Is THIS Food For You? Here’s how to decipher the ingredients, so YOU can decide

We became savvy about traditional food and more aware of the dangers of many manufactured food products about 13 years ago and consequently overhauled our whole diet and pantry. Since we are more careful about the foods we buy, we study ingredient lists to familiarize ourselves with those products that are acceptable and those that are not. Gone are the polyunsaturated vegetable oils, soy (unfermented), and most processed foods. We buy organic products as much as possible. We also are quite careful not to buy products that have additives, including those that are not necessary to be included in the product. That means that just as we don’t buy most packaged goods anymore, it also means that we don’t buy tomato paste/sauce that has added sugar, jelly or jam with added sugar, or dairy products that are made with anything besides milk, probiotics, enzymes, and salt (preferably sea salt). For a long time now, all our cakes and bread/challah have been homemade. However, if I have to buy bread, cake, or crackers, I carefully check the ingredients to make sure that they are few and (as much as possible) contain nothing that I wouldn’t put in if I was making it myself. I will buy coconut milk with only guar gum added, but nothing else. That means that if I can’t find it without the extra ingredients I don’t buy it. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but that’s my rule of thumb.

A quick, informal Facebook survey I took a little while ago revealed that many people just know which additives/E-numbers they must or want to avoid and accept all other ingredients. But just what is it that we are eating when we buy packaged goods with all sorts of ingredients that we can’t pronounce or decipher? Is it food? Is it healthy? How do we know? tomato paste Spices, seasonings, (sea) salt, baking powder, and other such ingredients that we use to enhance our own cooking are some of the food additives on these lists. Most of them, however, are items needed in order to keep processed food tasting good, looking pretty, and feeling nice in your mouth, make up for missing ingredients (like fats and nutrients), provide product consistency, and retard spoilage (good for long shelf life).

In the United States and Canada additives are listed on food packages by their natural or chemical names and in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Israel, and other countries they are listed as E numbers. The European Food Safety Authority, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the United Kingdom Food Standards Authority , and similar agencies in Australia and elsewhere approve or disapprove the addition of these ingredients based on their own safety assessments. This means that although many additives receive general across the board approval, there are also ingredients which are not uniformly approved – they are banned in some countries but not in others. Some ingredients may lose approved status and their use discontinued, other ingredients may be limited as to the amount that’s permissible to be included, and, of course, new ingredients will be also be added from time to time in the list of acceptable additives.

E-numbers are categorized according to the following numbering scheme, with each category containing a number of different additives:

100 – 199 – Colors
200 – 299 – Preservatives
300 – 399 – Antioxidants & Acidity regulators
400 – 499 – Thickeners, Stabilizers, & Emulsifiers
500 – 599 – pH Regulators & Anti-Caking agents
600 – 699 – Flavor enhancers
700 – 799 – Antibiotics [probably animal feed, not human food]
900 – 999 – Miscellaneous (waxes, synthetic glazes, improving agents, packaging gases, sweeteners, foaming agents)
1100 – 1599 – Other chemicals (New chemicals that do not fall into standard classification schemes such as emulsifiers, humectants, stabilizers, thickening agents, flavors, flavor solvents, and resolving agents)

Would you like to know what it is you are about to buy the next time you go to the supermarket? Download these E-number apps to use at the grocery and become a better informed consumer.

Following is the FDA’s list of food ingredients and their purposes. Click here for more information including examples of uses and the ingredient names found on product labels (see their question: “What is the role of modern technology in producing food additives?”):

Sounds yummy, doesn't it? See below to find out what you would be eating.
See below to find out what you would have bought. (From Nourishing Traditions, revised second edition, page 449. )

Anti-caking agents: Keep powdered foods free-flowing, prevent moisture absorption
Color Additives: Offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions; correct natural variations in color; enhance colors that occur naturally; provide color to colorless and “fun” foods [Americans know these as “FD&C” colors or as “Red dye number…”. There are some colors which are exempt from having to be declared by name and can be identified as “colorings” or “color added”] Dough Strengtheners and Conditioners: Produce more stable dough
Emulsifiers: Allow smooth mixing of ingredients, prevent separation, keep emulsified products stable, reduce stickiness, control crystallization, keep ingredients dispersed, and to help products dissolve more easily
Enzyme Preparations: Modify proteins, polysaccharides and fats [ we would expect this in cheese and dairy products since it is enzymes which convert milk into cheese, yogurt, etc.]
Fat Replacers (and components of formulations used to replace fats): Provide expected texture and a creamy “mouth-feel” in reduced-fat foods
Firming Agents: Maintain crispness and firmness
Flavor Enhancers: Enhance flavors already present in foods (without providing their own separate flavor) [Monosodium glutamate in a variety of forms]
Flavors and Spices: Add specific flavors [natural and synthetic]
Gases: Serve as propellant, aerate, or create carbonation
Humectants: Retain moisture
Leavening Agents: Promote rising of baked goods
Nutrients: Replace vitamins and minerals lost in processing (enrichment), add nutrients that may be lacking in the diet (fortification) [very often synthetic vitamins]
pH Control Agents and acidulants: Control acidity and alkalinity, prevent spoilage Preservatives: Prevent food spoilage from bacteria, molds, fungi, or yeast (antimicrobials); slow or prevent changes in color, flavor, or texture and delay rancidity (antioxidants); maintain freshness
Stabilizers and Thickeners, Binders, Texturizers: Produce uniform texture; improve “mouth-feel”
Sweeteners: Add sweetness with or without the extra calories
Yeast Nutrients: Promote growth of yeast

Some of these products are totally natural, some start off as natural ingredients but are highly processed into a different product, and still others are totally synthetic. There are also ingredients that can come from a natural or synthetic source, yet are identified by the same name, such as ascorbic acid otherwise known as Vitamin C. The FDA explains the difference between natural and synthetic ingredients:

Natural ingredients are derived from natural sources (e.g., soybeans and corn provide lecithin to maintain product consistency; beets provide beet powder used as food coloring). Other ingredients are not found in nature and therefore must be synthetically produced as artificial ingredients. Also, some ingredients found in nature can be manufactured artificially and produced more economically, with greater purity and more consistent quality, than their natural counterparts.

Are synthetic products really the same as natural foods and do our bodies recognize them as food to be used to promote our health (or at least do us no harm)? What about those that are not found in nature? Many of these we would never put in homemade foods so why are we accepting them if they are on a supermarket shelf? If we really understood what we were eating, would we, could we?

* Answer to “Know Your Ingredients” above: You would have bought Nature’s Cupboard Hearty Granola Bread. At least it has no artificial preservatives added :). But would you call it “hearty granola bread?”

Is “Gush Katif” Bug-Free Israeli Produce Safe to Eat?

Kosher With No Certificate, an article appearing online in Globes on June 19, 2014 and in the Sunday, June 22, 2014 Business & Finance section of The Jerusalem Post (where I saw it) answered a question that I’ve had for a while. (I wasn’t sure where to go for the answer, so I’m glad that the Globes’ Dafna Bramley Golan knew with whom to speak.) My question: “Did the producers of bug-free “Gush Katif” vegetables decrease the amount of pesticides used since it became known to the Rabbanut in 2012 that the means employed to render their produce “bug-free” was to use dangerously high levels of pesticides?”

The original “Gush Katif “ vegetables were grown in a special environment in Gush Katif, before the 2005 disengagement, so as to render them bug-free. After Israel left Gush Katif and the greenhouses to the Arab population, they were not able to replicate the bug-free produce that the Israelis grew.

In the article Palestinians Boot Jews, Now Ask Them for Help, by Aaron Klein of WND, Anita Tucker, a Gush Katif farmer discusses some of the techniques Gush Katif farmers used to produce their bug free vegetables :

Tucker explained she and other Katif farmers engineered agricultural technology specific to the dry, sandy Gaza conditions.

“We used different kinds of netting, also aluminum, since we knew the reflection of the sun kept bugs away,” she said. “We used colors because we knew certain kinds of bugs were attracted to or kept away from different colors. We used certain organic insecticides for certain plants, and were very strict about which chemicals we used. We kept our greenhouses as clean as possible. And we also had our own proprietary inventions and technology.”

This freed the kosher consumer from the tedious job of carefully washing and checking leafy greens and other vegetables that harbor insects, since they are not allowed to be eaten by those who observe kashrut laws. Buying vegetables labeled as “Gush Katif” simply meant that the vegetables needed to be soaked for a few minutes in water, preferably soapy water, rinsed off under running water, and could then be used without further checking. With the disengagement this production came to an end.

