Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Off my butt, on the ball!

I don't particularly love to exercise. I love how I feel afterwards (both physically and mentally) but transitioning from whatever fun thing I'm doing to something physically challenging doesn't come naturally to me. Also, I accept that a little discomfort now will mean tremendous benefits in the future -- I want to be a healthy, active grandma one day, and I won't accomplish that feat by sitting around and making excuses about why I don't exercise.

Probably the biggest barrier to regular exercise is TIME. For years I carved out an hour block whenever I could for exercise. But running a business, being a mom, and running a household leave little time for such continuous stretches. However, I (and you, and you, and you) DO have 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, throughout the day. What's the best use of that time? Not a jog through the woods, because once you get your running shoes and ipod ready, your 10 minutes are up. No, the best thing is to have something set up where you spend the bulk of your day.

For me, the bulk of the workday is spent in my office. It's too small to put in an elliptical machine but not too small for a few pieces of key equipment. I have the Fit Ball, Bosu Ball, Weight (medicine) Balls, free weights, resistance tubing, and a pilates mat. You would not believe what one can do with this stuff -- you can literally work out every muscle in your body.

So, what about you? What can you do to fit in more physical activity? How about a jump rope in your backyard, or in your vehicle, if you drive a lot? Hand weights in the corner of your office? A treadmill in your family room? How about biking to the bank and post office rather than driving? Taking your child for a walk in the stroller or pull-wagon rather than watching TV? There are hundreds of opportunities for more movement in your day. You know it's better for you -- it's just a matter of thinking about what to do, and setting your plans into action.

Need more inspiration? There's no shortage of personal trainers in your area. If you're short on cash, consider buddying up with a friend or neighbor who also wants to be more fit; motivate one another. Tell your spouse, parents, roommate, or kids that you're trying to exercise more, and ask for their support. And keep in mind that the best match might not be someone you see face-to-face. My fitness expert, John Pierre, lives in Chicago and often trains in L.A. (I live in Jersey.) Yet, he is my exercise inspiration. He helps with my fitness routines and motivation (via email and telephone). He is incredibly knowledgeable and a terrific person. (He's a vegan, too, and single... any single vegan women out there?)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Recipe: Black Bean and Corn Salad

I admit it: Before making this salad, I'd never hand-cut corn from the cob. I guess the corn was always gobbled up! This time, though, I went a little overboard at the Montclair Farmer's Market and had 3 extra ears. What to do with cooked, leftover corn on the cob? A cool summer salad is just the thing.

You don't have to follow this recipe exactly. In fact, vary it to your taste. No rules here!

You will need:

  • 1 large (29 oz) can or 2 regular (15.5 oz) cans black beans, rinsed well in a colander
  • corn from 2-4 ears, cut off with a sharp serrated knife
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 3 green onions (scallions), sliced thinly
  • 1/3 cup Spanish olive oil
  • juice of 1-2 limes (taste after 1) or 2-3 tbsp bottled lime juice
  • 1-2 tbsp ground cumin
  • Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

I would have put in fresh cilantro but I didn't want to bug my neighbor to invade her herb garden again! So if you have some on hand, put in a handful (chopped).

Add in bell peppers, if you have, chopped cucumber, or anything else you think would be good.

If you like a little heat, add jalapeno peppers or chili powder.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dairy AND Soy Free Decadence

Over the years, many people have asked me to recommend a dairy AND soy free yogurt, milk, and ice cream. There are plenty of milks out there, but as far as yogurts and ice cream...a tall order! Well, the folks at Turtle Mountain (So Delicious yogurts and Purely Decadent dairy-free frozen desserts) listened and delivered.

