Hearth & Home

There is something about the holiday season that makes me wax a bit nostalgic.  Perhaps because we remember the holidays from our childhoods, but there is something in the air that brings me back to a simpler time.  And whoa, the older I get, the more I realize how simple the times were and I am talking the 1980’s!

My love of food started way back  when I had the privilege to be born and live on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, home to some of the world’s best foods.  Our family traditions were pretty much the same for the 20 some years we lived there.  For our Christmas Eve party my mom would travel 20 blocks north for all her meats from the Madison Avenue butcher, her favorite having lived in the neighborhood in the early 70’s.  She got all the fish she need just next door at the fishmonger.  Canapes and spreads came from William Poll over on Lexington Avenue in the mid 70’s, much closer to home on 72nd.  Produce  and of course the Christmas morning Panettone hailed from Grace’s Marketplace, the uptown location of Balducci’s which opened in the mid 80’s saving us from trekking down to Greenwich village to shop at the original. Last but not least, the smoked salmon and Stollen came from the  Danish specialty store Fraser Morris on 74th and Madison.

What I am getting at is, the Holidays, of which food is such and important piece, used to mean traveling all over the city to find the best  and freshest of whatever you were seeking out, made by a skilled food artisan who delighted in offering you the very best product for your holiday feast.  I loved going with my mom to these unique small shops and exchanging holiday cheer with shopkeepers and seeing all the amazing foods and smelling the incredible pungent smells of the season, even at the fishmongers!

Today since I live out in rural Cape Cod, much of which is shut down for the season, things are a bit different.  I will still head to my local fishmonger, so grateful to still have one, I think scallops might be on the menu this year and the local butcher for the filet, which I won’t eat but will be a favorite of my daughter’s on the Christmas Dinner menu.  Lucky for me my mom was in Manhattan this week and will be bringing up the Stollen and Panettone and my connections with local farmers will ensure I get the best local produce available, lucky I love those winter greens and squashes. And as far as Christmas treats, the girls and I have been baking cookies every year for as long as I can remember and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, except this year we will be adding my new Sea Salt and Caramel Pecan Bars to our baking menu!

Food is one of the best ways to steep yourself in tradition and help you and your family connect in unique ways.  Honor your family roots with traditional dishes and try going out on a limb and incorporating something new.  Food is what brings us together, lets give it the respect it deserves.

 

Staying Healthy Through the Holidays: EAT THOSE VEGGIES

So you have survived Halloween and the sugar fueled candy fest  and we have made it through the eating frenzy of Thanksgiving.  Now we just have to contend with the month of December and the constant onslaught of cookies, cakes, drinks and a whole host of decadent treats to derail our healthy lifestyle.  The good thing is there is still 5 weeks before the Christmas and New Years holiday so we can use this time to prepare.

I don’t know about you ,but I am still paying the price for Thanksgiving, even though I never seem to eat that much at the Holiday meal, I spent the days after having a bite of stuffing  here a smidge of pie there. It isn’t the weight I worry about as much as the fact that I don’t feel great when I eat like that and it lasts for days after.  For my teenage daughter I was pretty stunned how badly she broke out after the dairy laden meal, dairy is her nemesis when it comes to teenage hormonal break-outs and I shouldn’t be surprised.

So as a practitioner that focuses on prevention it is time to start now.  We have several weeks to strengthen our immune systems, lose a bit of bloat and excess weight and get ourselves feeling fit and energized, and ready to tackle the craziness of the holiday season.  I could give you a list of daily shifts in your diet or exercise regimen to tackle these challenges but I am giving you one simple tip that if followed will help ensure you stay healthy through the holidays.  EAT YOUR VEGETABLES! Yes that is it and I can’t say it enough.  If you consume your 9 fist size servings of fresh vegetables, 3 can be a fruit, I promise you will be filling yourself with the fuel you body needs to thrive and prevent yourself from overeating unhealthy foods.  All the vitamins, minerals and fiber are guaranteed to keep that immune system strong and energy levels high. So go ahead and eat that rainbow and remember the brown that is chocolate isn’t part of it!

 

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Here is a staggering statistic that I love to remind people of at Thanksgiving time, at the average Thanksgiving meal each person consumes 2 sticks of butter!  That is 1/2 pound per person of pure dairy fat!   That butter hides in pie crust, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing just to name a few.   Now this does not mean you should not indulge and enjoy the holiday but here are a few simple suggestions to make one of our favorite holiday meals just a bit better for our  health and waistlines.

