Well, I survived the month of WFPB – whole food plant based – eating! Ha, it wasn’t hard really, just that others around me thought it would be. As I indicated in the last update, the hardest part was eating out and having to ask questions about the choices offered. At home I was fine and tried a number of new recipes, several of which are keepers and will be repeated.

Will I stay with it? This was an experiment to see how easy/hard it would be to eat only plant-based foods. I don’t have health problems driving me to seek a better way of eating; I am not opposed 100% to consuming the produce of animals; and I already was choosing options that minimized the effects of consuming animal products. We eat a lot of meatless meals and even when a meal includes meat the portions are smaller than most people would use. I always try to buy from sources that use humane practices or fish sustainably. I know there are many people who will say that any consumption of animal produce caused pain and suffering, and I do understand that. To those people, one cannot justify the choice to not be plant-based. Still, I do feel pretty good and attribute at least some of that to focusing on my diet, so honestly I have not decided whether to stick with it or not.

“Focusing on my diet” may be what stops some folks from considering WFPB eating. By that I mean – it can be challenging since this is a whole food and plant-based (WFPB) way of eating. The emphasis is on little or no refining, eating the whole food, eating real food not replacements full of artificial or food-like contents. Did all my choices live up to this? No, I ate at a few restaurants and I use store-bought condiments at home, so not all the foods were 100% whole. But all in all, I felt like the month was mostly WFPB. I cook a lot and don’t use a lot of prepared foods, so it was less challenging for me. Of course, for people short on time to cook there are many ways to shortcut, like making extras and freezing or preparing items ahead of time on days off work. For people who don’t cook there are good options if labels are read and choices are carefully made, but many of the ready-to-eat foods are heavily refined and contain ingredients that are better to avoid. I did feel like there was more planning involved in preparing a meal that would satisfy all parties.

A few of our dinners:

                Everything Salads (all the salad veggies & fixin’s I have on hand)
                Pasta and Broccoli Leaves in Toasted Walnut Sauce (not a keeper!) with sautéed asparagus
                Veggie Pot Pie (awesome!!)
                My version of  Otro’s Inca salad
                Spicy Curry Vegetables, Black Pepper Saffron Rice, Cucumber salad
                A pinto bean-chopped veggies salad
                Veg stir fry

A lot of non-animal products exist, so one can eat plant based, but not necessarily healthy. I always tell people potato chips and sweet tea are plant based but as a steady diet not so healthy! Of course, unhealthy diets are not exclusive to vegan, or plant-based, ways of eating. Anyone can make poor choices on a regular basis. My recommendation is always to eat a variety of foods, preferably minimally refined, and eat in moderation. Want an ice cream or that decadent chocolate cake? Have it, enjoy it, share it if you can, and don’t make it a frequent habit. Not ready to give up meat or dairy products? Ok, but maybe skip the fried and scorched meats, avoid highly processed meats, and don’t have cheese on everything.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying this way of eating. If you have health issues or a family history of heart disease or cancer, it would be very worth your while to see how it works for you. Removing animal products from the diet may help you live longer and avoid killer diseases. Even if you feel you can’t cut them out completely, look for ways to minimize them in your diet. Your friendly neighborhood health coach is there to help!

I’ll begin with a confession – adopting a raw food diet is not for me! So why write about it? Well, I know there are many high-profile proponents of this style of eating so I wanted to understand it better in case clients ask about it. And since I learned some things, I thought you might like to also!

The raw food diet basically means eating foods that have not been cooked or at least not heated over ~115°F. There is no *one* raw food “diet” – the ways of following vary among adherents. Even the maximum temperature that foods can be warmed to without being considered ‘cooked’ varies. There are those who eat 100% raw food and those who eat 60-85% raw, with the remainder of their diet cooked foods. Raw meat (think sushi, sashimi, steak tartare, and some cured meats), raw (unpasteurized) dairy, and raw eggs are included by some raw foodists; many avoid these foods altogether. Some eat soaked or sprouted grains and others stick to only vegetables and fruits, nuts, and seeds. All of the plans I read about exclude processed foods, refined flours and sugars, all or most vegetable oils, and coffee. Most stress using organic produce as much as possible. One person writing on being ‘fully raw’ stated one should not eat vinegars, salt, oils, or spices, and should limit good fats like avocados and nuts, and frozen or dehydrated fruits and veggies.

