Category Archives: Food For Thought

Food for thought: Balancing Act

One of the enduring ideas about how to achieve and maintain good health is the acid-alkaline balance theory. Nutrition researchers have lots to say about that balance, and I must add, when you look at where so many of our common foods fall on their scale, it makes sense.

Briefly, the typical American diet is too acidic. Alkaline is what we’re looking for. “Acidosis” is blamed for inflammation, arthritis, and everything from fatigue to immune dysfunction.

Take it for what it’s worth, but as you might suspect, villains include refined carbs and sugar, alcohol, and most highly processed foods. Likewise foods high in protein, including meat and dairy … while a thumbs-up goes to fresh fruits and veggies, of course. Surprisingly, things like rice, beans, and chicken and fish – which I think of as innocuous, at least – are also deemed mildly acid forming.

So what to do? In general (as everyone’s been telling us), eat more fresh produce. Grains, not so much, though quinoa gets high marks. Beans are just so-so, ditto white rice, but brown rice is better, wild rice very good, and lentils are highly recommended. So are beets (not a fave for me), including borscht.

Nutritionist Susan E. Brown (THE ACID-ALKALINE FOOD GUIDE) offers these tips:

  • Start the day with juice of a half lemon or lime in 8 oz. water.
  • Make lentils, winter squash, and root crops including sweet potatoes into staples.
  • Eat a cup of greens daily. Endive and crucifers (all cabbage family members including kale, mustard greens, collards and turnip greens) are good.
  • Add miso and seaweeds judiciously to soups and stews.
  • Best grains are quinoa, wild rice, and organic oats.
  • Fresh-squeezed fruit and veggie juices are good; ditto spring water and mineral waters.
  • Eat high-protein foods sparingly.

Fave recipe:

Rice-Lentil salad

This can be a main dish, served with a baked winter squash and a simple green salad.

2 c. cooked lentils (cook with several peppercorns, chopped garlic; add 1 T. tamari near end of cooking)

2 c. cooked rice (look in the supermarket for a mix of wild, brown, red and white rice)

½ medium carrot, julienned

¼ c. chopped green and red peppers

¼ c, chopped onion if desired

¼ c. chopped walnuts or pecans

¼ c. olive oil

2 T. balsamic vinegar

Pinch cayenne if desired

Tamari to taste if needed

Allow rice and lentils to cool to room temperature after cooking. Combine ingredients. Makes 4-6 servings.

NOTE: I bake an acorn or butternut squash whole at 350 degrees, after puncturing the skin to release steam, for about a half hour. Then split and clean it, brush with butter or oil, dust with cinnamon, and put it under the broiler for five minutes.

Salad: Mix up the greens, including kale or shredded cabbage with lettuce or mesclun. Include spinach, radicchio, endive, escarole, whatever suits you. Sprinkle with dried cranberries and roasted sesame seed if desired, but keep it simple. Just plain greens are fine. Dress with good quality olive oil, and lemon juice.

FOR ALL DISHES, add salt or tamari sparingly to taste. Ditto pepper.

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Food for Thought: What we eat and how we eat it

I spend a lot of time these days thinking about is where the heck our beloved country is heading at any given moment.  Are we pioneers or just plain crazy?

But I also think about material culture, and …. FOOD.

So I hope this  will be a bit of a palate cleanser for you in the midst of our current political mayhem – not to mention earthquakes in Italy, floods and hurricanes, and  the trials of dealing with technology.

Here’s Food for Thought about things we can actually DO something about: Some simple ideas about what we are eating these days — and a great ratatouille recipe. The tips come from a site called BioTrust Nutrition (they sell stuff, but I just removed their pitch and am passing along the interesting info). The ratatouille is mine.