However, many vegetables have continued to be packaged and marketed as “Gush Katif” vegetables although they are not produced using the same methods as was done in Gush Katif. And it was the post-Katif production of “Katif” greens that created the pesticide problem.

Reactions from then Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and from the Rabbanut to this revelation of dangerous pesticide use were reported in Kosher With No Certificate. “[Rabbi Amar] said eating leafy greens grown in an insect-free environment posed a definite public health risk due to increase use of pesticides, and he recommended that the public buy regular vegetables and clean them themselves, like in the olden days. In so doing, Amar refuted the claim that it’s not possible to clean vegetables in a manner that does not cost so much money and necessitate the use of so many poisons.”

Regarding the Rabbanut, the article states, “Two years ago a joint Chief Rabbinate and Agriculture Ministry team was established, and the Chief Rabbinate suggested that an arrangement be reached through which the Chief Rabbinate would withhold kosher certification for growers who exceed a certain pesticide level, which would be determined by the Agriculture Ministry. There is a halachic basis for this.”

What followed was the answer to my question: “However, the Agriculture Ministry has not yet provided the Chief Rabbinate with this information, and therefore the initiative is being delayed.” This means, therefore, that kosher consumers eating “Gush Katif” produce are, for the most part, being subjected to dangerous levels of pesticides on a daily basis. I have seen some bags of bug-free produce on which is printed the statement that the growers use minimal amounts of pesticides (look for those packages), but not all companies are willing to go the extra length to reduce bugs by other means.

Another interesting fact that I learned from Kosher With No Certificate was the method by which the original Gush Katif farmers were able to grow their produce bug free. I thought it was just by growing the produce in a screen-covered environment. The article explained that “…the vegetables are grown on beds that are detached from the ground in sand that has been sterilized and in hermetically sealed hothouses. Growing vegetables in this manner makes them almost 10 times more expensive.”

I must admit I was quite surprised by the fact that they sterilized the sand. This would, of course, make sense in terms of preventing bugs in vegetables, but anyone who is familiar with organic gardening/farming is well aware that truly nutritious produce can only be grown in healthy soil, and that is soil in which bugs thrive. Gardeners.com explains:

Soil life. Soil organisms include the bacteria and fungi, protozoa and nematodes, mites, springtails, earthworms and other tiny creatures found in healthy soil. These organisms are essential for plant growth. They help convert organic matter and soil minerals into the vitamins, hormones, disease-suppressing compounds and nutrients that plants need to grow.

Their excretions also help to bind soil particles into the small aggregates that make a soil loose and crumbly. As a gardener, your job is to create the ideal conditions for these soil organisms to do their work. This means providing them with an abundant source of food (the carbohydrates in organic matter), oxygen (present in a well-aerated soil), and water (an adequate but not excessive amount).

So, although Gush Katif may have produced bug free produce without the use of pesticides, the produce, in my opinion, may have been less than optimal nutritionally. Artificially adding nutrients to the sand, as I’m sure the Gush Katif farmers must have been doing, was a good thing, but it does not compare to the natural way in which Hashem set up the agricultural system and the method by which natural farming benefits us all.

Non-Katif produce may therefore be preferable from both a health and economic standpoint, because they ostensibly contain fewer pesticides and cost less. Even kosher consumers, as confirmed by Rabbi Amar, can use non-Katif produce and do not have to put their health and finances at risk.

For consumers who want to go a step further, since regular produce is still grown with chemical pesticides, organic is the way to go. (Although Israel may import foods that have been genetically modified, at the present time Israel does not grow such foods.) Producers who have certified organic produce do not use chemical pesticides or GMO crops. Hopefully they are also concerned for their soil health.

Fortunately, Israel has a number of organic farms, generally CSA (community supported agriculture) producers who deliver their vegetables to either a central drop-off point in a community or to individual homes. And of course, organic produce can be found in health food stores around the country. As for the higher price, considering what Gush Katif and regular farmed vegetables have been costing us both in terms of health and finances, buying organic may be a vehicle for investing in our own and in our children’s long term health.

In the video below, Dr. Daphne Miller, a family doctor in California on a quest to heal her patients as naturally as possible, shows how using traditional farming methods yields superior fruits and vegetables and healthier human beings.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiLhxwVZHYU?feature=player_detailpage]

Pesach Strategies for Eating Healthy & Shopping Smart

Pesach (Passover), especially for those of us who do not eat kitniyot (certain legumes, grains, and vegetables) and/or gebrochts, often find the holiday to be onerously heavy on the matzah and potatoes. Faced with what’s perceived as “the possibility of near starvation” for a week, diets become laden with all types of matzah and potato recipes, products, and derivatives. And because all our food and some of our personal products must be kosher for Pesach, we have to buy new just about everything we will be using for the week, even if we have the same items on hand for use during the rest of the year.*

Over the years I have discovered two things that have helped us significantly in these respects – cutting back on carbohydrates such as matzah products and potatoes keeps our waistlines from expanding, and not buying (or overbuying) anything for Pesach that will not be eaten or we will not need after Pesach keeps our pocket book from slimming down too much.

Having learned many years ago that carbohydrates, especially processed carbohydrates, are the foods predominantly responsible for weight gain, we dramatically reduced our consumption of matzah and starchy vegetables like potatoes. I significantly limit the number of recipes I make that are based on matzah (my Matzah 101 cookbook featuring all kinds of gebrochts recipes is a casualty of this matzah crackdown) and cut back on the white potato dishes as well. (Don’t forget that potato starch falls into this category too.) Incredibly, the first year we did this my husband actually lost weight over Pesach!

As we do during the rest of the year, any cakes and cookies we eat are generally limited to the one or two that are baked for Shabbos and Yom Tov. And, by the way, we only buy whole wheat and spelt matzah which are a lot healthier and kinder to the digestive system than matzah made from white flour.

If you don’t eat kitniyot, but do eat quinoa, be sure to soak the quinoa before cooking it in order to increase its digestibility and nutritional value. Quinoa recipes, such as quinoa porridge (see below) may also be a good substitute for breakfast cereals. If you eat kitniyot on Pesach, be sure to soak all your grains and legumes before cooking.

Although it’s nice to have special Pesach dishes that we enjoy at this time, there are many good recipes that we use year round that can be made on Pesach with little or no modification so, for the most part, we do not need to change our diet too much.

In general, I don’t buy ready-made foods and mixes or cold cereals during the year so I don’t buy cake or matzah ball mixes, Pesach cereal (which is really just another, more unhealthy, form of matzah) and any of the myriad other products that we think we need but really don’t use too much of or that will go to waste after Pesach (after all, who wants to eat Pesachdig cereal after the holiday is over?). If you do buy “only for Pesach” foods, be honest with yourself about what you will really need and use and purchase accordingly. Buying extra “just in case” only makes sense for those products that you will enjoy after Pesach as well.

Avoiding post-Pesach product duplication is also important. There is often little use for two or more of the same item sitting in your cabinet after Pesach since you already have the same non-Pesachdig item stored away during the holiday. After too many years of buying Kosher for Pesach dried herbs and spices and other condiments of which I already had enough for use during the rest of the year, I decided to only buy for Pesach what I could find fresh. This means that there are some items I may do without, and there are others for which there is no dried Kosher for Pesach option, but that we can buy fresh and use during Pesach. We regularly buy fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, dill, basil, parsley, and cilantro, and we use them fresh or dry them ourselves, so this no longer represents a Pesach challenge for me. Those that we forgo, I’ve found that my family and I (and my purse) can live without for the week of Pesach.

money

In order to avoid laying out money each year for items like paper goods and certain staples that last from year to year, we pack these all up and keep them for the following Pesach. This also means that I don’t have extra foil, baggies, napkins, etc. hanging around the house for months after Pesach is over. I keep a list of these items accessible so that I know what I don’t need to buy the following year; many times these items will actually make it through several Pesach holidays before I need to buy new.**

My list includes items such as:

  • Toothpaste
  • Hairspray (that does not contain denatured alcohol)
  • Dish washing liquid
  • Shelving paper
  • Cheese cloth/cheese cloth bags
  • Baggies, foil, plastic wrap, waxed paper
  • Assorted aluminum baking pans (yes, I know using aluminum for baking is not really healthy. Never use aluminum for tomato products since the acid reacts with the metal.)
  • Toothpicks
  • Plastic plates and utensils
  • Napkins
  • Coffee filters
  • Disposable plastic tablecloths
  • Cocoa
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Sea salt

We bought several bedikat chametz kits last year and have the extras stored away for use in following years. They’re inexpensive and it’s one extra item that we don’t have to worry about purchasing or find we’ve forgotten at the last minute.

