Freedom From Gluten-Free, Part 3

As discussed in previous newsletters, gluten-containing foods such as wheat or rye bread can be safely consumed by gluten-sensitive people if made with whole grain flour and leavened with sourdough starter instead of with baker’s yeast.  However, ff you have any type of sensitivity to gluten, it’s best to first avoid it entirely for two weeks to a month or more, depending on how severe your reaction normally is and how long you have had a noticeable reaction. Avoiding gluten gives your body time to completely detoxify from it. It also helps reduce your body’s sensitivity, some of which may purely be due to overexposure to gluten. While you are avoiding gluten-containing grains, get your complex, starchy carbohydrates from gluten-free grains such as brown rice, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, corn and amaranth, and from potatoes. All of the grains can typically be found in bulk at your local health food store.

After abstaining from gluten for a few weeks, try reintroducing it in the form of a small amount of 100% sourdough whole wheat bread. Some large supermarkets, such as Whole Foods or Wegman’s, carry whole wheat sourdough, as do most health food stores, but you may need or desire to make it yourself, which takes a little time to learn, but is a very rewarding and enjoyable skill to have mastered. After eating a small amount of sourdough bread, wait a day or two to see if you have any reaction. If you do, you may need to give yourself a few more days or weeks to let your body finish detoxifying. In the meantime, continue with the gluten-free whole grains, but try to limit processed, prepackaged gluten-free foods, as they may delay detoxification due to their own gluten-imitating ingredients.

Once you can eat a small amount of whole wheat sourdough without difficulty, gradually increase your intake. Your body, having had a sufficient “break” from conventional bread, pasta, baked goods, and processed foods containing dextrin (aka gluten), will be able to tolerate daily sourdough bread just as the bodies of your ancestors did. In fact, you should even be able (eventually) to also tolerate non-sourdough whole grain breads and pastas, in moderate amounts, but too much too soon may inflame your immune system again. Therefore, it is important to continue to make whole grain sourdough bread, and sourdough baked goods in general, the majority of your gluten intake. The right balance depends on the individual, and the only way to find out exactly is to test yourself by adjusting your diet accordingly.

Making your own sourdough may sound complicated, but once you have mastered the technique, it does not require a lot of effort, and your home-baked sourdough bread will be the most satisfying, best-tasting bread you’ve ever had. Instructions for making sourdough starter and sourdough bread can be found on many websites. If you’d like our recipe, just send me an email, and I will forward you our instructions while answering any questions you may have. For anyone with gluten sensitivity, I hope this series of articles opens up a new world of possibilities for you. Having grown up with a wheat allergy myself, I find that sourdough gives me the opportunity to enjoy gluten-containing bread just as much as everyone else (if not more), which is the way it’s meant to be.

Freedom From Gluten-Free, Part 2

As discussed in last week’s article, a growing number of people are being diagnosed with celiac disease, a chronic condition in which the immune system reacts negatively to the presence of gluten in the small intestine. There appears to be a genetic predisposition to celiac, but unexpectedly, those most susceptible are descended from European and Caucasian ancestors – the very same people who made gluten-containing grains a staple of their diet, usually in the form of bread. Why would people whose ancestors could tolerate gluten just fine be unable to tolerate it today? This phenomenon has much in common with the history of corn, which traditionally provided sufficient sustenance to Mesoamericans but resulted in nutrient deficiencies among Western Europeans when it was brought over by Columbus. In the case of corn, it was the natural processing method used by the Mesoamericans, but forsaken by the Westerners, that made corn digestible. In the case of gluten-containing grains, the problem again comes down to a change in the processing method.

Ever since the beginning of civilization in the ancient Near East, bread has always been the centerpiece of the diet. Traditionally, to make bread, whole grains were ground into whole grain flour, which was then mixed with water to form dough, and leavened, or allowed to rise. The leavening agent was a portion of a “starter,” a small amount of wet dough that had been colonized by microorganisms already naturally present in the air and on the individual grains: a symbiotic blend of Lactobacillus bacteria and wild yeast (the bacteria far outnumbering the yeast).  The yeast would turn the starches in bread into ethanol and carbon dioxide (which enabled the dough to rise) and the bacteria would feed on the yeast’s byproducts, thereby forming sour-tasting lactic acid, which in turn helped protect both the yeast and bacteria from unwelcome organisms such as other forms of bacteria or mold. After sufficient leavening, this “sourdough” bread would be baked. The result was a moderately risen loaf that kept well and was packed full of nutrition. This was the bread that become known as the “staff of life,” and which served as a metaphor for food in general.

Up until the mid-19th century, bread throughout the world was prepared according to this traditional method. However, the new technology that came with the industrial revolution enabled factories to mass-produce bread made with white flour instead of whole wheat, which reduced the nutrient value of the bread. While white flour had previously been a delicacy of the upper class, it now became the standard for all classes, which had a devastating effect on impoverished people who relied on bread as their main source of nutrition.

Meanwhile, advances in science made it possible for bakers to isolate and grow their own strains of yeast, instead of having to rely on wild yeast. With these abundant quantities of yeast, bread products could be made that didn’t rely on bacteria at all for leavening. The result was bread with a sweeter flavor, which, like white bread, appealed to the upper classes, who were already indulging in large quantities of meats that left them craving excessive sweet flavors. When, in the 1850’s, the technology was available to mass-produce this new form of industrial “baker’s yeast,” bread leavened solely with yeast became the new standard, given that baking with it was easier and quicker, it rose more, and didn’t require sourdough starter. Ever since, the standard form of bread that we eat has been white bread leavened with baker’s yeast, due to both its convenience and its immediate gratification.

