Whey Cool: Tasty Bacterias [Real Food Series]

IMG_3309

Yes, I really did title that Tasty Bacterias. Happy little tasty bacterias. Ok, so now that I have officially grossed you out…let me use a more politically correct word for these happy little dudes. Probiotics. There, now do you feel the warm and fuzzy feelings. Maybe “hey I’ve heard those are good for you”?? They are all the rage. Yogurt, Kombucha, Kefir, Lacto-Fermented Salsa, Sauerkraut…have you heard these things floating around the internet? Well, I thought I would help you break it down.

Fermentation is an age old art. You probably eat and drink more fermented things than you think you are. Beer and wine? Yup, fermented. I’m not going to go into the whole beer and wine making story (sorry) as its a bit beyond my knowledge right now. I just wanted to reduce your fear of the word fermentation.

What is Fermentation?

We’re going to focus on fruits and vegetables in this post. Before the days of freezers and canning jars, people used a method of food preservation called lacto-fermentation. In a nutshell, it is a process by which “starches and sugars in vegetable and fruit are converted into lactic acid  by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria” (from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon).  Lactic acid is a natural preservative and kills off any of the bad bacteria. There is  bad bacteria, and we don’t want to mess with those. However, if you follow proper instructions and take care to observe your ferments, you should never have an issue with bad bacteria! The good bacteria in the spotlight here is called lactobacilli  and is present on the surface of all living things. By the process of lacto-fermentation you are basically giving these bacteria an idea environment for them to thrive and proliferate. From Nourishing Traditions “The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestability and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances.” The lactic acid they produce keeps the produce perfectly preserved as well as promotes healthy gut flora formation.

What is Needed to Lacto-Ferment something?

As complicated as it sounds to ferment something, it is really not. In your very very basic recipe you will see fresh produce (organic only), salt and filtered water. Many recipes will call for the addition of whey which is a starter culture that helps your ferment along. With the addition of whey we can reduce the amount of salt needed so you will end up with a less salty and in my opinion, better tasting product. Whey is already rich in lactic acid and lactobacilli so it reduces the amount of time you need to ferment your produce as well as acts as in inoculent for any bad bacteria that might be trying to linger around. We will get to talk about whey in a minute. For now, the rest of what you need is some wide mouth mason jars, lids and wooden spoons. There are specialized containers designed for fermenting that you can purchase, but I have yet to do so.

What is Whey?

Little miss muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey? She was basically eating yogurt or some other cultured dairy product! Ever opened a container of yogurt and saw a yellowish liquid on top of the yogurt? That is whey! It is a milk protein that can be separated out from milk. By some sort of (over my head) process, this whey can be processed to produce the protein powder found in body building products. Please note that it is through high heat and chemical processes that this is derived. Some day I will do a post on the dangers of protein powder. However, for now, we are not worried about the powdered whey form. We are looking for the RAW and ALIVE form of whey that is strained from yogurt. Whey strained from yogurt or other cultured dairy (kefir, raw milk, etc) is teaming with happy little bacteria. We call it a starter culture because you can add it to something (ie-vegetables) in a jar with a little water and it “starts” the lacto-fermenting process because some of the lactobacilli we talked about above are already strong and ready to multiply in your ferment.

Why are Lacto-Fermented Foods So Important?

Eating home prepared lacto-fermented foods is so healthy for your gut (intestines, digestive system). In a day and age where our gut gets so much damage from bad foods, antibiotics, over-sanitization, chemicals, etc we are desperately in need of something that can help restore our gut. We have millions of friendly bacteria present in our body at any given time which help with digestion, fighting disease, etc. However, with the problems listed above, these bacteria can get quickly wiped out and our immune system compromised. Eating a diet that includes fermented foods is a great way to build up your protective forces in your gut. Fermenting foods also increased vitamin and mineral content. Additionally, many digestive enzymes are released, making it even easier for your body to absorb all the nutrients. For more info check this out Fermented Foods: Top 8 Reasons to Eat Them.

Can Things Go Wrong?

