Saturday, September 13, 2008

vegetable oil

So, I just found out a friend of mine had her boyfriend do something to her car so that it runs completely on vegetable oil. It made me think, wow, that's genius! What a solution to our energy problems and Sarah Palin's suggestions that we "drill now". I also imagine economically for my friend its amazing given our current gas price crisis and that its also wonderful for her carbon footprint. However, it also made me think a lot more about our consumption of vegetable oil as a food product.

In my cooking, I try to use exclusively coconut oil and olive oil (usually expensive cold pressed extra virgin olive oil). However, in my research, I've found that the omega 3 fatty acids in olive oil become deactivated upon heating. Coconut oil (and butter) both stand up well to heat - but then what about the saturated fat. I figure since it takes me maybe 3-4 months to go through a jar of coconut oil (which is much smaller than your standard bottle of olive oil - which it takes me nearly a year to use) I think I am not using enough to pose any major challenge to my own health. However, I'm probably fairly unique. What is your oil consumption like? Think about it. I saute green vegetables and I make stir fries - probably 3 times a week at least. Each stir fry lasts me 2-3 meals. I use one tablespoon (sometimes less) of oil at a time.

I'm starting to braise my vegetables in vegetable or chicken broth or roast them in the oven as an alternative to sauteing/frying. I still see this as a good practice and moderate use of coconut oil. I'm trying to use olive oil for salads, for adding to soups and for flavoring as opposed to cooking since I want to retain the benefits of the omega 3's but I also want to be able to better absorb the vitamin K and other fat soluble nutrients in my salad greens. I used to oven roast fish and vegetables in parchment paper with just a tiny bit of olive oil, lemon and herbs. Now I am wondering if I should just skip the oil and put a tiny bit of butter or skip the fat altogether. Truthfully if I use lemon, a bit of wine, and a good fresh fish or seafood - the flavor and the natural fat from the fish is all the flavor I need, especially if I am using farm fresh vegetables which have such wonderful flavors all on their own.

I made broccoli rabe tonight in coconut oil. The great thing is it takes less than a minute for the broccoli rabe to cook - I wonder if I degraded the olive oil in that one minute or if any kind of heating destroys those omega 3s.

However, let me get back to the original theme of this post. "Vegetable" oil can run a car. A car! That's pretty also make me want to think twice about consuming some vegetable oils. If they are powerful enough to make a combustion engine run, do I want them in my body? Vegetable oils other than olive, peanut, safflower and sunflower oils are extremely high in omega 6 fatty acids. In general moderation of all kinds of fat, and all kinds of food for that matter, except dark leafy green vegetables seems to make sense. Heating oils also seems problematic. The oils degrade, the nutrients become inactive and the carcinogens seem to become activated. The more I read about heating any kind of unsaturated oil the less I want to eat them and the more I want my precious coconut oil or dare I say, butter!

According to, "Unsaturated oils, especially polyunsaturates, weaken the immune system's function in ways that are similar to the damage caused by radiation, hormone imbalance, cancer, aging, or viral infections." Do I really want such oils in my system. The unsaturated oils are prone to oxidation, especially when they are refined, which almost all are. These oils are already rancid by the time they even reach us and then we cook with them. Corn and soybean oil also tend to be highly highly genetically modified. Not to mention that commerically raised pigs are fed large amounts of corn and soybeans as well as their oils to fatten the pigs, rendering their fat nearly the same composition chemically as these oils. hence consumption of factory farmed pork and pork products give us the same hazardous effects of consuming the oils themselves. Grapeseed or canola oil as it is commonly called, although it is a monounsaturated oil, is almost always refined...and its in just about every food Whole Foods sells which makes me second guess the health factor of this multi-billion dollar conglomerate but also the foremost authority on health food.

