Category Archives: nutrients


Spirulina: A Nutrition Boosting Algae

Spirulina is often referred to as blue-green algae (although it’s really a cyanobacterium). Either way, it’s also a popular health food. And one that actually lives up to its hype.

Spirulina Nutrition

Commercial varieties are grown in fresh warm waters. However, spirulina traditionally grew under extreme conditions, such as in volcanic lakes. Thus, it has developed quite the nutrient profile.

Spirulina is approximately 60% protein. And the protein is highly digestible for optimal absorption and utilization.

However, you’d have to eat roughly 3.5 tablespoons to obtain the same amount of protein as one chicken drumstick (the minimum recommended amount of protein per meal). Therefore, it’s best to be used as a protein booster as opposed to your primary source of protein.

Spirulina is often considered nature’s multi-vitamin. It’s packed with essential vitamins and minerals. In fact, it has:

  • 180% more calcium that milk – for healthy bones, teeth, muscles, nerves and heart
  • 3100% more vitamin A (as beta-carotene) than carrots – for healthy skin and eyes
  • 5100% more iron that spinach – to produce healthy red blood cells

Other high concentration micronutrients (along with a few of their key health benefits) include:

  • Vitamin K: important for blood clotting as well as heart and bone health
  • B Vitamins: necessary to produce energy and red blood cells
  • Choline: supports liver function, metabolism, brain development and energy levels
  • Magnesium: calms nerves and anxiety and releases muscle tension
  • Phosphorus: supports healthy bones and organs and balances hormones
  • Iodine: essential for optimal thyroid function
  • Potassium: regulates fluid balance and blood pressure

Spirulina also contains anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) as well as potent antioxidants, such as zeaxanthin and various carotenoids.

Potential Health Benefits

Based on its nutrient profile, it makes sense why there are over 1,000 studies investigating spirulina’s potential benefits. A review of human and animal research suggests it may offer the following health-promoting properties:

  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-cancer
  • Immune-boosting
  • Promote a healthy gut flora
  • Balance lipid levels
  • Balance blood sugar
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Protect the heart
  • Relieve allergy symptoms
  • Detoxify heavy metals

Now that’s a pretty powerful list of potential advantages! Which is why I hope you’ll give it a try.

Simple Ways to Add Spirulina to Your Diet

spirulina

You can buy spirulina in either a powder or tablet form.

The easiest way to incorporate spirulina powder into your diet is by adding it to your smoothies. However, you can blend a little into many other foods as well, including:

  • Pureed soups
  • Hummus
  • Guacamole
  • Pesto
  • Salad dressing
  • No-bake treats
  • Egg dishes

And because spirulina is so nutrient dense, you only need a little to reap its rewards.

References
– Capelli, B., & Cysewski, G. R. (2010). Potential health benefits of spirulina microalgae*. Nutrafoods,9(2), 19-26. doi:10.1007/bf03223332
– Cheong, S. H., Kim, M. Y., Sok, D., Hwang, S., Kim, J. H., Kim, H. R., . . . Kim, M. R. (2010). Spirulina Prevents Atherosclerosis by Reducing  
   Hypercholesterolemia in Rabbits Fed a High-Cholesterol Diet. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology,56(1), 34-40.
   doi:10.3177/jnsv.56.34
– Ichimura, M., Kato, S., Tsuneyama, K., Matsutake, S., Kamogawa, M., Hirao, E., . . . Omagari, K. (2013).
   Phycocyanin prevents hypertension and low serum
   adiponectin level in a rat model of metabolic syndrome. Nutrition Research,33(5), 397-405. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2013.03.006
– Parikh, P., Mani, U., & Iyer, U. (2001). Role of Spirulina in the Control of Glycemia and Lipidemia in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Journal of Medicinal   Food,4(4), 193-199. doi:10.1089/10966200152744463
– Sayin, I., Cingi, C., Oghan, F., Baykal, B., & Ulusoy, S. (2013). Complementary Therapies in Allergic Rhinitis. ISRN Allergy,2013, 1-9.
   doi:10.1155/2013/938751

