Spice, Spice Baby!

Greetings Healthy Ones!
Recently I've noticed a HUGE interest in spices and spice blends, rubs and flavor packets all over the place. From the new spice companies popping up to the availability of every flavor of Mrs. Dash you could ever imagine on the shelves at the local grocer. There are so many options from which to choose and this is a very good thing indeed however it might be a bit overwhelming and confusing as well. This is how one fan of the Leafy introduced the idea for a Nutri-mercial featuring simple spices and spice blends which work well in plant-based recipes. Great topic! Where to begin?? There was no way to tackle this very interesting and lengthy subject in five minutes or less (the goal of the Nutri-mercial) so here we are, filling in the blanks on the blog!

OK, so you are eating lots of whole plant foods and looking for ways to flavor up your veggies, jam your yams, and make your fruits festive. Starting simple is always best. If you do not wish to invest a great amount of your hard earned cash or precious time, I advise trying some of the many blends of herbs and spices already available on the market. I like the Frontier Organic Seasoning Blends because they are readily available and have a no-sodium option. Here is a link to the many blends Frontier offer to bring a little zest into your kitchen. Frontier offer everything from Cajun and Creole to Tandoori and Thai with TONS of information on how to use these blends. Granted all information is not plant-based but you can gather a lot of knowledge on this site.

A little more serious in the kitchen and want to make your own blends? Well have no fear, you need not own a kitchen the size of the whitehouse in order to have a few key spices on hand which will make many combinations. Here are some spices and herbs which I suggest you always have on hand as they overlap in many cuisines of the world.

Allspice, Coriander, Cumin, Cinnamon, Chili, Cloves, Fennel, Ginger, Nutmeg, Oregano, Paprika and Smoked Paprika, Pepper, Thyme, Turmeric.

It is fine to buy these as ground for a basic investment. Store in cool, dark, dry storage and buy in small quantities unless you will be using within 6 months.

Branching out even further you say? Add these to your list, if seeds grind with a spice grinder* or mortar and pestle when needed in the ground form: Cardamom seed, Cassia, Fenugreek seed, Mustard seed, Black Sesame seed, Seaweeds, Szechwan Pepper & Wasabi. And for the real aficionado, stock these sometimes difficult to find additions: Star Anise, Galangal, Kafir Lime Leaf, Lemongrass, Saffron, Tamarind & Curry Leaf. 

Now for some very basic guidance on which spices/herbs/flavors are used in the more popular or familiar ethnic cuisines. Amounts are descending in order, many combinations can be made:
Indian: Coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, oepper, chili, cloves, tamarind, cardamom, saffron.
Moroccan: coriander, turmeric, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, pepper, chili.
African: coriander, cumin, allspice, ginger, pepper, fenugreek.
Middle Eastern: paprika, pepper, cumin, coriander, sumac, thyme, cassia, cloves, cardamom.
Thai:coriander, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, green chili, garlic, galangal, ginger.
Mexican:paprika, cumin, oregano, chili, coriander leaf (aka cilantro).
Chinese: star anise, fennel, cassia, Szechwan pepper, cloves, ginger.
Japanese: Szechwan pepper, black sesame seed, mustard seed, wasabe, seaweeds.

For sources of other combinations and information, just refer to a good book such as Spice Notes  or one of the many others listed.  Check out this great new online source for organic herbs, spices and blends: http://www.sangredecristospice.com/ and READ this NYTimes article about the self described Spice Therapist - Lev Sercarz. These resources are not at all focused on plant-based cooking but there is a ton of information to propel you to "educated spice connoisseur" status!


And, in case you missed the Nutri-mercial on Spice:

Juicing and Smoothies - Fad, Trend or Other?

Not really a juice, but a  a predecessor - "health" tonic,! 

Juicing has been around since the 1930s when a physician by the name of Norman Walker invented one of the first fresh juice extractors and came into vogue again in the 1950s with the invention of the Champion Juicer, so you can hardly call juicing fruits and vegetables for health purposes a "fad". The Champion juicer is still around today and one of the most highly revered machines on the market, but you have to have some strength to muscle it on and off your counter. Maybe the idea behind all of the juicing is to give you enough vigor to move this lug of a thing around!
Champion Juicer User Manual
The Champion Juicer, pretty much the same for almost 60 years!

