Cooking with Unrefined Oils

I’ve completed my first round of homework for school! This consisted of keeping a diet and activity log for a week (sooooo painfully tedious) but also creating a handout related to any nutrition related topic we chose. We’ll make these handouts as a part of each module’s homeowrk assignment, with the idea of having a variety of handouts already prepared to hand out to clients at any given time. I chose to focus this first handout on unrefined oils. As I touched on in my recent post, I never realized how highly processed and poor for one’s health refined oils are. As I began to research unrefined oils, I was surprised by the true health benefits many of them provide—it’s not something you generally think of with oil. I was also pleasantly surprised by the variety of unrefined oils that are available. I’m excited to experiment with using avocado oil, red plam fruit oil and nut oils in my cooking. 

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I have made O’s chcolate-chip cookies with a mixture of coconut and macadamia nut oil with steller results. Buh-bye refined sunflower oil! So long!

Below is the information included on my handout. If you’d like to print a copy to keep in your kitchen, click here to download the PDF. Continue reading

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Symbiotic Health (+ Power Brownies)

Yesterday, in class, our teacher introduced a section of the lecture covering several different popular diets and food philosophies by saying, in essence, people can get very stuck in their beliefs around food. That the heart of healthy sustainable eating is to tune into our own bodies, what they need and what they, individually, feel best eating. So simple, but profound too. A similar sentiment is echoed by the author of one of my favorite food blogs:

A lot of people want to know “what I am” – vegetarian, vegan, raw foodist, fruitarian, macrobiotic…guess what? I am a person who eats! 

My food philosophy is this: I hate labels. They stink. They force a person to define themselves in very rigid terms, beat themselves up if they suddenly eat something that doesn’t fit that definition, and I know I never want to have to label what “kind” of diet I subscribe to. Being dogmatic about anything, for me, just doesn’t work. Being flexible does. 

I like this idea. And, in reality, I don’t know a single person who subscribes to any specific way of eating 100% of the time. I often identify myself as a vegan, but that doesn’t stop me from having a slice of birthday cake, on occasion, or even a little fish from time to time. And yet, by using this term, which is defined objectively, I expose myself to feeling of guilt or inadequacy when I do diverge from the party line… and somehow I know that’s not part of achieving an optimal, healthy relationship with food and nutrition.

In class, we dismissed one diet after another on the basis of not accounting for bio-individuality. By nature, any diet or food philosophy simple enough to write a book on is going to be pretty basic and is formulated to be applied universally. While it is probably inarguable that everyone these days needs to eat more whole, unprocessed foods and especially vegetables, just about anything else in diet is up for grabs. Some people need far more protein that others, some people have trouble digesting grains, others have problems with dairy or soy. Some people thrive on higher fat diets than others, or higher in raw foods or greater concentration of certain vitamins or minerals. It’s mind boggling the set of conditions that influence each of us: our ancestry, lifestyle, routine, metabolism, food we grew up with, food we like or dislike, and so on. There is no one answer and no one prescription that will lead us to health, happiness and nourishment. Continue reading

The Oily Truth

First day of school is under my belt and I am feeling good about it so far. I’d almost forgotten how painful all the administrative details of the First Day can be—but they’re over with now and our instructor even managed to squeeze in about 45 minutes of lecture (to make sure we’d come back next week, no doubt).

One of the most interesting topics she touched upon was refined oils, and how decided boorish they really are. I’d heard plenty of stuff about how canola oil was not so good as it is highly processed and so on, but I never really spend much time looking into what “processed” meant. Apparently, canola oil goes through 80 (!) steps to turn it from rapeseeds to oil. And, alas, while canola is a particularly extreme example, all refined oils go through a similar process:

  1. Oil is pressed, using extreme force, creating friction and heat (*Expeller pressed oils are heated to a somewhat lower temperature, but only olive, sesame, coconut and nut oils can be truly “cold pressed”).
  2. Often treated with hexane solvent (a petroluem biproduct known to be carcinogenic) to extract more oil
  3. Injected with phosphate and put through a centrifuge to separate the oil and plant solids
  4. Degummed to remove the natural lethicin content (important for memory and cognitive function, cardiovascular health and liver function)
  5. Neutralized by treating the oil with sodium hydroxide (sound familiar? It’s in Drano) to remove even smaller bits of residue, such as pigments (and vitamins)
  6. Bleached using heat and carbon or clay to filter out still more of the “impurities”, including nearly all of the natural antioxidants and nutrients.
  7. Deodorized using pressurized steam (at over 500 °F) to make the oil seem like something you might be willing to ingest.

Ick. Our instructor mentioned the deodorizing step in particular, explaining that oils oxidize and go rancid from the heat and time to perform all of the steps above (and more). This really struck me. If I picked up a bottle of oil from the shelf and it had gone rancid, no way would I use it or even be tempted to, but it would seem that most of the oils we use regularly in our kitchens are rancid, just in disguise. Blech. When we ingest these oxidized oils, the antioxidants in our bodies are pulled away from performing their duties to instead try to “anti-oxidize” the ingested oil.

