saturated fat

4 Sides for the 4th

Elevenscore and nineteen years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

That's right, folks, it's time to celebrate our freedoms once again, and the government has added a new one this year, if you didn't notice: the freedom not to limit your fat intake. Well--not to limit total fat intake. They're still jittery about saturated fat (i.e., the best-tasting fats from butter, cheese, whole milk, and beef). But since we live in America, we experience another freedom: that of ignoring government recommendations. Which means, in our house, we eat all those saturated fats mentioned above and plan to keep eating them. Cause for celebration.

How we feel about eating fat, and how we feel when the Mariners win [pic: RedTricom]

So say you've been invited to a 4th of July celebration this year, and told to "bring a side dish or dessert." As you might have heard, our Market is closed this Saturday, so you need to plan ahead and make purchases this Thursday. Market-available items are marked with an asterisk (*).

I'm bringing my homemade baked beans.

Slow-Cooker Baked Beans
3 cups dried navy beans*
1 medium onion, chopped*
1 lg can tomato sauce
3/4 cup brown sugar, scant
1 cup water
2 tsp dry mustard
2 Tbsp dark molasses
1 tsp salt
1/4 lb diced bacon*

Soak beans overnight or follow "quick soak" instructions on package. (You could also ask Alvarez Farms which of their beans they would substitute for navy beans, and that would reduce cooking time!) Drain.

Put all ingredients in the crock-pot and mix well.

Cover. Cook on High 6-8 hours. After the low end of the range, taste a bean for tenderness. (If it looks like it's getting dry, feel free to add 1/2 to 1 cup preheated water.)

But maybe you prefer a salad? We've been having this one a lot:



Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Feta
1 bunch or bag of spinach*
2-3 sliced scallions*
handful sliced strawberries (very ripe)*
crumbled feta or other cheese, amount to taste*
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

This is a pretty free-form salad. For the dressing, mix the oil and vinegar in a 3:1 ratio (e.g., 3 Tbsp oil and 1 Tbsp vinegar). Dress and toss right before serving.

I also have this potato salad marked as "Tasty!" in my New Good Housekeeping Cookbook, with one emendation:

Chunky Potato Salad
4 lbs medium-sized potatoes*
4 eggs*
3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp - 1/4 c relish (my own personal addition!)
1-1/2 c mayonnaise
1/2 c milk
2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pepper

In a large saucepan, with enough water to cover, boil/simmer potatoes until soft (25-30 minutes). Cool and cut in chunks (I don't bother peeling, although it does make a prettier salad). Hard-cook eggs and dice.

In a large bowl, toss potatoes and eggs with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until serving.

And finally, for dessert, you can't go wrong with pie. Pick one up at the Market if it sounds like too much effort. Adrienne's Cakes & Pies has a lovely selection. The thought of apple or berry or strawberry rhubarb pie makes my mouth water.

The selection, from Adrienne's perspective!

If you insist on homemade (and don't mind heating up the kitchen in 90F weather), Good Housekeeping comes through again. Blueberry pie is the hands-down easiest, especially since freestone peaches are not yet available.

Blueberry Pie
double pie crust of your choice
2 pts blueberries*
3/4 c sugar
1/3 c flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated lemon peel
1/8 tsp salt

Prepare pie crust and line pan. Mix filling ingredients and pour into prepared crust. Top with remaining crust. Cut slits in top and bake 40-50 minutes at 425F. Cool on wire rack.

See you Thursday, and have a great 4th!

Bring on the Butter, Meat, and Cheese!

Is it just me, or does every new study and food book offer conflicting advice? I'm not happy to hear that we should limit fat and eat lots of whole grains and vegetables; but nor am I thrilled to hear saturated animal fats are back on the menu and carbs are the new bad guys. Can't I love both? Can't we all get along???

This week I took on Nina Teicholtz's The Big Fat Surprise.

Like Gary Taubes' WHY WE GET FAT, Teicholtz takes on some 50 years of dietary advice from the government, academy, food-, and health-powers-that-be. You know the drill: reduce saturated fat in the diet. The higher your heart attack risk, the more drastically you should reduce it. That means cutting out red meat, eggs, milk, cheese--and voila! You'll lower your LDL and live long enough to die of cancer instead.

