Okay, I forgot to mention that the same natural health book I've been reading had something interesting to say about hair loss.
These days, this issue seems to be relevant to women as well as men, and I thought you all deserve to hear my educated hypothesis on it. So here goes. That said, I realize that hair loss and baldness are related to many, many factors, such as genetics, environment and stress. I am a nutritionist, and therefore my theory only regards nutrition.
The book mentioned the importance of massaging the scalp, to increase circulation to the hair shafts and follicles. That makes sense, but when I think of circulation, I think about much more than massage. In general, circulation means allowing optimal blood flow to the tissues, which keep cells oxygenated, alive and healthy. When the cells in the epidermal layer (skin) of the scalp are not receiving enough oxygen, it will affect the individual hair shafts and follicles, and could possibly cause hair brittleness and loss.
So, we could conclude that lack of healthy circulation causes unnecessary hair loss.
We could also deduce that assuring healthy blood flow is important in general, since it prevents a whole lot of other maladies: heart disease, hypertension, impotence, joint pain, fatigue, neuropathy in diabetics, macular degeneration, memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, to name a few.
Here's what we need for healthy circulation: exercise, imbibing lots of water, and a plant-based diet.
I've blogged on this before, but if you're just joining us, allow me to explain the nutritional impact of a plant-based diet on blood flow.
Arterial plaque is an obvious impediment to blood flow. Think speed bumps in your arteries. Plaque is caused by numerous things, like LDL cholesterol, homocysteine and free radicals. The latter two don't comprise plaque, but are the root cause of the body's creation of it, since they cause perforations to the arterial lining. The body responds by creating plaque as an urgent and immediate "patch kit" to patch the injury.
Homocysteine is derived from high levels of the amino acid, methionine, found mainly in animal protein. A diet loaded with animal protein will produce many times more homocysteine compounds, which will produce many more injuries to the arteries, which will produce much more plaque, slowing circulation. Oh yeah, and folic acid in food naturally lowers homocysteine levels. Folic acid is found only in plant foods: fruit, veg.s, whole grains, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds (legumes).
Free radicals are produced primarily from exposure to toxic chemicals, which we may or may not be able to control, although antioxidant nutrients fight free radical damage in our cells. Antioxidants are found almost exclusively in plant foods as well.
LDL cholesterol is a major ingredient in plaque. The lower the levels of this cholesterol, the smaller sized plaque-patches we will form. Which is why your Dr. always runs a test on your LDL levels. We can lower our LDL cholesterol by eating less trans-fat (partially-hydrogenated oil), saturated fat and cholesterol. Trans-fat is mostly from processed foods, saturated fat is mainly from foods of animal origin (meat, dairy, eggs), and cholesterol is only from animal origin foods. Also, unlike saturated fat, there is the same amount of cholesterol in chicken, turkey and fish as there is in red meat.
Which is basically why I eat a plant-based diet. I'm into oxygen. My cells dig it too.
BTW: Did you know the casinos in Las Vegas release extra oxygen into the air to keep people from getting tired? Imagine if you treated your brain cells to more oxygen by your diet. You'd become a party animal.
So to wrap this up with an interesting anecdote... My husband was a shoe-in for male-pattern baldness. I knew when I married him he stood almost no chance for keeping his hairline: his dad, his mom's dad and his dad's dad were all early baldies. It was all but hopeless. Yet I developed a theory over the years - based on lots of observation - that healthy men tended to keep their hair longer, due to better circulation. Well, I must say that my husband's hairline hasn't budged. He eats a plant-based diet too, if you haven't guessed.
Your daily recipe:
I'm still in S.F., but I remember a chili I made last weekend for a potluck. Worthy of sharing. I made a lot, and froze at least half of it, so if you don't want this much chili, feel free to scale back my recipe.
4 cups garbanzo beans
4 cups black beans
4 cups frozen corn
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
1/2 jar salsa
1 chili seasoning packet
1/4 cup water
Put all ingredients in soup pot. Mix well and simmer.
Here I am, writing from a hostel in San Francisco, thinking how the world could be a better place without categories like "vegan" and "vegetarian".
Why? Well for starters, I don't like being labeled as anything. Labels are misleading (even nutrition labels on your food are misleading). And sometimes they lead to ridiculous questions, like, "Bronwyn, what do you eat at a BBQ?", or "Don't you get tired of eating just vegetables?".
So many assumptions. One big one is that vegetarians and vegans actually eat lots of vegetables (implied in the name).
Actually, it's quite possible to be a vegetarian and eat very poorly. I could name a dozen people who don't eat meat, but also don't eat many non-processed foods. The difference between their diet and mine is far too large for us to be slotted in the same category.
There are also people I know who do eat meat and dairy, although in very small amounts. Some of these people eat more fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes than the aforementioned vegetarians.
So instead of going by labels, maybe we should describe what percentage of our diet is healthy: "Hi, I'm Mike and I eat healthy food 80% of the time, but I'm hoping to soon be at 90%".
Something to think about.
Also, FYI: I was reading a natural healing book last night that I truly respect, and it listed dairy as being the #1 cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome AND the #1 cause of flatulance - even more than beans.
Something else to think about, especially now that it's ice cream season.
No recipes today, since I'm on vacation. But I will tell you what I brought for snacks (for myself, my husband and my daughter): dried cranberries, dried apricots, and cashews. I've noticed when I bring less healthy snacks, those are usually the first we'll all eat, but when I bring only healthy options, no one complains. So that's my new resolution: ONLY HEALTHY OPTIONS.
At least, about 90% of the time.
So I was reflecting back on this article in the Times about vegans being crazy, and then it occurred to me that the nutrition information Americans are receiving is full on psychotic.
For example: eat 5-10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Just don't eat 11 or 12 servings, because that might be overdoing it.
One issue in particular is B12. You hear people say all the time, If you don't eat meat where do you get your B vitamins? Actually, you get lots of B vitamins, you just don't get one called B12. B12 is the meat industries last standing argument for meat consumption, because this vitamin is not found in any plant foods. None. Nada.
But when you learn more about B12, it gets interesting.
For starters, the liver can store this vitamin for up to 5 years. So, obviously, deficiency is rare (except among elderly people unable to produce a certain enzyme necessary for B12 absorption, called the Intrinsic Factor).
But what I think is really interesting, is that B12 is actually produced by bacteria. That's right, bacteria. These microbes live in soil, and when livestock eat grain or grass, they consume soil residue which contains the microbial-produced B12 vitamin. So that's how B12 gets into animal foods.
