Coconut cacao sweet potato (yam) recipe

Garnet "yam". Photo by Sattvic Planet.

Garnet “yam”. Photo by Sattvic Planet.

 

Chocolate for breakfast?! Well, almost, but not quite. Many people often confuse cacao and chocolate, the former being the primary ingredient for the latter. However, in addition to cacao, chocolate often contains milk from conventional dairies that we should probably be avoiding, sugar which we already eat way too much of in our diets, and other unnecessary ingredients depending on which chocolate you buy. When eaten alone cacao can be equally as delicious as a bar of chocolate, without the negative effects on your health.

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How often should you snack?

I’m going back to my roots. After posting articles during November about Daylight Savings Time, the US Election, Pharmaceuticals, and Black Friday, today I’m going to write once again about my favorite subject, food. Based on my observations, people simply don’t know how to eat. That may sound like a funny statement because we all eat every day, and it is a task that is essential for our survival. Well, you may know how to eat, just put food in your mouth and chew, but do you know how to eat properly for efficient digestion and optimal health? The quantity, frequency, timing and combination of your food are all important factors affecting your digestion. Believe it or not, I could probably write an entire chapter on how to eat, but instead of that, today we will focus on a topic that is confusing to many people, snacking.

Radical snactivism

We’ve all heard the theory that it is important to snack many times per day to keep our energy levels high, but is that even true, and where did it come from? If you think about it, the frequent snack theory appears to be adapted to high performance athletes. Imagine a professional football player who spends the whole day lifting weights, running, and training for his job. The amount of energy expended by a professional athlete must be several times more than what you expend sitting in your cubicle and tapping on that keyboard. Frequent snacking seems appropriate for such a physically demanding lifestyle. Somewhere along the way sports nutrition got confused with the nutrition of the average person. Perhaps it was an improper dissemination of information through the media, or our fascination with professional athletes. Many of us obsess over our favorite athletes; we wear their jerseys and spend billions of dollars following them weekly, so it’s not difficult to imagine their diet strategies crossing over into the average person’s life. Another possibility is the source of funding for research. How much money is available to research the nutritional needs for producing a star athlete versus the nutritional needs for helping an average person reach their true potential? Perhaps the government can fund some research, but corporations heavily influence governments, and do corporations bring in revenue by selling wholesome breakfasts, or by selling snack packs? Regardless of the origin of the multiple snack theory, and the role of sports idols, money and politics; we have access to an unbiased source of information for guidance on how to eat. According to Ayurveda, a traditional preventive medicine system from India, the average person should practice a diet of minimal snacking.

sugar_ngm

2 meals per day

To understand why minimal snacking is the suggested diet of Ayurveda, one only needs to have a basic understanding of digestion. Digestion is at the core of Ayurveda because good digestion is thought to be essential for having good health. Ideally a person would wait until their previous meal was completely discharged from their stomach before eating the next meal, but if you are snacking 3-5 times per day there are simply not enough hours in a day to do this. Generally speaking, it should take at least 3 hours for your stomach to be empty, so if you ate every 3 hours beginning at 6am and ending at 9pm that would be 3 meals and 3 snacks. With a schedule like that some problems become immediately apparent. It is unlikely that you are eating on an empty stomach if your schedule consists of eating 6 or more times per day. If your stomach is completely empty then you must be either eating small meals or easily digested carbohydrates and sugars, and we have all been hearing lately of the dangers associated with diets high in sugar. Your digestion should improve if you wait until your stomach is completely empty before consuming the next meal, and as a result your overall health should also improve. To completely digest each meal then you will have to eat less frequently which of course means less snacking. One great strategy for eating less frequently is to eat large meals containing more slow burning fuels such as oils, fibrous vegetables, and perhaps some meat if you are not vegetarian. As you are increasing the amount of slow burning foods, try decreasing the fast burning foods such as sugar, flour, grains, and in some cases fruit. For an excellent and detailed description of what this meal looks like read Todd Caldecott’s article about breakfast. A large breakfast such as this allows me to go 6 hours without eating, and during those 6 hours I enjoy the benefits of a slow sustained release of energy without the inconvenience of having to interrupt my busy day to find more food. Ayurveda recommends eating twice per day, and the only practical way for a person to do that in this modern world is to make sure your two meals are large and dense enough to power you through the day.

From Time magazine.

From Time magazine.

Goodbye low fat diets

As we emerge from the failed war on dietary fat into a world of obesity, diabetes and cancer we can look to the past for guidance on moving into the future. Ayurveda is a valuable source of traditional knowledge that is not contaminated by money or politics. People would have never chosen the frequent snack theory if the low fat theory didn’t exist. It is difficult to snack all day if you are eating high quality fats because quite simply, you will not be hungry as often. So as we say goodbye to the low fat era we should also say goodbye to the high snack era. Unless you happen to be a high performance athlete, try eating like me, a radical snactivist.

