The Nutritional Benefits of Bitter Vegetables

The Nutritional Benefits of Bitter Vegetables

Not many people are fond of food that taste bitter. Kids avoid it, and adults know they have to eat it but don’t like it.  In fact, a lot of people outright despise it. Even enough to make the taste itself synonymous with someone who is feeling spiteful. However, bitter tasting foods, like leafy greens and other vegetables are an important piece to the overall puzzle that is getting healthy. But how does it all work? What makes bitter greens good for you? And why do we even hate how they taste in the first place? Let’s find out.

Bitter VegetablesWhy Bitter Vegetables are Good for You

There is no single reason that vegetables are good for you.  This is because there is a myriad of reasons behind why there are good for you. In fact, there are so many reasons, that it would be more efficient to simply list them instead of sticking them in multiple paragraphs.

  • Bitter Vegetables are Nutrient Dense
    • Most, if not all vegetables are filled with various vitamins and nutrients that are part of a healthy diet. But bitter cruciferous vegetables have Vitamin K, Potassium, Sulforaphane, and Vitamin A. These nutrients are important for things like skin health, and are important in the prevention and reduction of colon cancer.

 

  • Bitter Vegetables help with Diabetic Management
    • Bitter vegetables carry little in the way of calories or fat. What fat they do have, if at all, is called, alpha-linolenic acid, an Omega-3 fatty acid that is responsible for lowering glucose levels and increasing insulin sensitivity. Essentially, this helps with managing diabetes.

 

  • They are Diet Friendly
    • According to Dr. Sears, “the body uses almost as many calories to digest vegetables as there are in vegetables in the first place. You’ll use up most of the 26 calories in a tomato just chewing, swallowing, and digesting it. The leftover calories don’t even have a fighting chance of being stored in a fat cell.” Vegetables can increase satiety by just taking a long time to digest.

 

So, there are countless reasons why bitter vegetables, (or really vegetables in general) are good for your body. But if there are so many advantages to adding more vegetables to your daily diet, then why do people seem to avoid them like the plague?

 

Why We Hate Bitter Vegetables

We all know the bitter struggle of eating vegetables in today’s day and age.  In fact, learning to “eat your vegetables” is something of a rite of passage. You learn to do things you don’t want to do in order to benefit in the long run.  But it shouldn’t be this hard if we all benefit from it, right? Why do we bitter vegetablesavoid bitter tasting vegetables in the first place?

Genetics

Some of it has to do with basic genetic ancestry.

According to a researcher in the College of Agricultural Science at Penn State, who helped conduct a study on the very topic of taste, “In the early 1990s, researchers used bitter probes to identify individuals who experience all tastes and oral sensations more intensely, and thus the concept of supertasters was born,” Hayes explained. “More recently, we have learned humans have 25 different bitter-taste genes, and it seems each one is tuned to pick up a different group of chemicals.” “This study moves us beyond the one-size-fits-all approach,” he said. “It turns out that different bitter foods act through different receptors, and people can be high or low responders for one but not another. Thus, you may despise grapefruit but have no problem with black coffee.”

So, some people have a genetic disposition between handling the bitter taste of some vegetables but not others. But that isn’t the only reason why.

Survival

One contributor to a news blog pointed this out, “Evolutionarily speaking, we actually shouldn’t like veggies at all: We’re wired for an aversion to bitter tastes, a trait our ancestors developed to protect themselves against accidental poisoning. The problem with this, of course, is we’ve generally figured out by now which plants will kill us and which won’t, yet the aversion remains – even though plenty of bitter compounds, like those found in vegetables, are actually important sources of nutrition.”

A long time ago, our ancestors quickly understood that certain bitter tasting foods meant exposure to poison. But we have since then documented what is and isn’t poisonous.  This leaves us with a tool that has turned into an obstacle.

Old Fashioned Attitudes about Meats and Vegetables

For as long as at least the Roman Empire existed, there has been a prevailing attitude that decadence and wealth is a good thing to have. Meat like beef, fowl, or fish was considered decadent for a long time in Western Europe. This is because it wasn’t available to the public for a long time until butchery  and farming became mass produced.

Vegetables, for the most part, was considered peasant food for centuries.  Even then if the nobility did have fruits and vegetables as part of their diet, all of the fiber would have been cooked out of it. According to a 1500’s cookbook, “‘Beware of green sallettes and rawe fruytes for they wyll make your soverayne seke’ (‘Beware of green salads and raw fruits, for they will make your master sick’).” At least some of the fruits and vegetables among the peasantry were preserved via fermentation, a cooking process that preserves the bacteria in your guts.

The point is, people, for centuries saw meat as something that rich people can afford, and bitter vegetables as either a potential danger or something only a low-class citizen would eat.

While the economic market has changed since the Middle Ages,  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those old attitudes are still being carried subconsciously in our culture.

What Can I  Do to Learn to Like Bitter Vegetables?

The main thing you can do is just repeat your exposure and experiment. Sometimes, the thing that you don’t like about the vegetable isn’t the vegetable itself. You could hate the result of a preservation method.  Or you could dislike something about its texture. I specifically remember hating green beans as a kid but learned later on that I didn’t like them canned. Just try new ways of preparing it so you can find what works for you.

Fermented Foods: Are they Really Part of a Healthy Diet?

Fermented Foods: Are they Really Part of a Healthy Diet?

Kimchi, Natto, Sourdough Bread, Yogurt, Wine, Beer, and Saurkraut. What do they all have in common? All of them are foods that at one point or another go through the process of fermentation. Fermentation is a chemical process that preserves food using microorganisms. At least, that is the general definition that can be found in a dictionary. In the world of cooking and nutrition, it is a cooking style that creates an acidic taste and preserves healthy microorganisms.  It is the oldest metabolic process for single-celled organisms. It also has been the primary use of gaining energy for single-celled organisms when there is no presence of oxygen. So, what do fermented foods have to do with nutrition? It boils down to our guts.