One of my professors once told a story about a vegan family from India who moved to the U.S. and subsequently developed a deficiency in B12. Apparently, in India, the produce isn't washed as well as in Safeway, and so they consumed enough B12 directly from the soil. I'm not proposing that we all do that, since soil can also harbor pathogens like E.Coli, but it's just interesting.
Most soy milks and many cereals are B12 fortified, so thankfully we don't have to eat soil - or meat.
What's for dinner:
The world's best frozen pizza and broccoli
Today I bought some frozen pizzas at the local co-op just because I like to take a break every now and then, as I think most people do. This pizza is the best in my book because it has a corn crust. It's made my Vicolo, and I bought the roasted garlic. We'll also be steaming some broccoli for a side dish. Oh yeah.
Labels: B12 deficiency
So today one of my students at CalPERS gives me a copy of an op-ed in the NY Times where this writer is saying how dangerous it is to be a vegan, especially when pregnant and nursing and for small children. It was hard to believe this article, with its utter lack of facts, made it in the NY Times at all, but I guess that's why it was written as an op-ed even though the author is a regularly contributing editor.
Then, I read that someone has a hard time taking my blog seriously, since it's so "off the beaten track" and I don't cite my sources.
Ironic. Maybe it's time to write for the Times.
Feel free to read my response to the reason I don't cite more studies in yesterday's comments, but I will try to include as much evidence as possible in the future, provided it doesn't slow down my writing too much.
But as for this article "Death by Veganism", by Nina Planck, 5/22/07. I just have to share this with you. And not just because it's absolutely hilarious, but because it is such a great example of poor/confusing/leading-to-misinformation journalism on nutrition. So hopefully, you will be able to analyze these all-too-common absurdities in the future.
First, it starts with a shocking anecdote (always be wary of articles starting with these) about some crazy people who killed their 6 week old child by feeding him mainly soy milk and apple juice. Oh yeah, and the parents were also vegan, and apparently, this is what vegans do... when they're nuts. Perhaps they couldn't read the label on the side of the soy milk, saying "Not to be used in place of infant formula".
Now, let me first say I do not dispute that some people who eat vegan diets are nuts. But at age 36, you kinda get the idea that there are lots of people who don't eat vegan diets who are in the same category. The omnivores who abuse their children, for instance. I wonder, if I asked my best friend who works in Child Protective Services, what percentage of the parents who abuse their children (or feed them terribly, for that matter) are vegan, what she'd tell me?
Ms. Planck then went on to tell her readers how she was once a vegan, but before she became pregnant, concluded such a diet was irresponsible. She says, "You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants." Is that right? 'Cause I did. I ate a vegan diet (with the occasional cheese for yumminess), making sure I consumed B12 in my fortified cereal, even making sure to get enough protein, although that wasn't even a concern. Did I mention I gained 40 pounds - all from plant foods?
My daughter, weighing in at 7.5 pounds at birth, fared pretty well I'd say. And now, at three, still consuming a mostly vegan diet, she's doing just dandy. She's never had an ear infection, is hardly ever sick (maybe three times in her life), and is right on tract with height and weight for her age. She's also bilingual, so I guess her brain is working OK.
Ok, back to this article: Nina then reminds us how protein from animal sources used to be called "first class", while protein from plants was "second class". She says this has been changed for political correctness. But funny, what I learned studying nutrition in graduate school (that's Tufts University) was that these terms are no longer used to distinguish protein because we now know there is no protein that is superior to another. We now know that we have an entire week to eat all 9 essential amino acids, so we don't need to consume them all in one meal or in one food.
Nina then goes for the kill: apparently certain vitamins, like vitamin A & D, and minerals like calcium and zinc, just aren't found in plant foods. So "babies...will suffer from retarded growth, rickets and nerve damage." Wow, that'd scare me out of being a vegan or raising my child like one - if I didn't know how totally sketch her statements are.
Plant foods contain carotenoids, like beta-carotene, that convert into vitamin A in our body. Vitamin D isn't found in any food anywhere, but it's artificially fortified into milk just in case your child never sees sunlight. Calcium and zinc are plentiful in plant foods, and more absorbable without animal protein leaching them out of the bloodstream.
Do I have scientific studies on hand to uphold all this? Not right here, next to my computer. Check out Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine at PCRM.org for factual undergirding. But where are Nina Planck's facts? Where are her citations? And why can such a poorly written article be published in the Times, for Pete's sake? Just for controversy? That's simply unethical.
Finally, I've heard her argument before. The exact same one. It was in reading materials put out by The Dairy Council and American Cattlemen's Association. Any connection here Nina?
How to make a stir-fry:
The other day I made a decent stir-fry with the vegetables I found in my fridge. In this case it was carrots and cabbage, but it can be whatever vegetables you find. Certain vegetables, like carrots and potatoes, take longer to stir-fry. While others, like cabbage, broccoli and greens, take less time.
So start with the longer-cooking veg.s on high heat in a large saucepan or wok in vegetable oil. You may add a little water if needed while cooking. Stir constantly. Throw in the faster cooking veg.s near the end and continue to stir often. Take pan off the heat when done, and pour on some store-bought Thai or Asian sauce like sweet and sour.
Serve over brown rice (use 2 cups water for 1 cup rice, simmer for 40 minutes), or rice noodles.
That's right, Sumo wrestlers have much to teach us in the way of weight loss. They work so hard to gain weight and maintain weight, given all that strenuous wrestling. If we could learn how they keep the weight on, maybe we could do the opposite, and lose weight in the process.
Would you believe, the Sumos are on a strict diet?
That's right, their dietary regime consists of eating only one meal a day. And yes, it's a big meal.
But why only once a day? These guys are smart. They know that when we eat infrequently (less than 3x a day), our body thinks we're starving. Even when we're hungry and we don't eat - the body doesn't know we're inconvenienced, too busy to eat. So it does the smartest thing a starving body can do: slows the metabolism, making sure the calories that do come in get stored rather than burned. It also creates some strong appetite-enhancing hormones to motivate us to eat LOTS when we finally find some food.
This is why when we skip meals, we usually more than compensate for those meals later.
Which brings us to breakfast, "the most important meal of the day", because when we don't eat it, our metabolism stays much lower throughout the day. Ninety percent of obese Americans skip breakfast, and eat 2 or fewer meals a day. Coincidence?
So if you know anyone on the Sumo wrestler diet (less than 3 meals/day), it might be time for them to hear about such a thing.