 Jack Lalanne followed up the Champion Juicer in the 1970s with his own machine; The Jack Lalanne Power Juicer, which sparked another juicing mania.
The Jack Lalanne Power Juicer
 In the 1990's, Jay Kordich came on the scene with the Juiceman books and juicer selling hundreds. The juicer is still on the market today under the brand name Spectrum.

All-In-One Juice Extractor
Jay Kordich's Juiceman

Some of the Benefits of Juicing:
  • using more vegetables than you normally would have
  • exploring veggies and fruits you might not have otherwise
  • quick way to add nutrients to your system'
  • good for giving the gut a rest, especially beneficial for "resetting" or "rebooting" before an elimination diet
  • because there is no fiber, it can be useful for people with irritable bowel issues IBD or IBS

Drawbacks to Juicing:
  • juices do not give you a feeling of fullness, therefore you might not feel sated
  • because there is no fiber, you can spike your blood sugar, especially if the juices are fruit laden
  • there is no protein so a juice is not really a great meal replacement
Smoothie Benefits:
  • smoothies contain more fiber so they will fill you up and the feeling of fullness lasts
  • you can boost the protein content of your smoothie so it can be a proper meal replacement
  • blending whole plant material, without separating the fiber, can aid in absorption of nutrients
Drawbacks to Smoothies:
  • smoothies can be very calorie dense, depending on what you put in yours
  • can be too fruit-centric and also spike blood sugar
PROCEED with CAUTION! Be sure you are operating with a lot of knowledge and have your doctor's approval of the fast you choose. If you are diabetic, have kidney disease, are undergoing chemo, or have other nutritional deficiencies or chronic conditions, you might think twice before jumping into a "reboot" a la Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead style.

Have a great Weekend!


Dioxin - In Water Bottles or Food?

Happy Sunday Everyone!  OK, I decided to do a little research after reading a facebook post (myth) about plastic water bottles, UGHG! ERRRR! I have a real dislike for plastic water bottles. I believe we are all entitled to safe drinking water for FREE and those little bottles drive me crazy. Nothing would please me more than to phase them out due to a health risk, but that is another post.
Does this look familiar?
For this post, I will not use my own words, but rather site some articles from trusted sources.

First, debunking the water bottle myth, you can learn more about other circulated myths HERE or from SNOPES:

Cancer myth:

Plastics used for food storage and cancer

(pdf 140kb)

Origin of the myth

Recently, several emails were forwarded warning that Sheryl Crowe had developed breast cancer by leaving her bottle of water in the car. The email claims that plastic bottles and food containers contain chemicals called dioxins which cause reproductive and developmental problems, liver damage and cancer.

Current evidence

Dioxins are organic environmental pollutants released by burning of waste, especially
PVC and aromatic compounds commonly used in hospitals. These dioxins, after being
released into the atmosphere, are taken up by fish and animals and stored in fat.
People are exposed to dioxins most by eating meat and fish that is high in fat.

 But should we be concerned about ingesting the Dioxin in the first place:

Frequently Asked Questions About Dioxin and Food from an article CHEJ _ Center for Health, Environment & Justice. You can read the entire article HERE
1) Should I be worried about the levels of dioxin in the food supply?
Yes, but just as you should be concerned about eating a healthy diet. The levels of dioxin in our food
Are a concern, especially for nursing infants and young children. The U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) needs to do more to reduce industrial emissions of dioxins and to reduce the
Levels of dioxin in food fed to animals as part of large industrial animal operations (see Question
#13 below). In the meantime, we can greatly reduce individual exposure by following the Federal Dietary Guidelines and reducing the intake of saturated fat by choosing meat and dairy products that are lean, low fat, or fat free, and by increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products.
2) How does dioxin get into our food?
Nearly all of us are exposed to dioxin by eating meat and dairy products.
According to EPA over 90% of human exposure to dioxin occurs through our diet. Dioxin is most prevalent in meat, fish, dairy, and other fatty foods. Our exposure begins as crops are contaminated by airborne dioxins settling onto plants, which cows and other animals eat. The exposures are compounded when animals are given fat-laden feed contaminated with dioxin. At each step, dioxin accumulates in the fat portion of the animal. We then ingest dioxin by eating meat and dairy.

Notice the highest source of Dioxins ingested come from meat, dairy and fish? Well, it ain't necessarily so:

And if you would like to know more about Dioxin from Dr. Greger's AMAZING review of real published studies, click HERE.