Our Microverse

At the risk of sounding like an episode of Rick and Morty, I am simply going to put this out there. We have a universe in our own bodies. In fact, our bodies are practically an entire ecosystem of living single-celled organisms. In fact, there are 100 trillion of these little guys floating around in our bodies. According to the American Microbiome Institue “Taken collectively, these organisms outnumber our own human cells 10 to 1, making up 5 pounds of our body weight.” That is an amazing and intimidating revelation. But that is only the tip of the iceberg.

microbes, fermented foodsThe Institute also points out, “Nearly every scientific study performed that has attempted to correlate the microbiome with specific traits or diseases has been successful.  In other words, studies are finding that our bacteria (or lack thereof) can be linked to or associated with: obesity, malnutrition, heart disease, diabetes, celiac disease, eczema, asthma, multiple sclerosis, colitis, some cancers, and even autism.”

These microbes also play a role in regulating our immune system. “During childhood, the immune system becomes accustomed to foreign antigens in our body and develops a tolerance to them.  Once homeostasis is established, non-pathogenic microbes and other harmless antigens will not induce an inflammatory response.”

Our universe inside our gut dictates our health in a very profound way. And it plays a huge part in something like obesity.

The Center of Ecogenetics, a microbiome research facility, gave a good example, “The gut microbiome is different between obese and lean twins. Obese twins have a lower diversity of bacteria, and higher levels of enzymes, meaning the obese twins are more efficient at digesting food and
harvesting calories. Obesity is the result of a poor combination of microbes in the gut.”

It is also why no two people are 100% the same.  “. The human microbiota can be affected from all sorts of factors, ranging from diet — for example, vegans and vegetarians have a distinct gut microbiome — to exercise habits, age, location, and many more we might still not know of.”

So, if the microorganisms in our guts are important to our health, what do we do to help them along?

Fermented Foods and Microbes

Remember the first paragraph? Microbes don’t need the presence of oxygen to gain energy. As long as they have access to natural sugars, they can make and ingest their own energy, leaving behind things like lactic acid and alcohol. One benefit from this is that they preserve food after finishing their process. Another is that they leave behind some of their own offspring in the food. These friendly bacteria go in your gut and help with regulating the ecosystem within it.  If you add some fermented food or drink into your diet, about once a week, your gut, and your immune system will benefit greatly from it.

“If you’re consuming a diet rich in fermented foods, you’re essentially bathing your GI tract in healthy, food-related organisms,” says food scientist Robert Hutkins, PhD, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln whose lab focuses on the link between fermented foods and human health.

So, if you like the idea of introducing fermented foods in your diet, there are a few you can try out below.

Types of Fermented Food:

1. Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk product (made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk) that tastes like drinkable yogurt. It is Turkish in origin and comes from the word Kief which means “good feeling”.

2. Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented beverage made of black tea and sugar (from various sources like cane sugar, fruit or honey). It contains a colony of bacteria and yeast that is responsible for initiating the fermentation process once combined with sugar.

fermented foods

3. Sauerkraut 

Sauerkraut is one of the oldest traditional foods, with very long roots in German, Russian and Chinese cuisine, for example. The word Sauerkraut means “sour cabbage” in German, although the Germans weren’t actually the first to make sauerkraut (it’s believed the Chinese were).

Real, traditional, fermented sauerkraut needs refrigeration. If you find a glass jar and the label mentions fermentation, you are more likely to get real sauerkraut.

 

4. Pickles

Didn’t think that pickles had probiotics? Fermented pickles contain a ton of vitamins and minerals, plus antioxidants and gut-friendly probiotic bacteria.

What is the best brand of pickles if you want probiotics? When choosing a jar of pickles, look for “lactic acid fermented pickles” made by a manufacturer that uses organic products and brine, refrigerates the pickles, and states that the pickles have been fermented. If you can find a local maker, such as at a farmers market, you’ll get some of the best probiotics for your health.

5. Miso

Miso is the byproduct of fermenting soybeans, barley or brown rice with koji, a type of fungus. It’s a traditional Japanese ingredient in recipes including miso soup.

6. Raw Cheese 

Raw milk cheeses are made with milk that hasn’t been pasteurized. If you want to find real fermented/aged cheeses,  look for cheese that has NOT been pasteurized. The label should indicate that the cheese is raw and has been aged for six months or more.

7. Yogurt

This is the most common food in America to contain probiotics. They contain live and active cultures that help with digestion. There is little in the way of lactose in it and it is often tolerable for a lot of lactose intolerant people.

 

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Detoxing- What is it and is it Real?

Detoxing -What is it and is it Real?

It is common when trying to get a jump start in your health, you hear or read the words ‘detox’ or cleanse.  People will claim that it is the best thing for you to do with your body and that it will help flush out excess toxins and impurities. But how much of that is true? Is this something that is time tested? Or, is it another fad? Today, I will be presenting the history behind cleansing and detoxing, how popular it had gotten and whether or not it is backed by any scientific evidence.

Definition of Detox and Toxicity

In its purest medical definition, detoxing means, “a medical procedure that rids the body of dangerous, often life-threatening, detoxing, talking to a doctorlevels of alcohol, drugs, or poisons.”

Today’s definition has since broadened to a more general one, thanks to the diet industry. In layman’s terms detoxing means ” to get rid of the excess impurities in the body. ”

Toxins are substances that can cause harm to the body due to either the nature of the substance itself or due to excess exposure to a specific substance.

Examples of a toxic substance by nature would be something like sumac or snake venom. If you are exposed to it, you will get sick instantly. Your body must decrease exposure to that substance immediately to prevent death or extreme illness.

An example of toxicity through excess ingestion would be someone drinking too much water or eating too many oranges. The excess of both of those things would disturb the filtration process of your digestive system. This causes an imbalance the level of nutrients needed for your body to survive.

What a Toxin is Not

A toxin is not a nondescript impurity that needs to be flushed out every so often. 

