Thursday, October 22, 2009

Nature's Hidden Source of Vitamin D

When vitamin D comes to mind, we usually think of sunshine. Sunshine is without a doubt the best source of vitamin D. However, we don’t always have access to it, especially during the winter months, if we live at northern latitudes, or if we spend most of our time indoors. With limited sun exposure, we rely on food for vitamin D. It can be challenging to meet our daily vitamin D needs with food, particularly if we are vegan or vegetarian. Cold water fish, cod liver oil, milk and egg yolks are some foods with high levels of vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. One would need to consume 4 ounces of fish or 4 cups of milk to meet the daily recommendation of 400 IU.

Another source of vitamin D in our diet is mushrooms. Mushrooms contain a slightly different version of vitamin D called ergocalciferol. Ergocalciferol or vitamin D2 is produced when mushrooms are exposed to UVB light. Mushrooms are usually cultivated indoors, so much of this vitamin D is not produced under these conditions. Recently, mushroom producers have paired with the FDA and academic institutions to study the impact of UV light on vitamin D production in mushrooms. What they’ve discovered is that exposure to UV light during the cultivation process significantly increases the ergocalciferol content of some varieties of mushrooms. Although studies are being conducted to determine whether the biological activity of ergocalciferol is equivalent to that of cholecalciferol, the vitamin D found in animal sources.

Vitamin D plays a critical role in calcium absorption and bone health. Recent studies have linked vitamin D deficiency with osteoporosis, some cancers, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and insulin-dependent diabetes. Those at risk for vitamin D deficiency include older adults, individuals living at northern latitudes, people with dark skin, and those with fat malabsorption. Given its role in promoting health and preventing disease, it's critical that we optimize our vitamin D status. Mushrooms may be one food source of vitamin D and they have other nutritional benefits. They are high in B vitamins, potassium, zinc, phosphorous and selenium. In addition, they are free of cholesterol and fat, and have one of the highest protein contents of any vegetable. The Pacific Northwest offers hundreds of varieties of wild edible mushrooms. You can purchase these at farmer’s markets or at the grocery store and prepare them using a variety of cooking techniques including roasting, stewing, frying and sautéing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

100 Mile Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an ideal time of year to experience the benefits of the 100-mile diet. The idea behind 100-mile is to eat a diet consisting of foods that have been grown within 100 miles of where you reside. Depending on where you reside, many of the foods that we eat during Thanksgiving are available locally like sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkins. We should take advantage of this abundance for a number of reasons. First, buying locally harvested food supports local farmers which in turn supports your local economy. Second, you save money when you eat locally; foods purchased at local farms or farmers’ markets are often cheaper than non-local food that’s been shipped across the country or from overseas. A third reason to buy local is for the health of the environment; shipping or flying food cross-country uses large amounts of fossil fuels which harm our environment. The health benefits of 100-mile diets are also significant. Studies have demonstrated that local, seasonal fruits and vegetables have a more diverse nutrient profile than their non-local counterparts which means you’re getting more essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for every dollar you spend. Here are 6 tips that can help bring the 100-mile diet into your feast this Thanksgiving:

1. Turkey: Purchase a free-range, naturally raised local turkey from your local butcher or grocer.
2. Stuffing: Stuff your turkey with organically grown, locally harvested whole grains such as wild rice or buckwheat instead of bread. You might also add some locally foraged wild mushrooms such as oyster, chanterelle, or portabella mushrooms.
3. Root vegetables: Buy root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips and rutabagas from local farmers instead of buying conventionally-grown white potatoes.
4. Squash: Pumpkins and numerous varieties of locally grown squash are abundant during this time of year. Purchase them at a pumpkin patch or local farmers’ market.
5. Beverages: Apples are everywhere during the fall and winter months, and local apple cider, often found at farmers’ markets and natural foods markets, is the perfect accompaniment to your thanksgiving feast. Serve chilled or hot with mulling spices. If you’re serving wine, get to know your local winemakers either in person or online.
6. Dessert: Capitalize on those sweet potatoes, pumpkins or apples that you bought locally and make your own pies instead purchasing them at the store.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cooking with Gluten-free Whole Grains

Incorporating grains into the diet can be challenging for the gluten-free. Wheat and other gluten containing grains are pervasive in the standard American diet. There are in fact many whole grains that are naturally gluten-free, including the more familiar rice and corn, and the less familiar, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, tef and amaranth. This article reviews the less familiar millet, buckwheat, quinoa and tef.

