Milk in the Raw – Okay or No Way?

30 May The cream rises to the top, and cream is good. (That's why we have that saying in reference to people, remember?)

So, is milk good or bad for you? The answer to this is both complex and not. As in, yes, it’s good, and yes, it’s bad. That’s why it’s complex. But the reason why the answer is complex is pretty simple. Read me?

The cream rises to the top, and cream is good. (That’s why we have that saying in reference to people, remember?)

Anywhere you look for information about milk and people’s relationship with it you’ll find conflicting information (okay, you already know this, because you’re the type of person who’s reading a blog like this in the first place). Part of the reason why there are so many differing views is not only because people are different, but also because the milk they’re drinking (or eating in whatever form) is different.

You’ve probably heard of raw milk advocacy. But do you understand what the big deal is? If hippies love peace so much, why do they get all high and mighty about certain issues—issues that can inspire federal agents to raid the property of raw milk dealers (after spending tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars subjecting them to surveillance for more than a year prior, then hijacking $70,000 worth of computers, files, cash, and perishable produce, and pouring out gallons of raw milk, even though in their entire twelve years doing this their product had caused no health problems whatsoever)? Perhaps a better question would be why the heck, in our free country, federal dough and energy is being expended on stopping the sale of something that never caused harm before Big Ag(riculture) stepped in…

So those raw milk lovers must sincerely believe that raw milk is amazing, that it shouldn’t be altered from its original form, and that people deserve access to raw milk so they can be healthy and raise healthy kids. Don’t agree or disagree with this until you know at least half as much as they do on the subject. I’m going to try to help us get at least some of the way there.

There is a colossal difference between the milk that our ancestors consumed and the milk that is consumed in the modern world. About 40,000 years ago the human race had a population explosion when they figured out that land that wouldn’t support farming would support grazing animals. This epiphany, that otherwise essentially unusable land, sunlight, and vegetation could be converted by animals into healthy food, changed the game considerably. Humans were no longer dependent on only what small game could survive in particular areas, but could now drink milk and eat meat more often.

Most human bodies switch off the gene to digest lactose after Mom cuts them off from the boob. My own mom claims I bit her so she stopped nursing abruptly, so of course I attribute certain neuroses to this shock – for example, I eat too damn much because I’m afraid it may disappear at any moment.

Interestingly, while some people have a milk protein (casein) allergy, someone who is only lactose intolerant should be able to eat all fermented forms of milk, i.e. cheese, yogurt, kefir, and so on, because the fermentation process breaks down the lactose. In cultures where humans continue drinking milk post-weaning, lactose intolerance is rarely an issue.

But here’s where I’m really going: Raw milk IS superior to the homogenized, pasteurized shadow of milk that is all that’s commercially available now. Here are the aspects of processing that make modern-day milk so blech . . .

  1. Pasteurization, i.e. heat, denatures proteins and kills friendly bacteria, which keeps less friendly bacteria from causing you harm.
  2. Homogenization explodes fat droplets in milk. According to Deep Nutrition, when you magnify a drop of fresh milk on a slide 10,000,000 times, you can see incredibly complex casein micelles. “Imagine a mound of spaghetti and meatballs formed into a big, round ball. The strands of spaghetti are made of protein (casein) and the meatballs are made of the most digestible form of calcium phosphate, called colloidal calcium phosphate, which holds the spaghetti strands together in a clump with its tiny magnetic charge. This clumping prevents sugar from reacting with and destroying milk’s essential amino acids.” To make a long story short, every globe of fat is enclosed within a membrane of sorts. The lipid bylayer within has a lot of specialized proteins that perform particular tasks, and as long as that membrane stays around that lipid blob, “the fat is easily digested, the gallbladder doesn’t have to squeeze out any bile for the fat to be absorbed, the fatty acids inside the blob are isolated from the calcium in the casein micelles, and everything goes smoothly. But if calcium and fats come into contact with one another . . . milk loses much of its capacity to deliver nutrients into your body.” Homogenization has been linked to heart disease as well (and though that idea is refuted by some, they never appear to take the above breakdown into account).
  3. So, not only is high heat and homogeneity in general terrible for humans, it’s also terrible for the milk that humans drink. Once pasteurized and homogenized, those fat globules are all the same tiny size (now small enough to enter your bloodstream and wreak mucosal havoc instead of staying in your belly where they belong) and “lack the sophisticated bylayer wrapping and are instead caked with minerals and tangled remnants of casein micelles.” The high heat has caused the sugar to react with the amino acids, which denatures the proteins and removes the colloidal calcium phosphate from the equation. Your spaghetti matrix becomes ten times as tangled as your headphone cords and is more tightly wound than your boyfriend the day before his thesis proposal is due. That friendly meatball of colloidal calcium has gone on to fuse with those fatty acids and now they form a soap made of milk-fat. This saponification reaction can not only irritate the crap out of people’s GI tracts but make the very nutrients we’ve been led to believe we should drink milk for pretty much good for nothing, or at least pretty close.
  4. Processing destroys the signal molecules that let your body recognize milk as its buddy, instead causing it to react more like it’s an alien invader, which, after running the past.-homo. gauntlet (is that a nickname that works? or not?) it basically is.

But could raw milk be dangerous? Sure, if it’s from any of the millions of unhealthy cows fed a diet of corn and grain that’s foreign to their digestive tracts, who suffer not just from massive amounts of gas buildup (which according to some sources accounts for 1/3 of global warming emissions) but also from painful mastitis due to prolific use of recombinant bovine growth hormone. Painful for the cow and yuck for you (pus and blood, anyone?). Milk from healthy cows is an entirely different story. Your raw milk comes from a cow who is pasture-raised in the sunshine, eating grass and the insects upon it from pasture that is often otherwise untenable for agriculture. And like a thousand generations before you, give or take, people can and do flourish on this whole food. 

