I made this caprese salad using fresh heirloom tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, extra-virgin olive oil, freshly ground wild red peppercorns from Madagascar.
When you drink wine, what exactly are you pouring into your glass -- and your body?
Usually, it's impossible to know. Unlike food producers, wine makers aren't required to disclose ingredients on the label.
In the United States, it's legal for winemakers to add up to 200 ingredients without telling anyone, including the consumer.
A Berkeley winemaker called Donkey & Goat is among an extreme minority of winemakers that is voluntarily adding ingredients lists to their wines. (Full disclosure: We are major fans of, and minor investors in, Donkey & Goat.)
Donkey & Goat wines contain either one ingredient ("Hand-Harvested Grapes") or two ingredients ("Hand-Harvested Grapes and Sulphur"). As such, they're proud to list ingredients, and should be. (The ingredients list barely scratches the surface of the winery's methods, which include sustainably grown grapes, the avoidance of contact with reactive materials like plastic during wine-making, extremely low quantities of sulphur.)
What about that other wine you're drinking? Are they proud of the ingredients? Or do they want to make sure you don't find out what you're putting into your body?
In other words, can we trust winemakers who conceal what's in the wine? Far too often, the answer is: no.
Winemakers routinely add more than just the ingredients you probably know about, such as yeast, nutrients for the yeast, sugar and acid.
They can and do also add clay, enzymes, gelatin, charcoal, egg whites, casein (a milk protein), isinglass (made from fish bladder), tartaric acid, ascorbic acid, malic acid, tannins, diammonium phosphate, acacia, velcorin, trypsin, pepsin, chalk, acetaldehyde, dimethyl bicarbonate and many other additives.
Many cheap wines add a product called "Mega Purple," which is concentrated low-quality teinturer grapes (grapes with pigment in both skin and pulp). "Mega Purple" is added to give cheap wine color, body and texture designed to simulate good wine.
And, of course, wine grapes can be grown using pesticides and herbicides, and trace amounts of these can make it into the wine -- pesticides like dimethoate, myclobutanil, tetraconazole, azoxystrobin and pyrimethanil.
Most of these ingredients are assumed to be "safe" to consume. And it's up to each of us to decide whether "safe" is a high enough standard.
It's also unnecessary to throw up your hands in confusion and give up. It's important to do your own research. Talk to the winemakers by visiting wineries for a tasting. Ask them directly about their methods for growing grapes and making wine and about any additives they include.
The easiest way to bring astonishingly great natural wine into your life is to join the Donkey & Goat wine club. They'll ship directly to your home on a subscription basis.
And seek out other wineries that share the Donkey & Goat philosophy of maximizing the true quality of the wine and adding the ingredients to the label.
And as with all food producers, it's a good idea to withhold trust from any producer who tries to conceal what's in the product or how it was produced.
If a winemaker is concealing what's in the wine or how it was made, you probably don't want to drink it.
Congratulations to Donkey and Goat for being featured by the Wine Enthusiast podcast for their mind-blowingly spectaculicious natural wines! (Full disclosure: We are minor investors in Donkey and Goat and friends of its owners, Jared Brandt and Tracey Brandt.)
Jared is interviewed for the podcast's Earth Day episode, and shares some insights about how natural wine is made. Jared’s brilliantly illuminates the distinction between natural and mass-produced, conventional wine.
You’ll be surprised to learn some of the wine industry's little dirty secrets! For example: Did you know that there are 360 additives that are legal for wineries to use in the winemaking process, many of which in fact commonly used and which never appear on labels?
Wine Enthusiast did an amazing job doing extensive research and I’m now a new subscriber, of course! Happy Earth Day, indeed!
A new study found that excessive meat consumption dramatically increases the risk of heart disease, while excessive protein from nuts and seeds dramatically decreases that risk.
The study, which included 81,000 participants, was a joint project between Loma Linda University School of Public Health in California and AgroParisTech and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in Paris, France. It was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Researchers found that people who eat "large amounts" of "meat protein" experienced a 60 percent increase in cardiovascular disease. People who got "large amounts" of protein from plant-based sources saw a 40 percent decrease in cardiovascular disease.
