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Squash Is a Mediocre Vegetable. It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way.

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Tom Philpott writes in Mother Jones:

We’re often told to eat our vegetables, and for good reason. But face it: They often kind of suck. Our supermarkets teem with towers of flawless looking squashes and tomatoes—but where’s the flavor?

For generations, plant breeders have largely been taking their orders from the food industry, in pursuit of varieties that are high-yielding and that can withstand long-haul travel. Flavor isn’t a priority—flavor comes from adding lots of salt, sugar, and fat in the factory, or from a restaurant chef’s bag of tricks. But at an event I attended in 2013, Dan Barber, chef of the acclaimed Blue Hill restaurants in New York, assembled a team of agriculture professors and rolled out a new idea: What if seed breeders started taking their cues from chefs instead of big food companies when they’re tweaking varieties of the fruits, vegetables, and wheat we eat?

Nearly five years later, the fruit, so to speak, of Barber’s collaboration with seed breeders has ripened into a new project called Row 7, which calls itself a seed company “built by chefs and breeders striving to make ingredients taste better before they ever hit a plate.” On the latest episode of Bite podcast, Barber and I chatted about why a chef who runs two restaurants is barging into an industry dominated by three multinational behemoths who use seeds as a marketing tool for selling pesticides.

Barber said the idea germinated about a decade ago, when Michael Mazourek, a Cornell University vegetable seed breeder, visited Barber’s restaurant for dinner. The two ended up chatting afterward in the kitchen, where a cook was preparing butternut squash for the next day’s service. Barber reports: “Just off the cuff and kind of flippantly, I said, ‘You’re a squash breeder—why don’t you create a butternut squash that actually tastes good?’”

Barber then went on to complain to Mazourek about “all the heroics” chefs go through to “eke out any deliciousness” from butternut squash: careful roasting and caramelizing, goosing it with maple syrup and brown sugar, etc. Mazourek replied that “in all my years of breeding, no one has ever asked me to select for flavor before,” Barber reports. And that’s when the lightbulb went on.

His conversations with Mazourek taught him that breeders are a little bit like chefs: They “combine genetics in a kind of recipe format” to create traits. Modern butternut squash, for example, is “bred to be picked green,” he said—that is, to be harvested before it’s ripe, and then stored for months and ripened at the convenience of the food industry. A winter squash that’s bred to be picked ripe, with flavor as its main goal—rather than storeability—would be a much more delicious thing, he said.

When US chefs began to rebel against bland ingredients in the 1970s (listen to my interview with Alice Waters to dig into that history), they began an enduring alliance between farmers and chefs that became the farm-to-table movement. But in seed terms, the focus of that relationship was on heirloom vegetable varieties—highly flavorful old strains that are adapted to very particular microclimates, don’t tend to produce very high yields, and aren’t suited to resist various fungal pathogens.

What Row 7 is trying to do, Barber said, is bridge the gap between the flavor of heirlooms and the yield potential of modern industrial varieties. The company has set up a nationwide network of 70 chefs working with seed breeders to create flavor-forward vegetable varieties. And the goal is to create products that appeal not just to rarefied foodies. “The north star is to get into Walmart, not to keep [the new varieties] in the cathedral of our white-tablecloth restaurants,” he said.

Barber’s original challenge to Mazourek ultimately resulted in a winter squash variety called honeynut, which Barber says is now available at supermarkets nationwide. I haven’t tried a honeynut squash; here’s how Bon Appetit describes it: “The flavor is much more concentrated because their flavor isn’t diluted from water weight…an intense natural sweetness that becomes rich, caramel-y, and almost malt-like when roasted at high heat, they don’t have to be peeled because they have thin skin (similar to a delicata), and they have three times the amount of beta-carotene packed in.”  . . .

Continue reading.

Also: audio at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2018 at 1:22 pm

Weight progress note

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I’ve been bouncing between 190 and 195 for a while now, but I finally settled down and refocused again on meeting my daily goal in Weight Watcher Freestyle points and stopped having a glass of wine or a cocktail—and, of course, took up Nordic walking—and my weight this morning is 189.9 lbs with average weight loss since 27 Dec 2017 of 1.1 lbs/week. But last Sunday I weighed 197.1 lbs:  8 lbs lost in this past week. (The 197.1 is a little misleading, though: the day previous I weighed 193.5 lbs.) The last 7 days:


Given how it bounces around, I would not be surprised if tomorrow I were again above 190, but I’m going to try to avoid that.

