Sunday, February 27, 2011

Secret 8: Choose Organic Goat's and Sheep's Cheese

Since I failed miserably in the last blog entry at keeping the entry short, I will give it another try in this entry. 
Sally's two main points are:
i. limit your consumption of saturated fats
ii. if you eat dairy products, choose organic yogurt and organic cheese
So off I went to Whole Foods, figuring if anyone sold organic goat's and sheep's cheese, this was the place to go. And indeed, Whole Foods had two whole shelves of various kinds of goat's cheese including goat's cheddar.  But was it organic? Only one brand stated 'organic' and I eyed the plastic packaging suspiciously. How 'organic' is it to put organic cheese in a non-organic plastic wrapper (is that like paying more for organic fruit than conventional fruit and then washing the expensive organic fruit with unfiltered tap water)? And was there any truth to the suspicion that fats in food react with substances in plastic to possibly form toxic or carcinogenic by-products? My thoughts started wandering... But let's get back to secret 8. Apart from cheese made by 'Organic Valley', I was not able to find any other organic cheeses. So I asked. "All of these goat cheeses are pretty much organic", a helpful Whole Foods employee offered," the process of obtaining organic certification is very expensive, and these cheeses are all natural and fresh." I checked the ingredients. In every instance, the milk used to make the cheese was pasteurized. It is against the law in the U.S.  to sell unpasteurized milk in supermarkets. If you would like to obtain unpasteurized milk, you can join a farmer's coop on-line and buy a 'share' in a cow. This way you can legally obtain untreated milk.  So if you would like to consume the type of cheese your blue zone centenarian enjoys, even a 'Whole Foods' supermarket will not be able to deliver this product. Still, just like food there is 'real' cheese and there is highly processed American cheese. It is probably wise to choose pure cheeses or, in other words, cheeses that do not contain artificial flavorings, emulsifiers, food colorings, sweeteners, stabilizing agents such as xanthan gum and carrageenan (quick, cover up this c...word and try to write it from memory. How did you do?), dry milk, or anhydrous milk fat.  Would you rather enjoy real cheese such a Gruyere or Comte (both made with unpasteurized milk) or does "pasteurized processed cheese food" sound more enticing?  

A most delicious cheese - not organic, not goat, but made from unpasteurized happy Swiss cows' milk
One well-known example of "pasteurized processed cheese food" consists of milk, water, milk fat, whey, whey protein concentrate, sodium phosphate, milk protein concentrate, alginate, sodium citrate, apocarotenal, annatto, enzymes, cheese culture.  Can you guess what this might be?    

Or that:
Uggh!  Looks like something made in China or some country with terribly lax food regulations
It is Velveeta. Do you go to the grocery store to buy sodium phosphate, apocarotenal or sodium citrate?' If these chemicals are not part of your staple food, then why buy a 'pasteurized processed cheese food' that contains these substances?
For those of you who will only put the most expensive gas in your cars, how about using the same standards when buying cheese for yourselves and for your loved ones?  

Take-home messages: 
i. everything in moderation including cheese
ii. choose quality over quantity

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Secret 7: Prepare your meat right

For a change of pace, I am going to try to keep this entry short.

I consider secret 7 a 'stuffer' secret. What do I mean by this? In Sally Beare's original 2003 U.K. edition with Piatkus, 'the live-longer diet', she only listed 15 secrets. The book I am trying to live one week at a time is her 2006 U.S. edition with Da Capo Press. My guess is that her US publisher suggested that the book would have more appeal if the 15 secrets could be expanded to 50 secrets and '50 secrets' be incorporated in the title. Expanding 15 into 50 secrets requires some ingenuity and creativity and not each of the new secrets is focused and entirely convincing. Thus the term 'stuffer' secret. So let's have a closer look at 'stuffer' secret 7:

