Sunday, January 30, 2011

Secret 4: Eat Sprouted Wheat Bread

In the fourth secret, Sally Beare tells us that:
i. many people cannot tolerate wheat, and especially those who crave it have an intolerance.  People with an intolerance who continue eating wheat may end up with severe health issues such as autoimmune diseases.
ii. if you want to avoid grains with gluten such as wheat, rye, and barley, try "sprouted wheat bread".

Sprouted wheat bread is low in gluten as the gluten is - to a large extent - broken down by the sprouting process, and as with all things sprouted (such as bean sprouts), it is high in nutrients. Since Beare even offers a seemingly straight-forward recipe that consists of nothing more than wheat berries and water, why not go ahead and bake this wonder bread yourself?  

I do remember trying this recipe previously and although I made sure to interrupt the sprouting process when the sprouts reached 1/4'', the bread was sour and did not become a family favorite. Ever the optimist, I decided to give the recipe another try.  What healthier bread than home-made baked bread?

I should have known better.

A hallmark of a good recipe is that even an average cook can turn it into a delicious dish. If a recipe does not work out the first time, chances are repetition will not improve it. But let me start at the beginning.  

In italics, Sally Beare's recipe.  In normal script, my reality.

1. Soak 3 cups of wheat berries in mineral water overnight
Soak what now? What on earth are wheat berries? Since berries are a type of superfood then by logical deduction 'wheat berries' must be good. I was going to 'Whole Foods' so I decided to check the bulk bins while there.  Lo and behold, wheat berries I found. Since I wanted 3 cups and no more and no less I had brought along my measuring cup. At the check-out the cashier laughed when the measuring cup rode along the conveyor belt: 'you probably want to keep this, now, don't you?"
Satisfied that I had managed to collect exactly three cups of wheat berries,  I went home without the mineral water. And since I don't usually buy mineral water I promptly forgot it on the next two supermarket forays.
'Use up what you have before you go out to buy more' is one of my mantras and by chance I discovered a half full bottle of mineral water in our fridge door. After soaking the wheat berries in a mixing bowl we still had enough mineral water for the husband.  

2. Spread seeds on wide-bottom sieve, cover with napkins and leave in a dark place
I don't have a sieve that's wide enough for 3 cups of wheat berries so I cheated.  I used a grease sieve over a large plate and the rest of the wheat berries I simply put in a metal baking dish.  Instead of covering these with paper napkins (which smell toxic; who knows what went into their fabrication), I used some cotton napkins.  In fact, I used our Christmas napkins. It''s January, and no one will miss them:

A dark place? Hmmm. Various family members have sighted a field mouse bouncing through our kitchen at night. The field mice prefer the warm indoors during the cold winter months. I was not going to leave my experiment on the kitchen counter for the mouse to try out.  This was supposed to become our bread.  I carried the plate and the dish into the basement. (The mouse had only been sighted in the kitchen).  

So far, so good.

3. Rinse with water 3 times daily
Three times a day? Me? No way was I going to remember to go down to the basement to rinse those seeds three times a day. Out of sight out of mind. I decided to leave Beare's book in full view on the kitchen counter as a not-so-subtle reminder to go water my sprouts. I think I managed once daily, maybe even twice.  

4. After 2 - 4 days, berries will have sprouts 1/4'' long.  Harvest immediately otherwise bread will be sour.
After two days, the sprouts were visible:

They seemed to grow slower on the sieve, and faster in the baking dish w/o sieve:

And even faster on the bottom of the dish than on the surface:

Remembering my previous ill-fated sprouting experiment (sour bread),  I decided it was time to harvest.

5. Blend sprouted berries in blender until dough turns clay-like
Not a good idea. The berries were so hard that the engine in the blender started smelling like it was about to burn out. Not wanting to loose my blender on this unproven baking experiment I decided to add some water. That seemed to help. So I added some more. Nice. Why not add more? Now the berries were really turning to clay. Actually a rather wet clay. Maybe too wet?  

