Thursday, July 30, 2009

is organic food better

I have had a number of people asking me what I think about a recent BBC article that claims that organic food is not as healthy as it claims to be.  I've been asked what I think about this and can it really be true.  There's a lot of buzz being generated about this at the moment, here's my take on it:

1.  The article addresses only the nutritional content of the food in question.  A friend of mine who is a farmer claims that if the study had looked at smaller, sustainably produced organic farms the result would be different than large industrial organic farms.  I'm not sure whether that is true or not but it certainly is worth investigating before deciding that there is no nutritional benefit to organic farming.

2.a.  The article does not address pesticides, chemicals and hormones.  A large part of the reason people purchase organic foodstuffs is because they don't want the chemicals come along with conventional farming methods.  As I've mentioned before, there is something called the Dirty Dozen.  These foods are the ones that pick up chemical residue most readily.  If you don't want to eat that you can find out which foods they are by downloading the Environmental Working Group's Shopping Guide.

2.b. Many people, myself included, do not believe that saturating the soil with pesticides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers and such is healthy for the earth.  So aside from not ingesting these things when you purchase organic you also do a good thing for the environment.  

2.c.  Organic farming methods are also better for the people who work on the farms.  According to  Toxic Free NC "Agricultural families are at very high risk for exposure to pesticides. Workers can inadvertently take toxic pesticide residues home on contaminated clothes, hair, and skin. Because most workers also live very close to the fields, they are also subject to pesticide drift at home. Once in the home, pesticide residues are very easily picked up by small children, who are especially sensitive to health damage from pesticide exposure.  Subjecting workers to hazardous pesticide exposure on the job puts both the workers and their families at risk for serious health consequences."  

3.  Part of the organic standard is more humane treatment of animals that are grown for food.  I believe that this is important.  You can read an article I wrote about organic milk.   Shouldn't the humane treatment of animals be part of our consciousness?  Aren't we evolved enough to not want these animals to live in discomfort before they provide for us?  I believe that we still have a distance to go before the system is where it should be concerning the treatment of farm workers and animals, but certainly the measures provided by organic standards are a solid beginning.

4.  Another part of the organic standard is that foodstuffs may not be Genetically Modified (GM).  Since the only way to ensure that something is not GM is to purchase organic this becomes an important distinction.  Read this article by the Institute for Food and Development Policy to learn more about some of the concerns about GM food.

In his book, "In Defense Of Food," Michael Pollan writes about how our diet has been hijacked by the theory of nutritionism.  That everything has to boil down to a perfect science of nutrition.  Unfortunately that falls far short of the mark and is not a complete answer.  This study falls firmly under the category of nutritionism, ignoring all other reasons to consider organics.  

So when friends and clients ask what I think about this I point out the thoughts above and say that my choices are based on more than just the nutrients in the food.  It's about the choice for no sewage in the fields, no chemicals, more humane treatment of animals, what I believe is better tasting food, and especially my desire to limit my exposure to GM food.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

peas-y peas and celery

A recent trip to the farmer's market introduced me to a new pea I had never tasted before, purple hull peas.  Related to black eyed peas, they are both cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) which are very common in the Southern part of the United States.  They are sometimes also called field peas.

I was familiar with black eyed peas but had only ever eaten them after they had been dried and needed rehydration.   These were fresh and I wasn't quite sure what to do with them.  

After browsing cook books and the internet and finally decided to use them in a family favorite, peas and celery.  Turns out they fit right in and made this tasty dish even better.  The fresh purple hull peas were absolutely amazing.  They were creamy and tasty; now our new family favorite is...

peas-y peas and celery
serves 4

1 1/2 T. vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 C. vegetable broth
1 C. fresh purple hull peas
1 C. green peas
1 stalk celery, diced
salt and pepper, to taste
2 t. butter

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onion begins to soften
Add broth and vegetables and bring to a low boil
Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until beans are just tender
Drain liquid, toss vegetables with butter, salt and pepper

I'm sure you'll like them too.  So much that I'm sharing this 
recipe from the farmer's market for their summer succotash.  As the farmer points out, if you can't get purple hull peas you can always substitute fresh baby lima beans, fresh cranberry beans, or fresh black-eyed peas.

photo courtesy of

Saturday, July 25, 2009

cure for colic?

