Author Archives: kristin wartman

Very Best Minestrone

Soak and boil your own beans for the best broth

The weather is still a bit bizarre here in New York — it’s hot, it’s cold, it’s hot, it’s cold. Yesterday was a cold day and I took the opportunity to make my new all-time favorite soup. This will likely be my last soup post of the season but I am so enthralled by it that it may show up again in my kitchen! There is one crucial component to this soup — you must soak and boil your own beans and reserve the cooking liquid from the beans for your stock. This makes the soup creamy, delicious, and hearty. I’ve tried it several different ways and this is the way to go. Plus, it’s economical and you avoid any nasty chemicals that may be present in canned beans and packaged broth (see my article in The Atlantic on obesogens for more on this). It’s delicious and healthful — make it before summer is upon us.

Very Best Minestrone

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
4  carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup of fresh chopped parsley
1 to 2 cups chopped greens, I like kale, ribs removed and cut into thin ribbons
4 cups cooked white beans
about 1 cup chopped tomatoes and their juice (I used Pomi)
about 6 to 8 cups bean cooking liquid (you can add water if you don’t have enough)
3 to 4 tbl olive oil
sea salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot saute the onions in about 2 tbl of olive oil until translucent. Add the carrots and cook for several minutes. Then add the remaining olive oil with the garlic, parsley, beans, and greens and stir and cook for several more minutes or until garlic is fragrant and greens are wilted. Add the tomatoes, beans, bean-broth, water, and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Once it boils, reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for about 45 minutes to an hour. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan and more fresh chopped parsley.

Nutrition Nuggets

Beans come in many varieties but for most of them: white, navy, kidney, pinto, black — the nutritional benefits are very similar. Beans contain high amounts of fiber and protein and are a very good source of folic acid and molybdenum. They also contain iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. Richly colored dried beans offer high amounts of antioxidants. Beans are also protective against cancer. In the Nurses’ Health Study II, researchers found a significantly reduced frequency of breast cancer in women who had a higher intake of beans or lentils.

Parsley is an extremely potent healing food. It is rich in large numbers of nutrients, chlorophyll, and carotenes. Parsley contains a high amount of vitamin C, folic acid, and iron and is a good source of minerals including magnesium, calcium, potassium, and zinc. Parsley has traditionally been used for its medicinal properties and is regarded as a nerve stimulant that helps with energy production. Parsley’s volatile oil components have all shown to have anticancer effects. Parsley is also a good cleansing food and helps with liver health.

Kale is a member of the cabbage family and as such, exhibits the same kind of anticancer properties as all the other members of this family. Kale is actually one of the most nutritious vegetables, with high amounts of carotenes, vitamins C and B6, and manganese. It is a great source of calcium, iron, and copper as well as dietary fiber, B vitamins and vitamin E. As you can see from its deep green color, kale is very high in chlorophyll. The deeper green your vegetable, the more health benefits it contains and kale is one of the darkest!

Photo from the Moderate Oven

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Creamy Cauliflower Soup

I’ve been so busy with various writing projects that this blog has fallen by the wayside. But I’m determined to get more recipes up on a regular basis! This means they will be short and sweet entries based on the food I’m making in my kitchen all the time. Here’s a delicious creamy cauliflower soup that’s just right for our strange weather here in New York. It’s tough to go from a sunny 73 degree day spent in shorts in Prospect Park to a chilly, drizzling 50 degree day back in boots and winter coats the next. So I made this soup to warm (and cheer) us up. It’s a real comforting and nutritious dinner.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup
1 head cauliflower, cored and chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbl butter*
1 cup whole milk*
4 to 6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
dill (about 2 tbl, chopped, or more to taste)
salt and pepper

Place 2 tbl butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and saute for several minutes until translucent. Add the carrots and cook for another several minutes. Add the cauliflower, stir and cook for three more minutes. Add the remaining 2 tbl butter and garlic and stir to combine, cook until the garlic is fragrant. Add salt and pepper. Add the broth (make sure you cover all the vegetables). Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the cauliflower is very tender, about 15 or 20 minutes. In small batches puree in a blender, or use an immersion blender. Return to the pot and add the milk and the dill. Taste and check for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed.  Serve immediately with more fresh chopped dill.

