For many years (too many years) people have avoided butter for fear of heart disease, clogged arteries and larger love handles. They've turned to margarine for toast and apple sauce for baking recipes. I am here to tell you a little butter won't do you harm. Personally, a little butter (in terms of flavor) provides much more satiety than the substitutes. Fat is also very essential in our diets. That said, not all butter is created equal.
Have you ever wondered why some butter is white and some butter is yellow or golden? Ever wondered why some butter is wrapped in foil and others in translucent paper? Basically it's all science. :) Before we get to this weeks sauce - practically pure butter - let's talk some more about the star of the recipe.
You are what you eat, and so are cows. Cows that are pasture fed (instead of corn or grain fed) have an abundance of flowers and fresh grass full of the yellow pigment beta carotene. These pigments because they are fat soluble get stored in the fat. This is carried over into the fat in a cows milk. You may be wondering then why does milk appear white? Well, some milk is white again due to the cows diet, but even cows raised in pasture still provide white milk. So why is it white? There is only 3% milk fat in whole milk. Even in cream it is 30 to 40% fat. There is so much more water and minerals and protein floating around, it does not appear yellow. Butter however is 80% fat, and with that high concentration, if the beta carotene is in the fat, it will be that beautiful golden yellow.
The more color in the butter, the better in terms of vitamins and minerals. So, if it's white pick a different option. The difference in butter that is covered in tin foil versus the clear wrapping is due to the salt content. If salt content is present, the butter is less susceptible to becoming rancid, so sweet cream butter (or unsalted butter) is usually what you will find in the tin foil. If you are leaving the butter on your counter and exposed to air, you are better off choosing the salted version, to avoid it becoming rancid.
The butter in European butter is often treated with some bacteria, which makes it taste even better! There is a higher concentration of the fatty acid butyrate. In some studies, higher intake of butyrate is associated with greater satiety and less overall calorie consumption. This also could just be because it comes with sources of fat, which are very satisfying. I love me some Kerrygold Irish butter. I also love a new European butter Trader Joes is making from Brittany France that is cultured and salted, yummy.
Okay, so let's talk Compound Butters. And why is this a sauce? Compound butters can be used over cooked steak, cooked chicken, corn on the cob, pork, and cooked vegetables to finish them. It is a beautiful way to serve something. And the herbs make it so delicious. The butter placed over a warm dish melts and becomes the richest most satisfying of sauces. You can really use any herbs to compliment the meal you are preparing. You could simply do chive and cilantro for a more Hispanic flare. You could use an Herbs de Provence blend with it's use of lavender for a more floral component. Check out this recipe below, it has a wide range of applications and tastes so good. Sometimes I will even add some cracked pepper or red chili flakes into the mixture for an added bite.
1 pound butter (go for the good stuff - European, salted)
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh chives
1 Tbsp thyme
1 Tbsp sage
1 Tbsp rosemary
Chop the butter into uniform chunks (it is easier using a chilled knife). Use a food processor and add oil and chives, process until chives are finely chopped. Add remaining herbs and blend until herbs have colored the oil. If you have a stand mixer whip butter at medium speed until it softens and lightens in color. You are essentially whipping in air, which is a good thing, it will help the herbs and oil incorporate more easily.
Next add in the herb oil to the butter and beat another 2 minutes until the oil is fully incorporated. Remove butter with a spoon and place on parchment paper or plastic wrap. Roll into a log and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. You can serve by cutting a slice of chilled compound butter and placing over the top of any meat or vegetable.
One of the biggest difficulties I see my clients experience is falling into the trap of making a quick decision on a less optimal meal due to poor preparation and planning. If I asked 100 people where they plan to be tomorrow at 9 am or even noon, most of them, maybe 90 of that 100 would say they know exactly where they will be. Maybe in bed, maybe at their child's soccer game, or sipping coffee reading the newspaper. However many of them (read YOU) couldn't tell me what you plan to eat tomorrow as a mid morning snack or what you'll be having for lunch time.
Having the right foods in your home when it is time to make a meal or snack is key to not falling victim to blood sugar lows and hangry trips through the drive thru. This becomes even more important when you are feeding more than just you (like spouses, kids, relatives, etc). When it comes to weight loss, it is EVEN more important for you in continuing to reach your goals to have the right foods, READY to go, when it's time to eat to take the question out of the equation. How do you do this? PLANNING. A little shopping, some chopping, and believe it or not, you will have better success at losing weight and better success at managing your food costs.
This morning I looked again at the bowl of black grapes I bought at Whole Foods on sale last Sunday afternoon. They were bursting with juice then, organic, and deep purple all the way through. Of course I bought them. I ate them a few times as a pre-workout source of energy, but them I lost interest. I think I spent $6.00 on those little round guys. I couldn't let them go to waste. I also took advantage of super cheep organic prewashed greens on the same trip which I had not yet done justice to, and they were just sitting in my fridge. So what to do, what to do? Oh just a little preparation, I made premade smoothie packets. I grabbed 9 ziplock bags, three bananas, all those grapes, my spinach and kale prewashed greens and other ingredients I throw in my smoothies: pumpkin seeds, flax seed meal, and 2 strawberries per bag.