So, assuming we don't want to look like Sumo wrestlers, what is the opposite of such a diet? Eating small, frequent meals and snacks. I mentioned yesterday that people who eat like this have not only higher metabolisms (our metabolism increases every time we eat) and lose weight, but have lower cholesterol and risk of heart disease. It also helps prevent diabetes. Our bodies were designed to eat frequently.
And you know what else? Food is the best appetite suppressant. (This is so profound, feel free to quote me on this). But think about it, if you've got a little something in your stomach all throughout the day, you're never going to get to that place where you'll eat whatever is closest. In other words, you won't get desperate, because you're not THAT hungry. Not to mention, you won't get moody, because your blood sugar is stable. So good for you, and good for those around you.
Maybe this is why our bodies give us these hunger signals. Maybe our body is trying to tell us something, and we should listen.
When I was in college I had not one, but two roommates that were grazers. They were constantly eating, but not "eating" meals, just grazing on something. They weren't always eating health food either, but graze they did. Did I mention they were both slender, didn't exercise, and were beautiful on top of that? Or that I was about 15 pounds heavier back then, and I did triathalons? Yeah, I thought it was pretty unfair that God put us in the same apartments.
But that was before I knew about Sumo wrestler diets and the power of grazing. You see, like some of you, I was raised to eat everything on my plate. I was into saving starving children, and I was good at it. I'd learned that snacking was "bad", and had never heard about eating when I was hungry or stopping when I was full. Before we go on, let's define "full". It doesn't mean what we usually use it for: getting our money's worth at a buffet table. That's stuffed. Full isn't feeling bloated or uncomfortable; it's actually the absense of a feeling - hunger. So if we learn to listen to our body, eat when we're hungry and stop when we're no longer hungry, we'll find ourselves eating more like grazers, with all the benefits.
What if you don't feel hungry? Just start eating small meals, every 3 hours or so throughout the day. Of course, those should be high fiber snacks, but you already know that.
Tonight's dinner: salad and fresh bread
I pile up filling foods on my salad, otherwise it's not even remotely filling. So, in addition to mixed salad greens, I will be eating raisins, cranberries, walnut pieces, feta cheese and thinly sliced red onion. I add extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Annie's Goddess Dressing. Then I eat yummy fresh bread, usually whole grain.
Can I just say if you haven't read Michael Pollan's nutrition articles in the NY Times a few months ago, you absolutely must find them online and read them. He says stuff like this: "The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient science is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food, the food out of the context of diet, and the diet out of the context of lifestyle."
This statement reminds me of all the health-minded folks I see at the natural foods co-op, whom, upon checkout, are just there to purchase supplements.
If I were to interview one of these people, they'd probably tell me that organic produce is too expensive, as well as most natural foods found at the co-op. They'd tell me they don't have time to cook, or money to burn, but they're concerned about their health, and so they're doing what they can by buying spirulina or flaxseed oil or a vitamin/mineral supplement. And if I pressed them further, they'd probably tell me they read about the health benefits of this supplement in some magazine.
But if you've been reading this blog, you know better than that. You know why Michael Pollan is grieving. We're so "learned" about nutrients these days... and it's quite literally killing us.
We forget about the synergistic effects of food, and how we need to eat real food to get the benefits of these individual nutrients. So instead of changing our diet, we take a fiber supplement. But even more than that, we take the food out of the context of our diet, and the diet out of the context of our lifestyle.
Much of the time, that means we sign up for diets that just aren't realistic for us. We're motivated to lose weight or lower our cholesterol, but when we don't consider that whatever changes we make need to be permanent, and therefore realistic, we hurt ourselves in the short run.
A good example of this is the Paleo diet, which I've been writing about lately. Sure, because it's a low-carb diet people who follow it will lose weight. But are they really going to never, not ever, eat any beans, grains and grain-products (like bread), or potatoes again? This is so out of context with lifestyle, someone would have to either go back in time to eat this way permanently, or move to Mars. I've traveled 'round the earth enough to know this: every culture eats grains. So start saving for that spaceship or time travel machine now.
Another example of forgetting the overall context is when people skip meals. It doesn't matter what you're eating if you're skipping meals once or twice a day. Our bodies are made for regular meals, and that means at least 3 daily. Studies show eating more frequently lowers cholesterol, increases metabolism, causes weight loss, and prevents heart disease. Not eating when your body needs food means your lifestyle is too busy, or prioritizing the wrong things. I'll write more on this subject tomorrow.
But for now, remember, your body is your best investment. Don't be cheap.
Garlic and Greens Pizza - Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home
I made this the other day and it's sooooooo good, I even got my husband to eat greens! It does have more cheese than I'd like, but man, is it good.
pizza dough or shell (I buy whole wheat pizza dough at Trader Joe's)
4 garlic cloves, mincd
3 TBSP olive oil
4 cups coarsely chopped, rinsed and stemmed kale
1/4 tsp salt
2 TBSP dried basil
1&1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
In a large skillet, saute the garlic in the oil for about a minute. Add the kale to the skillet along with the salt, and sute on medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until just tender. When the kale is done, add the dried basil and remove the skillet from heat.
Spread the pizza topping on the pizza dough or crust, and sprinkle the cheese on top. Bake according to the instructions for the dough or crust you're using.
Call me a conspiracy theory nutritionist, but am I the only one who's noticed a relationship between a certain Oprah show and diets of late?
Like, remember in the 90's when Oprah said on her show she'd never eat red meat again? Then how the American Cattleman's Association made her move her entire show to Texas for a month while they almost sued her? Those Cattlemen were steaming mad, stating that red meat consumption took the lowest dip ever when Oprah shooted her mouth off. They showed charts and graphs and figures all revealing this strong "correlation". Meat consumption was down, down, down.
But then, after they didn't win the battle, what happened? Did this powerful meat lobby just give up and go back to the ranch?
Suddenly, The Atkin's Diet was back on the shelves (revised from the 1970's version) - and on the most prominent shelves no less: the shelves publishers pay to put their best potential revenue-generating books on. Here we were just counting calories and fat a few days ago, but now it's all about carbs. Forget calories and fat. Carbs are the new enemy, and as we throw them out, we have to up the protein and eat more meat. Suddenly, Americans of all socio-economic status were eating tons of meat - including lots of red meat - once again.
Mere coincidence? Maybe. But I don't think so.
Then, what's this? When Atkin's loses steam there are all these other low-carb diets. There's the conveniently titled "Eat Right For Your Type" diet, where the "right" diet for most of us (O+ and 0-) is a low carb diet. There's the Southbeach diet which is slightly different, but still heavy on meat and light on carbs. Now there's the Paleo diet telling us not to eat any grains, beans or potatoes... sounds familiar.
