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!

 

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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

 

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Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic

If you’ve never read any Bujold, A Civil Campaign is a great book to start with. Ditto Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley. The other two volumes in this list might hold up well under stand-alone reading, but they’re best following books one and two in their respective series.

Gregor and Laisa dance on their wedding dayEkaterin Vorsoisson has declared matrimony a no-go zone. Once was enough: the entire population of women in Vorbarr Sultana can have her share of eligible bachelors, thank you very much. But Miles Vorkosigan, count’s heir to his home district, hopes to persuade her otherwise.

Ivan, Miles’ cousin, decides settling your affections on a woman before you’ve even begun the courtship courts anything but a happy-ever-after. Time to dig up some rivals. Never mind that Miles plans to woo under camouflage, lest Ekaterin bounce him back before he starts. Some competition will do him good.

That’s where this “comedy of biology and manners” starts, but political cloak-and-dagger work, incompatible planetary sexual mores, an old Cetagandan scandal, and a bio-genetics experiment escaping the basement lab spin cunning strategies into a whirl of humorous confusion and conflict. With friends like this, who needs enemies? But Miles has those as well!

A Civil Campaign at Amazon
A Civil Campaign on Kindle

A Civil Campaign at B&N
A Civil Campaign on the Nook

 

Bren and Jago ride mechietiHuge differences create insurmountable barriers between alien societies, but resourceful individuals sometimes mediate the innate prejudices successfully. Bren Cameron, the paidhi from Mospheira, is one such individual. He stands between the human interlopers on the world of the atevi and the Western Association, the only governing body amongst the natives powerful enough to rule its diverse factions.

The Western Association under Tabini aiji engages in a breakneck space race, and Bren must supervise the program, translating the complex engineering diagrams needed to build a shuttle. The schedule is tight, the stress heavy, but as long as nobody starts shooting again, that counts as peaceful.

Troublemaker and patsy for a bigoted political group – Deanna Hanks – has been bundled back to the island of the human enclave. Jase Graham, intrepid rep for newly returned human spacefarers and potential friend, managed to drop safely to earth on an ancient petal-sail. Life is good.

Until illicit radio messages from across the strait impel the atevi elite to maneuver for advantage, and an unspoken dissatisfaction turns Jase morose and hostile. Bren declares a real vacation a necessity and turns to his ally Ilisidi, aiji dowager, for help. Ilisidi suggests Saduri, a fortress from medieval times for their destination. But Ilisidi possesses a hidden agenda for the trip, as does Jase Graham. Can Bren keep the precarious peace between species while his cohorts pursue competing goals?

Inheritor at Amazon

Inheritor at B&N

 

Heris Serano on horsebackSpace opera at its best, Winning Colors mixes interstellar mafia with a horse-mad 90-year-old, a cashiered ex-navy captain, and an assortment of spoiled young aristocrats to deliver up marvelous mayhem sprinkled with insightful exploration of the human spirit. Third in the Familias Regnant series with Heris Serano and Lady Cecelia.

Winning Colors at Amazon

Winning Colors at B&N

 
 
 
 
 
 

photo of pink roses against a blue skyRobin McKinley wrote Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, as her debut novel and never dreamed she’d return to the story twenty years later. Uprooting herself to marry English writer Peter Dickinson, she waited to sell her lilac-covered cottage in Maine. Later, parting from her old home, severing one more tie to the land of her birth, proved surprisingly fraught. And her favorite fairy tale roared through her storyteller’s heart once more: Rose Daughter poured onto the page. Compelling and richly imagined, her new rendition of Beauty and the Beast conveys fresh perspective and insightful wisdom.

 

Rose Daughter at Amazon

Rose Daughter at B&N

 

For more of my favorite reads, check these posts:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing & Synchronicity
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

 

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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

 

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Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing, & Synchronicity

Four more of my favorite fiction reads by four of my favorite authors.

profile with battle sceneDoes one small error in judgment lead inevitably to worse? To the worst mistake of all? On home ground, Barrayar, Miles Vorkosigan learns of loss, redemption, and the resilience of the essential self while tracking a wily traitor through a maze of smoke, mirrors, and memory.