Boost Nutrition With Herbs

When it comes to fresh product most of us think fruits and vegetables.  Not everyone remembers to include herbs in that category, however they are a great added source of nutrients.  Herbs boost nutrition because they are a nutrient dense food with vitamins and minerals. Many of them are even a source of anti-oxidants.  Aim for 2-4 tablespoons of herbs per day for a healthy boost to your diet.

fresh vs. dry

When using herbs it’s important to remember that there is a big difference between fresh and dry.  The ratio is one to three; one part dry or three parts fresh.  So if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh herb (such as basil) you can substitute 1 teaspoon of dry.  Remember there are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon.  Be sure to read your recipe carefully and scale up or down properly.

nutrition boosts

As mentioned above, different herbs have different nutrient values.  The table below shares the health boosting properties of ten common herbs used in the kitchen.
 

Herb
Nutrition
Health Benefits
    Parsley
    high in vitamins C, K, and iron, this is also an antioxidant and a powerful detoxifier
    an immune system booster, parsley is supportive for bones, the nervous system.  also beneficial for kidney health and blood pressure
    Sage
    high in vitamin K, highly antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
    memory enhancing  benefits
    Rosemary
    rich in vitamins B6, C, A, folate, calcium, iron, and potassium, is also highly anti-inflammatory and antiseptic
    beneficial to reduce swelling and aching, rosemary has also been shown to soothe an upset stomach. studies also show it’s benefits for lowering the risk of asthma, liver disease, gum disease, and heart disease
    Thyme
    contains vitamin C, iron, and manganese with anti-microbial, antibacterial, and anti-parasitic qualities
    studies show thyme is supportive for coughing, bronchitis, chest congestion, and other respiratory ailments
    Oregano
    a good source of vitamin K, iron, manganese, and calcium.  a good source of antioxidants, oregano is also antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic
    supportive for relieving colds and congestion.  also shown to be helpful against menstrual cramps, fatigue, bloating, and acne
    Tarragon
    a rich source of vitamin C
    stimulates and supports the digestive system and has been shown to be beneficial for flatulence and constipation.  also beneficial for oral health and supporting gums
    Dill
    high in vitamin C and manganese, a good antibacterial herb
    supportive for bladder health, dill is also a natural diuretic.  appeas to be effective for supporting blood sugar levels and reducing cholesterol
    Basil
    rich in vitamins A, K, and manganese as well as having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
    supportive for digestion, basil also has been shown to reduce swelling and pain in joints, to promote circulation, and is a mild diuretic
    Mint
    contains vitamins A, C and folate
    has benefits for digestive support against gas, upset stomach, and indigestion.  studies have also shown benefits for congestion
    Cilantro (aka Coriander)
    good source of vitamins K, A, and C, cilantro is highly antioxidant, antibacterial and a power detoxifier
    studies have shown benefits for blood sugar and cholesterol levels

 

growing herbs

Many herbs are easy to grow at home.  They can be grown either in a container or directly in the garden.  The infographic below provides planting instructions, flavor profiles, and suggested uses.  Add a nutrient and flavor boost to your diet by incorporating herbs.

Herb Your Enthusiasm Infographic
“Herb Your Enthusiasm” on Health Perch

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Hormel’s Vital Cuisine — Ingredient Review

Food niches

Food producers like to target niche markets where they believe they can capitalize on the desire of the consumer in that group to eat according to their needs.  Categories may include diet or weight loss products, items aimed at athletes, or those who follow a particular dietary protocol such as Atkins, South Beach, Gluten Free, etc.  

The latest target niche is cancer.  Hormel Foods, in partnership with the Cancer Nutrition Consortium, has developed a line of Ready To Eat (RTE) foods aimed at those undergoing cancer treatment.  Often people in this situation experience a wide range of issues when it comes to their food.  These can include lack of appetite or a change in tastes and eating sensations.  Coupled with a lack of energy, plus the physiological changes of treatment this often leads many people undergoing cancer treatment to be undernourished.  They frequently do better with nutrient dense, higher protein meals.

What’s in the box?

Unfortunately the choices developed by Hormel Foods do not represent the best options for nutrition as many of the ingredients are less than desirable.  Some are even known to cause cancer.  This is a rather upsetting thought when one considers that the item is aimed at those going through treatment for cancer who are presumably have a weaker immune system.  Below is a slideshow highlighting examples from the Vital Cuisine line.

