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Archive for February, 2009

new organic sheriff

Actually, Kathleen Merrigan is the new Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, not the new organic sheriff. Regardless of the title, there is real hope in this agency choice. It looks like Food Democracy Now’s “Sustainable Dozen” petition drive to influence positive change at the USDA has paid off.

Following up on my organic food post of a couple of days ago, I felt this information was important to share with you. Kathleen Merrigan is currently the director of the Agriculture, Food, and Environment Program at Tufts University near Boston. As a staff member on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, she was instrumental in developing the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which created national standards for organic food. She also served as administrator of the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service from 1999 to 2001, overseeing the agency’s organic food program.

Right now there are lots of loopholes in food standards, a lack of uniformity in marketing and label claims, and consumer confusion over food definitions (grass-fed, natural, raised without antibiotics, etc.). Hopefully Kathleen can help clarify standards, promote sustainable food systems, support organic farmers, and fight the good food fight. Go Kathleen!

Stay tuned, more to come on food policy, hope and change.

organic food

Organic food — is it worth the money?

I think so and from what I’ve read, most of the time there is a difference in the nutritional value, not to mention the avoidance of pesticides and the impact on the environment. To me, it’s as much about what I’m NOT eating as what I am eating. This is important if you have celiac disease or other autoimmune or chronic conditions — and most of us have something a little off-kilter going on inside (hey, no body’s perfect). I’m going to resist launching into an anatomy lesson here, but our bodies don’t need the additional burden of figuring out what to do with the pesticide residue that often tags along with conventionally grown foods.

A National Academy of Sciences study stated that, “Low level pesticide exposure can cause serious, developmental risks to infants and children, some with lifelong consequences.” While limiting exposure is especially important for kids, it’s important for everyone, regardless of age. Continually dosing ourselves with synthetic fertilizers and chemicals designed to kill insects, fungal “pests,” and weeds can’t possibly be good for us. If this stuff keeps animals, insects, and bacteria from eating the food, maybe we shouldn’t be eating it either. Uh-oh, does that mean these little critters are smarter than we are?

At least try to minimize exposure by choosing organic when purchasing the following fruits and vegetables (the first list below). These have been labeled the “Dirty Dozen” by the Environmental Working Group after running over 50,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected between 2000 and 2005. If you can’t opt for organic in all your food choices, try to make your conventional choices from the “Cleanest 12” and your organic choices from the “Dirty Dozen” list.

The Dirty Dozen (highest in pesticide residue in order as listed)
sweet bell peppers
imported grapes

The Cleanest 12 (lowest in pesticides)
sweet corn (frozen)
sweet peas (frozen)

Get the full list of results at

I’m anxiously (seriously, I can’t sleep at night) awaiting the spring start-up of my Grant Family Farms CSA weekly delivery of organic fruits and vegetables. Have I mentioned how much I love these guys? Okay, okay — I know I talk about them a lot, but I’m not obsessed or anything. I promise. Well, maybe a little, but the bottom line is — I want safe, healthy, nutritious food that is locally grown by people who not only care about the food they’re growing, but how it impacts the environment as well. Yes, I admit it, I love these people.

Go forth and eat organic food, join a CSA, and thrive!
P.S. The above photo depicts some odds and ends in my refrigerator crisper drawer and the dregs from almost-empty rice bags. Everything is organic. I also had a left-over baked sweet potato and some home-made broth in the fridge. The result was the most wonderful and nutritious soup. Eating organic does not have to be expensive and with a little creativity you can stretch something like this “catch-all” soup for 2 or 3 days.

tea time

This post was inspired by a non-skid-faux-leopard-slipper-wearing British friend of mine. Don’t even ask, I’m not sure I could explain. She’s quite charming though.

Tea contains plant compounds called polyphenols, which have major antioxidant properties that may help lower cholesterol levels, promote bone strength, and boost the immune system. The polyphenols in tea include EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), one of the super antioxidants being studied for its anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory abilities. A recent study from Egypt even suggests green tea may enhance the effects of antibiotics.