A periodical dedicated to the study and classification of toxins had this to say on the matter. “Recently, public health and social agendas have become more proactive in food toxicology, such as regulating (or outright banning) trans fats in foods on the basis of public safety… These agendas lose sight of the basic principle of toxicology that “the dose makes the poison” and that demanding “safety per se” or “safe at any dose”, for all foods and ingredients is a non-starter and as a concept, was abandoned with the adoption of the Federal Food and Drug Act (FFDCA) in 1958.”

If toxins are the excess of one element in the body and not a generic catchall for impurities, what does that mean for things like diet and cleanses?  Do they help keep you fit and healthy in spite of the fact that it isn’t technically filled with toxins?

The answer to that is complicated. But, before we talk about what is effective, we also need to talk about how our bodies play a role in detoxification.  Because they are surprisingly more efficient than people realize.

Our Bodies are Amazing!

Surprisingly, our bodies do a good job of removing toxins themselves. Any excess waste that we expel from our body comes through our bowels, our urine, our lymph nodes, our lungs, and even our skin. That’s right even our skin helps expel waste from our bodies.

But the heavy lifters that do the actual filtration is our kidneys and our livers. Without their contribution, our bodies would not be able to tell the difference between a nutrient and a toxin.

However, before you start eating all the cheeseburgers you want, remember that our bodies still have their limits. If you deny your body access the nutrients that it needs to survive by eating junk food, it will stop working on you. It will also stop working if you put in too many foreign substances it doesn’t need.

Only doing a cleanse for a short period of time, or a quick round of starvation will do nothing for your body in the long run.  You will just get right back to feeling sick again.

This is where a real cleanse will come in.

The Difference between a Program and a Fad

A detox is something that helps your body flush toxins out of your system quickly. This ranges from things like breathing in high oxygen content, focusing on evacuating bowels with water, wearing footpads, or emptying out your nasal cavity. Most of these, if not all of them are not based on scientific research and oftentimes yield little results. These people who perpetuate the idea of detoxing most likely do not have medical training.  At best they are either well-intentioned but misinformed. At worst they are just people who are after your money.

detox pillsWhen cleanses are concerned, there is some merit to be found. It is just a matter of taking the time to do your homework and checking to make sure whether this is a “flash in the pan ” type of fad.

You can usually spot whether a cleanse program is a little more legitimate depending on their expectations. For example, if the cleanse is part of something that is under medical supervision and is trying to reintroduce you to healthy habits, there is a good chance it is legitimate.

Programs that are there to help people feel healthier also focus on things like nutrients and fibers. They oftentimes start off with calorie restriction and slowly reintroduce you to healthier habits.  While there might be a few supplements for sale, it is usually not a requirement to make their program work.

Their more fad-like counterparts expect you to drink their shakes and eat their protein bars for the rest of your life. There is often no addressing of habits at all. There is also little consultation or prescreening involved.  Also,  there is  little that is offered by either the people running the program or the community that follow it.

Conclusion

Should detoxing become a regular thing? No. It is either well-intentioned pseudoscience or an outright scam. Does that mean that your body doesn’t need any help in getting better? Of course not. Just talk to your doctor and see what you can do about your health before you start trying stuff that wastes your time and money.

Cooking Prep – Meats

Cooking Prep – Meats

It is not easy to take up cooking as a new skill set. Cooking is something that requires time and patience to learn. What’s more, the nutritional factor for each type of food changes with different factors like temperature, cookware, and exposure to other ingredients. It can be daunting to people who are unfamiliar with it all. Especially, when it comes to the health and safety parts of food prep.

People can get sick by swallowing harmful bacteria when eating something under-cooked.  They can even accidentally poison themselves from eating the wrong parts of a vegetable.  It also hasn’t helped matters since there have been recalls on things that are supposed to be part of a healthy diet, thanks to both outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, and government shutdowns of important food inspection facilities.

So, to make it easier for people who are resolving to eat healthier during the new year, we at Bek’s Bites are going to be talking about the importance of health and safety behind food prep.

This week, we are talking about the most difficult subject to handle in cooking: Meat prep. Something that everyone can agree is important.

Meat Prep is Difficult

Whether you love to put bacon on your ice cream or avoid anything to do with protein outside of tofu, we all know on some level that meat is within the real of possibility in the human diet. Our teeth can carve up both plant life and cooked meat, and we require nutrients that are mostly found in plants but are also sometimes found in animals. That being said, cooking meat or any kind of animal byproduct without knowing what you are doing can be deadly.

Bacteria resides in all animals and their byproducts because their internal temperature and moisture is an ideal living space for them to breed. This means that bacteria can come from your friends and family, your pets, all other animal life, and everything you or they come in contact with. So, it would stand to reason that the meat that you eat will also be filled with bacteria. Harmful bacteria can reside in your food without you knowing it because it is invisible to the naked eye. Therefore, it is imperative that when cook with any kind of meat, you understand the rules before you handle it in the kitchen.

When Dealing with Any Type of Meat

While I could clumsily try to recall the food safety I was taught in middle school, I can instead list important tips in dealing with meat in general from Ireland’s food safety website: https://www.safefood.eu/Publications/Consumer-information/Cooking-meat-safely.aspx

Buying:

  • Always buy your meat from a reputable butcher or shop.
  • If you see no refrigeration in the area where you are buying the meat, then it isn’t fit for consumption.
  • If you’re buying pre-packed meat, check the label to see the ‘use by’ date.
  • Make sure raw meats are packed in bags separate from ‘ready to eat’ foods such as cooked hams and cheeses.
  • If you are worried about fat content try to go for the leanest option whenever you can. As a general rule, the more white you can see on red meat, the more fat it contains. There is also a percentage ratio that sometimes appears if the number. The number on the left is usually the fat content that stays in the meat after frying. Stick with ratios like 70/30 or 60/40 in lieu of 80/20.
  • Try not to eat too many processed meat products such as sausages, bacon, burgers and salami, because these are generally high in fat and salt.
  • When carrying it all home from the store, be sure that any raw chicken is separate from other raw meats. Chicken carries salmonella when raw, and can cross contaminate other meats.