Even better, when raw milk sours it doesn’t go rancid like pasteurized milk does, but instead becomes buttermilk. Seriously. Because pasteurized milk has no beneficial bacteria or probiotics left, it just rots. It might be difficult for regular milk drinkers to grow accustomed at first, but soured milk is great for making yogurt, cheese, buttermilk biscuits, plus loads of other options you can find all over the internet on blogs like The Healthy Home Economist. Plus, you can use it to soak your grains in to break down the phytates that negatively affect digestion as well as add it to other foods to render them more digestible. Yep, soured raw milk is actually better for you than it was before, and, just like other fermented foods, is terrific for your guts.

So, if you’re lucky enough to live in one of the eight states where you can buy raw milk on the shelf of your local natural food store (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maine, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Mexico, and Washington – though I’ve yet to see it at corporate groceries), go forth and get it! And if you live in a less-free state, ask around, google it, check with your local or nearby WAPF chapter. If you don’t yet want to take the plunge into sour milk recipes and want to go the slow intro route, freeze it in separate jars and use it a little at a time so it doesn’t ferment while you’re easing into the idea. And if you want to take a little more control over the souring process, you can buy starters from Cultures for Health to do just that. You might just turn into one of those raw milk advocates yourself.

Forever Youthful for Dirt Cheap and Easy? Yep.

10 Apr

Beef broth about twelve hours in.

Ever suffered from chronic tendinitis? Weak bones, nails, hair, connective tissues? Gut issues? Peptic ulcers? Cellulite? Collagen loss? IBS? I may have the solution for you to all of the above problems, and most importantly, for virtually no money and in a form that conserves resources, prevents landfills from landfilling, and makes you feel like a super-provider for your loved ones.

A couple of weeks ago I picked up some big beef bones at the farmer’s market. They were labeled “dog bones” and were two bucks a piece, and after asking the farmer if there was any reason they wouldn’t be fine for humans, too (“can’t imagine why not”), I bought three and threw them in the freezer when I got home.

So I pulled two of the bones out of the freezer this week, put them in a stockpot, covered them with water, put a lid on, and turned the heat on medium low. I turned it down to just a slow simmer after a while, and for the next 30+ hours I peered in the pot occasionally to see how it was progressing.

Why do this? It’s not simply about making my own soup stock (free of added lab-synthesized flavors, MSG, hydrolyzed proteins, and other questionable and toxic ingredients) – though that is a factor, since I love soup. It’s waaaay more about the amazing stuff I’m simmering out of the bones and then putting into ME. Just about everything that these bones are composed of can be drawn out and thus capitalized on.

That means you can give away your glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements, extracted through murky means. You can stop throwing money away on expensive face and booty creams that don’t seem to do anything at all to fabricate smoother skin. You can stop popping antacids or avoiding foods that are healthy but seem to be hard on your stomach.

Used for centuries as a way to make it through times of scarce protein, the components of gelatin in bone broth actually helps your body synthesize protein:

Early in this century researchers showed that gelatin increases the utilization of the protein in wheat, oats, and barley, though not of corn; that the digestibility of beans is vastly improved with the addition of gelatin; and that gelatin helps the digestion of meat  protein. The last appears to confirm the subjective reports of many people who say that meats found in soups and pot roasts–cooked with bones for a long time in a liquid to which a touch of vinegar has been added–are easier to digest than quickly cooked steaks and chops, and why gelatin-rich gravies are at the heart of many culinary traditions. - “Why Broth is Beautiful”

The gelatin in bone broth can also be useful in healing leaky-gut syndrome, which is often a byproduct of celiac disease or lesser levels of gluten or general grain sensitivity and is frequently found in those suffering from disorders like autism and Asperger’s.  It appears that eating gelatin-rich broth, which is easily made from animals that are free-ranging (and not those found in battery/industrial farming) renders most of the more difficult to digest foods far more digestible. This means not only will you not suffer from indigestion, you’ll also find that you have to eat less food because you’re obtaining more nutrition from what you eat (remember that particularly when you decide against buying your kids or your pets more expensive food – you can eat less of higher quality food because your body gets far more out of it – PLUS, it will make them poop smaller because there will be less that their bodies can’t use).

Collagen-rich bones, especially ones like knuckles, are great for restoring your own collagen, meaning that this may be one of your best shots at reversing aging – unlike that shot of creepy botulinum toxin, i.e. Botox.

There are more efficient ways to do it than I did on my electric stovetop, like crockpots, plug-in roasters, convection stovetops, campfire coals, on and on, but use what is most convenient for you.

After adding a little salt I dipped bread in that broth and wow. Sooo goooood. Then I added a couple of cups of it to the chili I was cooking, and it added tons of meaty flavor. Later I just straight up had a cup of it with lunch, then another one with dinner.

Beyond its nutritional brilliance, one of the best aspects of bone broth is that it’s made with animal products that are often thrown away. If you’re a vegan because you don’t like the idea of an animal dying to feed you or because it expands your carbon footprint, then you should capitalize on the benefits of bone broth. In other words, examine your ideals and acknowledge the true reasons you’re a vegan. If it’s for the above reasons, try making broth with parts that ordinarily go to waste. Then you’re doing something even better for the planet than avoiding factory-farmed meat – you’re exploiting the nutrition within what would otherwise wind up in a landfill, and there’s little more conservationist than that. You’re not only reducing your other food consumption but also reducing waste.