*If you want to make this without the dairy, I bet coconut milk and coconut oil would make delicious substitutes for the cow’s milk and the butter.

Nutrition Nuggets

Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin C as well as fiber, potassium, and B vitamins. It is also typically high in the trace mineral boron. Cauliflower is part of the cruciferous family (with broccoli, cabbage, and kale) which is known to contain cancer-fighting compounds. Researchers believe that these compounds stop enzymes from activating cancer-causing agents in the body. The compounds also work to increase the activity of enzymes that disable and eliminate carcinogens.

Carrots contain the highest amount of provitamin A carotenes of any commonly consumed vegetable. Two carrots provide 4,050 retinol equivalents, or four times the RDA of vitamin A. Carrots also provide excellent amounts of vitamin K, biotin, fiber, vitamin C and B6, potassium and thiamine. They are high in antioxidants that help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. High carotene intake is associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer and a 50 percent decrease in cancers of the bladder, cervix, prostate, colon, larynx, and esophagus. Human studies suggest that as little as one carrot a day could cut the rate of lung cancer in half.

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Brian’s Chili

Fall is officially here. The weather is cooling down here in New York and Brian is making chili. The food is great in the Fall! Brian’s chili is just one example of the comforting, warming meals we eat this time of year. Peppers are still abundant at the Farmer’s market and tomatoes are everywhere —  a homemade chili is the the best place to use all of these nutritious ingredients.

Brian’s Chili

2 boxes Pomi tomatoes*
1.5 lbs grass-fed ground beef
1 large onion
2 large red bell peppers
2 large yellow or orange bell peppers
4 cloves garlic
2 cups cooked black or pinto beans
3 to 6 chili peppers (jalepenos or other hot chili) depending on your heat preference
1 12 oz. organic lager (alternately, use the same amount of water)
3 tbls olive oil
4 tbls chilli powder
salt and pepper

Brown the beef in one tablespoon olive oil in a large stock pot. Add one tablespoon of the chili powder to the beef and a pinch or two of salt as you are browning. Once the meat is browned, remove it and drain most of the fat to a bowl. Add one tablespoon olive oil and chopped onion to the pot with one more tablespoon chili powder. Saute the onion until translucent and soft. Add all the chopped peppers and salt. Cook down until they are tender and add the garlic and saute for a few more minutes. Add the tomatoes, beer, beans, meat, and fat. Add the remaining chili powder and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on a low temperature and stir frequently for at least one hour (the longer the better). Serve with shredded cheese.

* You can also use fresh, blanched tomatoes; you will need about 12 to 16 plum tomatoes for this.

Nutrition Nuggets

Tomatoes are packed with nutrition. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, carotenes, biotin, and vitamin K. Tomatoes are full of a type of a red carotene called lycopene. Lycopene has shown to be extremely protective against breast, colon, lung, skin, and prostate cancers. It has also been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Lycopene works to  prevent these diseases by neutralizing harmful oxygen free radicals before they can damage cellular structures.

Bell Peppers are one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. They are full of vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin K, thiamine, folic acid, and vitamin B6. They have excellent antioxidant activity and are a great source of phytochemicals. They also contain lycopene. Studies have shown that bell peppers are protective against cataracts. They have also been shown to prevent blood clot formation and reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Bell peppers should be eaten by those wishing to reduce elevated cholesterol levels.

