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I’m hoping that my continuing streak of absentee/generally useless blogger behavior can be offset somewhat by the fact that the five recipes in tonight’s weekend reading happen to look particularly great. All of them have been pinned and put onto my “must make” list–whenever, that is, I get my culinary creativity back. This week featured a fairly monotonous parade of packed lunches and simple dinners, interrupted by a short lived but nasty cold that is thankfully retreating. But I can feast with my eyes, and so can you.

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Let’s start with breakfast. Sandy (the Reluctant Entertainer) has created a terrific toasted vegan quinoa granola with currants and coconut.

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Also in the breakfast vein, Heather’s chai protein oatmeal is both beautiful and looks incredibly filling. Another hit from Yumuniverse.

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Someplace in between breakfast and dessert is Gina’s gorgeous, exotic black rice pudding.

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As usual, Susan is creating gorgeous food over at Rawmazing. This time, it’s beet and avocado salad with macadamia cheese. What an appetizer!

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And finally, this masala cauli-fried rice looks like an incredible, innovative, vegetable entree. (I haven’t stir fried cauliflower rice, but I’ve been curious!)

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1. I thought this article on healthy eating on a budget from David and Luise of Green Kitchen Stories was fantastic: practical, actionable, and mindful.

2. Yet more research in favor of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. This article details a new study of 1,100 post-menopausal female subjects. It determined that women who had higher amounts of fatty acids in their red blood cell membranes also had greater brain volume–specifically, greater volume in the hippocampus, which is an area of the brain associated with learning and memory (not surprisingly, the hippocampus is the part of the brain most associated with Alzheimer’s disease). (1)

The article goes on to state the importance of dietary intake of omega-3s, and it notes that those who eat less fish should consider supplementation, since it can be difficult for the body to convert omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources (often known as ALAs, or alpha linolenic acids) into DHA and EPA (Docosahexaenoic acid and Eicosapentaenoic acid), which are the fatty acids associated with brain health. It doesn’t mention vegan supplement options, so I thought I’d mention the Deva DHA supplement, which I like, the Flora supplement (also good), or the Ovega supplement (new to me but looks pretty good). DHA supplementation for vegans isn’t considered a necessity, as B-12 supplementation is, but a number of vegan health professionals consider it to be advisable.

toast-2Photograph courtesy of Pacific Standard Magazine.

3. A profile of the artisanal toast trend that is so much more. When he discovered that artisanal toast was a thing, the author writes,

I had two reactions…First, of course, I rolled my eyes. How silly; how twee; how perfectly San Francisco, this toast. And second, despite myself, I felt a little thrill of discovery. How many weeks would it be, I wondered, before artisanal toast made it to Brooklyn, or Chicago, or Los Angeles? How long before an article appears in Slate telling people all across America that they’re making toast all wrong? How long before the backlash sets in?

For whatever reason, I felt compelled to go looking for the origins of the fancy toast trend. How does such a thing get started? What determines how far it goes?

Where it goes is to a coffee shop called Trouble in San Francisco. And from that point forward, the article becomes a touching, inspiring profile of Trouble’s owner, a 34-year-old woman named Giulietta Carrelli. Carrelli suffers from schizoaffective disorder, a mental health condition that combines symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolarity. Throughout her life, she has suffered from episodes that felt, to her, like a “kind of death,” which often included wandering, hearing voices, or–perhaps worst of all–an inability to identify herself. Part of why she has been drawn to working in coffee shops is that they create a community in which she is recognizable:

she began assiduously cultivating a network of friends she could count on for help when she was in trouble—a word she uses frequently to refer to her psychotic episodes—while being careful not to overtax any individual’s generosity.

Carrelli also found safety in simply being well-known—in attracting as many acquaintances as possible. That’s why, she tells me, she had always worked in coffee shops. When she is feeling well, Carrelli is a swashbuckling presence, charismatic and disarmingly curious about people. “She will always make a friend wherever she is,” says Noelle Olivo, a San Francisco escrow and title agent who was a regular customer at Farley’s and later gave Carrelli a place to stay for a couple of months. “People are taken aback by her, but she reaches out.”

Trouble, apparently, serves three things: coffee, young Thai coconut (which Carrelli nearly subsisted on at one point in her life) and cinnamon toast, her quintessential childhood comfort food. Beyond this, the article isn’t really about food, exactly…but of course it is. It’s about the ways in which people can find a sense of belonging in the world, which so often do involve the breaking of bread. I found it inspiring, and recommend checking it out.

4. An important article about night eating syndrome. In many ways it’s also an article about the difficulties of classifying and defining eating disorders, and I thought that my readers might find it interesting. The article ends with a note that health care practitioners should be able to recognize symptoms of the disorder; I’m glad that more attention is being given to ED awareness in the health care community.