6. Knead dough for 5 - 10 minutes
Oops, this wet stuff is going to be hard to knead. But the consistency of this 'clay-dough' feels wonderful on the skin! Maybe I should just stop the baking effort and turn this soft, mushy dough into a face mask? With such great nutrient content who knows how this might make my face glow? But no, let me finish what I started. Well, forget the kneading. Who kneads water anyway?  

7. Shape into two loaves and form long ovals.  Place these on a greased baking sheet
Well, that's not going to work. Let's see. How can I possibly save this run-off? Ah, an idea. I'll make muffin bread instead of two loaves.  Well, Beare did say two loaves. A compromise.  Let me fill a muffin sheet with this water-clay dough and anything that's left over will turn into a pretend loaf. 

8. Bake at 325 F for two hours. Serve warm with a spread of your choice

Et voila, here is the result:

First, the muffins:

Then, the loaf:

Even butter and honey did not save my wonder bread. The 'bread' tasted moist and undercooked in some parts, and had diamond-hard wheat berries in other parts. Maybe a blender cannot replace two hours of rock grinding by the patient Hunzakuts in Pakistan? My family took one look at my effort, rolled their eyes, politely declined to be involved in any way possible and my chef d'oeuvre ended up on the compost pile.

Oh well.

So what did I learn from this? By all means make sprouted wheat bread but use an excellent recipe. I wonder whether Ms. Beare even tried out her own recipe? Perhaps it works at British Isles sea level.  But here in the lofty one-mile heights of Colorado....? So find a recipe suited to altitude if you are not baking at sea level. In the meantime stick with recipes that are delicious the first time around such as the scone recipe in Rombauer's "Joy of Cooking" (always a hit with friends and relatives) and 'the curried carrot soup', 'pear custard pie', 'roasted salmon with lentils', 'shrimp gazpacho', 'sauteed chicken in mustard-cream sauce' and others from Great Food Fast. But wait! The happy, healthy centenarians aren't eating shrimp gazpacho, chicken in mustard-cream sauce or pear custard pie? Whatever they are eating, if you want to simulate it, make sure you have an excellent recipe. And if the recipe does not turn out well the first time round, look for a better one.

Bon appetit!

Take-home lesson: if you enjoy bread, choose sprouted wheat bread.  Either find a great recipe or simply buy it.  In Denver, Sunflower Market and Whole Foods have sprouted wheat bread.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Secret 3: Choose Buckwheat, Brown Rice and Other Whole Grains

As much as I love reading, writing and eating fruit and vegetables, I prefer to avoid grains. While fruit and vegetables consist mainly of water, and tend to be easy to digest, grains have little water content, are extremely dense and seem to take an awful lot of work to digest. So not my favorite nutritional subject. But they are consumed in the five blue zones, so let's take a closer look.

Sally Beare favors whole grains. In contrast to simple carbs, whole grains are "high in fiber, lower than simple carbs in glycemic index, and rich in nutrients". While simple carbs will deplete the body of nutrients, whole grains will replenish the body. Nutrients in whole grains include B vitamins (a lack thereof may exacerbate multiple sclerosis, dementia and depression; in other words if your main source of carbs are simple carbs, watch out) and vitamin E (protects blood vessels from the negative effects of cholesterol). Whole grains contain a wide spectrum of minerals such as zinc (boosts the immune system), potassium (aids water balance), chromium (regulates insulin levels) and magnesium (improves bone density). Still, my intuition tells me to go light on any type of grain, and concentrate on fruit and vegetables. Beare also mentions that not everyone can easily digest wheat, and "it's best eaten in moderate amounts only." I agree.  In fact, I was raised on rice and if I have wheat for breakfast, I prefer to avoid it the rest of the day.  I can have bread for breakfast, but refuse to have more of it for lunch.  Peanut butter tastes wonderful on a banana sliced length-wise, no need for any slices of bread.  If I do eat a hamburger, at most I manage the bottom half of the bun.  The top half of the bun returns to the kitchen.  Better yet, I just eat the "in-betweens". Also, Beare mentions that grains contain phytic acid, which binds to minerals and proteins and hinders complete absorption thereof by the human body.