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Eggs Over Easy with Roasted Asparagus


I’ve eaten my fair share of asparagus this season. I’ve cooked it every which way and this is my favorite at the moment. It couldn’t be simpler but it tastes gourmet. The egg yolks coat the sweet roasted asparagus and the Parmesan cheese provides a salty, nutty counterpart — all you need are some delicious pastured eggs, seasonal asparagus, and a bit of good Parmesan cheese and dinner is served in less than 20 minutes. A good crusty baguette wouldn’t hurt either.

Eggs Over Easy with Roasted Asparagus
Serves 2

4 to 6 eggs
2 bunches asparagus
Parmesan Reggiano
Sea salt & pepper

Rinse asparagus and snap off ends. Place in a glass baking dish with a generous coating of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven on 375 for about 15 minutes, tossing the asparagus about halfway through. Meanwhile grate the Parmesan cheese and set aside. When the asparagus is nearly finished, prepare eggs (at least two per person) over easy, or until the the white is cooked but the yolk remains runny. Divide asparagus evenly between two plates, place eggs on top, and coat with a good dusting of Parmesan. Add a bit more salt and pepper if desired. Enjoy!

Nutrition Nuggets

Asparagus is low in calories and carbohydrates while relatively high in protein compared to other vegetables. It has been used historically to treat arthritis due to its unique phytochemicals and anti-inflammatory properties.

Eggs are packed full of nutrients, healthy fats and protein. They are pretty darn close to a perfect food. The best option is to eat pastured eggs — meaning eggs that come from chickens that are raised on open pasture and regularly eat grass, plants, bugs, grubs and whatever else they can find in the fields. Chickens are omnivores and the quality, taste (and health benefits) of their eggs is largely dependent on what they eat.

Photo Blisstree.com

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Shrimp Caesar Salad

This is my new favorite salad – it’s simple and nutritious and can easily be prepared for a weeknight meal. People think that making your own Caesar dressing is difficult, but with a food processor or blender it’s ready in about 5 minutes. I use raw egg in mine but you can omit it if you are worried. If you’re buying your eggs from a local farmer who raises his or her chickens on pasture, raw eggs are safe to eat — but I would never recommend eating a raw industrial egg! I used shrimp here but you could use salmon, chicken, or top it with hard-boiled eggs. This is a simple, delicious, and a very nutrient dense meal just in time for Spring. Enjoy!

Shrimp Caesar Salad
Serves 4

2 heads romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
Cooked and chilled shrimp (make sure to buy wild-caught of US origin)
Parmesan Reggiano, grated for topping

For the Dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of one Meyer lemon
5 anchovy filets
1 tbl Dijon or stone-ground mustard
1/2 tbl Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare the dressing place all the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor or blender and combine for about 30 seconds. Stop the motor and scrape down the sides, then with the motor running add the olive oil in a slow steady stream until incorporated and the dressing looks well combined. Toss the chopped lettuce and dressing in a large salad bowl, then top with Parmesan and shrimp, add ground pepper to taste.

Nutrition Nuggets

Lettuce is a good source of chlorophyll and vitamin K. In general, the darker the lettuce the greater the nutrient content. Romaine lettuce is generally the most nutrient dense and is an excellent source of vitamin A, folic acid, and vitamins C, B1, and B2. Lettuce is also an excellent source of the minerals manganese and chromium.

Shrimp is an excellent source of protein, selenium, and vitamin B12, iron, and phosphorus. Shrimp also contain the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

Parmesan cheese (the real kind, not the kind that comes in the green shaker) has more protein than any other cheese. It’s full of beneficial bacteria, calcium, vitamin A, riboflavin, zinc and vitamin B12. Cheese has been shown to protect against dental cavities.

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Cabbage & White Bean Soup

Even though Spring is just around the corner, here in New York we’re still having our fair share of chilly weather. Last Wednesday, after a nearly 60˚ day, the temperature struggled to reach 30˚ and all I could think of was soup. I’ve been making a variation of this soup all winter since cabbage and potatoes are some of the only vegetables we can get locally. This last batch was especially good and I think it has to do with the technique of layering flavors throughout the cooking process. Enjoy!

