Here’s one more reason to fill up your plate with crunchy fresh veggies!  We know that vegetables provide a wide array of health benefits, but could they help prevent diabetes as well?  Type 2 diabetes is rare among people who consume vegetarian or vegan diets.  A number of studies have been performed to examine why herbivores have a lower risk for blood sugar woes.

A recent study divided participants into groups based on their preference for animal products, and then looked at the rate of type 2 diabetes among them.  The groups ranged from vegan (those who consume no meat, eggs, or dairy) to non-vegetarians (people who consume animal products on a regular basis).   There are many categories in between, such as lacto-ovo vegetarians who consume eggs and dairy but no meat.

Researchers found that the incidence of diabetes went up as consumption of animal products increased.  The participants who ate animal products regularly were more than twice as likely to have type 2 diabetes than the vegan participants!

The researchers concluded that a diet based mostly or entirely on plant foods “provides substantial protection against obesity and type 2 diabetes.”  Vegetarian diets tend to be rich in nutrients that are associated with a reduced risk for diabetes, such as fiber, complex carbohydrates, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins C and E- just to name a few!  Vegetarian diets also tend to be low in nutrients associated with an increased risk for obesity and diabetes, such as saturated fat.

It's certainly not necessary to avoid meat altogether to reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, but this research suggests that an increase in plant foods can help keep your blood sugar in check.  Next time you’re fueling up be sure to pile those leafy greens, beans, and tubers high on your plate!



This article is a repost of one I wrote for Pinnacle Physical Therapy.
 
We discussed last week how mineral-rich plant foods like leafy greens can be a good source of calcium.  Today we’ll uncover which plant foods are high in iron, and how you can increase the availability of that iron to your digestive tract.

First let’s talk about how iron functions in the body.  This mineral is necessary for consistent energy, normal immune system function, and healthy red blood cell production.  Remember that red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen from your lungs to all of your other cells, so their sustained health should be of great interest to you!  Iron is also necessary to make collagen, the protein that gives structure to our hair, skin, nails, and organs.

The iron that is found in animal foods is in a slightly different form than the iron in plant foods.  Animal iron is easily absorbed, but you might absorb as little as 2% of the iron found in vegetables.  If you consume a mainly vegetarian or vegan diet, it could be challenging to get the iron you need.  Before we talk about how to increase iron absorption, let’s establish some good sources of iron:
  • Almonds
  • Beet greens
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Cashews
  • Molasses
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Parsley
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Raisins
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Swiss chard
  • Wheat germ

To increase the absorption of iron from these foods, there are two main nutrients to consider:

Vitamin C:  This nutrient can free iron up for absorption into the gut.  Try preparing your iron-rich food with lemon or other citrus fruits.

Cysteine:  This amino acid can also help increase absorption, so try eating it at the same meal as your iron-containing vegetables.  Good vegetarian sources of cysteine include:
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Garlic
  • Oats
  • Onions

Cooking your food in a cast iron pan can also add to your intake.

Try this Fiery Tofu Marinade with iron-rich molasses from The Ordinary Vegetarian.

 
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Today’s healthy snack incorporates young soybeans, also called Edamame.  We learned in our discussion on Friday that soybeans are a good source of non-dairy calcium.  I’m not sure how long this dip would last in the fridge; it disappeared from my kitchen pretty rapidly (transported on fresh veggies and rice crackers).  If you exerted some self-control and kept it in an airtight container it would probably keep for a week.

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Edamame Miso Dip
Adapted from a recipe from the NY Times July 2009

  • One 16-oz package frozen unshelled Edamame
  • 2 Tablespoons Miso paste
  • 2 Medium cloves garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 3-4 Tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Pinch red pepper flakes

Cook edamame in boiling water for about 4 minutes, until tender and bright green.  Drain in a colander.

Place miso paste in a few tablespoons of warm water, whisk to dissolve.  Put miso mixture with all other ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Blend until smooth, add water or more rice vinegar if you want a thinner consistency.

Enjoy on fresh vegetables, crackers, or where ever else you see fit!

