Sunday, January 17, 2016

Commitment to healthier cooking

When I graduated with a degree in nutrition from one of the best universities in the country, I knew a great deal about enzymes, hormones, and dietary regimes for various ailments, from diabetes to kidney dysfunction - but next to nothing on how to make healthier choices for simple homemade food cooked for basically healthy people.

Sure, I knew the basics - avoid over-processed junk, eat plenty of fruit and veggies, reduce sugar and salt. But I didn't internalize the importance of what comes into the process of making food: organic vs commercially grown produce, pasture-raised eggs and meat vs animals raised in crowded feedlots. I wasn't fully aware of the detrimental effects of commercially processed oils, or even sugar.

Fast forward a few years. I'm pregnant with my second child, and a friend sends me the wonderful book Nourishing Traditions. I gobble it up, fascinated. Some things I disagree with, but so many more make perfect sense. I discover a wealth of information about the diversity of diet and traditional food preparation techniques. My horizons are expanded, but I'm also discouraged. This is too much for a family who love their triple chocolate ice-cream and depend on the convenience of plastic white bread.

Slowly, bit by bit, I become convicted that health is a treasure in the sense that it makes everything else possible, and that it is my job, as the cook of the family, to make the most effort towards preserving and enhancing health. My means are ridiculously inadequate. I happen to be married to a man who isn't exactly on the same page; who doesn't just think that whole grains are nothing more than a nutritional fad, but who requests desserts, foods fried in large quantities of unhealthy oil, etc.

I yearn to exchange all the junk for an invigorating array of fruit and vegetables, for high-quality natural oils and whole flours, and excellent fresh meat, fish and dairy products. I yearn to remove all the temptations from us. I do so wish I could be the one who does the shopping, but unfortunately, this isn't practical.

More recently, reading Sugar Blues made me more mindful of the effect sugar has on people, especially children. It's actually chilling. Intelligent people lose all rational thought and consume foul junk like candy and soft drinks as if those were manna from heaven.

So, what do I do? I cook. I cook for my family. The ingredients are often inferior, but here's what I do:

I cut down on desserts. I've realized that I can spend hours working on a fancy layered cake, lovingly decorating it, and what I'm really doing is investing my time in a poison bomb that is detrimental to my family's health, because I don't have the whole flour, high-quality eggs (at this season), healthy oils and natural sweeteners that would make such a dessert even somewhat more nutritious than its store-bought equivalent. So, if I can't make a dessert or a treat that isn't an anti-nutrient, I don't make it at all. 

Of course, this has a downside, being that my husband, if he sees I've stopped making sweet treats, buys them at the store instead. Then he introduces something that is even more loaded with sugar and unhealthy oils than what I would have made at home. But my protest, in refusing to make such things, creates an echo that really serves to convince my family, bit by bit.

Same goes for white bread. Making bread from scratch is time-consuming, and I've repeatedly told my husband I don't see the sense in doing it if I end up with a product that, nutritionally speaking, is only slightly better than what I can buy at the store (though it does taste better). So, in the past weeks we've been experimenting with slow-rise breads made partially of whole grain (because my husband still claims that bread made entirely of whole grain is too dense for him). 

Of course, I'm doing my best in cooking a variety of real food - soups, stews, casseroles, quiches, meat, fish, and eggs-based stuff. In short, I'm doing the best I can with what I have, at this moment. 


Anonymous said...

I have an awesome bread recipe that is very simple and not as time-consuming.

1.5 tablespoons yeast
3 cups warm water
6 cups flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt (the big, non-ground salt)
handful of rosemary

Stir all of the above together and let sit for 2 hours. Then either roll into balls or put into a loaf pan. Cook on 180 for 20 minutes (probably a little longer in your oven. My oven cooks everything quickly.)

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, thanks for the recipe. I love rosemary! Have you tried this with whole-grain flour? I've found that when I'm using whole grain, either wheat, rye or spelt, I need an overnight rise. It's alright by me - long rise makes bread more digestible (and better tasting!). I've also experimented with teff (the Ethiopian grain) but since it's gluten-free, it won't rise like flour from gluten-containing grains.

Princess Lea said...

Gradually over the years, as our awareness increased, my mother and I have changed the overall diet in the home exponentially.

One of the greatest myths out there is that healthy food is bland. I used to be a serious sugar addict, but no more. Some changes do take some time to adjust to, true, so be sure to give everyone time.

In the end, no matter what, whatever you make in the house under your supervision will be exponentially better than whatever is purchased out of the home. There are ways to "cheat" to make cakes, for instance, healthier; oil can be partially replaced with apple sauce, avoiding trans fat margarine at all costs (that includes pareve whip). While you do want to cut back on sugar, keep it in the cakes while officially weaning everyone off of juices and sodas (never drink your calories!).

Here's a recipe for the best brownie I have ever eaten, and I am not exaggerating.

Rediscover spices and herbs, as opposed to salt, for flavoring. Embrace healthy fats, like nuts and avocados.

But for your family to be on board, you MUST go slowly, or else they will rebel (speaking from experience). Slowly incorporate more vegetables, make the junk disappear bit by bit. Keep the transition so smooth and over so long that they don't notice.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy coming here to read off and on...and sorry your hubby is not cooperative or understanding of the risks involved in eating junky food...I did the best I could too while raising our children, often with similar actions by my husband...but must admit the results as to being healthy were not always the greatest. But now, all of them grown at ages 40 down to 32? ALL OF THEM eat way, way, way healthier than we raised them!! So dear...keep doing the best you can, maybe sharing with them as they are old enough to understand, just what sugar does in the body for instance, etc...and when they are grown maybe you will see then that what you were able to do, actually did have influence!! (I must admit however I never understood my hubby not putting more importance upon what I learned in college...was a HomeEc major, so nutrition was involved there some too...when I ALWAYS took his word for those things that he learned in college!!!!!) Elizabeth in WA

Lana said...

We have made huge changes in our diet over a number of years. Slow is the best way to go. I began by reducing sugar in sweets. Cutting it by 1/3 is not even noticeable to most.

Anonymous said...

Right, so I use 70% whole wheat flour, and it totally rises in two hours. To quote the friend who gave me the recipe: "Less than 2 hours= not risen enough. More than 2 hours = sourdough-y taste." I hope it helps!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, thanks for the tip! Is that two hours in a warm place?

Anonymous said...

Sorry I get back to you on delay! Honestly, I just put it anywhere in my house, even during these cold winter days (in ירושלים); we have the heater on and it just sort of rises and does its thing. This recipe is a game changer; so simple and tasty.

Also: I wanted to thank you for your corner of light on the internet. You give me emuna and chizuk; I thoroughly enjoy your blog posts about a simple life and enjoying our beautiful country, thank G-d.