Cabbage & White Bean Soup

1 small onion, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
15 oz white beans
6 small fingerling potatoes, cut into small rounds
1 small head cabbage, thinly sliced
3 tbl butter
6 cups Vegetable Mineral Broth (or broth of your choice)
salt & pepper
dried oregano

Place 2 tbls butter in a deep soup pot over medium heat and allow the butter to melt and coat the bottom of the pan. Add potatoes, salt, pepper, and a pinch of oregano, stir to coat and cover the pot. Allow the potatoes to brown a bit and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don’t stick. Add remaining 1 tbl butter along with the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, a bit more salt, pepper, oregano, and cook for another 1 minute, or until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the white beans and a few tablespoons of broth and stir, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Allow to cook for several minutes, then add the remaining broth and another pinch of oregano and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, add the cabbage, and allow the soup to simmer for at least 20 minutes. Taste and add more salt, pepper, and oregano if necessary. Serve with a generous dusting of Parmesan.

Serves 4

Nutrition Nuggets

Cabbage contains potent anti-cancer phytochemicals and is very nutrient dense, it is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, folic acid, biotin, calcium, magnesium, and manganese. Many studies confirm that the higher the intake of cabbage-family vegetables, the lower the rates of cancer, particularly colon, prostate, lung, and breast cancer. Cabbage has also been shown to treat peptic ulcers effectively due to its concentration of the amino acid glutamine, which helps repair and regenerate the gastrointestinal tract.

White Beans, like all beans, contain a rich source of fiber. They also contain significant amounts of antioxidants, folic acid, vitamin B6, and magnesium. Beans are also protective against cancer according to the Nurses Health Study II. Researchers found a 24 percent reduced risk of breast cancer in the women who ate beans or lentils two or more times a week.

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Filed under Gluten free, Recipes, Soups, Vegetables

Barbara’s Spelt Honey Bread

A couple years ago, I asked my Mom to remove gluten from her diet to see if that could be aggravating her arthritis. After a week or two off gluten, my Mom reported much less inflammation and pain, particularly in her fingers, where she was most affected. She also noticed improvements to her digestion. Removing gluten from one’s diet is never easy since so much of the American diet is based on gluten-containing products like breads, pastas, and crackers. My Mom doesn’t have a true wheat allergy, like those with Celiac disease, but she does have an intolerance. Whenever she eats something with gluten for a special occasion, she feels it in her joints for the next several days and she gets an upset stomach.

Like most everyone else I know, my Mom loves bread and so she did not embrace this new found intolerance with much excitement. But she is grateful for spelt! As is the case with many who have a wheat intolerance, my Mom tolerates spelt just fine. This is her recipe and it is a joy for her to eat fresh, homemade bread again. She recently posted this recipe on her blog, Bees and Chicks, and I wanted to share it here too. Here’s what she wrote:

This Spelt Honey Bread is really delicious and it’s great for those of you who might not be able to tolerate wheat in your diet. For a long time I thought I might never be able to eat yeast-raised bread again, but I’ve been eating this bread for a couple of months now. Being able to once again have warm bread fresh out of the oven and slathered in butter is heaven for me.

Barbara’s Spelt Honey Bread

1 pkg active dry yeast or 1 scant tablespoon
2 cups warm water (105° to 110° F)
4 tbs honey
3 tbs melted butter
1 1/2 – 2 tsp salt
5 cups spelt flour + about 1/2 cup for kneading
1/2-cup oat flour
1/2-cup corn meal

