The liver makes cholesterol which is shipped to various parts off the body. How does it know how much to make? The liver monitors the cholesterol levels inside the body’s cells and the insulin levels in the blood. If the cholesterol level in the cells is low then more cholesterol is made. Makes sense. If the insulin level in the blood stream is high then more cholesterol is made. Not so logical. Why does a high level of insulin lead to an increase in manufacture of cholesterol?
Insulin is a hormone with many functions. It has a role in the growth and building of more new cells. In order to form new cells more cholesterol (cholesterol is a part of all cells) is needed. A high insulin level results in a high blood cholesterol level. A high insulin level is the bodies’ way of saying it is building new cells and needs some new cholesterol.
Unfortunately in today’s society with today’s diet a high insulin level indicates a person has eaten excessive refined carbohydrates. New cholesterol is not needed. But the body orders it and the liver manufactures it.
Statin drugs interfere with the manufacture of this new cholesterol. They stop the manufacture of new cholesterol but statins also interfere the manufacture of Vit A, Vit E, Vit K so they need to be treated cautiously.
Decreasing your intake of refined carbohydrates has the same effect as statins without any side effects. Take your choice.
If you have a high level of cholesterol you have a carbohydrate problem not a cholesterol problem.
When you get your cholesterol checked LDL is often called Bad Cholesterol and HDL is often called Good Cholesterol.
HDL particles often collect the body’s excess cholesterol and take it back to the liver where it is eliminated from the body via the gall bladder. This is good. We used to think that HDL was good because it acted like a garbage truck, clearing evil cholesterol out of our bodies,
LDL particles take excess cholesterol form the liver to the rest of the body. This is bad. It is the very same cholesterol as carried by the HDL. It is going in the opposite direction. We used to think that LDL was bad because it burrowed its way into our coronary arteries, depositing evil cholesterol there—forming plaques and causing heart attacks.
Numerous studies have associated high LDL levels with cardiovascular disease and high HDL levels with lower risk of heart disease (a healthy heart).
High blood sugar and insulin levels turn big, fluffy, innocent LDL particles into small, dense, oxidized LDL particles, which are associated with increased risk for heart disease.
There are a variety of different types of LDLs. Basically the small, dense, oxidized LDL is the bad one associated with heart disease. Research says that a diet high in refined carbohydrates leads to an increase in bad LDL and a decrease in good LDL.
There is also growing evidence that heart disease begins as inflammation in the wall of the blood vessel. There is also evidence that refined carbohydrates cause inflammation. Or to summarize, refined carbohydrates cause the initial damage to the walls of blood vessels. When the wall is damaged cholesterol rushes to the wall as part of the repair process. Cholesterol is needed to build new cells. Cholesterol is now present at the scene of the crime.
Other research says that diets high in refined carbohydrates and high GI carbohydrates increase inflammation throughout the body especially in blood vessels.
We tend to think of fat as bad. Something we need to get rid of. We think it is ugly. We don’t think it is vital for health and happiness. Fat is principally a lightweight, efficient source of energy. Humans use carbohydrates and fat as a source of energy. They store fat as energy, not carbohydrates. Because humans need to move around they cannot store big lumps of starch over their bodies (which is what plants do). The lumps of starch would have to be much bigger than the lumps of fat (fat is more efficient) and would be less flexible (humans can move around easily carrying fat)
Saturation has diverse meanings all based upon reaching a maximum capacity. If a towel is saturated with water it means it cannot absorb any more water. It is full of water. In organic chemistry a saturated molecule contains the greatest possible number of hydrogen atoms. A saturated fat contains the greatest possible number of hydrogen atoms. A saturated fat is a fat that consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids have no double bonds between the individual atoms of the fatty acid chain. All the carbon atoms are joined by single bonds (no double or triple bonds) and therefore cannot be combined with any additional atoms or radicals. The chain is saturated with hydrogen.
Most food is a combination of saturated fatty acids, mono-unsaturated fatty acids and poly-unsaturated acids.
What is the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat?
If most animal fats are Saturated Fat why are so few plants Saturated Fat?
Why are animal fats normally Saturated Fats?
A saturated fatty acid is saturated with hydrogen. It contains maximum number of hydrogen atoms. Each hydrogen atom is a store of energy. The energy is in the carbon-hydrogen bond. Saturated fat contains more potential energy than un-saturated fat or even carbohydrates.
Saturated fats are straight molecules that pack together efficiently and take up less space than unsaturated fats or carbohydrates. They are normally solid at room temperature. If the fat was liquid then it would be difficult for the body to store. It would be difficult to move around.
