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INTRODUCTION TO FOODS Without food we die, but we can last longer without food than we can without water.

In this new millenia, vitality is a key factor in our lives. The many foods we eat and the nutritional additives and herbal supplements we consume and their possible influence on our vitality. As a professional toxicologist, I am particularly interested in dose (how much), cause and effect and also interactions.


I am always amazed at the knowledge our ancestors possessed, from many ethnic cultures, and this is often best displayed at festival times.

Down South in Mexico on the festival known as the Days of the Dead - at the beginning of November- they serve particularly wholesome foods. These include, as key constitutuents, corn and beans. Together corn and beans form a complete protein food, which in simple terms means that the essential amino acids which are low in corn, are high in beans and those high in corn are low in beans, that is, the amino acids in beans and corn supplement each other.

This combination, sometimes called succotash, is known and used in many cultures. I saw it throughout my childhood in Africa, where corn was also called, maize and mielies. In addition, when planted together, the beans (legumes) put back into the soil the nitrogen which the corn takes out.

I can hear it now, but beans make me gas! Well, we have products on the market for that. Down South they add some chopped epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides - Mexican basil or Mexican oregano) to their bean dishes as a digestive aid to reduce gas and bloating.

The Iroquois traditionally add pumkin or squash to their succotash at festival time. They call corn, beans and squash, the "Three Sisters" because of their combined nutritive value.


During our daily meals we usually consume both grains and legumes. In the US the most common grains that we eat are wheat and rice. However, in other parts of the world different grains are eaten and will be mentioned below.

Amaranth (Amananthus spp)

This was a staple food of the Aztecs. It is gluten free, since it is not a true grain, but a broadleaf plant. However, the amaranth seeds are very tiny and have a glutinous, sticky texture, which is not easy to use in our "rush" type cooking and baking. So in order to make use of its high lysine content, it is best to use 1 part of amaranth seeds to 2 or more parts of one or several types of grain (which are all low in lysine) thus producing a very nutritious mix and/or flour. Amaranth is very high in iron (8x) and Vitamin B2 (4x), as compared to wheat. If you decide to grow these plants, rather than buying the seeds or perhaps in addition to buying them, remember some of the varieties of these plants are quite pretty *and* the leaves are definitely edible - a type of spinach or chard - and they grow like weeds!!! One plant can take up 3-4 square feet of space.

Barley (Hordeum spp.)

H. distichon and H. vulgare are two common forms and the parents of many of our cultivated forms. The ancient Egyptians claimed that their goddess, Isis, gave the gift of barley to man and they used it as a grain and made beer from it. Barley was mentioned in the Bible as being destroyed in one of the plagues of Egypt. The Greeks also considered it to be a sacred grain. Barley along with oats and flaxseed, grows well in moist colder climates. The early Britons used it in their breads, in their beer and honored it on their coins and later used barley corns in their unit of measure, the inch. In Scotland and Ireland one of its most important uses is in the making of whiskey, which means "water of health". Barley makes a good addition to soups and "barley water" is still used by mothers in the UK and Europe for "sickly" kids with digestive problems. It is believed that in the Middle Ages, barley was sprouted (a fairly standard technique to improve the nutrient value of grains and seeds) prior to use in soups, breads, etc. Barley, like oats, can reduce cholesterol levels and has antioxidant and antiviral properties. I am addicted to travel adventure stories and I often wondered what Tibetan "tsampa", the traditional trail food of the high Himalayas was. It is a dough made from roasted barley flour, mixed with tea and yak butter.

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum spp.)

F. cymosum, F. esculentum and F. tataricum are the three most commom species. In the US it is used in pancake flour, in buckwheat cakes and as thickening for gravies, etc. With its hulls removed and toasted, it is called "groats" and is used as a breakfast food.

Corn/Maize (Zea Mays)

The wonders of these plants are told of in many tribal legends of North and South America. The grains may be brown, white, pink, red, yellow, purple, streaked or speckled. The uses of this plant seem never ending, starches, sugars, Bourbon, livestock feed, industrial feedstock, etc. Eaten together with legumes it gives a complete protein food, however, corn is deficient in B vitamins and plants high in these vitamins should be eaten too.

Kamut (Sorghum spp.)

Sometimes known as Egyptian Wheat. Again like spelt, although containing gluten, it is often tolerated by people with gluten allergies. Kamut has 1.7x more protein than wheat, also more of all the essential amino acids (except tryptophan), plus magnesium, iron, zinc and fatty acids than wheat. It can be substituted 1:1 in wheat recipes. Kamut bread is sold in the Bay Area at Trader Joes and other stores.

Millet & Sorghum (Panicum, Setaria, Echinochloa, Eleusine, Pennisetum and Sorghum spp.)

Millet is mainly used now in cereals, ethnic flat breads, livestock feeds (including bird seed mixes) and for the making of alcoholic drinks. Sorghum can be used in the making of a type of wine and also as a porridge/breakfast food. Sorghum porridge has the advantage over oats in that it is a lot easier to make (that is a lot harder to spoil!!!).

Oats (Avena sativa)

Preparations from this grain can have a very high protein content - 16%. I eat oatmeal in the hope it will help me, healthwise - lower my cholesterol, etc. To make it more tasty I add raisins. In Scotland, they add sugar/honey and butter/cream. They also make oatcakes, which I never got to like, unless heavily coated with honey or jams or try this one - whiskey-marmalade. I have heard that Queen Elizabeth II always takes her breakfast oatcakes with her when she travels. I wonder what is in her special ones!