  1. Combine yeast, warm water and honey in a warm bowl. Let stand until it proofs — yeast will begin to ferment and you will see the yeast swelling and some small bubbles in about 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile measure spelt, oat and corn flours into a large bowl and mix.
  3. Stir the melted butter into the proofed yeast and pour into a stand mixer bowl containing 3 cups of flour mixture and the salt.
  4. Stir until blended, then add remaining flour a cup or so at a time until it that is blended. Continue stirring for a minute or two. Dough will be a little wet.
  5. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Dip hands in flour to keep the dough from sticking and knead dough for 4 – 6 minutes, adding flour as necessary until dough becomes smooth and elastic. DO NOT over knead the dough – spelt loaves can get tough and crumbly if kneaded too long.
  6. Place the dough in a well-greased bowl, rolling it to coat the dough. Cover and let rise in a warm draft-free spot for about 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
  7. Grease two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf pans. Make sure to really get them coated otherwise the bread has a tendency to stick.
  8. When the dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down and divide it in half forming two smooth loaves. Put the loaves in the pans, cover and return to a warm, draft-free spot for another hour or so until the loaves reach the tops of the pans. (At about 45 minutes, preheat your oven to 350° F.)
  9. Uncover loaves and place pans in oven on a heavy baking sheet or a pizza stone and bake about 45 minutes until the tops are light brown and the loaves sound hollow when you tap them. Remove from oven.
  10. Brush tops with melted butter if you prefer a softer crust and turn bread out onto wire racks and let cool.
  11. Loaves should be cool before slicing. You can slice into a warm loaf, but it will be crumbly (and delicious if you slather it with butter!). The longer you wait, the cleaner the slices.

Note: This bread freezes beautifully. I slice the second loaf and put it in the freezer for toasting.

Yields two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2”x 2 1/2″ loaves.

Nutrition Nuggets

Spelt is an ancient grain, a distant elder cousin of modern wheat. It is, in fact, one of the earliest crops grown in the Western world. As a grass-derived grain, spelt is the perfect substitute for white or whole wheat flour when baking. It is an excellent alternative for those allergic to wheat since it contains different forms of gluten than modern wheat. The type of gluten found in spelt is much more fragile than the gluten found in wheat which makes it much easier for the body to break down and digest. Spelt also provides double the amount of protein and fiber than is found in most common varieties of commercial wheat. It is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates as well as B vitamins and minerals.

Honey should always be purchased raw and unfiltered. Honey that is not pasteurized, clarified, or filtered retains more of the phytochemicals that account for its health benefits. Honey, particularly darker honey, such as buckwheat honey, is a rich source of phenolic compounds, such as flavonoids, that have strong antioxidant activity. Honey has been found to be protective against atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries. This is because honey improves blood antioxidant levels and helps prevent lipid peroxidation — or the damaging of lipids (fats) by free radicals in the body. Honey also has wound-healing properties and has been used topically as an antiseptic agent for the treatment of ulcers, burns, and wounds for centuries.

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Homemade Veggie Burgers

These veggie burger are easy to make, have infinite variations, and are delicious — far superior than any store bought option and far more nutritious too. This is based on Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. He recommends either pan frying them or baking them but having tried both methods, I found baking them was easier, less messy, and helped with holding the burgers together. I highly recommend these! Best of all you can make a double batch and freeze half of the patties before cooking so you’ve prepped two dinners at once. Serve them with baked sweet potato wedges and a green salad. Enjoy!

Homemade Veggie Burgers
adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

3 cups cooked garbanzo beans (or use any bean you like)
1 cup cheese of your choice (cut-up or grated)
1 cup old-fashioned oats
2 eggs
1 small onion, quartered
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp chili powder (or more to taste)
salt & pepper to taste

Combine the beans, cheese, egg, onion, oats, chili powder, oregano, salt, and pepper in a food processor and pulse until chunky but not pureed. Let the mixture rest for a few minutes.

pulse to combine but keep the mix slightly chunky

With wet hands, shape into patties and let rest again. If you have time, the flavor improves when they sit for about 20 minutes or so before cooking. Alternately, you can make them up to a day in advance and store in the refrigerator before cooking.

Place patties on a well-oiled baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes. Flip burgers and then bake for another 15 minutes, or until burgers have a golden-brown crust.

