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  Most of the time, when one either tries to plan a healthy meal for themselves or their family, or is given a healthy recipe in some popular fitness/health/food magazine or website, focus is   given almost entirely to numbers. Numbers like grams of fat, calories, cholesterol, and fiber seem to dominate people’s minds when looking for a healthy meal. There’s a major problem in this equation, however: it’s just not healthy!

Say what?

Yes indeed, there is more (much, much, much more) to healthy eating than numbers. The number one thing to consider, is quality. As a health coach, I never pay attention to the numbers; instead I read the ingredients to see if there is anything in that specific food that will be harmful to me. Of course, it’s best to just plain avoid anything in a package, but that doesn’t happen over night and some people just plain aren’t interested in making everything themselves.

Why quality is paramount

Let’s make this real simple and go straight to the recipe. Here is a recipe I found on Eating Well Magazine’s website. It’s low in calories and supposedly heart healthy and good for diabetics and those looking to lose weight.

Here is Eating Well’s version of this recipe:

Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Creamy Chive Sauce

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, (about 1 pound), trimmed of fat
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
  • 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup chopped chives, (about 1 bunch)

Low in total fat, low in calories, low in sodium, and simple ingredients; what on earth could be wrong here? Let’s start straight from the top.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Firstly, I am seeing no suggestions are far as buying organic goes. But just to give Eating Well a small leg to stand on, I’ll assume that they actively encourage their readers to buy organic products. What’s the big deal? Well, for one there are no synthetic ingredients that are known to be cancerous. Secondly, there have been a number of studies showing that pesticides are triggers for a number of diseases.

You can drink all the skim milk you want, but if it’s got growth hormones, then you’re increasing your chances of getting cancer, and the lack of vitamin A & D (which are found in the fat) isn’t good either since they help protect against cancer (and a number of other pathologies). Lastly, cholesterol is needed for the body to help synthesize vitamin D, so even if one is consuming other foods that may be rich in vitamin D, you still want the dietary cholesterol to help keep your body from being deficient.

Goodness, this is just one single ingredient. Can you imagine what the big picture is? Well then, let’s continue.

As mentioned previously, reduced-fat dairy products are refined foods. If it’s pasteurized, the nutrient content will be minimized and the homogenization will increase the chances of heart disease. Even if it’s organic, reduced-fat products are nutritionally useless, and they can even lead to weight gain, as studies have shown.

It’s safe to assume that the animal products that are used in this recipe also don’t come from pastured animals. You see, most farm animals are kept in barns with minimal access to the outside and they are fed not their natural diet of grass (cows) or bugs and plants (chickens) but soybeans and corn (and it gets even worse when you purchase them from a conventional grocery store). Pastured animal products are naturally lower in fat and cholesterol, have a higher nutritional profile that includes the wonderful omega 3 fatty acids.

Lastly, the chicken stock used here is worthless. Even gourmet chicken stock that has added gelatin can not compare to the long-boil bone broth it originates from. Bone broths have been a nourishing tradition of a variety of healthy cultures for generations. Rich in gelatin, fat soluble vitamins, and a host of minerals, these broths have true healing properties that help to reduce bad bacteria in the gut and actually help to improve digestion.

Let’s get it on!

Now let me show you how to do this right:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 boneless, chicken breasts, (about 1 pound)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 tablespoon raw grass-fed butter
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 14oz home-made chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup whole, raw sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon lacto-fermented Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup chopped chives, (about 1 bunch)

What’s right with this picture?

You’ll notice I removed the big fat scare with the chicken. Fat doesn’t make you fat, and neither do calories. In actuality, more fat in the diet can help encourage weight loss. Fat helps to fill you up, which means it will be longer until you’re hungry and that also means less between-meal-snacking. As I had mentioned previously, extra calories aren’t what makes us fat.

Calories themselves are a useless unit of measure. I’ve heard the objections; “but if you eat 500 calories of ice cream (or chips, or candy bars, or milk chocolate, or doughnuts..), then you get fat!”. Well yes, that is true, but it’s not because of the calories. The reason is due to simple human physiology. For these foods, the extra load carbs and sugar will cause the pancreas to produce more insulin and thus will lead to inflammation and weight gain.

