Monday, September 29, 2014

Benefits of Pastured Meat and Dairy

When it comes to meat and dairy my first rule-of-thumb is to eat it in moderation. There have been a few well-documented studies showing adverse health affects with daily consumption. Be that as it may: I still heart ribs, think bacon is candy and butter will probably have to be taken out of my cold, dead fingers. One of the ways my family was able to cut down on meat and dairy, however, was switching to humanely-raised pastured and/or 100% grass-fed products. So what exactly does that mouthful mean?

Currently the USDA doesn't have a federal definition for pastured-raised meat due to "the number of variables involved." (I feel like I should be thanking the beef industry lobbyists for this one.) In a nut-shell it means animals that have access to forage for their natural diet in a pasture setting, hence pastured meat. Pigs and chickens do have to be supplemented with grain unlike cows, goats and lambs that can live just off of grasses. Make sure that you using a reliable source when buying non-organic pastured pork or chicken. The grain they are given is most likely GMO if they are not certified organic.

If meat is labeled 100% grass-fed it means that the animal has been feed and/or grazed on grass or hay (dry grass) for its whole life. They don't necessarily have to be given access to the outdoors but in most cases they are getting their diet from pasture. Meat labeled Grass-Fed could have had some supplemental grain added to the diet. Watch out for meat labeled grass-fed but then in small print- "Grain-Finished." Cows are grain-finished in their last few months before slaughter to help fatten them up. Well, that's a good thing, right? Not exactly- by eating grass right up until the end the cows have an ample supply of omega-3's in their system which will get passed down on to you when you eat the hamburger, steak, etc. When the cows are fed grain in their last few months they use up their own store of omega-3's not leaving much or any to pass on to you (selfish cow). How can you make sure that your labeled "grass-fed" beef hasn't been grain-finished: look for 100% grass-fed on the packaging. Be forewarned that 100% grass-fed, unless certified organic, doesn't mean that it has to be free of anti-biotics, hormones or pesticides.

The best way to make sure you are not paying for a misleading label is to purchase from a local farmer. These guys and gals are passionate about what they do and are happy to answer any questions and even give farm tours so that you can see exactly how and where the animals are raised. In northern climates, animals do have to be supplemented with grain in the winter months. Make sure to ask how long the animals get to graze before they are processed and if they use GMO feed. You can find locally sourced pastured-raised meat and dairy here and here.

So, why should you care what your meat eats? To make this completely cliched:  you are what you eat-  and what your food eats. Pasture-raised meat has/is:
  • lower in fat and calories (awesome!)
  • extra Omega-3's (potent anti-inflammatory)
  • conjugated linoleic acid a.k.a. CLA (a healthy fat that is lowering cancer risk in humans in promising lab results.)
  • higher in vitamin E
  • humanely-raised

Before processed foods were so prevalent in our society, humans generally consumed equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. This balance is needed for optimal health. Omega-3's quell inflammation in the body along with providing the building blocks for hormones that control immune function, blood clotting and cell growth. Omega-6's, found in seeds, nuts, soy and grains, increase inflammation, which is important for immune response as long as it is in check. With the SAD (Standard American Diet), we are getting way too many Omega-6's and not nearly enough of Omega-3's, leaving our bodies in unchecked inflammation 24/7, that may be leading to coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases.

By eating pasture-raised meat you can avoid unnecessary Omega-6's in your diet and even add some extra Omega-3's.  It is still important to limit the amount of meat eaten at each meal and to try and keep it to three servings per week (or less!). These benefits are also transferable to dairy as well, but again, even pastured organic dairy have hormones that have been shown to promote tumor growth. Everything in moderation, folks! Even the good stuff. Through buying from local farmers, you can eat your pastured meat guilt-free knowing that you are supporting your community, humanely-raised animals and nutritional integrity in your food.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Manuka Ginger Elderberry Syrup

It's that time of year again when the sniffling, sneezing, hacking and nose-blowing symphony starts to chime up all around us. "Mommy, my throat hurts" is usually soon to follow. Most are quick to turn to over-the-counter medications but they do nothing but mask symptoms and impede the body's immune system from doing its natural job: attacking the offending virus or infecting bacteria. All that lovely mucus and snot with low-grade fevers is the body's way of getting the nasty invaders out. If you try to stop this natural process it will take you twice as long to recover.

