Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's official: another little Vegan will join the world

Thanks to all who've been asking where I've been... sorry about laying low for so long. It's just that it's hard to focus on anything when you are experiencing morning sickness ALL DAY. Fortunately I am in week 11 now and the nausea is finally starting to ease up a bit.

Baby Aronson is due in late July and we're all pretty excited. Ben's convinced he's getting a sister, but I have no clue what the gender is. I'll be finding out ASAP though!

In the coming months I'll include more posts about how to ensure a healthy vegan pregnancy, and if you have any questions, please do submit them!

Hope you are having a wonderful holiday season, and here's to a healthy, happy, prosperous 2010!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Top Vegetarian and Vegan Blogs

It's been brought to my attention that someone has taken the time to compile the Top 75 Vegetarian and Vegan Blogs! And I'm honored to have this one included in the list :-). It appears on a web site about pharmacy technician certification programs.

The author, Ashley M. Jones, even grouped them in the categories Cooking & Recipes, News & Politics, Health & Nutrition, Animal Rights, Lifestyle, Beauty and Fashion, Thinking-of-Becoming Veg, and Family.

You can be sure I have bookmarked this site and will be returning again and again. What a fantastic resource. THANK YOU ASHLEY!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

3-Cheese Vegan Pasta and Vegan Orange Chicken

This is a pile of vegan, soy free cheese by Daiya Foods.

Tonight I made a dinner that is about as kid-friendly as it gets. I made orange "chicken" and penne and "cheese" with salad and cubed cantaloupe. Ben said "Mommy, your kitchen is just like the inside of a restaurant." And he didn't mean how my kitchen (which was last updated in 1954) looks, but the food. I'm not sure I've ever seen him eat so much at one sitting. What is more gratifying than watching your child devour your homemade cooking? Now I get why traditional [enter ethnicity/religion here] moms are known for their insistence to "Eat, Eat, EAT!!"

DISCLAIMER: This is not a good example of a health-supporting meal. I mean it won't kill you, and nutritionally it beats McD's by leaps and bounds, but do keep in mind that ideally, a healthful vegan dinner should contain fewer processed foods and more whole foods. For this reason, this meal was served with a huge salad and a cantaloupe. Anyway, this was just one of those nights, a night sandwiched between a one featuring homemade bean-and-collard greens soup and another featuring something equally wholesome tomorrow night.

Unfortunately the camera didn't make an appearance so you'll have to picture it in your mind. However I do remember how I prepared everything so I'm happy to share.

3-"Cheese" Vegan Pasta (serves 4)

Boil pasta in sufficient water in a large pot. While pasta is boiling, get the other ingredients ready. You'll want to work fast and while the pasta is still very hot.

When pasta is done, drain the water (do not rinse) and return to the pot immediately; put the pot back on the stove over low-to-medium heat. Add the margarine and stir constantly until margarine is melted. Add the Chreese, Daiya, and nutritional yeast and stir until the Daiya is completely melted. Slowly add the milk until it's at the desired consistency.

I SWEAR this tastes like the real thing.


Orange "Chicken" with Broccoli (serves 2 hungry appetites or 4 small appetites)
  • 1 package Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Chick'n Strips
  • 3/4 lb broccoli florets
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp Lee Kum Kee Orange Sauce and Glaze (available at Asian stores and in the Asian section of large supermarkets)
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp agave nectar (or liquid sweetener of your choice)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup cold water
(note: If you don't want to use the jarred sauce, which, admittedly, has corn syrup and other similarly undesirable ingredients, try using the zest of 1 orange, plus its juice, an option that is likely acceptable in flavor, and certainly superior nutritionally. But if you're like me, maybe you think it's OK to use these products once in a great while.)

Take out the Chick'n Strips so they start to thaw.

Lightly steam the broccoli (a quick way: find 2 matching soup bowls. Put the florets into one bowl with a couple tablespoons water. Cover with other bowl. Microwave for 3 minutes. If you're uncomfortable with a microwave, steam the old-fashioned way on the stove).

Put the sauce ingredients into a large (2-cup liquid) measuring cup and stir with a little wire whisk or fork.

Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the Chick'n strips (it's OK if they're still frozen). Stir fry until heated through. Add the sauce. Heat until thickened. Add broccoli, toss to coat. Serve.

(This would certainly go better with a pile of brown rice than with my mac and cheese but hey I had a 4-year-old in mind.)

If you make either of these... let me know how it turned out!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Americans' food habits ... and national healthcare

You've seen the Nutrition Facts labels on foods -- they give you the nutrition info per serving of that food, and they also provide a Percent Daily Value, which is based on a 2000-calorie (or "average") diet. In other words, this number represents the contribution (expressed as a percent) of that nutrient to a diet providing 2000 calories. The number 2000 was agreed upon by FDA nutrition scientists who came up with the newest nutrition facts label.

Maybe at one time, 2000 was the average number of calories consumed by American adults. No longer. According to recent research, the average American consumes over 3,500 calories a day. I found a fantastic interactive diagram that illustrates caloric intake of various populations around the globe. (You'll need Flash installed to use it.) This illustration shows the percentage of calories contributed from each food group among different nations. You will notice that Americans consume the most calories, and that Americans get almost 40% of their calories from fats and sugars. Intake of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and root veggies (all together), only account for 10 percent of total calories. TEN percent! Another 23% come from grains (white flour is the base of a huge proportion of what Americans eat), and 24% from animal products. No wonder 2/3 of Americans are overweight and diseases of excess are at an all-time high.

Compare US sources of food calories to that of other countries. We consume the most fat, sugar, and animal products, while consuming the least plant-based foods, of all countries represented.

And our healthcare crisis overshadows that of any other country.

Do you think these two facts are related?

Whether you support or reject universal healthcare, I have a question for you. What about personal accountability? While there's been widespread debate over the national healthcare plan, much of it revolves around whether or not the government should offer an affordable plan to everyone, and what should and should not be available to people. But looking at the problem a bit differently, why do we have this crisis in the first place? Why are premiums so high, and why is everyone in the red?

For many years, healthy people were the majority of the insured and sick folks were the exception. All of the insurance premium money went into a pool that provided medical services and pharmaceuticals for unexpected illnesses and illness of older age. Nowadays, insurance companies are having a harder and harder time affording to insure people because so much more money is being spent on preventable disease management and drugs, and the affected are getting younger and younger. Now, the majority of the insured need more money in treatment than their premiums cost. And the shrinking source of that money? Premiums from healthy people who take care of themselves.

Which, I feel, points to accountability. Are people who eat themselves into a heart attack or gastric bypass surgery entitled to full coverage of these procedures? People choose unhealthy lifestyles knowing full well the risks. Sure, smokers' premiums are a bit higher, and some insurance plans charge more for high BMI (measure of obesity). But this does not begin to cover the cost of all the drugs, illness, and treatment resulting from lifestyle-related diseases.

In my opinion, if more people actually took care of themselves by eating less overall, incorporating more plants and less junk, and exercising, our healthcare crisis wouldn't be so dire.

I'm interested in hearing others' views on this.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Vegetarian moms less likely to have kids with diabetes

Pardon my absence; switching over to a new computer has taken over as priority lately. I'm happy to return to regular postings with a report of this recent study, which looked at vegetable consumption in 6,000 Swedish pregnant women and, 5 years later, risk of diabetes in their child. It turns out that the higher the vegetable consumption during pregnancy, the lower the risk of type 1 diabetes in the child. The vegetable link, while strong, may not reveal the whole story, warn the researchers. Something else about the women's lifestyles could also be at play.

This study reminds me of another way that vegans are protected against type 1 diabetes; some research has suggested a link between dairy consumption and increased type 1 diabetes risk. For example, this study from 2000 (click to see the full-text version of it) from the journal Diabetes declares, "our results provide support for the hypothesis that high consumption of cow’s milk during childhood can be diabetogenic in siblings of children with type 1 diabetes." Another study published in the same journal in 1993 found a link between early exposure to dairy milk and diabetes risk.

