Fresh broccoli sprouts are a staple food in my kitchen, especially in the winter when it’s the main home-grown vegetable crop we’ve managed to keep in season. Sprouting is one of the simplest ways to grow your own fresh food, especially for people limited by their climate, space constraints, or urban captivity. You don’t need access to the outdoors or even a sunny windowsill, because seeds are designed by nature to push their own way through dirt and set sail with their first leaves before they can start catching solar energy to power their growth.
By the time they reach that point, these tiny plants are brimming with glucosinolates, the precursors to isothiocyanates, which are plant defense compounds known for their hormetic anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic impact on the humans who eat them. This story mirrors the one about garlic and allicin – again, tissue damage (the plant’s sense that it is being eaten!) is a trigger for the conversion of a stable storage molecule into a reactive defense molecule. In the case of broccoli sprouts, myrosinase is the enzyme that converts glucoraphanin into sulforaphane. For the same reason we chop garlic before cooking to maximize its potency, it is also optimal to break down broccoli sprouts. My favorite way is pesto.
This no-knead sourdough loaf is modeled after the dark, sweet, grainy rye breads I became accustomed to encountering in sandwich shops when I lived in southern California. They usually called it squaw bread (I wonder if they still do…) and it makes an excellent foundation for the veggie-loaded sandwiches they do so well down there.
Let’s take a moment to talk about molasses, and how it comes to be. When fresh sugar cane is harvested, it is pressed to yield a juice with about 15% sugar by weight. This cane juice is evaporated, and as water is lost, the solution passes its saturation point and sugars start to crystallize. The syrup is spun in a centrifuge to separate the crystals, which undergo further refinement on their way to becoming white sugar. The dark syrup that remains is molasses, and its darkness is a reflection of the complex products of the sugar cane’s plant biochemistry. Among the “impurities” fractionated into molasses from refined sugar are a significant amount of B vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium and selenium.
How sweet it is, having a supply of beautiful fresh-from-the-hive honey in my pantry. I’ve been enamored with the stuff, gleefully drizzling it over any suitable food that crosses my path (usually Greek yogurt, but I have to say the culinary highlight so far has been its role in an extra special birthday-breakfast baked good that I definitely need to share with you soon).
As much as I’ve enjoyed eating the honey, the real treat has been digging into its sweet science. I was curious just how much researchers have been able to observe about honey’s composition, biochemistry, and dietary effects. So I dove deep, into a literature review so obsessive that it gave me nostalgia for my grad school days. If you’re a hopeless nutrition nerd like me, please enjoy my honey reading list:
Since the feeding and maintenance of a sourdough starter requires you to set aside a portion to “discard,” it only makes sense to synchronize feeding time with a weekly baking session. Make that starter earn his keep! Once you’ve grown a sourdough culture, no matter what tempting treats are on your “to bake” list, they all start with the same simple steps that make up the weekly ritual:
Take the starter out of the fridge, pouring off any liquid that has accumulated on top (this is alcohol from the yeast’s slow fermentation!) and giving the rest a quick stir.
Divide the starter into two halves – set one aside for baking, and leave the other in your ‘crock’ (FYI: mine is just tupperware) to continue your culture.
Use a kitchen scale* to weigh 4 oz. flour** and 4 oz. water, and stir them into the remaining starter in the crock until smoothly combined. Allow it to sit, covered but not airtight, at room temperature for 2 hours before returning it to the fridge. This gives your microbial friends some time to eat before going back to ‘sleep’ for the week.
Take the other half of the starter that you set aside, and use it in a tasty recipe! It can often be used in this “unfed” state (ie. in baked goods that either don’t need to rise much, that involve a pre-ferment, or in quickbread type recipes that include another leavener like baking powder/soda), but if you want it to be powerful enough to leaven bread, you’ll want to give this half its own feeding as well. To give it some extra “oomph,” feed the discard starter with 4 oz. flour and water just like in the last step, and let it hang out for about 12 hours before baking. If I’m planning to bake bread on Saturday, I usually take my starter out on Friday night, split it, and feed both halves. Then after 2 hours, I put one half back into the fridge for next week, and leave the other half out overnight to continue fermenting until I’m ready to bake the next morning.