In today's hectic world (and with our constant demands), taking the time to properly recover isn't always feasible. Like with all illnesses, we need to get to the root of the problem. In the case of colds/flus and the like, this would mean getting the immune system in fighting form, and if this is done from the get-go, then you could possibly head-off the illness all together.

Elderberry is a folk remedy that has been used for centuries in places like North America, Europe, western Asia and north Africa. Elder is a tall shrub that can grow up to 30 feet tall. Elderberries are anti-viral & anti-inflammatory and they contain potent antioxidants called anthocyanins that protect against cell damage and enhance immune function by boosting production of cytokines. These act as messengers in the immune response to help get things done in a timely manner. Elderberries may also reduce swelling in mucus membranes and relieve nasal congestion. Not bad for a little berry.

Manuka honey comes from honey bees that forage on the manuka bushes (Leptospermum scoparium) in New Zealand. Its properties include anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and antiseptic along with some antioxidants. Manuka honey is wonderful both internally and externally as well. (You can find it here.) A lot of the elderberry syrup I came across contained honey as a sweetening agent. It only made sense to combine elderberry and manuka honey to make one helluva immune-boosting tonic.

A couple of things, though, before we get to the recipe.  You'll notice in my bio that there are no initials after my name. If you are on medication of any kind, please consult your doctor before taking anything- including herbs. There are, as of yet, no studies of elderberry's effects on pregnant or lactating women so there is a lot of Internet disagreement over whether or not it should be taken. I personally feel it is safe as it has been used for hundreds of years, however, let's remember the lack of initials behind my name- it is always best to be extra cautious during pregnancy and lactation. Make sure to ask a board-certified, licensed midwife, licensed naturopath or D.O. if this syrup is right for you during this time. I have found that M.D.'s are usually not as open to alternative medicine as the former practitioners. When buying elderberries, make sure to get the Sambucus nigra variety found here or at your local health food store. Other varieties can be poisonous if not cooked properly. Even Sambucus nigra may cause an upset stomach if consumed raw (but it is not poisonous). This risk is nil if the berries are cooked first. Now that the warnings and precautions are done, let's get on with the recipe!

Bring 3 cups of filtered water to a boil in a sauce pan and add in a half cup of dried elderberries. Reduce to a simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. During the last 15 minutes of simmering, stir in an one inch piece of grated ginger.

Strain elderberry mixture through a fine sieve or a cheesecloth-lined colander. Gently press berries to extract as much juice as possible. Let cool completely before adding in the half cup of manuka honey so that all of the vitamins and enzymes remain active.

Manuka Ginger Elderberry Syrup
By Living Life Granola
1/2 cup dried elderberries
3 cups filtered water
1/2 cup manuka honey
1 inch piece ginger, grated

Bring water to a boil in a sauce pan and add in elderberries. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Stir in ginger during the last 15 minutes of simmering. Strain through a fine mesh sieve or a cheesecloth lined colander. Gently press the berries to extract all of the juice. Whisk in the honey once the elderberry mixture is completely cooled. Store in a glass jar in the fridge for 2 to 3 months.

Preventative dose: 1 tablespoon daily for adults
                                   1 teaspoon daily for children 3 years and up
                                   1/2 teaspoon daily for children 1 and 2 years of age
                                   Do NOT give to infants under 1 year due to the honey.

Sickness dose:         1 tablespoon every 2 to 3 hours for adults
                                   1 teaspoon every 2 to 3 hours for children 3 years and up
                                   1/2 teaspoon every 2 to 3 hours for children 1 and 2 years of age
                                   Do NOT give to infants under 1 year due to the honey.

***Ask your health care provider before using if you take any medications, are under medical treatment, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

At $20 a jar, manuka honey is not cheap, though it will yield two recipes worth of elderberry syrup. The twenty bucks does start looking like a bargain when you begin to tally how much missed work, co-pays and medications will cost you by the end of winter due to a worn out immune system. Manuka honey is a pretty good investment in my book. This syrup has warded off more than one virus in my household. We do not take it everyday and I would not recommend doing that either, however, it does work best when taken at the first sign of illness and continued until the symptoms abate. We have been known to take it if we have been in close contact with a sick person, but usually only for the day, just to help give the immune system a little boost.The best preventative, of course, is washing hands, not touching your face, getting enough sleep and eating lots of fruits and veggies. Here's wishing everyone a non-existent flu season!