Yes, things can go wrong. If you EVER see mold on anything you have created, do NOT eat it. Don’t even try to pick it off. The best thing to do is to start over. There are a few other things that can go wrong but they are rare and I haven’t ever experienced anything like that. I had one Kombucha scoby mold on me, not sure what I did but I freaked out and tossed it in the trash. Oh well. Next time. The biggest thing to remember (and this is always listed in the directions of a recipe) is to keep vegetables under the brine (liquid) level (like when making carrots). That will keep oxygen out and prevent mold. Also making sure all of your equiptment (jars, spoons, etc) are cleaned well in hot water! Like I said above there are fancy contraptions to make it even safer, and maybe someday Ill have the money to buy some, but for now I just follow the basic rules and everything has been fine!

IMG_3415

Some of My Favorite Lacto-Fermented Food Recipes!

Lacto-Fermented Ketchup

Lacto-Fermented Carrot Sticks

Homemade Sauerkraut (Note that sauerkraut doesn’t require the addition of whey, just be sure to follow directions!)

 

That should get you started…if you are confused about all this, because there really is so much information and I am trying to keep it short…ask me in the comments and I will answer to the best of my ability! 🙂

Go, on, make some tasty bacteria now. Don’t be scared!

 

Missed the Previous Real Food Series Posts?

1. Introduction to Real Food Series

2. Fats and Cholesterol: Good or Bad??

3. Great Grains: Unrefined Truth

 

Great Grains: Unrefined Truth [Real Food Series]

IMG_3309

I want to present a post here on grains, but know that this can be another controversial subject. I am aware of the many theories about grains, the gluten controversy, and allergies. I am not hard-lined on this subject. I completely understand the arguments on both sides. So-whatever side you fall on, or if you ride the line like me-good we can agree! I’m not going to do a grain vs grain free diet debate.

I would first like to define how we eat grains. I do not prepare any food that we consume at home with refined grains (with the occasional exception of a little organic/unbleached All Purp flour). This is a PROCESS! Getting away from all refined carbs is very difficult and requires a lot of work. There is no way around that. We have stopped buying any boxed mix of anything and instead making everything from scratch. Yes, literally everything. I know it sounds very intimidating, and I am not saying that is what YOU have to do, that’s just what I do.

What is a refined grain?

In a nutshell, it is any grain that has undergone a process removing parts of the whole grain. Let’s just talk wheat for a minute. There are three (main) components to a wheat grain. The bran, the endosperm, and the germ. The bran is outer part of the grain, providing the fiber content as well as a host of vitamins, minerals and phytic acid (we will get to this later). The germ is the embryo of the seed- the part that will germinate if given the right environment. The germ is very high in Vitamin E, folic acid, and many other vitamins and minerals. Both the bran and the germ are removed in refining process. The endosperm is the main part of the grain, this is the starch and where the well-known gluten protein is found. The endosperm is all that is left after the refining process and this is what is milled to make white flour (which is also typically bleached).

Why are refined grains bad?

Firstly, you are missing out on a ton of healthy vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, & fiber that come from the other parts of the grain. Companies will add these missing vitamins and minerals back into refined products in the form of synthetics. Your body does not assimilate synthetic vitamins in the same way. In fact, your body will use its own vitamin and mineral reserves to help you digest these refined products, thus depleting the body. The term “empty calories” should be more appropriately called “negative calories” because they actually take things from your body. Secondly, the refining process can be done with the use of chemicals so you are subjecting yourself to further chemical exposure. Third, after the refining process, really all that is left of the grain is the starch, which the body converts into pure sugar. Refined grains will cause major insulin spikes due to the high sugar rush into the bloodstream as a result of eating these products.

What is a whole grain?

Basically, a whole grain is a grain that has all the biological parts still in the party. The fiber, the oils, the starch. When consuming whole grains in your diet the fiber helps your body digest the grain a little more slowly so that it doesn’t cause the sugar spike. The fatty acids such as Vit E present in the germ help your body to absorb all the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, K). However! There is a caveat, when a whole grain is broken (as in the milling of wheat) and the germ is exposed, the oils can quickly go rancid (read the previous post as to why rancid oils are bad!)  This is another reason why refined goods (stripped of oils) are so popular- they have a very long shelf life. Whole wheat flour has a very short shelf life because of the oils present and their tendency to go rancid very quickly.

