Archive for Food Theory

All About Wheat: Gluten and How It Helps Bread Rise

Gluten is a controversial subject these days, so lets start with the basics and move on from there. Gluten is protein found in wheat. (Some other grains have very similar proteins which for convenience are also referred to as ‘gluten’.)

This protein creates the gluey texture of flour mixed with water. As the gluten is developed in bread dough (usually by kneading, though sometimes through allowing a wet dough to sit for long periods of time as in Jim Lahey’s 24 hour bread) it creates the elasticity of the dough.

It is these gluey, elastic fibers of gluten that hold the bread together and trap the small bubbles of ‘air’ (gases created in the dough, usually by yeast) that create the lightness and fluffiness of a good piece of bread. The developed gluten also contributes to the chewiness of the bread fibers around those air pockets.

I have never found a really good explanation of the difference between the actions of yeast and the actions of baking soda or powder, and why one requires the development of gluten more than the other, but here are the differences as best I understand. (If anyone has more complete information please comment and let me know!)

Yeast works slowly, releasing the ‘air’ bubbles over time. A developed gluten (kneaded or very long rising dough) holds those bubbles in as they develop and contributes to the more solid and chewy texture we expect from yeast breads. Insufficiently developed gluten will allow these bubbles to escape or merge, creating a denser bread with larger and less regular holes, instead of an even textured spongy network of holes.

Baking soda (and baking powder, which is baking soda mixed with an activating agent) works very quickly. The undeveloped gluten holds the batter together, but isn’t needed to trap bubbles, as the dough or batter is generally mixed and baked immediately as the bubbles are forming. The lack of developed gluten allows the texture to be softer and more tender than the chewier yeast breads. (This is why biscuit and muffin recipes warn against over mixing, to prevent accidental development of the gluten.)

In my next installment of this series I’ll tackle some of the more controversial aspects of gluten, allergies and digestion.

All About Wheat: Three Parts of the Grain

I want to do a series of quick posts talking about different types of flour that I use, but I realized that before I do that I should probably do a series of posts talking about wheat berries and gluten and such, to make sure my terms are clear for the rest of my posts.

So, let’s start with the basics.

Wheat is a grain. The part we eat is the seed of the plant. If you were to buy wheat in order to grind your own whole wheat flour, what  you would get is called wheat berries. The wheat berry has already had the inedible, grassy husk removed, but the entire edible part of the seed is still intact.

That wheat berry is made up of three parts (you could think of them as layers, though they are only partially arranged that way): the bran, the germ and the endosperm.

Wheat bran is the outer covering of the wheat berry, and contains fiber, a range of minerals, a bit of protein, and phytic acid. (When not properly neutralized by soaking, or through being digested at the same time as vitamin C rich roods, the phytic acid blocks the absorption of minerals in the digestive tract.)

Wheat germ is the smallest part of the wheat berry, but has the highest concentration of nutrients, including quite a smattering of vitamins and minerals and some fiber (though less fiber than the bran). It also contains more protein per gram than the wheat bran does.

Endosperm is the starchy center of the wheat berry, which contains much fewer nutrients than the bran or the germ, but the gluten which is so helpful for getting bread to hold together. (More on gluten in a later post.)

Stay tuned for further thrilling updates about the composition of wheat and various flours!

My Kind of Healthy Food List

Depending on your level of interest in in depth discussions of nutrition, you may or may not want to read this blog post by Nourishing Gourmet about Weston Price’s travels and studies. I enjoyed it, but then I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to such things (no, wait, hang on… actually I’m a lot of a nerd about almost everything).

The part I want to bring to your attention is the pdf of nutrient dense foods she links to near the end of the post. There are several nutrients which Weston Price found to be especially important for health, and this pdf lists the foods which are most dense in each of those nutrients (that is, out of commonly available foods in America).