Whole grains are important because they contain all of the nutrients in the grain: fiber, vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients; whereas refined grains are nutritionally less superior. During the refining process, core edible parts of the grain are removed. For example, the germ and bran of a whole wheat kernel are removed in the process of making white flour. The whole grains listed below can be purchased in most natural food stores and in traditional supermarkets.

Millet: Small, yellow, unfortunately found in bird seed mixtures and animal feed in the US, millet is an underutilized, versatile whole grain. Its alkaline nature makes it easy to digest. High in protein, potassium and magnesium, millet can be cooked up as a breakfast porridge, served in salads, soups and stuffings. The flour is a good choice for pancakes, cookies and other baked goods.

Nutty Millet Porridge
½ cup millet, dry
2 ½ cups water
Pinch of sea salt
½ teaspoon white or black sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds, crushed
2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/8 cup of dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, or currants)

Heat a dry pot to medium. Add millet. Stir grain with a wooden spoon. After a few minutes the grains will begin to pop and give off a nutty aroma. Add water and salt. Bring to a boil. Simmer for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Millet will soften like a porridge. Stir in sesame and sunflower seeds. Add butter and maple syrup. Taste and adjust salt or syrup. Ladle into your favorite breakfast bowl. Top with dried fruit of your choice.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Makes 1-2 servings
Copyright 2009, Genevieve Sherrow, Original Recipe.

Buckwheat: A misnomer, buckwheat is not part of the wheat family; it is a seed of a weedlike plant related to rhubarb, not a grain. Buckwheat originated in North Central Asia. It can be purchased in different forms, as “groats”, roasted (kasha) or unroasted, as flour, and in noodles. Cook up buckwheat as a breakfast gruel, grain pilaf or stuffing. Use the flour in substantial breakfast pancakes and in savory crepes.

Peasant Kasha, Potatoes and Mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter or extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups boiling water
1 small red potatoes, ¼“ dice
3-4 mushrooms, sliced
1 cup kasha (toasted buckwheat)
Freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a 2-quart pot. Add onions, garlic and salt; sauté until the onion is soft. Put water on to boil in a separate pot or tea kettle. Add potatoes and mushrooms to onions; cook 2-3 minutes more, covered, until nice and juicy. Add kasha to mixture and stir, coating kasha. Pour in boiling water. Turn heat to low. Cover pot and simmer 15 minutes on low until all water is absorbed. Remove lid and allow kasha to rest for a few minutes. Fluff up and serve garnished with pepper. Add more salt if needed.

Preparation time: 25-30 minutes
Makes 6 servings
Reprinted with permission from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008) Video version from

Quinoa: Pronounced keen-wah, it was first cultivated in South America, 8,000 years ago. The Incas recognized its value in increasing stamina in their warriors. Quinoa is one of the most nutritious whole grains. It contains all of the amino acids, as well as B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin E. It has a nutty and sometimes bitter flavor due to the fact that it’s coated with saponin, a naturally occurring bitter substance, which should be washed off before cooking. Quinoa is a versatile grain. Serve as a morning porridge, a side dish mixed with beans, nuts and seeds, mix with greens, roasted vegetables, or serve with fish or chicken. The flour is wonderful in cookies.

Quinoa Biryani
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
2 tablespoons high quality unrefined olive oil
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and minced
1 1/2 cups sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup raw almonds, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
3 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon coriander
Sea salt and crushed black pepper to taste

Combine water and quinoa in covered pot. After water comes to a boil, turn heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until all of the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and cool. Do not stir or agitate quinoa during cooking. Tilt pot to 45 degree angle to see if water has been absorbed.

Heat saucepan to medium-high, then add olive oil. Sauté ginger until it sizzles. Add onion and stir until it’s translucent. Add garlic and stir. Combine quinoa, raisins, almonds, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander and honey (in that order) with garlic and onion. Stir until ingredients are well-coated.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Makes 3-4 servings
Copyright 2009, Genevieve Sherrow, Original Recipe.

Tef: Native to Ethiopian cultures, these miniscule brown grains are nutritionally superior to other grains, high in minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. If you’ve dined in Ethiopian restaurants, you’ve had Tef. Ingera, the flat bread served with food, is made from Tef flour and fermented with a sourdough starter.

Cream of Tef with Dates and Honey
1/4 cup tef flour
2 cups water
Pinch sea salt
1/2 cup medjool dates, chopped
1 tablespoon honey
Milk of choice

Toast Tef in dry saucepan over medium heat until it emits a fragrant aroma, about 2-3 minutes. Add water and salt and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer covered for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in dates and honey. Serve hot with milk of choice.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Makes 1-2 servings

Recipe adapted by Genevieve Sherrow with inspiration from Rebecca Wood’s The Splendid Grain.