03 June, 2012

Avocado - Not the Ordinary Alligator Pear-Purse

Persea americana 

Avocado 91311
Avocados, also known as alligator pears, are a delightful, nutritionally dense, and easily digestible addition to a healthy diet. These tasty fruits have often been recommended as a baby's first food and for convalescents. Include them, not merely as an occasional treat, but as a regular part of your diet.


(Photo credit: Tom Dubé)


If you are a vegetarian, vegan, or raw-foodist seeking more protein, and/or trying to cut down on animal proteins in your diet, avocados are a great nutritional ally. These fruits provide all 18 essential amino acids. Because they contain fiber, avocado protein is readily absorbed by the body -- unlike the protein in meat, which is difficult for most people to digest.


Although many people associate carotenoids only with red and orange produce, avocados are also an excellent source of this phytonutrient. Avocados offer a diverse range of carotenoids including not only the better known ones such as beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and lutein, but also lesser known varieties of this type of phytonutrient such as neoxanthin, zeaxanthin, chrysanthemaxanthin, neochrome, beta-cryptoxanthin and violaxanthin. Every time you consume foods rich in carotenoids, you deliver high quality vitamin A to your body, thereby protecting eye health. Carotenoids also enhance the functioning of the immune system and promote healthy functioning of the reproductive system. Since carotenoids are fat soluble, eating avocados optimizes the absorption of these nutrients.

Healthy fats

The fat content, which causes some uninformed health "experts" to deem avocados as unhealthy, actually provides protection against heart diseases.

Space-filling model of the α-Linolenic acid mo...Many people now take supplements in order to consume more omega-3 fatty acids to lower their risk of heart disease. Avocados are rich in omega-3, delivering 160 milligrams per cup of alpha-linolenic acid. Studies have shown that oleic acid improves cardiovascular health. Oleic acid is the primary fatty acid in avocados. Avocados provide the healthy kind of fat that your body needs. Like olive oil, avocados boost levels of HDL (the "good" cholesterol). HDL cholesterol can help protect against the damage caused by free radicals. This type of cholesterol also helps regulate triglyceride levels, preventing diabetes. A study published early this year in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that a vegetarian diet, which includes HDL fats, can reduce levels of LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) as effectively as statin drugs.


The combined effect of the deluxe package of nutrients contained in avocados offers powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. Avocados' unique combination of Vitamins C and E, carotenoids, selenium, zinc, phytosterols and omega-3 fatty acids helps guard against inflammation. This means avocados can help prevent or mitigate against both osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis. Avocado seeds provide a number of benefits. Watch for an upcoming page.

Choosing and Eating

To get the most nutritional value from avocados, avoid ones which became over-ripe. You can identify these at the store because they feel overly soft when you hold them and will have dents. A ripe avocado should have no dents in its skin and will feel slightly soft when squeezed. You can also buy unripe avocados, which feel very hard when gripped, and permit them to ripen at home. Research has shown that the greatest concentration of carotenoids in avocado occurs in the dark green flesh that lies just beneath the skin. You don't want to slice into that dark green portion any more than necessary when you are peeling an avocado. For this reason, the best method is what the California Avocado Commission has called the "nick and peel" method. In this method, you actually end up peeling the avocado with your hands in the same way that you would peel a banana.
  • The first step in the nick-and-peel method is to cut into the avocado lengthwise, producing two long avocado halves that are still connected in the middle by the seed.
  • Next you take hold of both halves and twist them in opposite directions until they naturally separate.
  • At this point, remove the seed and cut each of the halves lengthwise to produce long quartered sections of the avocado.
  • You can use your thumb and index finger to grip the edge of the skin on each quarter and peel it off, just as you would do with a banana skin.
The final result is a peeled avocado that contains most of that dark green outermost flesh so rich in carotenoid antioxidants!

Starting seeds

avocado seedlingAvocados are the fruit from Persea americana, a tall evergreen tree that can grow up to 65 feet in height.

The avocado tree, when grown by a hobby gardener is normally grown from seeds removed from ripened fruit. There are two acceptable methods of doing this, either by sprouting the seed in water or by actually planting the seed in soil.

