Last week the gang reviewed the basic varieties of tea. Tea is a naturally therapeutic beverage and I want to quickly highlight some of its important medicinal properties. Unlike many “herbal therapies” that I tend to be pretty leary of, tea has a well-documented multitude of health benefits. Though I do have a weakness for a morning cup of mud (but that’s between you and me), a daily cup of green tea is a wise habit to incorporate into your health regimen. I’ve been alternating between a glass of red and a cup of green tea with dinner lately for a well-rounded daily antioxidant boost.
Five excellent preventive benefits of green tea:
The pros: A handy reference
The cons: Mayo Clinic gives green tea a “ho-hum”
Never underestimate the lengths food companies will go to in order to tap into health trends:
Reader Donna suggested that we share information on the benefits of tea. Good idea, Donna! Tea is incredibly healthy and is an easy way to get a daily dose of beneficial antioxidants. While we’re at it, let’s discuss the types of tea, too.
There is only one tea species. White tea, black tea, green tea, oolong – they all come from a single plant (camellia sinensis for you Latin nerds). The basic difference boils down (get it?) to how processed the leaves are and the level of fermenting involved. White tea is the least processed and the “freshest”, so it is highest in antioxidants. Yes, there is something better than green tea!
The differences are really not as extreme as is believed. All tea is healthy for you. However, the more processed teas are lower in antioxidants and much higher in caffeine. A hierarchy:
3. Oolong (Really difficult to make – not for you, for the artisans. You boil it like any other tea leaf.)
Top: white tea
Lower: jasmine pearls green tea – yum!
Top: green tea
Lower: oolong tea
Lower: the ultra-rare (and uber-snobby) pureh
Pureh is pretty special stuff. Though popular in China, it’s rare here – we haven’t tried it yet. Have you?
Of course, boiled water poured immediately over the leaves, and 3 to 5 minutes of steeping time, will yield the best-tasting and most nutritious pot. Microwave is sacrilege and will invoke the wrath of the tea gods, so don’t even think about it!
We had a lot of fun trying out many different types of tea from a local purveyor of some pretty fancy drinkable foliage. If you’re looking for flavor and health, white tea is even more delightful than green, but it’s very grassy and greeny, and definitely leaves a pucker. Black is nice in that “I grew up on it” way, but since coffee offers more caffeine for you addicts and other teas offer more antioxidants, black seems like sort of a sad little compromise. Still, many people prefer it, and there’s arguably nothing tastier than black tea with a little cream and honey.
Green teas are more varied than you might think. Our favorite was a special hand-rolled blend of green tea and lavender and jasmine similar to jasmine pearls. It was soothing, herbaceous, floral, and tasted like drinkable perfume. That is, if you could drink perfume (please don’t do this). This was a handcrafted tea, so it isn’t available everywhere, but jasmine pearls are a popular and high-quality offering available in many stores.
We also had a blast (and bounced off the walls) with a chocolate and mint infused black and green tea mix. It tasted like a peppermint patty! This was pretty strongly caffeinated and very flavorful. It would make a great after-dinner tea if you are entertaining and you and your guests plan to stay up late talking or watching a movie. It tastes like dessert!
Herbal teas are not really teas at all, of course, but dried herbs and flowers. They offer their own unique digestive, immune-enhancing and stress-relieving health benefits (just to name a few). Herbal teas are really more like natural medicinal treatments. Hey, that would make another great shopping expedition! (Looks like we just gave ourselves an assignment.)
Despite being a single species, teas are incredibly varied by region and processing technique. Try them all!
What’s your favorite tea beverage?
Imperial Tea (photos and information)
The Inuit and blubber. The Masai and beef. Dr. Cameron Smith and bags of butter. Come again?
This week’s Smart Fuel is practically genius – although we wouldn’t necessarily recommend making it your next meal!
It’s a well-known fact that some of the healthiest populations on earth enjoy copious amounts of saturated fat in their diets – enough to thoroughly horrify any American dietitian worth his or her salt. Though we seem to be moving away from the fat phobia that gripped the nation’s nutrition conscience in the 90s, mainstream wisdom still recommends avoidance of saturated fat in the diet.
They wouldn’t be too pleased with Arctic expeditioners.
When we learned that folks crossing the polar ice cap for research (thank goodness someone is doing it) subsist largely on such delicacies as lard balls and butter sticks, we just had to find out more. To learn about this greasy business, we sat down with Smith, an expeditioner, noted author, and anthropology professor at Portland State University.
