We all know to eat a good breakfast: Breakfast gives a good start to the day and honors the body’s natural bio-rhythms and bio-chemistry (see November and December 2010 newsletters). But, somehow life takes over and breakfast is generally the meal that a busy schedule crowds out. Most people eat lunch because lunch hour is programmed in by schools and the workplace. Dinner becomes the major meal because it can be enjoyed without the time pressures of immediate commitments. Evening is often the only time to savor food with family and friends. So, it is only natural to eat the majority of calories in the evening when we are not rushed. And, it is only natural to eat an extra helping at night when we tell ourselves that we will make up for it by skipping breakfast the next morning.


What is a “good” breakfast? It is anything that sustains you throughout the morning. The test of a good breakfast is…How do you feel at 10-11 o’clock? If you do heavy outdoor physical labor, you may need relatively more carbohydrates (and fats in winter) than if you sit at a desk, where you may need slower-burning, sustaining whole grains, proteins and fats. In general, a good rule of thumb for any meal, including breakfast, is to aim for one-third of all calories to be spread evenly over the three macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, and (traditional) fats.


Eating “Upside-Down”
Planning to eat a good breakfast really begins the night before. We sow the seeds of a good breakfast when we eat early enough and lightly enough in the evening so that we wake up hungry. We also sow the seeds of a good breakfast when we retire 30-60 minutes earlier than we might otherwise so that we can use this time at daybreak for breakfast. Think of it as an investment in morning productivity. The fact that more than 80% of retired people eat breakfast suggests that many more of us would eat breakfast if we allocated the time to do so.


Eating a good breakfast also starts with planning in advance, perhaps the day or evening or weekend before, to have something delicious to wake up to. This could be any balanced protein/fat/carbohydrate combination that appeals to you– piping hot whole-grain porridge with dried fruits and nuts and butter/cream/milk; lentil or split pea soup with hearty whole grains or accompanied with whole grain bread, organic peanut butter muffins, or banana-nut oatmeal treats; a chicken sandwich on sourdough bread; a can of wild sockeye salmon mixed with whole grains and leftover soup or vegetables; or, of course, eggs fixed in any way to suit your fancy. Egg custard, a favorite of many children, can be breakfast with a whole grain muffin. One of my own favorites is to have a bowl of steel cut oats with a couple of poached eggs mixed in. Eggs are nutritious and the combination of protein and fat provides real staying power. Baking muffins and preparing soups can be done on weekends; whole grain hot cereals can be cooked overnight in a rice cooker or even in a thermos…thermos oatmeal…to be taken with you. If you are trying to cut back on coffee, think savory rather than sweet foods. A sweet muffin demands coffee far more than a bowl of lentil soup or a chicken sandwich. [See recipes that follow.]


Crowding out Breakfast
Skipping breakfast was rarely an issue a century ago when women worked at home caring for children and when homemaking was seen to have value. The tendency to skip meals traces the entry of women and mothers into the labor force. According to the most recent data from 2008, 60% of all women are in the labor force. Mothers with children under 18 have the highest participation rate of any broad group (71%), and of subgroups of working mothers, the highest rate by far (78%) is by mothers with children aged 6-17. [The next highest at 63% is by mothers with children under 6. The lowest rate, 53%, of any group is by women with no children under 18 in the household.]


Today, time-squeezed two-income households as well as the ready availability of boxed breakfast cereals, prepared breakfast snacks such as Pop-Tarts, and fast-food breakfast options help explain the movement of modern households away from the family breakfast table to a morning “grab and go” or just “go” lifestyle. Over 40% of Americans aged 18-54 regularly skip breakfast, and more than half of all adults view breakfast as a mere mini-meal, snack, or simply a beverage. Surveys also suggest that one-third of all teens and one-fifth of all children regularly skip breakfast, while half of all children report that they sometimes skip breakfast. Children are inclined to skip breakfast if their parents do. (Breakfast Research and Statistics).


Breakfast matters…for adults. Skipping breakfast is associated with eating more fat-rich, high-energy calories throughout the rest of the day. A Harvard Study suggests that people who skip breakfast are four times more likely to become obese. Avoiding breakfast is associated not only with weight-gain, but also with higher cholesterol and elevated insulin (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study), and even cancer (Cancer Research UK).

Breakfast matters…for children. Skipping breakfast is particularly hard on children, who cannot “limp” like adults through the morning on coffee. A Reading University study of 12-year-olds found that skipping breakfast caused reaction times to drop to the level of a typical 70-year old. On the positive side, a Harvard/Mass General study of school children in Baltimore and Philadelphia found that children who ate breakfast received better grades, were more focused, and showed improved psycho-social behaviors compared to children who rarely ate breakfast.

What do Americans typically eat for breakfast? For those adults who eat breakfast at home, coffee, boxed cereals (three-quarters of which are high in sugar), and fruit juice (75%- 80% sugar) head the list of products consumed most frequently (Breakfast Research and Statistics). For 6-12 year-olds who eat breakfast, three-quarters choose what they eat, with 90% regularly consuming ready-to-eat (RTE) cereals. According to a Yale University study, RTE cereal companies spend more than $160 million a year marketing breakfast cereals to children, who typically view 642 television cereal advertisements a year. The Yale study found that boxed breakfast cereals marketed to children have 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber, and 60 percent more sodium than those advertised to adults.


Clearly it is not enough just to eat breakfast, if by breakfast we mean stimulants and sugar in the form of coffee, cold cereal, and juice. Such a breakfast does not meet the 10-11 o’clock test criteria of a “good” breakfast: Research indicates that a high-glycemic breakfast such as a bagel, cold cereal, or instant oatmeal creates a blood sugar spike, followed by a sharp drop in blood sugar, a kind of hyper-/hypoglycemic rollercoaster. The body’s hyper-insulin response to the surge in glucose from a high-glycemic breakfast leaves blood sugar actually lower two hours after breakfast than at the fasting/waking level prior to eating breakfast (Lioger, et al., 2009). In other words, eating a high-glycemic breakfast can leave you hungrier by mid-morning than when you woke up, thus creating the desire for a high-energy mid-morning snack. Lioger found that subjects consuming a standard high-glycemic breakfast cereal consumed 53% more calories over the rest of the day compared to subjects who ate a whole-grain breakfast. Put simply, high-glycemic breakfasts lead to snacking and the tendency to over-eat at the next meal.


Boxed Breakfast Cereal—Century-Ago Good Intentions, a Modern Day Mixed Blessing
As often happens in life, innovative products developed for one problem can contribute to another. In 1863, Dr. James C. Jackson who managed the Sanitarium in Dansville, NY developed “Grandula,” the forerunner of our modern RTE cereal. A dense nodule of bran made edible only by overnight soaking, it was designed to relieve the gastrointestinal problems brought about by the low-fiber beef and pork breakfasts typically consumed by our ancestors more than a century ago.


In the years following the development of Grandula, the Kellogg brothers serving at the Battle Creek, Michigan Sanitarium worked on their own grain-based breakfast options. In 1896, they discovered a cereal flaking process and a cereal that Will Kellogg patented (1906) with its new name Corn Flakes. Soon thereafter came pasteurized milk and the development of waxed-paper box liners. With these, both Kellogg and competitor C.W. Post (Grape-nuts and Post Toasties) had the essentials to grow and expand the RTE breakfast cereal market into what we know today—a booming $10 billion business with a cereal for just about any taste and with expansive grocery store shelf space to dwarf most any other product category, with the occasional exception of cookies and soft drinks.


High-Glycemic Boxed Cereals…Blame not just Sugar, but also the Botanical Degradation of Grains
The problem with many RTE breakfast cereals is that because they are readily digestible, they inherently contribute blood sugar issues—and, elevated blood sugar over time can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. Because RTE cereals generally lack protein and traditional fats they may be questioned as the building block of a sustaining breakfast, especially for children. The Center of Disease Control estimates that one of every three Caucasian children and one of every two children who are Black, Hispanic, Native-American, or Asian-American born in the United States after the year 2000 will develop diabetes. Boxed cereal can put children at risk of mid-morning hunger and fatigue and set the stage for caffeinated soft drinks and overeating later in the day.


The glycemic index (GI) is one way to assess RTE cereals. It was developed by D.J. Jenkins in 1981 to measure (on a scale of 0 to 100+, with glucose=100) the rise of blood sugar after ingesting a specific food. The glycemic index of a low-sugar breakfast cereal can exceed many of the high-sugar varieties: What elevates blood sugar is not just the sugar content of a cereal but also how the grains are processed to make them more quickly digestible. Rolling, flaking, puffing, and cooking (as in gelatinized oatmeal flakes) makes the starch in grains readily accessible to digestive enzymes and thus quickly digestible. Starch converts to simple glucose molecules more rapidly than fructose/glucose sugar.


Many favorite low-sugar cereals have high glycemic indices, which means that eaten alone, they can elevate blood sugar to leave behind hunger,hypoglycemia, and fatigue. This is because any process that alters the botanical structure of whole grains—rolling, flaking, puffing, milling, and cooking (as in the gelatinization of oat flakes)—renders carbohydrates more digestible. In so doing, the digestive system is called upon to do less work and expend relatively less energy in processing food, so glucose enters the blood stream with greater speed. This is why the blood sugar impact of a breakfast cereal cannot be gauged by its sugar content alone. Puffing oats for Cheerios or rice for Rice Krispies and Rice Chex; flaking corn for Corn Flakes; and shredding wheat for Shredded Wheat are all examples. Several ideas are illustrated in the table below: (1) low-sugar cereals, the first column, can have higher GIs than sugar-laden varieties listed, center; (2) aside from sugar, the degree of botanical degradation of a grain, in this case oats, (the first three cells of the right-most portion of the table), affects GI; and (3) simply puffing brown rice for rice cakes can increase the GI by 60% (last two table entries). The key idea is that just because a RTE cereal is low in sugar does not mean it will have a moderate effect on blood sugar.


Cheerios741Frosted Flakes5511Steel-Cut Oats420
Rice Krispies823Raisin Bran6620Old-Fash. Oats500
Corn Flakes922Fruit Loops6913Instant Oatmeal660
Shredded Wheat840Coco Pops7711Rice Cakes800
Rice Chex892Corn Pops8014Brown Rice500

Cooking also affects the GI of rolled grains such as rolled oats. Raw rolled oats (used in cookies) have a lower GI than when cooked. This is because, while starch granules are not water soluble, they easily absorb water and swell when heated. The structure is then altered in a process known as gelatinization. When gelatinized, as when raw rolled oats are transformed by water and heat into gelatinous oatmeal, the surface area of starch granules becomes greatly exposed to digestive enzymes. This increases the speed of digestion and absorption, resulting in an elevated glycemic response. Oatmeal is best topped with butter, a poached egg, cream, milk, nuts…any protein/fat combination of your choosing that will contain the blood sugar effect so that you are not left hungry by mid-morning.


Copyright 2011

Winter Foods

In winter, what does it mean to eat in season?  At this the dormant time of year when plants are at rest, consolidating their energy for the expansive growth season ahead, it seems that nature leaves little to sustain us.   So it may sound silly to think of eating in season.  Yet, deep in winter’s bare-shelved food pantry, I believe there is a valuable and intended message.


You probably recall that all foods represent one of the three macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, fats, or combinations thereof.  In the past, when winter provided no fresh sources of carbohydrate-rich foods, cultures relied in the cold months more heavily on good quality fats.  Today, of course, with the convenience of commercial transport and supermarket shopping, we easily override winter’s constraints with foods from around the world associated with almost any season.  It is true that global out-of-season foods can, indeed, be a blessing by supplying nutrients and variety we would not otherwise have.   But, if over-consumed they can crowd out healthy fats and disconnect us from the normal seasonal rotation that would naturally place fats in a relatively more important place in our winter diet.


Many clues point to the idea that to eat seasonally in winter means to eat relatively more fats.  Good quality fats fit winter.  Traditional fats and oils are perfectly designed as lubricating agents for the body during cold, dry days; and, as concentrated calories, they provide quick-burning heat energy to buffer the bitter chill.  They also supply fat soluble vitamins, particularly vitamin D, to fill in the sunshine gap and to act as an antidote to winter blues.