So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this eating style? Proponents believe that cooking destroys vital nutrients and enzymes in food, and even causes toxicity in the food, so they believe raw food has more nutrients. They believe a raw food diet helps with weight control, and that it will help new followers lose weight. It’s thought eating raw fruits and veggies can reduce acidity in the body and help alkalize it. And there are claims that raw food is easier to digest and moves through the digestive system more quickly than cooked food. Some writers made other claims about protection from other diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It is said people eating raw have more energy, better skin, and lower blood pressure. Disadvantages include the difficulty of eating out, whether at a friend’s house or at a restaurant; the additional prep time needed to make a meal – more chopping, blending, sprouting, dehydrating, etc.; limitations on what can be eaten; it is more difficult to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need in the right proportions; increased risk of food borne illness and pathogens from commercially sold produce; and a follower must understand how raw differs from cooked in foods like broccoli and cauliflower, which contain compounds called goitrogens. Goitrogens may block thyroid function but are deactivated by heat, so eating lots of raw cruciferous veggies could lead to thyroid problems.

As with most health topics on the web, this one has believers and deniers, wild claims for and arguments against. I saw a whole lot of claims with no explanation of their basis in fact. I read an article of how eating this way nearly killed someone. Well-known doctors speak up for it and others speak against it. Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda both promote cooked rather than raw foods. My take? I think the general guidelines for a raw diet are good, in that they include a lot of vegetables and fruits, little or no animal protein, no processed ‘junk’ food, and no refined sugars or flours. They promote organic, whole foods. Raw or cooked, eating this way is way better than the typical western diet. The plans seem flexible so they allow people who want to call themselves “raw foodies” can eat mostly raw but maybe include some lightly cooked food. And for those who do want some cooked foods, the recommendations are for light, gentle cooking – not fried or grilled to a blackened state. I question the claims of easier digestion, and this is one claim that was made without any citations of studies to back it up; in fact, articles weighing pros and cons were more likely to offer explanations of how this is not true. Claims of enzyme and vitamin loss from cooking were perhaps over-stated. Produce loses much of its nutrition the longer it waits past harvest and certainly cooking can add to that loss. Many cooking methods do not appreciably destroy nutrients, and even enhance some nutrients. A few articles stated that cooking makes food acidic, but this is not always true; also, our body determines our blood PH from many factors and constantly regulates it, and food does not change that. However, reducing some naturally acidic foods like meat, cheese and some grains is good for you, just not for your PH balance.

This way of eating is not for me because while I eat a fair amount of raw vegetables and fruits, I also like steamed veggies, hot soups, casseroles. And bread and pasta. I think the human race made giant strides in evolution because we learned to cook food, and those strides wouldn’t have happened if cooking destroyed nutrition. Many diseases that have become common in western, developed nations are due to poor eating habits, over-processed foods stripped of nutrition, and over- or under-consumption of foods due to ever changing food guidelines.

What do you think? Would you want to eat this way, or do you already?

Today I want to dive into Michael Pollan’s famous quote of “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” On the surface it is pretty simple, and I do like simple! But as I listened to some videos of Michael discussing food topics I realized I may not fully understand the depth of its wisdom.

Eat food. Sounds easy.  But by this he means actual food, not food processed into something else that resembles food but is very far removed from its origin. Would someone from 100 years ago recognize the food? “Food” means it is not full of hydrolyzed protein, mono-glycerides, natural flavoring, saccharine, etc. We should seek food items grown the way nature meant, not by using industrial methods that strip the earth of nutrients, pollute the ground and water with pesticides, degrade the lives of animals in feedlots and factory farms, and give cause for deforestation. “Pasteurized processed cheese food” is not food in the context of this quote, for instance. We should eat corn – fresh off the cob or frozen, or as cornmeal, perhaps – grown by a real farmer, not by a corporate conglomerate, and not turned into one of the hundreds of ingredients you would not suspect are derived from corn. Choose meat as close to how it came from the animal, like a steak or chicken breast and not the ground up bits mixed with cellulose to produce ‘lunchmeat’ or ‘chicken’ nuggets. Yogurt is milk cultured with specific strains of bacteria, that’s all – not necessary to include added sugar, fruit, gelatin, probiotics, and more. Oats are easy to cook – there’s no need to process oats to death so they can come in a little envelope with “real and artificial flavorings” added.

