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Archive for March, 2008

One of the things I love best about soup is its flexibility.  No matter what you have in the fridge, you can probably throw it together and make a delicious soup.  And you almost never have to follow the recipe perfectly.  I especially like that about soup.  I also like that I can make a really big pot of it, slide it into the fridge, and eat off of it for days.  Then I always have a healthy snack when I need it.

This “throw it all into the pot” approach can be intimidating, however.  The thought of approaching cooking this way used to paralyze me.  I watched my mom do it my whole life, but I was terrified of ruining a whole pot of soup.   It’s a lot of food to ruin in a single sitting, after all. 

I eventually found it helpful to start with a good vegetable soup recipe (like a minestrone or garden vegetable soup), then experiment a little each time I made it.  The first time, I’d follow the recipe perfectly.  The next time, I’d try substituting zucchini for green beans or tomatoes for carrots.  I’d do this over and over.  Leeks instead of onions.  Shallots instead of garlic.  Edamame (which I no longer eat) instead of corn.  Although small, these alterations built my confidence over time.  Now, I don’t think twice about firing up the stove for soup without a recipe.

If you’d like to see how a delicious hodge-podge soup might look on paper, you can check out the “recipe” below.  I prepared this last night in honor of my mother-in-law’s visit.  I used a combination of vegetables from the farmers’ market and a few items from the grocery store.  Since seasoning a soup can be the part most prone to error, it’s always best to use the freshest, best-tasting vegetables you can.  You’ll find you need a lot less seasoning that way.

Incidentally, this particular soup is great for diabetics, hypoglycemics, or anyone suffering from Candida.  Keep in mind that you can always add some beans–especially kidney, great northern, or cannellini beans–or some meat to a soup like this.  Tonight, I’m going to roast a couple of chickens and add some of the leftover meat to the soup for a heartier lunch tomorrow.  While I enjoy the look of this all-green and white soup, you could add tomatoes or carrots, if you desire.  I would probably remove the turnips, though, if I added carrots, since both vegetables are slightly sweet.  Cabbage would be another great addition.
 

Garden Green Vegetable Soup

2 tablespoons virgin, unrefined coconut oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
1 large onion, chopped
4 leeks, white and tender green parts sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced

In a large stock pot, heat the oil over medium to medium-high, then cook the onion, leeks, and garlic until soft.  (I start out virtually every soup this way–sauteing garlic, onions, leeks, and/or shallots.  It creates a wonderful flavor base.)

4 medium zucchini, chopped
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 large head broccoli, cut into small florets
3 cups fresh green beans, ends trimmed and snapped in half
4 small to medium turnips, peeled and diced (I make them about 1/4 to 1/2 inch square)
10 stalks celery, sliced
16 cups good-quality chicken stock (vegetable stock would work too, or use beef stock if you want to add some cooked ground beef to the soup)

Add all of the above ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the vegetables are tender.  Once it reaches a boil, the soup should only need 15 to 30 minutes of simmering, depending on the size of your vegetable chunks.

6 cups chopped kale
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
lots of freshly-ground black pepper
1 or 2 dashes cayenne pepper
sea salt, if desired

Toss in these last ingredients about 5 to 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy! 

Note:  One little vegetable soup trick I really like is to cook the zucchini in some of the broth separately.  When it’s tender, puree the mixture, then add it to the big pot.  This adds some body to the broth.  Obviously, the more zucchini you use, the thicker and creamier the broth.

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Alright, this will be my last post on fluoride.  I promise.  Before I cease and desist on this topic, however, here are 3 more things to consider:

1.  I mentioned yesterday that you should avoid instant teas, but I didn’t provide any links where you can read more about this problem.  Go here for an article that summarizes a study published in the American Journal of Medicine.  If you’d like to read the study itself and you’re willing to pay a few dollars to access it, go here.

2.  Avoid pharmaceuticals containing fluoride.  You might be surprised how many do.  Everything from commonly prescribed antidepressants like Prozac and Paxil to cholesterol-lowering drugs like Lipitor and antibiotics like Cipro boast some fluoride component.  Check out this great database to find out if any prescriptions you currently take could be problems.

3.  Go to this page on the Fluoride Action Network’s website to read their list of fluoride exposure sources.  It’s a must-read!

[Edited: To read my first post on fluoride, go here.  You can find the second post here.]

