As the visitors to this site vary in cooking experience,
this section has been divided into three categories: newbies, intermediates,
and experienced natural food cooks.
We will start off with some basic ideas about eating more healthfully. When you buy rice, buy the fifteen minute, not the minute rice. One has considerably more nutritional value then the other. When you are making cookies, add some whole wheat flour to the mix. A safe amount in which others can't tell, is 3 parts white flour to 1 part whole wheat. Consider breads with whole wheat flour in them.
Generally, I feel that there should be a lot of leeway in cooking, but with these two exceptions. Rule #1 -Never use margarine. Margarine adheres to the walls of the blood vessels in your body - think of it as a plastic coating that has been associated with worsening various aspects of atherosclerosis. Our bodies have a substance called butyric acid which helps break down butter. So butter in moderation is fine. Just remember the word moderation. If it drips off your bagel or coats your hand, it is too much. If you are allergic to butter, use oil.
Rule#2 is for everyone, but diabetics can modify it. Never use artificial sweeteners. Aspartame has been linked to dozens of conditions such as increased appetite, migraines and anxiety. Unrefined sugar is a natural food, that again should be used in moderation, So instead of putting a spoonful of sugar on your breakfast cereal, add raisins or bananas and start to savor the taste of food without sugar added.
There is a considerable variation in food quality. Take peanut butter for instance. Popular brands consist of peanut butter, to peanut butter, salt and oil, to peanut butter, sugar, oil and whatever else they add to keep down the cost. Go to the supermarket and compare Skippy, Jiff, and Adams brands of peanut butter. Compare the fat, sugar, and sodium content. Peanut butter doesn't need extra oil and sugar. It is delicious and better for you, with the simple ingredients of ground peanuts. This is the same with tomato sauce. Buy tomato sauce without sugar and oil. They are available - just read the labels.
Americans consume a considerable amount of pop and juice drinks. Pop, or carbonated beverages, not only increase body weight but leach calcium from the bones by flooding the blood with phosphates which send a message that more calcium is needed. The body will pull the calcium from the bones. This is especially problematic to our elderly because of osteoporosis and to our children as it may hinder proper bone development.
Similarly, caffeine either in the form of tea or coffee, is both a stimulant and diuretic. Drunk to excess, these can have significant adverse affects on the body. A reasonably safe amount, if there are no medical conditions which prohibit these drinks, is one to two cups daily.
Artificial juice drinks are sugar water with chemical flavoring. Your child's body must work to process these drinks and they obtain little or no benefit from them. Similarly, too much milk can be problematic. Don't load up on milk - drink in moderation. And if you are susceptible to sinus headaches or your child gets frequent earaches, try going without milk for a couple of weeks. You may notice a decrease in symptoms. Milk is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it is a source of protein and calcium. On the other hand, the proteins are designed for a calf and are larger than those designed for humans in breast milk. Think about the difference in size between a calf and a human baby. Many people have trouble digesting these larger proteins which may lead to many uncomfortable symptoms like sinus headaches, earaches, and digestive disorders. And almost 10% of all Americans lack the enzyme to digest milk. A final note on milk concerns -- the bovine growth hormone (BGH) which is given to cows. There is considerable debate over the safety of this hormone in humans. So think again before you or your child drink that second or third glass of milk.
It's true, many people don't like the taste of water. There are so many chemicals added to the water to "purify" it and make it safe for human consumption that it often tastes bad. So with the money you save from not drinking pop, kool aid or milk, invest in a water filter which will remove most of the chemicals and the funny taste.
One often hears the comment - eating naturally costs more. Yes and no. Organic vegetables are more expensive than non organic; beans are considerably cheaper. One family of seven (with two teenagers) spends $150.00 weekly. This includes one dinner out a month and three meat dinners a week. A vegetarian family of five (with three teenagers) eating exclusively organic spend $180.00 weekly. What both families discovered was that when you don't buy pop or chips or other forms of fast food, you save a lot of money.
If you are able, buy on sale, buy in larger quantities to freeze, and buy in bulk. Good natural food stores have a bulk section that charges considerably less for pastas, flours, soup mixes, cereals, etc.
