Choosing healthy fats and oils: what you need to know

Coconut oil making

This post has been updated as of December 2017. It had been part 1 of a 3 part series about choosing healthy fats and oils. Each post now stands on its own. What had been part 2 discusses olive oil. What had been part 3 is all about coconut oil. 

Ox-powered mill for making coconut oil in Seychelles

Traditional way of making coconut oil using an ox-powered mill in Seychelles

One of the first things we did on our journey to better health was to get rid of the polyunsaturated vegetable fats we had been using in favor of monounsaturated fats like olive oil,  and saturated animal and  tropical fats — coconut and palm oils. Politics and profit, we learned, play a big role in what’s considered correct  nutrition — to the point that the polyunsaturated fats we had been told were healthy are in fact problematic, and vice versa. Not only is it difficult to account for all the variables in a nutritional study, but results of scientific studies can be manipulated to show the desired outcome, particularly when business is paying for the trials, as is often the case. And opposing voices can be effectively silenced (or at least subdued).*

This information was mind boggling at first. Not only was there a lot to digest, but it was hard to get our heads around the fact that what we’d been hearing and reading was not true. Could it really be that we, and the rest of society, had been misled and lied to?  However, reading the information presented, including the structure of the different types of fat molecules and how the body uses them left us no choice but to get rid of the corn, soy, cottonseed, safflower, and other polyunsaturated oils we had been using. And one day we even got rid of the canola oil.

In The Skinny on Fats, Mary G. Enig, PhD and Sally Fallon explain in detail the properties of common oils and fats. Contrary to “popular wisdom”, our bodies depend upon a good supply of natural fats. (Emphasis is mine.)

  • Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of the cell membranes. They are what gives our cells necessary stiffness and integrity.
  • They play a vital role in the health of our bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of the dietary fats should be saturated.
  • They lower Lp(a), a substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease. They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins, such as Tylenol.
  • They enhance the immune system.
  • They are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids. Elongated omega-3 fatty acids are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.
  • Saturated 18-carbon stearic acid and 16-carbon palmitic acid are the preferred foods for the heart, which is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated. The heart draws on this reserve of fat in times of stress.
  • Short- and medium-chain saturated fatty acids have important antimicrobial properties. They protect us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b8/Roasted_chicken.jpg

As a result, we stopped removing the skin and fat from chicken (including not skimming the fat off chicken soup), stopped looking for lean cuts of meat, and started buying full fat milk and dairy products. We buy coconut oil and palm oil as well.

One of the casualties of our war against unhealthy food was bottled salad dressings; we began using olive oil and vinegar (red wine and white wine) or fresh-squeezed lemon juice with our salads. Today I also include some sea salt and, depending on what’s available in my kitchen, a variety of dried and/or fresh herbs.

Enig and Fallon also explain that olive oil is a monounsaturated fat which contains a variety of healthful properties:

Olive oil is a rich source of antioxidants, relieves the pain and inflammation of arthritis, normalizes blood fats and cholesterol, stimulates strong gallbladder contractions and is known for increasing longevity. Olive oil can be used for sautéing at moderate temperatures and is a perfect base for salad dressings.

Not only does salad dressing enhance the flavor of veggies, it is also necessary so that we can utilize the fat soluble vitamins contained in those vegetables! An article by Chris Masterjohn in the Winter 2012 issue of Wise Traditions  (a publication of the Weston A. Price Foundation), entitled Nutritional Adjuncts to the Fat-Soluble Vitamins, explains that:

In order to absorb fat-soluble vitamins from our food, we need to eat fat. Human studies show that both the amount and type of fat are important. For example, one study showed that absorption of beta-carotene from a salad with no added fat was close to zero. The addition of a low fat dressing made from canola oil increased absorption, but a high-fat dressing was much more effective. Canola oil, however, is far from ideal. Studies in rats show that absorption of carotenoids is much higher with olive oil than with corn oil.