  1. Use chicken or vegetable broth to add moisture to stuffing and potatoes to drastically reduce the amount of butter needed
  2. use lots of fresh herbs such as Rosemary, Sage, Parsley and Thyme to add flavor, and always remember that fresh herbs are also dark green leafy vegetables which adds loads of vitamins and minerals to your favorite dishes
  3. use gravy sparingly, a good gravy should have a rich enough flavor that you don’t need you meal to be smothered
  4. skip the crust, unless it is truly your favorite part, eat the filling of the pie and leave the butter and refined flour crust on the plate to avoid lots of extra calories
  5. Don’t starve yourself all day before you eat, be sure to have a protein and fiber rich snack before eating to help control your appetite, think Hummus and veggies as a snack during football

This is a start and won’t make huge changes to your mealtime.  Remember it is all about balance so aim to eat loads of fresh veggies early that week and that weekend to help your body recover from the onslaught that is the Thanksgiving meal,

New Products to help you Keep the Holidays Healthy

It seems like summer was just here but already we are starting to think about the holidays.  The Optimal Kitchen is about helping people  focus on the prevention of illness and maintaining optimal health, so I have developed a few new products specifically designed to aid clients in this quest.   These new items will be available at the Eastham Turnip Festival, the Wellfleet Harvest Market, and the Orleans Indoor Market as well as on line.  Come visit me at any of these locations and learn more about how the Optimal KItchen can help you and your family stay healthy this Holiday season and all winter long.

HOLY HABANERO:  This tincture with its high levels of capsascin is great for reducing inflammation, especially for those suffering from arthritis and other types of pain.  Add to foods to give them a kick or use in cocktails.

GINGER STEVIA SYRUP:  This sugar free simple syrup is a healthy sweetener with the added bonus of ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties.  It is ideal for sweetening everything from cranberry sauce to homemade ginger ale.  However I believe many people use this for making cocktails helping reduce the amount of sugars in your drinks which helps  prevent those holiday hangovers.

OPTIMAL BOOST: This is our answer  to fire cider.  Optimal Boost blends together the Ginger Stevia Syrup, Holy Habanero and Raw Apple Cider Vinegar all infused with  fresh Tumeric root.  This powerhouse blend  helps boost your immune system, reduce inflammation and promotes overall wellness.  I even got a ringing endorsement from my 15 year old who last night asked if I had any Optimal Boost because as she said, when she drinks a shot everyday she feels much better, and her skin is even better!

November and December can be challenging months for many reasons.  There is often an emotional toll layered on top of the physical, not to mention all the demands put on us by the holiday season.  Staying strong and healthy can make a big difference and here at the Optimal Kitchen we are doing all we can to keep our community healthy and strong.

Sugar: The. Bad and the Ugly

So I am sure no one wants to talk sugar the day before Halloween, but since tomorrow is quite possibly the day Americans consume the most sugar of any day I though it rather timely.   Sugar comes in all sorts of forms and types, white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, and loads of scientific names all of which end in OSE.  This is important to remember , anytime you see a word such as maltose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, fructose it means sugar, sometimes a single bond, sometimes a double it doesn’t really matter because WE ALL EAT TOO MUCH SUGAR.

If you have ever participated in an Optimal Kitchen cooking class you know that I blame much of our over consumption of sugar on the fat phobic trends of the 1980’s and 90’s.  There is simply too much sugar sugar lurking in processed and packaged foods and don’t get me started on the beverages.  Many will argue that they only eat natural sugar, sugar cane is natural and large amounts of honey and maple syrup are  damaging to our system as well though not as badly and at least these 2 bring some additional health benefits.  We know that sugar causes diabetes and metabolic syndrome by overtaxing  the pancreas, but it is also damaging to many other bodily systems.  Sugar feeds malignant cells causing those cells to proliferate.  Sugar weakens our immune systems making us vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections and sugar consumption leads to weight gain which has its own set of health problems.

I could go into details about what exactly those sugar molecules do tour system and talk about double versus single bonded sugar molecules and how they affect us but  I don’t view that information helpful to the lay person just trying to feed them selves better.  What is important to know about sugars is that the simpler or more refined form we consume the sugar in the more quickly it hits our systems requiring an immediate output of insulin to cope with the surge.  This is why the sugar in whole fruits, though  abundant, hits us differently with all the natural fiber and water to help slow down the process.