I also save the packaging, paper towels, and bubble wrap in which I’ve stored my Pesach dishes and glassware for repeat use.

Unless your family has any minhagim (customs) that further limit your Pesach consumption or you do not buy any food after Pesach’s begun, these guidelines should be fairly easy to put into practice. If you are living outside of Israel, I know that it is harder to find kosher for Pesach products after the holiday’s begun and stores do not replenish what they’ve run out of. However, I practiced this more circumspect way of buying for Pesach for many years when we were living in the United States and had no problem making sure we had what to eat throughout the holiday. Stocking up on meat, dairy, and fish are generally not a problem since they will be eaten after Pesach just as well. Fresh vegetables do not need to be certified for Pesach except, possibly, for pre-packaged greens and slaw.

To further help you save money, keeping track of and recording this year’s holiday consumption will help you buy appropriately and rein in unnecessary expenses the following year.

Quinoa Recipes (pronounced Keen-wa) 
(Quinoa, called the “mother grain” has an excellent nutrition profile.
It was used by Peruvian Indians to nourish expectant mothers .
)

Quinoa Plants Growing in the Field This is what quinoa plants look like, growing in the high altitudes of mountainous regions.

 Quinoa Porridge (notes in italics are mine)
(from Hamodia mMagazine – October 31, 2007)

  • 3/4 cups quinoa (pre-soak measure)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup (use honey if no Pesach syrup available. Never use imitation syrup)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • Optional Add-ins:
  • Raisins
  • Craisins
  • Apples
  • Nuts
  • Dates
  • Pecans
  • Whatever suits your fancy

Put soaked and drained quinoa, water, salt and cinnamon in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer while covered for 15 minutes. Add the maple syrup (or honey) and milk. Continue to simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes. Stir in add-ins and let sit for another 10 minutes before serving. The porridge will thicken as it cools.

Apple-Almond Quinoa (notes in italics are mine)
(Hamodia Magazine – January 9, 2008)

1 cup quinoa (pre-soak measure)
2 tsps. olive oil, divided
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 carrots, finely diced
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 cups vegetable broth or water
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. curry powder (leave out if not available for Pesach)
1 large Granny Smith or other tart apple (sweet is good too), finely diced
3 tbsps. slivered almonds
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in saucepan. Add onion, carrot, and garlic. Saute for five minutes or until onion is soft and carrot begins to brown. Stir in broth or water, quinoa, salt, and curry powder. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and keep warm.

Heat the remaining tsps. of oil in a skillet. Add apple and saute for about 7 minutes. Add sauteed apple, almonds and pepper to quinoa, tossing to combine. Serve warm. (Personally, I just add the apple and almonds to the pot a little before it is finished cooking.)

To your health.

Best wishes for a happy & healthy Pesach

* Food prep equipment, dishes, utensils, and the like are stored away for Pesach use, so except for items than need to be replaced or filled in, this is generally a one-time expense for most families.

** It also helps to keep a list of items that you have run out of or find that you are missing like silver polish, knives, etc.

Israeli (and other) Consumers: Scan those ingredients lists – or eat at your own risk!

According to the Israel Consumer Council, most people don’t read the labels on food packages.

Only 17% take care to always read the label, with 40% of consumers not reading the label at all. The survey also shows that the reason that people don’t bother reading the labels is that they are not interested in the information. 10% claim that they don’t understand what is written, and 10% don’t believe the data printed there. 50% of the women surveyed will read the labels, as opposed to 29% of the men.

I think that’s a shame. My family’s been checking food labels for many years now. Even my children will call me from the grocery store to inquire about products and ingredients they are not familiar with. It’s important to check the ingredients listing since even a rudimentary understanding or scan of the label will offer big clues as to whether or not you should by the product. (And, no, I don’t mean the Nutrition Facts – they are essentially meaningless, telling you little, if anything about quality and real nutritive value of the food.). My rule of thumb is:

the fewer ingredients, the better.

I don’t buy foods with ingredients that aren’t necessary, such as (in many instances) added sugars, vegetable oils which are not identified (and no polyunsaturated oils), and non-food chemical additives. In Israel, as in Europe and several other countries, additives are listed as E-numbers (more about those in a following post) so, as much as possible, I avoid products that include E-numbers.

Manufacturers add many different ingredients to a food product, many of which are designed in the lab to make you want to eat more so you will buy more (think Pringles, for instance. Oh, how I used to enjoy eating and eating and eating those chips), to make the product cheaper, or to give you a shelf-stable uniform product that looks better than the real thing and will last forever (hint: real food spoils). Many ingredients, such as sugar in tomato paste and sauce or vegetable oil in Parmesan cheese (which makes the cheese cheaper to produce and less healthy), don’t need to and shouldn’t be in there. Ingredients that you would never have at home or ever add to your own recipes such as foaming agents, stabilizers, waxes, and packaging gases are included in packaged food products, although they are rarely identified outright as such. The unsuspecting consumer ingests a confection of, generally, lab created chemicals that do not benefit, and are often quite deleterious to, their health,  And, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Become a more savvy food shopper and make wiser choices to benefit your health and the health of your family. Whether you are you part of the 40% who don’t read the label or the 17% that do, click on Shopping Guidelines, my new page here on Nourishing Israel based on the Weston A. Price Foundation 2014 Shopping Guide, to help you get back to the basics of quality food and good nutrition. Learn which foods are best or good to buy and which foods you are wise to avoid. Print the page and take it with you when you go to the supermarket. Make sure to share the Shopping Guidelines with your friends and family, too!

Start on your road to better health and well-being today!

Easy ways to boost your salad’s nutritional value

I recently received an email from one of my teenage nieces asking for some nutritious salad recipes that she could make with ingredients generally kept on hand. While salads, by definition, are considered to be healthy, it’s an unfortunate reality that many of us are not getting the full nutritional benefits from our salads that we believe we are. What a shame to eat an entire salad but miss out on a good portion of the vitamins and minerals that it contains! There are several easy things we can do to to boost the goodness in the veggies and other ingredients in those salads. I would like to share with you the recipes I sent to her along with some tips to make sure that you reap all the benefits.

vegetables still lifeThe most healthful salads are made with fresh, unprocessed foods, preferably organic and/or local produce. In Israel there are a number of CSA (community supported agriculture) organic farms, health food stores, and people providing delectable organic produce and organic and natural products.  Aim for a variety of different colored vegetables and different types of foods in order to get as many of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients important for good health as possible.

I like to have a raw vegetable salad as a first course since raw foods provide a variety of enzymes (which are destroyed when cooked) to help with digestion. Enzymes break down the foods we eat so that our bodies can utilize the nutrients in them. This is particularly necessary since most of us tend to stop producing sufficient digestive enzymes as we get older.

nuts_seeds_grainsIncluding any grains, nuts, seeds, or legumes in your salad? Be sure to give them an extensive soaking to remove the phytates and enzyme inhibitors present. Phytates (which bind minerals) and enzyme inhibitors prevent spontaneous germination. When seeds are planted and watered, their phytates and enzyme inhibitors are deactivated so that a plant can grow. Similarly, when we soak them (learn how here and here), we deactivate the phytates and enzyme inhibitors to make their nutrients more accessible to us.  Otherwise, not only will they prevent us from absorbing all of their vitamins and minerals, but they can also act as anti-nutrients, preventing us from utilizing many of the enzymes, vitamins, and minerals in the other foods in our meal.

English: Vinegar & Olive OilAre you topping of your salad with an oil-based dressing in order to make the salad more flavorful? You might be surprised to know that using a good quality oil-based salad dressing is an imperative. Vegetables contain the important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, & K.

These vitamins not only work synergistically with each other, but also work synergistically with essential minerals such as magnesium and zinc to perform a multitude of critical functions supporting many of the systems in our body. It is important to choose high fat dressings for this purpose since they yield the greatest rates of absorption of these vitamins and extra virgin olive oil is a preferred salad oil for this purpose.  (Yellow butter on veggies will also serve the same purpose, imparting great flavor and enhancing vitamin absorption.)