Similarly, studies in humans show that consuming beta-carotene with beef tallow rather than sunflower oil increases the amount we absorb from 11 to 17 percent. The reason for this is unknown, but it may be that oils rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids promote the oxidative destruction of fat-soluble vitamins in the intestines before we are able to absorb them. Thus the more fat we eat, and the lower those fats are in polyunsaturated fatty acids, the more fat-soluble vitamins we absorb.

Masterjohn further explains that in addition to fat, we also need adequate levels of magnesium and zinc, two minerals that many of us are deficient in, to utilize of these vitamins. Adding high magnesium seeds and nuts to your salad, such as pumpkin, squash, sesame and sunflower seeds, brazil nuts and almonds will increase your ability to absorb and utilize fat soluble vitamins, as will the inclusion of peppers and tomatoes. There are many more foods that contain magnesium but the most abundant sources are seeds, whole grains, nuts, and vegetables. Fruits and some fish are also good sources. Meat and refined grains contain little to none.

The greatest kosher sources of zinc are red meat, liver, and cheese. Although zinc (at much lower levels) is found in plants and grains; it is absorbed much better from meat than from plant products. Grains must be soaked before cooking because of the presence of phytates which bind zinc and other minerals, making them unavailable for use in the body. To learn how to properly soak grains see my article Thick and hearty oatmeal – the Real Deal.

What happens when we have too much polyunsaturated fat in our system? Aside from just not being healthful, polyunsaturated oils are problematic for a number of reasons:

(1)    When the diet contains an excess of polyunsaturated fatty acids, these replace saturated fatty acids in the cell membrane, so that the cell walls actually become flabby. When this happens, cholesterol from the blood is “driven” into the tissues to give them structural integrity. This is why serum cholesterol levels may go down temporarily when we replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated oils in the diet.

(2)    Polyunsaturated oils are predominantly made up of omega-6 fatty acids which create a serious  omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid imbalance in the body that can interfere with production of important prostaglandins. This disruption can result in increased tendency to form blood clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer and weight gain.

(3)    Polyunsaturated oils are usually extracted through a chemical process using dangerous solvents like hexane which can make their way into the final product. The high heat at which they are processed also makes them turn rancid (oxidize) very quickly.

(4)    Polyunsaturated oil can cause diabetes and heart disease. A shocking report on Israeli health and polyunsaturate consumption in the Israeli Journal of Medical Science, 1996 Nov;32(11):1134-43, comes from the Department of Membrane Research and Biophysics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel and is entitled Diet and disease–the Israeli paradox: possible dangers of a high omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid diet .  From the abstract:

In fact, Israeli Jews may be regarded as a population-based dietary experiment of the effect of a high omega-6 PUFA diet, a diet that until recently was widely recommended. Despite such national habits,paradoxically a high prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and obesity-all diseases that are associated with hyperinsulinemia (HI) and insulin resistance (IR), and grouped together as the insulin resistance syndrome or syndrome X. There is also an increased cancer incidence and mortality rate, especially in women, compared with western countries. Studies suggest that high omega-6 linoleic acid consumption might aggravate HI and IR, in addition to being a substrate for lipid peroxidation and free radical formation. Thus, rather than being beneficial, high omega-6 PUFA diets may have some long-term side effects, within the cluster of hyperinsulinemia, atherosclerosis and tumorigenesis.

Tim Smith explains, in Our Deadly Diabetes Deception, why eliminating polyunsaturated oils (and for a time, all oils) from his diet enabled him to cure himself of diabetes:

“The biggest culprit, however, seems to be polyunsaturated oil. [13] Studies have shown that when polyunsaturated fats from the diet are incorporated into cellular structure, the cell’s ability to bind with insulin decreases, thus lowering their ability to get glucose. [14] In other words, the “locks” on the cells which open the door for glucose to enter degrade when too much polyunsaturated oil is consumed in the diet. Insulin is then unable to open the door.