Saturated Fats are stable relative to unsaturated fats. The carbon-hydrogen bond is strong. The double carbon bonds are weak (of un-SF) and often react with oxygen. Unsaturated fats as oils often go rancid when exposed to air long time before a lump of lard or butter.
Most fats occurring in nature contain mixtures of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Olive oil contains approximately 7% saturated fatty acids. Coconut oil contains more than 80% saturated fat. Beef fat contains nearly equal parts saturated fat and monounsaturated fat (most of which is oleic acid, the primary fatty acid in olive oil) and approximately 5% polyunsaturated fat, depending on what the animal is fed. Most tables you see contain slightly different figures. That’s okay. The important thing is that most are mixtures of different fats. In the one particular food it will vary all the time depending on how the plant or animal is grown. Don’t look on a food as being bad or good because it contains a particular fat. The food will contain a variety of fats, not one particular fat. The table below contains approximations of different fats in each food. they will vary.
Which raises another important point. Not all fatty acids are the same. They vary in the length of the carbon chain. When we talk of fatty acids we normally lump them all together. They vary and a saturated acid in coconut oil is different from the saturated acid in salmon.
Butyric acid with 4 carbon atoms (butter)
Lauric acid with 12 carbon atoms (coconut oil, palm oil)
Myristic acid with 14 carbon atoms (cow’s milk and other dairy products)
Palmitic acid with 16 carbon atoms (palm oil and meat)
Stearic acid with 18 carbon atoms (meat)
For the last fifty years the medical profession has said that saturated fats are bad and has recommended switching from saturated fats to unsaturated fats. The theory is that saturated fat and cardiovascular disease are connected.
Nowadays scientists who have looked at the relevant epidemiological studies consider this recommendation controversial.
I have looked at many of these studies and I can say:
Studies that look at replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fats and carbohydrates are not as successful as studies that replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats. These studies were not as successful as decreasing total fats.
It is easier to prove something if you start off with people with existing CVD not with people who are initially healthy.
I can also say that the situation at present is not clarified. Most experts are cautious. They would still recommend sticking to the current guidelines on fat consumption.
Form what I can see the current thinking is:
Not the same as current official guidelines or recommendations.
The hypothesis that saturated fat causes heart disease now stands on very shaky ground; it is controversial at best, if not obsolete.
There is much stronger evidence linking cholesterol dysregulation and heart disease to refined carbohydrates than to saturated fats. Refined carbohydrates cause a spike in insulin levels in the blood and are the culprits. Not cholesterol. Not saturated fats.
From what I can see the current official Australian recommendations are:
Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol
Limit intake of foods high in saturated fat such as many biscuits, cakes, pastries,
pies, processed meats, commercial burgers, pizza, fried foods, potato chips,
crisps and other savory snacks.
Replace high fat foods which contain predominantly saturated fats such as butter, cream, cooking margarine, coconut and palm oil with foods which contain predominantly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as oils, spreads, nut butters/pastes and avocado.
Low fat diets are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years.
These recommendations are not in agreement with the latest science but:
The current official international guidelines are:
In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that "intake of saturated fatty acids is directly related to cardiovascular risk. The traditional target is to restrict the intake of saturated fatty acids to less than 10% of daily energy intake and less than 7% for high-risk groups. If populations are consuming less than 10%, they should not increase that level of intake. Within these limits, intake of foods rich in myristic and palmitic acids should be replaced by fats with a lower content of these particular fatty acids. In developing countries, however, where energy intake for some population groups may be inadequate, energy expenditure is high and body fat stores are low (BMI <18.5 kg/m2). The amount and quality of fat supply has to be considered keeping in mind the need to meet energy requirements. Specific sources of saturated fat, such as coconut and palm oil, provide low-cost energy and may be an important source of energy for the poor."
Are saturated fats unhealthy?
Our bodies need both saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are good for things like insulation (myelin), cushioning (abdominal fat around our organs), and storage (body fat under the skin) purposes. Unsaturated fats are good for flexibility and fluidity purposes, such as in membranes and body fluids.
Saturated fats are boring chemically. They are quite stable.
You would not want all of your body fat to be unsaturated. All of your fat would be liquid instead of firm and compact. Not only would you sag everywhere (difficult to move around because you would be very liquid), but your body would have to be bigger, because liquid fats take up more space.
Animal fats in your daily diet are naturally good sources of omega-3 fatty acids which is essential.
.I don’t know where this diagram came from but its message is obvious. Cholesterol in the blood above a certain level increases your chance of a heart attack. Above about 5.5 mmol/l it is bad for you.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a four ringed, lipid molecule and is biosynthesized by all animal cells. It has the formula C27H46O.
