8 Essential Herbs and Spices In My Kitchen

8 Essential Herbs and Spices In My Kitchen

I don’t think there’s any question to my readers that I am a big fan of herbs and spices in cooking. From my article on The Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices to the second bullet on my previous post of Four Ways To Add Some Excitement To Your Diet, I’ve made it well-known that these versatile plants are very important to making your cooking fun. When I wrote my previous post on Ten Staples of A Well-Stocked Kitchen, I didn’t want to put a category for “Herbs and Spices,” feeling that such a broad category was a cop-out. This post is intended to give an in-depth breakdown of the herbs and spices that I use most in my kitchen and a few uses of them. My hope is that you’ll find a new way to use something here.

1. Garlic

Yes, it was included on my Ten Staples list and here it is again. It’s that important to my cooking. Garlic is highly versatile, featuring in most cuisines around the world for its pungency. I use garlic in nearly everything I cook, from eggs to big skillets of meat and vegetables, often half a bulb or more at a time. Yes, I like garlic a lot and usually add more to any recipe I’m following that calls for garlic. Luckily, it’s very healthful (see my article above).

2. Cumin

Cumin is another of my go-to spices, getting only slightly less use than garlic. I go through jars of the ground stuff fairly quickly, about every 2-3 weeks. I usually add cumin to my eggs, anything with ground beef, and sauteed vegetables. Pretty much anything is fair game as cumin lends a bit of a Mexican flavor to everything. It’s used in other cuisines, from the Mediterranean to India, but the smell always makes me think of a Mexican restaurant.

3. Basil

I don’t do a good deal of Italian cooking. But I still go through basil about as quickly as I go through cumin. My large daily salads are the culprit, getting quite a large dash most everyday. I probably go through 1/2 tbsp to 1 tbsp on each salad. Other uses are in making spaghetti sauce, which goes over top of spaghetti squash, not pasta, and in switching things up with the ground beef that I eat a good deal of.

4. Cinnamon

Cinnamon goes mainly on sweet potatoes and butternut or acorn squashes. I also occasionally add a bit to coffee or tea on the rare occasions I have either at home (my coffee and tea consumption typically happens at work). Cinnamon also adds an interesting dimension to chili or ground beef, as does cocoa (that’s a bonus tip!).

8 Essential Herbs and Spices In My Kitchen

5. Ginger

Then there’s ginger, lending a bit of Chinese flair to my meals. One way that I use ginger, though I don’t make this very often anymore, was in a sesame salad dressing that I picked up from Robb Wolf. It is equal parts tahini and olive oil with a dash of ginger and some curry powder, plus a bit of pepper. The tahini gives it a nice stickiness that coats everything and the ginger combines nicely with the curry powder. A dash of tamari with a tablespoon of ginger added to most any meat works wonders. And I have to ask, is there anyone else that goes to a sushi restaurant and enjoys the pickled ginger as much as the sushi?

6. Cilantro

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a big fan of Mexican cooking. I love the flavors, probably a good reason why cumin and garlic are my main two spices. Cilantro is the third part of the Mexican triumvarite in my kitchen. I’ve been known to make a pesto out of cilantro instead of basil and serve it over top of chicken or steak. I also just cut up the fresh herb and throw it into a salad in place of the basil for something different. Of course, homemade salsas and guacamole are also recipients of a healthy dose of this herb.

7. Horseradish

Now, if you recall, I don’t eat a great deal of nightshades due to their propensity to promote inflammation. Unfortunately, I love spicy flavors. Enter horseradish. I don’t go through this very quickly because it doesn’t take much to give quite a punch to anything you add it to. The spiciness of horseradish is quite different than that of a jalapeno pepper, too much hitting more in the nose than in the mouth, but when you need a spicy fix, a little bit grated over the top of your food is a decent fill-in. Then again, sometimes you just need some hot peppers.

8. Pepper

This last one was easy. I add freshly grated pepper to nearly everything. Salads, steaks, chicken, pork, soups, stews, eggs, the list goes on. A good dose of pepper gives a nice spicy to everything.

Of course, I have more spices than that in my cabinet, but these are the ones that get the most use. Soups and stews get a bay leaf or two, but I don’t make soups and stews that often. If I decide to make a little dessert of grilled apples with honey, they get a dash of nutmeg to go with the cinnamon to give them a bit of crust-less apple pie flavor. Oregano, cloves, and turmeric are also found in my cabinet, but they don’t get used often enough to count. I should probably branch out a bit and use them more often before they go out of date and need to be discarded.

So what are your favorite spices?

About Scott

I love to cook and I love to eat. I started Real Food University to help you get maximum enjoyment out of the meals that you eat by properly cooking fresher, healthier, and better food.


Does Red Meat Cause Colon Cancer?

Does Red Meat Cause Colon Cancer?

I was involved in a discussion recently where the statement of “red meat causes colon cancer” was spoken. Figuring that to be a gross overgeneralization, I decided to do some sleuthing and see what the record shows regarding red meat and colon cancer. I meandered over to Google, typed in “red meat” and came up with a screen full of search results. Of the first five hits, four are irrelevant (a comic strip called “Red Meat” and a honky tonk band called…”Red Meat”) and the fifth is to Wikipedia.

But the sixth result is where the fun begins: Eating Lots of Red Meat Linked to Colon Cancer. It’s also a prime example of how data is twisted to create news that sells.

The verdict: Eating large amounts of red or processed meat over a long period of time can indeed raise colorectal cancer risk. But the risks from such a diet are smaller than those from obesity and lack of exercise, both for colon cancer and for overall health. [my emphasis]

Now, go back and read the headline. Then reread this quote. Obesity and physical inactivity are greater risks to colorectal health, but the report focuses on the red meat. And most people read the headline and perhaps a couple paragraphs. Unfortunately the above quoted text wasn’t until the third paragraph. How ’bout them apples?

Does Red Meat Cause Colon Cancer?

Digging Into The Data

Let’s look at several variables that I think are important when considering whether or not red meat as a whole is a bad thing for your rectum. Here is a quick list of three major ones:

  • How was the meat raised?
  • How was the meat processed?
  • How was the meat prepared?