Quinoa (keen-wa) (Chenopodium quinoa)

This was the staple crop of the Incas and the name means "mother grain"! Quinoa is not a true grain, being a member of the goosefoot family (Chenopodium) along with spinach, chard and beets. It is gluten free. NAS (National Academy of Sciences) has called quinoa the "best source of protein in the Vegetable Kingdom". It has close to an ideal amino acid balance (similar to milk), being high in lysine (unlike true grains) and cystine and methionine (unlike soy). It is also high in calcium, iron, Vitamin B2 and the essential fatty acid (see my next e-mail), linoleic acid. Why is it not used more often? The quinoa seeds, probably as a natural pest deterrent, are coated with a bitter coating of saponins. This should be totally washed off (until no foaming occurs ). The Incas used the foamy wash water as a shampoo. Flour is commercially produced, but I have seldom seen it for sale.

Rice (Oryza spp. and Zizania spp.)

Wild rice contains 2x protein as white rice, 4x as much phosphorus, 8x as much thiamine (Vitamin B1) and 20x as much riboflavin (Vitamin B2). Whole brown rice has a generous supply of B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus and iron. If you eat white rice, please choose converted or enriched, over polished and dehulled. It is of interest to note, that if, you ate a rice grain uncooked and whole, 25% of the protein would be digestable, whereas if you grind it and cook it 65% is digestable. But please remember, other nutrients may be reduced during grinding and or cooking.

Rye (Secale cereale)

Like barley and oats, it is a hardy crop and is used, most often now not on its own, but as an adjunct to wheat, in German, Russian and Scandinavian breads. In earlier times, rye got a "bad name" from an ergot fungus that sometimes grew on it. Ergot has some very interesting properties.

Spelt (Triticum Spelta)

It is one of the grandmothers of the wheat family and was a key grain in the Old Testament of the Bible. Because of its great water solubility it has long been considered the most digestible of the grains. It contains more protein (1.4x) and crude fiber than wheat. Spelt is also higher in Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) 1.25x, Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 4x, Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 2.5x and iron 2.5x than wheat. When using it one needs to add 20-25% more spelt than called for in a wheat recipe (or use 3/4 the amount of liquid stated). Often people with gluten allergies can tolerate spelt, even though gluten is present.

Teff (Pea abayssinca)

This is the grain of the Horn of Africa (Eritrea and Ethiopia). It is used in their traditional "flat" breads, but can be used as a wheat substitute in baking and as a breakfast cereal. It is essentially gluten free and higher in potassium, iron, copper and calcium than wheat, barley or sorghum. It comes in several varietal colors, ivory, brown and reddish tan. Because teff is a very small grain, its germ and bran ratio to starchy endosperm is greater than most other grains.

Wheat (Triticum spp.)

The whole grain kernel of wheat consists of 3 parts -

Although the whole grain is edible, the bran and germ are often removed during milling to improve storage qualities. In enriched grains and cereals, some nutrients are added back. Some breads are now also made from sprouted grains. Become a label reader and phone the 800 number if you want more information. Know what you are buying and be certain that is what you really want.


There are about 600 genera and 13,000 species in this family of plants. The best know seeds are the staple food crops of beans, peas, soybeans and lentils. Other well known pod crops come from the carob tree (St. John's bread) and the tamarind tree, whereas, licorice and indigo are also of interest.

The early African legumes included the morama bean (Tylosema eculentum) which tastes like cashew nuts, when roasted and has 30-39% protein. Many of the local "wild" African plant foods are very high in protein and there are some projects to now, attempt to "domesticate" them. However, to date only a few, such as the cowpea, the guar bean and the lablab bean have made it to the internation scene, unless one counts lentils, which are among the earliest crops cultivated by man. On the Indian continent lentil dishes are often called dahl.

When one hears of the wonders of beans and soybeans, in particular, one is seldom told that they may often contain antinutrients ("minuses"). For example, soybeans contain a tryptophan inhibitor, hence the beans should be cooked, or sprouted or otherwise processed to make the greatest nutritional use of them. In general, sprouting converts the legume starches into simple sugars. Usually, only a small percentage of starches are not easily digested, for example, in grains about 7%, however, about 20% in baked beans can be left undigested. This is then is fermented by the microflora of the colon, leading to GAS.

In general, legumes are high in protein, lentils - 25%, cowpeas - 23-35% and common beans (Phaseolus) - 22%. Their amino acid profile is usually high in lysine (grains are low in lysine), but low in methione and cystine. Peanuts are in high protein - 25% and have a fairly balanced amino acid profile. This led, earlier in this century, to many peanut (ground nut, monkey nut) growing schemes in unsuitable climates of the world and many people died from the results of projects that should only have brought good.

Many legumes are high in Vitamine B1 (thiamine), folic acid, Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and iron. In addition, particularly, soybeans contain fairly large quantities of plant estrogens (phytoestrogens), called bioflavonoids. These entities, which we are only starting to understand, are of help to menopausal and post-menopausal women.

So as my grandmother would have said, "Eat your veggies and makes certain these include, legumes!" Home Page

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