Remember also that the amino acids in gelatin, like all amino acids, can only be properly utilized when the diet contains sufficient fat-soluble activators–vitamins A and D–found exclusively in animal fats. So don’t hesitate to put cream in your broth-based soups and sauces, and include other sources of vitamins A and D in your diet, such as butter, egg yolks and cod liver oil. – “Why Broth is Beautiful”

There are so many things you can make broth with that will pass on massive amounts of necessary amino acids, sulfates, minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and silicon that are easily synthesized within the body, unlike those within most expensive supplements. I’m not easily grossed out, but I know that some of my broth constituent suggestions could be a little more difficult for some people to stomach—however, that is exactly why these parts should be consumed, because if modern appetites reject them because we’re no longer accustomed to these foods, then these nutrition explosions will tragically go to waste while you go to Burger King. So yep, you can make it with chicken feet and heads, lamb and cattle hooves, shrimp shells, fish carcasses, even pig skin. These aren’t things that tend to bother me much, but I know for some people they could take some getting used to.

Though I didn’t do it this time and it’s not necessary, try roasting the bones in the oven for awhile to improve the finished flavor. During the heating process a “Maillard reaction” occurs that fuses amino acids with sugars, resulting in a broth that will be tastier and darker.

Cellulite ruining your life? Probably time to get a life.

There are a lot of blog posts and articles out there with manic bone broth obsessions for all of the issues I’ve listed and ten times those. Here are just a few if you’d like to learn more about it before you dive in. Saveur, a magazine I fall more in love with every month, has a great short piece on bones called “Bone Gatherer“. Cheeseslave even did a bone broth challenge, and has a list of links to broth-based recipes, and Melissa, the “Expert Cellulite Investigator” is curing her fluoride-caused cystic acne and (obviously) her cellulite with it. The Weston A. Price Foundation has a couple of articles about how “Broth is Beautiful” here and here. The latter article goes more into depth about the actual contents of bone broth and why they do what they do.

Of course, one of the things that most appeals to me about bone broth is its simplicity in preparation. If it’s too complex, most people, including me, aren’t likely to bother with it. But this stuff is easier than pie, even though you should feel free to complicate it to suit your tastes and what you have currently taking up space in your fridge.

Here is the most basic recipe, and is exactly what I did.

Bone Broth

- Bones

- Water (enough to cover dem bones)

- A splash of apple-cider vinegar

- A big lidded pot to put it in

Heat it up slowly, bringing it to a slow, low simmer, never allowing it to boil. Chicken bones require less time than beef, twenty-four or far less as opposed to twice that, if you want to allow the time, but you can do anywhere from four to seventy-two hours to forever, apparently. In China it’s common for “perpetual broth” to be in restaurant and home kitchens. Solids are removed and buried in the garden every week or two and new stuff is added while the stuff simmers ever onward.  If you feel like adding veggies for extra flavor near the end of cooking, do so. The apple-cider vinegar theoretically helps draw the minerals out of the bones, but I’m still looking around for more evidence of this. Can’t hurt, though. Some people say to skim off the scum that rises to the top off because it affects the flavor or has potential toxins, but I didn’t find it to be a problem beyond simple aesthetics and the toxin idea has been mostly dismissed. I also don’t take the fat off after it cools, either, as some recipes prefer. To make storing and using it simpler, try freezing it in your ice cube trays and storing the cubes in freezer bags to use in more measured amounts as you like.

Then go crazy with it. Put it in everything, the baby bottle, the dog food, the rice, the quinoa, the chili, the soup, the health shakes. And be sure to let me know what you think of it.

Good Looks are More Than Skin-Deep, or Why You Want Attractive Kids

5 Mar

Turns out that the way you look, from the width of your face to the spacing of your eyes to the prominence of your brow or chin, might be more than a matter of simple aesthetics. In other words, rich people aren’t good-looking simply because their fathers before them could afford to entice the most beautiful women into the backseat of the family Rolls Royce. Rich people must tend towards good-looking because they’re rich. Dammit, right?

The reason for this is probably what you assumed, to a degree, anyway. THEY HAVE MONEY! So they can afford the best hairdressers, makeup, zit creams, and so on, maybe. I used to think to myself while in grade school, why does the biggest spoiled brat in school have such perfect skin? Life is so not fair. And it’s true – life’s not fair. But the reality is even less fair than all that, perhaps. If someone’s mom can afford to feed herself well, and then later her growing fetus, then there’s a much greater chance that her offspring’s genes will work to his or her advantage. This translates to fully and correctly formed skulls, skeletons, organs, and teeth. However! – rich or poor, everyone can find, make, grow, or create foods that will create super-healthy fetuses who will later have increased chances of becoming superhumans.

There are valid reasons that we are drawn to particular facial features, and those reasons are completely intertwined with the seemingly magical formula that dictates how all living things form and grow. This magical formula is literally a code of proportional growth, and it silently guides the creation of virtually all of humankind’s most recognized works of art, architecture, photography, and music. This “golden ratio” – 1.61803398 (and so on) is the Fibonacci sequence. In the late 1970’s a plastic surgeon named Dr. Stephen Marquardt, faced with a difficult reconstruction of the badly-damaged lower jaw of a girl involved in a car accident, wondered how he could give her results that she’d be happy with. Exactly what would constitute a jaw that would be attractive on the proportions of her face in particular?

The book Deep Nutrition states, “In his pursuit of the perfect face, Dr. Marquardt discovered that the golden ratio is uniquely capable of generating a special kind of symmetry, called dynamic symmetry. According to the theory of perception, there are two ways to create harmonic balance within an object or space. One is to divide it into equal parts, creating the symmetry of balance. The other is a division based on the golden section, creating the perfect form of asymmetry–perfect because the ratio of the lesser part to the greater part is the same as the greater part to the whole. This is dynamic symmetry. Interestingly, dynamic symmetry characterizes the growth of living matter, while static symmetry characterizes the growth of crystals.”