Now we have an extensive line of organic, non-dairy, non-soy ice creams and yogurts to choose from, all based on coconut milk. I recently purchased all of the yogurt flavors and two of the ice cream flavors (vanilla and chocolate) at the Whole Foods Market in West Orange, NJ. All are rich and creamy and delicious. The ice creams rival the flavor of premium dairy-based varieties, and got a big thumbs up from the rest of the family. The yogurts are cultured, just like soy and dairy yogurts, so you get the benefits of the probiotics (good bacteria). These yogurts are also fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and B12, to mimic (or be superior to) the nutrient profile in other yogurts. The yogurts are very sweet and delicious (they are relatively high in sugar), so those of you who don't like an overly sweet flavor might wish to mix the plain and fruit flavors together.

Being that the base is coconut milk, the saturated fat content of these products is a bit higher than their soy-based counterparts. The saturated fat found in coconut is not damaging as is the saturated fat found in foods like beef and whole milk. But that doesn't mean it's ok to eat a pint of the ice cream a day; any rich food is meant to be eaten in relatively small amounts. So if you're avoiding both soy and dairy (or if, like me, you just want more variety) these products are a true godsend which, eaten in moderation, will not unravel a healthy diet based on primarily whole plant foods.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Soy and Male Fertility Study

(Photo compliments of Image*After, and I'm pretty sure these are tadpoles, but you get the idea!)

If you're a veg*n, chances are that someone forwarded you one of the rather warped interpretations of a recent study suggesting that soy products have a negative impact of male fertility. If you're not a veg*n, you probably heard about it anyway, because people love to spread bad news about diets they know they should be following for optimal health.

Published in the journal Human Reproduction, this study was carried out by Jorge Chavarro and colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School. The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases, and the Yerby Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.

This cross-sectional study investigated a connection between sperm count and intake of isoflavones (phytoestrogens found in some plant materials including soy) and soy foods. 598 men who were being evaluated for infertility were recruited from the Mass General fertility clinic between 2000 and 2006. Those who were actually eligible for the study totaled 99.

The 99 men were weighed and measured, and asked to provide a sperm sample, a medical/lifestyle history, and diet records (a food frequency questionnaire) that indicated how often they consumed 15 soy-based foods within the last 3 months.

The researchers analyzed the association between soy intake and ejaculate volume, total sperm count, sperm concentration, sperm motility, and sperm structure. They controlled for other factors such as body mass index (weight for height), age, abstinence time, and intakes of caffeine and alcohol.

Of the 99 men who took part, the majority (72%) were overweight or obese. In terms of sperm count, 42% had normal levels while 10% had very low sperm counts (defined as being below 20 million/ml). Just over half the men (55%) had sperm with low motility (poor movement).

There was a significant relationship between soy intake on sperm count, with men in the highest intake category having an average of 41 million sperm/ml less than those who did not eat soy. The researchers also found that men with higher sperm counts had a stronger relationship between sperm quality and count to different levels of soy intake. (Meaning, men with high sperm counts were affected by soy more than men with low sperm counts.)

So what does this all mean? Is the relationship really there? We have to be careful in our interpretation of this study.

First of all, it says nothing about vegetarianism. Some vegetarians eat no soy at all, and some meat eaters eat a lot of soy. The articles that hint about some sort of danger of vegetarianism are all about hype and selling ads.

Second of all, if soy products really rendered men infertile, how could one explain the population issues in Asia, where soy is consumed several times a day?

Third, one must look at the study design: cross-sectional means that it is impossible to establish a causal link between sperm quality and diet. In other words, we have no idea whether the soy intake necessarily preceded problems with sperm count and quality, or whether it is the only or major factor responsible. In addition, a study with a sample size of 99 cannot possibly be used to develop healthy eating guidelines. There are too many other factors that may be affecting the findings.

Fourth, the majority of the participants were overweight or obese, and the researchers acknowledge that it is possible that excess body weight affects the relationship between soy intake and semen quality. For this reason, it is not possible to apply these results to average-weight men. That, and the fact that they were recruited from a fertility clinic, suggests a possible impact of soy on infertile, fat men, rather than an impact on the overall general male population.

Fifth, retrospective (recalling the past) data were used to determine food intake (i.e. the participant's responses to a questionnaire about how much soy they had previously eaten) using an unvalidated questionnaire (one that was never before tested). Thus, we can't say for certain how accurate this tool is in assessing soy intake.