What does this have to do with gluten and celiac disease? While the transition from whole grain to white flour is part of the problem (due to the loss of nutrients that would otherwise aid digestion of the bread), the main culprit is the transition from sourdough bread to baker’s yeast-leavened bread. The bacteria that used to ferment all our bread just so happens to produce enzymes that help break down gluten proteins. In addition, the lactic acid byproduct weakens the gluten network by increasing the number of positively charged amino acids along the protein chains, and increasing the repulsive forces between chains. A similar process takes place when we soak meat in an acidic marinade to tenderize it: the protein-based tissues break down and the meat becomes more digestible. The gluten in sourdough bread, therefore, is much easier to digest, which explains why our ancestors could tolerate so much bread. True, their bread didn’t rise as much as ours, but they didn’t mind – they tended to eat it with a lot of butter, lard or olive oil, and just a small amount could sustain them for a long time, which reduced the amount of calories they ate overall.

We started turning our backs on sourdough around the year 1850; the first case of celiac was formally diagnosed only a few decades later, in 1887, and the disease has been getting more prevalent since then. To an extent, we are all gluten-sensitive, even if we don’t have readily apparent celiac disease, wheat allergies, or digestive disorders. We’re just not meant to eat large quantities of gluten unless in a form such as sourdough bread. Nevertheless, in the modern world, gluten is everywhere, not just in bread; in fact, it’s extremely difficult to avoid. Fortunately, we don’t need to cut it out completely, or genetically engineer it to be digestible; we just need to go back to eating it in the form that we did, without health issues, for thousands of years. In the next and final installment of this series, I’ll explain how we can change our baking ways to be more in line with traditional methods.

 

Freedom From Gluten-Free, Part 1

Celiac disease, also referred to as gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity, or celiac sprue, is a chronic condition in which the immune system reacts negatively to the presence of gluten in the small intestine. As a side effect of the immune system’s inflammatory response to gluten, intestinal villi are destroyed.  Villi are small, finger-like projections on the intestinal wall that help us to absorb nutrients. Due to the destruction of the villi, celiac disease sufferers (aka celiacs) gradually lose their ability to digest nutrients. Symptoms of the disease include diarrhea, intestinal cramps, bloating, fatigue, excessive weight loss, failure to thrive (in children), allergies, anemia, and general malnutrition. The only known cure is to completely eliminate gluten from the diet.

Celiac was first described in 1887. Over the succeeding decades, it has become more commonly known and better understood. Today, many people are familiar with the concept of a gluten-free diet, and many people with digestive difficulties experiment with the diet to see if it eliminates their symptoms.  In fact, in recent years a whole cottage industry of gluten-free foods has emerged, catering to the needs of those who cannot tolerate gluten, a group whose numbers seem to be growing exponentially, whether due to better diagnosis of the disease, increase in incidence, or both.

Gluten is the type of protein that is contained in the grains wheat, rye, spelt, kamut and barley. Its elastic, sticky nature is what makes these grains ideal for grinding into flour and baking into bread. The strength and elasticity of gluten protein chains enables the bread to maintain its structure as yeast releases gases that cause the bread to rise. Gluten’s thickening and stabilizing properties also make it popular as a food additive, where it can be found in processed foods sometimes under the name dextrin. In addition to being present in virtually all bread products (essentially any food made with the grains named above), gluten can be found in candies, gravies, imitation meats, lunch meats, salad dresses, sauces, soups, and most processed foods in general. A celiac disease sufferer, in order to be symptom-free, must find a way to avoid all these foods while still managing to eat a balanced diet. Gluten is especially difficult to replace when it comes to foods such as bread and pasta that require its properties to maintain their structure.  As such, modern medical research is currently focused on trying to genetically engineer gluten to maintain its properties while not inflaming the immune system in celiacs.

One fact that these researchers have been able to determine is that celiac disease is hereditary. That is to say, our level of sensitivity to gluten tends to be determined by our genes.  Those populations with the highest sensitivity to gluten tend to be northern and western Europeans and Caucasians in general. Interestingly, these are the populations that are most closely associated with historical consumption of gluten-containing grains such as wheat and rye. Since celiac is a relatively recent disease, what must have happened to suddenly make gluten so intolerable to significant percentages of these populations? This is an area of celiac disease research that has regrettably been left under-explored. However, a look back at history of gluten consumption may shed some light. Actually, it’s best to start with an analogy to the history of maize, or corn, consumption.

Corn, along with rice, millet, amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat, among others, is one of the gluten-free grains, so it has never been linked to celiac disease. However, corn does pose its own digestive issues. The ratio of the different types of protein in corn is not ideal for our own amino acid balance. Corn can contain mycotoxins, byproducts of mold that are carcinogenic. Finally, corn contains niacin (aka vitamin B3), an essential nutrient, but in a form that is indigestible.  Anyone eating a diet that depended heavily on corn to meet nutritional needs would be at risk for a variety of serious health problems, including the vitamin B3 deficiency (aka pellagra), which, like celiac, can be ultimately fatal if the diet is not changed.

In ancient Mesoamerica, where corn was first cultivated, a process called nixtamalization was developed, in which the corn was soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution made of lime (calcium hydroxide) and ash (potassium hydroxide), then hulled. This process removed the mycotoxins, eliminated the excess protein, and freed up the niacin for absorption. As a result of this natural, time-honored form of processing, the Mesoamericans could rely on corn as a staple of their diet. However, when corn was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus and quickly adopted by many due to its high yields, the nixtamalization process was not brought with it. Instead, corn was processed and hulled in mechanical mills. As a consequence, wherever corn became the staple food crop, malnutrition struck.

Today, if any single food has become our staple, it’s wheat, and gluten is clearly even more ubiquitous than wheat. The very people who were able to tolerate it for centuries now appear to be genetically incapable of safely digesting it. Unsurprisingly, the key to the riddle has to do with the change we’ve made from the traditional processing methods of gluten to the modern, just as in the case of the abandonment of corn nixtamalization. Next week’s article will explore the history of gluten processing and describe how, with the right preparation, gluten can be safely consumed – even by celiacs.