Storing:meat prep

  • Put meats into the fridge as quickly as possible when you get home from shopping.
  • Store raw meat/poultry in clean sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge, so it can’t touch or drip onto other food.
  • Keep cooked meat separate from raw meat.
  • Follow any storage instructions on the label and don’t eat meat after its ‘use by’ date.

Freezing and Defrosting:

  • Freeze it before the ‘use by’ date
  • Check the label for any specific freezing or thawing instructions
  • Defrost meat by thawing it on the bottom shelf of the fridge on a plate away from other foods.
  • Keep the meat covered so that it can’t touch or drip onto other foods
  • Only defrost meat in the microwave if you’re going to cook and eat it straight away.
  • Try to cook the raw meat within 24 hours of defrosting
  • As a rule of thumb, allow 24 hours to defrost each 2.5kg/5lbs of meat or chicken
  • If you defrost raw meat and then cook it thoroughly, you can freeze it again, but remember never to reheat foods more than once.

The Cooking Temperature of Specific Meats

meat prepNot all meats are created equal. Some of them carry  and spread bacteria more easily than others. That’s why it is important to understand the property of each meat, its shelf life and which temperature to cook them in.

If you are unsure with just how hot the meat you are cooking is, you can use a clean meat thermometer that can tell you just how warm it is inside.

Thankfully, in spite of the government itself shutting down, their websites did not. So, lets look at what the US Department of Agriculture says about the minimum internal temperatures for food safety requirements.

Product Minimum Internal Temperature & Rest Time
Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb
Steaks, chops, roasts
145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Ground meats 160 °F (71.1 °C)
Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked) 145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Fully Cooked Ham
(to reheat)
Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140 °F (60 °C) and all others to 165 °F (73.9 °C).

Product Minimum Internal Temperature
All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing) 165 °F (73.9 °C)
Eggs 160 °F (71.1 °C)
Fish & Shellfish 145 °F (62.8 °C)
Leftovers 165 °F (73.9 °C)

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Cooking Prep – Vegetables

Cooking Prep – Produce

It is not easy to take up cooking as a new skill set. Cooking is something that requires time and patience to learn. What’s more, the nutritional factor for each type of food changes with different factors like temperature, cookware, and exposure to other ingredients. It can be daunting to people who are unfamiliar with it all. Especially, when it comes to the health and safety parts of food prep.

People can get sick by swallowing harmful bacteria when eating something undercooked.  They can even accidentally poison themselves from eating the wrong parts of a vegetable.  It also hasn’t helped matters since there have been recalls on things that are supposed to be part of a healthy diet, thanks to both outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, and government shutdowns of important food inspection facilities.

So, to make it easier for people who are resolving to eat healthier during the new year, we at Beks Bites are going to be talking about the importance of health and safety behind food prep.

This week, we are talking about fruit and vegetable safety. Something that everyone can agree is important.

The Importance of Produce

Produce is what is supposed to make up the majority of our diets. These plants and fruits that come from the ground, the trees, and bushes are the things that give us most of the nutrients that are tantamount to our survival. It is the byproduct of the millennia of ancient ancestral labor, one of the first few marks of early civilization. And, it’s accessibility is something that still very much drives our local and worldwide economy.

Because produce is so important both as a source of life and plays a key role in our anthropological origin story, it is only fair that we should keep that tradition alive by understanding how to prep, store, and cook our produce.

There are three important aspects when it comes to dealing with produce. Knowing what produce grows in which season, and their shelf life, are the biggest advantage that you can have in your kitchen. Especially when you are just starting out in understanding meal prep.

Produce and Seasons

food prep in seasonEating fruits or vegetables “in season” sounds something that could be compared to a fashion statement, or a fad. This isn’t the case. When people talk about produce being “in season” they are stating that a piece of produce is more available. The reason we have a variety of fruits and vegetables in the first place is that different plants have different growth cycles.

Each plant has an ideal climate, water intake, soil environment, and reproduction cycle. There are some plants that are hardy, and grow year round, like carrots and cabbage. There are others that peak during a select season, such as pumpkins during autumn or rhubarb during the end of spring.

It is often ideal to eat a fruit or vegetable in season for a few reasons.

  • The first being that it is just less costly.
    • If someone buys produce locally and in season, it tends to be cheaper than something that is imported or out of season.
  • The second is that you are more likely to get better nutrition out of it.
    • According to Mind, Body, Green, “Plants get their nourishment from the sun and soil. Seasonally fresh produce is picked when they’re ripe and fully developed. The plant has had more sun exposure, which means it will have higher levels of antioxidants!”
  • The third is because the produce is more flavorful in season.
    • When produce is frozen, chilled, or picked early for transport, the flavor suffers because the texture and tastes start to warp.

Fruit and Veggie Shelf Life

When someone cooking talks about “shelf life”, they are referring to the amount of time that a piece of food before it becomes too rotten to eat.  Food, especially produce, will continue to ripen and react long after it has been harvested because plants just run on their natural life cycles.

Thanks to a combination of cross-cultivation, and the cellular structures of plants, they will react to things at different rates. Some of them will rot within a few days, others will keep for weeks at a time.

The Pioneer Woman, a celebrity chef and kitchen icon explains the concept in better detail than I do.

“Some vegetables last longer than others, which is why I mentioned that you may need to do your vegetable prep two times a week for certain vegetables. Harder vegetables, such as carrots, peppers, and broccoli and cauliflower florets, typically last through the week, while softer vegetables (think tomatoes and cucumbers) usually max out at 3 or 4 days.”

However, it is important for anyone ready to experiment in the kitchen to understand the properties of each ingredient they are working with.  CookSmarts.com has a handy dandy chart that explains in detail just how long certain types of produce keep.

But that isn’t all that you need to know about shelf life.

