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This blog started as a way for me to share my recipes + culinary adventures, tips for vibrant health + happiness, thoughts on the latest developments in nutritional medicine + the low down on the Sydney wholefoods scene and beyond...

Filtering by Tag: milk

Is organic certification necessary?


labels-organicOrganic certification of products came into place to give the consumer some measure of comfort that the product complies with organic farming practises. But is it necessary and does certification guarantee that product is healthy? Here's my view:

I look beyond the existence or non-existence of a certification stamp and ask whether the product is IN SUBSTANCE organic, meaning is it grown or reared in accordance with the laws of nature?

  • In the case of fresh produce this means asking if the produce is grown locally, seasonally, is unsprayed and grown without petrochemical fertilisers.
  • In the case of ruminant animals (beef, sheep, goat) and the milk that comes from such animals, this means asking if the animals are fed grass and grass only (as opposed to grains) and not given hormones or antibiotics.
  • In the case of chickens and their eggs, this means asking if the chickens are roaming free on pasture in sunshine eating what they are biologically designed to eat.100% organic

There are many reasons why a farmer or producer of food might not want to go to the trouble or expense of getting their products certified. The only way to therefore get assurance as to the quality of what you are eating is to forge relationships with your farmer or supplier (eg butcher, fishmonger, fruit and veg supplier etc) and ask them lots of questions as to the source and processing of their products!! Most farmers, producers and vendors of quality, sustainable and ethical food are delighted to spend the time chatting to you about the source and processing of what they sell. And if they are not willing to talk or don't know the answers then that of itself is very telling! In this way you will feel more connected to the food you are eating and your local community.

organic canola oilConversely, simply because something is certified organic does NOT mean that it is healthy. I wouldn't touch 90% of things sold in trendy organic stores even if they are certified organic. You can now buy certified organic canola oil, castor sugar, gummy bears and breakfast cereals but the certification itself doesn't miraculously convert them into a product that I would consume or recommend. Big businesses have latched onto the organic market with a vengeance (as they perceive lots of money to be made from that sector) but a certification does not absolve the consumer from an obligation to bybass the marketing fluff on the package and scrutinize the ingredients. I have a little motto: if something needs to be advertised it's probably not real food. The food that I buy and consume for myself and my family is not advertised. It's largely single ingredient food that doesn't come in a box, container or package. For this reason I tend not to use the word "organic" in my consultations, conversations or cooking classes.

Some of my favourite nutrient-dense products that I and my family regularly consume that are NOT certified organic (but are in substance organic) include:

  • raw milk cheeses (eg gryuere, reggio). I have blogged about raw milk cheeses here and here.
  • Westgold butter from Woolworths. This is not certified but I have spoken to the farmer in NZ about his farming practices and he has assured me that his cows are ONLY fed grass, no antibiotics or hormones and the salt he uses in his butter is unrefined. Westgold butter is much much cheaper than the certified organic brands with no difference in quality. $1.98/250g. Bargain. I appreciate and respect the fact that some people will not, for ethical reasons, buy products from a multinational like Woollies not matter how cheap or how good a quality they are.
  • Gympie farm butter and cream made from cultured unprocessed milk. Undoubtedly the best quality butter and cream in Australia but it's quite expensive ($30-35/kg) so not a daily staple for us.
  • pastured meats and bones: the meat and bones I often buy are not certified organic but I have over the years forged great relationships with butchers and farmers who I either now know personally, or have visited their farms or who have given me assurances of the feeding and grazing practises. ie all pasture fed and finished beef and lamb (because we don't want farmers fattening up their grass-fed cows on grains before going to the abattoir). Some favourite farms include Burrawong chickens and Taralga Springs beef. These are not certified but they are as ethical, sustainable and organic (in substance) as you could get.
  • wild fish: a wild fish from clean oceans doesn't need certification!
  • full fat yogurt containing no sugar, additives or preservatives. A brand I love is Meredith sheeps or goats milk yogurt. All Meredith products are handmade using French farmhouse methods but not certified organic. (Note GREEN LABEL & LID yogurt – is made using Lacto Bacillus Acidophilus & Bifidus (Probiotic). BLUE LABEL & LID yogurt – is made using Greek Lacto Bacillus Thermopilus & Bulgaris. I buy both).
  • sea salt: should contain only ONE ingredient- sea salt! Unbleached, unrefined with nothing added in or taken out. Naturally rich in minerals. eg Celtic, Maldon, Sicilian. Himalayan crystal salt is unrefined too.
  • produce sold at farmers markets that are unsprayed etc.
  • Ayam coconut oil: contains no nasties (eg guar gum and additives) that many of the certified organic brands contain.
  • Egganic eggs:  The farmers explained to me that even though their farm is not certified organic their farming practices are actually stricter than the certified organic standards eg there are few chickens per square metre.  Chicken farmers will almost always feed their chickens grains (in addition to grass, worms, veggie scraps and all of the other things that chickens eat when scratching on pasture). Conventional grains fed to chicken (and livestock) will almost always contain soy and other grains which may be genetically modified if imported. Certified organic grains can NOT  by law contain genetically modified ingredients. For this reason the Egganic farmers feed their chickens grains that are certified organic.













