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Are Potatoes A Healthy Choice?

Potatoes are an important food staple and the number one vegetable crop in the world. There are more than 5000 varieties potatoes around the world that range in size, shape, color, starch content and flavor. The potato belongs to the Solanaceae or nightshade family whose other members include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatillos. Potatoes are technically tubers and not root vegetables. Essentially, they are enlarged stems that are higher in starch and complex carbohydrates.

Potatoes originated in the Andean mountain region of South America. Researchers estimate that potatoes have been cultivated by the Indians living in these areas for somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 years. Since potatoes are good sources of vitamin C, they were subsequently used on Spanish ships to prevent scurvy. They were introduced into Europe via Spain. The potato was first brought to the United States in the early 18th century by Irish immigrants who settled in New England. People in this country were slow to adopt the "Irish potato" and large scale cultivation of potatoes did not occur in the U.S. until the 19th century.

Health Benefits of Potatoes

Unfortunately, most people eat potatoes in the form of greasy French fries or potato chips. But take away the extra fat and deep frying, and a baked potato is an exceptionally healthful low calorie, high fiber food that offers significant protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer. In a future newsletter we will talk about cooking oils and how to select healthy oils for different types of cooking – including frying.

Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C, as well as dietary fiber and pantothenic acid. Potatoes also contain a variety of phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity with some darker skinned potatoes containing more antioxidants than others.

Vitamin B6 is involved in more than 100 enzymatic reactions, is essential for the formation of virtually all new cells in the body and plays numerous roles in our nervous system, many of which involve neurological (brain cell) activity. B6 is necessary for the creation of certain neurotransmitters that the nervous system relies on to transmit messages from one nerve to the next. Some of these neurotransmitters include serotonin, a lack of which is linked to depression; melatonin, the hormone needed for a good night's sleep; epinephrine and norepinephrine, hormones that help us respond to stress; and GABA, which is needed for normal brain function.

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Recipe of the Month - Russian Potato Salad

From Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked by Raghavan Iyer.

Serves 4

For the Salad

  • 1½ pounds new red potatoes
  • 6 medium-size to large red radishes, scrubbed, trimmed, and thinly sliced
  • 4 ribs celery, leaves discarded, thinly sliced
  • 1 large English cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeds discarded, and thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions, beards trimmed, green tops and white bulbs thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup baby capers, drained
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh dill
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh chives

For the Dressing

  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon coarsely cracked black peppercorns

Instructions

  1. To make the salad, scrub the potatoes well under running water, cut them in half, and place them in a medium-size saucepan. Cover them with cold water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Briskly boil the potatoes, uncovered, until they are just tender but still firm, 12 to 15 minutes. Take care not to overcook the potatoes.
  2. Drain the potatoes in a colander and rinse them under cold running water to cool them down. Give the colander a few good shakes to rid the potatoes of excess water, and transfer them to a large bowl. Add the radishes, celery, cucumber, scallions, capers, dill, and chives to the potatoes.
  3. To make the dressing, place the anchovy fillets, egg yolks, mustard, and garlic in a blender jar and puree, turning off the blender and scraping the inside of the jar as needed, until smooth. Combine the two oils together in a small bowl. With the blender on low speed, drizzle the oils through the hole in the cover in a steady stream. Once the oils are added, you will have a thick emulsion, which is your own homemade mayonnaise. Add the Worcestershire, lemon juice, cayenne, salt, and peppercorns and pulse the dressing to ensure a smooth mix.
  4. Pour the dressing over the salad and give it all a good toss. Serve at room temperature, but because this is a mayonnaise-based salad, do not leave it at room temperature for long periods of time.

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Save The Date

Mark your calendar: November 4, 2017

Red Earth Anniversary Celebration & Patient Appreciation Day

Red Earth is excited to be celebrating it's 10th Anniversary this year and what better way to celebrate that to invite all of the patients who have sustained us over the years to say “Thank You.” We are working out all of the details to be shared soon, and you can be sure it will be fun and festive with lots of good food and entertainment.  Please make plans to join us!

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Recipe of the Month #2 - Mingle Mangle

Mingle Mangle is a warm zucchini salad that can be served as a first course or warm salad.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tblsp unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots minced
  • 2/3 cup heavy or whipping cream
  • ¼ cup plus 1 Tblsp chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • ¼ tsp hot pepper sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¾ pound zucchini, trimmed, cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds
  • 2 med ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, cubed

Directions:

  • Melt the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook 1 minute. Add the cream and ¼ cup basil. Heat to boiling; reduce the heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the lemon juice, vinegar, hot pepper sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the zucchini and toss till well coated. Add the tomatoes; toss lightly. Simmer for 5 - 10 minutes just until zucchini is softened a little. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of basil. Serve immediately.

