Buckwheat Blini + Mushroom Caviar

From Amanda.  “Have you ever made blinis?  They’re a yeasted savory pancake, traditionally served with caviar and crème fraiche.  This version with mushroom caviar is fun to make (and gluten-free because buckwheat is not related to wheat and is actually a fruit).  Use any mushrooms you like, and get creative with seasonings too.  Make these for your next party!” (more…)

Arthritis, Part 2

Last month covered the various types of arthritis, diet, and what the docs like to call “lifestyle.”  This month we focus on supplements.

If this even attempted to be a comprehensive listing, we’d be going on for pages, and pages and pages.  Instead, let’s talk about a few supplements which really work, and then cover a few that don’t really work, but which are being heavily marketed and promoted.

To make things even simpler, we’re going to divide the supplements up into three categories.

  1.  Supplements that support the structural integrity of joint cartilage.
  2. Supplements which shift the balance of inflammation over a few days to a few weeks.
  3. Supplements which jump in and intercept inflammation quickly.

Even simplifying, the list may seem overwhelming.  So where do you start?  Well, some people like to take a shotgun approach, fill their shopping basket full of pill bottles, and just go for it.  This may not be the most elegant approach, but it does tend to work.  (Although it will help to use supplements that are complementary to one another, not just redundant).

For those who want to approach things a little more methodically, a suggestion:

  • For osteoarthritis, look at glucosamine (supports joint cartilage) first.  You’re dealing with progressive breakdown of joint cartilage, so you’re going to want something which addresses that.
  • For rheumatoid arthritis, try fish oil (shifts the balance of inflammation) first.  In rheumatism, inflammation causes the joint breakdown, so addressing inflammation can get closer to the root of the problem.  Besides, any time you take something with 101 benefits (like fish oil), you ought to!
  • For most kinds of arthritis, combos work best.  Perhaps use a nutrient that supports joint integrity, combined with a slow-acting, deep anti-inflammatory; plus a quicker, herbal anti-inflammatory on hand for bad days or long hikes.

SUPPORTING CARTILAGE INTEGRITY.

Like all tissues in the human body, joint cartilage exists in a constant state of balance between degeneration and regeneration; between wear and tear, and repair.   As we get older, however, repair slows down, and the balance shifts to breakdown. Supplements which support cartilage integrity try to shift the balance back.  Mostly, they are simply raw materials to actually (re)build joint cartilage, in the same way bricks and mortar are raw materials to build a house.

Glucosamine: 1,500 mg/day in divided doses is the standard for this consistently effective joint rejuvenator.  It takes 2-6 weeks to start working, and may take longer to plateau.  But it continues to work even if you skip a dose or two.

Glucosamine lubricates the joints.  Research shows that glucosamine taken over a number of years actually keeps joints healthier.   Glucosamine is often (but not always) derived from shellfish.  If you’re allergic, read labels!  Other than that (and the occasional upset stomach) glucosamine is very safe.

Chondroitin: traditionally paired with glucosamine (1,000-1,500 mg/day in divided doses).  We know that the combos work for most people, but it turns out, that for most people, Chondroitin is doesn’t contribute much to the combos.  And then for some, it really does.  Hard to predict.

Some people get better results using Chondroitin from sea cucumber (not a vegetable!) than the normal stuff derived from bovine tracheal cartilage.  800-1,500 mg/day is standard, in divided dose.  It takes 2-6 weeks.

MSM: stands for methylsulfonylmethane, basically a way of getting sulfur, which helps hold the joints together.  (Please note that elemental sulfur is different than the “sulfa” short for sulfonamide antibiotics that many people are allergic to).  MSM works well on its own, and in conjunction with glucosamine.

Try MSM if glucosamine is working for you just not quite well enough.  A standard dose is 3-6,000 mg/day, in divided doses (although you’ll often find less in formulas).  Give it anywhere from a few days to a full month to start working.

MSM may also hold side benefits.  It sometimes helps clear up problem skin, and can relieve sinus congestion.  Also, it’s fairly common for people to snore less when they take it.