Produce Prep and Safety Tips:

For health and safety reasons, you still need to wash your produce before you start cooking. This is because produce grows in the dirt. wash your veggies, food prepSometimes with fertilizer. The last thing that you want you or your family to be exposed to is the harmful bacteria that is commonly found in both dirt and animal feces.

 

  • Wash your hands properly.
  • So, after you get done washing your hands as part of prep work, you can start washing the produce.
  • The best way to do this is to hold the fruit or vegetable underneath running water while rubbing the fruit gently.
  • Do not use soap to wash vegetables unless you are wanting to poison someone.
  • Wash your produce before you chop or peel anything. That way, germs, and harmful bacteria won’t transfer from the peel to the knife and to the fruit.
  • Refrigerate any produce or ingredients you want to preserve at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
  • Depending on the fruit and vegetable, if you expose it to water before trying to store it for long term prep, you are going to make them rot faster.  Just wash them before you cook them and not before storage.
  • Store chopped ingredients or leftovers in airtight containers when refrigerating.

 

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Cooking Prep – Kitchen Cleanliness

Cooking Prep – Kitchen Cleanliness

It is not easy to take up cooking as a new skill set. Cooking is something that requires time and patience to learn. What’s more, the nutritional factor for each type of food changes with different factors like temperature, cookware, and exposure to other ingredients. It can be daunting to people who are unfamiliar with it all. Especially, when it comes to the health and safety parts of food prep.

People can get sick by swallowing harmful bacteria when eating something under cooked.  They can even accidentally poison themselves from eating the wrong parts of a vegetable.  It also hasn’t helped matters since there have been recalls on things that are supposed to be part of a healthy diet, thanks to both outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, and government shutdowns of important food inspection facilities.

So, to make it easier for people who are resolving to eat healthier during the new year, we at Beks Bites are going to be talking about the importance of health and safety behind food prep.

This week, we are going to be talking about the importance of cleanliness in the kitchen.

 

Wash your Hands Often!

hand washing, food prepLiving things, like animals, plants, and people are hosts to all sorts of bacteria and viruses. Sometimes, that bacteria is necessary to our survival and does important things like helping our digestive systems, and fighting infections. Other times, that bacteria is harmful to the point of being deadly if we are exposed to it. That is why most people have a natural aversion to things like feces and other forms of human waste. Those harbor harmful/bacteria that could kill us like E.coli and Salmonella.

After centuries of trying and failing, human beings have learned that the number one defense against the spread of diseases like the flu and premature death is soap and water.  Regular hand washing removes pre-existing microbes, as well as bacteria that you might have picked up throughout the day, thus decreasing the chance of spreading disease and sickness.

You would think that something as simple as washing your hands would be a common enough practice outside of the kitchen. Sadly that is not the case. In a kitchen-study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 1/3rd of the participants actually remembered to wash their hands when they were supposed to. What’s more, only 24% of the 1/3 people that did wash their hands even bothered to use soap. That number is incredibly low, considering this is the health and welfare of themselves and others that are at stake!

So, what is the proper way to wash your hands to prevent germs from getting to your food? According to the CDC, you need to rub your hands vigorously while using soap and running water for thirty seconds.

Below is a list of times when it is appropriate if not outright necessary to wash your hands.

  • Wash before eating or cooking
  • Clean after using the bathroom
  • Wash after touching animals
  • Wash after coughingsneezing, or blowing your nose
  • Clean after playing outside

 

food prepKeep your Work-space Clean!

In my life, I have learned that there are two different types of clean. One is an Aesthetic clean, a clean that looks good on a surface level. There are no visible signs of something dirty,  and everything looks orderly, so it looks appropriate to someone who walks in and sees their environment. The other is a Deep Clean, one that is meant to kill germs and tackle things on a microscopic level.

In a kitchen, hospital, or bathroom, you want to aim for the second kind of clean. Mainly, this is because we are dealing with orifices or open wounds. Bacteria and other types of harmful germs can enter the body whenever there is an available opening. So, it would make sense that you would want to decrease the chances of that happening as much as possible in your kitchen. The best way to do that is to keep your area sanitized as much as possible.  A few ways to do that are listed by the Canadian Center of Occupational Health and Safety.

 

  • Maintain the general cleanliness of the kitchen by:
    • Disposing of food scraps properly and removing crumbs
    • Wiping counters clean with soap and water and sanitize with a disinfectant
    • Sweeping and wet mopping floors to remove food
    • Cleaning all surfaces, including counter tops, faucets, handles and knobs, refrigerator handles, stoves/ovens, other appliances, etc.
  • Do not store garbage in the food preparation area. If possible, store garbage in a cold place to prevent bacteria growth and pest infestation.
  • Inspect kitchen for signs of microbiological growth such as mold, slime, and fungi. Clean the affected area appropriately.
  • Inspect the kitchen for any plumbing leaks.
  • Choose an effective cleaning agent or disinfectant for the job. Water and Soap is sufficient for most jobs. Some resources will recommend disinfecting with bleach. While bleach is an effective disinfectant, it must be used with care. To sanitize, clean with 5mL (1 tsp) of bleach in 750 mL (3 cups) of water in a labeled spray bottle.
  • Make sure that cleaning equipment and materials are conveniently located close to where they are needed.
  • Launder dishcloths, aprons, and towels by using a washing machine.
  • Clean the food storage area regularly where dry goods, pasta, rice, canned foods, and cereals are stored to prevent buildup of crumbs and other pieces of food.

 

Avoid Cross-Contamination!

Cross-contamination is when bacteria or germs from one type of food, or element, comes into contact with another food substance.  This can happen when you are cooking something with multiple ingredients or when you store multiple ingredients improperly.