** I usually feed my starter with unbleached all-purpose flour, which yields the most reliable results. But once every few weeks I prefer to liven things up with a feeding of whole-wheat flour instead.
Highlights of my Sourdough Baking Rotation
And finally, what we’ve all been waiting for… the recipes!
Pizza Crust: I’ve already mentioned (and teased on Instagram) my obsession with crafting the perfect whole grain sourdough crust for pizza night. Recipe testing is still in progress, but you can definitely look forward to seeing the results here once I get it dialed in.
Pancakes + Waffles: Weekend breakfast turns your sourdough ritual into an opportunity to show your household some love. This basic recipe from King Arthur Flour has an overnight rise with buttermilk, and comes out superbly light and fluffy. I substitute whole-wheat pastry flour instead of the all-purpose stuff, with great results, and it’s also a good foundation for customizing variations with your favorite mix-ins. In fact, I have a new seasonal specialty coming your way soon!
Biscuits: I’ve only experimented with sourdough biscuits once so far, but they definitely warrant further study! I tried a variation on this cheddar biscuit recipe from Cultures for Health (great resource for all things fermented), and although it came out a little more like a dinner roll than a fluffy/flaky biscuit, we still ate them enthusiastically. The dough is marbled with sharp cheddar, black pepper and garlic, which I was compelled to enjoy savory-sweet style: topped with a drizzle of honey. Next, I’ve got my sights set on these cheddar-chive beauties.
Seed Bread: When I wrote last week about my motivations for starting a sourdough habit, there was another bullet point that I should have included: because I am addicted to sourdough seed bread! I first got hooked on the version they sell at the bakery department at Sprouts, and then when I found this recipe from Smart Nutrition (one of my all-time-fave RD bloggers) I’m pretty sure it was seriously the tipping point that inspired me to adopt my new sourdough pet. I add hemp seeds to mine, and it is outrageously good.
Those are the baking basics that have stood out as the house favorites during my first couple of months experimenting with my new sourdough ritual, but I look forward to baking plenty more healthy, fermented grainy goodies. You can keep up with ongoing updates on my baking inspiration on my Sourdough Recipes Pinterest board (next on my list: those popovers and those donuts!)
Readers, now it’s your turn: tell me about your sourdough! What are your best tips and must-try recipes?
Want to know the coolest thing about getting started experimenting with sourdough in your own kitchen? You don’t need to have connections with a veteran baker or buy a special culture – the microorganisms that make up sourdough are all around you, just waiting to forge a symbiotic relationship with you and your baking habit. Wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria live on the surface of flour granules and in the air around us, and when you provide them with the right conditions, they’re happy to set up shop.
How do I capture a culture?
All it takes is a container of flour and water mixed together on your counter. At regular intervals, you feed the culture with more flour and water, after first removing some of the mixture before feeding time (in addition to making sure you don’t end up with a giant doughball that takes over the city, this basically serves to keep acidity in check and to cull the herd, allowing a smaller population of microorganisms to eat what you feed them and multiply with less competition, and fewer byproducts of metabolism that might slow their growth). Simply follow the feeding schedule, and you’ll have your own thriving culture in about a week!
I’m not going to break down a step-by-step schedule here, because it’s been done well many times on the web already. When I started my starter, I mostly followed this guide by the people at King Arthur Flour, with the benefit of some extra insights from Smart Nutrition and The Kitchn. The simple flour/water/time protocol yielded a healthy, happy starter that just chills contentedly in my fridge all week, and unfailingly springs to action when I take him out to play.
OK, but remind me again why it’s worth it to take time from my busy schedule for the care and feeding of a living baking ingredient?