SO HERE ARE THE HALLOWEEN TIPS FOR SURVIVING SUGAR OVERLOAD:

1)EAT A PROTEIN RICH MEAL OR SNACK BEFORE HEADING OUT TRICK OR TREATING

2)AIM TO EAT LOADS OF FIBER RICH FOODS ALL DAY TOMORROW , FRUITS, VEGETABLES, WHOLE GRAINS, NUTS AND SEEDS

3) MAKE A PLAN FOR WHAT YOU ARE DOING WITH ALL THAT CANDY, the amount your kids come home with might be enough candy for the whole year  so decide ahead of time how you will handle this

4) BE SURE TO FIND A WALKING ROUTE FOR YOUR TRICK OR TREATING SINCE THE BEST WAY TO REDUCE EXCESS BLOOD SUGAR IN THE SYSTEM IS THROUGH WALKING

HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!

Understanding Hypertension

Recently I have been approached by a wide variety of friends  that have been grappling with unhealthy blood pressure levels for a myriad of reasons.  Whether it is my friend who recently gave birth a month early due to preeclampsia or another who simply has a genetic predisposition to hypertension, the treatment is virtually the same , but first I want to explain a bit about high blood pressure.

As complicated as this chronic disease may seem it is really very simply, sodium and potassium work together to create the proper tensile strength in our arteries for ideal blood flow. Skew towards more sodium in your diet and they tighten and tense up resulting in too high blood pressure, much less likely but with profound health problems as well too much potassium in the diet and pressure gets to low. So here we see another  need to find proper balance in our lives, this time in the amount of sodium and potassium in our diet. But how do we achieve this?

It is actually fairly simple.  We often don’t recognize the sodium levels in packaged and processed foods because it is sweet foods such as cereals and packaged baked goods that have absurdly high sodium levels, foods that don’t taste remotely salty.  In fact most cereals have sodium levels greater than pretzels and chips where we taste the salt!  But The Optimal Kitchen is always more about what we should eat and not simply what to avoid so let’s focus on increasing those potassium levels, how do we do this?

It is actually quite simply FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES, lots of them!!!! If you follow the Optimal Kitchen at all you have heard this many times and pretty much is the go to solution for holistically controlling any cardiovascular or metabolic issue.  All fruits and vegetables are naturally high in potassium, not just bananas which are pretty high in sugar.  Another reason to get those 9, YES 9, daily servings of fruits and vegetables everyday.  Keep your fruit whole and raw and be sure to eat the rainbow since every color of vegetable has a different purpose in promoting Optimal health.  So before you decide to go on any hypertensive medication, try shifting to an all vegetable, whole food diet for a week and see the amazing results

.

Tackling Obesity: Low Carb vs. Vegan

Listening to the news this morning rates of obesity in American adults has hit 40%  and 20% for children, with higher numbers for teenagers.  Ironically the report praised initiatives because the rate of obesity has actually slowed.  If as a nation we are satisfied with  almost half of our adult population being obese than read no further.  If you are horrified how we let this happen and what we can do to change it, read on.

Obesity isn’t about body image  or ego, it is about health.  Whether we want to talk about Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Arthritis, and even Cancer, we will find the root causes of these chronic degenerative diseases in the diet we fondly refer to as the American diet.  The American diet consists of a large amount of animal products, meat and cheese, refined grains and sugary drinks, a completely unhealthy and quite frankly unsustainable way of eating.

How have we as a nation tried to address these problems?  All you need to do is look at a magazine rack and you will see cover after cover touting some new diet secret or quick fix to a problem that probably had years to take hold.  The latest trend made popular is the Whole 30, a low carb trend not much different than the Atkins diet popular 30 years ago and is helping many lose weight but is this the right way?

Years of working in the food and nutrition world I have deduced some simple facts about weight loss.

#1 Eat less of  EVERYTHING but vegetables, simply put most of us eat too much, it isn’t just what we eat but the amount

#2 If you want to eat meat, drastically reduce grain consumption because you can’t have both, but remember as soon as you reintroduce carbs you will gain back some of that  weight, you can’t isolate carbohydrates out of the diet

# GO VEGAN: believe it or not this in my mind is the simplest and best way to shed pounds, improve health outcomes and protect the environment.  In relatively short amounts of time , 2 weeks, people have been able to improve health outcomes enough to be taken off many pharmaceutical drugs, simply by avoiding animal products.

Historically meat was a luxury and as a result eaten sparingly.   It was also in the early winter when most societies feasted on meats, slaughtered a pig or hunted for  deer and  cured and conserved the meat to sustain them through the winter when other foods become scarce.  This is not an issue for humans anymore and we need to recognize that the way we are feeding ourselves is killing us.

The great thing about diet and lifestyle is with some commitment and little financial investment you can make significant changes in just a short time.