In secret 3, Beare recommends eating 10 different whole grains. In our home we regularly consume four of these: whole wheat, brown rice, corn and oats ($1.39/lb of steel-cut).  I mentioned that our main staple is rice, and just like many people who grew up in China, we, too, have a rice cooker.  If I'm in a hurry I'll just throw in some white rice. It's ready in less than 15 minutes. If I plan ahead I'll cook brown rice.  More and more Asian restaurants are offering a choice of white rice or brown rice and, given the option, we choose brown. Local supermarkets are starting to sell fresh-made sushi and also offer a choice of white or brown rice. Wild rice seems healthier than brown rice, but then wild rice is not a grain.  I have tried millet

and greatly enjoyed the nutty taste, but the reaction from the rest of the family was highly unfavorable.  So that leaves five final suggestions:

1. Buckwheat ($1.39/lb): although buckwheat has the word wheat in it, it has nothing to do with wheat.  And, according to Wikipedia, some people are highly allergic to the point of anaphylaxis. This is very alarming to me, as our son has several food allergies and, to the best of my knowledge has never been tested for buckwheat. Were he living in Japan, he would have encountered buckwheat as the popular  soba noodles (these are mentioned in Wiki to be a potent anti-hangover breakfast remedy for Japanese business men). By the time I read about the possible fatal effect of buckwheat, my son has already cleaned out the dough from the buckwheat apple cake I was baking.  Luckily he was not short of breath, nor did he start complaining about stomach pains or worse.  Either way the Epipen was at the ready.

So how did the buckwheat apple cake turn out?  It was not a hit.  It was dry (despite adding 2 cups of milk to the dough) and had a rather unhealthy, grayish teint (see picture above).  I did enjoy the fact that it tasted like poppy seeds but this might have been due to the allspice, nutmeg and cardamon, rather than the buckwheat.  Instead of using a buckwheat cake recipe in my first foray into the world of buckwheat, I had simply replaced the wheat in the recipe with the same quantity of buckwheat.  Maybe I was not doing the buckwheat justice. I still have some buckwheat left, so I'll try it one more time using a real buckwheat recipe...
The next time I baked with buckwheat, I made pancakes.  This time I used a ratio of 2.5 cups of spelt to 0.5 cups of buckwheat and the pancakes were delicious.  I recommend adding a bit of buckwheat to any wheat dish you are baking to increase the range of nutrients.  

2. Barley: despite the huge selection in the bulk bins at Whole Foods, I only found 
'pearl barley'.  Beare recommends 'beige' rather than 'white pearl' so i. I'll keep looking and ii. I will cook this strictly according to recipe (no buckwheat experiments).

3. Amaranth: This was readily available in the bulk bins at Whole Foods and more affordable than quinoa:

4. Hemp: since hemp is the sole topic of secret 5, I'll explore this whole grain in a fortnight

5. Quinoa: at $3.39/lb this is not going to become a staple whole grain in our household.  Millet, which is more commonly known as 'bird seed',  is much more affordable at less than $1.00/lb.  I just have to find a way to make it delectably acceptable for the rest of the family.  Still, I did purchase 1/2 lb of quinoa so once I find a simple recipe, we will try out this gluten-free whole grain.

According to "The Joy of Cooking", quinoa is high in oil content and thus can easily turn rancid.  Once purchased, store it in your fridge.

Although Beare does not mention these options, I also picked up some spelt wheat and sprouted rice at Whole Foods. Spelt wheat is an ancient form of wheat and supposed to be more nutritious than regular wheat. And anything that is sprouted is supposed to be healthy.  Sprouted food will be covered in a later secret. Although I closely examined the expensive 'sprouted' rice ($3.39/lb), I was unable to see any sprouts.  

Finally, one of my favorite breads at Whole Foods is "Fourteener Sprouted Wheat". It contains five of the ten whole grains mentioned by Beare: hemp seed, barley, millet and organic millet, corn and oat and is delicious.