Monday, September 15, 2014

Chai Tea at Home without an Expensive Machine

This lovely cup is my morning must-have and as much as I love tea it was surprisingly (sadly, really) Starbucks that brought chai into my realm of existence. I still love my green and herbal teas but there is just something special about a really good chai.

Starbucks' prices alone are enough for me to boycott the place but in the past I have gone there in desperation for caffeine. I had the misfortune (fortune?) of seeing my chai tea being made one day. Oh, my. Did they really just pump a brown syrupy substance into my cup, a tea concentrate, if you will, and expect me to drink it? Yes, they did. And yes, I did. Not a proud moment but I like myself even less when going through caffeine withdrawal. Also, not too long ago, I found out that Starbucks supports the Grocery Manufacturers Association (boo, hiss!) that has donated millions of dollars to stop your right to know what is in your food- namely, genetically modified ingredients. I now make it a point to not give one dollar of my money to Starbucks and to make sure that I bring my caffeine with me from home- or live with the monster headache.

Making chai at home is the obvious solution when it comes to cost and health benefits. The antioxidants will still be intact and it won't be filled with inflammatory sugar or GMO's and antibiotics from the milk. Milk was actually my only issue with the home brew: how in the world was I going to froth it without a fancy, costly machine? After looking into a couple of frothers online I came across this gem.

This handheld frother goes for $2.49 at Ikea making it the most affordable option, hands down. If you don't have an Ikea by you, no worries, I have seen these babies on Amazon, too.

So, with the frothing part down let's get to the tea. Chai is a spiced tea that is traditionally consumed in India. Chai actually means tea in the Hindu language. In India, black tea is boiled with spices and then served with milk and honey. I make my own chai using organic black tea bags and powdered spices.

The great thing about making chai at home is that you get to control exactly how much sugar and what type of milk goes into your cup. I use stevia to sweeten as it is calorie-free and I have a personal policy to not drink my calories in everyday beverages. Plus, it's a plant- practically a vegetable, really. Be careful of the stevia that is sold in the grocery stores, however, as it is most likely a highly processed powder that bares little resemblance to the actual stevia plant.

Stevia is a green herb. The stevia I use from Mountain Rose Herbs, in the photo above, is a green powder (makes sense, right?). The packet of stevia from the grocery store is white. I don't know how it got like that and probably don't want to know, either. The bag from Mountain Rose Herbs will last a loooong time, too, as you only need a little pinch per cup of chai. It goes for $5 for 4 oz. The unrefined green stevia is 10 to 15 times sweeter than table sugar and the refined stuff is 200 to 300 times more sweet. In my humble opinion, it is probably best to stick with the unrefined.

Here's how I make my morning chai:

While waiting for the water to boil, add 1 rounded teaspoon of chai tea into a French press along with a pinch of stevia (or to taste). You will want to add the stevia while it is brewing due to the unrefined powder not dissolving well into liquids. Add boiling (not hot) water to the French press and cover with the top.

Little side-note here: all tea should be covered as it steeps, not only to retain water temperature but to keep the volatile oils from evaporating in the steam. These oils have most of the health benefits and you want those in your cup, not the air.

Let the tea steep for five minutes. While the tea is steeping, pour about two tablespoons of almond (or other milk substitute) into a mug and use the handy dandy frother to whip up some awesome almond fluffiness. When the tea is done steeping, pour into the mug in a steady stream and the froth will automatically rise to the top. The whole process takes under six minutes (if you have an electric kettle) which is faster than you would get it at Starbucks, not to mention way cheaper and sans all the added sugar and antibiotics and GMO's from the cow's milk. (See why I don't drink cow's milk here.) With real tea and spices your home brew is as healthy as it gets- enjoy!

Kate's Chai Tea Mix
From Living Life Granola
1 box of Whole Foods's 365 Black Tea, 70 count (or 1 1/2 cups loose black tea)
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground allspice, optional (this is not in your typical chai tea but I like the flavor)
Please use organic ingredients when you can.

If you use the 365 tea bags they are already nicely lined up to cut open multiple bags at once. Dump all the tea into a mixing bowl and add in the spices. Stir well and store in an airtight container in a dark cabinet. Do not refrigerate as this will degrade the quality of the tea. Use within one year.