At this point, no one knows conclusively what causes susceptibility to type 1 diabetes, but it looks like a plant-based diet, at least in part, plays a role in reducing risk.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Portland, Oregon: A Vegan's Paradise

Many thanks to all who asked... I will finally write about my Portland trip. My husband Dan and I were there in late September following a few days in Reno, which I wrote about here. On a personal note, it was an especially important trip because, as I mentioned before, it marked our 10th wedding anniversary, and, it was a much-needed week of complete relaxation, total avoidance of computers, and no child (who, by the way, had a ball at home with his grandparents).

Portland was incredible. The weather was perfect, the people were welcoming, and the vibe was outstanding. We took a lot of pictures but the memory card got corrupted, so unfortunately a lot of the photos are gone. But we do have some from another card. I was going to blog all about the trip but I never got around to it after coming home!

Portland is the most bike-friendly city in the US. We arrived in the late afternoon, took a train to the hotel, chilled out, and then the next morning we walked to City Bikes Co-Op and rented bikes and a bike map (very useful -- showed the best bike routes around town. Thanks guys!). We basically biked everywhere the whole week we were there! We stayed east of the river so we biked across the bridges most days; the bike paths are everywhere! One day we biked along the river going south, and it just kept going for miles and miles along a train and beautiful woods.

We tried 6 or 7 veg restaurants; all of them were great. It was a vegan's paradise.

My favorite day was when we biked into town on a Wednesday, when they have an amazing Farmer's market right in the middle of town.

We got some fruit and walked around, then biked to the university area. We got on the train, hung our bikes on the hooks (can you believe they have hooks for your bike?), and went 1 stop up the mountain to Washington Park.

We took the bikes up the elevator and out, and coasted down the hill for some time, then stopped where there were hiking trails.

We locked up our bikes, hiked and ran on the trails (PERFECT packed dirt trails, and I got to break in my new trail running shoes).

Eventually we ran into the Japanese Gardens, so we decided to take a tour. They were beautiful.

Then we hiked back up, got on the bikes, and rode back into the city. We headed straight for Voodoo Donuts and had a glazed and some other concoction with about 83 toppings.

Then we rode back to the hotel, showered and changed, and went to dinner at Portobello, our fanciest meal there. We indulged in Pate al Tartufo (pate with bread, figs, mustard), polenta, and gnocchi. And dessert. If only I could remember what. I just remember it was good. Everything was scrumptious.

Here are some of the other vegan and veg-friendly restaurants we visited:

Vita Cafe: This was a favorite of mine. We biked there for breakfast several times. They have a ton of comfort food and the feel of the neighborhood is great. We even got to know some of the staff pretty well. (Hi, Dave.) If you go, the morning potatoes are a must-try. And if you're gearing up for a day of hiking, do try the porridge; it kept me going for hours. Dan loved the chicken-fried steak. We both loved the corn cakes and scrambles. Across the street they have a place with vegan pizza. In fact at least 3 pizza joints have vegan pizza. I can't recall the names; do the goog before you go, to see what's in the neighborhood you'll be in.

Paradox Palace Cafe: Ok I can't stop thinking about their BBQ Rib & Peanut-Sesame Salad. I cannot remember anything else about the place. Order that.

Bye-and-bye Bar: Vegan bar food? You bet! We had a grilled cheese for goodness sake! And I had the Bye and Bye drink... served in a quart-sized mason jar, I kid not. And they don't skimp on the alcohol. That night we traveled by hotel shuttle, rather than bikes, in case you're wondering.

Blossoming Lotus: Raw food! Loved it. The Nachos were seriously one of the most delectable things I've ever eaten. We also tried the live sampler platter (highly recommend); my favorite on the plate was the cashew hummus. It's only been a month but I cannot remember what else we tried!

Sweatpea Baking Company: More than a bakery! One morning we got bagels and GLOBS of "cream cheese" -- it was a taste of Long Island out west. Their cinnamon rolls are terrific. Everything looked good but we only have 2 stomachs between us so we couldn't try everything we wanted to. Of course, this bakery is part of the Vegan Mini Mall, so we also spent a lot of time (and cash) at Food Fight and Herbivore. In fact last night I made beef stroganoff from the mix I got at Food Fight.

Planning to visit? Make sure to check out Veg Portland before you go!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Christina Cooks Vegan

Do you ever have a realization that something has been there right in front of you, and it totally relates to you and what you love, but you never knew about it? It's surreal, right? Here I am, a vegan, foodie, and dietitian, and I am ashamed to admit I never knew about Christina Pirello. Do you know who she is?

The other day I came home from a jog and plopped on the sofa with my mom, who was visiting for the day. She had the tube on in the background, and there on PBS was a cooking show called "Christina Cooks." The word "tofu" caught my attention so I started to watch. This lovely woman Christina was making 3 recipes containing silken tofu, and ALL were vegan! I thought, how lucky, I stumbled upon "tofu day" on this show, but not only that! I stumbled upon a cooking show that is ALL VEGAN! I couldn't believe it. My mother was very amused by my reaction, I am sure. The show ended with singer/songwriter Jon Michaels playing his guitar and singing right there in the kitchen, which was a nice touch.

I went to Christina's web site, checked out the recipes, and read her story. Christina is the author of the newish book "This Crazy Vegan Life," which I actually have heard of (and flipped through at the bookstore), along with other books. I never knew she had a cooking show too. A Philly native, Christina is a TV personality, talented chef, cancer survivor, and health guru. She's had her show going for SEVEN years! Plus she gives cooking demos and classes, mostly in Philly, but in other cities as well. After spending several minutes on her web site, reading her story and watching her video, I felt as though I've known her for years. Check it out!

I am so thrilled that her cooking show has gone mainstream. Her angle is health, and the "V" word is used sparingly (actually, I don't think she used it at all in this particular episode), so omnivores are her main audience. As such, what a service she is doing not only for her viewers, but for the animals and the environment. Her recipes look delicious and simple; I learned a thing or two about making perfect pan-fried tofu (something that I always manage to mess up, usually due to it sticking to the pan) and other quick and easy delights. She obviously inspires her fans to eat better and get excited about cooking, which is so important for people to include more plant-based meals in their diet.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New study on fruit and vegetable consumption in the US

Today the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the results of a new study called the State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, 2009. This document summarizes data for fruit and vegetable consumption from multiple sources and, for the first time, breaks the results down by state. It also discusses policies and environmental supports that can make it easier for everyone to eat more fruits and vegetables.

The report lists the top states for fruit and vegetable consumption, and the bottom ones. It's interesting to note that most of the former group are blue states, while the latter group are the red states. Does this mean that Democrats care more about what they put in their bodies? Or is there some other explanation?

While all states are well below recommendations, those states doing a better job of eating their 2 or more fruit servings and 3 or more vegetable servings are, for adults:

District of Columbia - 20.1 percent
Vermont - 17.9 percent
Maine - 17.7 percent
Hawaii - 17.5 percent
New York - 16.5 percent
Massachusetts - 16.4 percent
Connecticut and New Hampshire - 16.2 percent (tie)
Arizona and California - 16.1 (tie)

Among the states most in need of improving fruit and vegetable consumption are (among adults):

Mississippi - 8.8 percent
Oklahoma and South Carolina - 9.3 percent (tie)
Alabama - 9.8 percent
South Dakota - 10.0 percent
West Virginia - 10.3 percent
Kansas - 10.6 percent
Kentucky and North Carolina - 10.8 percent (tie)
Arkansas and Missouri - 11.2 percent (tie)

(Taken from a press release from the Produce for Better Health Foundation.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Healthy Savings from Mambo Sprouts

Coupons are awesome. They're a main reason I subscribe to my local Sunday paper--they have pages and pages of grocery store coupons. But most weeks I'm disappointed, as more coupons get left behind than clipped. This is because the vast majority of them are for products that I wouldn't buy: heavily processed foods, cleaners that harm the environment, sugary cereals, mixes and similar things filled with preservatives, refined sweets and beverages, and junky bars, cookies, and salty snacks.

