Archive for the ‘Health news’ Category


On October 15, Natural Gourmet Institute had the privilege to host Dr. Robert Graham, his wife Julie Graham (a certified holistic health coach), and 13 residents from New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital for a special, hands-on evening of healthy vegetarian cooking. The Grahams and NGI created the event to draw attention to the Meatless Mondays campaign and give doctors the knowledge and tools to treat common lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity with healthy food choices and cooking techniques.

The evening kicked off with hors d’oeuvres and a meet-and-greet between the doctors and NGI staff. Then it was into the kitchen for the doctors to prepare a healthy, balanced vegetarian meal under the direction of NGI instructor Richard LaMarita, who designed the Italian-inspired menu.

Colin Zhu, a recent graduate of NGI’s Chef’s Training Program and first-year resident at CentraState Health Care System, introduced the evening’s recipes and talked about their health benefits and nutritional highlights. Chef Rich followed with a quick knife skills tutorial, and then the doctors teamed up to make a healthy, seasonal four-course meal.

The class was a resounding success and the first in a series where these internists, each committed to promoting the role food choices make in our health, will learn basic vegetarian cooking techniques they can share with patients.



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Natural Gourmet Institute’s President, Jenny Matthau, is our resident expert and lecturer on issues relating to heart disease, healthy and harmful fats, and dietary approaches to achieve heart health.

NGI President Jenny Matthau

People continue to ask me the best way to lower cholesterol with diet and lifestyle to lower their risk of heart disease. I tell them the issue is not as simple as it appears to be. The following are my recommendations for cholesterol “management” . . .

There is mounting evidence that raising HDL cholesterol is more important than lowering LDL cholesterol, particularly in women.  To raise HDL:  most effective is aerobic exercise.  For maximum benefits, burn at least 1200 calories weekly.

With respect to diet:

Consume . . .

  • Moderate alcohol (one drink for women, one to two drinks daily for men)
  • Coconut products
  • Omega-3 fatty acids from cold water fatty fish, meat, milk and eggs from grass-fed animals, flax, chia, hemp and algae
  • Saturated fats from healthy animals (organically raised and grass-fed)
  • Soluble fiber found in oats, barley, legumes, carrots, apples, pears, citrus, berries, flax seeds
  • Raw onion
  • Green tea.

Avoid . . .

  • Trans fats (they lower HDL and raise LDL and the more atherogenic LPA)
  • Sugar and refined carbohydrates (they raise triglycerides, which are inversely related to HDL)
  • Excessive omega-6 fatty acids found most abundantly in these oils: grapeseed, safflower, sunflower, corn and soy
  • Commercially-raised animal foods.

While LDL cholesterol is a “risk factor” for young and middle-aged men, it is not for women, or for people aged 70 or older regardless of gender.  Note that the term “risk factor” does not connote causality, only a positive association.

Lowering cholesterol, without addressing the inflammatory causes of heart disease does not result in lower mortality rates.  That being said, to lower LDL:

Avoid foods rich in . . .

  • Saturated fats (they tend to raise LDL)
  • Concentrated sugars (they raise triglycerides, which can cause the liver to produce very small, dense particle LDL, the most dangerous kind).

Consume . . .

  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Foods rich in monounsaturated fats (olives, avocados, nuts, particularly macadamias)
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

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NGI's Founder Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.

This from Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D. . . .

One of the big problems of our times is that all the chemicals used in industry are found everywhere – in our air and water, not to mention our food.  Practically all people, including newborns, have a variety of these chemicals in their bodies.  I remember a couple of years ago Bill Moyers did a program on this subject, and had himself tested; he found he had more than 60 chemicals in his body.

We don’t really know what these results mean. I imagine we probably should find out – but then what?  What do we do with the information?

Now here is a piece of good news:  diet can make a difference!  A Korean study in May found that five days on a vegetarian diet reduced the amount of toxic chemicals in participants’ bodies quite noticeably.  Five days!  Participants in the study joined a Buddhist temple, and ate the food there.  The study did not describe exactly what the participants ate, or whether it was organic, but it was generally plant-based.