 

I find it astounding and rather appalling that a company would put ingredients known to cause cancer into a food product designed for those going through this very condition.  

What to eat?

As mentioned above, the best food choices for those who are undergoing treatment for cancer are real, nourishing, nutrient dense foods. I always encourage people to read the label.  When dealing with a health-care crisis this becomes even more important.  While it may be overwhelming to learn how to understand the body’s nutritional needs when dealing with cancer, there are resources out there.  A couple of my favorite books are:

Screenshot 2016-05-09 18.35.54

The Cancer Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery by Rebecca Katz

 

 

 

Screenshot 2016-05-09 18.52.18 The Whole Food Guide for Breast Cancer Survivors: A Nutritional Approach for Preventing Recurrance by Edward Bauman and Helayne Waldman

 

 

 

The idea of niche marketing for specific health conditions is quite probably a new category of foods.  Who knows, we may find ourselves seeing foods designed to support those with arthritis, gout, or ulcerative colitis on the shelf next. As always it is important to look past the hype and the labeling.  Be informed, read the label, and eat well.

Good, Better, Best

Good better bestI recently had the absolute delight of being invited to cook in the fabulous kitchen at Three Goats Farm.  Designed and operated by the amazing Primitive Diva, Melissa Humphries, this is a fun place to hang out and you couldn’t ask for better company to hang out with.

Getting ready for the launch of Primitive Diva TV, PDTV, she invited me to film an episode while we chatted about the concept of good, better, best, when it comes to food and nourishing your body.  I love helping people move up the nutrition ladder so to speak.  It’s difficult to go from a highly processed food plan to one that truly nourishes your body.  I certainly know, from personal experience  and from working with clients, that it’s a step-by-step process which takes time and effort to achieve.  I don’t know anyone who has made a huge jump overnight and managed to stick with it.  You start where you are, decide what you’re going to focus on, and begin to make changes.  Just as in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.  Small measurable changes, mindfully made over time are most often the ones that are sustainable and lead to long-term, healthier change.  Extravagant changes and massive numbers of them, all at the same time, are overwhelming.

One way to manage this change is to focus on shifting food, recipes, ingredients up the ladder from good to better to best.

Here’s an example that we used in the filming.  [In case you’re interested we made the polenta and Tuscan Stew recipes from The Pantry Principle on pages 124 and 145 respectively]  In the example below I’m going to talk about upgrading your polenta.

Good is when you decide to shift from a heavy processed food and/or restaurant/take-away diet to making more foods at home.  There is often less chemicals, less sugar, salt, and fat.  The serving sizes are more reasonable.  In the case of polenta this may mean purchasing a chub of polenta and heating it up at home as part of your recipe.

Better is realizing that corn is one of the most highly genetically modified crops on the face of the planet.  You don’t want to eat conventional corn anymore because you want to avoid the GMOs and probable heavy pesticide residue.  So you choose organic corn.  Possibly still in a chub.  Or maybe you decide to make it from scratch and you use organic ground cornmeal plus other clean ingredients.

Best means you’ve decided to really focus on eating well and are buying organically grown, sprouted cornmeal.  The sprouting adds extra nutrition, better digestibility, and reduces phytic acids and enzyme inhibitors which can interfere with nutrition.

One step at a time we work our way up the ladder to better digestion, better nourishment, better food sourcing.

We had a great time chatting in the kitchen.  As you can see from the picture above the food was so enticing that the aromas got us and we didn’t get a picture until after we’d dug in and started devouring it.  Mr. Diva came in at the end and polished off a plate of his own.  I promise, this recipe is a winner.  And so is Three Goats Farm.  I’m so excited for the launch of PDTV and I’ll be sure to post a link to share once this episode goes live.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about food, nutrition, holistic health, or how to take your recipes from good to better to best, don’t forget to take advantage of my AskMira January special.  Purchase two hours of my time, which you can use any time during the year, and get a half an hour free.  That’s a $50 value.  This offer is only available for the month of January but you can use the time in 15 minute increments anytime you like during 2015.

And in the meantime, let’s eat well to be well.

What’s Vitamin B12 For?

