Archive for December, 2011

salt

Salt – The Spice of Life
by Eileen Troemel

For every meal there is one thing people generally reach for before they even take a bite – the salt shaker.  Salt is one of the oldest spices used and is a key component to humans, animals, and plants. 

Its flavor is unique and versatile, salt has been a staple throughout time.  Enhancing almost every dish, salt is added to breads, meats, fruits and vegetables to sauces and desserts. 

Additionally, salt aids foods in a variety of ways like:

Preservation – helps protect against microorganisms, bacteria through dehydration and preventing growth of bacteria, which slows or prevents spoilage.

Texture Aid – in bread making, allows the dough to rise by giving helping the gluten hold more water and carbon dioxide.  In meats it improves tenderness and in cheeses it aids in consistency of the cheese and the hardness of the rind.

Binder – in processed meats it helps retain water which reduces the loss of meat when cooking. 

Color Developer – in ham, bacon, and other processed meats it helps obtain the desired color.  It also helps create a golden crust for breads.  

Fermentation Control – slows and controls the fermentation process in:

Pickling
Cheese production
Sauerkraut production
Summer sausage production


Types of Salt

 

When you reach for that salt shaker on the table or on the stove while cooking what type of salt are you getting?  While salt is gained from two sources, salt deposits on land or from the sea, once harvested it is essentially processed in the same way, through the creation of brine and evaporation. 

Salts, like so many other foods, has become trendy with the multitude of seas salts now available to the home cook. Is the trend overrated or are these salts really worth their weight in salt!

The main difference between salts is in their texture. Each salt has its own distinctive flavor, color, and texture. Experiment with different salt when cooking. Salt is like money! You get what you pay for. You can put the best ingredients into making your dish, but if you blow it on the wrong salt, the dish will not be as good.

There are three basic types of salt:

Table salt – mined using water to create a brine.

Table salt, the one found in most salt shakers, is mined from salt deposits and has most of the minerals removed.  Most salt in the United States is sold with iodine added making it iodized salt. This salt is harvested by forcing water into a mine to create brine (salt/water mix). The brine is then evaporated leaving cubes of salt. The salt is refined from there to create varieties like:

Pickling salt, Canning salt, Coarse salt, Gos sel  – fine grained without iodine or anti-caking preservatives. This is similar to table salt, but lacks the iodine and anti-caking additives that turn pickles dark and the pickling liquid cloudy. Pickles made with table salt would still be good to eat, but they wouldn’t look as appetizing. 

Pretzel salt – large grained, does not melt quickly.

Rock salt – large crystal salt with a gray color, due to minerals not removed from normal table salt.

Popcorn salt – very fine grained salt which is flakier version of table salt.

Iodized salt – contains a small amount of potassium iodide and dextrose as a dietary supplement to prevent thyroid disease. (see Salt Composition and Medical Uses below).

Seasoned salt – table salt with herbs added like onion, hickory smoke or garlic.


Kosher salt, Koshering salt
 – also made from a brine but this brine is continually raked during the evaporation process.

Kosher salt is an additive-free coarse-grained salt. This salt was developed for the preparation of kosher meats in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. The salt itself is not kosher, but this is where the name comes from. The difference between table and Kosher salt is that during the evaporation process it is raked to give it a block-like structure which allows the salt to draw the blood out of meats. The raking makes Kosher salt coarser and flakier than table salt so it disperses more easily. This makes it lighter and less dense than table salt. It is also recommended to use Kosher salt for cocktail glasses for drinks like margaritas. Since it is a lighter salt, there is less after taste with it.

Today many cooks and chefs prefer it over table salt in their cooking, as it dissolves fast and its flavor disperses quickly. Kosher salt weighs less by volume than table salt, so you must increase the amount of salt used in a recipe when substituting for table salt. This is a great all-purpose salt.

Sea Salt – made from ocean or sea water, contains trace minerals not in the mined salts.

Sea Salt is just that – salt gained from evaporating salt water collected from an ocean or sea.  The process is more costly then the mining process.  Sea salt is typically less refined than other salts. Depending on the seawater used, you also get a variety of minerals in the sea salt. Due to this there are numerous types of sea salts. Here are a few:

Black Salt, Kala Namak, Sanchal – Significant for its strong sulfur odor (India) this salt is a pearly pink gray.  It is used in Indian cooking.

Grey salt, Celtic salt, Sel Gris – Harvested from the light film of salt which forms during the evaporation process.  The gray or light purple color comes from the clay in the region of France where it is harvested. Collected using traditional Celtic hand methods.

Hawaiian sea salt – Has a distinctive pink hue from the Alaea added to it. The Alaea is volcanic red clay with a high content of iron oxide. This salt is used in many traditional Hawaiian dishes like Kahlua Pig and Hawaiian Jerky.

Coarse salt, Gos Sel, Gale Grosso – Is a larger grain salt which resists moisture and is intended to be ground. Uses include flavoring for soups and salt crusts on meats.

Flake salt – Shaped like snowflakes, the brine is made using the sun and wind for evaporation. Then the brine is slowly heated to create the flakes. 

