Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cranberry Sauce, Whole Food Style

Every year I enjoy the creative challenge of remaking artery-clogging and blood sugar raising holiday food into whole food wonders. Cranberry sauce is perhaps the easiest thing on the table to make (15 minute cook time), and so tasty when you make it yourself. When it comes from a can, it is high in refined sugar, or other crazy lab-created sugars. Ocean spray canned sauce has "glucose" and "glucose-fructose" in it. My personal rule: If I don't know where it comes from, I don't want to put it in my body.

The other great thing about making your own cranberry sauce is that you can add spices, which enhances the flavor. Most commercial sauces don't have spices. They rely on sugar.

This recipe is as simple as they get. You can get creative with adding orange zest or whole cardamom pods. I like recipes that I don't have to make special preparations for, so this one worked well for me. I make it at 10:15 at night, along with roasted potatoes, baked apple and steamed bok choy, and had dinner on the table by 11:00 pm. We had cranberry sauce on EVERYTHING.

Super Simple Cranberry Sauce Recipe
12 oz of fresh or frozen ORGANIC cranberries (fresh is better)
3/4 cup honey (local/ organic where possible)
1 cup pure apple juice, no sugar added (or water+ the skin of one apple)
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a pan. The water will not cover the cranberries at this point, but worry not. Bring to a boil and then simmer on medium high heat. Berries will start to burst. Stir to avoid volcano effect and sticking. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until cause starts to thicken. Store in the refrigerator and use within 5 days. I store mine in a jar and have it in my packed lunch all week long. Who says cranberry sauce is limited to the holidays?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Eat Less Animal Products and Win Big

Americans eat a lot of meat. They love the stuff. Barbecue, bacon, chicken wings, chicken wings wrapped in bacon, fried chicken, pulled pork, hamburgers, tacos, meat lover's pizza, steak, roasted chicken, pork belly... In order to support this habit, some real sh*t goes down. I know you hear this argument from every angle and from every vegetarian soapbox in town, but leave that at the door for a minute folks, because this sh*t is legit. I'll keep it short and straight up. I even got down on some citations for your skeptical pleasure.

Animal foods are more energy intensive than plant foods to produce.
I found a published study of calculations concerning the US food system on The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. By two professors from Cornell College in Ithaca New York. Their findings are grim. They compare the projected long term sustainability of a meat-based diet vs. a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet (fancy word for a vegan). They discovered that "...more than 9 billion livestock are maintained to supply the animal protein consumed each year (1). This livestock population on average outweighs the US human population by about 5 times." (2) In other words, "[t]he amount of grains fed to US livestock is sufficient to feed about 840 million people who follow a plant-based diet (7)."

Animal foods require more clean water.
Water is one of these so called "energy inputs." All across the board, the amount of water needed to produce animal protein is WAY higher than plant protein. To give you an idea: "Producing 1 kg of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than producing 1 kg of grain protein (8)." This figure will vary depending on what crop you are comparing.

Why does water matter? We're running out, quick. If you're interested in knowing more about the topic of water, watch the movie "Blue Gold" (linked to trailer). Clean water is precious. Let's use it for humans rather than cleaning shit out of cow stalls and growing corn that makes the poor cows fart, anyway.

Stop worrying about protein.
Worried about protein? The calculation includes an estimation that meat-eating Americans consume on average 112g of protein (2). The Recommended Daily Amount is 56g. That's twice the amount. People eating a plant-based diet average at about 89g per day. Not much to worry about, in other words.
So what, I have to be a vegan?
I'm eating Turkey at Thanksgiving, but the last time I had meat was one month ago. I'm saying EAT LESS MEAT, and you might save yourself some money, save yourself from a heart attack, make it less likely for yourself to get food poisoning, and ensure a slightly better future for those of us who have to be around in 2050. Check out the lentil and bean situation, and the whole grain paradigm. Watch Forks Over Knives if you're still skeptical.

FYI: They found that turkey and chicken were the most energy efficient of animal products (in a ratio of energy input to kilocalorie produced), lamb and beef being at the top of the list. The list included pork, dairy, eggs, beef, lamb, turkey and broilers (chickens for eating). Energy considered was direct energy (used to directly raise the animal), and indirect energy (energy used to raise the feed and other materials needed to raise the animals).