Excellent question. With the word-count I’m saving by outsourcing the how-to, I’m choosing to dig a little deeper into the why-to. Home-baked sourdough bread is a nice way to enhance a happy-healthy life, but it does take a little effort. You might think of it in the same light as other “healthy habits” that you’re motivated to work into your life, like taking time on the weekend to chop up a surplus of your favorite veggies.
So let’s consider motivation. Sourdough’s health benefits are a good reason to incorporate a starter into your baking repertoire, but honestly, I knew about those facts for months before I mustered up the will to get started. Motivation is about a personal, emotional connection to your goal. If you feel like you want to do something, take a moment to think about WHY you feel that way. Once you can define your motivation, you can use that connection to fuel your inspiration, to decide that it’s worth your effort to start it up and stick with it.
Sound like a chore? It’s really just about getting in touch with the good feelings you have about your aspirations. Allow me to demonstrate with the easy-breezy answers that come to mind when I ask myself the question:
Why Should I Start a Sourdough Habit?
Because it makes me feel like a baking wizard. Or at least, you know, some kind of baking MacGyver. I can’t diffuse a bomb with a paper clip, but I can make a mean loaf of bread with just flour, water, salt, and time. Knowing about traditional methods of food production is a valuable life skill; we come from a long line of humans before us, and it’s good to be in touch with our roots. During my weekly baking sessions, I often think about my post-apocalyptic survival skills, and how my camp will still be enjoying the pleasures of leavened breads as long as we can get our hands on enough flour!
Because science is fun. It’s good to be curious, and science is really just organized curiosity. Some of my reasons for creating this blog centered on joining like-minded readers in the joys of paying attention to the wonders of the world around us, and working with sourdough is a great opportunity to learn something cool. I love that my sourdough science project takes me back to my college days in microbiology class, except even better (ie. instead of cramming for exams, I’m cramming baguettes in my mouth. science rules!)
Because life is too short for bad bread. Before I took up my sourdough project, I often settled for some pretty uninspiring grocery-store bread to keep up with my household’s carb appetite. Now, since almost every weekend yields a batch of awesome home-made sourdough baked goods (often with leftovers to bank in the freezer) I’ve cut way back on the riffraff. Good bread makes life better!
Starting a sourdough starter is really a pretty easy, foolproof project – it’s amazing what you can do with just a little flour, water, time, and motivation! If you have your own culture or plans to cultivate one (or if you could use a little more inspiration first), don’t miss next week’s post: I’ll be talking about the simple steps of my weekly sourdough ritual, and the best recipes in my baking rotation.
It’s a bubbling, fermenting colony of bacteria and fungi that lives in my fridge, but it’s nothing to get squeamish about… it’s just sourdough! I started my first starter about 3 months ago, and I’ve been experimenting with this ancient form of baking biotech just about every week since then. It’s been a fun learning experience, and now I feel like I’ve gotten enough of a handle on it that I can share my dietitian/baker perspective. This post is the first installment of a 3-part series covering the ins and outs of the process, along with the reasons why you might be motivated to start up a habit too!
What is Sourdough?
To give a satisfactory answer to this question, let me break it down into two parts:
The History Lesson: If you peer far enough into the past, you’ll find a time when all breads were sourdough breads. At the dawn of agriculture, humans began eating their newly cultivated grains, ground and mixed with water as porridge and flatbread. When these simple batters were left out long enough, they created a moist & cozy home for the local wild yeast and bacteria. That’s when our neolithic ancestors discovered the magical leavening and preserving qualities of sourdough.
The Science Lesson: The sourdough culture is a symbiotic community of microorganisms that naturally grow on the surfaces of grains and in the air around us. These microbial friends include wild yeast (whose fermentation of starches/sugars yields carbon dioxide gas, which creates the air bubbles that leaven bread) and lactobacillus bacteria (whose fermentation yields lactic acid, which keeps the medium acidic enough to resist spoilage, and which also contributes to sourdough’s signature flavor).