What's ground-breaking about the study, according to researchers, is that while previous research has focused on the "bad fats" found in meats and "good fats" found in nuts and seeds, little attention has focused in previous research on "bad proteins" and "good proteins."
They also point out that much more study is needed, and that they still don't know whether particular sources for meat protein vary (which seems likely).
The Spartan Diet calls for very small amounts of meat primarily from wild-animal sources, including wild caught fish.
The color of most red wines in Georgia is intense. It's dark and deep.
When you first pour a glass of any wine, some temporary bubbles form at the surface. With some Georgian wines, even the bubbles are dark.
One day last year, while we were living in that country, we took a day to go wine tasting outside the capital and into the countryside. As we sat at an outdoor picnic table on a bright, clear day, a thought occurred to me: Is this dark Georgian wine healthier than "regular" wine? (See the picture? That's the wine we were tasting.)
Georgians will tell you that wine is the ultimate health food. About a third of the people we met there make wine at home.
Over the past few decades, something of a scientific consensus has formed over the health attributes of wine.
Moderate drinking, especially moderate drinking of red wine, has been found to extend life and lower rates of lifestyle diseases like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
This is somewhat counterintuitive, because wine and other drinks can contain sugar and of course all contain alcohol — excessive sugar and alcohol consumption are linked to higher rates of the very diseases moderate drinking helps with.
In other words, wine improves health, while simultaneously containing attributes that degrade health.
What's going on?
One reason isolated by research is that wines, especially red wines, contain polyphenols. These are plant compounds that exist in wine because, of course, wine is made out of grapes.
While all wines are made with grape juice, some wines are also made with extensive exposure to grape skins, seeds and stems.
Polyphenols are found mainly in the skins and seeds of grapes. It's from this exposure to skins, seeds and stems that gives red wines far greater polyphenol content than white wines. Orange wines and rosés also contain polyphenols from exposure to skins during the winemaking process.
Even red wines vary wildly in their concentrations of polyphenols. For example, wines made from Tannat or Sagrantino grapes may have up to six times more polyphenols than a typical cab or merlot.
In general, there's a direct connection between the darkness of a wine and its concentration of health-giving polyphenols.
Which brings us back to Georgian wines. Some early research has found, unsurprisingly, that Georgian wines made from the Saperavi grape variety contain far higher concentrations of the polyphenol resveratrol than both major European grape varieties and even other Georgian varieties.
(Georgian winemakers use hundreds of Georgian grape varieties, but Saperavi dominates production.)
Saperavi is a rare kind of grape variety, too. It's called a teinturier variety, which means that the flesh of the grape is red, rather than clear. Almost all grape varieties have clear flesh. So Saparavi skins are very dark, and the flesh is colored, too. That's why Saparavi is so intensely dark. (A grape grown in Spain and Portugal, called the Alicante Bouschet variety, and one grown mainly in the United States, called Chambourcin, are also teinturier grapes with colored flesh.)
Also: The Georgian method for wine-making involves a natural process with heavy contact with skins, seeds and stems, natural fermentation (no added yeast) and fermentation in terracotta pots buried in the ground.
The Georgians are right: Georgian wine is super healthy.
One way to look at high-polyphenol wines is that it enables you to maximize the benefits of polyphenols while minimizing your intake of alcohol and sugar. You might get the same polyphenol benefit from two glasses of dry, high-polyphenol as you'd might get from two bottles of a lower-polyphenol wine. It's obviously healthier.
In any event, you don't need to be a wine expert or scientist to choose the healthiest wines.
Here's what to look for:
1. Natural and traditional winemaking methods. The only ingredient should be grapes, not yeast or additives. Added sulfites are OK in very small quantities.
2. Look for wines made with grapes grown using organic or biodynamic methods.
3. To maximize polyphenol content, go for very dark, bold, heavy fruit, bitter and tannic wines, and drink them young.
4. To minimize sugar intake, favor dry wines.
5. Favor lower alcohol wines.
So there you have it: Five things to look for to maximize the health-giving quality of the wine you drink.