Other studies and sites which point out the relationship between polyunsaturates and heart disease include:

Although we do have a need for some polyunsaturated fat in our body, it is at a much smaller proportion than what we are currently consuming. In fact, animal fats do contain some polyunsaturated fats – at the level which our body actually needs.

To your health!

Updated December 2017

Choosing healthy fats and oils: what you need to know about buying Olive Oil – Part 2
Choosing healthy fats and oils: what you need to know about Coconut Oil- Part 3 of 3

* Science, Pseudoscience, Nutritional Epidemiology, and Meat
The Lipid Hypothesis
THINCS: The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics

Additional Sources and For More Information:

Some oily (and other) tips and great latkas for Chanukah.
The Importance of Saturated Fats for Biological Functions
Taking the Fear Out of Eating Fat
Zinc – Health Professional Fact Sheet
Canola Oil Might Impair Memory

Posted in Fats and Oils, Food Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Some oily (and other) tips and great latkas for Chanukah

Gastronomy is at least as important as ritual when it comes to the 201070_285321208256225_1796874080_oholidays. We all enjoy the delicious latkas (vegetable pancakes) and sufganiyot (donuts) that are customary Chanukah fare. However, since we still want keep our waistlines and health in check, I have a few tips for you.

Cut back on the carbs. Carbohydrates are what really help to put on the pounds. Simply put, carbohydrates are starches, polysaccharides, made up of glucose (sugar) molecules. Carbohydrates break down into glucose in the digestive system; too much glucose released too quickly into the bloodstream causes an insulin rush as the pancreas tries to get the excess sugar out of your bloodstream. What cannot be immediately utilized for energy, gets stored as fat in your cells in the form of triglycerides.

So, rather than loading up on sufganiyot (have one or two whole grain ones if you must), you are better off enjoying latkas, non-potato latkas in particular, since potatoes are carbohydrates as well.  Now I’m not going to tell you to avoid potato latkas entirely, I will  have some too, but it would be good to have a combination of different types, if you are having them more than once during the holiday.  If you do have potato latkas during a milichig/chalavi meal, choose sour cream over applesauce as an accompaniment. For a fleishig/besari meal you are probably already eating a meal with fat.  Fats take longer to digest than carbohydrates, so by eating the two together, glucose is released into your bloodstream at a slower rate.

Switch from polyunsaturated oils to healthier options. In general, there are three major problems with consuming polyunsaturated oils.
1) They are very high in omega-6 fatty acids (about 50%) and extremely low in omega-3 fatty acids (soy oil being an exception). To function properly, we need these polyunsaturated fatty acids in a ratio of 1.5% omega-3 to 2.5% omega-6.
2) Our intake of polyunsaturates should only be about 4% of our caloric intake; however, we are consuming as much as 30% of our calories as polyunsaturates.
3) Polyunsaturated oils become oxidized or rancid when subjected to heat forming free radicals which cause much damage in the body.  Polyunsaturated oils which are not cold-pressed are subject to high heat and chemicals in order to extract the oil.

Canola oil is also not a healthy oil to use. Although it’s been marketed as one of the healthiest of all the vegetable oils because it has a better balance of omega 6 to omega-3 fatty acids,  there are several problems with using it for food. Canola oil  is really rapeseed oil which has been bred to reduce the amount of toxic erucic acid it contains to levels which are considered safe. Its high sulfur content causes it to go rancid very easily;  the deodorizing process transforms the omega-3 fatty acids into trans fats; and there is evidence that canola oil creates a deficiency in vitamin E, as well. It is also a genetically modified crop.

