Osteoporosis, Be Gone!

Osteoporosis_LocationsFive years ago, I was diagnosed with osteopenia. The literal translation is “bone deficiency,” and the diagnosis meant that my bones had lost mineral density, making them weaker and more prone to breakage than optimally mineralized bones.

This was not a good development, but few doctors prescribe medicines to prevent further bone loss at this stage of things. Instead, they instruct the patient to get plenty of weight-bearing exercise and to be tested again in 2 to 5 years. The hope is that the osteopenia will not worsen to become osteoporosis.

When my bone density was assessed a year ago, that hope was not realized. My bones had lost more density, arriving at the threshold (just barely) that marks true osteoporosis, literally “porous bones.” My doctor prescribed Fosamax, instructing me that I would need to remain vertical for 2 hours after I ingested the medicine in order to prevent heartburn.

I filled the prescription and only then realized I had a problem. I was dealing with a chronic pain issue that kept me lying down the majority of the time. I was going to find it tough to find 2 hours when I would be upright continuously.

In fact, I never did find them. I beat my chronic pain last December, only temporarily, alas. It crept back during my battle with my retinal tear. Not nearly as severely as before. I am able to be active now. I swim 400 meters three times a week. I could take the Fosmax. But the thing is that I want to build bone density, not merely slow further bone loss. The Fosamax won’t do that. But there is one thing that will:

Weight-bearing exercise.

But not mild weight-bearing exercise. I needed strenuous weight-bearing exercise. And preferably exercise that utilizes the whole body, rather than working muscles in isolation. Which meant I needed bodyweight training.

Bodyweight training would improve my coordination and balance by engaging groups of large muscles all at once, together with small stabilizing muscles. Plus it would work my heart muscle, because engaging many muscles requires much more aerobic support than engaging just a few.

I liked the idea that if I were to trip and fall, not only would my bones be stronger and less likely to break, but also that my muscles would be stronger and more capabale of catching me before I hit the ground, and my coordination would be better, giving me a chance to prevent the fall altogether.

Body by YouSo I went looking for guidance in books. Quite a few praise bodyweight training, but give only the most cursory descriptions of how to do specific exercises. I wanted detailed instructions. I found what I was looking for – and more – in Body by You by Mark Lauren. Lauren is an expert, who has trained thousands to good effect. His book provides the detailed instructions I sought, as well as step-by-step progressions for moving from the beginner versions to more challenging exercises and on to the most challenging of all.

I’ve just started, a mere 19 days ago, and I’m very de-conditioned from all the medical issues that have derailed me over the past few years. So I’m starting with the absolute easiest beginner exercises. But I can already feel a difference, so I’m hopeful that I will improve steadily, if slowly.

Lauren categorizes his exercises into five different types: pulling, in-line pushing (parallel to your spine), perpendicular pushing (perpendicular to your spine), squatting, and bending.

The easiest pulling exercise in the book is called a “let me in.” It works the muscles of the back (lats, spinal erectors, rhomboids), arms and shoulders (biceps, forearms, rear deltoids), and the core. Laren demonstrates the “let me in” in the video below using a door, but I would recommend against a door as your prop. Most doors are not made for this kind of abuse. Over time, you’ll destroy your door and be hurt when it fails altogether.

I use one of the metal support pillars in my basement, sunk into concrete at its base and bolted into a major floor joist at its top.

My husband cautions that not all such support pillars are fastened at their tops, and he has seen them slip. If you try this, check your support pillar to be sure it is secured, not just held in place by the weight of the house.

The easiest in-line pushing exercise is the military press with hands elevated to hip height. It targets your shoulders, triceps, and core. I use the chest freezer in my basement. It’s currently full of frozen meat and really heavy. It’s not going anywhere, even when I lean hard on it. 😀

The easiest perpendicular pushing exercise is the classic wall push-up. It works the chest, triceps, shoulders, and the core, especially the abdominals. The key for me is to find a stretch of wall clear of bookshelves and wide enough that my elbows don’t bump into anything. 😀

Lauren structures his workout so that you alternate between in-line pushing and perpendicular pushing. So, today being a Friday, I’ll shortly be doing “pull me ins,” wall push-ups, “good morning” bends, and squats. But on Monday, I’ll do “pull me ins,” military presses, “good morning” bends, and squats.

Bending exercises work the legs, glutes, back, core, and – depending on the specific exercise – the shoulder and triceps too. The easiest bending exercise is called the “good morning.” It is almost too easy for me, so I suspect I’ll be moving up to the version with the hands held straight overhead soon.

Squats exercise the glutes, quads, hamstrings, lower back, core, and calves. The very easiest squat is the “therapy sumo squat,” done with the toes and knees turned outward at a 45º angle. That doesn’t work for me, because it trashes my hip joints. So I am doing a basic squat with my toes and knees facing forward. I’ve not yet advanced to the hands overhead version shown below!

I’m pleased with how the bodyweight training feels so far. I’m making progress, and I haven’t yet injured myself! Always a concern. 😀

As I advance – crossing my fingers that I will – I’ll look for videos of the modified exercises to share with you.

Time to go exercise now! (I spent most of today writing the current scene of Tally and composing this blog post!)

 

The Secret Behind Midnight Snacks

It’s a classic, isn’t it?

You’re reading a fantastic book, and you keep saying to yourself, “Just one more page!” Or your best friend forever is visiting from out of town, and you talk late into the night, heart to heart.

Big Ben Clock FaceSuddenly you realize that it’s midnight and you’re starving.

I never gave the classic midnight snack much thought. I’d heard health experts recommend against it for various reasons: it didn’t give your gut a chance to rest; calories ingested at night got converted to body fat more readily; etc.

I’d also read that the food-to-body-fat superhighway was nonsense: it didn’t matter when you ate, rather that how much you ate overall was the key.

But I never paid more than cursory attention to all the discussion.

When I was younger, I happened to be one of those lucky people who maintain an ideal weight without much attention or effort.

Now that I’m older, my metabolism has slowed – as most people’s do – and I pack on extra pounds much more easily. So the pros and cons of midnight snacking hold more interest for me than heretofore.

But I’ve also learned that the simplistic calories-in-calories-out model (calories expended must match or exceed calories ingested) still touted by much of the medical establishment grossly ignores the action of the hormone insulin on the body.

My blog posts Thinner and Healthier and Test first, then conclude! go into this more extensively, if you’re interested. But the bottom line is that most people become much more sensitive to the effects of insulin in the bloodstream as they get older. The hormone packs fat into the fat cells and, once we’re over 50, makes it more and more difficult for any of that fat to be removed and used for fuel. While starving yourself on super-low-calorie diets merely deprives your body of needed nutrients and lowers your metabolism further. Catch-22!

But I digress! 😀

Sleep SmarterThe reason I bring this up is because of something I learned in Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.

When you are sleep deprived, the amount of glucose reaching your brain dips.

Brains run on glucose. They must have it. However, there’s no need to eat sugar to fuel your brain. In fact, don’t do it! Your liver can make all the glucose your brain requires, without you ever ingesting any sugar at all.

In a sleep researcher’s lab, where the amount of sleep deprivation induced for the purpose of study is extreme (24 hours), glucose reaching the brain dips by 6%. But suppose you regularly get by on only 6 or 7 hours of sleep. No doubt your glucose dips much less, but it still dips.

Even worse, the reduction of glucose to the brain is not distributed equally. When the reduction is 6% overall, the parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex lose from 12% to 14% of the glucose they should receive.

Why is that important?

The parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex are the areas of the brain we use for thinking, for discerning the differences between potential actions, for social interactions, and for knowing right from wrong.

When the parietal lobe and prefrontal are short of their necessary fuel, our decision making suffers.

That’s why you might do something really unwise late at night and then wonder in the morning: “What was I thinking?” In fact, you weren’t thinking, or not very well.

On top of this, your brain late at night – desperately seeking glucose, due to the growing dearth of this necessary fuel as the hour latens – knows perfectly well that a shot of glucose is conveniently at hand in a bag of potato chips or a bowl of Cheerios® or a few scoops of ice cream.

That’s why those foods prove so irresistible at midnight!

I took away several things from all of this.

1 • If I’m asleep before the glucose dip arrives, it will never even happen. Asleep, my body will be in the repair mode that occurs most intensely between 10 PM and 2 AM. (That’s another fact I learned from Sleep Smarter.)

My brain chemistry will be exactly as it is supposed to be, initiating repairs, instead of losing glucose and frantically seeking a resupply by prompting cravings.

(Unless I am chronically sleep deprived; in which case, the glucose dip occurs even in sleep and can actually wake me up!)

2 • It’s not that eating late at night is a problem in itself. It’s that such snacks are usually extra and often composed of sugar or simple carbohydrates. I’ve already ingested all the food I truly need at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Whereas, if I fall asleep somewhere between 10 PM and 11 PM, I’ll never even get hungry at midnight, let alone go seeking extra food.

3 • If I do happen to stay up too late – which will happen at times, because I’m a night owl – I have the perfect hack. I’ve tested it, and it usually works, although not infallibly. The brain in search of fuel is pretty fierce!

