The 5 Mistakes You’re Probably Making When Choosing Healthy Foods

Posted by:

You know the feeling: You’re standing in the grocery store, eying a selection of cereal, snacks or frozen foods and wondering which ones to buy. Should you choose the cereal with “35% less sugar!” or the chips made with coconut oil instead of vegetable oil? Is the “light” meal better than the others surrounding it in the freezer case? Should you even be eating any of these things on the restrictive fad diet plan you’re trying to follow?

Believe it or not, eating healthy really is straightforward. It’s only in the recent past that the simplicity of eating has become obfuscated by the insane amount of choices the food industry puts before us every day. Just a few generations ago, planning meals and snacks didn’t involve wading your way through a dizzying selection of processed food-like products. Food, for the most part, was recognizable, and it wasn’t necessary to have a degree in food science to understand what you were putting in your body.

Making healthy choices in today’s over-saturated food environment can be more than a little baffling. Food companies make wild claims apparently backed up by science, the media takes nutrition studies out of context and a host of dubious “authorities” fill the remaining space with conflicting opinions on every type of diet known to man. It’s no wonder people have a hard time knowing what to eat.

When you walk down store aisles stuffed with stuff and feel confused beyond belief, you’re not alone. There are several common mistakes people make when trying to sort out what’s healthy and what’s not.

Are you making these healthy eating mistakes?

5 Healthy Eating Mistakes

1) Choosing Packaged Goods with Health Claims

The health benefits emblazoned on food packages are there because food companies want consumers to buy their products, not necessarily because the product is good for you. Chances are you’ve seen most of these labels as you shop:

  • Zero trans fat
  • Gluten-free or vegan
  • Natural, organic or made with organic ingredients
  • Heart healthy whole grains
  • Contains antioxidants
  • Superfood power
  • % daily value of vitamins and minerals
  • More anything potentially healthy than the leading brand

Many of these labels are exaggerated or downright misleading. A product claiming to have no trans fat can have as much as half a gram per serving and still list zero on the package. The term “natural” has no official definition, and using organic ingredients can’t turn a highly processed product into a health food. The synthetic vitamins and minerals added to processed foods are often synthesized in factories overseas from products such as lanolin  and likely don’t have the same benefits as nutrients found in the original context.

Have you ever noticed food such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes rarely carry these sorts of labels? These foods contain nutrients packaged together with other compounds, many with functions yet to be documented, which are designed to work together in our bodies to deliver essential nutrition on a cellular level. There’s no need to add anything or make any claims because the health benefits you experience from eating unadulterated foods speak for themselves.

2) Switching to “Healthier” Oil

Olive oil and coconut oil have enjoyed an almost mystical status, being touted as “healthy” additions to any diet. Although these two oils are technically better for you than the highly processed vegetable oils used in most restaurants and packaged foods, no oil can be rightly categorized as healthy. Repeated consumption of oily foods causes stiffening of the arterial walls, making it difficult for blood to flow as it should and increasing your risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Olive oil isn't a health miracleSince this is the case, why do you hear so much about the benefits of switching to olive, coconut or another “healthier” oil? Any move away from processed vegetable oils, which are usually made from soy or canola using a chemical-laden process resulting in the extraction or destruction of nearly all nutrients, is likely to show some improvement.

The high levels of omega-6 fats in processed oils cause inflammation. When combined with oil’s artery-stiffening effects, this can promote the formation of plaques in your blood vessels and potentially leading to heart attacks or strokes. Coconut oil doesn’t trigger inflammation, so people who make the switch after years of slamming their circulatory systems with heavily processed oils will probably feel better, at least at first. The anti-inflammatory polyphenols in olive oil may provide a similar effect.

With that said, more research is necessary to determine if consuming small amounts of oil on occasion as part of a diet otherwise made up of unprocessed plant foods has similar harmful effects in the long term.

This doesn’t mean some oils have superpowers or can magically turn a bad diet into a good one. Oil usually contains between 120 and 130 calories per tablespoon, which adds up fast, especially if you’re eating foods containing the stuff at every meal. These calories can be better obtained from unprocessed foods, including the whole fats found in nuts, seeds and avocados. Whole foods also contain anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, which can help to combat inflammation instead of causing it.

What can you eat for the same amount of calories found in a tablespoon of oil? Here’s just a small sample:

  • One medium apple or pear
  • Two small oranges
  • 3 1/2 cups of kale
  • Just over half a cup of cooked brown rice
  • 1 1/2 slices of sprouted bread
  • About 1/3 of an average avocado
  • 3/4 ounce of most nuts

3) Ordering the Diet or “Light” Option

Remember the Snackwells craze when consumers snapped up and scarfed down more low-fat cookies and snack cakes than stores could keep on the shelves? The thought at the time was, if the label said low fat, the treats were automatically healthier. Unfortunately, people wound up eating more calories — and more processed food-like substances — than they would if they’d stuck with the originals.