Grass-fed vs. Conventional Meats
The type of meat makes a difference:

The general belief is a reduction of red meat intake [reduces colorectal cancer risk], and subsequent nutritional advice usually strongly recommends this. Paradoxically, beef together with whole milk and dairy derivatives, are almost the only sources for conjugated linoleic acid (CLAs) family. Furthermore CLAs are the only natural fatty acids accepted by the National Academy of Sciences of USA as exhibiting consistent antitumor properties at levels as low as 0.25 ‘ 1.0 per cent of total fats.

Remember that Conjugated Linoleic Acids are found in much higher quantities in grass-fed meats vs. conventional grain-fed meats. Unfortunately, we’re not going to get beyond putting two and two together since no studies (that I’ve found) are comparing grass-fed to grain-fed meats in terms of cancer.

Does Red Meat Cause Colon Cancer?

Processed vs. Fresh Meats
In most studies I’ve seen, there is little to no differentiation between “red meat” and “processed red meat”. Salami and pepperoni are red meat. Does that mean someone that eats a lot of pepperoni pizza has a high intake of red meat in studies? How does a steak compare to a sausage?

Processed meat intake, CYP2A6 activity, and risk of colorectal adenoma:

Our results suggest that nitrite and nitrate intake from processed meat intake increases the risk of colorectal adenoma after accounting for HCA and PAH. [2-fold increased risk in the highest, compared to the lowest, quartile]

Recall The Diet-Cancer Study? It found a 21% increase in colorectal cancer risk for each 1.7oz of processed (smoked, salted, cured, chemical preservatives) meat. Nitrates, present in most any preserved meat you’ll find in the grocery, have been found to increase colon cancer risk…even when water is the source.

It’s How You Cook It
There have been studies that looked beyond just total red meat intake to examine how the meat was cooked:

No associations were found for red roasted or for boiled meats.

Conclusion: Increased risk seems to be related to cooking temperature and close contact of the food to the heating source, because higher risks were observed for heavily browned surfaces when meats were barbecued or iron-pan cooked.

Note that how the meat is cooked is what determined risk in this study. Roasting or boiling showed no association with risk. That’s because high temperature cooking increases the creation of carcinogens known as heterocyclic amines. Low temperature cooking, on the other hand, do not promote heavy creation of HCAs.

Other Study Examinations

There have been three discussions on Weston A. Price regarding red meat and colon cancer.
Here is the first one:

Colon cancer was also tied to beef in an erroneous interpretation of the National Cancer Institute Japanese-Hawaiian study which actually showed macaroni, green beans and peas to have higher risk associated with colon cancer than beef or lamb.1

And the second:

Myth: Beef causes colon cancer

Truth: Argentina, with higher beef consumption, has lower rates of colon cancer than the US. Mormons have lower rates of colon cancer than vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists (Cancer Res 35:3513 1975)

Correct me if I’m wrong…if the hypothesis holds, shouldn’t the country with the highest beef consumption in the world also have the highest rates of colon cancer? And shouldn’t meat eaters (Mormons) have higher rates of colon cancer compared to vegetarians, especially when both groups are likely living squeaky clean lives in terms of drinking and smoking (considering religious restrictions)?

And number three:

Two American studies conducted in the 1990′s have found a higher risk of colon cancer among those who eat red meat.8 However, no study done in Europe has ever shown an association between meat consumption and cancer.9

While two US studies have implicated meat consumption as a cause of colon cancer, there are several that contradict these findings. In 1975, Rowland Philips compared Seventh-Day Adventists physicians, who do not eat meat, with non-Seventh Day Adventist physicians, and found that the vegetarian doctors had higher rates of gastrointestinal and colon-rectal cancer deaths.10 National Cancer Institute data show that Argentina, with very high levels of beef consumption, has significantly lower rates of colon cancer than other western countries where beef consumption is considerably lower.11 A 1997 study published in the International Journal of Cancer found that increased risk of colon and rectal cancer was positively associated with consumption of bread, cereal dishes, potatoes, cakes, desserts and refined sugars, but not with eggs or meat.12 [my emphasis]

Here are links to some the studies WAPF used in that last quote there:

So What’s The Word?

I think the data shows no issues from eating quality grass-fed meats, fatty or not. Grass-fed meats contain CLA, known to be an anti-cancer compound. Further, I think cooking “low and slow” is the safest way, along with avoiding chemically-preserved meats. I don’t think there’s anyway that anyone can say there is definitive proof that red meat is harmful, especially considering that nobody is looking at properly-raised meats.

What do you think about the association of red meat with colorectal cancer? Is there data that I’ve missed one way or the other?

What I’m Reading: Fat: An Appreciation of A Misunderstood Ingredient

What I’m Reading: Fat: An Appreciation of A Misunderstood Ingredient

Ok so I love fat and would have a hard time dreaming up a more attractive book cover than this one. Opening it up and having a read did not disappoint. It really is a great book.

It’s divided up in to four sections: butter, pork fat, poultry fat, and beef and lamb fat. A detailed culinary discussion of each is complemented by excellent recipes. Did you know goose fat has the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat of the major animal fats? It’s in there along with the composition of the other types of animal fats. She sets the record straight on suet vs. tallow vs. lard, with guides on how to use each. I’m never going to look at my meat drippings the same way (a good thing).

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to ask Jennifer some questions and have posted her answers below:

Greg: Your book seems to be getting quite a bit of mainstream media attention despite the obviously taboo subject (see: cover). Besides being a great book, what do you attribute this to? Is it that other writers such as Michael Pollean have laid some groundwork for people to re-evaluate their low-fat ideals, that people are frustrated with conventional dietary wisdom not working for them personally, or are people just intrigued by your ideas because they intuitively know that fat is flavor (and want more of it!)?

Jennifer: I think the title gets people’s attention and then they can’t believe that someone would dare to sing the praises of animal fat. I am not the first to suggest we think again about animal fat. Weston A Price Foundation has long supported animal fats and warned of the dangers of vegetable oils, notably Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Ms Fallon also has a very popular cookbook >Nourishing Traditions. Food has become very political with writers Nina Planck and Michael Pollan challenging people’s relationship to their food.

Chefs and people who cook know the importance of fat to the flavour of their food. That is what primarily interests me about animal fat – is its flavour.