Sixth, while isoflavones are found in non-soy-based foods as well, the study did not examine isoflavone intake from non-soy sources. Chances are that if this were recorded, the association between isoflavone intake and sprem count would be weaker.

This study, while legitimate and important, was taken out of context by the mass media and used as yet another excuse for the exclusion of health-supporting foods in one's diet.

Here is my take: First, obviously, men who eat soy father children. There are billions of examples in Asia, and millions more in the US (meet my vegan husband and child who was a bit of a surprise). Second, consuming soy foods has proven benefits, one of which is reducing risk of heart disease. The number one cause of death in the US is heart disease. So let's look at the big picture: Skip the soy because of one tiny study that says the sperm in soy eaters is a bit lower, or eat it and reduce the risk of a deadly disease that affects about 81 MILLION people a year in the US?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Web Site of the Week:

Need to know what do to with those wilting scallions, blackening bananas, or squishy avocados? Sure, you can look in the indexes of all your cookbooks (and be completely starving by the time you find a recipe doesn't require a trip to the store), but you could instead save a ton of time and logon to vegweb. is web 2.0 at its vegan best. It's got a ton of recipes -- all vegan (so you don't have to check out ingredients) -- and all searchable. Granted, the recipes are posted by random people, so no guarantees that everything is delicious, but recipes have user comments and ratings (a lot like so you can see what others' think before you preheat the oven. Many of the recipes come with photos, too, so you can see what the finished product is supposed to look like.

And while the vast recipe collection is what vegweb is best known for, other goodies can be found here. Articles, links, shopping, and veg friends are other main areas of the site.

To get the site's full benefit, sign up for a user account. It's free! Simply create a username and password, and once you're logged in you can make your own and check out others' profiles, change your layout, and mess with all sorts of preferences. My personal favorite feature, though, is the ability to organize recipes. You can store your faves in My Recipe Box, choose recipes to automatically create My Grocery List (how easy is THAT!?), and plan your week with My Meal Planner.

Sometimes I just go on there to browse recipes for inspiration. They're not all necessarily healthy, but it's a fabulous community for vegan sharing.

My vegweb user ID is veganRD - see you there!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Eatin' Locally and Lovin' It

Today's lunch was inspired by locally grown and prepared ingredients as well as my good friend and colleague, Kate Geagan. She is the author of the much anticipated upcoming book, Go Green, Get Lean: Trim Your Waistline with the Ultimate Low-Carbon Diet, and in it she encourages a diet heavy on local foods, while maximizing plants.

My wonderful next-door neighbor left me a voicemail a couple of weeks ago, letting me know that she was going away for 3 weeks and to please help myself to her herb garden. Lucky me! This morning I snipped off several basil plants, returned to my kitchen, and got to work. I made 2 pestos. The first was a traditional green pesto with a lot of basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and salt and pepper. The second was a roasted red pepper pesto, with olive oil, a little of the basil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and a couple spoonfuls of soy cream cheese to thicken (walnuts would have been nice too, but I wanted a nut-free rendition for my nut-allergic DS). I put the pestos in the fridge and headed to the farmer's market with my DH, DS, and MIL.

A couple of hours later I had in hand a loaf of freshly baked whole grain bread from the Montclair Bread Company (which has a booth at the Market--check out their web site here), a bunch of arugula from local (and organic) farmer John Krueger, and a locally grown fat Jersey tomato. I also had 2 ripe avocados (the only non-local ingredient). After slicing the bread, I spread one of each pesto on each of the 2 slices. I then piled on sliced avocado, sliced tomato, and fresh arugula. A sandwich from heaven. My MIL loved it (I love cooking for her) -- she even appreciated how healthy it was. For dessert? Locally grown organic peaches from the Market.