Canola oil and polyunsaturated vegetable oils have been found not only to be less effective than extra virgin olive oil or animal fats  in promoting the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, but actually impair our health due to their high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, creating a great omega-6:omega-3 imbalance in the body. The proper proportion of both of these fatty acids is critical for overall health and brain health and our tremendous reliance on vegetable oils high in omega 6  has created a dangerous fatty acid imbalance for many of us and may be partly responsible for a lot of the chronic illnesses and infirmities we are afflicted with. Oils which are not cold pressed are extracted from the vegetable or fruit with chemicals, excessive pressure, and high heat, causing them to become denatured and rancid before they are even bottled. (See my blog post about oils here).

Make sure that the olive oil you buy is really olive oil. Unfortunately the olive oil industry is olive oilrife with fraud and had been for centuries. U.C. Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has been testing olive oils commonly sold in the U.S.  Many of the brands sold in major supermarkets, including Philipo Berrio, Bertolli, and Colavita did not past their testing for quality and purity.  Kirkland organic and most of the olive oils made in California did pass their testing and are recommended. For more information click here and here. I blogged about Israeli olive oils here.

These are the recipes (along with this Cole Slaw recipe) that I sent to my niece:

MY BASIC VEGETABLE SALAD

(I like to cut vegetables up into bite-sized pieces)
Lettuce and/or other salad greens
( I do not use Iceberg lettuce since it has the least nutrition of all the lettuces)
Peppers – all colors
Cucumbers
Apple(s) help keep the doctor away and add sweetness and extra crunch

Depending upon what else is being served with the meal, what I have on hand, and how much time I have, I also usually add some of the following:

Nuts or seeds such as chopped walnuts or sunflower seeds (To remove some of the phytic acid and increase digestibility, prepare them beforehand by soaking them in warm acidulated water (lemon juice works well) for 6-7 hours and dry them in the oven at about 100º C or 225º F) .

Raisins
Shredded carrot
Avocado
Chopped pickles
Olives
Tuna or salmon
Red onion
Bulgarit Cheese (or the somewhat saltier Feta)
A nice addition to salads that I’ve had in some of the restaurants here in Israel is baked slices of sweet potato

Depending on which family members are home and their specific likes/dislikes, I may put one or more of the above items in a bowl(s) on the side.

Herbs which I add to the salad (fresh or dried organic since dried herbs and spices are often irradiated) include: Parsley, Basil, Dill, Marjoram, Thyme, Mint (when I have apples), Sage, Rosemary, and Cilantro.

a_variety_of_spices_and_garlic_mortar_highdefinition_pictureDressing is usually Extra Virgin Olive Oil with either red or white wine vinegar or lemon juice, and good quality sea salt.

TOMATO SALAD

Sliced and quartered tomatoes mixed with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, salt, and oregano. The longer the salad sits before serving, the better the flavors will blend.

HEARTS OF PALM SALAD

Romaine Lettuce
Can of Hearts of Palm (drained)
Avocado – chunked
Tomato – chunked
Red Onion – finely diced

Dress with homemade Italian dressing:
1 clove garlic
4 tablespoons wine vinegar
½ teaspoon dry mustard
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

Cut garlic clove in half. Mix mustard, salt, garlic and vinegar thoroughly. Add oil and stir until all ingredients are blended. Store in covered jar and shake well before serving.

Homemade peanut butter without anti-nutrients

Peanuts In Peanut Butter
Peanut butter with unhealthy additives

Are you looking for pure peanut butter without additives here in Israel?  Have you gone through the grocery store aisles only to be disappointed by the various brands of peanut butter all with added sugar, oils, and other ingredients? They may be cheap, but you know they’re not healthy. The only brand of pure unadulterated peanut butter in Israel, it seems, is B&D. Since it is only sold as a creamy peanut butter, people who miss chunky peanut butter as much as my husband does, often purchase raw peanuts, chop them up, and add them to B&D’s finest.  However, if you are open to new ideas and more healthful opportunities, then you can make your own peanut butter.

About a month ago I came across a great recipe for natural peanut butter without any anti-nutrients. I am always glad when I can feed my family pure wholesome foods and this recipe fit the bill. I was anxious to try it and bought the peanuts at my first opportunity. I was not disappointed.

As I’ve discussed in an earlier post, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains contain anti-nutrients in the form of enzyme inhibitors, which can neutralize the enzymes in the digestive tract, and phytates which bind minerals, making them unavailable to the body. Soaking the peanuts overnight in warm, salted, and filtered water will inactivate these anti-nutrients making the peanuts a much healthier product. (Peanuts in general are a rather nutritious legume and surprisingly, contain resveratrol and coenzyme Q10 in addition to protein, a host of nutrients, and antioxidants.)

Peanuts with skin Courtesy Sanjay Acharya & Wikimedia Commons

The recipe that I followed is from the blog Purelifebondi (Bondi is a suburb of Sydney, Australia) which calls for the following (comments are mine):

♦ 500 grams (1 lb.) of raw, shelled peanuts
[Do not buy salted or roasted nuts. If you can find organic, that’s even better.]
♦ Filtered water
♦ 2 pinches of Himalayan salt
[This pink salt is full of minerals. You can find it in health food stores.]
♦ 4 Tbsp coconut oil
♦ Optional tsp honey [I left it out]

Soak peanuts for 7-12 hours. Rinse and drain. Spread peanuts on a baking tray and pop in oven set at 100°C (210.00ºF).

Dry at this temperature for an hour or so and then increase the temperature to 150°C (300.00ºF). Keep turning the nuts and make sure they don’t burn.

When the peanuts are golden in color, crunchy to eat and the smell of peanuts fills your house, remove from the oven. Once the peanuts are cool enough to touch, place them into the food processor with coconut oil and salt.

Blend until the peanuts resemble bread crumbs. Transfer the peanut pieces to a blender and blend on low. This step will take about 10 minutes as you will have to keep stirring the peanuts. Eventually the peanuts will resemble a crunchy peanut butter. Continue blending until you reach the desired consistency. Add honey for a sweeter taste.

If you have a Vitamix there is no need for the two steps.

Unfortunately, I only had a hand blender which didn’t allow me to get the smoother consistency that I would have liked, and it overheated in the process. Nevertheless my family devoured this very chunky homemade peanut butter. There’s only a drop left.

apples with homemade-peanut-butter

I am now in the market for a blender.

Fortified Foods vs. Whole Foods – is there a difference?

(Photo credit: epSos.de)

Fortified Foods vs. Whole Foods – is there a difference? “Why are you even asking this?” you might be wondering. “After all, isn’t a whole foods diet what Nourishing Israel advocates and what Weston Price is all about – nutrient dense foods, properly prepared?” Or you might just be thinking to yourself: “Caryn, have you lost your mind?”

No, I haven’t lost my mind and I’m still a strong advocate of wholesome foods.

I’m bringing this up now because of an article in the June 17 edition of the Jerusalem Post titled “German doesn’t rule out fortifying food with nutrients to improve health”. Yael German, Israel’s Health Minister, will be considering adding vitamin D to milk and white cheese products, folic acid to wheat, and iodine to salt. Other countries have been supplementing foods with iodine and vitamin D for years. It seems that even the Palestinian Authority is ahead of Israel in this sense, as they have been fortifying wheat with folic acid and salt with iodine for some time now.

Years ago, before I became aware of the nutritional problems with cold, processed breakfast cereals and the truth about vitamin fortification, I would feed my kids the best cold cereal I could find. I’d read the boxes to see which had the most nutrients listed and that’s how I decided which “nutritious” cereal to purchase. As I later learned, adding back a select number of synthetic vitamins to a processed cereal does not make for a wholesome and nourishing breakfast. I hope my children can forgive me.

As I see it, there are at least three problems with adding nutrients back to processed foods:
1. Synthetic vitamins do not contain co-factors and other nutrients they need to  function properly, and which are components of these vitamins as occurs in nature. An example of this can be found in the IVC Journal article,  Whole Food Vitamins, Why they’re superior to synthetic alternatives:

[Vitamin C] needs all the co-factors to function properly. It is a complex of activities defined by function, not chemical description. The elements of this complex of bioactive molecules are susceptible to oxidation, so the plants that produce vitamin C enclose the active constituents with a shell of ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is a functional component of the vitamin complex but only comprises five to eight percent of the actual vitamin complex. Ascorbic acid is the marker molecule used to identify vitamin C activity and the presence of vitamin C in a food source. Isolated ascorbic acid is not vitamin C, except by legal definition.