Greg: Regarding cooking with olive oil: I’ve heard considerable disagreement between some who argue olive oil is unsaturated enough that it really shouldn’t be heated versus advocates who say this isn’t true- it’s smoke point is quite high and its vitamin E content prevents oxidation. Where do you weigh in on this one?

Jennifer: My book deals with animal fat not olive oil. I suggest that anyone who is interested in olive oil read Mark Kurlansky’s article on the subject in this November’s Bon Appetit magazine.

Greg: Someone like myself might read your book, agree with you in whole, and want to implement more animal fats in my cooking. But a tight budget might discourage them given that they feel if the animal products they are buying aren’t raised small scale or grass-fed, it won’t be as healthy. Can you offer any insights into how one might prioritize fat purchases given your knowledge of conventional sources? For example, would you spend the extra money on quality butter, pork fat, or beef fat? And are there some cuts of meat that you feel are significantly undervalued for what they offer? (ie. beef shoulder, organ meats, etc.?)

Jennifer: It is important both morally and for your health to buy good quality, naturally raised meat and fat. In North America today, we spend less on our food than any other time in history. We should give a higher priority to food in our budget.

There are lots of ways to get good animal fat cheaply. Make friends with your butcher or supplier, they often have to trim the fat from their meat to make it easier to sell to a fat phobic clientele, so they often give away or sell the trimmed fat very cheaply. You should always save and clarify the fat skimmed from stocks and braises. Strain and reuse the fat from roasted meats. Which fat you choose is a matter of taste. If you have no religious taboos, pork fat is the most versatile and useful.

Greg: You explain that animal fats were a staple part of your family’s diet growing up in suburban Australia. Quite different than the average suburban experience of the latest generation in North America. There are many reasons this is so but it seems to have led us to a system of factory livestock farms. Are animals raised to higher standards in other regions internationally? Commonplace grass-fed lamb in New Zealand or beef in Argentina makes it sound like we’re missing out. Is it that we just aren’t willing to spend the extra money or is the consumer not aware of what goes in to meat production?

Jennifer: Animals are raised to different standards all around the world. Meat is very cheap in North America and there is a reason for that ‘ factory farming. Michael Pollan has made it clear that while factory meat may be cheap we are paying for it in other ways, pollution, disease, and so on. Quality raised animals are available everywhere, just in some places it is easer to obtain them. We should all remember that ruminants were designed to eat grass ‘ there is a reason a cow has four stomachs. If we are going to eat animals we should raise them well and give them a good life. Read what Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has to say in his River Cottage Meat Book. I believe the quality of the animal’s life is reflected in the quality and taste of its meat. For example I buy lamb from Baa Sheep in the St Lawrence market. I know how much Elizabeth cares for her animals, that is why her lamb tastes so good.

Greg: I’m heading to Australia this winter (to visit family), can I expect greater availability of tallow/lard or has it largely disappeared like here in North America?

Jennifer: My experience of animal fat is probably more a question of age than place. Tallow is not lard and is not readily available anywhere to my knowledge except Belgium and even there ossewit is becoming rare. Lard has not disappeared, it is available from good butchers and is very simple to make yourself. The answer is get out of the supermarket.

Greg: You’re a well-renowned chef that knows what it’s like “on the inside” of fine cuisine, locally here in Toronto, and internationally where you have worked in London and Paris. Do you think traditional knowledge of how to use animal fats is a lost art among many top chefs, or is it an affliction mostly affecting non-professionals. For example, in the book you touch on how olive oil is great, but perhaps a bit over-relied on by some. And even with chefs featured in the media (ie. Food Network) they seem to completely stay away from animal fats in favor of olive or vegetable oils.

Jennifer: All good chefs know the power of butter to add and carry flavour in a dish as well as deliver great mouth feel. I am afraid in chef schools now, with the paranoia about animal fat, they are not being taught about them or how to render and use them. It is easier, quicker, and cheaper to reach for the vegetable oil or worse a hydrogenated commercial fat. People believe it the fat is liquid at room temperature it is better for you. Not true.

Polyunsaturated fats are very fragile and break down quickly when exposed to light and heat.
In my book I point out there is a greater choice of olive oil than there is butter. I think this is a shame. I do not understand why so many restaurants serving with cuisines not even remotely near the Mediterranean serve only olive oil on the table it’s an affectation. Bring back good butter and what about some flavoured pork fat.

Looks like butter can carry a tune too

Greg: I’ve had a heck of a time finding palm oil in Toronto grocers or health food stores. Do you think palm oil and coconut oil have their place in high-heat applications or is tallow/lard just superior for almost anything you might need these for?

Jennifer: I do not use palm and coconut oil. I deep-fry in lard because it is the easiest for me to obtain and sometimes in beef fat when I can get it.

Greg: For our Toronto readers, do you have any hot tips on grocers, restaurants, or shops that might be flying under the radar but offer some hidden gems that fit in to some of the recipes in your book?

Jennifer: I think Torontonians who like to cook are well aware of where to get quality meat and ingredients. The number of good butchers has increased in recently, as has the number of smaller suppliers. The best news is the growing local market system that is putting small suppliers and the consumer together.

Greg: Thanksgiving is right around the corner. While you say pork fat is king in terms of flavor, what bird is king? (what bird will you be serving up this thanksgiving)

Jennifer: Pork is not the king in terms of flavour, pork provides many different fats which are neutral in flavour making it a very flexible and useful fat in the kitchen, that is why I call it “the king”.

I am in Paris for Thanksgiving. I always come at this time just so I can avoid cooking a turkey. I didn’t grow up with Thanksgiving and have never embraced it. My favourite bird to roast for special occasions is a goose. Not only is it delicious and rich, it yields large amounts of great fat that you can use for cooking.

Greg: City governments, such as New York City, are introducing measures to force restaurants to list all ingredients in their menu items. Good idea? If this were applied to higher end restaurants would diners be put off by the use of butter and/or animal fats without the re-education necessary in this regard?

Jennifer: Why do you want to know all the ingredients in a dish? Already in some restaurants it takes you longer to read an item on the menu than to eat it.

