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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Liquid Gold

In the olden days, as my daughter calls the time when I was young, when you needed a reliable answer about any topic, you looked it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. You had to know how to spell the word, locate the appropriate tome, read the whole spiel and try to distill knowledge out of the paragraphs or pages written by experts. Since no one could afford to buy a new encyclopedia every year, the information was often dated. Nowadays, you google the word or even a sentence on your iPhone whenever and wherever curiosity strikes you. If the word is misspelled, you will get a corrected version and 20,000 Internet links with all the most recent knowledge regarding your theme of choice. And that is how we get our facts these days. What we find can be written by the tenured University professor that authored every single peer revised article on the topic you are looking for, it could have been typed by a 6-year-old playing with his mother's iPad, by someone trying to sell you something to increase or decrease the size of a body part that you've been desperately trying to change (or that you don't even have), by a blogger with qualifications or without them, or by the advertising/marketing world. Information has turned into a patchwork of reliable and unreliable sources, absolute truths and current trends.
In The Irony of Baking, I deeply research my food topics (that's one of the reasons why it takes me so long to write each post), trying to be as impartial, thorough, and objective as I can be. I explore the different traditional and holistic points of view, and after digesting everything I find, know, trust, and believe in, I summarize it for my readers and suggest practical applications to everyday life. I can't say I know the right answer to everything or that I don't make any mistakes, but I try my best to make the complicated, simple and applicable to our busy lives. Nutrition is a science that keeps changing as discoveries are made and new theories surface. Policies change and recommendations evolve. Just this week, it was published that omega 3 supplements may cause prostate cancer. In the last decade, omega 3s have been some of the most publicized nutrients and people who like to keep up to date have been popping them in. And that's why, in general, I always say that we should try to get our nutrients from whole foods (not the store necessarily, but unprocessed, nutritive foods) instead of pills or capsules, but then again, as current research indicates, vitamin D is an exception and we should opt for the pills.
I don't believe in miracle solutions nor in magical foods, supplements or products, as it's all a combination of choices and behaviors that make up a healthy lifestyle. I often struggle with my own balance, food preferences, feelings, thoughts, time availability, family dislikes and a tremendous amount of words that you probably don't want to read. So here it goes: this post's topic is Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) a great, inexpensive ingredient with lots of potential.

I'm talking about the raw, unpasteurized one sold mostly in health food stores, that in the bottom of the bottle shows a cloud of disgusting-looking strands, which would make you think that the product is spoiled. Well, it's not. That ugly sediment is The Mother and is where all the goodness: AKA enzymes, good bacteria and phytochemicals, of the ACV concentrates. High temperatures and pasteurization make ACV look prettier, but they kill the mother. So go for the ones labeled ORGANIC (as conventional apples are highly sprayed with pesticides, and fermented apples are the main ingredient in this product) and RAW, with the mother. Bragg's is the most popular brand (that one with a label worth a makeover), but there are a couple of different manufacturers.

If you look online, pick up any one of the latest detox programs, books, magazines or pamphlets, or if you watch Dr. Oz, you'll immediately run out the door in search for this fabulous elixir. Claims are that if you drink it, use it topically, and rub it on your kitchen counters and windows; your gut, your skin and your home will be free of toxic materials, dangerous bacteria, pimples, eczema, dandruff, lice, itch, fungus, Candidiasis, joint pain, acid reflux and heartburn, warts, cancer, bad breath, high cholesterol, body odor, diabetes, dull hair, and extra pounds. I'm not making any of those up!

Some users swear by it, and there's an infinite amount of anecdotes describing how great ACV was for curing acne, for developing a flat stomach and everything in between. Unfortunately, there haven't been that many scientific studies to contradict nor support the health claims of ACV, nor to understand the mechanisms linked to them. A lot still remains unknown, however, there have been studies that officially suggest that ACV might help (and help is not solve!) regulate blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, decrease the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer, and may help promote weight loss.

In terms of a more holistic, or integrative approach, the thoughts are that, the unique acids in ACV can bind to toxins (that come from the environment and the food we ingest), and transform them into substances that can be easily eliminated from our system.  Another way apple cider vinegar may aid detoxification is by breaking up mucus throughout the body and cleansing the lymph nodes to allow for better lymph circulation, which would make the toxin removal more effective and would improve the immune system response.
As I mentioned before, The Mother is made of strands, a combination of enzymes  (proteins that promote specific chemical reactions) and bacteria. These bacteria are prebiotics, which are substances that feed the good bacteria in our gut, and promote their growth (as opposed to probiotics, which are the actual gut bacteria and are found in other fermented products such as miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, etc). As Alejandro Junger, MD explains (obviously, I had to quote Gwyneth's pal. You know, her friends are my friends!), the Flora (billions of good bacteria) that covers the intestinal wall, detoxifies a big portion of the toxins we ingest. These bacteria also digest part of our food, and if the Flora is damaged, there will be important nutrients that won't be absorbed by our body. These beneficial bacteria also defend their territory against other kinds of bacteria (bad), viruses and parasites. So ACV feeds the Flora, helping to maintain it healthy.

It's very easy to incorporate ACV into our diet. Some people suggest diluting 1 tablespoon of it in a cup of water, adding a bit of raw honey or pure maple syrup, and perhaps a dash of cayenne pepper and drinking it before meals or throughout the day. I personally add it to my morning green smoothie and use it in my salad dressings.
Topically, it's recommended to dissolve ACV with equal parts of water and use it as a skin toner. I've tried this myself with great results (anything for you, my dear readers!). I initially thought my skin would burn like hell, as I use Retin-A every night and it makes my skin more sensitive, but I felt fresh like a cucumber and my skin was clear, although my husband and kids were offended for my salad scent. For warts, I found that the treatment is to place some ACV in a cotton ball and secure it with a band aid, leaving it overnight and repeating treatment as needed. I have not tried this, so can't vow for it. Some people use it as a hair conditioner, but I haven't tried that either, fearing that the smell will be even worse that when I use it on my skin. And talking about smell, some bloggers substitute commercial deodorant for ACV, if you try it, please report back! Adding some ACV to a warm bath may help alleviate joint pains. As you can see, there are multiple uses for ACV, and included in a healthy lifestyle, it can help us be cleaner inside and out.

Bottom line (in case I lost you during my never-ending intro)

-Only buy Raw, Unfiltered and Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

-Always consume ACV diluted (in dressings, smoothies, water, etc. Basically, don~t drink it straight of the bottle)

-Shake ACV before using it so The Mother gets evenly distributed and you get some of it every time.

-ACV is not magic, it should be incorporated into a diet rich in plant based products, low in sugar and bad fats. So don~t drink it to wash down newly relaunched Twinkies. It won~t help.

-Use it in moderation. About 1 tablespoon per day is a good amount.

-Check with your doctor if you have any health conditions, as ACV might interact with certain drugs or not be beneficial in certain situations.

-You can cook with ACV, but most of the health effects will be lost due to high temp. You need to consume it raw in order to benefit from the qualities explained above.


1/4 cup avocado (or EVOO) Oil
3 tablespoons ACV
1-2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons coarse grain mustard
1 teaspoon raw honey 
1 pinch fine sea salt

Makes about 1/2 cup dressing

You can make 2 or more times the recipe and store it in a jar with a lid in your fridge. It keeps well for 2 weeks. The other day I opened a can of chickpeas (BPA-free), a box of organic pre-washed greens, cubed half an avocado, sprinkled on some hulled hemp seeds, drizzled in the dressing and had a delicious, super healthy and very satisfying lunch ready in 5 minutes. Sliced radishes and anything else in season or even some hard boiled eggs are great additions.