Related Articles:

Ending the War on Fat: Victory!

How to make ghee and move beyond the Low Fat Era

Our Paleolithic ancestors rarely ate sugar

 

 

18 months since I was sick

Image by Alex Grey

Image by Alex Grey

 

“Down with disease, three weeks in my bed, trying to stop these demons that keep dancing in my head”

From the lyrics for Down with Disease, performed by Phish

 

6 months ago I wrote an account of having reached 12 consecutive months without being sick, and today I am here to tell you that I have successfully avoided sickness for one and a half years. I’m writing this because you probably don’t personally know me, and this is my way of demonstrating to you that there are real benefits to following the diet and lifestyle practices that I write about every week. I also do this to prove to myself that my practices are effective. If I was getting sick every few months then I may want to stop and reevaluate my methods. Like every other person on this planet, I have health issues that I struggle with, but my goal is to constantly improve my health and knowledge, and then share the results with you.

Should you get a flu shot?

I can’t answer that question for you, but I can share my personal experience with influenza vaccinations. My experience is quite simple, I don’t get flu shots, and in recent times I don’t get the flu. Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I would like to believe that I have avoided the flu and other illnesses because I practice preventive medicine. It may not be wise for me to publicly state that people should avoid the vaccine; instead I want to highlight the difference between modern medicine’s version of preventive medicine versus that of a traditional system such as Ayurveda. Mainstream preventive medicine has come to mean that you routinely get your vaccines, blood tests and physical exams which is much different than Ayurveda where the emphasis is on building a strong immunity through diet and lifestyle. One of the purposes of this website is to help you take control of your health so that you can be less dependent on a medical system that here in the US is extremely expensive, reactionary, and heavily dependent on pharmaceuticals and surgeries. While I can’t replace your physician, I can provide information about preventive medicine so that you have less need for a physician as you regain control of your health.

Image by Alex Grey

Image by Alex Grey

 

How did I do it?

If you read 12 months since I was sick then you already know because my strategy hasn’t changed. In summary, I have avoided sickness by minimizing stress and listening to signals from my body that tell me to get some rest, and by focusing on strengthening my immune system rather than sterilizing my body and environment with antibacterial soap and harsh cleaning chemicals. Nearly every time I got sick in the past the illness was preceded by mental stress such as frustrations at work, body stress such as extended periods of poor sleep, or even a spiritual stress such as dissatisfaction with my position in life. Regarding cleaning products, we have been engaged in a war on microorganisms in this country for decades, and have been convinced that through heavy applications of chemicals we will be able to sterilize our path towards good health. The reality is that every day we are learning new information about the positive benefits of bacteria in our digestive system and on our skin. Developing a strong immune system allows you to defend against any microorganisms that you will inevitably encounter, and not have to be so paranoid about sanitizing your surroundings. For more information about taking a more relaxed approach to hygiene see the Huffington Post article Dirty kids: how germs can be your child’s best friend.

10 easy steps to immunity?

Unlike many healthy living resources on the internet this website rarely uses numbered lists of steps to take towards a goal. Instead the focus is more on mindfulness of how to live in general. As we all know, everything is connected including our mind, body, spirit, organs, thoughts, diets, and lifestyles. To present a list of steps meant to improve immunity doesn’t make much sense since that would likely be the same list to improve your sleep, digestion, or happiness. Instead I prefer to think of how to eat and live in general because this whole system approach is likely to solve multiple problems and not only one. Contrast this approach with the current medical paradigm, which uses a reductionist perspective to isolate individual chemicals and organs to treat symptoms rather than remove the cause of disease.

“If you can heal the symptoms, but not affect the cause, it’s quite a bit like trying to heal a gunshot wound with gauze”

From the lyrics for Sand, performed by Phish

 

2 years, 3 years, and beyond…

Well, I hope to report 6 months from now that I’ve survived another winter without getting sick. Until then, put down those harsh cleaning products, pick up a fork full of kale, and join me on creating a streak of your own!

 

Related articles:

What is the number one step you can take to improve your health?

Do you want to know the secret?

12 months since I was sick

0 Easy Steps to Consciousness

Ending the war on fat: Victory!

Time_eat butter

 

Have you heard?