I go out to enjoy myself and experience the chef’s cooking. If I am that interested in a particular dish I can ask about it. As for the use of animal fats and butter ‘ the informed diner would be happy to know that the chef is using them rather than some cheap vegetable oil.

Thanks to Jennifer for fielding some questions. Check out her blog or a recent interview with salon.com for more.

About Scott

Scott Kustes loves to cook and loves to eat. He founded Naked Food Cooking to help you get maximum enjoyment out of the meals that you eat. To find out more about how he has rebelled against the fast food culture and counting calories or carbs, join the Real Food Revolution.


Three Tips For Better Meals

Let’s talk about three simple things you can do to improve the food you’re cooking. The first two are really ways that diets have been ruining food for decades. And the third is a mistake that I made for a looooong time before realizing that it was a mistake.

Cook With Butter And Other Flavorful Fats

Coconut OilThe first thing you can do to make your food taste better: use more butter. Or palm oil. Or coconut oil. Or some other fat with some flavor.

A few decades ago, nutritionists put their heads together and decided that butter and lard and the other traditional fats that people have used since the dawn of civilization are the very things that are killing us.

So instead of using fat with some flavor, people have turned to flavorless vegetable oils and things like margarine. Or they’ve cut out most of the fat completely.

I’ve even seen the recommendation to saute in broth instead of oil (called “Healthy Saute” by the one recommending it), which pretty much eliminates adding any flavor to your veggies with fat and forces you to keep the temperature low (since water turns to steam at 212 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s a double whammy in the taste category, which leads me to believe that most “healthy eating” advice accidentally becomes “boring cooking” advice.

Well, if you want your food to taste better, buck that trend. Ignore the nutritionists and use the very real foods that people used regularly up until the last 50 years or so, that actually taste like something and add to the flavor of your food. I’m talking about butter, lard, bacon fat, palm oil, coconut oil, and goose or duck fat. (Double bonus: they not only taste better, they’re actually better for you!)

I have a theory (unproven) that using ingredients with more flavor makes you full faster. If that’s true, it means that using fats that taste like something will help you eat less. And I promise you that half as much butter will add twice as much flavor as that tub of fake margarine you have in the fridge.

Now, I know some of you out there are still deathly afraid of anything with saturated fat or animal fat because you’ve been told to avoid them. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to check out my run-down on the best cooking oils to help disabuse you of this notion.

Add A Little Salt

Along with fat, we’ve been told to cut back on salt. And it makes for bland cooking. If you’re concerned about your salt intake, cut out the packaged foods and cut back on restaurant eating. Those are the major sources of added salt.

Without those, adding some form of salt to your food is fine. In fact, if you’re a health-minded person, you’re probably not using much salt at all and could do yourself good to use a little more salt in your cooking.

Now, I’m not saying you need to overload everything with salt. You can (and should) add tons of flavor with herbs and spices. But there’s something about salt that improves the overall balance of a meal, reducing bitterness and acidity and enhancing other flavors, when used judiciously. It doesn’t have to be just straight salt either. I use one of the following quite often in my cooking:

  • Olives and capers
  • Mustard
  • Tamari or soy sauce
  • Sea salt

I keep a couple types of sea salt around. Right now it’s a pink Himalaya and Sel Gris (a gray French salt). I know people that buy nice sea salt everywhere they go and have 10 or 15 different types. So experiment with different ways of adding salt and flavor to your meal. If you Eat Real Food, eating a low-sodium diet is yet one more thing you can stop worrying about.

Turn Up The Heat

This is a mistake I made for a long time. Between worrying about smoke points and oxidation of oils and not wanting to overcook my food and being concerned about vitamin loss at higher temperatures, I didn’t realize that I needed to turn up the heat to make better tasting food. Pick a good, stable cooking oil (see the above list) and you really don’t need to worry about anything else.

With higher heat, you get the effects that you’re really going for when cooking. Sugars caramelize, proteins brown, and your food gets a nice crust on the outside. If you’re sauteing, the goal is to quickly brown the food, not simmer it slowly. If you’re pan-frying, you want to sear the meat quickly, which means using higher heat than you’re probably using. (Just don’t do what’s in the picture above.)

Don’t be afraid to turn up the heat. Just make sure you keep a good eye on things so you don’t overcook them. If you’re looking for further tips on the proper application of heat to get the most out of your time in the kitchen, my Introduction To Real Food Cooking Course will lay it all out for you so you get perfectly cooked food, every time.

Eat Better Food

That’s it. There’s three very simple ways that you can make your food taste better. Two of them come down to not listening to well-meaning, but misguided people that think everything that tastes good must be bad for you. The third is letting heat do what it do.

Really, the best news is that you can eat delicious food that is good for you just by using these kinds of real food ingredients. There’s no need for diets that cut out all enjoyment from food.

What other ways do you use to add great flavor to your meals?

Basic Cooking – Knife Skills

Basic Cooking – Knife Skills

I get asked questions fairly often about cooking basics like “what’s the difference between minced, diced, and chopped?” or “how should I cut up a ___?” So I thought a quick video would be good to demonstrate some basic knife skills, showing you how to cut up some of the items you’ll come across regularly in the kitchen.

Knife Skills

Most of you seasoned kitchen vets probably have your own styles and know what the various instructions mean. But for the beginners, it’s time to start learning how to make your cooking life easier. So here’s your 10 minute primer on wielding a mean knife and changing the way you cook.

Did this post do it for you? If so, help spread the word.


30 Lessons From My First 30 Years

Well, I hit the big 3-0 last Tuesday, December 8th. That’s right…about 1/3 of the way through my life, give or take. It came and went pretty uneventfully, as I don’t tend to make much of a deal over birthdays. I went for some Mexican food and had some drinks and laughs with good friends.

So today is a little something different. I was thinking about some good lessons I’ve learned in life. We all have our own and here’s my version of 30 In 30. There won’t be any big time nutrition stuff or research in here, so if that’s what you’re looking for, skip this post. Otherwise, read on.