The second thing I changed was the kosher salt. Sure it’s better than irradiated, iodized, sodium chloride (ie: regular table salt), but sea salt is a healing food that helps the adrenal glands thanks to the number of trace minerals that are found within it.

What’s next? The health-supportive powerhouse of raw grass-fed butter! Yes indeed, raw butter from cows that live their entire lives on the pasture and eat only grass and hay is a nutrient dense food. Butter helps prevent heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and osteoporosis, it helps support the thyroid and digestion, and it contains 13 different fatty acids, including stearic acid, arachidonic acid, and glycosphingolipids! Butter contains a perfect 1:1 ratio of omega 3 to omega 6, which is good for the heart. Lastly, butter is a super-rich source of vitamins A, E, & K2, selenium, lecithin, iodine, and the Wulzen factor! But wait, butter is a saturated fat, isn’t that terrible? The science is out, and it has shown unanimously that saturated fatty acids are in no way correlated with heart disease. In fact, saturated fats help prevent heart disease by lowering lp(a), a known risk factor.

As I mentioned previously, there is a stark difference between the chicken-flavored water that you can pick up at the store and real, traditional, nourishing bone broth. Not only is bone broth incredibly nutritious (in addition to butter, I suggest making bone broth a dietary staple), but the flavor is astounding. Use it in a sauce or gravy for your favorite meal and you will notice a dramatic difference. The flavor is incredibly rich and it really makes a dish. It’s very easy to make (all you need is some aromatic vegetables like celery, onions, carrots, parsley, and cilantro, a pound or two of chicken bones, and a stock pot), especially if you cut up the vegetables ahead of time.

There is another load of fat with the raw sour cream. Isn’t this too much? Heck no! This of course beats the pants off of typical store-bought sour creams in that it’s loaded with the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K, and K2), a great source of omega 3 since the cow ate grass, and it’s properly fermented (instead of just made sour) to ensure it not just goes down easy, but it contains wonderful probiotic bacteria as well (on top of the beneficial bacteria that’s already found in raw, unpasteurized dairy).

Lastly, what is lacto-fermented mustard? Traditionally, condiments were fermented using whey (hence, lacto-fermented) and this helped to make them healing foods. Mustard, when lacto-fermented and made from organic whole mustard seed, is indeed a traditional healing food that has been used for ages in Asia and the Middle East. Sally Fallon writes in Nourishing Traditions:

Mustard seed use for food and for healing dates back to antiquity. In China during the Tang Dynasty, it was used to treat lung diseases. The Egyptians used mustard for “respiratory therapy”. In the Middle Ages mustard was used for respiratory ailments such as chest congestion, coughs, and asthma. Eighteenth century English physician Herberden endorsed mustard seed for the treatment of asthma.

Mustard is a cousin of cabbage and broccoli. During grinding the mustard seed contains sinigrin, and releases sulfur compounds and oils. The odor irritates the skin and mucous membranes. All the more interesting that mustard seed has been used all over the world for treating the sinuses and lungs.

Looking at these two recipes, which do you think nourishes the body more? Which do you think matters more? A paper-tiger chase of fat, sodium, and calories, or helping the body heal and encouraging wellness? Which do you suppose is more like how our ancestors ate, during a time when there wasn’t epidemics of disease and obesity?

The original recipe given for this is the lazy version and it simply can not compare in taste and nutrition to a more traditional way. First things first, you’ll want to make your own chicken broth, aka, a bone broth. See this month’s article and you’ll know how amazingly nutritious this dish will be. Paraphrased from Sally Fallon and Mary Enig’s much-lauded book Nourishing Traditions, here is how you can make your own chicken bone broth:

1 whole pastured chicken or 2 to 3 pounds of bony chicken parts, such as necks, backs, breastbone, and wings
(if you can’t find a pastured chicken at your local natural foods grocer, check farmers markets, or find out if there’s a local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter you can join)
4 quarts cold filtered water
2 tablespoons vinegar (I use coconut vinegar, but you can use white or cider vinegar)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 celery sticks, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

Break down the chicken and cut the chicken parts into several pieces. Place the chicken into a large stainless steel pot with water, vinegar, and all vegetables except parsley. Let stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour ( so the vinegar draw the nutrients out). Bring to a boil, and remove the white scum that rises to the top (generally, this scum contains impurities. This is a traditional method used when making broths). Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 6 to 24 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it will be. About 10 minutes before finishing the stock, add parsley. This will impart additional mineral ions to the broth.