Many people start avocado trees as novelty house plants by piercing the seed with its pointed end up, partially through with toothpicks on three or four sides to hold it on the top of a jar or vase partly filled with water and few pieces of charcoal (to keep the water sweet) just covering the base. In 2 to 6 weeks, when roots and leaves are well formed the plant is set in potting soil. Unless they're moved into soil within a few weeks or months after germination, they'll begin to deteriorate. They are also easily sprouted in a well-drained 4- or 5-inch pot of porous, fertile soil. The top of the seed should just barely peek above the surface of the soil.

If the soil is kept fairly moist and the temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees, the seed will begin to sprout and a pretty, leafy plant will develop. When the seedling reaches 12 inches, it should be pinched back to about 6-8 inches to produce a rounder, fuller plant. Once they've filled their pots up with healthy roots, they should be re-potted in a larger container. Avocados grown inside thrive in sun or in a good, lighted location. Indoor trees need low night temperatures to induce bloom. Water the trees so that the soil never becomes really dry but isn't ever soggy and waterlogged. Well-rooted plants should be fertilized with a balanced houseplant food every two or three weeks in the summer and about every six weeks during the winter. It's also a good idea to mist the leaves of your Avocado if the air in your home is very dry.

Avocado in the garden

Avocado TreeAvocado trees are very versatile in their adaptability to different soils, but they prefer a rich loose sandy loam. They will not survive in locations with poor drainage. . The desirable pH level is generally considered to be between 6 and 7.

Transplanting should be done in early spring. Potted plants should be moved outdoors gradually, so they can acclimatize themselves, and adjust to the new elements. They will grow in shade and between buildings, but are only productive in full sun.

The root system is extensive and will choke out nearby plants, so they should be given plenty of room--up to 20 feet. However two or three trees can be planted in a single large hole to save garden space and enhance pollination.

Once established the avocado is a fairly tough tree. Once the tree is a year old, it should be fed four times yearly using a balanced fertilizer. Older trees benefit from feeding with nitrogenous fertilizer applied in late winter and early summer.

01 May, 2012

Fad Diets

Here are some thoughts from a recent discussion on WPF-, Paleo-, Raw-, diets (I enjoy learning about all these diets, however, because it helps me to be more creative in serving food to my family. It is too bad each 'camp' is so hostile towards the others. Here is an article that expresses the tragedy of it.):

Many 'special diets' were developed for people with serious health problems. Food restrictions (you can get raw food and vegan on one extreme and Paleo or Weston Price -- WPF -- on the other) and special foods can be quite useful, short term, to get past a health crisis, but humans are omnivores and thrive best on a varied diet: consuming foods as close to the way God produced them as possible. 

Once humans get their hands on things, they want to 'improve' them. Most of the time, these 'improvements' come in the form of isolating particular aspects of the item, throwing off the delicate balance inherent in the creation of that item. Take as examples: pharmaceuticals, hybrid plants, genetically modified organisms, or the 'whites' -- flour, sugar, salt....

Observation shows that people often choose some radical diet to reinforce their prejudices on food. Most paleos and WPF people I know use these theories to justify heavy meat/fat consumption. Then people compromise, due to budgetary considerations, and purchase factory-raised, mass produced, and de-natured animal products from the local big box. But they stop short, in other areas, of really eating the way the diet would indicate. There are healthy fats which will indeed enhance health, as can animal foods which have been raised the way Nature intended. Still these are not the cornerstone of the human diet. Affordability also determined the limitations on meat consumption throughout history. In fact, throughout history, other than fermented dairy products (which were limited in daily amounts), animal foods were used for feast days and ceremonial practices. Meat consumption, beyond these special occasions was a 'badge' of excessive wealth -- and the wealthy suffered many of the serious health problems we see today -- diabetes, heart disease, obesity.... Perhaps there is a lesson here.

