Whole Foods Healthy Cooking: A Diet of Prevention

Heart disease, artery disease, cancer, diabetes…you name the condition and chances are there’s an article about it in the local newspaper. We’re bombarded by information about these conditions that are often referred to as “diseases of civilization.”

They’re expensive and tough to treat and can take a toll on individuals and families affected. The best course of action is prevention.

The largest studies show that dietary choices are the major reason these conditions exist. Eating habits have changed over the past few generations. Consumption of refined sugar and flour has skyrocketed, as has the use of convenience foods, antibiotic fed beef, pork and poultry, flavor enhancers, artificial colors and preservatives, and other additives to make food last longer and cook faster.

A generation or two ago, our ancestors ate differently that we do. Diets were made up of whole foods grown in rich soil and prepared at home. They were nutrient dense and free from artificial additives. Farming practices and raising livestock were different. It was easier for the body to get the nutrition it needed. For a glimpse into the world of modern food production log onto http://www.themeatrix.com and view how our meat and poultry is produced. It’s not your grandparent’s farm. Keep in mind that whatever the animal ingests becomes part of its cellular structure. When we eat the animal, we also ingest whatever they were fed.

The best approach to health care is to prevent disease in the first place. A diet based on natural foods is the best insurance policy around. Include an abundance of fresh, colorful, preferably organic vegetables and fruits. The good news is, they can become habit forming! You can actually find yourself looking forward to your daily dose.

Some healthy hints to start making dietary changes:

  1. Read the label. If the label says hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, don’t buy it. Check the labels in your cabinets. If it appears on anything, toss it out; it will damage your health. The trans-fats you ingest today will still be in your system 51 days from now. Select a non-hydrogenated oil spread or use olive, walnut, sesame oils, etc.
  2. Bake with nutritious flours. Try adding brown rice flour in cookies and biscuits, use whole wheat pastry flour instead of white. Avoid white flour and toss out any bromated flour.
  3. Eat colorful foods. Yams, squash, melons, cherries, kale, collards, blueberries, etc. Choose the most colorful variety in season for the best flavor, nutrition and price.
  4. Add nuts and seeds. Toss a few into morning oatmeal, add to baked goods, toss a dozen or so into a small bag and carry for an instant snack.
  5. Eat fresh food. Long term storage means a loss of nutrients.
  6. Eat the skin. Don’t peel fruits and veggies whenever possible. Peeling reduces nutritional value of food. Buy organic whenever possible. Washing produce in a sink full of water to which 2-3 tablespoons of cider vinegar is added will help remove chemical residues. Wash just before cooking them.
  7. Eliminate artificial sweeteners. There’s no place in anyone’s diet for them. “Excitotoxins include such things as aspartate, a main ingredient in NutraSweet. Excitotoxins appear to play a key role in degenerative nervous system diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntingdon’s, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and many others,” says Russell L. Blaylock, MD in Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills.

Our current state of health is influenced by the diet of our ancestors and it will influence the health of future generations. We inherit and pass along building blocks of life. Making healthy choices today impacts our tomorrows and those of future generations. "The destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they feed themselves." — Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste (1825)


Soup for the Soul

What a perfect winter soup! The beans are easy to digest, easy to cook and nutritious. The colorful vegetables add sweetness and eye appeal.


  • 1 cup adzuki beans, washed and soaked for 6-8 hours (save soaking water)
  • I inch square piece of kombu (sea vegetable that tenderizes, adds nutrition and flavor)
  • 1 cup onions, diced
  • 1 cup winter squash (buttercup, red kori, butternut, etc.)
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Shoyu (to taste)
  • 2 scallions, chopped for garnish


  1. Place beans (including soaking water), water and kombu into a pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for one and a half hours.
  2. Add vegetables and salt. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat. Add shoyu to taste. Sprinkle scallions over top and serve.

Baked Brown Rice with Almonds

This is an easy to make, versatile dish that’s delicious at any meal. Use any leftovers for a quick stir-fry the next day. Just add some tofu and assorted veggies.