From a nutritional perspective, this sandwich is bursting with goodies. The monounsaturated fats from the avocado and olive oil (in the pestos), the calcium and antioxidants from the arugula and basil (whose fat-soluble nutrients are more bioavailable due to the fats present), the lycopene from the tomatoes, and the trace minerals and fiber from the whole grain bread all make this sandwich a nutritional superstar. And need I say, it was really delicious.

Incidentally, on the way home from the Farmer's Market, we passed a performer on Church Street who I thought was exceptionally talented. His name is Joel Jelinski, and I couldn't help but buy his CD. He's a cool guy too, gave my little guy a high-5 and let him get right up in his face to check out his guitar. Maybe we'll see him on the next American Idol.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Vegans aren't the only ones who need vitamin D

We live in modern times; that's for sure. Once upon a time, children and adults spent the majority of their days outdoors, exposed to the sun's natural rays yet protected from sunburn by the ozone layer. Nowadays, we spend most of the time indoors, and when we are outside, we slather our skin with sunscreen to protect against skin cancer (great idea of course).

The downside to this lifestyle is a relative lack of Vitamin D the way nature intended -- from the Sun. Back in the 1940's, when rickets (bone disease seen in children resulting from vitamin D deficiency) was becoming a widespread problem (due to kids spending less time outdoors, more time indoors in the factories, for example), the US government mandated synthetic vitamin D be added to cow's milk. At the time, this made sense; most kids drank at least a glass of milk a day, and the risks of milk drinking were unknown (and probably not as bad as they are today, what with the added hormones, antibiotics, and other stuff that we shouldn't be ingesting). The point is, cow's milk was the perfect delivery mechanism for vitamin D into kids' diets.

Now that we are better educated and things have changed somewhat from the days of Bessie the Cow providing milk for the local families, milk is no longer considered a healthy or necessary food. It also means that many kids are not getting the vitamin D they need.

A recent study out of Boston reports that 40% of the 380 kids examined have lower-than-optimal levels of vitamin D in the blood. Being vegan isn't a risk they identified, but, interestingly, being obese is. Not getting vitamin D in the diet (from fortified food, whether milk, soy milk, cereal, whatever) is, obviously, also a risk. Only 3 of the kids studied had clinical signs of rickets (still very unfortunate), but the others (with low blood levels) are said to be at risk for future bone disease and/or autoimmune problems.

Again. We live in modern times. It's time to accept that some things have changed (in this case, the near destruction of the ozone layer and generous use of sunscreen), and that "unnatural" risks face us. Many vegans claim that a natural, all-plant diet is all we need to meet all of our nutritional needs, but modern living has made this an untrue and dangerous assertion. Back in the day, before modern agriculture, global industrialization and factory farming, we got the vitamin D we needed from the sun, without risk of overexposure. We need to encourage ALL people -- children and adults, veg*ns and omnis alike -- to take a vitamin D supplement and/or regularly seek vitamin-D fortified foods.

Vegans, opt for the D2, not D3, as D3 is usually not vegetarian. Check labels. Fortified soy milks, vegan nutrition bars, and vegan cereals are other possible sources of vitamin D. Again, check labels.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My favorite health food secret

Guess what this is? It's what I keep in the fridge at all times, front and center, first thing I see when the door opens.

Why? Because, as my dear friend Carol says, "When in doubt, eat a vegetable." You're not the only one who needs a nosh now and then and pokes around the fridge. We all do it. The secret to healthy snack choices is to be armed and ready.

This cool contraption is quite simple: five triangle-shaped clear plastic containers atop a lazy susan (covers not pictured). I try to always keep it stocked with fresh, in-season veggies, washed and sliced and ready to eat.

I rotate among many: bell peppers, carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes (whole), green beans, snow peas, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. All of these veggies are SO jam-packed with protective nutrients and SO low in calories that they really do deserve to play a major role in everyone's daily fare.

Warning: sliced cucumbers only last a day or two -- they get slimy pretty fast.

Parents, listen up -- this approach is THE perfect way to get the little ones into the veggie habit. My DS expects the veggies to make an appearance at every meal and snack, and he digs right in and helps himself most days. He sees raw vegetables every single day so of course he eats and enjoys them; they're as normal to him as french fries are to most little guys his age, as much as I hate that analogy.