Curse of Chalion 300 pxHere’s the scenario: I get to re-reading The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my absolute favorites, and – whups! it’s midnight!

I realize I’m feeling really hungry, hungry enough that it will keep me awake, even though my eyelids are falling closed with my fatigue.

In the past, I’ve poured a big glass of local, farm-fresh milk and stirred a little stevia and cocoa powder into it.

The problem with that is that I’m getting an awful lot of carbs in the lactose (milk sugar) contained in that milk. On top of that, the sweetness of the stevia will trigger a larger insulin release into my bloodstream than would the lactose alone. And, on top of that, the big glass holds twice the amount of milk that I would normally drink in one go. So I’m getting a huge lactose hit with little else to cushion it.

While I was fighting my sleep schedule in the aftermath of my retinal detachment – before I read Sleep Smarter – I drank that huge glass of milk nearly nightly. And I gained 10 pounds. Not good!

(Chronic sleep deprivation all by itself causes weight gain, without any big glasses of milk, so some of my gain of ten pounds was no doubt due to several months of sleep loss.)

These days I’m usually asleep by 11 PM. Plus I’m finally visiting the gym swimming pool again after a long layoff. So I’m hoping to take those 10 pounds off! (Fingers crossed.)

But on those nights like last night, when I was absorbed in The Curse of Chalion and got hungry, this is what I do:

FIRST, I remind myself that my sensation of hunger, while powerful, is due to the dip in glucose to my brain. This actually does help, although it is not enough without my next step.

SECOND, I eat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.

coconut oilCoconut oil is made up of largely medium-chain fatty acids that are not normally stored in the body’s fat cells at all. Instead they are quickly converted to energy. Additionally, coconut oil acts as a slight appetite suppressant for many people. It certainly does for me.

Anyway, it’s a much better option than the huge glass of milk. That 2 tablespoons of coconut oil diminishes my craving for food at midnight just enough that I can get to sleep. And it gives me a slight energy boost – not a frenetic boost like caffeine, but a calm can-do feeling – just enough oomph for me to go brush my teeth, spray some magnesium oil on my legs, and turn out the light.

CAUTION: If you decide to try my coconut oil hack and see if it works for you, be a little careful. The short- and medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil don’t require bile for digestion. But coconut oil also contains some long-chain fatty acida, and those do require bile for digestion.

If you’ve been eating a low-fat diet for a while, which many people do these days, your body hasn’t needed much bile for a while and has adjusted by not making much. It won’t suddenly produce more when you abruptly dump 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in! Which means you’ll feel nauseated and maybe even experience diarrhea.

So start with a quarter of a teaspoon and work up slowly to give your pancreas and gallbladder a chance to ramp up.

(I’ve blogged about the benefits of coconut oil in Butter and Coconut and Cream, Oh My!, if you’d like to know more.)

The bottom line? It’s really best to be asleep long before midnight!

But I found the why of the midnight munchies to be fascinating, so – of course! – I had to share it with you. 😀

To read the blog posts I mentioned in passing, see:
How I Rehabilitated My Sleep
Thinner and Healthier
Test first, then conclude!
Butter and Coconut and Cream, Oh My!

 

Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous (and What You Can Do About It)

I read The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz last weekend.

The Big Fat Surprise 300 px wide

A friend recommended it to me. When I checked into it myself, the book looked good. The reading proved just as good as it looked, so I’m going to share some of what I discovered.

Nina Teicholz investigates the fats we eat with an open mind. Like most of us, she believed that foods such as butter and cream and red meat were bad for her. But she’d had the experience of losing weight and feeling healthier while eating them with abandon when working as a restaurant review columnist.

What was up with that?

As she dug more deeply into her research for The Big Fat Surprise – reading the actual data from decades of studies, rather than the superficial (and misleading) headline conclusions – she came to realize how thoroughly the wool had been pulled over our eyes about what is safe and healthy to eat.

We’ve been fooled by government officials who jumped the gun and made incorrect recommendations before all the data was in.

We’ve been fooled by ambitious scientists who took a position long before the data warranted it, and then defended their stance for all it was worth.

We’ve been fooled by industrial food companies with a lot of money on the line.

I’d hoped The Big Fat Surprise might be a worthy sequel to Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. It is! The book covers some of the same ground, but Nina Teicholz found different sources to talk with. She takes a slightly different approach from a slightly different angle. I learned things from her compelling narrative that I hadn’t from Taubes’ equally excellent examination of the subject.

Especially important, Teicholz delves into the more recent developments in fats used in processed foods: potato chips, crackers, cookies, etc. The information is absolutely critical for making wise choices about what to eat. And what not to eat. There’s some crazy dangerous stuff out there!

The Big Fat Surprise is too full of valuable nuggets for any summary to do it justice. So I’m going to use a technique I’ve followed when recommending other favorite non-fiction reads.

I’ll share three points that jumped out at me.

Here we go!

cottonseed oil

Eating Seed Oils May Cause Cancer

First of all, what are seed oils? This was a new term for me. Turns out it’s a more accurate word for what we call vegetable oils. Corn oil, canola oil, safflower oil, etc. When you think about the change, it makes sense. These oils aren’t made from carrots or broccoli or bell peppers. They’re pressed (or chemically extracted) from seeds.

One thing to remember about liquid seed oils is that they’re new. They were first extracted and sold in large quantities in 1910. Before 1910, everyone used lard and suet and tallow (animal fats) and butter to cook with. Seed oils are really a novel, ersatz “food.” At this point in human evolution, perhaps 6 generations have been eating the stuff. 300 generations ate only the very small amounts present in the corn in tortillas or the wheat in bread. 66,000 generations ate the still smaller amounts present in gathered (not cultivated) grains.

The new untested nature of seed oils entering our food supply caused a few scientists to be concerned about their safety. Some research was done, and the results generated further cause for concern.

One of the most famous studies was conducted in the 1960’s by Seymour Dayton, a UCLA professor of medicine, on 850 elderly men living in a Veterans Administration home.

For 6 years, half the men ate a diet in which seed oils replaced the saturated fats in butter, milk, ice cream, and cheese.

The other half of the men ate a normal diet – which in those days meant few seed oils, because corn oil and cottonseed oil had not yet been adopted so wholeheartedly in American kitchens.

The superficial results of the study looked good. Of the men on the experimental seed oil diet, only 48 died of heart disease, compared to 70 on the regular foods.

Probing a little deeper, the results looked less good. The death rates of the two groups were similar: 31 of the men consuming seed oils died of cancer, against only 17 of the men on regular food. That’s 79 to 87. Not so significant.

Dr. Dayton expressed considerable concern about the cancer finding. It was the unknown consequences of a diet high in seed oils – a new industrial product that had never been eaten in quantity by humans before – that had prompted the study.

Prominent American researchers focused on the heart disease finding (and ignored the cancer finding), because it bolstered their position that saturated fat causes heart disease.

British researchers were more critical, pointing out that the men on the normal diet happened to have twice the rate of cigarette smoking as the men on the seed oil diet. Perhaps that was the cause of their higher rate of heart disease?

echocardiogram

LDL-Cholesterol Is NOT the Bogeyman

First let’s do a quick review of cholesterol. It’s a lipid molecule made by our bodies and essential for both the structure of our cell membranes and as a foundation for certain hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D. We need the stuff!

It also circulates in our blood and has become renowned as an indicator for our vulnerability to heart disease.

Cholesterol comes in two different kinds. HDL-cholesterol (high density lipoprotein) and LDL-cholesterol (low density lipoprotein).

HDL-cholesterol is solidly established as a good guy that helps prevent heart disease. In fact, it’s such a critical partner in fighting heart disease that your doctor will likely warn you if it’s too low. Low levels of HDL-cholesterol is a known risk factor for heart disease.

LDL-cholesterol, however, for long bore the role of bad guy. If you had high levels of LDL-cholesterol circulating in your blood, you were considered to be at risk.

Thus whenever researchers found in a study that eating saturated fat (butter, cream, coconut oil, red meat) raised LDL-cholesterol – which it does – they would trumpet that finding to the sky. “Eating saturated fat causes heart disease!” they would say. We’ve heard that message for decades.

However, LDL-cholesterol has proven more complex than was initially thought.

Turns out that just as whole cholesterol exists as two types, so LDL-cholesterol also exists as two types. There’s LDL-cholesterol (low density lipoproteins) and there’s VLDL-cholesterol (very low density lipoproteins).

hospital patientVLDL is a genuine villain. Patients with high VLDL-cholesterol also have high triglycerides (another proven risk factor) and are indeed at a greater risk for heart disease.

But normal LDL-cholesterol turns out to be another good guy, actively protective against heart disease.

And guess what?

When eating saturated fat raises LDL-cholesterol, it’s raising the good LDL stuff, not the bad VLDL stuff.

Bottom line? Eating saturated fat raises HDL-cholesterol, which protects against heart disease, and it raises the good LDL-cholesterol, which also protects against heart disease. There is no down side here! Bring on the butter and cream!