The best, most stable, and healthiest oils to use when frying are olive oil, at moderate temperatures, peanut oil and sesame oil occasionally since they are stable when heated but high in omega 6 fatty acids, and palm oil and coconut oil which are not only very healthy but are also very stable when heated.  Flax-seed oil which, because of its high omega-3 fatty acid content (a good remedy for the omega-6 to omega-3 imbalance most of us have), should not be heated and always kept in the refrigerator.  It is best consumed in small amounts.  Animal fats and butter are also good choices for cooking and frying.

frying potato pancakeWith the exception of flax-seed oil, all of the above contain medium to high percentages of saturated fats as well. Saturated fats are very necessary as they fill many roles in the body. They are critical to maintaining the stiffness and  integrity of our cell walls, are needed to incorporate calcium into our bones, help us properly utilize omega-3 fatty acids, protect the liver from toxins, and more. Our over-consumption of polyunsaturated oils and their inherent imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids unfavorably alters our biochemistry, leaving us prone to disease and illness.

Heat up the pan very well before frying to cut back on the amount of oil needed. I noticed several years back that the pancakes that I fried last came off the pan more easily than the ones I did first. The only difference between the earlier and later batches was how hot the pan was, having had the opportunity to heat up more while I was frying. So I started making sure that the pan is well heated before I start. When it’s ready I pour a little oil in (probably about a tablespoon for a 10 inch pan) , spread it around, and then drop in my batter by spoonfuls. If it needs to be scraped off the pan, leave it alone. It is not ready. Flip the latka or take it out of the pan when it feels firm enough to lift off with a spatula. I do add more olive oil when necessary, but in really small amounts. Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and, besides coconut oil, is the safest vegetable oil to use when cooking.

SP_A0197I made two zucchini latka recipes. The first one, a takeoff on the Mashed Zucchini Salad recipe from The Book of Jewish Food, by Claudia Roden, used zucchini, onion, salt, lemon juice, and coriander. It was good; we all enjoyed it. However, the second one I made, Sweet Potato and Zucchini Latkas was a real winner. Yes, sweet potato is a carbohydrate too, but by adding the zucchini, it becomes a lower carbohydrate option.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 2 cups peeled and grated sweet potato
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin organic olive oil to start, adding as necessary
  • 1/4 cup finely diced yellow onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 medium eggs (that’s the size I had in the house)
  • 1/3 cup spelt flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

I used a hand-held grater. It was pretty quick and easy with less mess and easier clean up than if I had used the food processor. If you are making a larger batch, however, the food processor is quicker. Mix the zucchini and sweet potato together with the salt, put into a colander and let drain. The salt removes the excess liquid so the latkas are not wet. I actually put in all the salt at this point and did not add any more afterwards. After about half an hour I pressed out any remaining liquid, mix in the other ingredients, and dropped by spoonful into the frying pan, tapping them down so they are wider with more surface area being directly heated.

Of course these can be made without the flour and baking powder. They will probably not hold together as well, but the taste should still be great.

Chag Chanukah sameach.

Related Articles:

Choosing Healthy Fats and Oils: What you need to know
What You Need to Know Before Buying Your Next Bottle of Olive Oil, Olive Oil Fraud, and Israeli Olive Oils
Here’s Why Using Coconut Oil Regularly Contributes to Your Health
The Skinny on Fats

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What You Need to Know Before Buying Your Next Bottle of Olive Oil, Olive Oil Fraud, and Israeli Olive Oils

Old olive oil press

This post has been updated as of December 2017. It had been part 2 of a 3 part series about choosing healthy oils. Each post now stands on its own. In what had been the first part, Choosing Healthy Fats and Oils: What you need to know, 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 – and some naturally occurring polyunsaturated oil.  As demonstrated by the “Israeli Paradox, the polyunsaturated vegetable oils we are told to use, almost exclusively, 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. What had been part 3 is all about coconut oil. 

Olive Oil Fraud, Health, and Kashrut Concerns

Ancient olive press

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.