Eating Right on Vacation

Whenever summer rolls around, I inevitably hear from my clients during this week or that that they didn’t eat well because they were on vacation. In fact, eating right is extremely difficult on vacation. It’s not just that whole, natural foods are hard to find when traveling; we can also get into a celebratory mode in which we decide to eat and drink what we want and worry about the consequences later, because we’re supposed to be having fun. To a certain extent, that’s a good attitude to have; if we’re constantly worrying about whether we’re eating right, we’ll make ourselves sick . But if we eat too poorly, we can easily come down with digestive problems, headaches, low energy, weak immunity, etc., both during and after our vacations.  Naturally, we don’t want to be sick during this time; we want to be refreshed. So what can be done? Here are a few tips that can help make your vacation this year or next a little more enjoyable:

1. Make meals in advance. The best way to ensure that you feel good during vacation is to bring some of your own food. However, you may not want to spend all your time cooking. If you’re staying somewhere that has a kitchen or kitchenette, I recommend making balanced meals in advance, freezing them, and then thawing them out while you’re vacationing. In the weeks leading up to vacation, just make a double portion of a meal that you’d like to have while vacationing, and freeze the leftovers. This year, for our vacation, my wife and I are bringing with us homemade frozen red lentil sauce with chicken, chili with ground beef, shepherd’s pie, and Bolognese sauce. Since we have access to a kitchen, we’ll also be able to bring and make brown rice, greens, and other simple supplementary foods, but it won’t involve a lot of cooking time. The net result is that, since we’ll be nourished by these balanced meals, we’ll have plenty of energy for the things we want to do, and we’ll still feel good when we get home!

2. Bring your own healthy snacks. Vacationers tend to eat lots of snack foods. I recommend that you make it a priority, if possible, to eat three balanced meals a day. But part of the joy of vacation is snacking. Fortunately, there are many healthy snacks out there that can be a good supplement to your diet (and if you are very physically active during vacation, you may need them in addition to regular meals). Examples include fresh or dried fruit, nuts and seeds, trail mix, popcorn, yogurt with honey, homemade ice cream, lemonade, or sorbet, smoothies, dark chocolate, corn chips with guacamole or salsa, cheese, olives and pickles.

3. When eating out, choose what’s easy to digest. Eating out is another pleasure of vacationing, and sometimes it’s nice to get a comfort food even though it may not be so good for you. But if you’re eating out because you have no other choice and you simply want to avoid feeling gross, stay away from foods that are deep-fried, made with white flour or sugar, or contain dairy products. Instead, choose meat, fish, or poultry, and vegetables. If the restaurant has brown rice or whole wheat bread, then you can go with that as well. If you follow this advice, you’ll be more likely to maintain your energy and digestive health in the hours and days that follow.

 

What Vegetables Do I Need?

Everyone says to eat more vegetables, but what does that look like in practice? While all vegetables are nutritious, they don’t all provide the exact same nutrients. Some are better eaten in the winter, some are better in the summer; some are better roasted, while others are better steamed, boiled, or raw. But the most important distinction to draw among vegetables is what individual health benefits they provide. Vegetables can in fact be broken up into different families, each one providing a unique general health benefit. The best way to be nourished by vegetables is to get some from each family on a regular basis. The following chart provides a basic outline:

 

Roots Greens Gourds Nightshades Bulbs Sea vegetables
Carrots Cabbage Yellow squash Tomatoes Celery Arame
Radishes (Daikon, Red) Spinach Zucchini Peppers Leeks Hijiki
Beets Broccoli Cucumber Eggplants

 

Scallions Nori
Parsnips Collards Acorn squash Potatoes Onions Kombu/Kelp
Turnips Kale Butternut squash   Garlic Dulse
Rutabagas Swiss Chard Pumpkin   Asparagus Wakame
Yam Mustard Greens Kabocha squash   Rhubarb  
Sweet potato Arugula     Shallots  
  Bok Choy     Kohlrabi  
  Salad greens        

 

Roots. These vegetables contain sweet, complex carbohydrates that are filling and satisfying, reducing the need to snack on carbs in the form of potato chips, cookies or crackers. They also contain many vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Roots and greens together create a powerful 1-2 punch of nutrition that keeps your body stabilized and healthy, whatever else you eat.

Greens. These vegetables are the best for balancing blood sugar and restoring nutrients to the body. Some people need time to get used to the bitter flavor. Try starting with mild or sweet greens such as bok choy, cabbage, or napa cabbage. I recommend having a serving of greens at least once a day, with lunch or dinner. Your body will begin to crave them after you begin eating them regularly.

Gourds. In the summer, this means summer squash, zucchini and cucumbers, and in the winter, pumpkins, acorn squash, and other winter squashes. Mildly sweet, these vegetables are very soothing to the digestive system. Cucumbers are good raw or pickled, summer squash combines well with nightshades in dishes like ratatouille, and winter squash is a great ingredient in desserts (pumpkin bread or pie) or savory dishes (chunks of butternut squash boiled and then roasted on pizza).

Nightshades. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are among the most-often consumed vegetables, but they are not necessarily the best. All of them are in fact tropical vegetables, originating in South America and North Africa, and while they are nutritious, they should not be consumed in greater quantities than the other vegetable groups, particularly because they contain small quantities of alkaloids, chemical compounds that can cause joint inflammation and minor nervous system disorders.

Bulbs. Usually spicy when raw but mild when cooked, these vegetables are best at killing bad bacteria and dissolving excess fat. They’re very good for dealing with colds and congestion and support the immune system, and combine well with roots and with greens (in fact, onions and garlic go with just about anything).