I broke 190 despite a 20-point breakfast yesterday (eggs Benedict). After the breakfast, though, I was careful. I ate a 0-point lunch (sardines packed in water, drained and chopped, with chopped scallion, chopped cherry tomatoes, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce) and a 0-point afternoon snack (frozen mixed berries, thawed) and a 3-point dinner (chicken breast cooked with a little olive oil (the 3 points) and onions, zucchini, tomatoes, etc.). My daily point limit is 23 points, so I was exactly at the limit. Thank heavens for 0-point foods.

I’m sure Nordic walking helped: I have walked 87 miles so far this month. (Pedometer++ has nice summary readings.) And yesterday I read a research paper that quantified how much Nordic walking contributes to upper-body exercise. From that paper:

Screen Shot 2018-07-28 at 12.43.23 PM

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2018 at 8:40 am

Beef tendon for breakfast

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Dang! I should have included before and after photos of the tendons. Beef tendon requires long slow cooking, but then it is wonderful: firm and smooth and a tiny bit chewy, and very sticky as it dries. Beef tendon is pure protein—no fat, no carb—so I had an exceptionally high-protein breakfast today.

I used this recipe, cooking the tendon in a 200ºF oven overnight (12 hours) in a covered sauté pan. (I cooked only two pieces, about 4 oz, so I adjusted the recipe just a bit.) I removed and ate the tendon while it was hot from the oven and very soft—easily cut with the side of the fork—rather than chilling it and serving it with a sauce as the recipe suggests. I tried that, but when you chill the tendon, it becomes too chewy and almost tough.

OTOH, the stock in which the tendon was cooked, once chilled, makes the firmest aspic you ever saw, and it is extremely tasty. So I strained the liquid left in the pan into a storage container and that’s now in the fridge for snacks—and it also will be very high in protein.

Wish I had taken photos, but then there’s a reason to have it again. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2018 at 8:57 am

Posted in Food, Low carb, Religion

Pork belly at last. Next frontier: Steaks in Argentina

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I have longed to eat pork belly for almost a decade, even since blogging this post. Five years ago, I took a stab at it with this effort (damn you, Nigella Lawson!) One problem that led to the delay was that in the US, all pork bellies seem consigned to bacon and you just can’t buy a pork belly in a store. (I should have tried a butcher shop, but in the US they are uncommon.)

I just was at the Farm & Field Butcher Shop here, and lo! they did have a small piece of pork belly, which I bought at once. Yesterday, I roasted it sensibly: on a rack in my large sauté pan with water covering the bottom of the pan, 300ºF for two hours and then 15 minutes at 400ºF to crisp it.


I’m not sure how good leftover pork belly will be, since the piece I bought was a small piece. Still, I’ll try a larger piece, and probably eat it leftover with Harvy Scarvy. (Note this easy approach to making Harvy Scarvy.)

The next goal, which has been hanging for a dozen years, is to eat some steaks in Argentina. This post explains why.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2018 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

Pomegranate juice for arterial health

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Pure pomegranate juice (and I prefer pomegranate juice not made from concentrate) has positive effects on arterial health, including reducing plaque, if you drink 1/4 cup (2 oz) daily, which I do, as described in my current diet advice, you get enough for it to be effective.

You can search on “pomegranate juice arterial health” and find many references. Here’s an article from by Tiesha D. Johnson, BSN, RN:

Every year, more than a million Americans are struck down by a heart attack or stroke. For many, sudden death will be their first—and last—symptom of undetected vascular disease. Those lucky enough to survive often face invasive procedures like angioplasty and coronary bypass surgery, followed by a lifetime of curtailed physical activity and costly heart medications.

If you trust your vascular health to mainstream doctors, you may be gambling with your life. Although cardiovascular disease remains the nation’s number-one killer, American medicine prioritizes heart disease treatment rather than prevention. Sadly, it has become far more profitable to treat heart disease than to prevent it.

Fortunately, natural strategies that can help avert life-threatening heart attacks and strokes are readily available today. One of the most promising heart-protective agents to emerge in recent years is pomegranate. Packed with unique antioxidants that guard the body’s endothelial cells against free-radical assault, pomegranate has been shown to prevent—and even reverse—cardiovascular disease.