Is anyone else seeing a connection? Just thought I'd ask.
I see the makings of a documentary here.
Real quick: a friend of mine proposed writing about the glycemic index, as it relates to "carbs", glucose, diabetes and heart disease. Basically, this index measures the rate at which glucose is released from food in our gut into the bloodstream. The goal is not to eat fewer carbs, it's to eat carbs that have a slower rate of absorption so they don't overwhelm insulin or allow our blood sugar to get too high. Foods with a low glycemic index have a slower rate of absorption and are the ones protecting us from diabetes and heart disease. Foods higher up spike glucose levels and when consumed regularly, are lethal.
But before you go on a search to learn all about the glycemic index and your favorite foods, know that the foods high in fiber are the lowest on the index, and vice versa. So, brown rice is lower than white rice, whole grain bread lower than white flour based bread, etc. Remember that fiber acts as a "time release" for glucose in foods.
So, if you're into counting, stop counting calories, fat, and carbs. Count fiber in your food. Get 25-40 grams a day. It causes weight loss, prevents and reverses diabetes, lowers cholesterol, "cleanses" your system, and nourishes your body.
Another lazy dinner tonight:
Tofurky brand Beer Brats Sausage (5 grams of fiber each!)
Potatoes with Earth Balance spread (an unpeeled potato also has 5 grams of fiber)
Steamed Asparagus (3 grams of fiber per serving)
Nothing against Americans, but boy, are we gullible. The "Paleo" diet is a great example of this.
So what is it? A new spin on an old idea: yet another low-carb diet with yet another "historical" reason why we're supposed to eat a certain way. Reminds me of the Blood Type Diet meets Southbeach. In this particular diet, we're supposed to learn from the Paleolithic folks who didn't cook their food (and did anyone mention had an average life span of 30 years?), ate raw meat, and foraged for fruit and vegetables - but definately never, not ever, ate beans, grains or potatoes/sweet potatoes.
According to this diet, the latter foods spike insulin and glucose levels, but actually, only potatoes do, and I think the Irish kinda lived off potatoes for many years, and I don't recall high rates of heart disease or diabetes during that time... but, whatever.
It's funny that the author relates this diet to the Garden of Eden diet, but if you follow the story of Eden, there are no dead animals, meaning no meat. And the Paleo diet has lots of meat...but, sure, close enough.
So please don't let anyone you know make the mistake of getting on another silly diet, especially this one. Yes they'll lose weight, but this is definately not a permanent lifestyle kind of dietary change, which means the minute they ditch it, back come those pounds and then some.
So remember yesterday when I said our bodies are made to be fueled by carbohydrates, and that carbs primarily come from plant foods? Actually, everything about our bodies are made for plant foods. Our teeth (even those "canine" teeth), the enzymes in our mouth, our brain, our hormones, the pH balance of our stomach, our colon, our arteries, all the way to our cells - all made for a fibrous, carb-based diet.
Let's start with the teeth: human teeth are designed for chopping and grinding, as in grains and vegetables. Even potatoes and sweet potatoes. Compare your "canine" teeth to your dog or cat's. Can yours tear through raw flesh? Hardly. Don't try it anyway.
In our mouth we're greeted by amalase, an enzyme for breaking down carbohydrates: from mother's milk to fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. This is why you hardly have to chew bread: it "melts" in your mouth via amalaze. What? No enzymes for meat? How did that not happen during evolution?
Brain: runs on glucose. Glucose comes only from carbohydrates, and comes at a steady rate from unprocessed ones. A steady rate protects against diabetes, but it also guarantees brain food throughout the day. Not a bad idea.
Hormones: Insulin and glucagon are two biggies. One acts to deliver glucose into cells, the other to release it from liver and muscle stores.
If you recall all that alkaline diet stuff, plant based foods help neutralize the stomach acid, preventing ulcers among other things...
The colon doesn't do so well without a fibrous diet if you haven't noticed. Fiber is only found in plant based foods. Unless you eat egg shells.
The cells & arteries: animal origin foods like meat, eggs, poultry, fish and dairy give you lots of cholesterol and saturated fat. This makes cell membranes "harden" and become insulin-resistant. (The monounsaturated fat found in plant based food do the opposite, making cells insulin-sensitive, and thus prevent diabetes). Also, the cholesterol and saturated fat is what contributes to arterial plaque, while monounsaturated fat does not.
So just a few things to think about.
But I'd say, the most interesting are alllllllllllll the people who tell me, "I feel so much better eating a plant based diet!". They have more energy, lose weight, poop efficiently, find their blood glucose at healthy levels, lower their cholesterol and blood pressure...
So maybe before the Paleolithic period there was a Plantolithic period? Maybe the Garden of Eden isn't such a stretch.
What's for dinner: Vegetarian tomales and salad. If you've never had a veg. tamale, it's time you find some. Tomales are made from ground corn, and are very high in fiber. They're also delicious. So delicious, in fact, that my finicky 3-year-old fights me for more.
That's right, I'm a high-carber, and proud of it.
In fact, we should all be eating diets very high in carbohydrates, since fruit, veg.s, whole grains, nuts, peas, seeds, beans and lentils are primarily composed of carbs. If we all were to eat more like this, we would get plenty of protein (although not dangerous levels), and the good fats, like Omega-3 and monounsaturated fat. But yes, 75% or so of our calories would be carbs - good carbs.
And guess what? Our bodies are designed to run on carbs. Carbohydrates are fuel for every single cell, especially brain cells, if you consider them important. Without enough carbs, our body literally thinks it's starving, and it's tricked into breaking down its tissue to keep itself alive. First it breaks down muscle tissue (and we all know that's no good), and then it starts breaking down fat tissue (which is why low-carb diets cause crazy weight loss).
And as I posted yesterday, the catabolism of all that protein and fat creates a ton of acid, which is neutralized at the expense of our bone density.
Not to mention that the minute you step off one of these diets, you'll gain every pound back and then some. I remember thinking how every time I saw a picture of Dr. Atkin's when he was alive, he was at a different weight. And then of course he had that not-too-well-media-covered massive heart attack, followed by breaking so many bones from falling on an icy sidewalk that he had to be hospitalized...
Considering that our bodies are designed to fuel on carbs (good carbs, not processed ones), it makes sense that when we don't eat enough we create something as dangerous as ketone acids. Ketone acids not only cause bone loss, but can create a condition called ketoacidosis, which can be deadly. It can cause heart arrythmia, heart damage, and birth defects in children whose mothers had high levels of ketones when pregnant.