The results of cross-contamination at best if a couple of days of food poisoning, and at worst, severe food borne illnesses that can kill you if it is severe enough.

cross contamination

The steps for preventing  cross-contamination include:

 

  • Keep raw food such as meat, poultry, and vegetables separate from ready-to-eat food
  • Don’t let raw meat drip onto other food – keep it in sealed containers at the bottom of your fridge
  • Wash the chopping board and knife thoroughly if you use these for raw food  and then ready-to-eat food
  • Don’t wash meat before cooking it
  • Unless packaging around vegetables says ‘ready-to-eat’ you must wash, peel or cook them before eating

Conclusion

This looks like an overwhelming amount of information.  But it is important that you gain and maintain these good habits now. Especially during a time where we have to rely on ourselves for a little while in regards to public health and safety. Nutrition is only a piece of the puzzle that is health and wellness, after all. The more we educate ourselves, the better we do, so if you want to get into cooking and eating healthier, this will help in the long run.  Next week, we will talk about fruit and vegetable prep.

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The Correlation Between Nutrition and Mental Health

Is there a Relationship Between Nutrition and Mental Health?

Human beings are great at compartmentalizing. We are naturally prone to creating categories when we try to solve our own problems. And for the most part, it has helped our ancestors survive. But sometimes humanity becomes too stuck in our own need to categorize things. So, when people actively try to find the cause or the effect of something, we sometimes ignore the bigger picture. We focus so hard on individual elements that we forget about connecting factors. This got me to thinking about the role nutrition plays in our physical health. Good nutrition is supposed to give our bodies what it needs to function. Our brains are technically part of our bodies. Which begs the question, if what we eat determines our physical health, what sort of relationship does it have with our mental health?

Let’s talk about it, and explore the nature of our minds, and if there is an existing relationship between nutrition and our mental state.

 

How we View the Mind vs What our Minds Are

nutrition and mental healthIn western culture, especially when we try to explain it in abstract terms, we compartmentalize our minds from our bodies. And in some ways it makes sense. Our consciousness has a working relationship with our physical state but it is not dependant on what our bodies can do. However, in the purposes of diagnosing something like a mental disorder, it presents a huge problem.

Our conscious minds are byproducts of electrical stimulation in our brain. Without our brains conducting and sending out electrical signals that travel through our nervous systems, our bodies will not function and our minds would be in a vegetative state.  Our brain, in spite of all romantic abstraction, is still an organ.

An organ that keeps our heart pumping, our blood flowing, and our bodies taking in oxygen.  An organ that helps us control where we walk, how we talk, and the regulation of our own body temperature. It is powerful, but it is also able to fail.

A good example of this is the liver, an organ with the main function of filtering out impurities in the body.  If you drink or eat too many impurities like alcohol or fast food to the point it goes past your liver’s capacity to filter, you will go through liver failure. Internal toxicity will run through the bloodstream and you will die.

So, if your brain is too overstimulated, or is damaged, it will fail. Sometimes in ways that will lead to death, and in other ways that will leave you to the loss of capacity.

Luckily, for us,  the reverse is true.

If any organ in the body receives the right amount of energy with adequate food, rest, and relaxation, it will thrive.

 

What Causes Mental Health Disorders?

If something like adequate nutrition affects the health of internal organs like the liver and the brain, then adequate nutrition should cure all mental disease,  right?

Not exactly.

Over the last few decades, scientists have uncovered and utilized different tools to try and understand the nature of mental illnesses. Many have argued whether nature or nurture is responsible for something like autism, schizophrenia, or other kinds of disorders. The truth is that most mental disorders are caused by a combination of both internal and external factors.

There are genetic predispositions to various forms of disabilities, some of which are so drastic that you notice it changes a person as soon as they are developing prenatally. An example of this would be Cerebral Palsy or someone with Downs Syndrome.

Other forms of mental illness can lay dormant for a long time until a sudden event, or environmental condition can trigger a reaction. For instance, someone may not have a schizophrenic break until puberty changed their brain development.

So, what can nutrition do, if it cannot cure everything?

It can give you better odds at reducing symptoms.

 

Physiology and Psychology

I mentioned before that mental illness is a combination of internal and external factors.nutrition and mental illness

We can’t fix the internal. Never mind the ethical implications of things like gene editing. We have only begun to scratch the surface about genetic code. With DNA being an unlimited self-replicating sequence with variations from strand to strand, there is also no way we would be able to create a perfect human being with no mental or physical weaknesses.

What we can do, however, is give people who are already suffering a chance to make their lives a little easier.

Adequate nutrition cannot substitute for things like medicine and therapy, but it can make your body feel more energetic. In fact, it could even help elevate your mood, no matter what situation you might be in.

This is because our brains depend on serotonin, a chemical in your body responsible for the regulation of moods.

According to an article from Harvard, “Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.”

I know when I’m tired, hungry, or irritable, I make terrible decisions. I also know that on the days I actually do eat right and take care of myself, I am more likely to handle stressful reactions. It is the same for anybody else.

So, if adequate nutrition does wonders for the average adult, imagine how much of a difference it would make for someone struggling with a mental illness?

Conclusion

Nutrition may not be a cure-all for things like mental illness, but it would be ignorant to discount it entirely either.  We need to remember that our bodies are interconnected. That one physiological factor can affect the entire body, as well as our minds. We just need to explore the possibility of a bigger picture. If we look at how nutrition can play in other parts of our lives,  we could live healthier lives.

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Nutrition: How Impactful is it?

How Much Impact can Nutrition Have on Your Body?

It is not uncommon to blame a nightmare or a bad stomach ache with something you ate. In fact, you are probably preached at every day by either commercials or family members that you need to eat your vegetables if you want to live a long healthy life. If you have kids, you probably tell them the exact same thing, whether you follow it or not. But is it just an empty platitude, or is healthy, how to get healthythere more beneath the surface? Can nutrition and exercise make that much of an outcome? Can eating healthy, whether you enjoy it or not actually make you feel better?

Well, yeah.

Proper nutrition has a much bigger impact than most people let on.  In fact, it is understated in today’s Western culture. It has a lot of impacts alright, down to the production of our genetic code.

I will explain.

 

Genetics – Our Basic Structure

We are all born with a set of code that creates the very foundation of our beings. A code that is in every cell of our bodies and that we get from each of our parents, DNA.