Sourdough is Healthy?
If you only think of sourdough as a tangy flavor in specialty breads, you may be surprised to learn about all the attention it’s been getting lately for its nutrition benefits. Research has been revealing some fascinating facts about sourdough, and it’s all due to the probiotic cultures living in this fermented food.
Increased mineral bioavailability. Whole grains are full of essential minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron – that’s why dietitians are always on your case to eat more of them! But grains also contain compounds called phytates that bind to these minerals and inhibit their absorption in the gut. The lactic acid created by the bacteria in sourdough breaks down phytates, and consequently increases your ability to absorb the minerals in your bread.
Lower glycemic index. The lactic acid in sourdough alters the starch/protein microstructure that forms during baking. The resulting bread has starch that our bodies digest more slowly. Slower breakdown of starch means a less dramatic glucose response, preventing undesirable spikes in insulin. (If you want to really dig into the science, this paper is fascinating.)
“Probiotic” benefits. Although our microbial companions are not able to survive their trip through the oven, their byproducts hang in there, providing a variety of the benefits associated with fermented foods. Before they check out, the good bacteria are nice enough to leave us a selection of antioxidant, cancer-fighting and immune-boosting compounds.
Elimination of gluten. Enzymes from both the wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria work together to degrade wheat flour’s gluten proteins into smaller peptides. The microorganisms are so good at this, that researchers have measured certain sourdough breads as having gluten concentrations of just 12 PPM… that’s legally gluten-free! This is good news if you have trouble tolerating gluten (and tolerating the taste of gluten-free breads).
Is your interest piqued? Don’t forget to tune in next week, when I’ll be back to talk about getting your starter started!
Ice packs. Netflix. Eating soup on the couch. Sounds like a super-fun recovery weekend, right? This year I learned from my dentist that I needed oral surgery to correct a gum recession problem (PSA: apparently this is why you shouldn’t brush your teeth too hard!) and two weeks ago, I finally went under the knife to get it fixed with what they call the “pinhole” surgery. As the operation day approached, I put some diligent thought into how to best support myself nutritionally for a speedy recovery. It was obvious that I would need to stock up on soft/easy-to-eat foods, but from a dietitian’s perspective, I couldn’t help but draw up some plans to emphasize my favorite nutrients to facilitate the healing process. And it should go without saying, that I also wanted to continue to ENJOY food while I heal… gotta keep flavor in mind to nourish the body + spirit.
Sure, you could say I’m ‘overthinking’ it for a relatively minor surgery – the doctor’s only dietary orders were to avoid crunchy and sticky foods – but on my follow-up visits, the surgeon praised my quick healing, so I’m thinking the effort was worthwhile!
Disclaimer: please understand that good nutrition is very personal; what’s good for one individual can be a problem for another. Follow the advice of your own doctor and/or dietitian, who know your particular needs and issues. This post is about my own case and experience.
So how does this registered dietitian approach her post-op recovery diet? Here are the things that went under my consideration:
Oral Surgery Post-Op Nutritional Recovery Plan
First off, for wound healing, it’s important to get enough calories and protein for your body to generate new tissue and heal. This means making an effort to eat well, to make sure that a sore mouth or poor appetite won’t lead to meal-skipping or under-eating. It also means paying special attention to build meals around healthy protein sources like eggs, lean meats/poultry, yogurt, beans, soy, etc.
Essential Nutrients for Wound Healing
But beyond those basics, there are a few other key nutrients/foods that I wanted to emphasize in my post-op recovery plan:
Vitamin C: An essential co-factor in the generation of collagen, this nutrient is key for healing tissue. As a bonus, it’s an antioxidant so it decreases systemic oxidative stress and consequently inflammation.