SHIFTING THE BALANCE IN INFLAMMATION:

Sometimes, inflammation is a natural and appropriate state of being.  Sprain your ankle, or poke yourself with a sharp stick, and the area should become inflamed.  Other times inflammation develops in ways that it shouldn’t chronic inflammation, fueled by an imbalance in the fatty makeup of cell membranes.  You won’t be able to shift the balance in the cell membranes overnight.  But you can over time, giving your body what it needs to regulate itself, instead of taking drugs (or herbs) which do the regulation for it.

Now, go back and read the first part under “Diet” (our November newsletter) where it talks about balancing the fats in your diet.  To continue:

Fish Oil: Well, fish oil helps just about everything, and when talking about arthritis and inflammation, it’s no exception.  A standard dose is 1,500-2,000 mg/day of EPA (which is a component of fish oil).  Divided doses aren’t necessary, but do take it with food.  You can get by with a little bit less if you eat very little meat and cheese and trans-fats; you’re going to want more if your diet contains a lot of these.

Flax oil and other vegetarian sources of omega-3 fats, including hempseed, walnuts, chia, and sacha inchi: most vegetarian omega-3s provide only precursors to the active EPA found in fish oil.  Even the most optimistic estimates say that 15% of what’s in flax, hemp, etc., gets converted into active EPA.  Flax is good, but it doesn’t pack the punch that fish oil does.

Borage, Primrose, and Black Currant Seed Oils: All sources of an anti-inflammatory fat called GLA, borage is the least expensive and most efficient source.  Although GLA can benefit anyone, look to add GLA to fish oil especially if there’s also eczema or psoriasis.  500-1,000 mg a day.  (Debra uses the liquid, and the does is ½ teaspoon daily.)

“Newfangled” anti-inflammatory fats: these include brand-name products like Celadrin, FlexNow, Lyprinol, and ASU (Avocado-Soy Unsaponifiables).  It might be hard to navigate through all these competing products, and their competing claims.  Well, despite the New York Times bestselling book behind ASU, the very clever biochemistry behind Lyprinol and the European research behind FlexNow, it has been our experience that Celadrin is the one which really shines.  It’s also the least expensive of the bunch.  Let’s call FlexNow a close second.  ASU is worth looking at, too, as the only vegetarian member of the bunch.  With any and all of these, take according to bottle directions.

Boron: this mineral, essential to life, is still left out of many multivitamins because the U.S. government hasn’t established a recommended daily allowance for it yet.  It’s necessary to convert vitamin D to its active form.  A simple 3-6 mg a day can help.  Consider this if you’re not taking a multi or bone supplement that already supplies some.

QUICK-ACTING ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES:

Unlike the slower-acting anti-inflammatories listed above, these don’t provide your body what it needs to self-regulate.   Instead they jump in and attempt to regulate the body by blocking the inflammatory process.

Really, the best way to do this is to reach for a formula.  Different ingredients will intercept different branches of the inflammatory cascade, hitting inflammation from different angles.  That being said, here are a few single ingredients that are especially effective.

Turmeric: Like fish oil (mentioned above) turmeric is a wonderful supplement because it protects us in so many different ways not just our joints.  A standard dose is 2,000 mg of the extract standardized to 95% curcumin, in divided doses (although it’s possible to exceed this dose significantly).

Boswellia:  This resin extracted from the frankincense bush is both a wonderful anti-inflammatory in its own right, and an ideal complement to many of the other herbs out there because it works differently than most of them.

Bromelain:  This pineapple extract might be the simplest anti-inflammatory we have.  A standard dose is 4,000 GDU/day.

Homeopathic Arnica:  This can be used after the rugby match, or whatever else has just made the arthritis worse.  It may, however, make very hot, inflamed rheumatism worse.

The Best Cookie

The Walnut Surprise Cookies in my first cookbook are, surprise! brownies.  [Editor’s Note: technically blondies]  Unprepossessing, they are delicious and always a hit.  The best cookie ever.  But now I use the basic formula to make great flourless and gluten-free cookies.  I love the fact, no matter which variation, all it takes is a bowl, wooden spoon, and a strong arm.  (Read, too, later in this newsletter about coconut sugar, suitable for diabetics, perfect for these cookies, now available in our bulk department.)

