The Oldways Table Blog

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

June 24, 2015 | Oldways Table

How is it possible that most of us are so intimidated when we approach the cheese counter at our local supermarket, when we have been eating cheese for all of our lifes? Probably, the mystification either comes from a growing selection of cheeses from far and more diverse places; or from the many news reports and opinions saying that the cheese we eat is not healthy. Talk about making grocery shopping a more complicated and stressful journey.

Here at Oldways, we love good traditional food, but the most important thing for us is to empower you with information to make you choose the best food for your lifestyle. Lets get some basic information first and then on to some serious recommendations.

In the U.S. most people think of cheese as a comfort food or an integral part of a comfort meal. Think hamburgers, nachos, or even breakfast sandwiches. Comfort meals are normally inexpensive, ready to eat on-the-go, and full of calories. They are designed to feed us without contemplation for how we are nourishing our bodies. The problem is not that we eat these foods, but rather that most of us eat them all the time. A second problem is that we want them to be cheap, and that normally translates to the lower quality ingredients, and at times the drive for inexpensive food is used as an incentive to add extra ingredients to make them go further. In the case of cheese, this means putting chemical additives, preservatives, and hydrogenated oils along with poor quality milk to make generic cheese. What we loose by adding all these extras is flavor. This either gets corrected with more salt, more added flavors, and ultimately leading to larger portions. At the end, we need higher quantities of melting cheese, to give us the comfort we are looking for. 

In recent years health studies have pointed out that cheese is actually a nutritious and healthy food. The single consistent recommendation in these studies is moderation. Still, cheese can be a comfort food, but it is important to limit the portions and find those truly delicious, high-quality cheeses that will satisfy our cravings.

Here at Oldways, we refer to those cheeses as traditional. These are cheeses made all around the world using techniques that respect livestock, the environment, the producer, and finally yield a better product for the consumer. Some of them are made with raw milk, some are aged in natural caves, and some others are made with milk of more than one breed of animal.

Did you know that one of our programs is dedicated specifically to promoting traditional cheese as part of a healthy diet? Visit our Oldways Cheese Coalition website where there is much to learn and explore - from health studies to a cheese glossary, all supporting traditional cheese. You can also subscribe to our quarterly CheeseMatters newsletter and get tips and recipes in your inbox.

These traditional cheeses can be eaten by themselves, or include them as an ingredient in a recipe to bring them to life. The best way to start eating better cheese and limit your intake is to find a recipe that calls for a specific cheese. Buy double the amount of the cheese and use it both as an ingredient and as an extra in another meal or as a snack. This way you will become acquainted with this cheese and know how it behaves with different foods. In time, you should have an ample selection that you can then use to your advantage to create your own recipes or to start substituting cheeses in your favorite recipes.

Also, eat cheese seasonally. Look for fresh goat and cows’ milk cheeses in spring and summer, while you reserve fall and winter for aged cows and ewes’ milk cheeses. This way you will have variety, but also follow the regular cycle in which cheeses are produced and matured.

Finally, keep moderation in mind, think of cheese and any other dairy not as a staple food. It is not meant to be. Cheese should be enjoyed once a day at the most, but preferably a couple of times a week.

-C. Yescas, Program Director, Oldways Cheese Coalition

June 23, 2015 | Oldways Table

The Fourth of July is just around the corner, and what’s more American than burgers and hot dogs on the grill? Veggies!

If you haven’t tried grilling vegetables yet, this is a great time to experiment.

You’ll find that vegetables and some fruits, too, take really well to the grill – their flavors become mellower, deeper, and depending on how long you keep them on the heat, they develop a caramelized taste and texture. Divine.

Here are a few tips to enjoy the goodness of the grill:

  • Avoid vegetables with a high water content such as celery, cucumbers and leafy greens, instead try asparagus, eggplant, onions, bell peppers, squash, zucchini and mushrooms.
  • When preparing veggies, remember the more surface area the better for getting that grilled flavor we all enjoy.
  • To make sure they cook evenly, cut vegetables into similar sizes. Square and round shapes are great for skewers; if you want to cook directly on the grill, cut items such as zucchini and eggplant into lengthwise planks. Some items such as asparagus can be grilled whole. (If you’re using bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them first so they won’t burn.)
  • Before grilling, toss vegetables with a little olive oil and your favorite herb or spice.
  • The oil adds flavor while helping to keep the food from sticking to the grill. Be careful not to saturate the veggies with oil or a marinade – too much could cause a flare-up.
  • The best part of grilling veggies is that they cook quickly – usually just 4 to 10 minutes. To speed up the cooking even more, you can parboil your vegetables indoors, then simply grill for a minute or two to add that nice grilled look and smoky taste. Watch them closely in any event, so they don’t burn.
  • Don’t forget stone fruits such as plums and peaches – and even thick slices of watermelon can be grilled, too. Cut stone fruit in half, remove the pit, brush with a little oil and place directly on the grill. After grilling serve as is, or cut up and add to salads or use in a dessert.