This is why I am a frequent user of Mambo Sprouts coupons. Companies that offer coupons through Mambo Sprouts are carefully selected to be organic and/or natural, healthful, and good for the environment. The Mambo Sprouts folks have been around a long time -- I remember using the coupons years ago, back when "green" was just a color and when "organic" was a term most people thought were reserved for certain chemists. I'm sure I've saved over $350 on Mambo Sprouts coupons alone! Now, of course, they have a cool web site with recipes, articles, shopping, events, and printable coupons, in addition to their traditional coupon book and mailer.

Right now Mambo Sprouts is celebrating back-to-school with product savings that appeal especially to families like mine. For example, there's a coupon for $.50 off two Clif ZBars for kids, a convenient mid-day snack option on the go or packed in your child's backpack (they're organic and made with whole grains). They also have one for $1 off Robert's American Gourmet -- the folks who make Tings. Ben loves finding Tings in his lunchbox, and I feel good about it because they look and taste like "cheese puffs" but they're 100% vegan, baked (thus low in fat), and gluten-free (they contain only corn, expeller-pressed oil, nutritional yeast, and salt). Just a few of the kid-friendly savings include $.75 off a Healthy Valley product (have you tried their bars?), $1 off Ian's organic cookies (the chocolate chip buttons are vegan), and buy-2-get-1-free Stretch Island Fruit Strips. They also have $1 off my favorite coffee -- Equal Exchange (organic and fair-trade) AND my favorite tea -- Good Earth. They also have one for $1 off any Seventh Generation cleaner, which I always need!

You can get Mambo Sprouts coupons at Whole Foods (they have a special collection called "The Whole Deal") and at most health food stores (just ask the store manager or use the online store locator), and you can receive them by mail (they come with a newsletter with informative articles and recipes too) by signing up at their web site, mambosprouts.com. You can also print some (but not all of the ones from the booklet) from the web site. I recommend both getting them mailed to you AND signing up for their enewsletter, so you can get updates on new product savings, including online-only coupons.

The best thing about Mambo Sprouts (besides the money I've saved) is that I don't have to spend a lot of time combing through a newspaper or coupon web site to get the ones I really want--they've done the work for me!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Vegan at LAX

Note: This post nwas written on September 13, 2009

So here I am at the LA Airport and I have some time to kill so I whipped out Dan’s computer for a bit of a rant (for once, I left mine at home on vacation).

Dan and I are on our long-awaited trip out West, celebrating our landmark 10th anniversary. We’re waiting to board a plane to Portland, OR, America’s vegan-and-bike-friendly city, and we can’t wait. But first we must endure airports.

Before I rant, allow me apologize to Reno. Reno, I am sorry. I misjudged you. And I’ll miss you. I fully expected to have major problems finding decent food in Reno, but boy was I wrong! First of all they have the most amazing Whole Foods I’ve ever been to, with more vegan choices (local to the CA Bay Area) than I’ve ever seen. They actually have a Trail Mix "Bar" (not a bar like a wrapped snack, but like a salad bar)! Perfect with our morning oatmeal! And fortunately, we stayed at a hotel that is walking distance from the Whole Foods. Furthermore, we enjoyed s dinner out at a Thai restaurant that made everything vegan for us (thanks, Thai Lotus). And we enjoyed yummy dinner one night at Pneumatic, an all-vegetarian restaurant downtown. Thanks guys. I took some great pics there but my memory card got corrupted and is unreadable.

Anyway, to add to the vacation serendipity, yesterday we drove to Lake Tahoe for a day of biking and sailing, and happened upon a natural foods store (and I mean happened upon – we were looking for the bike trail that goes along the Truckee River and we went totally the wrong way and saw it, our own oasis!) called New Moon. We asked the folks there for directions and they got us back on the path, and after our 12-mile ride we lunched there, enjoying a 100% raw meal that was absolutely outstanding. We got the sprouted lentil salad with Indian spices and a cilantro dressing as well as the Raw-Co, a “taco” whose shell was red cabbage and innards were all sorts of delicious fresh veggies, seeds, soaked nuts, sprouted beans, and herbs/spices, served with a raw lemon tahini sauce.. Nothing could possibly beat this healthful, energizing, delicious lunch on this gorgeous day after a long ride. Plus the folks there were super-friendly.

So this morning we said good-bye to Reno, and now we have this horrific layover at LAX. With no time (or appetite) for breakfast this morning, getting off that plane, I was HUNGRY. No more trail mix, soy Jerkey, or Lara Bars (our usual travel fare); I wanted a real meal. Unfortunately the only places (without leaving security) to eat here are Burger King, Starbucks, a fish restaurant, and a California Pizza Kitchen kiosk (with ready-to-go food).

First, to Starbucks. We got a fresh fruit salad. A little pricey at $5 and change, but that’s no surprise at a Starbucks. Some of their drinks cost the same. (They also have nuts, trail mix, and oatmeal, all of which are good choices, but we were growing tired of these foods and craved a salad.)

Next, to CPK. They had 3 salad choices! Yeay! Oh, wait, ALL THREE have CHICKEN. Shame on you, CPK.

Next to the fish restaurant, called Gladstone’s Fish. They have salads on the menu! And it’s a sit-down place so surely they can make salads to order, right? WRONG. They flatly refused to make us a salad without some sort of meat in it. Shame on YOU, Gladstone’s Fish.

Next, to Burger King. They have a side garden salad, bird flesh optional! Yeay! So I got it. Imagine my surprise when I was told how much it costs – $5.79. Not that this is a terrible price for a salad, but this is Burger King for goodness sake. The guy in front of me got a ginormous burger with fries and drink... for around the same price. No wonder cash-strapped folks skip the salad and go right for the burger and fries! Understandably, they would rather pay less than a penny per calorie of food (typical “value meal”) than several cents per calorie (vegetables). What this comes down to, I have figured out, is that Burger King penalized people who try to eat well. How dare they charge so much for a salad, which by the way, as evidenced by the photo above, contained lettuce, five pathetic little baby carrots, four tiny cherry tomatoes, and of course the obligatory croutons and cheese (straight from the “garden”). I understand that they operate on volume, and thus must charge more for a salad (which also has a far shorter shelf life than, say, frozen french fries). But if they charge so much, no one buys it and the price has to stay high. So that said, why not reward people who want vegetables instead of fatty, salty food for lunch, charge them a fair price for the salad, and raise all other menu items by 1 cent? Call it BK’s own health tax. And imagine if their competitors did the same! Judging on this country’s current fast food consumption rate, I bet if they did this, they would make a huge difference in the morbidity rate in this country. But they’re not in the business of health, they’re in the business of profit.

The salad was surprisingly good. The vegetables were very fresh (I like to think this isn’t due to the addition of some chemical to retard spoiling, but I’d rather not go there right now). They also had lite Italian dressing (vegan), by Ken’s. The cheese was in a separate section so easy to omit, and the croutons came in an individually wrapped bag (there were about 49 ingredients in there, some not vegan, so I skipped them). An addition of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit (from Starbucks) would have made it better; in hindsight that is what I should have done. But it’s hard to be creative when you’re hungry. So... next time.

Off we go to Portland, where fresh, delectable plant-based meals abound.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

PeTA's Save The Whales Campaign

If you haven't seen PeTA's recent billboard, feast your eyes.

Offensive? Sure. Effective? Maybe. Attention-getting? You bet. And that has been PeTA's strategy from day 1. The billboard has created quite a buzz, which, of course, is PeTA's goal. I found it kind of funny in a satirical way, with a healthy dose of discomfort over their choice to call large people whales. Yes, it stings, for those of us who are heavy or really anyone who's ever struggled with weight or loves someone who does. But it's important to look at the big picture: Will some people identify with it and maybe pass up their burger tonight? Maybe, maybe not. Will they think twice next time they hear something about the cruelty on factory farms? Perhaps. Will they listen up next time they hear about yet another study suggesting that vegetarian diets protect against obesity and chronic disease? Maybe. Advertising experts tell us that we need multiple exposure to an idea before it becomes part of our consciousness. Is PeTA going on that theory? I'm not an advertising expert or psychologist, so I do not know; I'm just putting ideas out there.

