Articles in Health
Simplicity is ubiquitous: if you — like I — get sucked down the gorgeous wormhole that is Pinterest, you know what I mean. Click on the DESIGN tab, and there they are: hundreds of rooms painted a dull monochromatic gray/beige/ecru. A single, long Forsythia branch stands imperfectly perfect in a chipped wabi-sabi bud vase, which is set upon an ancient pine side table chinked with time. Click on the FASHION tab: passels of tranquil, doe-eyed models dressed in dull, monochromatic gray/beige/ecru. They’re wearing loose-fitting overcoats, and modern and expensive versions of their grandfathers’ 1930s cordovan wingtips. Click on the FOOD tab: chipped, matte-finished Heath coffee bowls in gray/beige/ecru hues, filled with variations of the same thing — grains, beans, usually some kale, a drizzle of olive oil, a tangle of lemon zest — and set down on askew cream-and-red dishtowels that have seen endless washings and line-dryings. The image, or any number of versions of it, has been re-pinned a thousand times which, in Pinterest parlance, is a really good thing.
Oh, the simplicity, a work-harried friend wistfully whined to me one morning while we were on the train, commuting two hours to our Manhattan jobs from rural Connecticut. I really want to live and eat like that, she added, looking over my shoulder at my iPad — simply and quietly.
Of course you do, I told her. And so do I.
ZESTER DAILY LINKS
And, apparently, so does everyone else these days, so much so that a new crop of magnificently-produced, nearly wordless, expensive magazines — maga-Tumblrs, really — has arrived on the scene, promising vicarious calm, conviviality and aspirational serenity of the sort that Thoreau went to the woods to find 159 years ago. Instagram-softened images of meaningful dinner parties abound; young flannel-shirted men in their 20s — Smith Brothers look-alikes — smoke vintage Meerschaum pipes as they gaze across placid ponds at tire swings swaying in the distance while their ladies thoughtfully pour local herb-infused gimlets into authentic 1930s Ball canning jars. You read the sparse text. You swoon. You study. You wonder if these people have day jobs.
The message is clear: You – yeah you, with the three kids in daycare and the divorce, getting off the IRT and running into Starbucks for your McVenti before hunkering down in your cubicle under those fluorescent lights for eight hours while the jackass next to you yammers on his cell phone about the great sex he had last night — you, too, can live a simple life.
That is, if you work hard enough at it.
If you wear the right authentic clothes and drink the right authentic drinks out of the right authentic vessels. If your food is unfettered and unfussy and thoughtfully produced and served in the right coffee bowls of the right color, and was perhaps procured from the right CSA or the right farmers market.
For those of us who have suffered through the fashion of anxious, nervous food — inauthentic, tall, overwrought — such simple, gastronomical style is exactly what we’ve been breathlessly waiting for. But has the style of living and eating this way, with its gorgeous prepackaged rusticity and come-hither appeal, just become exigent fetish? Are our attempts to be “simple” so self-conscious and superficial that the benefits of real simplicity, peace, mindfulness, thrift are lost? Will being simple — eating simply, living simply — go the way of the Pet Rock?
Trends are a direct reflection of our ever-changing cultural and socio-emotional needs. In the greed-is-good 1980s, everything was big — shoulder pads, hig hair — and the contrived food of the time, unnatural vertical and architectural, was an extension of that style. In late 1988, I was served an elaborate, human fist-sized chocolate piano at a restaurant in Beverly Hills. A scaled-down replica of a Steinway baby grand, it had eighty-eight black and white chocolate keys, and strings fashioned from spun sugar. After the grim 1970s, life was suddenly all about the frantic quest for the elaborate and ornate, and the food on our plates reflected it. In the 1990s, everyone declared themselves a home-schooled chef — the Food Network went on the air in 1993 — and we all went out to buy kitchen blowtorches and home foamers and timbale molds. After 9/11, we craved peace and conviviality, and the next big thing was comfort food. The sale of crockpots and Creuset casseroles took off like they’d been shot from a cannon.
So what created this fraught mandate for the ancient saucepan — dented to perfection — that we spend hours searching for at Goodwill? Why the farmhouse tables laden with elemental dishes and the longing gazes serene as stone? Desperation for simplicity and authenticity smacks of a sort of psychic exhaustion, and the stark realization that living and eating in a complicated overdone way will take a toll on our souls. It compels us with an almost furious hysteria to return to preconceived notions of what’s real, even if what’s real is nothing more than an often fetishized metaphor for ever-elusive safety, and a commodified yearning to bind our frayed connection to equanimity and control.