The same confusion prevails today in fad diets (see point #4 below) and fad foods like “100-calorie” snack packs and “lean” frozen meals. Restaurants have jumped on the bandwagon with “lighter” menu items for health-conscious diners. To understand why these labels don’t mean you’re getting a more nutritious product, take a look at what’s really in a few mainstream options masquerading as healthy choices:

  • The “Mediterranean Veggie” sandwich at Panera Bread contains 1,090 milligrams of sodium and 12 grams of fat. Add a “seasonal greens” salad, and you get an additional 11 grams of fat.
  • McDonald’s breakfast menu boasts oatmeal, but unlike the kind you make at home, their version contains 33 grams of sugar and a collection of preservatives and thickeners.
  • Nearly all of Lean Cuisine’s vegetarian meals contain some form of cheese, butter or milk. The “Classic Cheese Lasagna” has five varieties, and is made with “blanched macaroni product.”

And those snack packs? They may have only 100 calories, but most of these come from processed flour, sugar and oil. (One exception is these 100-calorie roasted edamame packs from Seapoint Farms.) Fortunately, as noted above, there are plenty of low-calorie, nutrient-dense “grab and go” options available right from nature.

4) Compartmentalizing Foods by Macronutrient

Low-carb. Low-fat. High-protein. All these popular diets have one thing in common: they demonize one macronutrient while singing the praises of the others. Such an approach ignores the health benefits that may be gained from whole foods in the “forbidden” group. High-carb diets are prime examples of this mentality. These diets lump all types of carbohydrates together, creating confusion over the difference between processed and whole grains and making vegetables and fruits seem like dietary enemies.

The problem with this approach? Nearly all food is composed of more than one type of macronutient. Beans have protein, but they also contain complex carbohydrates. Nuts provide both beneficial fats and protein. Even green leafy vegetables deliver trace amounts of fat. Diets advocating severe restriction of an entire macronutrient category put you at risk for deficiencies in essential micronutrients and often perpetuate false information about why such a diet is healthier than others. Pay attention to the rhetoric, and you’ll often discover proponents of these diets make their claims seem like something new and revolutionary, a stunning “expose” proving something you always thought was good for you has actually been killing you slowly your whole life. After convincing you of the error of your ways, they’ll probably try to sell you something.

There are certain medical conditions requiring specialized restricted diets, but healthy people should aim to consume foods containing all three “macros” every day. Choosing whole plant foods the majority of the time and eating a variety of different types of food should deliver the right balance of major nutrients.

5) Assuming All Sugars are the SameFructose in fruit isn't the same

Thanks to “low carb” diet fads and the persistent idea that consuming sugar causes diabetes (fat has a lot more to do with it), there’s a great deal of confusion about the difference between naturally occurring sugar and sugar added to products. The biggest offender? Fructose, the same sugar found in both high fructose corn syrup and fruit.

It’s become common to question whether fruit’s concentration of fructose makes it unhealthy. The demonizing of sugar in all its forms makes it easy to become wary of a food that’s been a staple of our diets since God placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. However, putting products like soda in the same category as whole, unprocessed fruits ignores a much bigger picture.

In terms of context, the fructose added to beverages and packaged foods bears about as much resemblance to fruit’s fructose as bleached white flour does to whole wheat berries. As this article on Whole 9 points, out, “fruit isn’t just fructose. It’s also a rich source of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber – things that make you healthier.”

Because fruit’s sugars come in a package containing all these other compounds, blood sugar doesn’t rise as quickly. In fact, one study showed adding berries to a sugary meal can actually prevent the expected “sugar high,” in which the body releases large amounts of insulin in response to an onslaught of undiluted sugar. You’re also much less likely to over-consume fruit than soda or sweetened processed snacks. It takes a lot more effort to crunch your way through an apple than it does to polish off a bottle of your favorite brand of sugar water.

So what’s the best way to make truly healthy food choices?

  • Consume whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods whenever possible, including fresh and frozen vegetables, low-salt canned vegetables, fresh fruits, unsweetened frozen fruits, whole grains and legumes.
  • Shop in bulk bins or seek out mail-order co-ops for whole grains and dried beans. These are not only healthy choices but also typically much cheaper when purchased in bulk.
  • Flavor foods with fresh or dried herbs, spices and low-salt condiments instead of relying on artificial ingredients.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the white noise in the world of nutrition and the constant battles between proponents of conflicting dietary dogmas. But when you stick with the basics and eat a variety of unprocessed plant-based foods, it’s easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle — and enjoy delicious meals every day.

Want to learn more about living a healthy plant-based lifestyle? Join “A Greener Gut” on Facebook for articles, videos, Q&A and more!

Save

Save

Save

0

5 Compelling Reasons to Eat Whole Grains

Posted by:

These robust plant foods offer a wealth of benefits

Grains. Love them or hate them, they’re the foundation of many traditional diets around the world and continue to be a staple in modern civilization. Most of the grains eaten today, however, have been refined to the point where they no longer provide the nutritional value that makes the original whole forms such an amazing staple food. These “empty calories” have given rise to the prevailing thought that grains are bad, carbohydrates are killing us and we all need to run in the other direction every time we see a bowl of rice.