I've heard stories of people who went on low-carb diets and got very, very sick. I've had people tell me how sickly looking their friends became after going on this diet. And I've met a man who lost 100 pounds - and gained all of it back, after going on and off this diet. Not to mention the kidney stones.
So speaking of low-carb/high protein diets, I suddenly remembered that's what the Southbeach diet is. It's definately not as extreme as Atkin's, but it is amazingly high in protein. I do like that it emphasises whole grains, fruit and veg.s, and removes refined foods. But it's still not as high in carbs or fiber as it should be.
And if you really want to lose some weight, become a high carb/high fiber person yourself. (See first several posts for more on this).
Well, the season is getting warm, so I think it's time to venture to salad recipes. This is one of my all-time favorite salads.
Asian Cabbage Slaw - 15 minutes
(Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home)
2&1/2 cups finely shredded cabbage
1 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
* dressing *
2 TBSP vegetable oil
2 TBSP rice vinegar
1 TBSP soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger root
dash of Tabasco (optional)
1/3 cup chopped peanuts (optional)
Combine cabbage, carrots and bell peppers in a serving bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger and optional Tabasco. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss well. Set aside to marinate for 10-15 minutes.
Just before serving, mix the slaw well and add the chopped nuts if you like.
So you might be wondering, what do low carb diets, kidney stones and osteoporosis have in common? A lot.
For one, they all have to do with a diet very high in protein, specifically animal protein. Excess protein creates lots of acid (uric and sulfuric), low carbs create more acid (ketone acids), and all that acid needs to be neutralized. So how does our body respond? It leaches out calcium from the bones as a buffer. And unfortunately, after the calcium does its work it doesn't return to the bones, but lands either in the toilet or stockpiles in the kidneys, creating k.stones.
This explains a bunch, when you're a nutritionist at least. Like my 40-something student who was on a low-carb diet for 3 years, and spent the latter two years passing one k.stone after another. Once she took my class and got off this insane diet, her k.stones were no more.
Or my very young student, who had k.stones at the tender age of 25. Turns out, he was a body builder, and consuming an extreme amount of protein.
Or why the American Journal of Kidney Disease found that people on the maintenance phase of the Atkins diet lost calcium in urine at rates 55% higher than normal.
But here's what's really scary: you don't have to be a low-carber to be losing so much bone density. The typical American diet is way too high in protein - 2x as high as it should be. And even though most people agree protein is a "good" thing, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing - it's toxic.
Most of this excess protein comes from animal origin foods: meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy. These foods contain so much protein that it's chronically overconsumed by Americans. It's also the most dangerous of protein, since it contains sulfuric acid and creates high amounts of homocysteine.
This is why even though Americans consume the most calcium (either via supplement or dairy products), we also have the world's highest rate of osteoporosis - and kidney stones.
So that's why beans are the new meat (if you haven't read this past post, now's the time).
Here's what's for dinner in my household:
Homemade (or canned) pinto beans over corn tortilla chips, with salsa and guacamole. Cheese optional.
If you don't have a pressure cooker for making beans, just go on Amazon and buy a Presto 6 quart cooker for less than $50. You'll be able to cook beans in 20 minutes, potatoes in 15, artichokes in 5... It comes with a little book that tells you how long to cook stuff, and how much water to add.
Some of you have been wondering about why there are commercials telling us that dairy consumption causes weight loss. Well, now those ads are no more. Why? The Federal Trade Commission has just announced they are pulling them off the air since "such claims are not supported by existing scientific research", according to PCRM (Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine).
Not that we expected the advertising industry to be honest, but it's pretty outrageous that the milk industry was able to even run ads that made such unsupported claims. I'm telling you, we health-minded folks need to be wary of advertisements about food, among other things. Oy vey.
Which is why I'm doing this blog. To make sense of nutrition: debunk myths, diets, and hearsay.
Speaking of hearsay, you know what I'm really tired of hearing? About how bad sugar and salt are. And how sugar makes kids hyper. And salt causes hypertension. It's enough to give this nutritionist an ulcer already.
Here's the deal with sugar: if a very large percentage of your diet is comprised of sweets, you're eating too many empty calories. Surprise. But if you are eating a pretty healthy diet (my definition of a healthy diet: unprocessed, mostly plant-based), and have a little chocolate here and there, fine and good. Or if you're eating a healthy cereal that's high in fiber, don't worry about the sugar content, what's important are those other nutrients you are getting.
Our focus shouldn't be on staying away from sugar (or salt), but on trying to get as many healthy foods into our diet. Sugar doesn't make us fat or give us diabetes, nutrient-poor foods do. You could eat a sugar/salt free diet and eat really crappy. Or you could eat a nutrient-rich diet with some sugar and salt. Sometimes a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, no?
Neither should we blame sugar for hyperactivity in children. It looks like it could be sugar, but when we realize that those sweets they're consuming also contain artificial colors and flavors, the real culprit is obvious. Scientific studies show when children diagnosed with ADD have artificial colors and flavors removed from their diet, they improve significantly, if not altogther. These additives are known as "excitotoxins", which overstimulate nervous cells, and often destroy nerve tissue.
Salt, on the other hand, has been around for all of humanity. Cows lick it straight, and they don't develop high blood pressure. Why? Because most of what cows eat isn't salt (think "flavoring"), but grass or grain, which is healthy. So if most of what you're eating is fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, etc., salt is not your enemy. For more yapping on this subject, see my hypertension blog posts.
Finally, sugar and salt are both natural preservatives. Trust me, you'd much rather have natural preservatives than unnatural.
If you're going to have ingredient enemies, make it the manmade stuff: partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and flavors, aspartame and splenda, and MSG for starters.
BTW: I'm still waiting to hear from ya'll on diet books. Does anyone want me to write about low-carb diets?
Sorry, no recipe again, since I'll be making tofu burritos for dinner (recipe on previous post). But I do have a few snack endorsements (all from Trader Joe's):
1) Blister Peanuts. Soaked in water prior to roasting, these peanuts are especially crunchy and fresh tasting.
2) Cinnamon Grahams. These I buy for my 3 year old. They're graham crackers made from whole wheat flour, and lots of cinnamon (which is good for you). Yes, there's also sugar, but hopefully you're over that now.
3) Snack Granola. It's like granola meets peanut brittle, but healthier. All kinds of nuts and seeds involved, very high in fiber, but sweet and buttery. I'm okay with the sugar, but could do with a less butter... But still, a great snack.