Mostly plants. Meaning the edible parts of vegetables, fruits, grains, mushrooms, and even flowers. Simply prepared fresh vegetables are most delightful. Eat whole grains like brown rice, farro, and wheat berries rather than grains ground into flour; although whole grain flour is more nutritious than bleached white flour it still impacts blood sugar and insulin levels. Enjoy all of the apple or an orange and not just the juice that can be extracted. Edible flowers add color and flavor to a lovely fresh salad. These foods provide us with almost all the nutrients we need for health, and with the variety of colors and textures to be found they are satisfying for our aesthetic taste buds as well. There are so many different plant foods and so many ways to combine them into delightful dishes, I think it would take a lot of years of cooking meals to ever repeat the same dish if you didn’t want to! Pollan stresses that humans are omnivores and some of us will not find satisfaction with a strictly plant-based diet. Yet if western cultures ate more plant foods and less animal foods, we’d have better health, our land would have better health, and the world would see less environmental damage.

Not too much. Don’t eat until you are stuffed, stop before you feel full. Many cultures, where food scarcity is not a problem, teach their young to eat only until they are 2/3 full or 4/5 full or until they no longer have hunger. Be mindful of portion size; many of us were taught to clean our plates, so when we overload it to start with, we are set up to overeat. Don’t feed your boredom, anxiety, or depression by mindlessly snacking or eating when you aren’t even hungry. Sit at a table when you eat and pay attention to what you are eating – you will derive more satisfaction from the meal and become more aware of how much you eat. It will help you learn when to say when. Consider sharing an entrée with your companion at restaurants, especially those whose portion sizes are large. Eventually they may get the idea of reducing portions to normal size. By eating this way, you not only help your own health, you help reduce food waste.

So, sound and simple advice. Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. Common sense, really. No need to count calories, fat grams, carbs. No need to worry about the next bad-for-you-food story, because you are eating a moderate amount of a variety of foods and skipping controversial additives. You are eating a balance of fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates. Add water and exercise and you’ll be in the pink!

Chances are you also struggle with some of the challenges I have been thinking about. We are told some basic ideas for eating well and taking care of ourselves, yet find that doing so may not be great for the planet’s health. What’s a health-conscious person with a conscience supposed to do?

Take eating fruits and vegetables, nine servings a day as recommended. We want to eat high quality, preferably organic, and in-season produce. But we live in North America and except for certain small areas like southern California, the growing seasons just don’t allow for much growing during a big part of the year. Sure, the grocery stores are full of every kind of produce all year long. But at what cost to the environment, not to mention to the quality of the produce? Most fruits and vegetables have to be picked long before they are really ready to be eaten, packed, shipped long distances, and distributed to trucks which take them even further, until they finally show up at your store. Of course this is true even when the produce grows in the USA and gets shipped across country, just maybe not picked as early and not shipped as far. This is why I prefer local produce – I feel it is fresher and I know it took less fossil fuel to arrive at the market. Yet I chafe at the lack of variety some months and cringe at the price of some items not easily grown here and wonder how I’d cook if I couldn’t get bell peppers all year long. Then I read about a group of women in a poor country who got helping starting a farm and they grow vegetables for the American market (because we are insatiable) and now they can send their children to school. How can I not want to help support them?!

The next challenge I think about is that of drinking water. The general opinion is we should drink 64 ounces a day or thereabout. It can seem difficult to consume that much water but it’s really not and the benefits are worth forming the habit. Of course we want that water to be clean and free of contaminants, and preferably come out of our home faucets like that. But many areas don’t trust their tap water or don’t care for the ‘taste’ (which probably means they are right to avoid it because water shouldn’t ‘taste’, should it?). If you don’t like or trust your tap water what do you do? There are various filtering options for the home, and there’s also home delivery of those big bottles. What about the times you are away from a ready source of good water, like hiking, biking, traveling, etc. and need to carry water with you? With so much controversy over BPA and phthalates leaching from plastics and being known hormone disrupters, we don’t want to use containers made from polycarbonate plastic or polyvinyl chloride (those have #1, #3, #6, or #7 stamped on). But glass won’t work for these activities. I have a stainless steel bottle, but it is not large so if I needed more water than it holds I’d have a problem. I encourage you to avoid purchased bottled water because it is a trash hazard, a waste of plastics, and due to news of some heavy-handed bottlers diverting water from towns and buying up water rights. Yet bottled water helps people in crisis situations have clean water, at least short-term.