Recently at a pharmacy I saw a sign “Do you have low energy? Trouble with weight loss? Foggy thinking? Anemia? Get your B12 shots here!”

Many people may be deficient in B12; as a water soluble vitamin we tend to go through it pretty quickly.  As we age we tend to lose our ability to process B12 optimally which may lead to deficiency.  And deficiency is often found in those who are smokers, pregnant, or breast feeding.  Then there are those who have a variety of disorders such as crohn’s, celiac disease, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), or pernicious anemia.  In some cases it can take five or more years before you see signs of deficiency.

The largest population with a tendency toward low B12 is vegetarians and vegans.  This is due to the fact that animal foods such as sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, lamb, scallops, shrimp, and beef provide the highest levels of B12.  It is possible to get it from other food sources, however those are the best ones.

B12 is vital for optimal many body functions.  The body uses it to convert carbohydrates into glucose which our body uses for fuel.  If we don’t have enough, or if we aren’t converting properly this can cause fatigue.  It also supports a healthy nervous system, helping us to balance stress and contributes to a balanced circulatory system, supporting good cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  B12 is also vital for healthy hair, skin, and nails.

But is taking shots the right things to do?  There are some claims that the shot can be taken as often as twice a week.  However there can be side effects up to and including diarrhea, stomach upset, headache, joint pain, or even flushing, rashes, or hives.

Before simply taking a B12 injection it would be prudent to obtain a comprehensive micronutrient panel to determine if you are actually low.  If you are deficient in B12 consider modifying your diet to include more B12 rich foods, supplement orally, and also evaluate if you need appropriate digestive support to ensure you are absorbing what you are putting into your body.

 

vitamin b12 deficiency from daily infographic

Soup, Pregnancy, And Asthma

The news reports a scientific study currently underway in the United Kingdom to determine if vitamin E consumption in pregnant women can help reduce rates of asthma in their babies.  Initial positive findings are apparently supported by similar studies in the United States and Japan.

What I love best about this study, no matter what the outcome proves to be, are the following two statements:

        “altering nutrition during pregnancy could positively impact on a child’s susceptibility to asthma.”

        “I wondered whether it might be the other nutrients that go with vitamin E in food that may be
          responsible for the effect.”

Whole food nutrition.   What a concept.  This is what I believe in, what I teach when I work with people.  To have science supporting the idea of nutrition as a whole rather than as individual, manipulated nutrients, is wonderful.  And long overdue.  There is a big difference between the concept of nutrition and that of nutrients.  There are many many examples of how nutrients (in whole foods) work together to support each other, making them more bio-available and supporting the body.  Taking a single nutrient by itself may not confer enough of the benefit — the body often cannot utilize it fully.

This particular study is not the first one that points to a connection between pre-natal nutrition and asthma.  Back in 2007 there were studies which showed that pre-natal maternal consumption of fish and apples reduced not only asthma but also allergies in children.

One of the scientists in the 2007 study stated, “Foods contain mixtures of nutrients that may contribute more than the sum of their parts.”  As someone who works with a wide range of clients who have a variety of health issues, I have seen the benefits of switching to a whole food diet.  I have also seen how dietary changes can positively impact bio-individual health challenges for my clients.  While I believe we often tend to take the most simplistic view of our food by deciding that a particular supplement or nutrient will be the answer, it is the synergistic combination of what we eat that has an impact.  If vitamin E has a beneficial effect on diminishing the likelihood of asthma in children I believe we should be encouraging the consumption of a balanced diet that includes vitamin E rather than supplementing a wide variety of consumables to create “pregnancy” foods.

So while I understand the creation of the ‘super soup’ mentioned in the article above, in order for the scientists to control the study as well as possible, I sincerely hope that the outcome will be to encourage better, more positive, whole food nutrition changes.

Which foods are higher in vitamin E?  Sunflower seeds, dark leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens, and mustard greens, asparagus, almonds, and bell peppers.

photo: slightly everything

On My Mind Monday 05.22.12

news | photo: mconnors

It’s never the same two weeks in a row.  This is what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, health, and holistic living.  Read what’s on my mind.

