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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Health Food 2014 in review and predictions for 2015

It's been a tradition for a few years now to look back at what happened during the about-to-end year and to play psychic to what I think will happen in the new one in the world of health food trends. I know that I'm such an original and that no one else has come up with this lists ever before, but since I know that at least my friend Sarah likes this special edition, it's all worth it! I hope you enjoy it too!

This is the link to last year's post, so you can send me annoying emails telling me how wrong I was, or asking me what kind of super green juice I drank to posses those amazing prediction powers. Share anything, the fact that you read what I write is plain incredible! Here we go,

  • BLACK IS THE NEW HEALTHY: Watch for these black hued edibles. 
1. Nigella sativa seeds (aka black seeds or black cumin), the seeds of a flowering plant found throughout India, South Arabia and Europe, have been used in cooking and in traditional medicine to heal inflammation, infection and cancer, and it's been confirmed that compounds in these seeds have immunomodulatory, antioxidant, antiparasitic and liver-protective effects. Black seeds may also be useful to treat asthma, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, dyspepsia, diabetes, and cancer. Yotam Ottolenghi uses them in Plenty and Plenty More in delicious and stunning dishes. Maybe he didn't know the seeds were so healthy, but now you do! You can get them in or if you are in NYC, Kalustyan's has them. 

2. Black garlic. It's well documented that fresh garlic is one of the most potent super foods there are. It has strong cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, cancer-protective and iron metabolism related benefits. But in order to take advantage of its beneficial substances--mainly allicin, which forms as a defense mechanism of the vegetable once a bulb is "attacked"-- garlic needs to be eaten raw and within 1 hour of ripping apart a clove from its bulb. Within the last couple of years, a "new" garlic has been taking up center stage. Not so long ago, a farmer in the UK claims to have tried a very old Korean recipe, which is actually a process to age garlic by elevating temperature and controlling humidity in an attempt to preserve the bulbs through the off season months (although other references state that black garlic was introduced in Japan hailing from Korea in 2005). He hit the jackpot among chefs and foodies, and with a balsamic-like flavor and reduced pungency, black garlic became the culinary it girl. Interesting health claims are now being made about black garlic (which, by the way is NOT technically fermented, as the garlic turns black due to chemical reactions and not due to microbiological processes). It's important to note that sensitive allicine is pretty much gone in black garlic, but black garlic seems to have a whole new range of compounds, including a much higher amount of antioxidants than fresh garlic, more calcium, phosphorous and much more protein. Black garlic is also packed with sulfurous compounds, that may have benefits in the synthesis of cholesterol. Bottom line: eat both, fresh and black garlic. No need to substitute one for the other.

3. Activated charcoal. This black powder is made by heating common charcoal in the presence of an oxidizing gas that causes the charcoal to develop internal pores that trap chemicals and reduce their absorption into our bodies. This comes in handy in medicine when in need of removing toxins or poisons, or in treating overdosage of certain substances/drugs, thus it's often used in the ER. However, activated charcoal is now making it into skincare products and even food, particularly juices. Although it's great to keep at home as part of your emergency kit, and I happily smudge clay-and-activated-charcoal masks on my face (to clear my skin and to scare my kids, two birds, one stone), I won't be ordering it at Juice Generation any time soon. Why? Because even if activated charcoal can prevent my intestinal tract from absorbing certain toxic substances, it can also prevent me from absorbing vital nutrients, as it's not only specific to the "bad guys." Why would I pay $10+ for 1 juice and only absorb a fraction of its nutrients? Again, activated charcoal can be a very helpful tool, but you should be monitored by a doctor to make sure you don't get depleted of nutrients, and be especially careful if you are taking medication (which can also be absorbed by the coal) or if you have a digestive or intestinal condition.