 
Today we'll discuss some of my favorite resources for healthy recipes.  As I've mentioned before, investing time in the kitchen is an important part of taking care of your health.  It’s always nice to get some fresh ideas for new dishes from the experts, especially when it comes to trying a new ingredient (for example dark leafy greens).  You may have already perused some of these, most are them are linked through my “Other awesome sites” page.  I wanted to give a brief description of each of them here so you know what you’re getting into!

101 Cookbooks

This is the recipe site of Heidi Swanson, the author of Super Natural Cooking and Super Natural Every Day.  Her recipes are all vegetarian, and I like that they rely heavily on veggies for flavor instead of sauces or condiments.  I’ve made this Raw Tuscan Kale Salad from her site several times before; it’s a good dish to bring to a picnic!

Cookus Interruptus

This is the website of Cynthia Lair, author of Feeding the Whole Family.  Cynthia was my Whole Foods Cooking instructor at Bastyr University.  This site is great because every recipe has a video that goes along with it, just in case you need a demonstration!

Golubka

This website has creative vegan and gluten-free recipes, along with really beautiful photography.  It also has a lot of raw recipes, but they are not all uncooked.  I have a lot of stone fruit right now, so I’m going to try these Roasted Plum and Rosemary Popsicles tonight!

Good Fish

This is the website of Becky Selengut, author of a cookbook by the same name as her site.  Becky is also a culinary instructor at Bastyr (I see a theme here).  If you’re intimidated by cooking or shopping for fish, get thee to this website.  Becky has videos on all sorts of cooking techniques for seafood; they go step by step and are entertaining!

Green Kitchen Stories

This vegetarian website is authored by a married couple.  They are coming out with their first cookbook in 2013.  Perhaps you could try these Cinnamon Roasted Vegetables if you’re interested in adding healthy spices to your diet.

My Global Kitchens

This is the website of my friend Marilyn Weissman.  She is a well-traveled lady who creates recipes inspired by her international travel.  For an easy breakfast check out her simple Frittata recipe.

My New Roots

This vegetarian recipe blog (I’m not vegetarian, I just like vegetables!) is authored by Sarah Britton, a holistic nutritionist and chef.  This is another great resource for recipes that are centered around fresh veggies.  Since we’re knee-deep in squash season, maybe you could try her Summer Stuffed Patty Pans.

Post Punk Kitchen

This vegan website is authored by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a punky chef who was born and raised in Brooklyn (my former city of residence).  While her website does have a lot of dessert-focused baked goods, it also has a whole host of healthy main dishes and homemade condiments.

Roost

This gluten-free blog has a number of creative recipes that either use alternative grains or are totally grain-free.  The author of this site also has some instructive videos for her recipes like this one for cabbage salad.
 
Once again the idea for this snack came from Sara in the Human Nutrition Lab, I don’t know what I’m going to do for Healthy Snack Sunday when I don’t work there anymore!

Seaweed is a nutrient-rich food that is not often encountered in an American diet.  Sea vegetables are a great source of many minerals including iodine, calcium, and absorbable iron.  For more information on the health benefits of seaweed check out this page on The World’s Healthiest Foods.
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I called this recipe “sloppy” sushi because it has all the elements of sushi, but I didn’t bother to roll it up it a neat little package.  You just scoop it all up in the nori, smoosh it into a little bundle and eat it!

How to make your brown rice sticky

The white rice that is traditionally used for sushi is sticky because it is high in a gluey kind of starch.  Brown rice sushi usually falls apart easily because the rice is much lower in sticky starch.  To make my rice sticky I added the traditional rice vinegar plus some ground up flax seeds.  Flax meal gets gooey when you add warm water to it, so I stirred it in when the rice was just about finished cooking but still had a lot of moisture in it.  I don’t have any specific measurements for you, it was around 1/3 cup of flax meal to 2 cups rice, plus a big splash of rice vinegar.  This also adds some healthy omega 3 fatty acids to your snack.

I also added a dash of toasted sesame oil to my rice for flavor.

Sloppy sushi
  •   3 sheets toasted sushi nori
  •   ½ cup cooked sticky brown rice
  •   A smattering of veggies of your choice

Nori usually comes in larger sheets, so cut yours down into a piece you can comfortably hold in your hand.  I cut mine into fourths.

Scoop a Tablespoon or two of rice into your nori, then top with vegetables.  Smoosh it all up into a little ball and put directly in your mouth!