My favorite part of this list is how few vegetables are on it. Don’t get me wrong, I think vegetables are good for you. (Holistic Squid points out almost in passing some of the pros and cons of vegetables in this post. )

Fresh and fermented fruits and vegetables are the superstars of cleansing and detoxing, which is why most Americans feel so much better when they start eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Many people need that kind of detoxing power.

But  most people also can’t live on green smoothies forever. I have a personal preference for animal proteins and fats (as in I think I might die if I had to become a vegan), but they also rank high on this list of Weston Price super foods.

Based on this list, a diet high in sea foods (such as salmon, trout, tuna, oysters and sardines) and dairy (especially raw, pastured dairy) will give you a lot of the most important vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy diet. Bone broth, organ meats (in addition to chicken, beef and pork), fermented cod liver oil and eggs also rate high on several of the sections of this list.)

Meat and dairy are the kinds of super foods I can get behind!

For optimal digestion you’re going to also need some fermented foods (kombucha, water kefir, sauerkraut, fermented ketchup… there are plenty of options) and some fiber, which I prefer to get from a combination of whole grains (preferably soaked) and vegetables.

Once again it all seems to boil down to eating a variety of real foods prepared in a variety of ways. Discovering new, cool super foods can be a fun way to add to that variety, but don’t get so caught up in what’s cool in the health food world right now that you neglect the old standbys of simple, real food.

 

Living Seasonally

I tend to lean toward the idea of seasonal eating. Not only is more economical to eat the foods that are available in abundance at the moment, but I keep hearing more and more to support the idea that we are designed to live life cyclically.

Our bodies naturally want to detox at the change of season, especially the beginning of spring (when detoxing greens start to grow) and the end of fall (often the last of easily available fresh vegetables before settling in for the winter.

Some say that our bodies naturally want to sleep longer in the winter (longer nights, less light) and be awake longer in the summer.

A friend was even telling me yesterday that our vitamin D levels are meant to cycle through the year, peaking in the summer as we store up enough sunshine vitamin to keep us going through the darker days of winter, and diminishing over the course of the winter as we use up those extra stores.

This winter I have used this idea as a guideline in my produce purchases. I have purchased very little lettuce, and at least half of our vegetables have been root vegetables, squash and just generally those which would easily store over a good portion of the winter even before refrigeration and chest freezers (which oddly enough, includes tomatoes). We have still eaten salads on occasion when eating with friends and family, and in one spurt after Christmas when greens sounded good to both of us, but they’ve been a very minimal part of our diet.

It makes sense to me that lighter foods and more fresh vegetables are meant for a time of energy and light in the summer and denser, possibly richer, foods are meant for curling up and keeping warm (and maybe catching up on that sleep we didn’t get in the longer days of summer).

But this always leads me to questions of seasonal living that go beyond our diets. If the dense and carb rich foods of winter are meant for energy to keep warm and thrive through the rigors of winter, what does central heat do to this equation?

Having had surgery twice this January I very much appreciate the fact that I was able to relax in a warm room and let my body focus on recovery and healing without having to also expend a lot of energy on staying warm, and modern technology is clearly a blessing in situations of recovery and healing.

I wonder, though, how to balance an appreciation for the comforts of life that allow us to expend energy on striving for goals beyond just survival with the idea that our bodies were meant to cycle through the seasons rather than being completely insulated from the changes in weather and earth.

So far I just try to reach for a sweater and a pair of socks before I reach for the thermostat on a chilly day, but if I’m still cold, I go ahead and bump up the thermostat without regrets.

 

Inconsistent?

Breakfast: juice made from organic apples and organic carrots

Morning Snack: Ezekiel bread with butter and molasses

Lunch: Aldi frozen pizza (with a side of salad made from organic greens and sprouts, craisins and organic peppercorn ranch dressing)

Yep, that’s how we roll. Organic whole grains, sprouts, turbinado sugar, and then bam, mixed right in with the acceptable healthy foods we’ll fix some white pasta, or go out for ice cream or something else equally shocking.