Contrary to widely-held belief, the popular media doesn’t truly dictate the overriding standard by which we pick our most beautiful people. Even babies stare longer at people whose faces are formed according to the same proportions that shape not just the growth of ferns and the formation of the nautilus shell, but the dendritic connections inside of our brains. This baby gaze implies that our brains seek recognizable patterns in order to draw more rapid conclusions, like, “Oh, that’s human (or not).” As Dr. Catharine Shanahan, the author of Deep Nutrition says, “every time the brain is presented with an image or sound it is, in essence, being posed a kind of mathematical riddle. The more pleasing the image or harmonious the sound, the fewer the barriers standing between the beholder and the pleasure of the epiphany of the solution. The Fibonacci sequence may facilitate this process, enabling us to solve these visual or acoustic riddles faster by serving as a template that helps order our minds and orchestrate our thoughts.” So basically, all this means that beauty is more than skin-deep, at least when we’re talking epigenetics. Epigenetics tells us that our environment dictates somewhere between 80 and 97% of our gene expression. The most direct and consistent way we interact with our genes is via the food we eat.

The child who in the womb had a steady diet of nutrition-packed fetus food will enjoy the fruits of her parents’ dietary investments for her entire life. Not only will she have a healthy brain inside a spacious skull, she’ll have muscles and bones that are built to perform, rather than slowly assuming the same dimensions as her beanbag video gaming chair. Even if she squanders these genetic gifts by spending years eating crappy food, drinking soda, and playing World of Warcraft for 18-hour stretches, she will still suffer fewer negative effects than someone who does all those same things without the same inheritance (however, her kids would be screwed – parents, stop parking your kids in front of the TV or your grandkids could wind up not-so-hot). Interestingly enough, while prenatal vitamins can aid in proper fetal development, those vitamins would do far more good if they were administered in the months before mom ever becomes pregnant, creating an environment that’s rich enough to prepare for the baby’s first ten weeks of development, when fetal formation is most able to be influenced. So, if you or someone you love is thinking about getting pregnant, make sure you’re doing everything within your grasp to give those future babies a leg up. In that same vein, it’s important that every mother give her body at least three years between children to recover fully so the next baby will be offered all the same advantages.

Another important factor to consider as a mom is that no matter how little you have to offer of yourself to that growing baby, he will find it and take it for himself. Not eating enough quality saturated fats and grass-fed animal products? Your brain will actually shrink as a result of pregnancy because, no matter what, your baby will get what he needs in order to form arms, legs, fingers, toes, eyes, organs, and so on. He will harvest your vitamin, fat, and mineral stores from your bones, your central nervous system, your organs, anywhere they can be found. So if you’re interested in having not only a healthy kid but staying healthy enough to take care of it, EAT WELL. The investment you make in quality food now could save you countless dollars and heartache down the road. I’m not talking only about saving on orthodontic braces. Think about how much money it will cost to treat allergies, spinal or facial deformities, asthma, chronic illness, or digestive problems. Think about how much suffering any of the above could put your child through, much less you.

Here are some basics:

  • READ! Find as many sources of information as possible on nutrition. Try Food Rules by Catharine Shanahan for great guidelines.
  • Take a high-quality prenatal vitamin starting NOW if you’re interested in baby-making anytime in the near future. (Studies have shown that this can also cut autism rates in half.)
  • Avoid vegetable oils and sugars. These block signals that control our metabolism, adding to fetal growth issues in the womb that deprive your fetus of what it needs to build nerves and bones, and even develop sexually. (While it’s come out recently that high-fructose corn syrup behaves the same as regular fructose in the body in terms of insulin reaction, HFCS is still an industrial toxin to your baby’s and your systems. Avoid it especially.)
  • If you’re a vegetarian, and especially if you’re a vegan, do some serious research. It is incredibly important that you not sacrifice your baby’s long-term success to your dietary choices, no matter how rooted in ethics or distaste they may be. Find out which vitamins, minerals, and fats that fetuses need to thrive, and assume that any RDA woefully under-represents realistic demands pregnancy will make on a mother’s body. Consider introducing organ meats, particularly liver and other pasture-raised meats, dairy, and eggs, as well as purified fish oil into your diet ASAP. Here’s a website that is acutely devoted to making babies as well-built as possible.
  • Know that today’s veggies have not nearly the nutritive value as those grown even a few decades ago due to how drastically generations of commercial agriculture have depleted our soil. If you can, grow as much as possible in your own organically fertilized and composted garden, shop at your local farmer’s market, and eat massive amounts of quality veggies from the full color-spectrum (particularly of the leafy green variety). Green smoothies are a great way to load up on all the goodness of several typical servings of veggies along with all the necessary fiber to keep them in your system long enough to absorb the goods.
  • Eat healthy, stable fats. This is necessary for a million reasons, not least of all being that to use many of the most vital nutrients from your food, your body needs fat to synthesize them.
  • Find a good probiotic so that you absorb more nutrition from the food that you eat.

Building a person is the most important job you will ever have. Treat it as such and hopefully by the time you’re old enough to be in diapers again your child will still be fit enough to change them for you.

Feel free to pass on any other recommendations you have in the comment section. Thanks for reading! – Lydia

Fat in Your Face (and Chocolate Avocado Pudding)

19 Feb

I’m keeping it short and sweet (by my definition) today. Though I’ve been swimming in what feels like thousands of articles and posts and blogs and books about nutrition, I feel a bit blank sometimes when it comes down to conveying what I think is most immediately important and easily digestible to YOU, as potentially casual explorers in a kind of new (but old) world. Because I haven’t been in this writing about food game all that long, I feel as if I need to get the most important stuff said first, so then I can build on it and readers can just reference it later to back up the lighter stuff that will follow. Unfortunately, figuring out how to get all that out there in a manner that’s brief enough to hold your attention while still being incredibly informative is kind of tricky. Of course, part of the problem is that I have so much of this stuff swimming around in my brain soup that I get a little wide-eyed, thinking “Where do I begin?!?” I also just picked up two new books – Deep Nutrition by Catherine and Luke Shanahan, and Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas – and they both look incredible. So far, I’ve only started the first one but I’ve already had whoa! moments on every page (for example: Docs at the Keck School of Medicine in L.A. discovered that children whose mothers smoked while pregnant were 1.5 times more likely to develop asthma than those born to non-smoking mothers – no surprise there. However, if Grandma smoked, the child was 1.8 times more likely to develop asthma – even if Mom never smoked! If both Mom and Grandma smoked, the odds increase 2.6 times. Ugh. This has a whole lot to do with how DNA changes in reaction to our behaviors). Well, creeping ever closer to physical enlightenment…