The third challenge I have been pondering is eating fish. Not from a vegetarian or vegan point of view – that’s a subject for a different post. We omnivores are encouraged to eat fish several times a week for the omega-3 properties. I like fish so that’s not the problem. What is a problem are the warnings we get about mercury and other contaminants in many species. And another problem is the over-fishing that depletes the fish stocks, and the bad fishing practices that causes many fish to be caught and killed but not brought in for consumption. So how do we eat fish a few times a week if we can’t get fish that is safe to eat? I avoid farmed fish, fish from countries with poor food-safety regulations, and foods on the watch list from Monterey Bay Aquarium. Good info on their site – I recommend checking it out.

I can’t claim to have answers to these puzzles. There are many ways to solve them for you, in a way that works in your life. And there are many other challenges in the world of eating well – which ones are puzzling you these days? We can only do so much at one time, so pick the issues that bug you the most and work to do what you can do to relieve it.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20160913_soySoy foods have proponents and opponents, supporters and detractors. Much controversy about soy, maybe even more than whether coffee/eggs/meat are good for you or not! Let’s examine some of the chatter.

Soy grows as beans in pods, like peas. Perhaps you’ve seen these beans and pods and know them as edamame. It is a species of legume yet is not classified as a pulse but as an oilseed plant, as it is grown more for its oil than for using the beans as food. Soybeans are a good source of fiber, protein, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, copper, manganese, and phosphorus, among other nutrients. Concerns include the amount of phytates and phytoestrogens, and that over 90% of US soybeans are said to be genetically engineered and heavily sprayed with pesticides.

First, I am not an opponent of soy, but I am an opponent of the extracts taken from soy, often using hexane and other chemicals, and used in many prepared foods and protein powders. Much of the disagreement over soy’s safety as a food stems from the beans being broken down into components, removed from the whole, and added to many foods. This may lead to consuming too much of one component of soy without its other components for balance. Not good for any food. I favor foods made from the whole bean, like tofu, miso, tempeh, and edamame.

Claims for the health benefits and the health detriments are often made by people who do not really understand the results of the studies and research or are simply regurgitating information they read. One needs to pay special attention to the date of an article, its source, how well the author seems to grasp the science, and was the study on animals or humans. Is the article from 1999 or 2015? A lot is learned over the years, and what was thought to be true in 1999 may have been corrected since. Is the source of the article a well-known soy opponent, like the Weston A. Price Foundation, or is it from a soy food manufacturer? Certainly these two may have different interpretations of the same studies. Is the author a scientist or a school psychologist with knowledge of personal finance (from an actual bio on one article)? How well does the latter understand the terms and measurements and conclusions being referenced? Finally, although many studies are performed on animals, human beings do not always metabolize nutrients the same as rats or guinea pigs and the studies often include amounts that are not feasible for a human diet. Both sides can be pretty convincing, and research for this post had my head spinning a bit!

One of the biggest concerns about eating soy foods is that of the isoflavones, which are sources of phytoestrogens in our diet. It was believed these phytoestrogens could cause cancerous tumors, especially breast cancer, to grow, the way estrogen in hormone replacement therapy did. The other concerns about the phytoestrogens in soy were around men’s and boys’ sexuality – that the effects would make boys grow breasts and men lose virility or fertility. However, phytoestrogens are not the same as the human estrogen hormone and do not have the same effects on our bodies. The association between soy and cancer growth is not supported by all of the research; in fact, there are indications that soy helps prevent certain cancers and most women who have had cancer are no longer told to avoid soy. And further studies on men’s health found that normal consumption of soy did not affect testosterone or estrogen (yes, men have some estrogen, just like women have some testosterone) levels, nor sperm and semen levels.

Phytates are another concern among those who avoid soy. Phytate is the salt form of phytic acid and occurs in edible seeds like nuts, grains, and legumes; also in some roots and tubers. People have read that phytates bind to certain minerals (iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium) and make those minerals unavailable to our bodies. However, this binding only occurs during the meal where the phytates are also being consumed and is not an ongoing stripping of minerals. Only people whose primary foods are grains and legumes need be concerned about possible mineral deficiency. As well, certain ways of preparing the food, like soaking or fermenting, reduce the phytate levels significantly. Therefore, unless one is eating only soy and other phytic acid foods for every meal and never soaking or fermenting those foods, the concern over phytates is way overblown.

A lot of health benefits have been attributed to soy foods also: reduced cardiovascular problems, weight loss, diabetes control, reduction of menopausal symptoms, and cancer prevention. Not all of these claims are borne out by actual studies, and of course results will vary from person to person. It is hard too to definitely state that soy is the savior or the blame, as we are individuals with many variables that affect outcomes.