Research also shows that pomegranate can stop the progression of deadly prostate cancer. And scientists are now exploring pomegranate’s potential in averting ailments ranging from diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease, as well as its role in supporting skin, joint, dental, and liver health.

In this article, we examine the growing volume of research that attests to pomegranate’s myriad health-promoting properties—particularly its role in safeguarding the delicate endothelial cells that line blood vessels and are so critical to preserving optimal vascular function in aging adults.

Pomegranate: Powerful Support for Cardiovascular Health

Approximately 71 million Americans suffer from cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary artery disease, a history of stroke, or peripheral vascular disease (impaired blood flow to the extremities). Atherosclerosis—a disease of the blood vessels, characterized by inflammation, vascular endothelial cell dysfunction, and impaired nitric oxide production—is a major component of cardiovascular disease.

In both laboratory and clinical studies, pomegranate shows great promise in averting the numerous pathological changes associated with cardiovascular disease. Scientists believe pomegranate works through several mechanisms to fight cardiovascular disease by:

  • reducing oxidative stress
  • supporting the synthesis and activity of nitric oxide
  • inhibiting the oxidation of potentially harmful LDL (low-density lipoprotein).

Reducing oxidative stress and inflammatory damage in blood vessels is a well-documented way to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, both known and undetected.1 Mounting evidence suggests that compounds in pomegranate known as punicalagins are cardioprotective by virtue of their powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

In one study, for example, pomegranate juice outperformed numerous other potent antioxidants—grape juice, blueberry juice, red wine, vitamin C, and vitamin E, among others—in “quenching” the damaging effects of free radicals on cell membranes.2 While all the antioxidant nutrients tested effectively prevented the overgrowth of undesirable muscle cells in blood vessel walls—a factor contributing to elevated blood pressure—pomegranate juice was by far the most effective of all.

Supporting the action of nitric oxide is another way to protect the cardiovascular system. Nitric oxide exerts many essential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body, including scavenging certain reactive oxygen species, preventing LDL oxidation, deterring the adhesion and aggregation of blood cells and platelets along the endothelial cell lining, and inhibiting the proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells.3 Together, these effects help retard the progression of atherosclerosis. When scientists tested pomegranate against other antioxidants, they found that it helped enhance the biological actions of nitric oxide, thus conferring significant cardioprotection.

Preventing dangerous LDL oxidation is also crucial to protecting the blood vessels of the heart. Oxidized LDL can severely damage cardiovascular health by injuring cells that line the coronary arteries, leading to inflammation and narrowing that can precipitate a heart attack. LDL oxidation also reduces the activity of enzymes that produce nitric oxide in those blood vessels, thus preventing them from responding normally to changing demands for blood flow. When scientists treated human coronary artery cells with pomegranate juice, they discovered a dramatic correction in levels of nitric oxide production.4 This correction is likely to be beneficial in preventing complications of blood vessel disease, including heart attacks.

Just as water flowing rapidly down a canyon gradually erodes the canyon walls and stirs up residues, blood flowing under high pressure or disturbed by narrowed arteries can damage blood vessel walls, increasing oxidative damage and worsening atherosclerosis.5 A recent Italian study found that pomegranate juice concentrate reduced oxidant-related cellular changes in blood vessel cells exposed to high shear stresses, such as those produced by disturbed blood flow.6 The juice also increased nitric oxide production, further protecting the cells. After demonstrating these effects in cell cultures, the scientists administered pomegranate juice to mice with elevated cholesterol levels, and found that they could markedly impede the progression of atherosclerosis. These exciting findings suggest that the dangerous effects induced by perturbed shear stress can be reversed by chronic administration of pomegranate juice.

Pomegranate May Reverse Atherosclerosis

Human studies of pomegranate juice have demonstrated even more dramatic effects, showing that pomegranate may actually reverse atherosclerosis. Israeli scientists studied patients with narrowing of their carotid arteries as a result of atherosclerosis.7The carotid arteries in the neck are responsible for more than 80% of blood flow to the brain, and narrowing of these major vessels is a major risk factor for stroke. Among patients given daily pomegranate juice supplements (providing 78 mg of punicalagins) for one year, atherosclerotic lesions in the common carotid artery decreased by 35% in size, while actually growing by 9% in a control group. Thus, pomegranate reversed existing atherosclerosis, which continued to worsen in those who did not consume pomegranate. Blood analysis showed that total antioxidant activity increased 130% in the pomegranate juice group, compared to before-treatment values. Finally, the participants’ systolic blood pressure fell by an impressive 21% after one year of pomegranate juice supplementation.