Time magazine recently stated a simple, yet important message on their front cover that may come as a surprise to many Americans. The message was to “Eat Butter”, and with this symbolic action the ending of the decades long war on fat began. Time magazine may not be the most progressive form of media on the market today, but it is a very familiar source of information for the average American. When a mainstream publication like Time talks about ending the war on fat I can only conclude that the glory days of non-fat foods are coming to an end. But when will that end be? The Time magazine declaration is similar to president Obama promising to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While it may have seemed like a major change to switch from a war-starting president like Bush to a war-ending president like Obama there were still years worth of steps required to officially withdraw the troops. Despite the endorsement of the president, members of congress had to support the idea, and the generals needed to be consulted as how best to carry out the plan. Similarly, in a complicated web of scientists, government agencies, medical doctors, and food corporations, it is not easy to predict how the end of the war on fat will unfold over the coming decades. One thing seems certain, withdrawing the troops will not happen overnight. The troops in this case, the American consumer, have been receiving a no-fat, low-fat message for decades, and it may take many more decades of education to reverse that message. In addition, just as the Taliban and Al Qaeda refuse to surrender, food companies are unlikely to surrender either. They will continue to supply these products until the customers no longer demand them.

We told you so

Whole food nutritionists, Paleo diet advocates, Ayurvedic practitioners, and Weston Price Foundation members around the country were once again validated, and many likely celebrated this symbolic victory over a breakfast of bacon and eggs. Actually, it is not really clear if this is an actual victory worthy of celebration; after all, we just endured decades of misinformation that likely led to the disease and death of many, many people. Regardless, don’t expect much credit to be given to the various preventive medicine supporters mentioned above, as we are accustomed to being left out of the conversation. You see, there just isn’t much money being made in the field of preventive medicine, and we all know the big players are those that make the big dollars. Pharmaceuticals, hospitals, health insurance, industrial agriculture, and food corporations all generate hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue. There simply isn’t a seat at the table for preventive medicine supporters whose very existence could potentially lead to the reduction of many of these business’s profits. However, be thankful for the power of information because ultimately I believe even the most powerful companies on the planet will at some time have to submit to the amazing tool that is the internet.

Eat Ghee

I’m happy to see that Time magazine, and the mainstream audience they represent, finally recognizes what Ayurveda knew thousands of years ago, that fats are an important component of our diets, and essential for good health. Hey, better late than never, right? You’re only 5000 years late, but I’m glad that you have arrived to the party! Now, I wonder how many years we will have to wait for Time to release an updated cover story that declares we should all “Eat Ghee” instead of butter. Eating butter may be a good step in the right direction, but I’m concerned about this simplistic message. Honestly I didn’t read the article because I didn’t want to pay Time $30 for a year subscription, but I suspect that they didn’t specify the difference between ghee and conventional butter. In Ayurveda, you would start with organically raised cows that grazed on green pastures rather than being fed genetically modified corn and soy grains, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Next you would culture the cream to enhance the digestive process rather than produce sweet cream as a majority of all butter producers now do. Finally, you would take the organic, grass fed, unsalted, cultured butter and process it into the health promoting form known as ghee. I know, that is probably too much to expect of a mainstream magazine, but someday that message will be delivered, and if you are reading this post then you are ahead of the herd and don’t have to wait for that day to come.

 

For some of my related posts see:

The NEW definition of comfort food (with boiled spicy milk recipe)

The “Integrity Food” Revolution

How to make Spicy Oil and take another step beyond the low fat era

Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 2, Meat

How to make ghee and move beyond the low fat era

 

 

 

Learning to fly: tips for air travel

 

Learning to Fly with Pink Floyd

“There’s no sensation to compare to this, suspended animation, a state of bliss”-From the lyrics for Learning to fly, written by David Gilmore, and performed by Pink Floyd

 

Not just a Pink Floyd song

Traveling in good health is not easy. In fact, I regard it as one of the biggest challenges I face in my quest to be happy, healthy and productive. You may be staying in a hotel with no kitchen, experiencing insomnia in a different time zone, or struggling to find some green space in a dense urban area. Like anything in life, traveling in good health requires effort. It is already difficult enough just to stay healthy in the comforts of your home, so when you are traveling it is important to take the extra steps necessary to feel good. I know this isn’t what Pink Floyd had in mind when they made the song Learning to Fly, but I can’t resist a good play on words that combines one of my favorite songs with the topic of my article. Continue reading for some thoughts I gathered on my recent trip home.