Read more about activated charcoal:

Bone broths: wild or pastured animal (poultry, beef, fish, etc) bones boiled in water and unrefined salt for at least 3 1/2 to 4 hours (and up to 48 hours) have been around since prehistoric times, but sadly, old-fashioned broths have been mostly substituted for less expensive, instant, artificially flavor-enhancing chemicals. No one seems to have time anymore, and we've become squeamish to face the fact that we're actually eating animals. However, with big supporters in the traditional foods, Paleo/Primal, SCD, GAPS and functional medicine communities, these mineral and collagen rich elixirs are are making a comeback. They can be drank in cups or used as a base for cooking soups or anything else that cooks in a liquid. With some good aromatics, they can be extremely flavorful and enjoyable, plus extremely healthful and restoring: they provide our bodies the building materials to rebuild the intestinal wall, they soothe inflammation, aid digestion, are excellent for joints, ligaments, cartilage and tendons, as well as an amazing tool to ameliorate autoimmune disorders and leaky gut syndrome. A new "window" selling bone broths in New York's Downtown, might just show a bit of how people are embracing them. The key point to make a bone broth is to MAKE IT FROM SCRATCH. No consomme powders or "magic" hydrolyzed soy cubes. They are about using the best quality joints and bones, yes, the real things, and a piece of meat, if you want, and giving them time to cook in the water. Bone marrow, chicken, duck, fish bones, try them all at different times, they all have many healing qualities. I purchase mine from It's like going back into your great-grandmother's kitchen, although I do take the short cut by throwing it all in the crock pot for as many hours as I can. I come back home and all done! I use some right away, and freeze the rest.

OK, I'm cheating because this is a repeat from last year, but produce just keeps getting cooler and getting better and better treatment. I love this, because I'm a firm believer that we have to fill our plates 75% with plant-derived foods, and if they taste amazing, the chances of most people doing it, increases. If restaurants (FYI Jean Georges Vongerichten is opening a vegan restaurant this spring at ABC Carpet), cookbooks and online weren't enough, just check out Opening Ceremony's produce-inspired collection for pre-fall 2015.
Some of my favorite cookbooks published this year that feature great veggies (although some are not exclusively vegetarian) are: Plenty More , Clean Eats,  The Oh She Glows Cookbook,  At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, and Bar Tartine . I'm looking forward for next year's My New Roots and for Kim Kushner's upcoming cookbook.
(Photo: Opening Ceremony)
“Locally grown” and “Fresh ‘N Wild” fashion at Opening Ceremony (Photo: Opening Ceremony)
Chefs, bloggers, cookbook authors and good cooks all make their food shine with classic and inventive spice blends and fresh herbs. Everyone is crossing culinary borders by mixing the Far and Middle Easts with Latin America, the Mediterranean and Africa. Miso, curries, sumac, dukka, vadouvan, ancho chiles, za'atar, you name it. From spice Mecca Kalustyan's, to La BoƮte or Whole Spice's custom blends to Trade Joe's, it just shows how endless the possibilities are. It's all pretty exciting and delicious, and even more when you realize that herbs and spices are loaded with healthful compounds, some of them incredibly effective in preventing disease, others that help digestion and/or are powerful antioxidants, are antibacterial or may help lower glucose levels. Turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, thyme, oregano, and pretty much all herbs and spices have amazing attributes. It's a win-win: more flavor and more health.

Just some examples from

With the whole grain-free current (see last year's post), many people have turned to almond and coconut flours, and they are slowly discovering the magic of seeds, which are nutritional powerhouses and many of them are quite inexpensive. We've seen hemp, chia, sesame, flax, pumpkin, and black seeds featured in amazing recipes, but sunflower seeds, are worth mentioning. You can substitute ground hulled sunflower seeds for at least part of the flour in many preparations, and definitely switch almond flour for these ground seeds, which is beautiful for people with nut allergies that want or need to stay away from grains/gluten. So stay tuned for a company selling sunflower seed flour soon. I have my bets on Bob's Red Mills... We'll see...
Another seed that is making it into the mainstream is Psyllium, a seed with a husk that can absorb great quantities of liquid and that you may know better as the active ingredient of Metamucil. It's actually an amazing ingredient to bake with (although anyone eating it should drake sure to drink plenty of water), especially in gluten/grain free concoctions.