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I have to confess that the extra reading I’ve done to prepare for these two posts on fluorine has proved eye-opening.  Although I’ve been trying to avoid fluorine to protect my thyroid for almost a year now, I really didn’t know until now how much damage fluorine also does to bones, brains, child development, and so much more.  As I mentioned in the previous fluoride post, the book Iodine: Why You Need It Why You Can’t Live Without It explains why fluorine harms the thyroid, and that was enough for me.  (Well, that and the agreement of a couple of naturopaths and doctors.)  What I’ve learned in the past few days, though, has shocked me.  I knew fluoride was bad, but I didn’t know just how bad.

For example, consider what The Fluoride Debate’s website reports:

One intriguing and disturbing fact about fluoridation is that over 90% of the agent used in US fluoridation schemes is not pharmaceutical grade sodium fluoride, on which practically all toxicological testing has been performed, but industrial grade hexafluorosilicic acid obtained from the air pollution scrubbing systems of the superphosphate industry (e.g. Cargill Fertilizer). By law, this waste cannot be dumped into the sea but the EPA allows it to be diluted down with our public drinking water. The union representing scientists at the EPA headquarters in Washington, DC has gone on record as opposing this bizarre form of hazardous waste management (See www.fluoridealert.org)

Lovely!  Just what I hoped I’d have the privilege of drinking every day.  Even better, this kind of fluoride supposedly is also frequently contaminated with arsenic.  Mmmm.

I highly recommend visiting Dr. Mercola’s website for more information on fluoride’s effects.  Although you will need to sign up, access is free.  Once you’re on the site, simply search for “fluoride” or “fluoridation.”  You will find dozens of articles–ones that cite real studies and true news stories–for your perusal.  Dr. Mercola even has an entire page devoted to other websites where you can learn more about fluoride.

I also keep seeing information about a book called Fluoride Deceptionby Christopher Bryson.  Since I haven’t yet read the book, I can’t give a personal recommendation, but I can assure you that I’m adding it to my reading list.

Now that we’re all scared out of our minds, or maybe just mildly alarmed, what steps can we take to avoid fluoride?  Here are some ideas:

1.  Nix any toothpaste that contains fluoride.  Also dump any fluoride pills and mouth rinses.  I know that Jason, Tom’s of Maine, and Nature’s Gate make fluoride-free dental care products.  Personally, I prefer Jason’s varieties (particularly this one), and I buy them online at www.vitacost.com.  Just be aware that not all “natural” toothpastes are fluoride-free.  You’ll need to check the products individually.  (Consider checking the products or their ingredients at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com for other potentially harmful ingredients like sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate.)

2.  Find out for sure whether or not your water is fluoridated.  It probably is, but you never know.  You might be one of the lucky few. 

3.  Consider getting an outside opinion on what’s in your water.  I came across a company called Aqua MD that will not only let you know exactly what’s in your water (including fluoride, arsenic, VOCs [volatile organic compounds], and other contaminants), they’ll advise you on an action plan–all for $40.  And no, they don’t sell any of the treatment options.  Check out their website and watch the introductory video to find out more.  I plan to purchase their service for my own home. 

4.  Do somethingto treat/filter your drinking water.  Until now, I’ve been using an Aquasana counterop filter and shower filter to reduce my exposure to chlorine and VOCs, but I’m not sure how effective these are against fluoride.  For now, it’s probably better than nothing, but I suspect I’ll end up using the countertop filter in conjunction with a distiller very soon.  (FYI, I avoid chlorine because, like fluorine, it blocks iodine receptors and inhibits thyroid function, among many other terrible side effects.)

5.  Avoid drinking instant tea.  I know, it sounds really strange, but go Google “instant tea” and “fluoride” and devote the next 5 hours to reading the articles that come up.

6.  Don’t let your dentist use fluoride on you during your regularly-scheduled cleanings.  Just say no.  You are paying them, after all.  You might even consider switching to a biological dentist.  I haven’t yet done this myself, but I plan to transition soon.  I do have a dentist that does not use amalgam fillings (also known as “silver” fillings, they contain about 50% mercury).  Instead, he uses white, mercury-free composite fillings, which is certainly a step in the right direction.

7.  Finally, write letters or send emails to your representatives asking for an end to fluoridation.  The Fluoride Action Network provides a form letter here for contacting your Congressman.  I took advantage of this yesterday.