Some people would consider this to be inconsistent. It doesn’t take long of reading comments on real food blogs to realize that some people consider any single mouthful of food that wasn’t made from 100% organic ingredients, Weston Price approved (or Paleo approved, or raw, depending on your flavor of healthy eating) counts a failure and a debit against all the health they’ve built up by eating real, healthy food.

But it is not my goal in life to eat a 100% organic diet (nor am I really interested in choking down whatever the current cool super food is just to pile up more generic ‘health’ in my life).

Most of the time, it is most consistent with my overall goals of keeping our grocery budget reasonable and eating on overall balanced diet to cook our meals from scratch, and when I am cooking, I want to use the best ingredients I can to provide a combination of maximum nutrition and maximum flavor.

Sometimes other life goals are more applicable to the moment, such as spending as much free time as possible with my husband, keeping my stress levels down or focusing on whatever my current important project is.  In those cases, it is completely consistent with my overall goals to throw in a frozen pizza.

How about you? Are your food choices more consistent with your goals in life, or with someone else’s idea of what frugal/healthy/trendy eating should look like? Or do you just coast and eat whatever’s easiest without thinking about how food fits in with your goals?

Carmine Coloring in Yoplait: Why I Don’t Mind Bugs in My Yogurt

I heard something shocking on the internet recently. I heard that Yoplait yogurt stopped coloring their strawberry yogurt with nasty chemicals and started coloring it with a more natural substance derived from bugs. BUGS! In our food!

Now, it seems that some pretty nasty chemicals can be used in the process of removing this natural coloring from the bugs, and in addition, some people have allergic reactions to this coloring. But that’s not what people are all worked up about. As far as I can tell, everyone is upset, because eating bugs is gross.

Seriously?

People out there who are concerned about healthy eating are taking up valuable time and using up what short attention spans the public has for health concerns in order to announce ‘don’t eat this, it’s gross’.

There are plenty of healthy foods that most people are grossed out by. Fermented cod liver oil. Liver. Brussel sprouts. And when it comes to those things we say things like, ‘you should try it, you’ll get used to it, it’s not so bad, it’s all in how you fix it’.

I think one of the really important things about eating healthy is being willing to have a spirit of adventure in trying new foods and new ways of eating foods and especially new ways of cooking those foods, since cooking more foods at home makes eating healthy simpler and less expensive.

So why are we going around undermining that spirit of adventure by telling people not to eat food that we think is gross?

And honestly, if you don’t want to eat bugs, I’m okay with that. Sometimes, on a personal level, there are certain kinds of grossness that it’s very hard to get past, and it may not be worth the energy to even try. That was how I felt about trying frog’s legs. I ate one, it tasted fine, but it was just too weird looking for me to really be able to enjoy it.

If you don’t want to eat bugs, don’t eat them. Just save the public outcry for real problems that actually matter.

So, Yoplait, I really appreciate the effort that you’re putting into revising your products to fit better into a natural and healthy lifestyle. I don’t think the carmine coloring is as much of an improvement as I would like it to be, but please don’t go back to the nasty chemical colors. Speaking for myself, I’m perfectly fine with eating yogurt that’s colored with bugs, I just want some way of knowing that your new bug coloring is actually eliminating the nasty chemicals instead of just introducing a new form of nasty chemicals.

For everyone else, I have a thought: try something new today. Make a new recipe, or buy a new ingredient you’ve never cooked with before, or at least order that dish at the restaurant that looks interesting but you’re always afraid won’t be as good as your regular order. Maybe it’s not that great, but it might just be spectacular, and it’s time to find out.

Other Fall Cleansing and Detoxifying Ideas (Part 4)

In parts one, two and three of this series on fall cleansing ideas, I talked about foods that are specifically in season in the fall, and natural detoxifying effects that come from eating these seasonal foods. To finish up I’m going to mention a few general ideas for detoxifying that could be used year round, but may be helpful to incorporate into any fall cleanse you want to do.

