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Eating for Life: Review of “The Longevity Kitchen” by Rebecca Katz

Of all the life changes that having a baby brings on, perhaps the most pivotal is that it makes you examine what would happen to this new little being if you were suddenly gone. Our own mortality is abruptly mirrored back to us with the entrance of offspring, so some of us sign up for life insurance, talk about creating trust accounts, or set up legal documents and wills. I think that to truly take care of our children and create a stronger sense of security, separate from the paperwork and bureaucracy, parents need to take care of themselves first. And there is no better time like the fresh spring season to start. Luckily, we have Rebecca Katz’s  newest book, The Longevity Kitchen , to guide us.

The Longevity Kitchen is not a sensationalized, trend-centered tome on the latest superfood. It does not preach extreme cleansing programs or offer strict dietary regimens, nor does it make huge exclamatory claims about losing weight or solving every problem you’ve ever had. Instead, Rebecca Katz, known for her reputation for blending culinary sensibility with nutrition knowledge, has put together this latest collection of recipes by simply following the theory that real food is good for you.

Her co-author, medical writer Mat Edelson, fills us in with the facts, proving that our dietary choices can heal or hinder. With a culture that is currently overwhelmed by obesity, type 2 diabetes and similar lifestyle related illnesses, this book suggests some refreshingly grounded and positive ideas towards cooking for health.

With a foreword by Andrew Weil, today’s guru of holistic health, we can see that Katz is among the heavy hitters making inroads in proving to the larger public that we are what we eat. After letting us know that lifespans are actually decreasing today due to our society’s poor health, Weil writes:

In a time of crisis – the vast majority of Americans no longer know how to cook – Rebecca’s book is literally a lifeline to longevity. It meets readers wherever they are along the cooking/nutrition spectrum. That’s the key to creating a rapport. The delight in these pages is that for those who just want to eat delicious and healthy food, any recipe in this book will accomplish that. But inevitably, that first encounter will draw you in deeper.

After reading and using the book myself, someone who is already pretty used to being in the kitchen with whole foods, I couldn’t agree with Dr. Weil more.

The 100-plus recipes are centered around 16 “power foods” that are ingredients some of us can easily access and possibly already do: asparagus, avocado, basil (and in the same family, mint), blueberries (plus other dark berries), coffee, dark chocolate, garlic, green tea, kale, olive oil, pomegranates, sweet potatoes, thyme, walnuts, wild salmon and yogurt. Katz then discusses the importance of how whole foods are “team players” and should be eaten accordingly.

We can’t just say, “well, I want to fend off cancer, so I will just eat a ton of kale.” We would miss out on how greens interact with other foods, such as citrus with Vitamin C, to maximize absorption. For this reason, she also argues that actually eating food is much better than relying on supplements to enhance our health. She explains, “One theory about why this is so is that life nourishes life. Foods are components of complex living entities that require, and therefore contain, a broad spectrum of nutrients to survive, just as we do.”

My only critique is that even a brief point about the controversy surrounding cooking with olive oil should have been addressed. There is so much confusion about whether or not heating olive oil causes cancer and/or strips its nutritional value, that it begs at least a sentence or two, especially since it is the cooking oil called for in all of the recipes.

For someone like me who generally picks up a cookbook and flips right to the recipes (or, more accurately, straight to the back to look at the desserts), I would definitely recommend not to do that in this case. Weil’s foreword, the Introduction and the first three chapters do a really good job delivering the book’s message. After absorbing this information, I honestly felt like I wanted to eat better, and was that much more ready to delve into the recipes presented to me. I specifically loved The Culinary Pharmacy section in Chapter 2, which listed the nutritional and health benefits of ingredients alphabetically from Allspice to Yogurt based on the latest research from over 500 studies.

This drives home the point that a huge diversity of whole foods are good for us, and presents a lot more options than the primary sixteen that the recipes are based on. Chapter 2 also provided an interesting and clear-cut look at what each recipe in the book is particularly good for, health-wise. For instance, the delicious Sweet Potato Bars that I chose to make for a dinner party are listed under the Stress Reducers and Blood Sugar Regulators headings. I also made Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Caraway, and now I know that combination of ingredients makes them the perfect Immune Boosters.

Chapter 3 offers similarly useful and interesting content. The “Culinary GPS Quiz” helps us determine our own personal approach to food and what we are really seeking when we eat, cook and embark on healthier lifestyles. An important note on using organic ingredients is included as well, suggesting we look at the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen” list to help determine what to steer clear of if organic is not an option.

There is also a nice section on “Global Flavorprints,” which breaks down regions of the world by common ingredients for easier improvisation in the kitchen and reminds us how beneficial spices and herbs are. It is also a nod to our diversity and proof of a common thread, discussed in the book as well, that our grandmothers way of cooking is what we need to channel–a time before so much packaged and processed foods took their toll.

The element that makes The Longevity Kitchen a good cookbook and not just a health book is Chef Katz’s attention to flavor. She reiterates that if something doesn’t taste good, we will not adopt it as part of our lifestyle, so we might as well make healthful food delicious. It makes perfect sense, and she is really great at creating recipes with flavor in mind. Her discussion of FASS (fat, acid, salt and sweet), in this case, olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and Grade B maple syrup, explains that there is a balance in well-crafted dishes that speak to our whole mouth.

For a person who may be entering the kitchen timidly, this is much needed guidance that is often left out of other cookbooks, and is perhaps the formula for success in eating for a healthy, long life.

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