In a recent study by the The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston researchers said they believe they may know what causes colic in babies.  Anyone who has experienced a colicky baby will tell you that it is very difficult and upsetting, for both the baby and the parent.  Colic is usually defined as severe, persistent crying for no apparent reason.  Apparently as many as 15% of all newborns suffer from this condition.

Babies in the study were both breast-fed and bottle-fed which seems to indicate that the previously held assumption that breast-fed babies were less likely to suffer from colic is untrue.  The suspected culprit at this point is a bacteria called Klebsiella.    Another interesting fact is that according to J. Marc Rhodes, the lead investigator, “During our study, we also found that the babies that didn’t have colic had more types of bacteria in their intestines. The presence of more bacteria may indicate that specific bacterial species (phylotypes) are beneficial to humans,”  Plans are underway for an adult study to look at probiotics.

While further study is needed it does seem reasonable to assume (as many holistic practitioners do) that simply taking one type of probiotic, the most common being acidophilus, does not adequately serve the function of our gut.  If you eat yogurt, kefir or other fermented foods you may want to consider those products that have more than one strain of beneficial bacteria.

photo courtesy of

Monday, July 20, 2009

trailer park version

Recipes are fun to play with, they get changed around for lots of different reasons.  It's always fun to try new food and new ideas.  My friend Tracy sent me a picture and her revisions to my Eggplant Corn Fritters with Chunky Tomato Red Pepper Coulis;  she calls hers the...

Trailer Park version of Eggplant Fritters**

store-brand veg oil (
bonus points for canola)
1/2 c packaged cornbread stuffing
3/4 c generic flour (
bonus points: unbleached variety)
2 tsp baking powder (
add 1/4 tsp more if expiration date is more than 3 months)
black pepper
1/3 c milk
1 egg
2 little eggplants from your friend's garden (
not quite wilted to the point of shriveled)
1/2 cup of packaged, dehydrated, mixed veggie chips

Turn radio on alt-rock radio station as loud as neighbors can tolerate

Cut eggplant into medium dice
Toss with 1 t. salt and let rest 20 minutes
Rinse eggplant
Combine dry ingredients (
after checking for & discarding weevils)
Use of potato masher to grind croutons in cornbread stuffing and veggie chips is fine
(Open beer left by roommate in fridge. Don't pour it in the recipe.)
Beat together milk and egg
Add milk mixture to dry ingredients (adding more milk if needed to make a smooth batter)
Stir in the eggplant. (have your 10-year-old take photos so there's proof)
Drop batter by ¼ C. measure into (medium) hot oil

on't get too distracted by Red Hot Chili Peppers on radio)

Mash and turn fritters while cooking, fritters should be golden brown on both sides
Drain fritters on paper towels
Or not
Serve with jar o' salsa

**disclaimer:  Although this is Tracy's recipe, it could be modified again (dueling recipes anyone?) with the use of olive oil and whole wheat flour for a health boost.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

mesquite flour

My friend Misty asked me "What do you know about mesquite flour?"  Mesquite (genus Prosopis) is a deciduous, leguminous tree that grows quite well in Texas and Mexico and has a range that goes as far north as Kansas and westward to southern California.  Most people use the wood to create a flavorful smoke that imparts a fabulous taste to barbequed meats.  But mesquite also has another purpose.

I had heard of people using mesquite flour before I moved to Texas, a high protein legume that was high in fiber and originally part of the Native American diet for Southwestern tribes.

Researching it further I have discovered that it apparently also has a good profile for calcium, manganese, iron, zinc, and is high in the amino acid lysine.  Because of it's high soluble fiber content and low glycemic index, in spite of a reported sweet flavor, mesquite flour is believed to be a good choice for diabetics.  

Mesquite flour was traditionally consumed by Pima Indians.  With the advent of a modern diet many of them have developed diabetes; this seems to be attributed to their decline in consumption of mesquite flour.  According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition "the slow digestion and absorption of starch in traditional foods was a factor that helped protect susceptible populations from developing diabetes."  These traditional foods included corn, lima beans, white and yellow teparies, mesquite, and acorns.  Another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology highlighted an ethnobotanical study in Israel which researched plants used for the treatment of diabetes; one of the plants included was mesquite.