In a world of constant digital connectedness, of nebulous relationships and jobs that disappear before our eyes, of an often fraudulent and dangerous food system, where we feed our children pink slime and anyone can slap a green label on their over-processed product and pretend it’s organic, we’ll pay anything we can to get simplicity, or some semblance of it back.
But if simplicity really is just a fetish, what will happen when the fetish fades and the trend is over? What will we eat and how will we live?
Top photo: Elissa Altman. Credit: © Susan Turner
I was taken aback recently to hear the hard statistics: The United States imports more than 50% of the fruits and vegetables we put on our tables.
We regularly see produce from Mexico, Canada, Chile, China, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru and more — imports that have tripled since the 1990s. The produce is harvested before it is even ripe, so that it can be cheaply and efficiently boxed and shipped to our shores for consumption often weeks later.
And while it is a fact that the local food movement is growing exponentially, the reality is that these small farming efforts are often built on marginal land or urban plots. As for big agriculture, according to the American Farmland Trust we lose more than one acre of farmland to urban development every minute of every day, 24/7.
It all adds up. Stifling competition from often inferior product from abroad. Aggressive developers here at home. Shopping malls. Young farm family members choosing not to follow in their parents’ footsteps.
According to the USDA, the number of farms in the United States fell to a six-year low in 2012.
Shrinking number of farmers
According to the USDA, as of 2007 (the latest date for such statistics) the average age of principal farm operators was 57 years old and there are relatively few prepared with the skills to take their place. How could it be that the Unites States, once the envy of the world in terms of agricultural output, is not even producing enough to feed our own people?
As a nation it’s no secret that we eat too much and too much of the wrong foods, and this has dire consequences on our health. We are currently ranked 33rd on Newsweek / Bloomberg’s 2012 survey of the world’s healthiest countries.
I was reminded of these and other sobering statistics at a screening of “Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farm Fields,” a powerful documentary that addresses the urgent need to retool and reboot U.S. farming practices.
Thanks to the efforts of Dulanie Ellis and Ray Singer, award-winning filmmakers in Ojai, Calif., a social action campaign has been launched nationwide to give combat veterans the opportunity to become a new generation of farmers.
In 2000, Dulanie Ellis launched Walk Your Talk Productions to explore what it would take to protect the world-class farmland in her region of California from development. Thus began her commitment to agricultural activism. Her partner in the documentary, filmmaker Ray Singer, shared her passion and together they embarked on a three-year journey that has profoundly affected each of them. Their goal is to strengthen the growing network of combat veterans who are transitioning into organic agriculture and to build resources for veterans so they can create healthy new lives for themselves and contribute to food security for our nation.
Back from the battlefields
Recently returned from protecting U.S. interests overseas and having traded in their fatigues for overalls, hundreds of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are now committed to growing organic produce and selling it to local communities from Seattle to Florida.
Colin and Karen Archipley, founders of Archi’s Acres in Valley Center, Calif., have taught more than 100 veterans not only how to grow crops, but how to run a farm as a business through their Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) program.
VSAT is a proprietary hands-on six-week training program “from seed to market” with an emphasis on developing a business plan. Colin and Karen purposefully tap into the skills and military training of the veterans — attention to detail, dedication and thoroughness — and assist with job placement and business creation at the end of the immersive training. Graduates include successful farm owners and workers, soil-testing pioneers, restaurateurs, and owners of food companies.
Michael O’Gorman, a passionate advocate for the cause of teaching veterans to farm, is the founder and director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) located in Davis, Calif. This national network of independent veterans-in-agriculture has teamed up with the USDA to offer free educational retreats in sustainable agriculture all around the country, open to veterans and their spouses.
The coalition serves as an important networking agency. Veterans are able to talk with farmers, attend workshops on financing and related business topics. FVC also offers the Fellowship Fund, which makes small but strategic grants to farmer-vets so they can get what they need most to strengthen their operation.
“Our goal is to connect the latest generation of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to viable careers in agriculture,” says Michael. “What we see amounts to religious conversions. These young folks have taken on the military and farming — two of the hardest challenges we face — and they’re not even 30 years old.”
American-grown food for all — it’s more than a wish. The United States is projected to add some 18 million people by the year 2020. With nearly 334 million mouths to feed by the end of this decade, food supply is arguably one of the defining issues of our time. Think about it. Homegrown food is healthier for you. Healthier for your children. Healthier for our communities. Healthier for America.
The next time you plan your week’s shopping, check first for a local farmers market. You may just find a veteran farmer continuing to do service for our country.