Today’s tidbits — It’s not just what we eat, but how we eat it. BTN’s  nutrition expert notes that :

  • if you’re eating pre-sliced strawberries,  vitamin content can be compromised byf exposure to oxygen ( its job, after all, is to oxidize, and it does that to any foods it can –  a sliced berry is more exposed to oxygen than a whole one). So eat them whole, or don’t slice them till you are ready to eat them, and get the full benefit of their antioxidant vitamins A and C.
  • When you open your Greek yogurt, don’t discard the liquid on top. That’s whey, and it is packed with protein, vitamins, and calcium. Stir it back in, and enjoy.
  • While many if not most fruits and veggies are best consumed raw, so that their vitamin content is preserved, tomatoes are more useful nutritionally if cooked. That’s because the lycopene in tomatoes is concentrated with cooking. Studies show lycopene is a powerful antioxidant.  So roast or grill, make fresh tomato sauce, slice and add those ubiquitous cherry tomatoes to soups, ratatouille, stir fry – or just saute them and serve as a side dish.

The BioTrust website, despite hawking all kinds of alleged nutritional products, has good advice. You may want to check it out at www.biotrust.com – but it’s only fair to advise that you might also end up on their sometimes annoying email list.

You’re still with me? Then enjoy this super-quick way to make great ratatouille, devised and demystified  by my sis and myself. And by demystified, I refer to the always-problematic question of how to cook the eggplant and also make all the veggies come out looking beautiful and retaining their texture … So:

GREAT END OF SUMMER RATATOUILLE

To serve 3-4 people, you’ll need one large or PREFERABLY 3-4 SMALL eggplants. The small ones are sweeter and less trouble to cook. Then, 1 zucchini, 1 yellow squash, 1 green pepper, a small onion, a clove or two of garlic, olive oil,  and about a pint of cherry tomatoes or 4 large tomatoes, plus assorted herbs (a half cup of fresh basil if available, oregano or marjoram, thyme).

Set the oven at 350.

Cut up the eggplant. If small ones, slice ‘em about an inch thick per slice. If large, cut into one-inch chunks. Place in a good-sized bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and coat the pieces of eggplant, tossing them with your hands. Cut up the yellow squash, into slices or chunks, and toss it with the eggplant. Spread both on a cookie sheet and place in oven.

Cut up the pepper, garlic, and onion. Slice the zucchini, and halve or chop up the tomatoes. In two separate skillets, start sautéing the pepper and garlic in one, while sautéing the zucchini and onion in the other. This is because the zucch is the most delicate of the veggies and will just dissolve into mush if you cook it very long. So turn it off as soon as the onions are translucent and let it sit.

Now add the tomatoes to the simmering pepper mixture, season with dried oregano and thyme (1 tsp. each) and a little salt if you wish,  and cook over low heat until well disintegrated. You will likely want to add about ¾ cup of water or wine to keep them from burning.

By now the eggplant and yellow squash should be roasted enough to finish cooking along with the tomato-pepper mixture. (The eggplant should be a muted, soft beige when removed from oven.) Add eggplant and yellow squash and simmer for 6-8 minutes. Add zucch mixture and simmer another 3 minutes. Add chopped basil, turn off heat, and let stand till ready to serve.

Ratatouille can be an entrée if served over angel hair (my fave), couscous, or rice. Serve with tossed salad and a good sourdough bread. And wine, of course!

 

 

The Anthropology of Food …

Image courtesy of wholeuniverse.com: "The Anthropology of How We Eat"
Image courtesy of wholeuniverse.com: “The Anthropology of How We Eat”

… check out my new food blog at http://wholeuniverse.com/anthropology-eat-sugars-fats-salt/ :

The Anthropology of How We Eat: Sugars, Fats and Salt

by Lisa TracyLook up “food anthropology” on the Web, and you’ll find some fascinating tidbits. One study posits that our gut bacteria are responsible for our cravings. Another says it’s whatever culture we grew up in. A third talks about the uniquely human phenomenon of cooked food. It’s the dopamine, says a fourth site ~ our brains are wired for pleasure, and sugars, fats, and yes, salt trip the nervous-system wires that send the signal to the brain to release the pleasure-linked chemical.

Yes, all good. But WHY?

Why do we eat what we do, and why do we WANT to eat foods we know aren’t healthy?