(more…)

Ouch, Ouch. Arthritis

There are 101 different kinds of arthritis, and 101 ways to treat each one.  Rather than try to go into all of that here we don’t want to get arthritis in our typing fingers! this is going to be a quick, hopefully simple, guide to some of the most basic concepts, and the most effective ways of treating this disease.

WHAT IS ARTHRITIS?

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, causing pain, inflammation, stiffness, and eventual destruction of joint cartilage.  The most common kinds are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  It is possible to have more than one kind at once. (more…)

Autumn Carrots and Squash

Serve this over lentils, rice, millet or quinoa.  Below, I’ve used black lentils because the contrast is striking, and because I like lentils!  All you butternut squash lovers out there, I don’t begrudge you the squash, but I have a hard time finding time to peel and cut squash.  If I can’t buy it already peeled and cubed, I use yams instead, which are just as healthy but a little sweeter.  I cannot tell a lie. (more…)

Economic Sanity and the Price of Cheese

cheeses on a cutting board

The other day as the store was about to close, I turned to the fridge to make my important decision for the evening: what kind of cheese to buy to melt over my broccoli, black beans, and diced tomatoes for dinner?  It was down to two finalists — Neighborly Farms organic, pasture-fed Green Onion Cheddar; and the 5-Spoke Farms organic, raw, pasture-fed Herbal Jack.  It was a close race although I eventually did give the edge to the Herbal Jack.  But then my practical side kicked in: maybe I should get the Organic Valley product instead.  Not a bad cheese by any measure.  Heck, it even won an award.  But more importantly, Organic Valley is a large operation, with an efficient supply chain and distribution networks, and centralized production facilities — in other words, Organic Valley was going to be cheaper.

Only it wasn’t!  Organic Valley’s price had just gone up. (more…)

1,4-dioxane

1,4 dioxane
a molecular model of 1,4-dioxane

We shop in the store, just like you do, because we believe in natural and organic, because we want to leave the planet a better place, and because we want our families to be healthy and happy. When we put a product on the shelves, it’s because it’s something we might want to buy! So it was especially upsetting to read the Organic Consumer Association’s (OCA) report on 1,4-dioxane on “natural” bodycare and household products. But we trust the OCA, a watchdog and advocacy group with more than 500,000 members. This is no trade organization or industry mouthpiece; in fact, the OCA often directly opposes powerful interests in the organic industry. (more…)

Hawaii Slaw

I was one of the lucky ones who got to attend Amanda’s cooking class in September (thanks to Lindsay for stepping in and helping out too).  Every dish was great creative and gorgeous, as you can see by the following recipe.  (The next “secret ingredient” class taught by Amanda and Lindsay will feature hot peppers.  Yes, you should sign up right away because it will fill up fast.)

Umeboshi plum vinegar, made from pickled umeboshi plums, is used by Japanese for digestive health.  Its nickname is “Japanese Alka Seltzer”.  Because umeboshi plum paste and vinegar is high in sodium, you don’t need salt.

Makes enough to feed six

½ C umeboshi plum vinegar ¼ C toasted sesame oil 
2 Tbsp agave nectar 5 C thinly sliced red and green cabbage
1 Tbsp crushed red pepper 1 C julienne carrot (1 large carrot)
2 Tbsp ground cumin 1 C julienne red bell pepper (1 pepper)
¼ C sliced scallions 2 C diced fresh pineapple
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced ¼ C sliced scallions
1 tsp black pepper ¼ C chopped cilantro leaves
½ C macadamia nut oil ¾ C toasted, chopped macadamia nuts

Whisk vinegar with agave, crushed red pepper, cumin, scallions, jalapeno, and pepper.  Slowly whisk in the macadamia and sesame oils.  Toss cabbage, carrots, red bell pepper, and pineapple with the dressing.  Sprinkle scallions and cilantro on top. Toss quickly again.  Chill or serve immediately garnished with macadamia nuts.  Your taste buds won’t know what hit them except pure delight!