Fleur de Sel, Flower of Salt, Flor De Sal – Skimmed from the top of salt ponds early in the process of evaporation, this is considered a great condiment salt; also good on grilled meats, in salads and on vegetables. The flavor, like wines, varies depending on the region it is harvested from. Typically it is from France though some is produced in Portugal.

French Sea Salt – Processed less than American salt, retains more of the mineral content gained from the Atlantic seawater it is harvested from. This usually includes natural iodine.  A coarse salt, this is good for salads, vegetables and grilled meats.

Grinder salt – Large dry salt crystal which can easily be put through a grinder. With a salt grinder you want to avoid metal as the salt will corrode the grinding mechanism.

Italian Sea Salt, Sicilian Sea Salt, Sale Marino – Harvested from the lower Mediterranean sea by hand using traditional methods of natural evaporation, this salt is high in iodine, fluorine, magnesium and potassium. A delicate salt which is good on salads and in sauces.

Smoked Sea Salt – One other derivative of sea salt is a smoked sea salt. The salt is smoked over real wood fires to add the flavor to the crystals. These can be used in soups, salads, pasta and also in grilling foods like salmon.

Organic Salt: Organic salt has different standards than organic livestock or botanicals. Some organizations have started to set up guidelines to ensure the quality of water and production process. 

Lite (light) salt and salt substitutes:  These generally do not have a great flavor. Lite salt uses potassium chloride to reduce the sodium level in the salt.  Salt substitutes have little or no sodium in them. Typically only people who have a medical reason use these because the flavor is not as good as salt.

Sour Salt: There is a product called sour salt which is not made up of salt at all, instead it is citric acid.  This is used to prevent browning when canning fruit. It can also be added to rye or sour dough bread to make it more tart.


Salt Substitutions

When using salt, you may not have available some of those listed above or a recipe may call for one type you don’t like. Substitution may become necessary. Here are a few suggested substitutions:

Kosher salt – a non-iodized coarse table salt or a coarse pickling salt but make sure you read the label and there are no additives.  When making this substitution use about half the salt called for in the recipe.

Pickling salt – substitute Kosher salt which is free of additives that can turn your pickle brine cloudy.

Pretzel salt – Kosher salt or a coarse sea salt.

Table salt – Kosher salt but use twice the salt called.


Hints on using different types of salt

Different salts offer different qualities based on how they are used. Here are a few hints on the way to use certain types of salt:

Fine salts – use for baking unless a recipe calls for something different.  The texture and size of a fine salt is smaller and more dense than a more coarsely ground salt. 

Kosher salt – is great to use while cooking as the size of the salt is easier to see how much is being added.

Hand-harvested salts – avoid using during a cooking process unless it is a very quick process like with salmon.  If used during the cooking process the flavor and texture can be lost.


Salt Composition and Medical Uses

Since most salt is produced in relatively the same way, there is little difference when it comes to health benefits in which type is used.  Salt is plentiful in most foods even fruits and vegetables.  Processed foods have an alarmingly high level of sodium so it might be best to avoid those if on a salt restricted diet. 

Typically salt is made up of sodium and chloride.  Sodium cannot be produced within the human body so it is important to the diet. Sodium helps regulate water balance ph and osmotic pressure.  Chloride is equally important in the human diet for it helps the blood to carry carbon dioxide; potassium absorption; helps in digestion; and conserves acid-base balance. Iodine is added to most North American salt in an effort to reduce Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD), which causes mental retardation, miscarriage, goiters, brain damage in infants and can impair growth and development. This effort has been highly successful in North American nearly wiping out the problems associated with IDD. All of these benefits are received from the common salt shaker almost everyone has on their table. 

The recommended salt intake varies on the individual and their genetics. In general though, a minimum of 500 mg per day with a maximum of 2400 mg is a good guideline. This is difficult to regulate because so many foods do contain salt naturally.

Having the right level of salt assists the body with many functions including:

Nerve conduction.

Easy and active absorption of other nutrients in the small intestines.

Maintains electrolyte balance.

Key to hydration during exercise and outside activities.

Combats hyperthermia.

Increasing salt intake can combat chronic fatigue syndrome.

Helps regulate the water levels in cells, nutrient levels, and waste matter.

Salt is considered one of the first antibiotics, which is probably where the term rubbing salt in a wound comes from. Human blood actually contains 0.9% salt and a solution of water and salt in that proportion is commonly used to irrigate wounds.

As with anything, too much salt may cause problems. Some of the problems include the following:

Hypertension or high blood pressure.

High acidity, which may cause cancer.

In healthy people, too much salt is typically discarded by the kidneys. However, a genetic abnormality preventing the absorption of chloride may cause cystic fibrosis which can be detected by testing the saltiness of a person’s sweat. 

Since Americans tend to over indulge in salt much focus has been placed on the effect salt has on hypertension.  Many studies have been done and debate continues as to whether salt adversely affects blood pressure.  Listed below are some of the general conclusions from the vast array of studies

Minority of population can lower their blood pressure by limiting salt.

