When I was in school to become a registered dietitian, the focus was on the tangible, measurable and researchable aspects of nutrition. Modern “evidence-based nutrition” reigned king while traditional wisdom was held suspect if not scoffed at altogether. Real food was scarcely discussed. The extent of the conversation on food was, “People need 1000-1200 mg of calcium per day. The best source of calcium is skim milk.” I am grateful to know the hard science of nutrition and the inner workings of the human body. I am equally thankful that my educational journey took me down another path: through self-discovery, amazing mentors and experimentation in the kitchen, I continue to gain an appreciation for the mysteriously synergistic way food works in the body to promote health.
Our ancestors understood, without relying on anything more than observation, that particular foods or combinations of foods conveyed certain health benefits. The example that strikes me most profoundly is fermented foods. Every traditional culture in the world has several examples of these cultured foods. Born of necessity to preserve food through the winter, fermentation was essential to our ancestors’ survival. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, cultured milk products (kefir, cheese, yogurt), soured grain porridge, and tempeh transformed fresh food from the summer and fall harvests into edible sustenance that lasted months.
The magic behind this metamorphosis is lactic acid fermentation. Lactic acid bacteria are present in the air and on most surfaces. When these bacteria begin to “eat” the naturally occurring sugars and carbohydrates in raw food, they give off lactic acid. Lactic acid inhibits other bacteria that cause food to spoil. Along with this very practical role, it is lactic acid that confers the many health benefits of fermented foods. Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, says,
“The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti carcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”
Fermented vegetables, such as cabbage in the case of sauerkraut and kimchi, have an increased activity of vitamin C and vitamin A. Phytic acid is a compound present in legumes, nuts, whole grains and some vegetables. It binds to important minerals, preventing their absorption in the body. Fermentation drastically reduces the phytic acid content of these foods, allowing calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc to be absorbed in the intestine. Dairy products that have undergone lactic acid fermentation have increased levels of folic acid, an essential nutrient in producing healthy babies, as well as other B vitamins. Fermented foods also have increased digestibility, can improve intestinal health, immunity, and reduce inflammation within the body.
The delights of fermented foods go beyond keeping our guts healthy. Just ask “fermentation guru” Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation. In a recent article in the New York Times, Katz swoons over kimchi and miso and touts the culinary importance of good bacteria. No other process can replicate the complexity of flavors imparted by bacteria and its byproducts during fermentation. Sharp cheese and crusty sourdough bread are two common products of fermentation that simply cannot be improved upon. We are lucky in Portland, because on November 14, Mr. Katz himself will be giving a fermentation demonstration and talk at Powell’s Books.
At Nourish Northwest, we have a couple of fermentation projects of our own going. Our kombucha mother dutifully transforms a sweetened tea mixture into a vinegary, effervescent, probiotic beverage.
Kefir grains eat away at milk sugars, producing a viscous, yeasty, tangy drink that is good on its own or blended with fruit.
Modern science is beginning to catch up with what traditional wisdom has known for centuries. Recent studies investigate probiotic (beneficial bacteria that results from fermentation) effects on immunity, intestinal health, mood, brain function, and many other health conditions. I don’t need to wait for the evidence to be conclusive; sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and yogurt speak louder to my taste buds (and my gut) than any scientific study ever will.
This month has been deemed National Childhood Obesity Awareness month by President Barack Obama. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, as I have spent the past two years working at a pediatric obesity clinic, in Louisville, Kentucky. I worked as a Registered Dietitian, providing nutrition counseling to families and teaching cooking classes to kids. I would like to share some of my experiences from the time I spent there.
I arrived at my first day of work, anxious and excited. I had spent the previous year also working with obese children in Olympia, WA, so I felt well-equipped for the job I was about to begin. I quickly realized that nothing could have prepared me for the challenges I would face. My first client was our youngest, and 18-month old boy, whose weight gain was a mystery to doctors, but seemed to stem from the result of a vicious custody battle between his parents. Later in the day I would meet a five year old with hypertension, who was on a rampage running around our clinic trying to find food. When he finally found an orange, he sunk his teeth into it, skin and all. “Come on,” his mother yelled at him. “We’re going to McDonald’s.” My first day ended with a fourteen year old boy, morbidly obese, who discussed his struggles of being bullied at school and his home life, where he had to act as a caretaker for a family member.
I continued to work with these families, and several others, week after week. Each client brought with them their own unique set of challenges, that were direct results and/or contributors of their weight gain. I saw everything, from the parent who blamed their two year old for his weight (“It’s not my fault he eats all the chips!”) to the motivated teenage girl who played an active role in helping her local community to learn how to prepare nutritious meals. I met with the family of an autistic boy, who had only eaten chicken nuggets and fries his whole life, and would run from the room if he saw a vegetable. I counseled the single mother who worked the night shift and her child had to rely on school meals and frozen dinners. I met with so many families, day after day, and I found it hard to believe that I hadn’t already reached the whole population of obese children in Louisville. But new patients just kept coming in.