All in all, I do not feel one should avoid all soy, all the time. Soy foods can be a part of a healthy diet. Strive for organic, whole soy foods as one part of a varied diet. Avoid non-organic soy due to concerns about genetic modification and pesticides. Also avoid isolated soybean derivatives found in highly processed foods and protein powders. In the USA we are able to vary our food choices to get a good mix, and soy can be a good part of that.

Image courtesy of SOMMAI at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20160719_stop gmoWith the U.S. Senate voting on the subject of labeling for GMOs last week, the subject has been prominent in the news again. If you aren’t really sure what the hub-bub is about, “GMO” stands for genetically modified organism, which is achieved by altering the genes of an organism by use of genetic engineering (GE). The subject of genetic modification is broad and covers many areas, but the focus of this post, and most of the talk you have been hearing, is on genetically modified foods. Some people argue that genetically modifying foods has been done for centuries, claiming that hybrid varieties of apples or corn, or newer fruits like the pluot (plum-apricot), are genetically modified. Technically that is true, as all plants have been modified from their origins via natural selection and domestication as well as hybridization. But blending two different apple branches together, or pollen from one corn variety to pollinate another variety of corn, to get a better variety is not genetic engineering of the kind opponents want to stop or curtail. GE creates new organisms from one whose genes have been altered by the insertion of a modified gene or a gene from a non-related organism. These new organisms are known as transgenic organisms. “When genetic material from a different species is added, the resulting DNA is called recombinant DNA and the organism is called a transgenic organism.” This modification could be insertion of bacterial genes to protect a plant from the effects of pesticides like glyphosates (Roundup®) and glufosinates. It could also be the insertion of a soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to make the plant produce its own insecticide for certain pests like corn borers. It could be inserting genes from a cold water fish into a tomato to make it freeze-resistant (not on the market).

The stated desire of GE is to make better food crops – better able to resist pests or disease, better nutrition, better weather tolerance, better yields. Sounds good, right? There are a lot of people in the world, many starving people – if this process helps feed us all it must be right and good. Certainly there is a lot of controversy, hype, name-calling, and confusion.  I do not claim to be an expert – even those who are can’t agree!  My intent is to point out some concerns that indicate caution and more objective research is needed, and why those who do oppose GE foods are not simply Luddites.

In my opinion, one of the most worrying elements of GE and GMO is the control and ownership of our food supplies by a few large corporate players. You may have heard of terminator seeds, where the seed left after harvest is sterile so the farmers have to buy the next year’s seed rather than saving seed for the next planting. Saving seed was the practice since humans first began to settle and plant crops. Biotech companies want to control the seed and the pesticides used on those crops and have a monopoly. “Buy our marvelous herbicide that will kill all the weeds in your fields. Oh, but you also will need our wonderful crop seeds that are resistant to the marvelous herbicide. And of course, next year we will be glad to sell you more of both.” GE crops accounted for 90 percent of all planted cotton acres, 93 percent of soybean acres, and 90 percent of corn acres in 2013. When Monsanto corn is 80% of the 90% GE corn acres in the US and Monsanto soy is 93% of the 93% GE soy acres in the US, it looks a lot like monopoly. According to a Food and Water Watch fact sheet, in 2014 Monsanto “now controls 60 percent of corn and 62.5 percent of soybean seeds and seed trait licenses in the United States.”

Are GE crops safe? That may depend on what is meant by “safe.” No people or animal have died within hours or days of eating GE foods, as they would if poison was ingested. And it’s likely we all have eaten some GMOs for many years and haven’t died. So to that extent GE crops are safe. But what if you extend the scope of “safe?” It’s the long-term safety and unknown effects on human, animal, and environmental health that have not really been studied. The FDA and USDA tell us these crops have been tested and no studies show correlation to disease, but most of the safety tests and studies were done by or commissioned by the manufacturers of the seeds and the pesticides that can be doused on them. Will these crops when converted to food ingredients and blended with other GMO ingredients cause unexpected allergic reactions? Will they alter the biology of the future offspring of animals who consume these crops as feed generation after generation? What about the effect of these crops on the environment? BT corn and other such crops are suspected in decline of bees and butterflies. Each species plays its role in the overall health of the planet. If some species are lost due to manipulation of crops genes, how are the roles of the species replaced? Does water run-off from the fields of these crops affect fish and other water life is some adverse way?