The same Israeli scientists showed that this blood pressure reduction from drinking as little as 2 ounces of pomegranate juice daily (providing 78 mg of punicalagins) was due to decreased activity of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE).8 This is a tremendously important finding, since drugs that inhibit ACE activity are commonly used to treat hypertension. Further, the study raises the possibility that pomegranate juice may help patients avoid having to take such drugs.

A study from the California-based Preventive Medicine Research Institute examined the effects of pomegranate juice in human patients with established coronary heart disease.9 Forty-five patients with coronary heart disease and cardiac ischemia (insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle) were randomly assigned to drink 8 ounces of pomegranate juice or a placebo beverage daily. At the onset and conclusion

Continue reading.

Be sure you get pure pomegranate juice, not some juice/drink with some pomegranate juice added.

I would say that 8 oz is a lot of pomegranate juice. I’m sticking with 2 oz because pomegranate juice is somewhat expensive, in terms of both dollars and WW points: 2 oz is 2 points, 8 oz is 9 points. (I get just 23 points a day—thank heavens for all the zero-point foods!)

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2018 at 11:41 am

Interesting point about drawbacks of chia seed—and a change in my diet

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I have been routinely taking 2 tablespoons of chia seed in a glass of water each morning, for the omega-3 and the dietary fiber and other micronutrients.

But then I happened across this post by Loren Cordain (author of The Paleo Diet):

In the following table we list the fatty acid content of most commercially available seeds. You can use these tables to help you make an informed decision in choosing a seed based upon its fatty acid composition. If you are unfamiliar with fatty acid nomenclature and how the different types of fatty acids impact your health please refer to our fatty acid primer.

Flaxseed is an excellent source of the omega 3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid (ALA). I can no longer recommend chia seeds for the following reasons.

I would imagine that many of you have never even heard of chia seeds much less eaten them. Chia seeds are small, oval shaped; either black or white colored and resemble sesame seeds.  They are native to southern Mexico and northern Guatemala and were cultivated as a food crop for thousands of years in this region by the Aztecs and other native cultures.  Chia seeds can be consumed in a variety of ways including roasting and grinding the seeds into a flour known as Chianpinolli which can then be made into tortillas, tamales, and beverages.  The roasted ground seeds are traditionally consumed as gruel called Pinole.

In the past 20 years chia seeds have become an increasingly popular item in co-ops and health food stores primarily because of their high content of the healthful omega 3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid (ALA).  Chia seeds have also been fed to domestic livestock and chickens to enrich their meat and eggs with omega 3 fats.  I can endorse feeding chia seeds to animals, but have serious reservations when it comes to humans eating these seeds as staple foods.  The table below shows the entire nutrient profile for a 100 gram serving of chia seeds. . .

At least on paper, it would appear that chia seeds are a nutritious food that is not only high in ALA, but also is a good source of protein, fiber, certain B vitamins, calcium, iron, manganese and zinc.

Unfortunately, in the game of human nutrition, the devil is almost always in the details.  As is the case with many other plant seeds (e.g., cereal grains, legumes) chia seeds contain numerous antinutrients which reduce their nutritional value.  If you look at the table above, notice the high phosphorous concentrations found in chia seeds.  This revealing marker tells us that chia seeds are concentrated sources of phytate, an antinutrient that binds many minerals (calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and copper) thereby making them unavailable for absorption.  So, in our bodies, chia seeds actually become inferior sources of all these minerals.   Similarly, the table suggests that chia seeds are good sources of vitamin B6.  Unfortunately, in our bodies the utilization this vitamin from plant foods such as chia seeds is quite low, whereas bioavailability of B6 from animal products is quite high approaching 100%.

One of the unusual characteristics of chia seed Pinole or food products comes from a clear mucilaginous gel that surrounds the seeds.  This sticky gel forms a barrier which impairs digestion, fat absorption and causes a low protein digestibility.  Based upon animal and human studies, it is likely that other antinutrients together with this gel may promote a leaky gut, chronic systemic inflammation and food allergies.

