Bringing families back to real food.
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An endocrinologist I used to see told me about the oxtail soup broth her mother made for her after her difficult labor and delivery with her first child. She was eating it gleefully for days, but then one day when she was finally up and around again she looked in the refrigerator for something to eat and discovered a big pot of what looked like pale-brown jelly. She was horrified when her mother told her that this was the oxtail soup she had been eating!
The wise Western medical doctor, believing the jellied soup to be pure saturated fat, gave her silly traditional Venezuelan mother a good scolding and promptly threw away the soup -- along with its amazing store of nutrients and healing gelatin. I had no idea at the time she told me this tale that the jellied soup had actually been gelatin rather than fat, though I suspected that something was amiss in her beliefs about it (as many of us know, saturated fat would be solid after refrigeration, like butter, and of course, it's good for us as well anyway). Of course, her mother couldn't explain why it was so good for her, but definitely knew that she needed to feed it to her recovering daughter!
Whether it rains or not, this salt pours on nothing but aluminum, potassium iodide, dextrose, bleach, and highly-refined sodium chloride that has had all its valuable minerals and magnesium salts removed.
This is the old standby we all know, but most of us don't even realize that the slightly metallic, unsatisfying flavor of table salt could be improved upon--and even if we do, we still probably haven't heard too much about the nutritional benefits of switching. While coarse-ground "sea salt" is an improvement upon Morton's, there is still something better: Celtic Sea Salt and other unrefined salts from the sea and ancient sea beds. Unrefined sea salt (unbleached and unprocessed) lends a subtly complex and tasty flavor to the foods it enhances, and also goes much further; once you switch you will be amazed at how you don't need to keep sprinkling on more! This type of salt, which is usually light grey in color, provides a full array of health-supporting minerals from the ocean. Sun dried sea salt is made up of approximately 82% sodium chloride, and 14% macro-minerals (especially magnesium), and contains about 80 trace minerals! It is also slightly moist and contains minute traces of plant life which provide organic forms of iodine that are really useful to our bodies. (Other unrefined sea salts include the Hawaiian red and black varieties which are mixed with red clay and volcanic charcoal respectively; there are also several varieties which have been mined from ancient sea beds and are light pink in color. These latter varieties will lack the organic iodine found in moist fresh sea salt, but they are also health-supporting provided they do not come from areas of nuclear activity or waste storage.)
If you have been avoiding salt, you may be interested to know that salt is needed, especially in a diet of mostly cooked foods, to activate digestive enzymes and to create hydrochloric acid in the stomach (which is made from sodium and chloride). The best way to avoid dangerous levels of sodium is to not eat foods which are processed, packaged, or from low-quality restaurants, and to skip the table salt. If you're sensitive to salt like I am (my heart pounds unpleasantly for several hours after I have soy sauce, for example) you will be pleased to discover that unrefined sea salt will most likely not bother you in the least!
You can buy unrefined sea salts of various kinds at health food stores, food co-ops, and some natural-foods supermarkets. Look for Celtic Sea Salt, Redmond Real Salt, Eden Salt, and Himalayan salt. Some of these salts are moist, as they should be, so sprinkling it on with the fingers seems to work best rather than using a grinder or shaker. You can check your local health food store or supermarket for other varieties. Remember, salt should not be white! Look for the light grey or pale pink color.
Forget the bagel or donut that only keeps you full for an hour or two. Forget the self-punishing high-fiber twigs and flakes
phytic acid which will actually bind to important minerals in the digestive tract and carry them out of the body if not prepared properly; in addition, they contain enzyme inhibitors which are present in all seeds. This is why oats should always be soaked overnight with water and an acidic medium, which also provides the additional benefit of encouraging the production of enzymes and increasing nutrient content.
I add plenty of butter and raw milk during cooking, as well as shredded unsweetened coconut, ground flaxseed, a little raw honey, and sometimes chopped nuts. I always add extra milk and butter after serving as well. Another delicious alternative is plain oatmeal served with a whole-milk yogurt, butter, and honey.
Keep in mind that if you eat a high-starch breakfast like this, be sure to have plenty of high-quality fat and protein either added to the cereal or served alongside. Examples include coconut, nuts, yogurt, extra cream, and a side of bacon or sausage.
Now that we are in the midst of the holiday season, this is the perfect time of year to consider some of the food traditions of our families, extended relatives, and ancestors. Particularly if we came recently from another country to the U.S., or if our parents were immigrants themselves, chances are there are many foods we think little of, but which actually play an integral role in our cultural background and which have had important positive effects on our own health and the health of our families.