The 4 basic types of true tea are black tea, oolong tea, green tea, and white tea. All true teas come from the buds or twigs of the Camellia sinensis bush. Herbal tea refers to an infusion of herbs (like chamomile or rosehips) and fruit and doesn’t normally contain any of the traditional tea bush.

Legend has it that one of the key spiritual leaders of Zen Buddhism, Guatama Buddha, discovered tea when some leaves from the Camellia sinensis bush fell into a pot of water he was heating. He drank the potion and decided it had medicinal and restorative powers. And here we are thousands of years later paying $7 for a can of dried bush leaves. Are we enlightened?

Whatever the case, tea does have some “enlightening” physiological powers. It can be spiritually and emotionally healing as well. Nourishment also includes slowing down, taking a break, and enjoying some quiet time. Having a cup of warm tea with a little honey might be a perfect way to do that.

Potent antioxidants are something we can all use, especially with our hectic lifestyle and the environmental toxins we’re sucking in on a daily basis. Antioxidants prevent or delay the oxidation process. They minimize the effects of free radicals on normal physiological functions. Blah, blah, blah — trust me, that’s a good thing.

I’ll touch on the basics of the most recognized types of tea. All have varying degrees of health benefits, but the least processed forms (exposing them to heat and drying methods) are the best.

White tea – grown in China, more expensive, and produced with the least amount of processing. It is almost colorless and has a delicate flavor.

Green tea – this is the one we’re most familiar with and comes in many varieties from all over Asia. It is stronger in color and flavor, but lower in antioxidant properties than white tea (but still on the high end with overall antioxidant ability).

Oolong tea – the word oolong means “black dragon” in Chinese. This version is more fragrant and flowery and according to some sources can vary between inexpensive Chinese restaurant tea to high-end versions that sell for $10,000 a pound. Huh? And I thought $7 a can was bad.

Black tea – is produced in large quantities in India and Ceylon. (Quick, where is Ceylon?) This is the mainstream stuff, the generic version, the most inexpensive and what we North Americans drink as iced tea. Ugh . . .

Bottom line? Add some green tea to your diet (along with dark chocolate and red wine). Buy organic versions and steep them properly. You can even eliminate most of the caffeine by steeping the leaves in hot water for about thirty seconds and then drain off the water. Now steep the leaves again as you normally would. This doesn’t impact the antioxidant abilities or the flavor for that matter, just the caffeine content

*Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972. So, where’s Sri Lanka?

P.S. Okay, I realize this isn’t exactly eating local (100 mile radius), which I’ve been accused of ranting about on occasion, but there are limits to my locavore attempts. Wait, on second thought, I have no idea where Sri Lanka is. Don’t tell me — maybe it’s closer than I think.

In good health,

duck duck goose & gluten-free baking

Do you remember the children’s game duck, duck, goose? A group of players would sit in a circle, facing inward and one would be it and walk around the outside of the circle tapping each child on the shoulder, “duck, duck, duck.” And then they’d finally pick one to be the “goose.” Frantic chasing around the circle ensued — until one tagged the other. I don’t remember the details, but the name came to mind when I sat down to write this post.

I think “duck, duck, goose” morphed into “spin the bottle” once adolescent hormones kicked in. Not that I would know.

But I digress.

Eggs — duck, duck, goose. The notes attached to the eggs in the photo above have nothing to do with who laid them. I have a winter egg share from my local CSA, Grant Family Farms and I’m now receiving some duck and goose eggs to go with the chicken share. My name is simply on my eggs at the pick-up location so share-holders don’t get confused, so no snide comments please. The photo is of one goose, duck, and chicken egg so you can see size comparisons.

The ducks, geese, and chickens at Grant Family Farms are fully pastured and consume an organic diet. The egg’s nutrition and flavor depends on what the birds eat and these lucky ducks (et al) eat what they’re supposed to be eating — bugs, plants, grasses and organic veggies. I’m told they’re particularly fond of organic romaine lettuce and have a rowdy barn dance when that’s served up. I suppose that’s one of the perks of living at Grant Farms Bird Spa. They have their own half-acre and access to swimming, fresh air, sunshine, and great food.