2. Synthetic vitamins do not function in the same way as natural vitamins do. MC Vitamins relays much the same information that I’ve seen in numerous other articles and websites, that by their very nature, synthetic vitamins cannot function as natural vitamins found in unprocessed foods:

Synthetic vitamins are reverses or mirror images of natural vitamins. Keep in mind that synthetic vitamins are not vitamins but synthesized fractions (parts) of a vitamin complex, a mirror image duplicate of just a portion of the real, biologically active and physiological precise nutritional complex. The analogy here is essentially the same as an automobile salesman handing you a wheel from a car and telling you the wheel is an automobile, or wanting to eat an egg and getting the shell.

Because the structure is reversed, a left-handed molecule cannot take part in chemical reactions in the body meant for a right-handed molecule any more than a left hand can fit in a right-handed glove – its odd geometry would prevent it from being metabolized in the body.

In turn, the human physiology cannot properly utilize synthetic (mirror-image) fractions in the way natural complexes find their way into the biological reactions that are essential to tissue repair and the sustenance of life.  A synthetic vitamin fraction can only be utilized for a drug or pharmacological effect. The effect of a drug is palliative – meaning a making or covering over of symptoms – it isn’t curative.  The disease process remains unchanged or progressively gets worse for lack of proper attention.

3. We cannot possibly know everything that was lost in the food processing and put it all back in. I don’t think this point needs elaboration!

Although there is acknowledgement (click here and here) that some synthetic vitamins are effective as supplements when needed for curative purposes, while other synthetic vitamins are ineffective or even harmful, from a dietary perspective they are poor substitutes for nutritionally deficient processed foods.

I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Jerusalem Post, an edited version of which was published in the paper on June 26, voicing my concern that while supplementing foods may help mitigate some preventable diseases, the Health Minister should be advocating a diet of whole foods which would include all the nutrients we need.

Here is the letter as I submitted it:

Regarding your article on Monday, June 17, page 6: German doesn’t rule out fortifying food with nutrients to improve health.

Recently Health Minister Yael German discussed the possibility of fortifying milk and white cheeses with vitamin D, flour with folic acid, and salt with iodine. Deficiencies in these nutrients are unfortunately common and adding them to these foods, as is done in some other countries, would help improve the population’s health.

This might be a good effort to help mitigate preventable diseases, but like many other nutritional and medical interventions, it will in no way cure the problem. In this case, a good part of the problem is the substandard food that comprises the Western diet, and a good deal of the Israeli diet.

Processed foods, like white flour, white rice, white sugar, and table salt were once whole foods but were robbed of their nutrients in the manufacturing process. Attempts to add a few vitamins back into these foods in no way replaces all the nutrients that were lost. It does not make it a whole food once again.

Dairy products should ideally contain vitamin D, but Israel has little grazing land and the animals are fed unnatural diets of grains, corn, and soy (often genetically modified foods). Fish, which we probably don’t eat enough of, also contains vitamin D.

Table salt, which starts out as sea salt or rock salt is full of minerals but the minerals that it contains (and which the body needs to properly utilize the sodium) are sold to industry for higher profit. Sea salt (but not Himalayan salt) does contain iodine – naturally. Sea vegetables, fish, eggs and dairy from pastured animals, and strawberries also contain iodine.

Synthetic vitamins, rather than natural vitamins, are generally used for fortification. Often they do not function the same way that the natural vitamins do and they may be missing the other nutrients with which they need to function properly. For instance, vitamins A, D, & K work synergistically with each other and also need magnesium and zinc to be properly utilized. Unfortunately, most of us are deficient in magnesium and zinc, as well. And adequate levels of selenium are necessary for the thyroid to properly utilize iodine.

So, while German contemplates, with the help of her advisors, the next step in adding back a few of the missing nutrients to our food, I would suggest that she also consider promoting whole foods including those that naturally contain iodine, vitamin D, folate, and  all the other nutrients we are lacking.

Choosing healthy fats and oils: what you need to know – part 3 of 3

In part 1 I explained that according to our biochemistry we need to consume  monounsaturated fats like olive oil and saturated animal and  tropical fats  – coconut and palm oils – rather than polyunsaturated oils and that, in fact, as demonstrated by the “Israeli Paradox”, the polyunsaturated vegetable oils we are told to use are actually detrimental to our health. I also discussed the health benefits inherent in extra virgin olive oil including why olive oil and/or saturated fat is necessary in order to obtain the full nutritional value of your salads.

In part 2 I discussed the rampant fraud that exists, and has always existed, in the olive oil industry including kashrut concerns that may occur as a result. I explained how to discern which olive oils are real quality oils.

COCONUT OIL – A SUPER FOOD

If you’re like me, making the effort to moisturize dry skin on a regular basis in the winter doesn’t always happen, until your hands gets so dry that they hurt.

Well, early one winter season I decided that I would start taking better care of myself. I would make liberal use of hand lotion on a regular basis in order to keep the skin on my hands smooth and supple despite the cold weather. I did moisturize a couple of times, but then I forgot about my commitment.

A week or two later, I suddenly remembered about my dry skin and the moisturizing that I was supposed to be doing, but wasn’t. However, when I took a good look at the backs of my hands, I was quite surprised to realize that they were not dry. No wonder I “forgot” about moisturizing. For some reason I didn’t need to anymore. And my elbows and heels were also less dry than they had been. Thinking about this unusual turn of events, I realized that it must be a result of the coconut oil I had begun putting into my hot cereal on a daily basis. I started using the coconut oil at the same time that I decided to take care of my hands and that must be what’s moisturizing and healing my skin from the inside out!

And, the more I continued to use the coconut oil, the smoother and softer my elbows and heels became. 

Coconut oil has been consumed safely for millennia

Although modern science is still trying to figure out if, how, and why coconut oil and other coconut food products are healthy, we have only to look at  all the many native populations such as those in the Philippines, India, Panama, Jamaica, New Guinea, Samoa, Thailand, Indonesia, and other countries who have predominantly subsisted on coconuts and coconut oil for centuries and enjoyed exceptional health.

From The Coconut Odyssey – The Bounteous Possibilities of the Tree of Life (p.123)

Early European navigators visiting the tropical coasts of the Indian and Pacific oceans noted with surprise  the outstanding fitness and good  health of the indigenous people. The  visitors learned that the inhabitants  of these regions had been consuming  coconut for thousands of years. King  Manuel I of Portugal, upon learning  from explorer Vasco da Gama of  the great role that coconut played in  the human economy in coastal west  India, wrote in 1501:

“…from these trees and their fruit  are made the following things: sugar,  honey, oil, wine, vinegar, charcoal  and cordage…and matting…and  it serves them for everything they  need. And the aforesaid fruit, in addition to what is thus made of it,  is their chief food, particularly at sea.”

In 1606, the Spanish navigator Torres explored the southern coastline of mainland New Guinea, encountering many native peoples who depended on the coconut as a major food item.  He wrote of one group:

” Some of them are brown, well built and robust. They have very little variety of food, only having a few cocoanuts and roots. Their nourishment is from fish and shellfish.”

Torres thus records that people whose diet comprised coconut, roots (probably yams) and a variety of seafoods were not just surviving on their island, but were strong and healthy.

Several centuries later, coconuts were still considered a good source of quality nutrition.  In Australia (page 27):

In the late 19th century, soon after the overland telegraph from Cairns to the tip of Cape York was built, coconut  palms were planted in clearings near the line’s repeater stations. Palms  were also planted near homesteads  on the developing cattle stations in the region. Besides the obvious  ornamental attraction of coconut  palms, these plantings were part of  a government policy of providing  an emergency food supply for the  occupants of these isolated outposts.

Similar to Weston Price’s studies of native populations, a study was taken of the Vedda population on Sri Lanka just prior to their integration with modern Sri Lankans as a result of their losing their land.

From the Philippine Department of Agriculture’s Coconut Authority:

The majority of dietary fat in the traditional Vedda population comes from coconut and wild game, both high in saturated fat. Researchers at the University of Sri Lanka department of medicine were interested in how their high-fat diet affected their health, particularly their cardiovascular health. Before the Veddas were integrated into Sinhalese culture and adopted to agriculture and modern foods, the researchers wanted to study their health. What effect did their traditional high-saturated fat diet have on their health? That was the question they wanted to answer.