What I do know is that the American Dietetic Association's (ADA's) response to it was almost as inappropriate as the ad itself. Watch this video:

I found Zied’s “Vegetarian diets CAN be healthy IF PROPERLY PLANNED” remark (I lost count after 4 times) far more offensive than the whale ad.

Meat-containing diets CAN be healthy IF PROPERLY PLANNED too, but she, as most do, confirms the ideology that eating animals is the norm and that eliminating their consumption is something to be approached “with caution.” The ADA is doing nothing to challenge this ideology, which is literally killing millions of people in the form of preventable chronic diseases.

Furthermore, Zied attempted to contradict the assertion that vegetarians weigh less than their omnivorous counterparts by claiming that the ADA Evidence Analysis Library tells us that there are other effective ways to lose weight besides going vegetarian. That was not the issue, and no one is disputing otherwise. Did she selectively ignore ADA's very own position paper on vegetarian diets, part of the Library, which clearly states that vegetarians have lower BMIs than meat eaters? Who’s selling the distorted messages here?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quick (REALLY!) Eggplant and Quinoa Salad Recipes

My evening of cooking started out rough. I boiled a cup of quinoa while prepping some organic broccoli I bought from my local organic farmer at the farmers' market last weekend, and while doing so I noticed a LOT of aphids on the broccoli. I did a quick soak in warm water and rinsed them once more, but still found hundreds of these little buggers clinging to and hiding in the otherwise gorgeous broccoli florets. So one centimeter at a time, I went through the broccoli with TWEEZERS and removed these creatures. After clearing six florets, I gave up and threw the rest away. Which I absolutely hate to do. The whole ordeal took a little over an hour! Ben (who just turned 4 last week) said "MMM broccoli!" so I gave him the bug-free greens and he gobbled them up with some pasta and tomato sauce. I was planning on eating together, the 3 of us as a family, but the broccoli took so long and Ben was hungry, so I had little choice but to feed him first and make something for Dan and me.

Ben's dinner done, I opened the fridge in frustration, poking through the veggie drawer, wondering what to make for the two of us.

I spied a bug-free (!) eggplant I'd purchased from the same organic farmer, so I scrubbed it while trying to figure out what to do with it. Eggplant is usually a production for me -- in casseroles like vegan eggplant parmesan, or in ratatouille, or sauteed for a long time. None of those ideas appealed to me. Another challenge with eggplant is that it soaks up cooking oil like a sponge, so it's easy to prepare a dish with too much fat. Under pressure, I created the following recipe, which was ridiculously easy and honestly, absolutely delicious. Redemption.

QUICK and Tasty Eggplant

  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 medium to large eggplant, cubed into bite-sized pieces
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil (depending on the size of the eggplant)
  • 1-2 tbsp Balsamic Glaze (such as Blaze)

Place the broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally to cook evenly, for about 8 minutes or until tender. Drain out the excess broth in a colander by shaking the eggplant around.

Return the eggplant to the pot, add the oil and balsamic, stir until well blended, and serve.


As you can see by the photo (click it to enlarge), I also made Quinoa Salad. This dish, though never prepared exactly the same, is becoming a staple in my house. Here's all you do:

Quick Quinoa Salad

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
2 cups water
juice of 1 large lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
handful of fresh flat parsley, chopped
1-2 scallions, white and green, thinly sliced into rounds OR 1/2 small red onion, chopped finely
1 pint cherry/grape tomatoes, halved, OR 1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (packed in oil and drained)
1 can (1.5 cups) beans (I like chick peas best), drained and rinsed
Freshly ground sea salt to taste

any raw veggies, finely chopped, such as:
* bell pepper
* celery
* carrots
* cabbage
* spinach

* chopped olives
* nuts (sliced almonds, pecans, or pine nuts work great)

Simmer the quinoa in water for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prep the other ingredients. When quinoa is done, transfer to a bowl and fluff. Let cool or not (warm is nice too) and add remaining ingredients. Toss well.

This is really nice on a bed of fresh salad greens.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Easy Recipe: quick kale, collards, or mustard greens

No longer is the excuse "they take too long to wash and chop" acceptable as a reason not to eat leafy greens every day. While I do still buy full bunches of greens (particularly from John, my favorite local organic farmer), I also pick up bagged, prewashed, ready-to-cook greens in a bag. Glory brand greens have become my guilty pleasure for everything greens. Even my local Pathmark sells these greens -- I've gotten kale, collard greens, and mustard greens there. And unlike most ready-to-eat options (versus fresh produce), these greens don't cost more! Add to that the fact that you don't have to wash, chop, and discard the tough roots (such as the kale), you've got a wonderfully healthful, easy, versatile, and affordable dinner option.

My recent favorite way to prepare greens has been a big hit with my family and guests, and it's so easy, people can't believe it! I never was a big fan of boiling vegetables, but when it comes to leafy greens, it's my new way to ensure tender, evenly cooked leaves. Here is my recipe:

Greally Great Glory Greens

  • 1 bag of Glory greens (or about 1 1/4 pounds fresh greens, weighed before discarding tough stems and chopped into large bite-sized pieces)
  • water for cooking
  • 2 tbsp of Bragg's Liquid Aminos or Tamari
  • 1 tbsp hemp oil (optional, but a great source of vegan omega-3s)
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

Fill a big pot of water with a couple of inches of water. Bring to boil.

Add prepared greens and, with tongs, turn them several times over several minutes so they cook evenly. Collards need 5-10 minutes, while kale needs 10-15 minutes. They're going to shrink big time. Don't overcook; taste as you cook and stop when they're ready.

Discard water or save for soup stock.

Whisk the Braggs and oils together, and toss the greens with the dressing. Adjust to taste (you might like more Braggs or sesame oil). Toasted sesame seeds make a nice topper too.

Serve immediately.

Want more greens recipes? Check out this older blog post, What to do with kale.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hot Dogs = Cancer Risk Lawsuit

Photo courtesy of Sarah Lewis.

Did you hear about this? The Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine is suing several hot dog companies over requiring a warning label stating the link between processed meats and cancer risk.

Please take the time to read the story as posted on the Meat Institute's web site (my comments follow):

Meat Institute urges court to dismiss ‘nuisance’ hotdog lawsuit

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 23-Jul-2009

The American Meat Institute has urged a New Jersey court to dismiss a lawsuit from vegan advocacy group Cancer Project that claims hotdogs should carry a cancer warning label.

The Cancer Project, an affiliate of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said it is acting on behalf of three New Jersey residents and has filed a class-action consumer fraud lawsuit, arguing that hotdogs should carry the following label: “Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer" on the back of recent studies that have linked the consumption of processed meat with higher cancer risk.

The five companies being sued at the Essex County Superior Court are Nathan’s Famous, Kraft Foods/Oscar Mayer, Sara Lee, Con Agra Foods, and Marathon Enterprises.

President of the Cancer Project Neal Barnard said: "Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer. Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information."

But the American Meat Institute (AMI) has rejected the move as a “nuisance”.

"We hope the court will move quickly to review the science affirming the safety of hot dogs and processed meats and dismiss this lawsuit, recognizing it for the nuisance that it is," said AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. "Meat products are regulated and inspected by USDA and bear the federal government's seal of inspection, showing they are wholesome and nutritious.”

Conflicting science

Studies that have linked processed meat with cancer risk have often focused on nitrates and nitrites which are used as preservatives. However, these also occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, and recent studies have even linked the much maligned additives to improved cardiovascular health.

However, the Cancer Project cited a report from the American Institute for Cancer Research which claimed that a daily 50-gram serving of processed meat – about the amount in one hot dog – consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by an average of 21 percent.

“The nitrites often used as a preservative can produce compounds that are suspected carcinogens. The bottom line is that science has tied processed meat consumption to increased cancer risk. That’s why hot dogs should be avoided,” the organization said.