Food, or lack of it

In the cutthroat business of air travel it seems less common to find a meal offered on a flight these days. That’s probably a good thing, for your health. In place of the inflight meal is the preflight meal as the modern American airport has come to resemble a shopping mall food court more than a hub for transportation. I recently heard accomplished fitness trainer Steve Maxwell say that he always fasts while he travels. While I doubt the benefits of fasting while flying have been scientifically proven, it seems like wise advice coming from an experienced traveler. Eating in combination with stress often results in poor digestion, so it makes sense to avoid food while flying since airports can be such stressful places. Some people do eat to reduce their stress, and this is fine, but for good digestion you really should only eat when you actually feel hunger, typically at least 3 hours after the previous meal. For those who can’t fathom the thought of a mini fast, bringing along a few snacks is not very difficult, and a much better option than the airport fast food. On my recent flight I brought some dried figs, pistachios, extra dark chocolate, and a banana in case the fast was uncomfortable.

Water

“Sir, would you like some water, a soda, or an alcoholic beverage?” No thanks, I said as I motioned to my liter sized stainless steel reusable water bottle. In comparison, it seems the little 4 ounce cup of water they offer is nearly worthless, and I find it works best to have access to a large bottle of water throughout the entire flight. As with the snacks mentioned above, it is not very difficult to bring a reusable bottle and then fill it at the fountain after passing through security. As for the alcohol, I wouldn’t recommend it, though I’m sure some people claim it counters the stress they experience. Obviously alcohol isn’t the only strategy available for dealing with stress. During my layover at the Denver airport I discovered these great private areas away from all the commotion where I was able to do some stretching and even some meditation.

Air

I normally advocate deep slow breathing, but in the confined environment of an airplane I winced at the thought of taking this recycled air deep into my lungs. People often comment on the dryness of airplane air, plus there are all the perfumes that people wear, and certainly an abundance of bacteria and viruses floating around. So what to do? Stopping short of recommending an air filtration mask, all I can say is to get out into nature and doing some deep breathing exercises as soon as possible after arriving at your destination. I’m always an opponent of synthetic perfumes, but I’m rarely an opponent of bacteria. I think we have greatly overreacted to the threat they pose, especially with our excessive use of antibacterial soaps. However, if you begin or end your travel with a weakened immune system then there is probably an increased chance of illness due to the inflight exposure. As I often say, the focus should be on building immunity rather than killing pathogens.

 

Time to get grounded!

Time to get grounded!

 

In Ayurveda

The energy of motion is called vata in Ayurveda, and it is represented by the elements of air and space. Using the concept of “similar increases and opposite decreases”, Ayurveda has a simple approach to ensuring that our mind, body and spirit stays in balance. What modern technology is more similar to the energy of vata than flying in an airplane? As you fly through the air hundreds of kilometers per hour, thousands of meters from the earth you are without a doubt experiencing an increase of vata. Since “similar increases and opposite decreases”, the best remedies for dealing with modern air travel are vata pacifying foods and activities. Examples include warm, heavy and oily meals, or perhaps some slow and grounding yoga postures. We all understand that putting hot water on the stove makes the water hotter, so by extension we can understand that adding air travel to an already fast moving lifestyle can cause further imbalance.

Summary

  • Mini fast
  • Bring snacks or light meal to avoid fast food
  • Bring reusable bottle for plenty of water
  • Pass on the alcohol
  • Go to a park or green space after landing
  • Maintain strong immunity to avoid illness
  • Try grounding activities like yoga during the layover, or after the flight if you’re too timid for airport yoga 🙂
  • End your mini fast with a warm, heavy, oily meal rich in healthy fats

 

 

Rejuvenating Green Smoothie

Cook, or blend...

Don’t worry, no broccoli was used in this recipe.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

After posting articles the past two weeks focused on meat and dairy I think it is time we change directions and try something different. By now you are probably thinking that I’m as carnivorous as a wolf, but nothing could be further from the truth. I love eating fruits and vegetables and strongly encourage people to include as much fresh and organic produce in their diet as possible, especially the dark leafy greens, and cruciferous plants from the brassicaceae family. True, I do advocate for the consumption of animal products, but in the past I have also recommended that meat: should only cover a quarter of your plate, does not need to be included with every meal, and probably doesn’t need to be eaten every day for most people. With the help of this smoothie recipe, today is going to be one of those days where we can take a break from the meat.

Raw vegan

Raw vegan food diets have become more popular recently among the health conscious, and while I don’t regularly eat this way, in some situations I really enjoy this kind of meal. I normally advocate heavy, warm, moist/oily meals that are easy to digest and useful for providing a sustained energy throughout the day. However, it is not always necessary to eat this way, and sometimes the opposite is appropriate. For example, perhaps when it is later in the day and you don’t want to eat a large meal before bedtime, or if you have been feeling heavy and need a light meal to balance.