  1. Discussing nutrition in social gatherings is akin to discussing politics or religion. People identify closely with their food.
  2. Don’t neglect your health and fitness to pursue monetary success.
  3. If you’re in a bad situation (be that job, relationship, or otherwise), first take steps to fix it. If it’s beyond repair, do whatever it takes to get out of it. Life is too short to be miserable.
  4. Maintain a few close friendships. I’d rather have 2 or 3 close friends than 50 mere acquaintances.
  5. On that note, relationships (with friends and significant others) come and go. People change and grow. Enjoy the time you have with people and let it go when the costs to maintain it outweigh the benefits. Practice non-attachment. Read “The Way To Love” by Anthony De Mello.
  6. Apologize quickly. Forgive quickly.
  7. Let it go. It’s probably not worth dwelling on.
  8. Call your mom.
  9. Don’t let anyone crap on your dreams…most people are offended if you want to follow a different path (even if you aren’t an asshole about it). And don’t be an asshole about other people’s dreams either.
  10. You make your bed, you lie in it. I’m not talking about sleeping.
  11. Live in the present. The past is done and you can’t control the future. Plan for the future. Aim for goals. But don’t miss the present while planning for whatever is next.
  12. There are very few facts. Most “facts” are just individual interpretations.
  13. You can’t get rich quick, short of robbing a bank or hitting the lottery. I don’t recommend robbing a bank and your odds of hitting the lottery are slim (0.00000000512%)…any number that close to zero might as well be zero. I suggest you just get to working hard.
  14. Find a hobby you enjoy. Don’t worry about making money at it. Just have fun with it.
  15. Music trumps a movie any day of the week. Rock, classical, jazz, rap, or techno. Doesn’t matter…music, hands down.
  16. Don’t spend your life doing things you don’t enjoy. Sure, we all have to attend the occasional wedding or funeral, but if you find yourself being sucked into other people’s idea of fun constantly and it’s not yours, say no. Say it often.
  17. Take 90 minutes to watch these two videos: Steve Jobs Commencement Address at Stanfordand Randy Pausch’s last lecture. If you’ve seen them, watch them again.
  18. Eat high-quality food. If you drink coffee or alcohol, drink high-quality alcohol, high-quality beer, and high-quality spirits.
  19. If you’re depressed, there’s probably a reason other than chemical imbalances. Fix it.
  20. Meat won’t kill you. Neither will butter. Donuts won’t help though.
  21. Just because you get older doesn’t mean you have to age. Here I am, 30 years old, as fast as I was at 18 and stronger, fitter, and healthier than I’ve ever been. I don’t buy the nonsense about how it’s all going to catch up to me at 30 (or 35 or any other age). Things change as you get older: recovery takes longer, injuries are more detrimental, and you can’t abuse yourself like you could at 21. That doesn’t mean you have to turn into mush.
  22. Never stop learning. Step outside your comfort zone as often as possible.
  23. Set goals, re-evaluate on a regular basis. Spend most of your time doing things that progress you towards those goals.
  24. You work for you, regardless of who your employer is. If the demands are unrealistic, remember that you work for you. On that note, use all of your vacation days. They are there for a reason. Don’t let yourself be guilted out of benefits.
  25. Don’t concern yourself with other people’s vision of your success.
  26. Your health is the most important thing you have. Stay healthy and you’ll be better in every area of your life. Don’t sacrifice health for materiality.
  27. Before you give advice, listen. Listen some more. Keep listening.
  28. Selfishness is a virtue. Be selfish – take care of yourself first.
  29. A relationship or career can’t make you happy, but it can make you miserable.
  30. I hate to be cliche and quote a movie, but Andy Dufresne might’ve said it best: “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” Stop feeling sorry for yourself…no one else does.

So there you have it, thirty things I’ve learned in the past thirty years. Okay, to be truthful, I learned most of them in the last 5 years. Who knows what I’ll come up with in another decade.


What Are The Best Cooking Oils?

Today, let’s take a look at a topic with a whole lot of misinformation surrounding it. Let’s talk about the best cooking oils to have in your kitchen, as well as how to use them.

I got a little bit into some of the health controversy around the various oils, but if you want a more in-depth look at that, check out a post I did awhile back on Healthy Cooking Oils. That post also gets into the breakdown of each of the fats into their respective saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated percentages, which I skipped in the video in the interest of time.

What Are The Best Cooking Oils?

Eight Ways To Lower Your Testosterone Levels

Eight Ways To Lower Your Testosterone Levels

Disclaimer: This post is completely tongue-in-cheek and is intended to illustrate what NOT to do if you want to keep your T levels high. It is not aimed at people that have a medical need to lower their testosterone.

Today I want to look at eight easy ways to get rid of that pesky hormone known as testosterone.

What Is Testosterone?
I’m sure most of us here know that testosterone is the primary mammalian male sex hormone. While it is a male sex hormone, ladies you have some testosterone coursing through your veins as well, about 1/40th to 1/60th as much as the average male. For that reason, this article is important for you too. I mean, you don’t want to have male sex hormones do you?

For those wondering what role testosterone plays in the body, here are just a few of the irritations brought about by this hormone: enhanced libido, increased energy, increased production of red blood cells and protection against osteoporosis. And who would want all of that stuff? Not me! Read on to learn the ways you can make sure you keep your testosterone levels as low as possible, ensuring a lack of sex drive and low energy levels.

Dietary Factors

Given that I focus predominantly on diet as a means of health around here, I figured diet is a good place to start when we’re looking to decrease our testosterone levels.

It’s Soy Good!
We all know that soy is amazingly good for you. Here’s more good news about the lowly bean: it can help lower your testosterone levels, especially in males. It works in marmosets.

The soy-fed marmosets had comparatively lower testosterone levels and higher numbers of Leydig cells per testis.my emphasis]

It works in mice.

These results suggest that in adult males, genistein induces the typical estrogenic effects in doses comparable to those present in soy-based diets, while in neonatal animals, considerably higher doses are required to show estrogen-like activity.[my emphasis]

And it works in humans.

Total and free testosterone concentrations were inversely correlated with soy product intake after controlling for the covariates, but these correlations were of border line significance (r = -0.25, p = 0.05 and r = -0.25, p = 0.06, respectively).

“The tofu (soy) meal produced a significant increase in the level of sex-hormone-binding globulin.” Habito, R.C., et al. (2001). Postprandial changes in sex hormones after meals of different composition. Metabolism. 50:505-511.