Memory at Amazon

Memory at B&N

 

 

Bren Cameron, the paidhi, and his elite bodyguard, JagoTwo species – humans and the native atevi – share a world: uneasily, ever on the brink of war, never with the resilience to weather abrupt changes. A special mediator – the paidhi – serves as interpretor for all communication between the two cultures. When the space craft that originally left the human colonists on the planet unexpectedly returns to the skies, it disrupts the fragile status quo.

Will human arch-conservatives ally with the ship folk to prevent atevi access to space? Will atevi conservatives start a genocidal extermination of the human colony? Will the ship captains play both planet-bound factions against one another? Bren Cameron – the current paidhi – must rise above mere linguistics to interpret essential truths between all three sides. Can he keep the peace without betraying his own humanity?

Invader at Amazon

Invader at B&N

 

Space yacht amidst balloonistsCaptain Heris Serano and Lady Cecelia Marktos team up again to ferret out corruption – this time at the highest levels. Their threat to state secrets triggers swift reprisal and a desperate confrontation with the vulnerable essence of being human. How much can one lose and still retain it? And when the one oppressed by the many fights back, how much of the universe will she change with her perseverance?

Sporting Chance at Amazon

Sporting Chance at B&N

 

 

Chaos theory image of butterfly plus blond tressesSandra Foster works in R&D at HiTek studying fads. HiTek management wants to know how to start them to make scads of money. Sandra would prefer to know how to combat them: why do people forsake the brains nature gave them to follow the Pied Piper of fashion, folly, and prejudice?

Interdepartmental meetings and sensitivity exercises mix with mis-delivered mail and a million-dollar grant to generate break-through’s both scientific and personal. With unique wit, Willis ridicules corporate culture, pop culture, and human blindness while exploring individual integrity and the notion that losses combine together to generate ultimate gain.

Bellwether at Amazon

Bellwether at B&N

 

For more of my favorite reads, check these posts:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

 

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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

 

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Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers

Four of my favorite fiction reads.

two brothers face off against a backdrop of outer spaceAction marries philosophy! Mark Vorkosigan embarks on a quest as the knight errant he imagines his brother Miles to be. And it all goes horribly wrong. To save both himself and his brother, Mark must confront, navigate, and triumph over the hell lurking within his own soul — a hell mapping his most broken and wounded places — while devising a way to defeat a sadistic enemy.

Mirror Dance at Amazon

Mirror Dance at B&N

 

 

A diplomat and his two bodyguards, space station in backgroundHuman mediator Bren Cameron wields diplomacy, wit, and cultural sensitivity to keep an unstable peace. His alien atevi friends wield lethal force to do the same. Will their unorthodox partnership be enough? C.J. Cherryh creates the most exotic and immersive alien culture ever!

Foreigner at Amazon

Foreigner at B&N

 

 

 

Brun is space armor with weaponDescendant of admirals, Heris Serrano resigns her military commission under a cloud and accepts the captaincy of a luxury pleasure yacht. Could she sink lower? Even disgraced officers must eat. But Heris discovers that opportunity to confront the enemy while serving something larger than oneself hides in unexpected places. The fox she hunts under Lady Cecelia’s aegis proves wilier than V. vulpes and viler than a mere beast.

Hunting Party at Amazon

Hunting Party at B&N

 

 

View of the way to Babylon along a deep chasmEarth needs three Magids – magical guardians who nudge the right people to do the right things at the right time. Three, but one of them just died. Rupert Venables, the junior-most, seeks a replacement. Unfortunately his top candidate can’t stand Rupert. And, after their aggravating first encounter, Rupert can’t stand her either. If only the other four candidates weren’t worse. And if only the fate of the entire multiverse didn’t stand in the balance. Deep Secret romps from plans gone awry through grievous first impressions to ancient secrets hidden in plain sight.