Daily Detox Teas/Green Tea/Herbal Teas

I don’t know enough about different detox tea blends to suggest a specific one, but I know there are plenty out there that claim to be effective while being gentle enough for daily use. I suggest either buying from a brand you trust or reading labels and doing some research on ingredients. Personally, I would avoid anything that claims weight loss benefits unless you’re comfortable with all the ingredients listed, just because weight loss products are often more formulated for hype than good health and true detoxing.

You could also choose a single ingredient tea that encourages cleansing, such as green tea (which speeds up the liver and increases production of detoxifying enzymes), dandelion root tea (flush toxins and promotes healing) or tulsi, also known as holy basil (antibacterial, anti viral, anti fungal, supports the liver and is anti-inflammatory).

And if it’s not cold enough yet in your area for you to enjoy a nice hot cup of tea, you could make cold brewed tea latte (preferably honey sweetened) to make your daily dose of detoxification a little more enjoyable.

Lemon

Lemons may not technically be a year round fruit, but they do come very close, ripening continually in different parts of the country from fall through late spring.

Lemons are another food infamous for detoxifying, popular uses being to put lemon juice in a mug of hot water every morning (yum?) and the master cleanse/lemonade diet. I suggest incorporating lemon into your diet a little more naturally by making this natural gatorade (don’t forget you can add a pinch of ginger!) or at least adding  a tea bag and drizzle of honey to your morning hot water and lemon.

Also, the peel of the lemon probably contains a lot more detoxifying properties than the juice, so consider sprinkling lemon zest across your salad or meat (or pasta, for that matter, if you’re not doing an intensive cleanse) to activate more detoxification enzymes in your liver.

Detox Baths

Simply adding 1 cup of epsom salts, 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup of baking soda, 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide or 2-4 TBSP fresh grated or powdered ginger, or some combination of the above, to your warm bath water can help draw toxins out of your body through your skin.

Fall Cleansing and Detoxifying Foods, Part 3

For more information see parts one and two of this series.

Ginger

Ginger could be considered a year round food, but it is often harvested in the fall, so you may be able to find very fresh ginger more easily at this time of year.

While not necessarily directly involved in detoxifying the body, ginger does two things that make cleanses more effective in general.  First, it has a warming effect, tending to boost metabolism and body temperature, which makes your body more energetic in general and creates a less friendly environment for toxins. Second, it improves digestion, which makes elimination of the toxins quicker and more efficient, as well as allowing the body to absorb  other nutrients and detoxifying foods more effectively.

You can use fresh ginger to make tea, run a knob of ginger through your juicer with your other produce, grate a small amount into your smoothie or add some to your bath for a detox bath. You can also use powdered ginger in any of the above uses, as well as general baking. Or add a large pinch of powdered ginger to this natural electrolyte drink recipe, to make a ginger tonic that one of my sisters uses often to boost her metabolism (and relieve female cramping).

Grapes

Grapes are so popular as a detox food, that there is an entire detox diet that consists of nothing but grapes. They are high in antioxidants, and stimulate the cleansing action of the liver. Do note that grapes are on the dirty dozen list (meaning, they contain some of the most pesticides of any produce available) so organic grapes might be more effective at helping you get rid of toxins without just introducing more into your system.

I wouldn’t recommend a grape exclusive diet, but eating plenty of grapes or raisins as snacks would be one simple way to boost your detoxification. (You could even mix those raisins with some pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries for a super detoxifying trail mix.)

Carrots

Like ginger, carrots could be considered a year round vegetable, but are often harvested most heavily in the fall.

Because of the amount of fiber they contain, carrots are a good addition to any colon cleanse, but in addition they are particularly well suited to absorb excess hormones out of the body for expulsion. Also, particularly when eaten first thing in the morning, they help expel intestinal worms. (If a couple of raw carrots first thing in the morning doesn’t sound appealing to you, you might try starting your day with some carrot/apple juice for this effect.)