Cholesterol enables animal cells to dispense with a cell wall to protect membrane integrity and cell viability, thus allowing them to change shape and move about (unlike bacteria and plant cells which are restricted by their cell walls). Cholesterol composes 30% of cell membranes. It makes the membrane more flexible and maintains the cell membrane. It means animals do not have to build cell walls as in plants or bacteria. It means animal cells can change shape readily which means animals can move.
Cholesterol is also important in intracellular transport, cell signaling and nerve conduction. The myelin sheath is rich in cholesterol and important for the conduction of nerves impulses.
All animal cells manufacture cholesterol, for both membrane structure and other uses, with relative production rates varying by cell type and organ function. About 20% of total daily cholesterol production occurs in the liver. Other sites of higher synthesis rates include the intestines, adrenal glands and reproductive organs.
The amount of cholesterol biosynthesized depends on the amount eaten. Eat more and you will make less. Eat less and your body will make more.
Cholesterol is present in bile and it aids the absorption of fats and fat soluble vitamins (Vit A, D, E, K).
A human male weighing 68 kg normally synthesizes about 1 g (1,000 mg) per day, and his body contains about 35g, mostly contained within the cell membranes. Cholesterol is essential for your body. It is both made internally (80%) and absorbed via food (20%). Cholesterol is also recycled in the body. The liver excretes it (via bile) into the digestive tract. Typically, about 50% of the excreted cholesterol is reabsorbed by the small bowel back into the bloodstream.
Ingested cholesterol has little effect on body cholesterol because (a) cholesterol in foods is poorly absorbed and (b) any changes in intake are compensated for by alternations in internal body production.
The body compensates for any absorption of additional cholesterol by reducing cholesterol synthesis. If Cholesterol is absorbed via food, for the first seven hours afterwards, the concentration of cholesterol in the blood increases. Seven to ten hours after ingestion there is little, if any effect on concentrations of cholesterol in the blood.
The fraction of cholesterol in the intestines which is absorbed varies from 15% to 75%, and averages about 50%, with the remainder excreted in the feces. However absorbed cholesterol is mostly cholesterol which was excreted by the liver into the bile, not from food. Recycled cholesterol.
Cholesterol is ubiquitous. All animal cells manufacture cholesterol and all animal meats and animal products (milk, cheese and eggs) contain cholesterol.
Okay Cholesterol is important. What foods is it in?
In your diet it is commonly in fat. That lamb cutlet with a layer of fat contains cholesterol. In the lamb fat you eat the main constituent is triglyceride. But the fat also contains other lipids such as cholesterol. Triglycerides are esters of three fatty acid chains and the alcohol glycerol. The three chains of fatty acids are each bonded to an OH group of the glycerol.
Eating plants prevents absorption of animal cholesterol. A little bit. Plants make cholesterol in very small amounts. Plants manufacture phytosterols (substances chemically similar to cholesterol produced within plants), which can compete with cholesterol for reabsorption in the intestinal tract, thus potentially reducing cholesterol reabsorption.
What is a fatty acid chain?
The major constituent of animal fat, triglycerides contain chains of fatty acids. A fatty acid is carboxylic acid attached to a long chain of C and H atoms. They are naturally occurring with an even number of C atoms from 4 to 28. The carbon atoms are linked into a zig-zag chain with hydrogen atoms to the side. The more carbon atoms there are in any fatty acid, the longer its chain will be, and so the longer ones melt at a higher temperature. The liver makes fatty acids for use by the rest of the body. There are many different types of fatty acids and they are essential to a healthy life.
In animal fat are lipids of various types. Fats are naturally occurring molecules that include fatty acids, oils, waxes, steroids, fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K), monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, and cholesterol. So animal fat contains both fatty acids in triglycerides, fatty acids in phospholipids and cholesterol.
When we use the word fat to describe a food we are describing a mixture of triglyceride and phospholipids. Phospholipids are broken down in the healthy body to release their constituents, glycerol and fatty acids
Fat is an important foodstuff for many forms of life, and fats serve both structural and metabolic functions. Fats serve both as energy sources for the body, and as stores for energy in excess of what the body needs immediately. Animal fats are a complex mixture of triglycerides, phospholipids and other lipids. Triglycerides are the most common. Triglycerides contain three fatty acid chains and glycerol. Phospholipids contain two fatty acids and phosphate and glycerol. When we look at the lamb chop we are looking at fatty acids and glycerol. There will be very minimal bits of cholesterol
Many cell types can use either glucose or fatty acids for energy. Heart and skeletal muscle are good at using fatty acids. Glycerol from fats can be converted to glucose by the liver and become a source of energy.
What is the connection between cholesterol and fat?
Triglycerides (containing fatty acids), phospholipids and cholesterol are all lipids (insoluble in blood) and are transported around the body via lipoproteins.
