The Healthy Cooking Game

In the healthy cooking game, there is no such thing as “running out of ideas for meals.”

When I look at the various ways people eat, one of the first things I notice is that when you include or base your meals on whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, there is an infinity of things you can create. I myself have not eaten the exact same dinner twice in decades except for a few favorites that I intentionally repeat.

Seem like an exaggeration?  It’s not! I Googled “how many edible vegetables are there?” Most sites I found such as Ask.com and wiki.answers just said “thousands” as in—too many to count. One website points out that there are over 4,000 varieties of tomatoes alone.

The point is that you will never run out of interesting and unique combinations of grains, veggies, fruits and beans. (Ask.com says over 400,000 varieties of beans) You’ll never run out of new ways to put foods together!

Just for comparison I checked how many types of animals for eating there are. Couldn’t find a definitive answer or even an estimate. Did find a lot of places where the discussion was mainly cows, pigs and lambs chickens, turkeys, plus dog, horse, guinea pig, rabbit, squirrels, buffalo, elk, deer and I’m sure there are others. But the fact that I can pretty much list them out here should tell you something. There are quite a few more edible fish and sea life and that extends the list of choices much further.

The different preparations and cooking methods also have to be considered as do the use of seasonings, spices and herbs which change the taste and presentation of food. (By the way, when I say “cook,” I’m really saying “food preparation”: and I include raw and fermented foods in “cooking.”)

No matter what kinds of food you are eating—meats, no-meats, vegetarian, vegan, etc.—eating a wide variety of foods made different ways has never been easier.

In the cooking game, the freedoms we have are enormous. One freedom is that we have fast shipping of foods from any part of the world. If it is winter in your hemisphere, you can get summer fruits and veggies from the other hemisphere.  It’s right there in your food store.

SPONGE GOURDAfrican Sponge Gourd

The ability to procure foods from anywhere in the world seems so convenient.  Except that it makes it so easy to ignore an important condition for healthy cooking:

BALANCE

There’s a lot of ways to look at balance. In the healthy cooking game, it means that you are  choosing, preparing and eating food in the best possible way in order to fulfill your goals and purposes for eating.

Say what?

That is a very broad statement, I know. But the concept of “balanced diet” or “balanced cooking” covers every aspect of this part of health and living. Balance is something to achieve no matter what kind of food you choose to eat. I will talk about balance more but for now I’m talking about choosing which of the gazillions of possible foods, combinations, seasonings and cooking methods should you use for “balance?”

Think about how things were less than 100 years ago. We could not easily get foods from other parts of the world. We did not go to SUPER markets to shop. Most people had their own garden, access to locally grown foods only at their market, and what was there to purchase was also in season.

If you lived in Minnesota and it was January, you didn’t see fresh pineapple in the market or growing outside in your garden. And if you did get hold of some tropical foods and eat them in Minnesota during the winter, you would have a harder time staying warm. Because tropical fruits balance the hot climates in which it grows. They make one cooler!

Why would you start eating foods that for the most part are in season and grow in your area or climate and forego the flown-in rambutan from Queensland? Because foods that grow in your area and in season are already naturally balanced for your environment! How much easier could it be to know what foods are generally in good balance with your climate where you are living?

rambutan 2

Rambutan is a tropical fruit is native to Southeast Asia.

 

In the Healthy Cooking Game, we have the freedom of an international selection of foods at our fingertips and we have the challenge of balancing our food choices so we make the most of our ability to create the effect we desire with our meals.

More to follow.

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Are You a “Meat and Potatoes” Type of Vegan?

I seem to be a “Meat and Potatoes” type of vegan!

I want to talk about a concept that is emerging in my own universe lately. The concept is “concentrated foods.” By that I mean, foods that are extremely nutrient dense and  packed with a large amount of macronutrients in a relatively small portion.  (Macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fats)

I bring this up because despite eating very healthfully for nearly forty years—mostly vegan but a few of those years not so much—I have always struggled with my weight. It was because of this that as a young girl I began seeking to understand how the body works and what foods were best for it. I have written many times about those journeys so I won’t do that again here.

Suffice it to say that I learned a lot, became much more healthy as years went by, strengthened my immune system, found out how to use foods as medicine and overall became much more in control of things.

But darn it! It is still so very easy for me to put on too much weight!  I know many people who do not eat a Standard American Diet and who try their best to choose healthier more nutritious foods and even some who are vegetarians, vegans or macrobiotic who, like me, still struggle with this problem.

So I started looking at the broad sketch of how I have approached food and spotted something very interesting. No matter what I was eating, what  program I was following, or dietary lifestyle I was living including all the years I was macrobiotic I have always gone for the dense, concentrated foods and eaten too much of them. That worked fine when I was a young, busy nursing mother with two other toddlers to chase after but that’s the only time that worked for me.

