Tag Archives: food

Rainbow of Antioxidants

I often come up with the ideas for my blogs while working in my garden. This one started with a very simple thought: I love purple. I was admiring the purple cayenne we are growing this year. They have that lovely deep purple like eggplant.

Purple cayenne

Purple cayenne

We are growing several other purple varieties in our garden this year like carrots, tomatillos, and okra. The presence of this purple color indicates that these vegetables provide a specific type of antioxidant known as anthocyanins. Other sources of anthocyanins are purple cabbage, purple potatoes, blue corn, black beans, plums, dark grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and black berries, as well as herbs like elderberry, hawthorn, and acai. Anthocyanins are considered to be one of the best antioxidants for protecting our brains, hearts, and blood vessels.

Our Purple Crops

Our Purple Crops

Even though purple is so enthralling, we need other colors to round out our intake of antioxidants. Leafy green veggies are a great source of chlorophyll, which can help protect our DNA from damage and aid the detoxification process. Leafy greens also hide a bunch of beta-carotene under that green. So along with carrots and other orange foods, we can eat our greens to help maintain our vision and enhance the ability of white blood cells to neutralize carcinogens. Lycopene is one of the most potent antioxidants for cancer prevention, especially prostate cancer. It is found in the pink foods: tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit.

Overall the goal is to eat a rainbow of foods so we are getting a diversity of antioxidants to protect our cells from damage and help prevent cancer.

If you want to try some of my purple okra, we are now selling it in the produce department of Ozark Natural Foods.

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Grow Your Own

My husband and I own a minifarm, named Downstream Farm Organic Produce. We provide tomatillos and soon burgundy okra to Ozark Natural Foods and a local restaurant. But our main goal is to grow as much of our own food as we can. This year we are growing for ourselves onions, garlic, leeks, carrots, potatoes, collards, chard, cucumber, beets, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, dried beans, blueberries, apples, and numerous herbs and flowers. We also raise our own chickens for eggs and meat, and my husband hunts and fishes. With a few of the foods we raise like onions, carrots, potatoes, and beans, some people might argue that these aren’t worth the effort to grow because it doesn’t cost much to buy them in the store. But growing our own food isn’t just about saving money. We know where our food came from and how it was grown. Overall, our efforts leave us with a sense of pride when we can look at our well-filled freezers and pantry at the end of the season.

Downstream Farm Organic Produce

Downstream Farm Organic Produce

Of course, very few people have the space and time to produce as much of their food as we do, but most of us can make small steps. Consider a small garden plot in your yard. I used to have a very shady yard, but I still managed to have herbs and strawberries, and leafy green veggies. A friend living in an apartment filled a small kid’s swimming pool with soil to grow some veggies. If you don’t even have a balcony, culinary herbs like parsley and thyme will grow well in a sunny window. Sprouting is another option for nearly any home as you don’t even need a sunny spot to grow a jar of sprouts any time of the year. Have alfalfa sprouts in just a few days following these simple directions (http://www.simplebites.net/how-to-grow-sprouts-at-home/). And you can experiment with many different sproutable seeds and blends that include: fenugreek, broccoli, radish, daikon, clover, lentils, and mung and other beans.

For flavor, nutrition, and satisfation, growing your own foods can’t be beat. It is not too late to get started on growing something for a fall harvest.

The Power of Pickles

I took a vacation last week and it wasn’t a travel vacation or even a staycation. It was a preservation vacation, as in I spend quite a bit of my time harvesting and preserving food from our garden. I freeze foods and dehydrate them, but some of my favorites are the foods I pickle. I make a couple of varieties of cucumber pickles as well as pickled okra and a style of pickled jalapeno known as Jalapenos En Escabeche  that includes carrots and onions. My next project is to try this pickled tomatillo recipe.

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When I was child I loved pickles. I even asked for a gallon jar of pickles for my birthday one year. I used to think pickles were an unhealthy indulgence. Now I use pickles to increase my diversity of vegetables throughout the year. Other than watching that we don’t get too much salt or sugar, pickled vegetables are a healthy treat that can help stimulate our digestion. I always make sure I use real apple cider vinegar to get the benefits from it.

In additions to the basics like dill, celery, and mustard seeds, other spices that make occasional appearances in my pickles are allspice, caraway, cloves, cumin, coriander, fennel, peppercorns, and turmeric, as well as garlic and chiles. Many of these spices are also good for the digestion, by either stimulating digestion or easing indigestion. I never put alum in my pickles since it is an aluminum product, but my pickles are always crisp. I credit this to the freshness of the produce I use (from my own garden) and soaking my cucumbers in ice water for a few hours before I pack them into the jars.

Another option for preserving food is fermentation. If you want recipes of how to make your own fermented vegetables, get a copy of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon or the Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz. I made a version of the sauerkraut from Sally Fallon’s cookbook, and it was the most awesome sauerkraut I have ever had.

Taking the extra effort to preserve foods in the middle of summer’s bounty will ensure the satisfaction of a well-filled pantry throughout the year.

Here is a picture of my bountiful cucumber plants, which are doing much better this year with the additional rain we have gotten in the Ozarks.

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Cooking Like a Farm Wife

Recently my husband asked me why I hadn’t made a certain dish in a while. My answer was that I was trying to cook like a farm wife by focusing on the ingredients from our farm, whereas the dish he wanted featured spinach, which I don’t have great luck growing. My husband and I run a small organic farm, Downstream Farm Organic Produce, about 8 miles west of Fayetteville on Clear Creek. We mostly grow food for ourselves and sell the extra produce to friends, restaurants, and Ozark Natural Foods.  We raise chickens and grow vegetables like okra, tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, and too many others to name.