Since my ancestors came here some time ago and I grew up without any sense of a food culture, I find it fascinating to learn about the food traditions of others. Many people I meet here in Brooklyn can describe quite a few unique foods that played an important part in the daily diet of their home country; however, they often do not realize the significance of these traditions. In this country especially, perhaps because of our history of publicly-enforced assimilation and our reverence for "scientific" studies, most of us have been taught that many food traditions from other countries are at best silly, and at worst downright harmful. (This is why I hear so often about people who have eaten fresh butter all their lives, only to come here and begin dutifully eating margarine, often to the detriment of their health).
I have heard about so many wonderful traditions from the people I've talked to, from summer holidays at the Caspian Sea with fresh caviar for breakfast every morning, to gobbling up "chopped liver" at family gatherings on Jewish holidays (there is no food more nutrient-dense than liver from a pasture-raised animal -- here's the recipe). Some people have mothers who sucked the marrow from lamb bones after making stew, while others remember their grandparents fermenting soybeans (as in natto) or cabbage (as in sauerkraut or kim chee) every year, making their own feta and yogurt from raw milk, or simmering delicious broths from whole fish or leftover bones. Many people grew up with fermented and cultured drinks they hardly even gave a thought to, like kvass, kombucha, and kefir, while others enjoyed homemade sour rye, black bread, whole grain porridges, fresh yellow butter, and raw milk cheeses. My husband's mother, who was born and raised in Mexico, used to lick the cone of lard she carried home from the market to her family! (Lard like this, from pastured pigs who are allowed to be omnivorous as nature intended, is very high in vitamin D, a deficiency we now all seem to have.)
When I learn about these traditions from friends and clients, and exclaim in delight at the sheer nutrient-density of the foods, they are invariably amazed. It is so easy to discount the wisdom of the traditions our parents and grandparents have tried to pass along to us, and to believe that modern packaged foods and supplements will be our key to good health. I will tell you a little secret, though: if your family came to this country and began suddenly having health problems (asthma, allergies, digestive issues, anxiety/depression, decline in eyesight) it is probably because they gave up some of their protective foods (like fermented veggies and drinks, cultured raw dairy, cured meats and fish, cod liver oil, and bone broths), and cut down on their consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol from healthy sources (fish eggs, lard, butter, organ meats, eggs, shellfish, coconut or palm oil, and chicken or duck fat). All these foods, when sourced from the wild and from small grass-based family farms, are absolutely filled with at least one of the following: important fat-soluble vitamins, large amounts of health-supporting minerals, beneficial bacteria, life-giving enzymes, the all-important animal fats and cholesterol that most of us are missing in our daily diets, healing gelatin, and so much more. When we consider the love and care that went into growing, raising, sourcing, and preparing such healthful, sustainable foods, it's easy to see how, when compared to your average packaged dinner, they packed a nutritional wallop! (For more about fat and cholesterol, see the book by Uffe Ravnskov titled Fat and Cholesterol are Good for You.)
This holiday season, if you will have the privilege of attending a big family gathering, take a look around at some of the dishes brought by your older relatives. Try to experience the meal with new appreciation. Ask about the traditions and how the dishes are made. If you're fortunate enough to enjoy local foods, consider how the food on your plate is bringing all the good stuff from the land, the sea, and healthy plants and animals straight to you! And if you're one of the lucky few whose mouth waters at the thought of "chopped liver," dig in and consider yourself blessed.
Keeping your child's developmental level, chewing skills, food allergies, and taste preferences in mind, try choosing foods from this list to create a tasty spread for lunch or dinner. These are foods you may have leftover in the fridge, and can be a help for those times when the family dinner isn't something that can be picked up and chewed easily.
Kids can also enjoy homemade bone broths and kefir from a bottle or toddler cup, and creme fraiche, sour cream, cottage cheese, lard, coconut-oil mayo, or even butter straight from the spoon! If your little one enjoys drinking raw milk, try these fortified variations:
Teething treat: chicken drumstick or lamb bone (from pastured animals). Mineral-rich and fun to gnaw!