If we doubt the wisdom of fats in winter, look at nature’s planned progression of foods offered to us through the growing season:  Following winter, bitter greens with their cleansing power arrive in spring to clear our systems of the rich protein/fat meals consumed over the frigid, cold months.  Bitter greens are followed in summer by expansive, high-water content, quite perishable fruits and vegetables like zucchini, corn, and tomatoes that are meant for timely consumption.  Fall harvest vegetables such as roots and tubers, in contrast, are generally more concentrated, contractive, durable and sustaining (see: Seasonal Harmony, September, 2010).


Eating in Season–With the Life Cycle.

Beyond the seasonal calendar, there is a second way to think of eating seasonally, which is defined by the life cycle.  While good fats and oils are important at any age for neurological and proper cellular function, hormone balance, fertility (see bullets, below), a generous portion is especially called for as we age and journey into the “winter” season of life.


A quick way to think of this is captured by Ayurveda theory, which draws parallels between the seasons and the life span.  Ayurveda healers define Spring, from birth to age 15, as the growth years; Summer, from 15-55 years, as the time of productive activity; and, Winter, from 55 and beyond, as the time of wisdom but also when the body tends to dry out and requires extra hydrating fats and oils.  As we age, we need adequate amounts of traditional fats and oils to lubricate the system and cushion the aging process, to moisten skin and smooth wrinkles, and most importantly, to provide adequate nourishment for the brain.


The brain is largely composed of saturated fats.  A healthy mix of traditional saturated fats and essential fatty acids (EFAs) are needed for the building of healthy cell membranes and proper cell function.  EFAs are required for neurological and inter-cellular communication.  Consuming saturated fats with a generous complement of EFAs is a valuable strategy for the prevention of Alzheimer’s and dementia.  The “good fats” also elevate mood, sharpen focus, and work to prevent depression and anxiety.


Discriminating Fats.

“Bad fats and oils will destroy your health faster than sugar.  They cause more problems than any other class of food.” …Paul Pitchford


Fats have a bad name, and perhaps this reputation is deserved based on the amount of pro-inflammatory refined vegetable oils that compose the majority of fats consumed by Americans today.   Yes, fats are “bad” if by fats we mean the refined vegetable oils that are hidden in so many of the packaged and processed foods that we often, with little thought, rely upon.   These hardly resemble the health-promoting fats enjoyed by cultures in the past.


When thinking about fats, it pays to be discriminating.  Traditional fats are vital to health.  Life cannot be sustained without them.  Good fats and oils:


  • Provide heat and energy and cushion organs;
  • Help us assimilate the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K and a variety of minerals including magnesium and calcium;
  • Are vital to proper brain function (the brain is 60% fat), mood and nerve regulation;
  • Are the building block of hormones, which are key for strong bones and general health;
  • Satisfy hunger and boost metabolism to support weight loss; AND
  • Are vital to give the body the right materials to build healthy cell membranes, which are made of fats.  Cell membranes need to be “smart” to monitor traffic in and out of the cell, just as the lining of the digestive tract screens and prevents toxic materials from entering the blood stream.


“…ourbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 affects our health as much as any other aspect of dietary fat…Because the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s helps determine the flexibility of cell membranes, nearly all chemical communication throughout the body depends at least in part on the correct balance between omega-6s and omega-3s.  Within this context, it is difficult to imagine any health problem that isn’t partly related to the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.”1 …Elson Haas

What is meant by “traditional fats?”  Butter from grass-fed cows is one example.  In contrast to butter from commercially-raised animals with a 9:1 omega-6/-3 ratio, butter from grass-fed cows contains an ideal 1:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s.  The following link offers a graphic picture of this relationship.
Other examples of traditional fats include nutrient-dense animal fats from pastured animals; extra virgin olive oil; unrefined, extra virgin coconut oil; and, fish oils and cod liver oil from reputable providers.


Over the past century, particularly with the population shift from farm to city and with the growth of the processed food industry, Americans have experienced a rather complete “oil change.”  Per capita, we have tripled in the last 100 years our consumption of fats, with the entire increase attributable to commercially-manipulated, denatured, pro-inflammatory vegetable oils2 We consume 25 times (!) the refined vegetable oils of a century ago, and less than a third the the amount of butter (see: 20th Century Oil Change, May, 2010.) Much of this shift is unconscious and unnoticed:  it reflects the changing American lifestyle away from home cooking to our modern reliance upon processed and packaged food products that are laden with refined vegetable oils.  In the early post-war years, the food industry replaced expensive butter and coconut oil with inexpensive vegetable oils that do not go rancid and therefore offer a long shelf-life for processed and packaged foods.


Rx for Winter—Quality Fats for Depression and Mental Focus

Traditional cultures used a variety of natural strategies to cope with winter.  During the dark, cold months, they intuitively relied upon cod liver oil, which they consumed in modest quantities, anchored by generous amounts of butter and other saturated fats from grass-fed animals.  Modern science now confirms this intuitive wisdom:  the highly fragile 5- and 6- double bond EPA and DHA fatty acids in cod liver oil require sufficient saturated fats like butter to be properly and effectively utilized by the body.


Throughout most of the last century, we moved away from many of the natural antidotes to winter—cod liver oil, butter from grass-fed animals, eggs from barnyard hens, milk and other animal products from grass-fed animals, and bone stocks—the foods that maintain a sense of health and well-being through the dark winter months.   In 1927, for example, the United States imported 5 million gallons of cod liver oil, a level ten times the meager one-half million gallons imported in 2000.3  If we consider the generous doubling of the population over this period, implicitly the average per capita consumption of cod liver oil in the United States currently stands at less than one-twentieth 1927 levels.  In recent decades, we have replaced traditional cod liver oil with an array of expensive prescription anti-depressant drugs.


Cod liver oil is a premier buffer for winter.  It is a rich source of vitamin A (immune function); vitamin D [strong bones, immune system, relief for depression4 ]; omega-3 oils (healthy nervous system, relief from pain and inflammation, antidote for depression).   Cod liver oil, as a rich source of vitamins A and D, works synergistically with other cofactors like calcium and arachidonic acid found in other animal products  to support mental focus and emotional well-being.    Some of the best work in this field comes from Chris Masterjohn.  In his 2008 Wise Traditions article “The Pursuit of Happiness:  How Nutrient-dense Animal Fats Promote Mental and Emotional Healthhe provides the biochemistry and scientific detail to support the conclusion that good fats and oils containing vitamin A and D along with calcium and arachidonic acid work synergistically to help protect again depression and anxiety, while also supporting focused, goal-oriented behavior:


Modern science has now elucidated the role of nutrient-dense animal fats in preventing mental illness and supporting the focused, goal-oriented behavior needed to confront challenges and pursue a happy, satisfying, and successful life.                                                   …Chris Masterjohn



The Feel-Good FatsThe foods that protect us against depression and help us engage in low time-preference, future-oriented activities are the same foods that traditional cultures valued for good health.  They provide vitamins A and D, calcium, and arachidonic acid in abundance.
  • Cod liver oil (vitamins A and D)
  • Butter from grass-fed animal (arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D)
  • Egg yolks from grass-fed chickens (arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D)
  • Fats from grass-fed animals (arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D)
  • Organ meats from grass-fed animals (arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D)
  • Bone broths (calcium)
  • Raw whole milk from grass-fed animals (calcium, arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D)
  • Fish eggs (vitamins A and D)
  • Small whole fish (calcium, vitamins A and D)
  • Shell fish (vitamins A and D)                                                               Source:  Chris Masterjohn


To this ”feel good’ list I would add unrefined, extra-virgin coconut oil, a saturated fat that is high in anti-microbial lauric acid and, as a medium-chain fatty acid, metabolizes rapidly to provide quick energy.

Additional Comments:

  • Cod liver oil (CLO)— Taken in moderation, CLO is generally safe for most people and causes no major reactions.  However, if you are on medications, it is best to check with your doctor before using it.  Dosage for the winter months of ½ to 2 teaspoons a day is generally appropriate unless you are pregnant, in the intense sun or sunbath regularly, take vitamin A supplements, or are scheduled for imminent surgery (since it affects blood clotting).  Fermented CLO is more easily digested than regular CLO, and it is more nutrient-dense so you can take less.  In summer, to avoid vitamin D toxicity if you spend long hours in the sun, you may wish to switch to fish oil, which has no vitamin D (or vitamin A for that matter).  All CLO is screened by the Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) for 32 contaminants before being imported.  Mercury is water soluble so it appears in the flesh of fish but not in CLO and fish oils.
  • Butter for Pastured Animals—Butter, extra-virgin coconut oil, and other saturated animal fats work synergistically with CLO for its assimilation and utilization.  To benefit, consume both.
  • Egg Yolks—After CLO, egg yolks are the second most potent source of vitamin D, but only if hens are exposed to full sunlight, sunlamps or receive a 2% dietary CLO supplement.  Eggs from commercially-raised hens may not provide the nutrition that we have come to expect.
  • Liver—Liver is rich in B vitamins, iron, arachidonic acid and vitamin A but not vitamin D.  It can provide a sense of well-being for anyone concerned about vitamin D excess.  [CLO is a rich source of vitamins A, D, and DHA, but unlike liver, it provides no iron or B vitamins.]
  • Bone Broths—Bone broths are best using the bones of organic, grass-fed animals.

Finally, if you begin a program of consuming these healthy fats and oils, allow a few weeks to feel the positive benefits.  Depressive symptoms diminish over time with daily use (The Hordland Health Study).


A Word about the “Feel-Good” Nutrients:

  • Vitamin A—Liver and cod liver oil are by far the richest sources of vitamin A.  Vitamin A is important for proper immune function, vision, the digestive system, and healthy skin.
  • Vitamin D—Vitamin D helps maintain healthy bones and teeth, assists in blood pressure regulation, strengthens the immune system, and reduces the risk of many forms of cancer, and can work as an anti-depressant.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids, EPA and DHA—Omega-3s help reduce pain and inflammation and the inflammatory response. EPA reduces inflammation and works as an antidepressant.  DHA supports a healthy nervous system, vision, learning and mental function, relieves depression, and promotes healthy skin.
  • Arachidonic acid (AA)—AA supports growth, digestive health, fertility, healthy skin and hair.


A Yin/Yang Word of Caution—Any Extreme Can Transform to the Opposite—More is Not Better…

Cod liver oil, when used in moderation and complemented with quality saturated fats for assimilation, can support health and vitality and ameliorate a variety of health conditions.  Omega-3s help relieve pain and inflammation for arthritis sufferers; reduce stress and relieve depression; prevent allergies and cancers; and relieve high blood pressure.  They also work to support healthy skin and hair.


However, excessive levels of CLO and fish oils can disrupt immune function, result in scaly skin and hair loss, elevate blood pressure, cause internal bleeding, and create complications for diabetics—the very issues that in moderation they address.  Cod liver oil, a rich source of fat-soluble vitamins A and D, can accumulate in the body (unlike water soluble vitamins) and lead to toxicity.  Always use cod liver oil and fish oils with care.  More is not better.


Shopping Resources:

  • Cod Liver Oil and X-Factor Butter Oil: and Radiant are several reliable sources.  I like Blue Ice “Cinnamon Tingle” Cod Liver Oil which I order from  I find its “.org” status to be reassuring.
  • Liver: North Star Bison and Hawthorne Valley Farms are several fine providers, or consult your local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter for other source in your area.
  • Seafood, Canned Salmon, and Sardines: Try Vital for wild, sustainably-caught fish and seafood.  Their website is a wealth of information.


For other shopping suggestions, see the Resources tab of my website and January, 2009 The Gift of the Kitchen.


Reading Resources:

Mary Enig, Know Your Fats

Udo Eramus, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill

Chris Masterjohn, “The Pursuit of Happiness:  How Nutrient-dense Animal Fats Promote Mental and Emotional Health,” Winter 2008, Wise Traditions.