MDA: What do you eat on an expedition? Why fat?
Smith: “I do eat a lot of fat, because of the three foods you can eat (fat, carbs and protein), you can simply get the most calories per unit from fat, and when you’re dragging every calorie you will have access to in the next 40 days in your sled, you have to pack in as many calories as possible. My colleague, Charles Sullivan, and I make rations from store-bought bulk goods, mixed in various formulas. Note that each breakfast, lunch, and dinner normally has as much as a half stick of butter in it!”
MDA: What is the biggest health challenge, or challenges, one faces in an extreme circumstance such as your expedition?
Smith: “The main worry is to prevent my core body temperature from dropping below a certain point; once you get really, deeply chilled, it can be hard to come back. It’s hard to be sure of how close you are to the line, because as you drift towards hypothermia, you start to get a little loopy. So I have to be very conscious of my state of mind.”
MDA: Is anxiety or stress an issue? Is energy the primary challenge?
Smith: “Fear and stress are significant, and I have to juggle them consciously. But, of course, in part I’m there for stress: I come alive when the pressure is on, and I love to solve awkward, clumsy, terrible problems in the wilderness. That, to me, is adventure; solving unexpected problems, with minimal resources.”
MDA: Do you jazz up the butter to make it more palatable?
Smith: “Nope – I quaff down the food like you wouldn’t believe. While it’s good to have the food taste good, I really inhale it by the time I get to eating, and rarely take time for the luxury of taste.”
MDA: Do people criticize this temporary diet, or do you have the endorsement of doctors/experts?
Smith: “Neither – I wouldn’t care what any expert had to say, to be honest. I don’t eat this way all the time, and anyway, there’s just no other on my expeditions; this kind of eating is the price you pay to travel in these spectacular places, and the price, to me, is well worth it.”
MDA: Based on your personal experience and your professional expertise in anthropology, what sort of nutritional guidelines do you personally follow?
Smith: “Actually, my philosophy comes from a children’s book I read when I was 10 and, like every kid at the time (in the 70s), wanted to be an astronaut. The Russian Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov was asked what he did to stay in shape, and he simply said, ‘Don’t eat like a pig, and run a little every day.’ That’s about it for me. I think more carefully about the food and exercise just before an expedition, and during it, but in the rest of my life, I run a little every day, and moderately consume whatever I like.”
Smith in preparation for a recent solo Arctic expedition.
Next, we spoke to Smith’s colleague, Charles Sullivan, who formulates these lipidacious delights.
Sullivan: “The impetus to develop these recipes came about as a response to the incredibly high price of the commercially made, freeze-dried camping meals, such as those from Mountain House and others. These cost about $7.00 for 10 ounces, and 10 ounces does not provide enough calories for a single meal on a serious expedition. The extremely low cost of my meals is a big advantage when you consider the overall costs of any expedition.
Butter is a key ingredient in all of my meals, so this can only really work in a cold environment. Otherwise the butter would go rancid. These aren’t gourmet meals, but Cameron swears by them. But I know he’ll eat most anything when he’s hungry, and enjoy it. They’re probably not something you’d want to eat at home, but after pulling a sled all day in the freezing cold, I’m sure they taste quite good.
Each meal is packaged in a one gallon, zipper-style, ziploc freezer bag. What’s nice is that the ziploc bag is the bowl. All you do is boil water and pour the boiling water into the ziploc bag. You then have to knead the bag for about five minutes before eating. A spoon is best for eating so you don’t puncture the bag.”
A sample meal: a frozen mixture of butter, seeds, nuts, ramen, potato flakes, dried hummus, and a little sugar.
Arctic expeditioners also frequently rely on meals of tallow, suet, and lard. Next time you’re feeling a little tired of olive oil, just remember…you could be kneading sticks of butter and pulling a sled across the Arctic!
A few resources about saturated fat:
(Note: These nutrition links are included as helpful information for our curious and critical Apples. While MDA supports researcher Dr. Mary Enig’s work – and that of many others – in critically examining the so-called lipid hypothesis, Smith and Sullivan do not endorse a particular position on saturated fat and cholesterol.)
It’s a great time of year to enjoy fresh peas. We always keep plenty of bags of frozen peas around the Sisson household (well, the freezer, anyway). Peas make a quick, easy snack for the kids after sports’ practice or a long day at school that is far more nutritious than processed snack bars but won’t have anyone groaning about eating their vegetables.