So, I’m gonna let all that settle down a bit. Here, instead, are a few basic points – from the amazing and thought-provoking website of Tom Naughton, creator of the movie “Fat Head”- to think about as well as perhaps explore a bit further on your own, should you feel so inspired.

  • There’s never been a single study that proves saturated fat causes heart disease.
  • As heart-disease rates were skyrocketing in the mid-1900s, consumption of animal fat was going down, not up. Consumption of vegetable oils, however, was going up dramatically.
  • Half of all heart-attack victims have normal or low cholesterol. Autopsies performed on heart-attack victims routinely reveal plaque-filled arteries in people whose cholesterol was low (as low as 115 in one case).
  • Asian Indians – half of whom are vegetarians – have one of the highest rates of heart disease in the entire world. Yup, that fatty meat will kill you, all right.
  • When Morgan Spurlock tells you that a McDonald’s salad supplies almost a day’s allowance of fat, he’s basing that statement on the FDA’s low-fat/high-carbohydrate dietary guidelines, which in turn are based on … absolutely nothing. There’s no science behind those guidelines; they were simply made up by a congressional committee.
  • Kids who were diagnosed as suffering from ADD have been successfully treated by re-introducing natural saturated fats into their diets. Your brain is made largely of fat.
  • Many epileptics have reduced or eliminated seizures by adopting a diet low in sugar and starch and high in saturated animal fats.
  • Despite everything you’ve heard about saturated fat being linked to cancer, that link is statistically weak. However, there is a strong link between sugar and cancer. In Europe, doctors tell patients, “Sugar feeds cancer.”
  • Being fat is not, in and of itself, bad for your health. The behaviors that can make you fat – eating excess sugar and starch, not getting any exercise – can also ruin your health, and that’s why being fat is associated with bad health. But it’s entirely possible to be fat and healthy. It’s also possible to be thin while developing Type II diabetes and heart disease.
  • Saturated fat and cholesterol help produce testosterone. When men limit their saturated fat, their testosterone level drops. So, regardless of what a famous vegan chef believes, saturated fat does not impair sexual performance.

Pretty interesting, right? So, I know there are a lot of you out there who think to yourselves lately, “okay, all of this stuff that’s now telling me it’s okay to eat saturated fat is great, but I should probably err on the safe side and maybe just add a little more in, and still buy my low-fat milk and yogurt, and bake with vegetable oil. Also, I’m still going to only eat a couple of eggs a week, or at least just eat the whites, mostly, because my dad had a couple of heart attacks. And I do eat a ‘healthy’ cereal in the morning with soy milk, so I should probably keep doing that…” You’ve probably figured out I don’t agree, but onward, ho! Do remember that the source of your fats is of particular importance, though.

Hopefully the above points will keep you thinking about erring on what the CDC and USDA and FDA are telling you is the safe side. And also, hopefully this recipe for a dessert that is as supremely tasty as it is healthy will motivate you to explore a diet that’s based more on healthy fat and protein and less on processed grains and cheap oils. I am never, ever for deprivation. You have nothing (that you truly need) to lose and only years and mobility and health to gain.

Chocolate Avocado Pudding

After finding it on The Leftover Queen’s blog, I’ve made this pudding at least once a week for the past few months, especially since it takes about five minutes and avocados seem to be on sale a lot lately. It’s creamy, vanilla-y, smooth, vegan, and should completely satisfy your post-dinner cravings for a little something sweet. Plus, it’s loaded with fiber, plant-based saturated fat, and vitamins C, K, and Folate (which makes it a far healthier way to get your pre-natal vitamins than the Folic Acid in vitamin supplements). In spite of it being avocado-based, you could fool anyone into thinking that this is a rich and unhealthy dessert that they’re probably better off not indulging in. I chose not to recommend raw cacao for this recipe because it’s said to contain a lot of phytates, which are nutrient-absorption inhibitors. Dutch-process cacao could work well, preferably organic and fair-trade (did you know the biggest slave industry in the modern world is in the chocolate industry?). Also, I mean straight-up cacao or cocoa, not anything containing sugar or dairy or any other kind of filler. Here’s a great post about cocoa, and here’s a link to Penzey’s Spices, a site with high-fat cocoa recommended by a cookbook I’ve been digging through, Paleo Comfort Foods

Throw these ingredients in a food processor and blend -holy cow, that's creamy

3 ripe avocados

1/2 c. coconut milk beverage (or raw milk, or your choice of milk alternatives)

1/3 c. maple syrup

1/3 c. dark cacao/cocoa

1/2 tsp. cayenne and/or cinnamon (optional, but I happen to love them in here)

1 tsp. vanilla (also optional, and the maple syrup also helps makes it taste vanilla-y already)

I’ve found that this pudding seems to taste even more rich a day after making it, but it keeps pretty well in the fridge for at least a couple of days. Next I want to try making it with canned coconut milk, replacing at least half of the other “dairy” in the recipe. Seems like it would be even more fantastic…

Beautiful Commercial with a Dumb Message

7 Feb

Or, Why Canola Oil is Terrible.

