The Oldways Table Blog

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

December 17, 2014 | Oldways Table

Ever wonder what food experts always have in their kitchens in case of an emergency? Or just because they are their favorite, most versatile ingredients?! Well today is your lucky day! Oldways turned to some of our experts friends in the culinary and nutrition world to ask what five ingredients they always keep in their kitchens.

The overlap in these ingredients tells us what we should already have stocked in our pantries or what should be on our next grocery lists!

"Lemon, garlic, olive oil, some sort of pasta or grain, and eggs. If we could splurge on a sixth, it would be Parmesan cheese."Editors at Food52

"Lemons, garlic, olive oil, pasta, anchovies."Melissa Clark, food columnist for the New York Times and cookbook author

"Wine (is that an ingredient?), cheese, dark chocolate, EVOO, avocados… five is not enough!"Janice Bissex, MS RD and one of the moms behind Meal Makeover Moms

"Whole grains (i.e., farro, quinoa, brown rice, oats), EVOO, nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts), dried spices (an assortment, including basil, oregano, turmeric, thyme, marjoram, and cinnamon), and legumes (beans, lentils, peas)."Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian

"EVOO, garlic, herbs, garum, eggs."Jody Adams, chef and restaurateur

"Yogurt, spices, olive oil, vegetables, lemons." –  Ana Sortun, chef, restaurateur and cookbook author

"Eggs (I hard-boil a batch every week), milk, baby carrots for snacking, oats for breakfast (and now baby cereal), hummus for snacking."Michelle Dudash, RDN and chef consultant

Were all of these ingredients already in your pantry?  What five ingredients do you always keep in your kitchen?

December 17, 2014 | Oldways Table

Does glycemic index matter? That’s the key question in a new study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and reported on yesterday in The New York Times.

Glycemic index and glycemic load (a related system which factors in serving size) are ways of measuring whether foods cause blood sugar to “spike,” and are often put forth as among the ways to differentiate “good carbs” from “bad carbs.” (Because these concepts are poorly understood by the public, Oldways co-organized a gathering of leading glycemic impact scientists for a summit in Italy last year, which resulted in a Consensus Statement on existing research.)

In the JAMA study, 163 overweight, non-diabetic adults spent 5 weeks each on four different controlled diets, all based on the healthy “DASH” diet and varying in carbohydrate and glycemic-index levels. At the conclusion of the 20-week period, researchers, led by Frank Sacks, MD, of Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, found that all four diets resulted in similar insulin sensitivity, systolic blood pressure and HDL/LDL cholesterol levels.

A quick skim of the NY Times article might lead you to conclude that once again, everything we know about eating well has been stood on its ear. But a closer look at the actual study shows it’s not so – and brings out some important points not included in the article.

1. All four diets improved blood pressure and cholesterol. Study participants were overweight people who were put on a healthy DASH diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and lean meats) for 20 weeks. Their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol went down about 9-10% and their blood pressure dropped several points. At a glance it looks like none of these diets made any difference – when the real news is that all variants of a basically healthy diet improved health.

So does glycemic index matter to you? Depends on how you’re eating overall. The study specifically says, “This trial did not address the effect of glycemic index in a typical US diet.” Our conclusion: Just eat well, and tweaks in a healthy diet don’t make much difference. But you need to eat well first.

2. Diabetics weren’t included. Although the Times article touches briefly on this point, it’s worth emphasizing. The study itself says, “We caution that we did not study lowering glycemic index in people with type 2 diabetes to control their hyperglycemia; 2 meta-analyses reported benefits and our findings should not be extended to type 2 diabetes.”

At a time when the American Diabetes Association reports that 29 million Americans (9.3% of the population) have diabetes and another 86 million have pre-diabetes, glycemic index and glycemic load may be vitally important for about one-third of our country. The scientists participating in our Glycemic Summit last year stated specifically that “there is convincing evidence from meta-analyses of controlled dietary trials that diets low in GI improve glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes.” 

