Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A little break, and Apple Cider Vinegar

Hello folks!  Due to several health issues I will be taking a little time off from the blog this week.  However, I have come across a great article regarding the health benefits of Apple cider vinegar which I found to be quite interesting and beneficial.    If you remember, I wrote a previous blog entry regarding the benefits of vinegar in general.  The article below is a bit more specific, and offers a more balanced and practical approach on incorporating apple cider vinegar in your own life.

Click here, and enjoy!



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fresh? You know it instinctively

Today, I'm gonna get fresh with you!

No, not like that.  I mean fresh as in fresh produce.

Years before Terry and I started Winter Goddess Foods, and became more health conscious with our eating choices, I remembered one year where the produce at our local supermarket was terrible.  The cherries tasted rubbery, the apples were spongy, and melons had no flavor at all.  The vegetables weren't any better. Asparagus tasted woody, the potatoes all seemed to have bad spots permeating the entire spud, and carrots lacked snap and sweetness.

In short, the entire produce section sucked!

Unfortunately we found out quickly that this phenomenon was not limited to the
"prism colored" store where we normally shopped. 
Things were just as bad at the "baby animal" market across the street.  Bins of polished, uniform produce lined their shelves as well, but the selections didn't taste any better, no matter how many spritz of water they doused them with to make them appear fresh.  I remember asking Terry about it, who being a farm kid, tended to have more of a pulse on produce than I did.

"Baby, what's wrong with the fruit and the vegetables lately?"
"What do you mean?"
"They never seem to have any flavor to them anymore.  It's like someone sucked the soul right out of them."
"You're right.  I noticed that too..."

That was when Terry decided to introduce me to (and reacquaint herself with) the Farmers Market.  She dug out her old market basket in preparation, and that Saturday morning, we woke up early and made our way to the venue.  As we entered the grounds and walked past each grower's stall, the first thing that struck me was the fact that you could actually smell the fruits and vegetables!  While they didn't have quite the uniformity of the produce in the supermarket, they more than made up for it in taste from the offerings that they growers sampled to us.  I remember the salad she fixed for us that night, made from the items of our haul. There was no amalgamation of flavors here.  Instead with eat bite, the vegetables seemed to shout out their names as present in this culinary role call;  "Jicama here!" "Spinach present!" "Cucumber, yo!"  My taste buds noted each vegetable in turn, as I relished every bite.  I honestly could not remember ever having a salad that tasted so good.

In today's world of corporate farms and Big AG, it is unfortunate that the emphasis
on growing crops has turned to increasing their yield and uniformity, with taste being sacrificed on the altar of profit and greed.  To misdirect us from what's really happening, we are bombarded by slick ad campaigns telling us what we really want.  Commercials fill the air waves with perfect nuclear families of fresh faced children and wide eyed fathers, all impressed by the savvy and wisdom of the supermodel wife and mother who chooses a bag or box of name brand flash frozen fruits or vegetables because she wants to serve the best most "natural" food to her family.  

After beating this drum year after year, convenience foods have replaced what we used to know as real, while frozen fruits and vegetables have become the new "fresh" food. Bland flavor, and the mouth-feel of wet pulp and moist cardboard have become the standard for the new taste of fresh produce.

Gee, thanks mom.

Our eyes and ears might become mesmerized by Big Ag's Madison Avenue hype train, but thankfully our taste buds have not.   Fortunately, all it takes is a bite of a just picked apple, or newly harvested stalk of celery to cause reality to come flooding back to our minds through our mouths.  After all, once you have experienced it, how can you forget the crunch? The sweetness?  The juicy goodness that bursts through your lips and dribbles down the side of your chin like the fingertip caress of a loved one?  Imagine the aroma of strawberries that actually smell like strawberries, or melons that smell like melons.  These perceptions invoke and almost visceral response of rightness within the core of
our being.

I believe we inherently know how to select what is good for us.  We just need to retrain ourselves to lean on our own good judgment, and to put less stock in what the advertisers say.  When you rely on your senses to pick out the best fruit for example, you quickly learn that if you can't smell it, the quality is lacking and you should pass it up.