So, what’s a girl (whose famous chocolate chip cookie recipe depends on refined sunflower oil) to do?! Well, there is good news. As I mentioned above, certain oil producing plants can be cold pressed to produce shelf stable, nutrient (and flavor) rich oils for all sorts of applications. Olive oil is the most familiar, and arguably the most versatile, but certainly not the only option. For higher heat, coconut oil (makes sure it’s unrefined) works like a charm or macadamia nut oil (a new one for me). For medium to low heat, (untoasted) sesame oil, nut oils (walnut, hazelnut, etc.) and avocado oil are tasty options. And for raw applications, flax seed oil is an exceptionally healthy choice. And, my vegan conscience wrestles with this one, but fresh, local, humanely produced butter and ghee are good choices as well, in moderation.

Of course, it’s healthiest of all to ingest most the fat in our diets through whole foods themselves. Instead of using a heavy hand with the cooking oil, go nuts with nuts, seeds, coconut, avocados, flax meal, chia seeds—even oats are 10% fat. And, if you regularly eat a diet high in colorful fruits, veggies and spices (and bonus points for sea vegetables!), the antioxidants in your body will be numerous enough that diverting some to deal with the doughnut that just came down the pipes will not kill you…

Reinvention

Tomorrow I start school again. Astoundingly, it’s been nearly five years (!) since I last sat in a classroom, listened to a lecture or did homework. I’m equipped with a stack of slightly intimidating textbooks, a brand-new notebook and a handful of my favorite pens and feel just a touch of those first-day butterflies that have been hanging around since grade school. It’s all so familiar and yet, what I am about to begin is in fact very different that any of my education up to this point.

In the morning, I’ll be beginning Bauman College’s 18-month Nutritional Consultant program. At the end of it I will be a certified Nutritional Consultant and will be able to take the Holistic Nutrition Boards in Colorado. Unlike dietetics, which maintains a very strictly regulated USDA-compliant curriculum, these certifications will allow me to offer unique, personalized nutritional advice to individuals, based on their own personal histories, health goals and dietary philosophies. I plan on combining this knowledge with my already well-developed skills in the kitchen to guide clients through the whole process of changing their diet: from meal planning to shopping for, storing, preparing and preserving their new dietary staples.

I am so excited to be learning something so relevant and applicable that also happens to be something I’m naturally passionate about. Throughout my college education, I’ve always felt something of a disconnect between these two desires. I studied anthropology and classics, both of which I found to be fascinating, but I knew that neither would exactly set me up for a career outside of academia. After realizing I was more attracted to an academic career for the argyle than its actuality, I’ve toyed with the idea of attending culinary school to further develop my love of cooking. But, with some careful reflection, I realized that life behind a stove all day, every day would likely destroy that love rather than bolster it. I felt at a loss for how to proceed for several years, until I stumbled upon an ad for the Natural Culinary Institute in NYC in a magazine. I was blown away that such a program existed, focusing on both health and cooking. I researched the school further and even dropped in for a visit, but ultimately realized that it wasn’t a great fit for me – they seemed mostly to turn out students as personal and professional chefs, albeit enlightened ones, but it still wasn’t exactly what I wanted… I just wasn’t sure what it was that I did want.

Then, last summer, I heard about Bauman College, which conveniently had a branch in Boulder. I was initially attracted to their Natural Chef program and attended an open house to find out more. I left feeling similar to how I had after the visit to the New York school – like it was close to what I wanted but not quite there. Along with hearing about the chef program, several students spoke about the school’s nutrition program. They were knowledgeable and engaged, but at that point studying nutrition hadn’t crossed my mind. I mulled it all over for several more months, but Bauman kept popping back up in my mind. It was in Boulder, not too expensive and philosophically totally on the same page as me… why wasn’t it what I wanted? I did a little more research into the school and decided to look into their Nutrition Consultant program—why not? It was amazing. Something just clicked for me. I already knew and loved cooking, I was committed to healthy eating and I wanted a career that would allow me to share this with others, not keep me in a kitchen, separated from those with which I was sharing. This made total sense. I met with an advisor and sat in on a class and the more I learned about the program the more excited I became. The approach was very comprehensive—something I demand from my education. I don’t care if broccoli is “good for you” if you can’t explain to me exactly why that is. This program effectively combines in-depth physiology and biochemistry with their broader holistic curriculum to ensure students really grasp how food, medicine and supplements act on the body. The whole thing was just totally “me”!

I know that this program has the ability to be truly transformative —in a way that none of my other education experiences have been. My biggest goals are too maintain my inspiration and focus throughout the program. I know it will be hard to have homework again, but I really want to continually remember why I am doing it—not for the teacher, but to build my own knowledge and confidence with the subject matter. I also want to reach out and network as much as possible with the instructors, other students and anyone else in the field that crosses my path. Putting myself out there can be difficult for me, but I am committed to working on it. Also, I am going to strive to maintain balance in my life. I will still be working full–time at my job, so I will be busy, for sure. But I am also committed to making sure I find time to rest, relax and have fun.

Wish me luck as I embark on this new adventure!