That’s all for now.  As always, thanks for reading!

[Edited: To read my third post on fluoride, go here.]

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When you crave something light, refreshing, healthy, and flavorful this summer, reach for a modified version of the Middle-Eastern salad known as fattoush (or fatoosh).  Traditional fattoush includes toasted pieces of pita, but if you’re allergic to wheat or gluten (or simply want to cut down on your grain consumption), you’ll want to leave out that ingredient.  There are as many versions of fattoush as there are regions in the Middle-East, but I’ve reproduced my favorite adaptation for you below.  This one is excellent for diabetics, hypoglycemics, individuals with allergies, and candida-sufferers.

I serve fattoush as a perfect accompaniment to Lemon Lentil Soup with Collards, lamb burgers, or hummus (I’ll post recipes for the latter two options soon).  For food-combining reasons, I prefer to eat fattoush with either lentil soup or lamb burgers, but when I have company, I prepare all three dishes together.  Alternatively, I reach for fattoush at breakfast or throughout the day as a snack.

Although the particular combination of ingredients may be unfamiliar to you, I hope you’ll give this dish a try.  The flavors in fattoush are very friendly to the American palate.  Even unadventurous eaters enjoy this salad when I don’t tell them beforehand that it’s Middle-Eastern. 
 

Gluten-Free Fattoush (only very slightly altered from a version I found on www.allrecipes.com)

8 leaves romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
2 green onions, sliced
1 large English (seedless) cucumber, chopped and, unless the skin is too tough, unpeeled
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh mint leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sumac powder
3/4 to 1 teaspoon quality sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

In a large bowl, gently toss the first four ingredients together.  Although you may feel like there’s too much lettuce, rest assured that it will wilt once you add the dressing.  Sometimes I leave out the lettuce altogether, though, so don’t sweat it too much.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients.  Pour over the chopped vegetables and gently turn to coat.  Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes before serving.

Notes: 
If you can’t find English cucumbers, use 1 or 2 regular cucumbers (depending on size) and remove most of the seeds.  Since they’re usually covered in a thick layer of wax, unless they’re organic, always peel this variety. 

Ethnic and specialty grocery stores typically carry sumac.  I buy mine inexpensively at Phoenicia Foods here in Houston.  Otherwise, you can purchase it online at this website or simply go without.  I prefer this salad with the sumac, but it’s still excellent sans sumac.

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We’ve all been told that we need fluoride for our teeth.  Our toothpaste tubes claim fluoride as the active ingredient that protects against tooth decay.  Our water is fluoridated.  Some dentists even prescribe fluoride pills.  Unfortunately, though, fluoride appears to do much more harm than good.  You might suppose that I’m on the fringe here, but the movement against fluoride–particularly the fluoridation of water–is gaining momentum.  Some countries that previously fluoridated their water have stopped the practice.  Many others have always refused to fluoridate.  

So why do Americans drink fluoridated water?  Well, it sounds to me like good ol’ American enthusiasm.  After preliminary seemingly positive results, we poured it into our drinking water without sufficient testing.  Sound familiar?  Reminds me of genetically modified foods…

But I digress.

I avoid fluoride for the sake of my thyroid.  Both of my parents have Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune thyroid disorder that causes hypothyroidism (insufficient thyroid hormone production), and I have “normal” hypothyroidism myself.  Thus, I’m always on the lookout for ways to give my poor little thyroid gland a fighting chance.

Where does fluoride fit into this picture?  I first learned about the connection between fluoride and hypothyroidism from a book called Iodine: Why You Need It Why You Can’t Live Without It.  Despite its desperate need of a good editor, I still highly recommend this book.  You may already know that the thyroid must have iodine to function.  When we talk about T3 (Triiodothyronine) and T4 (Thyroxine), we are distinguishing between thyroid hormones with 3 iodine attached versus thyroid hormones with 4 iodine attached.  See the capital letters I in the diagrams below?  They represent iodine.  Note that everything else in the structure of T3 and T4 is the same.

Okay, so we need iodine for our thyroid hormones.  Enough said.  Here’s where the fluoride comes in to play–er, wreck everything.  Fluoride falls on the periodic table into the same column as iodine, and so do bromine and chlorine.  Check it out (they’re in the second column from the right):

These elements, together with astatine, form the group of gases known as the halogens.  Why are they all halogens?  Simply put, they all bond the same way and to the same kinds of receptors.  This means that you could switch out a fluoride or a bromine for that precious iodine.  Not good. 

