The Oldways Table Blog

Celebrating health,
happiness, heritage,
and delicious,
nutritious food.

November 12, 2015 | Oldways Table

Here at the Oldways Vegetarian Network we find it easy to gush about fresh fruits and vegetables at peak ripeness. So beautiful! So delicious! So easy to prepare!

But truth be told, we’ve had to work a bit to feel the same way about the unripe produce that inevitably finds its way onto our kitchen counters: the cantaloupe that passes the sniff test but turns out to be rock hard when you slice it; the avocado that feels ripe enough but that just isn’t salad worthy when you open it; the rock hard pears in your fruit bowl you want to use before you head off on vacation; the basket of green tomatoes you brought in before the frost claimed them.

Experiment! A few easy tricks can help you avoid food waste (an issue that’s very important to us) and bring bright, bold, bitter, and sour flavors that can wake up your cooking. As you play you’ll discover that unripe produce holds up to techniques such as grating and dicing that don't work with riper foods, making it possible to slip tidbits into baked goods, salads, sauces, and other dishes.

No need to worry that you’re shortchanging yourself. In fact, some unripe produce may deliver stellar benefits. “There are still nutrients present in unripe foods,” explained OVN consultant, Sharon Palmer, RD. “They just may not be at their full potential. Interestingly, studies have found that ripening can impact the glycemic response of fruits such as apples and bananas (less ripe, less impact) and green bananas contain more of a fiber type that may help with weight loss. There are interesting examples of benefits of unripe produce. We need to do more research!”

Some cultures count on unripe produce for particular dishes (i.e. green papaya salad in Asia). This story is but one example of what you can discover as you study foodways around the world.

Here’s a quick look at our recent experiments. Please share your suggestions with us and join us in a campaign to leave no fruit uneaten in your house.

Avocados. We haven’t tried it but love this idea of a quick pickle for an avocado that isn’t ripe. (It would probably work nicely for all kinds of unripe produce, as would longer, more traditional pickling.) We did, however, try tossing a diced, unripe avocado into a stir-fry and quite liked the result.

Cantaloupes. When you cut into one that’s sullen and hard, chop it into small chunks, toss with maple syrup or cider syrup, arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast at 400°F for about 20 minutes. Serve warm as a dessert, topped with yogurt and toasted nuts. Or shock it into edibility by slicing (leave the peel on) and grilling until slightly charred.

Pears. We’ve yet to meet an unripe, peeled pear (left whole or sliced) that didn’t take well to a slow saucepan bath in a mixture of wine (dilute with water if you wish), grated ginger, a few cinnamon sticks, a star anise or two, a spoonful of agave nectar, and juice from 1 lemon. Simmer until easy to pierce with the tip of a knife and enjoy warm or chilled. Or slice rock hard pears very thin and bake them in a pear crisp. Hard pears also add great flavor to chutney.

Strawberries. They may look fine in the box, but hard unripe strawberries showing too much white flesh can lurk in the most promising packages. Slice them and toss into a blender as a stand in for vinegar in your favorite dressing. Or add to those pears in the chutney.

Tomatoes. Entire books have been devoted to ideas for using green tomatoes. A web search will turn up lots of options. Our favorite is to spray them lightly with oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried thyme or oregano, and fry them in a big hot skillet for about 4 minutes per side. If you dare, grate a few green tomatoes and use in place of zucchini in your favorite zucchini bread or zucchini cake recipe.

Best of all, cut unripe fruits or veggies into thin slices, melt some very good chocolate, and get dipping!

Georgia Orcutt, Oldways Vegetarian Network Program Director

November 10, 2015 | Oldways Table

Who’s your hero, when it comes to nutrition science?

Okay, we admit that’s not a question the average person on the street could answer, but we figure everyone reading the Oldways Table blog probably has at least one person whose work they truly admire, someone who serves as a trustworthy compass for eating well.

No matter what name you came up with, it’s fairly likely that your hero is part of the Dream Team Oldways is gathering together for our Finding Common Ground conference next week in Boston. The bold goal: to get the top experts in one room, and shut the door until they all agree on what constitutes a healthy diet, so that people everywhere can stop feeling whipsawed by conflicting advice. Here’s our list of scientists:

Walter Willett – Cited by U.S. News & World Report as “one of the world’s most recognized and highly cited nutritionists and clinical scientists,” Dr. Willett serves as Scientific Co-Chair of Finding Common Ground. As a recent article in The Boston Globe reported, he plays “an outsize role in matters of the American diet.”