Return to our Roots: How 21st Century Humans Should be Feeding Themselves

Who would have guessed that the abundance of available food would hearken our nation’s and perhaps the world’s biggest health crisis. Until the mid 20th century almost every country on the planet grappled with food insecurity and as populations continued to increase, governments looked to scientists to help solve these problems. Rather than enlisting the help of farmers and food producers, we looked for answers from people who did not have a relationship that bound them to the earth or the bounty nature provided already. While I have no problem with science and the amazing strides the past 65 years have brought in technology, healthcare and other vital areas, I struggle with the connections between science and food in recent decades.

The problem I have is with the fact that science looks for answers and solutions that are measurable and can produce data; we are a data driven society these days in case you hadn’t noticed. However nutrition is often individualized, think blood type, or dictated by the environment. People who live near the equator on the coast are going to have very different diets than those who live in the mountains to the North. As a result of the environment they live in, their diets will vary and thus their bodies will react differently to different foods. This is not news and their have been several books recently published that talk about blood types and the types of food those particular individuals should eat, all of which stems from the types of food their ancestors from the region have been eating for centuries or more.

I want to interject here with the reminder that in the hundreds of thousands of years humans have existed, it is only within the last 100 years or less that we have significantly changed our diets. In fact until we started to focus on the science of food production, we simply used to grow our own food or raise our own livestock for consumption. Ironically during that time we had far fewer chronic illnesses that were linked to poor diet even though many faced starvation.

To respond to food insecurity we started to change not only the foods we grow, but how we grow them. Family farms that fed their communities started to fail as government subsidies started propping up mono culture industrialized growing practices designed to feed the masses. For the regular citizen out there these farms could not exist without those government subsidies so if free market forces were the real driver, these farms would cease to exist. The masses these farms feed are actually just another step in the food chain since most of the corn and soy grown on these farms are for animal feed. So here is simply another step in the huge modern agro-business.

Here is the funny thing, we all know that these practices are making us sick. We know that eating processed foods made from refined grains, most genetically modified, mixed with copious amounts of refined sugars leads to inflammation, making us unhealthy. Yet as a nation we are slow to change. Since embracing the scientific approach towards feeding ourselves, rather than the practical, we now require data to prove it is in fact not healthy for us to consume particular foods. So whu we are more likely to believe some new product all wrapped up and packaged in a way that appears healthy is better for us than that knobby potato sitting in the bottom of your produce drawer. But that is simply NOT TRUE.

The only foods that are healthy for us to eat are those that grow in the mineral rich soil nature intended. Fruits, vegetables, grains and the animals that feed on these foods are what we as human omnivores are meant to eat. Does this mean you should shift and buy all the food you eat from your local farmer’s market, well YES. But don’t worry, I am pragmatic if nothing else and affordability and accessibility is key, so if shopping in conventional markets drastically reduce your meat consumption, which we should all do anyway, and buy as much fresh produce as possible. If your budget allows for organic, great, if not follow the rules of the dirty dozen and buy those organic whenever possible.

In most countries 20-25% of an individuals earnings goes towards food. In the Untied States that number is on average less than 5%. We want cheap food and have been willing to pay with our health for the past 5+ decades, but as you can guess this is not sustainable. Healthcare in this country is in crisis, much of this connects with all of the chronic diseases plaguing our population. All of these diseases are connected to the foods we eat so how is it as a nation are we not outraged by this? Change how we grow and eat our food returning to the ways of the past and many of these diseases will simply vanish, along with the expensive pharmaceutical interventions.

Most would consider these ideas alternative or even slightly radical, but returning to the ways our grandparents and those before us does not seem like a radical idea to me. For those of you there so ingrained in the scientific, just look at the Amish and how adhering to their historic traditions of feeding themselves, they have managed to avoid being plagued with modern day diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In fact try and find an obese member of the Amish community, I guarantee it will be a challenge. So try to be a part of a positive change and take small steps to improving your health, the health of your family and the health of the environment. Each small step we make has a ripple effect and can make waves in ways we simply cannot measure.

Springtime in the garden

 

Stay on Track all Week with The Optimal Kitchen

For those of you who are still not familiar with what we do at the Optimal Kitchen this is for you.  Every Wednesday I am at the Wellfleet Farmer’s Market and on Saturday,  I am at the Orleans Farmer’s Market.  At each market we sell a variety of healthy prepared foods.  If your  excuse for not eating well is that it takes to much effort to cook or is too expensive, the Optimal Kitchen takes away all those barriers.  Each market we have a stock of healthy salads, soups, salsas and snacks.  Almost all items are vegan, many are gluten free and there are even several paleo options as well.  