Conclusion, Dioxin is a chemical we should be concerned about, but water bottles left in hot cars are not the source nor the reason for concern. Its our FOOD SUPPLY; Meat, Dairy, and Eggs in particular which we should eliminate or seriously limit if we would like to avoid such chemicals.


Buying and Storing Fresh Produce

Last week, I posted my first in a series of videos on the Leafy Café Facebook page which I have named “Nutri-mercials”. My lovely yoga & Pilates instructor sister, Patricia, came up with that name and I think it perfectly describes what I would like to present. These videos will be short (about 5 minutes or so) little insights into nutrition answering YOUR questions. The first video was a request for y’all to send in some questions, and you did. The2cd video posted is about buying and storing FRESH produce. OK, now this is just me (not my filmmaker/cinematographer husband) making these little videos with my iphone. They will improve, I promise!! But it is sooo much fun J Any pointers are always welcome!!

Folks are concerned because they want to purchase FRESH veggies and fruits but often get them home and they spoil quickly so... what are some tips for veggie longevity?

Well, I immediately thought of my main man when it comes to produce, Don Maxey. Don and his wife Hollie run Uncle Don’s Local Market on beautiful St. Simons Island, GA. These tips apply no matter where you are so check it out.

South GA does not have really great farmer’s markets (yet) or much in the way of CSAs so accessing fresh locally grown goods can be challenging. Luckily for SSI, Don came along. Don shops from local farms to bring Islanders the freshest in season produce from the mainland counties which surround St. Simons Island so we now have one-stop shopping for organic seasonal greens, tomatoes, whatever the farmers are harvesting daily.  One of the tips for veggie longevity is to buy as much from local growers (or grow your own). This means the veggies are so fresh they will last way longer than those shipped from the other side of the planet to your big box grocer. Watch as I talk with Don about the importance of buying local & organic whenever possible.

Don says these small farms are able to maintain nutrient levels in the soils which in turn give our produce more vitamins and minerals, hmmmm. The farmers use a Brix test to determine the absolute best time for harvest based on nutrient content of the food, who knew?? Don reckons that even consumers will own Brix testing devices (aka a refractometer) to ensure they are buying the best. I know people use Brix tests for calculating sugar to determine ripeness of grapes in winemaking, and I use a hydrometer for measuring potential alcohol content when making home brew but I had not heard of Brix testing used in this method. To learn more about Brix testing for nutrient density, click HERE.

Here’s what Don and I recommend for buying and storing fresh produce:
·         Buy as much from local growers as possible. Check out farm stands, CSA’s or grow your own! This ensures you the freshest produce to start with and also the most nutrient dense.
·         Try not to over purchase, buy only what you need.
·         Keep fruits separate from veggies when storing in the fridge. Soon I will be testing the BluApple which is sold in many high-priced stores (whole foods) for $10. I will let you know if it is worth! Try following these guidelines for what to put in the refrigerator and what NOT to put in:

·         Veggies such as hard squashes, root vegetables/onions: cool dry, out of light space but not fridge
·         Stone fruit such as peaches, plums, cherries – out of fridge until ripe, then in bottom of fridge in a dry drawer
·         Citrus – ripen out of fridge
·         Tomatoes – temp reacts with tomatoes and turns flavor OFF so out of the fridge away from direct sunlight. In fact, Don shared with me that tomatoes are so temperature sensitive that even fluctuating natural temps can interfere with the life of the tomatoes to try to keep them as constant a temp as possible.

IN THE FRIDGE: (In plastic bags in the crisper)
·         Zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli,
·         Mushrooms, in a paper bag in fridge
·         Herbs, delicate lettuces, in water in fridge or wrapped in paper towel in bag
·         Greens, Lettuces, fresh herbs: Wash in cold water (soak if limp) and shake off excess water (I use a salad spinner but you can use kitchen towel. Store wrapped in paper towels in airtight container
I know, y’all in the South are saying “WHAATT we can’t do that”, especially in the summer, just do the best you can, eat your veggies up, use them in a smoothie or freeze if you see they are on the way out and you cannot possibly get to use them. I am investigating the little BLUAPPLE which you place in your veggie drawers, I’ll get back to you on whether or not it’s worth the ten bucks!!

Next up in the Nutri-mercial lineup; Juicing, is it a Fad??