I have found that setting aside two blocks of time each week is the secret to keeping this habit alive. Usually Saturday, right after returning from the Famer's market, and Wednesday nights, are the times I wash and slice the veggies. And it only takes 10-15 minutes or so.

The veggies are perfect alone or, when the stomach is grumbling, dipped in hummus, almond butter, or salad dressing. They are a wonderful addition to a salad, and are great for quick meals: use as a chili bulker, stir fry with tofu, side dish saute in olive oil and lemon and fresh herbs, or just a colorful garnish.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Modern convenience meets old-fashioned wholesomeness

Speaking of Lazy Food (see my last post), I can get even lazier -- how about things you just open, heat, and eat? Anyone who's eaten at my house or heard me lecture at a conference knows that I'm a big fan of high-quality convenience food. Don't get me wrong -- I love to cook, and I often cook meals from scratch. But I also love having a career, being a homemaker, and being a wife and mom. So sometimes cooking goes on the back burner (so to speak)... but we all still have to eat.

I just got back from Whole Foods, where I got a bunch of Amy's entrees. I just adore this company. They really make an effort to use natural, organic ingredients, and all of their stuff is labeled VEGAN when it is so. I bought the frozen veggie pot pie, which DS absolutely loves (and is a guilt-free hot meal from Mom). I also got the Shepherd's Pie (which, incidentally, is also wheat/gluten free). I'm looking forward to trying that. I've tried their dairy-free roasted vegetable pizza, black bean burritos, chilis, and many, many soups (my pantry is NEVER without at least 4 cans of Amy's soups -- love the lentil, pasta-3 bean, rice and bean, and of course the alphabet soup... we usually mix the alphabet soup with a beany soup to give it more protein and calories for DS, who LOVES the tomato broth and all the letters).

Thanks, Amy and her parents! (Amy's parents founded the company, named after their daughter Amy).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lazy Summer Dinners

Sometimes it's a drag to cook, especially in summer. After all, when you're playing outside with your kids and before you know it it's 7:30 (hey, it's still light out!) and you haven't thought about dinner yet, you can't expect the family to wait around while you cook a full meal. It's too hot anyway! So I have a repertoire of what I call Lazy Food. Here are some examples:

- Buy a pound or two of marinated, roasted veggies from the deli. Toss them in a big bowl along with 2 bags of salad greens, a can of rinsed and drained white beans, and your favorite vegan dressing (Annie's Goddess gets my vote).

- Throw assorted frozen veggies, a can of rinsed and drained chick peas, and any plain leftovers (grains, potatoes, veggies) into a big pot with a jar of vegan curry simmer sauce (Trader Joes has a fabulous one).

- Make hummus roll-ups: tortillas + hummus + roughly-chopped raw veggies

- Fruit smoothie made with silken tofu, frozen fruit, flax seed, and rice milk... served with fresh whole grain bread from the bakery slathered with nut butter or trans-fat-free vegan margarine

- Middle Eastern Delite: 1 can dolmas + 1 tub hummus + 1 tub baba ghanoush + one tub tabouli, served with fresh whole grain bread and chopped veggies (if you're ultra lazy, run to the store and buy pre-washed, pre-sliced veggies in the produce section or from the salad bar)

- Sandwiches made with tofu eggless salad

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Veganism is not about exclusion

Veganism is not about exclusion, deprivation, and sacrifice. On the contrary, following a vegan diet is adventurous, fulfilling, and motivating. Knowing that we're consuming foods known to protect health and allow our bodies to function at their best is a powerful thing.

Probably the biggest misconception about vegan diets is that they are restrictive. While it's true that we shun flesh, dairy, and eggs, it is also true that we enjoy literally thousands of different plant foods eaten in different ways. The available combinations of colors, textures, and flavors of vegan foods are literally endless. Just pick up a vegan cookbook at your local bookstore or library!