Top photo: Mark Winkworth. Credit: JJ Britt
Food and science converged in our house recently with an impromptu sugarcane experiment. The exercise began a few weeks ago when my daughter came home from school and announced that she had learned something important: “Sugar is bad.” This statement disturbed me. Obviously too much sugar isn’t good for anyone, but it doesn’t seem productive to talk about foods as essentially “good” or “bad,” especially to a 6-year old.
More from Zester Daily:
Eating too much of any food can be bad, even if that food is full of nutrients and comes straight from the garden. And talking about sugar, both naturally occurring and manufactured, is especially complicated. Refined white crystals are “sugar,” but so are honey, maple syrup and molasses. There are important scientific distinctions between fructose, sucrose and glucose. I discussed all these things with my daughter, but she only seemed confused.
The sugar problem
I’d been mulling over the sugar problem for days when I took my daughters to our local farmers market. And there, lying on a table in glorious 6-foot-long stalks, was the answer to my conundrum.
“Look girls,” I said. “Sugar!”
In spite of their frank disbelief, I decided these stalks of freshly-cut, locally-grown sugarcane would turn “the sugar problem” into “the great sugarcane experiment.”
My two daughters watched in awe as the owner of the stall, Mee Thao Her, chopped the sugarcane into 6-inch long chunks. Next she stripped off the hard green outer coating to reveal the cane’s porous white center. She handed each of my daughters a small chunk, and watched as they placed them carefully in their mouths. My first-grader beamed, “It tastes like sugar!”
“Because it is sugar,” I said.
She was clearly dubious. I realized we had to ratchet up the experiment. We bought a full 6-foot stalk of cane and brought it home.
My plan was to help the girls turn this stretch of green stalk into crystallized sugar, the kind they would recognize. Some quick research revealed a possible problem. There are three kinds of sugarcane: crystal cane, syrup cane, and chewing cane. Her raised “chewing cane” on her family’s farm in Fresno, so I wasn’t sure we’d even be able to make crystallized sugar from this sugarcane. But in my family, we’re always up for a culinary challenge.
Taste-testing the experiment
Before we began our experiment, I introduced the concept of the scientific method. We talked about what color we thought the finished product would be (yellowish-green) and how the juice would taste (like sour sugar.) After much discussion we developed a hypothesis: If we chop up the sugarcane, peel it, strain it, boil it, and dry it, we will create sugar crystals.
It seemed simple enough. First we cleaned and stripped our sugar cane. My husband eagerly volunteered, happily wielding the large machete he keeps in the trunk of his car “for emergencies.” Next, we chopped the tender white centers into 1-inch chunks and ground them up in the food processor. We poured the resulting fibrous mass through a series of coffee filters and cheesecloth into a measuring cup. An hour later, our 6-foot long stalk of sugar cane finally yielded 2 cups worth of pale yellow juice. My eldest daughter said that it tasted like sugar, but “grassier.”
We boiled down the juice, filtered it again, and reduced the juice a second time. The result: our twice-boiled sugarcane syrup tasted like molasses, but sweeter and less bitter.
My next step was to try to crystallize sugar from this boiled-down juice. Realizing it might not work with “chewing sugar,” I hedged my bets by creating a second jar, this one containing a super-saturated solution of refined white sugar in water. I coated two strings with a dried sugar solution. This would be the “seed” for our future sugar crystals. My daughters placed the “seed” strings into each Mason jar and covered them with a paper towel to keep the flies out.
Then we waited.
It took three days, but the result was worth it. In one jar was a string of perfectly crystallized white sugar. This was no surprise to me, because my own parents had performed this “magic trick” with me when I was a child. In the other jar was a quarter-cup of golden-bronze liquid, with only a bit of thick golden syrup clinging to the string.
My daughters were amazed. We examined the contents of the different jars with a magnifying glass. We tasted each sample — the gritty crystals and the luscious syrup. We discussed the difference between the two kinds of sugar. We also talked about the fact that sugar wasn’t a magical white substance that came in a bag from the grocery store. Sugar is a naturally occurring substance. Sugar comes from Mrs. Her’s farm in Fresno.
Sugar is sugar
I told my daughters that sugar is vitally important to make our bodies work the way they should. And that too much of sugar can cause serious problems. I didn’t go into a list of issues like diabetes, tooth decay, America’s obesity epidemic, high-fructose corn syrup and the host of other problems that undoubtedly lay behind the phrase “sugar is bad.” These are all serious problems that I want my daughters to be aware of. But sugar isn’t bad. Sugar is sugar. I think my daughters now have a better understanding of what that substance is.