Food Sources: tomatoes, peppers, fruits like strawberries, oranges, or pineapple
Zinc: This mineral has a structural role in many enzymes, including several that are involved in pathways for collagen formation and in supporting the immune system. It’s clinically proven that adequate zinc status is important in aiding wound healing; in hospital settings, dietitians even prescribe zinc sulfate supplements to help patients with difficult wounds. I didn’t bother with that extra expense, but I did focus on eating plenty of my favorite zinc-rich foods.
Anti-Inflammatory foods: Certain foods work with your body to decrease its systemic inflammatory response, while others just add more fuel to the fire. Since I knew I was going to be dealing with a lot of swelling, I did everything I could to tilt the scales in the right direction:
more veggies, fruits, healthy fats, fish, soy, turmeric, ginger, green tea
less refined flours and sugars
Dietary Supplements for Recovering from Oral Surgery
I also chose to support my regimen with a couple ofsupplements (again, talk to your doctor or dietitian about what’s right for you). First, I picked up a bottle of probiotic supplements to help innoculate my gut with a beneficial microbiome after finishing the course of antibiotics required following the surgery. Fish oil capsules can provide an extra anti-inflammatory boost from omega 3’s, and turmeric is another anti-inflammatory ally (look for high-quality capsules that also contain black pepper / piperine, which greatly improves bioavailability). Hydrolyzed collagen powder is a convenient way to supply building blocks for your healing tissue, especially because it blends very easily into hot or cold drinks, smoothies, soups, oatmeal, and the other soft foods you’ll be enjoying.
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What to Eat After Oral Surgery
So, after I had my game plan ready, how did I work these foods into my diet? Here’s a glimpse into my week following the procedure:
Behold, the Green Smoothie Pop. I received these fun squeeze-pop molds as a get-well gift from my mom (how sweet is that? she obviously gets me.). The day before my appointment, I whizzed up a mason jar magic bullet filled with frozen banana, frozen pineapple, fresh spinach, orange juice and almond milk, and poured the blend into the tubes to freeze. It was the right thing to do. Delicious tropical flavor, soothing cold for gum pain, and the pineapple and orange juice pack a punch of vitamin C for healing!
Leading up to my surgery, I naturally ended up discussing the finer points of the mechanical soft diet with my dietitian coworkers. When the idea of golden grilled cheese saturated with creamy tomato soup came up, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. During my pre-op grocery run, the first things to get tossed into my basket were a loaf of whole-grain sourdough bread, some lovely grass-fed sharp cheddar, and an ultra-convenient box of Imagine light-sodium Garden Tomato Soup. With the bread lightly brushed with olive oil for a source of healthy fat, this meal is easy to throw together when you don’t feel like cooking, and total comfort food. Win win! And if you do feel like cooking, I must recommend my favorite tomato soup recipe: [Instant Pot] Roasted Tomato Soup.
Some Other Favorite Creamy/Hearty/Nourishing Soup Recipes:
Scrambled eggs made appearances at both breakfast and lunch. They’re a quick/easy protein, soft, and topping with salsa doesn’t just up the flavor factor, but also adds a little extra veggies and vitamins. Every bit helps!
PBJ yogurt! I had the surgery on a Friday, and after my first weekend of healing was over, this was my staple pack-for-work breakfast the following week. Plain Greek yogurt topped with a small spoonful of strawberry jam, a larger spoonful of chunky peanut butter, a tablespoon of wheat germ (zinc!!) and a generous sprinkle of chia seeds on top. So delicious, I’m still continuing to eat this now that I have my chewing abilities back.
Just to be clear that I wasn’t powering through the recovery phase cooking everything from scratch: there was definitely a life-saving order of takeout pho. It’s the only ‘fast food’ I can think of built on a foundation of nourishing bone broth! I ordered extra and lived off this for the first couple of rough recovery days, when it was awesome to be able to just nuke a quick meal whenever hunger struck.
Annnnd just to be clear about one other thing, there was also definitely ice cream. Duh.
