Monday, March 19, 2012

Let Your Food Be Your Medicine

Super Stew nutrition facts and detailed ingredients can be found here.
I’ve completed another iteration on Super Stew. You may remember my use of Ted Kochanek’s chili recipe back when I was engaged in my Food Stamp Challenge. But the need for healthy, tasty food continues even if my $5 budget does not. The great things about the original recipe stand: low glycemic index (mostly beans and vegetables) and highly anti-inflammatory (heavy use of spices, nutrient-rich vegetables). If I had to target one thing in the American diet to change, I think it would be this. Just slowing down digestion a little bit would have dramatic effects on insulin response and our getting obese and diabetic. So the stew is good on that front (820 calories with a glycemic load of 35).

It’s also excellent in terms of being anti-inflammatory. The idea of inflammation seems to be our latest Grand Unifying Theory of Disease. I’ve heard more than one of my professors tell me that reducing inflammation will cure all our ills. I haven’t looked hard at the evidence for this, but it’s certainly a nice story, with lots of good correlations. For example, obese people have increases in markers of inflammation, and this then correlates with increases in insulin resistance and diabetes. A good case can also be made for atherosclerosis being an inflammatory state.

Maybe it’s true. But even if it’s not, the cure is delicious. Broadly speaking, things with potent flavor tend to be anti-inflammatory (garlic, hot peppers, etc). They also tend to be good anti-oxidants. So basically, the more flavorful your food, the better off you are. And that may be why McDonalds makes you sick. Lots of tasty macro-nutrients, but not much spice. The bottom line is this: the stew has lots of spices. 

I decided to buy spice from not-the-grocery-store, and having a 1lb bag of spice makes me much more liberal with it. I used 1 tablespoon of cayenne, black pepper, cumin, turmeric, paprika and coriander. This was all as per Ted’s instructions (except for measuring the spices). But Ted, as smart as he is, is Polish. And though he has grown considerably these last few years in terms of spice tolerance, he has discriminated against quarter-Mexicans (i.e. me) and our preference for hot peppers. To make up for this deficit, I added 3 jalapenos and 1 habanero to the mix (I chopped them finely and then sautéed them for a few minutes before tossing them into the pot).

Next, though it was highly anti-inflammatory, it lacked some of the better macro-nutrients that are known to be good for you. Particularly important for health is the eating of good fats. The day we started evaluating food on whether or not they were “low fat” was a dark day for our bodies. We need fats, and lots of them. Unsaturated fats in the form of olive oil may be the food item with the single best case for extending life. Old Greeks eating a “Mediterranean Diet” heavy in olive oil actually do live longer, as do people who eat like them.

I sautéed the vegetables in ¼ cup of coconut oil (way more than is actually necessary) to make sure the really-good-for-you medium chain saturated fats (esp. lauric acid) got into the stew, which increase HDL (“good” cholesterol). Also, I supplemented the stew with ½ cup of olive oil with monounsaturated fats that increase HDL and decrease LDL (“bad” cholesterol), as well as 3 oz of sunflower seeds (high in polyunsaturated fats, which increase HDL). None of these significantly affect the flavor of the stew, and the sunflower seeds provide an added crunch. In fact, with the amount of spices that are used, subtle changes to base ingredients are overwhelmed. Also, adding olive oil (if you buy in bulk) and sunflower seeds are both great ways to decrease the cost per calorie of the stew.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also really good for you, and as far as I’m aware, the only supplement from a vitamin store that has good evidence behind it (esp. for heart disease) for healthy people. The argument is that we get way too much Omega-6 because we eat way too much corn-fed red meat. So I added 2 oz of ground flaxseed to the stew, giving a daily “dose” of Omega 3’s, as well as bringing the fiber total in one bowl just over the FDA daily recommendation.

This time around, I subbed out beef for chicken (Whole Food was having a sale) and it worked out wonderfully. Also, because my available time is spotty, I cooked a LOT of stew, tripling Ted’s recipe and making about 24 meals worth (~20,000 Calories :). Also of note, I started shopping at Whole Foods because it ends up being cheaper for me (“Natural” foods go for a premium at Safeway). The total cost of the all-organic ingredients (except the chicken, which was free-range) was $75, bringing my meal cost to about $3.12. All in all, this is a recipe that is actually good for me, probably saves time (vs. fast food), fills me up, and tastes delicious. The iteration will continue! I notice I’m lacking vitamins B and D; I will continue to endeavor to make this the perfect “desert island” food that is also a cure to American disease!

[My apologies for lacking citations… I’ll try to come back and add them later]


  1. Wow, David, that's impressive. I read the ingrediant list and all I can say is Wow (again). I'm just a little concerned about the 820 calories and the 38 grams of fat (58% of the daily value). That seems very high. I did LOVE how you made your own nutrition label... that was awesome. I'll try it. Where did you get all of your ingrediants?

      That's what I use for nutrition labels.

    2. Remember: it's not about the calories! You have to eat ~2000 Calories a day in any case. What matters is what *kind* of calories you're eating. I intentionally supplemented the fats. If you want to make it "Low fat," you could omit the half cup of Olive Oil and quarter cup of Coconut Oil (but why would you want to?). The fats were *added* to reduce cholesterol. Good calories (olive oil) displace bad calories or even neutral calories.

      Also, soup is continuous. If you want to limit yourself to 1600 Calories a day, just eat less soup.

  2. Very nice David. I have moved up to Anaheim peppers, there's hope for me yet ;)

  3. Yowza, 820 calories! How much volume did 456g add up to? Was it satisfying enough psychologically, or did it seem like in the Jetsons when they take a pill for dinner?

    Coconut oil sounds delicious. I am now very very hungry and it's 1:21 am. Thanks a lot, David.

    1. It was very satisfying. It's actually kind of the opposite of Jetsons food; it's like normal food is flavorless and unsatisfying. I mean, who uses anywhere near that amount of spice in anything, ever?

      I usually eat about a pint or a quart for meals (to satiety). The actual "serving size" on the label was more a mathematical calculation and I assume that's about how much I'm eating. Unless you're trying to lose weight, you need about 800 Calories for lunch and dinner (assuming a light breakfast and no snacks). And coconut meat and water is delicious; coconut oil is nearly flavorless (but oh-so-healthy).

      No problem Anonymous! Any time I could make you hunger for health, I'm happy to oblige!

    2. Haha, this is Katie. :)

      This stew looks really good--I'm going to try to make this when my whole eye ordeal is over.

      More questions: How does this stew keep? Does it lose its flavor or get funky after a week in the fridge? Did you ever try to freeze and reheat it? And if I eat this will it cancel out my eating donuts for dinner for the previous week?

  4. This post makes me happy David ;) Very preventive medicine of you, which I of course love. Your apology for lack of citations make me giggle as I wanted to see some of your sources (just curious what you have been reading).