Here’s a commercial from the Danish butter company Lurpak. There’s a decent amount of quality butter here in the United States that easily competes with their product (like KerryGold, which is actually from grass-fed cows, unlike Lurpak), but for some reason we have this Danish brand shipped over here to charge not-so-savvy gourmets a small fortune for it.

I found this on the NPR website, which talked about how Denmark (of all places) is following in the footsteps of the U.S. and trashing butter. Lame. Lurpak makes a visually stunning commercial glorifying the beauty of vegetables, and tops it off with their new product, which is a processed veggie oil and butter blend.

Why?

Vegetable oils are cheap, and not nearly as good for you as fats that are stable at high temperatures. When companies tell you that saturated fat is bad and processed junk like “Smart Balance” is good, and you buy into it, you’re paying MORE for a product that costs far less to produce and is actually causing you serious damage over the thousands of meals you eat it in. Polyunsaturated fats are fragile and oxidize easily at higher temps. When you cook with canola oil, corn oil, or other polyunsaturated oils you’re putting cartloads of oxidized fatty acids into your body, increasing your risk of all inflammatory diseases. Not only that, but before these oils ever enter your body they’re subject to extraction processes that often render them rancid and nutritionless.

From Wikipedia: Extraction- “The ‘modern’ way of processing vegetable oil is by chemical extraction, using solvent extracts, which produces higher yields and is quicker and less expensive. The most common solvent is petroleum-derived hexane. This technique is used for most of the ‘newer’ industrial oils such as soybean and corn oils.”

So why did our government tell us for decades that butter was going to fill our arteries with food-grade concrete? How was the connection made between saturated fats and cholesterol and heart disease, when for centuries the human machine has been consuming these deadly foods and still building empires? For a few simple reasons: They were paid to. They could continue to be paid to. They like money.

Or maybe they just love yellow flowers.

Here’s an interesting piece of info about how rapeseed oil became the gigantic commodity that it is today:

“….An initial challenge for the Canola Council of Canada was the fact that rapeseed had never been given GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A change in regulation would be necessary before rapeseed could be marketed in the U.S. (The word “canola” was created from “Canadian oil low-acid” for obvious reasons people didn’t think a product with the word rape in it would fly off the shelves). Just how this was done has not been revealed, but GRAS status was granted in 1985. Why? Because the Canadian government paid the FDA the sum of $50 million to have rape registered and recognized as “safe” (Source: John Thomas, Young Again, and others). One informant in the publishing industry divulged that, since the mid 1990s, major publishers would not accept cookbooks unless they included canola in the recipes. Did those publishers issue this demand because they were receiving money under the table from the Canadian rapeseed industry?” (-find more about it here.) Here’s an article about how this guy is sure that canola and soy consumption cause macular degeneration and glaucoma, as well as mad cow disease. No kidding.

I’ve posted this video (from the movie Fat Head) before, but it’s terrific and a quick and painless way to learn about how the scientific method can often work, regarding matters like human health.

Remember to assume that if the government tells you it’s good for you, figure out why first. History shows that the why usually has everything to do with dollars, and little to nothing to do with your actual health. If you want to learn more about why I cook with butter and coconut oil, read my Fat is Fantastic blog.

Let me know what your favorite veggie plus fat recipe is. The more, the better…

Dear Deer, …

2 Feb

Thank you for being so incredibly tasty. I’m truly sorry (what does it mean to be truly sorry, anyway?) that you had to (well, YOU didn’t have to, I guess) die to put meat on my plate. Thank you for being oblivious enough to the lethal intent of humans that you failed to hide from them all. I’m also sorry that apparently your mom witnessed your death, as did your twin brother. I heard that she’s running around with a broken leg right now but seems healthy otherwise, still eating and all. Shay, who shot you, said he recognized her by the bald spot on her rump, plus your brother was with her. And the other night we fed three people on your backstrap, which was cooked medium rare and covered in portabellas and onions sautéed in butter and deglazed in red wine.

The months I spent in the Red River Gorge this year doing canopy tour construction meant a good bit of time around deer. Every day we were out in the woods, rain or shine or sleet or snow, and often young deer would wander up to my crew to check us out. A woman who lives nearby takes in hurt or orphaned deer, meaning they become accustomed to humans being a source of food and scratching. This also means when they wander off the property, and thus off of “wildlife preserve” space, they are easy targets. Sad. I still can’t imagine killing an animal myself unless I’m in dire straits. I think of a lot of you meat eaters feel the same way, and I’m not saying that attitude is or isn’t okay, but it’s just reality. 

Being an animal-loving meat eater is difficult (poor us, right?) because you can feel hypocritical a lot of the time. I kill other animals to feed my cat (though to be fair, his meat comes from the King Family Farm in Ohio, and is happy chicken offal that most of us probably wouldn’t eat, anyway, but he loves it). I will go far out of my way to help a dog or cat or hell, even a cow or pig or chicken, who is in pain or lost or separated from its owner/protector. I do this because I believe that no animal should suffer. Nothing that can feel pain should be made to feel it if at all possible.  And here’s where it gets complicated. Even the tiny fraction of food animals that come from farms that care to ensure that their charges are healthy and comfortable still have to have their animals slaughtered, and this is where it can get ugly. I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals last year and it made an impression, and a pretty nauseating one at times. Foer is a vegan whose wife was pregnant and who wanted to know if he could conscionably raise his future kid as vegan, so he went out to make his research (not “do” because he went out on the front lines, finding activists who would help him sneak/break into massive factory farms that have a policy of NO OUTSIDERS (warning sign #1). He learned that even those farms who care about happy animals still have to have their animals slaughtered in inhumane ways, because the more humane mobile killing units (that bring a trailer to your property and take the animals in there for the process) are fewer and farther between because they can’t afford to stay in business.

