The Oldways Table Blog

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

August 27, 2014 | Oldways Table

“I’m not eating any carbs, because they make your blood sugar spike.” “Nobody should eat grains; they all have a high glycemic index, especially pasta.” If you’ve heard — and believed —statements like these, the truth may surprise you: many grains have a very low glycemic index – including pasta. And a large body of research ties whole grain consumption to reduced risk of diabetes and inflammation.

It’s true that blood sugar levels matter. Researchers link many chronic diseases, from diabetes to heart disease, with eating too many foods that send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride. Indeed, when you eat such foods, especially those made with highly processed grains and sugar, your blood sugar can spike then quickly plummet, leaving your energy depleted and causing damage to essential bodily systems.  It’s healthier to choose foods that provide a steady, slow release of glucose (blood sugar).

The Glycemic Index rates how quickly carbohydrate foods are converted into glucose – and you may be surprised to learn that many grain foods have a low GI score (considered 55 or less on the 1 to 100 GI scale).  Virtually all intact whole grains have a very low GI score.

Check out these typical scores:

Grain Food GI Score
Whole grain barley 25
Rye berries 35
Buckwheat 45
Brown rice 48
Whole wheat pasta 37
"White" pasta 45

Even if you’re aware that whole intact grains – eaten in porridges and pilafs, grain salads and soups – have a low glycemic index, you may be surprised to see pasta keeping good company with these intact grains.

Pasta has a low GI score, with whole grain spaghetti rating about 37, and even “white” pasta coming in at 42-45. That’s because the starch structure of pasta causes it to be digested much more slowly than the same amount of flour made into bread. That’s what makes pasta uniquely healthy. (A hot tip: al dente pasta has a lower GI than overcooked pasta, so cook your pasta like the Italians do. Then eat it with plenty of vegetables and beans or fish, for a healthy pasta meal.)

Besides starch structure, many other things affect how a particular food or meal impacts your blood sugar. Acidic foods lower your glycemic response, so eat your breakfast cereal with some tangy plain yogurt, and add a salad with vinaigrette dressing to your dinner.

Particle size and fiber also lower glycemic impact. Breads made with coarsely-ground whole grain flour and with grainy bits included are a better choice than fluffy light breads (even those made with whole wheat flour tend to have high GI scores). Sourdough breads have a lower GI than yeast breads, too, so a chewy whole grain sourdough loaf is a great choice among breads.

Want more tips for better blood sugar control, plus a quick overview of Glycemic Index and related topics? Check out the Glycemic Response Tip Sheet that Oldways created in June 2013, when we co-organized a conference on Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load and Glycemic Response in Stresa, Italy. on a single web page, it will tell you everything you need to know about this important topic.

Don’t avoid grains. Just eat the right ones, especially intact whole grains and pasta, to fuel your body slowly and steadily while supporting good health.

- Cynthia

August 26, 2014 | Oldways Table

Following directions can be difficult (and sometimes confusing), particularly when it comes to following use-by dates on packaged foods. Are you a fly-by-the-seat- of-your-pants person or are you a stickler about sticking to those dates?

We looked at a variety of sources to do a bit of use-by-date decoding. Then, we turned to our trusty experts to see where they stand when we asked them: Do you always follow use-by dates?  The answers may surprise you…or maybe not!

"We try to be as safe as possible with our food, so we always toss perishables by their use-by date. We have, however, heard that eggs are the one thing that you can keep past their date -- so we tend to be a little less strict about those!" – Editors at Food52

"I generally follow dates for vulnerable foods, such as packaged hummus, but I have found many preserved foods that continue to pose no threat and are palatable beyond their expiration dates."Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian

"No, I use my senses to let me know if something is off."Melissa Clark, food columnist for the New York Times and cookbook author

"No. It depends on the food. Storage and temperature conditions can extend the life of the food. When it comes to really risky foods though, like deli potato salad, I follow the use-by dates."Michelle Dudash, Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Chef Consultant

"I usually don’t have to unless it's dairy because we make so much from scratch.  But, I think those dates are usually pretty generous so I recommend following them."Ana Sortun, chef, restaurateur and cookbook author

"I do with milk and cream but I fudge a little with eggs.  Well I take that back… My husband grew up on a chicken farm where they sold eggs.  He’s kind of a stickler about respecting the dates on egg cartons and always talks about how they used to make a hole in the fresh eggs when they were kids and he and his brother would suck the fresh egg out of the shell.  He said the flavor was super sweet.  I decided that if I went beyond the use-by date, the eggs wouldn’t be sweet anymore.  Plus I love buying fresh eggs at the farmer’s market.  They taste so much better!"Joan Weir, chef, restaurateur and cookbook author

After hearing where the experts stand now we want to hear from you:  do you follow use-by dates?