You can buy macadamia nut oil off our shelves, or out of a bulk dispenser in the bulk department.

Himalayan Red Rice Salad with Dried Figs

Amanda says that this whole-grain rice tastes great, looks awesome, and cooks in only twenty minutes.  Himalayan red rice is an ancient short-grain rice grown 8,000 feet up in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.  Irrigated with 1,000-year old glacier water rich in trace minerals, this exotic rice has a nutty flavor, soft texture and beautiful red russet color.  So sayeth websites that rave about the rice.  And, yes, we stock it in our bulk bins.  A hand-crafted, heirloom rice, grown without pesticides and herbicides.  You’ll like it! (more…)

Food that is Black

A few months ago, I came across a news item claiming that the newest food trend in Japan is black food: black sesame seeds, black rice, black vinegar, black soybeans, etc.

Well, that piqued my interest.  I mean, don’t get me wrong: I hear about a different food trend every week, and I tend to ignore most of them (Microgreens, anyone?  Cod liver oil-infused potato chips?  How about a nice bottle of micro-cluster water suffused with color energy and Universal Love Vibrations?)

Dark purple carrots are almost black…Black food may or may not be an actual trend in Japan I don’t know; I’ve never been there but at least this one would make sense.

Generally speaking, the more darkly-colored a plant food is the better it’s able to stain our clothing the better it is for us.  There’s a reason for this.  Plants produce pigments to protect themselves from environmental damage, especially oxidation[1].  In other words, plant pigments are antioxidants broadly protective not just of the plants that create them, but of the animals that eat them.  Plant pigments protect and strengthen the blood vessels, brain, liver, kidneys, and cell membranes.

So we see that red wine is healthier than white wine.  Black beans are healthier than white.  Purple corn is healthier than yellow.  Bilberries (which have dark flesh) are healthier than blueberries (with pale flesh inside).  Black rice bran lowers cholesterol better than bran from brown rice; black soybeans have a similar advantage over yellow.  Both Ayurveda (the ancient medical system of India) and traditional Chinese medicine place special value on black foods.

Mostly you can use black ingredients as you’d use their lighter-colored cousins.  They tend to have a deeper, stronger, more complex flavor (think, for example, of red wine versus white; or dark beer versus an India Pale Ale).  Personally, I love using China Forbidden black rice to plate brightly-colored foods (salmon and asparagus; scallops with sautéed yellow and red peppers).  And I adore Black Beluga lentils, so named because they glisten and shine like beluga caviar.

Here’s a recipe that’s quick, easy, satisfying equally good hot, right from stove top; or cold, three days later.

Serves 4

2 medium-size purple onions, chopped 2 heaping Tbsp rubbed sage
2 cups black beluga lentils Olive oil, butter, or other cooking fat (only necessary if using very low-fat or veggie “meat”)
1 lb meat, poultry, or veggie sausage (the Field Roast brand of veggie sausage is especially good) A little bit of tomato paste
5 cups water or stock Salt and pepper

OPTIONAL: 2 cups chopped veggies such as celery, spinach, carrots, and/or chard

OPTIONAL: ¼ cup chopped dried porcini mushrooms (gives a very earthy flavor)

Brown sausage or bacon, breaking up or cutting into bite-size pieces.  If you’re using a very low-fat product, or veggie “meat,” add a little oil.  Add the onions and optional veggies and cook until onions are translucent.  Add the lentils, sage and liquid.  Cover and simmer at lowest heat until cooked, about 40 minutes.  Stir in a spoonful or two of tomato paste to taste.  Add salt and pepper.  Serve with some crusty whole grain bread, maybe.

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[1] Actually, scientists have shown that plants grown under harsher environmental conditions tend to be healthier for us to eat.  The idea is that plants, in protecting themselves from harsh conditions (excessive sunlight especially), respond by producing higher levels of these antioxidant pigments.

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