However, another study with school children showed that a few days on an organic diet lowered the levels of pesticide residue in the children’s urine to undetectable levels in a few days;  unfortunately, when the children went back to eating standard school lunches, those levels went right back up.

So this is the take-away lesson:  if we eat carefully, with lots of plant foods and mostly everything organic, we may diminish toxic chemicals and pollutants from our bodies with little effort.   Avoiding commercial produce and animal food is apparently the key.  On this polluted planet, that’s important information.   Let’s keep it in mind!

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Wandering about the office a few days ago, I found something useful atop the water cooler: a little business card from the World Society for the Protection of Animals.  The card advertises the WSPA website, promoting ethical treatment of animals and identifying “humane” treatment through meaningful food labeling.  The labels in question apply to dairy, poultry of various varieties, beef, bison, rabbit, lamb, and pork.

Part of NGI’s mission is to teach health-supportive cooking – and we recognize for some people that means eating meat, poultry, or fish.  While our professional and public classes emphasize and showcase mostly plant-based cuisine, high-quality animal protein is occasionally prepared.  Part of what we deem “quality” at the school includes the most humane treatment possible for the animals in question.  That treatment includes, among other things, meaningful access to pasture or outdoors, space to engage in natural behaviors, humane slaughter, and a clean living environment.

We have a sizable contingent of committed vegan and vegetarian students at the school for whom humane treatment would mean not raising animals for slaughter or consumption.  Eating animals, however, has and will endure as a way of life.  In this context, humane labels are a meaningful step toward bettering the lives of animals raised for slaughter.  So too is an examination of the quantity of meat and poultry we produce and consume in the US.  Check out the WSPA website’s article, “Consider Reducing Meat in Your Diet,” for some disturbing statistics.

The site provides a search engine for locating animal-friendly foods at local stores and restaurants as well as free consumer guide downloads and pocket guides.  Most importantly, it clarifies the meanings of various “humane” food labels.  Not all so-called humane food labels represent the highest standard of treatment.  The USDA definition of “free range,” for example, is vague enough to allow industrial producers to continue many of the most inhumane, sometimes brutal practices.  The highest labeling standards, according to the site, are “Certified Humane,” “American Humane Certified,” and “Animal Welfare Approved.”

There’s also a useful Glossary of Terms, which explains the particulars of the more inhumane practices associated with commercial meat and poultry production.  In short, I think this site performs a much-needed service: educating the consumer to make better – in this case, most humane – choices.

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Many thanks to Katie Sobel (Chef’s Training Program 152) for forwarding to us the Chef’s Survey: What’s Hot in 2010.  The survey, conducted by the National Restaurant Association (the other NRA), tracks the hottest food and menu trends each year, as identified by 1800 chef members of the American Culinary Federation.

Worthy of note this year are 7 of the top 20 trends:

  • locally grown produce
  • locally sourced meats and seafood
  • sustainability
  • gluten-free/food allergy conscious
  • sustainable seafood
  • organic produce
  • nutrition/health

Some of this year’s trendiest food items include “ancient grains,” “whole grain bread,” and “seaweed.” Sound familiar?  Trends this year, but they’ve been around forever.  Particularly, they’ve been matters of ongoing interest and commitment to Natural Gourmet since its founding in 1977 by Annemarie Colbin.

In one sense, these emerging trends are great news.  Healthier, high-quality food finally enters the zeitgeist in a big way.  Really, who cares how or by whom it got there!  On the other hand, trends by their very nature suggest something that’s ephemeral and superficial.  Hopefully, the mere mention of “locally grown produce” next year won’t elicit an eye roll and an “Ugh, locally grown is so 2010!”  And with any luck “organic” will outlive sous vide cooking, liquid nitrogen, and the cuisine of Maghreb.