August 20, 2014 | Oldways Table

Regulatory concerns over the safety of raw milk cheese are like the mythological hydra of contemporary food safety research—as soon as one dispute is settled, it seems two more spring up.  However, thanks to an exciting Kickstarter campaign, progress is being made. The goal of the campaign is to translate a set of groundbreaking scientific research studies related to the microbiology of raw-milk cheese from French into English. [We are thrilled to say that our Cheese of Choice Coalition contribution to the campaign tipped the scales and means this important project will be funded!]

Raw milk cheese is largely misunderstood by regulatory bodies and policy makers who assume that the presence of bacteria in food is by definition a bad thing. But that just isn’t so. In fact, recent scientific research has confirmed what traditional cheesemakers already know, that it is the presence of “good” bacteria in cheese that actually render it a safe (not to mention delicious and healthy) thing to eat.

The coordinator of the project, Bronwen Percival at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, gives us a glimpse into what’s inside.

“Within its pages, the authors show how protecting the natural diversity of carefully produced raw milk is not only crucial for maintaining the identity and flavour of cheese, but also promotes a barrier effect that can help to protect against the growth of pathogens. Rather than subverting modern food safety targets, this approach may actually help cheese producers to achieve them.”

The Cheese of Choice Coalition agrees with Bronwen and the scientists who conducted the study that this information “has the potential to transform the production and quality of artisan cheese in the English-speaking world.”

One of the CCC’s primary objectives is to encourage scientific and regulatory dialogue between the United States and the international cheese community. Alas, what we’ve been doing for tens of years, many European countries have been doing for hundreds. Our goals to see cheese produced in a safe, delicious, and traditional manner are shared, and collaboration in terms of science-based prevention makes us only that much stronger together.  This project is an important step in the right direction.

There is no other book of its kind in English and we are counting the days until we receive our copy. If you would like to contribute to the project or simply learn more, take a look at the Kickstarter page here. Pledges will be accepted until the end of August and contributors will receive a complimentary copy of the book (the first and only printing).

If you’re interested in learning more about the raw milk cheese debate, including the history of its production and regulation as well as links to peer- reviewed scientific studies such as the translation above, the Cheese of Choice Coalition will be publishing a Hot Topic article on the topic next month. Sign-up for our eNewsletter to be notified automatically or simply keep a regular eye on the CCC website for updates.  


August 18, 2014 | Oldways Table

On August 2nd, with cameras rolling, over a dozen Texans crowded around an enormous kitchen counter. The smell of fresh dill, crushed coriander, and sizzling plantains filled the air. Servings of sautéed tangy greens, black-eyed peas splashed with cider vinegar, and roasted sweet potatoes were handed out as tasting samples, lending vivid flavor to all that the group had just learned.

The participants ate happily, chatting and asking questions, after taking part in a one-day A Taste of African Heritage class that was taped for an upcoming informational video due out at the end of this summer. Between the eating, smelling, learning, and bonding—there was so much more happening than just an Oldways cooking class or video shoot.

Fruits and vegetables were the stars of the show, along with our roomful of students – both former and new – and two VIP A Taste of African Heritage teachers, Tambra Raye Stevenson and Danessa Bolling, who flew to Austin, TX for this special occasion to help us capture the magic of the program on film.
Tambra, one of sixteen African Heritage Diet Advisory Members and founder of NativSol Kitchen, flew in from Washington, D.C. to lead the filmed class, as well as a grocery store tour and outdoor picnic. Danessa, a four-time instructor from Houston, joined us for the day to share her insights as a repeat teacher in her city. 

The weekend was simply packed with food: talking about food, shopping for food, cooking food, teaching about the nutrition and wellbeing in food, tasting food and meeting foods previously unknown. Tambra landed in Austin first, and we headed straight out to visit local African, tropical and Halal markets, talking with the owners and exploring the shelves of global spices, grains, and goods.