I met with one of my favorite friends last night who, like many of you, appreciated The Truth about Poop post. She brought me a newspaper article about detoxifying diets, giving me more fodder for my blog. Oh, what good fodder it is!
A lot of health-minded people are into "detoxes" - ranging from complete fasting of all food, to trendy Master Cleanses. So here's the deal: while they're not necessarily harmful, detoxes are completely unnecessary.
Why? Because our gastrointestinal tract doesn't need to be "cleansed" by anything we do. Those cells, organs and systems are constantly renewing and regenerating themselves; they're constantly in motion. Our bodies are dynamic, never static. For example, intestinal cells are renewed every 3 days. Our liver detoxifies the body, along with the lungs and kidneys, and they do an amazing job.
So yes, we're a nation of constipated folks, but no, we don't need to detox ourselves to undo that. We need to eat fibrous diets, which you already know. When we eat healthy food regularly, it pulls out toxins where they belong, in the toilet. And drinking lots of water helps the kidneys detox the bloodstream. Exercise causes toxins to be released via our pores.
But beyond the obvious, it's time we started focusing on limiting the toxins we're exposed to. Obviously, some of these are out of our control - air quality for instance. But there's a lot we can control. For example, how we clean our homes, do laundry and "freshen" our air. Most of the cleaning agents we use are extremely toxic, which is why many people feel tired and even get headaches after they clean. Those strong chemicals are creating free radicals in our blood, which can lead to everything from fatigue to cancer. Heavily perfumed detergents and cleaning products are extremely toxic, as is "perfume" in general. That's why unscented products are sold as "hypoallergenic" - because they don't include a major poison, thus they're less likely to harm people who are "sensitive" to them. But we are all sensitive, whether we feel it or not.
Air freshers, scented sprays and candles are just plain evil. They are literally poisoning the air we breathe. The only "scents" we should smell, are real ones. Whether that's from a bouquet of flowers or essence of lavender.
So how do we keep house? Clean like your great-great grandmother did: vinegar, baking soda, Borax (boric acid), and non-antibacterial soap kill over 99% of germs and molds. Tea tree oil is a more recently popular disinfectant in the U.S. Also, wear hypoallergenic makeup and sunscreen. And put a box of baking soda over your toilet, you'd be amazed.
So let this be our "detox": getting rid of as many poisons surrounding us as possible. And eating a high fiber, plant-based diet to get those antioxidants and fiber to fight and rid our bodies of free radicals.
On a different note, I would love to hear about different diets and diet books out there. I'm obviously not someone who knows the latest diet trend, but I would like to learn, and then tell blog readers what's true and what's not so much. So, tell me all about Southbeach, and I'll tell you what to believe. Or The Bloodtype diet. I actually know Atkin's fairly well, so tell me if you want the scoop.
No recipe, because I'm cooking Pasta with Greens and Ricotta tonight. See old posts for recipe. Yum!
Now we're talking. The subject of the colon is quite ironic in our society. Almost everyone over 50 has some type of colon disorder, and yet nobody is talking about it. When I do talk about the colon, and what comes out of the colon, people get all giggly. I think this topic is how sex used to be. How funny that it's easier to talk about sex than poop. I guess most people think the latter is less fun, but actually, you'd be surprised.
That's right. Pooping should be a fun experience. It should be fast, well-lubricated, and oh-so relieving. It should never be painful or take too long. In fact, if you are able to read literature of any kind on the pot, things just ain't right. And believe it or not, it shouldn't even be all that stinky.
Let's start with the colon. Most people have no idea what our colon is made of. It's actually a muscle: an involuntary muscle, meaning, you can't contract it at will. But like any muscle tissue, if it's not contracted often (read: exercised often), it will atrophy. When the colon atrophies it gives us "issues" like Irritible Bowel, colitis, diverticulitis, irregularity and frequent constipation. So how do we exercise our colon? If you know me at all by now, you just thought about fiber. And you're right. Fiber from food of course.
When we consume a high fiber diet our stools start bulking up. They also start becoming better lubricated, since fiber pulls out cholesterol in our body. Because the stools are bigger, they push out on the colon wall, allowing the colon muscle to contract and push back. This makes the colon a strong muscle, and it also makes a shorter "transit time" for that stool to move through the colon.
A shorter transit time means regularity, and it also can prevent colon cancer. When you recall that poop contains toxic substances our bodies are ridding themselves of, you want the least amount of exposure of those toxins to the colon wall. Also, since bulky stools rub against the colon wall, they remove potentially toxic fatty deposits along the way. So forget enemas, keep your colon clean by what you eat.
Since most Americans eat so little food high in fiber, the average American bowel movements are a series of tiny poops. And because they're tiny and don't push against the colon wall, they stay in there a long, long time. This causes more bacteria to grow than is healthy, and when they come out, all that bacteria (which produce CO2 as a by-product) make those B.M.s really smelly.
Small poops also mean lots more straining, if you haven't noticed. Over time, this gets us hemorrhoids, and it can even cause varicose veins. Hemorrhoids are themselves varicose veins in the rectal area, but often it doesn't stop there. Sometimes, those tiny stools get stuck in the appendix, and can't get out due to gravity. This is the number one cause of appendicitis.
Finally, there's just plain constipation. But studies have shown people who are frequently constipated are at over 4x the risk for developing colon cancer. That's even more inconvenient, would you say?
I can't wait to hear from you guys on this one...
Recipe Du Jour
This is one of my family's favorites. There are a lot of ingredients, but well worth the shopping trip. Make twice the recipe and freeze for future time saving.
Tofu Burritos (30 minutes)
Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, slightly edited from original
3 TBSP vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 tsp paprika
1 TBSP ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup frozen corn
2 cakes firm tofu, crumbled or mashed
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 TBSP soy sauce
salt to taste
6 wheat tortillas (10 inch)
your favorite salsa
Heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the garlic, cayenne and onions for a minute or two. Stir in the bell peppers and continue to saute on medium heat. When the onions begin to soften, add the paprika, cumin, coriander, oregano, corn and crumbled tofu and continue to saute. When the vegetables are tender, mix in the tomato paste, soy sauce and salt to taste.
Lightly brown tortillas on oiled skillet, then add filling. Add salsa if desired.
My husband's been bugging me to respond to your comments, and yet he just showed me how tonight, so I'm going to past blog posts and responding. Sorry it's taken so long! But you won't be ignored.
Okay, I know this topic is probably so not an issue for you, my health-minded, lovely, faithful readers. But maybe it is for just a few - or a hundred - people you know, so I'm commissioning you to forward this on.
