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.
 
I was hired as someone’s personal chef for a couple of weeks this summer.  As I was cooking and packing the food, I thought to myself “it’s amazing how many vegetables I can squeeze into one meal!”  Today we’ll discuss how you can start to infiltrate your plate with veggies (without having to get a graduate degree in nutrition).

Never let your grains leave the pot without a buddy.  Frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables make a good fast addition to cooked grains.  Beans or corn go well with small grains like brown rice, and they give your meal an extra protein boost.  Try tossing frozen broccoli or sliced bell peppers in with your whole grain pasta, just add them in the cooking water for the last minute or two.

How would that meal look with a handful of spinach on top?  Keep a bag of baby spinach on hand for last-minute veggie additions.  Making pasta?  That spinach will wilt in there nicely if you stir it in while it’s still hot.  Got a sandwich?  How about some greens between your meat and cheese?  Spinach is a great source of calcium, iron, and vitamin A.

Sauces and spreads and dressings, oh my!  Here’s where you can get creative.  Any number of vegetables can be blended up into items like tomato sauce, hummus, or a mustard vinaigrette.  You can tell I’m a fan of this from the Edamame Dip and Tart Green Pesto recipes from Healthy Snack Sunday.  Why not add a pureed zucchini-onion-kale-tomato sauce to your whole grain pasta that already has frozen broccoli and fresh spinach in it?  Now we’re talking!

To get some ideas for veggie-rich sauces and spreads, check out this page from Choosing Raw.
 
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Today we’re talking about the numerous health benefits of vegetables that have one particular element in common; sulfur.  This aromatic element plays a part in many different enzymes and processes in the body, but today we’re going to focus on its role in antioxidant compounds.

Vegetables that are rich in these organosulfur compounds can help your liver do its job effectively.  Remember that the liver is responsible for processing nutrients, packaging them for distribution to the rest of your body, and getting rid of toxic stuff that could harm you.  Sulfur-containing antioxidants act like rocket fuel to speed up the enzymes that get rid of the aforementioned toxic stuff.

Research has shown that people who consume a diet high in these compounds have lower rates of many types of cancer. 

So which foods contain these super sulfur compounds?  Not surprisingly, this is another chance for me to promote dark leafy greens!  Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and cabbage are good sources of organosulfur compounds.  Additionally garlic contains organosulfur compounds that have both antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

These vegetables have minimal calories and are chock full of organosulfur compounds, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals.  One cup of cooked kale only has 36 calories, so use a heavy hand when you spoon it on your plate!

Hey, want an easy recipe that incorporates both kale and garlic for an organosulfur double shot?  Check out this Garlicky Kale recipe from Healthy Snack Sunday a couple of weeks ago.

 
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.

 
We learned from our discussion on bone health last week that calcium is one of the minerals we need to eat regularly for strong bones.  But did you know that you don’t have to drink milk or eat dairy products to get calcium?  Today we’ll discuss what other foods are high in calcium, and how to make that calcium readily absorbable for your gut.

The following plant foods are good sources of calcium to add to your diet:

  • Bok choy (Chinese cabbage)
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soybeans (and soy products like tofu)
  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens

As you can see I’m pushing those dark leafy greens again.  I can’t emphasize enough how much you can benefit from adding these to your diet!

How to increase the absorption of non-dairy calcium

Calcium from plant sources can be somewhat challenging for your gut to absorb.  This is because these plants contain other compounds like oxalic acid and phytates that bind to the calcium and won’t give it up!  For example one cup of spinach contains 25% of your daily recommended value for calcium.  However spinach is also very high in oxalic acid, so you will probably only absorb about one quarter of the calcium you get.  Here are some ways you can increase the absorption of calcium from vegetables:

Enjoy your leafy greens with some shiitake mushrooms.  These fungi are a good source of Vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium absorption.

Steam your greens.  Studies have found that steaming your vegetables can decrease the oxalic acid content by almost half.  Try steaming your vegetables until they are soft but still bright in color.

Researchers have also found that boiling vegetables increases the calcium availability much more, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Unfortunately boiling vegetables gets rich of many nutrients, not just the oxalic acid.  And personally I think mushy boiled vegetables are gross!

Try your hand at fermentation.  The fermentation process breaks down many of the compounds that decrease absorption while leaving the calcium intact.  Here’s a recipe for Fermented Spinach Kraut from Gnowfglins.
 