Mochi

Mochi (Photo credit: Nikki_Bees)

There are gradients of how concentrated foods can be. It’s just common sense.  For example:

  • Peanut butter – concentrated fat and some protein. Easy to slather a heap of this stuff onto each cracker, rice cake or slice of bread.
  • “Healthy” breads. Not knocking them, No Sireee. But have you weighed some of these lately? They can be concentrated, condensed slices, can’t they? A vegan Triple-Decker Club sandwich made with this bread could sink a ship!
  • Brown rice mochi – very concentrated whole grains (sticky, sweet brown rice mashed down into a concentrated form and then often fried.) But how many of those do you need at one time? Especially in an Udon Noodle Soup with Tofu Broth?
  • Almonds. Innocent, wonderful Almonds. A great snack! But you’re not running a marathon or working the farm each day, exactly how many of those do you need for your mid-afternoon pick-me-up?
  • Rice and beans – probably about in the middle of the scale. But the whole-grains-and-beans thing can indeed be overdone if it isn’t balanced with veggies and other necessary dietary components.
  • Vegetables – mostly light. But watch this—do you head for the winter squashes, potatoes and the heavier vegetables more than the leafy greens?
  • Oils – yup, they’re concentrated aren’t they? How many olives does it take to make a tablespoon of olive oil, I wonder? (Estimates are 20-40 olives depending on their type and size.) How many sesame seeds to make that teaspoon of toasted sesame oil that I love to cook my mochi in?
  • Fruits – mostly pretty light but what’s the difference between say a banana and an apple or between grapes and dried fruit? Dried fruit is concentrated and pack a lot in a small portion. That’s why it is so easy to overeat them.
  • Some of those avocado-based mousses I’ve been making—Do I eat the same size slice of that as I would an apple pie? Hmmmm, I think not!

Please, please, please! I am not saying any of these foods are bad or shouldn’t be eaten.

My point is simply this:  Even if virtually all the food you eat is organic, plant-based very nutritious and good for you, you can still eat too much of the concentrated foods and too little of the lighter ones. That’s all I’m saying. That is what I’m looking at.

Why do you think the bloggers posting all the casseroles, rich desserts and thick hearty soups and stews are so popular? Because that’s what we like and that’s what we probably all overindulge in if we’re honest with ourselves. Okay, I’ll cut you a break. I’ll say, “If I’m honest with myself!” I love these recipes and try out many of them at home. But if they use dense or nutrient-concentrated foods, it is so easy for me to over do it.

When I’m not paying attention, I go for the concentrated food and skimp on the lighter ones. I can so easily fall into being the “meat and potatoes” type in the world of vegan food.

It all has to do with the question of balance. I learned how to eat a balanced diet but it seems that over the years with changes in my body and my age and other things, I’ve lost my balance and now I know I need to find it again.

I don’t know why this is exactly—this indulgence in concentrated foods. I have heard and read many explanations that I don’t find all that helpful or workable. Do we really have to be semi-experts in hormones? I don’t think so. I could just as well say it’s “The American Way” as an explanation.  I just know that I’ve spotted for myself a major underlying concept about how I have chosen to eat all my life no matter what the cuisine was.

This is a concept I can work with. This is a good beginning.

So for now, my own decision has been to eat at least 50-60% vegetables daily. That is a guideline I have set up for myself and I’m not saying that is what you need or what you should do.

And, I’m going to follow up with many more posts showing recipes and how-to’s for vegetables. Let’s see what I come up with!!!

In the meantime I would really love to know what your experiences are with this. I’d like to know:

1) What do you see as being an ideal way for you—as an individual—to eat and is it easy for you to be that? (i.e. be vegetarian, be vegan, be omnivorous, etc.)

2) Do you follow some kind of diet or weight-loss plan or do you “wing it?”

3) Are you successful with what you do?

4) What exactly are your successful actions?

5) If you have a “downfall,” what is it?

6) Do you encounter a similar problem of overindulging in the more dense, concentrated foods and skimping on the lighter ones?

7) What would you like to know or learn most about including a bigger percentage of actual vegetables in your daily diet?

8) What vegetables would you like to have more recipes or preparation ideas for?

Food Adjectives

I have a very fortunate shopping ability when I buy clothing–I can walk in the store, look around a few minutes, pick something up that I like and as long as they have it in my size, I am ready to buy.  It’s fast and painless!

I could do that when it comes to food shopping too, especially if I go in there hungry.  It is so easy to breeze through, load up the cart (start to eat some of the purchase before reaching the checkout), and voila–food for the week!

But I don’t.  In the food store (grocery, health food or otherwise) I am a label reader and I bet you are too.  If you’ve been reading my recent posts you know how important it is to check on the quality of your ingredients before you buy them no matter what store you’re in.  (See http://mycookinglife.com/2012/03/18/the-whole-food-and-nothing-but-the-food/ and http://mycookinglife.com/2012/01/23/whats-good-enough-to-eat/ and http://mycookinglife.com/2012/01/24/a-bandwagon-worth-jumping-on/)

A row of shopping carts.

A row of shopping carts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not only is it important to know the basic ingredients and make sure those are all actually real food, but you have to know the food adjectives.  These are the ones on the front of the packaging and in the ingredient list such as “healthy,”  “whole grain,”  “low fat,” and here’s a real doozie, “smart.”

