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Healthy Eating, the Natural Way!

In the past few weeks, Gram has been weeding through, throwing out, organizing - probably the most hateful task of all, the chore for which there never seemed to "be enough time." Well, the truth is, time is always of the essence. But limited energy should probably have taken top billing. Admiring the neat appearance of her closet, Gram wondered, "What gives with me? Why the sudden change?"

Then, with one glance at the gleaming new juicer sitting at the ready on the kitchen counter, it became Obvious. All the claims about the benefits of juicing must be true!

You might have heard about Juicing, and the trendy juice bars in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other major cities.

But for some, juicing has become a way of life. And now Gram understands why. Energy, weight control, restful sleep, no indigestion (not even one bout of acid reflux) - the overt bonanza of juicing, even in the early stages. And this, during a stressful period on the Day Job! "My, my," thought Gram; "Like a natural tranquilizer in a glass."

And is it tasty! Never mind all the health benefits - terms like natural enzymes and phytochemicals purported to fight disease/dis-ease in the human body. Well, those, too. Who among us wouldn't like to be healthier and feel better, less lethargic and out of sorts?

But having a background in human services, Gram has long known that a client's mood swings and even a teen's unruly behavior can be improved with a sound, nutritious diet. More people have various food allergies than one might suspect. So it stands to reason that what we eat or don't eat can affect the way we feel. If we think of our bodies as efficient machines, then we are more likely to think of food as fuel.

Since the juicer arrived, Gram has assembled a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at least once a day. Scrubbing produce with a stiff vegetable brush, lining up the items to go into the juicer, we've aimed for a quart of juice at each session.

Some super vegetable combinations:

Cucumber, celery, spinach, green pepper, a small apple (nothing peeled, mind you - just core the apple and seed the pepper); carrots, apples, yellow squash, celery, lemon (again, nothing peeled except for removing the lemon rind); tomato, carrot, celery, kale. Fruit juices that are very good: cantaloupe, apple, carrot; watermelon, lemon, celery; blueberry, honeydew; pineapple, orange, lemon. Each juicing experiment has resulted in another "favorite." In the vegetable combinations, we've added a tablespoon or two of wheat germ or brewer's yeast, to add protein. Also, an assortment of sprouts - but keep reading for more about sprouting.

In the meantime, we'll be juicing. Is there really a Fountain of Youth? Our juicer just may be the closest thing.

All you need for a kitchen powerhouse of fresh foods and unparalleled nutrition during the winter months: a few Mason or mayonnaise jars, several 4" x 4" squares from old pantyhose (the top part is best), and some rubber bands. You also need a safe source of seeds and dried beans, most likely your local health or natural foods store -- because whatever you use must be organic, e.g., not treated with chemicals.

It's all about enzymes -- and how freshly sprouted foods are loaded with them. It's about vitamins and fiber, too. Here are some choices: adzuki beans, alfalfa, barley, beans of almost any kind, buckwheat, broccoli, clover, kale, chive, chickpeas (or garbanzos), chia, cress, mung beans, fenugreek, lentil (must be whole to sprout, not halves), radish, soybean, triticale, wheat.

Then you place a 1 to 2" layer of seed or bean in a Mason jar, cover the jar with the nylon square, and secure the square over the mouth of the jar with a rubber band. Fill with water a few inches above your layer, and let soak for 2 to 8 hours or overnight (the larger beans need a lot longer than small seed such as alfalfa or clover). Drain the jar and invert at a 45 degree angle in your dish drainer (or in a large plastic margarine tub in your kitchen sink). Rinse with water and drain several times a day. When sprouted in the next few days (again, depending on the size of the bean or seed), rinse and drain, put a lid on the jar, and refrigerate. Use within 3 to 5 days.

What can you do with these dietary nuggets? Use mung beans in eggs foo yung, and certainly in stir-fries. You can toss into soup during the last few minutes, put alfalfa sprouts into an omelet, even make bread. Incorporate in meatloaf or burgers. Throw the sprouts into your juicer with either fruit or veggie blends, for a beverage so loaded with nutrients it might even add spring to your step! But the quickest, easiest way is to include them in a big green salad.

With fast food and packaged frozen dinners which comprise so much of the American diet, people simply aren't getting enough fiber. Our foods are mostly processed. When was the last time, other than salad or an apple, you enjoyed anything raw?

There are many websites on raw food diets. Researchers say that the best course is a combination of foods, both raw and cooked. There are even some who advocate a completely raw diet, including raw fish and meat. http://www.rawpaleodiet.org

"Say It with Sprouts" is an article devoted to mung bean sprouts: http://chinesefood.about.com/library/weekly/aa092101a.htm

The Raw Food Directory has a wealth of resources to guide you: http://www.buildfreedom.com/rawmain.htm

And don't miss a colorful, whimsical site with over 400 pages of sprout information: http://www.sproutpeople.com

The other detail we'd like to include: sprouts are probably the all-time best nutritional value you can obtain for the negligible price. True, you can forage for wild foods, but you have to be able to identify what you're bringing home to eat. I priced alfalfa sprouts at my local grocery: $1.99 for 4 ounces. You can sprout your own at home for a few cents, and know they are fresh and wholesome.

Dr. Ann Wigmore was one of the first raw foods proponents. She recommended Energy Soup, the base of which is sprouts. Even your children can develop a taste for sprouts. Mix a half cup of alfalfa sprouts with peanut butter for sandwiches. "Mmm! What's this crunchy stuff?" they'll say, as the natural vitamins are helping their bodies to grow strong. Toss sprouted garbanzo beans (chickpeas) into your next taco filling. Sprinkle clover sprouts into breakfast cereal, omelet, or pancake batter.

Up for a new/nutritious eating adventure? Try sprouts!

Stephania is a human services professional with nearly 40 years in the field. She publishes a monthly, content-rich ezine, "Tidbits from the Pantry," to over 10,000 subscribers.