Price emphasized that when cultures ate meat, people consumed ALL the edible parts of the animal, and especially all the organ meats, like liver, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, gizzard, sweetbreads, heart, tongue, and even brains. Most people I know have major objections to many of those delicacies, consuming exclusively muscle meats. Reading his treatise, he did NOT say that 'eating grains' is a bad thing, many of the cultures he investigated in temperate areas did indeed eat whole grains -- in moderation. Grains become a problem when those grains become more and more processed (in an effort to 'improve' their taste and keeping qualities), and, especially in their refined form, an increasing focus of their diet. Those with poor teeth (he was a dentist, so teeth were his measure of health) did not include veggies, legumes, and organ meats, but ate mainly sweets, breads, or polished rice.

Paleo peoples did not eat cows or pigs or large animals, except at the occasional feast after a good hunt. Their meat consumption was mostly small birds, rodents, and insects. Again, they ate ALL parts of the creature.
Their carbohydrate needs were met by an emphasis on ROOT vegetables -- not meaning potatoes, but primitive beets, wild carrots, yucca, and many that we no longer find familiar -- or palatable. We do not find a lot of evidence of the fruits and vegetables they ate because those decay much faster than those of animal origin. Perhaps the fruits and berries they ate were taken from their plant 'homes' and consumed immediately, on the run, so to speak. So the fossil record is really incomplete. Grains were consumed, because grasses are the most abundant plant family on earth. But if they picked them as they grew and munched on them, they were hard to chew and difficult to digest. So they soaked, sprouted, and boiled or roasted them. Again, the remains decayed before they could be registered in the fossil record. The caveat here is that the most popular grain-foods today have been hybridized, genetically modified, 'refined', and laden with so many chemicals that the body no longer recognizes them as food. For these reasons, many are looking to more exotic grains and seed-foods for the important role that these play in the human diet.

Beans/legumes also were problematic because they require soaking and long periods of cooking. As civilization settled, consumption of seed foods became more manageable, and records of their consumption are more complete. 

One of the other issues with the Paleo people is that they use their theories as a soapbox to vent their rejection of religion.

Raw foods as an exclusive diet might make more sense for those focused on primitive humans. There are advantages to consuming a number of raw foods in one's diet. They provide needed enzymes which must be replenished and refreshed for proper digestion and assimilation of foods. 

One downside to eating raw foods is the sheer volume of food consumed. Because of the lower calorie and fat content of fresh, raw fruits and veggies, a person must consume large amounts of them, and eat every two to three hours throughout the day.

Yet, there are a number of foods, which add nutrients to a healthy diet, which are much harder to digest if they are not cooked. 

A number of essential amino acids, the building blocks of the proteins which form many of our organs, can only be found in animal foods. Yet, we do not have the super-strong acids in our stomachs to digest raw, naturally raised meats as carnivorous animals do. Not all people can actually digest animal products, either.

Seed foods, which seem to be the real focus of the human diet, based on tooth structure, gut anatomy, and Genesis' proclamation (Gen 1:29-30). Consider that seeds contain all the necessary nutrients to sustain life, sometimes for considerable periods of time, between their sprouting and their eventual formation of leaves and roots. Many seeds are most beneficial if they are soaked/sprouted, and then slowly fermented, baked, boiled, or roasted. This removes the protective chemicals which keep these concentrated sources of nutrients from being overly consumed by other living creatures -- everything from one-celled organisms, to insects, to birds, reptiles, and mammals. Nuts, however are a notable exception to the need for heat processing. In fact, nuts, once soaked are wonderful foods and applying heat denatures their precious oils.

Let us not forget that fasting, too is part of a healthy diet. Humans have not always had the local grocery store to run to for that midnight nosh festival. They ate what was in season or what they could store for the next season, and if there was a lean season, they ate sparingly. Every religion has periods of fasting throughout the year -- most notably in the early springtime. It is good to give the system a rest from digesting heavy foods every now and then. Great healing has been reported through fasting, especially fasting from heavier, hard to digest foods. Of course, consumption of water was rarely restricted.