The converse is also true, unfortunately. Eating polyunsaturated oils – seed oils such as corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil, etc. – not only lowers the good HDL-cholesterol, but it lowers the good LDL-cholesterol while raising the bad VLDL-cholesterol. The anti-saturated fat folk tend not to trumpet that fact. “Eating seed oils causes heart disease,” is not a message that passes their lips. Ever. But it should.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have been steadfastly ignoring the last 20 years of research that teases apart the LDL and VLDL conundrum. They continue to recommend the consumption of seed oils. Reversing their stance of the last 60 years (pro-seed oil) would be very damaging to the professional reputation of their leaders.

As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

But I can only conclude, along with Nina Teicholz, that seed oils cause heart disease, not the other way around. Certainly, while the death rate from heart disease has gone down due to improved medical treatment, the incidence of heart disease has continued to rise, right in step with the increase of seed oils in the diet.

deep fat fryer

Seed Oils Are Taking Over the World

In 2003, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) issued a new rule that by 2006 trans fats must have their own separate line in the Nutrition Facts Panel on all packaged foods.

What are trans fats?

They’re another ersatz fat created as a byproduct by hydrogenating polyunsaturated fats such as corn oil and safflower oil. Hydrogenating these liquid oils (adding hydrogen atoms to the fat molecules) makes them firmer (like butter) and prevents them from going rancid while the packaged food sits in warehouses and on grocery store shelves.

Trans fat is convincingly a cause of heart disease. At least, its the one that’s been focused on by research. The thing is that trans fat is only one of about 50 ersatz fats created in the hydrogenation process. The others may be even more damaging.

In any case, getting the trans fats out of our food supply would seem to be a good thing. For that was the result of the FDA’s rulings. With trans fat vilified by the public (justly so) and manufacturers no longer able to hide its presence in their products, the manufacturers started reformulating their recipes.

That was a lot of reformulating!

As of 2003 when the new rule was issued, 42,720 packaged foods included trans fats: all crackers and most cookies, baking mixes, chips, pie shells, and frostings.

The food industry really liked hydrogenated oils. They could be made relatively soft for things like margarine. They could be made medium soft for cookies. They could be made very hard for the coatings of chocolate truffles.

But when the trans fats had to go, the hydrgenated oils also had to go. And be replaced with something else: polyunsaturated oils – seed oils.

That alone is not good news. After reading The Big Fat Surprise, I know that seed oils probably cause cancer and do cause heart disease. But there’s worse news.

The seed oils don’t behave well in the food products that industry produces. The oils separate out from sauces, leaving oily puddles under frozen dinners. They go rancid while cupcakes sit on grocery shelves. They cause Oreo® cookies to break during shipping.

Luckily for the manufacturers (and unluckily for us), their labs devised a new fat that performs well. It’s created by a new process called interesterification.

What is interesterification? Basically the process takes the three triglyceride molecules that make up fats and rearranges them.

How do interesterified fats affect the human body? We don’t really know. There have been a few studies done, but not nearly enough to yield a true idea.

Twinkies

So when we eat packaged foods, we’re eating interesterified fats and participating in the continuing experiment done on us without our informed consent. Heaven only knows what this latest ersatz substance will do to us. It could be worse than trans fat.

If we’re not eating interesterified fat, we’re eating fully hydrogenated oils (which do not have trans fats the way partially hydrogenated oils do) blended with liquid seed oils. This is another trick used by processed food manufacturers.

Or we’re eating palm oil, which manufacturers are returning to without announcing the fact. Palm oil is a natural saturated fat, like coconut oil, and is actually good for us. So, yay! One ray of light in an otherwise dark picture.

When we eat fried foods in a restaurant, we’re eating 100% seed oils along with the breakdown products that are created when these oils are heated.

There’s a reason McDonald’s once used beef tallow to fry its french fries. The stuff is extremely stable and doesn’t break down when heated. (Plus beef tallow was good for us.)

The partially hydrogenated oils used when beef tallow went away were also stable at high temperatures, although they did have those pesky trans fats.

peanut oilThe peanut oils and soybean oils now being used are not stable. They break down at high temperatures.

Aldehyde is one common breakdown product. It interferes with the function of our DNA.

Formaldehyde is another common breakdown product. It’s a poison.

Yet other breakdown products form a gunky residue on the bottoms of fryers, as well as on walls and tablecloths. It resembles shellac. The gunk is released into the air of the restaurant by the hot oil mist forming over the fryer and condenses out on cooler surfaces. The vapor may well damage the lungs of restaurant workers and patrons.

What Does It All Mean?

My own feeling is that it’s time to stop experimenting with all these new ersatz “food” products. Time to stop pushing them on unsuspecting populations to see if they have deleterious effects.

Cancer, anyone?

Heart disease?

How about diabetes?

Sign right up! You’ll die for science without ever knowing you’re in the experimental group.

Sadly, a more responsible and caring way forward seems unlikely at this time.

So what can you do?

Learn about food.

Don’t take the FDA’s word for anything; they’re too slow and married to industry interests.

Don’t take the common wisdom for your guide either; it’s been distorted by the poor research done in the 1960’s and boosted by ill-informed government officials.

Don’t mistake the research headlines about the dangers of saturated fat as fact supported by the research they trumpet; the data often do not support the headlines.

Do read The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz.

Read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.

Read Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig.

Cover iamges of Good Calories, Bad Calories; The Big Fat Surprise; Eat Fat, Lose Fat

Get informed about the real facts and then make up your own mind about what is safe to eat and what isn’t. The life and health you save could be your own. 😀

For more posts on this topic:
Test first, then conclude!
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Thinner and Healthier

 

Handle with Care

glass cannister of granolaI’ve learned to be cautious with grains.

They’re high in carbohydrates and, as I’ve gotten older, my body has grown more sensitive to carbs. Philip Maffetone’s In Fitness and in Health taught me that carbs were likely behind the chronic fatigue of my 30’s and the weight gain of my 40’s.

Gary Taubes, in his Good Calories, Bad Calories, explained some of why. When eaten, carbohydrates can provoke an inflammatory response (fatigue) and do cause the body to release insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin then causes the body to cease burning fat for energy and switch to burning glucose. Which means the fatty acids stay in the fat cells, and more fatty acids are packed in (weight gain).

But there’s another reason to be cautious with grains. Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions explains that we modern westerners aren’t preparing whole grains safely any more. Our ancestors did. And a few of us still possess the old knowledge. (I did not.)

images depicting traditional peoples from around the worldIn India, rice and lentils are fermented for two days before being made into idli and dosas. In Africa, coarsely ground corn was soaked overnight before being added to soups and stews. Ethiopian injera bread is made by fermenting the grain teff for several days. American pioneers were famous for sourdough breads and biscuits. In old-fashioned European porridges, the oats or barley berries were soaked overnight or even for several days before cooking. Flours were never simply scooped from a canister, mixed into whatever, cooked, and eaten two hours later. There’s a reason for that!

All grains contain phytic acid in the outer layer, the bran.

Of course, you can eat refined grains which lack the bran and the germ, but that leads to its own set of health problems. (White flour acts on the body a lot like sugar.) But if you eat whole grains, improperly prepared, phytic acid will harm you.

So what’s the problem with phytic acid?

It combines with minerals in the digestive tract and blocks their absorption. All that lovely calcium or iron or zinc or whatever binds to the phytic acid and rides away, right out of the body. On top of that, phytic acid can be very irritating. Hello, irritable bowel syndrome! Hello, mineral deficiencies! Hello, osteoporosis!

And that’s not all.

The protein in grains, especially the gluten, is hard to digest. Soaking and fermenting breaks down these proteins into their simpler building blocks, which are much easier on digestion.

Consider animals nourished primarily by plants. They have multiple stomachs (sometimes four!) and long intestines. Plants take a lot of digesting! Humans have only one stomach and shorter intestines. We need the help of friendly lactobacilli (the bacteria in yogurt and other live foods) when we eat plants such as grains (and legumes).

Another possibility to consider: add a dollop of cream or butter to cooked grains. The fat acts as a catalyst for mineral absorption. You’ll get more of that critical calcium (for example), if you pair those oats with cream.

And a final consideration: most processed breakfast cereals – even granola, alas! – are downright dangerous. Not only are they rife with phytic acid, but they are processed at high heat and under high pressure. This destroys many of the valuable nutrients in grains, turns the fragile plant oils rancid, and changes the proteins enough to render them toxic.

The take-away lesson is that grains (and legumes) need to be soaked or sprouted to confer their benefits.

If you’re a baker, bake true sourdough breads or loaves made with sprouted grains. If you purchase your bread (raising my hand here), buy true sourdoughs (not just flavored with sourdough) and sprouted grain breads.

I go very light on the grains myself. But for all the grain lovers among us, I’ll share three basic recipes with the grains properly prepared. (Plus crisp nuts.)

The oatmeal in this photo has raisons in it, cooked on the stovetop with the oats, but not soaked overnight with the oats!

oatmealOatmeal

1 cup oats, rolled (not instant or quick-cooking)
1 cup filtered water, warmed (but not hot)
2 tablespoons whey or yogurt or lemon juice
1 more cup filtered water
1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt

Add the whey to the warm water and soak the oats in it overnight (at least 7 hours). Find a warm spot. A covered bowl on the kitchen counter is fine, if your house isn’t too chilly.