 

Deep Secret at Amazon

Deep Secret at B&N

 

For more of my favorite reads, check these posts:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing & Synchronicity
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

 

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Running Mushrooms

image depicting old growth forestFirst, a confession: I didn’t read every page of Mycelium Running. I didn’t even read most of them! So why am I telling you about this book? The half of it I did read was amazing. But let me explain.

Mycelium Running is a manual geared toward practicalities, toward getting out there and getting your hands dirty. If you need to know how to heal an ailing forest under your care, how to purify bacteria-laden water running off your land, or how to restore your compacted and abused back yard, then Paul Stamets’ book will tell you exactly what you need to know.

But I’m not quite ready for action. I do hope to tackle my clay-imbued and weed-strewn garden over the next few years, but I’ve got other projects ahead of that one on my to-do list. Mostly I’m gathering facts, seeking to understand the big picture. And Mycelium Running is good for that too – especially the earlier chapters. Thus I dare bring it to your attention.

The basic facts of mycelium are fascinating. And the scope of its influence and potential are far beyond anything I might have imagined. Frankly, before I read Mycelium Running, I hadn’t thought much about mushrooms. I loved eating them sautéed in butter. I enjoyed spotting them during August nature walks. And I took pleasure in whimsical paintings featuring fey dancers amidst mushroom circles. Essentially, I was ignorant!

Which meant I loved the experience of having my eyes opened. (Yes, nothing like tickling my curiosity!)

But what is mycelium anyway? The dictionary names it the vegetative part of a fungus. It consists of a mass of branching, thread-like filaments called hyphae. Healthy soils harbor colonies of mycelia, but tree bark or fallen leaves or your compost heap (if, cool) also feed mycelial or fungal mats.

Fungi eat by secreting acids and enzymes into their surroundings and then absorbing the created nutrients through the cells of their mycelia.

The mushrooms we notice springing from a forest floor or among the grass blades of a lawn are almost a side show of the drama hidden below ground. That’s where the real action transpires. Spores released from a mushroom (the fruiting body of the fungus) germinate like plant seeds when they encounter the right moisture, temperature, and nutrients. From microscopic grains, they grow and branch, and grow and branch, creating a mycelial mat. Mycelial mats vary in size. The one supporting the health of a birch tree in your front yard might be just a few feet across. But one mycelium in eastern Oregon – Armillaria or honey mushroom – once covered 2,400 acres!

But more than just odd trivia make mycelia cool. In fact, I can’t confine myself to just three cool things. Here are six!

Mycelia Partner Plants

Most plants – from grasses to Douglas firs – have mycorrhizal mycelia as partners. These mycelia form sheaths around the plant roots and bring nutrients and moisture to the host plant, spreading a net far wider than the roots alone could do. And actively creating nutrients with the action of its enzymes and acids.

Plants with mycorrhizal partners thrive, growing faster and stronger than those without, and resisting diseases better. Their root masses are larger and denser. Their stems or trunks are thicker and taller. Their branches are leafier. The difference is dramatic. And some plants won’t grow at all without their attendant mycelia.

Mycellium is Nature’s Internet

The physical structure of mycelia shares the branching architecture of neural pathways in the mammalian brain. It also mirrors diagrams of the internet’s information-sharing systems. Mycelia might very well be the feedback loop by which planet Earth regulates its ecosystems. They certainly respond in complex ways to complex environments.

In one experiment, researchers mapped the flow of nutrients via mycellium between a Douglas fir, a paper birch, and a western red cedar. The researchers covered the fir, simulating deep shade. The mycellium responded by channeling sugars from the root zone of the birch to the root zone of the fir (which was unable to photosynthesize the sugars it needed).

Outside the lab, mycelia build soil, remove contaminants such as spilled diesel fuel, and filter bacteria out of polluted water.

Could mycelia possess a form of intelligence never envisioned by humans? Impossible to say at this point in history, but the biochemical connections formed by mycelia surpass those of supercomputers. And the organisms display nuanced responses to the world around them. Perhaps our next generation of computers will use fungi instead of copper micro-wire for hardware.