Sea vegetables. The most mineral rich of all vegetables, sea vegetables are important but can be eaten in moderation. Sea vegetables like kombu and wakame are good in miso soup, and are excellent at restoring health to someone who has experienced mineral loss as a result of too much sugar in junk food and soda.

If you are working on adding more vegetables to your diet and/or your kids’ diets, include some vegetables from each of the groups listed above. Choose what’s in season, emphasize the different colors, shapes, sizes and tastes of the vegetables, and don’t hesitate to combine them with salt, herbs and spices, and some healthy fat to create a balance of flavors. Not only will your health improve from greater variety and more frequent servings of vegetables, but your meals will become tastier as well.

The USDA’s MyPlate Eating Guide

On June 2, 2011, the USDA, in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama, released MyPlate, which replaced MyPyramid as their guide for how Americans should eat.  For decades, the government has been trying to consolidate nutrition advice from health professionals and pass it on to Americans in a clear, easy to follow format, especially as our obesity, heart disease and diabetes rates have increased over the same time period. However, in giving advice, the USDA also has been careful not to be to too strong in warning people away from the processed food produced by the American food industry, which is both a major part of the economy and a major reason why Americans are so sick. As a result of its conflicting obligations, the government’s advice is often contradictory and confusing, and the MyPlate guide is no exception (though it is marginally better than its predecessors).

The plate that now replaces the pyramid as the icon of how to balance our diets consists of four approximately equal sections, one each for fruits, vegetables, grains and “protein.” There is also a separate cup beside the plate, labeled dairy. The USDA has boiled down its directives to the following simple messages: 1. Enjoy your food, but eat less; 2. Avoid oversized portions; 3. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables; 4. Make at least half your grains whole grains; 5. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk; 6. Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers; and 7. Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Will MyPlate actually help stem the obesity epidemic? According to Michelle Obama, quoted in the USDA Press Release, “As long as [our kids’ plates are] half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, we’re golden.  That’s how easy it is.” Unfortunately, MyPlate will probably not have much of an effect, despite the fact that some very good advice can be found among the USDA’s recommendations. A major reason for this is that MyPlate, in addition to offering good advice, also offers some bad advice, and fails to offer any advice at all in some crucial areas. As a result, those who try to follow it conscientiously will find themselves feeling hungry and craving junk food after meals, and those who follow it less conscientiously will find plenty of wiggle room within the guidelines for including lots of processed food.

For example, MyPlate instructs us to make at least half of our grains whole grains. Because whole grains are naturally more dense and fibrous than refined grains, and have a more complex flavor, they need to be paired with a healthy fat, like cold pressed olive oil, or butter from grass-fed cows, to be appetizing. Combining whole grains and healthy fat also helps us feel full exactly at the point when we’ve eaten the right number of calories. But in MyPlate, fat is either frowned upon or relegated to the background. In following MyPlate, people will try to eat whole grains with little or no fat, and will find them unpalatable.  They will therefore gravitate towards the refined grains, which they are permitted to eat an astounding 50% of the time. What’s ironic is that refined grains, not fats, are what cause us to gain weight, because while both are high in calories, fat makes us feel full but refined carbs leave us constantly hungry. Thus does MyPlate’s bad advice (reduce fat) actually nullify our ability to follow its good advice (eat more whole grains). What about the other recommendations? Let’s take a look at them one by one.

1.      Enjoy your food, but eat less. The first part of this message is good – food is meant to be a source of pleasure as well as nutrition and sustenance. The second part, however, propagates the misconception that we need to cut down on the foods we enjoy in order to be healthy. In fact, the most enjoyable foods also happen to be the healthiest, and when we eat these foods, we feel full right at the point when we’ve had enough. Only when we’re following a flawed plan like MyPlate do we need to worry about “eating less.”

2.      Avoid oversized portions. Again, when we’re eating a healthy diet, we can let our cravings dictate how big of a portion we need. Sometimes it will be large, sometimes it will be small, but it will always reflect what our body needs at that moment. MyPlate’s vague, one-size-fits-all statement doesn’t offer any concrete guidance.

3.      Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Most people don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, so this advice points in the right direction. But fruit shouldn’t usually be eaten with other foods – it’s better digested eaten alone, as a snack or dessert. Though a one-size-fits-all approach still has flaws, a better general recommendation would be making your plate 1/3 vegetables, 1/3 whole grains, and 1/3 meat, eggs or beans.

4.      Make at least half your grains whole grains. Again, this recommendation should really be “Make all your grains whole grains.” If whole grains are better (and they are) we should eat them all the time; there’s no need for refined grains. The USDA doesn’t want to acknowledge this explicitly because so many food products are made with refined grains.

5.      Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.  First of all, fat makes you full, not fat, so following this recommendation won’t help reduce obesity. Saturated fat, the type in milk, was at one time linked to heart disease, but it’s since been discovered that the real culprit is theabsence of another type of fat, omega-3 fatty acids, which are lacking in the milk and meat of factory-farmed cows. This recommendation should therefore be “Switch to whole unpasteurized milk from grass-fed cows raised on small family farms.” Finally, milk is not an essential food; the USDA implies that it is in order to satisfy the dairy industry. However, the nutrients it contains can be found in other foods, such as beans, eggs, and green leafy vegetables.

6.      Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.  While this is good advice if you’re going to be buying pre-made soup, bread, and frozen meals, the best way to get a healthy amount of sodium, and what the USDA should recommend, is to make your own soup, bread, and meals, adding salt until it tastes right to you.

7.      Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Hooray! The USDA got one right – sort of. People crave sugary drinks often because their diets are already imbalanced – and following MyPlate’s recommendations won’t take away that imbalance. Most people will just not be capable of following this advice, especially if they are eating MyPlate’s way. So the soda manufacturers don’t have much to fear.