Some other healthy foods that I subsisted on but wasn’t cogent enough to snap photos of: whole-wheat fusilli pasta topped with a grass-fed beef and mushroom bolognese, fork-tender broiled salmon, this black bean soup, this broccoli cheddar soup, and a simple chicken ‘noodle’ soup with tiny star-shaped pastina that made me feel like a little kid again. Lots of good eating, and although I’m still waiting for clearance to start flossing again (as a flossing fanatic I’M GOING CRAZY OVER HERE!) I’m pretty much back to normal now!
I hope this post will help other people trying to figure out what to eat after oral surgery. If you have any other words of wisdom, please share in the comments!
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Flavor. We definitely consider it an essential part of the diet around here, but it’s not often that we talk about its direct relevance to nutrition. After reading a great article by Mark Schatzker last week, I was inspired to take a moment to highlight this underappreciated piece of the human nutrition puzzle.
Shatzker describes flavor as an “ancient chemical language,” which is such a beautifully fitting depiction of the science. “Flavor is the body’s way of identifying important nutrients and remembering what foods they come from.” We have evolved to seek out our favorite flavors, but we’re facing a problem because this synergy between us and our diet has been disrupted by our modern food supply. Factory farming and other questionable contemporary food production techniques yield lackluster products, in both nutrition and flavor. On top of that, a highly profitable industry of food scientists and flavor chemists have stepped in to fill the flavor void, adulterating products with enticing extracts and additives that tempt our senses but that provide none of the benefits that our bodies are craving. Shatzker’s new book, The Dorito Effect, is definitely going on my reading list. The message, which is very consistent with the way we do things around here, is to get your flavor from real food, because it’s what your body really wants.
So how can we put this theory into practice? Today, let’s remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated to craft big flavors from natural ingredients. Serving as a prime example: Chimichurri in a Hurry. Just a handful of the highly flavorful and nutritious compounds in this classic Argentine condiment include antioxidant myristicin from parsley, antimicrobial allicin from garlic, and anti-inflammatory capsaicin from chili peppers. And we get to enjoy all of those whole-food benefits in just a matter of moments thanks to my favorite blender-hack.
I think it’s safe to say that I don’t conform to the “Food Police” reputation that is often (usually unfairly) attributed to dietitians. For one thing, I support a total diet approach, and advocate for eating and loving good food. Secondly, I find that it’s more productive to talk about the positive aspects of nutrition: getting plenty of the good things that our bodies need. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not important to also talk about dietary patterns that have been recognized by researchers to be harmful and associated with specific health outcomes. Knowledge is power, and this stuff is real!
The reason why I’m finding myself on this soapbox today is because I’m inspired by the good work they’re doing at SugarScience.org. The site launched this week as a project by leading experts in the field, who are making an effort to publicize what we currently understand about the risks of eating too much added sugar. The content is exhaustively researched and simply communicated – public health gold, in my book. In addition to perusing the research, you can follow their blog, submit your own questions to their panel of experts, and access a wealth of resources for spreading awareness of the associations of excess sugar consumption with not only obesity and diabetes, but a whole range of inflammatory and hormonal disorders including cancer, heart disease, liver disease, aging, dementia and Alzheimer’s. Seriously, you’ll want to dig into this information. If you’re a dietitian who counsels patients, definitely incorporate some of these killer infographics into your handout repertoire!
Don’t stop reading yet! All I’ve said so far is “fiber” and I’ve already lost most of you. Most people think that fiber is just about regularity, but that’s a load of, well… you know what! It’s an important component of every diet, and most people don’t eat enough of it. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men and women eat 38 or 25 grams of fiber each day, respectively, and the latest survey data indicates that our average intake is less than half of this amount!
Even though it’s simply undigestible plant matter, fiber has a wide range of benefits – it helps keep you full and satisfied, it decreases risk of colon cancer and diverticular disease, helps lower cholesterol levels, and feeds the good bacteria in your gut. But in my experience, there’s one particular “fun fact” about fiber that tends to surprise and intrigue; one thing that gets people ACTUALLY EXCITED ABOUT EATING FIBER…