Oyster Mushrooms, Wood Ears, Coral Fungus, and Boletes. FYI, I didn't eat all of these mushroom varietes

Oyster Mushrooms, Wood Ears, Coral Fungus, and Boletes. FYI, I didn’t eat all of these mushroom varieties.

Recently, my husband found a bounty of wild mushrooms, including oyster mushrooms and wood ear mushrooms, so I made a special dish to feature them. My venison and wild mushroom stew also included our venison, radish greens, fresh herbs, and tomatoes. Not all ingredients have to be from the farm. For instance, this farm wife happened to have some red wine around. The carrots and potatoes were also from the store since we had run out of our own a few months ago.

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I know that everyone can’t grow as much of their food as we do, but you can still incorporate some of my thinking into your own cooking by focusing on local and seasonal ingredients. Local foods can be fresher and therefore higher in nutrients. Seasonal ingredients tend to be more affordable and often shipped shorter distances so fewer resources are used to get them to us. I try to avoid buying certain summer foods, like melons, in the middle of winter when the only ones available have been shipped from South America or even further away. And these foods aren’t necessarily appropriate for our bodies during the winter. It makes sense that we need cooling foods like melons and cucumbers in the summer and warmer, higher calorie foods in the winter. Part of my process is to be creative with substitutions. For instance, I still look at recipes to get a basic framework for a dish, but readily add or subtract vegetables and other ingredients based on what is available at that time of the year.

I also focus my cooking on nutrient dense foods, as in foods that provide a lot of our necessary vitamins and minerals per calorie. Or in the case of the wild mushrooms, add medicinal benefits to the dish. Nearly all culinary mushrooms strengthen the immune system and help reduce inflammation. Oyster mushrooms may also help lower cholesterol. Consumption of mushrooms like these may help prevent cancer, partially because of the beta-glucans they provide. Oyster mushrooms are fairly commonly available in stores, so you don’t have to find them on a log after the rain like my husband did. And you can grow your own using a mushroom kit or mushroom logs. Since some mushrooms are poisonous don’t eat wild ones unless you know them well like my husband does.

Benefits of Whey Protein

I occasionally use a protein powder as a snack or part of a meal replacement. While I don’t believe we can truly replace a meal with supplements, sometimes protein powders can be a handy way to boost our protein intake. For people that tolerate dairy well, whey protein can be a good choice because it mixes easily and tends to be very palatable. Because of its particular amino acid compositions, whey protein also offers some benefits that other protein powders don’t. For instance, in a small study participants given whey protein, who otherwise ate as they wished, experienced a slight weight loss compared to those given soy protein who had no change in weight. This group also saw a reduction in ghrelin, a hunger hormone that makes us crave high calorie foods. Whey protein is also commonly used by athletes and has been shown to reduce post-workout muscle damage. Whey protein is high in branched-chain amino acids like leucine that have been shown to improve upper body strength and lean body mass. Whey protein can also help seniors shape up by helping improve muscle mass and function. In fact, whey protein led to skeletal muscle improvements that were superior to those from control groups of participants taking an equivalent amount of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins like our muscles.

In addition to helping body composition, whey protein can improve our well being in several key ways. One study demonstrated significant decreases in cholesterol, triglycerides and fasting insulin levels when participants consumed whey protein, but not when they received casein protein. Whey protein may also help with detoxification and cancer prevention since it is a source of cysteine, which our bodies need to make glutathione, a critical antioxidant for protecting our bodies from toxins. There are also immune benefits from whey protein as demonstrated in a study where elderly subjects receiving pneumonia vaccines produced more of the protective antibodies against the pneumonia-causing organisms. Whey protein is also a good choice as part of a protocol to speed healing from surgery.

Breast Cancer Prevention: Alternative Health Tips to Help You Love Your Girls

About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, but there are things we can do to help beat those odd. Diet can play a large role in breast cancer prevention. The World Health Organization estimates that 25% of cancers are related to improper diet. For instance, women who eat more high carotenoid foods have a 20% lower rate of breast cancer compared to those who get the least. Carotenoids are the colorful pigments found in foods like carrots, tomatoes, and leafy green vegetables and include not just the well-known beta-carotene but also alpha-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. Diets high in fiber are also associated with lower risk of breast and colon cancers. Healthy fats are another food category correlated to lower flaxincidences of breast cancer. Examples of healthy fats are monounsaturated fatty acids from olive oil and Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and flax. Also a diet high in lignans was linked to lower rates of hormone sensitive breast cancers. One of my favorite sources of lignan is flaxseed, because they also have fiber and Omega-3 oils, making them a great dietary addition to help prevent breast cancer. Add ground flaxseeds to cereal, smoothies, yogurt, salads, and any number of other foods.

There have been numerous studies linking deficiencies of certain nutrients to higher rates of breast cancer. Many studies have shown a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and breast cancer. Vitamin D is thought to be particularly effective in helping prevent estrogen sensitive breast cancer. Among the other ways it is thought to reduce cancer rates, Vitamin D can inhibit the growth of cancerous cells by helping stop the replication of cancer cells and reducing their ability to invade other tissues. Selenium deficiency is also correlated with increased rates of nearly all cancers including breast cancer. Selenium is an important part of glutathione, one of the most important detoxification molecules in the body. Toxins in our environment, homes, cosmetics, food, and water are thought to possibly contribute to climbing rates of breast cancer. Therefore, it is also important to exercise to help the body get rid of toxins through sweat. Likewise, make sure you only use natural body care products since we seem to be able to absorb all sorts of chemicals through our skin.