It’s well known that food is better for you than food products. People are advised to shop the perimeter of the grocery store where you’ll find, most notably, real fruits and vegetables. You’ll also find meat and fish on the perimeter, as well as eggs and dairy products. In the center aisles, for the most part, you’ll find food products: processed combinations designed to attract taste addictions rather than savvy nutritional shoppers: sweet things like candies and cookies and cake mixes, salty things like chips, crackers and pretzels, and greasy things like frozen chicken nuggets and frozen pepperoni pizzas.

What about supplements? Aren’t they, in a way, food products? Should they be given the same caution as other food products? While we should be able to get our daily dietary needs through the food we eat, there are some concerns. First among them is that most of us don’t. We make bad choices, and eat less nutritious foods, and foods even doctors are warning against these days. That aside, there is also concern that the quality of our soil is depleted (by pollution and over-farming) and the nutritional value of the plant foods we eat is decreased from what it was in times past. Thirdly, the chemical and hormonal pollution we consume with our food (because our food has been “treated” with it to maximize growth), could arguably put us in greater need of supplemental nutritional protection– just to neutralize the deleterious effects of what we have just eaten for breakfast (or lunch or dinner).

That being said, there are also some real concerns about supplements–quality, ingredients– including processing agents, side-effects, long-term effects, etc. In the logic of Chinese Medicine isolating parts (vitamins and minerals) which occur in complex, living foods necessarily lessens the potency of the isolated part–because part of anything’s potency is based on the synergistic quality of its wholeness. The fractional concept of isolating “active ingredients” in plants –which are then removed from the plant to create a pharmaceutical product (which can make the company that patents it millions if not trillions of dollars)– is a concept that makes no sense to an herbalist. It makes sense to an economist, of course.

So, what to do?

1. Eat Locally-Grown, Organic Foods. Find a local farmers market and/or a local farm with a community supported agriculture program allowing you to buy a share in the farm’s future harvest, which you collect, and eat, throughout the season. I’ve mentioned my farm of choice here in Midcoast Maine in previous posts: Goranson’s Farm in Dresden Maine. In this way, you know your plant food has been grown in the best possible soil, without contamination from chemicals, and your meat did not come from some sickly animal squeezed into a space half its size, nor fed a constant diet of antibiotics and hormones (can you tell I’m a vegetarian?).

2. (This isn’t meant to be as ridiculous as it sounds): The 2nd thing you can do is actually cook and eat the food you bring home from the Farm. I know how hard that is. We’ve let a few bags of brussel sprouts and more than a few potatoes sprout before we even noticed they were gone. I’m constantly trying to go through what I have and in the spirit of creative cookery I outlined in a previous post (Slow-cooked Lentils…) to find new ways of using what I have on hand at any given time–as that varies depending on the season and the crop yield at the Farm.

3. Know Your Weaknesses and Find Foods that Heal. If you’re concerned about bone density, infuse some mineral rich herbs such as oatstraw, red clover or nettle. Drink daily. A recent study in New Zealand found that postmenopausal women who took calcium supplements may have more cardiovascular events (heart attacks, strokes, transient ischemic attacks, angina) than women in the same age group who did not supplement with calcium. Further investigation along these lines may change the 3 billion dollar industry that is calcium supplementation (not all supplements–just calcium supplements!).

Need help finding whole foods to treat a particular weakness? There are plenty of resources out there. Don’t just find someone to sell you $600 worth of “pharmaceutical grade” supplements that will last a month, find someone who can tell you how to infuse oatstraw or how to cook collard greens and what makes quinoa such an outstanding grain (its high protein content).

Slow-Cooked White Beans and Beets

This is a delicious, sweet and savory dish, which I created because we get a lot of beets from the farm.

What you’ll need:

  • White Beans
  • Beets
  • Vegetable Broth
  • Tamari (I use Wheat-Free Tamari by San-J)
  • Thyme

Soak the beans overnight. Use between 1/2 and 1 Cup of beans. Quantities are all flexible here.

The next day, put your pre-soaked beans in the crock pot. Add 4-5 Cups of Organic Vegetable Broth. Chop your beets into larger than bite-size pieces (so they don’t completely break down during the long cooking time) and add them to the pot. Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours, or until the beans are soft. You’ll have a nice red broth, sweet of course, due to the beets. I wanted to temper the sweetness with something salty and something aromatic. I chose Tamari and thyme. Add these during the last half hour or so of cooking time. Quantities of these last items should be to your taste. Add a little at a time until it tastes just right–to you.

This recipe is great for women after menses as beets are very nourishing to the blood. Both beans and beets are high in potassium, making this a good recipe for people with high blood pressure, too. I hope you enjoy it.