I read an interesting article this weekend entitled “Why Nutrition Is So Confusing” that described what all med students know: nutrition data is largely inconclusive, often contradictory, and falls short of strong claims that would make for truly useful recommendations. Trials are often done for a few years and then extrapolate to decades or, conversely, populations are followed for decades and then analysts try to pull out a few recommendations.
Although many of us philosophically favor diet and exercise modifications over medications, medications are not only often easier for patients, but also easier to understand as med students. We memorize pharm for the boards; we don’t memorize the benefits of garlic. That doesn’t mean that we should give up, just that it’s a complex problem.
Intrigued by this op-ed, I decided to test just how confusing nutrition is. I looked up “garlic” in the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, and didn’t find it confusing at all. The database ranks claims in terms of varying levels of safety and effectiveness, and concludes that garlic is “Possibly Effective” (this is a good thing) at slowing atherosclerosis and lowering blood pressure. Is it the chemicals within garlic that lower blood pressure, or is it the deeply relaxing experience of eating something comforting and delicious after a long day?
Lately I’ve taken up snowshoeing, which lends itself to comfort food. This soup has everything that you’d want in say, a French onion soup — umami, salt, a rib-sticking effect — and yet it’s a trick: it’s so deeply flavorful that you achieve the same satisfaction without cheese or beef stock. I didn’t set out to make a healthier version than Smitten Kitchen’s original, but being limited by what I had on hand, I’m glad that I did! I don’t think this soup needs a drop more than what I put in it.
Madeline’s “Best Soup Ever”
Makes two very small bowls of soup:
- 2 small garlic heads
- 1 white onion
- 1 teaspoon dried or fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon miso paste
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- drop of cream optional
- salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Separate the garlic heads into cloves. Peel one-third of the cloves and set aside. Place the remaining two-thirds of the garlic cloves, unpeeled, into an ovenproof dish and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cover tightly with tin foil and roast 30-40 minutes until golden brown (but not burned!). Remove from the oven, cool, and peel the cloves.
In a small pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and thyme and cook about six minutes until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add a drop of water if needed to prevent the onion from browning. Once the onions are clear, add the raw and roasted peeled garlic cloves. Cook another three minutes, stirring occasionally.
In a mug, pour one cup of boiling water over miso paste and stir to dissolve. This is my dad’s trick substitute for chicken broth; feel free to use chicken broth instead if you like. Pour the miso broth and another half cup of water over the garlic and onions. Cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes until the raw garlic cloves are soft.
Puree the soup. Stir in a drop of cream if you like, although not needed. Serve with freshly baked dark bread.
The Med School Cookbook offers a weekly account of the challenges and wonders of med school as seen through the eyes of a student. Each post includes a healthy and easy recipe designed for busy people on a budget. Read the daily blog here.