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Recipe of the Month - Indian Spiced Eggplant

Indian Spiced Eggplant

Prep Time: 20 min.
Cook Time: 25 min
Serves: 4

Ingredients
2 1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 cups water
2 tblsp coconut or other sugar
2 tblsp red wine vinegar
2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/2 lbs)
1/4 cup unsalted butter or Earth Balance Buttery Spread
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Basmati Rice

Directions:

  • In a small bowl combine the garam masala, coriander and turmeric.  In a measuring cup combine water, sugar and vinegar.  
  • Cut eggplant into 2 inch peices.
  • Heat the butter in a large skillet over med. heat.  Add the spices and cook, stirring until fragrant - about 1 minute.  Add eggplant and salt and toss to coat with the spice mixture. 
  • Stir in vinegar mixture and simmer covered, without stirring, for 10 minutes or until eggplant is just tender. 
  • Uncover skillet and cook at a rapid simmer, without stirring, until most of the liquid is evaporated - about 15 minutes.  
  • Remove skillet from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.  Serve over basmati rice and sprinkle with cilantro.   

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Eat Your Veggies

Vegetables & Preparation Methods

By now everyone knows that eating more vegetables and fruits is beneficial for our health. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly three million lives would be saved each year if more were eaten, and that low intakes may cause nearly 20% of gastrointestinal cancers, 31% of heart disease, and 11% of strokes. Most “standard” dietary recommendations suggest at least five servings of vegetables and fruits daily, however many studies show that more is better. The benefits of eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruits are many, including:

  • Reduced obesity and hypertension
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes
  • Improved mental/cognitive performance
  • Improved lung function, particularly those with COPD
  • Reduced adverse effects of environmental pollutants
  • Reduced risk of cancer

What to look for

It is best to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables; variety in color being one of the more important  characteristics. The color of a fruit or vegetables can be a good  indicator of the nutrients it contains, and therefore by eating a wide variety in color, you are getting a wide variety of nutrients.

Much conventionally grown produce contains pesticides and chemical fertilizers, so you want to make sure to understand which fruits and vegetables are most likely to be grown this way. The Environmental Working Group publishes a list called “The Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” that is helpful in determining which you should buy organic and which are relatively safe to eat conventionally grown.  If you download the guide from their website, there is this handy cutout that you can keep in your purse or wallet to reference when you get to the market (see photo). Several studies have shown that organic produce contains more nutrients than conventionally grown produce and also has fewer toxic metal residues. And organically grown produce is just better for our environment and maintains soil quality by including lots or organic matter that nourishes the soil. Eating mostly organic produce is especially important for women who intend to become pregnant or are already pregnant.   

Look for vegetables and fruits that are in season, fresh and ripe. We have a few local farmers markets in our area that are definitely worth a visit, so be sure to check out the PTC Farmers Market, or the Fayetteville Market.   We've mentioned before that attuning your body the the seasons is important to maintain balance in our health. While its nice that we can get a variety of fruits and vegetables from all over the world at the supermarket, it's best to stick with those that would normally be found in your area and to pass on those that have been picked unripe and shipped across the world. It is best to eat fruit fully ripened to get the most antioxidants.

 

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Recipe of the Month - Cooling Cucumber Water

Keep your cool this summer with this cooling cucumber water.  It's super easy to make and is so refreshing.  

When selecting cucumbers for your water, choose organic ones that are green in color, feel firm to the touch, and are round at both ends. Don’t use cucumbers that are yellow, have soft spots, or look wrinkly at the ends.

Recipe:

  • 1 medium organic cucumber
  • 2 quarts of filtered water

Peel strips lengthwise and discard.  Then slice the cucumber into rounds and place in filtered water.  Let steep for 1 hour and enjoy.

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What to Eat - Part 2 - Legumes

Continuing with “What to Eat” as a part of a healthy diet, we look at legumes. Beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts are a source of high quality nourishment, and have often been called the poor man's meat. When served with whole grains and a small amount of animal protein with good quality animal fat, we are talking about an ideal, low-cost diet.

Legumes contain protein, fiber, with boatloads of minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and molybdenum, as well as B vitamins such as folate and thiamine. Legumes also contain both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, with kidney and pinto beans particularly high in omega-3. They are particularly good for the heart given the soluable and insoluable fiber that helps keep artery clogging cholesterol in check, and the magnesium and potassium that are frequently lacking in the American diet yet are vital for the normal functioning of the heart and circulatory system. These minerals help to regulate blood pressure as well as electrical impulses of nerves and muscle (including heart) contraction. Legumes, particularly lentils, contain high amounts of B vitamins which convert homocysteine in the bloodstream to a form that is not harmful. Homocysteine which is a byproduct of protein metabolism can damage arterial walls and is a very predictive marker of heart disease.

So why do we hear that legumes are bad? Well, if you go back to our article on grains, some of the same caveats apply. Like grains, legumes contain anti-nutrients such as phytates and trypsin inhibitors, and some have specialized complex sugars that can wreak havoc on our gut without proper preparation. Phytic acid also prevents the proper absorption of some minerals, especially iron and zinc. The good news is that we clever humans devised ways to prepare legumes so they are safe, savory and nutritious.