Lipids (such as cholesterol) are not soluble in water or blood. In order to get around the body they are joined to proteins and then transported through the blood stream to the rest of the body. When lipids are joined to proteins they are called lipoproteins. In blood the main types are high-density lipoproteins or low-density lipoproteins. These are both made in the liver. HDL are normally considered good lipids. LDL are normally considered bad.
Lipoproteins. Why are they important?
Lipoproteins are special particles made of droplets of fats surrounded by a single layer of phospholipid molecules. Phospholipids are molecules which are attached to a phosphorus containing group. They have both a polar and a non-polar end. They carry molecules which are in-soluble in blood such as cholesterol.
Lipoproteins are the plasma lipoproteins (chylomicrons (ULDL), VLDL, IDL, LDL and HDL), the transmembrane proteins of the mitochondrion and the chloroplast and bacterial lipoproteins.
Is too much fat bad for you?
Fat is generally considered bad for you. Major epidemiological studies that look at large groups of people are interesting. ‘The China Study’ looked at Chinese people with a very poor traditional lifestyle. Their diet in China was very low in animal fat and dairy products and high in vegetables. Diet fat levels were half those of the USA. Their blood cholesterol was half that of the USA. They had virtually no heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Initially the easy way to measure the amount of fat in your body was to measure cholesterol in the blood. There was a very good, cheap and reliable test for this. But nowadays the lipoproteins are seen as a better guide.
HDL is a lipoprotein that consists of a high proportion of protein and a little triglyceride and cholesterol. It transports cholesterol from the body to the liver and then via the gall bladder and the bile it is eliminated. HDL normally moves through the blood system, safely and without any collateral damage to the blood vessels.
LDL is a lipoprotein that consists of a moderate proportion of protein a little triglyceride and a high proportion of cholesterol. It carries cholesterol from the liver to the tissues of the body where it is stored. Each LDL particle carries approximately 1,500 molecules of cholesterol ester. In an unregulated environment the LDL molecules lead to atherosclerotic plaque formation. Atherosclerotic plaque is atheroma and means you are on the way to cardiovascular disease. For this reason LDL is called bad cholesterol.
The average LDL particle carries 3-6000 fat molecules some of which are cholesterol. The common view is that LDL particles are bad. HDL particles are good.
Fat in your diet
Fat in your diet normally consists of triglycerols. Which is chains of fatty acids joined to glycerol. Fat in your diet comes in many ways. Saturated fats, mono-unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and trans fats.
In saturated fats the carbon atoms are only joined by single bonds not joined by double or triple bonds. There are no double bonds between the carbons in the chain. Saturated fats have the greatest possible number of hydrogen atoms. They are saturated with hydrogen. Therefore they find it difficult to react with other atoms or radicals. Saturated fats come from animal meats or animal products (milk, cheese) and palm oil and coconut oil. These have a higher melting point and are more likely to be solid at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats have one or more double bonded carbons in the carbon chain reducing the number of places where hydrogen atoms can bond to carbon atoms. They have a lower melting point and are more likely to be liquid at room temperature.
Mono means there is only one double bond. Mono-unsaturated fats come from olive oil and canola oil. Polyunsaturated means there are many double bonded carbon bonds.
If the third carbon from the end is a double bonded carbon then it is called an omega -3 fatty acid. Omega 3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They are general considered good. They decrease inflammation and are good for disease such as dementia and arthritis. Omega 3 fats come in fish oil and flax seed.
Omega 6 fat is another type of polyunsaturated fat. Omega 6 fats come from vegetable oils and nuts. Can also come from meat (animal and fish). They often react with oxygen in the air and go rancid. (Olive oil, sunflower oil) Can be neutral or protective.
Trans fats occur when you artificially heat an oil and deep fry food in it. Trans fats are normally considered the worse type of fat. They are man-made. Do not occur naturally.
How do you decrease your cholesterol level?
Your cholesterol level is a guide to your lipoproteins which are a guide to the status of your arteries (especially the coronary ones). Your cholesterol level is important and should be known.
Nowadays bad cholesterol levels are treated by strict dieting (low saturated fat, trans fat-free, low cholesterol foods,) and medications such as statins. Studies have shown that statins work. They decrease bad cholesterols in the blood and decrease heart problems.
What food should I eat? What food is good for me? What food is good for my bacteria? Now I have your attention. What do you mean by bacteria? Who cares about feeding them?
Everybody (or every body) houses millions of bacteria. They live everywhere. In the gut, the mouth and on the skin. They are generally non-pathogenic; existing harmlessly and symbiotically with their host.
You could use the term microbiome or microbiota to describe the bacteria that inhabit or live on humans. There are trillions of microbes in the average human microbiome and it accounts for 1 to 3% of total body mass.