So what happens when your body gets an overabundance of fluorine, bromine, and chlorine and a paltry supply of iodine?  Not only do you become iodine deficient, the receptors that should be available to bond iodine are already full of other (toxic) halogens.  Yikes!

Now, in case you’re thinking, “Okay, so that makes sense on paper, but what about in the real world?” I’ve got some compelling research for you to review.  The following summary comes from www.fluoridealert.org:

According to the US National Research Council, “several lines of information indicate an effect of fluoride exposure on thyroid function.”

Fluoride’s potential to impair thyroid function is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that — up until the 1970s — European doctors used fluoride as a thyroid-suppressing medicationfor patients with HYPER-thyroidism (over-active thyroid). Fluoride was utilized because it was found to be effective at reducing the activity of the thyroid gland – even at doses as low as 2 mg/day.

Today, many people living in fluoridated communities are ingesting doses of fluoride (1.6-6.6 mg/day) that fall within the range of doses (2 to 10 mg/day) once used by doctors to reduce thyroid activity in hyperthyroid patients.

While it may be that the thyroid in a patient with hyperthyroidism is particularly susceptible to the anti-thyroid actions of fluoride, there is concern that current fluoride exposuresmay be playing a role in the widespread incidence of HYPO-thyroidism (under-active thyroid) in the U.S.

Hypothyrodisim, most commonly diagnosed in womenover 40, is a serious condition with a diverse range of symptoms including: fatigue, depression, weight gain, hair loss, muscle pains, increased levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and heart disease.. The drug (Synthroid) used to treat hypothyroidism is now one of the top five prescribed drugs in the U.S.

As recommended by the US National Research Council: “The effects of fluoride on various aspects of endocrine function should be examined further, particularly with respect to a possible role in the development of several diseases or mental states in the United States.” 

(To read the references and studies supporting the above conclusion, go here.)

While the reasons for avoiding fluorine don’t stop here, I am running out of time.  Please investigate this issue further for yourself.  Keep in mind that any ill effects on adults will be many times worse on infants and children, including the unborn.  I highly recommend exploring the Fluoride Action Network website, particularly the 50 Reasons to Oppose Fluoridation section and the Fluoride Health Effects Database section.  The latter is especially disturbing, with fluoridation implicated in brain damage, hormone impairment, cancer, gastrointestinal problems, and kidney malfunction.

But what about our teeth?  If we avoid fluoride because of its negative side effects, will we end up with dozens of cavities?  Probably not.  In fact, fluoride, upon reexamination, does not seem to prevent tooth decay at all!  It is true true that cavity rates dropped since the introduction of fluoride to the water supply, but it appears to be an unrelated trend.  Consider the following evidence found at www.fluoridealert.org (you can read their full list of 50 reasons to oppose fluoridation here):

3) Fluoridation’s role in the decline of tooth decay is in serious doubt. The largest survey ever conducted in the US (over 39,000 children from 84 communities) by the National Institute of Dental Research showed little difference in tooth decay among children in fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities (Hileman 1989). According to NIDR researchers, the study found an average difference of only 0.6 DMFS (Decayed Missing and Filled Surfaces) in the permanent teeth of children aged 5-17 residing in either fluoridated or unfluoridated areas (Brunelle and Carlos, 1990). This difference is less than one tooth surface! There are 128 tooth surfaces in a child’s mouth. This result was not shown to be statistically significant. In a review commissioned by the Ontario government, Dr. David Locker concluded:

“The magnitude of [fluoridation’s] effect is not large in absolute terms, is often not statistically significant and may not be of clinical significance” (Locker 1999).

4) Where fluoridation has been discontinuedin communities from Canada, the former East Germany, Cuba and Finland, dental decay has not increased but has actually decreased (Maupome 2001; Kunzel and Fischer,1997,2000; Kunzel 2000 and Seppa 2000).

5) There have been numerous recent reports of dental crises in US cities (e.g. Boston, Cincinnati, New York City) which have been fluoridated for over 20 years. There appears to be a far greater (inverse) relationship between tooth decay and income level than with water fluoride levels.

