Food as a cure

Jan. 2, 2018 at 3:45 p.m.

Steel cut oats, like these, are a healthier alternative to rolled oats.

Steel cut oats, like these, are a healthier alternative to rolled oats.

Happy New Year!

The new year is a time for beginnings. It is a time for many to dedicate themselves to starting anew. It is a time for resolutions. It is a time to resolve to start that diet and begin that exercise program that is sure to transform us into the Greek gods we know are hidden deep - in my case very deep - within us.

As much as I like to make resolutions, I am horrible about keeping them. After a week of depriving myself of everything I like to eat, exercising with the abandon that is likely to produce more injuries than results and seeing no measurable change, I once again lapse into my comfort zone. Somewhere there must be a magic pill or newly discovered method that can put me in shape and help me lose the weight of a small farm animal.

I need inspiration. That's where Chad Hall comes in.

Chad was born in eastern Kentucky and raised on a diet of fried foods. His family kept a can of bacon drippings on their stove to use for seasoning, and sugar was added to many dishes.

As you might expect, after some time, this diet contributed to some significant health issues. He never thought his digestive issues were in large part due to something he was doing to himself. He went to a series of doctors and received a number of diagnoses but not once did his diet come up in the examining room.

By 2005, Chad, now 30, weighed 230 pounds.

That's not a bad weight if you are 6-foot-11, but it's not good if you are 5-foot-11. He was in the worst shape of his life, and his health was deteriorating.

Living in Victoria now and in excruciating pain, Chad went to a doctor whom he credits with saving his life. This doctor looked at him, studied his rather extensive file, and said, "You're killing yourself with what you are eating." He closed his chart and left the room, not to return.

It was in that instant Chad resolved to take control of his health. In earlier columns, we have discussed food for celebrations. Today, we will look at the healing power of food.

That very day, Chad kicked his habit of drinking six or more Mountain Dews a day. He all but eliminated fast foods. Rather than frying foods he broiled, baked, steamed or grilled foods.

He set a fitness goal. He was going to do a triathlon; and not just any triathlon. He was going to do an Ironman triathlon. An Ironman triathlon is an event that requires the participants to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and to finish it off, they run a marathon - 26.2 miles.

Granted it would have been easier if Chad knew how to swim, if he had a bike and if he could run more than 30 yards.

Undeterred, Chad taught himself to swim, bought a bike and gradually increased his running distances.

Chad has competed and completed 12 Ironman triathlons. He has qualified for the World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, and is waiting to see if he will be granted a slot.

I expected Chad to tell me that he was on some exotic diet with tons of supplements. He didn't tell me that. His recipe is very simple. Commit to whole foods, simply prepared. Avoid sugar where you can, especially soda. Don't drink your calories. Be patient with yourself, and don't focus on a specific weight. Make small, incremental changes in your diet.

The food choices Chad made healed him. Our food choices have consequences for us, too. They can help us to be healthier or not.

Let's begin with a good breakfast. Steel cut oats are a good choice. I grew up on Quaker oats. These are rolled oats. That means that the oats are steamed, rolled between steel rollers, steamed again leaving the oats as flat flakes. Steel cut oats are made by taking the whole grain and chopping them up. Like all cracked or whole grains, steel cut oats have a slightly lower glycemic index than rolled oats.

Once prepared, steel cut oats reheat really well, so you can make enough to last you several days. Just portion it out, reheat in the microwave or on the stove, add fresh fruit and you have a hot breakfast in about a minute.

Preparation is really simple, but doing a small extra step really makes a big difference. I like to toast the oats for a couple of minutes in a touch of butter before adding boiling water in a ratio of 3 cups of water to 1 cup of oats. This step enhances the flavor and adds nuttiness to the dish. After simmering for 20 minutes or so, add ½ cup of milk or almond milk and ½ cup of buttermilk.

You may think you hate buttermilk, but I encourage you to try this. When you add fresh fruits and nuts to your oats, the buttermilk really brings out the flavor of the fruits. A couple of grinds of black pepper also add a new dimension and a complexity to the flavor.

This year, I resolve to carefully consider all the food I consume. In coming columns, we will discuss some surprising ingredients and techniques that might help you in keeping those resolutions you have made.

Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines. His passion is introducing people to ingredients and techniques that can be used in their home kitchen. He and his wife, Louise, own two restaurants, The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar and The Sendera.



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