Just like 'stuffer' secret 1, secret 7 consists of a hodge-podge of different ideas:

i. Saturated fat causes cancer, asthma, PMS and many degenerative diseases
I would argue that it's the quality of the saturated fat, rather than saturated fat per se that is the culprit.
ii. Your average meat at the supermarket is meat from confined, feedlot animals rather than the better-quality grass-fed meat from free-roaming animals
I agree. And don't always trust the manager of the supermarket to be knowledgeable about the life of the animal prior to landing on the supermarket cooler shelf
iii. "Reduce fat by stewing and boiling and skimming off fat from the surface of soup"
My gut feeling tells me that when I make chicken soup from scratch for any family member suffering from flu, one reason they regain their health relatively quickly lies in the fat floating on the surface of the soup.....maybe one day we will discover some beneficial nutrient in that fat?
iv. Choose chicken over beef and lamb
I consider lamb just as good as chicken because a lot of the chicken in the U.S. is overbreed, overfed, never gets to see natural light nor forages outdoors. If you want visual examples of chicken that are so fat they topple over and cannot get back on their own two feet, watch Food Inc. This is your average chicken sold in your local supermarket.
Lamb, despite being 'red' meat tends to be free-roaming and grass-fed since it is not produced in huge quantities like chicken or beef (this is just a hunch on my part and needs further research). Also, lamb has a reputation for enhancing fertility and stabilizing moods. Warning:  this too is based on hearsay and would require some supporting scientific evidence.
v. "Fiber helps keep intestines free and clear of toxins and excess fats"
Fiber probably helps remove some undesirables from the intestines but I would not go as far as to presume "free and clear"
vi. "Hot dogs and other cured meats are treated with nitrites and nitrates."
Fortunately in the U.S. ingredients tend to be listed on the food package. Also, hot dogs sans nitrites/nitrates are readily available. Our favorite hot dogs are 'all natural uncured buffalo hot dogs' by the Buffalo Guys. In Denver you can buy them at Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers. The dog is made of buffalo meat (American bison), water, spices (red pepper, black pepper, coriander, nutmeg, allspice, turbinado sugar, garlic, onion powder), salt and organic beet powder.   One dog consists of 1 g of saturated fat, 160 mg of salt, 0 g of sugar and 7 g of protein. Why would you want to eat dogs that consist of fillers, nitrates, nitrites or MSG when the Buffalo Guys make a much healthier alternative?
vii. Non-organic vegetables are treated with nitrate-containing fertilizers
We try to buy organic vegetables and fruit especially those kinds that are more prone to concentrated pesticide uptake. Still, fruit and vegetable with pesticides are healthier than processed food. Also, pesticides tend to be water-soluble so washing vegetables and fruit before consumption will at least reduce the surface pesticides. For slow-growing vegetables such as tubers i.e. carrots you are probably better off choosing organic. For other produce at least try to go local. Since that produce tends to travel less distances, it contains a higher percentage of nutrients (these degrade with shelf life) and require less pesticides as they do not have to keep fresh for long distances (or so I try to convince myself).
viii. "Cooking meat at high heat such as frying or BBQing creates v. dangerous carcinogenic heterocyclic aromatic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons."
So much for the popular summer activity in the U.S. that peaks with 4th of July festivities! Another thought: when Stone Age people cooked their mammoth prime cuts over a hand-built fire, were they aware that they were simultaneously poisoning themselves with HHAs and PAHs?
viii. "Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower aid the liver in converting these toxins into less toxic substances. So do green tea, onions, garlic or a salad."
Mother was right when she urged you to eat your vegetables! I generally use a lot of onions and/or garlic when cooking meat
ix. "Better sources of fat are oily fish, nuts, seeds and their cold-pressed oils, and olive oil"
If you live far from the coast and fresh fish is not readily available, try a daily teaspoon of cod liver oil 

To keep you titillated, stuffer secret 7 also functions as a sneak preview for other secrets (such as 14 and 16).

So much for keeping this blog entry short!

Take-home lesson: eat less meat; choose lean over fatty cuts; boil, stew or poach rather than fry or BBQ your meat; favor free-range, grass-fed over feed-lot, grain-fed animals.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Secret 6: Eat Meat as a Treat

Welcome to the heated debate between meat-eaters and pure plant-eaters!  I consider the debate heated as emotions often seem to cloud the facts.
Sally Beare observes that the inhabitants of blue zones eat very little meat. Meat either "has to be caught or taken from one's household stock" and "meat is eaten as a special treat once a week, or in small amounts to flavor vegetable-based dishes". She defines meat as cows, lamb, goats, sheep, wild boar, pigs, snails, and chicken. I assume that Sally does not eat meat, because after confirming that blue zoners eat very little meat, she then presents her own arguments against eating meat. I will play devil's advocate, and present counter-arguments. I quote Sally in blue, and counter argue in italics:

  • if you try biting into the side of a cow, you will see that your teeth are not well suited to eating meat
  • if you try eating grass all day, the cellulose will wear down your teeth and you will end up chewing with your gums. Ouch!
  • we do not have carnivorous bodies, as lions and tigers do
  • we do not have herbivorous bodies either.  Those who choose a vegetarian diet have to supplement Vit. B12, as this vitamin is not found in adequate amounts in a typical Western vegetarian diet
  • we are not designed to eat meat as we have much longer intestinal tracts than lions and tigers
  • that's because we are omnivores.  Our tracts are longer.  On the other hand we are not designed to be herbivores.  Let's stay with the example of the main red meat in human diet.  The cow is a ruminant; it regurgitates indigestible food, grinds down the cellulose even further through mastication and then reswallows the cud so that this can be processed by stomach microbes that decompose cellulose.  We cannot digest cellulose.  Furthermore, in order to be successful vegetarians, cows have a stomach that consists of four chambers.  Our heart consists of four chambers, but our stomach only has one.  Maybe we are not meant to be vegetarians?
  • products of meat digestion linger in intestines for days and weeks and are broken down into toxic by-products such as ammonia, phenols, amines, and fecal bile acids
  • and that may be a reason we are omnivores, as a balanced mix of meat and vegetables will ensure that we have adequate fiber to 'mop up' any lingering waste
  • we chew from side to side with our large flat molars, shaped for grinding grains and grasses
  • any dentist will tell you that we have the teeth of an omnivore.  We have molars, premolars, but also incisors and - just like lions and tigers - canines (a bit smaller)
  • the link between meat intake and cancer is well-established
  • Inuits eat mainly a meat diet.   They eat walrus, Ringed seal, Bearded seal, Beluga whale, caribou, polar bear, muskoxen, birds (including their eggs) and fish.  Do they have extremely high rates of cancer?
  • the traditional Maasai diet consisted of meat, milk and blood from cattle.  Did the Maasai have a higher rate of cancer?
  • any meat we eat has to be tenderized first by cooking, marinating, or bashing it with a hammer
  • my favorite meat is carpaccio. And I am not the only person who enjoys raw meat.  The Inuit, in order to obtain Vitamin C, eat raw or frozen caribou liver, whale skin and seal brain; cooking would destroy the Vit. C content. According to Wikipedia, one common way for Inuit to eat hunted meat is frozen. Only when the meat has to be transported for more than a day will it be cooked. 

The arguments and counter-arguments could continue ad nauseum. I would argue that we are omnivores, moderation is healthier than excess, and the quality of the meat is critical.  A majority of meat in the U.S. comes from feed lots where cattle is fed a grain-based diet supplemented with hormones and antibiotics. This is not the traditional diet of cattle. If you want to eat red meat and are on a tight budget, you might want to reduce the quantity and replace feed lot beef with the more expensive beef from grass fed, free-roaming animals. Or perhaps you might decide to shift your red meat base from highly domesticated species to species that are not as overbreed such as buffalo and venison.

In keeping with my goal of living each secret for a week, I tried to reduce my meat intake and instead enjoyed shrimp, mushrooms, salmon and other fish. One night I did make tacos for dinner and used bison instead of beef. The feedback on the bison tacos was very positive. Another night we had peppers stuffed with minced beef and pork. According to the person at the meat counter, the beef was grass-fed until its  last month of life, when it was grain fed to fatten it up and marble the meat. One night we also had chicken.  Although this is not a red meat, it is still considered meat according to Sally Beare. I did not miss eating large quantities of meat, and enjoyed the diversity in our protein sources. So my recommendation would be to eat less meat, and if you do eat meat, choose grass-fed beef, lamb, free-range chicken, bison, venison or emu or go out and hunt your own.