The recipe

1 cup water

1 cup blueberries (preferably “you-pick”)

1 banana

2 spoons RAW honey

1-2 inches of ginger root

1-2 inches of turmeric root

3 Tbsp sunflower seeds

1 cup water

½ lime juice

½ bunch cilantro

1-2 large kale leaves

Add each ingredient one at a time in the order listed above. As always, I recommend making variations based on your preference and need. Some possible alternatives include:

2-3 medjool dates instead of honey (the deglet noor can be used, but are firm and more difficult to blend)

1 pear instead of banana

parsley instead of cilantro

1-2 Tbsp nettle powder, or fresh if it grows near you!

6 out of 6 tastes

According to Ayurveda there are 6 tastes in food: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent. More or less of foods with these tastes can then be eaten depending on the person and their situation. Personalized taste proportions can be chosen based on: a person’s body type, health status, the season, the geographic location, age, etc. In other words, everything has an effect on us, and properly selected foods can be used as medicine to balance these factors and ensure we achieve optimal performance. This smoothie has all six tastes and therefore should be good for everyone in most situations. The honey is sweet, the lime is sour, the sunflower seeds are salty if you buy them roasted and salted (I don’t), the kale is bitter, the turmeric is astringent, and the ginger is pungent.

Ayurvedic smoothie guidance

Without getting into too many of the details, from an Ayurvedic perspective it is best to avoid some common smoothie practices such as adding ice, using excessive amounts of sweet fruit, adding yogurt, and eating them daily. In Ayurveda a diet that is primarily composed of raw vegan food is typically avoided, but I guess that is a difference in philosophy. I’m not trying to start a food fight here, so all differences aside, you definitely can’t go wrong eating one of these delicious green smoothies on occasion!

Further reading

Here are a few related articles I’ve written for the the herbivores, omnivores and carnivores that are interested in reading more:

Bitter is better, eating wilder foods

Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 2, Meat

The “Integrity Food” Revolution

 

 

The NEW definition of comfort food (with boiled spicy milk recipe)

pastureperfect

Comfort Food Defined

Today I propose that we begin to adopt a new definition of comfort food. The phrase comfort food has a few definitions and frequently refers to food that reminds us of home, or that has sentimental appeal. Eating comfort food can also be one of the ways we deal with stressful or emotionally difficult situations. I don’t think the definition needs to change entirely, but I do think we should at least add another layer to the meaning of the word. Comfort food should include having the awareness that what you are eating is:

  1. High quality; properly raised, grown and prepared
  2. Appropriate for your body
  3. Improving your health

Don’t panic, it’s organic!

Have you seen the bumper sticker “Don’t panic, it’s organic”? It perfectly summarizes my new definition of comfort food. The most important trait of the new definition of comfort food should be the quality and source of your food. Last week in my post The “Integrity Food” Revolution I discussed the importance of only purchasing animal products from farms that use pasture based management, and avoiding confinement based industrial agriculture. If a burger is your favorite comfort food that reminds you of dad cooking on the grill when you were young then wouldn’t it be comforting to know that the meat you are eating came from a cow that grazed freely on a pasture of green grass while breathing in fresh air and absorbing the warmth of the sun? I never order meat at a restaurant that doesn’t reveal their sources. I find that it is much more comforting to know that the food I am eating is nutrient dense, and will nourish my body because it came from an animal that was healthy rather than an animal that needed antibiotics just to stay alive. Besides animal products, when I am eating fruit, vegetables, grains and seeds I find it to be very comforting to know that the food is free of harmful chemicals, and that while the plants were growing the surrounding environment wasn’t polluted with herbicides and pesticides.

Is it appropriate?

An example of this situation might be a person who knows they are lactose intolerant, but loves ice cream, and turns to a pint of their favorite artisanal ice cream after work every time they have a stressful day. I’m not saying that having a treat on a bad day is a terrible idea, but if you know that ice cream will bring you digestive problems then perhaps it is time to adjust your strategy. Continuing with the example of ice cream, another scenario might be a person who chooses ice cream as their comfort food after a bad day even though it is January in Minnesota. Though it is not the worst thing you could do to your body, it is still inappropriate to be eating foods that are so clearly out of synch with the season.

Will it improve your health?

Comfort foods are not always used in response to negative situations. For my last birthday I had the pleasure of celebrating with a homemade cake that was prepared using the highest of quality ingredients. With each bite I actually felt as if I was becoming stronger, AND it was incredibly delicious, thanks Jenny! Compare this to the birthday party in my office last week. I thought it was very kind and thoughtful that somebody brought a cake to the office for my coworker’s birthday, but I couldn’t ignore all the sugar, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors shown on the ingredients list. Come on people, we’re not getting any younger, and when is this more obvious than on your birthday? We need all the help we can get, and a cake like that isn’t helping.