Because mesquite is a legume I am assuming that it has a non-glutinous profile making it best suited for quick breads, cakes, and muffins or cookies rather than for a yeasted bread.  

Mesquite also has another use, the flowers are attractive to bees and I have heard that mesquite honey is quite flavorful.  You can purchase mesquite honey on the internet as well as mesquite flour. There are also recipes available that call for mesquite flour.  All in all it seems like it might be somewhat similar to another legume flour, carob, which I wrote about here and here. Both are sweet, high in fiber and provide a good protein content.

photo courtesy of

Saturday, July 18, 2009

eggplant corn fritters with chunky tomato red pepper coulis

I am always experimenting in the kitchen.  Recently I created a dinner that came together out of ingredients from the farmer's market that I had on hand.  Because this dish turned out so well I definitely plan to make it again; it's a great summertime meal full of flavor and freshness.

Although I used fresh ground flour to make my fritters you can still make this recipe if you don't have a mill by checking out my baking substitutions post.

Eggplant Corn Fritters
Serves 4

Grapeseed oil
1/2 C. cornmeal
2/3 C. Ezekiel flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup milk, plus more if needed

1 egg
1 eggplant, peeled and diced
1 ear corn, kernels removed

Cut eggplant into medium dice
Toss with 1 t. salt and let rest 20 minutes
Rinse eggplant
Combine dry ingredients
Beat together milk and egg
Add milk mixture to dry ingredients (adding more milk if needed to make a smooth batter)
Stir in the eggplant and the corn
Drop batter by ¼ C. measure into hot oil
Turn fritters once while cooking, fritters should be golden brown on both sides
Drain fritters on paper towels
Serve with chunky tomato red pepper coulis

Chunky Tomato Red Pepper Coulis

2 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic minced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 red pepper, diced large
1 t. minced fresh basil
1 t. minced fresh oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and garlic in a large saucepan until onion starts to soften
Add red pepper and saute 1-2 minutes
Add tomatoes and herbs, turn heat down to medium low and cook 10-12 minutes until vegetables are soft, tossing vegetables frequently
Add salt and pepper
Remove 2/3 of vegetables from the pan and put in a large bowl
Blend thoroughly with an immersion blender
Add reserved vegetables to blended vegetables
Serve over Eggplant Corn Fritters


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

what to eat for breakfast

So many of us eat breakfast mindlessly.  Wake up, get ready for the day, shove something in our mouths and hit the ground running.  By not being mindful about what we choose to start our day with we may be setting ourselves up for a nutritional crash later in the day.

Breakfast when we examine the word means breaking the fast.  For most of us it has been at least 10 hours if not more since we last ate.  Our bodies need fuel.  And not the kind that comes from a bowl of sugary over-processed cereal, a doughnut and a cup of coffee, or even a bagel with cream cheese.  We need substance and protein to start the day off right and to ensure our blood sugar stays balanced.

Sometimes it can be helpful to think outside the box when it comes to breakfast.  Instead of reaching for a prepared boxed food take a moment to sit down at a meal.  If you are in a hurry start your morning with a healthy shake and bring a good meal with you to eat at the office.  Borrow from the breakfast traditions of other cultures and consider foods that you may not have thought of eating before such as a miso soup or a bowl of beans and greens.

The above picture represents a Mediterranean type of breakfast.  Olives and avocados provide a healthy fat, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs for protein, whole grain bread, cucumber and tomato salad with olive oil and fresh herbs.  Instead of margarine on the bread you could have butter or a thickened yogurt cheese.  

Start your day right and you won't regret it.  

Saturday, July 11, 2009

baking with steel cut oats

My friend Tracy recently wrote in and asked what to do with the leftover steel cut oats she has.  Her family doesn't really like eating oatmeal for breakfast in the summer and she'd like to use up the oats rather than leaving them to sit until next winter.

Steel cut oats are very coarsely chopped oat groats.  They cook up hearty and nutty, are tasty and have a lot of fiber making them a great choice for those who eat oats.  They can also be used for so much more than just oatmeal.  I have used them in chocolate chip "oatmeal" cookies when I was out of oatmeal.  I just substituted an equal amount of steel cut oats for the oatmeal.  The substitution does change the baking time a little so you need to watch them a more closely.  