I stick to coconut oil in my kitchen. In the nearly 2 years since I have been using it - I think I have been through 3 jars. 3 jars in 3 separate apartments, 1 jar per apartment. I just purchased a new bottle too and I'm excited about this one. I make sure to always buy coconut oil in a glass bottle so the oil does not react with the plastic in which its encased. I'm trying to cut back on my consumption of any food containing a polyunsaturated oil that has been heated. This includes nearly every fried food, most "vegan" cookies, and other products not made in my own kitchen. Is this practical? Its hard when traveling. But I can also stick to fruits and vegetables when I am out. Egg salad sandwiches on whole grain bread or salads. It might be boring, but I know its safe. I never feel bored with food. I always seek out fresh fruits, vegetables and fish wherever I go. I am looking for office space with a kitchen so I can prepare my own food at work as well. I don't spend a lot of time cooking, but I make sure that my consumption of polyunsaturates is minimal and I roast, bake or braise many foods. I'm trying to do more raw foods. I make a lot of salads. I poach chicken, eggs or fish when I can and make them into cold salads. I stay away from factory farmed eggs, especially the "organic" ones that say they contain more omega 3s. I encourage you to do this as well.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

cycling, gym ratting and cooling down with veggie protein

So, in the past two weeks in addition to organizing 3 cooking classes and putting together a series of workshops for the fall, I have pedaled 60+ miles of two organized bike rides. Not too shabby. There's something about not being able to do the whole hundred that has been plaguing me as this is not the first time I have done these rides. Actually I have done both of them three times. The first few times I did 75 miles and I did the whole hundred last year, twice! Yes, its impressive, but I've come to learn that biking is a solo sport. I have friends that blow me out of the water with their biking prowess and others who bike like my grandmother (and some of them are guys!). Tune in here to a document of the North Fork Century from August 24th on this great video:

In addition, I am in boot camp at Asphalt Green meeting each of their trainers 1:1 to learn their unique style. It is wonderful and painful at the same time. I feel like a gym rat working out with a trainer nearly every day. I have to say its been very humbling. I thought I was in excellent shape. I did a triathlon, my resting heart rate is about 60, what has happened to me? I'm working out nearly every day and biking across town (because the only way to efficiently get around the city is by bike!) and preparing for these rides, not to mention running on occasion. I have to get back into running as I have some races coming up in the next few weeks. I think not getting into the marathon lottery and having lost my ability to do the marathon despite completing my 9 races last year due to an economic technicality has taken its toll on me. The thought of doing 8 races in three months is a bit daunting and time consuming (not to mention highly expensive) but I am determined!

Now for the food. I had an unfortunate experience with a new beef guy from the union square greenmarket, who sold me spoiled meat. Its not his fault, these temperatures are ridiculous for the end of summer/beginning of fall and I had a long way to ride on my bike and I have learned to never ever buy frozen hamburgers not in a see through package again - I was really worried about those when I saw them - but my mom really wanted them and I felt pressured to get them. I don't know if the taste or smell of inedible grass fed beef has turned me off to meat altogether - but I am taking a bit of a vegetarian month off. I am experimenting with spirulina, nutritional yeast and hemp seeds as my main forms of protein. Nutritional yeast has all the B vitamins, even the mighty B12 thought only to be in animal products. Dairy, egg and meat industry beware, nutritional yeast may blow your marketing cover! I've also been taking these new drinkable vitamins called Ola Loa. I'm not a big fan of nutritional supplements but I must say that ever since I have been taking these, probably combined with my newfound veggie protein and ever love of green vegetables, I have incredible energy and happiness. Granted things are going particularly well in my life and my business, so that might be helping, but I still think its linked to what I am putting in my mouth.

I found a great set of recovery items for workouts. I am giving a lecture at the JCC of Manhattan on September 21st at 2pm on Sports Nutrition, so I have been thinking about my own recovery techniques and those endless varieties of packaged recovery suggestions on the market. I have been using unsweetened goat yogurt, kefir, bee pollen and a bit of buckwheat honey with some hemp seeds added for protein. I have also used my tried and true smoothies with acai, berries, hemp seeds, almond milk and either greens powder, spirulina, bee pollen or some combination thereof. If I have greens on hand, I will throw them in with maybe a ripe peach sliced up if I have one around. I find that nothing helps me recover better and gives me more energy than a smoothie with these ingredients. I have also been taking to having small amounts of raw honey while working out. I found small packages of raw honey that work the same as hammer gel or these other gels on the market and a) taste better and b) are more nutritious and natural that hammer gel, gu or clif shots. I'm a little afraid of some of those ingredients.

I'm going to go enjoy my early lunch now of greens, brown rice, nutritional yeast and hemp seeds with a few flax seeds and sesame seeds added for good measure. A few tablespoons of different seeds are a great addition to any grain or vegetable dish for added protein, omega 3 essential fats and good vitamins and minerals (selenium!). Look for ground varieties if you suffer from digestive issues or soak your seeds prior to adding them to your favorite dishes or smoothies.