Boiled spicy milk

This simple recipe is a favorite of mine before bedtime, especially during a cold winter night.

1 pint whole milk (organic, grass fed, raw, local…)

1 spoon ghee, for further details see How to make Ghee and move beyond the low fat era

¼-1 tsp powdered: turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger

Alternative spices include: cardamom, coriander, fennel, or licorice.

Alternative to ghee: coconut oil

Melt the ghee in a small pot and add the spices. Heat the spices for a few minutes on low heat and be careful not to burn. Add milk to the pot  and use medium-low heat. Stir often to avoid burning, and boil the milk until the froth nearly spills over. Simmer for another five minutes.

Dairy in Ayurveda

In the US macaroni and cheese is a common comfort food for many people, and it is easy to understand why. However, in Ayurveda most dairy is considered to be heavy and difficult to digest. Since food and digestion are at the very core of Ayurveda it is important to understand how to properly prepare and consume dairy products to ensure maximum nutritional benefits and to avoid the negative effects of poor digestion. One common method of preparation that improves the digestion of dairy is to choose fermented products such as cultured butter, ghee, and yogurt. Another strategy is to use digestion enhancing spices such as those mentioned in the spiced milk recipe above. Personally, I do eat dairy, but in minimal quantities compared to the average American. The one exception to this is ghee, which has most of the aggravating proteins and sugars removed leaving only a dairy fat. Unlike many dairy products, ghee is considered to actually enhance digestion. Unless you are hyper aware of how the animals were raised, and how the product was produced it is probably easier and healthier to avoid dairy. For those who have strong digestion and know how to find and prepare high quality dairy products I think dairy can be consumed in small quantities. As for the mac and cheese, there’ not much I can say to help other than to have a side of steamed greens, and maybe add some cracked black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes. Enjoy!

(~*~)

 

Fermentation Nation (sauerkraut recipe)

By now many of you have heard of the resurgence of fermented foods in America. Fermented foods never really left our lives; they are present in many common items we buy at the grocery store such as beer, bread, and yogurt. However, after declining for several decades the practice of homemade fermented foods has received widespread attention lately thanks to separate appearances on the NPR program Science Friday by popular food based author Michael Pollan, and fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz. The history of fermented foods is really very interesting if you think about it. One of the reasons our ancestors fermented foods was to preserve them from spoilage. The acidic environment created by the bacteria growing in the food acts as a preservative that protects food from decay by microorganisms such as mold. Of course with the invention of the modern refrigerator, we have less need than before to protect our foods from decay. This is evident in the gradual fading away of this type of knowledge from the American consciousness. However, because of people like Michael Pollan and Sandor Katz, this knowledge has not yet gone extinct, and renewed interest in the practice of homemade ferments is exactly why Katz is called the fermentation revivalist. Just because we have refrigeration doesn’t mean we should abandon the practice of fermentation; there are other benefits available besides preservation. In addition to protecting your food from decay the bacteria partially break down the food in a process similar to cooking. Think of fermenting the same way you think of cooking, it is a technique used to make food easier to digest. This biological process increases nutrient bioavailability, and reduces anti nutrient factors. Eating fermented foods is also thought to replenish the community of beneficial microorganisms present in your intestines.

If you are new to do-it-yourself fermented foods then an easy and delicious way to begin is with a simple sauerkraut recipe. My teacher Todd Caldecott introduced me to fermented food preparation through his book Food as Medicine and I will be sharing his sauerkraut recipe below. I’ve really been enjoying this sauerkraut recently because not only does it taste great, but as I mentioned in my post Bitter is better, eat wilder foods the brassicaceae family of which cabbage belongs should definitely be represented in your diet. The important thing to remember about sauerkraut recipes, and really any recipe, is that it doesn’t need to be followed exactly. Following a recipe is a great idea the first time you make something but it can definitely be modified to your preference on your subsequent attempts. Remember, nearly any fruit or vegetable can go into your sauerkraut. Other possibilities include grated carrots, beets, parsnips, or daikon. I have also enjoyed using chopped cauliflower, garlic, thin sliced cucumbers, and even pieces of apple. Spices can also be added or removed as desired. Here it is:

1 small cabbage head

1 small onion or scallion

1 Tbsp salt

½  tsp dill seed

½  tsp coriander seed

½  tsp black pepper powder

½  tsp caraway seed

Create surface area by chopping or grating the cabbage and onion. In a large bowl mix the cabbage, onions and spices and then squeeze, smash, crush, and/or bruise the cabbage for around 5 minutes. Stuff the ingredients in layers into a reused glass jar, or a canning jar. With each layer pack and crush the cabbage as much as possible. By now there should be enough water released from the cabbage, but if you need more then top off the jar so that all cabbage is completely submerged. Mold will not grow on submerged vegetables, so a weight can be used to prevent the cabbage from floating on the surface. You could use a sterilized rock from your yard, or whatever you want, but I haven’t been using any weights. Put the lid on, but be aware that much gas will be produced during the fermentation. Most people recommend unscrewing the lid daily to release the gas, but I find that you can also leave the lid on loosely. I like to wait 3 weeks before eating, but earlier is also possible depending on your preference. After 3 weeks I pour off the excess water and refrigerate to slow down the fermentation process.