5. One of my readers asked me to address an article that I’m sure many of you have seen by now. It’s an op-ed entitled “Kale? Juicing? Trouble Ahead?” The author, a self professed health fanatic, describes her recent hypothyroidism diagnosis, and how it compelled her to call into question many of the things she formerly presumed to be healthy. When she got her diagnosis, she writes,

I looked up the condition on the Internet and found a list of foods to avoid. Kale, which I juiced every morning, tops the list, followed by broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and collard greens — the cruciferous vegetables I consumed in large quantities because they are thought to prevent cancer, which runs in my family. And flax — as in the seeds — high in omega 3’s, that I sprinkled on cereal and blended in strawberry almond milk smoothies. Also forbidden: almonds and strawberries, not to mention soy, peaches, peanuts, corn, radishes, rutabaga and spinach.

As if that isn’t enough, there’s more bad news ahead:

I went to the dentist, who said I had five cavities and asked if I snacked on candy and sodas all day long. I was insulted. Indignant. What did he take me for? No, I answered. I don’t eat sugar and drink only fresh vegetable juices — no longer kale, of course, but carrot and celery, which I’m still allowed. And filtered water with lemon.

“You’d be better off with chocolate and cola,” he said. Apparently the natural sugars in fruit and vegetable juices can cause decay, and lemon, though high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids which may prevent cancer, had eroded the enamel that protected my teeth.

So, a couple things. To start, yes, it’s true that cruciferous vegetables, flax, soy, almonds, and a number of other foods are thought to be problematic for those with hypothyroidism. This is because they contain compounds called glucosinolates which, when broken down through digestion, may either interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis or compete with iodine for uptake by the thyroid gland (iodine is crucial to thyroid health). (2) People with hypothyroidism are often cautioned to limit crucifers, but it’s worth noting that cruciferous vegetables rarely seem to be a direct cause of hypothyroidism. Extremely high intakes have been shown to cause hypothyroid symptoms in animal studies, but I read about only one reported case of this phenomenon in humans: an 88-year-old woman who developed severe hypothyroidism after eating between 1 and 1.5 kilograms of raw bok choy daily for months. (3)

So, in spite of the fact that the author was clearly consuming a lot of raw kale, it’s hard to say if her zeal for healthy eating (embodied in kale juice) actually made her sick. Moderate cruciferous vegetable consumption isn’t a problem for people with normally functioning thyroids. WBUR also covered the Times op-ed, and they interviewed Teresa Fung, Sc.D., M.S.. an adjunct professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health who said, “normal, reasonable amounts of eating should not be a problem. A regular person [with no thyroid issues] who eats several servings of cruciferous vegetables a week should not have problems…It’s the dose that makes a poison.” 1.5 kilograms or raw crucifers a day is a good example of such a dose.

It’s also worth pointing out that a huge number of factors can cause hypothyroidism: genetics, certain medications, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease. Diet isn’t necessarily the cause, or even a cause. In some ways, the author’s immediate assumption that diet caused or exacerbated the problem is a part of the same fixation on controlling health entirely through food that she seems to be gently satirizing.

While I can’t really speak to the tooth enamel issue, I can say that I don’t think this article is much cause for panic about kale salad, or green juices. Kale is still a superfood, still a wonderful source of micronutrients, and it’s still a worthy addition to your diet. As the WBUR coverage notes, cooking cruciferous vegetables decreases some of the compounds that can be problematic for the thyroid, so eating cooked kale in addition to kale salad is very helpful here. So too is getting adequate iodine and selenium in your diet. But even moderate amounts of raw kale (kale salad, kale juice, kale-slaw, kale chips) should be OK in the absence of outstanding thyroid problems.

What I do think the article points to is the danger of extremism, of consuming any food in tremendous excess (even a healthful one). In nutrition work, I often see people who have gotten into food “prisons,” in which they only feel safe eating a very limited number of foods. Heck, I lived through such a phase myself, back when I was deep into raw foods and the idea of “detox,” and greens, avocado, and lemon made up the majority of my diet. All healthy things, but they were filling up too much space, and it was because I had unfounded fears of so many other foods. This was no way to live. Aside from missing out on a wide variety of healthy ingredients, I was also overdoing it on the few ingredients I didn’t fear.

To be very clear, I don’t think that the author of this article is describing such a fear-based scenario. But I think she’s talking about the imbalance that can result when one glorifies certain foods a little too much (or vilifies them too much). I think she’s also describing how easily our understanding of what’s healthy can be turned upside down–a phenomenon that anyone who takes interest in nutrition watches again, and again. For this reason, I think it’s a good cautionary tale–not so much about kale as about balance.

Enjoy the reading.

xo

1. Pottala JV, Yaffe K, Robinson JG, Espeland MA, Wallace R, Harris WS. Higher RBC EPA + DHA corresponds with larger total brain and hippocampal volumes: WHIMS-MRI Study. Neurology. 2014 Jan 22. [Epub ahead of print]

2. Fenwick GR, Heaney RK, Mullin WJ. Glucosinolates and their breakdown products in food and food plants. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1983;18(2):123-201.

3. Chu M, Seltzer TF. Myxedema coma induced by ingestion of raw bok choy. N Engl J Med. 2010;362(20):1945-1946.

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