However, other scientific reviews, including one from Harvard University in 2004 that examined 14 previous studies, have not found the same link.

Commenting on his own study into the additives, Dr Nathan Bryan, an expert on nitrates and nitrites from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, said: “The public perception is that nitrites and nitrates are carcinogens but they are not. Many studies implicating nitrite and nitrate in cancer are based on very weak epidemiological data. If nitrite and nitrate were harmful to us, then we would not be advised to eat green leafy vegetables or swallow our own saliva, which is enriched in nitrate."


If this weren't so outrageous, it would be just ridiculous. So, essentially, the Meat Institute is ignoring research that links consumption of processed meats with colon cancer, and actually have the nerve to turn it around to suggest that fruits and vegetables share one nutritional similarity to processed meats, and therefore processed meats are not any more dangerous to consume than fruits and vegetables.

This is absurd on so many levels. Where do I start?

First of all, I have to say, I got a little snicker out of them saying that this is a "nuisance." Well, that much is true. Who would want to put a label on their goods that translates to "DON'T BUY ME"? Yes, I agree this is a nuisance to the meat institute.

Second, the argument that nitrites and nitrates are in fruits and vegetables too, well, that's seriously flawed logic. According to an article published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists are starting to question the toxicity of nitrates and nitrites to humans, suggesting even a protective benefit. I can buy that, if the studies pan out. The authors DO state, however (and I quote): "It is reasonable to conclude that all food sources of
nitrate and nitrite are not equal with regard to potential health benefits or risks." [Hord N, Tang Y, Bryan N. Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. Am J Clin Nutr 2009; 90(1):1-10] But even if it were discovered that nitrates and nitrites are Miracle Nutrients, eating more hot dogs is not the answer. Regardless of the true dangers/benefits of dietary nitrate/-ite, the fact still remains that high intakes of processed meats are associated with an increased risk of cancer. Period. Maybe scientiests incorrectly hypothesized the reasons for this association, but the association still exists.

Third, I take issue with the statement, "Meat products are regulated and inspected by USDA and bear the federal government's seal of inspection, showing they are wholesome and nutritious." Seriously? How much meat do you think is actually inspected by the USDA? According to an ABC News Story, a minimum of one chicken per 22,000 per week is tested for the dangerous E. coli 015H7; and inspectors only test a minimum of one of 300 beef carcasses per week. Have you seen the movie Food Inc.? Apparently the USDA is fine with fecal matter all over its meat. But really this is a topic for a whole different post.

Fourth, and most obvious, the group that stands to suffer the most (the Meat Institute and its members) is the one most loudly complaining about the labeling.

So what do you think? Is a lawsuit the way to go? Is it fair for the government to require such a warning, like they do for tobacco? I look forward to your comments.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ding-Dong! Feeding unexpected guests

So you're vacuuming your living room or paying bills, and the phone rings. It's your friend saying that she's in town so how about if she stops by for a quick visit? "I'll be there in 5!"

Being the fun-loving, nurturing foodie that you are, you want to have something yummy on the ready. But you're no Bree Van de Kamp so chances are you don't have freshly baked blueberry muffins on your cooling rack. What to do?

I actually love when people (veg*n or not) drop over unexpectedly. (For one thing, just the thought motivates me to keep the house presentable.) Years ago, I would struggle with what to serve; I never felt prepared. Nowadays I have a secret stash of non-perishable (or easily replaced) "emergency guest food" and it pays off when I see the look of delight on my guest's face when they're served instant (but special) nibbles. Here are my ideas:

1. Keep a can of stuffed grape leaves in your pantry. You'd be surprised how many people love these things, or have never tried them and discover they love them. They're best with fresh lemon slices, but don't fret if you have none on hand. Right out of the can (they're also good gently heated), arrange prettily on a small platter and hand out cocktail napkins. If you have hummus in the fridge, throw some in a little bowl for dipping.

2. Keep at least 2 bottles of sparkling water, and some sort of fruit juice. Refrigerated juice eventually spoils -- not true for canned juice (like pineapple or Goya Nectars) or juice boxes/aseptic-pack juice. A fruit juice (or white wine) spritzer is a lovely, refreshing beverage for a wary traveler. Don't forget to keep ice in the freezer (and despite what my dad thinks, you don't need an ice maker hogging your freezer space. Old fashioned ice cube trays work just fine.)

3. Have a bag of chips (which last a few weeks unopened) and a jar of salsa ready. I recently discovered Trader Joes Organic Corn Chip Dippers. They are essentially organic Fritos and they are fantastic. If you have the space, keep a jar of black bean dip too. When my "guest stash" is a few weeks old, I replace it and open the old one for my family and use them for Nacho Night. Salty, crunchy heaven.

4. Always keep sliced up raw vegetables in the fridge. For you and your family, of course; but who says you can't share with guests? Serve with hummus or black bean dip (see tip #3) and nut butter. If you have a container of mock sour cream, blend it with an envelope of dip mix (check the label -- get one without MSG, such as Simply Organic).

5. A vacuum-sealed can of salted, roasted cashews isn't as healthy as raw cashews, but it lasts a lot longer in your pantry and will make your guests feel pampered.

6. Tea. Yes, a no-brainer; do have a selection of caffeinated, non caffeinated, and herbal. If you're not a frequent tea drinker, buy a variety pack of individually-wrapped bags (the wrapper can be recycled with the paper).

If you are given an hour's advance notice...

1. Keep a box of (preferably organic) baking mix in the pantry, or mix together the dry ingredients for your favorite quick bread or muffin recipe, stored in a baggie (make sure the recipe is taped to the bag!). In minutes, your house will smell like a bakery.

2. Now that affordable vegan marshmallows are readily available, keep a box of crispy rice and the marshmallows (hide from the kids and/or the husband) and margarine on hand. They take only a few minutes to make. Who wouldn't love being greeted by the scent of just-made rice krispy treats? (Who cares if they're not "set" yet? They're great warm and gooey too.)

3. Got veggie dogs in fridge? Or soy meat balls in the freezer? This idea works for both. Mix together bbq sauce and any flavor of jam/jelly (really any without seeds... grape jelly always works) at a ratio of 2:1 in a small saucepan. If using veggie dogs, slice them into cocktail size, heat with sauce, and serve with toothpicks. If using soy balls, defrost in the microwave or in boiling water, heat with sauce, and serve with toothpicks.

4. Got space in the freezer? Vegan options for heat-and-eat hors d'oeuvres are on the rise. How about some mushroom bites? Or Health Is Wealth Line of veggie Munchies? Try the "Egg" Rolls, Potstickers, and my personal fave, the Buffalo Wings. You can also make your own fancy vegan appetizers, and freeze them for those unexpected drop-ins.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Petting Zoo Rant

I Hate Confrontation. I really do. So it was really hard for me to write a letter to the director of my son's camp, explaining why I'm keeping him home from camp. Tomorrow, there will be a petting zoo. I'd like to share my letter with you. What do you think?

July 9, 2009

Dear ____,

I’m writing to compliment you and your staff on an exceptionally well-run camp; Benjamin is having an amazing time. He loves his counselors and other children, and tells me excitedly about all the projects and activities he partakes in. ____ and ____ are such great leaders; my husband and I have been very impressed with everything.

I’m also writing because I wanted to express why I’m keeping Ben home tomorrow. There will be a petting zoo, and I do not want him exposed to it. Please allow me to explain. As a vegetarian, Ben has an acute understanding that people eat animals, and that they first must be killed. If he sees and touches those animals, and then sees kids eating sandwiches made from the same animals they just touched and loved, it will be an emotional experience for him, to say the least.

Animals used for petting zoos live lives of confinement and fear, and are repeatedly poked and prodded by strangers. I can’t even imagine what that must be like. Farm animals are not dogs; they don’t run and play with children.