Monday, September 8, 2014

How to Save Money at Whole Foods

 "A trillion dollars for baked beans? I didn't know they had a Whole Foods in Zimbabwe!" - Lewis Black in the Back in Black segment on The Daily Show

Whole Foods is the last place people with limited funds would choose to shop. I'm sure we have all heard of the moniker "Whole Paycheck" when it comes time to checkout from their stores. No matter how we slice it the total will be more than places like Aldi, Walmart and Food 4 Less (check out why cheap food actually costs you more here) but there are some strategies to make it more affordable.

In addition to a wide variety of organic and non-GMO goods they also have some of the highest standards in the grocery industry. They do not allow hydrogenated fats or artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners in any products sold in their stores. That right there pretty much wipes out most of the foods causing our obesity epidemic. And the real winner for me: come 2018 all items sold in Whole Foods' U.S. and Canadian stores must have labeling if it contains genetically modified ingredients. This is a huge step for food transparency that is sadly lacking in our country. I could go on with their green business standards and their local community & global efforts but I will stop shooting you with rainbows and unicorns from dark orifices now and get to the good stuff: How to actually save money at Whole Foods.

1. Buy Whole Foods' 365 brand organic products. It is the house brand so it will be cheaper than             name brand organics.

2.  Pick up a copy of The Whole Deal that comes out every other month. It is full of tips for using and preserving in-season produce as well as coupons and recipes for budget meals.

3.  Utilize coupons to their fullest. The Whole Deal is also on and the coupons can be printed out multiple times for each shopping trip. When there is a coupon for Kit's Organic Bars I will buy the 12 pack case and print out twelve coupons. Depending on the coupon you can get a $15 case for under $4 in addition to using tip #11.

4.  Whole Foods' website also has their weekly sales flyer posted.  Planning meals around what is  in-season and on sale really helps stretch meal dollars.

5.  National and even some local organic brands have their coupons on their own websites. You can use manufacturers coupons in conjunction with Whole Foods coupons. 

6.  Take advantage of daily specials: Mondays- $2 off in-house sliced turkey. Tuesdays- half chickens are $4.99. Wednesdays- large take and bake pizzas are $10. Thursdays- $5 panini. Fridays- different sushi specials. (These specials are specific to my local store. Specials may vary by location.)

7.  Purchase from the bulk bins. This allows you to buy just as much or as little as you need. Great for trying something new and not wanting to be stuck with two pounds of something you will never eat again. It also considerably lessens the amount of manufacturing waste. You can get organic rolled oats for as little as $1.69 a pound.

8.  Check unit prices on the price label. This is usually broken down to cost per ounce. Sometimes the bulk bins are not the best deal, especially with the organic nuts- the packaged nuts are actually cheaper in some cases. The larger package items can also fool you like the chocolate chips price label in the photo above. Most of us assume that the larger the packaging the better the deal but this is not always true with the 356 brand. Always check the unit price!

9.  Buy your ingredients at Whole Foods- not the prepared packaged items. One quart of organic pastured-raised heavy cream costs $7 but will yield half a pound of butter, 8 oz of buttermilk, 10 oz of sour cream with 3/4 cup of left over cream to use for coffee or as whipped cream. No butter churning necessary- these items are ridiculously easy to make and are upcoming in a future post.

10.  Use your own shopping bags. Whole Foods reimburses 10 cents for every bag you bring. This in and of itself is not a huge money saver but it is huge for the environment. Bring in three bags every week and that adds up to $15 at the end of the year. This money can also be donated to one of their causes either going back into your community or helping better the lives of impoverished women all around the world.   

11.  Buy in case amounts for a 10% discount.  For Whole Foods, a case equals twelve items. In my family we do this with the shelf stable almond milk, baby food and the Organic Kit Bars (when they have a coupon for the bars) since we go through those items quite often.

12.  This goes without saying but I'm sayin' it anyway: eat less meat! Humanely-raised and pasture fed meat goes for a premium but it is affordable when you are only eating it three times a week or less. Not having meat as your main course but using it as a garnish to the meal also will help bring costs down. As citizens of this planet, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to educate ourselves on the devastating effect that conventional-raised meat is having on this world (A good place to start is with the documentary Food Inc.). Cut down on meat, cut the detrimental harm to our planet and cut grocery bills. Win-win-win. 

13.  Buy frozen organic veggies, especially when they are out of season. This is a great economic way to get your organic produce.