Serve immediately. Makes 6 large burgers.

Nutrition Nuggets

Garbanzo beans are a good source of fiber, folic acid, and manganese, they also contain high amounts of molybdenum — a trace mineral needed to detoxify sulfites, a preservative commonly found in wine, processed meats, and salad from salad bars. They are a great source of protein and are high in minerals like iron, magnesium, copper, and zinc. Garbanzo beans can help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels.

Oats are high in minerals like manganese, selenium, and phosphorus. They are also a good source of the minerals magnesium and iron and contain vitamin B1. Due to the fact that oats contain dietary fiber high in beta-glucan, they have long been touted as having cholesterol lowering effects. Beta-glucan binds bile acids and removes them from the body to help lower cholesterol. Oats also have a favorable effect on blood sugar and are a good alternative to refined grains.

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Top 5 Foods for Immune Health

It’s that time of year — people around you are sniffling and sneezing, coughing, and blowing their noses; it ain’t pretty and it’s impossible to avoid. Just this past week, I was surrounded by some of these sick people — in my own house, no less. A few days later I started to feel a slight pressure in my chest and a vague headache, but I was determined not to come down with anything — after all, this is my specialty — so I loaded up on the items in the list I’ve provided you with below and am happy to report I’m healthy as can be.

Garlic and Onions

You could write a book on the health benefits of garlic, in fact there are quite a few. In terms of immune health and resistance to colds and flu, garlic tops my list of foods to eat. Also, it’s delicious and easily added to many meals. Garlic, as well as onions, contains the sulfur compound, allicin, which has been shown to be highly effective against common infections like colds, flu, and stomach viruses. It is also effective against more powerful microbes like tuberculosis and botulism. Load up on it — who cares if you smell like garlic, it beats being sick any day.

Sauerkraut (and other fermented foods)

If you think you don’t like sauerkraut, I suggest you give it another chance. It’s actually quite good and the health benefits are remarkable. The beneficial bacteria in raw sauerkraut — meaning it hasn’t been pasteurized — promote the growth of good bacteria in your digestive tract. Friendly bacteria have a powerful effect on your gut’s immune system, which is your first defense against harmful pathogens. These bacteria also aid in the production of antibodies. Sauerkraut is a more affordable and more delicious alternative to taking probiotics out of a bottle. In fact, it’s relatively easy to make your own sauerkraut at home. Otherwise, when shopping for it in the store make sure it’s raw. It’s easy to serve as a condiment with many foods, or good for a snack on its own.

Cabbage-Family Vegetables

These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, collards, kale, and greens from mustard, radish, and turnip. Granted you’ll be getting some cabbage in your sauerkraut, but these winter vegetables are crucial to maintaining good immunity throughout the cold months and you really need to load up. It’s no coincidence that this is their season and along with potatoes and carrots these are some of the only local vegetables available.

One of the American Cancer Society’s key dietary recommendations to reduce the risk of cancer is to include plenty cruciferous vegetables in your diet. Proper immune function goes hand in hand with preventing cancer (as a side note, all of the foods on this list are also anticancer foods) and the phytochemicals that promote immunity, are abundant in the cabbage family. Most of these compounds are glucosinates, which work by dramatically increasing antioxidant defense mechanisms. All of these vegetables are easily steamed, sautéed, braised, or roasted (with some garlic!) for quick, easy side dishes or lunches. See my recipe here for simple sautéed cabbage.

Green Tea

I’m sure you’ve heard about the benefits of green tea before, but its reputation is well deserved and thus it earns a place on this list. Green tea, along with black tea, contains high levels of vitamin C, D, and K and riboflavin as well as good amounts of many trace minerals. But what gives green tea its superior health profile is the polyphenols it contains. The major polyphenols are flavonoids — these are well known antioxidants with powerful detoxifying abilities. Green tea polyphenols seem to increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes in the small intestine, liver, and lungs. Drink green tea throughout the morning and afternoon but not in evening as it does contain some caffeine.