M. Baroy Raeder, V.M. Steen, S. Emil Vollset and I. Bjelland (2007).  Associations between cod liver oil use and symptoms of depression:  The Hordaland Health Study.  Journal of Affective Disorders, 101 (1-3), 245-249.


See also A Primer on Good Fats and Oils and May, 2010, The 20th Century Oil Change.


Winter Recipes—Cooking in Season:  Bone Stocks and Cooking with Bones

On cold, invigorating days, I think of my stock pot.  I like to fill it with an organic chicken or two, some vegetables, and leave it for hours to slow-simmer.  For me, nothing feeds the soul more than the inviting, nurturing aromas of a bone stock.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, bones are associated with winter and with our “kidney essence” energy.  Beyond the calcium and other minerals that they provide, they also seem to feed our deep inner energy and convey a profound sense of well-being.  Bone stocks are versatile and can be used in cooking grains, hot cereals, and soups to add flavor and nutrition to meals.  Used this way, they are an especially good tool to add nutrition to meal—especially if you have a picky eater in the house (see February, 2010, Investing in Stocks).


Winter is also the perfect season to cook with bones.  Bones enrich winter soups and stews.  And, they lend extra character and extra nutrition to slow-simmering meals that feature beans, legumes, and grains (see March, 2010, Putting Bones Back on Your Meat.)


Copyright 2011

  1. Staying Healthy With Nutrition. []
  2.  Economic Research Service, USDA []
  3.  Katharine Blunt and Ruth Cowan, Ultraviolet Light and Vitamin D in Nutrition and Krispin Sullivan. []
  4. []

Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil—the Most Stable Oil for Cooking and a Aid to Metabolism and Weight Loss

Unrefined, extra virgin coconut oil is one of my favorite oil for cooking because, of all generally available oils, it is the most highly saturated.  Coconut oil is 90 percent saturated, which means it holds up well to high heat, thus limiting the risk of free radical damage.  Coconut oil is also an extremely rich source of anti-microbial lauric acid (a protective component also found in mother’s milk).  In addition, unlike animal fats, coconut oil contains no cholesterol (coconut trees, of course, have no liver, hence, no cholesterol).



Composition of Nut and Seed Oils1:Saturated Fats and Omega Oils
Unsaturated: Super- Poly- Mono-
Name Omega-3 Omega-6 Omega-9 Saturated Lauric
Use: (Table Use) (Table Use) (Low-temp). (Cooking) Acid
Flax 58% 14% 19% 9% 0
Evening Primrose 0 81 11 8 0
Sesame 0 45 42 13 0
Peanut 0 31 49 20 0
Rape (Canola) 7 30 54 7 0
Almond 0 17 78 5 0
Olive 0 8 76 16 0
Avocado 0 10 70 20 0
Coconut* 0 3 6 91 44
Palm Kernel* 0 2 13 85 47
Safflower 0 75 13 12 0
Sunflower 0 65 23 12 0
Corn 0 59 24 17 0
Soybean 7 50 26 15 0
Wheat Germ 5 50 25 18 0
Pumpkin 7 50 34 9 0
Pecan 0 20 63 7 0
Cashew 0 6 70 18 0


Why is it that coconut oil so highly saturated?  Most likely in hot tropical climates nature had to design the coconut tree for the leaf to have sufficient body to withstand intense heat.  Tropical oils—coconut and palm kernel oil—are, therefore, in a category all their own:


Of all fats and oils, coconut and palm kernel oils are the only available sources of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs).  In contrast to long chain fatty acids (LCFAs) found in most animal fats and in seed oils like corn, soy, and canola, MCFAs metabolize rapidly as a quick source of energy, so their calories are less likely to be stored as fat.  Studies show that MCFAs aid in weight loss because they boost energy and metabolism.2   Because coconut oil can increase energy, body temperature, and metabolism, it can be an effective therapy for people who are hypothyroid.  A tablespoon can also be added to a cup of hot water to provide heat and energy, an especially soothing remedy for cold winter days or in over-chilled buildings during the summer months.  Apart from cooking, coconut oil can be used at the table—simply drizzle it over vegetables, grains, and soups to boost metabolism, sustain energy, and add extra flavor.


Coconut and palm kernel oil were given bad names by the food industry in the early decades of the postwar period when food companies wanted to switch to cheaper hydrogenated vegetable oils.   Palm kernel oil is still used by the food industry, usually as hydrogenated palm kernel oil.  When you purchase coconut oil, be sure to select unrefined, extra virgin coconut oil.  Reliable brands are available at most health food stores.


Copyright 2011

  1. Many of these oils are not available in healthy, unrefined versions.  Listing them here does not suggest we recommend their use. []
  2. St-Onge, M.P, & Jones, P.J.H, 2002.  Physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides:  potential agents in the prevention of obesity.  Journal of Nutrition, 132 (3): 329-332. []

Phytic Acid

What is phytic acid? Phosphorus is needed to support the growth of a seed when it begins to sprout.  Most of the phosphorus of plant foods is stored in the outer husk of grains, beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds in the form of phytic acid.  Phytic acid protects the life force (the endosperm) of a seed from germinating until it is planted in soil and watered.  Phytic acid, then, like biological transmutation, is a rather miraculous gift of nature to support our survival:  Phytic acid allows us to store grains and legumes for years and be assured that the inner life force of a seed food will be preserved.  Then, whenever a seed is planted, all that is required are soil and water to break down the phytic acid to allow the endosperm, fed by the starch stored in the seed, to unfold into new plant life.


Phytate as a nutrient and enzyme inhibitor. Phytic acid (phytate) blocks the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc as well as the digestive enzymes pepsin and amylase.  Because some phytate is water soluble, we usually try to diminish its effects by soaking beans and grains before cooking.  Soaking grains and legumes is especially appropriate for modern vegetarians and people in Third World countries where an over-reliance upon phytate-rich grains, beans and seeds can lead to serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies.  Curbing phytic acid for people who rely upon beans, legumes, and grains for protein can prevent serious mineral deficiencies that include  folate (birth defects); iodine (neurological development and growth); iron (brain development and child mortality); vitamin A (immune function); zinc (growth, healing); and vitamin B-12 (neurological development).


Phytate as an antioxidant, a moderator of metabolic stress, and a chelator of heavy metals. Phytic acid’s positive role is not just as the protector of plant life.  While phytic acid presents a problem for mineral absorption and can lead to deficiency, it also performs several positive functions in the body—working  as an antioxidant to offset free-radical damage; lowering the glycemic index of carbohydrates; and binding toxic metals such as uranium and nickel.


Using phytic acid to personal advantage. An understanding of phytic acid and its tradeoffs means we can use or diminish it to fit our own personal health conditions.  If the digestion and absorption of food generally and minerals specifically is an issue, then you will want to soak grains and beans before cooking.


However, if you are worried about blood sugar issues, you might decide not to soak grains and beans in recognition of the inverse relationship between phytic acid and the glycemic index (GI) of foods—lowering phytic acid raises the GI of carbohydrates.  The same non-soaking strategy could be used if you are concerned about heavy metal toxicity.


Interestingly, using probiotics is a way to consume foods high in phytic acid while still benefiting  from much of a food’s mineral nutrition.  This is because probiotics are rich in lactobacilli, a major source of phytase.  Phytase is the enzyme that releases phosphate from phytic acid, thereby altering the structure of micronutrients to enhance mineral absorption.


In contrast to conditions in the less-developed world, most Americans have access to a wide variety of high-quality organic fruits, vegetables, and animal products that can supply rich mineral nutrition.  Today, for many people, more pressing considerations than mineral deficiency may be metabolic stress, insulin resistance, and metal toxicity.   Modern science, by outlining the tradeoffs and choices surrounding phytic acid, enables us to use or to defuse phytic acid in ways that are in keeping with our own unique personal profile to support our health and vitality.


Copyright 2011


Sprouts for Health


Once any vibrant seed—a whole grain, legume, bean, nut, or seed—is soaked in enough water for long enough to breakdown its protective phytic acid, germination is started and soon a young plant is born.  In its earliest few days, the plant first unfolds as a sprout—a tender stem whose job it is to burrow through the soil to the sunlight before leaves begin to unfurl.


Sprouts vividly reveal the life force of a seed miraculously coming to life.  They are one of the most nutrient-dense foods imaginable; they detoxify the liver; support the immune system (T-cells); and, they are full of life force energy.   Sprouts are biogenic, alive foods that appear to pass their essence (RNA, DNA) as a live force when eaten (see below).1  Sprouts contain all the nutrients and energy to support a mature plant; when we eat sprouts, we acquire the essence of the mature plant, but without the bulk.  Growing sprouts in your home is easy to do in any season, but is especially timely in the spring after a diet of heavy, mucus-forming foods.


Sprouts and Health.  Shoots and sprouts are tender and loaded with nutrition to help support the plant on its journey to maturity:  When a seed sprouts, it starts quickly to develop a rich array of nutrients to support the mature plant that it is to become.  According to Steve Meyerowitz, who has devoted much of his life to the science of sprouting, in the first 5-10 days, young seedlings attain their greatest nutrient density; vitamins increase many-fold; and complex starches are broken down to make beans and grains more digestible.  (As a related point, sprouting can prevent allergies to wheat or other offending grains.)  According to Steve Meyerwitz, with the germination of a seed:


  1. “Nutrients are broken down—protein into amino acids, fats into essential fatty acids, starches to sugars, and minerals chelate or combine with protein in a way that increases their utilization.  This…increases nutrition and improves digestion and assimilation…the reason sprouts are considered predigested food.”
  2. “Proteins, vitamins, enzymes, minerals and trace minerals multiply from 300 to 1200 percent.  Chlorophyll develops in seeds that become green plants.  Certain acids and toxins that can interfere with digestion are reduced or eliminated.   Size and water content increase dramatically.”2


Ann Wigmore, an early pioneer in the science of sprouts and particularly wheatgrass, calls sprouts biogenic (alive) foods, to distinguish them from bioactive raw fruits and vegetables.  Biogenic foods—sprouted grains, beans, nuts and seeds—are able to transfer their life energy to us when we eat them.  This may shed light on why David Wetzel  of Green believes that first-growth spring grasses provide a stem-cell component that underlies the mysterious health benefits of X-factor butter oil.  (See January/February 2012 newsletter on vitamin D).


Working with Ann Wigmore, Viktoras Kulvinskas discovered that nucleic acids (think DNA, RNA), which are key elements of cell growth and regeneration, increase by as much as 30-fold through sprouting.   Kulvinskas, in his out-of-print, technical booklet, Sprout for the Love of Every Body, analyzed many of the health benefits of sprouts.  I want to quote some highlights, particularly to help any of you who may have health conditions and are thinking of using sprouts as a part of your therapy:


“The seed is a storehouse of food energy intended for early growth and development of the new plant.  The chemical changes that occur in the sprouting seed activate a powerful enzyme factory, never to be surpassed at a later stage of growth.  The sprouts are predigested foods.  The rich enzyme concentration can lead to heightened enzyme activity in your own body metabolism, thus leading to regeneration of the bloodstream.” (p.16)


“Wheat…in 3 days of sprouting doubles in weight and a very sweet tang is introduced.  Much of the original starch has been converted to natural sugars.  Grain becomes less mucus-forming after sprouting.  By the fourth day, gluten undergoes a qualitative change, becoming crumbly.” (pp. 21, 22)


“Because sprouts are predigested food, they have a higher biological efficiency value than whole seeds, raw or cooked.  Less food is required, yet more nutrients reach the blood and cells.  Sprouting increases the quality of proteins, likewise it removes the inhibitor factors [like phytic acid].  One of the easiest proteins to assimilate is chlorophyll.  The sprouting process, under the action of light, creates it.  Chlorophyll has been shown in many instances to be effective in overcoming protein-deficiency anemia.” (pp. 32, 33)


“Phytin is very frequently present in many seeds, hence eating a diet rich in seed, beside the high protein complications, can result in a tremendous loss of important minerals, in spite of the fact that seeds are rich sources of such minerals.  However, the mineral losses because of the high phytin concentration become insignificant if one sprouts the seeds.” (p. 40)


“Sprouted seeds are the best sources of natural chelates.  In the germination process, the complex proteins of seeds are broken down into amino acids.  The acids are hooked up to a mineral and a vitamin, forming a natural chelate, called an enzyme.  …seeds when sprouted are the highest natural source of enzymes, hence of chelated minerals.” (p. 42)


“Dr. Benjamin Frank, in Nucleic Acid Therapy in Agiing and Degenerative Disease, found that nucleic acids [DNA and RNA are the best known forms] within nuclei of all living cells can have a dramatic effect on aging.  Sprouts have a regenerating effect on the human body because of the high concentration of RNA, DNA protein, as well as other essential nutrients which can be found only in a living cell.” (p. 68-71)



Growing Sprouts—Counter-top sprouting.