David Katz – “A cross between Johnny Appleseed and a Roman gladiator” is how Dean Ornish describes David Katz, who is our other Scientific Co-Chair. Must be because Dr. Katz tirelessly spreads the seeds of better nutrition — but does so while fiercely defending the truth from various barbarians.

Dean Ornish – Speaking of Dr. Ornish, he’ll be there too. LIFE magazine named him “One of the fifty most influential members of his generation, and Forbes  called him “One of the world’s seven most powerful teachers.”

Joan Sabaté – The benefits of plant-based diets are increasingly well-documented thanks to Dr. Sabaté’s work as chair of the nutrition department at Loma Linda University. His research is one reason the city of Loma Linda was designated as a Blue Zone by National Geographic’s Dan Buettner.

Boyd Eaton – Now we go from plants to Paleo. Dr. Eaton is widely acknowledged as the founder of the Paleo diet movement. It was his 1985 NE Journal of Medicine paper titled “Paleolithic Nutrition” that sparked initial interest in researching the eating patterns of our distant ancestors.

Antonia Trichopoulou and Miguel Angel Martínez-González – Dr. Trichopoulou is often described as “the mother of the Mediterranean Diet” while Dr. Martínez-González heads up the PREDIMED team, running the world’s largest clinical trial on the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet.

Christopher Gardner – Dr. Gardner’s on the cutting edge of nutrition research, currently sussing out how factors like insulin resistance, genes, and microbiota affect weight loss. At the same time, he’s focusing on food systems and sustainability.

David Jenkins – Dr. Jenkins, known worldwide for creating and documenting the concept of Glycemic Index, was appointed an “Officer of the Order of Canada” in 2013 — his country’s highest civilian honor.

David Ludwig and Steven Abrams – Dr. Ludwig, who will also speak on the role of glycemic response, runs the top pediatric obesity clinic in the country, work that led TIME magazine to refer to him as an “obesity warrior.” Dr. Abrams, who also works with kids as Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School, was a member of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

Malden Nesheim and Tom Kelly – What’s good for us to eat should also be good for the planet. Dr. Nesheim is best known recently for his work on the 2015 book A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System, while Dr. Kelly is founding director of the University of New Hampshire’s Sustainability Institute.

Alessio Fasano – Dr. Fasano is perhaps the world’s leading expert on gluten and celiac disease, work that has led him to discover that gut health — our microbiome — may be at the root of many auto-immune diseases. (If you missed our blog post about why microbiome matters, read it here.)

Frank Hu, Eric Rimm, Meir Stampfer – This trio of respected researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have thousands of peer-reviewed publications between them. Dr. Hu and Dr. Rimm have both served on Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committees, and Dr. Stampfer is among the top five most-cited scientists in clinical medicine.

Dariush Mozaffarian – Dr. Mozaffarian is Dean of Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy, the only graduate school of nutrition in North America, and also a board-certified cardiologist, which gives him special insight on the benefits of healthy eating.

Neil Barnard and T. Colin Campbell – Rounding off our dream team are two scientists very well-known for advocating plant-based diets. Dr. Barnard is President of the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine, and Dr. Campbell is celebrated for carrying out The China Study, featured in the documentary Forks over Knives.

What will happen when all these experts get in the same room? Stay tuned to find out. We also have commitments from dozens of top nutrition and health journalists planning to attend, representing outlets as diverse as NPR, The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, WebMD, USA Today, HuffingtonPost, Family Circle, Women’s Day, and many more — so no matter where you turn for your news, you’ll hear the results.

Don’t want to wait? We’ll be publishing the consensus statement on November 18, and will be sharing their presentations on the Oldways website as soon as possible after Thanksgiving. Sign up for updates here and stay in the know about when we release conference materials.

Cynthia, Oldways Whole Grains Council, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies


November 5, 2015 | Oldways Table

We are very happy to tell you that our 2015 Raw Milk Cheese Consumption and Attitudes survey, conducted online from September 19 to October 23, was a big success. We received almost 2600 responses from around the world. The consensus is that raw milk cheese is good and should be available for consumers in the U.S.

An overwhelming 83% of respondents live in the U.S., of which 84% reported purchasing raw milk cheese at least once a month and 20% reported that they purchase raw milk cheese more than once a week. 55% purchase it regularly — at least once every week or two.