How do we get around this?

Well, my recommendation (and some might not like this!) is to grind all of your own flour at home from whole wheat berries. Cornmeal? Grind your own corn. This way you can choose the quality and type of product that you want. I buy a variety of wheat that is excellent for bread as well as pastries. I grind any and all grains in my Vitamix, although there are products on the market that are just designed for grain grinding. I think it is a worthy investment and one I will always appreciate. If you can’t afford to do this option, I still recommend buying whole wheat flour when possible and making everything from scratch so as to avoid preservatives and synthetic vitamins. As I said above, I do occasionally use a little all purpose flour (which is refined!) if I am making or thickening a sauce of some sort, it just seems to work better. I will also use in some bread recipes if I need a little bit “lighter” of a bread. But I rarely use it alone, always with fresh flour.

Is there anything bad in whole grains?

Yes. I was surprised to learn that there are actually some downfalls to whole grains. Phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors are the two gotcha’s. Phytic acid is found in grains, nuts, legumes, & seeds. Without getting to scientific on ya, phytic acid will bind to minerals and prevent your body from absorbing them. Phytic acid will bind most notably to iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium. Humans do not have the enzyme (phytase) present in the body needed to break phytic acid down. The other problem that can arise from whole grains are enzyme inhibitors. God created grains so that they would only germinate under the proper conditions (moist, warm, and light). The enzyme inhibitors prevent the grain from sprouting until those specific conditions are met.  But with those inhibitors in the way, our body cannot digest the grain as well. The enzymes needed to break down all the components are bound up and working to prevent the grain from premature sprouting, not working for us. Does that make sense?

 So what do I do?

Well, the easiest way to solve BOTH of those issues above is to meet those specific requirements! There are three ways to accomplish this. You can begin sprouting the grains, soak the ground flour in a slightly acid liquid, or use fermentation (think sourdough!). Any of these three methods releases enzymes, breaks down phytic acid, and also “pre-digests” hard to digest proteins such as gluten. People with gluten sensitivity have been known to tolerate grains if prepared in this fashion. I know this probably sound intimidating, but it really isn’t. There are a ton of resources and “how-to’s” available. I will link to some of those below if you want to learn more. I think soaking your flour and grains is the easiest possible thing to do. Just takes remembering to do it the day/night before. Want oatmeal in the morning? Throw your oatmeal with your water and a tablespoon or so of lemon juice in a bowl. Then in the morning, dump the whole thing into the pot and cook normally. Tastes fantastic and you know your body can break it down easily and absorb all the tasty nutrients. See easy huh? You can even buy sprouted flour (its possible to make your own too). And while sourdough sounds intimidating, once you get the hang of it and are willing to remember to feed it, it’s a cinch and so much fun!

Sprouted Grains
Sprouted Grains

Want to Learn More?

Here’s a link for a free e-book with recipes using the soaking method: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/05/09/download-is-your-flour-wet-a-soaked-grains-ebook-for-free/

More on soaking:

http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/seriescarnivals/soaking-grains-an-exploration/

How-to Sprouting Grains:

http://nourishedkitchen.com/sprouted-grain/

Considering Sourdough? (Ps- I have more than enough starter to share!):

http://www.keeperofthehome.org/2011/04/for-the-love-of-sourdough-starting-a-sourdough-adventure.html

The key here, as with any new thing, is to take baby steps! I started soaking my grains, then started the sprouting process after I got a dehydrator (you can do without it though), and then I jumped on the sourdough bandwagon. My favorite of course is the sourdough!

My Sourdough Starter!
My Sourdough Starter!

 

Have you missed the first couple of posts in this series? Check them out here:

1. Introduction to Real Food Series

2. Fats and Cholesterol: Good or Bad??

 

Fats and Cholesterol: Good or Bad? [Real Food Series]

IMG_3309

Fats.Whoa this is a big subject to tackle in few a lot of paragraphs. I could go on and on about this subject, but in an effort to keep you attention I am going to try to cliff notes version this subject. I also would like to warn you that while I fully believe the research is out there, I am not writing a term paper here, so I won’t be citing a ton of research articles. That would be cool someday, but girl ain’t got time for that right now. For now, all of this information is readily available online for you to double-check!

