Food Is Not Your Enemy

When Was the Last Time You Ate “Porridge”?

Or have you ever? You may eat oatmeal, farina, and cream of wheat, but something you might call “porridge”? That’s a word we associate with fairy tales.

But in her book “Nourishing Traditions,” Sally Fallon Morell posits that the boxed cold cereals we eat today are basically no better than eating cardboard, and that we need to return to the nourishing, warm, truly whole-grain cereals, i.e. porridge, that previous generations in countries all over the globe consumed on a regular basis. I’ll get into the “traditional breakfast” more in my June newsletter (sign up here, it’s free), but I wanted to share here her recipe (with some minor tweaks from me) for amaranth porridge, which I’ve been cooking up every week lately. I serve it mixed with milk, raisins, walnuts, and maple syrup.

Amaranth Porridge

1 cup of amaranth (a tiny grain available in health food stores or the organic section of your supermarket)

1 cup of warm water plus 2 tablespoons plain yogurt, whey, kefir, or buttermilk (I’ve been using kefir)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Mix the amaranth with the warm water mixture in a pot, cover, and leave in a warm place for at least 7 hours and as long as 24 hours. After it’s soaked, add the salt and an additional 1/2 cup of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes. Serve with any combination of milk/cream, butter, syrup, honey, nuts, ground flaxseeds, and dried fruit.

Serves 3-4.

Pork: Safe or Scary?

First, let’s get this out of the way: You cannot get swine flu from eating pork. The World Health Organization has made this very clear. As for that other cause of pork paranoia, trichinosis, you should have no worries at all about contracting this parasite as long as you cook pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees–which often means the center can be a bit pink (this is good if you want a non-shoe-leather texture). But are there other problems with pork? Check out my latest “Safe or Scary?” column over at AOL’s ParentDish to find out.

The Problem with Acid-Reflux Drugs

Like antibiotics, which doctors will sometimes even prescribe for a cold (caused by a virus, not a bacteria), just to give their patient the sense that they’re doing something to get better, doctors have been overprescribing acid inhibitors in the past few years. And this week, The New York Times published an article indicating a link between these drugs (including Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid) and pneumonia.

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Andrew Weil speak at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition a couple of weeks ago, and he warned about the dangers of using these types of drugs long-term. Suppressing stomach acid is not necessarily a good thing, as our stomach acid is our first defense against foreign microbes. If the acid is suppressed through drugs, it can’t kill off dangerous organisms that may enter our gut (through tainted food, for instance). Dr. Weil offers some alternative treatments for reflux on his Web site, which I urge you to check out if you suffer from this disorder.

In Praise of the Blood Orange
May 21, 2009, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Fruits | Tags: , , ,

My father-in-law regularly flies in from San Diego with a suitcase completely packed with citrus fruits from his garden. Tangerines, lemons, limes, navels, and blood oranges. He brings so many that it takes about a month or so to plow through all the fruit. I finally got to the bottom of the bowl and tried one of the blood oranges.

Wow! When I cut it in half, I gasped. I hadn’t eaten one of these since I was a kid, and didn’t remember a blood orange looking quite this way. It literally looked like a raw, bleeding organ. As I peeled off the tough skin, my hands got soaked in dark red juice. The fruit tasted more like a grapefruit than an orange–I’m not crazy about grapefruits–but I loved eating it all the same. Sometimes the pleasure of food goes beyond the taste alone. I felt very carnivorous eating this orange, and couldn’t help but smile when I looked at myself in the mirror afterwards, as I looked like a “Twilight” vampire who had just made a kill.

Get the Lead Out
May 19, 2009, 1:15 pm
Filed under: Fruits, Vegetables | Tags: , ,

Are you thinking of growing your own vegetables or fruits in your home garden? If so, good for you–you’ll be eating the freshest, most nutrient-packed food around. But if you live in the city or suburbs, be careful.

It turns out that most urban and suburban gardens have lead-contaminated soil. And the lead will end up right where you want it least: in your raspberries, carrots, and herbs.

This article from The New York Times has convinced me to get my backyard soil tested. I’ve long suspected our soil could be contaminated, so we’ve been growing our herbs and tomatoes in pots with nursery potting soil. But I want to know for sure what’s what. And you should too.

Lentil Stew With Greens

This is one of my favorite recipes. It’s a Cretan dish, and comes from an eye-opening book called “The Jungle Effect” by Daphne Miller. Miller is a doctor who researched how the healthiest people in the world eat, and this dish is part of a cuisine eaten by a people who, until the recent influx of American fast food restaurants onto their island, essentially never got heart disease. This is the kind of food that’s at the heart of the Mediterranean diet (as opposed to the unlimited pasta bowl from the Olive Garden). I use kale when I cook this.