Through observation, we have learned since the invention of the microscope that our DNA coils tightly into ladder-like genetic strings that can make up chromosomes. The average human being inherits both sets of genes from their parents with enough slight variations to make us visually and genetically distinct.

Each human carries a total of 20,000 to 25,000 genes, with countless possible DNA combinations.

It is only from scientists studying the subject thoroughly that we are able to find and name sequences that are responsible for things like our preference in what we would like to smell or taste to our predisposition to things like cancer or obesity.

However, there is one thing that we have learned that most people haven’t caught on yet. Our genes don’t lie dormant. They are all constantly reacting to the cell’s environment and adapt accordingly.

 

Epigenetics – Activating and Deactivating Genes

Genes can turn on or off depending on the production needs of the cell. And we need our genes self-regulating, mainly for the sake of our physical makeup for cellular structure. nutrition and genetics

When a cell is perfectly suited into its environment, it is more likely to keep your body functioning properly. For instance, you don’t want your muscle cells to indiscriminately produce bone and nerves. Without the give of your muscles, how are you able to move around?

However, this process isn’t error free. Things like cancer, metabolic disorders, and degenerative disorders are all a byproduct of an epigenetic failure.

All it takes is for one little error, to leave you suffering from a genetic disorder of some kind.

So, what can throw off the epigenetic process of your body?

Sometimes, it is an inherited issue. A faulty code translation passed from generation to generation. Most of the time, however, it is all environmental. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, ” Environmental influences, such as a person’s diet and exposure to pollutants, can also impact the epigenome.”

This is further proven by twin studies, “For example, although identical twins share a common genotype and are genetically identical and epigenetically similar when they are young, as they age they become more dissimilar in their epigenetic patterns and often display behavioral, personality, or even physical differences, and have different risk levels for serious illness.

So, how can you pollute your DNA? What sort of environment can damage it so badly and turn on the wrong genes?

Poor nutrition.

 

Nutrition and Cellular Structure

To recap, our environment can not only change our behavior or personalities, but it can also change our very DNA.  This means that your cells, which carry your DNA, need to be in an optimal environment to function correctly.

And this isn’t just a leap, in conclusion, I am making. According to Ian Weaver, an Assistant Professor in Psychology and Neuroscience, “Nutrients can reverse or change DNA methylation and histone modifications, thereby modifying the expression of critical genes associated with physiologic and pathologic processes, including embryonic development, aging, and carcinogenesis.”

Granted, you still need a genetic predisposition for an environmental factor to take over. If you have no family history of arthritis, chances are if you don’t put your joints through too much torture, you will probably never get it when you are older.

However, if you even have the slightest chance of something in your family genetic history, like a predisposition to diabetes and obesity, all you need is a poor diet and a toxic environment to “switch on” that gene.

“Current research is focused on identifying genetic changes that have a small effect on disease risk but are common in the general population. Although each of these variations only slightly increases a person’s risk, having changes in several different genes may combine to increase disease risk significantly. Changes in many genes, each with a small effect, may underlie susceptibility to many common diseases, including cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness.”

Conclusion

Good nutrition does not keep your body healthy, it can actually improve the health of your DNA.

So, if you want to avoid increasing your chances of activating a genetic mutation that can lead to severe health problems, you want to optimize your cellular environment through a healthy diet, regular exercise to increase oxygen intake, and avoiding polluted areas in general.

 

How Do Amino Acids Play into your Diet?

How Do Amino Acids Play into your Diet?

The more humanity studies for the sake of understanding our world, the more we discover about how things work. For example. In the 1800s, scientists like John Dalton gathered evidence of the building blocks of what makes all matter, the atom. From there, we learned that atoms were made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Then we kept researching how they interacted with each other.  If that doesn’t highlight the zenith of human curiosity, nothing else will.

So, it would make sense that the more we learn about what food,  the more we can explore how it works on a molecular level. Lately, there has been a trend in the diet and bodybuilding world regarding the consumption of specific amino acids in the daily diet.  So, where did this diet come from?

Also, how do we apply what we know now about molecular structures into our diets?  The only way to find out is to do research.

 

amino acids What are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are the literal ‘building blocks of the cells’.  To put it in a nutshell, “DNA is first transcribed into RNA, then RNA is translated into protein.” And what is protein in this scenario? Proteins are the literal working molecules for every living thing on the planet.

So if you can imagine long protein chains that multiply, fold, and twist into shapes that create living things, that is what amino acids are. As far as we know, “Only about 20 amino acids are common in humans and animals, with 2 additional ones present in a few animal species. There are over 100 lesser known amino acids found in other living organisms, particularly plants.”

 

Disclaimer: Naturally, this can nosedive quickly into an argument about what people may or may not view as a scientific fact vs a matter of faith. However, that bombshell is only going to get us off track of the current subject matter. So I am just going to state that these chains of amino acids and how they work are just what has been observed over the last two centuries.

 

How do Amino Acids Play in our Diet?

Now that we know what they are, how does this figure into our diet? Well, that is where it gets a little tricky, but still all the more fascinating. As far as we know it, the amino acids that are present in the human body number at 20. That does not sound like a lot. However, if someone were to try to calculate a permutation of these acids with 20 spots the result would be over two quintillion combinations. Two quintillion combinations.

And that is only if there were just 20 spots available per chain. There is no numerical limit to how long an amino acid chain can get. Or how many times a combination can repeat. By that logic, the number of combinations are infinite!

Out of the 20 amino acids that are required to keep the human body functioning, we can produce 12 naturally. They are called non-essential amino acids. The rest of these amino acids are gathered from outside sources of protein. This is the protein found in meat, eggs, nuts, and dairy.

There has been a couple of these essential amino acids that can come from plant life, but with the exception of soybeans, the general consensus is that a balanced diet of meats/nuts/eggs/ etc along with the regular intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains would provide the human body with all essential amino acids.