In our house, the two main fats that we use are butter and coconut oil. I occasionally use Olive oil for cold applications or in a pinch. I will also use cold-pressed Sesame oil for cold applications (i.e-dressings). I will explain why using them for cold applications later.

Most people, when they hear the word “fat”, or “cholesterol” our minds instantly think that whatever food is being described is bad for you, will make you gain weight or cause your arteries to clog. So maybe we don’t react quite that extreme, but I was one who once believed that fat makes you fat. Seemed to make sense. And cholesterol? Well, I didn’t have a clue really what it was except for what was ingrained in my head from culture. Well come to find out, fat does not make you fat and cholesterol is good. Alright, so let’s tackle the latter of the two first.

Cholesterol. It is the mother of all fats. Your body could not survive without cholesterol. It makes up a large part of your cell walls along with saturated fat. It also appears in high quantity in breast milk (which has got to say something!) Cholesterol is a healing agent in the body. It would be the substance that would show up when there is a problem in the body. I really like how this doctor describes how cholesterol works as a healing agent:

“Since cholesterol is usually discussed in the context of disease and atherosclerosis, let us look at the blood vessels. Their inside walls are covered by a layer of cells called the endothelium. Any damaging agent we are exposed to will finish up in our bloodstream, whether it is a toxic chemical, an infectious organism, a free radical or anything else. Once such an agent is in the blood, what is it going to attack first? The endothelium, of course. The endothelium immediately sends a message to the liver. Whenever our liver receives a signal that a wound has been inflicted upon the endothelium somewhere in our vascular system, it gets into gear and sends cholesterol to the site of the damage in a shuttle, called LDL-cholesterol. Because this cholesterol travels from the liver to the wound in the form of LDL, our “science,” in its wisdom calls LDL “bad” cholesterol. When the wound heals and the cholesterol is removed, it travels back to the liver in the form of HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol). Because this cholesterol travels away from the artery back to the liver, our misguided “science” calls it “good” cholesterol. This is like calling an ambulance travelling from the hospital to the patient a “bad ambulance,” and the one travelling from the patient back to the hospital a “good ambulance.”” 

Source: Dr. Kuehne (http://drdanwellness.com/truth-about-cholesterol.html)

This information describes how cholesterol heals a damaged area in the blood vessel. This should prompt us to ask “how does the blood vessel get damaged.” Dr. Kuehne states things such as toxic substances and free radicals. From Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions (page 13) “High serum cholesterol levels often indicate that the body needs cholesterol to protect itself from high levels of altered, free radical containing fats.” She make the comparison that just as police are needed to a high crime area in the city, so cholesterol is needed in an area of the body which gets attacked often. However blaming “heart disease on cholesterol is like blaming the police for murder and theft in a high crime area.” Doesn’t quite add up. What IS happening though, is our western diet is so bad that our body is in extreme mode, having to constantly repair areas of our body damaged through bad food and free radical laden fat (more on that soon!) Consequently, we have large amounts of cholesterol building up- you could think of it as a defense mechanism. However, in this scenario, we don’t want a defense wall on our arteries. We want the body to properly attend to needs, just as if you would go to the doctor if you had a problem. You don’t want the ambulance parked outside your house at all times waiting for you to call. Nah. Bad. I love this chart:

“The leading causes of the system breakdown are the following:

  • Overproduction of LDL packages. The liver produces too much LDL cholesterol for the body’s needs and much more than the HDLs can pick up.
  • Reduction of HDL pickup trucks. The liver does not produce or release enough HDLs into the bloodstream to pick up the excess LDLs.
  • Breakdown of liver management dispatch system. The liver does not correctly signal to the body that it needs to pick up more LDLs.
  • Damage to roadways. Inflammation is present in the interior walls of the arteries.
  • Transformation of LDL packages into litter. Free radicals, which are breakdown products of some bodily functions, attach to certain LDL packages and “oxidize” them, causing them to become large and sticky and attach to blood vessel walls.”