What about crop diversity? Winds carry the pollen of these plants to non-modified plants in the next field – and farmers of the non-modified crops have been sued by bio-companies for ending up with GMO crops in their fields, crops they certainly did not want. This contamination, combined with the heavy marketing of the alleged benefits of GE crops, eventually means fewer varieties planted. One cause of the terrible potato famine that caused the death or emigration of millions of Irish was lack of diversity of the potato varieties planted. In fact, while companies have been working on GE wheat for many years, it has never been approved for planting – yet GMO wheat was found growing in non-research fields in Oregon and in Montana. No word on how this happened.

But, you say, one of the promises of GMOs is less pesticide use. What about that? Well, actually pesticide use has increased, not decreased. This map shows the increases in the use of glyphosate in the US. In addition, it has become a widespread practice to use glyphosate and glufosinates on crops just before harvest to speed up the dry-down process. “Along with wheat and oats, glyphosate is used to desiccate a wide range of other crops including lentils, peas, non-GMO soybeans, corn, flax, rye, triticale, buckwheat, millet, canola, sugar beets and potatoes. Sunflowers may also be treated pre-harvest with glyphosate, according to the National Sunflower Association.” Due to super weeds – weeds resistant to glyphosate – some growers are returning to older, more harmful pesticides. As well, the USDA in September 2014 approved GE crops resistant to the combination of glyphosate and 2,4 D – Dow Chemical’s Enlist Duo – and use of Enlist Duo was approved, approval was revoked, then it was granted again.

So what about claims of improved nutrition of the food and higher yields? So far, no GMO food with enhanced nutrition is on the market. Golden rice, engineered to include beta-carotene, is developed and available for planting but faces much opposition for many of the reasons laid out in this article; also being resisted because vitamin A deficiency is not the biggest problem in under-developed countries where getting enough of all necessary nutrients is impossible for many people. Fear of corporate ownership is somewhat allayed by free licensing but within limits imposed by Monsanto.  Other ideas for enhancing specific nutritional qualities of foods are in research or are theoretical. Whether or not GE cops have better yields or not is less clear. “In the absence of pests, commercially available GE seeds do not increase maximum crop yields. However, by protecting a plant from certain pests, GE crops can prevent yield losses to, allowing the plant to approach its yield potential. Bt crops are particularly effective at mitigating yield losses.  On the other hand, evidence on the impact of HT seeds on soybean, corn, and cotton yields is mixed. Some researchers found no significant difference between the yields of adopters and non-adopters of HT; others found that HT adopters had higher yields, while still others found that adopters had lower yields.”

These are the crops currently grown from genetically engineered seeds: soy, cotton, corn, canola, sugar beet, papaya, yellow squash, potato, and alfalfa (for animal feed). If you wish to avoid as many GE foods as you can, buy these organically grown or from a local farmer who can be asked if the seed is GE or not. You will also need to recognize when derivatives from these vegetables is present in processed foods you buy. Corn is made into so many products that go into our food. This is why there is a strong movement to get food labeled when it contains GE ingredients. We know when a product contains peanuts, or soy, or gluten – why not GMOs? Those who care about GMOs can skip the product, those who don’t care can ignore the label. If the things I point out in this article concern you, get informed. PBS has an interesting page on this topic http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/harvest/.

20160705_smoothieI’m back on a smoothie kick. It’s hot, I don’t feel as hungry, and these smoothies help me up my veggie and fruit intake. My aim is not weight loss or control, just a cool, refreshing, and nutritious item for breakfast or sometimes lunch. Here are some recent concoctions.

First, some general tips. I mainly make ‘green’ smoothies, or those with a ratio of 70:30% or 60:40% vegetables to fruit. Veggies include any type of leafy greens, cucumbers, carrots, fresh herbs, celery, ginger, turmeric, and avocado. Fruits are usually apples, pears, berries, lemon, and occasionally bananas, mangoes, or pineapple. Liquid is coconut water or milk, plain water, or plant milk. I sometimes add a 1/4 – 1/3 cup of aloe vera juice. Load in this order: liquid, greens, heavy items, lighter items. You only need to peel veggies or fruits with tough and inedible skins; cut large pieces into chunks your blender can handle.

Today I made a nice, bright-tasting refresher, perfect after a holiday weekend.

8 ounces coconut water

2 handfuls fresh spinach

3-4 fresh pineapple spears

1 Persian cucumber (or equivalent amount of another variety)

½ lemon, no peel

Blend together. Made 2 large glasses.