 

As a response to MyPlate, I’ve created the following alternative simple five-step eating plan, which I think would vastly improve the health of all people who adopted it, and which contains recommendations that complement one another:

1.      Eat whole foods, or foods with whole-food ingredients. For example, tomatoes, or tomato sauce containing tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and olive oil, but no sugar. With each meal, try to get some of the foods in each of the following macronutrient categories:

a.      Complex Carbohydrates: Grains such as brown rice, whole wheat or whole wheat flour, quinoa, barley, oats, corn, and buckwheat; Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squashes; Fruits such as apples, pears, melons, bananas, plums, mangoes, oranges, and grapefruit ; Natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, barley malt, and raw honey.

b.      Protein: Animal products such as beef, poultry, lamb, pork, milk, cheese, fish and eggs; Beans and bean products such aslentils, black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, chickpeas, tofu and tempeh; Nuts and seeds such as almonds, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and cashews.

c.      Fats: Vegetable oils such as olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil and corn oil; Animal fats such as butter and lard.

d.      Vitamins & Minerals: Vegetables such as  greens (kale, collards, chard, bok choy, spinach, etc.) roots (beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, parsnips, etc.), bulbs (onions, garlic, celery, scallions, etc.); nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant), gourds (cucumber, summer squash), and many more; Fruits such as berries, lemons and limes; Herbs and Spices such as basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, garlic, pepper, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, etc.

e.      Microorganisms: Raw fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, raw sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, and kefir.

2.      On average, eat about 1/3 carbs, 1/3 protein, and 1/3 vegetables with meals. The right way to balance a diet differs from person to person based on body type, activity levels, climate and environment, season, gender, age, and so on. If you’re eating healthy foods, then by listening to your cravings, you can figure out what balance is right for you at any given time. Some other notes: Fruit, especially raw, doesn’t digest well with most other foods, so it should be eaten as a snack or a dessert. Fats, such as olive oil or butter, can be obtained separately or from eating the whole food in which they are originally found (olives and milk, in this case). Herbs, spices, and sweeteners should all be used in small amounts, to flavor foods. As seen above, some foods contain more than one type of nutrient and can meet more than one requirement at once.

3.      Use good quality ingredients. All plant foods – grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, vegetable oils, etc. – should be organic when possible. Animal products should come from animals raised on their natural feed, and if that feed is organic, even better. Fruits and vegetables should be fresh and in season; if locally grown, even better. Vegetable oils should be cold pressed and packed in a dark bottle, in addition to organic. Milk is best unpasteurized, if from healthy cows; if pasteurized, choose organic and grass-fed. Even if organic, foods such as beans or tomato sauce are better cooked from scratch than from a can.

4.      Eat home cooked food at least 80% of the time; when eating out, choose restaurants that also follow the recommendations above.  When eating home cooked food, you can fully control the quality of the ingredients, the balance of the meal, and adjust the flavors and proportions as suits your body’s individual needs.

5.      If the above steps are followed, eat in accordance with your cravings.  We’re taught that food cravings are to be resisted. But when we’re eating a healthy and balanced diet, our bodies naturally start to crave those healthy foods, and crave them in just the right quantity and proportion. As a result, once you’ve introduced your body to the healthy way of eating described above, you don’t need to worry about calorie counts, portion sizes, or how much fat or carbs you are getting – you can listen to your cravings, and they will guide you towards foods that will help you to achieve our natural weight.

 

Such an eating plan, if many people followed it, would result in major upheaval in the American – and world – economy. Not only is our food system global, but people in the rest of the world look to Americans as their example for how to eat.  The sugar, dairy, meat, processed food industries would never abide by it, for it would result in almost total abdication from their products in favor of a more local, farm-to-table based economy.

This brings us back to the conflicts inherent in MyPlate. Programs like MyPlate and MyPyramid have tremendous influence, not in getting people to be healthier, but in giving them a flawed conception of what is healthy and what is not, and actually reinforcing them in eating processed food by giving them an unappetizing alternative.  Instead of trying to give people advice that is skewed by vested interests, the government should eliminate the subsidies that make processed food artificially cheap, so that it’s easier for us to make our own choices to eat healthier. While MyPlate is better than previous guides, it’s inherently insincere, as it is committed to the status quo rather than allowing a new food economy that actually supports our health.

Baking With Whole Wheat Flour

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know that white flour is a major contributor to weight gain (not to mention heart disease and diabetes). Does that mean that in order for your health to improve, you have to give up delicious foods like cakes, pies, cookies, and bread? Not at all! If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll also know that adding healthy foods is much more important than subtracting unhealthy foods. But is it possible for baked goods to be healthy? Absolutely! It all depends on the quality of the ingredients. Traditionally, baked goods were made with whole–grain flour, which, unlike its refined counterpart, contains nutrients and fiber in addition to carbohydrates. Not only are baked goods made with whole grains more nutritious and filling than those made with white flour, but they possess a richer, more complex flavor, and provide you with steady, lasting energy rather than a brief carbohydrate high followed by a sudden crash. So what’s the catch? Well, it’s been so long since baked goods were commonly made with whole–grain ingredients that most people no longer know how to do it. To alleviate this problem, we’ve provided some useful tips you can rely on for substituting whole grain flour when you’re using a recipe that calls for white flour (your local health food store will carry the whole–grain flours to which we refer):

–Often a recipe will call for all–purpose flour, which is more or less equal parts bread flour (high gluten) and pastry flour (low gluten). As a substitute for all–purpose flour, just mix equal parts whole wheat bread flour and whole wheat pastry flour. Buy it freshly ground in the bulk section of your local organic food store.