In the case of Grant Farms, “organic and pastured” means the birds live the good life outside, eat organic food, and are treated with care and consideration (as they should be). “Free range” may mean the birds are packed into a warehouse, but uncaged. It’s not quite what the name implies and the birds and the nutritional value of their products may be compromised. I’m finding it more and more important to know where my food comes from and who is responsible for growing, raising, and caring for it.

The ducks at Grant Farms are of the Peking variety and the eggs are cream-colored and make for light and fluffy baked goods. If you bake with gluten-free flours, these eggs help add texture and “spring” to everything from pancakes to muffins. The goose eggs I receive are from any of three breeds — Toulouse, African, or White Chinese and they’re big, as you can see below (compared to chicken eggs). One duck egg equals about 1.5 chicken eggs and 1 goose egg makes for 2 chicken eggs. They seem creamier than chicken eggs and the whites beat up a little stiffer. I LOVE them for gluten-free baking.

For everything you ever wanted to know about the nutrition of chicken eggs, including why you shouldn’t worry about them in connection with your cholesterol, check out this past post I did on the subject. If you eat eggs, choose high-end, pastured chicken eggs.


carnival of love

Don’t get all excited, it’s not like it sounds.

On second thought, maybe it is.

Carnival of Love is the name of the # 9 choice in Wine Spectator’s top 100 most exciting wine picks of 2008. The magazine’s editors reviewed more than 19,500 wines from around the world in a blind tasting to determine the top 100 list of the year. This post-toast is about the nutritional value of red wine, but before I launch into that, I have to mention something about this wine. Anything named Carnival of Love deserves a second look, especially on Valentine’s Day.

According to Wine Spectator, Carnival of Love is one of the few great Australian Shirazes priced under $100. Yes, $90 is under $100, but that’s still out of my price range, so no taste testing for me. I guess I’ll have to trust the editors unless they want to send me a case to ponder over.

Mollydooker, which is Aussie for left-hander, is the winery of Sarah and Sparky Marquis and home to this wonderful wine. No doubt a creative couple, they have several award winning wines with equally engaging names. Blue Eyed Boy is another one of Wine Spectator’s choices for most exciting new wines. Described as a blockbuster Shiraz with ripe and powerful fruit, seamless tannins, and a long finish, this one comes in at $55 a bottle (we’re getting closer). Goosebumps, Enchanted Path, and Velvet Glove round out my favorite Mollydooker names for reds, although none of them fall into my steadily slipping price range. Then again, it’s Valentine’s Day. What better way to spend your money than on a Carnival of Love or a Blue Eyed Boy?

But I digress. Back to my focus, which is the nutritional value of red wine.

Along with dark chocolate, which I fussed about and fawned over in my last post, red wine is now considered part of a healthy diet. That might be a bit of a stretch, but studies are showing that resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine may have beneficial effects on overall health and on the aging process. There are no human studies yet that substantiate the positive outcomes that have been documented in animal studies, but it’s something to think about. Moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, but that’s no reason to over-indulge. If you enjoy a glass of red wine on occasion, there’s mounting evidence that it may be good for you, although unsweetened grape juice may provide the same benefits. Breaking open a bottle of grape juice over a candlelight dinner just doesn’t create the same mood though. Nah, I’ll opt for the wine.

Since wine is gluten-free and I love red wines, a nice Pinot Noir, a smooth Merlot, or a velvety Cabernet is my indulgence of choice. Having said that, I find that more than one glass of wine can interrupt my sleep and most of the time sleep trumps wine for me. Alcohol might help you fall asleep, but it can interfere with your sleep cycles and mess with your deep REM phase of sleep. The REM stage is where your body and brain recover and regenerate. I don’t want that second glass of Merlot to barge in on any neuro-regeneration I’ve got going on at 2 AM. Seriously, I need all the help I can get.