Summertime, with the abundant fruits and vegetables at hand, is the perfect time to add more plant-based foods to your diet, and grilling is just one way to prepare them.  For more ideas, check out our Oldways Nutrition Exchange Plant-Based Diets toolkit. We rustled up resources including more tips and recipes for enjoying these foods in your diet any time of the year.

Happy grilling!


June 18, 2015 | Oldways Table

Over the last three years, the A Taste of African Heritage (ATOAH) six-week series has been delivered to over 100 community sites nationwide.  The program has been driven by a network of talented, dedicated volunteers, with classes happening at various locations in a kind of “pop-up” fashion – in churches, community centers, schools, home kitchens, and more.

Philadelphia is the first city in which Oldways is partnering with community-based organizations to offer ATOAH on a regularly scheduled, ongoing basis, so that more people can find and access classes.  The city was chosen because of its rich cultural diversity and city-wide commitment to public health and nutrition, anti-hunger, urban gardening, and food justice work.

The first five Philadelphia partner sites, where one can find classes this year, are: 

The Kick Off Event included a cooking demo led by local ATOAH Instructor Dejenaba Gordon, MPH, and an African Heritage tasting menu made up of recipes from the program.  Handmade Kente-patterned place mats perfectly underlined the train of vibrant foods.  Guests included community members, nutrition educators, community organizations, small business owners, and health professionals.  After the formal speaking segment of the event, we got to “meet and eat” – enjoying Mafe Stew, Jollof Rice, Black-eyed Pea Salad, Collard Greens, and After-Chop Fruit Salad, and learning about each other’s work and thoughts on health, heritage, and food.

Thanks to the Free Library and everyone who came out, it was a beautiful event, kicking off an exciting two-year initiative ahead! 

If you or anyone you know is in Philadelphia, and would like to attend a local class, please let us know!  Email Sarah McMackin at

June 16, 2015 | Oldways Table

Real food has real momentum these days.  Recently, Panera announced a “no no” list of artificial preservatives, colorings, sweeteners and flavors it would remove from its foods by the end of 2016.  Subway, with more outlets than even McDonald’s, will follow a similar timetable for replacing artificial colors, flavors and preservatives with spices and other natural substitutes. Taco Bell soon chimed in, saying that, by the end of 2015, it would remove colorings like Yellow No. 6 and Blue No. 1, and substitute actual black pepper (imagine that!) for black pepper flavoring in its beef. Pizza Hut (like Taco Bell, part of YUM! Brands) has also committed to removing artificial colors and flavors from its pizzas but much sooner – by July 2015.

On the retail front, Target, one of the top 10 grocers in the U.S., announced on May 18 that the chain will give extra attention and promotion to “wellness” foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. While Target is not eliminating foods like canned soup and sugary breakfast cereals, they’ll be de-emphasized in store flyers and shelf locations.

In a 2015 national consumer survey conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute for Sensient Food Colors, 51% of shoppers said that taking artificial colors out of “kid-centric” foods was especially important to them. No surprise, then, that Kraft Macaroni & Cheese will now be made without Yellow #5 and #6.

As these companies were reformulating their foods, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published the results of a study showing that two popular food additives that are chemically similar to detergents may make the gut’s mucus barrier “leaky” and alter important gut microbes that can determine our health. The NIH reported that “mice fed these emulsifiers for 12 weeks developed low-grade intestinal inflammation and metabolic syndrome – a group of conditions that increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke” and that “these results suggest that modern additions to the food supply can interact with gut microbiota to influence inflammation, metabolism, and weight.”

While we also prefer foods without artificial-and-unpronounceable this, that, and the other, we’ve noticed that “real food” means different things to different people. Sometimes what you leave in is as important (or more so!) than what you take out, so we’re urging these five companies – and others following the same road – to put whole grains high on their priority list. Will that Kraft Macaroni & Cheese be made with whole grain pasta? Will Pizza Hut offer a whole grain crust option? (Kudos to Subway – they already offer a whole grain roll option, and tell us that a large percentage of customers order it.)

Adding whole grains can have beneficial effects. Take inflammation, like that mentioned in the NIH mouse study above. Randomized controlled human studies like this one in Nebraska and this one in Iran, show that eating whole grains lowers inflammation markers – an important fact since inflammation is increasingly linked with a wide range of diseases.

Just as a reminder, when foods are made with refined wheat instead of whole wheat, the wheat is missing half to two-thirds of at least 17 key nutrients. Even when the flour has been “enriched” only five of those nutrients have been restored, and in amounts different from their original proportions. (You can download our chart comparing whole wheat flour to refined wheat and enriched wheat flour here.) Other grains besides wheat suffer similar losses when they are refined by having their bran and germ removed.

We applaud the increased attention being paid to the quality of food and we’ll be watching all these brands in the coming months, to see where whole grains fit into their plans. Real food isn’t just about removing traces of chemicals – it’s about honoring the full delight of nature’s bounty. You wouldn’t buy an apple or a carrot with half its nutrients removed, so why do that when you buy grain foods?

- Cynthia


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