Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

Is meat unhealthy?

February 17, 2015

Stephan Guyanet at Whole Health Source has been writing a series of articles on meat and the role it plays in overall health. I’m linking to his latest article only and if you’re interested, you can search back through his previous posts and read all the articles in the series.

Like most people, I love meat. I don’t eat a lot of it because my food expenditure is limited by a budget, but I eat enough, I hope, for it to contribute to my overall health and to enable me to get the nutrients I can’t get from a vegetarian diet alone. I could never voluntarily be a vegetarian.

I’ve seen the nutritional arguments for being vegetarian (moral reasons are another thing entirely) and I’m not convinced that a person can be optimally healthy by avoiding meat. Guyanet seems to conclude that humans have evolved to eat meat, in other words, eating meat may increase our “Darwinian fitness”. I’ll go along with that.


Food & nutrition

April 30, 2014

I’m interested not only in growing food, but its nutritional aspects as well and how they impact on total health. So Stephan Guyenet’s website, Whole Health Source is one of my must reads.

I like to eat, too (who doesn’t?), so I need to watch my weight (again who doesn’t?). What to watch the most? Fat or carbohydrate? Or just total calories, forget about where they come from?

This latest post from Stephan Guyenet gives some answers: Fat vs. Carbohydrate Overeating: Which Causes More Fat Gain?

It seems that:

…….the clear winner is the hypothesis that total calorie intake determines body fatness, but not the proportion of dietary fat or carbohydrate.  

So I just have to worry about the quantity of food (calorie intake) I eat, and not so much where it comes from. But then…..note the first comment following the post, re blood sugar metabolism.

It’s never easy, is it?

Big picture stuff

June 29, 2013

This article appeared in this morning’s Melbourne Age newspaper.

Read it. Sounds good? Melbourne could live on 100% renewable energy made from waste. Hallelujah, we’re saved!!

Aaaaarrrrgh!! I could scream!! (I did).

This is the sort of ignorance that should be a criminal offence. The writer is environment editor for the Age and yet he hasn’t a clue about big picture stuff.

Look at these paragraphs exerpted from the piece:

“Biogas is the great, and largely untapped, energy resource that offers the simplest transition away from coal. It is synthesised from biomass, or anything organic that decomposes – typically crop husks, wood offcuts, animal dung, and sewage. Put simply, our cities could run on a resource that they will never run short of – our waste.

The City of Sydney surveyed every potential source of renewable gases within a 250-kilometre radius. After scouring hundreds of piggeries, waste dumps and forestry sites, it was able to show that there was more than enough decomposing matter within easy reach of the existing natural gas pipe network to disconnect the central city from the coal-fired power grid. Melbourne, with even more farmland close to its centre, is thought to have greater resources.

”The research shows that you can go to 100 per cent renewable energy this way,” says Allan Jones, the City of Sydney’s renewable energy adviser.”

Look, it goes like this. Every time we take a crop off the soil, nutrients go with it. Otherwise why would we eat? Our bodies need those nutrients to survive. If we kept doing this without adding back those nutrients, eventually nothing would grow. In a diverse natural ecosystem like a forest, nutrients taken up by the plants are returned to the soil in fallen leaves and branches; in spent flowers and uneaten fruits and in large trunks when whole trees fall. Bacteria and fungi in the soil aid the breakdown process that recycles nutrients. Animals that live in the forest, eat the forest products and return nutrients to the soil in their dung and in their bodies when they die. This is often called the “balance of nature”.

As (non-organic) farmers we return those nutrients to the soil by adding (artificial) chemical fertilisers produced in a factory (this isn’t sustainable, but that’s a subject for another time). Organic growers add composted plant material (including the parts of crops not actually used as food) and animal dung. We cannot, repeat, cannot afford to turn that ‘waste’ material into biogas, to run cars and industry. Everything must go back into the soil, or else all growth stops; all ecosystems die.

