Sitting at a Shabbat dinner with a group of friends, the conversation inevitably turns to family and food.
“What’s doing with your son?” asks my friend whom I haven’t seen in a while.
We talk about our children who are becoming young adults, and where and what they’re studying. Then we segue from offspring to brisket recipes. I confess that I made my first-ever brisket last Rosh Hashanah. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, especially fatty cuts, and the thought of handling a giant slab of beef always intimidated me. I recount how I wanted to impress my guests with my culinary skills, so I asked friends for no-fail recipes.
I eventually settled on a three-ingredient recipe that I saw on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” – the antithesis of sound nutrition, but must-see TV for those who appreciate food porn. While I enjoy watching the show, if I routinely ate what the program glorifies – everything deep-fried or smothered in gravy – my life expectancy would take a nose dive.
On one episode, the owner of a Jewish deli demonstrated how she makes mouth-watering slow-cooked brisket rubbed with brown sugar, ketchup and powdered onion soup mix – or what I refer to as the Holy Trinity of heart disease: sugar, salt and more salt!
My brisket turned out delicious and, admittedly, I enjoyed it in moderation. But I very rarely cook like that. I usually season chicken, fish or lean meat with herbs and spices (never salt), sometimes a drizzle of olive oil or lemon juice depending on what I’m making, and I bake or stir fry it. My typical meals may be considered bland by some dinner guests who are unaccustomed to heart-healthy cooking. I can tell when they break into a sweat and frantically ask for the salt shaker.
Many people, including top chefs, think food needs salt to taste good, but my taste buds have adapted. When I dine out at restaurants, I often find the food too salty for my palate and I have to drink a lot of water to quench my thirst.
In addition to cooking without salt and minimizing the use of added sugar or sweeteners, I try to focus on eating well in general and not being tricked into thinking that a particular food fad can solve all of my problems. One year, goji berries was de rigeur. If only we ate goji berries, we’d be slim and healthy. Of course, that’s not true.
I was recently shopping at Costco and enjoying some free samples, one of which was a slice of a banana sprinkled with hemp hearts (a fancy name for raw, shelled hemp seeds). Hemp hearts look like sesame seeds, but taste like sunflower seeds. They come from the hemp plant and are a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein and soluble and non-soluble fibre (benefits of fibre include keeping you feeling full longer, preventing constipation, and lowering your risk of some cancers and heart disease).
I asked the sample lady whether hemp comes from the same plant as marijuana.
“Yes,” she replied. “But hemp hearts come from the male plant and Cannabis comes from the female plant.”
I decided to kibbitz with her. “Where can I get the female plants?” I asked with a smirk.
“Come to my house later Mama,” she replied. “I grow them.”
“Really?” I asked, wide-eyed.
“Yes, but I pour vodka on them so they don’t make you high and I use them for medicinal purposes,” she explained.
“What a waste of vodka!” I replied.
She was a good sport. I bought a package of the hemp hearts. You can put them on food or in a smoothie. The recommended serving size is three tablespoons, which would probably make me gag; but I am finding a sprinkle here or there adds a pleasantly distinctive taste and texture.
If you eat healthy most of the time, do you really need this product which is promoted as a superfood? I think the term “superfood” is a marketing gimmick. Yes, hemp seeds have health benefits. You can Google to find out more about them. The bottom line is, if you think about what you eat, and how you prepare it, it’s really not that hard to eat healthy. Your number one ingredient should be mindfulness. You don’t necessarily need to buy so-called superfoods. Make your everyday meals “super” by preparing them with a focus on health.