 

One I made last week got rave reviews from my spouse; of course it was fruity and not green!

Mango-Pineapple with Turmeric

3/4 cup good water

2/3 cup plant milk, yogurt, or buttermilk

2 cups frozen mango cubes (can use fresh but frozen cool the drink)

1 cup frozen pineapple (can use fresh but frozen cool the drink)

1/2 inch chunk peeled turmeric root or ½-1 t. ground turmeric

½-1 t. ground cinnamon

Blend together. Made 2 large glasses.

 

This next one is similar to but not quite the same as above, but I still had some mango left.

1 cup coconut milk

Juice from half a lime (or peel the half lime and add the fruit)

1/2 cup frozen mango

Few ice cubes

1/4 avocado

1/2 inch chunk peeled turmeric root or ½-1 t. ground turmeric

1/2 inch chunk peeled ginger root or ½ t. ground ginger

Blend together. Made 1+ large glass.

 

I love this next one, it has such a beautiful ruby-red color and wonderful flavor.

Beet, Pear, and Raspberry

1 cup almond or other plant milk, unsweetened

2 medium or 3 small red beets

1 ripe pear

1 cup frozen raspberries (can use fresh but frozen cool the drink)

The beet can be raw, and unpeeled if organic. Just cut into small chunks for blending.

Blend together. Made 2 glasses.

 

A variation on the above:

1 cup almond or other plant milk, unsweetened

2-3 small red beets

1-2 cups frozen strawberries (can use fresh but frozen cool the drink)

½-1 inch chunk peeled ginger root

The beet can be raw.  And unpeeled if organic. Just cut into small chunks for blending.

Blend together. Made 1+ glass.

 

I have not made this one but it is on my list.

Carrot Cake Smoothie

Adapted from LacyYoung.com

8-10 ounces almond or other plant milk, unsweetened

4 small carrots

1-2 bananas (can be frozen)

3 pitted dates, chopped (I will not add the dates, too sweet for me)

1/4 cup rolled oats

Slice of peeled ginger root or ½ t. ground ginger

1/2-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 t. ground nutmeg

Blend together, makes about 2 glasses.

 

Hopefully you will enjoy drinking these or will find inspirations for your own concoctions! Of course there are thousands of recipes on the web using a wide variety of ingredients, and many variations.

If you try any, let me know how you like it/them!

20160621_oilsAs with most food-related topics, the subject of cooking oils is vast and often quite confusing. Should you cook with vegetable oils or animal fats or none at all? Should olive oil be used to cook food or only used in salad dressings or other cold applications? Is canola oil really a poison? What is a smoke point and why should one care about it? How many different oils does one need? Read on to help sort through some of the confusion.

First let’s dispel the myth of a fat-free life. We need some fats in our diets for good health. This post will not go into the details of saturated vs. mono-unsaturated vs. poly-unsaturated fats, or omega 3 to omega 6 ratios – there are many reputable articles on the web on these topics, and you will find that even the experts disagree on the recommendations, so I will not go there! But while fat-free is neither possible nor desirable, be smart about fats. Not too much, not too little, and be judicious about which to include.

What about cooking in oil? Should you deep-fry foods? Well, no, but more because of what the high heat and often re-used oil does to the food (creation of toxic substances, loss of nutrients) than because of resulting fat content. Should you sauté foods in oil? It is possible to make equally tasty dishes by water-sautéing rather than using any oil or fat. We certainly have many ways to get healthy fats into our diets in the proportion we each need, so no need to add oil or fat where it is not really needed.

Now, animal or vegetable? Certainly this is a subject with very vocal proponents in each camp. I tend to be in the middle. Some foods I cook just would not be the same without some animal fat – like using bacon fat for German-style potato salad, or butter for grilled cheese. Sure, we can do without those foods, and often do. If one is a vegetarian or vegan the choice is simple, and these are often the people most in favor of eliminating all animal fats. Also in this camp are those who feel that saturated fat intake affects heart health, along with those who believe that the produce from animals raised in feed lots is detrimental to human health. In the other camp are those who believe that all or almost all oils derived from plants or seeds are not traditional fats, are over-processed, come from contaminated plants, and/or have too much omega 6 fatty acids. This debate is huge, with way too many conflicting articles and opinions, often based on outdated information. My take – use moderation here, as in all things!