I had a conversation with a sweet older woman the other day, and when she realized I was a nutritionist, she asked, "Is there anything bad about sodas if they're caffeine and sugar free?"
I responded by telling her the caffeine and sugar are the least dangerous of the chemicals in soda, and then went on to tell her about the really bad stuff.
And Oh My, is it ever bad.
Like aspertame, or Splenda, depending on the beverage. This stuff kills. Since I know more about aspertame (found in Nutra Sweet) and it's been out longer, I'll focus on that. But please know, Splenda is toxic too.
One thing both these artificial sweeteners have in common: they make your brain think your body is consuming real sugar. Lots of sugar, because these sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. So how does our body prepare for loads of sugar coming into the blood? Insulin. So now you've got all this insulin, sitting in your bloodstream, ready to go to work, but no sugar for it to work on. This creates an urgent craving or message to the brain for sugar and refined carbohydrates. Have you ever noticed when you drink a diet beverage you crave sweets? There's a chemical connection. Which is why the American Cancer Society has documented that people who use artificial sweeters gain more weight than people who do not. Their appetites are being artificially inflated.
Not to mention that messing with insulin levels like this can actually contribute to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance, which leads to Type II Diabetes, is really better called insulin ineffectiveness. And one way to make insulin ineffective is by triggering it at the wrong times over and over again. I even heard of one enlightened M.D. tell his patient to stop drinking diet soda because it was excacerbating her diabetes.
So what else could be bad about artificial sweeteners? Would you believe, they overstimulate brain cells (so you taste more sweetness), which can cause those cells to then die? Yep. That's what happens, and not just to brain cells, but to all nerve cells. The "active ingredient" is asperate, an amino acid that naturally occurs in both food and our bodies, but it is so concentrated that it acts more like a drug. It doesn't actually add flavor to the food or beverage, but stimulates our nerve cells so we perceive more sweet flavor.
This is why aspertame is linked with so many scary nervous system disorders: Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Lou Gerig's Disease, M.S., dementia, and many others, not to mention migraines.
And as I've already mentioned in past blog posts, most dark sodas have phosphoric acid, which is a major cause for bone loss in our society. So even if you avoid artificial sweeteners, you may still be unnecessarily harming your body.
So what to drink for that afternoon pick me up? I'm a tee-tottler (sp?). Not in the conventional sense of the word, because I definately enjoy my wine and cider, but I drink tea in the afternoon. I'm not English, but I just think it's cool... and healthy. I drink green tea, but black tea has lots of benefits too. Right now I'm making my own iced green tea. And there are some really good tea options out there. Americans are starting to get as bourgeous-ish about tea as they have been about coffee, and it's great. So join us.
Recipe du jour: I made this yesterday for a potluck, and I was pretty impressed with it, as simple as it is...
Potatoes with beans and fake ground beef
5 big old Russet potatoes, with skin
2 cups garbanzo beans, canned or fresh cooked
1 package The Good Ground, Veggie Mexican by Yves
Cook potatoes, (I pressure cook them for 20 minutes). Mix beans with Good Ground on stovetop with canola oil until hot. Serve bean mixture on buttered (Earth Balance spread highly recommended) potatoes.
The comments are so great - I see a theme among them. Let it be known that No Comment Is Unwelcome in this blog. Unless it's really lame. Just kidding.
No really, it's funny, because someone asked about Omega-3 since I just covered olive oil, and she mentioned some fantastic articles in the NY Times on "Nutritionism" by Michael Pollan. And then, someone else wanted to know the nutrition info on the brownie recipes. This is very ironic, but I guess I'll have to write about why that is. And through that, hopefully you will learn something new under the sun.
BTW: those of you just tuning in, please read past blog entries. I took great pains to make the first dozen or so, and many topics I'm hearing requested are actually already covered. If you want more coverage, lemme know.
Michael Pollan's idea of "nutritionism" was basically, when scientists started dissecting food into little parts of food (nutrients, carbs, fat, protein...), subsequently we Americans no longer saw real whole food: we saw "high vitamin C", or "good source of protein", or "rich in antioxidants". Which has been a hayday for food manufacturers, since they don't produce real whole food, but could add or enrich the nutrients into their non-food items, making lots of money in the process. He also noted that we Americans started becoming just a tad obsessive compulsive about food when we began to think of it as "a carb" or "high fat". He also made myriad other wonderfully rich observations. My favorite is how the whole is sooooooooo (my emphasis on the extra "o"s) much different and better than the sum of its parts.
And that's what I've been trying to communicate on my blog. The whole food is altogether a different critter than the nutrients that comprise it. Synergistic effects of food. See past blog posts on "why not supplements" and such.
So, I'm not the type who wants the "nutritional info" on recipes. All I need to know is that the recipe is made from healthy foods. And that it's yummy. And the thing is, that's all any of us need to know. Forget calories, carbs, sugar, protein and the like. Please. Let's all go back to that sentimental time of our great-grandparents, when food was just food. And it was savory.
What's even more ironic is that I'm now going to write a little on Omega-3 fatty acids. Here we are, worried about getting enough Omega-3's, and then worried about the Omega-3:Omega 6 ratio on top of it. But of course food manufacturers are so helpful here, as they assure us their product has the right ratio of both... Can I just say "Oy Vey"??
Here's the deal. All whole plant foods are very rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. All of 'em. The fattier ones have more, like avocados, olives, extra-virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds - but even your lowfat beans, lentil, peas, whole grains and vegetables are chock full of them too. So do we need to worry about getting enough? Only if we're eating really horribly, I'd say. Whole plant foods have naturally good ratios of Omega 3:6, so don't give this a second thought.
Then the question begs, "What about fish"? Yes, indeed we do hear much about fish and Omega-3. And yes, fish is the only food of animal origin that naturally contains this fat (forget about those silly Omega-3 fortified eggs). But fish also is high on the food chain... real, real high, unless you're talking about anchovies and sardines, which are lower, but also don't have the precious fat with which we're presently obsessed. Which is why fish is also so high in mercury, PCB's, pesticides, perchlorate, chloride, bromide, dioxins, etc. So my question is, "Why are we even considering fish when so many innocuous, delicious sources of Omega-3 abound?"
Hope this helps.
Here's what I've been eating for lunch lately... (drumroll)
Hummus, Arugula and Avocado sandwich
2 slices whole grain bread, toasted
Vegenaise eggless spread
hummus (see past post for homemade recipe)
10 or so leaves or fresh arugula
Put together in sandwich form.