1 cup small dark lentils

8 cups chicken stock (or use water)

1 teaspoon salt

1 medium potato, peeled and sliced paper thin

1 cup sliced carrots

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 pound (1 packed quart) leafy greens (such as spinach, dandelion, arugula, kale, beet greens, or a mix)

1/4 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Plain yogurt and lemon wedges for garnish

Wash the lentils. Place the lentils in a saucepan and cover with stock (or water) and salt. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam on top. Add the potato and carrots, partially cover, and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and slowly brown the onions. While the onion is browning, wash, stem, and chop the greens. Add the parsley and garlic to the skillet and saute for a minute or two, then stir in the greens and allow them to wilt, covered.

Scrape the contents of the skillet, including the oil, into the saucepan with lentils. Combine all ingredients, then continue cooking covered for another 20 minutes, or until thick and soupy. Garnish with a drizzle of yogurt and serve with a lemon wedge. Serves 4-6.

Variation: For a thicker soup, use less broth/water and mash some of the lentils and potatoes.

Bread: Safe or Scary?
May 14, 2009, 9:02 am
Filed under: Food/Health Blogs, Grains | Tags: , ,

With the re-emergence of low-carb and no-carb diets in the past decade, bread has become the Voldemort of the food world. We’ve heard that the Food That Shall Not Be Named makes you fat. It’s nutritionally bankrupt. It gives you type 2 diabetes. But is any of this true? Check out my latest “Safe or Scary?” column over at AOL’s ParentDish to find out whether bread is really the villain it’s been made out to be.

Cheerios Not a Wonder Drug After All
May 13, 2009, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Grains | Tags: , , , ,

General Mills, maker of the world’s best-selling cereal, Cheerios, got busted for making claims, in violation of federal law, that Cheerios will lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, according to a warning letter posted on the Food and Drug Administration’s Web site yesterday, as reported by

Turns out there’s insufficient scientific evidence for these grand promises, and the cereal’s packaging and Web site don’t include the mandatory disclaimer which should say that Cheerios will have these effects if eaten in conjunction with an overall healthy diet rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables.

In other words, if your diet consists solely of McDonald’s and Cheerios, your heart disease risk does not decrease.

The warning letter represented the FDA’s first action against a “mainstream food product” in more than nine years and showed the agency is exerting its authority under President Barack Obama, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

This is good news. It’s about time the food industry is taken to task for making these kinds of shaky health claims. Even the most sugary, junk cereals now appear to be healthy based on box messages that tell us all about their “guaranteed whole grains!” The miniscule amount of whole grains added to these cereals does not suddenly negate all the sugar and additives.

While regular Cheerios are totally fine as a breakfast choice, it’s just good to know that the government is putting it out there that Cheerios are a cereal, not a drug.

Lard Is Not the Devil
May 11, 2009, 11:18 am
Filed under: Meat, Oils | Tags: , , , , ,

If there’s one food you should absolutely avoid, it would be lard, right? Straight-up animal fat–what could be worse?

But research (from such institutions as the Harvard School of Public Health) has now shown that saturated animal fats are not nearly as bad as trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils) when it comes to raising your risk of heart disease. In fact, some researchers, such as Sally Fallon Morell of the Weston A. Price Foundation, have concluded that animal fats are actually critical to good health.

All of which means I can now enjoy things like my husband’s homemade pork enchiladas, the recipe for which calls for something like a half a cup of lard, without much worry. One caveat: we bought leaf lard (a.k.a. kidney suet, the fat surrounding a cow’s kidneys, and the stuff that helps make Peter Luger’s steak so unbelievably good) from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats (which we rendered ourselves), and not the box of cheap lard from the supermarket. If you’re going to cook with lard, go for the quality stuff that doesn’t have chemical additives or partially hydrogenated oils added.

Why Americans Are So Overweight
May 8, 2009, 9:18 am
Filed under: Food/Health Blogs | Tags: , , , ,

There are many, many reasons why Americans are so overweight: Huge portions served at restaurants, bigger and bigger bottles of soda sold in stores, and the ready availability of high-calorie fast food everywhere we turn are just some of them. Another, advertising by the food industry, was discussed in the Huffington Post this week. Check out the blog post by Irene Rubaum-Keller, and prepare to be disturbed by the maps showing our country’s rising rates of obesity.