We are teaching Ben that it is our responsibility to show animals the respect they deserve. Since exploitation may be too advanced a concept for Ben, I would rather expose him to things like zoos and circuses later, when he is able to critically analyze his own feelings about them.

I am also concerned about the health risks of contact with farm animals. According to the Humane Society:

“In December 2002, Pennsylvania passed a bill requiring petting zoos and other animal exhibitions to provide hand-washing facilities and to post information about the more than 75 diseases humans can contract from contact with animals. The impetus for the bill was a an outbreak of E. coli in 2000 among visitors, most of them children, to a Montgomery County petting zoo. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 55 cases of E. coli were confirmed, and 16 people were hospitalized. One child, a four-year-old girl, required a kidney transplant from her father.

“According to the CDC, each year an estimated 73,000 people become ill and 61 people die from the potentially life-threatening bacteria, E. coli O157:H7. Although many cases are due to contaminated food and water, transmission of E. coli from animals to people is a growing concern. Several recent outbreaks at petting zoos across the country have prompted the CDC to issue federal safety guidelines to animal attractions that allow human-animal contact.”

For the health of our children and to make a statement respecting fellow sentient beings, I hope you will reconsider using petting zoos in future years.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.


Dina Aronson

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Vegetarians have less cancer

(Photo courtesy of Raven3K)

Well, we are already aware of this, mostly from population studies, but a recent study involving close to 62,000 adult participants (about half of whom are classified as vegetarian) found that that vegetarians developed less cancer -- specifically of the blood, bladder, skin, and stomach.

The study, which is published in the British Journal of Cancer, divided the people into three groups: meat eaters, those who ate fish but no meat ("pescatarians"), and vegetarians.

Given that eggs and dairy products are not protective against cancer (and might raise the risk), the findings make quite a powerful statement for the exclusion of meat, which is, at the end of the day, the only thing that separated the meat eaters from the vegetarians. Note that fish consumption did NOT offer cancer prevention benefits over its avoidance in this study. I would love to know the rates of cancer among vegans; this was not measured.

One of the big challenges with doing this sort of comparison study is that it is not really that descriptive to label oneself as a "vegetarian" or "meat-eater" because the latter could indeed consume more fruits and vegetables than the former.

Picture two groups of people: one that at a completely vegan diet, and one that ate a meat-containing one. But here is how they eat:

The Omnivore:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with walnuts, flax, dates, and strawberries
Lunch: Big green salad with olive oil/balsamic, whole grain crackers, and a cup of low-fat yogurt
Snack: Fresh fruit
Dinner: Stir fry with onions, broccoli, carrots, sliced almonds, and shrimp, with brown rice

The Vegan:

Breakfast: New York-style salt bagel with soy margarine, coffee with sugar and nondairy creamer
Lunch: Soy turkey sandwich on white with Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos (yup, they're vegan)
Snack: Vegan chocolate chip cookies
Dinner: White pasta with marinara, chicken-style gluten strips, iceberg lettuce salad with Kraft creamy Italian (yup, it's vegan)

Obviously this is an exaggeration, but I hope I've made my point. Which group do you think is better protected from cancer? It's very difficult to study the health benefits of an eating style that can take on so many different varieties regarding healthfulness of its constituents.

What we really need to see is the RELATIVE IMPACT of both meat avoidance AND fruit/vegetable inclusion, to really demonstrate the powerful benefits of a healthful vegan diet based on whole plant foods.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Good Manners Rule in a Burger King World

As much as I love the vegan lifestyle, I fully recognize that it's not for everyone. Would I like it if everyone embraced it? Of course. But I have learned to show the same respect toward others for their lifestyle choices that I would like to be shown for mine.

Today a boy in my son's preschool class had a 4th birthday celebration, and his mom brought in Burger King meals for everyone at lunchtime. The teachers warned the parents yesterday, in case we would have preferred our child take a lunch from home. I have a feeling they had me in mind; no other parent minded.

I'm ultra-sensitive to my son's being "different" than the other children, so I regularly make a concerted effort to help him identify with the other children while not completely sacrificing our ethics. This means, for us, making a few concessions with food.

Ben is not completely vegan. He eats cheese pizza at parties, as well as birthday cake (which contains eggs). Interestingly, when I first became vegan 17 years ago, and even while pregnant, I fully expected to do everything in my power to keep my future child/ren 100% vegan at all times. I have changed. (That said, he is 100% vegan at home.)

Anyway, so I was correct in guessing that there would be burger meals and chicken nugget meals (the nuggets are shaped like crowns, if you can believe that). So just before party time I made a boca burger on a bun, and 3 vegan chicken nuggets, and I jogged them over to the school. (Incidentally, it's a good thing I intervened b/c Ben is allergic to sesame seeds, and guess what's scattered all over the buns?)

Once there, I met the host mom, and I offered her my help, which she gratefully accepted. Turns out she works at BK, so she probably got a discount on the food. She saw my home-brought goodies and I explained with a smile that Ben is a vegetarian, so I brought special chicken and hamburger. She said "Can he have the fries? Can he have cake?" and I assured her that those were OK. We chatted a bit about this and that, and as it happens, this mom was SO nice. She even invited me and Ben to the birthday party she's having at her home this weekend. I couldn't help thinking that I could have easily alienated myself and made her feel uncomfortable, and how pleased I was that she was so accepting and understanding.

Internally, I stress over potential pain my son might endure due to the fact that he is "different." It was an interesting scene, 15 3- and 4-year-olds eating fast food out of bags while one is eating a Boca Burger on aluminum foil. And it turns out that my discomfort with this scene is just my own. Ben is totally happy not eating what everyone else is eating (unless it's pizza, which he adores, even the vegan variety we make at home). He understands he is a "vegetarian" and we don't eat "real chickens or real cows" or "milk from a cow." A small part of me fears that, ironically, he will be somehow damaged by being the odd man out. But fortunately he is a very laid back kid who has a natural love for animals and can't understand why people would want to kill and eat them. He brings up the topic quite a bit, and I tell him that we don't eat animals but that "when you're a big boy, if you want to eat animals, that is your choice." I also tell him that it is impolite to put down other people's food, as kids this age love to say, "EWWWW!"

I think taking these gentle approaches minimizes conflict, and maybe even gets people thinking about the issues, because they are not put on the defensive.

What do you think? What would you do in this scenario?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Happiness takes effort

I have friends that are perpetually positive, who always seem to glow with happiness. I also know folks who are mierable almost all the time. Today I thought about what the happy people all have in common.

Are they rolling in cash? No.

Would they qualify for People Magazine's World's 50 Sexiest People? No.

Do they have perfect families and careers? No.

Do they have problems? You bet. The three happiest people I know well have problems just like the rest of us. Health issues, family problems, money problems, relationship problems, no one is immune. But they play the hand they're dealt and find a way to smile and capture happiness.

But they all have something in common. And among the most miserable people I know? None of them share this special trait with the happy folks.


This morning, I took a look out the window and sighed, wondering when this rain would finally stop. I had to run errands and didn't feel like dealing with the downpour. But I had to send out the Father's Day cards (since mail isn't delivered on Sundays, it's a challenge for me to get cards out in time for those Sunday celebrations), and of course I had to stop at the bank, the grocery store, etc. So I put on my old running shoes (no sense in getting my newer ones wet) and a rain pullover, threw everything in my backpack and drove off.

I was itching to exercise but wasn't in the mood to try to find parking at the Y (all meters too) and exercise in the musty rooms (it's always musty in there on rainy days). After my errands, I decided do just take a walk in the park -- rain and all. Brookdale Park has smoothly paved paths, lots of trees, and is spacious and clean. So up my hood went and I started my walk. After a few minutes, I started feeling so good (it was 63 degrees, raining steadily, with no wind) that I took off my hood and started jogging. I ended up jogging for about 40 minutes and it was amazing! My mood was so high afterward, and quite frankly I'm still feeling great (the shower afterward helped too).

Sopping wet and driving home from the park, I got to thinking about the power of exercise and mood. I've blogged about this before, and this connection has been studied and reported numerous times. But it's truly amazing to experience it firsthand. I realized that exercise not only helps with mood on a short-term basis, but it appears to have lasting impact one one's entire personality.