The Bible warns us that in the end times men will say that we can't eat certain things. (no, I am not a "Left Behind" fan, but I do know that we have been living in the 'End Times' since Christ ascended into Heaven). In fact St. Paul warns us against judging people based on what they eat (Romans 14:2-3), so arguments over dietary choices (short of those which are so de-natured as to be totally de-structive) are not productive.

From my wise friend, Rachael:

[E]at what makes you feel and look good (not temporarily good...long-term good). 

Whatever those foods are, your plate needs to be 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 meat, 1/4 carb/starch/grain of your choice (whichever one works best for you--pasta, bread, rice, corn, quinoa, GF [gluten-free] whatever). No one has ever suffered negatively (unless gassy) from excess vegetables. 

Use good fats: butter, ghee, EVCO [extra virgin coconut oil], olive oil. 

Use herbs and spices. Use sea or Himalayan salts. 

Eat fresh or frozen whenever possible. Reduce/remove refined oils, sugars, [processed] grains from your diet. I will post a chart in a bit, but eat foods that are alkaline, not acidic. 

These are relatively basic instructions for clean eating for optimal health without giving up everything. 

Drink lots of water. 

For a while, stay out of the isles in the grocery store, rather find foods (and recipes to match) you like and enjoy on the outer perimeter. 

Better yet, check out local farmers markets and eat what is in season!!! This is a great time of year for some fresh finds that are full of color and health! 

Snack on fruits and nuts (my children ate all fruits this morning, and are happy having done so--kiwi, banana, raisins and oranges). 

Enjoy the occasional homemade sweet treats (I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, made with EVCO instead of butter--mmmmm!). 

I personally believe that every meal should be as colorful as possible (naturally, not artificial). 

Eventually, start adding fermented foods and beverages to your daily meals. 

It makes a world of difference just making ONE CHANGE per week. Just one. There's a blogstress who has committed to making one change per week, and it's relatively easy to follow--I thought it was a cool idea!

15 January, 2012

Karen Knowler: How to Set Up Your Own Super-Smoothie Bar At Home

I've so enjoyed writing this article for you - this issue is a real fun one, I think! As many of you know, I LOVE smoothies and I'm also pretty good at creating and making them, so this issue I thought I'd share with you my guide to creating a smoothie bar in your own home that's good to go at any time of day and is quick and easy to use.

Why smoothies? Because they're fast, quick, fun, delicious and they are great at any time of day and can often deliver a hefty dose of nutrition in a tasty and beautiful package!

My kitchen sees a lot of smoothie action, whether it be green smoothies for lunch or nut milk-based smoothies for supper... and I hope that with the help of this issue, yours will soon too!

Step 1: Tool Yourself Up. The only piece of equipment you need to make a great smoothie is, of course, a blender. Now, as may or may not know, all blenders are not equal! Certainly you can get away with a High Street blender costing around £20-£30 ($25-$50) for a fair amount of time if you treat it kindly, but if you've got the money and the passion then the best place you could invest your money for the long haul is without doubt in the very "hardcore" blender that is the Vita-Mix 5200 series or the Turboblend VS. Yes, they are pricey (especially here in Europe), but they are soo worth it. I am fortunate enough to own one myself and like many others who are also proud owners of these beautiful machines I really do think it's one of the best investments in my health I have ever made. I use it every day and it's my favourite piece of equipment in my entire kitchen. All that said, if budget does not permit you to spend nigh on £400 ($450)  on this particular piece of kit, then all is not lost, just spend the most you can on something that's got good reviews on Amazon or similar and when you've got that part sorted, you're ready to go!

Step 2: Gather Your Ingredients. Before you start let's take a look at what you could have on hand to make your smoothies with.