Growing sprouts can be as simple or complex as you wish it to be.  You can purchase professional sprouting equipment such as vertical sprouters and sprout bags, or you can simply have fun with good seeds and a large jar fitted with a mesh top.


Counter-top sprouting can be done in any home and during any season. It requires no long-term commitment and makes no mess.  You need neither yard nor soil,  hoe nor gardening gloves.  All that is required is a large jar; a screened lid; good, organic sprouting seeds; water; and a few consecutive days when you can rinse, shake, and drain the sprouting seeds each morning and evening. This step keeps the seeds cool and moist.


Sprouting seeds takes a week or less. You may want to grow sprouts regularly; or you might prefer to dabble now and then, washing the jar and setting sprouting aside until you are once again in the mood. For children, growing sprouts in a jar on the countertop is a perfect first-growing adventure, one that can encourage eating greens, the major food missing from their diets.
The simple steps for sprouting are:


  • Put about 2 tablespoons of sorted, organic seeds, or ¼-½  cup grains, beans, or legumes in a clean two-quart jar fitted with a screen top (or a square of cheese cloth, nylon, or mosquito netting)  held in place by a canning jar ring, string, or strong rubber band.  This screened opening permits easy rinsing, draining, and air ventilation.  Use a one-gallon jar if you choose to sprout more seeds, though keep in mind that while 2 tablespoons looks like a small quantity of seeds, sprouts need plenty of space to grow and to prevent overcrowding.
  • Cover the seeds with plenty of filtered water that is free of chlorine, and let it sit overnight, or about 8 hours.  Some seeds require only 6 hours of soaking, while beans and grains with tough exteriors may benefit from a soak as long as 24-36 hours.  There are also mucilaginous seeds that require no soaking at all, although this may not be the best approach for sprouting seeds like this.  For more information on seeds and soaking times, you can refer  to
  • At the end of the soaking period, and with the screened lid firmly in place, pour off and discard the water.
  • Cover the seeds with plenty of fresh water, swish them around inside the jar, and drain once again. Then turn the jar upside down and set it at an angle; a dish drainer works well for support.   Keep the seeds out of direct sunlight, though ordinary room light and indirect sunlight are both fine.  A room temperature of 60-70 degrees is ideal because growing sprouts produce heat.   Rinsing the sprouts morning and evening prevents them from overheating in a jar that traps heat; it also keeps the sprouts moist.   [If you grow sprouts in warmer temperatures, you may want to give them cooling baths more frequently than twice a day.]
  • Repeat the above step twice a day, morning and evening, for several days, until the seeds are well-sprouted and, if applicable, starting to turn green (not all sprouts are green in maturity).
  • When you are ready to harvest your sprouts (grains are sweetest and beans/legumes have the highest protein levels after just 2-3 days; greens need longer in order to develop chlorophyll), rinse them and then pour them onto a towel to air dry.  Place dry sprouts in a covered container, lined with a paper towel, and refrigerate.  They should keep for a week or more and can be used in salads and sandwiches, or for juicing.


Note:   Because sprouts are cleansing and detoxifying, they may work less well for older people in the “winter, drying-out” phase of life.  At age 64, I find I need a good complement of sweet round and root vegetables plus good fats and oils in all seasons of the year, and I must consume sprouts sparingly.


Reading Resources:

Viktoras Kulvinskas, Sprouts for the Love of Every Body

Steve Meyerwitz, Sprouts, The Complete Guide to Sprouting;

Ann Wigmore, The Sprouting Book; The Wheatgrass Book


Copyright 2012,


  1. Ann Wigmore, The Sprouting Book, v, 6, 15, 16. []
  2. Steve Meyerowitz, Sprouts, The Complete Guide to Sprouting, 93. []

Quality Sea Salts

The more whole foods we buy and prepare ourselves, the more leeway we have to experiment and have fun with artisanal, hand-crafted, mineral-rich salt, both through cooking and at the table.  Because prepared foods explain 70%-80% of the salt consumed by Americans, just cooking meals that emphasize potassium-rich whole foods solves much of the problem.   With the recent, albeit spotty, revival of traditional artisanal salt-making around the globe, there are many gourmet salts to explore and choose from.


An appreciation of fine salt dates back at least to the 15th Century and Jean, duc de Berry whose bejeweled saltcellars were presented at the table, one to accompany each new course.1  In this spirit, we are beginning to appreciate that artisanal salts, like a good wine, can richly complement most foods. High quality artisanal salt, like the complexity of a fine wine, comes in many varieties, each with its own nuance of flavor and texture, a product of local environment, climate, and artisanal tradition.  Also, like wine, salts can be confusing.  Let taste be your guide and expect to pay more for quality.  Because salt is used in small quantities, if can be the best investment and complement to any meal.


A Guide to Some Popular Sea Salts.


After thousands of years of struggle to make salt white and of even grain, affluent people will now pay more for salts that are odd shapes and colors.”…Mark Kurlansky


Hand-harvested French sea salts produced at the mouth of the Loire—from Noirmoutier, Bourgneuf, Guerande, and the Ile de Re—are some of the oldest and still most reliable sources of wind and solar evaporated sea salts.  These salt marshes and supplementary artificial ponds were first developed when the land was controlled by the Vikings, who needed salt to preserve their catch of cod.


In 1972 a small group of surviving French salt makers formed Le Groupement des Producterus de Sel to create quality and production standards and to begin to expand and market Celtic sea salt to global markets.  From these producers come two high-quality, mineral-rich artisanal sea salts, which are the first two listed below:


  • Fleur de sel—the finest quality French salt, consisting of delicate flakes that embody a special nuanced aroma derived from organic elements that are incorporated in the evaporation process at the surface of the salt ponds.2  Fleur de sel crystals form on the pond surface and must be skillfully raked off and harvested before they have time to sink to the gray porcelain clay pond bottom.  Fleur de sel is expensive and its character and crunch should be savored as a condiment.  Like a great wine, its delicate, nuanced character as well as its “crunch” raises it to a level too fine to be used for cooking.
  • Sel Gris—like fleur de sel, “gray salt” is an artisanal solar-evaporated, irregular-crystal salt that is full of moisture and trace minerals. It is harvested by raking crystals from the bottom of the clay open-air evaporating ponds soon after they form and sink to the bottom.  Thus, sel gris contains small amounts of porcelain clay that gives it a gray coloration.  In contrast to kosher and mined salts that lack moisture and dry out foods during roasting, baking, and cooking , the high moisture content (13%) means that sel gris can be used in cooking to seal in a food’s flavor and natural juices .  As Mark Bitterman suggests, “Sel gris is the most natural and cost-effective choice for anyone looking to replace artificially refined salts such as table salt, koshering salt, or mass-produced salt.”3   French fleur de sel and sel gris can be purchased on line,


  • Non-French Sel Gris—other artisanal solar evaporated sel gris sea salts, each with its own character stamped by the land and environmental conditions, are harvested in other parts of the globe.  Mediterranean artisans use salt evaporating pans that are lined with basalt, sand, or concrete, which impart a different quality from the clay pans of Brittany.  In contrast, Philippine producers line their dark mud salt fields with tiles to assure greater purity and ease of harvesting.4


  • Traditional salts—this is a broad catch-all category.  Traditional salts are salts that are allowed to accumulate at the bottom of the evaporating pan for months at a time (in contrast to the daily harvesting of natural-crystals sel gris) so that much more can be harvested.  While rich in minerals, the resulting crystals are large and irregular and are generally ground mechanically to finer crystals.   Sel marin is an example.


  • Flake salts—are flat and thin, unlike the dense granules of traditional salts.  While some fine quality flake salts such as Maldon from the south coast of England are from carefully raking salts from the surface of brine and are true artisanal products, many flake salts are produced mechanically by rolling granulated salt.5  Flake salts give a short-lived, bold, intense punch to foods.6


  • Rock salts—these large, hard-crystal salts are mined from within the earth.  Here, they have been compressed by pressure over millions of years so they lack moisture.   They tend to be less mineral-rich than solar evaporated salts and their mineral complements vary with location. Their low moisture content and the beauty of colored crystals characteristic of many varieties make them an ideal choice for salt grinders.  Himalayan pink salt, which is aggressively marketed by Pakistani producers, is a popular example of rock salt.


  • Kosher salt—an industrial salt with a harsh flavor that lacks the natural minerals or moisture of sea salt.  Its course texture is artificially manufactured.  It is not a true sea salt.7


  • “Sea salt”—many salts that claim to be sea salts are really industrial salts from salt water bodies contiguous to dense population areas, such as Morton salt, which is largely mined from San Francisco Bay.  Industrial “sea salts” are washed, ground, and often include anti-caking agents.8 It is wise to research and read the labels of any sea salt that you buy.


Storing Sea Salt

Moist sea salts like fleur de sel, sel gris, and other hand-harvested moist salts lose some of their quality when they are allowed to dry out.  They should be stored in a glass, air-tight container, with small amounts placed on the table as a condiment and then promptly sealed again after use.  Salts that have lost some moisture can be restored by stirring in 1 teaspoon of water for every 8 ounces of salt.9


Salt Shopping Guide:

Individual Producers/Marketers:

Andes pink salt (714-522-0700)

Celtic sea salt (800-867-7258) and www.

Sea Works unrefined sea salt (800-656-3668)

Tropical Salt Corporation (877-323-6611)


Specialty Salt Retailers (providing a wide spectrum of salts):

The Meadow,


Salt Traders,




Reading Resources:

Mark Bitterman, Salted

Mark Kurlansky, Salt:  A World History

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking

Sally Fallon Morell, “The Salt of the Earth,”

Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods.

Joseph Pizzorno, Jr. and Michael T. Murray, Textbook of Natural Medicine.

Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia.


Copyright 2011

  1. Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History, 146-7. []
  2. McGee, 642. []
  3. Bitterman, 78. []
  4. Bitterman, 55. []
  5. McGee, 641. []
  6. Bitterman, 77. []
  7. Bitterman, 185. []
  8. Bitterman, 189-90. []
  9. Bitterman, 199. []

Spring Foods

Foods that attune us to the dry, cold weather—hearty soups and stews; sweet, “sticky” root vegetables and dried fruits; nuts and seeds; warming/moistening grains (e.g., oats); red meats and roasted marrow bones— are warming, sustaining and perfect for winter.  But these are also acid-/mucus-forming foods that require a little spring cleaning once winter bids farewell.  Spring invites us through the foods that burst forth from the first thawed ground—sprouts, shoots, and all kinds of leafy bitter greens and pungent roots and rhizomes—to lighten up and allow our body to do a thorough spring cleaning job.


Spring greens and sprouts are alkalizing and detoxifying.  They are low in fat and full of revitalizing, rejuvenating (RNA, DNA) life force energy.  They are also packed with vitamins, minerals, cleansing chlorophyll, fiber, antioxidants and other phytonutrients.  They break up excesses accumulated over the winter season by reducing mucus and expelling toxins as the body does its natural spring chores.


Spring greens, sprouts, and pungent roots and rhizomes also help detoxify the liver, the major organ associated with spring.  The liver serves many functions in the body; one of its most important is to filter and breakdown toxins that can result from general overeating, as well as from alcohol, drugs, oily and fried foods, heavy meats, pesticides, and chemicals.  A liver overwhelmed by winter eating and drinking habits can be revitalized by the alive, biogenic (transferring life), chlorophyll-rich foods offered by spring.