The Israeli Health Ministry repeatedly warns about problems in Israel  with companies selling sub-par olive oil or substituting with seed oils and selling them as olive oil. See their latest one here. The Israeli Rabbinate has issued notices about fraudulent kosher certification on olive oils as recently as last year.

Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff, of Yeshiva Beit El, wrote a very interesting article 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 and by the Rama over a thousand years later. 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.”

What to Look for When Buying 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

In the store:

  • 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” (in Israel look for שמן זית כתית מעולה – shemen zayit katit meula), 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” steer clear of it. 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 (חוּמצִיוּת – chumtziut) 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. In Israel olive oils that have acidity greater than 0.8% are considered virgin, not extra virgin.
  • 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.

At home:

  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Contrary to popular belief, putting the oil in the refrigerator to see if it hardens is not an indication of whether or not it is truly olive oil. Read why here.

Tom Mueller, in his book  Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil (both an entertaining and eye-opening 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)

Back of olive oil bottle showing awards on top and Seal of Authenticity below

Note the seals showing the awards above and the olive leaf Seal of Quality below on this bottle of Israeli 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.

The Israeli consumer can find many award-winning Israeli olive oils (not necessarily organic) that are reasonably priced. Oils that have received an award from the  TERRAOLIVO   International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition have a round seal with a pitcher on the label with the year awarded or multiple seals if they’ve won in more than one year.

Many Israeli  olive oils also have a a Seal of Quality (תו איכות – tav aychut) from the Israel Olive Board, shaped as an oil droplet, which includes a unique number on the bottom.

The quality mark for Israeli olive oil is a voluntary quality standard, the rules of which are accepted by the participants. The label is a registered trademark and is subject to the Israeli standard for olive oil… and today it is used by more than 100 growers and manufacturers.
                                                                                                                   (Translated from the Hebrew.)

Seal of quality from defunct oilve council

Seal of quality from the defunct Olive Council.

Previously, the defunct Israel Olive Council provided a similar certification. Their stickers, like the one to the left, if found on bottles of olive oil today, are fraudulent.

A major concern when buying uncertified Israeli olive oil is that it may contain mostly foreign oil. As explained in this HaAretz article,  Israeli companies are allowed to market their olive oil as Israeli if at least 35% of the production costs originate in Israel. This means that olive oil bottled and sold as Israeli olive oil can really be mostly foreign oil. Legal fraud or just misleading? Olive oils bearing the Certificate of Quality must be 100% Israeli oil from a certified grower or distributor.

It pays to bear in mind, however, that there are many excellent Israeli olive oils that do not have this voluntary seal. If you are interested in using one without a quality or award seal, then it’s best to peruse their website or call them up for information, in order to determine the integrity of their products. And while you may also find excellent olive oils imported from other countries, unlike wine that improves with age, olive oil starts degrading after it’s produced. Therefore, 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.

No-Mayo Coleslaw with Olive Oil

Try out this great recipe for coleslaw prepared by food blogger Marc Matsumoto who explains why he prefers his coleslaw without mayo:

I’m not a big fan of traditional coleslaw. Call me crazy, but I really don’t get the appeal of raw cabbage swimming in mayonnaise soup. That’s why I make my coleslaw without mayonnaise.

Instead, I use lemon juice, a little honey and generous dose of olive oil. The latter two ingredients add depth, while smoothing out some of the sharp edges of the lemon juice. Not only is it healthier, it makes for a light, citrusy contrast to the foods of summer, be it an unctuous rack of barbecued ribs, or a greasy leg of fried chicken.

My suggestions: 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 GMO 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

Resources and additional information:

Cover Image of Extra Virginity: the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil
by Tom Mueller

How to Buy Great Olive Oil
Olive Oil Times
19 Olive Oil Brands Certified for Purity and Quality (North America)
The World’s Best Olive Oils 2017: The winners of the New York International Olive Oil Competition

Posted in Fats and Oils, Food, Recipes Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Fish heads for Rosh Hashanah? Make super-nutritious fish soup

Drawing of a fish

Fish drawing

One of the customs of the first night of Rosh Hashanah is to eat a number of foods that symbolically represent our concerns and hopes for a good judgment for the upcoming year. Among these foods is the head of a fish (or sheep) over which we say a short prayer before eating it, asking that we be the head and not the tail. So I thought that it might be helpful to have a fish soup recipe made with the heads of fish. (You can also use the rest of the skeleton but on Rosh Hashanah you really want just the head!)