Some of my family’s theories about sugar-making proved incorrect. Actually most of them did. But the most important hypothesis yielded positive results. With some help, and active participation, kids can learn to think about sugar in a meaningful way and to start making conscious food choices.
Top photo: My daughter supervises the first filtering process during our sugarcane experiment. Credit: Susan Lutz
I was part of a conversation recently with colleagues in the food world who were griping that nothing much had changed in the health food movement since Adelle Davis’ books, “Let’s Get Well” and “Let’s Cook It Right.” Both books had raised a new public awareness in the 1960s to the fact that unprocessed organic food, grown without pesticides and herbicides, can determine our health. What about Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Frances Moore Lappé, Mark Bittman, Robert Kenner, Paul Newman, A.E. Hotchner and Wendell Berry, to name a few contemporary food activists? Or even more recently, Anna Lappé, Bryant Terry, Jeremiath Gettle, Daniel Salatin, Katrina Blair or Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney.
I’m also frustrated that there is so much work to be done, but everywhere I look I see evidence of how far we’ve come on the issue.
More on Zester Daily:
I argued that things had dramatically changed in simple ways. For instance, yesterday I wanted to make a chicken tagine with plums and olives. The recipe called for chicken thighs, onions, butter, dried plums and lemons. I needed some lamb for another recipe and some hamburger. I also needed milk, half and half, and yogurt. It was midweek, and I didn’t have time to go down to the farmers market so I shopped at my corner market.
I was able to get full-fat yogurt, a coup these days because in the last 20 years almost everything has become either non-fat or low-fat. This, by the way, does not necessarily mean they are good for you. Fat-free foods may also have added thickeners, flour, sugar or salt. Also you don’t want to avoid all kinds of fat because there’s a decent argument to be made that foods contain both “good” fats and “bad” fats. In the meat department, I was able to get hormone-free, antibiotic-free, organic grass-fed lamb, beef and free-range chicken. I also noticed they had organic, grass-fed bison. In the produce department, I was able to get organic lettuces, organic berries, avocados, apples, pears and bananas. In the dairy case, I had a choice of free-range eggs from three farms, and I also found organic milk, organic half and half, and butter. There are farms all over the United States that sell raw milk. Laws regarding raw milk vary by state, but it is available if you want it. I found dried plums that had not been sprayed with sulphur dioxide, which is great because I definitely didn’t want any of that pesticide on my food because children in my family are allergic to sulphur. I know, of course, our future begins with our children and grandchildren. And I remind my friends that in 1996, Alice Waters created her first edible schoolyard in Berkeley, Calif. Since then the program has expanded to New Orleans and Brooklyn, N.Y.
The health food movement goes mainstream
When President Obama was elected, Michelle Obama told the world she was going to grow a garden. When he ran for reelection in 2012, the First Lady was promoting her new book, “American Grown” about the White House garden.
“The garden is the way to begin the conversation [about healthy food decisions],” she told the National Review. “I learned, in changing my kids’ habits, if they are involved in the growing process of food and they get a sense of where it comes from, they tend to be excited about it. The garden is a really important catalyst for that discussion.”
All over New York City public schools now have roof-top gardens or other areas set aside for gardens. The students at Manhattan School for Children on West 93rd Street give guided tours of their rooftop gardens.
Most colleges and universities offer programs in sustainability and integrated nutrition. We have new words in our vocabulary and dictionary that apply to quality food produced responsibly, such as locavore and sustainability. Most everyone knows about fermentation now because of Sandor Katz’s book, “The Art of Fermentation,” which was on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks and nominated for a James Beard Award. Although California voters didn’t approve Proposition 37, which would have made the labeling of GMOs mandatory, the big news is that Whole Foods, the grocery chain with 339 stores across the nation became the first retailer in the United States to require GMO labeling on all foods sold in their stores.
Genetically modified ingredients are in much of the food we eat on a daily basis. Food labels give us information about nearly everything else we need to know about the food we’re eating, but there is generally no information about food grown with GMOs. Now, at least at Whole Foods, all foods will be labeled if they contain GMOs.
There are many more ways in which the food movement in the United States has dramatically changed. But in a way, my colleagues are right. Although we’ve done a lot, there is still more to do to protect our good food. And next we need to turn our full attention toward the issue of hunger, and getting that good food to those in need.
Organic produce at Eli’s Market in New York City. Credit: Andrew Lipton
When I was just married I went with my new husband to a famous Jewish restaurant in London. I scanned the menu anxiously searching for something green.