Organic farmers and permaculturalists already know this. Why is it that so-called environmental editors don’t. It’s not rocket science if you’ve studied ecology. Maybe anyone who writes this sort of rubbish should be locked away for a year with a swag of ecology texts until the bigger picture becomes part of their psyche.

Of course, human bodies should also be returned to the soil when life ceases, but we don’t do that. Our nutrients end up in cemeteries where no food crops are ever grown. Another example where nutrients aren’t returned to the soil from where they’ve come.

Another thing that occurs to me is that in a diverse, balanced ecosystem only certain numbers of each organism can be supported by the available nutrients. Human numbers are out of balance with the Earth’s ecosystems. Because human birth rates vastly exceed human death rates, there are far too many nutrients tied up in living human bodies that should be in the soil, supporting other life.

Mother Nature will eventually fix that.

Seriously healthy stuff

May 13, 2013

In my last post I linked to a recipe for the Life-Changing Loaf of Bread. I made it yesterday.

I made a few changes to the method. I used honey instead of maple syrup. I don’t have one of those fancy flexible silicon pans, so used an ordinary (small) loaf tin, but lined it with baking paper. I mixed the dry ingredients in a bowl instead of the tin and added the liquid phase (water, honey & coconut oil). If I was doing it again (and I definitely will), I’d use my Thermomix to blend the oil onto the dry ingredients first, (a food processor would do it as well). This is the way I make my mueslii, which has coconut oil in it. The reason being that coconut oil is solid at room temperature and I warm the jar in the microwave to be able to measure it out. In the recipe it has to be added to the water and honey and so the water has to be warm so that the oil doesn’t solidify again. When you whisk it up and pour it into the dry mix, you end up with oily smears over the inside of whatever you use to mix it in. Therefore much easier to blend the oil onto the dry ingredients and then add the water/honey mixture.

Anyway…..what happens is that the water is rapidly absorbed into the mixture. I think it’s the psyllium husks that take up most of it, but linseed also forms a gummy layer when water is added to it. So if you’re doing it this way, you have to get it into your tin reasonably quickly. Don’t take a toilet break before you do it, otherwise you’ll find the whole lot has congealed into a sort of seedy jelly. All the water will be absorbed as it stands. I left it a couple of hours before baking.

The mix in the tin, ready to bake. It’s quite solid and gelatinous:

bread 001
After baking:

bread 002
Sliced (with an electric knife for a good clean cut):

bread 003
I had a slice with my morning coffee. The flavour is bland. It needs either something in the mix to pep it up or something tasty spread over it. A herby cream cheese something-or-other, or vegemite if you’re desperate.

The original writer says it’s delicious toasted. Read her blog, especially the Q&A’s for the comments. I’ll try it toasted next. I’ll also put a couple of tablespoons of dried pumpkin into my next batch. Should give it a few colourful flecks.

There’s no doubt that this is seriously healthy stuff. A couple of loaves in your pack the next time you go trekking in Nepal and you’ll sail effortlessly to the top of Everest. Well…almost.

Later edit:

I toasted it under the griller. Takes a while to brown, but verrrry nice, with real butter, not that imitation stuff with the trans fats (margarine, in case you didn’t know).

Around the garden

February 16, 2013

I was weeding under the quince tree, stood up and was donged on the head by this:

thursday 008

A quince! It’s the first and only quince the tree has borne! There are three trees, all grown from seed, planted in a group. They’ve flowered each year for the last 3 years but have never set any fruit. See the brown spots on the leaf. That’s a fungus disease. I think it’s quince leaf blight. The trees get it each year and generally lose all their leaves prematurely. It’s spread by water and since it hasn’t rained for a while, most of the leaves haven’t been too badly affected. The recommended controls are chemical, which I don’t want to use. I might try a seaweed spray.

These are Diva cucumbers. The good thing about them is that all the flowers are female! And they don’t need a pollinator. They’re bearing like crazy. I’ve already bottled five jars:

thursday 001

friday 003

The three large jars are using my standard bottling recipe and the two on the right are using Suburban Tomato‘s bread & butter cucumbers recipe. I’m looking forward to trying them.