Another good use for steel cut oats is to grind them in a food processor or coffee grinder to get an oat flour which can then be used in a lot of different recipes.  Oat flour tends to be lighter than wheat flour and has no gluten so it won't rise well.  This flour however is excellent for making cookies, biscotti, scones, muffins, and quick breads.  

My favorite use by far is to create steel cut oat pudding.  I was introduced to this by a friend from England and it is a truly yummy dessert.  It's fabulous all by itself and absolutely wonderful when served with vanilla ice cream.  

Freydis' Fabulous Pudding

1 C. steel cut oatmeal
4 C. water
1 C. milk
2 eggs
1 C. sucanat
2 T. butter
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 C. raisins

Toast the oatmeal in a pan until lightly browned. 
Bring the water to a boil, add the oatmeal, reduce heat and cook 20 minutes until done
Preheat oven to 350 deg F
Oil the inside of a 1.5 quart baking dish
In a large bowl mix together milk, eggs, sucanat, butter and cinnamon
Add in raisins and oatmeal
Pour into baking dish
Bake 30-35 minutes until done

Can be served warm, room temperature or cold.

Option:  Sometimes I vary this by substituting apple pie spice for the cinnamon and chopped dried apple for the raisins.  Delicious!


photo courtesy of

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Just a brief update as there seems to be a bit of confusion regarding subscribing to my column versus subscribing to this blog.

If you found this blog and want to subscribe there's a nifty little subscribe button over on the right there.  You can enter your email address and click subscribe.  You'll get an email asking you if you really want to subscribe.  Say yes and you'll get all of the articles as soon a I write them.  Saves having to remember to look up the blog or adding it to an enormously long blogroll.

I also write at  My column there is the Houston Holistic Health Examiner but don't let the Houston part stop you from reading it.  I do put in some local stuff but there is plenty there that applies to holistic living and nutrition in general.

I've had a number of people point out that it is very confusing to have me cross-posting my columns to this blog.  I've been doing that because I write different stuff in both places but can understand how it gets overwhelming.  So in the future I will not be cross-posting.  All is not lost however, you can also sign up for the column but clicking on the "subscribe to email" link to the right of my picture.  This way when I write a column you'll get that too.  I think you'll like the information that you find there.

Thanks to all of those who sent in questions...I'm working on them and will post the answers here.  In the meantime, eat well, be well. 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

what about the DASH diet

A recent question came in from Eden asking what I thought about the DASH diet.  DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.  Here is my reply:

I think the concept of the diet is certainly a good one; low sodium (most of us eat too much already) and lots of lean protein, fresh veggies and fruit, and including whole grains in the diet. This is the basis of a good dietary approach for all of us.  As a whole, however, I do not believe that DASH goes far enough.

One of the issues I have with it is the part about low fat.  Not that I don't think we need to consider lowering our fat intake (many of us could do with a lot less) but rather that we need to think about the types of fats and the ratio of fat that we ingest.  I do not consider margarine or other fake fats to be a good choice.  Using healthy fats, as I wrote about here, in moderation is a much better choice than using trans-fats.

Another concern is that the diet does not specifically mention how increased fiber content can lower both blood pressure and cholesterol.  A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that "bean consumers had lower systolic blood pressure in comparison to non-consumers."  Beans and other high fiber foods need to be a part of everyone's diet and are a beneficial part of reducing blood pressure.

Also there is the concern that although the DASH diet does promote exercise it does not exactly look at the stress levels or other holistic concerns.  Teaching people how to breathe or to engage in active relaxation techniques has been proven to help lower blood pressure.  Meditation, Qi Gong, Yoga, and other mindful exercise practices also have techniques to help lower blood pressure.

Lastly, DASH does not mention or strongly promote those foods that are specifically helpful for lowering blood pressure such as garlic, onions, hibiscus, and foods that are high in magnesium or potassium.  Nor does it caution against those foods that promote higher blood pressure which I wrote about here.

So overall I think that the DASH diet is a good place to start when it comes to lowering blood pressure but I think there are some other changes that can be added to the diet to improve it.