“Excuse me,” I asked, “Do you have any vegetables, please?”
“Yes,” the waiter answered seriously, “we have dill pickles and latkes.”
That exchange demonstrates so much of what is wrong with traditional Ashkenazi fare. Certainly the food is delicious, rib-sticking and very tasty. Look at menus solid with dishes like matzo ball soup and kreplach, the delicious triangles of pasta filled with chopped meat floating generously in rich broth. There are slices of corned beef with a liberal side of deep fried potato latkes and over-large slices of lockshen pudding — noodles mixed with dried fruit and masses of fat and sugar. Of course all these dishes are wonderful and immersed with flavor and Jewish tradition. Lighter versions of some of the recipes form part of my book, “Jewish Traditional Cooking.” But maybe it would be sensible to serve one of these recipes as a treat or delicacy accompanied by a liberal quantity of vegetables and fruit, not all of them together at a single meal.
A diet for survival
The traditional Ashkenazi diet evolved from a fragile East-European existence and the shtetl — impoverished, flimsy villages.
ZESTER DAILY GIVEAWAY
If people were fortunate enough to have a chicken, probably only for a festival, it was an old boiler, and in true Ashkenazi tradition it would have been placed in a large cooking pot with root vegetables and masses of water to make a soup. This soup would be extended with matzo balls or any kind of dough and rough bread, along with chopped gizzards and heart, and meat from the chicken’s neck. The neck skin would be separately stuffed with chopped fat and peppery flour and stitched, then roasted with the bird to create another meal called helzel. Those bubbas, grandmothers and mothers, knew that they could keep hunger at bay by adding calorie-laden extras. The chicken would likely be served at the festival meal with kasha, rice, potatoes or barley.
We are now in the 21st century and Ashkenazi tradition still follows that regimen. Jewish people manifest significant problems connected with obesity, including the so-called Jewish Disease, diabetes. Heart disease and cancers are known to be exacerbated by a high fat, high protein diet.
Adapting the Ashkenazi diet for the 21st century
So maybe it’s time to acknowledge this and accept change, as I did after marrying a lovely Sephardi man. After the Diaspora, the Sephardic Jews looked about their surroundings and adopted the cooking methods of their new neighbors using masses of cheap vegetables and fruits, cooking with olive oil rather than the artery-clogging schmaltz of their Jewish cousins. Instead of relying on frying or interminable stewing to add flavor, they began seasoning their food with fresh herbs, creating fragrant dishes redolent with glorious spices and mouthwatering taste.
When I wrote “Jewish Traditional Cooking” I wanted to include the inherited foods but lighten them where possible. Many of the appetizers are vegetable-based: baba ganoush, a fragrant Asian dish based on oven-roasted vegetables, and soup mit nisht – the ultimate low-calorie cauliflower soup that tastes of heaven but relies on the freshness of a good cauliflower, onions and a light stock and herbs. Lockshen pudding has exchanged its ancient stodgy image for a healthier alternative by adding masses of freshly grated apple, vanilla, mixed spices and fresh lemon zest.
Passover is no longer a stomach-clutching kilo-raising event in our home. We adore the lightness of a carrot and almond bake which rises soufflé-like for any chef, and the spinach and leek roulade with its lighter cheese filling still satisfies. For a modern Jewish woman understanding tradition and the demands of religion and custom, I looked to Morocco where I learned to cook fish in a tiny Fez kitchen with a mixture of fresh vegetables and a fabulous stuffing so that it can be eaten hot or cold. Turkish tradition showed me how to stuff a whole vegetable and experiment with butternut squash as the base for a stuffing of toasted pine nuts, lentils, brown rice, currants and masses of chopped mint, parsley and cilantro.
I believe that Ashkenazi Jews have to look to their Sephardi cousins to learn how to eat in the 21st century. They may not survive their traditional diet.
Top photo: Ruth Joseph. Credit: Western Mail, Thompson House, Cardiff
The latest news is good news, but it isn’t really new news.
It was 20 years ago almost to the day that my editor at Bantam Books buttonholed me in a hallway in Cambridge, Mass., and said: “We have to do a book about this.”
She was talking about the Mediterranean diet, subject of heated discussions at the First Mediterranean Diet Conference, organized by the Harvard School of Public Health and Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, an organization that I had founded with my colleagues Greg Drescher and the late Dun Gifford. The book that resulted was “The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook,” published by Bantam in 1993. And from that day to this I have never ceased believing that this smart, sensible and delicious diet is also one of the healthiest ways of eating that we know, and the easiest to adopt and put on our families’ tables.
