The Nagasawa family diet update: May, 2010
As we continue this journey of trying to eat more healthy, with the hopes of sharing our thoughts with our neighbors and friends, we are encouraged by how a few changes can have lots of benefits. Here's a list of top changes we've made to our diet, in a rough order of importance.
1. Use raw sugar, organic sugar, or honey instead of white processed sugar and artificial sweeteners. We don't usually drink soda, sweetened milks, or most juices anyway, but did eat a decent portion of desserts (ice cream, brownies, cookies). For a few months, Ming and I have reduced the amount of sugar that we eat, and we switched from white processed sugar to raw sugar. I think that as a result of eating healthier, the pain that I felt in my hands and wrists - which I thought was caused only by keyboard usage - went away! White processed sugar can be an inflammatory agent to your body. Our kids' piano teacher experienced the same thing with arthritic pain. Also, not surprisingly, we have less plaque on our teeth. The average American consumes between 3 and 5 pounds of added sugar a week, adding up to 200+ pounds of added sugar a year per person.
2. Use whole wheat flour instead of white processed flour. White processed flour is just sugar; it's stripped of the nutritious wheat bran and germ, leaving only the carbohydrate. The rise in American diabetes is probably due to the use of white processed flour. Many products say "Made With Whole Grains" on packages, but use dark brown colors and deceptive names; they actually have ordinary refined wheat flour as their main ingredient, since they are not required by law to disclose the percentage of whole grains versus refined grains. In fact, some processed flour has a harmful plastic called bromine. So we try to eat NO white flour products at all: pasta, bread, buns, muffins, croissants, pizza dough, almost all cereals, crackers, and flour tortillas. Instead, if we buy things from the store, we buy oatmeal, flax seed cereal, nuts, whole wheat pasta, and Ezekiel bread from Trader Joe’s. At Christmas we also bought a small electric mill that grinds whole grains into whole wheat flour. We started making our own bread and pizza dough, which is delicious. Here are pictures:
These two points alone have completely changed how we eat breakfast. No more packaged breakfast food. Now, one of my favorite things to cook is fresh whole wheat blueberry pancakes. If you buy whole wheat flour from the store, it can be a little grainy when you cook it. But if you mix an equal portion of plain yogurt with the flour in a bowl, and leave overnight, it will start to ferment the wheat. The wheat will become softer and lighter; and the yogurt will release even more nutrients from the wheat for your body to absorb. In the morning, just mix in a little bit of baking soda, 1 – 2 eggs depending on the amount of flour. We use 100% maple syrup or blue agave syrup. Whole wheat pancakes are a lot more filling than the light, empty pancakes made from white flour.
3. Use brown rice, not white rice. Brown rice has more nutrition. Like white flour, white rice is the starch leftover after the nutritious bran and germ layers are stripped off. Unfortunately, in most Asian cultures, brown rice is associated with poverty and wartime shortages, although we should have known better from history: In the past, it was eaten by the sick, the elderly, and as a cure for constipation (it has more fiber). Some say that if Asians ate brown rice instead of white rice, Asians would have been taller than Europeans because brown rice is better than wheat as a staple grain. It's currently more expensive than common white rice, partly due to its relatively low supply and difficulty of storage and transport. But, if more people eat it, we'll produce more and the cost will go down, right? Brown rice has natural vitamins B1, B3, and iron (the FDA requires rice suppliers to "enrich" white rice with those nutrients). Brown rice also has 84 mg of magnesium per serving, which is awesome (magnesium is quite important), while white rice has only 19 mg.
4. Use coconut oil, palm oil, organic canola oil, and cold-pressed olive oil for frying, not vegetable oil. Vegetable oil is chemically altered and our bodies absorb more of it. After eating no vegetable oil for a month, Ming and I went to a Chinese restaurant and shared in a nine course banquet. It was probably the vegetable oil and MSG in the food that gave Ming a bad stomachache that night and throughout the next day. One nice dish is homemade "french fries" - really, sliced potatoes (sweet potatoes, too) baked with canola oil or olive oil; we've had a couple of dinners with that and homemade salsa (tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, garlic, salt, and hot sauce) that the kids love. We've not bought McDonalds' french fries for years, but now we have a really good alternative to that.