Bottom line when it comes to wine?

It’s Valentine’s Day — the one day of the year that red wine and dark chocolate are nothing but health foods.

Now go forth and do some merry-making at the carnival of love.

x o x o

must-have health food

Although I’ve been on the “chocolate as health food” bandwagon for ages now, I’m glad to see sources like the Journal of Nutrition coming out with verifiable research to back up my wishful thinking. I am, however, disappointed the research didn’t call for larger portions of this necessary and life-sustaining health food. As with most things in life, there’s a “tipping point” where the risks start outweighing the benefits. In this case, the point of healthy consumption is a mere 6 or 7 grams a day. Darn it, that’s only a half a bar per week.

But hey, I’m not complaining. I’ll take 6 grams of dark chocolate over a teaspoon of cod liver oil any day.

The findings, published last month by an Italian university research team, resulted from the largest epidemiological study on chocolate ever conducted in Europe. Leave it to the Italians to figure out that a few grams of high-grade dark chocolate paired with a nice glass of Chianti qualifies as health food. You do know that red wine is good for you, right? (The result of more Italian research and worthy of a separate post. Check back later.)

Thousands of people enrolled in the research project, which focused on several complex mechanisms of inflammation and how they factor into major diseases. This is one study I wouldn’t hesitate to take part in. Testing chocolate as medicine? Yes, count me in.

Lead author of the study, Romina di Giuseppe explains, “We started from the hypothesis that high amounts of antioxidants contained in the cocoa seeds, in particular flavonoids and other kinds of polyphenols, might have beneficial effects on the inflammatory state. Our results have been absolutely encouraging: people having moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly have significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood. In other words, their inflammatory state is considerably reduced. The 17% average reduction observed may appear quite small, bit it is enough to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease for 1/3rd in women and 1/4th in men. It is undoubtedly a remarkable outcome.”

Hats off to my favorite Italian researcher and new best friend, Romina.

This study was done with high-quality, 72% or greater cocoa content chocolate bars. Hostess Ding Dongs don’t count. Neither do Mars Bars. Vosges Chocolates (one of my favorites) do, but I’m not sure about Mo’s Bacon Bar (see below). Bacon? Are you serious? Who came up with the idea of mixing bacon with chocolate? That’s a guy thing, it has to be.

Girls prefer the Vosges cardamom, organic walnuts, dried plums, and Venezuelan dark chocolate. Or the dark chocolate and pasilla chillies. Or the chocolate and plantains. Or Ceylon cinnamon, Mexican ancho chili, and dark chocolate. Just thought I’d throw that out in case anyone wants to help me with my preventive health care needs.

One of my local favorites is Chocolove Chocolate, made with love, hugs, and kisses in nearby Boulder, CO.

So there you have it, a chunk of dark chocolate every day may reduce your risk of heart disease and elevate your mood in the process.

Go forth and eat dark chocolate — and savor every 6.4 gram bite.

soy confuso* and tamari pepitas

It’s always something.

Why is the simple act of eating so difficult? It’s food, not astrophysics, although the science behind what we eat, where it comes from, and how that plays into our overall health can be incredibly confusing. Factor in the environmental impact of food production and it’s too much information to sort through.

Here’s an example — soy. Is it a miracle food or low-grade animal fodder? Is the rage over the benefits of soy a marketing ploy or the real thing? What does the research have to say? I’ll help you clear up the confusion. Or, more likely, add to it.

Out of fairness, I’ll start off by admitting I’m not a huge fan, don’t eat soy often, and never eat processed soy foods. I do like my gluten-free tamari (see spicy tamari pepita recipe below) and occasionally eat miso and sea-salted fresh edamame, but I find soy difficult to digest, so for the most part, I avoid it.

Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons. You decide and please let me know what you think. As a nutrition therapist and all around “food” person, I’m interested in what people are eating and why.