If you are going to buy whole fresh fish for the holiday be sure to ask for the heads (intact, not cleaned out) for which you are paying anyway. (Learn how to buy fresh fish in Israel here.) A little while ago I had gone into the fish store and the woman ahead of me was buying several fresh fish but did not want the heads even though she was paying for them with the purchase of the entire fish. I asked for them and got about 8 heads (for free with the woman’s agreement) that I made into nourishing fish soup. (Non-fatty fish is said to be best for fish stock.) When the bones are allowed to simmer for a few hours, especially with the addition of an acidic liquid to help draw out the calcium better, the stock becomes a veritable gold mine of nutrition and a great boost to health.

In fact, fish stock is said to be the most nutritious of all the bone broths. According to a South American proverb: “Fish broth will cure anything”. Stock contains minerals and trace minerals in a form that is easily usable by the body and fish stock in particular since it also contains iodine when made from heads; iodine is necessary for proper thyroid function. The breakdown of cartilage and tendons yields nutrients like chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, important for joint health. And when the broth cools and gels that is because of the presence of gelatin which has been acclaimed to be a most nutritious food, important for digestive health, a protein sparer (making it a good way to make a meal from just a little meat), and useful in the treatment of many ailments.

Here’s how I make the fish stock and soup:

Stock:

Into an 8 quart stock pot:

  • Place at least 3-5 fish heads depending upon size (also skeleton if not for Rosh Hashanah); 2 heads if the heads are very large. I like there to be enough to more than cover the bottom of the pot.
  • Fill the pot with filtered water to about 1 – 1 ½ inches from the top.
  • Add Apple Cider Vinegar (about ½ cup) to help leach the calcium and other minerals from the bones. My family doesn’t like the vinegar taste so I either use white wine which is also acidic, or nothing.
  • Let the water come to a gentle boil and skim off the scum that forms on top.
  • After the scum is removed, lower the fire so that it just simmers, and let it cook for about 4 hours.
  • When the stock is finished, remove the heads and take off the meat from the bones. Remove the heads one at a time to work on. Once out of the soup the bones fall apart and it makes it very tedious to remove the meat. This is especially true if you are not going to remove the meat right away. Leave the fish in the stock until you are ready to remove the meat.
  • I put the meat back into the soup. Very often I have more meat than I want in the soup so I freeze some of it and put it into additional batches of soup when using up the frozen stock or to make more fish soup after the stock is finished.

Vintage drawing cooking soupSoup (one version, feel free to experiment):

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil (Learn more about choosing olive oil here.)
  • 2 large onions
  • Sea salt
  • Parsley  (fresh or dried)
  • Oregano (fresh or dried)
  • Dill (fresh or dried)
  • Other herbs and spices according to your taste (optional)
  • 2 to 3 large tomatoes
  • 2 large zucchini
  • 2 cloves of garlic (or to taste) minced or chopped (Learn about choosing garlic here.)
  • Coconut milk/cream (optional) (Learn more about buying coconut milk/cream here.)
  • Fish meat that was removed from the bones.
  • Sea Salt

To prepare:

  • Sautee the onions in olive oil until soft and sweet. Add some sea salt to help break down the cell walls to extract water and flavor.
  • Add the herbs and spices (except for the garlic) and let cook for a few minutes until soft
  • Add tomatoes and zucchini and let cook till soft
  • Add the garlic – do not cook for more than 20 minutes or you will lose some of the garlic’s nutritive value. Or, you can add the garlic after you’ve finished cooking the soup.
  • When finished add the vegetables to the stock
  • Add about a cup of the fish meat you took off the bones to the stock as well
  • If you like you can add coconut milk. I generally use about half a can, but the amount depends on your taste (and how much room is left in the pot).
  • Add sea salt to taste
  • Take a hand blender and blend the soup. I like to make sure everything is chopped up, but you may like to leave some larger pieces as well.