Remember: It's still OK to drink white wines, aged wines, sweet wines and higher alcohol wines if you do it in moderation. Moderation is a virtue, and so is variety.
Also remember that wine isn't a cure-all. It can be part of an overall Spartan Diet that includes a very healthy and varied diet, daily exercise, stress management and clean water, air and environment.
But if you want to maximize health in the wine you drink, go for my five criteria when choosing wine.
I'm currently in heaven on Earth (also known as Provence, France) while organizing my upcoming Gastronomad Provence Experience.
I bought some French lentil beans a few days ago in the village of Orange. And I also picked up all the seasonal local produce I could find this time of the year at the local organic farmer's stand during the Thursday's farmer’s market in L'Isle Sur La Sorgue, our temporary home here. The market sets up by the church just steps away from where we're living.
It's the end of February on a very chilly 22-degrees F weather and our first time visiting Provence in the winter. Naturally, I've I just made a big batch of lentil soup using what I had on hand, plus some dried thyme and also dried rosemary from our hostess' garden.
The whole time I cooked it with the soothing sounds of the beautiful music she plays often -- mostly classical and opera. The kitchen smells divine from the lentil soup and the sweet aromas of rosemary and thyme. The cute kitchen is small but functional and well equipped for its size.
(I wonder what would the walls say if they could talk? What would they say about all the cooks that have inhabited its space during its lifetime in the past 320 years?)
The home feels like it has a life of its own and I'm so in love with its coziness and simplicity, but quirkiness that's inevitable as residents customize and accommodate over the centuries. I especially love the all exposed large beams in the ceiling.
The owner of the house is a wonderful French woman, who's now our friend. She lives in the upstairs of the house and we're renting the downstairs. We share the kitchen and we've been sharing some meals.
She has just invited us to dinner tomorrow night. Apparently, French Onion Soup is on the menu. The house reflects her charming personality, friendly disposition and the warmth of her character. She's lovely and so is her home.
French Green Lentil Provencal Soup
Ingredients on hand:
1½ pounds French green lentil beans (soak for 2 to 4 hours in a large bowl with water)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion peeled and diced (yellow, white or red)
3 large stalks of celery, finely diced
6 medium to large carrots, diced (any color)
2 medium leeks thinly sliced then roughly chopped (white and light green part only)
4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
12 cups of filtered water (3 liters)
2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
1 small bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped (large stems removed) (substitute with cilantro)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, ground with mortar & pestle (or chopped/crushed with knife)
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds, ground with mortar & pestle (or crushed with a spoon or use ground)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt (or to your own taste)
Cultured butter (optional garnish)
Yogurt or creme fraiche (optional garnish)
- Play some classical music and pour yourself a nice glass of wine to slowly sip as you cook with ♥!
- In a large heavy bottom pot, slowly heat olive oil over low to medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Stir in celery and carrots sautéing for 10 more minutes (add more olive oil if too dry). Stir in leeks and garlic and sauté for 15 more minutes over low heat with lid closed (stirring occasionally).
- Drain soaking lentils and discard soaking water. Rinse lentils under cold running water until water comes out clean. Add lentils to sautéed veggie mixture followed by vinegar and 10 cups of water. Close with lid and simmer over medium to high heat for 20 minutes (set timer). If thick foam builds up on top, remove it with a spoon.
- Stir in the rest of the ingredients: parsley, thyme, rosemary, cumin, black pepper and salt. Continue to simmer for 20 minutes over low heat or until the lentils are soft to the touch (stir occasionally and keep lid closed). Adjust seasoning and salt as desired.
- Serve with a spoonful of cultured butter, yogurt or crème fraîche as garnish, and maybe some naturally leavened bread and eat and share with ♥!
(Note: All lentils take different amount of time to fully cook. Keep cooking them even if it takes more than an hour to cook. You can’t hurry bean cooking just like you can’t hurry love.)
I've been saying for almost two decades that the key to weight loss is bringing the body into balance. And the key to balance is food quality.