1. US Department of Agriculture. Agricultural statistics. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture, 2001.

2. Pimentel, David and Marcia Pimentel. "Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment. © 2003 American Society for Clinical Nutrition". <;postID=7011019466848487378>

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fats: The good, the bad and the ugly.

All the cell walls in our body are composed of fatty acids (the building blocks of fat). That means that the quality of the fat you take in directly effects the integrity of your cells. Being that your whole body is made up of cells, you can see how this might be a little important.

In this post I hope to spell out some basics about fats. I will make an attempt not melt your face off with a bunch of bio-chemistry terms. These are the bare essentials for your maximized fat-intake experience.

Number one: Many toxins and chemicals are fat soluble, and get into your body through the fats you eat. The toxic stuff in plastic is fat soluble, so keep fat and fatty things away from plastic. Many pesticides are fat soluble, and can bioaccumulate in excess adipose tissue (translation: the stuff that kills insects on your food likes to hang out in your fat). Non-organic oils (think McDonalds french fries) are subject to whatever pesticides are dumped on the crops that year.

I'm talking about accumulation in human fat tissue, though this also happens in animals we eat. When we eat animal fats, there is an ever higher concentration of toxins than in plant oils. Were these chemicals as safe as the people with their pockets full of our money are saying, that would be well and good. What's I'm sayin' is- lets get low on the food chain so we don't end up in a hazardous waste dump. These chemicals are yucky and they can mess you up. Fish is the worst offender of the bunch- especially farmed fish and fish that eat other fish that eat other fish (the chemical snowball effect).

Number two: Neal Bernard, MD has written extensively about food addictions. According to this legit dude, fat is pretty addictive. So is sugar. They release opiates in our brain that chill us out and make us happy. This sounds great- but it ends up a lot like heroin- you just can't stop. Access to endless amounts of refined fats was never supposed to happen.

Over-consumption of refined fats (anything that went through a process and is more concentrated as a result) can exacerbate menstrual symptoms. Especially women who have a high risk of breast cancer (past history in the family, history of HRT, history of radiation or chemical exposure) will benefit from reducing refined and low quality fats in their diet.

Number three: Bad quality or rancid oil sucks. It can cause cell damage and accelerate aging, because they contain "free radicals" (a highly reactive part of a molecule that can cause the DNA damage). Basically, it adds to the stress level in your body, which is already maxed out in most people.

Fat becomes rancid when exposed to heat, water, light, and air. So if you're someone who stores your oil in an open container next to your stove (which is a hot place), it's time to rethink the situation.

Being a good steward of your fat products is important. Store your unrefined, extra virgin, first cold pressing, organic, plant based oils in sealed amber jars in the fridge. At the very least keep air and water out of the bottle and store it somewhere dark. Nuts and seeds also like being in cold, dark, dry places. Again, if you're really into it, nuts do best in the fridge. From my experience, walnuts and pecans are especially quick to go rancid. You can even keep larger amounts in the freezer.

By "whole food," I means foods that have not been refined or processed from their natural state. Personally, I advocate for eating foods in their whole form as much as you can.

Getting enough of the right fats ensures good nervous system function and cell integrity. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, are necessary for many important bodily functions. "Omega-3" refers to the location of the unsaturation point (the place where the molecule lacks a carbon), and determines how the molecule bends into its final shape. The shape determines how it can be used, and how it will interact with other molecules.

Whole food fat sources; avocadoes, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, almonds, pecans, brazil nuts, mackerel and other wild-caught sustainably fished fish, spirulina and chlorella.

Oils: Coconut, olive and sesame.

Whole Food Fat Recipes:
Chocolate "Frosting"
1 large avocado
2 heaping tablespoons of raw cacao powder or regular cocoa powder
10-15 drops of stevia extract, or 1 Tablespoon raw honey (more if desired)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
fruit as a topping (raspberries rock my world), or fruit to dip in the "frosting"

Combine everything in food processor and process. Eat. Om nom.

