Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Most Useful Kitchen Gear & Why

Sunflower PetalsThe main intent of my food strategy is to absorb the most complete nutrients for the least energy. I am constantly trying to optimize this strategy and increasingly keep coming back to greens – the massive vitamin and mineral content of greens. (I don’t intend to buy any synthetic vitamins ever again.) The more I research, the more I am increasingly impressed with the complexity and abundance of vital nutrients contained in green leaves. Since the digestive process of breaking down the cell walls to extract these nutrients takes so much energy, I have been relying on two key appliances in an attempt to optimize nutrient absorption: the blender and the juicer.

I bought a Blendtec Blender from Costco, but Amazon has amazing deals on them too. And since the fancy turbo blenders are becoming more popular, I’ve been seeing them lately in many kitchen supply stores (such as Bed Bath and Beyond) as well. I use the 96 oz Jar size (I drink a lot of smoothies), and am much happier with this larger size. However, if this Blendtec breaks down, I plan on buying the Vitamix next time. Even though the square Blendtec jar is VERY handy, I find that I do need that beat stick that comes with the Vitamix. ;p All to often in my experience, the Blendtec causes cavitation at the bottom of the jar, and I have to put in way more liquid than I want (and still usually need to take most of the contents out and re-arrange) to be able to simply blend stuff.

The strategy with a fancy turbo blender is to pulverize the cell walls of leafy greens so your digestive system doesn’t have to do all of that work. Using this method, it’s no trouble to down a smoothie with 1/2 lb of greens. I would personally have no fun eating that massive salad in its place. One big caution is the potential for oxidation that’s introduced by the metal blade and vortex of oxygenation that the action of the blender causes. In order to mitigate this, I usually do not blend more than 30-45 sec. I figure the greens would also oxidize somewhat in the natural chewing and digestion process, and until I have a better understanding of this comparison and tradeoff, I will be using a blender for green smoothies for the foreseeable future.

I am currently using the Omega J8004 juicer (bought from Amazon). I keep hearing people love the ‘Vert’ (vertical) version of the Omega juicer (for convenience) or the double auger Greenstar juicer (for extracting potentially more nutrients). My main interest in the juicer is for greens, and at the time I bought my juicer, the Omega J8004 was my optimal choice for nutrients vs cost.

Juicers remove all (or most) pulp from the food, so you are left with basically a water-like liquid to drink. While some people are concerned with all of the material left behind, research does seem to indicate that most of the vitamins are in the liquid, not the fiber, and that the nutrients in the liquid is very easily absorbed. Even though I do now have extreme skepticism in all food processing, I do find the good points of juicing very compelling. I will keep vigilant, but this is looking like a very promising way to obtain the most nutrients for the least amount of energy. In order to cover my bases, I have a huge smoothie (see above) for breakfast that contains all of the plant fiber as well. I also have about 16oz of greens-based juice each day.

Warning: Alkaloids
Every type of green contains some sort of alkaloid that could build up in your system over time. (ie: Eating a pound of kale each day for several months straight.) My strategy to receive the most benefits for the least systemic cost is to rotate the type of greens I consume each day. I just make sure to buy a huge variety of greens, so that I naturally rotate through them as I go through my fridge: kale, collards, spinach, dandelions, lettuce, fennel, parsley, cilantro, the tops of root vegetables, sprouts, etc …  I view this process like a resource-card in those fancy European board games, where you have some sort of vital benefit listed on the card along with some drawback. The proper strategy then is to just make sure not to get swamped by one particular downside and you can reap the much more significant positive benefits. In this case, rotate your greens, and receive numerous vitamin and mineral benefits.

Here are the recipes I’ve been using for my green smoothies and juices:

My Latest Green Smoothie Template
(To save time & cleanup, I usually make mine in a double batch for two days.)

  • I put in the meat of half a mature coconut  (I happen to love coconuts, but you can leave this out or use avocados or seeds instead)
  • 1/2 lb greens (whatever’s available; I built up to this amount over time)
  • Some fruit for sweetness (or raisins, figs, dates, honey, …)
  • Enough liquid to be able to blend (Lately, I’ve been using room temp herbal tea instead of water.)
    • My favorite winter tea at the moment is mullein, plantain, and elder flower (bought the herbs individually at www.mountainroseherbs.com).

Optional add-ons depending on the day:
  • Avocado
  • Bee Pollen
  • Random herbs: Milk Thistle Seeds (liver protection), Vanilla Bean, cinnamon, acerola berry powder, Eleuthero, …
  • Whey powder (from concentrate www.HyperionHerbs.com, NOT isolate)
  • Colostrum (www.TheRawFoodWorld.com )

My Latest Green Juice Template
  • Carrots (a decent handful) – Costco has massive bags for $6 or so
  • Celery (3 or so stalks) or 1/2  a Cucumber
  • About 1/2 lb greens (whatever’s available)
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger
* For some reason, Chard tastes really bad to me, so I’ve been staying away from it.

Animal Protein
Even though most of my diet is raw foods, I do usually have a some animal protein a day. I am more and more convinced that protein must be prepared so carefully (details matter!!) so that it does not become a toxic load on your system. I keep the protein intake less than 20g per sitting and make sure it is minimally processed. (Based on my reading, excess protein beyond 30g or so is broken down into sugar which is an energy-expensive process and also triggers an insulin response.)

Salmon (I buy mine in bulk from www.vitalchoice.com):
Broil salmon for 5 min on Hi & let sit for a couple of minutes

Meats (usu grass-fed bison at the farmer’s market):
Cooked in my slow cooker for a few hours. It seems like the latest slow cookers are not really so ‘slow’. Regardless of setting my crock to ‘low’ or ‘high’, I see the contents simmering at just under a boil. Doh! Guess I’ll be on the lookout for earlier models. In the mean time, I just make sure the meat is minimally cooked (trade off between bacteria safety vs denatured protein issues).

Eggs: (I've been getting duck eggs from the farmers market - the yolks are huge!)
I’ve been discarding the whites (which seem to give me some stomach irritation), and putting the raw egg yolks almost as a dressing mixed in my evening ‘salad’ of sauerkraut, avocados, some greens for texture, dulse seaweed, and usually some cut up vegetables. When consuming raw foods, especially raw animal proteins, the quality must truly be exceptional to mitigate safety concerns.

Most raw foodists I see online promote eating most of their calories from carbohydrates. Although I do enjoy listening to the experiences, recipies, and other health tips from people following this strategy, from my reading, a heavily carbohydrate-loaded diet puts a great deal of oxidative stresses on the body and taxes the insulin response of the pancreas. While it may be that consuming carbs from a whole-food source (rather than processed sugars) can mitigate insulin issues, my current health and longevity strategy is to place my bet with the high quality fats (mainly coconuts and avocados). Even though my current food strategy involves consuming the majority of my calories from fats (typically more of a paleo strategy), if I am someplace where my options are processed fats or factory farm overcooked meat, I would rather skip both and eat only carbs.

I’ve come to think of fats as almost the holy grail of food. The degree to which fats have been processed determines whether it can be of tremendous benefit or of tremendous harm. In the immortal words at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade . . . Choose wisely  ;p 

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