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We’ve discussed before why staying hydrated is integral to good health.  Drinking plenty of water is essential, but you can also add to your hydration intake with fruits and vegetables that have a high water content.  Foods high in moisture are also usually low in calories and high in fiber, so they can help keep you full and maintain a healthy weight.  Here’s a list of some foods you eat to keep you hydrated while soaking up the last of the summer sun!

  • Watermelon (well, duh)
  • Other melons
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes
  • Oranges
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Salad greens
  • Tomatoes

Yum, this sounds like the beginnings of a great summer salad!  Why not try topping it off with this creamy Tofu Goddess Dressing from Cookus Interruptus?


 
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I was going to call this “bitter” green pesto, but I didn’t think that sounded as appetizing as this recipe is!  I’m not getting off my dark leafy green bandwagon anytime soon, so here’s a recipe to incorporate some bitter greens into your diet.  Bitter greens like arugula, dandelion greens, and watercress can give you an antioxidant boost, as well as aid in digesting fats.

Tart Green Pesto
  • 1 bunch bitter greens (arugula, dandelion greens, or watercress)
  • 1 medium onion
  • ½ cup raw walnuts
  • A pinch sugar
  • A pinch cayenne pepper or red chili flakes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • Several glugs of olive oil

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Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.  Spread your walnuts out on a baking sheet, and toast in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned.

While your walnuts are toasting, roughly chop your onion.  Warm up a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium high heat, and add chopped onion.  Cook onions until browned and soft, then add sugar and cook another minute of two.

Place walnuts, onions, garlic, salt, lemon juice and greens in your food processor.  Add a few good glugs of olive oil.  Blend until combined, add more olive oil if needed.  Mixture should be creamy but still have some chunkiness to it.

Spread on crackers, in a sandwich wrap, on top of scrambled eggs, get creative!

 
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Our bodies have a lot of systems in place to regulate the pH of our blood, organs, and other tissues.  It’s vital that our bodies stay pH balanced; otherwise our tissues could suffer damage from overly acidic or basic environments.  Additionally a wonky pH could slow down or stop the chemical reactions that constantly occur in the body.  That doesn’t bode well!

Once digested and processed, foods can be acid, alkaline, or neutral in our bodies.  Research shows that eating foods that result in alkaline products could have a number of health benefits.  Today we’ll talk about what alkaline foods are, and how they could benefit your health.

Alkaline Foods (eat these liberally)
  • Almonds
  • Chestnuts
  • Coconut
  • Molasses
  • Swiss chard
  • Kale
  • Beets
  • Beet greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Spinach
  • Most fruits and vegetables except those listed below

Acidic Foods (eat more moderately)
  • Meat
  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Lentils
  • Cranberries
  • Plums
  • Prunes

Neutral Foods (eat more moderately)
  • Butter
  • Vegetable oils
  • Honey
  • Coffee
  • Tea

Research shows that diets rich in alkaline foods could help:

  • Strengthen bones
  • Maintain muscle mass
  • Support kidney health
  • Boost hormones that improve memory and cognition

As you can see this information gives me further incentive to push a diet that is rich in dark leafy greens!  Still feeling shy around spinach?  Try this Green Smoothie Recipe from Chef Marcus Samuelsson, you won’t even taste it… 

 
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.
 
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We all know by now that it’s important to include lots of fresh vegetables in your diet.  Colorful veggies are a great source of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.  On top of that they’re low in calories, so what’s not to love?

If you’re just starting to integrate more vegetables into your diet, it can be challenging to figure out how to prepare them.  Different cooking methods work best for different vegetables.  The list below suggests techniques for specific foods.  There are other cooking methods that would work for these foods; this list just provides a place to begin.

Good to eat raw:
  • Bell Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Crimini Mushrooms
  • Cucumbers
  • Fennel
  • Jicama
  • Salad greens
  • Sugar Snap Peas

Good to eat steamed:
Video on how to steam here.
  • Asparagus
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Collard Greens
  • Green Beans
  • Kale

Good to eat sautéed:
Video on how to saute here.
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Snow Peas
  • Summer Squash
  • Zucchini

Good to eat baked:
Baked acorn squash recipe here.
  • Potatoes
  • Summer Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Winter squash

Good to eat roasted:
Basic roasted vegetable recipe here.
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Turnips