3 supports new life—most animals are born in the spring so feed on greens (or get their milk from a mother feeding on greens).  The omega-6 of fall prepares for the winter.  Animals can be made to hibernate simply by increasing the omega-6 in their diet while lowering omega-3 fats.

A Brief History of Salad

In the ‘20s it was fashionable to visit and eat at the great hotels.  These hotels had an advantage over the home kitchen: refrigeration.  This new invention wasn’t yet practical for homes, but the great hotels could afford them.  So they began to distinguish themselves with refrigerated foods and dishes. 

In New York the Ritz-Carleton affered their Chef’s Salad; the Waldorf-Astoria countered with the Waldorf Salad.   When ordinary homes had refrigerators chicken salad, fruit salad, potato salad, carrot salad and Cole slaw became part of our year-around dietary.  Refrigeration had the nice benefit of lengthening the food seasons.

For this post, we define salad as any mixture of greens served with a dressing.  The dressing has a purpose.  The fat in dressings enhances the bioavailability of fat-soluble nutrients.  So there’s hidden wisdom in the traditional oil and vinegar dressing.

Salads are the easiest way to include vegetables in your diet.  Start your salad with greens but include a variety of chopped vegetables.  It’s a good way to clear out the refrigerator.  We’re sparing with our meat intake, but a little meat adds variety and flavor to salads: chopped chicken, ham, bacon, crab, shrimp are favorites.  It’s also a good way to use leftovers.  Nuts are good in salad too, as is cheese.  We include salads in most of our dinners.  Here is a favorite recipe:

Brooke’s Broccoli Salad

Ingredients:

1 bunch of broccoli, cut into small flowerets

1 bunch romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

4 green onions chopped

1 package of ramen noodles (discard the flavor packet)

1 cup slivered almonds or chopped pecans

¼ cup butter

For the dressing:

1 cup olive or canola oil

½ cup sugar

½ cup red wine vinegar

1 tbsp soy sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Brown the nuts and noodles in butter and drain on a paper towel.  Combine all other ingredients and toss with the dressing. 

Please comment:  A purist could reasonably complain the above salad uses ramen noodles and sugar.  (Confession: I actually decreased the amount of these two ingredients.)  But their use is justified, I think, by how much broccoli and romaine we eat when this salad is served.  Please share your favorite green salad recipes.  (NOT green Jello salad, please.)

Tuesday
Feb072012

In Defense of Veggies

The quick answer:  The key to good health is to learn to like the food group Americans most hate—veggies.

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A Rose By Any Other Name . . .

That famous line by Shakespeare ends “would smell as sweet.”  Maybe so.  But the English word for the edible plants so necessary to good health—vegetables—has a problem.  Americans don’t exactly have a love affair with vegetables.  The nutritionist David Ludwig commented on our conflicted feelings: “In my experience, hating vegetables is essentially an American trait.  I never saw anything close to it during my travels through Asia, Europe, and South America.” 

If we do eat veggies, we prefer them processed into unhealthiness.  Take French fries, our most popular vegetable.  Cooked in trans fat-laden, toxically oxidized vegetable oils, fries account for an astonishing 46% of our vegetable intake.  The onion ring is another perfectly healthy vegetable gone wrong.  To further improve their edibility, fries and onion rings are doused with sugary ketchup and salt.

In Defense of Veggies

One of the most remarkable surprises in nutrition studies in the last few years was the discovery of the remarkable dietary qualities possessed by the edible leaves of plants.  Among vegetable foods, only the leaf is rich in calcium, and is also rich in vitamins A, B and C, as well as fiber.

Recent news?  No, this is from a 1925 book, Food, Nutrition and Health!  So three generations have passed and little has changed—except more discoveries about the merits of vegetables, like their rich supply of the antioxidants that slow down aging.  Vegetables are the opposite of today’s highly processed foods—veggies are rich in nutrients, sparse in calories, and healthy. 

Vegetables come in colors and three colors are of special value.  They also come in botanical families; two are extra healthy—cruciferous and allium:

  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, broccoli, etc.) contain vitamins A, C, K, and folate.  Greens also contain minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron, as well as lutein and fiber. 
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale) are potent cancer fighters, some studies suggest.
  • Orange vegetables (sweet potato, carrots, banana squash, pumpkin, etc.) are rich in carotenoids. 
  • Red vegetables (beets, red cabbage, red pepper, and tomato—borrowed from the fruit family) contain beneficial lycopenes, and anthrocyanins.
  • Allium (garlic, onions, leeks, chives and shallots) family by tradition is prized for healthiness.  Alliums are high in flavonoids, polyphenolic compounds that stimulate the production of potent antioxidants.  Alliums help produce the “natural killer” cells that fight infection and cancer too.