DABBLERS This section will help you make the transition from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a more healthful one, less painful, more practical, and delicious. Focus on gently incorporating new foods into your diet. Add chick peas (garbanzos) to your salad. They are a good source of protein and have a mild taste that most people enjoy. I recently discovered a recipe for a tomato sauce that started with sauteed onions, garlic and eggplant. After 10 minutes, the tomato sauce was added. Just as the cook stated, you couldn't even tell that eggplant had been added. A very good cookbook for Intermediates is the Oregon LaLeche Recipes from the Heart. (Look for the book in the books section of this website.) These recipes are all very practical and family and friends tested.
Unless you are camping, take the time to make fresh soup. They taste so much better and are nutritionally superior. Soups take about 20 minutes to prepare and are virtually maintenance free. If you work outside the home and don't have a crockpot, they are inexpensive and worth it. In naturopathic medical school, my classes frequently started at 8am and ended at 6pm. I would cut up the vegetables, add them to the beans, water, and seasonings, and leave it. By the time, the kids got home at 3pm, it was done and they had something hot and delicious in the winter. Soups are a great way for your family to eat greens. In every soup I make, especially the heartier ones like black bean, lentil, and split pea, I mince up spinach, collard greens, kale, or chard. It is really important to mince the greens so that they are less noticeable and so that they can't be picked out and put by the side of the bowl. The key in good soup making is seasoning. Taste your soup. If bland, as split peas can be add some cayenne pepper or black pepper. If there is a pasty taste, add a tablespoon of lemon or vinegar. Always start with some sort of base. I tend to use bouillon cubes because they are convenient Read Crockery Cooking by Mabel Hoffman for ideas.
No doubt about it, cheese, along with a lot of things, increases mucus production. That said, our family still eats a moderate amount. Use your regular recipes and modify them. Take lasagna, for instance. Use part-skim mozzarella cheese. Use a tomato sauce that is fat free and don't fry the onion and garlic up first. The taste of the tomato sauce is what will carry the dish so use the best tasting one available or do what we do add fresh herbs like minced basil, garlic, and oregano. It really makes a difference. And unless you are used to the taste of tofu, don't use it in your lasagna or eggplant parmesan as a substitute for ricotta. At most, use half tofu and half ricotta. For some reason, tofu just doesn't seem to taste right in lasagna.
Instead of eating some vegetables with your main meat course, eat some meat with your main vegetable course. Chinese and Japanese food lend themselves well to this.Try something familiar, say pasta. Add some small pieces of chicken or turkey, some broccoli, green peppers, and maybe green peas. At this point, you need to make the flavor something your family is used to or will try. Go Italian with tomato sauce, or make a meat-based or an almond butter gravy. ( I have had people swear is meat based.) The secret is the flavoring. Start with familiar flavors and then branch out.
EXPERIENCED NATURAL FOODS COOKS We have been eating naturally for almost 25 years and there are still many things we don't know or still haven't tried. I don't prescribe any one type of natural diet such as raw vegetable or vegan over another. I think people tend to gravitate toward the diet that works best for their health.
There is a large segment of the world's population that eats much healthier than we from the United States do. They include all the food groups and their subgroups like beans, grains, vegetables, nuts, and fruits. Go to the library and try out some recipes. I found that our family loves Indian food. For yours, Chinese food, Middle Eastern, or Indonesian might be the ticket. So when I am in a hurry, I cheat I make a nice dinner with the premade Indian pastes that I find in the natural foods stores. The jar makes several meals and is much easier than correctly preparing Indian spices in the traditional way. For variation, I also do this with Chinese and Middle Eastern.
Forget spray oils under this category. I love them for waffles with an oil-free batter, or working with filo dough - but not for oven-fried potato pancakes, Indian somosas, falafel, or other lightly fried food. For example, to make potato pancakes and still get that crispy edge, coat a cookie sheet with 1-2 tablespoons of oil and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. You will need to turn them over, and it may take as long as 40 minutes altogether but your heart and liver will thank you.
Fried foods don't rely on flavor as much as the filling greasy taste to satisfy one's tastebuds. When you oven fry, you need to make the food actually taste good. You might want to add some fresh dill to the potato pancakes.