Mediterranean diet evidence piles up
So it’s just plain gratifying to have confirmation from the latest and most impressive study, published a few days ago on the New England Journal of Medicine’s website and creating a firestorm of comment in the media and on the Internet. What makes the study truly significant is not just the prestige of the Spanish medical researchers who conducted it meticulously, but also the large cohort (more than 7,000 people) and the long duration (more than five years). In fact, the study was cut short because the results were so clear that it seemed unfair to the control group not to let them in on the good news.
More from Zester Daily:
And what is the good news? Following a traditional Mediterranean diet — rich in vegetables, fruits, and legumes, with a low consumption of meat and dairy products, and with plenty of seafood and plenty of extra-virgin olive oil — brings a healthful outcome. Lots of healthful outcomes. In the case of this study, researchers were looking at cardiovascular disease. The conclusion? A traditional Mediterranean diet can reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease by at least 30%.
Some commenters have called that insignificant, but if you come from a family with a genetic predisposition to heart disease (as I do, both my parents and at least half my grandparents died of stroke and related problems), that’s significant. For me, it is enough to want to follow this diet to the end of my days.
Fortunately, that’s not hard to do. Because the best news of all about the Mediterranean diet is that it is very easy for most Americans to follow. It emphasizes dishes with ingredients that are easy to find in any supermarket, that are easy to prepare, and that are easy to eat because they are all so darned delicious. It doesn’t require fancy ingredients, trips to exotic neighborhoods, or long hours over a hot stove to eat well the Mediterranean way.
But if you are an adherent of what we might call the traditional American diet, it will require some adjustment.
First , cut out processed food entirely. If you read Michael Moss’s new book, “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” you will be compelled to do exactly that. No industrial fats, no added salt, no added sugar.
Then, be prepared to spend more time shopping than most of us do cooking. You need more time at the produce section than standing over a hot stove. Take time to select fresh, seasonal, well-raised fruits and vegetables. These do not necessarily need to be organic, but it helps. Choose produce from as close to home as possible, whether you shop in a local supermarket or are lucky to have a good four-seasons farm stand near where you live.
When it comes time to cook, make it simple:
- Steaming vegetables and tossing them in extra virgin olive oil with finely chopped garlic and herbs is about as complicated as you want to get.
- Grill or oven-roast a piece of fish and serve it with a dribble of olive oil, chopped herbs and a spritz of lemon.
- Make a soup or a pasta sauce by cooking fresh or canned tomatoes with garlic, onion and some chopped basil, then purée for a soup or cook down a little more to thicken for a pasta sauce.
- Soak a batch of dried legumes, such as beans, chickpeas, fava beans, etc., and cook till done, then use half of them in your tomato soup and freeze the other half for another recipe later in the week.
- Make whole-grain bread the only bread on your table. Do away with sweet muffins and sugary breakfast pastries.
- Drink a glass of wine with your dinner.
- Make dessert a piece of fresh seasonal fruit.
- Above all, switch from whatever fats you now use, such a butter, lard or canola, to extra virgin olive oil, which is the finest kind. Use an expensive high-quality oil for garnishing, and a cheaper one for all your cooking, but always choose extra virgin. An aspect of olive oil untouched on in the Spanish study is the presence in extra virgin olive oil of health-giving antioxidant polyphenols that are lacking in regular or refined oil.
And, as the waiter says when he sets down a plate before you: Enjoy!
Top photo: Elements of a classic Mediterranean diet. Credit: Prudencio Alvarez Carballo/iStock
Hear this, Congress: Scientists do make a difference!
Recently, researchers have begun turning their attention to a burning question in food science: Should you eat vegetables raw or cooked? The answers are evolving, and a lot more complex than a simple yes or no. It depends on what vegetable you’re talking about and how you cook it.
Cabbage, like other cruciferous vegetables, is teeming with cancer-preventive compounds, but you have to handle it tenderly to reap those special rewards. Food scientist and crucifer expert Dr. Paul Thornalley, of the University of Warwick in Great Britain, has some practical advice for capitalizing on cabbage.
Tip 1: Keep the touch gentle. Eat cabbage raw or lightly cooked.
Cooking cabbage (and other crucifers) at high temperatures for prolonged periods destroys the active enzyme myrosinase, needed to turn compounds called glucosinolates into others called isothiocyanates, which in turn are responsible for the cancer-preventive actions. Translation, please?
Cabbage rolls probably won’t turn the trick.