We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat”, which basically refers to the fact that the food we eat goes through a transformative process and eventually becomes our bodily tissues, but in Ayurveda people say “you are what you digest”. Just because you eat something doesn’t mean that you will efficiently digest it, and if you don’t digest it then it can’t be transformed into your tissues, or used for energy.  Adding fermented foods to your diet is an easy way to improve your digestion and ensure that you are extracting as many nutrients as possible from your meal. One last comment, people often mistakenly associate the food poisoning that results from improperly canned food as a possibility during the fermenting process, but Katz reassures us that there are no documented cases of food poisoning deaths from fermenting. In fact, fermented foods are actually safer than fresh foods because they have been naturally preserved, so don’t be afraid, the bacteria are our friends, go ahead and give it a try.

How to make Spicy Oil and take another step beyond the low fat era

fat...

fat…

...low fat

…low fat

In an earlier post I explained How to make Ghee and move beyond the low fat era, and in addition to providing a recipe I gave a brief description of why we need to end what I call the low fat era. As you all know, during the past few decades we were told repeatedly that a low fat diet was essential for a healthy low fat body, yet according to the CDC 36% of Americans are obese. Either the low fat diet hasn’t worked, or there are other reasons for obesity in America, I suspect both. The message we received seems to be that if you eat fat then you become fat. This has not been the case in my experience, in fact it seems that the more fat I add to my diet the leaner I become. A majority of my meals are prepared by sautéing food in some type of oil such as ghee, sunflower, sesame, or occasionally lard. I also regularly add olive or coconut oil to my meals even when sautéing isn’t necessary, for example, in my post Best oatmeal recipe ever, for dinner I recommend adding ghee or coconut oil to the oatmeal. When I purchase dairy products, which is not very often, I always choose the whole fat option. When I eat meat, which is not every day, I never trim the fat. Listen people, I understand that my personal experience doesn’t count as a valid scientific study. Could other factors such as genetics, exercise, lifestyle, and body constitution account for my lean physique? Absolutely. I’m not trying to declare a universal law here, I’m simply trying to demonstrate that eating fat does not always equate to being fat. Now, let’s move on to the recipe…

This recipe produces one pint of spicy oil. I store my oil in a canning jar and leave it on my counter top for easy access. Any time I need a convenient way of adding some flavor to my sauté, I add 1-2 spoons of spicy oil to my cast iron skillet. This is a great way to make eggs.

2 cups refined sunflower oil

2 tablespoons mustard seed

1 tablespoons cumin seed

2 tablespoons turmeric powder

2 teaspoons hing (also known as asafoetida)

Heat the oil on medium for approximately 20 minutes. Add a few mustard seeds starting around 10 minutes and wait for popping. If the seeds pop in 16 seconds you need to heat longer, if they pop in about 8 seconds that is a good temperature, but anything less than 4 seconds and your oil is probably too hot, so add seeds often and monitor closely. Your spices will burn if the oil is too hot, and it is best to avoid overheating oils, see below for more on choice of oils. Once you have reached optimum temperature turn off the heat and quickly pour in the mustard seeds and cover. I say to cover because there will be a reaction, but covering prevents the moisture that is released from escaping. An alternative to covering would be to use a pot tall enough to prevent an overflow from the reaction. After the popping is complete quickly add the cumin seeds and cover if necessary. After a few minutes add the turmeric and hing. Wait for the oil to cool, stir, and then pour the oil and spice mixture into a sturdy jar.

It is important to be aware of the smoking point of the oil you use. I like Spectrum oils because they tell you the temperature range appropriate for each oil. Normally I choose unrefined oils for improved taste and nutrition, but for the higher temperatures required of spicy oil you must choose a refined oil to avoid the smoke point. I have been using refined sunflower oil with good results, though I have learned that sunflower oxidizes rapidly, along with many other popular oils including canola, hemp and flax to name a few, so in the future I am open to trying different oils. Hing will definitely be the most difficult ingredient to find, but if you are having difficulties try an Indian store, Asian market, or herb shop. For the gluten free people, be warned that hing is often mixed with wheat flour to counter its sticky qualities. I found a rare variety that is mixed with fenugreek powder instead of wheat at an herb shop in Seattle. You could skip the hing if it is too much of a hassle.