If, like me, you do use vegetable oils in cooking, let’s look at some commonly recommended oils. For all oils, buy the best you can find and afford. Look for organic versions first. (If not available or way outside your price range, at least be sure any corn or canola oil you buy is non-GMO.) Next always purchase only expeller pressed or cold pressed oils. If not specified on the label, avoid the product as it likely was extracted using high heat and/or chemicals. High heat destroys much of the nutrients, and chemicals – well, ‘nuff said.

Olive oil is the current ‘darling’ of vegetable oils. The popularity of the Mediterranean diet in part has boosted its usage. Olive oil provides many health benefits over some other types of fats. I see many, many recipes that call for sautéing or frying in olive oil, but we are also advised to buy the highest quality olive oil that can be afforded, so why ruin that lovely fruity taste and its healthful properties by heating it? There are many other oils more suited to the high heat for frying. I recommend saving your olive oil for salad dressings and for dipping artisanal breads. Although I do toss vegetables I am going to roast in olive oil…

Coconut oil has become the oil of choice for many, although not those in the anti-saturated fat camp! This oil is reputed to have a wide range of health benefits, both internal and external, but studies have not proven its good or its bad claims. It is high in saturated fat although its promoters contend that other elements of its structure outweigh, even negate, the saturated fat effect. When cool, coconut oil is fairly solid but don’t confuse this property with hydrogenation – it is due to the saturated fat content, not processing. In cooking, I find coconut oil adds a bit of coconut flavor, thus I don’t care for it in all uses. My experience with it as a sauté or pan fry oil has not been great – it allows too much sticking to the pan. It can be a good fat to use in some baking.

Grapeseed oil is extracted from the seeds of grapes, often from wine grapes. I like wine, so this seems perfect! Of course, the properties of grapes that make red wine a good choice don’t carry through to the seeds, but still. Anyway, this oil has found favor in some camps and it does have its good points. One benefit touted is also its biggest negative, depending on who you ask. Grapeseed oil is very high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is good – except that it is one of the highest of common oils in omega 6 fatty acids. What’s wrong with that? Well, current thinking is that we Americans especially have skewed the ratio on omega 3 to omega 6 too far towards the omega 6 level, and this imbalance causes poor health, including internal inflammation. So while it is mostly flavorless and odorless and has some vitamin E and a high smoke point, it is less recommended. And, the brand I bought I realized too late does not specify its extraction method, so I have to suspect chemical extraction. Out it went.

Canola oil. Oh, the controversy over this oil. If you think disagreements over health benefits/harms related to saturated fats are confusing, try reading about canola! I will start by telling you – I am a fan of organic, expeller-pressed canola oil. I find its properties to be perfect for my non-olive-oil oil needs. Tasteless, odorless, and is second only to flaxseed oil in low omega 6 to omega 3 ratio (2:1). Some of the negatives you might read about include: it’s all genetically modified; it has too much erucic acid; it is toxic; it is used industrially; it has hexane residue. I only buy organic canola oil to avoid GMOs. The erucic acid claim stems from the rapeseed plant from which canola seed was bred, but canola does not have the level of erucic acid that rapeseed does, nor even as much as mustard seed oil. A report of hundreds dying in Spain in the 1980s from food grade canola was actually due to the oil being contaminated with an industrial solvent, and mislabeled as olive oil. Many plant-derived oils are used in industry – this does not mean all food grade oils are unsuitable as food. Again I buy organic, expeller-pressed canola oil which does not use chemicals to extract the oil, so no residue is present. Now, there are hundreds of articles whose authors will disagree with my defense of canola, so be sure to read up on the pros and the cons to decide for yourself. And check the dates on the information – there are some old, outdated studies still being referenced when it suits the writer’s opinion.

Of course there are many other vegetable oils – corn, safflower, sunflower, sesame, avocado, peanut, etc. All have their fans and detractors, their good points and bad. Most have been around for many years, and you are likely familiar with most. Blended vegetable oils are also common, but seldom inform us as to proportion of each oil used. One oil I absolutely recommend you avoid is cottonseed oil. Avoid products which use it and those that might use it (“contains corn, safflower and/or cottonseed oils”). Cotton is not grown as a food crop and is very heavily sprayed with insecticides not rated for food crops. Why, oh, why would we want to eat parts of it?

This topic is quite broad and too much to cover in one post. I hope this brief discussion helps you make decisions for your pantry, or points you to areas for further research. An informed cook is a better cook!