To assist the liver and the body as a whole in the spring, we need lighter, cooling foods that are generally bitter and pungent (to dispel mucus); pungent (to move energy); and sour (to assist the liver, break up heavy fats, and relieve indigestion and stagnation).


Sour.  Sour, the color green, the liver/gall bladder, and the emotion anger are all associated with spring according to Chinese Five Phase Theory.  A liver overwhelmed by heavy foods and toxins can stagnate energy (“Qi”), leading to anger, depression and mood swings, and the inability to plan and make decisions.  The sour flavor is cooling; has a drying, astringent effect; and acts on the liver to relieve congestion.  Lemon tea, simply lemon and hot water, is a good example of a fitting antidote to a heavy meal.   So is sauerkraut, which is good with hot dogs/meats.   Fruits and berries that are sour and cooling—grapefruit, lemons, apples, pears, and strawberries— also assist the liver and fit a spring diet.


Bitter.  Bitter foods are cooling and downward draining.  They help rid the body of excess fluid and damp conditions that can lead to spring colds, asthma, allergies and congestion.  Spring gives us plenty of these light, bitter foods through the plethora of leafy spring greens and vegetables like asparagus.  Also good are vegetables in the cabbage family like bitter Brussels sprouts, kale, and broccoli rabe.


Pungent.  Pungent foods, such as onions, garlic, ginger, watercress, radishes, and turnips are also fitting for spring.  Pungent foods help clear the lungs and large intestine, stimulate digestion, and move Qi to relieve stagnation.  Pungent foods also move energy upward and outward and help the body breakup and dispel mucus, particularly from mucus-forming foods like dairy.   [Dairy is cooling.  No matter the season, dairy products, if tolerated, are best consumed in moderation; at room temperature; and away from the cold and flu season since dairy is a favorite food of bacteria.  Scientists use dairy in the lab to grow bacteria, but we need not do the same.]


Spring foods to emphasize.  In Spring, people who are generally balanced will want to eat foods from all five flavors—sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty—but with less emphasis on the sweet, salty sustaining foods of winter and more upon the bitter, pungent, and sour detoxifying foods of spring.  At this time of year, it is best to try to limit red meat and dairy which are mucus-forming.  Also try to rotate from wheat and oats to the more drying bitter/sour grains such as rye and amaranth, as well as buckwheat, corn, millet, and quinoa, all of which are more drying and cleansing compared to oats and wheat.  Because wheat allergies can result from heavy reliance on wheat throughout the year and from poor food combining when proteins are eaten with wheat (e.g., sandwiches, pizza),  consider rotating in spring to more seasonally-appropriate, non-gluten grains—quinoa, millet, and buckwheat.


Below are listed foods by category that are neutral to cooling, and either bitter, pungent, or sour.  If listed more than once, foods embody more than one taste.  Foods that are not listed are either warming or exclusively sweet or salty or a combination and therefore more fitting for seasons other than spring.


Cooling-to-neutral temperature foods that are bitter:  Vegetables—lettuce, broccoli rabe, celery, chicory, dandelion greens, escarole, endive, mustard greens, rutabaga, turnips, olives; Fruits—none; Grains—amaranth, rye [both grains are also drying, in keeping with spring.]


Cooling-to-neutral temperature foods that are pungent:  Vegetables—bokchoy, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, radish, rutabaga, turnip, watercress; Fruits—none; Grains—none.


Cooling-to-neutral temperature foods that are sour:  Vegetables—none; Fruits—apples, grapefruit, lemon, grapes, mango, pears, pineapple, plum, strawberries [most of these are both sweet and sour]; Grains—barley, millet [millet is also drying].


Note:  A devoted rotation to spring bitter and raw foods will not generally work well for people who are deficient, have cold conditions, and/or weak digestion.   Cooked foods and foods that are sweet in flavor are more strengthening and tonifying and may be appropriate throughout the year for some individuals with cold and/or deficient conditions.  In the same spirit, it may make sense for someone with heavy congestion and excess heat conditions to eat cooling, cleansing raw foods and bitter greens throughout the year.  A person’s physical profile should take precedence over seasonal food considerations.


Copyright 2012

Phytic Acid

To Defuse or to Use Phytic Acid?

What is phytic acid? Most of the phosphorus of plant foods is stored in the outer husk of grains, beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds in the form of phytic acid.  Phytic acid protects the life force (the endosperm) of a seed from germinating until it is planted in soil and watered.  Phytic acid, then, like biological transmutation, is a rather miraculous gift of nature to support our survival:  Phytic acid allows us to store grains and legumes for years and be assured that the inner life force of a seed food will be preserved.  Then, whenever a seed is planted, all that is required are soil and water to break down the phytic acid to allow the endosperm, fed by the starch stored in the seed, to unfold into new plant life.


Phytate as a nutrient and enzyme inhibitor. Phytic acid (phytate) blocks the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc as well as the digestive enzymes pepsin and amylase.  Because some phytate is water soluble, we usually try to diminish its effects by soaking beans and grains before cooking.  Soaking grains and legumes is especially appropriate for modern vegetarians and people in Third World countries where an over-reliance upon phytate-rich grains, beans and seeds can lead to serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies.  Curbing phytic acid for people who rely upon beans, legumes, and grains for protein can prevent serious mineral deficiencies that include  folate (birth defects); iodine (neurological development and growth); iron (brain development and child mortality); vitamin A (immune function); zinc (growth, healing); and vitamin B-12 (neurological development).


Phytate as an antioxidant, a moderator of metabolic stress, and a chelator of heavy metals. Phytic acid’s positive role is not just as the protector of plant life.  While phytic acid presents a problem for mineral absorption and can lead to deficiency, it also performs several positive functions in the body—working  as an antioxidant to offset free-radical damage; lowering the glycemic index of carbohydrates; and binding toxic metals such as uranium and nickel.


Using phytic acid to personal advantage. An understanding of phytic acid and its tradeoffs means we can use or diminish it to fit our own personal health conditions.  If the digestion and absorption of food generally and minerals specifically is an issue, then you will want to soak grains and beans before cooking.


However, if you are worried about blood sugar issues, you might decide not to soak grains and beans in recognition of the inverse relationship between phytic acid and the glycemic index (GI) of foods—lowering phytic acid raises the GI of carbohydrates.  The same non-soaking strategy could be used if you are concerned about heavy metal toxicity.


Interestingly, using probiotics is a way to consume foods high in phytic acid while still benefiting  from much of a food’s mineral nutrition.  This is because probiotics are rich in lactobacilli, a major source of phytase.  Phytase is the enzyme that releases phosphate from phytic acid, thereby altering the structure of micronutrients to enhance mineral absorption.


In contrast to conditions in the less-developed world, most Americans have access to a wide variety of high-quality organic fruits, vegetables, and animal products that can supply rich mineral nutrition.  Today, for many people, more pressing considerations than mineral deficiency may be metabolic stress, insulin resistance, and metal toxicity.   Modern science, by outlining the tradeoffs and choices surrounding phytic acid, enables us to use or to defuse phytic acid in ways that are in keeping with our own unique personal profile to support our health and vitality.



Bone Stocks

Housebound in the frigid, snowy days of winter, I often think of starting up a long-simmering bone stock to fill the house with welcoming aromas. Winter is the perfect season to awaken the senses and nourish the body by making bone stocks. Hearty stocks can be sipped alone to boost the immune system and as an antidote to colds and the flu, or they can be used in cooking to add depth, flavor, and nutrition to your favorite recipes. Making stocks,1 especially time-consuming bone stocks, is a bit of a lost art in modern times, and yet it is one of the very best health investments we can make.


I confess that I did not always feel this way. For years, the pages of the “stock-broth” chapter of my cookbooks stayed pristine and unexplored. Why bother? Stocks seemed like such a time-consuming, needless step in meal preparation.


Read this newsletter in its .pdf form (click here) or continue below…

Despite my love of cooking, perhaps I can blame my “Show Me” Missouri roots for why it took so many years…decades really!…for me to get excited about stocks. What ultimately convinced me to begin to make bone stocks was my interest in supporting the bone health of myself and my family. I came to realize that bone stocks are one of the best natural ways to build bone since they are loaded with minerals…calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorous, and trace minerals that make bones dense. They also contain collagen to keep bones strong and flexible.2 As they say, “You are what you eat.” So, I began to make bone stocks and to use them as the liquid in cooking, especially when preparing soups and grain dishes. Subsequent reading and research on the medicinal value of bone stocks helped me further appreciate stocks’ incredible and natural healing power for other health issues, as well.


Our forebears seemed intuitively to appreciate so much of this. In traditional cultures, bone marrow preparations were often used, especially for children, both as a calcium-rich substitute for milk and as a special dietary supplement.3 And, bone stocks were relied upon by cultures around the globe for nutrition and health. Animals were valued members of a family’s economic system and often slaughtered reluctantly. Bone stocks were a way to convert the tough meat and carcass into something hearty and nourishing and assured that no part of the animal went to waste. Stocks were valued for their tonic, digestive, assimilation powers. They were also used to bolster the immune system and to nourish people with wasting diseases, since the protein-sparing nature of the gelatin in stocks helped to preserve the muscle mass of people who were chronically ill.4


It is easy to understand why, over the course of the last century, we have forgotten the ecological and medicinal reasons for making stocks: We have lost much of our connection with farm animals as more and more are now raised far away on isolated commercial factory farms and then sold in conveniently- wrapped supermarket plastic or transformed into fast food innovations. Meanwhile, wonder drugs of the pharmaceutical companies have devalued such preventive, natural remedies.


Interestingly, it seems that some ingredients of our modern 21st century economy and culture point to a budding revival of the homemaking arts, as well as a movement back toward the kitchen. The same seems true for investing time in making stocks…Environmental concerns mean conservation and ecological responsibility are de rigueur as we grow more mindful of waste in all forms, including animals. Disenchantment with the drug industry, combined with an aging population and widespread chronic disease, are leading many back to traditional, natural therapies. Also, as technology, electronic screens, and a “distracted” lifestyle seem to rule so much of our life, investing time to start a 24-hour bone stock in a slow cooker can be an easy, helpful, grounding counter-cultural experience. It sends a “slow-down” message to our family and friends and one that says cooking at home is worthwhile. Stocks allow us to add more intense and pleasurable taste to a dish and to know and control the ingredients in our food. In addition, when we take the time to make stocks, we avoid commercial food additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG) that are so often found in commercial stocks.5 Perhaps we also gain a greater appreciation for the animal that feeds and nourishes us, as well as for the food chain in general. Lastly, knowing and appreciating as I do now the diverse medicinal powers of bone stocks, I find the experience of preparing them to be one of the most valuable, natural ways that I can support my health and the health of my family.


Why Bother? Bone Stocks for Health


The nutritional value of bone stocks varies with the type of animal used, and whether you add vegetables, herbs, or other ingredients to the pot. Bone contributes minerals and collagen (with its healing gelatin) to a stock without adding taste; meat adds taste but supplies little medicinal value. For this reason, using both flesh and bones together results in a hearty and delicious bone stock—to be enjoyed on its own or used in cooking. Chicken is a favorite choice of many because it has a rather neutral flavor, but other stocks made from beef, fish, seafood, and vegetables deliver more mineral nutrition (see Table, below). When scanning the Table, pay less attention to numbers and more to appreciating the nutrition offered by different cooking ingredients. Also, precise numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt since the nutritional value of any stock will vary, of course, with the quality of ingredients, as well as your own digestive/absorptive capacity. An implicit message from the table is that any bone stock becomes more nutritious and more mineral-rich with the addition of vegetables…or herbs, and/or kelp.