(Chlorine can interfere with lacto-fermentation, so don’t use straight water-plant tap water.)

In the morning, bring the additional cup of water to a boil. Add the salt. Add the soaked oats (along with any remaining liquid). Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit (still covered) for 5 minutes.

Serve with cream or butter.

Other optional toppings include maple syrup, raw honey, apricot butter, or crisp nuts.

Rice

2 cups brown rice
4 cups filtered water, warmed
4 tablespoons whey or yogurt or lemon juice or vinegar
1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
3 tablespoons butter

Rinse and drain the rice.

Add whey to the warm water and soak the rice in it overnight (at least 7 hours).

When soaking is complete, transfer mixture to a cooking pot and bring it to a boil on the stove top.

Skim off the foam that rises to the top.

Lower the heat, add the salt and butter, stir, and then cover tightly. Cook (without removing the lid) for 45 minutes over very low heat.

Serve.

granolaGranola (a safe version)

This recipe is a bit involved. My kids adore it, but I don’t make it very often! In fact, it’s been more than a year for me. Which leads me to a note of warning. I’ve made lots of adjustments to the recipe since the first time, with lots of scribbly notes in the margins of my recipe binder. I hope I’ve deciphered them accurately! But if your rendition of this granola isn’t working, it’s probably me, not you. I hope to make granola this spring. (And if I discover I’ve erred, I’ll come back and correct myself.) So you might wait to try this until after my essay. Or – if you’re the adventurous sort – dive in and post any adjustments you make in the comments!

Update:I did make granola this spring (as promised to my kids). Twice! And the recipe as I posted it was pretty close to correct. But it needed a touch more spice. I increased the amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves in my second batch. Plus I made more. The first batch was devoured in 5 days flat. If you were waiting (as recommended above) for me to tweak my recipe, I’ve done so. The recipe below is the recipe. Go for it!

6 cups oats, rolled
6 cups filtered water, warmed
4 tablespoons whey or yogurt or lemon juice
3/8 cup butter (add 1 tablespoon butter, if you’re soaking the nuts with the oats)
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons maple syrup (add 1 tablespoon syrup, if soaking nuts with oats)
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 cups crisp nuts (no crisp nuts on hand? throw some in to soak with the oats)
2 cups raisins

draining and spreading the granolaAdd whey to warm water and soak oats in it overnight (at least 7 hours). If you are out of crisp nuts, add raw nuts to the oats to soak along with them.

Next day, drain the liquid off the oats. Press the mass a little (if it’s really soggy) to wring extra moisture out of it.

Spread baking parchment on 2 baking sheets. Spoon the oats onto the sheets and spread them out evenly. Place baking sheets in the oven and turn it on to 200ºF (no need to preheat). Bake for 3 hours. Check the oats for moisture. If you added nuts to soak with the oats, the mixture will be dry at the edges of the baking sheet, but still moist at the center. If you soaked the oats solo, they’ll be dry all the way through, but not crisp.

Near the end of this first baking, melt the butter, honey, and maple syrup. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside, off the heat.

granola in the makingRemove the oats from the oven. Put the oats in a large bowl and break up the large clumps using 2 butter knives. Then get a handful between your palms and rub your hands together. This works really well to break the clumps even further. Keep going until the texture of the oats is fairly fine. Then pour the butter mixture over the oats, and blend thoroughly.

Put fresh sheets of baking parchment on the baking sheets. (The used parchment will be soggy.) Spoon the oat mixture onto the baking sheets and spread evenly. Place back in the 200ºF oven. Stir the oats and re-spread them every hour. Bake for 4 hours.

Remove oats from oven and allow to cool. Break up any clumps with your hands. Mix the now-crisp oats with raisons and crisp nuts (if you didn’t add raw nuts at the soaking step). Store in an air-tight canister.

Serve however you prefer granola: with milk, with cream, with yogurt, with fruit, etc. It will be a little more crisp than conventional store-bought granola.

Crisp Walnuts

Use these as a topping on oatmeal, in the granola recipe above, or as a snack. Just like grains and legumes, nuts should be soaked to neutralize the many enzyme inhibitors in them.

4 cups walnut pieces, raw
2 teaspoons Celtic sea salt
filtered water to cover nuts

Mix the salt with the filtered water and soak the nuts in it overnight (at least 7 hours).

Next day, drain the nuts in a colander.

Put baking parchment on a baking sheet. Spread the nuts evenly on it. Place in oven, turn on to 150ºF and “bake” for 12-24 hours, until completely dry and crisp. Stir the nuts with a spoon and re-spread them occasionally. (If you have a food dehydrator, use that!)

Store the nuts in an air-tight container.

Walnuts, alone of all the nuts, must be stored in the refrigerator. Their unique composition of oils will go rancid at room temperature. The other nuts may be safely stored at room temperature.

This recipe may be used for pecans, almonds, or macadamias. Do not use it for cashews. Cashews are not raw when they come to us. They contain a toxic oil that must be released and removed by two separate heatings before humans can eat them safely. This means that they’ll get slimy and nasty if soaked too long or dried too slowly. Soak them at most 6 hours. Dry them in a 200ºF oven.

Nourishing Traditions at Amazon

Nourishing Traditions at B&N

For more Nourishing Traditions posts, see:
Yogurt & Kefir & Koumiss, Oh My!
Amazing Lactobacilli
Beet Kvass

Some posts challenging politically correct nutrition:
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Test first, then conclude!
Thinner and Healthier

And some more recipes:
Coconut Chocolates
Coconut Salmon
Baked Carrots

Do you have any old-time grain recipes that include the soaking or sprouting of grains?
Do please share!

 

Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!

After reading Maffetone’s In Fitness and in Health and Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, I sought out more myth-busting information. Hold onto your hats! I’m going to tell you what I discovered, and we’re in for a wild ride!

The notion that intrigued me was this: what if saturated fat were actually good for you? Fallon’s notes on butter from grass-fed cows hinted at this idea. Maffetone’s advice to cut carbs out of your diet for his 2-week test echoed it. And the improved health and slimness of acquaintances following a low-carb regime further piqued my curiosity.

cover image with coconut palm treeI purchased Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig and devoured it in one evening.

Here was myth-busting with a vengeance!

The book includes a review of the basic chemistry of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. It also touches briefly on the influence of the food industry on governmental agencies and the culture at large in promulgating the belief that saturated fat is bad for us. (There are big bucks to be made from processed food, with hefty profit margins if inexpensive vegetable oils are used instead of pricey animals fats or coconut oil or palm oil.)

(I read Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories after, not before, reading Eat Fat. He describes the sea change from “starches make you fat” to “fat makes you fat” in griping detail. I highly recommend giving his book a read yourself, if you haven’t.)

Many items in Eat Fat, Lose Fat grabbed my attention.

The first was Fallon’s analysis of the research to date about fats. Some consists of studies of the diets of indigenous peoples. Some are studies performed in labs.

I learned that the Massai, who drank a gallon of milk every day and consumed meat and blood for the rest of their nourishment, simply didn’t suffer heart attacks at all.

Then there were the employees of the Indian railway system. The largely vegetarian workers of Madras experienced 7 times more incidence of heart disease than the meat-loving Punjabi who ate 10 to 20 times as much fat.

In the Framingham-Peurto Rico-Honolulu study conducted by NIH, the participants who suffered heart attacks were those who consumed the most polyunsaturated oil.

A workshop held at the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute and analyzing studies on women and cholesterol found that, for women, high blood cholesterol is protective. The longest lived among elderly women were those with the highest cholesterol. Further, the statin drugs proscribed to lower cholesterol offer no benefit to women in preventing heart disease.

There’s more; a lot more. But I’m not going to list every one of the 18 studies presented in chapter 2. Fallon is concise, but it’s still too much for a blog post. The take-away point? Most studies looked at saturated fats and trans fats as the same thing. Mary Enig is the researcher who first blew the whistle on trans fats, and now we all know that no level of trans fats is safe. But all those studies with bad outcomes for fat in the diet? It was the trans fats doing it. Saturated fats have been tarred with the same brush quite inaccurately. Trans fats cause heart disease, contribute to cancer, cause hormone synthesis to go awry. Saturated fats? Probably not.

Next stop on our tour is a short list of various organs and other body systems which possess an intrinsic and critical need for saturated fat.

The Brain

60% of the brain is composed of fat. And phospholipids – 50% saturated fat – are an important component of brain cell membranes. Without saturated fat being supplied to the brain by diet, brain chemistry may be compromised.

Cells

Saturated fats maintain cellular integrity everywhere in the body. Every cell membrane is ideally composed of 50% saturated fat. When polyunsaturated fat fills in on the job, the cells actually become somewhat “floppy” and cannot work properly.

Bones

Saturated fat is necessary for calcium to be incorporated into the structure of the bones. Osteoporosis, anyone?

Liver

Saturated fat protects the liver from certain toxins, such as those in acetaminophen.

Heart

Saturated fats are the heart’s preferred food, especially in times of stress.

Saturated fatty acids lower the blood substance Lp(a), a proven marker for heart disease.