Hypertension may be caused by too much salt in a diet.

Hypertension may lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Life style changes may have more affect on blood pressure / hypertension than salt.

Low sodium intake can be just as dangerous as high sodium intake.

The group who benefits the most from reducing salt intake is overweight men.

While the debate continues in the medical community, the regular person can only attempt to reduce salt in their diet to see if it affects their blood pressure. If the craving for salt continues, it may stems from a lack of zinc in the diet. An increase in foods rich in zinc may reduce the desire for salt. Foods rich in zinc include:

Oysters

Endive

Alfalfa sprouts

Seaweed

Brown rice

Asparagus

Mushrooms

Turkey

Radishes

Balance is the key when it comes to the use of salt and the health. So many foods are rich in salt that adding it to a meal is probably not needed. If someone is at risk with high blood pressure, simply remove the salt shaker from the table in an effort to wean them off the habit.  One thing which was clear in most studies is that the affect salt had varied greatly among individuals based on genetic make up.   


Alternative Uses – Cooking Tips

Being so widely used, salt has many alternative uses besides the traditional food additive. There is an abundance of alternative uses which are separated into categories below.  Be cautious when using all of these, remember to start small to determine if there will be any adverse reactions to any of these procedures and uses.

General tips to help with common problems in the kitchen:

Over salted soup – add a cut up potato or two to absorb the extra salt.

Rub a griddle with a bag of salt to prevent sticking and smoking.

Before frying fish sprinkle the skillet with salt to prevent the fish from sticking.

To prevent food from sticking to skillets, waffle irons or griddles, sprinkle with salt and heat in warm oven, dust off salt and return to cupboard.  Next usage, foods won’t stick.


A pinch of salt goes a long way. Here are some hints that utilize a pinch of salt or perhaps a bit more while you are cooking:

Add a pinch of salt:

When whipping eggs to create fluffier eggs.

To enhance the flavor of coffee and in overcooked coffee helps remove the bitterness.

To whipping cream or egg whites to get them to whip faster.

To milk to have it stay fresh longer.

To icing prevents them from sugaring.

To improve boiled potatoes, salt after draining – this gives them a fine mealy texture.

Keep salads crisp by salting immediately before serving.


Poultry – has multiple uses:

Rub the chicken skin with salt to remove pinfeathers more easily.

Improve the flavor by rubbing salt inside and out before roasting.


Sea salt is derived from salty seawater. By combining salt with water again here are some great tips to help out in the kitchen:

Salt makes water boil at a higher temperature which reduces cooking time.

Boil eggs in salt water to ease the peeling process.

To set the whites of poached eggs, boil over saltwater.

Place an egg in a cup of water with 2 teaspoon of salt, a fresh egg will sink, a floating egg may be spoiled.

Washing spinach, lettuce and other greens in saltwater will keep them crisp.

Lightly salted cold water helps maintain the color of apples, pears and potatoes.

Soak in saltwater for hours to make shelling pecans easy.

Dampen a cloth with saltwater and wrap around cheese to prevent molding.

Sprinkle ice with salt, place gelatin salads or desserts on ice to get them to set more quickly.



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panettone

My mother in law, Adelina, is really good at making panettone. Every Easter, and Christmas she makes enough to give one to each of her kids and also one for her tenant upstairs.

She doesn’t follow any recipe, so I decided to drop by on the day she planned to make it. So here is the result. It’s a long procedure because there is waiting time involved for the dough to rise. But other than that it’s quite simple.

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ingredients

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quinoa

                                                  quinoa flower                                                                 

QUINOA

Although not a common item in most kitchens today, quinoa is an amino acid-rich (protein) seed that has a fluffy, creamy, slightly crunchy texture and a somewhat nutty flavor when cooked. Quinoa is available in your local health food stores throughout the year.

Most commonly considered a grain, quinoa is actually a relative of leafy green vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard. It is a recently rediscovered ancient “grain” once considered “the gold of the Incas.”

Health Benefits

A recently rediscovered ancient “grain” native to South America, quinoa was once called “the gold of the Incas,” who recognized its value in increasing the stamina of their warriors. Not only is quinoa high in protein, but the protein it supplies is complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. Not only is quinoa’s amino acid profile well balanced, making it a good choice for vegans concerned about adequate protein intake, but quinoa is especially well-endowed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. In addition to protein, quinoa features a host of other health-building nutrients. Because quinoa is a very good source of manganese as well as a good source of magnesium, folate, and phosphorus, this “grain” may be especially valuable for persons with migraine headaches, diabetes and atherosclerosis.

Help for Migraine Headaches

If you are prone to migraines, try adding quinoa to your diet. Quinoa is a good source of magnesium , a mineral that helps relax blood vessels, preventing the constriction and rebound dilation characteristic of migraines. Increased intake of magnesium has been shown to be related to a reduced frequency of headache episodes reported by migraine sufferers. Quinoa is also a good source of riboflavin, which is necessary for proper energy production within cells. Riboflavin (also called vitamin B2) has been shown to help reduce the frequency of attacks in migraine sufferers, most likely by improving the energy metabolism within their brain and muscle cells.