14.  Slice, dice and shred at home. Buying whole heads of romaine and cabbage, and blocks of cheese, is cheaper than having the store or manufacturer do it for you. Intimidated by a head of cabbage?  Watch a two minute YouTube video and you'll be wondering what you were stressing out about.

15.  Don't buy toiletries, super foods in packages, tea or vitamins from Whole Foods. It is much cheaper to buy these items from online retailer like Swanson's Vitamins and Vitacost.

You have to shop smart to shop savvy. Hopefully this will get you in the door if you are new to Whole Foods and thought it impossible to shop there. If you are a seasoned shopper and have some tips of your own, please share below!

Linked with Frugal by Choice, Cheap by Necessity on the Homemade Monday series. This article was their featured post of the week. You can check it here.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Homemade Un-Petroleum Jelly

I used to live and die by petroleum jelly when I had a cold. Man, nothing felt better than smearing that shiny goo all over my cherry-red, swollen nose. It was also smeared all over my older daughter's rear as a baby and almost smeared all over a girlfriend's and my teeth for our 8th grade dance. It was what all the models did, we were told, to keep them smiling and make their teeth bright and shiny. I don't know what divine spirit stopped us but the petroleum jelly never it made it past our lips.

The name itself harbors no secrets of where it originates from: petroleum jelly was found to coat the bottom of oil rigs in the 1800's. As such it is an unsustainable resource and not very green. It is unfortunate how prolific petroleum is in our beauty products. This is mostly in the form of mineral oil which coats the skin like plastic (also petroleum derived) and suffocates the pores with the potential of trapping in dirt and other debris. It also doesn't allow the skin to do one of its main jobs: detoxification. So all of the toxins get trapped in your pores causing a whole host of issues like damaged collagen & elastin by slowing down the rate of cellular renewal. If you are using petroleum jelly as a beauty product- stop! It is a pro-aging product and I'm pretty sure most of us are aiming for the anti-aging benefits from our beauty supplies.

Petroleum jelly is so versatile, though, that a safer, greener version had to be concocted. In what I thought was a botched lip balm recipe, with a little tinkering, turned out to be some great un-petroleum jelly.

The Ingredients:

Beeswax, shea butter, local raw honey and vitamin E oil. (Amounts will be given below.)
This will yield a more balm-like (thicker) consistency. If you want the more traditional salve-like consistency then use jojoba oil* (or any liquid oil- but not mineral oil!) in place of the shea butter.

*Edited: Due to research on the effects of olive oil on the skin I no longer recommend it for beauty products but eat up because it is still great internally!

Make a water bath by filling a pot or sauce pan with 1-2 inches of water. Place a glass measuring cup or mason glass jar with the shea butter and beeswax in the water. Melt the wax and butter over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the wax is almost all melted add in the honey and stir until the wax is completely melted. Remove glass measuring cup with wax mixture from the water bath. Fill a small bowl with ice water to place the measuring cup into.

Working quickly, because the wax will start to harden, add in the vitamin E and whisk briskly. If the wax starts to separate and harden too fast, remove from ice water and continue to whisk until the mixture is emulsified. Pour into a clean container. Let harden for at least two hours before use. This doesn't need to be refrigerated but use within one year.

Homemade Un-Petroleum Jelly
By Living Life Granola
2 tbsp shea butter
1 tbsp beeswax
2 tbsp local raw honey
4-5 drops vitamin E oil
2 oz container

Put the shea butter and beeswax in a glass measuring cup and place in a water bath over low- medium heat, stir occasionally. When the wax is almost melted add in the honey and stir until wax is completely melted. Remove from water bath.

Fill a small bowl with ice water to place the glass measuring cup with wax mixture into. Working quickly, for the wax will harden, add in vitamin E oil and whisk briskly. If the wax starts to harden and separate too fast, remove from ice water and continue to whisk until all is emulsified. Pour into container and let harden for at least two hours before use. No need for refrigeration but use within one year.

Unlike the damage that petroleum does to our land, water and bodies, this un-petroleum jelly is nourishing and protective. Raw honey contains vitamins C and B's, amino acids, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and iron. In addition, it is also antibacterial and antimicrobial. Shea butter contains vitamins D and E, pro-vitamin A and allantoin. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as stimulates collagen production. So feel free to smear this skin conditioner all over- but I would still hold off on using it on your teeth. ;)

Remember to use a stick to remove the jelly to extend the shelf-life of the product.




Linked with The Pistachio Project on the Simply Natural Saturdays Series.