Monday, November 12, 2012

Milkshakes and Chemistry

"Omega-3 fatty acid" is the new panacea in the alternative health world. People are popping the fish oil right, left, and center. What is it all about? Does it deserve the street cred we're assigning it?

The Scoop on Omega-3
A lego house is made up of legos just as a fat is made up of fatty acids. Fatty acids are these zig-zaggedy molecules made up of carbon molecules and covered with hydrogens. There are different kinds of fatty acids, which means that the length of the carbon chain and the amount of hydrogens the chain is covered with are different.

Our body needs certain kinds of fatty acids to do certain things. Just like you can't use a screwdriver to cut wood, you can't use lauric acid (one type of fatty acid) to do what linoleic acid (fatty acid) is supposed to do.

For the most part, our body can synthesize (break down other fats and make new ones out of them) all of the fatty acids we need, EXCEPT for two of them. Omega-3 and omega-6. The names describe their chemical structure. We call these essential fatty acids, or "EFA"s. Here's a picture of an omega-3 fatty acid (below). Note zig-zaggediness.

Because we can't make them, we have to eat them. Back before the dawn of McPhlegm's (what my father taught me to call McDonalds since a young age), omega-6 was rarer in our diet, and so we ate a ratio of about 1:2 (omega-6 : omega 3). We have a limited capacity to convert omega-3 and omega-6, so any amount of omega-6 that we eat over the 1:2 ratio will cancel out any omega-3 that we eat.

Everyone is flipping out about omega-3 because the standard diet in our country provides a ratio of about 30:1 (omega-6 : omega-3)! As a result, much more omega-6 is converted than omega-3, creating widespread omega-3 deficiency.

Omega-3 is used in positive body functions like lowering blood pressure, decreasing blood clotting, immune regulations, building cell walls, nerve transmissions and allergic responses. Omega-6 (from many vegetable oils and meat) promotes inflammation and clotting. This is why people who have heart disease or have a risk of heart disease are told "eat more omega-3!". Studies show that a host of other conditions can be reduced or prevented by regulating omega-3 consumption.

So does omega-3 deserve the attention we are giving it? YES! Are you being ripped off by products that say "Rich in omega-6"? Yes!

Plant foods that contain a lot of omega-3 fatty acids are chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds. Fish are also high in omega-3s. The recipe below is my strategy for filling up on omega-3, which is really tasty.

Omega-3 Strawberry Milkshake
1 whole banana
handful  (or two) of frozen strawberries
2 tbsp ground flax seed (whole if you have a vitamix or powerful blender)
2 cups hemp milk (unsweetened)
6-8 drops liquid stevia extract

Put all in blender and blend the heck out of it. Drink it and enjoy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Chickpeas with Apricots

This recipe was inspired by an old housemate who made this for our house one time, and it blew my socks off it was so good. I made it last night for me and my partner, and it it still that good. He is a full blown meat eater, and declared halfway through the meal that it satisfied his meat craving. I knew at that moment that I had to share it. As I advocate for this "whole-food, plant-based diet," I am going to share recipes to go along with it. Make this for family and friends.

Chickpeas with Apricots
Serves 4-6

2 tbsp olive or coconut oil
1 yellow onion, chopped small
2 cans cooked chickpeas
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2-3 small ripe red tomoatoes, chopped
1/2 lb dried apricots, quartered
1 tsp salt (if chickpeas are not cooked with salt)
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp tarragon
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
Water or vegetable stock

Heat large pan on medium high heat (I used a cast iron). Add the oil and then the onions. SauteƩ the onion for about two minutes, or until slightly golden. Add all the ingredients to the pan and stir fry together for about 3 minutes. Then, turn the heat down to medium-low. Add about a cup of water and let simmer, covered if possible, for 15-20 minutes. Add more water in the middle if it needs it. The apricots should be soft, and there should be no wateriness to it. I served it garnished with some fresh cilantro over brown rice (see below).

Steamed Brown Rice
makes enough for 4-6 people, ratios can be changed as needed (1 part rice: 2 parts water)

2 cups brown rice
4 cups water

Add brown rice and water to a pot with a lid. Bring to a boil with the lid on. When bubbling, turn the heat down to low and let simmer for 30 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed. While cooking, try not to remove the lid too often, as it disrupts the cooking process. Remove from heat and let cool for a moment without the lid on before serving.

Let me know how it goes!