Saturated fats lower C-Reactive Protein, an indicator of inflammation, which may cause many cases of heart disease.

Lungs

The lungs require a surfactant in order to work, and the fatty acids in that surfactant are 100% saturated fatty acids. When trans fats and polyunsaturated fats fill those slots, the lungs suffer.

Hormones

Hormones are the messengers connecting the brain, nervous system, and glands into a synchronous whole. Some critical hormones cannot be synthesized in the body without the vitamin A provided by fatty animal foods such as liver and shellfish. The wrong kinds of fats substituted into the equation lead to problems with glucose balance, mineral metabolism, and reproduction.

Again, there’s more, but I’ll move on to the next myth-busting tidbits.

Myth: Plants provide enough vitamin A.

Fact: Many vegetables and fruits contain carotenes, building blocks for vitamin A. Our bodies can convert these carotenes into vitamin A via a complex operation in the small intestine, but usually not enough vitamin A. And some bodies cannot do it at all, lacking the necessary enzymes: diabetics, thyroid patients, sufferers from certain digestive disorders, and babies and children.

Myth: Sunlight provides enough vitamin D.

Fact: Our bodies make vitamin D only in the presence of UV-B light. In temperate regions, this happens only when the sun is directly overhead. And exposing merely face and lower arms is not sufficient. How many of us can sunbathe for 30 minutes at noon every day wearing swim trunks or a bikini? That’s what it would take – in the summer. In winter, with the sun lower in the sky, we’re out of luck.

The bottom line: Not only are saturated fats healthy, they are necessary!

Enter the oil of the coconut, the nut of the coconut palm.

Fallon calls it the queen of saturated fats, because of its special properties, and it really is a marvelous substance. It’s almost tailor-made for losing weight, since metabolizing the lauric acid within coconut oil (coconut oil is 50% lauric acid) actually uses more energy than it provides.

Three key benefits of coconut oil:

• The fats in coconut oil are not stored in the body as fat. They are quickly converted to energy.

(I can personally attest to the subjective experience of this. For most of my life I suffered from physical fatigue and lethargy, worsening as I got older. Once I started eating coconut oil (and reduced my carb intake), that changed. The feeling of having a physical reserve I can draw upon is wonderful.)

• People living in countries where the coconut is an important part of their diet have lower rates of heart disease and cancer.

• The fats in coconut oil kill viruses and pathogenic bacteria by stripping their protective outer layer. (You’ll get sick less often, when you eat coconut oil frequently!)

Next comes a run through nutrient-dense foods such as pasture-fed eggs, butter and cream from pastured cows, liver (the sacred food of many cultures), raw cheeses, lacto-fermented beverages, bone broths, and Celtic sea salt. And then we’re on to the food plans and recipes, some simple like fried eggs, some more sophisticated like chicken with coconut peanut sauce, but all good, all good for you, and all helpful for those of us watching our weight!

This book, together with Nourishing Traditions, In Fitness and in Health, and Good Calories, Bad Calories, completed the process of turning my nutritional know-how upside down. I’m still adjusting my cooking habits, still learning how best to feed this unique body of mine, but my health is better, my weight is down, and I’m optimistic about my future.

I’ve blogged about each of these amazing reads over the past year. If you missed those posts, you can find them at the links below.

In Fitness and in Health

Nourishing Traditions

Good Calories, Bad Calories

Good health and good eating to you all! And if you want your very own copy of Eat Fat, Lose Fat, here are some links for that.

Eat Fat, Lose Fat at Amazon

Eat Fat, Lose Fat at B&N

For more on books important to continuing nutritional education, see:
Thinner and Healthier
Test first, then conclude!
Yogurt and Kefir and Koumiss, Oh My!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous

 

Test first, then conclude!

For over a century, from the 1860’s to the 1960’s, common wisdom said that eating too much bread and too much dessert would make you fat.

What caused us to change our minds?

Is it really true that pasta and cereal are the health foods we currently believe them to be?

Consider that in 1960, 12% to 14% of the United States population was obese. Today, that figure’s over 30%. Yet we eat less dietary fat than ever. Fifty years ago, 45% of American calories came from fat; now, less than 35%.

photo of butter pat on toastGary Taubes chronicles in Good Calories, Bad Calories how this sea change came about and how very little of it stemmed from solid research.

The story starts with Ancel Keys, who ran the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene at the University of Minnesota. According to Keys, his lab would “find out why people got sick before they got sick.”

It was a praiseworthy intention, but what is it the adage says about the road to a very hot place? It’s paved with praiseworthy intentions. And Keys’ abilities as a scientist were questionable: he was wrong more often than he was right. Despite that, he possessed great strength of will and a desire to make things happen, no matter how unpleasant he had to be to do it.

And do it, he did.

Keys’ epiphany occurred in 1951 in Rome. A colleague from Naples stated that heart disease in Naples was not a problem. There was little of it. Keys visited the city to investigate this alluring circumstance and concluded that the general population was indeed free of heart disease, but not the rich. While dining with wealthy acquaintances, he noted that their table featured hearty meat sauces, parmesan cheese, and roast beef. In contrast, the tables of the Neapolitan workers were spare, lacking the meat that was so expensive in the post-war years.

Keys’ conclusion: fat in the diet causes heart disease.

Keys pushed this doctrine relentlessly. He was in a good position to do it, endowed with plenty of prestige and clout. His scorn for research results that challenged his could do real damage to a colleague’s career. When his own research results challenged his belief, he cited “conflating” factors that had yielded the unexpected result.

Keys made a fatal error. Good science starts with a hypothesis, with a question. Is it possible that this is true? Next comes carefully designed research to test that question. And, usually, after that, new questions related to the original, along with yet more research. Really complex questions – like those of diet and metabolism – can take decades and the work of a generation of scientists to understand. Only then may a conclusion with a fair degree of accuracy be reached.

Keys started with his conclusion!

That’s a recipe for bad science, but Keys followed it with passion and dragged all of us along with him.

What Keys missed on those wealthy Neapolitan tables: the ice cream and the pastries. Just as expensive as meat in post-war Italy was sugar, and the working class didn’t have it.

There were resisters to the dietary-fat-equals-heart-disease creed. And there was a significant body of evidence against it.

Some of the most compelling evidence came from the doctors working in missionary hospitals in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These men treated native populations for decades and were poised to observe what happened when the foods of civilization arrived and spread. The process was remarkable wherever it transpired.

Albert Schweitzer arrived in West Africa in 1913. The conditions he treated initially were overwhelmingly those of communicable diseases and infections: malaria, sleeping sickness, leprosy, tropical dysentery. There were no cases of cancer. But as the forty-one years he spent there rolled by, cancer victims began to appear and grew ever more numerous.

Inuit by Jerry Hollens used under Creative Commons license, FlickrSamuel Hutton in the arctic in 1902 had a similar experience. He treated Inuit patients, and they fell into two categories. Those eating the traditional Inuit diet of primarily meat and fish, had no appendicitis, no asthma, and, most strikingly, no cancer. Those who had adopted the European “settlers’ diet” – tea, bread, ship’s biscuit, molasses, and salt fish or pork – suffered all the European maladies and more, being more prone to scurvy and fatigue, lacking robustness, and birthing children who were “puny and feeble.”

Many other physicians of the colonial era in other spots of the globe witnessed this same transition. An isolated native population displayed amazing health and vigor. Then the foods of civilization arrived, inevitably including carbohydrates which could be transported around the world without spoiling during the journey or being eaten by rodents: sugar, molasses, white flour, and white rice. As the new foods were incorporated into the native diet, the “Western diseases” would appear: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, dental cavities, appendicitis, ulcers, gallstones, and more.

Taubes carries his readers through this more distant history and then up through the research of the last half century on heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. He intersperses the dry science with more entertaining anecdotal nuggets.

One such gem is the diet of the sumo wrestlers of Japan in 1976. The wrestlers comprised two groups: the elite and a less accomplished lower echelon. The elites ate 5,500 calories a day of chanko nabe, a pork stew. The stew was both very high-carb (57% of the calories) and very low-fat (16% of the calories), yet the young men weighed over 300 pounds. Wrestlers in the lower echelon consumed 400 fewer calories, but their diet was even higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat: 80% and 9%, respectively. They weighed the same as their elite colleagues, but were significantly less muscular and more fatty. Could it be the carbs that made the necessary over-consumption possible?

From research on disease, Taubes passes on to research into “unusual” diets, where the tenacity with which the researchers cling to certain myths causes them supreme frustration. Why did subjects eating 800-calorie diets of fat and protein feel satiated, but then grow ravenous when 400 calories (of carbohydrates) were added to their daily rations? Why did obese patients eating 2,800-calorie low-carb diets of fat and protein lose weight, while those eating 1,200-calorie low-fat diets not lose weight?

“It is better to know nothing . . . than to keep in mind fixed ideas based on theories whose confirmation we . . . seek, neglecting meanwhile everything that fails to agree with them,” wrote Claude Bernard in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine. Indeed!

Maybe “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie” isn’t true after all!

The answer lies in metabolism. Turns out that cardiology researchers weren’t talking with diabetes researchers who weren’t talking with obesity researchers who weren’t talking with endocrinology researchers. But the endocrinologists knew some critical facts for all of the above.

