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Making Ethnic Foods Safer
01/01/2005 - Previous | Next | Health Home
Dr. Donald A. Miller -- In today's health-conscious world, here are some ways to improve on ethnic cuisines without sacrificing taste.

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One of the wonders of the modern world is that we can enjoy foods from other places and times. Books, magazines, TV shows, Internet searches, community cultural events, as well as ethnic restaurants, are marvelous sources of food delights.

There is only one problem with this: Many ethnic foods have their roots in ages when both mechanization and wealth were less common. Foods that meant survival to our ancestors can lead to early death for ourselves. Even dietary laws which were based on the protection of health can now cause health problems. Longer life expectancies made this discovery possible.

But curiosity and willingness to experiment can create good modifications to great recipes.

Consider these examples of outmoded concepts:

-- One of my nephews was training as a French Chef. He was taught that "Fat is Flavor."

-- Salt, once needed as a preservative, is at dangerously high levels in snack foods, canned and frozen prepared foods, and many traditional foods.

-- White bread and rice were favored by the wealthy as signs of their wealth. As a consequence, whole grained foods almost vanished from "modern" diets for numerous decades.

-- Sweetness, alcohol, and over eating became associated with celebrations and luxury, especially in eras and areas when/where hunger was more common. As a consequence, more than half of us consume too much of refined sugars, alcohol, and foods.

-- Spices and herbs, originally added to foods that were not edible otherwise (especially before refrigeration), are to be found in ordinary grocery stores, but far too many are packed with totally unneeded salt. In fact, wise use of spices can produce flavorful foods that are low in salt.

If you are getting enough calories every day, there is no reason that you cannot reduce the fat, salt, sugars, and alcohol in your diet and still enjoy what you eat. Even athletes and laborers, who need lots of calories, can get them from unrefined carbohydrates instead of saturated fats and refined sweeteners. Essential fatty acids can be found in plant foods and fish, as well as in four legged meats.

And wise up. "Low carb" is "high dumb".

By the way, the search for good flavor has lead to the wide spread use of synthesized Mono Sodium Glutamate, MSG. Various government agencies of various countries assure us that MSG is entirely safe, but enough of us get headaches, agitation, and dizzy or spacey feelings to know that just ain't true. Good chefs do not require MSG.

So, what can we do about it?

-- For the ethnic foods you already enjoy, go through the ingredients and make substitutions and deletions.

-- For new experiences, look more to Oriental and Asiatic recipes than to "farmer" or "noble" foods from France or Germany. But leave out the sugar which was added by missionaries in China, Japan, India, and more. For that matter, leave sugar out of Italian recipes and others.

-- Realize that traditional soy foods can provide all the essentials found in meats, without one having to declare one's self a vegetarian. (But add high calcium foods if you cut back on dairy and meats.)

-- Learn that fruits, or fruits with nuts, can taste very sweet, yet provide fiber, minerals, vitamins which are totally absent from man-made sweeteners.

-- Avoid deep fried foods. Learn to use non-stick cook ware and sprays, pressure cookers, microwave ovens, crock pots, et cetera.

-- Instead of butter, use newer spreads that contain no hydrogenated oils. For sour cream, use non-fat yogurt or a rich blend of non-fat powdered milk in water.

-- I seldom use cornstarch, but find whole wheat flour can also serve as a thickener.

-- Instead of fatty sausage or bacon, fry small patties of lean ground beef, or slices of extra firm tofu.

-- Replace lard, bacon drippings, tallow with un-hardened plant oils, and try using less.

-- Leave out the ham hock or bacon chunk when making soup.

Here are some examples of my experiments.

My former wife was great for preparing Tex-Mex foods. For tacos, she used a mix made by a prominent USA spice company. When I saw (and tasted) that salt was early on the list of ingredients, I volunteered to make my own. I obtained some salt-free chili powder, some dried garlic flakes and oregano, and mixed with a small amount of whole wheat flour. My version became the favorite with wife and two teenagers.

I have written elsewhere about replacing part of lean ground beef with soy tempeh or extra firm soy tofu, mashed, in such dishes as meat loaf, stew, pasta/spaghetti, and mock steak.

Be inventive. Enjoy flavorful foods through a long life.

Dr. Donald A. Miller is author of "Easy Health Diet," at http://easyhealthdiet.com/diet.htm, "Easy Exercise All Ages," http://easyhealthdiet.com/eeaa.htm, and numerous free articles on health, located at http://easyhealthdiet.com/articles/. Seven of ten deaths are caused by preventable diseases.

© 2004 Dr. Donald A. Miller

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