Source: When Good Cholesterol Turns Badby Murdoc Khaleghi, MD (http://www.netplaces.com/low-cholesterol/what-is-cholesterol/when-good-cholesterol-turns-bad.htm)

So that is what’s going on and why cholesterol is so demonized.

I have only SCRATCHED the surface about cholesterol and could go on and on. But…I won’t bore you. If you want more I’ll post some further research links!

Let’s start talking about the other fats. The good the bad and the ugly.

Fats, or lipids (aka fatty acids) are classified in three categories: Saturated, Monounsaturated, and Polyunsaturated. In an effort to save time here, I’m going to break it down quick for you. The higher the saturated fat content, the more stable the oil is. Mono and poly unsaturated fat are highly unstable oils, meaning that they can be easily destroyed and become rancid (oxidized). Rancid oil not only has off-flavors and smells but the oxidation of the oil is causing free radicals to form. Free radicals are a BIG problem. One way the bonds are destroyed is by heat. Most of the vegetable oil on the market is expeller-pressed or chemically extracted with heat and chemicals. Heating of these fragile oils causes rancidity even before the oil is bottled for distribution! While canola, corn, grapeseed (etc) oils are usually touted as “heart healthy” oils as they are primarily mono or poly unsaturated, the very processing of these oils completely ruins the healthy properties. The ONLY way to maintain the integrity of unsaturated fats is to use Cold Pressed extraction (no heat). Then, the only way to safely consume these oils is in their cold or cool room temp form. Most vegetable oils (corn, canola, soy) cannot be manufactured by cold pressing due to the nature of the plant, so we are only left with the bad alternative. Unsaturated fats CAN be healthy and are an integral way to get Omega-3’s into your diet, but only if consumed in a safe way. The chart below will help you navigate that!

Saturated fat on the other hand, which are primarily found in animal products and tropical oils (coconut & palm) are very stable and can be treated with heat and not go rancid. Saturated fats also contain the most fat soluble vitamins (A and D), which are essential. Your body can only absorb these vitamins correctly with the presence of fat (hence why they are called fat soluble, as opposed to water-soluble such as vit C). Animal fats from healthy animals will also contain a host of other nutrients. Another post on that later. Below is a lovely chart from Balancedbites.com for you to post on your fridge!

Finally, we have not yet touched on the devil-fat itself- Trans fat or hydrogenated fat. In a nutshell, trans fat is UNsaturated fat that has been mechanically and chemically altered to give it the appearance and texture of saturated fats. These fats are shortening, margarine, etc. They were once considered healthy because technically they are unsaturated, which the public has been led to believe is healthy for us. After all this processing, we are left with a very dangerous form of fat that is causing major health problems. Thankfully, enough research has finally made its way into the public sector and trans fats have become a big no-no in most foods. However, don’t be fooled- it is still in there, just masked as something else (aka partially hydrogenated oil)  or in its place is a rancid vegetable oil. Avoid those if you can!!

BalancedBites_FatsAndOil

I think that is enough for one post. I am sure I have bored you senseless by now! I love learning about this stuff and I am learning more and more everyday. I will probably do another post about fats somewhere down the line as there is just so much fascinating things! If you have a question, ask away! I will try my best to answer with my limited knowledge!

For now. I am going to go enjoy some coconut milk ice cream!

Thanks for reading!!

For further reading check out this post and subsequent links on her page!    http://kellythekitchenkop.com/2008/04/does-fat-make-you-fat-dieting-answers.html

Introduction to Real Food Series

IMG_3309

I am starting a series of blog posts dedicated to our eating, lifestyle habits, and goals for the future (and maybe even a few soap box topics). I am passionate about health, eating, cooking, and living that I feel the desire to share my discoveries with you. While I claim no expert knowledge on the subject of nutrition, I spend a good deal of time researching and trying to determine the most beneficial way to nourish my family. There are so many philosophies, diets, lifestyles, or whatever you may call them. My goal is not to establish a one-size fits all model as everyone needs different things. However, I do think that at our very basic level we all need the same nutrients. Some of our bodies have been partially destroyed by our eating habits over our years so it may be necessary to “cut out” or “add” things to our diet in order to heal our bodies back to their fullest potential. I am a proponent of what I would consider “radical” diets as a method of healing or detoxing, but not as a permanent lifestyle change. I am also passionate about encouraging people not to get overwhelmed by the massive amount of research and perplexing contradictions that are rampant in the nutrient world! I would like to share with you my basic feelings about food, why I eat what I eat and resources so that you can join in if you want!