Low Fat Diet = Healthy, Right?
Well, we already know that fat is going to clog up your arteries and bring you to a quick death. Now it looks like it’s going to drive up your testosterone too! So get rid of as much fat from your diet as possible.

We conclude that reduction in dietary fat intake (and increase in fiber) results in 12% consistent lowering of circulating androgen levels without changing the clearance.

Further, make sure the fat you do eat (it’s unfortunate that we can’t avoid all sources of fat, isn’t it?) is polyunsaturated rather than monounsaturated and especially not that deadly saturated fat. Studies have shown that when total fat, monounsaturated fat, and saturated fat intakes increase, so does testosterone.

Eight Ways To Lower Your Testosterone Levels

Avoid Sins Of The Flesh
No, not those sins of the flesh. I’m talking about eating flesh. Studies show that eating animal protein is correlated with increases in testosterone. We can’t have that! So leave the cow, lamb, chicken, and pork for those meat-eating heathens and stick to a meat-free diet. It works for the Seventh Day Adventists:

Plasma levels of testosterone and estradiol-17 beta were significantly lower in the SV [Seventh-Day Adventist vegetarian] than in the omnivores. Additionally, the plasma levels of testosterone and estradiol-17 beta of the combined groups (SV, SNV, and NV) revealed a significant negative relationship with their crude and dietary fiber intakes.[my emphasis]

We already know that soy helps with reducing our testosterone levels, so replace that nasty meat with some good ol’ soy.

Blood concentrations of sex hormones did not differ after the two diets, but the mean testosterone:oestradiol value was 10 % higher (P=0·06) after the meat diet. SHBG was 3 % higher (P= 0·07), whereas the FAI [free androgen index] was 7 % lower (P=0·06), after the tofu diet compared with the meat diet.

Remember Your College Days
Hey, if a little alcohol is good for the body, a lot must be really good, right? Well, here’s some good news…long-term alcohol abuse will lower your testosterone levels. Not only can you cause your liver to store fat (hey, you store it everywhere else, why neglect the liver?), but you can tamper with your sex hormones.

Now see, in the very short-term, one study found that a subset of people (or rather rats) get a small increase in testosterone even when intoxicated. Luckily, for the rest of us, there is up to a 44% decrease in testosterone after five drinks. If you’re an overachiever, go full bore: Chronic alcohol consumption has a detrimental effect on male reproductive hormones and on semen quality. It seems that alcohol has this effect by promoting the conversion of testosterone to estrogen.

Drink up!

Lifestyle Factors

We can’t expect diet to do all of the heavy lifting. It’s important to also incorporate some lifestyle factors in our efforts.

Smoke a Doobie…Or A Cigarette
Hey, while we’re drinking like we’re in college, we might as well incorporate a bit more fun. How about a bit of toke? All it takes is one joint (I have to laugh at the term “marijuana cigarette”) to depress testosterone in the short-term. If illegal drugs aren’t your cup of tea, you can just resort to cigarettes. The toxic effects of cigarettes directly affect the Leydig cells, those responsible for creating testosterone, resulting in decreases in plasma testosterone.

Edit: In the comments, Keenan has pointed out that the information on marijuana may not be correct. It appears the jury is out and there is conflicting data on whether pot has a measurable effect on testosterone levels. Older studies show an effect. Some newer studies show little or no effect. Some newer studies show an effect. I’ll leave it at that. Your decision on what to do with the info.

I’ll Rest When I’m Dead
We all know that fitness is a result of what you do in the gym or on the trail/track. Obviously if a little fitness is good, a lot of fitness is better. And since a little exercise will give you a little fitness, then a lot of exercise will give you a lot of fitness. Who needs to rest? Allowing your body to rest enough between workouts will never let us attain that awesome state of “overtrained”.

Numerous studies have shown that never stopping to rest your body will help to lower your testosterone levels via overtraining:

  • “These results indicate that overtraining reduces testosterone levels, which is highly correlated with an increase in levels of cortisol.”
  • “The human reproductive system also is adversely affected by overtraining syndrome, with luteinizing hormone (LH) levels decreasing when the athlete is overtrained. In women, LH decrease is associated with decreased percent of body fat and associated decreased levels of estrogen. Overtraining in females is often manifested by amenorrhea. In men, decreased LH results in decreased testosterone and a resultant inability to build muscle mass.” – A Review of Overtraining Syndrome
  • “the base LH levels of the marathon runners tended to be higher, and the base levels of free testosterone lower than in untrained controls.” – Influence of 6-week, 6 days per week, training on pituitary function in recreational athletes

Of course “overtraining” is specific to the individual, so you’ll need to just keep working out more and more until you start to feel the effects.

Freak Out About Everything
The body’s response to increased stress is to release cortisol, the stress hormone. Since cortisol is important to biological functions like glucose metabolism, blood pressure regulation, insulin release, immune function, and the inflammatory (healing) response, let’s make sure we have as much of it as possible.

Since increased cortisol (and in fact, all glucocorticoids) brings with it decreased testosterone, we want to make sure that we make a mountain out of every molehill we come across. Someone cut you off in traffic? Curse, rant, rave, flip that $#*!% off. Coworker screw up? Ha! We don’t make mistakes in the office, so let them have it! And if your spouse says something that could possibly be offensive, but probably wasn’t intended to be, make sure you take it the wrong way.

Catch The Late Show…And The Late, Late Show
Bah! Sleep…who needs it? When you’re sleeping, it’s really hard to get anything done. And if you ever want to get ahead at the office, you know you should check your email just one more time before hitting the sack. Good news! While you’re staying up, watching Letterman and Kilborn, responding to a few more vendor emails, and generally burning the candle at both ends, you’re also lowering your testosterone levels.

This study showed that older men experience the same testosterone declines seen in younger men when quality and quantity of sleep decline:

Based on bivariate correlation and multiple linear regression analyses, the amount of nighttime sleep measured by polysomnography independently predicted the morning total and free testosterone levels.

And since most nighttime testosterone is released during the late stages of the non-REM sleep cycle and the early part of the REM stage of sleep, any other steps we can take to screw up our sleep are important. For instance, alcohol will keep you from hitting good REM sleep and cause more Stage 4 sleep. Leaving the TV on is probably also a good idea to make sure there are some flickering lights.