And that is the one thing that happy people seem to have in common: they are regular exercisers.

Just from my own personal observations (no science here, just anecdotal), I realize that all of the happy people I know exercise regularaly. And, the relatively miserable people I know do not. Furthermore, exercise is not a chore for these happy people -- it is a break from the day, a time for THEM. One of my good friends starts getting really moody if she skips the gym for more than 3 consecutive days; she absolutely itches to move. And it's not just for physical reasons -- she actually gets moody and snippy if she goes too long without her gym fix!

Happiness is the ultimate goal. It is the main motivator behind most everything we do, at least to some degree. It is linked to optimal health, longevity, kindness and compassion, and doing things we find rewarding. If you feel like you're not as happy as you want to be, and you don't exercise regularly, then make a change in your life. Move your body. I challenge every one of your excuses. No time? Too many responsibilities? Too tired? Have a disability? Almost no one has a real excuse not to move their body in some way that will benefit their body and mind. I've used the excuses -- I have MS, gym memberships are expensive, I have sports injuries that sometimes make walking impossible, I have a child, I work, and the weather stinks. So what. Find a way to move. Whether it's doing jumping jacks in front of the TV in the evening, using a fancy elliptical machine at the gym, going for a bike ride, doing yoga poses in your living room, jumping rope with the kids, swimming laps in your community pool, lifting hand weights (or cans of soup!) or just walking around the block, you will benefit from this effort.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Vegan Sandwich Grill

Call it the George Foreman, the Panini Grill, the Sandwich Grill, or the Indoor Mini Grill: it's a great piece of kitchen equipment no matter what your diet. They run from about $20 to $150, but you can get a decent one for about $40.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, take a peak here. These grills are traditionally known for grilling meats, but more and more of them are being advertised as a cooker for veggies and sandwiches as well.

This is the one I have, and I love it. As the reviews say, it's extremely easy to clean and cooks food FAST! And I got it for only $20 in a store that was going out of business.

The other day I made roasted vegetable wraps and my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

My secret is that I spread the wrap with a thin layer of hummus first. The flavor is like a Mediterranean sauce for the veggies, but the wrap stays nice and crisp on the outside. The veggies were a breeze to make. Simply toss sliced peppers and onions with some olive oil and herbs, and roast in the oven at 400 degrees, tossing every few minutes. For more delicate veggies like eggplant and mushrooms, slice and marinate in a balsamic-olive oil mixture for a few minutes, and roast for a much shorter period (no tossing needed).

For this sandwich, I used a flax wrap, Sabra's hummus, roasted onions and peppers (tossed with olive oil and italian seasonings) and marinated portabello mushrooms (with balsamic BLAZE and olive oil).

I think I'll go make another one!

If you have recipe ideas for a panini grill, please send them along.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Study-Parents have little influence on children's eating habits

Image courtesy of http://saskatoonphotography.co.nr.

Here is the press release right from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/jhub-nsi052909.php):

New study indicates that parents' influence on children's eating habits is small

The popular belief that healthy eating starts at home and that parents' dietary choices help children establish their nutritional beliefs and behaviors may need rethinking, according to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. An examination of dietary intakes and patterns among U.S. families found that the resemblance between children's and their parents' eating habits is weak. The results are published in the May 25, 2009, issue of Social Science and Medicine.

"Child-parent dietary resemblance in the U.S. is relatively weak, and varies by nutrients and food groups and by the types of parent-child dyads and social demographic characteristics such as age, gender and family income," said Youfa Wang, MD, PhD, senior author of the study and associate professor with the Bloomberg School's Center for Human Nutrition. "When looking at overall diet quality, parent-child correlation in healthy eating index score was similar for both younger and older children. To our knowledge, this is the first such study that examined the similarities between children's and their parents' dietary intakes in the United States based on nationally representative data. Our findings indicate that factors other than family and parental eating behaviors may play an important role in affecting American children's dietary intakes."

Researchers examined data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals, a nationally representative multi-stage sample of 16,103 people containing information about dietary intake, socioeconomic, demographic and health parameters surveyed from 1994 to 1996. Average dietary intake and dietary quality indicators were assessed using two 24-hour dietary recalls provided by study participants. Researchers also assessed the overall quality of the participating children's and their parents' diets based on the USDA 2005 Health Eating Index (HEI) along with a number of other covariates. They found that the correlations between children's and their parents' HEI scores ranged from 0.26 to 0.29 across various child-parent dyads such as mother-daughter and father-son; for total energy intake they were 0.14 to 0.29, and for fat intake, -0.04 to 0.28. The range of the correlation measure is between -1 and 1, while 0 means no resemblance and 1 indicates a perfect resemblance. The researchers also found some differences in the resemblance between different types of child-parent dyads and nutrient intakes, and by children's age and family income.

"Factors other than parental eating behaviors such as community and school, food environment, peer influence, television viewing, as well as individual factors such as self-image and self-esteem seem to play an important role in young people's dietary intake," said May A. Beydoun, PhD, co-author of the study and a former postdoctoral research fellow at the Bloomberg School.

"Our findings have a number of important public health implications. In particular, the overall weak to moderate parent-child resemblance in food groups, nutrients and healthy eating index scores suggest that interventions targeting parents could have only a moderate effect on improving their children's diet. Nevertheless, based on our findings stratified by population groups, for interventions targeting parents, those would be more effective when targeted at mothers, minority groups, and as early as possible in childhood. We suspect that the child-parent resemblance in dietary intake may have become weaker over time, due to the growing influence of other factors outside of the family," said Wang.

Ok, you know I'm going to offer my 2c, and here it is. This is NOT an excuse for parents to get (even more) lazy about feeding their kids, because "it doesn't matter anyway." I'm actually quite disappointed in the title of this press release, which may be the only part of the report that parents read. And what parent hearing this news wouldn't throw up his/her hands in disgust after years of trying to impart positive nutrition habits in the kids?

And the study says that "child-parent dietary resemblance is relatively weak." Well, isn't that to be expected? Children are *supposed* to eat differently than adults, in order to support healthy growth and development.

When I serve dinner, my plate looks different than my son's. We might all have a veggie burger (for example, last night I made broccoli-almond patties) and salad. My plate will have 5 times more salad than my son's -- he's THREE! His stomach is a fraction of the size of mine, which means that he eats less at every meal. It also means that requires a higher proportion of calorie dense food than I, or else the poor kid would be hungry every other hour. The nutrient profile will not be all that similar, but we still eat the same things. I know we're not THAT unconventional!

I think if different parameters were studied, such as the actual types of foods consumed (versus what they did: nutrients, food groups, and diet quality) food choice behaviors, we would see a much more positive correlation beween parents' and kids' eating habits.

Furthermore, the researchers did not report the differences between parents who have nutritious diets and parents who have poor diets. I can't know but I suspect that there is a HIGHER correlation in parent-child behaviors among the junk food group than the health food group. Which would mean that even if kids aren't eating as healthfully as their parents, the ones with parents who eat crap all day are more likely to do the same. Kids don't usually choose HEALTHIER foods than their parents, so no point in throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

If you look at the study, the main point is that external influences are playing a larger role than they used to, with regard to eating habits. Well, of course. It's no secret that our society has shifted, that families eat fewer meals together, that more people eat "on the go," and the power of junk-food advertising to children. This does NOT mean that parents can't have a very significant effect on their children's eating habits.

As a clinical outpatient dietitian years ago, I routinely saw children raised in traditional Indian homes (most were vegetarian). These kids ate what their parents ate: vegetable curries, dahl (lentils), chapati, rice, yogurt. Sure they ate chips and things, but the bulk of the foods they eat strongly mimic that of their parents. I also saw families where parents ate one way and kids another. It's just easier to make a box of mac and cheese for the kids while the parent eats a Lean Cuisine. That's the way many families operate... and it rarely has to do with nutrition. This could be a topic for a whole other post, but it's been shown that working parents give their kids less-than-optimal foods for reasons other than nutrition: guilt from being at work all day (so compensate by giving kids favorite foods), time (it's easier to pick up a Happy Meal than to cook a stir fry), control/behavior issues (parent at end of rope; quash the complaining/whining with comfort food), and degredation of values (in the 50's, you ate with your family and had a balanced meal. That's just how it was. That value is gone among most families).