Take-home lessons:  

i. Replace simple carbs such as wheat and white rice with whole grains as much as possible.  
ii. Consume a wide variety of whole grains but keep quantities moderate.  
iii. Try to reduce the amount of wheat in your diet. You might just feel better in the long run. Why not give it a try? If reducing wheat in your diet makes you feel better, it was worth the experiment.  If you do not feel any different, keep enjoying your pasta, bread, polenta and couscous!
iv. Increase the range of your grains: try quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet and others.  'The Joy of Cooking' has great advice on how to prepare these grains.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Secret 2: Consume Five to Seven Servings of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables a Day

This is my favorite "secret" by far!  I LOVE colors: reds, greens, yellows, oranges, purples.  Fruit and vegetables add such wonderful color to one's existence!  The "fruit" suggestion of this secret was easy to follow: last week we enjoyed apples, pears, bananas, lemons, grapefruit, oranges, kiwi, honeydew melon, coconut and mangoes.  All in raw form.  And I also baked an apple pie which to my dismay was nearly finished by two adults and a very hungry seven-year old in one sitting.  Rather surprising in the case of the 7-year old as his interest in the main course was negligible in comparison.  Vegetables?  Hmm, a bit harder as they lack the tartness and sweetness of fruit  But my husband and I did enjoy lunch at Sazza in Greenwood Village on Friday.  Sazza stands for 'pizza' and 'salad' and we each ordered a large bowl of salad.  He enjoyed the Greek salad full of ROMAINE, KALAMATA OLIVES, TOMATOES, BELL PEPPERS, ARTICHOKE HEARTS, CUCUMBERS, SUN-DRIED TOMATOES, FETA tossed with Greek vinaigrette and I gobbled up the spinach salad which consisted of SPINACH, APPLES, SUNFLOWER SEEDS, GORGONZOLA tossed with cider vinaigrette and bacon bits on the side.  Even more fun was meeting the bubbly, enthusiastic, delightful 42-year old owner of Sazza - Jenni Rogoff.  Jenni tries to use organic and local ingredients whenever possible.  In fact the source of her pumpkin is right next door.  It is grown on a field in Cherry Hills Village!  What a pleasure to be able to indulge in a salad full of fresh ingredients in the middle of a Colorado winter.  Which makes me wonder - how important is it to eat as local and as seasonal as possible?  One of the most interesting books I read last year was Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle".   Barbara offers lots of food for thought.  If you are concerned with the quality of your food, I greatly recommend this book.  But back to Sally Beare's second secret.  The healthiest, long-living people described in Sally Beare's book enjoy up to ten servings of fruit and vegetables daily - mainly vegetables.  Definitely an area I will have to concentrate on more.  So, which vegetables embellished our dining table this past week?  Lentils, parsley, celery, sugar snap peas, zucchini, salad, tomatoes, spinach, bell peppers, cucumbers, lots of garlic (whose presence startled me during hot yoga class when my body first started to react to the 103'F in Bikram's 'torture chamber'), bean sprouts, ginger, onions, seaweed, avocado...  Our diet seems to have adequate variety.  I can do better on quantity.  Talking about hot yoga, my favorite drink after hot yoga is hot water with freshly pressed ginger and lemon juice and a dab of agave nectar.  So, Sally recommends seven to ten servings of fruit and vegetables a day with an emphasis of vegetables.  Here's a suggestion: every time you take one serving of any vegetable during the next week, try to take one more.  Because you deserve it.  And, as much as possible consume your fruit and vegetables raw or, in the case of vegetables lightly steamed.  And don't throw out the water which you used for steaming. Drink it.  Many of the nutrients from the cooked vegetables are in that soup!  As Sally states about the Hunza in Pakistan: "vegetables are cooked in small amounts of water for a short time....the LEFTOVER JUICE is drunk, so that any minerals that have leached out into the water are regained"  You may be surprised how delicious this broth tastes.  Sally also writes: "It is easy to avoid a fruit and vegetable deficiency, yet it is probably one of the main causes of premature death".  Here in the West we have such a mind-boggling abundance and variety of fruit and vegetable available in every grocery store.  How can we simply walk past this treasure trove of health on our way to depleted, nutrient-poor, processed 'fake' food?  So. how about it?  Attack that fruit and those vegetables this week and for the rest of your life!  Bon appetit!