Power Spices: Turmeric and Oregano

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family commonly found in curry spice blends. Turmeric has an array of health benefits, one being its positive effect on immune health. It has long been studied as a natural antibiotic agent and studies have confirmed that it can inhibit the growth of bacteria and viruses. Its medicinal qualities largely stem from one of its chemical compounds, curcumin — which gives it a yellow pigment and has potent antioxidant qualities. Here’s a simple recipe for Garlic Curry Broccoli.

Oregano has been shown to exhibit potent antioxidant qualities due in part to two oils it contains: thymol and carvacrol, which are antimicrobial agents. In one analysis done by the USDA, oregano scored the highest in antioxidant activity of any herb or food tested and ranked higher than many fruits and vegetables. It contained 42 times the antioxidant activity of apples, 12 times as much as oranges, and and four times as much as blueberries. During the winter months, dried oregano is easily used to spice up an array of soups, stews, and sauces.

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Soy: A Controversial Bean

soy is the second largest monocrop grown in the U.S.

Last week, I wrote an article on soy that caused a ruckus. It was originally published on Civil Eats and was then picked up by the Huffington Post. The health benefits or detriments of soy is a controversial issue and people are  passionate about their views on both sides of the spectrum.

As a food writer and nutrition columnist for Civil Eats, my goal is to work towards fostering critical thought on sustainable agriculture and its corollaries: food, health, and nutrition. I don’t claim to have definitive answers on any one issue, food, or idea; but I do intend to open up the discussion and present views that may be less well-know or controversial and have merit.

In response to those who were critical of my piece: it is certainly true that there are studies to support the claim that soy can in fact be healthy and beneficial. There are also many studies that prove the opposite, as I noted in my piece. There is no shortage of contradictions on the health value or dangers of soy. In just one abstract from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the contradictions abound. The authors first say, “Isoflavones possess nonhormonal properties that are associated with the inhibition of cancer cell growth.” But then go on to say, “Some data from in vitro and animal studies suggest that isoflavones, especially genistein, the aglycone of the main soybean isoflavone genistin, may stimulate the growth of estrogen-sensitive tumors.”

After reviewing many studies like these and researching soy over the past several years, I have come to the conclusion that the possible health benefits of soy do not outweigh the potential risks. Further, what really alarms me is the increasing amount of soy that slips its way into the American diet via processed foods — it’s important to realize just how much soy we are consuming without intending to. The authors of the same study address that here, “Because the use of soyfoods and isoflavone supplements is increasing, it is important from a public health perspective to understand the impact of these products on breast cancer risk in women at high risk of the disease and on the survival of breast cancer patients.” Again, I choose to err on the side of caution.

Another factor to be aware of is that most commercial soy is processed with hexane — a known neurotoxin that has dangerous side effects; the EPA has nearly an entire page listing the health hazards associated with it. Hexane is a byproduct of gasoline refining and is a hazardous air pollutant. Soybean processors use it as a solvent since it is a cheap and efficient way of extracting oil from soybeans (always check food labels for soybean oil and avoid it — in addition, peanut, corn, and other seed oils are often processed with hexane). During processing, whole soybeans are bathed in hexane, which separates the soybeans’ oil from protein. Hexane is not a food and we don’t want to be eating it.  Clearly, the dangers of processing soy with hexane is one part of the soy story that is not up for debate.

It is true that some people tolerate unprocessed, fermented, organic soy very well and it may even be healthful for them. But the purpose of the piece I wrote for Civil Eats was to inform the general public on the possible negative effects associated with soy — especially highly processed soy and soy ingredients — since the mainstream media as well as the FDA and USDA portray it only as a health food. The American people deserve to have all the information they need to make their own decisions. My soy article is part of a larger effort to bring to light crucial health and nutrition information that is too often left out due to the special interests of big business and industrial agriculture.

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