Testing Antioxidant Power of Foods –   The concept of antioxidant powders or beverages may sound great, but we are still moving away from the idea of whole foods.  Not even all whole foods are perfect as many of them contain enzymes that interfere with bioavailability if not soaked or fermented.  As the article itself states, “Blueberries have one of the highest scores—6,000 to 9,000 a cup, and more for wild-type berries. But the berries’ colorful anthocyanins may not be well absorbed by the body, scientists say. Raw broccoli, they add, has a score of 1,400 a cup, but it contains a powerful antioxidant booster that isn’t recorded by the lab test.”  My suggestions:  Don’t rely on a can for all of your nutrients and eat a varied, balanced, nourishing, whole food diet.

Foodiodicals – This collection of foodie magazines and concepts sounds amazing and intriguing.  Going beyond the typical grocery store food magazines, or those who love food and love reading about food – those who are obsessed with food, it looks like there’s a lot more out there than one might think.

Mario Batali Spending $31 Per Week On Groceries – This is in response to the Food Stamp Challenge. I did this a while back as did a few of my friends.  It’s an eye opening experience.  For me I also realized how, unless you know how to shop and cook well, you are not going to be able to eat as well as you would like.  There’s also a huge divide in the foods which are subsidized (and therefore cheaper)  and those which are not.  Batali remarked, “We want people to think about calling and talking to their representation about cuts to the Farm Bill and the food stamp program.”  I would like to encourage folks to read the book Hope’s Edge by Frances Moore Lappe.  There are a lot of amazing stories in it about food and our diet.  One that really stuck with me over the years was the story of Belo Horizonte, Brazil which established the practice and belief of “Food As A Right.”  As I re-read the story I’m struck by how simple the concept is and how powerfully it can work.

Everything You Thought About Pricey Health Foods Is Wrong – This goes back to something I’ve been saying for a while.  If you look at the nutrient density of what you are eating, that’s how you determine your spending.  The picture in this article says it all. I don’t know about you but I would be a lot more satisfied with the serving of strawberries than potato chips.

This is an older video but definitely one worth watching. If an 11 year old child can get it, why can’t those who produce our food?  Birke Baehr is now 13 years old and still going strong with his mission as a sustainable food advocate.

disclaimer: cmp.ly/5

On My Mind Monday 4.23.12

news | photo: mconnors

It’s never the same thing two weeks in a row.  This is a snapshot of what I find interesting; health, nutrition, and holistic living.  Here’s what’s on my mind.

The mother who stood up to Monsanto in Argentina – Monsanto and their agrochemicals are not only problematic here in the US, but are having a hugely negative effect around the world.  We often don’t hear much about what is happening in other countries, sometimes leading us to believe we are the only ones fighting.  Sofia Gatica plans to take on Monsanto not only in Argentina, but all across South America.

Canadian nutrition labels often misleading – This is, to put it bluntly, extremely frustrating.  Calories, fat, sugar, were all potentially understated.  And positive ingredients were possibly overstated.  This means that some foods looked far healthier than they actually are.  If you can’t rely on the nutrition label to accurately relay the facts of the food it becomes even more difficult to make appropriate choices.  Whole food still is the best way to go.  However we live in a real world and that does include the influence of other foods.  The label is one way to help you navigate prepared or processed foods.  Unfortunately it appears that this was widespread across a wide variety of manufacturers.  Kraft and Heinz were included, but so were companies such as Eden Organic, Kashi, and Amy’s Kitchen.  While the issue will hopefully be resolved, this situation does beg the question, what about the other locations where these companies sell their products.  Like the United States.

Football fields to farms – Given how committed many schools are to their football teams this article caught my eye.  Becoming partners in the community and helping to support agriculture in an area that was classified as a food desert, the college is making a difference.  Even better they have added farming as part of the curriculum so their students can learn how to take care of the land.  Knowledge that they will surely take with them when they graduate.

A week in the life of a food stylist – I’ve always been interested in food photography and food styling.  I’m not very good at it and really appreciate the beautiful work of those who are.  But the truth is sometimes a little sad because the food isn’t always how it appears.  “1:40pm: We got some sad mangos today. It happens. I had to give them a soak in water with a little bit of food coloring added to so that I could boost the color and “mango-ness” of them.” Artificial colors…rats.