Take-home lesson: eat more fruit and much more vegetables. Mothers are always right!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Secret 1: Eat Until You Are Only Eight Parts Full

The first 'secret' in Sally Beare's book "50 Secrets of the World's Longest Living People" is based on a Japanese saying 'hara bachi ba' or 'eat until you are only eight parts full'.  Eating in moderation sounds like a sensible suggestion, however, unlike cars we do not come equipped with a petrol or gasoline gauge.  How do you know when you are 'eight parts full'?  Several tricks can be employed here.  One, as a Swiss friend once suggested and which is very easy to do but hard adhere to is to lay down your silverware between bites.  Easy to do, isn't it?  However, when you are in a hurry, you can't wait to shove in the next bite and that fork and knife better be at the ready!  Laying down your silverware between bites allows your brain that extra bit of time to register the fullness of your stomach.  Nowadays we are in such a rush and often so absent from the present moment that we do not take the time to listen to ourselves.  So while accurately judging the exact moment of 'eight parts of fullness' seems impossible, we can slow down, take our time, take a break and allow the rest of our awareness to catch up with our absence of hunger.  I remember meeting an older Buddhist priest during a hike on Lantau island in Hong Kong many years ago and marveling when this gentleman who looked like he was in his mid sixties, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, smiled and stated that he was, in fact, 20 years older than my estimate.  "Wait!" the slim, sprightly monk in orange robes said, "let me go get my identity card so I can prove to you that I am indeed 85 years old!" Astonished, my hiking buddy and I asked him his secret to aging youthfully.  "Ah, that is simple to answer! I do not eat much!"  Indeed, Sally Beare asks: how many overweight centenarians do you know?  How many obese people do you know who reach an advanced age?  In fact the Guinness Book of World Records may showcase extremely fat people but has yet to record one such person reaching old age.
Not only is it judicious to be moderate about food intake, if you are going to be modest about calorie intake why not ensure that every calorie is the best you can get?  I know men who insist on filling their precious cars with the most expensive gasoline on the market, yet when it comes to their own source of energy do not think twice about eating cheap, low-quality, highly processed food.  Why?  Why take better care of a machine you will probably replace in less than ten years than a body you expect to function at top gear for over 80 years?  Why not take better care of that one body that will be with you for life than a piece of replaceable, soulless machine?
The main point I take away from Sally Beare's first secret is: eat little, but make sure the little you eat consists of nutritious, high-quality ingredients.  
And she does not stop there.  Eat little.  Eat nutritious.  And she also throws in a third thought into this first secret! Reduce the amount of saturated fat such as meat and cheese as well as the amount of refined carbohydrates such as white flour and rice.  Phew!  A lot of different suggestions in this one secret!  Rice?  Does that mean that the 100+ million Asians who eat rice daily are condemned to a short life replete with illness?   Too many new ideas!  Rather than bombard her readers with more suggestions, I wish Beare had instead delved even deeper into the history of prominent thinkers who support her first point: eat until you are eight parts full.  
Oh, and another thought.  Beare states that the natural life span of human beings is 120 years.  120 years?  How many people do you know who are older than 99 years?  Sure, why not live 120 years if these are healthy, happy years for you AND your loved ones?  But with the current SAD (standard American diet), reality looks (and feels) painfully different.
So how about the next time you sit down to eat be aware of when you are full and then put the rest of the food on your plate away for later?  I guarantee, sooner or later you WILL be hungry again and you'll be glad to finish off your food then.  I've done it and it works very well.  Rather than stuff myself and try to finish all the food on my plate and feel uncomfortable, I set it aside knowing full well that hunger will revisit.  At that point it's a pleasure to find and finish leftovers.  Remember the sprightly 85 year old who easily looked 20 years younger?  Less is more.
Another vivid image concerning food that springs to mind is a LIFE magazine article from the 60ies that portrays all the food that a young boy will consume on his journey to adulthood.  Now imagine all the food you will be consuming during the remainder of your life!  Imagine that huge mountain of food.  What do you want this mountain to look like?  And any chance you could make that mountain a little smaller?  Your guts will thank you for reducing their life-time workload by giving you better health.
Perhaps you have read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson?  Poor Stieg, just like his protagonist he was a chain smoker and  caffeine addict.  Stieg passed away from a heart attack just before his 50th birthday.  And he still had so many open projects!  Might Stieg be working on the final seven volumes he had planned in addition to the Millennium Trilogy if he had followed a 'low calorie, high nutrient' diet?  Perhaps.
you are choosing to eat. Is someone holding a gun to your head forcing you to eat huge quantities of empty calories?  Did you mother beg you to drink more soda pop and eat more cookies?  You have a choice of what you eat, the rest of your digestive system does not.  All it can do is make the best of what you shove into it.  And as amazing as our body is, it does not have the gift of miraculously turning junk food into superfoods.  Instead, it quietly suffers along with the rest of you. Why not go easy on your digestive system?  Would you like your boss to overwork you?  And even if s/he does, you do have the option to quit.  The only way your body can quit is to get sick and worse.  So why not treat the part of your body that extracts energy and immune enhancers from the food you eat with a bit of love and respect?  It's so much more than plumbing.

