Building Blocks

Nutrients are like building blocks.

Fat molecules are composed of fatty acids, three per molecule, and usually different. So even olive oil, which is a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids, is not composed ONLY of monounsaturated fatty acids. There are some saturated ones, and some polyunsaturated ones. But they’re mostly monounsaturated.

Chicken fat also has a large percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids, plus some polyunsaturated ones and some saturated ones. The cocoa butter in your dark chocolate has a very high percentage of saturated fatty acids. But…wait! I know what you’re thinking: I thought saturated fat was bad for you! I wish I had an answer. All I can say is that there is clearly more here than meets the eye, and that we still don’t have the whole story. In the meantime, I will continue to eat dark chocolate, which I consider food, and not candy.

Protein molecules are composed of amino acids of all shapes and sizes. Some are short, some are long, some are branched and some are circular. Each one plays a different and essential role in building animals, whether fish, mammals, or human beings. Corneas, tendons, skin, muscles, fins, scales, nerves, retinas, livers, hair, nails, kidneys — you name it. We’re made of protein building blocks, which we obtain from the foods we eat.

Whenever you eat anything made of protein, you concentrate its diet up the food chain, right into you. So the name of the game, when it comes to protein, is quality. Garbage in, garbage out. You are what you eat. Protein is conserved within the animal kingdom. We continually break apart protein molecules and then build new structures with the resulting amino acids. It reminds me of the Legos my children used to play with — continually being broken apart by their little hands and then rebuilt into ever newer spaceships, boats, and buildings.

Carbohydrates are made of various types of fiber (like soluble and insoluble) as well as phytonutrients, vitamins and starches. We’re talking about fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains only. If you’ve ever heard anyone say to “eat the rainbow,” that’s just another way of saying to fill your plate with color. Every color corresponds to a different phytonutrient, and every phytonutrient is a building block for your good health. Phytonutrients make your retinas work right, for one thing, so you can see better. Phytonutrients fight rust and oxidation, to increase the odds that you will remain healthy, wise, and content for many years to come.

So there you have it. Stick with foods that act like building blocks, and save the sugar, treats, and entertainment for special occasions.

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: The Simplest of Salads

Here’s what I made for lunch a couple of days ago. Its success is built on simplicity. My strategy remains similar, week in and week out. Nevertheless, it is never quite the same, and always delicious. Thank you to Alice Waters for teaching me to eat simply. This salad makes one single serving, but is infinitely flexible if you’d like to invite a friend or an army to your table to share a meal. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Rainbow Beet Salad

Beets are one of my favorite foods. Whether purple, yellow, orange, or pink-and-white, these babies are phytonutrient heaven. Some people are partial to the smaller-sized beets, considering these the sweetest but, no matter what size you like, you’ll want to make sure to get ones with firm, dark green leaves on top. Beet greens are absolutely the best! When I buy beets, I cut the green tops off right away so I can slice them into short lengths, rinse them well, and saute them quickly in olive oil. They usually get eaten fast. 

Then I toss the beet roots themselves into a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil for 10-15 minutes, turn off the heat, and leave them covered and undisturbed all night. By morning, they are cool and their skins slip off easily. A splash of white vinegar, and into the fridge they go. You can also roast beets in foil. Some people say this gives beets a sweeter, more complex flavor. Either way, it’s probably a little less messy. That’s the strategy for this week’s Rainbow Beet Salad, whose name comes not from the beets themselves, but rather from the rainbow created by the greens, oranges and beets all together.

6 medium beets, with greens attached
2 oranges, medium
1 small red onion, diced fine
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. grated orange zest
1/2 tsp. sea salt, more to taste
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut greens from beets, chop the leaves coarsely, rinse thoroughly, and set aside. Rinse each beet well, and wrap in foil. Place beets on oven rack and roast for approx. 1 hour until tender when pierced. Unwrap and set aside to cool. Peel the beets, cut each into 6-8 wedges (depending on their size), and place in medium-sized, white serving bowl.

Add beet greens to a large pot of boiling water and cook 1-2 minutes. Working quickly, pour the contents of the pot through a colander, and then flip the greens into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and keep their bright green color. Empty this bowl of ice water through the colander as well, and spread the greens onto a kitchen towel. Leave for a few minutes to remove excess moisture, and add the greens to the beets.

Zest the orange with a sharp knife or a real zester if you have one. Peel the oranges completely with a sharp paring knife. Cut between the membranes of the orange to remove each segment individually, and catch them all in a small bowl. Add diced onion, salt, and pepper, and mix well. Add oranges and onions to the beets.

Whisk together the olive oil, garlic, and orange zest in a small bowl. Add to beets, and toss well. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour to allow flavors to develop. Serves 6.

Channeling Alice Waters

The secret to eating a nourishing diet is to keep it simple. One of my favorite cookbooks, written by Alice Waters, is called The Art of Simple Food. The title says it all. Continue reading

Ratchet Up Your Breakfast to a New Level

This week I’m going to spend a few minutes talking about the typical American breakfast, namely toast bagels muffins waffles pancakes “cereal” biscuits bread. Basically just white flour and sugar. Stripped carb. I put “cereal” in quotes because the word cereal really means grain (like oatmeal, millet, kasha, bulgur wheat), and not boxes of sweetened, dyed, highly processed products of limited nutritional value.

Something I’ve noticed just in the past few months is that EVEN friends, colleagues and acquaintances who have made the switch to real food, and who have rid their kitchens of items from that list of typical American breakfast foods above (at least most of the time) can still be strongly influenced by the list. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Oats & Strawberry Crumble

Sometimes you need a nice little dessert. Maybe something to go with a scoop of ice cream. Or a glass of tea. Not too sweet, but just sweet enough. This might be the perfect thing. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Homemade Pickles!

When I arrived home from work the other evening, what did I find in the kitchen but a few jars of beautiful green pickles! These came straight from my daughter’s kitchen garden, which has continued to supply a happy and endless bounty of gorgeous, crunchy, green cucumbers over the past few weeks. If you would like to make these pickles but you don’t happen to have your own homegrown supply, just stop by the supermarket and pick up a package or two of small pickling cucumbers. You will be so glad you did! Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Lemon-Mint Quinoa Salad

There is a ton of mint growing near the door to my basement, and here’s a wonderful way to use it up and show it off! Continue reading

Inspiration & Motivation for Your Reading Pleasure

On a regular basis, I have to tell a new patient that their blood sugars are too high. But please don’t shoot the messenger: It’s nothing personal. Not when the latest statistics reveal that fully one-half of the population over age 65 is now diabetic or prediabetic. And certainly not when the stats show that the majority don’t even know. Unbelievable, right? But it’s true. It’s either you or your spouse. You or your next-door neighbor. You or your best friend. Fifty percent. It doesn’t have to be this way. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Chickpea (Nahit) Celebration!

Last Saturday our friends welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world and everyone, (especially the two big sisters of this sweet, lucky little boy) is ecstatic. In my family, it is traditional to serve chickpeas to celebrate the birth of a newborn child. The dish is called nahit. 

Continue reading