As Terry and I stepped up our own food education, we learned that there were far better places out there to shop for our produce needs besides the sterile big name supermarkets.   
In addition to the local Farmers Markets, Co-ops and Country Market stores have great selections of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Farm stores in rural areas can fill the bill as well.  

Heck, even the offerings from a roadside stand put chain store produce to shame.  Farm direct, local and organic fruits and vegetables just plain taste better.  Don't believe me?  Try it for yourself by doing your own taste test with a pint of organic strawberries and a pint of their supermarket counterparts.  Or use bananas.  I assure you, you will notice a big difference!

With summer upon us, this is the perfect time to break free from food in a box or bag, and experience once again what produce is meant to taste like.  While it might take a little effort to seek out these points of sale, the flavor and taste of the real deal are well worth it.  Summer is the perfect time to redefine our definition of what constitutes fresh and natural.  We wholeheartedly encourage you to give it a try.

Here's a little word of advice: "If food has to be advertised on TV to get you to buy it, it probably isn't worth eating."

Check out the video here on how advertisers try to manipulate our definition of the word "fresh."



Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sunflower Seeds: Major League Nutrition

As I spend time doing research on healthy eating, I am as constantly amazed by the number of health benefits derived from foods, as I am of their sheer diversity and variety.  One of my favorites since the age of childhood is the humble Sunflower seed.  I clearly remember hanging out with the fellas, sitting in the shade on someone's stoop during the heat of the day while chomping on these bad boys during the dog days of summer.  As kids we didn't have much money back then, but they were the perfect inexpensive snack to get at the corner store with the small amount of cash we earned from cutting grass or doing odd jobs.   The stoop would become littered by mountains of shells that we thoughtlessly spit out as we turned our concerns to the usual things kids talked about, until we got caught by somebody's mother, and made to clean them up.  The salt ravaged our cheeks from the handfuls of sunflower seeds we poured into our mouths, until it was soothed away by copious amounts of ice cold root beer or a can of Tahitian Treat.   Ahhh, the memories!

The Sunflower has an interesting history. First domesticated in the Americas almost 5000 years ago, it was worshiped by the ancient Aztecs and Incas because of the flower's resemblance to the sun. Native American tribes ground or pounded the seeds into flour for cakes, mush or bread. There is evidence that they were the first to squeeze the oil from the seed, using the oil in making bread, for medicinal uses, and as a treatment for skin and hair.

Spanish explorers in 1510 brought Sunflower plants back home where they eventually spread throughout Europe and to the world at large, eventually become an important staple crop to many countries, including Hungary, Turkey and China.  In 2012, over 37 metric tons of Sunflower seeds were produced throughout the world.  Interestingly enough, the largest amounts were produced in the former Soviet Union, with Ukraine and Russia producing 8.39 and 7.99 metric tons respectively.  Back in the 18th Century, due to the fasting requirements of Russian Orthodoxy, Sunflower oil was one of the few oils that are permitted to be used during Lent, which increased its popularity and importance.  It had become so important in fact, that over time, Ukraine has made the Sunflower its national flower.

The simple beauty of the flower itself led to become a subject for many artists including Vandyke and Van Gogh.  Here in the United States, where the sunflower is grown predominantly in the Midwest, it has become the ubiquitous symbol of idyllic country life, and natural living.  Kansas has even adopted it as its state flower.

Clustered within the "heart" of the actual sunflower itself, sunflower seeds are not seeds in the traditional sense but rather the fruit of the plant, with the core nestled within a hard outer hull called an achene.  The edible part inside is referred to as the kernel or "nut."  Sunflower seeds are commercially divided according to color, with the all black or "black oil" seeds pressed to make sunflower oil, and the striped seeds or "confectionery seeds" used for food products.  Both types are a main source of polyunsaturated oil.

While people in this country enjoyed sunflower seeds as a snack, its popularity soared in 1968 when baseball legend Reggie Jackson began eating them in the dugout during games.  Players began to use them as a healthy alternative to chewing tobacco which was becoming a more distasteful part of the baseball tradition.  College and Little league players emulating their favorite major league stars, took to chewing on them as well, and the rest is history.  Today sunflower seeds are almost synonymous with the game of baseball itself.

