Salt… we can’t live without it – literally!
There are a number of ways we can view healthy eating. Modern science examines food in terms of nutritional content and counts calories or quantities of fat or carbohydrates.
Traditional societies established a foundation of healthy nutrition from trial and error over many centuries. There is much to be learned from their wisdom. Using the five (or six, depending on your point of view) essential tastes is one of the guides to happy eating: bitter, sweet, pungent, salty and sour, with an optional sixth – astringent.
Salt has had a bad press for many years, with some good reason considering the standard modern processed and fast-food diet and its devastating health effects. Happily, whatever the reasons that have determined we become vegetarian, once we start that journey we have a growing awareness of the value of healthy natural food. The problem for some vegetarians can be in getting enough salt. We don’t need much, but we do need some, and it’s more than just a matter of suiting our palate.
Salt is associated with winter and has a warming energy. Veges classified as salty include fermented foods such as miso and shoyu, and long time pickles, which are all used in small amounts just like salt itself. Also hard leafy greens.
Deep, cold, salt water – think of the ocean and you’ll understand that the related seaweed is the hardy kombu (below), or deep sea kelp.
Macrobiotic cooking does not use dairy or indeed much of any oil but recognises and deals with the issue of indigestibility of legumes by adding a small piece of kombu while they’re cooking. The kombu helps to break down the liptase inhibitor, which is what makes beans hard to digest. A good quality kombu such as the Japanese Mitoku brand will likely dissolve into the cooking liquid and flavour it; if it stays in one piece it will be soft and delicious to eat as it is – cook’s treat!
All sea weeds contain iodine, which is essential for healthy thyroid function. Lack of iodine can cause low-grade chronic fatigue, among other symptoms. A little-known fact about iodine is that when your natural iodine intake is insufficient, your body will take it from any source, including radioactive iodine resulting from the emissions of nuclear power. The increased rate of thyroid cancer is linked to the release of these radioactive elements. But natural iodine protects you – when a thyroid is fully loaded with natural iodine it blocks the uptake of radioactive Iodine 131. There’s more about the benefits of seaweeds here http://www.ryandrum.com/seaweeds.htm
Like all edible sea vegetables, kombu has many virtues, and this one includes binding with heavy metals such as lead to remove them from your body. Kombu is also a good source of fibre, Vitamins C & Vit K, pantothenic acid, zinc, copper, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese. That’s a whole lot wrapped up in one small package!
Winter grains include buckwheat (left) – think of where it has been most widely grown, in the Himalayas, Northern Europe and Russia, and the need for hardy, warming grains to deal with their harsh winters. Incidentally, although buckwheat is regarded as a cereal it is technically not a grain but a member of the grass family, so is gluten free.
The most warming of the legumes are the small red aduki beans.
Wintertime cooking styles are long slow cooking such as baking, or using more water as in heartening winter soups, so remember to add a strip of kombu to your soup or casserole pot; after slow cooking a while it will almost dissolve into the mix with all its minerals and other goodies.
All these foods and slow cooking styles have the effect of aiding digestion. Not all warming food has to be cooked for a long time to be effective – take miso, which has already been fermented for anything up to two years, and is ready for virtually instant use. Who doesn’t love a bowl of delicious light miso soup (below) on a chilly day?
A small bowl of clear miso soup typically begins a macrobiotic meal, and those busy little digestive enzymes in the miso are much more effective than a glass of red wine. Plus its so quick and easy to make. Here’s a recipe for a mushroom variation, though you can leave the mushrooms out if you wish and make the basic clear soup http://www.savvyvegetarian.com/vegetarian-recipes/miso-soup.php
And a tip about miso, which is most valuable when its added at the very end of cooking: place your miso in a small bowl and add a little of the warm stock. Mix into a sloppy paste, then when you stir the warm miso paste back into the soup pot, reheat it very gently until the miso just floats to the surface, very like champagne bubbling, and it’s done – too much heat will destroy those valuable digestive enzymes.
And another tip – the most versatile miso is Mugi, which is made from barley; it’s also the sweetest of the dark savoury miso types.
Used in balance, salt contributes to a flexible, adaptable personality, with courage, a sense of adventure and a sense of purpose. Too much salt produces rigidity, not just in our arteries, but in our thinking. In excess it is also regarded as being able to push our adrenal glands, sometimes to excess performance.
Salt can be addictive – look how hard it is to stop at just a couple of salted chippies or corn chips or salted nuts. And as we all know, too much salt results in too much moisture or fluid retention.
Next up: the ‘wake-up’ call of the sour good taste