The consequences of childhood obesity are numerous. On an individual level, the child may face an early diagnosis of a chronic health condition, such as Diabetes, fatty liver, or high blood pressure. He may have to take several daily medications, including insulin injections. He may have trouble sleeping, because he can’t breathe properly. She most likely suffers from asthma and joint pain. She probably gets bullied by her peers and may be suffering from depression. On a broader level, the community has increased taxes to pay for her hospital and doctors visits.
I saw many sad things while I was in Kentucky but the most heartbreaking were the families who were extremely motivated to make healthy changes, while the child’s weight continued to escalate. They felt as though everything was against them and no matter what they did, they were unable to be successful.
Throughout the past few years, many efforts have been made to find a solution to this problem, including the recent soda ban by Mayor Bloomburg. But the question remains, how do we solve this problem? The answer is so complex, as obesity is a multi-factorial problem. It involves access to healthy food, government subsidies, parenting, increased video game and screen time, lack of funding for community resources, lack of access to mental health resources, lack of funding in schools for PE and healthy foods, lack of time for physicians to provide nutrition counseling, junk food advertising to kids… the list goes on and on.
Since, moving to Portland 5 months ago, the problem of childhood obesity has only crossed my mind a handful of times and the stories of these families are becoming vague memories. Portland is fortunate to have access to a plethora or healthy resources, including co-ops, healthier school food options, and outdoor activities, to name a few. Like many parts of the country, Portland’s residents are aware that there is an obesity epidemic but may not directly see the effects of it. I commend the President and the First Lady for their efforts in bringing awareness to this topic, because it really is something that effects each and every one of us in this country on some level, even if we don’t see it on a daily basis.
Guest post by Jamie Dresselhaus, Yoga Instructor at Nourish Northwest
People are always asking me: “How many calories do you think I burn during yoga classes?” And I often censor my response and dumb it down by saying, “Well, you probably worked off about a meal’s worth of calories.” But the truth is I don’t know that. You might have burned off your morning coffee and you might have burned off everything you ate all day. If we are strictly talking about calories it depends on your height, weight, age, metabolism, blood type and so many other factors including the time of day, how tired you are and how hot it is.
While Yoga is a huge boon to personal fitness it serves so much more than to simply burn calories. What people are often not told about yoga is that the postures and the flows actually serve a purpose. A simple Sun Salutation A will begin to stimulate your body on a much more subtle and much more important level. While it builds strength, a simple upward dog with a gaze up at the sky is stretching out the front line of your intestines and opening the circulation through the throat and chest. Your thyroid and pituitary glands (centers of metabolism and hormones) are stimulated and thus begin to more efficiently regulate your body. The other postures in the series serve to move the blood and circulation and oxygen in the body as well as to lubricate and warm the joints. Movement of the spine in all directions, side to side, forwards and backwards, twisting right and left stimulates your organs and your digestion. Rolling over your toes stimulates pressure points in the body such as the kidney and the gall bladder and even the urinary tract.
More still, the simple act of doing something that requires your attention and focus on how your body works and moves in space at any given time requires that you build awareness and understanding of your body and yourself. While yoga lengthens and strengthens to support our daily range of motion and build lean muscle mass (which increases our metabolism) it also demands our attention. The more we give our attention to what is going on in our body the more we tune into what we really need. Maybe we don’t want to eat that second helping because it doesn’t feel good afterwards. Maybe we want to eat a salad instead of a 4 pieces of bread because twisting in your yoga class tomorrow always feels better on a lighter stomach. Maybe we aren’t hungry at all and we’re just eating because it’s there.
Making shapes with our bodies that require us to concentrate on not falling over also strengthens our attention span and mental acuity. Add to all this, breathing through the challenge of the postures and paying attention to how we get our fullest and most energizing breath and pretty soon you might begin to notice that your everyday breathing might become lighter and easier when faced with challenges outside of your yoga classes. Maybe your asthma starts to diminish.
As we learn to listen to how we feel instead of how we look we might start to look the way we feel. At the heart of yoga is the desire for all beings to have a deep and meaningful understanding of themselves and how they feel and operate best. And pretty soon you might just find that the more you pay attention to what’s on the inside the more you start to shine on the outside.
I often tell students that all the postures in yoga are really just “stupid human tricks.” That the postures happen over time and the point isn’t to do everything perfectly. It is to enjoy the process of being who you are what that means and how that feels on and off the yoga mat. But don’t rely on me. Hit the mat and discover what works for yourself.