To help you with more pieces to this puzzle, here’s an article I thought you would like to see:  Health – philly.com.

And P.S. I am all for going food shopping while hungry.  Some of my most inspired menus result from that!

What’s Good Enough to Eat?

They’re everywhere – diet programs, weightloss systems, food philosophies, miracles promised if you take certain nutritional products.  There are just about as many opinions on what a human being should consume as there are “experts” on the subject!  Books, TV doctors, websites, blogs, health gurus, traveling side shows, official government recommendations . . . and food advice involved with social/political/economic issues.

I joined the United Farm Workers as a teenager.  My parents kept receiving brochures and letters signed by Cesar Chavez asking for donations to his cause, which at the time was about protecting the rights of migrant farm workers who were exposed to dangerous chemical pesticides in the grape fields.  (Remember the grape boycott?)  I read that the migrant workers came into the fields with their entire family and that the mothers and children were suffering with all kinds of health problems because of their exposure to poisonous substances. “Something,” I thought, “should be done about that.”

This truly concerned me and I joined for $10.  This was my first interest in a social cause and I continued paying for this membership for several years with my own allowance.  And of course, I did not eat grapes.

GRAPE-LETTUCE BOYCOTTERS PICKET THE JEWEL FOOD...

Image via Wikipedia

As I grew up my personal lineup of diet and health advice came from my mom and Soupy Sales (“Don’t forget your vitaminnies!”), Jack LaLanne, then Adelle Davis, next came the book, “Sugar Blues” by William Dufty, closely followed by George Ohsawa who coined the term “macrobiotics” and Michio Kushi who really brought this philosophy to life for me, and recently Dr. Robert Cohen and his research.  I have experienced being a meat-eater, a vegetarian, and a vegan over the years.  And what did I learn?

I learned that there are some very basic concepts that should be put in place before you can even begin to know what foods work for you.  They seem obvious to me now, but they weren’t at first and apparently they aren’t obvious to everyone else either.

The first concept is that you have to eat real food.  A friend of mine sent out a photo the other day taken by Deb Mahan showing a fast-food factory producing what looks like a pink, styrofoamy boa constrictor of foodstuff and asking you to guess what kind of food it is.  (I find the cardboard boxes with no other wrapping disturbing.) Anyway, it’s pretty easy to tell this is not real food.

I remember in college my boyfriend and I would chuckle over the fact that packages of individually-sliced and wrapped American cheese were labeled “cheese food” not “cheese.”  We knew that wasn’t real food.  We called it “plastic cheese.”

What about all those ingredients on so-called “food” packages that are mostly unpronounceable and that we mostly don’t have a clue what they are?  They aren’t real food, that’s for sure.

I think you get the point. Real food is not made of plastic, petroleum or chemistry-lab products.

[Additional case in point: Twinkies, the Undead Snack  opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com - Check out the third footnote at the bottom and click on it - there's a list of the 39 ingredients in "Twinkies."]

The second basic concept is that once you have chosen to eat a real food, you need to look at how refined or processed it is–i.e. how much has the original food been altered?  Most people know that refined white sugar is nothing like the original sugar cane plant.  Maybe you’ve heard that “carbs are bad.”  Well, that depends.  Are we talking about refined white flour products in which the flour bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original fields of waiving grain?  Rice that has been stripped down until there’s nothing left but the white carbohydrate part?  Or are we talking about whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, whole barley or whole oats that are called “complex carbohydrates,” act nothing like refined carbohydrates when you eat them, and used to be staple food all over the world?

Brown and white rice.

Image via Wikipedia

The third basic concept (and this is closely related to the second concept) is that no matter what type of food you decide you should eat, choose the highest quality of that food that you can.  “Quality” is relative, certainly.  But this is where you should look into what it means for food to be organic and why that is important.  And why your food should not be genetically modified.  The subject of food quality is worth learning about because it is key to understanding how what you eat will affect your health and how you live. I encourage you to gain that understanding and get into the drivers seat of deciding what effects you will create for yourself and your family with your food and don’t just leave it up to the “chefs” at the local fast food place or your favorite chain restaurant or the marketing directors of food manufacturing companies.

There is so much data to sort through on the subject of food!  Unfortunately it is can also be a highly political subject.  After all, what better way to control people than to control their food sources?  Diet and health advice is rife with rumors forwarded by vested interests.  Here’s an article that reminded me of that fact:  CDC researchers say mothers should stop breastfeeding to boost ‘efficacy’ of vaccines  www.naturalnews.com

But take heart and just start finding out.  Find out about organic food.  Check out the subject of “whole food.”  And if you can confront the political/economic realities, find out about GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). Following the three basic concepts I gave you will take you a long way toward understanding what’s good enough to eat.

All of which brings me to a YouTube I saw recently.  It is a video of an eleven-year-old boy explaining why he is going to be an organic farmer instead of an NFL football player.  It’s excellent because he is passionate and confident and his presentation makes the subject so easy to grasp.  Takes me back to my United Farm Worker days . .

Here is 11-year-old Birke Baehr’s video:

www.youtube.com

Let me know what progress you have made on these basic concepts!