Cardiovascular Health

Quinoa is a very good source of magnesium, the mineral that relaxes blood vessels. Since low dietary levels of magnesium are associated with increased rates of hypertension, ischemic heart disease and heart arrhythmias, this ancient grain can offer yet another way to provide cardiovascular health for those concerned about atherosclerosis.

Prevent Heart Failure with a Whole Grains Breakfast

Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization among the elderly in the United States. Success of drug treatment is only partial (ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers are typically used; no evidence has found statins safe or effective for heart failure), and its prognosis remains poor. Follow up of 2445 discharged hospital patients with heart failure revealed that 37.3% died during the first year, and 78.5% died within 5 years.Since consumption of whole grain products and dietary fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack, Harvard researchers decided to look at the effects of cereal consumption on heart failure risk and followed 21,376 participants in the Physicians Health Study over a period of 19.6 years. After adjusting for confounding factors (age, smoking, alcohol consumption, vegetable consumption, use of vitamins, exercise, and history of heart disease), they found that men who simply enjoyed a daily morning bowl of whole grain (but not refined) cereal had a 29% lower risk of heart failure.

Significant Cardiovascular Benefits for Postmenopausal Women

Eating a serving of whole grains, such as quinoa, at least 6 times each week is an especially good idea for postmenopausal women with high cholesterol, high blood pressure or other signs of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

A 3-year prospective study of over 200 postmenopausal women with CVD, published in the July 2005 issue of the American Heart Journal, shows that those eating at least 6 servings of whole grains each week experienced both:

  • Slowed progression of atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque that narrows the vessels through which blood flows, and
  • Less progression in stenosis, the narrowing of the diameter of arterial passageways.

The women’s intake of fiber from fruits, vegetables and refined grains was not associated with a lessening in CVD progression.

Antioxidant Protection

Quinoa is a very good source of manganese, a mineral that serve as a cofactor for the superoxide dismutase enzyme. Superoxide dismutase is an antioxidant that helps to protect the mitochondria from oxidative damage created during energy production as well as guard other cells, such as red blood cells, from injury caused by free radicals.

Fiber from Whole Grains and Fruit Protective against Breast Cancer

When researchers looked at how much fiber 35,972 participants in the UK Women’s Cohort Study ate, they found a diet rich in fiber from whole grains, such as quinoa, and fruit offered significant protection against breast cancer for pre-menopausal women. (Cade JE, Burley VJ, et al., International Journal of Epidemiology).

Pre-menopausal women eating the most fiber (>30 grams daily) more than halved their risk of developing breast cancer, enjoying a 52% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women whose diets supplied the least fiber (<20 grams/day).

Fiber supplied by whole grains offered the most protection. Pre-menopausal women eating the most whole grain fiber (at least 13 g/day) had a 41% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest whole grain fiber intake (4 g or less per day).

Fiber from fruit was also protective. Pre-menopausal women whose diets supplied the most fiber from fruit (at least 6 g/day) had a 29% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest fruit fiber intake (2 g or less per day).

Practical Tip: As the following table shows, it’s surprisingly easy to enjoy a healthy way of eating that delivers at least 13 grams of whole grain fiber and 6 grams of fiber from fruit each day.

Food Fiber Content in Grams
Oatmeal, 1 cup 3.98
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice 2
Whole wheat spaghetti, 1 cup 6.3
Brown rice, 1 cup 3.5
Barley, 1 cup 13.6
Buckwheat, 1 cup 4.54
Rye, 1/3 cup 8.22
Corn, 1 cup 4.6
Apple, 1 medium with skin 5.0
Banana, 1 medium 4.0
Blueberries, 1 cup 3.92
Orange, 1 large 4.42
Pear, 1 large 5.02
Prunes, 1/4 cup 3.02
Strawberries, 1 cup 3.82
Raspberries, 1 cup 8.36

*Fiber content can vary between brands. Source: esha Research, Food Processor for Windows, Version 7.8M

Whole Grains and Fish Highly Protective against Childhood Asthma

According to the American Lung Association, almost 20 million Americans suffer from asthma, which is reported to be responsible for over 14 million lost school days in children, and an annual economic cost of more than $16.1 billion.

Increasing consumption of whole grains and fish could reduce the risk of childhood asthma by about 50%, suggests the International Study on Allergy and Asthma in Childhood (Tabak C, Wijga AH, Thorax).

The researchers, from the Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, Utrecht University, University Medical Center Groningen, used food frequency questionnaires completed by the parents of 598 Dutch children aged 8-13 years. They assessed the children’s consumption of a range of foods including fish, fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grain products. Data on asthma and wheezing were also assessed using medical tests as well as questionnaires.

While no association between asthma and intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products was found (a result at odds with other studies that have supported a link between antioxidant intake, particularly vitamins C and E, and asthma), the children’s intake of both whole grains and fish was significantly linked to incidence of wheezing and current asthma.