We learned that consumers buy a lot of cheese, including raw milk cheese, and that they understand its benefits and the basic differences compared with pasteurized cheeses. Our respondents are informed consumers, with 70% confirming that they are aware of FDA regulations, especially the 60-day aging rule. This is encouraging news, because it proves that consumers have a complex knowledge of the foods they eat and of ways to keep food safe and healthy. Almost 90% of all respondents agree that consumers in the U.S. should have the choice to choose raw milk cheese.

We also conducted follow-up interviews with many of you, and if you haven't heard from us we may still contact you in the upcoming weeks. The results from the small sample of follow-up interviews confirmed that 25% of those consumers prefer raw milk cheeses made in the U.S. This is exciting, as the artisanal cheese movement is growing in our country. We also learned that at-home cheesemaking is of special interest to many of you and we will be looking into sharing resources.

To find out more information from our survey and our work promoting artisan cheeses and traditional cheesemaking techiniques, sign up for Cheese Matters Quarterly, or even better, become a member. For as little as $35 dollars a year, you can ensure that we continue engaging with regulators to make sure that raw milk cheese is available in the United States.

Carlos, Oldways Cheese Coalition, Program Manager

November 3, 2015 | Oldways Table

Oldways is a food and nutrition nonprofit that encourages healthy eating through cultural food traditions and lifestyles. Those last five words ­— cultural food traditions and lifestyles ­— are what make Oldways special and different from other nutrition-focused organizations. This distinction also makes Oldways the ideal organization to bring many of the world’s top nutrition experts together for a conference dedicated to alleviating confusion and reaching a consensus around healthy eating ­— in other words, Finding Common Ground.

We have a 25-year track record of honoring cultural diversity. The first program Oldways embarked on centered on the Mediterranean Diet. There has been more research on the health benefits of following a diet inspired by culinary traditions from the Mediterranean Sea region than for any other diet. Recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all, in the following years we introduced other cultural models for healthy eating and created pyramids for Asian, Latin American, Vegetarian and Vegan, and, most recently, African Heritage diets.

This cultural relevancy makes a difference in successfully helping people eat more healthfully. Back in the mid-1990s, we were asked by the Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion ­— the agency that writes the final US Dietary Guidelines and created the USDA pyramids and MyPlate ­— to present the Oldways cultural models for healthy eating to its staff. After our presentation, one staff member ­— a woman of color ­— stood up and said, “They’re right! The USDA pyramid doesn’t speak to me or my community.”

We’ve since extended the reach of our cultural food pyramids with other materials that provide people the skills to apply the time-honored wisdom of food traditions. One of my favorites is A Taste of African Heritage, our curriculum that teaches cooking and nutrition based on the African Heritage Diet Pyramid ­— the culinary traditions of the African Diaspora. Straight from the field, here are what some of the first teachers of this ground-breaking program have said:

•   "The fact that you've included terminology like 'potlikker' and the Sankofa symbol shows the cultural detail put into this.”

 •  "I've taught nutrition classes before with other institutions' curricula where I had to talk out both sides of my mouth. I can't tell a group of African Americans, with higher susceptibility to lactose intolerance, that they should be drinking three glasses of milk per day. They never have. Culture is a major part of sound nutrition."

•   "At the end of each class, people walk away with a renewed sense of their ability to make a healthy African dish ... and also build on this community that they're creating by sharing stories."

These teachers’ thoughts were echoed in a press report on this program, which has now been offered in more than 100 communities across the country. "The women in the class were intrigued by the history lesson as it related to diet and nutrition. They said they registered because they wanted to find alternative ways to eat healthier and feel better. Denice Smith, of Tyler, has high blood pressure and just wanted to find a better way to eat without excess sodium. The class taught her how to focus more on nutrient-dense vegetables and grains and use herbs and spices." [The Tyler (TX) Morning Telegraph, September 30, 2012]

The United States is the ultimate melting pot, founded by immigrants, and built upon the shoulders of people from all parts of the world. The food traditions brought here by these immigrants ­— Italian, Irish, Vietnamese, Mexican, Latin American, Chinese, Japanese and Thai, West African, Ethiopian, Sudanese, and more ­— have in fact given us a literal melting pot, a rich menu of nourishing ways of eating well.

Oldways believes we will all be healthier ­— and richer in spirit ­— if we embrace our differences and adopt the many cultural models of healthy eating represented by the people who make our country great.

Sara, Oldways President

ON COMMON GROUND is a new weekly blog series from Oldways. Inspired by the Finding Common Ground conference Nov. 17 & 18, the series focuses on the issues, ideas, programs, and research that go beyond specific diets and nutrition trends to ultimately reach commonsense consensus and reliable guidelines about nutrition and food.


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