Some products that I tend to buy certified organic would be:

  • olive oil: practises in olive oil farming have come under scrutiny in recent years as many farmers were diluting their olive oils with industrialised seeds oils like canola oil. Certification provides a measure of comfort that the oil I and my family is consuming is not adulterated in any way.  The brand that I recommend and consume is Toscana which is a small family run business in Victoria and provides very reasonably priced cold pressed extra virgin certified organic olive oil. I retail this for $40/1.5 litres from my home.
  • herbs, spices and teas: convention herbs are almost always irradiated so unless you know the farmer it is best to opt for certified organic. The highest quality herbs, teas and spices in Australia are available at OVViO- the Organic Lifestyle Store at Paddington 5-ways.
  • nuts, seeds: like herbs and spices, nuts tend to be almost always sprayed so I always buy certified organic, organic in conversion or get assurances from the farmer that their farm is in substance organic even if it's not certified.

So the bottom line is look beyond the existence or non existence of certification and ask lots of questions about the provenance and processing of what you are putting into your and your family's mouth!

The Perfect Human Diet- DVD review


NEW_PHD_Movie_posterI recently watched a documentary film (rented from iTunes) called ‘The Perfect Human Diet’ (not to be confused with the book called ‘The Perfect Health Diet’ by Paul Jaminet, although the subject matter is very similar). The film was released as a DVD on 1 January 2013.

The film looks at evolutionary and scientific factors to determine what we are biologically designed to eat. The upshot: we are genetically programmed to eat a diet of the type eaten by our paleolithic (hunger gatherer) ancestors 2+ million years ago- essentially a diet rich in animals (muscle meat, organ meat and fat) and plants (including nuts and berries).

On the whole I give this DVD a big thumbs up. It’s is a terrific introduction for anyone new to ancestral (primal, paleo) diets who would prefer to watch a DVD instead of reading a text or scouring websites. It’s also great for anyone who is familiar with a paleo diet but would like confirmation of it from an evolutionary and scientific basis. And of course paleo-anthropology geeks like me would relish it.