Soy pros (according to proponents)

• high in good-quality protein
• good combination of carbs, protein, and fat
• soy protein may lower cholesterol levels
• may be a good source of EFAs (essential fatty acids)
• high in fiber
• good source of many vitamins and minerals
• may be a well-absorbed iron source
• good source of magnesium
• well researched (used as a food source for thousands of years)
• soy’s high content of isoflavins may protect against disease
• isoflavins may protect against enlargement of the prostate gland
• isoflavins in soy may have potent antioxidant properties
• may protect against heart disease, cancers, and immune disorders
• helps mitigate menopause symptoms and protects against bone loss
• may help regulate blood sugar
• most widely grown and used legume in the world

Soy cons

• soy products contain trypsin inhibitors which can interfere with protein digestion
• may cause pancreatic disorders
• soy foods increase the body’s need for vitamin D
• MSG is a byproduct of soy processing and is considered a neurotoxin
• soy foods may contain high levels of aluminum
• the phytoestrogens (plant hormones) in soy may interfere with thyroid function
• infants fed soy formula have 13,000 to 22,000 times more estrogen compounds in their blood than babies fed milk-based formula (information from the Weston A. Price Foundation)
• soy phytoestrogens may interrupt normal endocrine function
• may promote breast cancer
• soy contains high levels of phytic acid which interferes with the assimilation of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc
• soy may interrupt normal development patterns in boys
• the FDA has not approved GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status for soy isoflavones because of the presence of carcinogens in processed soy
• soy foods have been shown to cause infertility in animals
• most US grown soybeans are genetically engineered to allow farmers to use large amounts of pesticides

According to the FDA Poisonous Plant Database, there are 288 studies available relating to the toxic properties of soy. The Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database indicates that soybean subsidies in the United States totaled $14.2 billion (yes, BILLION) from 1995-2006. Here’s where I could spiral off on food politics, but I’ll resist for now. For now, but stay tuned for future developments. Grrrr, I’m saving my pennies (literally) for a new computer and here I find direct cash payments courtesy of me (and you, the taxpayer) going directly to — oops, I promised I’d resist. Sorry about that. Breathe in, breathe out and back to the task at hand.

I’ll finish this off with a fun and easy recipe for spicy tamari pepitas. The fermentation process used to produce tamari makes for a much healthier version of soy.

Spicy Tamari Pepitas
Pepitas are the Spanish version of pumpkin seeds. These spicy treats are wonderful on their own or used as a topping for southwest style soups or on salads. This is a small serving recipe — you can adjust accordingly, but go easy on the oil.

1 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
3/4 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how spicy you are)
1 to 2 teaspoons gluten-free tamari
Pinch of natural brown sugar (sometimes I use a spot of honey, maybe a teaspoon or leave it out)

Heat oil in large pan over medium heat. Add pepitas and stir continually for a few minutes (3 to 4) until they toast up to a golden brown and start to make a popping noise. Add cayenne, tamari, and sugar and continue to stir for another couple of minutes. Make sure seeds are coated, golden brown, and a touch glossy looking. Move to a cookie sheet and gently spread out to cool and dry before serving. These things are addictive!

* Soy confuso mean’s I’m confused in Spanish. How perfect is that? The conflicting evidence regarding soy is next to impossible to sort out and I found that much of the positive research was (drum roll, please) sponsored by soy special interest groups. Let me know what you think, I’m seriously interested (an unscientific blog-study of sorts).

In good health,

my world — part 2

“. . . what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled . . .”
— Mary Oliver

Go forth and be dazzled.

(All photos and content are my property — copyright applies.)

my world — part 1

This post is for Miles and his bright and entertaining blog mates.

Normally I focus on nourishing food, but sometimes there’s nothing more nourishing than fresh air and the great outdoors. In his journal entry dated January 7, 1857 Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I thus dispose of the superfluous and see things as they are, grand and beautiful.”

Enough said. Enjoy a big, virtual gulp of Colorado’s crisp mountain air!

* These photos were all taken by me with my inexpensive little Canon camera (copyright applies, no lifting my photos, please).

Go forth and explore.

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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