How many microbes in the average human microbiome?
Estimates of the size of the human microbiome vary from 40 trillion microbial cells to 100 trillion cells. One estimate has the human microbiome as outnumbering human cells by 1.3 to 1. Other estimates have a figure of up to ten to one. Nobody knows how many bacteria are commensal with you at the moment. It will vary in the one person continuously. Every time you defecate you lose more bacteria than human cells so the ratio of human cells to bacteria will change.
What does the human microbiome consist of? Largely hundreds of different bacteria. Also some fungi and viruses, though much less. It is known that the human microbiome is highly variable both within a single subject and between different individuals.
The problem of elucidating the human microbiome is essentially identifying the members of a microbial community which includes bacteria, fungi, and viruses. This is done primarily using DNA-based studies. You can actually get that done by sending a few samples to the relevant place. It has become possible within the last ten years.
Where does the microbiome come from? Within seconds of being born a new born baby has been colonized by intrepid explorer bacteria largely from the mother. These bacteria can divide every 40-60 minutes so if conditions are suitable they increase rapidly.
Microbiomes are crucial for health. They are essential for digestion, control the calories we absorb, provide vital enzymes and vitamins as well as keeping our immune system healthy. If you get the wrong bacteria in your microbiome then the microbiome has also been linked to disease such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, muscular sclerosis, fibromyalgia and some cancers. They play a role in obesity and some psychiatric disorders such as depression and bipolar disease. In fact the number of diseases that have been linked to microbiome is so large I can’t mention all of them. I will return to this subject.
Microbiome and diet. Your microbiome influences and determines what happens to the food you eat. They decide lots of things such as if the food you eat is stored as calories or not. The bacteria in your gut largely decide what is going to happen to the food you eat. So the microbiome determines what happens to the food you eat. And the food you eat determines your microbiome. The two are connected.
What microbiome is the healthiest and best one to have?
What diet leads to the best possible microbiome?
In coming posts I will attempt to look at some of the answers to these questions.
Healthy food is low in refined carbohydrates (white flour and sugar), low in saturated fat, high in complex carbohydrates (whole grains and legumes), high in fibre and high in vitamins and minerals.
If I have doubts about what to eat I go for the safety of unprocessed plants: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. This is what the recipes in this website are based on.
White sugar is unambiguously bad for you. The less processed sugar you can eat the better for your health. You can take your favourite recipe for biscuits, cake or a sweet desert and cook the recipe as normal sans sugar but the problem is it will not taste very nice and be difficult to persuade people to eat it (irrespective of how healthy it is).
The problem is that the routinely used plain white flour has no flavour but it teams up very well with white sugar. The two combine beautifully. If you want to cook without sugar then you also need to jettison white flour. White flour (and I don’t know why) without white sugar does not taste very nice. If you replace the plain white flour with flour made from whole grains (wheat or rolled oats) then you find you can finish up with something healthy, flavoursome and popular.
Another thing you can do if you eliminate sugar from a recipe is add extra essence or spices. Vanilla essence, orange essence, rose water, almond essence, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, star of anise. It doesn’t take long to change a sweet tooth into a tooth that appreciates and savours a multitude of flavours.
I don’t like the idea of adding artificial sweeteners. It’s my experience that weaning people off a sweet tooth is possible and much preferable. The idea of replacing sucrose with fructose also doesn’t inspire me. Sugar is sugar. It doesn’t matter if it comes in the form of white sugar, honey or fructose it’s still full of calories (leads to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease) and will rot your teeth.
I also intend to include in these pages recipes for vegetables. The rationale is: fill up on healthy vegies and decrease or eliminate the need for sweets, biscuits, cakes and dessert.
Growing your own food helps when you buy food. Your knowledge about when foods ripens; what ripens on the tree; what ripens after picking helps buy appropriately. Knowledge about the seasons; what is fresh and seasonal; what grows locally and what cannot, helps in knowing what to buy.
Growing food improves ones cooking of food. It forces people to cook in a generic manner. To use what is available. To learn basic recipes that can be adapted to suit what is available. I can explain. Generic cooking involves learning how to make a crumble topping. The topping can be used over any fruit which is available; plums, apples; pears; berries. This is the opposite of the cooking that celebrity chefs promote. They give a recipe and a detailed list of all the ingredients. There is pressure to rush to the shop; buy the ingredients as prescribed and follow the recipe. It will not look like it did on TV. It is depressing, time consuming and gives all the power to the chefs.