* Fresh fruit (in a bowl and/or fridge)
* Fresh greens (in your fridge. e.g. spinach, watercress, lettuce, kale, chard etc.)
* Frozen fruit (in your freezer)
* Ice-cubes (in your freezer)
* Sweeteners (e.g. dates, agave nectar, maple syrup [not raw], honey, stevia etc.)
* Flavourings (e.g. mesquite meal, carob powder, cacao nibs/ powder, vanilla pods/ essence etc.)
* Superfoods (e.g. maca, bee pollen, green powders, hemp protein powder, etc.)
* Nuts and seeds and/or their butters (for nut milks)
* Cartons of coconut water/ milk
* Oils (not necessary, but some people like to use hemp, flax or coconut oil in their smoothies for EFAs)

Obviously fresh fruit, greens, nuts and seeds are easy to buy in the shops these days, as are some of the other more specialised foods. But for those ingredients that are new to you or that you can't get hold of locally, the good news is that all of these ingredients are now easy to buy mail order wherever you are in the world.

If most of these are new to you, then the ones I recommend you start off with are: dates for sweetening and agave nectar (light) if you want something new to try; vanilla pods or essence and/or mesquite powder for flavourings; bee pollen (for non-vegans) as an incredible superfood and coconut oil for fat if you'd like some.

Whatever you choose, make sure that you gather all your non-refrigerated ingredients into one place so that they are all together, which leads me nicely on to...

Step 3: Pick Your Spot. Whether you choose to make your smoothies at home or at the office, picking the right spot is key. Why? Because if it's somewhere awkward to get to, or not near to the sink or a million miles from your fridge, ingredients or glasses, then you'll feel much less inclined to actually use your smoothie bar! In my current home my smoothie is simply one quick turn away from my sink, and in my previous home, my blender was located with my sink to the left, my smoothie ingredients to the right on a shelf above (you could have yours in a box or tray if you don't have shelving in your kitchen) and my glasses were located up to the right in a cupboard next to the ingredients. And the fridge was just 2 steps away. Even though this all sounds like perfect common sense, it's amazing how many of us make life difficult for ourselves and dot everything all over the place! By keeping these 5 things all close to hand, you will now officially have your "bar" in place and will be all set to get creative.

Step 4: Choose Your Recipes. Now that you have your blender, your ingredients and your actual "bar" all set up, what are you going to make? Well, this is where previous eZines come in. So far I've published probably around 20-30 different smoothies recipes in the past issues, so they should get you started! If you'd like to be super-organised then why not find some smoothie recipes you love (or would love to try) from recipe books and photocopy them (or print the eZine recipes off) and file them in those clear files you bought and you'll be all set to go.

Step 5: Get Smoothie-ing! I generally recommend that if you are very new to smoothie making that you start very simply, as I did, with pure water, a couple of small bananas (or one big one) and one handful of fresh fruit of your choice. Strawberries work well, as do any berries, or peach, nectarine, pineapple or mango. All of these are good and very straightforward to buy and use. From there, when you have your confidence up and are ready to try new things, you can start to get a bit more experimental and add in other more unusual ingredients such as the powders and potions and even a little bit of oil if you'd like to (ideally no more than 2 teaspoons per pint). Personally I keep oils out, but then getting enough calories is not my concern as my needs are pretty low in that department! One step beyond that is to experiment with using nut or seed milks for a base instead of bananas, which is where your nut milk bag will come in. This is really easy to do, but I'll keep the "How To" for another article which will follow next issue. Until then, I'll be expecting you to set your smoothie bar up to perfection ready and eager to go for next week!

Do we have a deal?!
Karen Knowler, The Raw Food Coach publishes "Successfully Raw" - a free weekly eZine for raw food lovers everywhere. If you're ready to look good, feel great and create a raw life you love get your FREE tips, tools and recipes now at www.TheRawFoodCoach.com.

06 January, 2012

Sour Dough Kefir Bread (The Easy Way)

12-oz kefir
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp maple syrup or honey

Combine ingredients and knead until well incorporated. Turn dough out into greased glass bread pan. Smooth top and let sit covered for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove cover and bake for 35 minutes. This bread keeps a long time.

04 January, 2012

Herbal Blogs

Here is a great list of herbal blogs. Compiling this list was, I am sure, a lot of work, but seems like quite the labor of love. I think I will lock myself in my room for a couple of days and pour over all this wonderful information. Well, I don't suppose I will have the luxury of locking myself in my room, but you can be sure that I will be making my way through the list -- over and over again.