Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Cool Coincidence

There's a great book, Gardening for Maximum Nutrition,that was written in the early '80's. I have taken it out of the library several times in the past few years and this fall I needed to refer to it again for some articles I was working on. But when I went back to the library I discovered it was no longer in their collection. I guess it was just too old. The library I go to has a fantastic collection of materials and is constantly adding to it, but the drawback is that they have to purge the older books (even the high quality ones) to make way for the new.

I checked on the sale shelf down it the lobby, hoping it would still be there, but had no luck. Eventually I decided I would have to order my own copy from Amazon. I found the bookseller who was closest to me, Atheneum in Denver, and ordered a used copy for $1.70 plus shipping. The description stated it was a used library copy, and I just had a funny feeling it was going to be the copy from my library. When it got here, that was the first thing I checked. Sure enough it was! I guess that book was just destined to be mine.

The thing I really love about the book is that the author, Jerry Minnich, evaluates the nutritional qualities of foods in a number of different ways. He has a list of the the most calcium-rich crops, protein-rich crops, Vitamin C-rich crops, and so on. And then a list of the top ten most nutritious crops and a list of the top twelve most versatile crops (those that contain the greatest number of different vitamins and minerals, plus protein). To gather his data, Minnich analyzed the USDA's Agriculture Handbook No. 456, Nutritive Value of American Foods in Common Units. In order to make the data most useful, he compared foods by typical serving sizes rather than by an equal weight of food. This makes a great deal of sense to me, since we will commonly eat a half-pound potato, but not a half a pound of asparagus in one sitting. Other studies list asparagus to be more nutritious on a pound-for-pound basis, but that is simply not the way we eat. When compared in terms of typical serving sizes, the potato wins.

So, what were his findings? The top ten most nutritious foods he listed were: leaf amaranth, sunflower seeds, broccoli, soybeans, almonds, collards, navy beans, cowpeas, potatoes, dandelion greens, and peanuts. His twelve most versatile foods were: broccoli, leaf amaranth, lima beans, cowpeas, watermelons, almonds, collards, peas, potatoes, soybeans, sunflower seeds and the twelfth spot was a tie among five items, which he unfortunately didn't list.

I love these sorts of lists, but of course they're only useful up to a point. Minnich's lists evaluate the 89 most common fruits and veggies, but certainly there are highly nutritious crops that were excluded simply because they weren't part of the typical American diet. Also grains weren't included, nor were herbs and most seed crops (sunflower seeds notwithstanding).

Again, when it comes to growing foods for maximum nutrition, I believe that variety is key. The more diverse our diets are, the more likely we will be getting the full range of nutrients necessary for optimal health. If you're planning next year's garden, certainly focus on the nutritional powerhouses, but also plant a diverse range of fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, grains and herbs, as space allows.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Humanure in the Mainstream Media

Time magazine ran an article on Friday on humanure (in case the topic is new to you, that's the composting of human waste). I think that's awesome.

Humanure: Goodbye, Toilets. Hello, Extreme Composting.

The best source for information on humanure is Joseph Jenkins book, The Humanure Handbook, which he has been making available for free on the Internet for years. You'll find it an amazing resource (unless you're pathologically squeamish).

As I've mentioned before, I intend to use a composting toilet when I eventually build my cabin. My only issue with humanure is that humanure is only as healthy as the people who produce it. So, if people are eating the standard American diet full of chemicals and preservatives and devoid of minerals, taking their 11.2 prescription drugs per year, with their mouths full of mercury amalgam fillings and their bodies shot full of mercury, aluminum, and God knows what other toxic metals from such things as unnecessary and dangerous vaccines--well, they're going to produce some pretty crappy crap, if you don't mind me saying so.

Before people start composting their wastes, it would behoove them to attend to their own health first. In order to create organic poop you have to create organic humans. Anything short of organic compost isn't worth doing for the earth. Composting human wastes is a deep, deep commitment in my opinion, and one that shouldn't be undertaken unless you've put your own internal house in order first.

I'm very careful about where I source the cow and horse manure for my garden. I would want to be even more certain about the provenance of any human manures.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Junk Food

At the library recently I overheard the woman who runs the little coffee shop talking to a patron. She was talking about her kids and in a totally exasperated voice said, "Every night as soon as the dishes are put away, OUT come the chips, AND the cookies, AND the pretzels...!" And I thought to myself, But who is buying all of that? If you're so exasperated, just quit buying that junk. Seriously. We can't control what our kids are eating when they're out with friends, but at home we certainly can. If there are no chips and cookies and pretzels to be found at home, guess what? You're kids aren't going to be eating them. It's amazing how that works.

Now I can't totally sit on a high-horse here and lecture. I don't buy junk food, but I do bake sweets. So there's junk in the house. It's free of chemicals and artificial ingredients but still loaded with too much sugar and refined flour. So yes, I'm feeling all superior to this woman because I don't have store-bought junk in my house, but I can't ignore what I do have here.

At least with savory snacks we're in good shape. We've always got nuts, seeds and fruit for snacks (okay, so fruit isn't savory), sometimes popcorn, and I personally like to cook a big batch of chickpeas and snack on those at times. Collin has never complained that we don't buy junk food. And frankly, we don't do all that much snacking. When you eat nutrient-dense foods at mealtimes you just don't get very hungry between meals.

There was a time, back when Collin was small, when I did buy junk food--Goldfish and Cheez-Its and pretzels and so on. I'm not sure how we made the transition. We just shifted slowly away from that habit. And that's the thing, it is a habit. If you try to give it up suddenly, you're going to miss it and have cravings. You'd probably have better luck making gradual changes, slipping in a few substitutions here and there, and working up to a total change of habits over time.

As I've said before, Collin is allowed to buy junk food with his own money. Mostly he buys soda, the cheap two-liter bottles at the dollar store. Recently he made an interesting discovery. For awhile he'd been having issues when he was at my house. Intestinal issues, shall we say, after mealtimes. We kept trying to figure out what food might be causing it, but could never come up with one ingredient that was common to every meal. Plus he wasn't having any issues at his dad's house. For awhile I was getting paranoid that it might be my cooking! But then he figured it out--it was the cola. Every time he had a glass of cola he would have problems. I think it's awesome that he worked this out on his own. He's at that age now where kids seem to start having a degree of body-awareness and health-consciousness (he's thirteen) and have enough self-discipline to make positive changes. I'm so impressed that he figured this out. In order for change to be lasting it has to come from within. He's now planning to have a finite soda budget for 2010--once it's used up, no more soda, even if it's only May. I'd rather he just give up soda entirely, but at least he's moving in the right direction.

P.S.--If drinking soda causes the same troubles for you as it does for my son, check out my post on Corn Syrup. It covers fructose malabsorption syndrome, which is most likely what you're suffering from (scroll about a third of the way down the post to reach the part about fructose malabsorption).