My hope is that local, organic, sustainable will survive the black hole of “what’s trending now.”  If the way Natural Gourmet has grown and developed over the years is any indication, I think I have reason to be hopeful.

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I recently visited my mother in Detroit.  She’s 76.  Over the years I’ve noticed some changes in her eating habits.  My mother used to be pro-active about cooking and eating whole foods.  She introduced me to Macrobiotics and Annemarie’s books back in the 80’s.  Little by little over the years, however, fresh fruits and vegetables gave way in Mom’s pantry to more and more processed and artificial foods – non-dairy creamer, “butter” spreads, frozen dinners.  I think this trend is increasingly common among the elderly, although it’s prevalent enough among people of all ages.

I always cook for my mother when I visit.  I take everything fresh I can find in the refrigerator and turn it into prepared dishes.  My mother is always so grateful for this small favor.  While she continues to buy fresh produce in stock piles with the intention to cook it, most of it eventually spoils and ends up in the trash.  Day-to-day she’s subsisting, like so many Americans young and old, on “convenience” foods with eternal shelf lives.

My guess is that many elderly people don’t cook because they are alone, they’re no longer motivated or, in some cases, haven’t the well-being to do so.

This got me thinking about the current groundswell of programs directed at improving the way our young are eating.  Many of our students and graduates are committed to the myriad initiatives designed to educate children and young adults about their origins and quality of their food.  Garden projects, cooking classes, nutrition classes for youth – all of these are catching fire both locally and nationally.  Consider the recent Chefs Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids recently hosted by Michelle Obama at the White House or Jamie Oliver’s TED prize project.  The issue is hot.

The quality of our food is obviously important at all stages of our lives but, like the young, the elderly are particularly vulnerable.  So many people are eating foods that don’t support healthier aging.

What can we do to bring older people back into our culinary community, our CSAs, our co-ops?  What would it take to get them cooking again?  I’m contemplating my own role (maybe cooking classes!).  Do you know of programs in this area, or do you have any ideas?

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Natural Gourmet Institute Founder Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.

Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., weighs in  on the subject of artificial sweeteners . . .

At Natural Gourmet, we have been consistently adamant over the years in our opposition to artificial sweeteners for a variety of reasons.  Chief among these is that artificial sweeteners, because of their sweet taste, fool the body into thinking that carbohydrates have been consumed.  This triggers an insulin response in preparation for the expected blood sugar rise.  When that rise does not happen, the unnecessary insulin ends up actually lowering blood glucose too far – a condition known as “hypoglycemia” – which triggers hunger and causes extra caloric intake.

What is the result of extra caloric intake?  Weight gain!  Have you ever noticed all the heavy people guzzling diet sodas?  Diet soda does not work!  This information has been available for more than 20 years.  See the excerpt from New York Times NY columnist Jane Brody, and note the date!

Using artificial sweeteners as substitutes is often not a culinary possibility and may not be desirable from the standpoint of either health or weight. NutraSweet™ (or Equal™), the leading artificial sweetener, can cause untoward brain reactions in some people, who may experience such symptoms as headaches, depression, irritability and seizures.

Moreover, a study at Leeds University suggested that artificial sweeteners may stimulate the appetite. The American Cancer Society found that over the course of a year, users of artificial sweeteners were more likely than nonusers to gain weight.

As far as the “untoward brain reactions” that Brody mentions, depression is a major one – and I know a number of older people who drink diet soda and walk around gloomy and depressed.  And notice that for the past 15 years or so depression has become a public health issue of almost epidemic proportion.  Of course, that’s good news for the manufacturers of anti-depressants, but not necessarily for human beings.  Regular exercise, exposure to sunlight without sunglasses (so that the sunlight filters through the eyes and stimulates the pituitary gland), eating whole grains, high-quality vegetables and sufficient protein, and no sweeteners of any kind would be a better approach.

In the alternative, if you want something sweet, eat pitted dates, bananas, and baked sweet potatoes – very satisfying, non-damaging, and generally healthful.  Worth a try!

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