 

Why are these Amino Acids Essential?amino acids

Having all 20 amino acids are important for getting the most basic of bodily functions working properly. These tiny chains of protein are responsible for, “building and repairing tissues, digesting food, for the formation and function of enzymes and to transport molecules, such as oxygen, through your body.”

And without essential amino acids ,especially in a child’s diet, the results can become outright deadly, “Protein deficiency has been shown to affect all of the body’s organs and many of its systems, including the brain and brain function of infants and young children; the immune system, thus elevating risk of infection; gut mucosal function and permeability, which affects absorption and vulnerability to systemic disease; and kidney function.”

Even mammalian animals like dogs, cats, and rats require these amino acids to survive. In one scientific experiment conducted by Nutritionist David Cumming Rose, “Through manipulation of rodent diets, Rose was able to show that ten amino acids are essential for rats: lysinetryptophanhistidinephenylalanineleucineisoleucinemethioninevaline, and arginine, in addition to threonine. Longer-term studies established histidine as also essential for adult humans.”

Conclusion

The impact of the discovery of amino acids has done the entire world a huge favor. It has given us a greater understanding when it comes to the foods we eat, and how it impacts our bodies. This wasn’t a fad diet from out of nowhere. This was the exhaustive work of multiple scientists, nutritionists, and biologists that observed and recorded repeated patterns. So take the time to be sure that you are getting your amino acid intake. Eat some meat, nuts, soy, or dairy.

 

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Lifestyle Changes: One Step at a Time

How to Make a Lifestyle Changes Seem Less Overwhelming

It’s no secret. A good chunk of Americans live in a world of convenience, or at the very least, an illusion of it.  Buying and selling goods, entertainment, communication, is faster than ever in the last 3 decades. However, the hefty price of convenience on this scale is complete and utter complacency. We don’t demand quality because we have quantity and it shows itself the most in our obesity crisis.

So, when someone like a doctor or a fitness trainer tells you that it is time to make a “lifestyle change” the idea sounds overwhelming. A lifestyle change. That is literally the definition of uprooting yourself from what you are familiar with and foraying into unknown territory.

But if we don’t do something about it and ignore this problem we will pay for this in our quality of life. Especially in the form of chronic disease and a shorter, more physically painful lifespan. So, what can we do to change our circumstances without feeling like this is too much to bear? Well, doing these things might make the transition much easier, and the results longer lasting.

 

Educate Yourself

The more we stay in denial, the more likely we will just blow off taking any step towards a lifestyle change.

If you know what you are getting into, you are more likely to make better choices, and do better as a result. This is exemplified by a study published in London 2002, ” The study was a postal survey, using 1040 adult participants selected at random from General Practitioners’ lists in England. Nutrition knowledge and food intake followed the expected demographic patterns. Knowledge was significantly associated with healthy eating, and the effect persisted after controlling for demographic variables. Logistic regression showed that respondents in the highest quintile for knowledge were almost 25 times more likely to meet current recommendations for fruit, vegetable and fat intake than those in the lowest quintile.”

Even in the United States Department of Agriculture, as of 2012, it is generally recognized that when people are educated in matters of nutrition and healthy habits, they are more likely to make better food choices.

“Researchers found that participants that completed take-home activities adopted healthier behaviors and were more engaged in discussions about overcoming the challenges and barriers to purchasing, preparing and consuming fruits and vegetables.”

And it makes sense. If you know better, you are more likely to do better. So, look into credible sources that aren’t trying to sell you immediate results.

 

lifestyle change

Take it One Step at a Time

The thought of a lifestyle change is terrifying. It is a drastic departure of what you are comfortable doing in your daily routine. So, instead of looking at the entire thing like an insurmountable task, why not introduce the changes that you need to make slowly?

Instead of trying to change your entire lifestyle overnight, you just make one good decision at a time. Just make one conscious positive decision at a time. For example, you could start by making a single nutritional or exercise goal for the first week. Then, you can add on a second one, then a third. Before you know it, you will look and feel so much better about yourself. And it didn’t seem all that painful.

Not only is this an easier concept for people to grasp, but it leads to long-lasting habits. According to an article written by Harvard Universtiy, “Often, the biggest hurdle is inertia. It’s true that it isn’t easy to change ingrained habits like driving to nearby locations instead of walking, let’s say, or reaching for a donut instead of an apple. However, gradually working toward change improves your odds of success. ”

However, just because you are not making all these changes at once does not mean you are completely off the hook. You still need to set a goal and keep track of things like calorie intake or exercise routines.

According to an article at NBCNews.com “There is no magic switch that makes you suddenly love running and eating kale. It takes some trial and lots of error to get to a place where healthy choices are second nature, and even then, it takes work every day. I realized that in order to get to where I wanted to be, I had to take a stepwise approach to behavior change. While it’s continually challenging, it’s also proven to be surprisingly manageable.”

It still takes real effort, but to expect immediate results is not only unrealistic, but it will also outright discourage you from making your lifestyle changes last.

 

Forgive Yourself and Move Forward

It does not help that society, in general, is a big fan of calling people out as “fat” and “unhealthy”. Look at any comment section on the internet and you can pick up the pattern immediately.lifestyle change

You would think that this overall tone of harshness towards obese people would make people aware of the situation and change their habits. But studies have shown that the exact opposite happens. People who feel bad about themselves aren’t motivated to explore a lifestyle change. Instead, they are more prone to accept their fate and stop trying altogether out of depression.

You might have tried dieting and exercise at some point in your life, failed, and stopped trying again.  And it makes sense. People are often easily discouraged when they are trying something new, usually because there is a lack of a support system or resources. And that lack of self-confidence can be counterintuitive to your progress.

That’s why you need to overcome one of the biggest obstacles for your lifestyle change. Love yourself. Forgive yourself, and move on. You are where you are, and only you can decide to love yourself enough to change for your benefit. People who fat-shame aren’t concerned about your health. They just see you as an acceptable target.

That is why you should tell yourself it is okay to fail. It is okay to make mistakes, and its okay to try again.

 

 

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