Fresh peas are perfect right now, and they are an excellent way to get extra vitamins, fiber and protein into your meals.
A nutritional snapshot:
- One cup of peas contains a third of your daily requirement of fiber (though I personally recommend getting two or three times the 25-35 grams daily that the U. S. government recommends).
- Peas are famous for containing generous amounts of B vitamins, but they’re also rich in vitamin C (a third of your DV) and vitamin K (half your DV).
- Peas are rich in serotonin-boosting tryptophan.
Toss fresh peas into:
- Salads: peas work well with many fruits, avocados, and tomatoes.
- Stir fries: replace rice with peas for a fiber-rich, veggie-intense variation.
- Plain yogurt: add the peas, some chopped walnuts or almonds, and a little balsamic vinegar. (Top notch protein, fiber and fatty acids for quick energy and stress relief.)
Hi, Apples! Sara here. Mark asked me to write this week’s Smart Fuel column as he is buried in the latest batch of science and medical journals. So, I am here to tell you about the wonderful uses of the mandolin slicer in your steadfast pursuit of healthy meals. Right about now you may be thinking, “Mandolin slicer? That’s not Smart Fuel!” but stick with me. (I follow directions very well, as you can clearly see. This is a habit I have taken great pains to cultivate since childhood. It takes real tenacity to flunk first grade, but I am here to tell you, it can be done.) Thank goodness the Big Apple (Sisson) actually encourages breaking all the rules, or I’d never be able to tell you about the joys of a mandolin slicer!
I personally love cooking and look forward to it (my mother tells me to give it a few years). However, I know that when it comes to meals, convenience and speed are not only preferable for a lot of us, these things are downright necessary. There’s a reason restaurants, fast food joints and the frozen food aisles flourish – we’re busy! So, these meals aren’t doing us any healthy favors, but who has time to wash, peel, pit and slice a bunch of vegetables for some casserole that will take longer to bake than the maturation time of your average Barolo?
Enter the mandolin slicer.
Mark is always extolling the virtues of making vegetables the basis of your diet, and it really is easier than you might think: bagged lettuce, frozen veggies, ready-to-go stir fry mixes. But no family (or boyfriend), no matter how tolerant, is going to put up with three days straight of broccoli florets for dinner when Domino’s is just a phone call away. This is why I love the mandolin slicer. It solves all the usual problems getting in the way of your health and your lean physique: time constraints, boredom, and empty carbs.
Problem 1: Time
The mandolin slicer makes awfully short work of everything from yams to cucumbers to organic chicken sausages. Beets, parsnips, carrots, brussels sprouts and cabbages don’t stand a chance around this simple, old utensil we all have lurking in a drawer somewhere (usually the same one that houses the gravy syringe…ew…and the egg slicer). Here’s what to do: buy a big batch of fresh veggies of all types, wash them up, and slice away. Toss them individually or in various combinations into 1 or 2 quart plastic storage containers and put them in the fridge. You’ve just prepped a week’s worth of tasty meals in about 45 minutes. You can aim for 30, but your pinky fingertip’s curvature may never look the same. Just a warning.
Problem 2: Boredom
Frozen veggies can get a little boring, simply because there’s often not much to choose from (broccoli, spinach, peas, carrots, corn…broccoli, spinach, peas, carrots, corn…sigh). There are often stir-fry blends to be found, and there’s always the old carrot-cauli-broc threesome, but I’ve noticed that oils, sugars and artificial flavorings are frequently added in by the food manufacturers. Keep the mandolin slicer in plain view, and shake up your recipe routines. You can say goodbye to those limp carrots, celery and cucumbers taking up residence in the back of the fridge, because you’ll actually be inspired to use them now.
Problem 3: Empty Carbs
Mandolinated (that’s not really working, is it?) yams make a flavorful, sweet, low-glycemic alternative to potatoes au gratin. What I love about the M-slicer is that it allows you to use vegetables in place of potatoes, bread and other starches. Granted, you won’t be using cucumber slices in place of tortilla chips anytime soon, but yams are satisfying and substantial in all sorts of baked dishes. And long, thin strips of carrots and parsnips work great in place of pasta. I’m not about to eat carrot alfredo, either, but if you can reduce the pasta by half and work in said carrot strips, you’ve got a healthy and reasonably low-carb meal on your hands. Unfortunately, the mandolin slicer is simply no match for pizza, but it can go a long way towards working more vegetables into your diet.
Just watch your pinky.
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