Here are some of the salient points that emerged from the DVD:

  • Journalist CJ Hunt (the narrator) suffered from a near death experience (heart attack) at 24 while running. At the time he was eating according to the USA food pyramid guidelines (ie a conventional diet) and felt constantly hungry. He then embarked on a quest over the next 10 years to find, in his words, “the perfect human diet”. To this end he experimented with a range of nutritional philosophies such as vegetarianism, blood type diet, vegan diets etc (does this journey sound familiar to you?? Been there. Done that. Bought the T-shirt….). He then came across the paleo diet and started doing his own research. What transpires is a marriage of science and evolution in determining what we are biologically designed to eat.
  • Modern diseases and illnesses are a result of a departure from what our genes are biologically designed for (including a departure from an ancestral diet). “We are so far off base from what we are genetically designed to eat”.
  • The film features many international paleo heavyweights including Loren Cordain (author of The Paelo Diet), Robb Wolf (author of The Paleo Solution), Gary Taubes (author of Good Calories, Bad calories), Michael Eades (author of Protein Power),  and the work of Price Pottenger Nutritional Foundation (which supports the work of nutritional pioneer Weston A Price).
  • The paleo diet is not a fad or a trendy movement. Or, if it is, it is a 2.6 million year diet- in fact the oldest human diet.
  • There’s been a steady decline in human health since the agricultural revolution (which started 10,000) with the introduction of grains into the human diet for the very first time. Much emphasis was given to the fact that wholegrains are just as bad as, if not worse than, refined grains because they block the absorption of minerals.
  • Early dietary advice from medical and scientific community (about 100 years ago) was a low carb/sugar/starch diet. However that nutritional philosophy was turned on its head with the low fat movement starting 50 odd years ago. When fats are reduced, carbohydrates inevitable increase. With this change in macronutrient emphasis, human health really started deteriorating.
  •  There was great myth busting around the notion that dietary fat doesn’t make you fat and in fact high carbohydrate loads are responsible for fat gain.
  • The conventional food pyramid is essentially a “feedlot pyramid” as farmers follow it to fatten up cattle.
  • Nutrient-dense animal foods doubled early human brain size.
  • Good discussion on protein releasing slow steady state energy throughout the day in contrast to carbohydrates which cause energy spikes and crashes.
  • A tour of a supermarket showed that most of what is sold is not consistent with what our genes are designed to eat. Boxed cereal in particular is no better than eating straight sugar and you would only do so if there was nothing else to eat and you were on your death bed and imminently needed glucose to the brain. Man, and to think I grew up on the stuff thinking that all that granola and puffed wheat was good for me.

Here are what I thought were the 2 main shortcomings of the film or what I thought needed further clarification:evolution picture

1. While it was great to see the film really emphasising the dangers of sugar and refined grains, there was interestingly no mention at all of what I call public enemy number 3: industrial seed oils (eg canola, cottonseed, vegetable oil, margarine etc). Maybe it’s case of “slowly slowly catchy monkey” i.e. let’s get the public comfortable with the dangers of sugar and refined grains first before we explode their brains with another ubiquitous component of modern diets- processed oils. It would, however, have been prudent in my view to have had at least passing mention to this third category of dietary toxins.

2. The film takes what I call a very strict paleo view of the human diet ie no milk post weaning, lean meat, no grains even if properly prepared. Taking  each of these in turn:

  • on the issue of milk, the strict paleo view is that hunter gatherers did not drink milk post weaning and ergo humans are not designed to drink milk. I have thought long and hard over the past few years about the relevance of milk in the modern human diet and after much research I concur with the views of Chris Kresser on this subject: just because our paleolithic ancestors didn’t consume a certain type of food doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consume it if 4 conditions are met: (a) it’s nutrient dense (b) it’s non toxic (c) you have the relevant enzymes to digest it and (d) you enjoy consuming it (the last condition is my contribution!). In relation to milk, like all food, everything come down to its source and processing as not all milk sold on the market is the same. For more information on this issue I suggest you speak to me in person or click here and here.
  • there was mention a few times to the importance of eating “lean” meat. I find the reference to lean meats (which often pops up in the paleo text books) confusing and contradicts the references to the importance of eating fat and in particular the brain and other organ meats of animals which are naturally high in saturated fat. Hearing references to lean meats might confuse the public into thinking that we should be eating a low fat diet. Perhaps the reference to lean meat might have something to do with the fact that the wild animals hunted down by our hunter gatherer ancestors were leaner than the farmed cattle we consume today. Or perhaps lean meat refers to muscle meat as opposed to fat and organ meats and bones which should also be consumed. My view is that if you eat the whole of the animal – like our ancestors did-  then you can’t go wrong. If anyone can explain to me why paleo heavyweights refer to lean meats I’d love to hear it.
  • Grains, even whole grains, are touted as being strictly out on a paleo diet for they were cultivated as part of the agricultural revolution a mere 10,000 years ago when our hunter gatherer ancestors abandoned nomadic lifestyle to an agrarian one. The film explains that grains block the absorption of minerals leading to bone density loss (there was no mention in the film that “phytates” primarily found in the outer husk of grains are responsible for this damage to our osteo skeletal structure).  However, nuts get a tick on a paleo diet but there was no mention of the fact that nuts also contain phytates. Phytates are significantly reduced by proper preparation through long soaking and dehydrating (today called activating nuts), sprouting or fermenting. Dr Weston A Price in the earlier part of last century discovered that all traditional societies the world over prepared grains, legumes, seeds and nuts through one or more of these proper preparation techniques to reduce the phytate content. My view is that if nuts are going to be consumed, they too must be properly prepared otherwise I wouldn’t recommend their consumption. Secondly while I don’t personally consume grains (as I don’t think they are very nutrition dense for all the effort involved to properly prepare them) I do think that the occasional consumption of properly prepared grains (eg sourdough, sprouted, long soaked) is fine if you don’t have blood sugar issues or allergies and if you favour the gluten-free grains (eg rice, buckwheat). In this regard my nutritional philosophy is more aligned with the Weston A Price foundation than strict paleo.

1One of my favourite quotes from the film:

Q: Is a paleo diet convenient? A: It’s hell of a lot more convenient than diabetes, cancer and cardio-vascular disease.

Click here to view the film’s website including trailer.

Now I’d like to hear from you. Have you seen The Perfect Human Diet? If so what was your view? Do you agree with my comments?

Plan for Breakfast!


Breakfasts in our house revolves around eggs - cooked any way, sometimes with bacon or sausages, or sometimes teamed with steamed or sauteed greens lathered in butter and served with yoghurt with fruit and a smoothie. What a way to start the day! Sure beats cardboard (a.k.a boxed breakfast cereals) in terms of both nutrition and taste. Does it sound like a lot of effort? It's not really. Practice makes perfect and over the years the whole breakfast preparation is done and dusted within 10 minutes (door to door, or more accurately, fridge to table). Its a small price to pay for setting yourself and your kids up to the best start to the day- physically, emotionally and intellectually. This brekky gets me through from 7am until at least 1pm. 6+ hours! I was lucky to make it to 10am without clawing the walls when I was eating grains for breakfast many moons ago. The high saturated fat content is akin to throwing a log on the fire- it keeps the fire going for a long time before you need to refuel it. A high carbohydrate meal (grains, breakfast cereals, toast etc), is akin to throwing kindling on a fire - you need to replenish it more or less constantly to keep the fire going. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got better things to do than eat all day long.   Lately I've been adding 1-2 tablespoons of very gelatinous home-made beef bone broth to our milk smoothies (sounds weird I know but bare with me on this one) and no one at all has tasted the new addition (quite surprising as beef broth has a quite strong taste when heated but in jelly form straight out of fridge its quite tasteless). So if you're having a tough time getting your kids (or other half!) to consume bone broths or eggs then try popping them into a smoothie made with whole milk, coconut water, yoghurt, cinnamon powder, vanilla powder and fresh fruit (eg 1/2 mango, banana or a date) and I bet you your kids will be none the wiser (...well they WILL be wiser with all that healthy saturated fat and quality protein needed for healthy brain function but they'll be largely oblivious to the reason why!).