I also want to state that this information is merely for you to take it or leave it. I never wish to force my opinions on people, much less make them feel judged or guilty. Please, please, never take my words like that. I cannot promise that I won’t offend because I do hold some strong opinions on certain matters. I am also not here to have a huge debate session, although I love to discuss viewpoints. My goal really is just to share info as I learn it and have a place for myself to come back to as a reference or as a place to direct people to should they inquire! Got it? K, Let’s Go!

So for starters…I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food. This was an excellent read. It is fairly basic and is a good starter book for those interested in a change. A lot of it is common sense and it doesn’t go to political on you, I think we can all agree with its suggestions! The thing I really, really, appreciated about it was how it invited you to regain the enjoyment of food. So often food is just consumed without real thought- and that is at very best. One of the biggest, nastiest ingredients that we often consume as part of our “diet” is GUILT. I am done with guilty eating or not eating out of guilt. It is just not a way to live. Pollan really helped to refocus my passion for cooking and eating and ENJOYING. We were created to enjoy creation. I know that sounds like a terrible sentence, but think about it. It’s true. Otherwise, God would have created us to only like certain foods like dirt or something. We could have been nourished in 1000 other ways- we could have just absorbed nutrients through our skin. Instead we were created with thousands of taste buds and a desire to satiate all of them. Coincidence? I think not. Enough on that subject. Enjoy your food.

My other bone to pick is how deceived we have become. How “domesticated” we have become as a society-basically that we are trained with a certain worldview from birth. If I were to say “I eat a ton of bacteria laden food”, how does that make you feel? Kinda icky I would imagine. Where does that feeling come from? The general idea that bacteria is bad is an ideology that society has adopted. We want nothing to do with anything germ related, we have attempted to create such a sterile environments. More on that later.  All this to say that many of the thoughts and beliefs we have about food is ingrained in us through our society. Most of this is normal, that is just how culture acts on the human brain. The problem is when we rely so heavily on society to inform and educate us. Getting educated and allowing God to open your mind for revelation will greatly increase your ability to decide healthy against unhealthy information (not just about food but in life in general!)

One last paragraph for this intro blog post. I want to share with you our basic food and nourishment philosophy. We try (as in this is always a work in progress) to eat food in its most natural form. In the preparation of food, I try to maintain as much quality and integrity of the food that I can. We also try to source food from known entities- knowing where your food comes from gives you a euphoric appreciation for it. May sound extreme, but when I pay more (yes you do pay more for quality food) for a cut of meat from a local farmer, it has such a beautiful quality to it. I look forward to cooking it and enjoying it. I can allow myself to enjoy it because I know that the farmer who raised it is benefitting from my purchase as well as the fact that the animal was given a humane life. This goes for vegetables as well! I hope to source these mainly from my own garden in the coming seasons, but I even appreciate just knowing where something came from and that it is in its original form.

Just one last quickie note. I also want everyone to rest assured that we are not food Nazi’s. We still eat out and eat at friends’ houses, parent’s houses, etc. We eat as best as we can when we are home and then allow ourselves grace when we are out and about. We have found that certain foods now make us feel ill (mainly processed foods) so we try to avoid those when we are out if we have other choices. Nevertheless, we still have some old weaknesses and when those are around, well we haven’t quite conquered the whole will power thing yetJ. So, all that to say. I would hate for any of my friends and family to feel intimated by us. We are choosing these things for ourselves and no one needs any of that guilt on their plate. K?

I hope you will follow along in this journey!

 

-Erica