Teicholtz traces the ascendancy of this advice and the effects of personal biases, statistical hand-waving, and academic infighting on the conclusions drawn or suppressed. She looks in depth at the original studies done and cited, rather than taking the abstract's or another person's word for it, with surprising results. As it happens, rates of heart disease have not declined, despite a 17% increase in American consumption of fruits and vegetables, a 29% increase in grains, and a reduction of fats to 33% of calories. In place of animal fats we now consume 8% of calories by way of vegetables oils (mainly soy and canola), and, in the meantime, obesity, diabetes, and cancer rates have boomed. What went wrong?

A few things:
- We found "lowering cholesterol" was not the cure-all we hoped for. Lowfat diets (and statin drugs) can lower LDL, but it turns out general LDL levels do not correlate closely with heart disease. Having high, small-particle LDL levels does seem to correlate, but the best way to sway the balance to big, floaty LDL particles is to eat animal fats.

- The "Mediterranean Diet" was somewhat an arbitrary invention, but a diet favoring olive oil does seem to improve health factors better than a lowfat diet, although not as well as a diet rich in animal fats.

- At first animal fats were replaced in processed/fast foods with trans fats, but when these started to be frowned upon, everyone switched back to liquid vegetable oils, which oxidize and put out toxic aldehydes when they are heated.

- Calcium and vitamins A, D, K, and E are fat-soluble, meaning they cannot be fully absorbed if not accompanied by fat. That goes for the calcium in nonfat milk and all the spiffy vegetables sprinkled in fat-free dressing.

- Women and children were recommended to follow lowfat diets by extension, but it turns out women with low cholesterol had higher mortality rates that women with high cholesterol, and women on lowfat diets see a greater drop in their good HDL levels than men. Kids need saturated fat for ideal growth.

- When not replacing trans fats with liquid oils, food processors have to rely on fat replacers, which are additional carbohydrate substances.

- Liquid vegetable oils are pro-inflammatory and tied to increased rates of cancer.

...There's more to say, but I'll stop here. Suffice to say, I found the arguments convincing, if depressing, given my deep love for bread and pasta. My kids have been drinking whole milk for years now, and I am determined to wean us at least two days a week from breakfast cereals, but I just don't know how the world can support everyone on a diet high in animal fats. Not to mention, meat is expensive, especially since we do grass-fed. I suppose I'll have to settle for increasing our ratio of animal fats and reducing our refined carbs and liquid vegetable oil.

 At least I can fry in butter and bacon fat without a twinge of guilt now, but I guess this means my homemade pot stickers fried in vegetable oil literally are to die for!

Saving the Planet, One Meatball at a Time

The good news is, if you can't find studies and articles to support your point of view, you need only let a little more time pass. Take, for example, this recent Time Magazine article on the environmental virtues of grass-fed beef. It used to be that vegetarians alone held the environmental high ground, but now fans of pastured beef are clawing their way up because--surprise!--when cows eat grass, it benefits the cows, benefits the grassland, and benefits the consumer. Next time you're at the Bellevue Farmers Market getting your Samish Bay or Skagit River Ranch grass-fed beef, remember this:

  • Cows benefit. They don't have all those stomachs for nothing. Cows are built to eat grass, not soybeans or corn. When cows eat grass, they don't require antibiotics to doctor their ailing stomach(s).
  • Grassland benefits. In short: manure and close-clipped lawn-mowing. Cows may also graze on land unsuitable for other purposes.
  • Eaters benefit. As Michael Polland and others have noted, grass-fed beef is higher in cancer-fighting antioxidants and Omega-3s, the same Omega-3s found in salmon! It's also leaner.

And, as added frosting on the hamburger cake, a recent study by the American Journal of Clinical nutrition discovered that, after all, Nina Planck might have been on to something because saturated fat does NOT seem to be correlated to reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. All this time, it wasn't the butter and bacon grease, it was the trans fats in the man-made margarine and vegetable shortening!

"Yippee!" about sums it up, folks.

(Oh, and a P.S. for you pescatorians who wouldn't eat beef if it was the last thing between humanity and planetary destruction: on Feb 4, Ray's Boathouse will be featuring our very own fishermen, Loki and F/V St. Jude at a special dinner!)