Even in February -- typically one of the bleakest months of the year here in the Northeast -- there is abundance and sustenance brought to us from local winter greenhouses and from the past harvest and slaughter season, carefully packed away by thrifty farmers. It is tempting to think that the land around us is entirely dormant, and that Mother Nature has forgotten us, but the foods of winter demonstrate perfectly the forethought and planning that have gone into sustaining us throughout the coldest months of the year.
Wendell Berry has described eating as "an agricultural act." By this he means that the choices we make about the foods we buy and consume directly impact the way the Earth is used, the fortunes of farmers, and the future of the soil, the environment, our health, and the coming generations. By choosing local foods, even in the winter months, we choose to live in harmony with nature, to show tangible appreciation for the farmers who are still working hard to feed us, and to express a willingness to play our small but important roles in the agricultural drama. This choice -- which means enjoying winter squash and hearty stews rather than cool salads and pasta primavera -- brings with it some amount of sacrifice, but also a considerably larger measure of satisfaction.
In the face of seemingly limitless and overwhelming choices about what we may eat at any time, it may be a welcome source of comfort and structure to eat within the parameters of what is readily available at the winter farmers' markets or purchased directly from neighboring farms. With time, we may feel a sense of relief to realize that nature has established a set of guidelines for the foods that will best nourish us and keep our internal thermostats set to warm throughout the coldest part of the year. And instead of depriving us, eating according to these guidelines will serve to strengthen our immune systems, bolster spirits that are flagging from winter darkness, and provide a context for understanding the provision that each season has to offer.
Winter foods for the New York City locavore include an abundance of options for preparing balanced, warming meals throughout the cold months. Most of these foods are from storage and remain delicious and nutritious even months after the harvest.
Perhaps you remember reading about the children at a day-care facility in Little Rock, Arkansas last March: ten of these little ones drank a small amount of windshield wiper fluid when the caregiver accidentally served it in the belief that it was Kool-Aid. The kids didn't know there was anything wrong with the drink until they had swallowed some of it. If a popular kids' beverage resembles something that goes in your car, it's time to stop and ask, "What's wrong with this picture?"
Throughout history, it has been a crucial part of survival for humans to be able to rely on their instincts to steer them towards good foods and away from bad ones. With the proliferation of sweeteners, flavorings, colorings, and additives in the modern food supply it has become increasingly difficult -- even impossible -- to trust our natural instincts. With the human mammal's innate desire for sweetness (one which served us well in the past), but none of the judgment that can be exercised by adults, children are particularly vulnerable when it comes to food.
While on line recently to return an item at a baby store I was dismayed to see that the entire checkout-line area was surrounded by bins of Gerber Graduates Veggie & Fruit Puffs in giant plastic containers (the puffs weigh nothing, but the containers are of significant bulk; this reason alone is enough to never buy this product). I checked out what was mentioned in the ingredients list, and put the Puffs down in disgust. I know a lot of parents give these and similar other snacks to their kids -- sometimes organic, sometimes not -- but either way these things are NOT food. They serve mainly as entertainment to keep children occupied and offer absolutely NO food value. Gerber's website claims their Puffs are "A snack you can feel good about because they are made with whole grains and formulated with VitaBlocks nutrient blend for snacks." This is absolute nonsense; at this young stage children aren't even able to digest grains when prepared correctly, let alone when they have been "puffed" and denatured through processing! Furthermore, these synthetic vitamins will not be absorbed and may actually be harmful. To top it off, the "natural" flavorings in any processed food are permitted by law to be up to 49% MSG, known in the agricultural world as a potent neurotoxin used to kill pests! At least call this so-called food what it is: a highly-processed concoction made from preservatives, synthetic vitamins, colorings, and flavorings. I might also mention the soy lecithin and soybean oil which are almost certainly from genetically-modified soybeans (another reason never to give these things to your precious little baby or toddler!).
Our children trust us. They believe that what we give them to eat is real food. They trust that it is both tasty to eat and nourishing for their bodies. It is our job to make sure what we give them actually is. How about trying some organic green peas and small cubes of raw milk cheese for your little one on your next outing? This is something she can actually grow on and enjoy eating. It's time for your baby to graduate from Graduates.
In the United States, approximately 25% of babies are fed soy-based formulas. Many parents have been led to believe that soy is healthier and poses less of an allergen threat than formula based on cows' milk. This is an unfortunate misconception, however, that can lead to serious health problems. For example, studies have found that a baby on soy formula receives the equivalent of 4-5 birth control pills a day. If that isn't enough reason to stop the soy, you should also know that soy formula contains the following:
Anecdotal evidence of the effects of soy infant formula on babies includes asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, pituitary insufficiency, immune system problems, and extreme emotional behavior. Some of these effects can continue throughout the child's life, long after formula use has ended. Allergic reactions can even be life-threatening.