Back to topic... again, these findings do not indicate that parents are powerless over influencing their kids to eat right.

Most of my readers are vegetarians or vegans, and I know some of you are parents. Do you really believe for a second that your child eats significantly more meat than you? Of COURSE the parent's influence is a strong factor!

I welcome your comments please!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Vegan Summer Recipes

Summer is here, and that means summer food. Picnics, Memorial Day, July 4th, cookouts, graduation celebrations, reunions, and backyard parties dominate the culinary scene. For most Americans, that means grilled meats and mayonnaise-laden salads. But a growing number of folks (vegetarians and non-vegetarians) are appreciating the healthfulness and subtle flavors of lighter, fresher foods like grilled vegetables, bean salads, dishes based on raw vegetables and fruits, and light whole grain dishes.

This potato salad pictured here is one of my favorite summertime treats. And people never guess that it's vegan.

Dina's Picnic Potato Salad

  • 3 lbs small red potatoes, scrubbed and rough spots removed (or peeled)
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onions
  • 1 scant cup vegan mayo
  • 2 tbsp mustard
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • 2 tablespoons sweet relish (finally, a way to use all that relish!)
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • sea salt to taste
Cut the potatoes into chunks a bit larger than bite-size. Boil the potatoes while you chop the veggies.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, relish, and paprika. When the potatoes are tender (don't overcook!), rinse well in cold water. When they're cooled, add dressing and toss well. Add the veggies. Salt to taste.

Lemony Buckwheat Noodles with Tempeh
(sorry I forgot to take a picture!)

This recipe was something of an accident; I had the tempeh in the fridge and I sort of threw together leftovers to complete the meal.

  • 8 oz buckwheat noodles, cooked, drained, and rinsed well with very cold water
  • 1 package Tofurky brand marinated lemon pepper tempeh OR 1 package Lightlife brand "tempehtations" zesty lemon tempeh
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • 1 small onion (Vidalia if available), chopped
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, steamed
  • 2 large carrots, 1/4" thick cut on the diagonal, steamed
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • freshly ground sea salt to taste
Time-saver: throw the broccoli and carrots into the cooking pasta water when noodles are almost done, rather than steaming them.

While pasta cooks, saute the onion in 1 tbsp of the olive oil until soft. Add the broccoli and carrots and saute until crisp-tender. In a big bowl, toss veggies with the cooled noodles. Add tempeh and toss again. Make sure you scrape the sauce (from the tempeh package) into your bowl--it's part of the dressing! Add remaining olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley and toss with two big forks until the dressing is well-dispersed. Season with salt and serve.

This recipe is so versatile; use whatever vegetables you'd like.

Tofu Salad
This is a crunchier, healthier rendition of the egg salad you might remember from days past.

  • 1 lb firm tofu, water pressed out (my secret: place tofu in a huge soup pot. Cover with a plate. Place your tea kettle, filled to the top with water, on the plate. Dump the water from the bottom of the pot every few minutes (about an hour total) until the tofu is dry.
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 small dill pickle, chopped and drained well
  • 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup soy mayo
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
Press tofu as directed, or your own way. Crumble in a bowl with a fork. Add turmeric and toss around until uniformly yellow. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Add to tofu. Mix well and eat. I love this in a romaine lettuce wrap!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Going Meat Free one day a week (at least)

Image poached from http://www.guerrillawords.com without permission

Check out this article from CNN! Hooray for Belgium (which has an amazing populations of vegans; I had the honor of speaking at a vegetarian conference there a few years back).

So, it's Thursdays in Ghent, and Mondays in the US. I sure hope that Ghent has better luck than the US in promoting it.

Here's the Meatless Monday campaign; have you ever heard of it?

It's noteworthy that the Ghent effort focuses not only on the health consequences of eating meat, but the environmental ones as well. Americans' awareness of the link between our food choices and the environment are increasing but are still behind the times.

Meatless Monday, a non-profit organization working in association with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is a national public health campaign designed to help Americans prevent four of the leading causes of premature death: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. The goal of the campaign is to reduce the consumption of saturated fat in America by at least fifteen percent by 2010; its main efforts aim at encouraging people to be moderate in their eating and meal planning. Twenty-eight other public health schools across the country also support the campaign, which provides tools and resources to help Americans cut the saturated fat once a week. The effort also works towards helping people make other healthy lifestyle choices beyond just Monday.

The Meatless Monday campaign is not an anti-meat crusade or a “go vegetarian” message. Interestingly, the eschewal of the word “vegetarian” is rather absolute; the V word makes hardly an appearance on the campaign’s web site at all, in spite of the term “meatless” in the campaign title.

According to the campaign’s description, “meatless” means no beef, pork, poultry, and full-fat dairy products. Fish is acceptable, but a warning for pregnant women and women of child-bearing age is included.

The campaign also encourages other positive behaviors such as increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, not smoking, and exercising at least 30 minutes a day.

Meatless Monday is not about becoming a vegetarian one day a week; it is about cutting saturated fat significantly on that one day (by eliminating its major food sources), which will hopefully perpetuate a healthful message for the remainder of the week that eating a diet low in saturated fat is not only good for us, but that it’s not difficult and can be delicious too. But a rose by any other name smells just as sweet; if all Americans went meatless (and chose wisely too -- we're not talking about eating junk all day in place of meat) one day a week, billions of animals would be saved per year, and you can bet your booty it would make a difference in people's health.

According to researchers, the average person who cuts out meat and high-fat dairy products one day a week will reduce his or her consumption of saturated fat by 15%. (That's the amount recommended by the American Heart Association, Healthy People 2010, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the USDA.) Thus, if people could commit to changing their less-than-stellar eating habits just once a week, it could mean a notable change in health outcomes.

Some experts may argue that once a week is not enough; why not maximize health benefits by significantly reducing saturated fat and other harmful components, every day of the week? And what about emphasizing the health-supporting foods, such as whole grains, legumes, and fresh produce? According to the American Dietetic Association's position paper on vegetarian diets, “…appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” But this statement is based on studies of healthy vegetarians who avoid meat over many years, not once a week.

“Meatless Mondays are a wonderful starting place,” says Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, nutrition advisor for the Vegetarian Resource Group and co-author of the ADA’s position paper as well as The Dietitian's Guide to Vegetarian Diets: Issues and Applications (2nd ed., Jones and Bartlett, 2004). “Ideally, as people get used to eliminating meat one day a week, they'll realize that meat is not a dietary essential and will move closer and closer to a vegetarian diet.”

However, one of the reasons for the success of the Meatless Mondays campaign is that it does not prescribe a vegetarian diet; unfortunately, most people are not willing to commit to this level of change. It is a game of compromise: one meatless day a week is manageable and comes with measurable health advantages; 7 days a week may turn people off to making healthy changes altogether.

But those who wish for significant disease reduction risk (particularly those attempting to reverse heart disease and related conditions) may need to take a step further for maximum benefit. “In terms of health advantages, certainly avoiding meat and eating more dried beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables one day a week is better than nothing, but I wouldn't expect to see the same health benefits that are seen in long-term vegetarians who eat this way on a daily basis,” notes Mangels. And I agree, of course.

Why Mondays, you ask? When public health experts designed the Meatless Monday campaign, they recognized the fact that adding a time factor to a message helps people to change their behavior. And Meatless Wednesday just doesn’t have the same appeal. In addition to the memorable alliteration, of course Mondays are traditionally the “start healthy eating” day. We'll have to see how Thursdays work out for Ghent.

Check out the site; there is some good info on there and nice recipes (many of which are either vegan or veganizable).