In children with a low intake of fish and whole grains, the prevalence of wheezing was almost 20%, but was only 4.2% in children with a high intake of both foods. Low intake of fish and whole grains also correlated with a much higher incidence of current asthma (16.7%). compared to only a 2.8% incidence of current asthma among children with a high intake of both foods.

After adjusting results for possible confounding factors, such as the educational level of the mother, and total energy intake, high intakes of whole grains and fish were found to be associated with a 54 and 66% reduction in the probability of being asthmatic, respectively.

The probability of having asthma with bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), defined as having an increased sensitivity to factors that cause narrowing of the airways, was reduced by 72 and 88% when children had a high-intake of whole grains and fish, respectively. Lead researcher, CoraTabak commented, “The rise in the prevalence of asthma in western societies may be related to changed dietary habits.” We agree. The Standard American Diet is sorely deficient in the numerous anti-inflammatory compounds found in fish and whole grains, notably, the omega-3 fats supplied by cold water fish and the magnesium and vitamin E provided by whole grains. One caution: wheat may need to be avoided as it is a common food allergen associated with asthma.

Gallstone Prevention

Eating foods high in insoluble fiber, such as quinoa, can help women avoid gallstones, shows a study published in theAmerican Journal of Gastroenterology.

Studying the overall fiber intake and types of fiber consumed over a 16 year period by over 69,000 women in the Nurses Health Study, researchers found that those consuming the most fiber overall (both soluble and insoluble) had a 13% lower risk of developing gallstones compared to women consuming the fewest fiber-rich foods.

Those eating the most foods rich in insoluble fiber gained even more protection against gallstones: a 17% lower risk compared to women eating the least. And the protection was dose-related; a 5-gram increase in insoluble fiber intake dropped risk dropped 10%.

How do foods rich in insoluble fiber help prevent gallstones? Researchers think insoluble fiber not only speeds intestinal transit time (how quickly food moves through the intestines), but reduces the secretion of bile acids (excessive amounts contribute to gallstone formation), increases insulin sensitivity and lowers triglycerides (blood fats). Abundant in all whole grains, insoluble fiber is also found in nuts and the edible skin of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, many squash, apples, berries, and pears. In addition, beans provide insoluble as well as soluble fiber.

Health-Promoting Activity Equal to or Even Higher than that of Vegetables and Fruits

Research reported at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) International Conference on Food, Nutrition and Cancer, by Rui Hai Liu, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues at Cornell University shows that whole grains, such as quinoa, contain many powerful phytonutrients whose activity has gone unrecognized because research methods have overlooked them.

Despite the fact that for years researchers have been measuring the antioxidant power of a wide array of phytonutrients, they have typically measured only the “free” forms of these substances, which dissolve quickly and are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. They have not looked at the “bound” forms, which are attached to the walls of plant cells and must be released by intestinal bacteria during digestion before they can be absorbed.

Phenolics, powerful antioxidants that work in multiple ways to prevent disease, are one major class of phytonutrients that have been widely studied. Included in this broad category are such compounds as quercetin, curcumin, ellagic acid, catechins, and many others that appear frequently in the health news.

When Dr. Liu and his colleagues measured the relative amounts of phenolics, and whether they were present in bound or free form, in common fruits and vegetables like apples, red grapes, broccoli and spinach, they found that phenolics in the “free” form averaged 76% of the total number of phenolics in these foods. In whole grains, however, “free” phenolics accounted for less than 1% of the total, while the remaining 99% were in “bound” form.

In his presentation, Dr. Liu explained that because researchers have examined whole grains with the same process used to measure antioxidants in vegetables and fruits—looking for their content of “free” phenolics”—the amount and activity of antioxidants in whole grains has been vastly underestimated.

Despite the differences in fruits’, vegetables’ and whole grains’ content of “free” and “bound” phenolics, the total antioxidant activity in all three types of whole foods is similar, according to Dr. Liu’s research. His team measured the antioxidant activity of various foods, assigning each a rating based on a formula (micromoles of vitamin C equivalent per gram). Broccoli and spinach measured 80 and 81, respectively; apple and banana measured 98 and 65; and of the whole grains tested, corn measured 181, whole wheat 77, oats 75, and brown rice 56.

Dr. Liu’s findings may help explain why studies have shown that populations eating diets high in fiber-rich whole grains consistently have lower risk for colon cancer, yet short-term clinical trials that have focused on fiber alone in lowering colon cancer risk, often to the point of giving subjects isolated fiber supplements, yield inconsistent results. The explanation is most likely that these studies have not taken into account the interactive effects of all the nutrients in whole grains—not just their fiber, but also their many phytonutrients. As far as whole grains are concerned, Dr. Liu believes that the key to their powerful cancer-fighting potential is precisely their wholeness. A grain of whole wheat consists of three parts—its endosperm (starch), bran and germ. When wheat—or any whole grain—is refined, its bran and germ are removed. Although these two parts make up only 15-17% of the grain’s weight, they contain 83% of its phenolics. Dr. Liu says his recent findings on the antioxidant content of whole grains reinforce the message that a variety of foods should be eaten good health. “Different plant foods have different phytochemicals,” he said. “These substances go to different organs, tissues and cells, where they perform different functions. What your body needs to ward off disease is this synergistic effect—this teamwork—that is produced by eating a wide variety of plant foods, including whole grains.”