6) Modern research (e.g. Diesendorf 1986; Colquhoun 1997, and De Liefde, 1998) shows that decay rates were coming down before fluoridation was introduced and have continued to decline even after its benefits would have been maximized. Many other factors influence tooth decay. Some recent studies have found that tooth decay actually increases as the fluoride concentration in the water increases (Olsson 1979; Retief 1979; Mann 1987, 1990; Steelink 1992; Teotia 1994; Grobleri 2001; Awadia 2002 and Ekanayake 2002).

Furthermore, too much fluoride can actually cause tooth problems.  It’s an unsightly condition called dental fluorosis:

Pretty, huh? 

Oh, and just so you know, I spared you the really awful photographs.  You can Google them yourself if you’ve got a sick mind.

Whew!  Now that was a long post.  Hopefully I’ve provided some food for thought, even if you’re not yet convinced.  Next, I’ll write about the steps I take to avoid fluoride.  A little bit further down the road, I’ll talk about iodine.  And salt.  And cancer.  And milk too.  Stay tuned

[Edited: To read my second post on fluoride, go here.  You can find the third post in the series here.]

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A Little Update

Dear readers, thank you so much for the comments on my blog!  They are very encouraging to me.  I’m enjoying blogging much more than I expected, and I find myself wanting to devote more time to it.  I haven’t written for fun in many years now, so this is quite a treat. 

I’m excited about making some changes, though.  First, I’m reorganizing the recipes to make them easier to find.  You will soon be able to click on individual categories (like “Soups” or “Vegetables”), rather than having to wade through a jumbled mess.  Second, my husband and I are preparing to purchase a digital SLR, which means I will be posting photographs along with text in the near future.  This will prove immensely helpful for some of my posts, because some things are too difficult to explain without a visual aid.  Plus, the blog will be more visually appealing (assuming I’m not a horrendous photographer).  Finally, my husband is going to help me spruce up this site a bit.  He’s learning lots about WordPress in order to help out with our church’s website, and I’m generously allowing him to share his knowledge with me.  <grin>

If anyone has a comment or two on what you’d like to see, I’d really appreciate the feedback.  Is there something you’d like to know more about?  A friend of mine has asked about the pros and cons of dairy and soy, and another reader has inquired about why I avoid fluoride.  I promise to cover those topics soon.  Of course, I’m not an expert, but I’m happy to pass on what I’m learning as I read and pester the real experts with lots of questions. 

Have a lovely evening!

Alison

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Quick White Beans with Tomatoes and Sage

A few weeks ago, when my husband and I dined at my parents’ house, my dad served us an amazing dish of broiled halibut over white beans with tomatoes, garlic, and basil.  Wow!  It was so good.  As much as I like halibut, I couldn’t get over the beans.  I drooled over them in my sleep.  Thus, it was only a matter of time until I made them myself.  My opportunity arose last night, and, as always, I made a few modifications.  The most obvious alteration is my substitution of fresh sage for the basil.  I had a bunch left over from making my turkey breakfast sausage (you can see the recipe here), and sage is just too good to waste!  So I decided to experiment a little.  The results were awesome.  I can’t really pick a favorite between the basil and the sage.  They’re equally great. 

You can find the original recipe here, but if you’d like to know how I prepared it, check out the recipe below.  It’s fast, flavorful, and healthy.  What’s not to like?  I ate this as my main dish last night with some cultured vegetables and a huge green salad on the side (check out healthy dressing recipes here).  The beans would also make an excellent side dish.  In addition, although they’re great piping hot, they would would make a great cold bean salad.  In that case, I would choose cannellini beans, which are firmer and will hold their shape better than great northern beans.  And there’s always the option of cooking your own beans, but then you’d have to delete “quick” from the recipe title.
 

Quick White Beans with Tomatoes and Sage

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup sliced green onions
4 large garlic cloves, minced
3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 can (~15 ounces) great northern or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage leaves (try fresh basil sometime instead)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the green onions and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, until soft but not browned.  Toss in the tomatoes, turn up the heat a bit, and cook for 4 minutes.  Finally, stir in the beans, vinegar, sage, salt, and black pepper.  Bring to a boil, cook for 1 minute, taste and adjust seasonings, and serve.  How easy is that?

Note:  Regular readers may note that I usually cook with coconut oil.  In this case, I couldn’t resist the flavor of olive oil.  I rationalized by telling myself that since the pan is only over medium heat, it doesn’t matter.

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