5. Make broth from bones (preferably grass fed cows, free range chicken, and fish). Dr. Sally Fallon, author of the healthy cookbook Nourishing Traditions, recommends that people make broth once a week to get the benefits of the marrow. It's important for our own bones and joints. Especially for runners, who probably don't get enough calcium, etc. to heal bones and joints from pounding the pavement. Seasoning the broth with sea salt and/or rosemary and/or thyme gives the broth a nice flavor that can be made into most kinds of soup. The fat that rises to the top after refrigeration can be saved for frying - it's healthier than vegetable oil.
6. Buy nitrate-free packaged meats. Nitrates are preservatives in bacon, sandwich meats, hot dogs, sausages, etc. But they are toxins that make your organs carry less oxygen, which can lead to a condition called methemoglobinemia. You can find "nitrate free" meats in most stores nowadays. If you eat nitrate-free bacon, you can save the fat and use it for frying something next time - surprisingly, it's also healthier than vegetable oil.
7. Eat more beans, from dried beans, not cans. Canned beans have preservatives. As you know, beans have a lot of good protein and fiber. They're also filling. Some of my favorite dishes are: (1) Moroccan chickpeas with garlic, oregano, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, and salt (and sometimes with eggplant - pictured here with brown rice and lamb); (2) sweet potato and chickpea stew with kale, onion, curry powder and rosemary; (3) black bean soup with garlic and cilantro; (4) minestrone type soup with beans and cauliflower; (5) Mexican-style red beans with nitrate-free sausages - easy to reheat on the stove and serve to the kids for breakfast.
8. Eat organic vegetables and organic fruit in season. Heavy leafy greens like cabbage, collard greens, and kale (get organic to avoid pesticides) are nice because they absorb flavors and have more iron. Arugula in salad is quite tasty. Broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus are probably the best vegetables you can eat, although asparagus makes your pee smell! Raw carrots, celery, and tomatoes with garlic hummus are good. We've also discovered some recipes with beets, leeks, and sweet potatoes. Again, mixing some of these veggies in with good broths, or beans, has been tasty. Pictured (top left) is an improvised Mexican tostada I learned in East Palo Alto, CA: a tortilla (wheat, fried in organic canola oil) with beans (not canned refried, but from dried beans that are boiled then mashed) with raw cabbage, onion, and cilantro, boiled and shredded chicken, and hot sauce. Also (bottom left and right) are blueberry pies with whole wheat flour crust and blueberries from a nearby farm (July), and raspberry jam made from raspberries picked from our garden (June-July), and homemade ice cream.
9. Use a crock pot. Dishes made in the crock pot are disproportionally good compared to the amount of preparation involved in just chopping stuff and putting it into the crock pot. Plus, you don't need oil since you're letting food cook in its natural juices and broths (like organic, free range chicken broth available in stores). Some of our favorite easy dishes are: (1) chicken with coconut milk, carrots, potatoes, onion, curry powder, garlic, and salt make a juicy, tender Thai curry chicken; (2) lamb with chicken broth, paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper, garlic, ginger, salt, with lime juice and dried prunes added later makes a nice Moroccan lamb which just falls off the bone (pictured).
10. Use a water filter. Tap water lets too much flouride pass into the water. And with filtered water, we're able to make a fermented tea called kombucha which detoxifies the body and helps your liver, though you can also drink a little bit of apple cider vinegar in water to get a similar benefit.
11. Stop using plastic plates, cups, and tupperware because of plastic leakage in the dishwasher. You can wash plastic stuff by hand in milder water - it's just that the super hot water in dishwashers strips plastic particles off to be ingested next time. Plastic intake is suspected in developmental disorders like ADD, ADHD, autism, etc. It is likely to be a big issue in the future because of all the plastic garbage floating in the Pacific (a garbage patch twice the size of Texas) and now in the north Atlantic. As that plastic travels up the food chain through fish to us, we're going to be in trouble.
12. (added August 11, 2010) We also drink raw milk from a farm that does not use hormones with cows. You'll definitely want to read up on the raw milk vs. pasteurized milk debate on your own. But one big concern is the growth hormones that have been given to cows that seems to be causing early onset of puberty in girls (read an article about that). If you're interested in raw milk, you'll need to find a provider within your state, because federal laws restrict the movement of raw milk across state lines.
Some things we'll be trying next are: Eating more fermented vegetables like Korean kimchi and Japanese napa because the enzyme content helps with digestion. Stay tuned...
Some decent ideas for eating healthy and saving money: How to Save $3,000 a Year on Food Without Even Noticing.