Fermentation – that’s on my mind a lot as I make fermented foods such as kefir and fermented vegetables.    I was really pleased to come across this BBC Radio 4 program on The Fermentation Revival which included some members of the UK chapters of the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization which promotes traditional foods, as well as an interview with Sandor Katz.

Here’s a video of Sandor Katz demonstrating making fermented saurkraut.

Two books on fermentation that have recently come out which need to go on my purchasing list:

Wardeh Harmon is a wonderful and knowledgeable traditional foods expert who I met at the Wise Traditions Conference 2011 in Dallas.  It was great to get to spend a little bit of time with her at the conference and I’ve enjoyed following her online.  The book looks great and is sure to be a wonderful addition to any traditional, nourishing foods kitchen.

If you’re going to get into fermenting foods I strongly recommend that you purchase a set of pickle weights made by my friend Sandy Der.  I bought mine two years ago and love using them.  They’re cute, functional, and work very well.

And if you want to get serious about fermenting foods you’ll need to pay a visit to the nice folks at Cultures for Health, they’ve got just what you need to get started.  My water kefir culture, also known as tibicos, came from them and is going strong.  I’m thinking about separating some of them to try to make ginger beer which my husband used to drink as a kid and loves.

disclaimer:  cmp.ly/5

New Healthy Indulgence

Photo credit: Nevit

I’ve only recently returned from California where I spent several days with my Mentor Helayne Waldman, working with her on her upcoming book.  It was truly wonderful to spend the time with her, we got so much accomplished and she is just an amazing person to hang out with.

As a nutrition professional she also pays a lot of attention to food and the holistic concepts of mindful and enjoyable eating.  Liz Lipski, one of my nutrition heroes, says that we frequently fuel our bodies the way we fuel our cars – stop -gas -go.  I think she’s right and I definitely agree with the idea that mealtimes and enjoyment of meals should be more than just refueling.  Helayne and I certainly enjoyed some wonderful meals together, always making time to stop, take a break and enjoy our meals (both the preparation and the eating) in the midst of working.  As a foodie person I think it’s great fun to learn new ideas and new recipes from other foodies.

While I was visiting, Helayne introduced me to a new healthy indulgence; it’s so delicious I just have to share.  I’ve been enjoying it every day since I got home.  It’s a great start to my morning and a satisfying addition to my usual alkalizing water, herbal tea, green tea routine.

As a disclaimer…the links to Amazon are through this blog.  If you purchase them through the link I do make a few pennies via my affiliate account.

The drink?  Equal parts of Capra Mineral When and Dandy Blend mixed together with hot water.  Then topped off with some sort of dairy alternative. Almond milk or coconut milk are great, for a really decadent treat drop a dollop of Coco-Bliss vanilla ice cream in there.

In addition to being tasty there are some other nutritional benefits to using goat whey.  It is alkaline, has a good electrolyte balance and contains over 20 different minerals.  Goat milk, and whey, is much easier on the digestive system than cows milk.  Many people who are lactose intolerant of cows milk are able to take goats milk, and whey, without a problem.

Dandy blend is a gluten-free powder containing water soluble extracts of dandelion, chicory, beets, barley and rye.  While barley and rye contain gluten the way they are processed to obtain the water soluble extracts leaves all of the gluten behind. The company was kind enough to share that they test with Elisa Technologies Laboratory on a regular basis to ensure the gluten free status of their product.  It has good levels of both major and trace minerals plus the liver and blood support provided by dandelion.  The company promotes it a a coffee alternative for those trying to get off coffee.  Having not had coffee for over 12 years that’s not really an issue for me but I will say that it is delicious.

Added together I feel that the Mineral Whey and Dandy Blend drink in the morning provides me with a great mineralizing, alkalizing boost to my day.  While I’m currently drinking it as a warm beverage I can see where it might be a great substitute for iced lattes, added to smoothies or other such drinks.  If you have any ideas or recipes to share please let me know, I’d love to hear about it.

Microwave Ovens

Popcorn   |  Fir0002

This post started off innocently enough as a Facebook post in response to a question about if and how I use my microwave oven*.  The posting engendered a lively response from a number of people but brought up more questions.


Generally I use Facebook for quick links of interest, small notes and updates, that sort of thing.  I try to use this blog for longer responses so that they can be found from the tags rather than getting lost in that endless chronological feed.