You are pressured to buy the books with the photographs. Every body owns multiple cookbooks (they make great presents). In contrast to the past, when women owned very few cookbooks. In the past cooking books were about techniques, basic principles, generic cooking and contained very few photos. Not inseparable from the personality of the chef and full of recipes which are so detailed and so specific you cannot ever get it right.
Meanwhile all the chefs and all the books are competing against each other. They have to come up with new ingredients; new flavours; new countries; something different. This normally means exotic ingredients. Ingredients that involve more transport, more storage, are hard to find and have no cultural significance (They are not what you had as a child). You can see why young people give up, buy a prepared meal to reheat, or a ready-made sauce, or dial up for a pizza. If the trend continues young people will spend all day watching cooking programs, buying cooking books, feeling powerless and never ever cooking anything.
Our food culture has not arisen from a peasant subsistence culture. There is no knowledge of indigenous foods and local climates. No knowledge of wild plants and animals and how they can be harvested or used. No intrinsic knowledge of what grows well in our particular area. No ceremonies associated with harvest or certain foods coming into season. We don't have this knowledge, recipes, language and the cultural events that go with indigenous food. Everything has been introduced. There is virtually nothing that we eat that was growing here (locally) more than 200 years ago.
If the pantry or kitchen is full of prepared foods such as biscuits, people are more likely to eat individually: to continually drift in and snack. The alternative is to have set meal times and to sit down and eat as a family. The latter is preferable for social, emotional and health reasons. To treat food as a scare resource, something special that must be looked after leads to family meals, good eating habits and healthier people. This is more likely to happen if the cook puts in an effort, takes her time in the kitchen, cooks with love, treats the ingredients as something precious and doesn't thrown a prepared meal on the table.
Everybody is talking about food. Celebrity chiefs and cooking programs are bigger than ever. The shops are full of cooking books and a bigger and better variety of food than ever before. The cooking habits and the diet of the young people I meet is worse than ever.
Ignore all that for a minute go back to basics, back to the beginning. When I sit down and look at the food lumped on the plate in front of me I may be thinking about many different things; about work or what's on TV or I may even be thinking about the food. If I'm thinking of food I'm thinking about…… the back garden.
Food should tastes nice. I want the ingredients to taste good separately and in combination. Consider the textures, contrasts, smell and presentation.
Food grown and cooked yourself is normally tastier because it's fresher. Fresh broad beans, figs or tomatoes cannot be bought. A lot of bought food has to be picked half ripe because of the time involved in transport and because ripe food is often soft, bruises and spoils quicker. Homegrown food is normally tastier because you can select tastier varieties. You can go by different criteria from that of the supermarkets or farmers. You don't need to select varieties that transport or store well.
Food should be healthy. It should be full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; high in fibre and low in fat or sugar. Food should be free of harmful bacteria, toxins or poisons.
Backyard food is normally healthier. In many cases the food deteriorates in nutritional value from the moment it is picked. If the bought food is stale and lacking in taste you need to add flavour; this often increases the fat or calorific content of the food. It makes the food unhealthier. Adding extra ingredients to the food also decreases the ease of cooking and increases the cost. A lot of bought food is over-processed with many added ingredients that do nothing to improve the nutritional value of the food.
Backyard food can also be grown free of chemical sprays.
Food should be easy to prepare or cook. Simple easily learned techniques. Techniques that can be applied to a variety of dishes. It doesn't necessarily mean things that can be cooked quickly. A simple technique often can mean the opposite: long slow cooking.
Backyard food lends itself to easy simple cooking or even no cooking at all: salads or the eating of freshly picked fruit. Restaurants lead themselves to the reverse. If you sat down in a restaurant to a dessert of a freshly picked fig cut in two you would feel cheated. No effort or preparation gone into the food. There might have been a lot of effort put into growing the food but in restaurants we only appreciate effort in the preparation of food. The more complicated and involved the recipe the better.
Backyard food is cheaper; assuming you are not counting the cost of your labour.
The emotional value of food:
Food needs to have a high emotional value. This is different for different people at different times in different cultures. Family favourites. Recipes that have been used for generations in the same family. Foods that your mother and her mother cooked.
Some foods bring back fond memories. Traditional recipes from the home country. Recipes associated with certain places or times. Unfortunately in our immigration society many people have migrated and moved from where their antecedents lived, so what may have been good local seasonal food for their parents may no longer be appropriate. There can be a conflict between traditional food and fresh, locally grown food.
For a vegetarian, vegan or anybody with religious or health constraints the emotional value of food depends on the food meeting personal rules and philosophies.
Food has a spiritual value. If you plant a seed and months later eat the fruit of your labours, it illogically tastes better. It is that indefinable extra spiritual element.