Not only are 9 smoothies just waiting to be made, in order to make them I will only need to open my freezer briefly, instead of 2 or 3 times to get out all of my ingredients wasting precious energy dollars to keep that bad boy cold. I also salvaged my grapes that weren't quite to bursting with juice, as growing mushy, but no fear- they will be delicious in my smoothies, without the texture to battle with. So, next time I want a smoothie, i'll just need to grab my coconut milk or organic whole milk, a little greek yogurt or protein powder, and bam! It'll be that much easier.
I plan to write a few posts on preparation in the next few days... so stay tuned. In the mean time, why don't you prep yourself some green smoothie packets out of the fruit sitting in your kitchen.
I don't know about you, but even here on the central coast of California, the weather is turning. It makes me want to post up with a good book, a large chai tea, and some earthy oatmeal or soup! Every morning I get up and have been brewing myself a cup of black tea and adding in 1/2 a teaspoon of my pumpkin pie spice blend. I love also adding the blend to my green smoothies with banana and peanut butter, or top off my oatmeal, or spice up my whole wheat pancakes. Sometimes I'll even throw a dash in a good ole' cup of Joe. You don't need to go out and purchase a spice blend, you can make it out of the spices you already have in your home.
Cinnamon has beneficial effects on blood sugar regulation. Cinnamon and Ginger are also spices shown to give your metabolism a good boost!
So in honor of Fall, here is a simple Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend. You can mix it in a ziplock bag and keep in the kitchen anytime you want to zing up a dish with the flavor of warm spices.
2 T cinnamon
2 T ground ginger
2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
Measure into a ziplock bag or small container and mix together. Store in a cool, dry place.
Mangos are such a fun fruit to add to your meal times. AND it's nutritional benefits can not be overstated:
FULL of antioxidants for cancer prevention,
high levels of fiber, pectin and vitamin C to help lower cholesterol levels (especially the those naughty LDLs), encourages healthy skin, high levels of Vitamin A for your eyes, Has an alkalyzing effect on the body, great source of Vitamin E, enzymes to boost digestion, along with the generous amounts of vitamins A and C it contains 25 different carotenoids to help maintain a strong and healthy immune system and fight inflammation.
That is why this week our recipe for Saucy Saturday is a Mango Chutney (or salsa or relish, whatever you might want to call it). This versatile condiment can be tailored to fit many cuisines, for instance add a jalapeno and cilantro and you get a latin flavor. Put in a little ginger and basil and it goes well with grilled thai satay. Tailor to your to your tastes, spicy or mild and hot or chilled. You can cook it briefly or eat it raw. Yummy. Recently we served it with a Jerk rubbed pork tenderloin, brown rice with lime zest and yogurt and lime based cole slaw... it was so good!
After my most recent post "Nourishing the Gut" a reader wrote in with the following question: so I have read some where that there are certain kinds of fiber that are more beneficial to gut guys. What's the deal with that?
Let's take some time to talk more about fiber. Fiber is essential for optimal digestive health. It is recommended that we eat 25-30 grams of fiber per day however, the average American eats about 15 grams of fiber per day. That is an "F" in my book. And not F for Fiber, F for FAIL.
Fiber represents a group of carbohydrates or carbohydrate-containing compounds. We tend to classify fiber based on whether it is soluble in water. That is just a fancy way of saying, it absorbs water. Some fibers do, others done. Unlike most carbohydrates, fiber is not digested or absorbed in the small intestine. What does that mean? It means it makes it's way to your large intestine (also known as your colon) fairly intact. Why? Humans lack the digestive enzymes to properly break down fiber. Don't worry, we still need it. This just means, you aren't a cow, who can turn grass or hay into energy.
Soluble vs. Insoluble
So soluble fiber and insoluble are both very important, they just each provide their own benefits. Soluble is the kind of fiber that decreases blood cholesterol levels, it provides bulk to stool - which is a good thing. This type of fiber is in apples, the pulp in oranges, foods like oats, and dry beans.
Insoluble fiber remains VERY unchanged as it passes through your small intestine. It helps move contents through your guts. This type of fiber is what you find in the peels of fruits, like that apple from above, it's skin or peel is insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is in seeds, it is more often the type of fiber in vegetables and whole grain products, corn and brown rice.
Fiber is a "prebiotic" food. That just means, it is a food source for the biome of bacteria in your gut.
Okay, but the question above had to do with our gut guys, the friendly bacteria in our gut that we would like to support. The long and the short of it is this: the fibers that are more fermentable are the fibers these guys feast on. The few that are proven to be very preferential for the microbiome include: inulin (which occurs naturally in leeks, asparagus, chicory, garlic, onions, wheat, oats, and soybeans), oligofructose (bananas, onions, Jerusalem artichoke), galactooligosaccharides (which is found most beneficially in human breast milk, but can be found in dairy products and is often packaged as a prebiotic food right in yogurt).