For my vegetables I used radishes mixed with some pickled ginger, and it turned out great.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can get locally harvested nori from Sound Sea Vegetables.
 
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Warning!  This popcorn is addictive.  It’s got all those perfect snack qualities: crunchy, spicy, and salty.  The good news is plain air-popped popcorn rings in at 31 calories per cup, so there’s some room for indiscretion.

This recipe contains nutritional yeast, a deactivated yeast that can be added to any food.  It has a nice savory flavor and is a good source of protein, B vitamins, and several minerals.  It is usually sold in the nutritional supplements section of stores.

If you’ve never made popcorn on the stovetop before, it is incredibly easy.  There are some really nice instructions with pictures on Recipe Girl’s site.  Popcorn kernels can be purchased in the bulk section very inexpensively and they store for a long time.  Keep some in your pantry for the next time you’re feeling snacky!

Spicy Popcorn
  • 1 cup popcorn kernels
  • Enough *high heat oil to coat the bottom of you pan
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Tamari
  • Hot sauce

*Refined safflower, sunflower, or canola oils are all appropriate


Pop the popcorn, remove from heat.  I have no quantities for any of the other ingredients because it’ll depend on your personal preference.  I add enough of everything that the kernels are coated, but not overwhelmingly so.  It’s best to start moderately, then taste and add more to avoid over-seasoning.  Stir well throughout the seasoning process, then store in airtight containers in the fridge when you’re done (I use gallon zip baggies).  Oh but don’t store it until you’ve taken out a nice hearty portion size for you to enjoy!

 
You may have heard the terms “complete” or “incomplete” protein before.  Today we’ll describe exactly what each one is, and why it matters.

Protein is necessary for just about everything that goes on in the human body.  Protein builds the structure for more than just muscles; it provides the walls for bones, internal organs, hair- everything!  Proteins also serve as important messengers that start, stop, speed up, or slow down every reaction in the body.  Because we use protein so much, we have to eat protein every day to replace what we use up.

Proteins are built out of smaller structures called amino acids.  Our body can sometimes make amino acids out of other things, but there are nine essential amino acids that we have to get from food every day.  Plant protein and animal protein differ in their amino acid content:

Animal Proteins like meat and dairy contain all nine essential amino acids, so they are considered complete.

Plant proteins like beans and nuts are lacking some amino acids, so they are considered incomplete.


Why does is matter?  Because if your body is missing an amino acid it needs, it will stop whatever activity it needs it for.  My husband is an organic chemist, and he compares reactions like this to sandwich making.  In order for your sandwich (reaction) to get made, you need both cheese (one reactant) and bread (other reactant).  If you still have cheese but you run out of bread, the sandwich making process stops (and we all go hungry).

So what do you do if your meal only has plant proteins?  You can combine multiple proteins and they will complete each other.  In order to get a complete vegetarian protein you can combine:
  • Beans and Grains
  • Beans and Seeds
  • Beans and nuts

If you eat dairy you could also combine that with any one of the foods above to make it complete.  There are two vegan proteins that are complete: soy and quinoa.  Soy is a bean that can be eaten on its own or in the form of tofu, tempeh, or natto.  Quinoa is treated as a grain but is actually a seed.  It is cooked like rice and can be served just about any way you’d like.
 
Today’s snack is on the sweet side if you’re looking for something to settle a sugar craving.  This is less so a recipe and more of an assemblage- it really just involves putting a couple of simple things together.  Kids can do it too!

Ingredients
  • 1 medium banana, ripe but firm enough for nut butter spreading
  • 2 Tablespoons nut butter (peanut, almond, sunflower seed, etc.)
  • ¼ cup granola or puffed brown rice cereal

Peel banana and slice into ½” thick medallions.  Top each slice with nut butter.  Sprinkle granola or cereal on top.  Enjoy!


If you really want to make this a dessert you could also throw some chocolate chips on top, but you didn’t hear that from me!

Notice that this recipe conveniently contains all the elements of a satisfying snack that we discussed yesterday:
  • Protein source: nut butter, as well as a little in the banana
  • Fat source: nut butter
  • Fiber-rich carbohydrates: banana and cereal