Note: Any bones left in the fish meat will fall to the bottom

If you do not want to make the entire pot of stock into soup, you can freeze some of the stock, and have it at hand when you are ready to make the next batch of soup.

Have a Happy & Healthy New Year

References and resources:

Broth is Beautiful
The Secret of Fish Stock
How to Make Homemade Fish Broth or Stock (+ Video)

Related Articles:

Cognitive performance among the elderly and dietary fish intake: the Hordaland Health Study

 

 

Posted in Blog, Food, Nutrition, Recipes, Rosh Hashanah, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , ,

Amazing Pomegranates: Rosh Hashanah Specialty, Nutritional Powerhouse

Painting of Pomegranates by Leah Laker

Painting of Pomegranates by Leah LakerRimonim/Pomegranates – Painting by Leah Laker

Your lips are like a thread of scarlet, your speech is beautiful.
Your cheeks are like a piece of pomegranate from behind your veil.

                                                                          Song of Songs 4:3

The Pomegranate – special to Israel and an Israeli specialty

The pomegranate (רימון – rimon) is one of the seven species (שבעת המינים – shivat haminim) identified in the Torah (Deut. 8.8)  with which the Land of Israel is blessed and which were staple foods in Israel during biblical times (the others being wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil, and honey). The pomegranate, found growing in gardens and sold in stores all over Israel, is immensely enjoyed fresh when in season, and as juice during the whole year. (Be sure to get only pure, non-sweetened juice, preferably unpasteurized. If you juice your own you will be sure to preserve all the health benefits since it won’t be pasteurized.) And best of all, it is a nutritional powerhouse.

Growing up in the Northeast United States, the pomegranate was a novelty for me. Its foremost purpose was to be the “new fruit”, a fruit not eaten since the beginning of its growing season, that we enjoyed on the second night of Rosh Hashanah when the blessing of Shehecheyanu was said. Truth be told, I was rather disappointed with it; it was a messy, hard to eat fruit that squirted you with red liquid when you tried to suck the juice out of the arils, those clear sacks filled with red liquid surrounding a pit, which you of course spit out. After all, who eats pits?

Seemingly more prevalent in Israel than in the United States, is the custom of eating special, symbolic foods on the first night of Rosh Hashana (some eat them both nights) as signs of a blessed new year. Apple in honey, Pomegranate, and GrapesWhile in the States we always dipped the apple in honey for a sweet new year, and some people may have eaten the head of a fish as a sign that we should be the head and not the tail, most Ashkenazim didn’t do much more. In Israel, the custom to eat about 10 special foods at the start of the meal with special blessings for each is much more common, even among Ashkenazim. The pomegranate is one of these symbolic foods and the blessing we say expresses the wish that our merits should be plentiful like (the seeds of) a pomegranate. The pomegranate, for the majority of Israelis, is not a “new fruit”!

Physical and spiritual health benefits of pomegranates

When we first moved to Israel, I was amazed to see pomegranates growing in people’s gardens; it took a while till I began to eat them in salads, pits and all. It was a few years later, however, when I read the Mishpacha Magazine article, 7 on Seven Ruby Bottles of Mitzvos, about a group of Jewish women in the UK who prepare pomegranate juice for people undergoing chemotherapy, that my perspective changed and I began to really appreciate them and anticipate their seasonal appearance in the stores.