  • 3 cups brown rice
  • 1 cup almonds, blanched
  • 6 cups boiling water
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 4 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/2 sea salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place rice in a fine mesh strainer and wash under cool running water. Let drain. Dry roast rice in a heavy, dry skillet until completely dry, golden brown and aromatic.
  3. Place rice in a casserole dish (or baking dish). Add the almonds, onions and celery. Pour the boiling water over the rice and vegetables. Cover and bake for one and a half hours.

Seitan Sandwiches

Craving a sandwich? Give this one a try. It’s flavorful, filling and a good source of protein. I like to occasionally fry the onions in sesame oil before adding them to the sandwich.


  • 1 pound seitan, sliced
  • 8 slices whole grain bread
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into thin rounds
  • lettuce leaves
  • mustard
  • tofu mayonnaise
  • organic sauerkraut
  • sesame oil, for frying


  1. Heat about 2 teaspoons sesame oil in a skillet
  2. Fry the seitan slices for 3 minutes
  3. Remove and place on a plate
  4. Take half the bread slices and spread each with mustard. On the remaining slices, spread the mayo
  5. Place seitan slices on the bread spread with mustard
  6. Place a little sauerkraut on top of seitan
  7. Top with onion and lettuce leaves
  8. Place mayo topped bread on top
  9. Slice and serve

Quick Sautéed Greens

What an easy and tasty way to add greens to your diet. Try the braising mixture of greens available in some markets. My favorite is always kale, especially during cold weather when it’s sweet and plentiful.


  • 4 cups greens (kale, collards, etc.)
  • dark sesame oil
  • Shoyu to taste


  1. Wash greens well, drain and cut into bite sized pieces
  2. Place a teaspoon of oil in pan and heat on medium high. Add greens and sauté until half cooked, about 5 minutes
  3. Add shoyu and finish cooking another 3 or 4 minutes

Fantastic Baklava

This is a favorite in our home around the holidays. It doesn’t matter which holiday it is, it always tops the “must make” list. It will make 40-50 pieces, so family gatherings are the best time to make this. The phyllo is only lightly oiled, so you may find it easier to use a high quality cooking spray to coat them. You may brush it on, but go easy on the oil and be sure to brush on the edges.


  • 1 pound walnuts, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup corn oil
  • 1 package phyllo dough, thawed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Juice of half a lemon


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees
  2. Mix chopped nuts and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside
  3. Lightly oil a 9 X 13 pan with oil. Remove 6 sheets of phyllo and lightly brush the first sheet with oil and set into pan. Repeat with remaining 5 sheets
  4. Scoop half a cup of nut mixture from bowl and spread evenly over the six sheets of phyllo in the pan. Add 3 more sheets of phyllo over the nuts, brushing each with oil. Repeat the process until all the nut mixture is used up
  5. Top the last of the nut mixture with 6 sheets of phyllo dough, each brushed with oil
  6. With a sharp knife, and going three fourths of the way through, cut the baklava lengthwise in one inch strips. Next, make diagonal cuts, three fourths of the way through. The baklava should now look like a series of diamond shapes
  7. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until golden brown
  8. While it’s baking, place the water, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, cinnamon stick and lemon juice in a pan and simmer uncovered until it’s reduced to 2 cups. Remove cinnamon stick
  9. Remove baked baklava from the oven and pour the hot syrup over the hot phyllo
  10. Let sit for 40 minutes. Cut “diamonds” the rest of the way through and serve

Michelle Hirsch lives in southern NH and teaches whole foods cooking throughout New England. She is a graduate of the world renowned Kushi Institute where she also worked developing curriculum. Michelle is the author of Venturesome Vegetarian and can be contacted at mphirsch@yahoo.com or c/o Spirit of Change, PO Box 405, Uxbridge, MA 01569.

Venturesome Vegetarian by Michelle HirschMichelle Hirsch lives in southern NH and teaches whole foods cooking throughout New England. She is a graduate of the world-renowned Kushi Institute where she also worked developing curriculum.

Michelle is the author of Venturesome Vegetarian.

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