The hormone insulin is a top player in regulating metabolism. When insulin is released into the bloodstream, it signals that glucose is available, and the body then uses glucose for fuel. With glucose to burn, it does not withdraw fatty acids from fat cells for use as fuel. Only when insulin is low (signaling that glucose is in short supply) are fatty acids pulled out from fat cells and burned as fuel.

In addition, when insulin is present (signaling that glucose is present), the body packs any extra calories away as fat. As people age, the sensitivity of fat cells to insulin grows. It takes ever less insulin to trigger the fat cells to fill with more fat. Part of this fat-packing process is the creation of triglycerides (a proven risk factor in heart disease). Cardiologists, are you paying attention?

Worse, fat cells stay sensitive to insulin long after muscle cells become resistant to it. This means that when the muscle cells stop taking in glucose, the fat cells take in even more (glucose transformed into triglycerides). Obesity specialists, are you here?

When the muscle cells become resistant to insulin, the pancreas puts out more of it. Eventually, under this tide of extra insulin, the fat cells become insulin resistant as well. Diabetes specialists, are you listening?

By the mid-1960’s, these facts were well established:
1) carbohydrates prompt insulin secretion,
2) insulin induces fat accumulation,
3) dietary carbohydrates are required for excess fat accumulation, and
4) Type 2 diabetics and the obese have abnormally high levels of circulating insulin and a greatly exaggerated insulin response to carbohydrates in the diet.

Unfortunately, insulin resistance is measured on a whole-body level. And carbs temporarily make fat cells (but not muscle cells) more sensitive to insulin. So high-carb diets seem to temporarily relieve diabetes. Thus they are recommended for diabetics. But over the long term, the high carb diet increases the insulin resistance of even the fat cells, and the diabetes worsens. Plus the temporary illusion of diabetic improvement comes at the cost of greater obesity.

And then along came Ancel Keys and the McGovern Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. The men who insisted that carbohydrate restriction was merely calorie restriction in disguise (and rarely, if ever, treated obese patients) won the political battle. The doctors who actually treated obesity and found carbohydrate restriction to be the only effective tool lost.

photo of blue, green, red, yellow, and orange m&m'sAs funding for research projects, laboratories, and entire academic centers shifted to the food and pharmaceutical industries, good unbiased research grew harder to pursue. How can researchers consulting for the makers of Coke®, M&M®’s, and Kraft crackers possibly look honestly into the effects of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup and white flour? It is “scientists” such as these who routinely declare low-carb diets to be mere fads.

Taubes states near the end of Good Calories, Bad Calories that when he began work on the book, he had no idea that it would change everything he believed about nutrition and health. He believed the modern conventional wisdom along with the rest of us. Then he set out on his trail of investigation, trying simply to follow the facts, and learned that there were precious few supporting said wisdom.

He concludes that the “exchange of critical judgment” necessary to science is nowhere to be found in today’s “study of nutrition, chronic disease, and obesity, and hasn’t been for decades.” Today’s researchers in these fields may call themselves scientists, but they are not. They borrow the authority and the terms of science when they communicate to the public, but the beliefs they communicate merely masquerade as such. Their entire enterprise functions as a cult.

Taubes’ hope is that his book will start public discussion about the nature of a healthy diet that includes questions about the quantity and quality of the carbohydrates it contains. And with questions might come a call for honest research.

Taubes’ investigations turned his own ideas on nutrition upside down. As I read his account, my ideas flipped upside down. I urge you to read Good Calories, Bad Calories yourself and see if it turns your paradigm topsy turvy!

If what Taubes reports is true (and I think it may be), there’s a vast array of better choices open to us all!

Good Calories, Bad Calories on Amazon

Good Calories, Bad Calories on B&N

For more posts on my continuing nutritional education, see:
Thinner and Healthier
Yogurt & Kefir & Koumis, Oh My!
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous

 

Amazing Lactobacilli

photo of corn, tomato, onion melange in canning jarSix weeks ago I made a quart of lacto-fermented corn relish. It was an experiment, because corn in its ordinary state – boiled, slathered with butter, and gnawed from the cob – makes me very ill. Sad, since I love the taste. I hoped lacto-fermented corn might not irritate my system When our CSA delivered yet another eight ears of corn, I decided to risk it. And it went well! I can eat lacto-fermented corn with nary a murmur from my digestion. Plus it tastes like seconds, thirds, and fourths!

(I know. I said that before about the eggplant dish below, but it’s true!)

images depicting traditional peoples from around the worldSo let me tell you about lacto-fermentation. The corn relish recipe was my own creation, but I learned the principles from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions.

Lactobacilli – lactic acid producing bacteria – are everywhere. They thrive on the surface of all living things and are particularly numerous on the roots and leaves of low-growing plants.

Lactic acid is a natural preservative. It inhibits the action of bacteria that produce decay. Before the invention of freezers or canning machines, cooks preserved vegetables and fruits by lacto-fermentation.

The benefits of lacto-fermentation go far beyond mere preservation, however.

Lacto-fermented foods:
• are more digestible
• make their nutrients more bio-available to our bodies
• possess higher vitamin levels
• acquire many helpful enzymes during lacto-fermentation
• include substances that kill harmful bacteria and prevent cancer
• promote the growth of healthy flora along the entire length of the intestine.

Lacto-fermented or “pickled” cabbage was (and is) popular worldwide. Europe developed sauerkraut; Latin America, cortido; Korea, kimchi; and Japan, tsukemono. But many other vegetables (and fruits) respond delisciously to lacto-fermentation: cucumber, corn, and watermelon rind, to name a few.

Lacto-fermentated foods are easy and fun to prepare at home. There’s something magical to the process – a little like baking, in which dough transforms into bread or cake or cookies, but requiring less hands-on prep and little precision.

The basic recipe goes as follows. Wash your fruits or vegetables thoroughly. Chop or shred or grate them and mix with sea salt and homemade whey. Pound the mix briefly with a wooden mallet. Then press the mass into a canning jar, leaving an inch of headroom at the top, and seal firmly. Leave the jar at room temperature for two to four days, then refrigerate. Fruits will keep for two months. Vegetables stay good indefinitely. (Experts consider sauerkraut to be best after six months!)

Speaking of sauerkraut, here’s a bit of trivia about it and a famous navigator of the past. Captain Cook loaded sixty barrels of the stuff onto his ship before embarking on his second trip around the world. None of the crew developed scurvy. (Sauerkraut has a lot of vitamin C.) And twenty-seven months later, when Cook was nearing home again, the last barrel was opened. It remained perfectly preserved – despite its long journey through every kind of weather and warmth – and delicious. When served to Portuguese nobles visiting aboard, the partial barrel was carried away to share with friends!

One more jot of trivia: ketchup was once a lacto-fermented food. The word derives from ke-tsiap, a Chinese Amoy term for a pickled fish sauce. (Fish sauce was the universal condiment of the ancient world.) The English added mushroom, walnut, cucumber, and oyster to fish sauce to create their own version. Then Americans added tomatoes for another unique take on the flavor enhancer. American ketchup is now largely high fructose corn syrup, but it is possible for the home cook to return to the old artisanal method of concocting it. (But that’s another blog post!)

What about my corn relish? Are you clamoring for the recipe? It’s worth trying, but I’m going to recommend that you start with sauerkraut instead. Corn relish is a simple recipe, but sauerkraut is the most basic of all. And I think you’ll be delighted with its taste – much fresher than the vinegar-laden and pasteurized stuff from the grocery store. I promise I’ll post the corn relish recipe when fresh corn is back in season!

Update: Corn did eventually come back in season, and I made more corn relish! The recipe is posted here.

Sauerkraut

1 large cabbage

2 tablespoons sea salt
(not ordinary shaker salt, which has additives that damage lacto-fermentation)

1/2 cup homemade whey
(draining and using the excess liquid from any yogurt with live cultures works fine)

The cabbage should be of high quality and preferably organic. Pesticide residues can kill lactobacilli and interfere with lacto-fermentation.

Wash the cabbage, peel off the outermost leaves and discard, and remove and discard the stem stalk and the densest part of the core. Then shred the cabbage. The grating attachment in a food processor works nicely, but you can also simply slice the cabbage with a chef knife.

Put the shredded cabbage in a large, sturdy bowl. Add the salt and the whey. Lightly pound the mixture with a wooden mallet for 10 minutes to release the cabbage juices.

(I know. My mallet is metal, and it shouldn’t be. A wooden one is on my shopping list. Why? The whey can damage metal utensils over time. As you can see, my meat pounder is undamaged after 2 years of use. But I still intend to get something wooden. Just not in any rush!)

Transfer the mixture into a pair of quart-sized canning jars. Press the cabbage down firmly in the jars until the juices come up to cover the cabbage. Be sure there is an inch of headroom between the cabbage and the lids. The cabbage will expand slightly while lacto-fermenting. Tighten the lids securely. Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process.

Let the jars rest on your counter at room temperature for 2 – 4 days (2 if it’s summer or you’re using the oven a lot, 4 if it’s winter and you keep your house cool).