3. This is just one study, of one facet of carbohydrates. Note that the quote directly above from the summit Consensus Statement is based on multiple controlled dietary trials. A single study, even a well-done one, should never be used to draw sweeping conclusions – and yet this is what the popular press so often does. The title of the NYT article – “Questioning the Idea of Good Carbs, Bad Carbs” – is itself sensationalist.  This is just one study about one way of ranking the quality of carbohydrate foods. There are other measures as well: whether grains are whole or refined, fiber levels, overall nutrient content, etc.

4. Weight loss wasn’t considered. Before you conclude that glycemic index doesn’t affect health, remember that this study only looked at a few specific markers for a few specific health conditions. The researchers themselves state, “We also did not study the influence of glycemic index on weight loss. Lowering glycemic index may improve weight loss or maintenance according to a meta-analysis and some more recent clinical trials, although others did not find an advantage of low–glycemic index diets.”

So should we all do anything differently today, when we sit down at the table? Dr. Sacks said in The NY Times that the takeaway – unless we are diabetic – is that we should eat whole grains, fresh produce and high fiber foods “without wondering if they’re high or low glycemic” and without learning “that system.”

The bottom line, in Oldways' view, is that glycemic index and load can have an important role in our understanding of healthy eating -- but healthy people should, as a general rule, employ common sense rather than “eat by the numbers”– be they calories, glycemic index, or micrograms of various nutrients.  There are good carbs and bad carbs (just as there are differences between fats and proteins), and most of us know who’s naughty and nice without resorting to charts. We all know the difference between an apple and a fruit roll-up, or between a bowl of oatmeal and a cheese doodle – and numbers and labels rarely come into play on “real foods.” As David Katz, MD, of Yale’s Prevention Research Center said at our recent Whole Grains: Breaking Barriers conference, “Get the foods right and the nutrients take care of themselves – and getting it right includes whole grains.”

Go forth. Eat well. Enjoy plenty of good carbs, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. You already know that a whole grain cookie is still a cookie.

-- Cynthia and Sara

December 15, 2014 | Oldways Table

This holiday season fill your life with friends, family, joy, and plants foods!  Whether you follow a plant-based diet once a week, once a month or every day, the holidays offer dozens of opportunities to prepare and enjoy delicious plant foods you want to eat and share with friends and family.

Before you dive into making those dishes, here are a few tips to help you celebrate in style (and without stress) this festive season.

Make Space to Work.  Before you make even one holiday recipe, cast a cold eye on your kitchen counters, shelves, and pantry and literally, clean house. Gather up all the gizmos and gadgets you haven’t used in the past three months, chuck them in a box and move them to your attic, your basement, your garage, or tuck them in a closet. It’s much easier to get into the cooking mood when you have room to move.

Attack the Refrigerator. Discard anything that’s past its prime. Make room to keep lots of fresh vegetables within easy reach.

Cook to Music. Your favorite radio station may offer what you want.  Or, check out this play list developed a few years ago by some serious foodies.

Read Recipes Carefully.  Spend a little time planning your meals and creating a shopping list so you can avoid maddening last-minute trips to the grocery store for ingredients you’ve forgotten.

Accept Help. People love to contribute, so say Yes! when someone offers to bring a dish, help with serving food or drinks, and especially, lend a hand cleaning up.

Serve Meals Buffet-Style.  Build your holiday meals and parties around an abundance of colorful foods that taste great served at room temperature. Make it pretty, by using a festive runner, candles, and adding visual interest with different heights. (For example, use a cake stand or two as a serving platter.) For a very special touch, serve the meal lit only by candlelight!  Prepare a beautiful and colorful green salad with pomegranate seeds, several kinds of lettuce, a bit of thinly shredded red cabbage, and sprouts, along with several other dishes, including at least one containing whole grains. Incorporate beans into one, too. Set out some olives and a dish of nuts.  Position small bowls of colorful hummus, relish, and chutney here and there on the buffet table, and watch your guests explore and have fun topping their food with these tasty extras.  And include a basket of fresh bread and rolls.  Done!