Babies should always receive breastmilk or, if this is impossible, a high-quality homemade formula may be used. Please contact us if you need support or information on breastfeeding or making your own nutrient-dense formula.
A friend told me recently about driving by a factory in upstate New York. She described a large dreary building that is very ugly and industrial; it had recently been nearly flooded by mud due to heavy rain. The factory in question manufactures baby food for a very large company. My friend thought it was quite ironic that the jars and bottles of food and juice in question are really coming out of this unappetizing place when in the ads it appears they are created in a garden from fresh-picked fruits and veggies!
Beech-Nut is not alone in this misleading style of self-presentation; as we all know, this type of acceptable corporate dishonesty has truly become the hallmark of modern advertising. If McDonald's flashed images of the many dirty dreary factories, and sick, miserable animals, plants, and workers involved in making each fast-food meal they might experience an unfortunate drop in consumer demand. Unfortunately, most people have a hard time seeing behind the disguises that mask the true nature of what we are eating. We tend to take claims about nutritional quality and purity at face value, especially when these claims come from companies that we perceive as wholesome and family-oriented.
The bottom line is this: do you know what you are eating? Do you know where your food comes from? If so, are you comfortable with this knowledge? Does it give you pause to realize you are eating foods that have been fabricated in laboratories and factories, foods that took longer getting to your table than it would have taken to conceive and bear a child? More and more of the "foods" we eat each year have been increasingly tampered with by corporations and manufacturers; the number of people, machines, places, and processing stages required to produce an average box of cereal, for example, is staggering - not to mention the amount of fossil fuels and pesticides. This excessive processing is the primary way the food industry makes so much money (and creates so much pollution). Whereas a 20-oz. package of rolled or steel-cut oats will cost only a few dollars and last a small family a week in delicious whole-grain breakfasts, an entire box of Cheerios will supply only 4 oz. of actual whole grain (at best - some varieties only contain 2 oz. in a box) and will cost $4-5!
We have reached a time in our country's history when most people do not give much thought to what is involved in creating the substances they eat and getting them to their table. However, many people are beginning to ask questions, and I would encourage you to do so as well. Take a look at the ingredients lists on the packages of your favorite foods. Begin to think about where this "food" originated and what was actually involved in its creation: is it mainly chemicals, colors, flavorings, refined sugar or corn syrup, and synthetic vitamins, or is it something that was harvested and brought to you in its simplest form? Of course, most of us are also getting more than we're bargained for because of the large quantities of toxic chemicals our foods contain; you can find out what pesticides are on your family's food by checking out WhatsOnMyFood.com.
I enjoyed your last letter so much! Your stories of the crazy things people have said to you while pregnant really made me laugh, and reminded me of some of my own experiences. I remember one particular walk in Manhattan when I was about 7 months pregnant; within two blocks I had one man warning me not to eat too much of my bagel (I was munching as I walked), and another announcing loudly to everyone around, "Ladies and gentlemen, she is WITH CHILD!" As if there was any need to bring this obvious fact to everyone's attention. The good news is that while you may feel ready to pop, at least (at last!) you are finally in the home stretch! Now comes the time when you can sit back, admire your giant supply of blankets and booties, and think about how things are actually going to go once you bring the baby home from the hospital. I know the tendency is to just worry about the due date, the labor experience, and getting the baby delivered safely, but after all this is over it will suddenly be very clear that adjusting to life with a newborn is a huge challenge--and something most of us are not really prepared for!
So if you're ready, I think this is a good time to pass along some step-by-step advice for getting good sleep with a newborn. I have two main recommendations: 1) since you will be breastfeeding, it will be essential that you learn to nurse in the side-lying position. And 2) I also recommend that you plan on co-sleeping, at least for the first few weeks or months; I guarantee that it will turn your life with a newborn from madness into peace!
Copyright 2010 Earth/Body Balance. All rights reserved.
We are not medical doctors; therefore we cannot give medical advice. The information presented herein is not presented with the intention of diagnosing or treating any disease or condition. This information is for educational purposes only. No responsibility is assumed by the author nor anyone connected with this website for the use of this information and no guarantees of any kind are made for the performance or effectiveness of the recommendations provided.