Changes to our eating habits

I am not sure how this whole thing started. It might have something to do with my friend Amy Lee and her Kitchen Wisdom. It could be that I was needing to eat more tofu to stave off the impending hot flashes one gets upon the onset of peri-menopause. I was also looking at ways of losing some of the weight I had gained while working at the old company. It could also be the result of over-indulgence from our recent trip to France.

Meanwhile, Michelle had been doing all this research in ways to improve and optimize her athletic performance. Mostly to stay in shape (rather than to enter a race or some other competitive event). She had already subscribed to various fitness magazines like Oxygen and Shape (as opposed to my Food & Wine, Gourmet, Sunset). She downloaded and/or purchased books like The Truth About Abs, and The Clean Diet, and she is no stranger to protein shakes and vitamins and the likes.

But it wasn’t until I started reading Michael Pollan (“Food Rules”, “In Defense of Food”, and “The Omnivore’s Dilemna”), and and Michelle started reading Brendan Brazier (“The Thrive Diet”), that we decided to alter our eating habits a bit.  I forgot how many “rules” there are in the book “Food Rules” — less than 100, I’m sure — but they were simple and made sense. On a gut level, when I read a rule, I would nod my head and thought, “Yup, of course that made sense”. I don’t remember which rule now, but one said something about eating smaller quantities, most of it vegetables. I like vegetables to begin with, so that was not shocking news by any stretch of the imagination. However, when Michelle started reading excerpts from “The Thrive Diet” to me, there were several things I never thought of. And they also have that gut-level “that makes sense” reaction. I should note that the author (Brendan Brazier) is a ironman athlete who has performed very well over the years (placing 1st or near the top in many events). He is also a vegan. (Although Amy did poopoo the notion that somebody can be a vegan and perform well athletically. Which is exactly the point of his book.)



We had already started to move towards a more veggie-friendly cuisine, when Michelle read yet another book:  The China Study. The book detailed the many studies they conducted, unmistakingly linking nutrition to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even cancer. China had provided the funding for this research, because they could not get the approval for such studies in the United States. It would have brought down the meat and dairy industry, and all the auxiliary industries that service these two western dietary staples:  trucking, butchering, refrigeration, packaging. Millions and millions of dollars would be at stake.

Remember country-western Grammy-winning star, k.d. lang? She was a vegetarian (not a big deal) who spoke against the cattle industry (a very big deal) in her famous “Meat Stinks” promotional video for PETA. (“We all love animals, but why do we call some of them pets and some of them dinner? If you knew how meat was made, you’d probably lose your lunch. I know, I’m from cattle country-that’s why I became a vegetarian. Meat stinks, and not just for animals but for human health and the …”)  All the radio stations banned her songs after that. Even in her hometown in Alberta’s beef country, the proud plaque saying “Home of k.d. lang” was angrily removed. I don’t think she has ever regained any of the former warmth and popularity she once enjoyed.

Ultimately we will never know with 100% absolute and undeniable certainty whether meat (in particular, beef and products containing casein) causes all these ailments. But going on cultural observations (mine, mostly, since I grew up in various countries), and that gut feeling, I would offer that eating less meat is much healthier.

There’s another aspect to this, and that is to reduce our impact on the environment. Vegetables can be grown efficiently in much less space than it would take to raise a herd of cattle. Add to the fact that the methane from cows (I’m not kidding) are further contributing to the ozone hole.

We decided, after reading all these various books, we would try this approach:  our diet will consist of about 80% vegetables and grains and seeds and legumes (in other words, stuff that is not meat), and the other 20% meat. We also decided to incorporate a few items into our everyday diet. The nutritional contents of these items are unbelievable. Some of them can be considered “whole foods”, and have been used in the NASA program.