Now, new research from Stanford Prevention Research Center and published in last week's edition of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) found that people who cut back on sugar, "refined grains" and "highly processed foods" and who didn't worry about calories or portion size, lost significant amounts of weight. The study was conducted on more than 600 people.
In other words, researchers concluded that quality, not quantity, is what counts for losing weight.
The study was a pretty blunt instrument for revealing the importance of food quality. They started with overweight subjects, then cut down on major kinds of low-quality foods -- for example, sugary soda type drinks, which are among the lowest quality foods you can consume.
For decades, the Diet Industrial Complex has erroneously equated calories with weight loss -- the idea is that if you eat more calories than you "burn," then you gain weight, and that being overweight is the result of eating too many calories (as if the spectacularly complex biochemistry of metabolism were comparable to filling up the car with gas).
In recent years, other research has contracted this assumption. We've found that compromised gut microbes affect body weight. The amount of sleep you get affects body weight. Stress causes weight gain. People who drink diet beverages gain more weight than those who drink the sugary kind. All these clues suggest that body weight is not a simple matter of calories-in, calories-burned.
Healthy newborn babies enter the world with a complete set of self-regulating systems designed to keep everything in balance. Our bodies brilliantly maintain balance in body temperature, blood water levels, blood pH, blood pressure, blood salt levels, sleep and the elimination of wastes. The human body is magnificent at simultaneously maintaining balance of hundreds of sub-systems throughout life.
Optimal weight is another thing the human body is great at balancing. Our taste and olfactory senses are programmed to enjoy foods that keep us healthy. The hunger-satiety cycle tells us when to eat and when to stop.
If we gain weight, it doesn't mean we're not effectively counting calories. It means our body's system for maintaining healthy weight has been broken.
So what broke it?
The short answer is that our food did. The longer answer is our industrial food system, environment and lifestyle conspired to knock our bodies out of balance.
Let's start with what's wrong with our food.
Far too much of the food we eat has been ultra-processed. Stripped of nutrients, modified beyond recognition, sterilized, and augmented with non-food chemicals, our food isn't fit for human consumption.
Most processed food is too soft. Simple carbs like sugar and white flour-baked goods, processed oils, fatty meats -- too much of our food is eaten and digested too quickly and easily. While most dietary advice focuses on the biochemistry of foods (fats, carbs, protein), researchers have demonstrated the importance of biophysics. You'll gain more weight with soft food than rougher food (whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc.) even if the calories are the same.
Processed industrial food is also unhealthy for our gut flora. While some of the food we eat goes straight into our bloodstreams, other foods and food components are eaten by the trillions of microbes that live in our digestive tracts, and our bodies are then nourished by the flora. Foods that our gut microbes eat are called prebiotics. The best sources of prebiotics include whole-grain wheat and barley, berries, specific raw fruits and vegetables, flax, garlic and other foods.
When we're born, our guts are sterile. We acquire the hundreds of species of microbes necessary for optimum health from our food and the environment. Simply eating organic strawberries, fresh salad, organic whole grain bread or eating raw-milk cheese supplies the kind of gut microbes we need for optimal health. But these aren't the kinds of foods that most people eat. Canned, bottled and most packaged food is sterile to keep it from decomposing. Our bodies were never designed to eat so much sterile food.
Even fermented foods, which were traditionally used to improve the nutritional quality and flavor of and preserve food, as well as supply our gut microbes with vital reinforcements, are now sold in a sterile form. For example, olives, sauerkraut, pickles and others are sterilized for mass production and distribution. Milk is usually sterilized through pasteurization before being sold for drinking, or being made into cheese or yogurt.
All that sterile food, plus the consumption of fatty, sugary junk food, is decimating the natural balance of healthy gut microbes, causing all kinds of havoc, including on our bodily systems for maintaining healthy weight. Researchers have recently discovered that junk food and processed food diets damage gut bacteria in a way that leads to unnatural weight gain. In other words, you'll gain more weight on a diet that harms gut bacteria than you will on a healthy diet, even if calories are the same.