Be well.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

meat marinade

Happy Fourth of July!  A lot of people are going to be spending time outside today, enjoying the company of friends and family and gathered around the grill.  This link give you information about how to grill safely and healthily.

This is my favorite meat marinade recipe. It works equally well for beef or chicken.

Mira's Meat Marinade

1/3 C. olive oil
1/3 C. ketchup
1/4 C. rice wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic minced
2 T. tamari sauce
1 large sprig rosemary

stab meat with a fork before soaking in marinade
let marinate at least 6 hours before serving (in the fridge), turning as often as you remember
(I have left this as long as 24 hours and it is absolutely delicious)
pull the meat out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you start the grill so it can come to room temperature
this will help the meat cook more evenly


photo courtesy of

Milk recall

Milk recall

Posted using ShareThis

Friday, July 3, 2009

cookies and a question

My friend Helene recently shared a wonderful gluten-free cookie recipe with me. She said it was so fabulous that she was going to have to freeze the cookies, otherwise she was afraid she might eat them all. Frozen cookies have never stopped me, sometimes they are even better that way.

Helene's Coconut Almond Cookies:

1 c. coconut Flour
1 1/2 c. Almond Meal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. butter
1/4 c. honey
1 Tbsp Almond Extract

Mix the dough together in a cuisinart until a ball forms
Freeze dough for approximately 30 mins
Preheat oven to 350 deg F
Roll dough between two sheets of was paper
Cut cookies using a cookie or biscuit cutter
Bake for 7 mins, remove to wire rack to cool

While we were talking Helene also asked if there were any eggs in shortbread.
The answer is no. Shortbread is a particular type of cookie that has a 1-2-3 recipe. One part sweetener (usually sugar), two parts butter (or other shortening), three parts flour (although old-fashioned shortbread was and is made with oats) and then enhanced with flavorings and or spices. The "short" refers to the crumbly dough. Fat retards gluten so even if you used wheat flour, the high amount of fat would prevent the dough from forming long gluten strands.

Shortbread cookies are typically baked low and slow so they will be very light in color. They can be formed in long rectangles, also called fingers, large circles which are cut into triangles as soon as they are removed from the oven, or small round biscuits. Although most people think of them as Christmas cookies, shortbread can also be made savory (such as this Parmesan Shortbread from Epicurious).

picture courtesy of

Milk - organic or natural, does it make a difference?

Milk - organic or natural, does it make a difference?

Posted using ShareThis

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

recycling #5 plastics

In our family we eat a lot of yogurt.  Most mornings we have a smoothie for breakfast.  We cook a lot of Indian food and use yogurt on the side either as a raita or plain to help cut the spiciness.  Sometimes we even have it as a dessert, straining it to make a Greek style yogurt, topped with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey it is a very satisfying way to end a meal.

But what to do with all of those leftover containers?  They are #5 plastics and will not be recycled by my local service.  This grade of plastic, also known as polypropylene, is found in a wide number of containers including yogurts, cottage cheese, cream cheese, ricotta cheese, margarine (although you should not eat this), as well as some ice cream containers.  It also includes toothbrushes, plastic plates, medicine bottles, ketchup bottles, and more.  They are even in your Brita water filter; #5 plastics are all around us.  

Now there is a way to recycle them. Preserve, a company based in Cortland, NY has a recycling program and they want your #5 plastic products. According to Preserve their recycled products us 54% less water and 75% less oil than creating virgin plastic; they also release 64% less greenhouse gases. After using the product you clean it and then deliver it to your nearest Whole Foods.  If you don't have a Whole Foods near you Preserve will accept mailed packages of #5 plastics.  This is a great way to help save the planet and to help support recycling efforts.  Although Preserve does not reimburse for mailing costs you could consider banding together with a group of friends and mailing a large amount together.  Shipments must be by ground and should be sent to:

Preserve Gimme 5 
823 NYS Rte 13 
Cortland, NY 13045

Preserve sells products made from the recycled #5's such as toothbrushes, razors, tableware and kitchenware.  And when you are done using those products they can be recycled even further into plastic lumber.  All of their products are designed to stay out of the landfill and reduce environmental impact.

Recycle your #5's it's good for the environment and that's good for everyone.

photo courtesy of

How to breathe

How to breathe

Posted using ShareThis