More from Zester Daily:
Lab studies have shown that crucifers can prevent cells from being damaged by toxins, inhibit cancer cell proliferation and the inflammation that drives it, and suppress the growth of blood vessels that cancer cells make in order to spread. (That’s the process of angiogenesis.) Several studies have also shown reduced rates of certain cancers among people with diets high in crucifers.
When you boil cabbage leaves, however, the myrosinase is destroyed and the glucosinolates end up in the liquid, Thornalley said. To help preserve the enzymes, do a quick sauté or light steam instead. Even if the heat destroys some of them, bacteria in your gut will take over their role and transform glucosinolates into isothiocyanates to some degree. As for microwave cooking, to minimizeglucosinolate loss, keep the time, temp and amount of water you use low.
What about baking or braising or roasting crucifers? Thornalley hasn’t tested that yet, but said that very high temperatures — much higher than 212 F (100 C, the boiling point of water) — for prolonged periods will probably kill them off. In fact with all crucifers, if you’re aiming for the most cancer-preventive activity, raw is best, he said.
Tip 2: When you cut crucifers, make sure the pieces are fairly large.
They should be about half an inch (a centimeter) or larger for vegetable leaves such as cabbage and ⅕ teaspoon (a millileter) or larger for flowers such as broccoli. Using smaller cuts, Thornalley said, will destroy the enzyme’s ability to create the cascade of actions that produce cancer-fighting compounds.
Tip 3: Don’t let cut crucifers sit on the counter for more than two to three hours.
They will lose those magic compounds. Instead, keep cut cabbage and other crucifers in the fridge, where the compounds should last for several days, he said.
So if you’re not counting on cabbage rolls or finely-shredded coleslaw for your daily dose of cancer-fighting crucifers, what can you do with that head of cabbage instead? Here are some ideas (from my humble kitchen, not Thornalley’s lab):
• Raw chunky coleslaw – Cut in strips at least ½ inch thick. Dress with cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil and a little vinegar. Add raw scallions, cut on the diagonal, carrots and red peppers, julienned. It doesn’t seem to matter how small you cut the carrots, peppers and scallions. Top with caraway or cumin seeds, which may help avert the gas. And chew well, over and over, which, from my abundant experience, definitely aids in that department.
• Raw chunky cabbage soup — This can be any variety of healthy soup, with the cabbage added at the end so that it doesn’t actually cook. Cut the cabbage in ½-inch squares (or larger), which are easier to get into your mouth than long, thickish strips.
• Lightly sautéed cabbage – Sauté chunky strips briefly in olive oil on low to medium heat. (Don’t let the oil smoke because that turns it rancid.) Add spices, seeds, sauces, other quickly sautéed veggies. Wrap the mixture in a lettuce or steamed collard leaf, or serve up a moo shu platter.
• Lightly steamed cabbage – Use a steamer so that the cabbage doesn’t cook in the water and use as little water as possible. Cook quickly, then add some tasty seeds, herbs, sauce. And it can’t hurt to throw the cooking water back into the final dish.
• Sauerkraut – It’s simply raw cabbage that’s been fermented, meaning healthy bacteria are produced, which increase the cancer-fighting properties. Look for local brands that haven’t been pasteurized (heated in order to destroy germs.) Or make your own. For a more potent anti-cancer recipe, add some turmeric to mustard and mix with the kraut. Or stir this turmeric concoction into the mustard. The black pepper enhances turmeric’s cancer-fighting actions; the cumin powder, its earthy flavor.
• Kimchi — This is fermented cabbage, Korean style. Find a local supplier who doesn’t use loads of sugar to counter the intensity, or make your own. And be forewarned: Korean red pepper powder can be explosive. Once again, a light touch prevails.
Simple Korean Kimchi
Adapted from a recipe by Danielle Levy, plant-based cook and Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN)
Here’s a quick way to make kimchi at home. For a whimsical touch, serve in glass tea cups.
For the vegetables:
1 medium to large Napa or Savoy cabbage, cut into bite-sized chunks
12 cups cold water
¼ cup salt
2 large cucumbers, cut in small half moons
5 scallions, minced
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup chopped chives
For the paste:
1½ cups water
¼ cup almond flour (ground almonds)
1 tablespoon coconut sugar or ½ tablespoon Xylitol made from birch, not corn, to sweeten (optional)
2 tablespoons Korean red pepper powder
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 stick lemongrass, minced (optional)
1. Let the cabbage soak in a large container of salted water for at least 4 hours. Then rinse it several times under cold running water, and pat it with a towel to remove the wetness.