Mineral Nutritional Value of Stocks
(milligrams per 100 grams)


Source: Food and Our Bones, Annemarie Colbin, PhD


This newsletter cannot cover all these stock types. Bone stocks is a topic that fits perfectly this cold winter season and is more than enough for one newsletter. So, here we will focus on stocks made with bones and the medicinal reasons that make them worth the time and effort that is needed to prepare them. In an upcoming issue, we can turn our attention to fish and vegetable stocks, which require an hour or less to prepare and are more in keeping with the longer days and more outdoor time that comes with spring. Fish stocks are natural medicinal aids for people with thyroid problems (an issue that affects some 40 percent of the population). Vegetable stocks are adaptable to what is available throughout all four major seasons. Vegetable stocks add flavor and minerals to any dish and are a wonderful way, used as liquids in your favorite recipes, to add nutrition and to supplement the diets of picky eaters. But for now…let’s focus on bone stocks…

Bone Stocks for Bones. As noted, bone stocks are one of the best natural ways to grow bone and support bone health. Fortunately, at whatever age, there is much we can do to rebuild bone.6 Bones are hardly the rigid, static objects they appear. They are constantly in the process of remodeling—this is a combination of the catabolic/breaking down process called resorption, and the anabolic/building up process called deposition. The important thing to grasp is that bones are dynamic and that they act as storage “closets” where the body hangs extra protein and the minerals calcium, magnesium, sodium, and phosphorus to be readily available, like a winter coat, to meet the body’s needs when called upon. The human body stores in the bones 99 percent of its calcium, roughly 85 percent of is phosphorus, and between 40 and 60 percent of its total sodium and magnesium.7 These minerals give bones density, while the collagen matrix, which provides the matrix structure for the deposition of minerals, gives bones strength and flexibility. Bone stocks are an easy source of collagen, to foster strong, flexible bones. To build dense bones requires many factors, but one of the most important is the mineral magnesium, which is found in whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits. Magnesium is needed for the absorption of calcium into bones—which might otherwise be deposited into joints and organs like the kidney and gallbladder. The magnesium levels of bone stocks, many of which are already high (third column, Table, above), can be enhanced by the addition of vegetables.


Collagen/Gelatin and Health. The potential link between gelatin (derived by simmering bone collagen) and health is fascinating. Gelatin was a popular remedy, especially for digestive issues, before the advent of synthetic drugs. While many of the early studies concerning the health benefits of gelatin have been lost, research by Francis Pottenger (“The Hydrophilic Colloidal Diet,” in Pottenger’s Cats, 1937) and N.R. Gotthoffer (Gelatin in Nutrition and Medicine, 1945) survive to this day and have much to offer us. Both research documents contain evidence of the potential health benefits of gelatin and draw more attention to gelatin’s potential healing power for many ills: digestive issues like Crohn’s, irritable bowel disease, and hyperacidity; bone health; immune issues; wound healing and skin diseases; rheumatoid arthritis and other joint diseases that involve collagen; detoxification; and even cancer. Research on gelatin seems to be reawakening; it is exciting and could fill a whole newsletter. If you enjoy science and are interested in reading further, I highly recommend “Why Broth is Beautiful—‘Essential Roles for Proline, Glycine and Gelatin’” by Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD. It is available on line through the Weston A. Price Foundation: In addition, while Gotthoffer’s book is out of print and therefore expensive to obtain, a variety of findings from the book–about gelatin’s role in health–are quoted in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions. This book is not only readily available but also an asset for any cookbook shelf, particularly if you are interested in making stocks.


Our quick overview of gelatin and health would not be complete without saying a few words about the work of Francis Pottenger. Above all, gelatin is acknowledged for the important role it can play in healing digestive issues. For this affirmation, we owe much to the pioneering work of Pottenger. Pottenger realized that, unlike raw food which is “hydrophilic” and attracts digestive juices, cooked food is “hydrophobic,” and repels digestive juices. This causes food to become layered in the stomach, rather than being digested in a uniform mass, creating greater stomach acidity and digestive distress.8 Pottenger’s experiments showed that by adding gelatin to a cooked meal, foods were better able to absorb digestive juices (think how Jello works to draw in liquids), thus leading to smoother digestion and reduced stomach acidity. Based on this research, Pottenger successfully used gelatin-rich meat stocks both to treat disease and to support general health.



A Few Background Concepts Related to Bone Stocks, Health, and Cooking Preferences


Collagen. Connective tissue like animal skin, cartilage and bones are rich sources of collagen. In contrast to meat, which is just one percent collagen by weight, bones are about 20 percent collagen, pig skin around 30 percent, and animal knuckles up to 40 percent pure collagen.9 And, collagen– tough, resilient, and flexible—is really just gelatin molecules tightly bonded and intertwined as cross-linked triple helixes. Temperatures that create a gentle simmer efficiently break collagen’s triple helix bonds to release gelatin.10 The older the animal the longer it takes to break these bonds. At the same time, prolonged periods of heat weaken the gelatin molecules that have already been freed, rendering them less able to hold body and thicken liquids…so for jelling, prolonged simmering is not always better. Timing will be a function of your objectives: you can create a firm, gelatinous stock that simmers for less time (2-6 hours), or you can extract every bit of nutrition from the meat and bones and be able to consume the bones and marrow if you simmer your stock for 24 hours. Many professional chefs would advocate that meats should be tasted and stocks strained once meats have lost their flavor.


Gelatin. Gelatin has been criticized because it is not a complete protein and cannot sustain life on its own. This is true. A gelatin molecule is composed of close to 1,000 amino acids, but of the “essential” aminos, it has no tryptophan and lacks adequate amounts of methionine, histidine and tyrosine. Gelatin is really a rich source of only glycine and proline (along with hydroxyproline, its active form). And, to be health-supportive, gelatin, like all amino acids, requires the fat-soluble vitamins A and D in sufficient quantity. Still, with adequate supplemental nutrients, gelatin does deserve a place in health and healing: for digestive conditions; for those who cannot obtain or digest adequate protein (due to its protein-sparing role), and for those with wasting diseases (due to its ability to preserve muscle mass that might otherwise be dismantled in conditions of disease or malnutrition). Finally, as it relates to cooking, gelatin is the easiest, most flexible and most forgiving of all protein thickeners used in the kitchen.11 It can be heated and cooled numerous times, liquefying and re-jelling again and again.


Commercial Gelatin versus Bone Stocks, For Healing See Rebecca Wood ‘s thoughts, below.


Animal skin. Animal skin is made up largely of fat and connective tissue. Skin and fat add flavor to any stock, as well as extra collagen. Important to recall, too, is that fats are essential to allow us to absorb the mineral nutrients in foods. So you may want to cook a chicken, for example, with the skin.


But, some stock recipes call for skinning before beginning to cook… Lost in this process is not only the time required to skin but also the value that fat can add to a stock. So why bother? One reason is that at high temperatures, fat, which might normally remain floating at the top of a simmering pot, can begin at a prolonged boil to be dispersed throughout the liquid, producing a greasy tasting stock. Since you always begin a bone stock with cold water and heat it slowly to allow the flesh to gradually release nutrients into the water, it can be hard to control the heat if you are not watching carefully. What you want is to have the water move slowly to a simmer but without boiling. Obviously, a watchful eye is not always easy with life’s distractions and/or with family about. Also, if you are like me and prepare multiple foods when in the kitchen, it can be hard to devote the attention required to catch the simmer before it breaks into a boil. For this reason, skinning may help you avoid the risk of a greasy stock.


Stock pot or slow cooker? Stock pots are wonderful, especially for vegetable and fish stocks that have a short cooking time. But, considering the long time that bone stocks require and that we may not want to leave our pot on the stove unattended for the long hours of cooking, you may prefer, as I often do, the convenience and security of an effortless slow cooker.


Acidic additives…vinegar or wine? Bone stocks do very well without the addition of vinegar or wine. The result will likely be a more gelatinous stock, since acids can weaken gelatin. At the same time, you may not extract as much nutrition without the addition of an acid. It really depends upon what you are trying to achieve. Should you opt for an acid component to extract more nutrients, a good rule of thumb is to use one tablespoon of vinegar or a half a cup of wine for every two quarts of liquid.


Making Bone Stocks… Equipment and Materials


There are a host of wonderful cookbooks describing how to make bone stocks. Many suggest a large stock pot and organic meats, which you bring to just a boil, reduce the heat, skim off foam that floats to the surface, add vegetables, and keep at a slow simmer for some hours depending on the meat…beef for at least 8 hours so it has time to surrender all its minerals and flavor, and chicken for about half that time. I truly enjoy reading the author/chefs who describe this process and, much like cooking shows on television, I can live the dream along with them–down to imagining the wonderful aromas as well as the delicious tastings from frequent sampling of the stock as it gathers richness and body.


But if you have never cooked stocks, I want to be realistic. I want you to be successful. And, I want it to be easy. I usually use a slow cooker for bone stocks because I cannot stay in the kitchen hour after hour, and I am also not comfortable leaving the house with a pot on the stove. So, for now, since bone stocks cook for very long periods and because our modern world is full of distractions and commitments that pull us out of the kitchen, I recommend a slow cooker, especially if you are just starting out to with bone stocks. A slow cooker is easy, safe, effortless, and rather fail-proof.


Special equipment you will need:


  • A slow cooker large enough for your needs (or stock pot, if you choose)Strainers and sieves; perhaps cheese cloth if you desire a clearer stock
  • A cooking thermometer is helpful to monitor temperatures with a stock pot

A few guidelines:

  • Water should barely cover ingredients. Add more if needed
  • Never salt a stock. Bones have sodium and flavors concentrate
  • Start with cold water and bring just to a simmer, with bubbles barely breaking the surface of the water. Never boil a stock. High temperatures can integrate the fat with the liquid, resulting in a “greasy” rather than a clean tasting stock. A slow cooker is perfect for a slow simmer: Even“High” is calibrated to be below the boiling point.
  • Skim the impurities that rise to the top…most foam will rise in the first hour of cooking
  • Taste the meat when you suspect it has surrendered its essence. When tasteless, stop cooking and strain the stock, unless you are making a 24-hour stock and intend to eat the bones
  • Cool the stock and allow the fat to rise to the top. Skim off the fat when it congeals
    Stocks keep in the refrigerator for about a week, but should be boiled about every three days to kill bacteria. They can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Always bring a thawed stock back to the boil to restore its life.

Many bone stocks use both meat and bones. Bones provide collagen and gelatin for health; meat, which has only 1 % collagen, provides taste. Rich, delicious stocks are the result of using both.


Bone Stock Recipes…From the Simple to the More Complex


With no recollection of my own bone stock beginning, I suspect that I started making bone stocks because of Timothy Aitken, L.Ac., a kind and wise healer whom I first met years ago as a teacher at the Natural Gourmet Institute. His recipe for a 24-hour bone stock is below. It uses a slow cooker and is easy and effortless. Next is my own favorite version based on Tim’s, using organic chicken legs–because legs are succulent and economical and because the abundant joint tissue gives a high collagen/gelatin yield. The next recipe is for a very rich bone stock from my good friend Ellen Arian, a professional whole foods chef. This recipe, by adding vegetables, is rich in magnesium and potassium. Last you will find a beef stock recipe from Annemarie Colbin that explains some of the merits of marrow. This recipe could be made richer with the addition of 1-2 pounds of beef short rib.


Eight Branches Organic Chicken Bone Soup

4 pound organic chicken, well-washed and skinned
4 skinned chicken breasts, or other chicken pieces, if there is room in the pot
1-2 large onions, chopped
2-3 carrots, chopped
3-5 ribs of celery


Place chicken in large crock pot with enough water to cover plus 2 inches extra and begin cooking on high. When simmering well, turn to low and cook for about 20 hours, adding more water to keep covered, if needed. Add chopped vegetables about 2 hours before you plan to finish. Broth may be strained and used as a tonic when recovering from colds or the flu; it may also be used in soups, bean dishes, or to cook grains (my favorite…I freeze this in 2 cup batches and cook with grains in my rice cooker) Chicken may be eaten, bones and all…alone, in salads, as additions to soups, etc.


Source: Tim Aitken, L.Ac.,Eight Branches Healing Arts

Pathways4Health Chicken/Bone Stock

Three pounds (about 12 legs) of organic chicken, or whatever fits well in your slow cooker
2 Bay leaves
Sprig of Fresh rosemary, or 1 t. dried, if desired (it is a good anti-inflammatory); 1 t. dried thyme
4 quarts boiling water
¼ cup organic apple cider vinegar or ½ cup white wine (to be added later).