For cleanses, carrots are best eaten raw. You might snack on them with some homemade french onion dip, add them to juices, add them to your coleslaw or green salad, or even try fermenting them for a double cleansing whammy.

 

Fall Cleansing and Detoxifying Foods, Part 2

See Part 1, here.

Broccoli and other Cruciferous Vegetables

Okay, cruciferous vegetables get complicated, so here’s the quick version: If they’re cooked, they lose the enzymes that stimulate the liver and help detoxify the body (though based on some comments in this study, I think cooked vegetables were used, so likely cooking the veggies only partially changes the effect).

If they’re raw, they may block iodine absorption, causing hypothyroid in those with low thyroid tendencies (though again, this may be a bit exaggerated, as if you have plenty of iodine in your diet to start with, it may not harm your thyroid at all to have some of the iodine blocked).

Fermented cruciferous veggies (such as kimchi and sauerkraut) get the best of both worlds with the full benefit of raw enzymes, but no iodine blocking effect. The downside here is that most people find it difficult to eat large amounts of sauerkraut or other fermented cruciferious veggies on a daily basis.

My recommendation: Include cruciferous vegetables in your diet however you like them best, ideally with some combination of all three methods: cooked, raw and fermented. Your body will probably tell you which way it’s getting the nutrients it needs the most at the moment, simply by how much you enjoy eating them compared to other methods of preparation. If you’re particularly aiming at detox though, you might want to focus in on the raw and fermented versions of these veggies.

Side note: This article claims that because of the enhanced liver function after eating these vegetables “if you eat a lot of these healthy vegetables you’d actually have to drink more coffee to get the same buzz because your liver is so revved up.” I’m pretty sure this is similar to the reason Captain America can’t get drunk because his body processes alcohol so quickly, therefore broccoli clearly give you superpowers.

In case you were wondering, besides broccoli, you can get the benefits of these cruciferous vegetables from eating cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, rutabegas, turnips,kohlrabi and others even including horseradish! Most cruciferous vegetables, including all the ones listed above, grow best in the cooler seasons, so are plentiful in the fall.

 

Fall Cleanse and Detoxification Ideas, Part 1

As I mentioned in this post, the slow fade of Fall into Winter is a time when our bodies naturally tend to prepare for the coming colder weather by getting rid of accumulated toxins, and some of the Fall produce helps to encourage this natural inclination.

Over the next couple of days I’m going to point out some of the Fall foods that help encourage the gentle cleansing (some of which you may not have even thought of as seasonal foods), possibly along with some other non-seasonal ideals for daily or gentle detoxification.

Apples

Apples are very notable in their ability to absorb and help eliminate toxins. Not only does a high pectin content generally absorb toxins and move them out of the body, and encourage the flushing of the liver and gallblader, but both the pectin and the glucaric acid content may help the body to specifically get rid of heavy metals and estrogen like chemicals.

You can go to any lengths you like in embracing the cleansing effect of apples, from eating nothing but raw apples for two days, to including apples in a fresh juice blend (whether as part of a cleanse or just morning glass of juice), to just following the ‘apple a day’ adage.

Pumpkin

While I have found only the vaguest hints that pumpkin might help in detoxifying, I did discover that pumpkin seeds are included in a lot of parasite cleanse blends. If you buy any whole pumpkins, consider saving and roasting the seeds to snack on.

Cranberries
 Cranberry juice, and to some extent cranberry in other forms, is well known for it’s effectiveness in treating bladder infections, but you may not realize that cranberries help to cleanse the whole urinary system, including the kidneys.

Similarly to apples, you can do an intensive cranberry juice cleanse, throw a handful of cranberries in your morning smoothie, or simply have a glass of cranberry-apple juice, a handful of dried cranberries, or a serving of homemade cranberry sauce. (Note that the more refined sugar you have with your cranberries the less effective the cleansing action will be overall.)

Stay tuned for more ideas tomorrow!

 

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