Food-borne, environmental and household chemicals, a lack of sleep, drugs, inadequate sunshine and Vitamin D and not enough exercise all prime your body for weight gain beyond what mere calories in, calories burned would predict. And, in fact, the vast majority of people in industrialized countries are damaging their bodies not with some but all these factors.
The whole process of counting calories is an act of self-delusion. First, the difference between perfect weight and morbid obesity over a period of a few decades is less than 50 calories per day. Nobody can "count calories" with that level of precision. You can't know how many calories you really need. You can't know how many calories you're "burning." And you can't know how many calories are in the food you eat.
Counting calories is a futile guessing game that doesn't get at the root of the problem.
The problem is that people are trying to replace a functioning body weight balancing system with blind guesses about how many calories they're eating and burning.
The solution is to fix your broken body, and allow it to naturally maintain a healthy weight for you.
The way to fix your body is to fix your diet, get plenty of sleep, exercise outdoors every day and avoid all the toxic chemicals you can. And this is what the Spartan Diet shows you how to do.
New research found that fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi help fight flu.
A new study by Korea University, the World Institute of Kimchi, and Daesang Corporation found that laboratory rats injected with the flu virus and fed daily lactic acid bacteria had a 100% survival rate with no side effects.
The research team has applied for two patents based on the research, and intend to develop and market "functional foods."
We recommend plenty of fermented vegetable foods in your diet, foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and fermented hot sauce, which are Spartan Diet staples and which you can make at home.
Vin Brule is the Italian Style of making mulled wine, which I made to celebrate Mike's new book, Gastronomad: The Art of Living Everywhere and Eating Everything!
During our travels in the Veneto region of Italy recently, a dear friend shared her wonderful recipe of vin brulé, which I liked way better than the mulled wine I’ve sampled and even made myself in the United States. In Italy, vin brulé is heated over open fire, but the stove works fine! My friend adds her own twist to the traditional recipe by adding prunes. I decided to adapt it for the Spartan Diet and use dates to partly sweeten it with as well as local raw honey at the end instead of sugar.
3 bottles of organic red wine (cabernet or zinfandel or any other -- preferably without added sulfites)
12 whole star anise
12 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 whole vanilla bean pod
6 pitted prunes cut in half (no seed)
3 cubed apples (honeycrisp or fuji apples)
2 Red blood oranges (or any type of orange such as navel or valencia)
2 Meyer lemons
6 Medjool dates (seeds removed)
2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (16 oz)
3/4 cup honey (6 oz)
The Spartan Diet method:
1. In a large non-reactive heavy bottom pot (stainless steel or enameled cast iron, for example), pour all the wine and add the star anise, cloves, cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon and ground allspice. Begin to gently simmer over low heat covered with lid.
2. With a small paring knife, slit open one side of the vanilla bean pod lengthwise from end to end. Use the pointy sharp of the knife to open the bean lengthwise and then use a dinner knife or teaspoon to slide open the entire bean pod while scraping off and collecting the tiny seeds. Add to the wine along with the remainder of the bean pod.
3. Cut prunes (without seeds) in half and add them to the wine.
4. Chop apples into one-inch cubes (seeds removed) and add to the wine.
5. Sliced off top and bottom ends of the oranges and lemons and cut them into thin slices crosswise (removing all seeds). Add the orange and lemon wheels with skin to the wine mixture.
6. In a blender, blend dates (with seeds removed) with the freshly squeezed orange juice. Blend until it has a smooth consistency and stir into wine mixture. Continue to simmer over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes covered with lid and making sure it never boils (there is no fun in the alcohol evaporating, I tell you). Set timer.
7. After timer goes off, stir in honey. Taste for sweetness and add more honey if more sweetness is desired.
8. Remove from heat or turn heat to the very lowest setting to maintain warmth (keep it covered with lid). Serve hot (without the cooked spices) in heat resistant glasses. Be sure to include some of the delicious warm wine soaked apples chunks and a fresh orange wheel garnish to make it pretty. Enjoy!