A little creativity and imagination unleashes myriad possibilities for healthful vegan meals. Ethnic variation is, to me, the most exciting aspect of a vegan diet. In fact, I get far more variety in my diet now than when I was an omnivore. Everything from African stews to Indian curries to Thai noodle bowls to Chinese stir fries to Italian risottos to Ethiopian spreads to Mexican bean dishes to Middle Eastern delights (and on and on!) keep my tastebuds on their toes. Soups, salads, grain dishes, bean dishes, burritos, tacos, chilis, pasta dishes, dips, pizzas, casseroles, sandwiches, spreads, cereals, breads, loaves, sweets, burgers... all can be made vegan, healthful, and delicious.

Vegans celebrate their health with good food, not mourn what they might be missing. We don't feel deprived: we feel empowered!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chicken is not health food

Imagine this scenario: you are at a party and the topic of health comes up in your group. The woman standing next to you says to you, "I smoke a lot of Camel Lights." She goes on to explain that she used to smoke regular Camels but then she learned about the link between smoking and cancer, and smoking and heart disease. So she smokes the lights, which she believes will ensure optimal health and longevity.

What would you think?

Since you're aware that the right amount of tobacco to inhale is zero, you'd think this poor lady is completely delusional at best.

Well, consider this:

Back in the 80's, a positive correlation between red meat consumption and heart disease was firmly established, not only within the medical community but in the general population as well. And people started listening. Those who once considered beef to be "real food for real people" bought less red meat than before, limiting it to once or twice a week. Some even gave it up entirely.

But take away steak and what then? People started to replace red meat with poultry and fish, particularly chicken. These health-conscious folks would buy cookbooks featuring only chicken (my mom had two: "365 Ways to Cook Chicken" and "365 More Ways to Cook Chicken"). People were proud of their sacrifices, confident that they were protecting their health. And during the 90's and 00's, turkey became chicken's best friend, becoming available in just about everything, from burgers to jerkey. The trend was extremely powerful, and quite honestly, still is. Beef consumption fell 26 percent between 1977 and 1997, while chicken consumption rose 75 percent, turkey 101 percent. Similar trends are seen today.

This is absolutely amazing to me, because the truth of the matter is, poultry is not a health supporting food. It may have less fat than beef, but it does not protect our health. (Unless you believe the studies funded by the poultry industry -- a topic for another day.) Not a single independent (read: not funded by special interest) study even remotely suggests that eating the flesh of birds is the secret to good health. Careful -- those studies on "chicken eaters" often compare them to people who have even WORSE diets... and so what? Just as light cigarettes do less damage to our body than regular ones, poultry does less damage than beef. But it still ain't broccoli!

When people hear I'm a dietitian, one of the first things they tell me is, "I eat a lot of chicken." And they honestly, truly believe that they are doing themselves a great favor. With such good intentions, it is difficult to burst their bubble and tell them that chicken is not a health food.

And, unfortunately, the risks go beyond risk of bacterial contamination (A Consumer Reports analysis from January, 2007 revealed that 83 percent of fresh, whole broiler chickens purchased across the US harbored campylobacter or salmonella, the leading bacterial causes of foodborne disease).

Beyond the tremendous environmental impact (A typical slaughter plant uses 2 million gallons of water per day).

Beyond the horrendous, disgusting, unacceptable way the birds are treated (30,000,000 -- that's thirty MILLION birds are slaughtered for food EVERY SINGLE DAY in the US -- how could they possibly be treated with the respect and compassion they deserve as living, feeling creatures?).

Beyond the contribution of antibiotic resistance in humans.

Beyond the risk of Avian Flu.

Beyond its arsenic content and the slew of risks associated with that.

From a purely nutritional standpoint, it's easy to see why chicken isn't health food. All leading health authorities agree that the nutrients in fruits and vegetables -- namely fiber, antioxidants such as vitamin C, and phytochemicals -- are absent in poultry.

Unfortunately, the truth is that eating chicken is, pure and simple, not good for us or good for anything.