The study examined 207 adults 20-83 years of age. A detailed medical history was taken of each subject, which included level of daily physical activity, dietary and smoking habits, and any adverse symptoms, with special emphasis on the presence of cardiac chest pain. A complete physical examination and blood analysis was performed with special attention to the cardiovascular system.

… Despite the fact that 39 percent of the men smoked, only 3.8 percent demonstrated elevated blood pressure, which is much lower than in the Sinhalese population.

… In summary, there was absolutely no evidence of heart [disease] among this population. This is not surprising, similar studies of coconut eating populations in other parts of the world have produced the same results.

Coconut is not only important for the Veddas, but for all Sri Lankans. The Sinhalese also enjoy coconut, which is used in many of their traditional dishes. In fact, coconut oil provides the primary source of oil in their diet, or so it did until recent years.

Unfortunately, with the loss of their native diet and adoption of Western foods, these people are no longer enjoying the good health they once had.

WHAT MAKES COCONUT OIL SO WONDERFUL?

There are a number of beneficial properties, some of which are unique to coconuts and coconut oil, which make it extraordinarily healthy, including the following:

Coconut oil  can stand up to cooking and baking at higher heats than other oils. Coconut oil, which is 92% saturated with over two-thirds of the saturated fat in the form of medium-chain fatty acids (often called medium-chain triglycerides) are both very safe for baking and frying at high temperatures. The high degree of saturation ensures that they will not oxidize and form free radicals like polyunsaturated oils do in the presence of heat (thus making polyunsaturated oils  harmful for use in cooking and baking).

Coconut oil is easy on the digestive system. Unlike long chain fatty acids which need to be emulsified by bile salts, medium chain fatty acids found in coconut oil are absorbed directly from the small intestine into the portal vein  and sent immediately to the liver. This makes coconut oil a quick source of energy as well as the preferred fat for people who have digestive issues. Coconut oil is easily digested by people who can’t digest other fats or have gall bladder problems and are good for premature babies that have undeveloped digestive systems.

Coconut oil kills disease causing germs. Coconut oil contains an abundance of  lauric, caprylic, and capric acids, which are antibacterial, antiprotozoal, antifungal, and antiviral.  These oils are changed to monoglycerides in the body which have been found to be effective germicides. Of particular importance is lauric acid which is also found in abundance in mother’s milk to protect infants from infection. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which has the effect of destroying lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, measles, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria, including listeria monocytogenes and helicobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia. Monocaprin, made in the body from capric acid, also has antiviral effects against HIV and possibly against herpes simplex, chlamydia, and other bacteria.

The following are a few benefits of using coconut oil and coconut products, including topical uses:

  • As an antioxidant – coconut oil contains vitamin E and polyphenols
  • Supports weight loss
  • Supports the thyroid
  • Heals wounds
  • Moisturizes the skin
  • Supports healthy and vibrant hair (has high affinity for protein and is able to penetrate hair shaft)
  • Clears head lice
  • Acts as a sunscreen
  • Protects the liver from alcohol damage
  • Is an anti-inflammatory
  • Helps to stabilize blood sugar
  • Cures dandruff
  • Important ingredient in parenteral nutrition (for patients receiving food through IV)
  • Helps to reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s Disease, and is thought to reverse symptoms of other neurological disorders as well.
  • Helps preterm babies  – preterm babies given a coconut oil massage had faster weight gain and growth compared to those given mineral oil massage.

QUALITY & BRANDS OF COCONUT OIL IN ISRAEL

Coconut oil is solid at temperatures of about 75° F (about 26° C) and liquid at temperatures above that. Unrefined coconut oil is white when solid and clear when liquid. Refined coconut oil has a yellowish tinge when solid and a more yellow color when liquid.

It’s most preferable to use extra virgin coconut oil, organic if possible, to make sure that you get the maximum health benefits from the freshest and best quality of coconut. Good quality coconut oil is not inexpensive (I think we pay about 85 – 90 NIS for a kilo (2.2 lbs). However, when considering how much money we pay for nutritional supplements (especially here in Israel) then the cost of coconut oil is really nominal for so healthful a product.

Never use hydrogenated (“mook’she” in Hebrew) coconut oil since that contains health-damaging trans fats. Be aware that the coconut oil in packaged goods may be hydrogenated. Always check the nutritional contents before you buy to make sure there are  no trans fats.

These brands are found here in Israel are (if you know of any others, please let me know):

Biriyani coconut oil
Briyani

 

The two above are marketed by Agass (site is in Hebrew). The one on the left, the Briyani brand (not shown online) although not refined, is not organic and not cold pressed. It is certified kosher by Rabbi Menashe Tayari, Rabbi of the Megiddo Regional Council. The extra virgin coconut oil (on the right with the green label)  is cold pressed, certified kosher B’Datz Mehadrin – Rabbi Avraham Rubin.

Tropics Best ™

The coconut oil (to the right) is organic and cold pressed. The upper right hand corner of the label indicates that this is from Tropics Best ™ . It is imported by Jammoka  (site is in Hebrew). Kashrut is KMD (Mexico) and Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

One-Tribe

One Tribe Organic Coconut Oil  is extra virgin, cold pressed and conforms to Fair Trade Standards (see video below). It’s certified kosher,  B’Datz Mehadrin – Rabbi Avraham Rubin and the Rabbinical Council of Megido and distributed by EcoGreen.

Refined Coconut Oil

Refined coconut oil is less expensive than extra virgin coconut oil. The quality of the coconut may be inferior, it has fewer nutritional benefits than unrefined coconut oil, and, depending on the refining process used, there may be chemical residue in the oil. If necessary, however, I would choose refined coconut oil over any of the polyunsaturated oils for the reasons discussed in part 1.

In Israel Poliva markets two types of refined coconut oil (listed under fats) certified by the B’datz Eida Chareidit. Most of their business is commercial, which means you have to buy in large quantity (perhaps split it with a friend). The first is hydrogenated (with a melting point of 34°C). If you’re inclined to buy refined coconut oil, make sure you buy the second one which is liquified (nozli) and has a melting point of 24° C.

EASY WAYS TO INCORPORATE COCONUT OIL & COCONUT MILK INTO YOUR DIET

To gain benefit from coconut oil it should be consumed and/or used topically on a daily basis since the effects are cumulative. Recommended consumption is anywhere from 2 – 4 tablespoons per day. Some people may initially experience abdominal discomfort, bloating, or diarrhea when they start using coconut oil. If you are not used to consuming that much oil, you might want to start with a lesser amount and see how your body reacts, slowly increasing your intake as your body gets accustomed to it.

I had been putting coconut oil into my tea along with some honey (always buy non-heated honey – in Israel look for “lo me’chumam”) and, thanks to Wellness Mama‘s suggestion, I have started putting it in my coffee. I also put coconut oil in my oatmeal.

Coconut oil can be used for frying vegetables, latkas, and other foods. As a matter of fact, potatoes thinly sliced and salted are delicious when fried or baked in coconut oil. You don’t taste the coconut, per se´, but the chips are delicious. A lot of other vegetables are good with coconut oil – experiment with a variety to discover your family’s tastes.

My friend Shoshana S. mixes coconut milk into her pureed pumpkin for a delicious pumpkin soup. I often make sweet potato soup using coconut milk, some cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. I probably use three or four sweet potatoes, 2 tsps. (approx.) of cinnamon and about half as much of the other spices. You can add some water for a thinner soup. This recipe from Australia Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Coconut Milk  looks good, also. If you try it, let me know how you like it. (Don’t forget that you can always adjust the amount of curry in the soup to your family’s taste.) Coconut milk perks up other soups as well.

Fish, rice, and chicken are good with coconut milk. Use coconut oil in chocolate cake recipes.

Try this Chicken in Coconut Sauce, a recipe from Claudia Roden’s wonderful cookbook (which makes a super gift), The Book of Jewish Food, An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York, which is filled with the history of diaspora Jews and the foods they ate. This is a recipe from the Bene Israel of India. (I’ve taken the liberty of making it more Weston Price friendly.)