Foer tells us that about ten percent of pigs are assumed lost from the beginning because they are so consistently terrified that they drop dead before they can go to slaughter. Another ten percent is written off because the pigs that almost drop dead, but just make it long enough to be loaded in the truck and shipped out, have such intense and sustained adrenaline surges that their muscles turn into inedible mush.

Sounds a little incredible, right? Well, two days after I read that I was digging through my fridge and I saw a big grocery store-labeled pork loin. I asked my boyfriend where it had come from, because he and  I hardly ever buy meat, and when we do it’s from sources we trust, and he surprised me by saying that he had bought it for the ten guy friends of his who had crashed at my house the previous weekend to go to our local climbing festival. The weekend had been so full he’d never gotten around to cooking it.

Well, I said, we better cook it or it will go to waste. As far as I’m concerned that’s one of the ultimate sins –  meat thrown away and an animal dead for no reason. So I called up a couple of our buddies and invited them over for a pork dinner that night. And it was really good. So good, in fact, that I went back for seconds. I sat back down on the porch swing, took my first bite, chewed it, furrowed my eyebrows, swallowed, and looked down at my plate. There was something wrong with this pig. I smelled it, and it had a fragrance faintly reminiscent of blue cheese. But that wasn’t the most disturbing part. The consistency of this meat was like paté, soft, and um…mushy. Oh, no. This was the very thing I’d read about. I had just ingested the meat of a tortured animal, who lived a life in fear and no doubt died in pain. And now, not only was I a part of that hellish cycle, that sad energy was now going to play a role in shaping my cells. The first part of the loin we’d cut into was normal, but an entire third to a half of it was not at all normal.

I feel like when I tell people that the energy of the meat that goes in your body is important, that they think I sound like a hyper-spiritual hippie, that the bad juju of factory farming will somehow curse my body and my offspring for seven generations. But here’s what I mean. The emotions animals have, just like the ones we have, cause chemicals to be released. These chemicals cause real physiological changes. For example, the release of adrenaline triggers the fight or flight response by causing particular blood vessels to constrict and other ones to open in order to facilitate survival (an interesting side effect: ever get scared and have to poop? – adrenaline causes smooth muscles to contract, meaning your body wants to drop the poop in order to lighten the load and even potentially distract a predator) (so maybe a good cure for constipation – besides more fiber, of course – is a quality scare). If a constant onslaught of adrenaline can cause muscle to eventually turn to mush, imagine what other chemical damage is going on that we don’t even know about.

Also makes you wonder what four cups of coffee and its resulting adrenaline surge could do to you after a couple of decades, right? Not to mention what kind of damage consistently taxing your adrenals can do…anyway, sounds like a good subject for another day.

So, though I wasn’t really intending to go in this direction when I started writing today, here we are. I believe there are a lot of us who can’t really do all that well without meat. Sure, there are some people who do just fine, but everyone is different. I tend to develop muscle easily, and I crave meat. I feel like a million bucks after a plate of sashimi. Not so much after a plate of pasta (particularly once I realized that I needed to go gluten-free). One of my favorite references is Sally Fallon’s incredible cookbook Nourishing Traditions, which bases all its premises about what’s best for human development on the studies of a dentist who traveled the world studying bone structure and tooth decay in isolated cultures. These isolated cultures, who were deprived of the brilliance of processed foods, had no cavities, wide faces, straight teeth, and easy births. Their diets were composed of meat and organs from healthy animals, oily fish, full-fat unprocessed dairy, and fermented foods, and were high in saturated fats. Without fail, as soon as processed foods and vegetable oils were introduced into a populace, bone structure in the following generations seemed to literally cave in. The most obvious sign of this was a narrow palate (the space between your upper teeth) resulting in teeth that were crowded. What does this really mean? It means that the rest of the body fails to fully develop, too. Hips are narrower, meaning more difficult births. Skulls are smaller, meaning less room for developing brains. All internal organs have less room to grow.

It came as a relief to me that a lot of the foods I already ate were on the good list, like salmon and sardines, eggs and saturated fats from healthy animals. However, there were plenty on the bad list. Not only that, I’d been missing out on all of the incredible benefits of eating fermented foods, which make your digestive system super-functional and capable of absorbing all of the good stuff you need from food, and soaked grains and legumes, which are FAR easier for your body to take advantage of.

So, though I’m an animal lover, I come first, and so do any potential offspring I might have in the future. I want to be sure that I’m shaping myself into the best person I can be with whatever resources I have (and I still have a long way to go, for sure), and that I give every potential opportunity possible to my children. I don’t want kids with shrunken heads and puny brains. I also want to make sure that the animals I eat have gone through as minimal an amount of suffering as possible, because when I eat them or what they produce, I become them. I get the majority of my protein from eggs, and after that, sardines (yep, I love them). I eat a lot of beans, soaked overnight, and lots and lots of vegetables. I try to eat kim chee and miso and drink kombucha and kefir whenever I can. I take fish oil that’s certified PCB-free. If I eat meat, it comes from the local farmer’s market, or local shops that stock meat from local farms, or, like deer, it comes from the wild, or I buy it from local restaurants who promise that they source local meat.

So, as long-winded as this post may be, I know it’s just scratching the surface. Let me know where you stand.

 

What Scares You Most About Aging?

23 Jan

What scares you most about growing older? Disease? Dementia? Disability? And what exactly are you doing to make these all less likely to happen to you, or to the ones you love? Do you tend to automatically dismiss the majority of aging preventatives, like dietary restrictions, regular physical activity, periodic checkups (out loud, or quietly, in your own head, or after a day or week or two of attempting them)? Have you instead gone out of your way or deep into your wallet to buy expensive face lotion, shampoos and conditioners, or even Botox or plastic surgery?