–When making something that requires structure and rising time, like bread, a recipe usually calls for bread flour—so use whole wheat bread flour. When making something that is more tender and flaky, and doesn’t require structure, like biscuits or scones, use whole wheat pastry flour.

–To vary the flavor in baking (especially in the case of bread), other kinds of flour, like rye or buckwheat flour, can be substituted for part of the whole wheat. Remember, however, that these flours have too little gluten to create structure, so only use about 1 part of these flours in bread compared to 4 parts whole wheat, otherwise it won’t rise much. While whole wheat bread will never be as light and fluffy as white bread, it will be far more satisfying; you’ll come to prefer it because of how good it makes you feel and because of its hearty flavor.

–Whole wheat flour requires a little more moisture than white flour. Be prepared to add more liquid about a tablespoon at a time to achieve the proper consistency.

–If baking bread with added yeast, increase the yeast from the usual 2 1/4 teaspoons to a whole tablespoon for whole wheat bread.

–For making baked goods that require very low gluten, like pie crust or cake, substitute whole spelt flour for part of the whole wheat pastry flour. Two parts spelt to three parts whole wheat pastry is a good ratio for pie crust and for cake recipes that call for cake flour (super–refined and bleached white flour). If your cake recipe calls for both all–purpose flour and cake flour, use pastry flour instead of all–purpose flour and spelt instead of cake flour.

–To alleviate the greater heaviness of the whole grain flours in cake and cake–like pastries, use the ribboning method. First, have your butter extremely soft, cut into pieces, and set aside. Put the eggs and sugar into a mixing bowl and really whip them with an electric mixer. The mixture will lighten in color and become fluffy. Beat until it is increased in volume and fluffy (if you stop the mixer and lift out your whisk and move it over the surface of the mixture, it will drip a steady stream that stands out on the surface briefly—a “ribbon”). The sugar is working like tiny whisks that introduce extra air into the batter, increasing overall lift. At this point, add the butter a tablespoon at a time, beating for about 10 seconds after each addition. Essentially, instead of beating butter and sugar together and adding eggs, you’re beating eggs and sugar together and then adding butter. You can proceed with your cake recipe from there.

Regarding sugar in sweet baked goods, it’s still a necessity, but you can use brown sugar instead of white for a little more nutrition. Don’t mess with the amount of sugar in cake recipes, but for cookies you can usually reduce the sugar up to half without really noticing much difference. Once you start eating a healthier diet and cut out the harsh processed flavors, you’ll have less craving for extra sugar anyway. Whatever you do, don’t turn to artificial sweeteners.

Squashing Nutrient Deficiencies

The star of the fall vegetable harvest, in all its many colorful varieties, is the winter squash. Its name probably comes from its hardy ability to survive a long winter storage without spoiling. Winter squash has just the right kind of energy and the right nutritional profile to help you acquire the hardiness needed in winter. It is one of the best foods you could eat at this time of year.

Many people are familiar with only one kind of winter squash: the pumpkin. And some are more accustomed to decorating with pumpkins than eating them. But squash can be so delicious, and make you feel so good, that once you add it to your diet, you won’t want to let your squashes sit around for long. Pumpkin pie is just the tip of the iceberg.

The most common varieties of squash besides the pumpkin are the acorn squash, butternut squash, buttercup squash, delicata squash, hubbard squash, kabocha squash, red kuri squash, and spaghetti squash. There are sub–varieties of these varieties (like the Cinderella pumpkin) but we won’t get into those. For now, there’s plenty to choose from!

As you could probably have guessed, squash is nutritious. Squash is high in vitamin A (which gives the interior flesh its bright orange color), vitamin C, potassium, and folic acid (B9). It also contains moderate amounts of other B vitamins and of essential minerals such as manganese and copper. Like all vegetables, it has plenty of fiber. Its healing properties include improving the health of the spleen and pancreas and reducing inflammation and associated pain. And finally, squash is high in calories. Not so high that you can eat more than you really need, but high enough that you’ll get that extra bit of heat energy you need during the winter, which you wouldn’t get from spring and summer vegetables. As with whole grains, potatoes, and other starchy whole foods, the calories in squash come from complex carbohydrates that are metabolized gradually so that you get a steady flow of energy in addition to the nutrients that you need.

Squash is a mildly sweet, calming and pleasant food that creates a cozy atmosphere in the kitchen. It combines well with fat (including butter, olive oil, sesame oil, and bacon fat), which increases vitamin A absorption and balances the carbohydrates. Add a little salt or tamari soy sauce to squash and you’ll bring out the sweet flavor even more. Squash is good with pumpkin pie spices (obviously) such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg, all of which set off the mild nature of squash and provide additional heat energy. Squash is also an inspiration for many great desserts, in which you can use natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, raw honey, and agave nectar.

Add more squash to your diet this fall and winter and I guarantee you’ll have better energy and experience visible improvements in your health. And when your body develops those squash cravings, you may have to find a new ornament to grace your front step!

Are You Malnourished?

We live in a country where almost everyone can afford all the food they need. In fact, food here is so plentiful and cheap that we are more likely to eat too many calories than too few. In this day and age, famine is the least of our concerns. And yet, even with all that wealth at our disposal, we’re not rich in health. Many people, even though they get their calories, still don’t get enough nutrients. They become malnourished and subsequently develop health problems. What could explain this strange irony in our modern society? How is it that we, with all the food we need at our disposal, can still get sick from nutrient deficiency?

The problem is that the most ubiquitous, most heavily advertised, most addictive, and least expensive foods available to us are processed foods containing mostly white flour, sugar, and artificial or rancid fats. These foods are high in calories and low in nutrition. Don’t think that calories are a bad thing. We can’t live without calories, and lots of them. But we can’t live just on calories either.