Lignans Protect against Heart Disease

One type of phytonutrient especially abundant in whole grains such as quinoa are plant lignans, which are converted by friendly flora in our intestines into mammalian lignans, including one called enterolactone that is thought to protect against breast and other hormone-dependent cancers as well as heart disease. In addition to whole grains, nuts, seeds and berries are rich sources of plant lignans, and vegetables, fruits, and beverages such as coffee, tea and wine also contain some. When blood levels of enterolactone were measured in over 800 postmenopausal women in a Danish study published in theJournal of Nutrition, women eating the most whole grains were found to have significantly higher blood levels of this protective lignan. Women who ate more cabbage and leafy vegetables also had higher enterolactone levels.

Quinoa and Other Whole Grains Substantially Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Quinoa and other whole grains are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body’s use of glucose and insulin secretion.

The FDA permits foods that contain at least 51% whole grains by weight (and are also low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol) to display a health claim stating consumption is linked to lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Now, research suggests regular consumption of whole grains also reduces risk of type 2 diabetes. (van Dam RM, Hu FB, Diabetes Care).

In this 8-year trial, involving 41,186 particpants of the Black Women’s Health Study, research data confirmed inverse associations between magnesium, calcium and major food sources in relation to type 2 diabetes that had already been reported in predominantly white populations.

Risk of type 2 diabetes was 31% lower in black women who frequently ate whole grains compared to those eating the least of these magnesium-rich foods. When the women’s dietary intake of magnesium intake was considered by itself, a beneficial, but lesser—19%—reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes was found, indicating that whole grains offer special benefits in promoting healthy blood sugar control. Daily consumption of low-fat dairy foods was also helpful, lowering risk of type 2 diabetes by 13%. Get the benefits of both quinoa and dairy by serving your quinoa with a little low-fat cheese. Try adding a little crumbled feta or parmesan cheese, some pine nuts, chopped onion and parsley to your quinoa for a tasty lunch or dinner whole grain dish.

Meta-analysis Explains Whole Grains’ Health Benefits

In many studies, eating whole grains, such as quinoa, has been linked to protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and premature death. A new study and accompanying editorial, published in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains the likely reasons behind these findings and recommends at least 3 servings of whole grains should be eaten daily.

Whole grains are excellent sources of fiber. In this meta-analysis of 7 studies including more than 150,000 persons, those whose diets provided the highest dietary fiber intake had a 29% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those with the lowest fiber intake.

But it’s not just fiber’s ability to serve as a bulking agent that is responsible for its beneficial effects as a component of whole grains. Wheat bran, for example, which constitutes 15% of most whole-grain wheat kernels but is virtually non-existent in refined wheat flour, is rich in minerals, antioxidants, lignans, and other phytonutrients—as well as in fiber.

In addition to the matrix of nutrients in their dietary fibers, the whole-grain arsenal includes a wide variety of additional nutrients and phytonutrients that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Compounds in whole grains that have cholesterol-lowering effects include polyunsaturated fatty acids, oligosaccharides, plant sterols and stanols, and saponins.

Whole grains are also important dietary sources of water-soluble, fat-soluble, and insoluble antioxidants. The long list of cereal antioxidants includes vitamin E, tocotrieonols, selenium, phenolic acids, and phytic acid. These multifunctional antioxidants come in immediate-release to slow-release forms and thus are available throughout the gastrointestinal tract over a long period after being consumed.

The high antioxidant capacity of wheat bran, for example, is 20-fold that of refined wheat flour (endosperm). Although the role of antioxidant supplements in protecting against cardiovascular disease has been questioned, prospective population studies consistently suggest that when consumed in whole foods, antioxidants are associated with significant protection against cardiovascular disease. Because free radical damage to cholesterol appears to contribute significantly to the development of atherosclerosis, the broad range of antioxidant activities from the phytonutrients abundant in whole-grains is thought to play a strong role in their cardio-protective effects.

Like soybeans, whole grains are good sources of phytoestrogens, plant compounds that may affect blood cholesterol levels, blood vessel elasticity, bone metabolism, and many other cellular metabolic processes.

Whole grains are rich sources of lignans that are converted by the human gut to enterolactone and enterodiole. In studies of Finnish men, blood levels of enterolactone have been found to have an inverse relation not just to cardiovascular-related death, but to all causes of death, which suggests that the plant lignans in whole grains may play an important role in their protective effects.

Lower insulin levels may also contribute to the protective effects of whole grains. In many persons, the risks of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity are linked to insulin resistance. Higher intakes of whole grains are associated with increased sensitivity to insulin in population studies and clinical trials. Why? Because whole grains improve insulin sensitivity by lowering the glycemic index of the diet while increasing its content of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E.