I’m not saying any of these last options should be off the table if that’s what makes you feel good. However, the vast majority of the aging that is visible in the mirror is a result of what’s going on under your skin – in your connective tissue, joints, vital organs, bones, in every cell of your body. Before it shows up on the outside it’s being manifested within, and within is exactly where you need to go to prevent all of the potential specters of age-related decline.

Sure, you kind of knew that already, you say, but there’s another part of you that says that another day of just fleshing out the details of a health plan won’t hurt, that another slice of pie can be worked off tomorrow, or what most people like to throw out every once in awhile in exasperation, when yet another friend or family member gets cancer or diabetes or Alzheimer’s – “We’re all doomed, anyway!” or “Everything gives you cancer,” or “We’ve all gotta die of something, right?”

My mother likes to refer to her friends with degenerative diseases as if they never did a thing to deserve them. Of course no one out there “deserves” them (well, I could think of a couple of people, but details, details). And sure, there are certainly plenty of people out there with diseases or disabilities who were born with them, or were so predisposed to them they probably couldn’t have done a thing to prevent them, or who were unknowingly exposed to any number of environmental toxins that are naturally occurring or the result of industrial pollution. But really, do you think we as a human race evolved to do such incredible things with our minds and bodies in spite of being somehow overwhelmingly predisposed to degeneration?

I don’t think so.

The majority of us live in an environment that has an overwhelming influence on how we treat our bodies – from what we feed it to how we make it move to how we pharmaceutically manipulate its chemistry – and most people assume that if it’s on the shelves of our local supermarkets that it’s not bad for us, or that if everybody else moves likes this (or doesn’t move at all, really) that it’s the way we’re meant to move, or that if the FDA or the WHO say it’s fine to ingest then it’s harmless, or far better than the alternative.

The truth is this, though. U.S. residents are in decline and more so every day. Our grandparents are outliving our parents, and my generation is set to die even younger, in SPITE of having an incredible array of drugs, so-called health foods, workout gyms, classes, DVDs, and generations worth of nutrition data to draw from. So when people roll their eyes at the idea that what the government and the FDA are telling you should eat – i.e. a low-fat diet high in grains, soy, corn, and vegetable oil, as well as dairy and meat from tortured sick animals – is actually not only less than ideal, but is what is actually causing every successive generation to become sicker, ignore them, and LEARN for yourself. Learn about the realities of our Standard American Diet. Look around you and truly notice how people have changed in just the last couple of decades. Then, figure out how YOU can avoid the fate of the majority. What bodily issues have been bugging you? Headaches? Stomach aches? Depression? Bad PMS? Frequent colds? Skin conditions? These annoying pains in the wherever can often be ignored for months or years, but they’re not normal simply because you’re accustomed to them. They’re actually indications that something in your body needs attention, and they can be symptomatic of more serious issues, particularly the longer you wait to address them. A body that struggles daily with gut pain can indicate a digestive system that is stressed by dealing with proteins (like gluten or casein) that it’s not able to process, a lack of good gut bacteria (from using antibiotics to not eating fermented foods), or simple sensitivities to common foods like dairy, soy, or wheat. When the body has to mount a daily battle against something you’re ingesting that it can’t handle, it makes sacrifices on other fronts—meaning an immune system that doesn’t have the capacity to fight off infection or remove toxins from your bloodstream. A few decades or so of this, and having a disease becomes infinitely more likely. Here are a few simple things you can do today, before you start doing your own research or figuring out what personal nuisance you’re first aiming to squash. If you start with just a few simple tweaks, you’re already way ahead of your average Standard American Human.

1. Avoid sugary beverages, which include soft drinks, fruit juices, and syrupy coffee drinks. Your taste buds will quickly adapt accordingly. Here’s a terrific New York Times article  about why fructose is the unhealthiest form of sugar.

2. Eat more vegetables. (See my “Simple, Cheap, and Tasty Meal Ideas” blog for how)

3. Don’t eat processed foods. Nothing in a box, shelf-stable, or with more than a few ingredients.

4. Exercise half an hour a day, even if it’s just walking.

Here’s one of my favorite recipes for a side dish that’s perfect for winter potlucks, with a combination of textures that I love in food – soft and crunchy at the same time. I first found this in the cookbook Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair and have probably made it thirty times since because people beg me for the recipe at every potluck I bring it to. The lemon juice, garlic, cilantro, and olive oil combine to create an insanely delicious aroma as soon as it’s mixed into the warm quinoa. Conveniently, this is also the kind of dish that doesn’t show a few missing spoonfuls when serving, so in-depth taste testing is encouraged.

Lemony Garlic Quinoa

1 cup dry quinoa
1¾ cups water
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup carrots, chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped (the original recipe calls for parsley, so you can use either or both, but I greatly prefer cilantro’s flavor)
¼ cup sunflower seeds (I prefer to buy these raw but then lightly toast them in my toaster oven at home)

Dressing:

3-4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons tamari (I prefer tamari to soy sauce because it’s made without wheat and has a more complex flavor. The soy is fermented so it’s not as problematic as regular soy).

Always rinse quinoa before serving to wash away its natural defenses, the saponins which make it bitter to pests. You can do this with a fine mesh strainer or in a pot (swirling it around and draining it most of the way a few times). Try to buy quinoa (of any color) in bulk as it’s far cheaper. Place the rinsed quinoa and water in a 2-quart pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer 15-20 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. Tip the pan to the side to make sure all the water has been absorbed. Let stand for 5-10 minutes then fluff with a fork.

While quinoa is cooking, prepare the dressing in the same bowl as the dish will be served in and chop your carrots and cilantro. I like carrot pieces about as big as my pinkie nail and I chop the cilantro pretty coarsely. After you have combined the dressing in the bowl you can add the seeds, cilantro, and carrots. Scoop the warm quinoa over the top and mix it until ingredients are uniformly distributed, and try to resist being overwhelmed by the incredible lemony garlic scent.

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