Let’s start somewhere on this side of the Paleo Diet: Let’s start with potato chips, candy bars, and the Industrial Revolution … read more at http://wholeuniverse.com/anthropology-eat-sugars-fats-salt/

Illegal Hunger?

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This report from News.Mic:

Thirty-three cities now ban or are considering banning giving food to homeless people — and some are threatening to throw people in jail in they’re caught feeding the hungry.

These laws claim they’re about preventing government-run anti-homelessness programs from being diluted. They’re really about keeping non-profits and individuals from shining a light on just how bad things have gotten for our country’s poor, even as the homeless are treated like criminals for being without food and shelter.

Charity work like sharing food with the homeless is essential in a country where protecting the poor and needy is never at the top of the list, and is found to help those without shelter get back on their feet.

“Cities think by cutting off the food source, it will make the homeless go away,” NCH community organizing director Michael Stoops said. “It doesn’t.”

 

Omnivore, herbivore … the conversation continues

 

 

 

The Locavore Vegetarian, with a red pepper and some cranberries thrown in.
The Locavore Vegetarian, with a red pepper and some cranberries thrown in.

Thanks to Mark at herbfit.wordpress.com and to Mary Lynn at gapsconsulting.com for recent comments about the vegetarian/vegan/omnivore’s dilemma.  Mark points out that most soy currently being raised is fed to animals and that for the sake of the planet we’d do better to eat the animal feed than the animals!

For sure, say I. But I am still focusing on what monoculture crops are doing to the environment, and if you drive in this country through vast areas of Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas, for example, soy is one of those monocultures. They’re so potentially destructive, with their need for fertilizers and pesticides.

Mary Lynn mentions Weston A. Price’s research. As she says: “His conclusions about the link between food and either chronic degenerative disease or vibrant health came when he studied the diet of those not touched by ‘conventional’ (processed) food. His study, which spanned a decade and took place about 100 years ago, was compelling. He discovered what the healthiest peopl

e ate and he found not a single tribe or community of vegetarians. There was always some sort of animal (or insect) food found in those he studied though he secretly believed he would find healthy people who were vegetarian.”

She notes that our dental structure includes those canine teeth found in carnivores, and adds, “We secrete hydrochloric acid in the stomach which is meant to break down muscle fibers and other proteins.”

But many traditional cultures ate much less animal-based food than we currently do. I know that Mary Lynn doesn’t disagree — she advocates ghee and other animal-based products as well as vegetable fats.

Unfortunately, with a global economy, everyone on the planet now wants to have the opportunity to eat the way only the wealthiest could in the past. How are those of us in the “First World” to deny those who’ve never had the opportunity?

Thanks to both of you for moving this conversation forward. The question for me still remains, How are we going to manage ourselves on this planet in a way that doesn’t destroy the biosphere? As Mark notes, there’s no quick answer here. But let’s keep on working at it.

The Sustainable Vegetarian/ Vegan/Omnivore/ETC.

In the months ahead, I’m hoping to explore a little more closely what we CAN eat. What drove many of us to vegetarianism years ago was learning about the unhealthy nature of the beef and poultry industries — both for us and for the planet. In THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA, Michael Pollan took that line of thinking further, starting with his observations about corn, ethanol, and what we might call Big Grain. Monsanto, anyone?

What’s true of grain and beef is true of soybeans too. There goes a protein-rich mainstay of the traditional vegan diet. Now folks are turning to coconut oil for salvation. But you know, ANY monoculture crop is a problem — a BIG problem, sorry to say! Just google Indonesia and rain forests if you don’t believe me. Those coconut trees have to grow someplace, and it won’t be in New England.

So what CAN we eat?  The impetus to buy, cook and eat whatever locally grown foods may thrive in your neighborhood maybe isn’t quite as trendy as the idea of being vegan. Part of the problem is that everyone’s microclimate is different and that prevents locally-grown from easily translating into a global movement. But it shouldn’t. And locally grown is part of the answer.

But we’re not there yet.

Your thoughts?