So what to eat? What protects our health and maximizes our chances of a long, disease free life? Why, plants, of course! Nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. All prepared in scrumptious, creative, flavorful, amazing ways!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mark Bittman rocks

Mark Bittman is a food writer for the New York Times, a cookbook author, and TV personality. He's not a vegetarian, but his message is truly consistent with most veg*ns I know. He gave a moving and thought-provoking lecture last year at the Entertainment Gathering Conference in California. The talk is available in its entirety online. I owe my gratitude to one of my veggie RD colleagues, who passed along the video to the EML of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. It's a longie (20 min) but worth every second. EVERYONE should see this video. Mr. Bittman has a way of keeping it real, and presenting some pretty sobering facts without imposing guilt on the viewer. I think he is a genius, and this clip is a must-see.

I find it interesting that folks who are already forward-thinking and who are already making a difference are the ones sharing resources such as this. Preaching to the choir, if you will. This video should be shared on ALL dietetic lists, not just the veggie one... but beyond that, if you eat, then you should watch this.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Vegans don't only dine in veggie restaurants

Kudos to vegetarian FRIENDLY restaurants. I never understood places that refuse to include even one vegan option on the menu. What they simply don't get is that their potential vegetarian/vegan customers are often dining out with meat-eatin' parties. And even if there's only ONE vegan in a party of 8, chances are that the restaurant chosen will cater to that one. So restaurant owners who think it's too hard to slap a frozen veggie burger in the nuker are missing out on a boatload of business.

Anyway, this weekend, we had a houseful of wonderful friends and family to celebrate the 4th. Fortunately, they're all very veggie-friendly (they're like a collective Mikey -- they'll politely eat anything I make, even WITH tofu), so we enjoyed a nice mix of veggie meals and outings at restaurants that had both omni selections as well as veggie ones.

One of DS's favorite moments, as you can see, were the cupcakes. We happened upon this awesome bakery, Sweet Avenue, in Rutherford, NJ. Just look at how gorgeous these cupcakes are! Not a single animal-derived ingredient and all to-die-for yummy. They don't even use the word "vegan" anywhere in the storefront window; honestly no one would ever be able to tell. We're just glad they make such amazing treats. Thanks guys!

On Saturday morning we visited our new veggie-friendly local brunch spot, Toast, in Montclair, NJ. (Read my post about Toast HERE.) A GREAT place for mixed company; the omnis loved the omelets and egg scrambles, and the vegans enjoyed the tofu scrambles, oatmeal, and many vegan sides. And this morning we tried Life Cafe in the East Village in NYC. I had the Eggless Rancheros (pictured here), which were incredible. The dish comes with sauteed tofu, crispy corn tortillas, veggies, organic brown rice, black beans, and soy sour cream. Obviously, the meal was not only delicious but surprisingly nutritious. Even my 2-year-old loved it. For the omnis, there was the standard brunch fare: eggs, pancakes, French Toast, and the like. Everyone was happy!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Vegan Version of an Old Favorite

When I was little I LOVED Kellogg's Frosted Mini Wheats. I would make a mess and eat the plain side all the way down to the sugar, then let the sugar melt in my mouth. Quite a confession for a dietitian, I know, I know. Anyway, back in the early 1990s when I became enlightened and eliminated animal foods from my diet, I was devastated to discover that my favorite little cereal indulgence contained gelatin (for those who do not know, gelatin production, even kosher, requires slaughter of an animal, unless the gelatin is made from seaweed... which is rare, and the label will specify for us vegan folks). Anyway, so I went years and years without my mini wheats.

Then last week I happened upon a box of Bite-Size Frosted Shredded Wheat Squares, 365 Brand, at my local Whole Foods. Grabbing the box, I glanced at the ingredient list and whooped with joy to discover that it's free of gelatin (and sodium, it turns out).