Even Parasites Bring Benefit

The most famous parasitic mushroom, Armillaria or the honey mushroom, is stigmatized as a blight. It can destroy thousands of acres of forest and is banned in many areas. But look again, and look longer. Parasitic fungi may serve to select the strongest plants for survival and to repair damaged habitats. Each time Armillaria swept through that 2,400-acre spot in Oregon, it created nurse logs for more directly benign fungi, it increased soil depth, and it covered barren rock with rich humus. The stage was set for a vibrant revival of habitats and ecosystems.

Mushrooms Lead Eco-restoration

Consider forest fires. The first species to appear amidst the ash and cinders are mushrooms – typically morels and cup fungi. They’re fast-growing and quick to decompose. As they mature and release spores, they also emit fragrances that attract insects and mammals. The insects attract birds, and all these newcomers bring seeds with them. Soon the wasteland burgeons with life – all starting with fungi.

Timber Is Not a Renewable Resource

The old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest accessible to loggers are largely gone. The first two replantings of logged areas are gone as well. Logging companies are now harvesting the third. But no one is making plans for a fourth replanting. Why? With each clear cut, the mycelia of the forest is damaged and the soil grows both thinner and poorer. You can’t get good wood from trees growing in exhausted soils, so many logging companies are selling their land.

Mushrooms Are Renewable

Now consider another patch of forest, this one in south central Oregon. Imagine harvesting timber from it. You’d get a substantial financial return, but eventually you’d reach the end of what you could profitably extract. When you were done, the land would be effectively barren.

But what if you harvested matsutake mushrooms – tasty and desirable – instead? The economic benefit would equal that of the timber (actual calculations have been done), but each year you’d also get thicker soils, reduced erosion, increased stream health, greater biodiversity, improving air quality, and increased regional cooling. And it can go on forever.

I’ll take it!

 

And do I recommend this book?

I do.

Just don’t try to read it from cover to cover. Begin with part one, where the big picture info is dense. As technicalities creep in, start skipping a bit. Part two held my interest. Part three is where I touched down lightly. (I’m not ready for mushrooms species specifics yet!)

I’m normally a cover-to-cover reader, but this book was worth adjusting my reading style for. It changed my world view. Again! Give it a try. It might change yours!

Mycelium Running at Amazon

Mycelium Running at B&N

For more green living concepts, see:
Permaculture Gardening
Green Housekeeping
Grass Green

For more cool science trivia, see:
Water

 

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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

 

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Green Housekeeping

There′s a lot of ″green″ advice in books, in magazines, and online. Too much of it describes what we should do, or what might be good to do, or what somebody plans to do. We all know what happens when theory gets practical: the bugs jump out.

house-shaped windows of green texturesGreen Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck is a different animal altogether. Too quirky to be anything but real, the book describes her actual experience and why her practice is effective.

I′ll follow my ″three cool things″ format of recommendation, starting with the method that won my own housekeeping-averse heart.

Cleaning Simplicity

There are two magic ingredients: vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Both are safe, natural substances produced by living organisms. (Our own bodies actually create hydrogen peroxide – H2O2 – as a byproduct of our metabolism.)

When hydrogen peroxide encounters organic material (think germs) it releases its extra oxygen atom, becoming mere water (H2O) in the process. That′s what all that foaming and bubbling is when you spray: the extra oxygen is popping off and killing bacteria.

Vinegar kills a lot of bacteria on its own, but hydrogen peroxide kills 100 times as many. When you give a squirt of both, you get another tenfold increase.

Let′s look at some numbers. Say a splash of vinegar from your spray bottle kills 1000 bacteria. A misting of hydrogen peroxide alone would zap 100,000 bacteria. While a spray of both gets 1 million. But all that′s left after spraying is harmless water. No chemical residue. I like it!

photo of safe cleaning solutionsAll you need is a spray bottle of vinegar and an original bottle of hydrogen peroxide with a sprayer cap screwed onto it. Put one pair in your kitchen and another in each bathroom. You′re set to keep those critical places safely clean.