Here are a few sources of great foods with a mixture of two of the above fiber types that our "gut guys" love:
This is just a sampling. To keep things simple. It is important that we eat a wide variety of plant based foods to ensure we are giving our bodies adequate sources of fiber. When shopping for any type of bread, look at the fiber, if per serving it is less than 5 grams of fiber, don't waste your money. Eat 2-3 servings of fresh fruit per day, and eat 4-7 servings of vegetables (cooked and raw). Choose brown rice over white, choose whole grain pasta over white, choose cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, turnips, and bok choy. Eating a wide variety of plant based fruits and vegetables will make sure you are eating the types of fiber the microbiome loves.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
We carry around 3 pounds of gut bacteria in our body at any given time. That is as much as your brain weighs. You have GALT cells (gut associated lymphoid tissue) in the lining of your intestines that represents the largest mass of lymphoid tissue in the body, approximately 25% of the intestinal mucosa consists of lymph tissue. The immune responses that start in the gut have GREAT potential to affect all the areas of our body, and inflammation levels. These GALT cells feed primarily on short chained fatty acids, which is what you microbiome is turning the fiber you eat into.
Fiber + Gut Bugs = Short Chain Fatty Acids
Short Chain Fatty Acids + GALT cells = Healthy Immune Response
No wonder we in America are suffering from so many chronic, inflammatory diseases, and autoimmune diseases when we are getting an "F" when it comes to eating enough fiber.
I will mention if anyone reading this has considered a low FODMAP diet due to IBD, consult your healthcare provider before increasing the fiber in your diet.
I could go on listing the myriad of questions that come up on a daily basis with clients. Gut health is quickly gaining attention both from the public and health professionals, AND WELL IT SHOULD. There is proven links between the health of our gut (and it's many millions of inhabitants) and risk of cardiovascular disease, immune health, obesity, food sensitivities, and even mental health. You read that right, studies are now showing that there is an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and mood instability with certain changes in gut health.
To be honest, there is more we do not know about our microbiome and gut function (particularly when it is not functioning well) than what we do know. If you ask 5 different Dietitians, Naturopaths, MD's or Yogis how much kombucha you should be drinking, we would all give you a different answer. Some health professionals recommend probiotics, however most don't. The majority will just cite the benefits of yogurt and turn a blind eye to the insane amount of high fructose corn syrup in most of the conventional yogurts found in your grocery store shelves. It is difficult to find a consensus on many of these points.
In my clinical opinion, we are not doing enough to support healthy guts. We are not nourishing our guts or most times even thinking that we should be. We talk about heart health, eating to prevent cancer, and food allergies, and we spend a lot of effort trying to get skinny in America. As some education reaches the masses, people are spending a lot of money jumping on these new trends of probiotics, fermented foods and drinks, without really understanding what it is that is going on inside of them.
We have a constant battle taking place in our bellies. We have millions of inhabitants that are all competing for resources. What is that resource you ask? FIBER. Now, I know you are thinking to yourself, fiber? Geez, that isn't sexy, or expensive, or trendy. I know! But, we are spending (in some cases) $40-$100 per month supplementing the bugs that already have found a home in our bellies in the form of pills, foods and drinks we are being told this will help us increase our gut health. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, if you are starving your helpful, microbial friends of the food they need to survive and proliferate, then it doesn't matter how many of them you shove down the ole' pipe... they won't stand a good enough chance of survival.
Why is fiber SO important, yes we want these little buggers to survive, but what else is going on here? These bugs have the ability to turn that fiber into short-chain fatty acids, which have been linked to improved immune function, decreased inflammation and protection against obesity. You don't want these guys fiber famished. What's even worse, is not the die off of friendly bacteria, but when they don't have enough food to eat, they will compete for what is left in their environment that is edible: YOU. When fermentable fiber becomes scarce, studies have shown some microbes will turn to the mucus lining of the gut for food, penetrating a crucial FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE AGAINST PATHOGENS. This opens an individual up to a host of potential infections and increased risk of inflammation.
Now I'm not saying probiotics, yogurt, kombucha, fermented foods, or other gut promoting efforts are bad, in fact many I employ on myself, my family and in my practice to help individuals. But, if we are not doing the very crucial step of providing the necessary nutrients for our gut community, we are approaching this backwards. So you may be asking yourself, how do I get more fiber? Oh, well I'm glad you asked.
FRUIT, VEGETABLES, GRAINS (I KNOW), LEGUMES, NUTS, SEEDS. It is great if you can make sure at every meal you are incorporating a few of these items. I promise your gut will thank you.
I find this to be of particular importance with communities that shun grains at this point in time, if you choose not to eat grains, that is fine, however make sure you are upping your fruit and vegetables to compensate for the highly beneficial sources of fiber found in whole grains.
We like to use Tzatziki on Greek Meatballs, in gyros, or in the place of mayonnaise on sandwiches. It is quite simple to make from ingredients you likely already have in your home. If you don't want to grate the cucumber you can finely dice, make sure to squeeze excess liquid out of it. Enjoy. (PS, no windex in this recipe, if you get the reference, please leave a funny comment below)
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (I tend to like extra salt). Cover and chill until ready to serve. Garnish with more finely chopped mint if desired.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
110 N McClelland Street
Santa Maria, California 93454