Now on to the soup itself!

You will want to have some asian noodles (I prefer Koyo round udon), a bunch of cilantro, fresh bunched spinach, and 6 inches or more of ginger (the original recipe calls for an inch, and even after using 6 inches, I still can’t taste the ginger in the soup. Experiment and let me know what you find). Add the cilantro and ginger to the stock and cook it with the rest of the vegetables.

Backtracking a bit now.. When you break down the chicken, cut off as much meat as you can. In addition to the drumsticks, wings, and breasts, there is also a part called the oysters which you will notice just past the drumstick and thigh; cut that small chunk out as well. Having made his dish dozens of times now, I have found some things out through trial and error. Firstly, you can save the breasts in a ziplock bag and put them in your fridge and freezer for another meal. I strongly suggest stripping the meat and skin off the bones of the drumsticks, oysters, and maybe the wings too (I find it to be too much of a pain to bother, so I just throw them into the pot with the rest of the items ).

If you aren’t totally grossed out by it, cut the bones in half, or in a few pieces (likewise, add in a head or feet if you’re brave enough; they’re filled with gelatin). The gelatin inside the bones is very important and very nutrient rich! Now, throw the bones and skin into the pot with the rest of the soaking ingredients. You don’t have to do all this, but in my experience, it’s a major pain to sift through the chicken later and take out very tiny bones and trying to find said tiny bones amongst the rest of the meat. If you’ve ever cooked a whole chicken in a crock pot, you will know what I am talking about. Likewise, the chicken will be tough if you cook it for 24 hours.

Let’s finish this fantastic dish! After the stock is done cooking, take out as much as you can of the chicken bits, bones, and veggies with a slotted spoon; if you have a garden, don’t throw this stuff out, use it for compost!! You will likely have to pour the stock through a strainer to get rid of what’s left. If you don’t have another pot to pour it into, then you can pour it into two or three large bowls.  For the chicken, you can either fry or roast the separate pieces or throw the pieces you want into some of the stock for 20 minutes or less.

Before the chicken pieces are done cooking, cook your noodles and prepare the spinach. If you don’t have two pots to cook the spinach and noodles at the same time, then cook the noodles first, distribute them evenly between two large bowls, and then cook the spinach (the broth will heat up the noodles if they get too cool). If you’ve never cooked whole leaf spinach that’s still attached to the root, simply cut the spinach maybe 3 inches from the bottom and then place it in boiling water. Submerge the spinach in the boiling water and let it sit in there for just a few minutes until all the leaves look slightly cooked and then strain and place it into the soup.

Finally, place the chicken pieces into the bowl and pour the hot soup stock over the noodles. I suggest topping this with a generous pat of pastured butter (the extra fat will help make this more filling and in general butter is incredibly nutrient dense) and some nama-shoyu (unpasteurized soy sauce) to taste.  The original recipe calls for mushrooms, but I omit them since I find them to be revolting. If you’re a mushroom hater or just want to try something different, you can add in watercress or sprouts next to the spinach and chicken.

This should yield enough broth for 2 large bowls and a little extra if you’re lucky.

This soup is incredibly delicious, highly nutritious, and once you’re used to making it, you will want to make it all the time (this has become a weekly staple in my home, and I just love the aroma of the broth cooking). This dish is an absolute must try!

Having one of those days? How about one of those weeks? This happens to all of us constantly it seems in today's fast paced world! But, you know what you do when life gives you lemons? Bake cookies! I've found that by the time the batch is finished, I actually do feel better! Bake cookies for yourself, or for anyone you love, with my favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe:

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 eggs

  • ¾ cup butter

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda

  • ½ cup organic cane sugar

  • ½ cup packed organic brown sugar

  • 2 cups organic chocolate chips

  • 2 organic cups organic all-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place dry ingredients into a large bowl. In a separate bowl combine ¾ cup of butter, 2 eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

  2. Beat until creamy.

  3. Add to dry mixture.

  4. Drop by tablespoonful onto an ungreased cookie sheet

  5. Bake in a preheated 375 degrees F oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool and enjoy!