There's also 11 grams of sugar per serving, so a square or two to satisfy a sweet tooth is where my indulgence ends, difficult as it is. But the fact that it's truly a whole grain (with 5 grams of fiber), that the sugar is unbleached, and that it's not too shabby in the protein department (it's got 5 grams), it's not the world's worst snack by far. Bonus: it's got added iron and B vitamins, including B12.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Toasting Toast

I live in Montclair, NJ, home of a huge assortment of amazing restaurants. Of course, I choose to dine in the ones that are most veggie-friendly (and how cool that we can walk to most of them). Today my hubby and I decided to treat ourselves to lunch out, and headed to the local vegetarian Indian restaurant, which offers a lunch buffet. On the way we spotted a chalkboard sign outside a relatively new and trendy cafe called Toast.

The sign read, "Check out our new veg menu!" Well, say no more. We headed in and were wowed by the new vegetarian menu (which identifies the vegan choices as well). Now, I'd given Toast a try in its infancy, and enjoyed their veggie burger, but I never thought to return because of their relatively small vegan selection. Well, all that has changed, thanks to the brilliance of owner and founder Amy Russo Harrigan, whom we got to meet and chat with this afternoon. Amy told us that the vegetarian menu is doing well, and that people are especially excited about the tofu scramble.

I adore tofu scramble, and I almost ordered it... couldn't choose among that, the Mediterranean wrap, and the Mexican Salad (pictured here). I ended up with the salad, as well as the vegan "air fried" sweet potato string fries. They look and taste like deep-fried fries, but they're air baked to perfection. The salad was extremely fresh and light, with a hint of lime and cilantro in the dressing. The rich, perfectly ripe avocado paired beautifully with the crispy jicama. The black beans gave it just the right "staying power" while the roasted corn and red peppers finished the salad with a summery, decadent flavor. Yum. DH ordered the vegan caesar salad and shared my fries. He was equally delighted.

I didn't intend for this to read like a restaurant review, but I'm just so thrilled that restaurateurs are really starting to get it and offer vegan fare. Toast also serves up a nice Sunday brunch, so you can be sure we'll be back again and again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Seed of Truth

We hear a lot about the health benefits of nuts and seeds, but few people actually include seeds as a regular part of their diet. Sure, flax and hemp seeds are enjoying their moment in the spotlight for their high omega-3 fat content, but what about other seeds, like sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, caraway, and others? They're health-supporting too. And many spices, like cumin, mustard, and nutmeg, are ground up seeds; researchers are uncovering the many health advantages among those who "spice it up."

The nutritional content of seeds is fairly impressive. And why not? Seeds are the start of plant life: they are packed with essential nutrients that nourish a plant with everything it needs to grow. All seeds are good sources of protein, fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Here are just a few nutritional highlights:

Pumpkin seeds are a superb source of minerals like iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and copper. In fact, just a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds provides about a third of the iron you need in a day, with fewer than 200 calories. Grab a handful for a snack or mix into a whole grain pilaf.

Sesame seeds (and tahini, or sesame paste, a common ingredient in hummus) are quite high in calcium, giving you about a third of your daily needs in a quarter cup. Sprinkle sesame seeds on grains, cereals, salads, and soups, and bake into quickbreads and muffins.

Sunflower seeds are an amazing source of vitamin E -- a quarter cup supplies almost 100% of your daily needs! Try them in a trail mix or ground into a "butter" for a yummy sandwich filling or spread.

Mustard seeds can be eaten whole or in the more familiar form (look for all-natural mustard in a jar). Just a tablespoon gives you about 20% of your daily needs for selenium, an essential mineral that may help with inflammation. Mustard seeds are also a surprisingly good source of omega-3 fats. "Pop" whole mustard seeds in a bit of hot canola oil, add chopped onion and garlic, and saute for a few minutes. Then add your favorite veggies, cubed tofu, and curry powder for a quick and tasty curry meal.

Caraway seeds are the familiar seed found in rye bread. Some use them to help relieve gas and indigestion. They're packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients. They do have a strong, domineering flavor, so keep that in mind when using them in cooking.