You Do The Math

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—our official healthy diet guide—recommends we eat five vegetable servings daily.  For food groups without powerful lobbies—vegetables are the best example—I trust the Dietary Guideline of five servings.   (For food groups with well-funded lobbies, like dairy, or edible oils, I take the guidance with a grain of salt.)  A serving is the amount that will fit in the palm of your hand—about 2-4 ounces, depending on hand size and food density.  Doing the math, five veggie servings a day with allowance for waste is:

  • Two adults—about 15 lbs. per week.
  • Mom, dad, and three grammar school kids—20-25 lbs.
  • Family of six, ranging from toddler to high school—30-40 lbs.

Getting five daily servings is the core challenge of healthy eating.  It works best for us if we get a serving or two at lunch, another in our afternoon snack (usually raw), plus two or three at dinner (salad plus a side vegetable). 

Looking Better

There’s an additional benefit to eating yellow, orange and red vegetables.  Scientists in Great Britain found a salutary improvement on skin color among people who ate the orange and red vegetables.  They had better skin color, looked healthier, and were judged even more attractive than those whose skin color came from suntan induced melanin.  Drop those French fries and grab a sweet potato, or some carrots, to get that healthy glow.

Healthy Change

One reminder:  You can’t eat veggies if they’re not in the house so healthy eating starts with the weekly menu and shopping list.

Please comment on your favorite vegetable ideas, or share your veggie recipes.  The key test of mom’s leadership is enticing children to enjoy vegetables.  How do you do it?

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

Saturday
Feb042012

Making Soup

Midway to Heaven

This was the title of my first book, a memoir for the beautiful wife’s father.  He grew up on a family farm in the mountain town of Midway, Utah.  If visitors to Midway ask, “Midway to where?”  The townspeople, many of Swiss heritage, reply, “Midway to heaven.”  Because he was an unusually good man, it seemed a good title for his story. 

Regular readers know the beautiful wife and I are now the caretakers of the century-old Victorian farmhouse where he grew up.  I love this old house.  The walk-down root cellar is a unique feature of the home.  In olden times it was the storehouse of the harvest that fed the family until the next spring.  As the winter wore on and supplies diminished they could count on having potatoes and onions.  So this week’s menu includes a standard of that time, potato-onion soup.  It's just right for late winter meals.

Soup Basics

Cooks everywhere are rediscovering soup.  Soups are filling but low in calories.   Soups are not only good for you—they’re the best value around.  Soups take time to prepare but a pot lasts several meals and improves with age.  You can even freeze some in a quart jar for emergencies.  Traditional soups are built around five ingredient groups:

  • Stock—the main source of liquid.  Usually made from bones, it can also be made from vegetables.  We make most of ours from the carcass of a roast chicken.  (Stock is an old tradition but in the ‘60s stock was replaced with bullion cubes dissolved in water.  Today it’s sold in the store as “broth” but there’s nothing quite like homemade stock for flavor.)
  • Mirepoix—the savory combination of chopped carrots, celery, and onions.  There are other combinations, depending on what’s at hand, but this is the standard.
  • Flavor—the trio of bay leaf, thyme, and parsley and sometimes garlic occur in most recipes.
  • Starch—often legumes, but potatoes and (whole wheat) pasta work also.
  • Meat—a little meat adds flavor to the soup and gives you something to chew on.  This is the essence of “sparing” meat intake and a good way to use the odds and ends that might get wasted.

Skip’s Potato Onion Soup Recipe

Ingredients:

  3 C. potatoes, washed and cubed

  1 C. white onion, chopped

  2/3 C. celery, chopped

  3 C. chicken stock

  3 strips bacon

  2 C. milk (some recipes include cream)

  2-3 T healthy fat (to sauté)

  2 T butter or bacon fat (for roux)

  2 T flour

  1 tsp thyme

  ½ tsp or more salt, and ground pepper

  ¼ tsp hot pepper flakes or chili powder

Directions:

  1. Place stock in large pot and heat to boil.  While stock is heating cube potatoes (washed, but unpeeled) and place in soup pot.  Chop the onion and celery. 
  2. In a frying pan cook the bacon; chop and set aside.  Leave 2-3 T bacon grease in pan. 
  3. Sauté the onions and celery in pan, starting onions first.  Add the sautéed onions, celery and flavor (thyme, salt, pepper) to the soup pot. 
  4. Reusing the frying pan, make roux with butter/bacon fat and flour; cook about a minute.  Stir in milk and cook 5 minutes to thicken (do not boil).  Add to soup pot. 
  5. Continue cooking soup until potatoes are tender.  Remove about half the soup to a blender and puree.  Return to soup pot.  Add chopped bacon, adjust salt and pepper if needed, and garnish with chopped parsley.  Serve.  Makes 8-10 servings.

We serve this with a spinach salad and corn bread.  This morning the Beautiful Wife returned from walking and talking with her friends; she exclaimed upon entering the house, “It smells so good!”  So this recipe will also make your home smell good.