With last weeks snowstorm and this weeks federal holiday, I've worked only one and a half days out of the last seven. I won't lie, the break has been nice, but I am sooooo ready to get back to work. It's so difficult to motivate myself when I'm not busy. With the extra time off work, you might think I would tackle my to do list for the house, but nope. The closest thing to an accomplishment I can name was watching the entire second season of House of Cards.
Today, I'm determined to complete a week's worth of chores in one day. I will clean the house. I will do my belated Sunday prep cooking. And I will give the dogs a bath. To show my determination, I changed out of the fleece-lined sweatpants I've worn six out of the last seven days, put on a clean pair of yoga pants, and walked over to our local coffee shop to spit out this post without the distraction of Netflix.
When my heart couldn't take anymore sociopathy and plot twists, I took a break from Kevin Spacey and reread a few parts of one of my favorite nutrition books, The Jungle Effect. Written by Daphne Miller, a family physician, the books explores the role traditional diets can play in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.
Her journey into indigenous diets was inspired by a patient, Angela, who was born in Brazil then moved to America as a young child. By the time she became Miller's patient, she was obese and hypertensive, eating the Standard American Diet. During their appointment, Angela mentioned she had been overweight her whole life, except for the year she spent living with her grandparents in the rain forest of Brazil. While she was there, she ate traditional South American foods - fish soups, taro, bean stews, and tropical fruits. But when she returned the the states, the weight came back.
A few months later, Miller was volunteering in a small Amazonian village not far from where Angela's grandparents had lived. She noticed that not only were the chronic diseases she treated on a daily basis back home basically nonexistent, but that she felt new levels of health and vitality after a few weeks eating traditional, South American dishes. She collected recipes and brought them back to Angela, who decided to return to her childhood "jungle diet." With this change, she was able to permanently lose weight and bring her blood pressure back to a normal level, all while enjoying favorite foods from childhood.
Miller could have just patted herself on the back for treating a patient in such an ingenious manner, but the experience piqued her curiosity. She decided to examine the indigenous diets of areas with exceptionally low rates of chronic disease, known as cold spots. Instead of reading books, Miller traveled to these cold spots herself, learning about the traditional diets directly from those who were cooking it. In Iceland, she examined how a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids from seafood and grass-fed lamb protects against depression. She traveled to Cameroon, where she found a high fiber, plant-based diet fortified with fermented foods protects against colon cancer. She traveled to Copper Canyon in Mexico, where despite being surrounded by some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world, is protected from the epidemic by a diet rich in unrefined carbohydrates, like beans, squash and corn.
While rereading the book, an interesting paradox stood out to me. Most of the people I work with grew up in South Carolina, an area rich in agriculture. Many grew up on farms with a traditional Southern diet - greens, okra, corn, tomatoes, beans, and maybe fried chicken or barbecued pork on a Sunday or holiday. It was an incredibly healthy lifestyle and many of their parents lived well into their nineties. But if I ask my clients what foods they struggle with or what foods they blame for their current health problems, they'll often point to the same traditional Southern foods. They'll say, "I just love vegetables...but I cook them with a little bacon grease," or "I'm so bad about beans! I could eat a whole bowl for dinner." While bacon grease and supersize portions of beans may not be the greatest, they're hardly the root cause of any health problems. Ask the same people what foods they think are good for them, and you'll hear a list of dietetic junk foods - sugary flavored yogurt, "whole grain" breakfast cereals and salad dripping in fat free dressing. One of my favorite moments is when I can reconnect a client with the way they used to eat and show them how foods they love can be the key to achieving their health goals.
History has removed us from our connection to food culture. In some cases, it was through tragedy - Native Americans and Africans stripped from their homeland and transplanted to a place without access to indigenous foods. In other cases, it was simply a side effect of changing times. As families moved to the city and women started to work, it was less convenient to eat traditional foods. Either way, when the cultural connection to food is lost, that's when the real bad guys, processed convenience foods, sneak their way in.
I encouraged you to explore foods from your heritage. You don't need to eat only foods that come from your background - we live in such a melting pot that would be impossible, not to mention boring. But you should learn foods from your background and be curious about other cultures foods.
Maybe start with these huevos rancheros inspired by the traditional elements of the Copper Canyon diet. Admittedly, it may not be the most authentic huevos rancheros, but it has the same elements - slowly digested carbohydrates from corn and beans, vitamin and antioxidant rich peppers and tomatoes, and just a small amount of animal protein.
Huevos Rancheros with Poblanos, Black Beans and Corn
Look for authentic corn tortillas at a Mexican grocery. Otherwise, purchase ones made from 100% stoneground corn or masa. If I don't get a chance to go to the Mexican grocer, I purchase mine from Trader Joe's or Ezekiel. If you're feeling ambitious, try making your own, which I've heard isn't nearly as difficult as it sounds. Look for chipotle chiles in adobo in the Mexican section at most grocery stores. I store leftovers in the freezer and defrost a little as needed. Queso fresco is a fresh, white cheese. If you can't find it, substitute feta or ricotta salata.
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for the tortillas
1/2 large red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 cup corn, freshly cut from the cob or frozen
1 chipotle pepper from a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican oregano
1 14-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-ounce can no added salt tomato puree
6 large organic, pastured eggs
1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco
4 corn tortillas
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat oil in a large, ovenproof skillet on medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, poblano, jalapeno, and corn and stir. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Add chipotle pepper, cumin and oregano. Cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add tomato puree and black beans and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
Remove pan from the heat. Crack the eggs on top. Sprinkle with cheese. Transfer to the oven.
While the eggs are cooking, brush the tortillas lightly with olive oil. Either place in the toaster oven to crisp or toast them (carefully) over the flame of a gas stove.
When the whites of the eggs are set and the yolks are still a little runny, after about 13-15 minutes, remove from the oven. Let cool slightly, garnish with cilantro and serve with warm tortillas.