The only reason we can get so many calories and so little nutrition from processed foods is because they’ve been processed. Natural, whole foods contain the right balance of calories and nutrition. In the old days, as long as you got enough food, you were certain to get all the nutrients you needed. But food processors have gotten so adept at separating the nutrients from the calories, and at packaging and selling them separately, that even if we get both junk food and vitamin supplements, we benefit from neither.

When we eat processed foods that are low in nutrients, instead of eating nutritious foods, two things happen. The first is that we stop adding nutrition to our body’s supply, giving it less to work with. Another is that we force it to use up what little it already has in the process of digesting, assimilating, and eliminating the processed and toxic foods. Foods and ingredients that result in a net nutrient loss include white flour, white sugar, corn syrup, soft drinks, caffeine, trans fat, pasteurized milk, artificial sweeteners and any other artificial and synthetic substances. Eating mostly these foods is a form of self–starvation; it makes us malnourished.

Being malnourished isn’t bad merely in an abstract, theoretical sense. It causes a variety of very real health problems. In fact, the way we discovered nutrients in the first place was by cutting them out of our diet and getting sick as a result.

Fortunately, it’s easy to address nutrient deficiencies. Simply add into your diet the foods that contain the missing nutrients! This is how, in the 19th century, ship captains such as James Cook addressed outbreaks of scurvy (which comes from vitamin C deficiency) on long voyages. Cook took barrels of high–C sauerkraut with him, added it to the sailors’ diet, and didn’t lose a single man to scurvy.

Scurvy is fairly rare in our time, but there are many other common health problems that can come from nutrient deficiency. Review the “symptoms of deficiency” for the vitamins and minerals listed below to see if any of them apply to you, and try adding the recommend foods to take care of your symptoms. Some foods, like leafy green vegetables and sea vegetables, help with almost every deficiency because they are so high in so many different vitamins and minerals. Use them to take out multiple deficiencies at once! If you have any questions about how to add any of these recommended foods to your diet, send me an email.

Symptoms of Deficiency in Major Nutrients

Calcium: Osteoporosis (bone loss), fragile/brittle bones and nails, frequent dental problems, joint pain, arthritis, irregular heartbeat, and hypertension. See also Magnesium.
Foods to eat: spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, swiss chard, kombu (a sea vegetable), celery, sesame seeds, brazil nuts, almonds, yogurt, raw milk, raw cheese, blackstrap molasses.

Iron: Anemia, fatigue, pale skin, weakness, brittle nails, pica (appetite for non–foods), constipation, depression.
Foods to eat: green leafy vegetables (mustard greens, collard greens, kale, cabbage, broccoli, spinach), medium rare red meat (grass–fed), naturally raised pork, liver (organic), seafood, sea vegetables, beans, nuts, eggs, dried fruit.

Magnesium: skin inflammation, allergies, anxiety, asthma, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, heart disease, and calcium deficiency symptoms (magnesium is needed for the absorption of calcium. Without magnesium, calcium forms deposits in soft tissue, including heart valves, increasing the likelihood of heart disease). Foods to eat:green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, other nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans and tofu, seafood, sea vegetables.

Potassium: fatigue, or chronic fatigue syndrome, myalgia (muscle cramps and pain), constipation, high blood pressure/hypertension. Foods to eat: green leafy vegetables, potatoes (with skins), sweet potatoes, winter squash, tomatoes, beans, bananas, and almost all fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin A: poor vision, dry eyes, eye inflammation, dry mouth, dry/wrinkled skin, allergies, dandruff, weak immune system, cancer. Foods to eat: organic grass–fed butter, raw milk, organic liver, cod liver oil, eggs, carrots, pumpkin seeds, sweet potatoes, leafy green vegetables, winter squash, peaches, cantaloupe.

Vitamin B complex (B1: Thiamin, B2: Riboflavin, B3: Niacin, B6, B9: Folic Acid, B12): Lethargy, fatigue, severe weight loss, hypoglycemia, beriberi (B1); chapped, cracked lips, mouth/tongue inflammation, sensitivity to sunlight, bloodshot/itchy/watery eyes (B2); pellagra, weakness, sensitivity to cold, lack of appetite, skin infections, high cholesterol, alzheimer’s (B3); anemia, depression, high blood pressure (B6); anemia, birth defects, depression, anxiety, fatigue, heart disease (B9); pernicious anemia, fatigue, diarrhea, muscle spasms (B12) Foods to eat: Whole grains, liver, eggs, asparagus, cauliflower, potatoes with skin (B1); raw milk, raw cheese, leafy green vegetables, organ meats, beans, almonds (B2); whole wheat and other whole grains, beans and peanuts, mushrooms, sesame seeds, fish, meat (B3); whole grains, seafood, meat, leafy green vegetables (B6); leafy green vegetables, beans, sunflower seeds, whole grains, root vegetables (B9); all animal products, esp. liver, shellfish, raw milk, and eggs(B12).

Vitamin C: scurvy (incl. bleeding gums), weak immune system, asthma, respiratory problems, allergies, frequent colds and infections, slow healing wounds. Foods to eat: Leafy green vegetables, sour fruits (strawberries, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, limes, raspberries, pineapples), melons, kiwis, papaya, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cauliflower, celery, asparagus.

Vitamin D: Rickets, osteoporosis, other bone disorders, depression, seasonal affective disorder, schizophrenia, periodontal disease, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases including type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.Foods to eat: The best source of vitamin D is actually sunlight, by means of which we synthesize the vitamin. If unable to get adequate sunlight, you must rely on animal products from fish (particularly cod liver oil) and from animals that got enough sunlight, including grass–fed, free–range beef, pork, raw milk, chicken and eggs.