What is the emotional value of home-grown food? It is indefinable and difficult to quantify but it exists. To see the fruit develop and anticipate it's ripening; to succour and support it through climatic vicissitudes; to await the day it ripens; to anticipate and pick it. All this gives the food a value that you wouldn't get from the same food bought in a shop.
The transport and storage of bought food leads to release of greenhouse gases and global warming. Extensive monocultures lead to irrigation, weedicides, insecticide, salinity and erosion.
Home-grown food is often associated with compost which is associated with retaining household scraps and not placing them into the rubbish bin. This helps preserve depleted landfill areas.
Using plain flour means you need sugar. Avoid them both.
Instead use rolled oats as the basis.
Add a tablespoon of cornflour or semolina. ?baking powder
Could add a bit of polenta for a different flavour.
Add margarine or a vegetable oil to hold the oats together.
Mix all the topping ingredients together with your fingers. The crumble mixture should be dry and crumbly: Like bread crumbs.
Additional extras for the topping:
Star of anise
Grated orange rind
Unsalted nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachio, pecans)
The base consists of fruit either alone or in combination.
To be used in combination with other fruits
Dried fruit soaked in liqueur
Red or black currants
Place the fruit in a bowl.
You would not normally need to add water but if the fruit is dry a little bit of water would be beneficial. A spoonful of cornflour would help if the fruit is watery. Cover the fruit loosely with topping. You shouldn’t need to grease the bowl but you can if you are worried.
Will depend on fruit used and size of dish. If the fruit needs cooking (i.e. apples) bake at 180°C or 40 minutes. If the fruit only needs heating only (i.e. berries) then bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
If making individual crumbles then cook for about15/20 minutes at 180°C.
Serve with a milk product: cream, custard, yoghurt or ice-cream.
The basic idea is make a smoothie. Lighten it by adding air. Decorate. Solidify it. That’s all Easy peasy. The ideal way of eating fresh seasonal fruit.
To make the smoothie you need some puréed fruit plus yoghurt, milk (cow’s milk, soya milk, coconut milk or anything you fancy), cream, buttermilk or skim milk powder. You need about 500ml. You can also add a protein milk powder if you are into such things. You can also add a liqueur, or spirits.
To lighten your smoothie you need to add either whipped cream or beaten egg whites. I prefer egg whites. One egg will be enough and you can add the yolk to the smoothie.
Now add either gelatine or (if you are a vegetarian) agar. Use enough to set 500 ml of liquid.
Whisk together the smoothie, the dissolved gelatine/ agar and the egg whites. Pour into a large bowl or into individual desert bowls. Decorate with fresh fruit, glazed fruit, nuts nutmeg, cinnamon, mint leaves, flowers. Place in the fridge until set.
That is the basic recipe. To get you started I will list a few of the hundreds of recipes floating around in books or in the ether.
Some fruit can be used either raw or cooked. Peaches, plumbs, apples. Cooked is preferable. More flavour and better colour.
I prefer not to add sugar or honey unless really needed. Rhubarb, passionfruit and quince.
I prefer yoghurt. If feeling spartan go with the skim milk powder. If feeling decadent use cream which is not recommended for regular and daily use.
Remember when tasting the smoothie that adding egg whites to the smoothie will dilute the flavour.
Adding lemon juice will slightly intensify the flavours.
Apricots; vanilla essence; decorate with blanched almonds.
Raspberries; orange juice.
Mango; orange juice; rum; decorate with mandarin pieces.
Passionfruit pulp; caster sugar; orange juice;
Pawpaw; mango; rum; lemon juice.
Pineapple (cooked); grated orange rind; honey.
Rhubarb; brown sugar; white wine; grated orange rind;
Black grape juice; blackberries;
Pineapple (cooked); banana; passionfruit; peach; mango.
Blanched almonds; banana; vanilla essence; decorate with grated nutmeg.
Blueberries; raspberries; honey; decorate with sesame seeds.
Orange juice; carrot juice; pitted prunes.
Pineapple; banana; fresh ginger.
Fruit juice; honey; banana;
Hazelnuts (roasted and finely ground in a food processor); coffee.
Whole grain flour: This is the critical ingredient in making healthy, tasty bread. Whole grain flour is elusive and difficult to get. It is the milled grains of wheat: nothing added and nothing taken away. It is not wholemeal flour which has various definitions but normally means plain flour with colour and bran added.
Olive oil or canola oil
For a small loaf use 300ml of water. For a big loaf use 400 ml. For an even bigger loaf (or rolls or two small loafs) use more water. The critical thing is the ratio of water to flour. Which is approximately 100ml of water to one cup (250ml) of flour. This varies depending on the type of wheat but it’s a good place to start.
Place 300ml of water in a beaker.