4 medium onions, about 1 lb (500g), coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons coconut oil or sesame oil*
6 garlic cloves, crushed
Juice of 2 1/2 inch (6 1/2 cm) piece of ginger, crushed, or the grated piece
1 tsp. turmeric
6 chicken pieces – thighs and breasts (boneless if you like, leave the skin and fat on for additional health benefits and to retain moisture)
Sea salt
White pepper to taste
1 lb. (500g) new potatoes, cut in thick slices
1 can of unsweetened coconut milk (make sure it is not “lite” coconut milk, without additives if possible)**
1 1/4 cups boiling water
3/4 cup (100 g) cashew nuts or split almonds (crispy nuts if possible)
2 Tbsps. raisins

In a large pan, fry the onions in oil till soft and golden, stirring occasionally. Because there is so much onion, that takes a long time, and it is best to start with the lid on (which steams them). Add the garlic and cook stirring, for a few minutes. Then add the ginger and turmeric and stir well.

Put in the chicken pieces and season with salt and white pepper. Cook 5 minutes and turn over the chicken pieces. Add the potatoes and coconut milk and enough water to cover – about 1 cup (250 ml). (You might want to cut back on the liquid since the chicken fat will add moisture and flavor as it melts.) Add sugar and adjust the seasoning. Then simmer for 30 – 45 minutes, or until the chicken and potatoes are very tender. Add the cashew nuts or almonds and the raisins and cook a few more minutes. Serve hot.

* Sesame oil can safely be used for frying because it contains unique antioxidants that are not destroyed by heat. However, the high percentage of omega-6 militates against exclusive use.
** I’ve been buying Organi brand certified kosher by the Heart K of Los Angeles and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=-A45lj4ydAs]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxI1NPk1Nlg&feature=player_embedded]

Choosing healthy fats and oils: what you need to know – Part 2
Choosing healthy fats and oils: what you need to know – Part 1

Eat Eat Fat, Lose Fat: The Healthy Alternative to Trans Fat Fat, Lose Fat:
The 
Hea lthy Alternative to Trans Fat
by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon

   The Coconut Oil Miracle

The Coconut Oil Miracle
by Bruce Fife, M.D.  

Oil Pulling Therapy:
Detoxifying and Healing
the Body Through Oral Cleansing

by Bruce Fife, M.D.  

Recommended Reading
Additional Sources:
http://wellnessmama.com/5734/101-uses-for-coconut-oil/#sthash.SuKjxoS9.dpuf
http://wellnessmama.com/5734/101-uses-for-coconut-oil/#sthash.SuKjxoS9.dpuf

Water Fluoridation in Israel – Is Health Minister German’s new policy a good thing?

Health minister Yael German recently signed legislation making water fluoridation in Israel optional and not mandatory for each municipality (except in very low population localities), to take affect within a year.

Today’s Jerusalem Post English edition carries a very biased article by Judy Siegel,  Professors slam change to water fluoridation policy, which discusses two academics’ (from the Hebrew University Dental School’s Department of Community Dentistry) rebuke of this new policy. While German cites the ability of fluoride to cause harm to the health of the chronically ill and to pregnant women, apparently Siegel could find no one else with this point of view.

In her article she quotes the professors, Harold Sgan-Cohen and Jonathan Mann, who promote fluoridation of water as having across the board confirmation that it is

“the most efficient, cheapest and safest measure of dental health promotion that reaches across the socio-economic spectrum.”

They also discuss  the U.S. policy to fluoridate water saying:

“It is clear that if there were even just a small hint of harm, U.S. fluoridation of drinking water would be halted.”

She also reports that U.S. Surgeon-General Regina Benjamin officially endorsed community water fluoridation just this past Monday, and that the UK which doesn’t fluoridate their water presumably does not do so, because, according to

“An authoritative source in the British Medical Journal… the most sensible, intelligent, well-informed people here in the UK think fluoridation of the water is a very sensible idea but a very vocal minority of cranks have campaigned against it for so long and so vociferously that all attempts to introduce it here [except in the West Midlands] have come to nothing.”

I would argue that across the board acceptance of ingesting fluoride as being safe is without merit. Even the FDA mandated label warnings on toothpaste in the USA warning of the dangers to children of swallowing the toothpaste.

I also take issue with the fact that the U.S. would halt fluoridation if there was even a small hint of harm. One only has to look at the Vioxx debacle where people died as a result of taking this medication, yet it took several years for the FDA to require that it be discontinued.  And the FDA, pharmaceutical companies, and big business have revolving doors, whereby employees rotate between the FDA and big business.  I’m quoting here from The Huffington Post article: FDA Promotes Unsafe Milk Due to Industry Pressure, however the same information and more can be readily found on numerous sites.

“[Miller] wrote the FDA’s opinion on why milk from [rbGH]-treated cows should not be labeled. However, before coming to FDA, Dr. Margaret Miller was working for the Monsanto company as a researcher on [rbGH]. At the time she wrote the FDA opinion on labeling, she was still publishing papers with Monsanto scientists on [rbGH]. It appears to us that this is a direct conflict of interest to have in any way Dr. Miller working on [rbGH].”

As for the UK – I seriously doubt that only a “few cranks” don’t believe fluoridating water is a good idea and are holding up the works.

I just sent this Letter to the Editor to the Jerusalem Post:

Regarding your article: Hebrew University professors slam change to water fluoridation policy – Thursday, April 23, page 8

Dear Sir,

I, for one, would like to applaud Health Minister Yael German’s decision to make fluoridation of water optional. I agree that it is wrong to medicate an entire population for the (possible) benefit of a very few members while putting many others at risk. There are significantly greater risks to dental health from ingesting sugary drinks and refined products, which pull calcium and minerals from teeth and bones which, if addressed, would go a long way to improving dental and general health nationwide.

Although it may seem that there is unanimous agreement over the safety of fluoride in the U.S., your readers may be surprised to know that tubes of American toothpaste have the following FDA mandated warnings:

“Keep out of the reach of children under 6 years of age. If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.
Children 2 – 6 years: Use only a pea sized amount and supervise child’s brushing and rinsing (to minimize swallowing).
Children under 2 years: Ask a dentist or physician”

If it is not safe for children to swallow this small amount of toothpaste, why is it safe for them to swallow presumably more fluoride from drinking water?

For more information see here and here.

The first article I referenced shows the toothpaste label warnings; the second article explains why there is waning support for fluoride supplementation and the dangers to children of ingesting fluoride toothpaste include acute poisoning with visits to the emergency room, skin rashes, and impaired glucose metabolism (which can result in diabetes and obesity):

Perhaps the most important, yet most overlooked, risk from excessive ingestion of fluoride toothpaste, is the impact it can have on blood glucose and insulin levels. In the 1980s, researchers at the University of Indiana reported that rats receiving acute, but relatively small, doses (0.5 mg/kg) of fluoride, had significantly higher glucose levels in their blood, and decreased levels of insulin. (Shahed 1986; Whitford 1987b). Since that time, numerous studies have repeated this finding (in both animals and humans) at doses which many children routinely ingest from fluoride toothpaste. It is now estimated, for example, that blood fluoride levels of just 95 ppb produce an increase in glucose levels and a decrease in insulin. (Menoyo 2005). Strikingly, this level is routinely exceeded by about 5 to 10% of children using fluoride toothpaste (particularly those living in fluoridated communities).

Watch this eye-opening video Professional Perspectives on Water Fluoridation to find out why most European countries do not fluoridate their water and what the medical professionals really say about the toxicity and numerous health dangers of fluoridated water.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=88pfVo3bZLY#!]

I again applaud Health Minister Yael German’s new legislation regarding fluoridating water. I can only hope that most municipalities will halt it as soon as possible, even if only as a cost-saving measure. Enough with politics and bad science.

April 29, 2013: The above Letter to the Editor appeared in today’s Jerusalem Post.

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Choosing healthy fats and oils: what you need to know – part 2 of 3

In part 1 I explained that according to our biochemistry we need to consume  monounsaturated fats like olive oil and saturated animal and  tropical fats  – coconut and palm oils rather than polyunsaturated oils and that, in fact, as demonstrated by the “Israeli Paradox, the polyunsaturated vegetable oils we are told to use are actually detrimental to our health. I also discussed the health benefits inherent in extra virgin olive oil including why olive oil and/or saturated fat is necessary in order to obtain the full nutritional value of your salads.