The first market we visited was owned by a man from Nigeria who is running for city council in his Austin area. He kindly showed us around his small store and played the most amazing West African dance music for us (loudly, so you couldn’t help but dance in the aisles!). The most intriguing product I found was canned eggplants peeled and soaked in brine water—perfect for blending with sautéed onions, garlic and palm oil, I was told. After we purchased a small bundle of visual groceries for the class – a shaggy, club-shaped African yam, boxed fufu flour, soaked eggplants, various kinds of millet, palm oil and peanuts – he told us to help ourselves to a couple of complimentary drinks and kola nuts. We gladly chose ginger beer, made from ginger root, to take with us on our journey. Yum!

Next, the local Halal market felt like a trip around the world. We were met with boxes of dates from Northern Africa, huge packages of dried herbs and spices (most costing under $2.50!), and wonderful produce, including fresh okra.

Filming began on Saturday morning at 9am sharp, with teacher interiews at the videographer’s studio. There, Tambra, Danessa (in photo at right) and I were invited to speak about the importance of the “old ways” as a powerful guide for healthy, delicious, optimal eating and an inspiration for shifting our modern-day relationship to food. We each described A Taste of African Heritage in our own words, sharing the exciting details of the program, the “Aha!” moments we’ve each seen in students firsthand, and we walked future viewers through the African Heritage Diet and its positive, powerful implications for culture and public health.

Danessa spoke about the different structures of her four Houston-based classes: one delivered at the mental health clinic that she currently works for; another with families at a community garden; a third conducted in a “Sunday-dinner” style; and, her current class at Houston’s Health & Human Services Department’s Diabetes Awareness & Nutrition Center. She explained how this program has helped herself, her family and her community. Her teenage daughter has given up fast food, and since the class began, she is now Danessa’s honorary smoothie station leader. Danessa also talked about how quickly and adeptly little ones have taken to the information, with kids as young as 4 years old able to identify foods like “dino kale” for adults in their community garden class. The stories and overarching impressions were all extremely moving.

With our bags packed, we headed to The Sustainable Food Center’s teaching kitchen to meet our students for the day. The room filled up almost immediately with former students from our 2012 Austin pilot, as well as friends and members of local partners Food For Black Thought and Rootwork came out to join us too. Major thanks to these organizations for their support and help in inviting local students!

Tambra led the class through a condensed version of the whole six-week program, sharing about the cultural history, the traditional eating pattern, the inherent nutrition, and a wide variety of African Heritage herbs & spices, leafy greens, beans and peas, vegetables, tropical fruits, whole grains, tubers and other starches. She prepared the program’s black-eyed pea salad and tangy greens sauté, plus baked sweet potatoes and sautéed plantains. After the instruction, students were invited around the stove to enjoy the tastes, smells, and visuals of all the foods. Several of the students joined us for interviews, offering their impression of the African Heritage Diet and former students shared their experience and how the class re-shaped their diet.

After clean up, we jumped back in our cars and headed to Springdale Farms for a gorgeous sunset picnic with some of our students. We brought a potluck of dishes, including unsweetened iced tea, barley salad, watermelon, and Oldways’ Seared Okra and Brussels sprouts dishes. We ate and talked about the foods, discussing when and how the “old ways” got lost and learning about one students’ genealogy project and what she’d learned about her ancestry so far. We were all left deeply inspired and full!

The finale shoot on Sunday morning took place at Wheatsville Co-Op. Two local teens met us for an African heritage grocery store tour, to learn about the foods of the pyramid, and shopping, eating and cooking tips. Tambra (shown at right) walked them through the produce section – sharing tutorials on fresh peppers, jicama, leafy greens, cabbages, and more – and the store’s bulk section, studying the many varieties of whole grains and beans.

And … that was a wrap!

We ended the weekend with smoothies from the co-op—the ginger mango smoothie was the group favorite and resonated perfectly with the African Heritage Diet.

The next steps happen in the editing room, taking all these amazing moments and putting them together for a six-minute glimpse at the A Taste of African Heritage program. We can’t wait for the opportunity to unveil the video in the coming weeks!

A HUGE THANK YOU to Tambra, Danessa, all of our participants, Food For Black Thought, Rootwork, Sustainable Food Center, and the filming team at Dennis Burkett Photography and to Potential Being for facilitating such an amazing weekend shoot!



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