With fresh ginger: add one inch of washed fresh ginger root sliced in thick slices at the beginning along with the spices.
With pears: replace one apple with one large Bosc pear chopped into cubes.
With Buddha's hand citrus fruit: replace one orange with slices of the delightful citrus.
Note: Feel free to add another bottle red wine to reuse the delicious mixture and make more vin brulé. You may need to add more honey but the leftover spices will still work. And it can also be made with white wine.
After a long hiatus, I'm bringing the Spartan Diet newsletter back! I’m also super excited to share that the Spartan Diet book will be published in 2018, finally! A true labor of love of ten years in the making. (But who’s counting?)
I’m looking forward to 2018. How about you?
Every year is a new opportunity for self-improvement, for self re-invention. It's a chance to adopt better habits, learn new things and re-embrace the good ideas that have gone by the wayside.
As cliché as it sounds, a new year is a great time for introspection, reflection and action. It’s a moment to think about how we can eat better, feel better, be more productive and see how we might rise to the challenge of becoming our best self.
What’s your diet been like in 2017? How much are you exercising? What’s keeping you awake at night? How are you cultivating joy? How are the relationships in your life going? How are you nourishing your body and soul? What are your goals for 2018?
If you follow me online, you know that my husband and I are nomadic. We usually live abroad to explore the world's culinary traditions. Sadly, the industrialization of food has gone deep and wide almost all over the world.
It’s disheartening to see how diabetes, obesity and other lifestyle related illnesses keep spreading worldwide as other countries "catch up" to the American fast food, chain restaurant mindset.
I confess that it's hard to stay on the Spartan Diet when we travel. Our lifestyle makes it tricky.
We want to try all the local foods. That's a big part of what makes living abroad exciting.
Many of foods are simply not available now in non-industrialized form. For example, a local dish might have traditionally been made with ancient grains, olive oil and honey, but today is made with modern wheat, palm oil and corn syrup. It looks like the real thing, but it's not.
We're lucky enough to make friends and get invited over for meals or drinks. Of course, we happily accept and enjoy whatever is offered to us with gratitude. It's simply an incidental fact that much of these foods aren't necessarily healthy.
When we were in Georgia (the country) recently, we tried all kinds of foods and beverages we had never seen in our lives. Some were healthy and some not at all. Ditto for Morocco. The novelty of it all is alluring and in those circumstances our policy is to eat as locals do.
We also get so excited by the food culture in France, for example, that we end up eating lots of bread and cheese -- and drinking a bit too much wine. When we’re in Italy, we, of course, eat way too much handmade pasta and pizza and fried foods -- and, again, too much wine. And we love it all!
In 2017, I launched a new business called The Gastronomad Experiences inspired by our own lifestyle, which we call gastronomad living. We live like nomads in different places around the world. The first of these agrarian foodie travel retreats, The Barcelona Experience, in September, was the hugely successful and joyful for us. And, according to our guests, unforgettable and epic! (If you’d like to learn more about The Gastronomad Experiences, or better still, join us for one of them, the next is in Northern Italy, just one hour from Venice! And it’s going to be the foodie adventure of a lifetime!)
My husband, Mike Elgan, my favorite journalist and writer, recently published his first book called Gastronomad: The Art of Living Everywhere and Eating Everything. It’s an amazing life-changing read and it also makes a great gift for foodies and travelers -- anyone really. There is also a Kindle version!
In the meantime, I’m picturing a rewarding 2018 for myself. I have big goals! One of the things that I’m looking forward to is finishing the Spartan Diet book.
So here are my goals for 2018, which I’m sharing right here so you can hold me accountable.
- Follow the Spartan Diet healthy lifestyle principles 100%
- Publish the Spartan Diet Book by fall of 2018
- Share more recipes on the Spartan Diet blog
- Host at least three Gastronomad Experiences in 2018
- Disconnect from social media except to post once a day and express gratitude to people who support us on social media
I think I’m ready, no, I’m eager to get started and take 2018 by its horns, so to speak. Are you ready for 2018? Are you ready for transformation?