Judit Keleman is an ecologist with a smallholding in Ireland. She has had two bouts with cancer and offers some dietary tips for other smallholders
Mankind has adapted to a varied, omnivorous diet of natural unprocessed food, but in the last century there have been huge changes. Processed and refined foods have supplanted traditional diets, causing an epidemic of diseases such as cancer, cardio-vascular diseases, obesity and diabetes. There is much scientific research proving that we can significantly improve our chances of fighting or preventing cancer and other diseases.
Smallholders are in a good position to avoid such diseases by having the best possible nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
The worst dietary offenders are:
1. Refined sugars (cane, beet, corn syrup, fructose);
2. Bleached flour (white bread, pasta, white rice);
3. Vegetable oils (soya, sunflower, corn, trans fats).
Our ancestors ate very little sugar. Refined sugars and starches are converted quickly by digestion into glucose (causing spikes in blood sugar levels, detrimental to health) and cancer cells need glucose to develop and grow. There are many ways of substituting sugar and the ubiquitous starch, white flour, in our food. Natural sweeteners which do not induce blood sugar spikes, such as birch bark sugar, stevia or acacia honey are readily available, although they are quite expensive.
This plant is easy to grow. Germination of the seeds is erratic, but plants can be propagated from cuttings. The plants are not frost hardy so at least one or two should be brought indoors in winter for propagation next spring. The leaves are incredibly sweet and can be used directly or as a powder made from the dried leaves.
Fresh leaves can be added to sweeten tea or eaten just for the sweet taste explosion. A syrup can be made by mixing one part of finely chopped leaves with two parts hot water. Leave to infuse for a day then strain and store in a sterilised jar in the fridge, where it will keep for months. It is best used to sweeten drinks, ice creams or sorbets. Experiment with the amount to be added.
The harvested leaves can be dried, then should be ground into a fine powder. This powder is much, much sweeter than sugar!
Stevia is not suitable in recipes that use yeast.
The most ancient sweetener, honey has ‘antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiviral, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, anticancer and immunosuppressive activities’. (Bogdanov, Swiss Bee Research Centre).
Be aware that some producers feed their bees with sugar syrup which lessens the health benefit considerably. If possible, keep your own bees or buy from a reputable source. The best variety is that obtained from acacia, causing a low rise in blood sugar.
Usually made from wheat, from which the natural oils containing much of the minerals and vitamins of the grain has been removed. This flour is usually bleached using chemicals. The nutritional value of the resulting flour is low, delivering the ‘empty calories’ which deplete the body’s reserves of certain vitamins and minerals while being digested.
Alternative flours can be used: soya, millet, quinoa, brown rice or the flour of the ancient wheat varieties such as einkorn and spelt. Wholemeal flours are healthier since causing fairly low increase of blood sugar levels compared to white flour. Wholegrain flours from rye or oat are also very useful. Stone-milling does not heat the flour and is a healthier product.
The best substitute for unhealthy vegetable oils is olive oil, or you can use the fat from grass-fed animals, such as butter or goose-fat in small quantities.
Judit Keleman’s smallholding in Ireland, Harmony Farm, is also a training centre for self sufficiency and healthy eating courses (including cancer-fighting food courses).
See www.harmonyfarmireland.com for details.