So now Google knows my deepest emailed secrets and drama, has my bank account number, knows what I search for online, holds money for me (or whatever exactly Google Wallet does), and now is aware of all my consumer behavior and brings me groceries at home. I just recently tried Google express and although I feel Google with its naive-looking logo now owns me, I couldn't have been happier for not having to schlep to Costco! Fresh Direct changed the way we all shopped, at least in Manhattan, and now, with Instacart, Google Express and awesome start ups like farmigo, which sells through communities, there are interesting changes on how we get our goods in our increasingly saturated lives.
OK, so big food is not going anywhere, but thanks to documentaries like Fed Up, and Origins and bloggers like Food Babe and many others, the food industry practices are definitely being exposed more than ever, and consumers are realizing that there's some thought to be put into their purchases. However, there're still adds and packaging targeting children, and in every store, no matter what they sell (including sports goods--the irony), there're always strategically placed junk foods at kids' eye-level near the cashiers to provoke the child's tantrum and turn the store visit into a parenting resistance test... But at the same time, artisans who put care and their souls into their ingredients, foods and products are slowly growing in some markets, making awesome things. From small batch granola, nut butters, fresh doughnuts, to pickles, sweets, raw honey, or preserves, small producers are making farmers' markets and independent stores, even, rich places to have incredible food experiences. I'm all for food made by people, not by machines!

You probably already know that I'm obsessed with the microorganisms that inhabit our digestive tract, but I'm clearly not the only one. Cultured and fermented foods are increasing like crazy, there are tons of brands of probiotics that promise they are "the right ones" for your particular needs, and there are scientists all over the world finding new, interesting things every day, although there's still a long way to go. In the meanwhile, this are some things I've learned so far: eat unpasteurized fermented foods/drinks, open my windows (this one is a tough for me), breastfeed (OK, I'm done w that one), I would love to get a dog, don't use antibacterial gel (use a natural, essential-oil based one and/or colloidal silver instead) nor antibacterial soap, leave antibiotics for only occasions that truly need them, eat the largest possible variety I can of plant foods, and preferably, in season. Ditch refined foods and abstain from artificial sweeteners. Perhaps, take a good quality probiotics supplement with as many strains as possible, and with at least 10 CFU. Sprouted foods: they make it easier for your body to digest and are some nutrients are more bioactive, which is great, when the microorganisms are not at their best. Stay tuned for more about poop transplants (now officially Fecal Microbiota Transplants) and pills in the years to come (sorry, not the most appealing in a food blog, but this is actually allowing people to eat again!).

A huge trend all over the blogosphere and the internet in general, just google it and you'll see what I'm talking about. Not completely sure how I feel about this one, as it's very personal. I do sell frozen cookie dough that I prepare using the most wholesome, allergy-friendly ingredients I can find, no refined grains, and no gluten, the smallest amount of unrefined, natural sweeteners that I can get away with to still make a delicious cookie, the best fats, and the widest variety of super foods I can think of. However, I still believe my cookies are a treat, not a meal; and in general, this is what concerns me about the breakfast cookie hype. It's amazing to add sunflower seeds, chia, flax and blueberries to your treats, and to make them at home (that's been kind of the purpose of my blog!). Once in a while it can be lots of fun and very delicious. However....nutritionally speaking, I think we should try to do better with the "most important meal of the day," and not substitute cookies for richer sources of protein and plants that are also lower in sugar. However, if breakfast means artificially-colored-oversweetened cereal with chocolate milk, do make some cookies with beans and sunbutter! And yes,  I'm confessing: I've given my kids my cookies for breakfast in some occasions!

Now, after a treaty that took me about a whole year to write, I hope you find this post informative, helpful and/or inspiring and I wish you a very happy and healthy 2015!

In good health,