When I was younger, there was a big “progressive” movement to get people “out of the kitchen.” Certain strident voices threw “everything but the kitchen sink” against the idea of spending time cooking and paying attention to our food.
They no longer considered preparing food a worthy pursuit for modern, career people. But reducing quality time in the kitchen may be the biggest mistake we ever made in terms of our health — including mental health. Probably in more ways than one.
People became enthralled with “space age” technology, which even included artificial orange juice “used by the astronauts.” They began to like the idea they could get all their nutritional needs from a tiny, little pill — kind of like the Jetsons. But that little tiny pill — represented in reality by the all-too-real, once-a-day multivitamin — may be the worst idea of all. (By contrast, the prehistoric Flintstones downed huge joints of meat and were probably much healthier because of it.)
In any case, when we began spending less time in the kitchen preparing foods, our diets went down the drain of that proverbial kitchen sink. We began to rely on processed, packaged foods, full of unhealthy ingredients.
You can’t “fortify” your way out of poor foods and bad nutritional advice
Sure, some manufacturers “fortify” their products with select, random vitamins and dangerous, isolated minerals like iron. But that approach doesn’t come close to making up for the hundreds of beneficial phytonutrients naturally found in fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, and meats.
Of course, the U.S. government didn’t help the situation any. For four decades, government health experts gave out misguided advice to cut out natural sources of dietary fats and cholesterol. So Americans who attempted to follow this faulty advice cut out whole foods like butter, meat and eggs. Instead, they ate unhealthy, processed foods filled instead with sugars, carbs and artificial fats.
Children’s foods fell the farthest — leaving us with monstrosities like the packaged sugars disguised as breakfast cereals and the abominable atrocity of “Lunchables” for busy working mothers.
The government’s subsidized school lunches aren’t much better — when you consider ketchup (another sugary confection) qualifies as a “vegetable.”
Fortunately, this month, many people generally start to spend a bit more quality time in the kitchen. And if you know what to look for, you can be sure to incorporate plenty of foods with additional health benefits.
My top 10 REAL health foods
Here are some of my favorite items to stock up on at the market. As you’ll see, they fit the true definition of “health food” much more than most products you’ll find in places like Whole Foods.
Avocados contain vitamins C and E, as well as carotenoids (some of which also form vitamin A in the body). When applied to the skin, avocadoes relieve dryness, inflammation, itchiness, and redness.
Garlic is an ancient European folk remedy still used today by traditional healers. It’s a natural antibiotic and can help can help prevent the common cold — or reduce the duration and severity once you get an upper respiratory infection — if you take enough. Try swallowing a peeled clove of garlic. It may work better than swallowing any pill.
At this time of year, I enjoy roasted cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. They have many health benefits, but they can be difficult to digest. Ginger will ease the digestion and reduce gas. You can make a healthy herbal infusion from ginger, peppermint, or anise for digestive support.
Steel cut oats (not rolled) are good sources of fiber and support heart health. Used topically, they cleanse, exfoliate and soothe the skin, and help clear up acne. Prepare plain oats with hot water, then let cool and apply to your skin. They are beneficial for eczema, insect bites, first degree burns, and poison ivy.
- Olive oil
Olive oil is a nutritional powerhouse. In fact, according to one recent study, men and women who enjoyed olive oil and bread with a meal improved their markers of cardiovascular disease within just hours.
You can also use it topically to soothe chapped or chafed skin. Rubbed on the feet, it will help smooth out rough skin on the heels and soles. Just put on some cotton socks after rubbing it in. It also adds moisture to dry hair and split ends. So skip the expensive conditioners filled with chemicals and keep some olive oil in your shower instead.
Papaya contains an enzyme called papain, which research shows helps digestion, settles the stomach, and prevents constipation.
Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which also aids digestion. Unlike fictitious enzyme supplements — which the stomach breaks down immediately when taken orally — papaya and pineapple have the real thing when it comes to beneficial enzymes.
- Wild Cherries
Tart cherries, including winter cherry (Withania somniferum), have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which can help ease joint pain. Studies show they also relieve aches and pains from intense muscle use, such as shoveling snow, which The Farmer’s Almanac predicts we may be doing a lot of this winter. They can also help you fall asleep. I gave a full report on the benefits of cherries in the September 2014 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter.
If you wake up with puffy eyes, apply the used tea bags from your breakfast tea to your closed eyes. Used tea bags still contain tannins and theophylline, which can reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling when applied topically. Tea also supports blood clotting, so you can apply a used tea bag to superficial cuts and scratches, or bite down on a tea bag in the socket after a tooth extraction. They also help ease first degree burns on the skin.
Vinegar benefits blood sugar control. In fact, in one study, men and women with prediabetes improved their insulin sensitivity by drinking apple cider vinegar before meals. Now, I don’t recommend drinking vinegar. But go ahead and splash it on your salad with some olive oil and you’ll get the same results. I also enjoy a little oil and vinegar on asparagus and green beans.
Topically, vinegar can also prevent a simple burn from turning into a blister.
The bottom line here is that a well-run kitchen isn’t just a source of food. It’s also a source of health — inside and out.
- “Vinegar Improves Insulin Sensitivity to a High-Carbohydrate Meal in Subjects With Insulin Resistance or Type 2 Diabetes,” Diabetes Care January 2004; 27(1): 281-282