Our favorite new item is our TOK samplers.  These samplers let you try 4 different items from the Optimal Kitchen, making it a perfect way to sample all we have to offer. Each market features a salad sampler as well as a gluten free option.  These are perfect lunches and keeping a stock of them on hand will go a long way towards helping you stay on track with healthy eating all week long.  The food from the Optimal Kitchen is always extremely fresh so items will stay good in your fridge for the week.

So get rid of those excuses, healthy eating can be easy and affordable thanks to the Optimal Kitchen so come down and see us  and learn how we can help.

GOOD HEALTH STARTS WITH GOOD FOOD

A Dose of Reality Nutrition

Perhaps it is because I just returned from vacation, where I had  some free time to read up on recent Nutrition news, that I am sitting here cringing from much of the information out there on the web.  What strikes me as fundamentally screwy is that almost every nutrition blog I read connects to some e-commerce site where they try and sell you some magical potion or powder to improve whatever ailment you may be suffering from.  I am not here to sell you anything, but I am here to tell you that good nutrition is key to lifelong health and wellness. 

What we eat profoundly affects our bodies, and no amount of exercise can make up for a poor dietconsisting of sugar and fat laden processed foods.  In fact 80% of weight loss comes from dietary changes, not exercise, so as much as I support being active everyday, what we eat is far more critical to our bodies ability to function optimally.

First I want to address the issue of supplements which is what I see pandered most on the internet.  I am going to be bold enough to go out there and say “how is it humankind managed to survive hundreds of thousand of years without supplements, which have only been popular for the last half century.”  The answer is easy, we ate a variety of whole foods, primarily plants, vegetables, grains and fruits, with a bit of meat, eggs, and either some butter or lard to make it all taste good.  We have had access to some sweet foods for a few hundred years, but history books make it quite clear that these were luxuries that only a few could afford and only occasionally.  Can you imagine?  We managed to get the nutrients we needed to not only to survive but to thrive as a species from the simple foods we ate.  Ok, I will concede that herbs and spices have always been a vital part of health and nutrition and even though Tumeric may be sold in capsule form today, I do not consider any culinary or medicinal herbs that grow on this planet to be supplements.

My issue with supplements is simply the fact that manufactured forms of vitamins and minerals are never as readily absorbed and used by our bodies as when they are consumed in foods in which they naturally occur. Here is an example, for many years consumers bought and used Calcium Carbonate as a supplement to prevent bone loss which could lead to osteoporosis.  However after decades on the market, we  realized that without the presence of Vitamin C the body did not absorb the calcium so the money spent on all those calcium carbonate supplements quite literally was flushed down the toilet.  Now companies pander Calcium Citrate which contains Vitamin C to aid absorption, but keep in mind every food that is rich in Calcium, dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and many types of seafood have copious amounts of vitamin C present already.  Mother nature makes sure to create foods that match our bodies actual needs.  This same rule applies to Iron, so when you wonder why if you are prescribed an iron supplement and your doctor tells you to take it with orange juice, this is the reason.  But again if you ate copious amounts of greens and some red beans you probably would not need an iron supplement.

Another example is the explosion of probiotics on the market.  Did you know that most probiotics are found in healthy soil?  Our current system of farming which depletes the soil of these organisms is the reason so many of us lack the proper intestinal flora living in our gut.  Refrigeration has also eliminated the need for fermenting foods which was the other way humans have insured they had enough probiotics in their system for centuries.  Purchasing organic or even better biodynamic produce from your local farmer is a great way to get a wide variety of probiotics into your system.

It is always best to get the nutrients you need from the abundance of healthy foods available to us, they are designed especially for human consumption with nutrients that simply are not understood.  I encourage clients to shift some of the money they spend on these pricey supplements and instead improve the quality of the foods they purchase and eat.  However there are those suffering from illness and malnutrition that may need an extra boost of particular Vitamins and Minerals and for those  people supplements may be the best way to go, in addition to improving their overall diet to include massive amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits. But these people are more unique than mainstream.

Our addiction to these expensive and untested supplements proves an unwillingness to make the difficult changes to our diet to ensure our good health.  So many of us would rather eat a burger or pizza and take a handful of pills than eat a nutrient rich vegetable stew or a bowl of fruit salad.  History proves to us that feeding ourselves has always been challenging and it consumes a significant amount of our energy and resources.  How we face and address those challenges today is very different from our past and the state of disease in this country should be a warning bell that we may not be making the best decisions for our bodies.

As always remember GOOD HEALTH STARTS WITH GOOD FOOD