Description

We usually think of quinoa as a grain, but it is actually the seed of a plant that, as its scientific name Chenopodium quinoareflects, is related to beets, chard and spinach. These amino acid-rich seeds are not only very nutritious, but also very delicious. Cooked quinoa seeds are fluffy and creamy, yet slightly crunchy. They have a delicate, somewhat nutty flavor. While the most popular type of quinoa is a transparent yellow color, other varieties feature colors such as orange, pink, red, purple or black. Although often difficult to find in the marketplace, the leaves of the quinoa plant are edible, with a taste similar to its green-leafed relatives, spinach, chard and beets.

History

While relatively new to the United States, quinoa has been cultivated in the Andean mountain regions of Peru, Chile and Bolivia for over 5,000 years, and it has long been a staple food in the diets of the native Indians. The Incas considered it a sacred food and referred to it as the “mother seed.”

In their attempts to destroy and control the South American Indians and their culture, the Spanish conquerors destroyed the fields in which quinoa was grown. They made it illegal for the Indians to grow quinoa, with punishment including sentencing the offenders to death. With these harsh measures, the cultivation of quinoa was all but extinguished.

Yet, this super food would not be extinguished forever. In the 1980s, two Americans, discovering the concentrated nutrition potential of quinoa, began cultivating it in Colorado. Since then, quinoa has become more and more available as people realize that it is an exceptionally beneficial and delicious food.

How to Select and Store

Quinoa is generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the quinoa are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure its maximal freshness. Whether purchasing quinoa in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture. When deciding upon the amount to purchase, remember that quinoa expands during the cooking process to several times its original size. If you cannot find it in your local supermarket, look for it at natural foods stores, which usually carry this super grain.

Store quinoa in an airtight container. It will keep for a longer period of time, approximately three to six months, if stored in the refrigerator.

How to prepare

While the processing methods used in the commercial cultivation remove much of the soapy saponins that coats quinoa seeds, it is still a good idea to thoroughly wash the seeds to remove any remaining saponin residue.

An effective method is to run cold water over quinoa that has been placed in a fine-meshed strainer, gently rubbing the seeds together with your hands. To ensure that the saponins have been completely removed, taste a few seeds. If they still have a bitter taste, continue the rinsing process.

To cook the quinoa, add one part of the grain to two parts liquid in a saucepan. After the mixture is brought to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover. One cup of quinoa cooked in this method usually takes 15 minutes to prepare. When cooking is complete, you will notice that the grains have become translucent, and the white germ has partially detached itself, appearing like a white-spiraled tail. If you desire the quinoa to have a nuttier flavor, you can dry roast it before cooking; to dry roast, place it in a skillet over medium-low heat and stir constantly for five minutes.

Since quinoa has a low gluten content, it is one of the least allergenic “grains,” but its flour needs to be combined with wheat to make leavened baked goods. Quinoa flour can be used to make pasta, and quinoa pastas are available in many natural foods stores.

Individual Concerns

Quinoa is not a commonly allergenic food and is not known to contain measurable amounts of purines. However, like all members of the Amaranthaceae-Chenopodiaceae plant family, quinoa does contain oxalates. The oxalate content of quinoa ranges widely, but even the lower end of the oxalate range puts quinoa on the caution or avoidance list for an oxalate-restricted diet.

Nutritional Profile

Quinoa is a very good source of manganese. It is also a good source of magnesium, folate, and phosphorus.


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Great vegetarian dish, very tasty.

Hot or cold, it can be used both as a main or side dish.

A balanced set of amino acids makes quinoa a good source of protein for vegetarians and vegans.

It’s also gluten free, easy to cook and a perfect substitute for rice, barley or almost any grain.

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ingredients

1 cup chopped onion

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 cup sliced carrots

1 cup quartered mushrooms

1/2 cup zucchini chunks

1 large clove of garlic, minced

1/2 Tablespoon olive oil

handful of chopped basil and parsley

handful of roasted pecan nuts

salt to taste

ground pepper

one cup of  fresh chopped herbs(parsley, basil, celery leaves) add at the end

2 cups quinoa (I usually mix the red and white)
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Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss all the vegetables and pecans except herbs in a shallow casserole dish with the oil, basil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Roast the vegetables, giving them a toss every 15 minutes, until tender, approximately 20 – 30 minutes. When you remove them from oven, stir in the herbs.

In the meantime, cook the quinoa.

How to prepare and cook quinoa

While the processing methods used in the commercial cultivation remove much of the soapy saponins that coats quinoa seeds, it is still a good idea to thoroughly wash the seeds to remove any remaining saponin residue.

An effective method is to run cold water over quinoa that has been placed in a fine-meshed strainer, gently rubbing the seeds together with your hands. To ensure that the saponins have been completely removed, taste a few seeds. If they still have a bitter taste, continue the rinsing process.

To cook the quinoa, add one part of the grain to two parts liquid in a saucepan. After the mixture is brought to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover. One cup of quinoa cooked in this method usually takes 15 minutes to prepare. When cooking is complete, you will notice that the grains have become translucent, and the white germ has partially detached itself, appearing like a white-spiraled tail. If you desire the quinoa to have a nuttier flavor, you can dry roast it before cooking; to dry roast, place it in a skillet over medium-low heat and stir constantly for five minutes.