Vitamin E: Cancer, leg cramps, wrinkles, parkinson’s disease, alzheimer’s disease, glaucoma, cataracts, heart disease, neurological disorders. Foods to eat: Whole grains, esp. whole wheat, olives and olive oil, nuts and seeds and their oils (such as sunflower, sesame, walnut, almond, and hazelnut) leafy green vegetables, asparagus, cucumbers, seafood, and raw milk.

Food as Medicine

You’ve heard that eating a healthy, balanced diet can help you lose weight, increase your energy, and reduce your risk of disease. But did you know that some foods have such strong healing properties that you can use them as you would medicine? And that these foods don’t have the negative side effects of man–made medications? Relying on medicinal foods to combat health problems such as stomachaches, headaches, chronic pain, fatigue, colds, fevers, sore throats, sinus problems, constipation, diarrhea, and many more, is not only effective against those individual problems, it also makes your body stronger and healthier than it was in the beginning. When you start to feel under the weather, make medicinal foods your first remedies, and you may not even need to resort to medications.

Ten Great Medicinal Foods

1. Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans, which can be dissolved into hot water to make a salty and flavorful broth. Miso broth can be used to flavor a soup or just drunk by itself. It has a warming and grounding effect (due to salt and the long aging process), and contains beneficial bacteria and digestive enzymes (the result of fermentation). Miso’s digestion–enhancing properties help relieve stomachaches, inflammatory bowel and intestinal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. Because it is so warming, it is effective against colds and congestion. Its grounding nature can help reduce headaches from ice cream, sugar and alcohol, and it helps to calm down nervous and anxious people.

2. Brown Rice is a whole grain that contains an excellent balance of complex carbohydrates, nutrients, and fiber. It is the perfect food for getting back on track when you haven’t been eating well, whether you’ve been having too much sugar, fried food, meat and dairy or whether you’ve been missing meals and haven’t eaten enough. When you really need to make up for a week’s worth of poor food choices, go with a bowl of brown rice and you will feel so much better afterwards. Even better, eat it fairly regularly and you won’t find yourself in that position!

3. Garlic is, strictly speaking, an herb, but as a widely–used culinary herb I think it’s almost a food. Garlic is a very powerful antibacterial and antifungal agent. If you are starting to come down with any kind of virus or bacteria–related illness, even if it’s just a simple cold, garlic can help immensely. Garlic also breaks up congestion and helps us detoxify. It is most effective when eaten raw. If you do choose to eat it raw, you will undoubtedly experience a burning sensation in the mouth, a tearing up of the eyes, and a general feeling of being on fire. What you’re feeling is the sulfuric compounds in the garlic doing their work. Even though it’s a little unpleasant, it doesn’t last long and is far better than being sick for three or four days. If raw garlic is too much for you, though, simply increase your consumption of cooked garlic.

4. Leafy green vegetables, or Greens, are everyday foods that nevertheless have strong healing powers. Their high fiber and nutrient content make them very effective in healing any digestive problems (such as stomachaches, constipation, diarrhea), and they have been showing to have a very healing effect on the lungs and sinuses. Eat them to help reduce stuffy noses, coughing, sneezing, and mucus discharge. Greens also help reduce the fatigue that is a result of malnutrition. Usually when we get malnourished it’s a result of eating foods like white sugar and white flour that contain no nutrients and use up the nutrients we do have stored in our bodies. So eat greens as a way to recover from these foods.

5. Raw Sauerkraut is simply fermented cabbage that has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization kills the beneficial bacteria that make sauerkraut as healthy as it is. These bacteria populate the digestive tract, and help us digest heavier foods such as meat and fat, thus reducing stomachaches, ulcers, heartburn and all digestive health problems. They also eliminate candida and other parasites, bad bacteria and fungi. Raw sauerkraut contains, in addition to bacteria, enzymes that aid the pancreas and reduce or eliminate pancreatitis.

6. Ginger is a root that is commonly eaten in its powdered form, as a spice, but can be purchased fresh and whole. Like many other healing foods, it relieves gastrointestinal pain, reduces or eliminates gas and bloating, and reduces symptoms of motion sickness such as dizziness, nausea and sweating. Like miso, it is very grounding and will help you recover from too much alcohol, sugar, and white flour. Ginger’s anti–inflammatory effects also reduce pain and swelling from arthritis.

7. Raw Vinegar is a remarkably versatile healing food that has been shown to help with low energy, chronic pain (from anywhere in the body—back pain, arthritic pain, eye pain, joint pain, etc), colds, sore throats, infections, type 2 diabetes, and more. The reason for this is because the acids in vinegar are highly effective at promoting liver function. The liver is what controls the detoxifying and cleansing process in our bodies, and many of the symptoms that we feel, especially symptoms of pain, are a result of the struggle to detoxify. Vinegar is sort of like a power food that kicks the liver into gear and encourages rapid detoxification. However, do not rely on it for your health—first and foremost, eat a balanced diet and try not to build up toxicity in the first place. Note that the raw vinegar you purchase should be listed as “unpasteurized,” “organic,” and “unfiltered.” The commonly available distilled white vinegar does not have the same healing properties, due to the way it is processed.

8. Chicken Broth has had a reputation as a healing food since ancient Egypt. Why is it so effective? Broth made from boiling a whole chicken contains nutrients leached from cartilage, tendons and bones, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It contains glucosamine, which helps reduce arthritis (and is sold as an expensive supplement), and also has gelatin, which facilitates digestion, treats ulcers, improves joint health, and even helps treat infectious diseases. Chicken broth made with herbs and garlic is an especially warming, decongestant food that helps the immune system fight sickness.

9 & 10. Raw Milk and Raw Honey round out my list of medicinal foods. But rather than discuss them here, I’ve devoted an entire article to them—see below.

If you have any questions about how to employ these remedies, or have a specific health concern not mentioned here which you’d like to treat using medicinal foods, feel free to send me an email requesting more information.