Combining Efforts

Of course, the best bang for your testosterone-lowering buck is going to be to combine several of these behaviors. This will ensure that you reduce your body’s excretion of testosterone as much as possible. And when you’re really trying to cause your body to change, it’s important to hit it from as many angles as possible. We want to beat testosterone into submission so we ensure as little sex drive, muscle mass, and fertility and as much erectile dysfunction as possible. And I suppose if, for some strange reason, you’re not into that kind of stuff, you should probably do the exact opposite of what is on this list.

What other ways do you know of to decrease this pesky sex hormone?

Disclaimer: If you’re too dense to pick up on the dripping sarcasm in this post, my disclaimer is that I can’t think of any reason that one would want to intentionally lower their testosterone levels. This post was intended to illustrate what NOT to do if you want to keep your T levels high.

Did this post do it for you? If so, help spread the word.

Dear Food Obsessed People…

Dear Food Obsessed People…

I have to get something off my chest. I want to address several examples of food obsessionthat I saw recently. I see this kind of thing rear its ugly head quite often, but a couple have crossed my radar this week and I just can’t let them pass without comment.

Are You Obsessed With Food?

Rest assured, just because you aren’t binge eating and drowning your pain in Twinkies doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Here are a few of the things that tip me off that people need to just eat real food and relax.

  • Doing math on your food – As I write this, I just read a girl’s post on Facebook that she’s decided to go 100% Paleo because 90% was just too hard. She found herself multiplying days and meals by 0.9 to figure out when she could have a piece of chocolate. Yes…you read that right. She craved something so much that she did math on her meals and then decided to go even harder-core and cut it all out! (I won’t name names. If you read this, I’m sorry to call you out about it, but it’s more than a bit obsessive.)
  • Worrying about ratios of Polyunsaturated/Monounsaturated (PUFA/MUFA) fats in food – I saw this one recently too. A discussion of food devolved into a discussion of why this or that was better because of PUFA to MUFA ratios. If you’re calculating fatty acid ratios in your head while you make dinner, I have three letters for you: OCD. If you’re worried about PUFA intake, cut out vegetable oils and eat real food. You now have my permission to stop obsessing about this.
  • Living by a label – If your diet or workout is a label by which you define yourself, you’ve gone too far. Just be a person, no label or group acceptance required.
  • 100% die-hard adherence to something – If you find that you can’t enjoy yourself at a social outing because the food doesn’t fit into your very narrow scope, you need to relax. Also, if you can only hang out with people that eat or workout the same way as you…yup, you already know.
  • If you’re counting anything… – I don’t care if it’s almonds, carbs or fat. Stop counting, start eating real food and you won’t have to count anything.

Relax. It’s going to be okay if you eat 1 more almond you allotted yourself today. If you want some chocolate, eat some chocolate. If you want a cookie, eat a cookie. (If you want a cookie constantly, well, you should probably reign that in as that’s just another form of disordered eating.) Drink a beer or a glass of wine. Have some coffee.

Dear Food Obsessed People…

Have Your Cake…

A couple nights ago, I was hanging out with my friend Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness. We were having a couple beers (if you’re gasping at the thought of guys that care about health drinking beer, this post is definitely for you) and talking about all of the crazy food obsession we read.

Sean told me that in one of his videos, he’d mentioned that he likes cheesecake and sometimes he just wants a piece of cheesecake…so he eats some cheesecake. Hey, I can’t blame him. I love cheesecake too. It’s probably my favorite type of pie/cake.

Get this…people wrote him emails asking “So explain this cheesecake thing to me”. They wanted to know the health benefits of eating cheesecake now and then. Too far people…way too far! Don’t obsess to the point that you can’t just eat things you enjoy. In fact, don’t eat things you don’t enjoy at all. I don’t eat food I don’t like, it’s that simple.

Food: The New Religion

From what I can tell, the US is the most food obsessed culture there is. And also the most overweight, unhealthy culture. Hmmm… There are somewhere on the order of 10 billion new diet books each year, give or take. It’s not working, folks. Just Eat Real Food. I’ve been saying it for several years now. Just Eat Real Food!

If the thought of eating corn on the cob or rice makes you break out in hives, you’ve jumped the shark. Don’t make eating something more than it is. It’s not a religion. There’s no supreme food deity that’s going to rain down upon you with hellfire and brimstone. You’re no more pure or righteous than the guy next to you eating meat (for any self-righteous vegans in the audience), eating rice or corn (for any self-righteous Paleos in the audience), or eating a piece of cake. (And you probably won’t live any longer either, just for the record.)

There’s no need to create your own little food cult. It’s just food. Learn to cook. Eat real food. And go live your life. Enjoy food. Love food even. Don’t obsess about food.

Oh, and if this post put you on the defensive and you’re justifying it to yourself right now, this one was for you.

If you know someone that needs to hear this:

  • Post it on Facebook
  • Send it via Twitter
  • Email it to them

About Scott

Scott Kustes loves to cook and loves to eat. He started Naked Food Cooking to help you get maximum enjoyment out of the meals that you eat.

What Are Healthy Cooking Oils?

What Are Healthy Cooking Oils?

Healthy Cooking Oils

There is a lot of confusion about healthy cooking oils, so in an effort to clear up some of the confusion, I want to touch on the cooking fats that I consider to be good and those that I’d avoid.

Here are seven oils and my recommended uses for them, along with three that I don’t recommend and why.

The “Good Guys” (In no particular order)

1. Lard

Lard is pork fat, the highest grade being “leaf lard,” and is solid at room temperature, indicating a relatively high saturated fat content, though probably not as high as the anti-saturated fat crowd would have you believe. Lard checks in at about 41% saturated fatty acids (SFA), 47% monounsaturated (MUFA), and 11% polyunsaturated (PUFA).

2. Tallow

Tallow is rendered beef or mutton fat. Like lard, tallow is solid at room temperature and is slightly more saturated, clocking in at 52% SFA, 44% MUFA, and 4% PUFA.

The saturation of tallow and lard makes them highly stable when heated, which makes lard my predominant cooking fat. I usually melt 1-2 tablespoons in the pan before the meat and vegetables go in. As far as I know, lard was the fat of choice for baking long ago (i.e., before Crisco convinced people to switch) and many bakers still swear by it.