  • Sea vegetables. This site provides a lot of information about seaweed, as well as a wide variety of products. Or you can purchase seaweed at your local asian market (see previous post called “Kaisou Salad”.) It makes a great snack!
  • Hemp seed, oil, milk. It’s not the same as marijuana (you don’t get high or stupid), although I must admit a sort of delight in throwing that word out as part of our diet. You can find hemp in your local Whole Foods or other health food stores. Or you can get it from Canada.  Hemp oil cannot be cooked at high temperatures, so it’s best to use in salad dressings. It has a nice nutty flavor.
  • Coconut oil, for high-temp cooking. You can find it in any local health food store. Contrary to the image of “oil”, it is actually solid at room temperature.
  • Chlorella, as a supplement, because it is a complete protein and an excellent source of chlorophyl. There is strong supporting evidence (dating as far back as the Stanford studies in th 40s) of its health and healing effects.
  • Tofu. Because I love it. I like it in stir-frys and soups. I even like it in dessert (asian style, with sugar ginger sauce). Get organic, non-GMO, because it’ll taste better, and you’ll feel better buying non-genetically-modified foods.

If I make anything vegetarian yummy, I’ll post the recipes. (I’ll still post “meat” recipes, too. We’re not going vegan anytime soon, if ever.)

Kaisou Salad

 

Nori, geröstete Blätter aus Algen, die vor all...

Image via Wikipedia

 

Kaisou (or sanko) is a mix of sea vegetables (“kelp”, “seaweed”). There are many varieties of sea vegetables on the market, but some of the most well-known are nori, wakame and kombu.

Nori is the most familiar sea vegetable in the U.S.   Nori usually comes in sheets that are paper-thin, and is often used to wrap sushi rolls. Nori starts as small, soft, algae spores that attach themselves to netting on the surface of shallow bays. These spores gradually grow into wavy leaves and are harvested. On shore, the nori is washed, chopped, pressed into thin sheets between mats on wooden frames, and left to dry.  Like all sea vegetables, nori is high in minerals. It also has the highest vitamin A content of all the sea vegetables, but one of the lowest sodium content.

Wakame is a long, dark green, fern-like sea vegetable that grows on the ocean floor. After it is cut and floats to the surface, it is raked together and brought ashore, where it is washed and hung on ropes to dry. Wakame is high in dietary fiber, calcium, iodine, and alginic acid, among other vitamins and minerals. The alginic acid in wakame is said to bond with heavy metals, make them insoluble, and remove them from the body. (I’ve read somewhere that after the Nagasaki bombing, people who ate a strict diet of brown rice and miso soup with sea vegetables did not suffer from radiation poisoning.) Wakame works as a blood-thinning agent, so people taking anti-coagulating medications should avoid it. Wakame is used mainly in soups and salads. You can find wakame salad on the menu at most Japanese restaurants.

Kombu is a ribbon-like, dark green, leafy plant that grows to around three feet high on the ocean floor in shallow water. After the leaves are cut and brought ashore, they are folded and dried in the sun. Dried kombu is used in simmered dishes and soup stock, although I’ve seen kombu candy sold in Asian food markets. Kombu is high in alginic acid, dietary fiber, iodine, and calcium. It is also high in glutamic acid, the ingredient that researchers found to be kombu’s natural flavor enhancer (from which the synthetic form of monosodium glutamate was developed).

These three sea vegetables have been used in Japan and Korea for centuries to lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood pressure, cleanse the blood, and treat hypothyroid conditions. Because of their extremely high mineral content, they can be consumed in small quantities, usually as a side dish or as a supplemental ingredient in the main dish.

I stumbled upon this package of kansou salad (the only English I could find on the package was on the “Nutrition Facts” sticker). The ingredients were “dried seaweed, snow fungus, and agar agar”. I grew up eating agar agar in various, often pretty, gelatinous treats. Interestingly, the sticker listed 0% of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. It also listed sodium at 20% though…yipes.

That did not stop me from trying to make a very delicious kansou salad. I looked up recipes for wakame salad, but opted to leave out the sugar (1 teaspoon if you wanted to add it.)

First, soak a handful of the dried sea vegetable in a bowl of warm water for about 7 minutes.

Then, shake vigorously in a jar:

3 Tablespoon seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds (I toasted them first)
1 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes

After draining the kansou, I removed excess water by patting the seaweed down on a couple of sheets of paper towel. (I also cut them up into smaller strips because the kombu and wakame were pretty big). Then I tossed in the vinegar mixture and mixed it up  well. It was a delicious and nutritious treat to make in a very short amount of time!