To help you get started planning your plant-based holiday spread, here’s a selection of some of our favorite holiday recipes, all great choices for an easy and delicious meal you and your guests will love:

  • Asian Trail Mix. A bowl of raw nuts and mixed dried fruit always disappears. Or, you can make this delicious mix.
  • Corn and Pepper Relish. Here’s a bright jolt of color for the table. Use fire-roasted frozen corn.
  • Muhamarra. Make this a day or two ahead. Be ready to share the ingredients list with your guests, for they will surely ask.
  • Olive Crostini. These are easy to make ahead and they go with everything. Top with store-bought tapenade or make your own.
  • Cashew Dressing. Wake up any green or grain salad by pouring this dressing on the top in thin ribbons.
  • Costa Rican Cabbage Slaw. The sharp clean flavors and delightful crunch makes this a popular buffet choice.
  • Gingered Carrot and Medjool Date Salad. You can put this colorful salad together in minutes.
  • Grilled Ratatouille. Use one red and one green pepper to add festive colors.
  • Black Bean, Edamame, and Wheat Berry Salad.  Here’s a delicious combination that goes well with anything.
  • Wild Rice and Lentil Salad. Get some greens into your meal with this tasty mixture. The recipe calls for cheese at the end, but you can omit that if you wish, or add a sprinkling of diced roasted red peppers.

Plan for Dessert! Once your guests have enjoyed the buffet, clear the table and bring out several desserts along with a big a bowl of green, red, and purple grapes.  There are lots of great choices.  For example:

Experiment with Baking. Include some cookies or baked goods as part of dessert if you wish. Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to developing new twists for old favorites, so try a recipe or two before your guests arrive.  Here’s a link to some great ideas for special vegan holiday treats.


December 10, 2014 | Oldways Table

Citrus has a long history of cultivation, dating back more than 4,000 years.  Although the exact origins remain a mystery, some speculate the ancient ancestor of citrus, Citrus medica, made its way from India to Greece, introduced by none other than Alexander the Great.   

With so many types of citrus to choose from, it is hard to believe that there are thought to be only three true species of Citrus: Citrus maxima (pummelo), C. medica (citron), and C. reticulata (mandarin). All other citrus known today are hybrids of these three original species.  We are very lucky to have such a wonderful variety of citrus to please almost any palate.  From tart limes and tangy tangelos to sour lemons or sweet navel oranges, citrus brightens our lives (and our cooking!) From a Spanish ceviche to Greek Avgolemono (egg and lemon soup), citrus adds a dash of health and a splash of flavor to dishes around the world.

There are certainly myriad ways to enjoy citrus – but before we get to these ways let’s learn some fun facts about these fascinating fruits.

  • Even though citrus is susceptible to cold weather, it is only when introduced to cooler temperatures that the fruits develop their bright colors.  Citrus that ripens in tropical climates often retains their green color.
  • Citrus fruits are rich in vitamins and minerals; in addition to vitamin C they supply calcium, potassium, folate, and vitamin A.
  • An 8-ounce glass of orange juice contains more calcium than an 8-ounce  glass of milk (350 mg of calcium v. 291 mg.)
  • More than 80% of America’s orange juice is made from Florida-grown oranges.
  • As Columbus sailed the ocean blue his boat contained citrus too! That’s right. It is believed that Christopher Columbus brought citrus seed to the New World in 1493.
  • Containing high amounts of vitamin C, to prevent scurvy limes were taken on sailing ships.  This is where the name “limeys” came about for British soldiers. 
  • Although citrus arrived in Florida in the 1500’s it didn’t become a commercial crop until the mid 1800’s.
  • Did you know that the peel on citrus has a technical term?  The outmost layer of citrus, what we use for zesting, is known as the exocarp.  

And without further adieu here are Oldways 12 great ways to enjoy citrus!


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