Toss quinoa and vegetables and serve.

Makes approximately 4 main dish servings.

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chicken broth

I usually make a big pot of chicken broth once a month. There are many ways to do this with many variations of ingredients. Everytime I make a pot of broth it turns out different, because I use whatever I have that week and not worry about following a recipe. I made this broth the last week of July. You can imagine the produce from my garden that is available during this time. I added a bunch of celery leaves, basil and parsley at the end to give it a fresh taste.

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ingredients

one big pot

chicken bones, and half of whole chicken

3 shallots chopped in half

2 onion chopped in four

1 red pepper, 1 green pepper  cut in half

3 large carrots roughly chopped

5 sticks of celery with tops roughly chopped

20 cherry tomatoes (you can use 3 or 4 medium-sized tomatoes) roughly chopped

fresh herbs: parsley, basil, thyme, bay leaves, chives (roughly chopped)

salt to taste

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Place all chicken pieces, vegetables and half the herbs at bottom of pan and fill with cold water.

When it comes to a boil skim off  the foam and turn the heat down to a simmer.

Continue to simmer gently for 3-4 hours, skimming if necessary.

When there is half an hour left add the rest of the herbs.

Allow to cool.

I usually divide it into small plastic containers and freeze it.

It will keep in the fridge for about 4 days and in the freezer for 2-3 months.

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roasted root vegetables

I make a batch of these roasted root vegetables quite often, so that I have enough for all week. Some I use as a side dish with grilled meats or roasted chicken. Some I add in an omelet. Some mixed with rice or pasta.

At this time of year I often make soups so when I have these roasted veggies on hand I add a few scoops to my chicken broth add a handful of fresh spinach and a cup of cooked beans and voila, you have yourself a hardy vegetable soup to warm their hearts and tummies.

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ingredients

zucchino rampicante (big, long zucchini)

celery root

potatoes

peppers

onions

cherry tomatoes

parsley, basil, garlic, olive oil, salt (any spice you like)

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Cut everything in bite size pieces or bigger if you prefer

Preheat oven to 350*

Mix all ingredients well

Spread on a pizza pan and roast uncovered to desired doneness

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all about beets

Health Benefits of Beets

From Organic Facts

The health benefits of beet include anemia, digestion, constipation, piles, blood circulation, kidney disorders, skin care, dandruff, gall bladder disorders, cancer, and heart diseases.

Beets or beetroots, as they are called, belong to the Chenopodiaceous family. Health benefits of beet roots can be attributed to their richness in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. They are a source of carotenoids and lutein/zeaxanthin. Beets are also rich in dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus. Beet is a source of beneficial flavonoids called anthycyanins. They are very low in calories but have the highest sugar content of all vegetables. It is also used to make refined sugar.

Beetroot is also added as an ingredient to salads, soups and pickles and also used as a natural coloring agent. Even though beets are available throughout the year they are still seasonal vegetables.

The roots and leaves of beets have plenty of medicinal uses like:

Good for heart: Beet fiber helps to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides by increasing the level of HDL. High level of triglycerides increases the risk for heart related problems. The presence of the nutrient betaine lowers the levels of homocysteine in the body which can be harmful to the blood vessels. Thus, consumption of beetroot helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

Avoids birth defects: Beet is good for pregnant women since it is a source of B vitamin folate which helps in the development of infant’s spinal column. Deficiency of folate could lead to the condition called neural tube defect.

Prevent certain cancers: Studies revealed that beet are good in preventing colon cancer, as it contains the pigment betacyaninis, which counteracts cancer. Nitrates used in meats as preservatives, cause the production of nitrosamines compounds in the body resulting in cancer. Studies reveal that beet juice inhibits the cell mutations caused by these compounds. Researchers in Hungary have also discovered that beet juice and its powdered form slows down tumor development.

Good for liver: Betaines contained in the beet juice stimulates the functions of liver.

Prevent respiratory problems: Beetroot is a source of vitamin C which helps to prevent asthma symptoms. The natural beta-carotene in beetroot also helps to prevent lungs cancer.

Boosts energy: Beetroot contains a significant amount of carbohydrates that provides fuel for energy and prolonged sports activities.

Prevent cataract: The presence of beta-carotene (vitamin A) helps to prevent age related blindness called cataract.

Capillary fragility: The flavonoids and vitamin C in beets help to support the structure of capillaries.

Macular degeneration: The beta-carotene present in beetroot avoids macular degeneration.

Stroke: Low level of potassium in body increases the risk of stroke. So potassium-rich beetroot is recommended in that aspect.

The presence of the mineral Boron in beetroot juice helps in the production of human sex hormones.

In ancient times Beetroot was used to cure fever and constipation. In the Middle Ages, beetroot was also used as a remedy for digestive disorders.

Beet leaves are also good for curing wounds.

Precaution: Beets contain oxalates, which when in excess, can cause body fluid to crystallize. So people with kidney or gallbladder problems should avoid beetroots.

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