We went peach picking on Sauvie Island last weekend, and signs of summer were everywhere: kids being towed in wagons through the orchard, families picnicking under shaded tables, abundant ripe produce from local farms, and most of all, the sunshine.
As we walked the rows, hunting for the perfect peach, we noted that there were more peaches on the ground than there were on the trees. The peach-littered ground and the vinegary smell of fermented fruit reminded us that we are in the last days of summer and that this is our last chance to take advantage of the Pacific Northwest’s late summer harvest.
These peaches were picked ripe, so cooking them seemed like a shame. As delicious as they were whole and unadulterated, we wanted to dress them up. Fresh sliced peaches with a dollop of lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream is hard to beat. Unless that’s sandwiched between two molasses-flecked short cakes. We made these in our Summer Bounty cooking class and they were a success! We love that the cream mixture is unsweetened and lets the sweet, ripe peaches really show off.
For a couple of ingredients in this recipe, I make my own. Unless you have buttermilk around, make your own by mixing 1 cup of reduced fat milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. You really just need the buttermilk for its acid content in the shortcakes (it reacts with the baking soda to help them puff up), and the lemon juice or vinegar does the trick. For brown sugar, I follow the theKitchn’s advise, and mix molasses with evaporated cane juice. You can make this as you need it, it never forms hard clumps, and you can control how dark your brown sugar is. Store it in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
(Adapted from eatingwell.com)
Makes 8 shortcakes
5 cups sliced ripe peaches (4-5 peaches)
2 tablespoons (or less, depending on how sweet the peaches are) packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbs chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 Tbs coconut oil
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp water
1 tablespoon raw cane sugar, such as Demerara or turbinado (optional)
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup sour cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
- To prepare fruit: Toss peaches with 2 tablespoons brown sugar in a medium bowl and set aside, stirring occasionally to help dissolve the sugar.
- To prepare shortcakes: Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place white whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a food processor; pulse to combine. Add butter and oil and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add buttermilk and vanilla. Process until the dough comes together.
- Using a rubber spatula, transfer the dough to a floured surface. Knead several times so the dough comes together. Pat the dough into an approximate 6-by-12-inch rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick. Cut out 6 rounds with a 3-inch biscuit cutter (or cookie cutter) dipped in flour; press it straight down without twisting so the shortcakes will rise evenly when baked. Pat the remaining dough back into a 6-by-3-inch oval and cut out 2 more biscuits. Place the shortcakes on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with water and sprinkle with raw sugar (if using).
- Bake the shortcakes until the bottoms are golden brown and the tops are beginning to color, 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly.
- To prepare topping: Beat cream in a medium bowl with an electric mixer or whisk until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Fold in sour cream until combined.
- To serve, split the shortcakes horizontally. Spoon the peaches and juice onto the bottoms, top with the cream mixture and replace the shortcake tops. Serve immediately.
It’s that time of year again already and somehow it always seems to come too soon. Time to buy your Trapper Keeper, set your alarm clock and start planning out your first day of school outfit. That’s right… the big yellow bus is coming around to pick you up soon.
For many parents this once again raises the challenge of how to ensure their kids are getting adequate nutrition and meals that they will enjoy. As a registered dietitian, I have spent the past few years working with children, and I know how difficult this can be. Many children rely on free or reduced school breakfast and lunch to provide their nutrition. While it is possible to eat a healthy diet at school, this can take careful planning. Many school districts post their menus and nutrition information online. Reviewing the menu with your child ahead of time and guiding them towards making the healthier choices can be beneficial.
When your family is deciding on the best option for meals. It often comes down to your child’s food preferences. There’s no sense in sending your child with a meal they are going to trade away for a Twinkie. If packing lunch is an option for your family, the most important thing you can do is involve your children in the process. Take them to the grocery store with you. Bring them to the produce section and let them pick out the fruits and veggies they would like to bring to school. Also involve them in the preparation. It is a good idea to pack lunch the night before, as mornings can be a hectic time.
When thinking about what to put in a lunch, you want to make sure to include a whole grain, fruit or vegetable and lean protein. Avoid those sugary beverages, such as sodas, juice boxes, flavored milk and sports drinks. Water is all they need. The occasional treat is okay but dessert in lunch doesn’t need to be an everyday thing. Get creative! Kids like things cut in different shapes or in bite size pieces. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Mini Chicken Breast Sandwich on whole wheat roll
- Turkey breast on a whole wheat pita, filled with lettuce, sliced cucumbers and red peppers
- Snack pack: 1 string cheese, 8 whole grain crackers, 1 cup of grapes, 4 celery sticks with nut butter
- Banana rolled up in whole wheat tortilla, spread with nut butter
- Fruit Kabobs with yogurt dipping sauce