Combine all ingredients but the vinegar in a 4-5 quart slow cooker, turned to high. Skim off foam, if it exists. Let legs cook for about 4 hours until meat begins to fall off the bone. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a large bowl. When cooled a bit, remove the meat from the bones and store it in a covered container in the refrigerator for another use. [Since meat is just 1% collagen, saving it to eat and cooking the bones for gelatin is my preference to avoid waste, unless your goal is to maximize taste.]


Return bones to slow cooker along with all the knuckle, gristle, and skin. Add the apple cider vinegar. Turn slow cooker to low, cover with lid, and let simmer for up to 20 more hours.

Strain the stock, reserving the bones and discarding the other solids. Store the bones in the refrigerator in a covered container.

Cool the stock overnight in a covered container in the refrigerator, then remove the fat from the top and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

If you chose to try eating the bones, the sensation is a bit like eating shoe-string potatoes…slightly crunchy, rich, and satisfying. Marrow is full of bone-building minerals, of course, as well as fat to help with their absorption.

Very, Very Rich Chicken Bone Stock… A bowl or two can make a meal.

3-4 pound chicken, whole or in parts
12 cups cold water
3 or 4 large carrots
2 or 3 celery stalks, with leaves
1 parsnip
1 onion, peeled
½ head garlic
1 leek
2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme
Handful fresh parsley leaves and stems
8 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Other vegetable scraps, like fennel fronds, chard stems or squash ends
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Fine sea salt to taste

Into a large stock pot, place cleaned chicken and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Skim and discard any foam that appears.


Meanwhile, clean the vegetables and herbs, and cut the vegetables into large pieces so that they will fit inside the pot. Add all the ingredients, except the sea salt, to the soup pot. Bring the soup to a boil again, reduce the heat to very low, and simmer uncovered. After the first hour of simmering, remove the chicken, take the meat off the bone, and set it aside to be added back to the soup when it’s finished cooking (boiled meat is rather spent after 6 hours in a pot). Simmer the soup uncovered for another five hours. Then remove it from the heat, strain, skim the fat if there is an abundance, and serve with the reserved chicken pieces. This serves a family of five, so it can be cut down.

Source: Ellen Arian,

Beef Stock

Once you’ve made this stock, don’t be so quick to discard the bones. The marrow that remains within is a rich source of calcium, fat, iron, and zinc. In fact, it has three times more calcium than milk, ounce for ounce. Although it’s fallen out of favor as a food, marrow was an esteemed source of nutrients in the past. If you’d like to give it a try, blow or scrape it out of the bones after the stock is cooked, spread it on whole grain toast, and top with a little
salt and white pepper.


Makes 3 quarts.

2 pounds beef marrow bones
4 quarts cold water
1 large carrot, top ½ inch discarded, chopped
1 medium onion, quartered
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
½ cup parsley stems (no leaves, which add green color)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup red or white wine, or 2 tablespoons wine vinegar


Place the bones in a stockpot with the water, bring to a boil over high heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Skim off as much of the foam as possible.

Add the carrot, onion, celery, garlic, parsley stem, oil, and wine, lower the heat to maintain a very low simmer and cook for 6 to 8 hours with the lid ajar, skimming occasionally.

Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve without pressing on the solids. Cool the stock before storing in the refrigerator overnight, then remove the fat from the top. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Source: Annemarie Colbin


Reading Resources:

Rebecca Wood, Award-Winning Julia Child Chef, on… Traditional Bone Stock (Gelatin)

Here’s how the classic energy tonic, bone stock, deliciously soothes whatever ails you. It increases endurance and strengthens the gastro intestinal tract and the immune system. Plus it sublimely increases the flavor and texture of savory dishes.


How does purchased stock compare to home-made? Like cut glass to a diamond. It is stock that ultimately determines the success of a dish. Thus cooks world-wide and through the centuries have regarded silky, gelatinous, marrow bone stock as an essential ingredient for soups, sauces and pilafs.


Because gelatin is concentrated protein, you may regard it as the original–and healthful–protein isolate. These long chained protein molecules may be extracted from animal skins or bones.


Today’s commercial gelatin, however, is derived only from animal skins, it is a protein source, but that’s all. It is not an energy tonic. Whereas, gelatin extracted from bones is a nutritious source of protein as well as collagen, calcium, minerals and the amino acids proline and glycine. Bone stock is a remarkable and healing food.


Thus a traditional chicken stock made of the carcass is fondly dubbed “grandma’s penicillin” for its effectiveness in combating the flu. Stock made from poultry or other bones increases endurance and strengthens the immune system and veins, arteries, muscles, tendons, skin and bones. It also soothes and heals the gastro-intestinal tract and is thus a potent medicine for people suffering from food sensitivities and digestive or bowel problems.


Even vegetarians use this gelatinous tonic medicinally because bones, like leather, are a by-product. Thus, no matter your dietary preferences, health or age, you’ll benefit from bone stock.


The secret to a bone energy tonic is long cooking with a little solvent such as vinegar or wine to extract nutrients. Because bones are dense it takes a long time to draw out all their nutrients. Excessive cooking will break-up the earliest-released gelatin molecule chains and produce (when chilled) a thin—instead of a thickly quivering—gelatin. Therefore, for thick gelatin, you may extract three different batches of stock from one pot of bones.


Stock is a forgiving recipe that easily accommodates your schedule and a little under- or over-cooking. Do try it and soon you’ll gain a sense of mastery and your own stock rhythm.


I make a week’s supply of bone stock and use it liberally in any savory dish that calls for liquid. Or, for a quick pick-me-up, I season it to taste and drink this consommé as an on-the-spot restorative.


A Final Comment…


In doing research for this newsletter, I was fortunate to have a conversation with scientist and practitioner Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, who wrote the “Broths are Beautiful” article referred to on above. I called her to ask where to find a reliable, organic source of dried gelatin for use in cooking. This question turned into a broader discussion about gelatin, bone stocks, and health. My conversation with Kaayla made me aware that many who are interested in stocks for the health benefits they can provide are not comfortable using animal bones. In response to my question about how to improve the gelatinous quality of my own stocks, Kaayla reminded me that one of the very best ways to derive gelatin from bones is to use shanks, knuckles, and marrow bones. Of course this would be the case since they contain up to twice as much collagen as regular bones (page 5). These are delicious slow-simmered with beans for a hearty and nutritious meal. This traditional way of cooking makes so much sense since the gelatin in knuckle-type bones would act as a protein-sparing agent for meals relying simply on the protein of beans. In our next newsletter we plan to expand upon this concept while offering recipes for shank soups, hocks and beans, bone marrow spreads…the perfect antidote to the March damp chill and biting winds.


Kaayla helped me recognize that some of you may not want to cook with bones. Also, organic knuckle- and shank-type bones maybe hard to find. So, I decided to add one last resource section to this newsletter… to provide sources where you can order homemade organic stocks. Some of the providers listed below also sell organic shank, marrow, and knuckle bones. For a more complete listing, see the Weston A. Price Foundation shopping guide,


Sources for Organic Bone Stocks:

  • Bonewerks stocks (800-542-3032)
  • Chesapeake Gardens beef, chicken and fish stocks (800-886-0272)
  • Grazin’Acres beef and chicken stock (608-727-2904)
  • Green Acres Farm beef and chicken stock (717-661-5293)
  • Miller’s Organic Farm beef, chicken and fish stock (717-556-0672)
  • Perfect Addition frozen stocks (949-640-0220)
  • Stock Options stocks and demi glace (503-236-7810)
  • US Wellness Meats beef stock (877-383-0051)

As always, readers are invited to join the discussion in our comment section below and share this month’s newsletter with a friend by clicking on the green “ShareThis” link at the top of this page.

Copyright 2010

  1. A stock is a liquid in which foods have been simmered and, when removed, leave behind in the liquid their flavor and mineral nutrition. Stocks are one of the best, easy-to-absorb ways to enrich your body with minerals. []
  2. To bone-up on bone health, see Annemarie Colbin’s The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones (2009) one of thebest, reader-friendly and thorough books on this topic. []
  3. Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, 260. []
  4. Carl Voit, qtd. in N.R. Gotthoffer, Gelatin in Nutrition and Medicine, 7. []
  5. See October08 Newsletter: Excitotoxins. []
  6. See Colbin, The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones. []
  7. Colbin, Food and Our Bones (1998), 17. []
  8. Francis Pottenger, Pottenger’s Cats, p. 102. []
  9. Harold McGee, 598. []
  10. McGee, 597. []
  11. McGee, 603. []


Summer Culture and the Summer Kitchen

Traditionally at this time of the year, our forebears gladly left behind the warm hearth of the “keeping room” and moved to the “summer kitchen.” The summer kitchen was an addition added to the back of the house for hot-weather meal preparation and dining. Facing north,1 this segment was positioned to escape the intense rays of the summer sun. The summer kitchen provided an informal lifestyle, with meals centered upon food picked fresh from the garden, using minimal application of heat for cooking.

Today, the warmer, extended days of summer invite us also to shift to a less-formal way of living. Summer can encourage us to change the pace, to lighten up, to adventure, and to try out new experiences. In view of the glorious fresh produce that summer gifts to us, I cannot think of a better concept to fit these seasonal themes than to ferment fruits and vegetables from our own backyards, orchards, or our local farmers’ market.


Fermenting invites exploration, experimentation and innovation because any fruit or vegetable can be fermented. It is an age-old technique that relies on the natural abundance of lactobacillus and other beneficial bacteria (that are associated with all plant foods and raw milk), as well as their ability to convert carbohydrates into lactic acid, other organic acids, and carbon dioxide. It is a different process from alcoholic fermentation, which involves yeast working on carbohydrates to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide, so fermented foods can be enjoyed by people who are yeast-sensitive.2


Fermenting fits the spirit of the summer kitchen because it requires no heat source and no fancy equipment. It is a living, dynamic process. Results will vary with temperature, humidity, and the ingredients used. Even with the same ingredients, every fermenting experiment can be unique, since fruits and vegetables vary in their degree of ripeness and nutrient density. And, ferments will also be unique because they incorporate on any given occasion a kaleidoscope of fermenting microorganisms from within your local environment. Of the millions of microbial cultures, no exact set will ever be replicated again in quite the same way. It is an endlessly interesting experience.


Why Ferment?
In the modern world of refrigeration/freezing we no longer must rely upon fermentation to preserve our food. But with the convenience of cooling appliances, have we lost sight of the health-enhancing qualities inherent in fermented foods? These were benefits that our ancestors seemed to appreciate so well. In the past, fermentation helped make foods more digestible and more nutritious and served to boost their immunity in times before antibiotics.


Because the lactobacillus is so prevalent, it quickly destroys toxins and makes foods more digestible and nutritious as it creates new vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants. It enhances the taste of fruits and vegetables, especially as a condiment, and as you gradually acclimatize to the refreshing “zip.” And, fermenting foods is another way to “eat local” since preparing foods in this way helps incorporate beneficial local microbial organisms into meals.