The concept of using food as medicine is a defining component of Ayurveda, but diet alone is simply not enough. In Ayurveda there is great emphasis placed on digestion because your food cannot be your medicine if your body is not efficiently processing it. One way that digestion can be improved is through the use of spices such as those found in this spicy oil recipe. Go ahead and try this recipe, it is an essential ingredient in my kitchen because it enhances digestion, improves taste, is convenient, and nourishing. Take another step beyond the low fat era, enjoy!

 

GMO Apple and iPhones

Most people know that Apple releases a new and improved version of their iPhone every year into the electronics marketplace, but how many people are aware that a small Canadian company is in the process of releasing a new GMO (genetically modified organism) apple into the environment? As iPhone fans eagerly await the release of version 6 later this year, what kind of expectations do they have? Perhaps the new phone will have a larger screen comparable to Samsung, a battery that will retain a charge for longer, or a processor that results in faster performance. As for the GMO apple, I call it Apple 2.0 in the title of this post because like the iPhone, it is a human creation meant to be an improvement over version 1.0. In this case Apple 1.0 is the fruit we have been eating and cultivating for thousands of years. If you haven’t already heard, the improvement this company hopes to make is to genetically engineer the fruit to resist turning brown after slicing. At this point you may be wondering what the problem is. We can make new and improved phones using electronics technology, so why can’t we make new and improved apples using biotechnology?

The debate over GMOs can be very confusing, but without going into great detail the GMO debate can be reduced to a simple question; do you seek natural products, methods and systems as much as practically possible, or do you believe the ingenuity of humans will be able to create products, methods and systems that are superior to those we find in nature? I know there are some out there who may be wondering what exactly natural means since at this point in history nearly every square meter of the planet seems to have been modified or degraded in some way by humans. We could spend years debating about the environmental, economic and health risks and benefits of growing and eating GMO foods. I believe this conversation is worth having, and it is starting to happen across the nation, but for the purpose of keeping this post concise we need to zoom out here and focus on the big picture. I think it will take years and even decades before we reach a scientific and societal consensus about the use of GMOs. Until that consensus is reached we need to make decisions about whether or not we will buy and eat GMO food.

So why do I question our ability to create new versions of food in the same way that we improve upon old versions of electronics? First, let’s start with the obvious; we eat food while we do not eat our phones. Your body needs to digest food and convert it into energy and tissues, but will your body be able to recognize and therefore properly digest these foreign man made materials? The answer is that I don’t know. What I do know is that in Ayurveda there is a term called ama, and ama basically refers to improperly digested food that over time is responsible for a wide array of health problems. This is one of the reasons that digestion is considered so important in Ayurveda, and this is why we should be skeptical about this biotechnology. Second, will there be any side effects or allergies associated with eating GMOs? I don’t know that answer either, but I do know that modern medicine in the form of pharmaceuticals is infamous for having side effects. I use the example of pharmaceuticals, but I could have easily mentioned any other synthetic food additive we have invented that produces undesirable side effects including aspartame, olestra, hydrogenated oils, or anti-biotics. It seems that every time we try to create a new health or dietary product in the name of convenience and progress we are left with the same result, the corporations win and the people and planet lose. The bottom line here is that we don’t know what the long-term health effects of eating these foods are, and so unless you want to be part of an experiment with unknown consequences you would be wise to simply avoid GMO foods. These are only a couple of health factors to consider about eating GMOs, but I just as easily could have mentioned the unintended consequences that growing GMOs can have on the environment that we all depend upon.

It is challenging to write this article because with every sentence I can’t stop thinking about all the counter arguments and the hundreds of small details involved. This is a very complicated and interconnected world we live in and we seem to be creating problematic situations faster than we know how to manage them. That is where the application of Ayurvedic principles enters the picture. Ayurveda existed thousands of years before the existence of modern technology and it serves as a guide that helps us make decisions about how to live and attain optimal health. The ancient Ayurvedic practitioners learned how to thrive without the use of modern technology, which brings the question of why we can’t do the same. If you want to take the risk of eating Apple 2.0 then that is your decision to make, but why take that risk when we already know that optimal health is easily attainable by simply eating version 1.0. As for the iPhone 6, let’s hope that they come out with a bigger screen next fall!

Again, I was trying to be concise, but if you do wish to expand on this topic, or any of my posts, please submit a reply.