The classic cast-iron skillet has been a staple tool in home cooking for ages and can even be a beneficial way to get a small daily dose of iron in the diet. However, as with most everything, there is an appropriate time and a place for using it. Cast iron, when heated at high temperatures, leaches out iron which then is readily available for our digestive systems to absorb in the meals we cook.
That being said, be wary of how much iron you naturally obtain from your diet. There are many foods already rich in the mineral and adding more through cast-iron cooking can give your system an iron-overload. Excessive iron in the body becomes a "pro-oxidant" meaning it increases the free radical formation in the bloodstream which is exactly the opposite and possibly harmful effect of the beneficial anti-oxidants we should be seeking out.
You may not realize that a multitude of foods already contain adequate levels of iron: red meat, dark leafy greens, molasses, beans, lentils, dried fruits (peaches and apricots), pumpkin and sunflower seeds, nuts (walnuts, pistachios, almonds). If any of these are a big staple in your diet, odds are you are getting enough daily intake of iron. Cooking with cast-iron is most ideal for vegetarians/vegans, those with anemia, women (especially pre-menopausal) and kids.
Proper seasoning is essential for getting the most out of your cast-iron. While word on the street is that it's a high-maintenance piece of equipment, it is really very easy to care for. "Seasoning" is really just a fancy term for oiling a pan. Start by coating the skillet with vegetable oil and then let it sit in a warm oven for about an hour. Do this a few times with brand new cast-iron and then seasonally afterwards. When cleaning, do not use soap or scouring pads with cleanser. After each use, simply rinse with warm water, heat it on the stove to dry and apply a thin coat of oil to protect the seasoning. Over time, it will uphold a nice, natural, non-stick surface.
- Kyndl Mueller, L.Ac.
Photo credit: Simone Ritter Art
How about trying a little eco-therapy to keep your sanity during the coming months when SAD (seasonal affective disorder) can be at its most winter-ferocious? Preventative measures must be taken to not sink down into the dumps of darkness. The act of forest-bathing is a very simple yet enlightening concept. Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that translates to "taking in the forest atmosphere". Instructions on achieving this do not require disappearing to a zen monastery to master the art form, perhaps just a nice stroll through your local neck of the woods for a day, a week, an afternoon, or a few hours.... As long as you are present amidst a living forest you can reap the health benefits of shinrin-yoku without cutting too greatly into your daily routine.
Reminder: keep it simple.
"Go to a forest. Walk slowly. Breathe. Open all your senses." (shinirinyoku.org)
Research has shown scientifically the rejuvenation and serene sense of calm a body can absorb from a living forest. Trees release organic compounds that our natural killer cells (think immune system) just eat right up. In a somatic sense other health benefits include: lowered blood pressure, uplifted moods and better focus, better sleep and mental clarity, and more ease in coping with stress with lower cortisol levels and down regulation of the nervous system.
Sensory immersion in a forest is naturally healing, it allows for a grounding within yourself and your reality. What better prescription for good health is there than a walk in the woods? Practice presence and absorb your surroundings in order to experience that moment of still-point where you become attuned with your own true conscious awareness; the ultimate mind-body-earth connection.
- Kyndl Mueller, L.Ac.