Fermented Foods and Immunity…Probiotics. Fermented foods are “pro-biotics.” Unlike “anti-biotics” which kill off good intestinal flora, fermented foods are a natural source of “friendly” bacteria for the digestive system. They help to preserve and restore the balance of good bacteria in the intestinal tract to keep harmful bacteria and yeast in check. Establishing good intestinal flora is like providing and supporting the proper soil nutrients in an organic garden. A commercially-raised carrot will not have the same nutrient density as one grown organically. And, similarly, an organic carrot will not be digested and absorbed unless the “soil” of the digestive system is enriched by adequate friendly bacteria to allow for its proper assimilation. As fermentation guru Sandor Katz suggests:


By eating a variety of live fermented foods, you promote diversity among microbial cultures in your body…Your body is an ecosystem that can function most effectively when populated by diverse species of microorganisms.3


Our digestive system is the seat of our immunity. Having a healthy intestinal environment is the cornerstone of a strong immune system because it is here that the lymphoid tissue of the intestine creates lymphocytes and immunoglobulins. Friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract are also essential for the proper functioning of disease/cancer fighters like neutropils, macrophages, interferons, and cytokines.4 It is for these reasons that more than 80 percent of our immune system resides in the “gut.”5


Prebiotics. As mentioned above, almost anything can be fermented, and in infinite combinations. Fermentation can help put diversity back into our diet. Our Palaeolithic ancestors ate from an estimated 500 plant species, which provided a wide array of “prebiotic” foods. Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that foster the growth of friendly bacteria. Key prebiotics are foods with soluble-fiber such as tempeh (fermented soybeans), raw oats, whole wheat and barley, as well as inulin-containing foods like onions, garlic, chicory, jicama, and Jerusalem artichokes. Manufactured and prepared foods in the modern diet leave many people deficient both with respect to probiotics and prebiotics:


It may or may not be a coincidence that increases in inflammatory conditions in general, allergic conditions, obesity, coronary heart disease, and cancers in the western world have paralleled the decreased consumption of probiotics and prebiotics, but also a reduced variation in the prebiotics consumed.6


Fermentation Opens the Door to Possibility, To the Wonders of the “Whole” Beyond the Analysis of the Microscope. In the “magical” process of fermentation, microflora working on foods produce alcohol, lactic acid, and acetic acid. These substances work as “bio-preservatives” to retain nutrients, prevent spoilage, and make food more digestible. Sandor Katz defines fermentation as “the action of life upon death” whereby living organisms consume food matter and transform it, freeing nutrients for the further sustenance of life.7 Indeed, fermentation brings a bit of alchemy right into our own homes. It can open any kitchen to the worlds of innovation, exploration, and experimentation, and it can awaken the imagination:


The deeper we go into the facts of life, the more mysteries we encounter. Analyzing living systems, we often have to pull them to pieces, decompose complex biological happening into simple reactions. The smaller and simpler the system we study, the more it will satisfy the rules of physics and chemistry, the more we will understand it, but also the less ‘alive’ it will be. So when we have broken down living systems to molecules and analyzed their behavior, we may kid ourselves into believing that we know what life is, forgetting that molecules have no life at all.(( Nobel laureate Albert Von Szent-Gyorgyi.))


Fermenting Foods…A Simple Beginning Using Quality Vegetables and Salt
This newsletter is meant to simply whet your appetite for fermenting foods. Reading Sandor Katz’ and Nancy Lee Bentley’s books (see resource list, page 5) may inspire you to think of fermenting some of your favorite foods, particularly since this process is so closely tied to digestive-immune health and a mainstay defense against chronic disease.


Fermenting Basics

How Does It Work?

The lactobacilli culture is on the surface of all plants—grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. As mentioned above, lactobacilli work on carbohydrates in fresh produce, producing lactic-acid.8 As long as you have a preponderance of lactobacilli to start, they will destroy the pathogenic bacteria and dominate a fermenting culture.9 Salt is needed in the first several days to check putrefying bacteria until sufficient lactic acid builds up to take on the preservation role. Lactic acid increases the vitamin and enzyme content of foods, while it also supports good gut flora, neutralizes anti-nutrients, and improves digestibility.


What Do You Need?
All that is required… fresh organic vegetables, a sharp knife and vegetable grater, sea salt,10 filtered water, wide-mouth jars or glass/ceramic nesting bowls, and a tamper.


Containers: Glass jars or ceramic bowls work best. Avoid metal since fermenting acids and salt will corrode metal.


If using a bowl, a cylindrical shape is best because this shape is easiest to cover and weight ingredients to extract juices and to assure that all food is submerged. A round bowl requires only a plate to cover and then a weight placed on top. The weight can simply be a jar filled with water, or anything you have on hand. Once ingredients are weighted, the salt will continue to extract liquids from the foods, which usually results in ingredients that are submerged in their own juices by the following day.


If using wide-mouthed jars, be sure to pack ingredients tightly, using a tamper or your hands. If necessary, weight by nesting another jar filled with water on top of salted ingredients until enough liquid has been extracted to cover ingredients. You may need to add a bit of brine. Allow an inch or two at the top of the jar since foods and juices will expand during fermentation.


Salt: Salt not only pulls water from foods, but it also discourages the growth of “bad” bacteria, while allowing lactobacilli (which can survive in a salty environment) to set to work. After 2-3 days of fermentation, vegetables begin to soften and acidify. If you prefer to ferment without salt, you might try celery juice as a substitute.11 A good rule of thumb is to use 2-3 tablespoons of salt for every 5 pounds of vegetables. Use only a quality sea salt, since supermarket salts have added aluminum and anti-caking agents.

Brine: Brine, which is simply sea salt diluted in filtered water, helps to protect against the growth of undesirable microorganisms, and it also helps enhance the flavor of the fermentation. How much salt you use is a matter of taste. The saltier the brine, the slower your foods will ferment, and the more sour (acidic) the final product. Ultimately, with too much salt, no microbacteria can survive.


Fresh and Pure Produce: Make sure that your foods, utensils, and jars are cleaned well. Fresh, local, organic foods not only are the most nutrient-dense, but also will have the most water, which is something that aids fermenting when the goal is to assure that all ingredients are submerged. Vegetables lose water with time and do not ferment as easily.


Steps to Follow:
Preparing foods for fermentation: Fresh vegetables are usually chopped or grated. I find grating works best if you are using wide-mouthed quart jars, where food is a little trickier to pack and to weight since the jar is not a perfect cylinder. Grating allows you to pack foods like shredded cabbage or carrots tightly into a wide-mouthed jar, which can be done with your hands or a tamper


Grating or finely chopping foods creates more surface area for the salt to work. Salt pulls out juices and pectins from vegetables, giving them more “crunch.” Pounding, packing, and weighting foods breaks down cellular walls and helps draw liquids. (You may want to chop rather than to grate beets, since beet sugar can ferment rapidly, favoring alcohol over lactobacilli…unless, of course, this is your intention!)


Fermenting whole vegetables: To ferment whole vegetables, such as cucumbers, zucchini, string beans, green onions, garlic, etc, mix a brine to taste and be sure vegetables are completely submerged.


Submerging ingredients: The key principle to assuring a good fermentation is to have all ingredients submerged in liquid so they are not exposed to air. Fermentation is a biochemical anaerobic (without air) process that involves the oxidation of sugars and starches. Should there not be enough liquid to submerge ingredients, simply mix a bit of filtered water with sea salt to create a brine and cover to insure that all ingredients are submerged. If ingredients are allowed to come in contact with air, they may mold. This mold is harmless…just scrape it off since all the foods below are perfectly fine. You may want to add a bit more brine to insure in the future that liquid is sufficient to block oxygen.


Time and Temperature: At a room temperature of 70-75 degrees, foods should ferment in two to four days. They should then be moved to the refrigerator or a cool, dark place.


Reading Resources:
Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation
Nancy Lee Bentley, Truly Cultured
Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions


Simple Fermenting in Your Summer Kitchen:

Starter Recipe: Master Vegetable Ferment in a Quart Jar:
One wide-mouth quart jar
Grated clean, fresh, organic vegetables
Mix in 1-2 tablespoons of sea salt
Pack firmly into the jar, in layers as you go, either with your hands or a tamper
Use filtered water to fill to the cover ingredients, leaving an inch at the top because both ingredients and liquid will expand during fermenting.
Cover with a lid and leave at room temperature for three days, assuming a room temperature around 70 degrees. Warmer temperatures require less time, and cooler will require more.
Vegetables that work well when grated: Cabbage, carrots, turnips, daikon radish, zucchini, garlic.


Pickled Zucchini
Young zucchini with tender skin, grated
2 teaspoons of sea salt for every 2 pounds of zucchini
Filtered water

Pack grated zucchini into a quart jar. Mix sea salt with filtered water and add. Place on counter top for 3 days and then move the jar to the refrigerator. This is good with a salad of fresh tomatoes, onion, and zucchini.

Of all the vegetables man can conserve through lacto-fermentation, cabbage has been man’s preferred choice”…Annelies Schoneck.


Simple Sauerkraut

One head of organic fresh cabbage, shredded
2 Tablespoons Celtic or sea salt
Filtered water

Mix cabbage and salt. Pound cabbage with a rubber or wooden mallet or a meat tenderizer to bruise cabbage to help release juices. Pack cabbage into a quart jar with a tamper or your hands, leaving about 2” of space at the top. Add filtered water until cabbage is fully submerged. Cover the jar with a lid and leave at room temperature for 3-7 days. Taste everyday after the third day and place in the refrigerator when you are satisfied with the taste. The kraut will keep in the refrigerator for two to three months.

Variations: I like to mix in some grated apple or carrot, or try some seasonings like caraway seed or juniper berries.


Ginger Carrots (yield: 1 quart)
4 cups grated carrots, tightly packed
1 T. freshly grated ginger
1 T. sea salt

In a bowl, mix all ingredients and pound with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer to release juices. Place in a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar and press down firmly with a pounder until juices cover the carrots. The top of the carrots should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature about 3 days before transferring to cold storage.
Source: Sally Fallon


A Final Comment…The Art of Fermenting Varies With the Lens of the Artist…Just as in our June 2009 newsletter discussion of natural sweeteners, it seems even the experts do not agree. Fermenting is truly an art and you are welcome to indulge in your own “writer’s license.” It seems that fermenting is generally more predictable when you seal off oxygen and when you add whey for the acidity that it adds, but neither is essential. You can see what fits best for you and how much experimentation and variation you are willing to tolerate. There are many workable variations…


Is whey necessary to ferment fruit?

• “Whey is essential in the recipes calling for fruit.”…Sally Fallon

• “We ferment with a mix of vegetables and fruits, but you can ferment fruit alone…If you have extra whey, use it, but it is not necessary.”…Richard Pooley, M.D.

• Sandor Katz also ferments fruits without whey (See recipe below).


Recognizing that produce needs to be submerged in brine, must you also cover with a lid thought the fementing process?

• “Ferment “until ripe. Taste your ferments as often as you like for the taste that you find most pleasing to you.”…Sandor Katz

• “Leave a 1 inch space at the top of the jar…and close the lid tightly…the presence of oxygen, once fermentation has begun, will ruin the final product.”…Sally Fallon


Fruit Kimchi
¼ pineapple 1 small bunch of grapes, stemmed
2 pitted plums ½ cup cashews, or other nuts
2 cored pears 1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
1 cored apple 1-2 fresh jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
2 teaspoons sea salt 1-2 hot chilies or red hot pepper in any form, fresh or dried
Juice of one lemon 1 leek or onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped 3 T. grated ginger

Chop fruit into bite-sized pieces. Leave grapes whole. Add in any other fruit you want to try. Add nuts and mix together. Add salt, lemon juice, and spices and mix well. Stuff kimchi mixture into a clean quart-size jar. Pack tightly into the jar, pressing down until the brine rises. If necessary, add a little water. Weight down with a smaller jar, filled with water, nested at the top. As this sweet kimchi ages, it will develop an increasingly alcoholic flavor. Let age on the countertop about a week. Shift it to the refrigerator.
Source: Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation


Copyright 2009 Pathways4Health

  1. The front door and living spaces faced south to catch the sun’s warmth during frigid winter months. []
  2. I owe Richard W. Pooley, M.D., much for sharing many of these ideas and inspiring me to incorporate fermentation into my own kitchen. []
  3. Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation. []
  4. Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D. []
  5. This newsletter is not meant as an exhaustive study of the relationship of the good intestinal flora, the immune system, and physical and psychological health. I leave this for a future newsletter. []
  6. University College of London, Liver Institute. PubMed UI: 11706296. []
  7. Wild Fermentation, 33. []
  8. When it comes to limiting the action of bacteria that spoil foods, lactic acid is more powerful than any other organic acid and, unlike alcohol and acetic acid which must be broken down by the body and eliminated, lactic acid can be used constructively to enhance health…Annelies Schoneck. []
  9. Richard W. Pooley, M.D. []
  10. Not to be confused with supermarket table salt, with contains anti-caking “fillers.” []
  11. A favorite technique of Sandor Katz. []