These are some of the pumpkins growing in the hugelkultur bed. They’re Red Kuri, a variety I haven’t tried before:

tuesday 013

These plants haven’t been watered at all and are looking remarkably green and healthy:

thursday 016

They’re all self-sown from seed dropped last year. Just a single tall stalk, 2 metres or more high, with clusters of yellow flowers at the top:

thursday 014

It’s Evening Primrose and its seeds contain a very high concentration of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid that is found mostly in plant based oils such as borage seed oil and blackcurrant seed oil. Omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids: they are necessary for human health, but the body can’t make them—we have to get them from our food. Along with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. I’ve been harvesting the seeds for a few years now and mostly put them in my bread and sprinkled on mueslii  (I need to work on brain function!).

My Black Kale was nearing the end of it’s life and was being attacked by Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillars. I was gradually taking off the lower leaves (plus grubs) to give to the chooks (they go mad for it) and in the end, completely cut off the tops of these 2 plants, leaving bare stalks which I intended to deal with later. In the meantime we had 16mm of rain—the only rain in January—and the stalks started to shoot again:

friday 003

I’ve noticed this happens with silver beet—when it’s gone to seed I don’t dig up the plant, just cut it off at ground level, cover the stump with fresh compost and mulch and it usually shoots out new growth. I’ve been wondering about perennialising plants by cutting them back severely and then feeding and watering, to promote new growth. It’s worth doing some trials, I think.

I’m not a great fan of summer any more (let’s be honest, I hate it), but it is good drying weather. Today I put tomatoes and chopped pumpkin out on the deck (the wire frames standing up at the rear go over the drying racks to keep insects off):

saturday 001

Last but not least (it was hard work!), I’ve finally finished clearing out all the water plants from the first pool. Waiting now for some rain to fill it so I can see real water again:

friday 004

Growing seeds for sprouting

January 17, 2013

Sprouted seeds are one of the most nutritious foods we can eat and they’re so easy to produce. Isabell Shipard’s book, How can I grow and use sprouts as living food? covers over 100 kinds of sprouting seeds and is a reference well worth having:

thursday 013
I use fenugreek seeds pretty much exclusively for sprouting. I have tried wheat, but I like the nutty, slightly curryish flavour of fenugreek best. I throw a handful into any dish—omelets, sandwiches, salads, garnish on soup, etc. I sprout about a teaspoon of dry seed a week and that keeps me going.

So, of course, a few years ago, I tried growing fenugreek. It’s so easy; germinates in a few days when sown in autumn; grows through the winter; flowers in spring and sets seed in long curved pods. It’s relatively easy to strip the pods from the plants when they’re dry, but fiddly and time-consuming to get the seeds out of the pods. Last year I discovered the Thermomix is ideal for extracting seed from pods.

Empty pods:

thursday 004


thursday 007


thursday 003

I got about a dozen teaspoonfuls of seed from plants in a circular area 80 cm in diameter, about half a square metre in area. That’s about 3 months supply for sprouting. So in just a couple of square metres, I could grow a year’s supply. Well worth doing, particularly as the health food shop where I used to buy the seeds has since closed and (apart from buying in bulk from seed suppliers) there’s nowhere else locally I can get them.

Nettle pesto

October 29, 2012

My new little edible weed book arrived a couple of days ago:

It’s a great resource and conveniently pocket-sized. I’m even more enthused about maintaining a collection of edible ‘weeds’ somewhere in a corner of the food forest.  Going to need an alternative name to ‘weeds’ though, to eliminate the negative connotations.

I have a large, healthy patch of nettles growing at the moment so I was interested in the nettle entry. There’s a recipe for nettle gnocci in the recipe section at the back of the book and nettle pesto was mentioned, so today I got to and made a batch, using my normal basil pesto recipe:

I’m not sure about the taste; it’s very ‘green’ (a bit like eating your lawn), and not a patch on basil pesto, but I’ll try it on some pasta later in the week and see how it goes. Definitely won’t throw it out though, with all that goodness in the nettles it’s too valuable to waste. I might try the gnocci at some stage and nettle and potato soup which I made some years ago, is a winner, too.