Then move the jars to the fridge. Let the kraut mature for 3 weeks to develop the best flavor. Serve!

Some people add caraway seed to the ferment. I tried it, but find cabbage straight up to be tastiest!

Once you’ve eaten a serving of your batch, visit here again and tell me what you think! Good?

 

For more Nourishing Traditions posts, see:
Yogurt & Kefir & Koumiss, Oh My!
Handle with Care
Beet Kvass

More Recipes
Sautéed Eggplant
Coconut Salmon
Baked Carrots

 

Yogurt & Kefir & Koumiss, Oh My!

My nutritional education began under the aegis of my mother. Judged against the backdrop of the sixties, she was a pioneer, actively pursuing the benefits of serving whole grain breads, breastfeeding her babies, eating multiple servings of raw vegetables, and curtailing sugar intake. Compared to Wonder® bread, bottle feeding, miniscule portions of frozen corn-carrots-peas mix, and dessert every night after dinner, her choices represented a miracle of enlightenment. (Yay, Mom! Thank you!)

But she was also influenced by her time. Who isn′t? She gave up butter for margarine. (Transfats, anyone?) She remained unaware of the dangers of improperly prepared grains (those unfermented or unsprouted). She drifted toward a high-carb, low-fat diet. (As an adult, I did, too.)

So my own nutritional knowledge had a better foundation than that of my contemporaries, but it also featured serious deficits.

My first inkling that I′d gone astray arrived gradually and confusingly as health issues. It seemed there were more and more foods I could not eat without feeling really ill in the hours after my meal. Doctors had no real answers, other than telling me to keep a food diary. I did this, and the list of DO-NOT-EAT grew and grew. It was discouraging and inconvenient. I felt ill too often. And when my friends invited me over for dinner, they faced a Herculean task, if they wanted me to actually eat the foods they′d prepared.

Then I met a local dairywoman with a small family farm. She clued me into the fact that conventional dairy cows receive a soy-based feed. The soy proteins come through in their milk. Maybe it wasn′t cow milk that made me sick after all! Maybe it was the soy proteins.

Kathryn also knew that soy is added as filler to many foods, and not only the obvious candidates such as canned soup. It′s in canned tunafish. It′s in pizza (the tomato sauce and the cheese). It′s in conventional roast chicken, injected under the skin to add moisture to the breast meat. If you have trouble digesting soy . . . watch out! It′s a soy world out there.

I grew vigilant in detecting (and avoiding) soy. My health problems cleared up. Wow! I was thrilled.

But Kathryn had more to teach me. She recommended the book Pasture Perfect (which I shared with you a few weeks ago, here). That was the start of the real revolution in my thinking. Obviously there were a lot of things my mother never told me. And, like most of us, I′d been listening to the media and the mainstream medical establishment about what was healthy to eat and what was not. (Doctors are not taught nutrition, by the way. They′re reading the same newspapers and magazines as their patients!)

images depicting traditional peoples from around the worldThe next book featured in my continuing education was a doozie: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig. Kathryn followed its precepts, but never recommended it to me. I suspect she thought it would be too challenging for my PC thinking! She didn′t know me well enough to realize that the sheer novelty of the concepts (novel to me, millenia-old to humankind) would ignite my curiosity.

The tale of how I discovered that Nourishing Traditions held an honored place on Kathryn′s shelves is convoluted enough (and rather beside the point) that I won′t spend the paragraphs to recount it. Suffice it to say, I did discover the book, checked it out from the library, and was blown away by its contents. It′s a cookbook with hundreds of recipes, but it′s also a nutritional manual, packed with the wisdom accumulated by traditional peoples over the ages. Their food ways kept them healthy and strong, generation after generation, before doctors and medical science achieved modern power.

Nourishing Traditions is so dense with amazing information, my customary sharing of ″3 cool things″ not only can′t do it justice, but risks serious misrepresentation. I′ll be sharing 3 cool things from the first chapter today. (With more chapters following at intervals across the next half year.)

The Ancient Art of Culturing Milk

photo of fresh milk, homemade whey, homemade yogurtDrinking unfermented milk from dairy animals is a new and modern development. Without pasteurization and refrigeration, milk sours and separates quickly. Before the age of industry, traditional people harnessed this property for their advantage. During the process of lacto-fermentation, friendly bacteria that produce lactic acid (think yogurt) break down both milk sugar (lactose) and milk protein (casein). Over time, they produce enough lactic acid to inactivate all putrefying bacteria. The milk reaches a state in which it is safely preserved for days or even weeks. (Longer for cheeses.)

Different cultures had different methods and produced different end products. Europeans once consumed clabber and curds and whey, as well as the more familiar yogurt and cheese. In Russia, one found kefir and koumiss. In Scandinavia, there were longfil and kjaeldermelk. In the Middle East: laban. India: dahi. France: crème fraîche (still popular). Germany: cultured butter. All over the globe, shaped by their unique climate, terrain, and history, traditional people cultured milk. It′s a practice worth reviving more fully today.

Fight Osteoporosis and Lactose Intolerance

The fermenting of milk creates many benefits. Casein, the milk protein, is one of the most difficult to digest. Breaking it down via fermentation renders it digestible. Culturing also restores or multiplies the helpful enzymes in milk. One of them, lactase, aids the digestion of lactose (milk sugar). Other enzymes help the body absorb calcium and other minerals. Plus vitamins B and C both increase during fermentation. A ″witch′s brew″ of fermented milk is significantly more nutritious than the basic, conventional white stuff!

Viruses & Germs, Take That!

Most of us know that eating yogurt after a round of antibiotics restores the proper functioning of the gut. What I didn′t understand was that the benefits of healthy gut fauna are both more essential and more comprehensive than bouncing back from a sinus infection.

Friendly lacto-bacilli and the lactic acid they produce are just as much a part of moving nutrients from our food into our bodies′ cells as the actual structures and organs of digestion: mouth, stomach, pancreas, etc. Could we assimilate our food well without our intestines? Well, the friendly bacteria are just as necessary. In addition, these friendly bacteria keep unfriendly intruders at bay. There′s a reason traditional peoples fed fermented milk to the sick, the aged, and to nursing mothers. These vulnerable individuals needed all the bolstering they could get.

Strong bones, fewer stomach aches, more complete transfer of nutrients, less illness. What′s not to like?!

* * *

The chapter on cultured dairy products continues with recipes for piima, buttermilk, crème fraîche, kefir, and other tasty comestibles along with the foundational whey needed by the cook to make many of the dishes featured in later chapters. Margin notes provide vignettes into the kitchens of traditional peoples and the wonders they worked there. It′s an intriguing read, but it also turned many of my own mistaken notions upside down.

Education, entertainment, and health-saving practice all in one package. I couldn′t resist, and I′m glad I didn′t.

Nourishing Traditions at Amazon

Nourishing Traditions at B&N

For more Nourishing Traditions posts, see:
Amazing Lactobacilli
Handle with Care
Beet Kvass

For more on books important to continuing nutritional education, see:
Thinner and Healthier
Test first, then conclude!
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous

 

Grass Green

cover of the book Pasture PerfectJo Robinson’s Pasture Perfect is an accessible, entertaining introduction to the concepts underpinning “grassfarming.” She starts with an amusing anecdote from her first talk given in front of 500 ranchers. At the close of her presentation, before the questions, she announced that she’d put together a little book titled Why Grassfed Is Best! (the precursor to Pasture Perfect). The auditorium emptied rapidly. She carried on, answering questions gamely, and wondering. Did her audience want to be first in line at the buffet dinner? Nope.

There’d been a stampede on the table where her little book was stacked for sale. Literally. Impatient with a line of 50-plus, ranchers began grabbing books, tossing their money down, making their own change. They were that eager for her information. And she’d not brought enough books!

Ms. Robinson takes us on a tour of a pasture-based farm. The air smells of grass and green. A ring of habitat for wildlife encircles the fields. The grass is lush and mixed with clover, alfalfa, and wild plants. The cattle are peaceful, moving slowly within their generous enclosure. Chickens share the paddock. It’s a pleasant spot, nourishing to the animals, welcoming to humans.

Then the author gets down to the nitty gritty: the health benefits of grass-fed meats.

Less fat. Animals eating grain get fat. Grass-fed meat has the same amount of fat as wild game or chicken breast without skin.

Fewer calories. If you eat a 6-ounce beef loin from a grass-fed cow, you’ll consume 92 fewer calories than if you eat one from a feedlot cow. That adds up over time.

More omega-3’s. People low on omega-3’s are more vulnerable to cancer, depression, obesity, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, and dementia. Grass-fed meats have 2 to 10 times more omega-3’s than feedlot meats.

Omega-3’s and omega-6’s in balance. Both these fatty acids are essential, but we need the right blend. Omega-6’s encourage blood to clot. Omega-3’s cause it to flow easily and smoothly. What’s the right ratio of 6’s to 3’s? There’s some debate about it. Probably no more than 4:1, possibly as low as 1:1. Grass-fed beef has ratios between 1:1 and 3:1. Feedlot beef ranges from 5:1 to 14:1. ‘Nuff said!