2. Make the paste: Using a skillet, bring the water to a simmer and add the flour. Whisk over medium high heat for 3 minutes. Add the sweetener, and continue to simmer for another minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. Mix all the remaining paste ingredients in a food processor, then add the flour mixture.
4. Combine cabbage with cucumbers, scallions, chives and soy sauce. Add the paste. Put the mixture into the glass jar, and let it sit at least 24 hours. The longer it ferments, the better.
Should you ferment foods at room temperature or in the fridge? “You’ll get more significant microbial development” at room temp, fermentation guru Sandor Katz said. On the other hand, you might feel safer in the cold, especially if you live in hot climes.
Cabbage in the garden. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller
In this tweet-driven, entertainment-focused world, it’s hard to break through the clutter. But the giant bus advertisement featuring two plates of bacon, eggs and pancakes caught my eye. “Do just a couple extra pancakes and two slices of bacon really make a 400-calorie difference?”
It does. And now I know the consequences.
More from Zester Daily:
Portion control is the latest weapon in America’s battle against obesity.
“We understand it’s a bit of a shift,” says Paul Simon, a physician and director of the county’s Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention. “Here we are promoting some foods that aren’t viewed as particularly healthy. But what we’re saying is, “If you’re going to eat this, at least eat less.”
While the dramatic rise in obesity levels in America has slowed in recent years, the overall picture is sobering. More than one-third of all adults in this country are obese, and by 2030 an estimated 42% will be overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is approaching tobacco use as the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and is an important risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and many forms of cancer.
There is some good news. Intensive health education, mandatory fitness testing and the passage of a law restricting the sale of sugary beverages on school campuses seems to have paid off in California, according to Simon. Between 1999 and 2005, the obesity rates among fifth-, seventh- and ninth-grade students in Los Angeles County climbed 1% every year — an increase of 15,000 more obese children annually. But in 2005, those obesity levels plateaued and appear to be on the decline. A similar improvement was seen among preschool children enrolled in a federal program that provides nutritional counseling and subsidized food for low-income families.
But the same is not true for these children’s parents. Among adults in Los Angeles County, the obesity level nearly doubled to 23.6% between 1997 and 2011. Health officials are pursuing a variety of tactics in their battle against the obesity epidemic, from the expansion of bike paths and workplace wellness programs to encouraging supermarkets to promote healthier purchases. Next up: a program that will reward restaurateurs who offer healthy dining options, such as smaller portions, offering to box up half-portions and ample access to water.
Not everyone likes these ideas, particularly when they cut into profits. Beverage companies and business groups have filed a lawsuit to stop New York City’s ban on the sale of supersized sodas and other sugary drinks. Some of those same companies have complained about L.A. County’s campaign against sugary beverages. One of those ads showed a bottle of soda being poured into a glass filled with sugar packs and the question, “YOU WOULDN’T EAT 22 PACKS OF SUGAR, WHY ARE YOU DRINKING THEM?”
Need to count calories? Here are simple ways to keep numbers in check
Interested in learning more about combating calorie creep? Check out the “Choose Health LA,” website, which offers a slew of interesting factoids and the following advice:
Think small: Everything in the kitchen — from portions to dinnerware — has grown since the 1950s. The surface area of the average dinner plate has increased by more than one-third over that period. Try substituting a salad plate for your dinner plate, making it easier to keep your portions small. And reduce the temptation to over-consume by serving up single portions, leaving the serving bowls on the counter.
Avoid mindless eating: Sit down in front of your television with a small bowl of snacks and leave the bag in the cupboard. Just 10 extra calories a day — a stick of Doublemint gum or three small Jelly Belly jelly beans — will add a pound to your waistline in a year, according to Brian Wansink, food psychologist and author of “Mindless Eating, Why We Eat More Than We Think.”
Ditch the “clean plate” club: The average restaurant meal today is more than four times larger than in the 1950s. When dining out, don’t hesitate to leave food on your plate, share entrees or ask for a doggie bag for the leftovers.
Downsize your fast food: Hamburgers are four times larger today than they were in the 1950s. By choosing the smaller version of a burger, soft drink and fries over the supersized version, you can save 570 calories, which is more than one-quarter of your daily caloric needs.
Sip smartly: Substitute water, low-sugar or unsweetened beverages or nonfat or low-fat milk for sugary beverages. To find out just how much you could save by cutting back on your soda fix or frozen coffee drink, check out Choose Health LA’s sugar calculator.
Top photo: Paul Simon is a physician and director of Los Angeles County’s Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention. Credit: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health