Dr. Nieman and co-workers recently completed a study in humans who consumed 50 grams of chia seeds per day for 12 weeks.  At the experiment’s end both men and women experienced increases in a blood inflammatory marker called interleukin 6 (IL-6).  After 12 weeks the men’s blood levels of IL-6 increased 10.2 %, and the women’s increased 10.1%.  Additionally, another inflammatory marker called monocyte chemotactic protein increased 6.9 % in the men and 6.1 % in the women.  In support of the notion that chia seed consumption may adversely affect the immune system and promote inflammation is a rat study showing that after only one month high chia seed diets increased blood levels of IgE by 112.8 %.  Because IgE is a marker for allergenic food proteins that are processed through the gut, chia seeds likely cause a leaky gut and food allergies.  As you can see, the nutritional problems with chia seeds involve similar issues as with cereals grains – they simply are second-rate foods compared to meats, fish and fresh fruits and vegetables. . .

Continue reading.

Well, okay. I’m switching to flaxseed, which (as the table at the link shows) has more ALA (the essential omega-3 fat) than chia seed. Moreover, 2 tablespoons of flaxseed has 5.95g carbs, of which 5.6g is dietary fiber, so only 0.35g of net carbs, which is what I try to minimize in my diet.

Whole flaxseed, however, cannot be digested—the idea of a seed is to pass unharmed through the digestive track of an animal and survive to sprout—so you must grind the flaxseed (or take flaxseed oil, which loses the dietary fiber). However, ground flaxseed (like flaxseed oil) must be refrigerated because it oxidizes readily and quickly. My plan is to buy whole flaxseed and each morning grind the seed I consume (2-4 tablespoons). I’ll mix it with water and see how that works.

I’ve updated my current diet advice to reflect this revision.

Update: I found this post of interest as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2018 at 1:03 pm

Fish oil supplements for a healthy heart ‘nonsense’

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BBC News reports:

Taking omega-3 fish oil supplements is often touted as a simple way to protect your heart – but experts say the evidence that it does any good is flimsy at best.

Cochrane researchers looked at trials in over 100,000 people and found little proof that it prevented heart disease.

They say the chance of getting any meaningful benefit from taking omega-3 is one in 1,000.

Eating oily fish, however, can still be recommended as part of a healthy diet.

The review mainly looked at supplements rather than omega-3 from eating fish. Experts still believe the latter is good for the heart as well as general health.

The NHS says people should try to eat two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily fish, such as salmon, fresh tuna or mackerel, to get enough “good” fats.


Omega-3 is a family of fats that includes:

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – which the body can’t make for itself but is found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – which the body can make from ALA but are also present in oily fish and fish oils, including cod liver oil

Some brands of milk, yoghurt, bread and spreads have extra omega-3 (usually ALA) added to them.

But when it comes to fish oil supplements, Cochrane lead author, Dr Lee Hooper, from the University of East Anglia, said: “We can be confident in the findings of this review which go against the popular belief that long-chain omega-3 supplements protect the heart.

“This large systematic review included information from many thousands of people over long periods.

“Despite all this information, we don’t see protective effects.

“The review provides good evidence that taking long-chain omega-3 [fish oil, EPA or DHA] supplements does not benefit heart health or reduce our risk of stroke or death from any cause.

“The most trustworthy studies consistently showed little or no effect of long-chain omega-3 fats on cardiovascular health.”

Some fish contain small amounts of chemicals that may be harmful if eaten in large amounts.

Shark, marlin and swordfish may contain small amounts of mercury and should be avoided by women who are pregnant or planning a baby and by all children under 16.

Other groups should eat no more than one portion of these fish each week.

Prof Tom Sanders, a nutrition expert at King’s College London and honorary director of Heart UK, said: “Current dietary guidelines to prevent cardiovascular disease encourage fish consumption, rather than taking supplements.

“This study provides no evidence to suggest that this dietary advice should change.”

Buy vegetables

Prof Tim Chico, a cardiologist from Sheffield University, said: “There was a period where people who had suffered a heart attack were prescribed these on the NHS. This stopped some years ago.

“Such supplements come with a significant cost, so my advice to anyone buying them in the hope that they reduce the risk of heart disease, I’d advise them to spend their money on vegetables instead.”

Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service, said early studies of omega-3 fats had found a protective benefit for the heart, but it wasn’t always easy to pick up the modest effects of dietary change, particularly in older people on medication. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2018 at 10:48 am

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