Though some people view sunflower seeds as either "bird food" or the feed doled out to domesticated rodents, they are pound for pound one of the healthiest and most satisfying foods you can eat.    Available year round, just a handful of these little powerhouses can satisfy your hunger and provide the body with important nutrients at the same time. Sunflower oil not only offers a healthier alternative to typical vegetable oils, but is also used in the cosmetic industry. and as a carrier oil for massage, due to its beneficial properties on the skin.  After the oil is processed, the remaining protein rich "cake" is used in livestock feed.

As seen in the table below, just a quarter cup or less than a handful of sunflower seeds is packed with vitamins, providing the body with much needed nutrition and support.  In addition to being a great source of dietary fiber, Sunflower seeds sport high levels of protein, amino acids and minerals.

Here are some nutritional stats on the nutritional value of 0.25 cup (35 grams) of sunflower seeds:
  • Calories:  204 calories.
The also contain the following based on Daily Recommended Intake:
  • Vitamin E = 82%
  • Copper = 70%
  • Vitamin B1 = 43.3%
  • Manganese = 34%
  • Slenium = 33.7%
  • Phosphorus = 33%
  • Magnesium = 28.4%
  • Vitamin B6 = 27.6%
  • Folate = 19.8%
  • Vitamin B3 = 18.2%
Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of Vitamin E, the body's primary fat-soluble antioxidant. Vitamin E has significant anti-inflammatory effects that result in the reduction of symptoms in asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, conditions where free radicals and inflammation play a big role. Vitamin E has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer, and coupled with the seed's high phytosterol content assist in lowering bad cholesterol and heightening immune system response.

Sunflower seeds are also a good source of copper which helps the body produce melanin, a pigment protein that helps give your skin and hair their color. Melanin molecules absorb ultraviolet radiation from the sun, protecting you from tissue damage as a result of sun exposure. Copper also supports your metabolism to help your cells produce energy.

Sunflower seeds provide the body with much needed magnesium. Numerous studies have demonstrated that magnesium helps reduce the severity of asthma, lower high blood pressure, and prevent migraine headaches, as well as reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.  Magnesium is also necessary for healthy bones and energy production...and the list goes on and on.

Another good thing to know is that sunflowers are considered to be "weeds" by grain and produce farmers. Because of this and the high proliferation of wild sunflowers, genetic engineering of sunflowers is considered unprofitable by private bio-engineering companies. No GMO's make enjoying the fruits of the sunflower worry free!

Sunflower seeds can be enjoyed in a variety of ways besides eating them right out of the bag. You can add them to your favorite tuna, chicken or turkey salad recipe, use them as a garnish in a mixed green salad, you can add them to dough to make a hearty bread, or sprinkle them onto hot and cold cereals.  The possibilities are endless.  As a personal suggestion, I highly recommend that you try making popcorn with sunflower oil.  It adds a light nutty flavor that is oh, so good!

Do your body a favor and reach for the snack that is a "hit" with health conscious folks and ball players around the world.  Help keep your body "safe" and knock hunger and bad cholesterol right out of the park.  Sunflower seeds are truly Major League Nutrition!

More more information on anything and everything regarding the sunflower, please click the link here  and be enlightened.



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Great info

Hey folks!  In my quest to continue my own education regarding food, what serves the body well, and what does not, I have come across another informative article (with links) that I thought you would appreciate.  There is a dietary school of thought out there called Paleo which revolves around eating the foods that our ancestors ate back in antiquity.  It is a simple approach to eating which eliminates all processed food, additives and artificial ingredients.  The premise behind this approach is very appealing to us here at Winter Goddess Foods, and seems to be quite sound.  However, human beings, because of who we are, have a tendency to complicate the simple by developing an ideology behind it.  As a result we prefer and promote a rigid standard and impose it on others, and promote it as the right/best/proper way to live.  Food is no different.  (I look forward to addressing the topic of food, ideology and "Nutriligion" in a future article.)

Depending on ideology, the Paleo eliminates foods that can be very beneficial for the vast majority of people who attempt to live by it.  The article below attempts to establish that moderation and gearing towards what each individual needs is actually the better way to go. Besides, why should good tasting and beneficial foods be eliminated?  Check out the link right here for the skinny!