Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Making Healthy Food, Healthier

Healthier.  That sort of intimates that the food we have available to us as Americans, isn't all that healthy for us.  I would never say that, at least not for this particular little essay about healthy eating, I mean there are a hundred or more essays on my blog about how horrific American food actually is.  But today, I am going to give you some info about how to reduce your intake of two specific components of food that we eat almost daily.  These two things are the favorites of the Paleo and wheat-free diet people: Lectins and Phytates.  Both of which in various forms comprise part of most of the plant material on the earth.  Most, are slightly toxic, many have anti-nutrient properties, and all of them are manufactured by plants themselves as defense, as storage systems for specific minerals, and in reality, are a necessary part of animal life.

 Research into lectins and phytates is relatively new and scientists are learning new things all the time about the interaction of these classes of compounds with the human body.  You know, the technical stuff, why and how this specific carbon sulfide group does this or that.  I suppose that it is all nice to know, but for most people, all we need to know is the same things our ancestors have known for centuries.  Don't eat some plants, other plants are okay, and still more need to be treated in order to be healthy.  Ancient humans learned things using a rather quaint and old fashioned methodology that we call trial and error.  Believe it or not, it worked.  This basic principal of experimentation led to the development of numerous methods for which humans were able to not just exist, but to thrive in the harsh environment here on earth.  It is possible that a few humans died along the way, but their deaths served to further the knowledge of the society at large and civilization progressed.  A few decades ago businessmen decided that the best way to make money was to forgo the knowledge that was hard won through the efforts of our ancestors and to produce food products for society that resembled the foods of our past, but were in fact lacking in the specialized techniques and production methods that were developed over the past millenia through that time tested scientific method of trial and error.  

So, the simple things, like bread, today are not in anyway the same things that our ancestors ate.  And I will admit, that if you ate a lot of the modern product, it might be pretty bad for you.  And it is because of those little compounds known as lectins and phytates.  Well, actually it also is because there are a whole host of artificial chemical compounds added to modern bread (and sooooo many of our food products) that are in themselves toxic and carcinogenic; but this little essay is just about lectins and phytates.  Read these for the other stuff (Bread 1) (Two)  (Three)  Phytates are all members of the phytic acid group of compounds that plants, and animals, produce to store phosphorous. Sounds simple, but in reality many of the phytates, especially in certain plants like wheat, the compounds actually go through our digestive system and form covalent bonds with any unattached minerals there.  This is the basis of the "anti-nutrient" tag that popular literature has affixed to wheat.  And I admit, it is true, to a degree.  There are however a number of specific preparation methods that our ancestors discovered that allow humans to avoid the anti-nutrient properties of not just wheat, but most of the plants we consume.  And actually in the process, they breakdown of the phytates then free up the phosphorous and potassium held within the compound and allow it to be utilized.  Hunh, a good thing indeed.  I'll get to the method in a minute, let's now talk about the other compound in plants that has been tagged as being toxic and horrific to humans.  Lectins.  These are a very very large class of macroproteins that are pretty much all long chain molecules that have numerous functions within and outside cells.  Many lectins are highly toxic, such as ricin from the castor plant, or soy proteins, from the ordinary soy plant.  Many lectins are actually used by viruses as part of their process of attaching to and entering cells during infection.  It is now believed that certain classes of lectins are what actually hold cells together and are in fact the reason we have multicellular organisms.  The functions of lectins are numerous, and research on these proteins is in its infancy as we learn new aspects about their functionality almost weekly.  Suffice it to say that there are goods ones, and very very bad ones.  

There are several methods of processing food that effectively neutralize any deleterious effects of lectins and phytates.  These are all proven methods, centuries of use have given us a way to enjoy the storehouse of energy and nutrients within all plants.  And specifically within nuts, seeds, grains and legumes.  
  • Soaking - the simplest, and the probably the most effective means of removing harmful phytates, lectins and other unwanted compounds.  Simple, however because it takes time, it just isn't done in modern food processing.  
  • Sprouting - just one step up from soaking, when grains, seeds and nuts are allowed to sprout, they begin to breakdown the lectins within their structure and also form phytase, the enzyme that allows the body to breakdown the phytates into usable minerals
  • Fermenting - the best and most effective method of preparing plant products in order to remove toxic compounds and free up nutrients
  • Steaming - cooking any grain, legume, nut, seed or any plant breaks down more of the toxins than any other cooking method.
  • Combining any of the above - greatly enhances the nutritive values of everything.
Sounds simple doesn't it.  It does all take time, and time costs money for businesses, and is hard pressed for parents to use when deciding whether to bake their own bread or spend time with kids.  

That's something everyone has to decide for themselves.  And their families.  I can present the information to you, but it's up to you to decide if you want to eat better foods, or to drink from the fountain of milk and honey provided by the rich agribusinesses and soak up the toxins of their methodology they use for producing food products ignores the centuries of learning from our ancestors.  It's up to you.  Today, I give you the basics on methods that can be used to make food healthier.  In the next few days, I will expand on each method with recipes and advice on how simple it all actually is and how fun it can be to in fact eat healthy, get better nutrition, and not pay money to fast food purveyors of poison.  

Chow baby!

There are five more episodes to this series, one for each technique. With recipes as well. just look in the right hand box showing today's date and click on any of the five articles above this date. Enjoy!

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