Find yourself a local farmer and get some good pastured lard. I buy it in 4lb tubs from my local pork guy for $8-12.

3. Coconut Oil

Delicious coconut oil. My precious! I am a big fan of coconut, coconut oil, coconut cream, and anything else coconut that you can think of. But the topic for right now is coconut oil. This oil is highly saturated, on the order of 92% SFA (6% MUFA and 2% PUFA), consisting mainly of medium-chain fatty acids. Medium-chain fatty acids pass directly from the GI tract rather than being transported and processed in the lymphatic system. Coconut oil is shelf stable for several years.

Occasionally I use coconut oil for cooking in the same way that I use lard/tallow, but I typically put it on sweet potatoes or fruit. On a warm sweet potato, it melts nicely, while on cold fruit, it forms a delicious hard coconut shell wherever it lands. It can also be used in baking or taken straight from the spoon. Coconut oil has a great mild coconut flavor that mixes well with cinnamon, nutmeg, and other “sweet” spices.

What Are Healthy Cooking Oils?

4. Palm Oil

Aside from soybean oil, this is the most widely consumed oil in the world. If you don’t count the United States, it is the most widely consumed oil. It is also a saturated tropical oil, very high in vitamin E. It is also high in vitamin K and magnesium. Palm oil is easily recognizable by its bright red color and consists of about 50% SFA, 40% MUFA, and 10% PUFA.

Palm oil is great for frying and sauteing. As opposed to the oils most people are used to, the deodorized vegetable oils, palm oil has a distinct taste that goes very well with vegetables and meats (but not with eggs!). The high level of saturation makes it a good oil for applying heat to. If you are a baker, I imagine that you could substitute palm oil into your recipes as well.

There is evidence that palm fruit production is detrimental to the environment, with people clearing out rain forests to open up land for plantations. However, that appears to be in certain areas of Asia, whereas West African palm oil is sustainable.

5. Olive Oil

Since anything that isn’t a saturated fat is regarded as “healthy fat” in many misguided camps and since olive oil is highly unsaturated, it is touted as the best fat for your health. It’s held out as the reason that the Mediterranean Diet is so healthful. So what exactly is it about olive oil that’s so great? Well, it’s only 14% SFA, with 75% being MUFA and 11% PUFA. Aside from that, it’s quite flavorful, enhancing every dish that you add it to.

I don’t hold olive oil out to be the best food ever created as some people tend to do. It’s a good, healthful oil, but it’s not going to save you from Eternal Damnation. Because it is very unsaturated, and therefore less stable than a saturated fat, I rarely cook with it and when I do, it’s over low heat. I add lots of olive oil to my salads with a bit of balsamic vinegar and basil and add it to most everything that I cook to add some extra fat calories.

6. Butter

Butter, another great fat of animal origin that has been used for ages, but suddenly became unhealthful in the 20th century. Butter is 63% SFA, 26% MUFA, and 4% PUFA. Whatever you do, do not substitute margarine for butter to reduce your saturated fat intake. Butter is real food. Margarine is not.

Butter from grass-fed cows is amazing. It adds an excellent flavor to anything you add it to, from eggs to sweet potatoes, from spaghetti squash to broccoli. Butter from properly-raised cows isn’t going to kill you, contrary to what the media reports, and isn’t something to be avoided unless dairy isn’t on your list of foods. It’s great for baking, can be used for sauteing, and is a nice stable fat due to it’s low PUFA content.

7. Toasted Sesame Oil

Toasted sesame oil is a very flavorful oil that I use only on occasion. It’s low in saturated fat at 14%, and evenly split between MUFA and PUFA at 43% apiece. While it’s highly unsaturated, it’s also rather stable over heat. It has a high smoke point and a high antioxidant content which help to stave off rancidity and oxidation.

When I use toasted sesame oil, it’s usually in something with an Asian flair. South India, Korea, and China all use the flavor of toasted sesame seeds in their cooking. Because it’s high in PUFA, which I try to avoid for the most part, I might only pull the sesame oil once every few months. But it does combine well with coconut oil for both flavor and stability, each contributing vitamins and minerals.

The Bad Guys

8. Canola Oil

Canola oil is another darling of the media, low in those unhealthful saturated fats and high in the unsaturated fats. CANadian Oil, Low Acid is 6% SFA, 62% MUFA, and 32% PUFA. It also contains about 10% omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of Alpha-Linolenic Acid.

While some people use it in place of olive oil in salad dressings and cooking, I don’t use canola oil. Here are several reasons I don’t include it in my diet:

  • Too much PUFA without contributing any sufficient amount of flavor or vitamins (which sesame oil does on both counts)
  • The omega-3s are the ALA that the body inefficiently elongates into the much-needed EPA
  • Most of the canola grown in Canada and the US (80%) is genetically modified, which I also avoid

And no, I don’t avoid canola because it’s from the rapeseed, nor do I believe most of the claims about canola oil being poisonous. I just don’t find that it adds any value to my diet.

9. Flaxseed Oil

I wrote once before about why I don’t include flaxseeds as part of my diet. While it’s high in omega-3s with a 4:1 omega-3:omega-6 ratio, as in canola oil, the omega-3s are of the short-chain plant variety known as ALA. In the flax post, I discussed the various elongation and desaturation processes that ALA must undergo to become EPA and DHA, the long-chain fatty acids that the body requires.

If you do use flaxseed oil, you absolutely cannot subject it to heat. It oxidizes very easily. Even storing it outside of the fridge is likely to result in an unpleasant taste. If you want to boost your omega-3 intake, stick to fish oil.

10. Peanut, Corn, and Other Vegetable Oils

These oils, the so-called “healthy polyunsaturated oils,” should not be used. They are wholly unnatural fats, sources of incredible loads of omega-6 fatty acids, which most people already take in too much of. As discussed in the guest post at MDA, these oils are highly prone to rancidity and oxidation. To make them shelf-stable, they are refined and deodorized, that way, even when they’re “off”, you won’t know it because there’s nothing in them to stink.

What did I miss? What other oils do you use and how do you use them? What other uses do you have for these oils?