BTW: if you haven't had arugula before, I think you're in for a special treat. It's currently in season (Spring/early Summer), and has an addictive flavor which far surpasses all lettuce when it comes to sandwiches.
Well guys, I asked for help, and I had the sweet experience of hearing from some of you. It's good to be vulnerable - it creates community, don't you think? And it also makes for better blog entries...
So someone mentioned battling high cholesterol, and another wanted me to write about baked goods, so I think that's perfect since the two have something in common: eggs.
Eggs are very high in cholesterol. Almost as high as organ meats. Have you ever wondered why? I mean, have you ever wondered what eggs are exactly? They're basically the equivalent of chicken periods, or chicken "menstruation". They're unfertilized chicken ovum, and that's why they're so incredibly full of cholesterol: they're actually made of steroid hormones (which are made from cholesterol) that, when fertilized, will produce and grow a baby chick.
Sorry to gross you out, but it's biologically accurate.
So the Egg Council (aren't there a lot of "councils" out there?) has been telling us that even though eggs are so high in cholesterol that studies show it's just fine to eat an egg a day. Hmmm. I think maybe one study found something like that when they compared people eating a really healthy diet eating one egg a day, to people eating a horrible diet without an egg a day. That's what I suspect. Or maybe the study found that after eating an egg a day for an entire month, no participants had a heart attack. These are the type of silly "studies" sponsored by certain "councils" with just a tad invested in the outcome of the study. They made me laugh in graduate school, but now just make me angry.
Also, let's recall what we learned about bioaccumulation: toxins such as pesticides, PCB's, mercury, dioxin, choride, perchorate, and many more concentrate at higher levels as we go up the food chain. Eggs are up, up on the food chain. So why eat them?
Which brings us back to the matter of baked goods. Besides omelets, most people eat eggs in cookies and other baked treats. Lots of recipes call for eggs, but I've found that they turn out great even when I don't add them. These are some easy substitutes: applesauce, peanut butter, and "egg replacer". But what's even more interesting is often I'll just add more oil or even water to the recipe, and make sure all the dry ingredients bind together well. That's the purpose of adding eggs in baking, to bind dry ingredients. There are so many other ways to do this, it's crazy to even consider eggs, knowing how much cholesterol and toxins they have.
By the way, if you have high cholesterol, or worry about it, you should know that fiber in food binds with cholesterol and pulls it right out of the body. So if the weight loss/colon health/diabetes reasons weren't strong enough to get you to eat a high fiber diet, maybe this will.
One more interesting tidbit: cholesterol is only found in animal origin foods. Plants cannot produce cholesterol, but all animals do, as do their milk and eggs. Which is why I always find it amusing to read on oatmeal or cereal or peanut butter labels "no cholesterol". No duh. Unless there's lard in my peanut butter, there can't be cholesterol, since peanuts are plants. Also, remember that poultry and fish contain the same amount of cholesterol as red meat, even though they're lower in saturated fat.
Now, how about a brownie recipe with no eggs? You'll be amazed at how good these are.
This recipe came from the Vegetarian Resource Group website, which I'm thinking I should link to my blog. They have great recipes. VRG.org.
Delicious Eggless Brownies
1&1/4 cup applesauce
1 cup cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 mashed banana
1&1/3 cup flour (you can use whole wheat flour here)
2 cups dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven at 350 degrees F. Stir ingredients together until smooth. Bake for 35 minutes.
Okay guys. This is crazy, I know I just said a few days ago I am overwhelmed with things I want to write about, but here I am having some sort of nutrition-related writer's block. So, why don't you write to me, and tell me what you want to hear? I feel I've covered just about everything... Oh wait, I just thought of something. But just for today. Tomorrow I expect dozens of comments with questions and good potential subject matter. K?
So for today: olive oil. We hear it's the oil to use. We hear it's good for us, "heart healthy" and stuff. But here's the deal:
Yes, olive oil has much monounsaturated fat (good, healthy fat) and lots of Omega-3 fatty acids to boot. In fact, this oil has the most monounsat. fat than any other cooking oil. (Canola oil is a close second, which is preferred for cooking high heat dishes such as stir-fry). Olive oil also has wonderful compounds like phytochemicals, many containing antioxidant properties.
But the thing is, it's gotta be extra virgin olive oil to get these wonderful benefits. And, contrary to what you see, true extra virgin olive oil is hard to find. "What??" you ask. "I see extra virgin olive oil sold everywhere, straight from Italy". Au contraire (sp?), would you believe that in the U.S. of A. there is no legal definition for "extra virgin", therefore it can be used just about anywhere? Yep, it's true. And in fact, most of the oil we see labeled extra virgin is so not virgin (first press, cold pressed, pure oil), that it's exported from Italy because it won't sell in Europe.
That's the kind of stuff that happens when there are no rules.
But some olive oil companies are beginning to make some rules, in California at least. There is now a "California Olive Oil Council" that certifies oils as extra virgin. They're following the lead in Europe not only with certification, but even olive oil tasting rooms... yum. I buy only COOC -certified olive oils, and here's the difference: everything. Price, yes, but taste and color, oohlala. Because they're California-grown olives, the oil is fresher. Because they really are pure, first press oils, they taste light-years better, and even the color is strangely green, vs. gold. If you recall that color comes from nutrients, that green olive oil may be more appealing to you, since it has many of the phytochemicals more processed oils don't. Taste also comes from nutrients, and you'll experience that immediately, if not sooner.
So buy the real deal. Health food stores and co-ops usually carry it.
And here's a recipe to try it on:
Pasta with Beans and Greens
another recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home
1 pound pasta
3 TBSP minced garlic (5 or 6 large cloves)
3 onions, diced
3 TBSP olive oil
1 bunch greens
dash of salt
3 cups undrained tomatoes (28oz can)
3-4 cups drained cooked white beans, such as cannellini (two 16 oz cans)
juice of 1 lemon
Bring a large covered pot of water to a rapid boil. While the water heats, in a large saucepan saute the garlic and onions in olive oil until translucent. Wash and coursely shred the greens. Stir greens and salt into the onions and cook for several minutes, covered, until the greens are bright green and reduced by at least half.
When pasta water boils, stir in the pasta, cover, and return to a boil. Then uncover the pot and cook the pasta until al dente. Wheile pasta cooks, add the tomatoes and juice to the greens. Stir the tomatoes and the beans into the greens, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Add the lemon juice to the sauce just before you drain the pasta. Serve the sauce immediately, ladled onto bowls of hot pasta.