Olive Oil fraud – health and kashrut concerns

Ancient olive oil production
Turkey

Just as harvesting quality grapes and producing wine is a complex operation, so too is the harvesting of olives and production of good quality olive oil to ensure that the oil tastes good and contains optimal nutritional components. Unfortunately the olive oil industry is fraught with deception and fraud. Often times soy oil or nut oils are substituted for olive oil with coloring and a small amount of olive oil added for taste or low quality olive oil is deodorized and mixed with a bit of extra virgin olive oil for taste. Even thousands of years ago, olive oil fraud was a problem! In fact, the Romans clearly labeled each bottle of olive oil, noting the quality of the oil and origin and sealing it as a guarantee of authenticity and quality when it reached its destination.

An article by Ariel Zilber featured in the  December 7, 2012 issue of the Jerusalem Post Metro section, entitled “A slippery slope”, discusses the Israeli olive oil industry and notes that some producers/bottlers in Israel may include foreign oil in what is labeled as Israeli oil to remain competitive given the glut of low-quality oils that flood the market at cheap prices.  Like  producers of high quality extra virgin olive oils in other countries, Israeli producers are having a hard time staying in business and making ends meets due to what is deemed unfair competition from companies selling substandard oils as extra virgin. The Israeli Health Ministry has warned (here and here) about problems in Israel  with companies attempting to sell sub-par olive oil or substituting with seed oils and selling them as olive oil. The Israeli Rabbinate has issued notices about fraudulent kosher certification on olive oils and as recently as November 2012, Jerusalem Kosher News published a Chanuka Olive Oil Alert.

Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff of Yeshiva Beit El wrote a very interesting article two years ago, entitled Olive Oil Concerns, in which he reviews the use of olive oil in the Beit Hamikdash, methods of pressing the olives, health benefits of olive oil, and concerns about olive oil adulteration not only today, but also as discussed in the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 36a) and by the Rama over a thousand years later (Shu”t HaRama # 53, 54).  In his article, Rabbi Kaganoff discusses the important differences in standards that kashrut agencies employ today to guard against the possibility of olive oil adulteration. And he very astutely concludes that “this information is highly useful not only from a kashrus perspective, but also from the perspective of someone purchasing extra virgin or virgin olive oil who wants a guarantee that they are getting the health benefits they are paying for.”

A few tips for  buying quality olive oil:

You do not have to remain at the mercy of the bottlers; if you know what to look for when purchasing olive oil you can be pretty sure that what you are getting is the real thing. If you would like to become a real olive oil aficionado, you can learn to sip different olive oils to detect their qualities in a manner very similarly to how one tastes wine. Since this is not practical for most of us, here is what to look for:

  • Oil should come in dark glass bottles to protect against light.
  • Don’t worry about color. Good oils come in all shades, from green to gold to pale straw.
  • Buy oil labelled “extra virgin,” since other categories have undergone chemical refinement, lost many of their health benefits, and may contain traces of chemicals and other contaminants.
  • If you see olive oil labeled as pomace oil, it is basically (to put it bluntly) re-purposed waste from the olive oil refining process. It may sound fancy, but it is not.
  • The acidity content on the label is also an indication of quality – the lower the better. Anything over 0.8% is lacking in quality; however, even that percentage is considered too high.
  • Try to buy oils only from this year’s harvest – look for bottles with a date of harvest. Otherwise, look at the “best by” date which should be not more than two years after an oil was bottled (but even that may be too long since there is no way of knowing how long the oil sat till it was bottled).
  • Buy a quantity that you’ll use up quickly.
  • The flavor and aroma of extra virgin oils have a marked fruitiness reminiscent of fresh olives and some level of bitterness and pepperiness. Good quality oil will have a pleasant taste and clean sensation and you should feel a “burn” at the back of your throat when you’ve swallowed the oil plain (neat).Tom Mueller, in his book  Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil (an enjoyable and enlightening read) explains that “… the oil’s healthful properties are directly proportional to the strength of its flavors, aromas, and other sensory characteristics. If an oil doesn’t sting at the back of the throat, it contains little or no oleocanthal (an anti-inflammatory). If it isn’t bitter, it’s low in tocopherol (vitamin E – which would also help prevent the bottled oil from oxidizing) and squalene. If it isn’t velvety in texture then it’s missing hydroxtyrosol.” (p104).
  • If you put some olive oil on your skin and the smell does not go away after a few minutes then it is not olive oil.

Quality olive oil is not inexpensive, but you are buying a product with significant health benefits that has been carefully harvested and processed. Beware of oils that are too cheap because they are probably not the real thing. We make sure to buy organic olive oil as it is an additional guarantee that what it says on the label is actually what is in the bottle.

olive oil
Our bottle of prize-winning olive oil from Live Organic

There are many award-winning Israeli olive oils and the bottle of extra virgin olive oil that I have at home now, from  Live Organic, according to the label (note the round seal with the pitcher in the middle), received an award from the TERRAOLIVO 2012 International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition. It also has a seal of quality and authenticity as an Israeli olive oil from the Moetzet Hazetim that includes a unique number. I also purchased the Meshek Achiya brand of olive oil which has the same uniquely numbered seal but without the Terraolivo award. Live brand has an acidity of 0.4% and Meshek Achiya of up to 0.5%. I purchased both on sale (at different times) at the Organic Market, which is owned by Shufersal. They are both kosher for Pesach, certified kosher by the Chug Chatam Sofer and each has a local certification as well. Meshek Achiya also has OK-P kosher certification. (My understanding is that only one certifying agency is present and assures the other agencies that the product is reflective of their standards as well.) To find out more about Israeli producers of quality olive oil the Israeli Olive Oil Club (in Hebrew) is a good site to go to. I haven’t opened and tried the Meshak Achiya olive oil yet, but I did feel that “burn” at the back of my throat with the Live brand.

All in all, I think it’s best to buy domestic olive oils when possible to be more assured that it is an authentic and quality oil. (In the U.S. one can find quality olive oils from California.) Unlike wine that improves with age, olive oil starts degrading after it’s produced so quality oil produced and bottled in your own country will most likely be fresher and retain more of its health/nutritional components than oil that sat in a tanker as it made its way from foreign shores.

One caveat: Olive oil should not be the only oil or fat used since we also need the nutrients found exclusively in animal fats; too much monounsaturated fat without a balance of saturated fats can cause health problems.

Interested in becoming an “Olive Oil Expert”? If so, the New Olive Oil Certification course at Hebrew University may be for you.

No-Mayo Coleslaw

Try out this great recipe for coleslaw that I found at pbs.org. It was prepared by food blogger Marc Matsumoto who explains why he prefers his coleslaw without mayo in a full blog post on the Fresh Tastes blog.

He uses olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice instead of mayonnaise. You can substitute white wine vinegar or fresh lime juice  for the lemon juice, if you prefer. I buy organic limes when in season, squeeze the juice, freeze in an ice-cube tray, and then store in a baggy. If using vinegar I would recommend adjusting the proportions to start, so that you have about 1/4 the amount of vinegar as oil. Not only is this healthier than using mayo made from soy oil, it tastes great, and you avoid the  risk of spoilage that coleslaw with mayonnaise has. You can also use this as a starting point and get creative. We enjoy it so much that it actually disappears very quickly.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 small red cabbage
  • 1/2 small green cabbage
  • 1/2 carrot, shredded
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

  1. Remove any tough outer leaves from the cabbage.
  2. Trim the core and any tough stems from the cabbage and thinly slice.
  3. Add to a bowl with the shredded carrot, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, salt and black pepper. Toss to combine.
  4. Serve this right away for more of a salad, or store it in the fridge overnight for a slaw that’s more pickled.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Garlic Oil

I would also like to thank our dear friends Shoshana and Scott for introducing us to Garlic Oil at their Shabbos table. Since then we have been enjoying olive oil with chopped garlic in it on our challah.  Very often it’s actually olive oil in our chopped garlic!  (Of course, it’s enjoyable during the week, too.) Much better and healthier than the garlic bread I used to make or buy (many years ago) with powdered garlic.

To your health!

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 3

 Extravirginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive OilExtra Virginity:
The Sublime and Scandalous
World of Olive Oil

by Tom Mueller

 
Recommended Reading

Additional Sources and For More Information:
How to tell if your olive oil is the real thing
Buyer’s Guide to Olive Oil in North America (contains a lot of general information about buying olive oil – not just for North Americans)
Olive Oil Times
Truth in Olive Oil
Israelis warned about fake ‘festive’ olive oil
Israeli Olive Oil Club (in Hebrew)