Because the answer was more than a quick response I decided to move it over here to the blog.  I’d like to thank those Facebook fans who shared their answers, it enabled me to write a thoughtful, supported response about the issue.  The section marked Addendum is where the answers grew into this post.  I’d truly like to keep the discussion going…let me know your thoughts, how you use your microwave oven and/or if you are considering changing what you do based on the information you find here.


*****

I just had someone ask me what I use my microwave oven for. Here goes:

  1. microwaving sponges to kill bacteria – two minutes every morning
  2. proofing space for rising bread – it’s a perfect draft free space
  3. draft free space for making sprouts
  4. warming oven for waffles and pancakes – I put a cooling rack in there and then pile the waffles and pancakes on the rack.  The proofing box space keeps everything warm and moist, the rack keeps the ones on the bottom from getting soggy
  5. to heat my buckwheat filled neckwrap when I need a hot pack – great for a sore back, sore neck, or to warm your feet in bed on a cold night

Honesty requires me to admit I rewarm my tea in it and my husband loves it for reheating leftovers (I prefer steaming on the stovetop). But we don’t cook in it and if it weren’t built in I might consider doing without it.

What do you use yours for?

ADDENDUM:

So a couple of important comments came up prompting me to add to this note:

1.  Microwave popcorn.  I’m really sorry but this is a bad bad bad bad bad idea.  And did I mention that it’s bad?  Why you ask?  Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a known cancer causing teflon agent.  Admittedly all of the studies have only been done it rats but it’s generally true that if it causes cancer in rats it will cause cancer in humans but that’s another subject and I won’t go there right now.  That bag lining is the same material that is in teflon pans. I tell people to throw out all of their teflon cookware and invest in non-teflon.  I rarely tell people to throw things out but this is one area where I feel it is never to soon to abandon the stuff.  The problem with PFOA’s is that when you open that hot steamy bag of popcorn you are exposing yourself far more than when you cook on a teflon pan, through the steam and through what has leached into the popcorn itself.

According to one scientist, “It is estimated that microwave popcorn may account for more than 20% of the average PFOA levels measured in American residents.”

Not only that there’s the “butter” (in quotes because it isn’t) which is linked to lung disease in factory workers exposed to the vapors.  This is from the Diacetyl which is so toxic that “Significant new information regarding the health effects of diacetyl and food flavorings containing diacetyl (FFCD) affects the information that must be conveyed to employers and employees under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Hazard Communication standard.”

Bottom line:  shift to hot air or stove-top popped popcorn and don’t eat the microwave stuff.

2.  Cooking. Microwave ovens work differently than other cooking methods and there are some health risks that go along with it.  A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that cooking meat in a microwave oven does not kill bacteria (in this case salmonella).  The study concluded, “Compared with conventional methods of reheating, microwave ovens had no protective effect in preventing illness. To prevent outbreaks such as this one, care must be taken to assure that food is both properly cooked and handled and properly reheated.” 

Another study, from CEBAS-CSIC in Spain, comparing various cooking methods and their effect on the nutrient status of food showed that steaming is the best way to cook vegetables. The worst is to microwave them; more nutrients are lost during the microwave cooking process.

Cooking in a microwave oven has also been shown to convert B12 to the inactive form thereby depleting its bioavailability by denaturing up to 40% of it in the food.  We all need B12, if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan this is even more critical.

To be fair all methods of cooking will reduce nutrient status somewhat, that is part of the process from heat.  And if you are steaming, especially vegetables, you would be well served to drink the nutrient rich broth that remains behind.  But overall microwave ‘cooking’ is, in my book, not a good idea.

So the end result?  I certainly have no complaint with people wanting to reheat their food or beverage in a microwave oven.  I do, however, think it’s not a good idea to cook in it.  And I think if you are re-heating something you are best served to remove it from any plastic or coated surface, put in it ceramic and use the oven that way to avoid any potential fumes or chemical leaching.


*  A small nerd-humor note.  I find myself consciously referring to microwave ovens as microwave ovens rather than as ‘a microwave’, ‘the microwave’, etc.  The reason?  My husband delights in telling me that “Microwaves are itty bitty little particles that you cannot see.”