And here a few interesting tidbits for you from Sally Beare's chapter on "Eat Meat as a Treat":

  • all eight essential amino acids are found in the following foods: meat, dairy products, fish, eggs, soy, hemp (the previous secret), avocado, quinoa and millet (secret 3)
  • foods with a high protein content are (for 100 g. of each particular food, g. of protein are listed) : steak 30; chicken 25; cheddar cheese 25, mixed nuts 23.
Take-home lesson: reduce the proportion of meat in your diet and ensure that the meat you do eat is raised as naturally as possible.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Secret 5: Use Hemp

I don't usually "use hemp" unless I am buying rope or I am purchasing rice in bulk that comes in a hemp bag.  But EAT it?  Maybe if you need to increase the fiber content of your diet?
A few historical tidbits on hemp: weapons used during the Middle Ages (such as the long bow) were made of hemp as this was v. durable and able to withstand great pressure.  In the 13th century the main source of paper was hemp.  In 1455 Gutenberg printed the Gutenberg Bible on hemp paper.  Another famous document printed on hemp paper (hempaper?) was the 1776 Declaration of Independence.  So now Sally Beare is recommending that I include hemp in my diet?  Eat wisdom and you will turn wise?
So off to the store I go in search of hemp and its ilk.  Natural Grocers, formerly know as Vitamin Cottage is a popular family-owned chain of small supermarkets along the Front Range in Colorado.  The store is a great source of fresh, organic produce, v. affordable fresh spices and herbs (check the bulk bins) and all sorts of funky foods.
My first thought is to check the beauty section for some 100% cold-pressed oil that I can use as a skin moisturizer.  I've used up my apricot kernel oil, so why not try hemp oil next?
"We don't have any hemp oil for your skin, but we do have organic hemp oil for salads and smoothies." the cosmetics lady seems confused by my question.
I make a mental note - if I can eat it, why not rub it on my face? I'll just apply the hemp salad oil variation to my skin.  Little do I know (keep reading).
I continue my hemp quest by engaging the main buyer of the store.  He is much more familiar with this superfood than the lady in the cosmetics section.  He tells me that hemp is the newest superfood - rich in nutrients, high in protein (25% of hemp consists of protein) and it contains all eight essential amino acids. Also, it is one of the few foods that has a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.  The ratio is 1:3.   The buyer is very enthusiastic about hemp.  
"Are you familiar with hemp ice-cream?  It's delicious!"
Since my family is already resigned to being dietary guinea pigs, I place a 'double Dutch chocolate HempIScream' in my shopping basket.  This one's for my husband.   He has a sweet tooth.
"Oh these are delicious!" the cashier will later tell me when I am checking out.
"You've tried them?" I ask surprised.  Am I the only one who has missed the hemp train?
"Yes, they distribute them at Red Rocks!"
Red Rocks is a stunning, natural outdoor amphitheater in Denver, Colorado.  It turns out that the company that makes IScream is located in nearby Boulder.  

"What other hemp products do you have?  How about hemp pasta?" I ask the store buyer.
"That would be great.  That's a v. healthy pasta!  But we don't carry it.  Hopefully we will get it in some day."
Hemp pasta is gluten-free.
I scan the pasta aisle: whole wheat, brown rice, many choices!  Pasta once consisted purely of "enriched" semolina.
"But we do have hemp milk!" he adds.
"Hemp milk?"
"Yes, and I might even have a coupon for you!"
I find three different brands of hemp milk and each brand offers several flavors: regular (which is sweetened), unsweetened, vanilla, chocolate.  I decide on regular:

It is a product of Canada and tastes much like almond milk or soy milk or horchata.  The main ingredients are filtered water and evaporated cane juice.  I barely taste the shelled hemp seed and hemp oil.

On second thoughts, I doubt the world's healthiest and longest-living people have access to any of these highly processed sugary "hemp" products. To get the full nutritional benefit of hemp I need to buy 100% cold-pressed hemp oil.  It comes in a dark bottle and is stored in the store cooler.  This is more like it!  If centenarians in the blue zones are eating hemp products, then hemp oil must be one of the main ways they are getting their hemp benefits (hempefits?):

Now I realize why this oil is not suitable for straight-up application to the face (at least not as long as the 'green look' is not in vogue).  The oil tastes like a cross between pumpkin seed oil (just as green) and a mild version of walnut oil.
I mix it with balsamic vinegar and water to create a simple salad dressing:

Tastes a bit bitter.  I will have to experiment some more with this oil.  The instructions on the bottle recommend the oil for salad dressings and smoothies, but advise against cooking with it.  I am glad I chose the smallest bottle available in the store (250 ml),as this taste will take some getting used to.
But I have learned from my sprouted wheat experiment.  Let me find some great recipes that showcase hemp.  And if you have some great hemp recipes, please share them in the comments!

Take-home lesson: add some hemp to your diet preferably as unprocessed as possible such as 100% cold-pressed oil.