Add a tablespoon of dry yeast. Add about a tablespoon of sugar. Add about a teaspoon of salt. These are all approximates. It doesn’t really matter that much. You can even leave out the sugar and salt if you wish (but it will take longer to rise).
Place the water in the microwave for about 30/45 seconds. This will speed up the rising time.
You need about three cups of flour. You would normally go with about two cups of wholegrain flour and one cup of plain flour. You would need about two tablespoons of gluten added to the plain flour. Place the flour in the microwave for about 45/60 seconds. This will speed up the rising time.
Add about two tablespoons of oil to the water. Amount of oil you add is not critical. Vary to suit. Wisk the watery ingredients. Wisk the various flours together.
Add the fluids to the flour. Stir it with a knife or a spoon. It should be dry enough to pick up in your hands. This is the important part. Getting the right consistency and needing the bread for long enough. The only way is by having a go. If it’s too wet then pick up the dough and dip it into some flour. Then go back to needing. Difficult to explain. You really need someone to show you at least once. Perhaps ‘YouTube’. If the dough is too dry then you need to add water. More difficult but can be done by pushing holes into the dough and then pouring water in. It comes done to feel, instinct and trail and error.
Needing should take about 5/10 minutes. Needing is finished when the dough hangs together. It develops elasticity. More trail and error.
Place some glad wrap over the top of your bowl and then cover with a tea towel. Let stand. The time it takes to rise depends on the room temperature. If you have heated the water and flour and the room temp is above 20 degrees C it should take about an hour and a half for the bread to rise. When ready it will have more than doubled and tiny bubbles will start to appear in the surface of the dough. If you haven’t heated the water and flour it will take 3 to 4 hours for the bread to rise at the same room temperature. If the room temp is getting down around 10 degrees C then it will take forever to rise. You need to place such dough near a heater. If the temp is above 30 degrees C then you don’t really have a problem. The dough will rise very rapidly. Probably about an hour.
When it is fully risen it then needs to be knocked back. Punch the dough and knock the stuffing out of it. Then put it in a tin or on a tray to rise for a second time. This will be quicker this time. About 20/30 minutes. It should roughly double in size. If you leave it too long the resultant loaf will be full of air bubbles especially in the top half. Too little and the loaf will not be as light as it could be. Once again this is a question of trial and error and personal preference and will vary from day to day depending on the room temperature and type of flour.
Now cook the loaf in a pre-heated oven. About 175 degrees C for 35 minutes (for a 300 ml loaf) . For a 400ml loaf cook for about 45 minutes. Rolls for about 25 minutes.
More trial and error. Ovens vary tremendously. So does personal taste. For a crusty loaf cook for longer or at a higher temperature. For a moister loaf that keeps longer cook then cook for the shortest time possible.
The basic dough recipe can be used to make loafs, rolls, flat bread or pizza. Though you need to change oven temperatures and cooking times. Use your imagination.
To cook bread it is very much a question of feel or the vibe. The only way is to experiment. Most failures are edible. Just do it. Get the feel for needing the dough; get the vibe that tells you how long it should rise for and how to cook it.
The basic variations:
Add herbs; fresh or dried
Add olives, sun-dried tomato, grilled capsicum
Add nuts, dried fruit, soya grits, sunflower seeds, pumpkin kernels
Coat with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, polenta
Add bread improver: the bread keeps longer
Add wheat hearts or semolina
Vegetables: If you add mashed vegetables to the dough you need to decrease the amount of water. The alternative way is to grate the vegetable; place in a tea towel, squeeze the liquid from the vegetable and then add the dried vegetable to the flour and the juice to the liquid. This method works really well for unwanted zucchini. Add the squeezed grated zucchini to the flour and decrease the total amount of liquid slightly. The resultant bread will be moister than normal and last longer.
Exotic flours: you can easily replace some of the wheat flour with flour made from rice, rye, barley, oats, maize, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, legumes, and potato. I’m sure I’ve missed something but you get the point. Replace a cup of wholegrain wheat flour with any other flour and you will not have to alter the basic recipe. If you start taking out more wheaten flour you made need to add extra gluten. If the loaf is crumbly; like a muffin or a scone then it is lacking gluten. A crumbly loaf is not a complete disaster, you can still eat it but the loaf will not keep well and the trail of crumbs will not please everybody. Personally I prefer gluten.
If you cannot acquire or make some of the more exotic flours another option is to add rolled grains to the flour. Substitute a cup of rolled oats (or barley, rye, triticale) for a cup of flour and proceed as normal.
 One reason being whole grain flour contains oil in the wheat germ and has a short shelf life.
This blog is about what goes in. Not about what comes out. A lot of the posts are about food. There are posts about the food before it goes in. About preparing it, growing it or cooking it. There will be recipes.