How to Prepare Legumes

Softer legumes, such as lentils and peas, are easily prepared by soaking for several hours before cooking gently until soft. The soaking helps break down the phytic acid, and gentle cooking makes the protein digestible, especially if served with digestion-enhancing spices, pickles, chutneys or fermented dairy products such as yogurt or sour cream. Indian spices are particularly helpful to enhance digestion.

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Recipe of the Month - Baked Beans

What summer cookout would be complete without baked beans?   These are great served with sauerkraut, whole grain bread and turkey or lamb sausage.

Serves 6-8

  • 4 cups small white beans (dried)
  • warm filtered water
  • 2 medium-sized onions
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons naturally fermented soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of red chile flakes

Preparation:

  1. Cover beans with warm water and leave in a warm place for 24 hours.
  2. In a flameproof casserole, saute onion in butter and oil.
  3. Drain beans, rinse and add to the casserole with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil and skim the foam off the top.
  4. Add remaining ingredients, cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for 6 hours.   

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What To Eat - Part 1 - Are Grains Good or Bad?

Last month we looked at “how we eat” and this month we move on to “what to eat”. The question of “what to eat”, unfortunately has become overly complicated. There are so many diets that proclaim to be “the perfect diet”. Research studies (many that are flawed) about “superfoods”, foods that will kill us, and those that will heal us abound. There's the high protein/low-carb diet, many variations of the Paleo diet, the low-fat diet, the gluten-free diet, as well as vegan and detox diets. It's just downright confusing to try to wade through all of the hype to know what you should really be eating. With this and future articles, we are doing a deep dive into the various components of a healthy eating plan in hopes that we can help you sort it out.

The Traditional Approach Toward Food

Let's just take a step back for a minute and look at how our ancestors approached food. Over time, they figured out the ways of eating that made them healthy and those that didn't. They took into consideration what was available locally and seasonally. There were no supermarkets that brought foods from all over the world. Foods were grown without chemicals, cows ate grass, not grains, and they weren't given antibiotics and hormones. Our ancestors adjusted their diet to meet their needs based on their age, level of activity as well as the climate that they lived in. Growing youngsters, pregnant women, those whose jobs were very physical, and those who lived in cold climates needed more rich, nourishing foods. Those who were elderly, had weakened digestive systems or were recovering from illness needed to eat more light foods that could be easily transformed into nutrients that could be readily absorbed. They understood that we all have different needs and there is no single diet that is right for everyone.

Contrast that with our “modern” diet that tends to include more rich foods rather than light foods and things that aren't even “real” food. Rich foods are those that are loaded with fat, salt, sugar, and artificial flavoring. Processed foods that line our supermarket shelves can contain ingredients that our bodies don't even recognize as food like artificial (chemical) flavors and colors. Many times nutrients are damaged, removed or altered. People that consume mostly rich foods and processed foods typically have a range of health issues including being overweight, diabetes, heart problems, autoimmune issues and more. One result of the modern diet is that most people consume drastically less fiber then their ancestors did. This is one explanation for the rise in intestinal diseases and even cancer.

Balance and moderation are the key to a healthy diet. Thankfully, farmer's markets are making a big comeback and we can easily apply the logic of our ancestors to strike a balance of rich and light foods based on our individual needs, while considering foods that are in season and grown locally.

But what specifically should we eat? One of our teachers used to say “look at our own physiology to determine the ratios of what we should be eating.” One example of this is to look to how our teeth are constructed for dietary guidelines. About 60 percent of our teeth are molars (and premolars), these are the grain-grinders; 30 percent are incisors, these are the fruit and veggie eaters; 10 percent are the canines, these help with meat. Generally, if we use this as a starting point for our food selection and then listen to our body, we will be hard pressed to go far off. Factors such as age, climate, stress and physical activity all play a part what the ideal ratio will be. Just keep in mind that these ratios change over time, so we need to pay attention to the signals our body is giving.

Thus a healthy diet is a combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fat that includes meats, vegetables, grains, and other real foods. Understanding how to combine these in a way that provides your body with the balance of nutrients it needs deserves our attention. In the clinic, part of the treatment process is to raise awareness of how ones diet is affecting them. By knowing what cues our body is sending and learning to pay attention to them, we can make the adjustments necessary keep our body in balance. When we know the cues,what they mean and how to respond to them the question of what to eat becomes surprisingly, refreshingly simple. Rather than give you a cursory overview of each component of a healthy diet today, we want to provide adequate detail to each aspect and it’s importance in our health. Let's start with one that has, unfortunately, somehow become controversial – grains.

Are Grains Good or Bad --- or Both?

Most Paleo and low carb diets advocate against grains using the argument that modern grains are inferior, have been subjected to chemicals and genetic modification, are difficult to digest in their whole food form, and have become so processed that no real nutrients remain. This is all true in the majority of grain products on the market today. In fact, the prevalence of inferior, improperly prepared grain products have become so common that a great many people has actually never had high, quality properly prepared grain-based foods.

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