Why the original bottle? Hydrogen peroxide loses its extra oxygen very easily. Just decanting it into another container can make that happen, as can light shining through a translucent spray bottle. You want water as an end product after cleaning, not as a starter!

Once I placed my paired solutions on location, I found myself using them frequently. Not running to fetch them was just as magical as the solutions themselves. (Needing to fetch often leads to not fetching at all, for me.) Just: squirt! squirt! done! (Or add a quick swipe with the microfiber rag kept by the bottles, if adhering toothpaste or avocado needs a scrub.) Cleaner sinks!

Laundry Boost

photo of laundry product named BerryPlusI use Berry+ and soap ″nuts″ to launder clothes and household linens. Soap ″nuts″ (or soapberries) are fruits of the tree sapindus mukorossi. The fruits can be used dried or to create a liquid extract (Berry+).

Why don′t I choose one or the other?

Convenience.

We do a lot of cold water laundry loads. I love being able to pop open a capsule of Berry+, pour it into the washer, close the lid, start the cycle, and go.

photo of soap nuts loose in a dish plus a laundry bag full of themSoap nuts must either be soaked for 5 minutes in warm water (then dumped along with the soak water into the washer) or tossed into a washer destined for a warm or hot water wash. Since my husband and I are both allergic to dust mites, our sheets, pillowcases, blankets, and towels must be laundered in water over 130°F. (The high temp gets rid of the allergens.) Soap nuts are perfect for that job.

The advantage of both soap nuts and Berry+ is that the outflow spilling from my washer to the water treatment plant is non-toxic. Soapberries have been used by the peoples of Asia and by Native Americans for thousands of years. That′s time tested!

I fell in love with soapberries when I found that my berry-laundered clothes developed almost zero static cling in the dryer and emerged from it smelling faintly of freshly ironed cotton. Yum!

(Alas, yes, I do use a dryer. Although our drying rack is usually equally full once I′ve emptied the washer.)

But what to do when the grass stains or the clay stains or whatever need extra cleaning? Sometimes spot treatment with Berry+ will do the trick. Sometimes it won′t.

Ellen Sandbeck′s chapter on laundry educated me about an old-fashioned product that′s never truly left the cleaning lexicon and is now enjoying a resurgence of use: 20 Mule Team Borax, around since 1891.

photo of box of 20 Mule Team BoraxBorax is a naturally occurring mineral salt composed of boron, sodium, oxygen, and water. It functions as a water softener, fabric softener, deodorant, and mild bleach. I add 2 – 4 tablespoons of it to a load when I face especially challenging laundry. (Or apply a paste of it to the stubborn spot.)

Is it perfect?

No.

But it′s helpful to have a stronger benign option in my tool kit.

The Well-Tempered Clavier

Sandbeck compares a happy home to J.S. Bach′s harpsichord after it has been tuned by the method he invented. No one key is perfectly in tune, but all are sufficiently so to sound good. Compromises must be made. (The method before Bach′s invention resulted in one key perfectly in tune and the rest decidedly out of tune.)

Sandbeck says: ″Most people are happiest and at ease in homes that are moderately clean and neat. Both extremes . . . tend to make people unhappy and uncomfortable.″ Also: ″The well-tempered house should be just neat and clean enough to make both the neatest person and the sloppiest person in the household just a tiny bit dissatisfied.″

Sounds fair to me!

* * *

Those are my three favorite snippets from Green Housekeeping, but the book′s packed with tips. Your favorites will likely be different than mine, since homes vary as much as their inhabitants. I invite you to find yours!

Green Housekeeping at Amazon

Green Housekeeping at B&N

Berry+ at reuseit.com

Soap Nuts at NaturOli

For more on green living, see:
Grass Green
Great Soap & Etcetera Quest
Wrapping with Cloth

 

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