The Healthy Kitchen
My cooking is based on the core beliefs that:
- What we eat directly impacts our health and our environment.
- We have to enjoy what we eat or we won’t continue to make wise food choices.
My cornerstone is real food—food that originates in nature and not in a food science laboratory.
My guidelines are based on more than 10 years of cover-to-cover reading of books on food and health.
Lots of Color
A colorful plate is appealing to look at, eat and enjoy with the added benefit that colors generally mean more vitamins and nutrients in each bite and in every meal. Colors come from using the widest possible range of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts), adding
- berries, grated apple, pumpkin or beets into pancakes, waffles or scones
- nuts, grains, beans with greens (spinach, arugula, kale etc)
- shredded broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts into tabbouleh or brown rice…
—and voilá! Food is tastier, more interesting and better for our bodies.
Quinoa was cultivated in Bolivia thousands of years ago. Known during the Incan Empire (that extended across South America) as the “mother grain,” it was a diet staple. Quinoa often appeared in soups and dishes of my childhood, part of my diet long before it was discovered in the U.S. for its incredible nutritional value.
By extension whole grains—barley, buckwheat, bulgur, and brown rice—are a core part of my weekly menus. They are so versatile, flavorful and nourishing!
Whole grains have a combination of fiber, vitamins, minerals and health-promoting phytonutrients (plant chemicals) shown to help reduce cholesterol, improve intestinal health, stabilize blood sugar levels and decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Refined grains (spaghetti, white rice) are so processed that vitamins, minerals, antioxidants; phytonutrients—critical for optimal health—have been removed. Hence, I reserve white rice, white pasta, even white flour only for special occasions.
This change was gradual. Once upon a time I scared my date by eating—and thoroughly enjoying—a 16 oz. steak (the idea scares me now too). Beef, significant amounts of it, was on my plate several times a week.
It is now clear that eating less red meat reduces heart disease, cancer risk and improves the quality of our diet. Eating more grains, beans, vegetables means higher intake of fiber, protein, folate, zinc and other essential minerals and phytonutrients (plant chemicals) vital for good health.
Less beef consumption is good for the planet too: it reduces carbon footprint, water usage and fossil fuel dependence.
It’s also increasingly evident that if we do eat beef we should be aware of where it comes from. I try to stay away feedlot beef. Feedlots, officially called CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) are densely populated animal factories. Cows are severely over-crowded and corn-fed, an unnatural diet for herbivores causing painful health problems for the cows and for humans who consume their meat. It also wreaks havoc on the environment.
In Defense of Food
Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food
My weekly menus over the past 10 years demonstrate how meat (beef, pork, or poultry) was part of every single meal. I didn’t think it was a meal unless meat was a key part of it.
Beef at home is now generally a treat—Beef Wellington is usually my husband’s birthday wish, and Hungarian Goulash is one of my ultimate comfort foods.
I alternate vegetarian and non-vegetarian (poultry or fish) on my weekly menus. Generally I strive to follow the notion of meat as additional ingredient in a dish—for example Moroccan Chicken Tagine, Pumpkin Shrimp Curry, Garbanzo and Turkey Sausage Stew, rather than making meat the main part of the meal.
Beware of Sugar
Growing up with Austrian pastries means I love dessert. Going to Konditorei (traditional pastry shop) in Salzburg is a visit to heaven. But there’s a significant difference in the amount of sugar between Austrian (European) and US baked goods.
For everyday baking, I usually reduce the amount of sugar in recipes by one-third and sometimes by half. It’s frightening how much sugar consumption has increased in the US despite awareness of the health risks provoked by sugar. Even a “healthy” recipe such as Sweet Potato Zucchini Bread calls for TWO cups of sugar!
Christmas and birthdays are an exception…special occasions call for special treats. I consider sugar a treat, not an everyday essential.
As a rule I avoid artificial sweeteners. They are chemically manufactured and I prefer not to consume chemicals made in a lab.
Dairy is an occasional rather than regular ingredient in our house. There is increasing evidence that milk and dairy products consumption isn’t beneficial.
I choose organic milk and cheese from pasture-fed animals (without antibiotics and hormones and exposure to synthetic pesticides and fertilizers). This means superior nutrition for the animals and for us, is better for animals and for the environment. Organic milk and dairy products is more expensive, but we don’t consume them every day.
Overall, almond milk is my go-to choice. I’ve discovered coconut milk is a good substitute for cow’s milk, cream and even butter in many recipes. I always check ingredient labels to ensure there are no unecesaary additives.
Plain Greek yogurt is the most regular diary product we use: in place of sour cream, as a dessert or a treat with fresh berries, mango, or other fruit mixed.
What to Eat
Whereas cheese once was a daily staple, today it is more of a treat, or a special garnish in some dishes.
Eat to Live
Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
Lots of baking happens in my kitchen but it usually involves whole-wheat or spelt flour. White flour is for special occasions.
Super Immunity: The Essential Nutrition Guide for Boosting your Bodies Defenses to Live Longer, Stronger and Disease Free
Joel Fuhrman, M.D.