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). The research is preliminary, but CLA may help us resist cancer and heart disease. Grass-fed ruminants have 2 to 5 times as much CLA in their meat as feedlot ruminants.

Vitamin E. It’s an important anti-oxidant, protecting us from free radicals, boosting immunity, preventing heart disease. Grass-fed beef has 3 to 6 times more than feedlot beef.

Carotenoids. Fresh pasture provides hundreds of times more of these anti-oxidants than does feedlot mush, with the result that beta carotene and other carotenoids show up in quantity in grass-fed meat. The benefits of eating carotenoids include lower risk of cataracts and macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness).

Ms. Robinson also gives us the scoop on milk and eggs.

The milk from grazing cows has 5 times the CLA of conventionally fed dairy cows. The ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s is 1:1. The levels of beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E are all much higher.

The eggs from pasture-raised chickens (who eat grass, wild greens, and insects) show similar benefits. A ratio of 6’s to 3’s of 1:1, instead of 20:1. More vitamin A. But you don’t need a chemistry set to analyze the health of an egg. Conventional eggs have lemony pale yolks, while those from pastured hens show a deep, orangey yellow.

Best of all: pastured meat, milk, and eggs just taste better. The New York Times food editors reported free-range poultry as “flavorful and juicy” and that it “had a tender but meaty texture.”

Corby Krummer in The Atlantic Monthly said, “Grass-fed beef tastes better than corn-fed beef; meatier, purer, far less fatty.”

And Sam Guigino in Wine Spectator declares a grass-based strip steak “delicious, rich and full-flavored.”

The last chapter in Pasture Perfect tells us how and where to acquire these healthy and delicious pasture-raised foods. And 60 pages of recipes cap things off.

This was a life-changer for me. The nutritional differences between feedlot meat and grass-fed meat are not trivial. Good health versus poor may well lie in the balance. I had already connected with a local dairy farmer. I wanted nourishing milk for my 2-year-old twins! Now it was time to locate healthy meat and healthy eggs.

I’m lucky, because Virginia has a long tradition of family farms. My region is a focal point for the growing movement toward local food. Once I opened my eyes, there were dozens of neighboring farms that could supply my table. Like some of the people quoted in Pasture Perfect, I’m a bit spoiled now. Conventionally raised just doesn’t taste right!

Pasture Perfect at Amazon

Pasture Perfect at B&N

For more about nutrition, see:
Test first, then conclude!
Yogurt & Kefir & Koumiss, Oh My!

For more on green living, see:
Permaculture Gardening
Running Mushrooms
Going Up in Smoke?

 

Permaculture Gardening

Photo of a lush garden.First, I have a confession to make. I read Gaia’s Garden and was so impressed I immediately started a to-do list of chores for my own garden. But that’s not the confession. It is this: just as I was gathering materials and gearing up to create my first sheet mulch, I took an unfortunate and ill-timed bicycle ride and broke my foot! Perhaps you see where this is going. The break was a bad one, but not bad enough for surgery and pins, so I was bed-ridden all last summer and on crutches all last fall and in physical therapy all last winter. In other words, I have not yet done a single one of those garden chores. But I’m going to tell you three cool things from the book anyway!

Before I go further, Gaia’s Garden is written by Toby Hemenway and introduces home gardeners to permaculture and how to use its principles on their land. Now for those three things.

plans for three gardens: vegetable plot, raised beds, keyhole gardenGarden Topology Matters

Consider the time-honored, conventional vegetable plot. The plants in it are useful, yes, and their color and the texture of their foliage, beautiful. But now look at those rows and the paths between them. Not only are they visually uninspiring, but they waste a lot of space! We can do better.

What about raised beds with paths threaded between wider blocks of plants? Definitely an improvement, but we can do better still.

Now evaluate the keyhole garden. The amount of ground devoted to paths shrinks further, and the space for plants burgeons. There are other shapes taken from nature that conserve fertile soil: the herb spiral, branching systems, and nets or mesh patterns. They’re all worth keeping in our palette when we design the layout of our gardens.

 

Sheet Mulch is Efficient

Nearly every gardener can wax lyrical on the value of compost. It replenishes the soil with mineral wealth. It improves the soil’s texture, building humus, the light and fluffy component that holds moisture and nutrients for the questing roots of plants.

But compost heaps are a lot of work: building them, turning them, watering them, and then carting the whole kit-and-kaboodle to the actual garden plot. And there’s another disadvantage. Soil organisms – bacteria, fungi, and amoebae – are just as important to plant well-being as the minerals and other nutrients in the soil. A thriving fungal mat might extend across an entire back yard or even further. But all that turning and forking and moving needed by a compost pile disrupts and destroys these microscopic helpers.

Just as with garden topology, there is a better way – an easier way! Mulch in place. It’s done in two steps. First lay down a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard to suppress weeds. Be sure to overlap the edges by at least 6 inches. (Weed shoots can really travel to reach a gap! Don’t leave any.) Then top that layer with a foot of bark or straw or grain hulls or sawdust or wood chips. Anything that used to be a plant, basically. And don’t be timid about the amount. This layer needs to be thick. Then wet the whole thing down and let it sit.

Fall is a great time to sheet mulch. The bed will be ready to plant in spring. What if it’s already spring and you want to try this now? All is not lost. Build your sheet mulch and then create small pockets in the sheet, about 3 inches deep. Fill the pockets with soil and compost, and plant your seeds. (Somewhat deeper pockets can be used for seedling plants.)

What will you have once your sheet mulch decomposes? Lovely, humusy soil packed with nutrients along with a tide of earthworms and millipedes and beneficial mites and fungi teeming both in the decomposed mulch and a good foot underneath. Your garden will thrive.

The Apple Guild

Among permaculture practitioners, a “plant guild” is a community of plants and animals living in a pattern of mutual support. It is often centered around one major species. And it benefits humans while also creating habitat. Plant guilds are more complex than companion planting (such as placing marigolds between broccoli rows to keep insect pests away). Plant guilds are more comprehensive than polycultures (such as growing rice and fish and ducks together).

Plant guilds attempt to borrow some of the resilience and robustness of plant communities found in Mother Nature herself. Most plant guilds are local, derived or deduced from the unique soil, climate, and species found in a specific region. But there are a few “universal guilds” that are likely to thrive in much of a continent. One of these is the apple guild.

plan of garden centered on a fruit treeAt its center grows an apple tree, although any fruit tree (or even a small nut tree) could work. Any size fruit tree – standard, semi-standard, semi-dwarf, dwarf, or mini-dwarf – may be chosen, but a larger tree will support more associated plants than a small one.

A ring of thickly planted bulbs grows at the drip line of the tree. You might choose daffodils to discourage depredations by gophers and deer. Or you might choose something edible: camas or alliums such as garlic, garlic chives, or wild leeks. (Don’t mix daffs with edible bulbs, because daff bulbs are poisonous. You wouldn’t want to risk a mistake.) Either choice will keep grasses from invading your guild.

Within the ring of bulbs is an assortment of plants that attract bees and birds, make mulch, pull nutrients deep underground to the root zone, and fix nitrogen in the soil.

A dotted circle of comfrey is the most multi-functional among these. Its purple blossoms attract beneficial insects. Its deep roots pull potassium and other minerals upward into its leaves, which can be used to infuse a medicinal tea and to create a fertilizing mulch. (Slash the comfrey back 4 or 5 times during the summer and let it fall in place as mulch.)

A couple of robust artichoke plants are interspersed with the comfrey. Their spikey roots restore soil tilth and fluffiness. The plants yield food: the artichokes. And their leaves contribute to the natural mulch.

Dotted throughout the circle of the guild are bursts of yarrow, trailing nasturtiums, and the umbels of dill and fennel. Yarrow is a nutrient accumulator, making nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and copper available. It is also an insectory, attracting ladybugs, hoverflies, and parasitic wasps (that eat the larvae of pests such as borers and coddling moths). Dill and fennel attract these beneficial insects plus lacewings, and they are edible.

A dense carpet of white clover laps between all the plants along with a sprinkling of dandelion, chicory, and plantain, giving the guild plenty of nitrogen-fixing (the clover) plus more nutrient accumulators. (Chicory yields potassium and calcium; dandelion adds magnesium, iron, copper, and silicon to the mix; plantain, manganese and sulfur.)

The apple guild is a dynamic system with most of its members playing multiple roles and immensely lightening the work load on its human caretaker.

Two years before I read Gaia’s Garden, my husband and I planted an apricot and a pair of cherry trees in our backyard. One cherry succumbed to the nibbling of deer, and we replaced it. The other trees survived. This spring, the apricot showed the beginning of fruit on its branches! We hope to harvest a few for the first time this summer. But I still cherish that list inspired by this book. And I wonder: what might we see after we sheet mulch the ground surrounding the fruit trees? What eden spot might evolve when daffodils, comfrey, coriander, dandelions, and clover are growing in lush circles below the fruiting branches? I hope to find out.

Gaia’s Garden at Amazon

Gaia’s Garden at B&N

For more green living concepts, see:
Green Housekeeping
Running Mushrooms
Grass Green

For more cool science trivia, see:
Water