Chia Porridge
2 Tbsp Chia seeds
1.5 cups water
1/2 cup hemp milk (unsweetened), or other nut milk.
vanilla extract
10 drops of liquid stevia extract
fresh peaches or frozen raspberries

Soak chia seeds in water overnight, stirring as your combine them. In the morning, stir chia seeds throughly and add in everything else.

Flax Pudding
1 handful of whole flax seeds (soaked or not)
1 banana
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
1-2 tsp fresh grated ginger
9 drops liquid stevia extract OR raw honey
1/4 tsp of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
dash of sea salt

Blend all ingredients in a high powered blender (Best results with a vitamix). Add more water if necessary. Eat with fresh fruit for breakfast or dessert.

Flax Honey-Mustard Dressing
1 handful of flax seeds
2 tbsp mustard (I made mustard from scratch with flax seeds recently, which is fantastic)
1 tbsp raw honey
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water if needed to thin it
pinch of salt

Blend all ingredients well in a high powered blender (preferably a vitamix, to grind flax seeds to a small enough size). This dressing is great on everything.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Less Tootin' Tea

Confession: Recently I've been having a tooting problem (translation: farting problem). Not only were they of the SBD (Silent But Deadly) persuasion, but they may have killed small rodents if trapped in a confined space. This may have been acceptable still, but for their frequency. I chose to laugh rather than crumble away and slip into the 5th dimension from embarassment. However, the situation became dire quick. Being a teacher, I couldn't let my students associate a rotten egg smell that could be used for chemical warfare with the English Language. Something had to be done. So, I made some tea fit for emergency:

Less Tootin' Tea
(note that I love flexible recipes)
3 tablespoons dried peppermint leaves, or 3 peppermint teabags
1 tablespoon of crushed fennel seeds (not crushed if you're lazy like me)
3-5 strips dried ginger, or 1-2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger if you don't have dried root pieces.

Put all ingredients in a large tea strainer, or directly into the pot with another straining method available. Pour hot water over the top (I made about a quart with the aforementioned ingredients this morning), and let sit, covered, for 15-30 mins. The tea should be dark brown, and stronger than your average tea (note the word choice of "emergency"). Drink one full cup now, and save the rest in the fridge, or take it to work in a thermos (as I did the morning). Drink up to 5 cups that day. You should see a difference after the first cup.

This recipe is good for other digestive complaints as well. These three herbs combine to help indigestion, heartburn, IBS, the toots and a overly large or rich meal sitting heavy in your stomach. Or if you want an after-dinner tea, you can make it less strong and enjoy it every day.

More about tooting that everyone should know:

1. The major causes of tooting:
- Not chewing enough or swallowing too much air
- Food allergies (esp. gluten, dairy (lactose intolerance))
- Potentially gas-causing foods like kale and cabbage
- Consuming beans, especially ones not cooked correctly. In this case, bacteria in our gut digest the indigestible bonds in the carbohydrates that we don't have the enzyme for, and the biproduct of the reaction is gas.
- Flora imbalance (the wrong bacteria hanging around)
- Candida yeast overgrowth.
- Stress can combine with any of these causes and make them worse. It's possible that you always eat beans and tooting isn't a problem. Then one day you're stressed AND you eat beans... well you know the story.

2. Different kinds of tooting
- Regular, voluminous and loud farts are not as smelly, and not necessarily bad. Everyone farts daily, and its part of a balanced system.
- SBD farts tend to be the product of bacteria, and are hot (heat being a biproduct of the bacterial reaction) and silent when they make their exit. These are the MOST smelly of them all, because the bacteria make crazy smell compounds (usually short chain, volatile gases.) It is these farts that indicate something may be wrong.

3. Advice for the chronic tooter:
- Make the tea above as a quick fix to buy some time to make your next move.
- Discover the cause by making changes and observing results. For example- stop eating gluten for 3 days and see if the toots stop. Stop eating cabbage and kale. Stop eating dairy. Stop eating beans. Chew your food really well.
- Invest in some probiotics to help the right bacteria grow in your gut. I always recommend the same brand, because many probiotics don't even work, and I KNOW that this one works from personal experience.

3. Are farts really flammable?
Yes, according to this website, one in four people who attempts to ignite their fart gets burned. Don't try this at home.