I was amazed by the tremendous health benefits the article attributed to the pomegranate. This anecdote in particular wowed me:

When her close relative … was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, Ita Rivka was dismayed by the debilitating effects of chemotherapy on his body. Treatment left him weakened, with a fragile immune system and skin stained a pallid yellow. When she heard about the benefits of pomegranates, especially for cancer patients, Ita Rivka requested juice from a London pomegranate juice gemach. Moshe drank two bottles. Within two days, he said he “felt amazing.”

Indeed, GreenMedInfo.com – a popular health website with a database of research and articles, gleaned from mainstream medical journals – describes pomegranates as having over one hundred recorded health benefits!

Pomegranates help with everything from fighting serious viral and bacterial infections to reducing oxidative stress, from inducing programmed cell death in a variety of cancer cells to protecting the skin from photo-aging.

Especially noteworthy is the pomegranate’s ability to support the ovaries as a natural form of ‘hormone replacement therapy,’ especially as one gets older, and its ability to reverse plaque build-up in the arteries (atherosclerosis) – a condition which underlies heart disease. In addition, it has been found that pomegranate can also help Type 2 diabetics.

Pomegranates have also been associated with increasing fertility, helping improve fertility, and benefiting  individuals participating in performance sports.

Pomegranate juice has very high levels of many antioxidants, as well as high levels of Vitamins C & E, folate, potassium, Vitamin K, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and more flavonoids and polyphenols than grapes. According to some scientific research, pomegranate juice raises hemoglobin levels, boosts iron, improves heart health, aids the digestive system, and may fight cancer.

The Weston Price Foundation’s article, Who Needs Soda Pop with these Bodacious Beverages, suggests several ways to enjoy the juice, including fermenting the juice or peels for a delightful beverage, which would make the pomegranate’s already robust health profile even more so.

And, since pomegranate pits are high in fiber, even the pits are good for you.

Pomegranate growingAnother rich source of information about the pomegranate and its importance to both health and Judaic ritual is the wonderful book The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel: With their Mystical and Medicinal Properties, by Chana Bracha Siegelbaum. It is filled with medical and spiritual aspects and recipes related to the Seven Species. Three interesting things I learned about the pomegranate (among many others) are:

  1. In Chinese medicine the peel, bark, and root of the pomegranate are used for healing purposes! (p. 234)
  2. The pomegranate develops from a flower that has the shape of the Star of David, which then takes on the shape of a crown as the fruit grows. In Hebrew the Star of David is known as a Magen David – Shield of David. The pomegranate boosts our immune system and shields us from illness. (p.235)
  3. The crown (כֶּתֶר – keter) of the pomegranate is compared to the Sefira Keter, the highest of the Ten Sefirot or Divine emanations. Keter is the manifestation of our true willpower and a reflection of the Divine will. When we are in touch with our true Divine will then our immune system is strengthened to fight our opponents. (p. 235)

You can remove the pomegranate’s arils without making a mess!

The easiest way to deseed a pomegranate is to score it several times  from top to bottom with a sharp knife, being careful to cut through the peel only, so that you have formed several sections. Cut off the top of the pomegranate to reveal the seeds and throw away the top. Pull the pomegranate apart in sections following the sections defined by the white membrane. You can then turn the pomegranate sections over a bowl, one by one, pull away the membrane and let the seeds drop into the bowl.

Alternatively, cut the pomegranate in half across its equator, turn it over a bowl and bang it with a wooden spoon. The seeds should fall out easily.

If you have more than you need at the time, simply store them in the refrigerator or freezer if you will not be using them shortly.

Whether you are having your pomegranate for a “ new fruit” or one of the simanim this coming Rosh Hashana, you can be sure that you are reaping tremendous blessings – both spiritual and physical.

pomegranate

Books

The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel book coverThe Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel
with their Mystical & Medicinal Properties

by Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Food, Health and Wellness, Israel, Natural Health, Nutrition, Rosh Hashanah, Women's Health Tagged with: , , , , , ,
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