My pesto recipe:

2 cups basil (or nettle) leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts or almonds
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Blend all except the parmesan in a food processor until the desired consistency and then stir in the cheese. Of course, it’s a doddle in the Thermomix and it will even grate the parmesan for you.

I picked a huge basket of nettle leaves, so what I didn’t use will be dried and ground into flakes to use in omelets, casseroles, soups, you name it, etc.  Nettles are extraordinarily rich in minerals, with 8 times more iron than beef, lots of calcium and up to 40% by dry weight of protein.


September 22, 2012

Some weeks ago I bought Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation. I didn’t know it at the time, but he’d just released a bigger, updated version with lots more information on fermented foods.

Look what arrived in the post yesterday:

The big updated version. It is sooooo comprehensive!

A complete surprise and generously sent to me by a reader of this blog, Fran from Serendipity Farm in Tassie. Fran’s blog is The Road to Serendipity. Apparently she had acquired two copies, thought I’d like one and posted it across Bass Strait.

How serendipitous is that! Thank you, Fran.

Novel foods

August 27, 2012

Sharon Astyk over at Causaubon’s Book has a short post about foods most of us don’t normally eat, or know it’s OK to eat.

Mention of broccoli stems and how delicious and useful they are made me think of a sign that some greengrocers put on the broccoli, to the effect that if you break off the stems you’ll be charged for them! That always makes me laugh! Although to be fair, home-grown broccoli stems are much more tender than their shop-bought counterparts.

Since trying to become a more self-sufficient foodie, I’ve learned about a whole slew of unusual edible things that other people turn their noses up at. Things like dandelions (leaves and flowers), chickweed, calendula flowers (really attractive in a tossed salad), nettles (nettle & potato soup is yum!), and so on.

I was at a neighbour’s recently and their rather neglected veggie garden was covered in chickweed. We really must get the weeds out, she said. I said you can eat that, it’s chickweed, it’s rich in iron; they grow it by the acre in the US to extract the iron for iron tablets. Her jaw dropped quite a bit.

One day, I will make a list of all the edible ‘weeds’ and similar plants I can find info on and start an edible weed garden.

Rainy Wednesday

August 8, 2012

I know God hates me because I’m an atheist and when he sees me out in the garden, he sends it down.

He must have been otherwise occupied this morning because I actually got a lot of weeding done before he woke up that I was out there.

I had a coffee while I caught up on other blogs and (for me) had a stunning idea.

I’ll go shopping.

Wait a minute! I hate shopping! And I hate to drive in the rain (to be fair to God, though, it wasn’t heavy).

Friday is my usual food shopping day. I go to a small local centre where there’s a supermarket, PO, newsagent, bank, hot bread shop, butcher and a chemist. It’s about a 12 km return trip. My record for getting there, getting the groceries and getting home is 40 minutes. Not bad for an anti-shopper (and without speeding).

There’s a bigger shopping centre about twice that distance away, where I only go when I want something they have that the small centre doesn’t.

I’d almost run out of chicken stock and there’s a chicken place there that sells 3 chicken carcases for a dollar. Can’t get better value than that.

There’s also an el cheapo bookshop where everything’s $5 and an el cheapo greengrocer (although I prefer to shop for fruit & veggies at a Sunday market where the stuff is local).

So, later…..

Three chicken carcases in the stockpot (note: rainwater only, don’t want toxic fluoride in my system):

Two books, one on beekeeping (I will, one day) and a risotto recipe book. Since I made the mushroom risotto so easily in the Thermomix, I’m sold on risottos:

A couple of leeks, a dollar each (better than I can get at the Sunday Market):

They were destined for the dehydrator:

Five litres of delicious chicken stock. I can’t understand why anyone would want to buy the dishwatery stuff in a carton:

So not a bad outcome, eh God? Can’t keep a good atheist down, even on a rainy day!