So to summarize: the 'first secret' of healthy centenarians is eat less and eat better OR decrease the volume while increasing the quality or the 'NQ', the nutritional quotient (as in IQ and EQ; let's go for NQ here.  Low NQ => more cancer, greater obesity, higher chance of diabetes, greater likelihood of heart attacks.  High NQ = better health?).  In fact, let's make this real simple.  You may have, time and again, struggled to decrease the amount.  Forget about it.  Keep it simple.  Go easy on yourself.  Forget about the quantity.  As a New Year's present for  that unrecognized part of your body, just concentrate on eating food that is high in nutrients.  The rest will follow.  How many celery sticks and carrots can you really eat in one sitting?  Happy New Year! 

Take-home lesson: eat in moderation, stop before you feel full, then wait a while.  Chances are that you have eaten enough (it takes a while for the stomach to update the brain).

Monday, January 3, 2011

50 Secrets of the World's Longest Living People

The inspiration for EatWellAgeWell originated in the movie "Julie and Julia" (2009) starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.  The movie is based on a book by Julie Powell, a New York office worker who decides to cook her way through Julia Childs cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in one year and to blog about it. Every day Julie prepares a meal from Child's cookbook and captures her culinary triumphs and failures in a blog.  In 365 days Julie manages to cook (and eat) her way through 524 recipes.  My fascination lies less with French cooking, and more with the interrelationship between what you choose to put in your mouth and swallow and your long-term health.  By this I mean the source and quality of our food and drink.  In an article published in the Wall Street Journal today (1/3/11), George Ball writes about the relationship between food, children and their health.  Quoted here from "2011 : The Year of the Vegetable": "American children are prematurely aging, suffering from sicknesses that were once the provenance of older adults.  Old has become the new young".  Young people aging long before they reach old age?   Surely in a country as affluent as the United States, this does not have to be!  So rather than indulge in French food, I am seeking to understand how the behavior we choose today might affect our well-being as we get older.  One of my favorite books on this topic is Sally Beare's "50 Secrets of the World's Longest Living People".  According to Sally, the human life span is around 120 years.  I doubt many of us would desire to live that long, but we all would like to be healthy and strong for the duration of the lives we have.  Sally investigates the reasons behind the sturdy health of centenarians in the world's five "blue zones".  Blue zones?  The term "blue zone" was first coined by demographers who were studying centenarians in Sardinia in 2004.  Blue zones are areas in the world in which people live active lives past the age of 100 years.  The emphasis is "active" as in healthy, happy and independent.  Sally has identified five such zones and seeks to unearth the reasons for aging well. She has summarized her findings in "50 secrets". Secrets no longer, as books are available for all.  My goal in this blog is to investigate - in chronological order - each one of these secrets.  How applicable are these lifestyle choices to an average person living in a relatively affluent country such as the U.S, Canada, Germany, France or Singapore?  Every week I will explore one of the secrets, try to "live" it and share with you my thoughts and new insights.  Come join me on this journey, comment on my musings and exploration, and perhaps towards the end of 2011 we will both emerge stronger, wiser and healthier and more able to age like the Hunza, the Okinawa, the Bama, the Campodimele and the Symi. Because aging is what we are doing right now without even trying.Come travel with Sally and me to Pakistan, Japan, China, Italy and Greece!  Let's go!