Whole grains, however, are something we should be running to. Slowly but surely, the public eye is being opened to the fact that grains in their original, unrefined forms are among the healthiest foods out there. These grains are nourishing, power-packed choices that can be enjoyed at any meal. They’re delicious savory or sweet, with vegetables or fruit, tossed with herbs or seasoned with spices. However you like to prepare them, grains like rice, quinoa, millet, barley, amaranth, teff, corn and wheat can do amazing things for your health.

Better Heart Health

In How Not to Die, Dr. Michael Greger cites a study showing consumption of three servings of whole grains a day — which is about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of cooked grains — reduced the risk of a heart attack by 15 percent and strokes by 25 percent. The Whole Grain Council reports higher numbers, showing a 25 to 28 percent risk reduction for heart disease and a 30 to 36 percent drop in stroke risk among those including whole grains in their diets.

stalk of whole grain oatsThe high fiber content of whole grains may have something to do with these benefits, according to Brenda Davis in her detailed compendium, Becoming Vegan. High fiber diets have been linked with a lower overall risk of cardiac events as well as a reduction in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the first place. Fiber combines with cholesterol-rich bile acids and lowers fatty acid synthesis in the liver, leading to lower blood levels of these potentially damaging substances. Fiber may also work to remove undesirable blood clots by breaking down the fibrin necessary for clots to form.

Methyl donors may be another reason why grains are so good at protecting heart health. When the body metabolizes the amino acid methionine, an intermediate compound called homocysteine is formed. Unless homocysteine is remethylated — that is, unless it gets a methyl group from another compound such as choline, betaine or inositol, all found in whole grains — it may lead to an increase in inflammation and promote adhesion within blood vessels. Inflamed blood vessels don’t heal well, and prolonged damage to the inner lining, called the endothelium, can promote clot formation and increase the risk of atherosclerosis. Whole grains also contain vitamin B6, folic acid and zinc, which also play a role in controlling homocysteine levels.

Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Fiber is at least partly responsible for the statistics showing that consuming three servings of whole grains a day can lower diabetes risk by one third. A study by Harvard Medical School showed similar benefits in a group of 11 overweight and obese subjects consuming six to 11 servings of whole grains per day. Even with partially refined foods such as breads, pasta and baked goods included in the serving count, subjects experienced a 10 percent drop in fasting insulin, lower insulin secretions and greater glucose infusion into cells when compared to a similar diet containing refined grains.

When fiber-rich foods are ingested, the fiber delays absorption of both fat and carbohydrates, resulting in a more stable glucose response, which in turns reduces the need for high levels of insulin to normalize blood sugar. Since high blood sugar and excessive insulin production may both contribute to type 2 diabetes risk, it makes sense that whole grains appear to confer benefits. The Whole Grains Council places total risk reduction between 21 and 30 percent for people who consume whole grains.

Cancer Risk Reduction

Phenols, lignans and saponins are phytonutrients found in whole grains, and they’re superheroes in the fight against cell damage. Cells throughout the body are bombarded every day by artificial compounds in food and body care products, chemicals in the environment and the daily effects of metabolism. When left unchecked, the effects of these encounters have the potential to initiate cancer as cells mutate and multiply. Phytonutrients have antioxidant properties to prevent the damage from getting out of hand. The compounds found in whole grains are particularly effective against colorectal cancer. Eating three servings per day has the potential to lower the risk of the developing the disease by 20 percent.

Lignans also act as phytoestrogens, notes Dr. Greger in How Not to Die. These “plant estrogens” create a buffer to control high levels of estrogen associated with hormone-driven cancers, especially those of the breast and prostate. By docking on hormone receptors, phytoestrogens block the more aggressive estrogens believed to play a role in the development of these cancers. To get the benefits of lignans, however, you need a healthy gut. Whole grains contain only the precursors to lignans; a strong community of friendly gut bacteria is necessary to transform them into the final product.

Improved Digestion

whole grain brown rice in a jarEven before people knew what fiber was or how it worked, its role in digestive health was clear. A visit to the General Store & Apothecary Shop at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT, reveals a surprisingly large collection of products created to counteract the effects of inadequate fiber intake in a population that ate a great deal of cured meat and other high-fat, low-fiber fare. The same problems are evident in the large amount of shelf space modern pharmacies devote to digestive aids.

Unfortunately, Americans and other cultures eating predominantly Western-style diets continue to consume levels of fiber far below the recommended amounts, with average intakes hovering around 15 to 17 grams. Adequate Intake (AI) levels are set at 38 grams for men ages 19 to 50 and 25 grams for women in the same age bracket. Older men should consume at least 30 grams and older women at least 20 grams.

Those eating vegan diets that include whole grains average between 35 and 50 grams of fiber per day, and whole-food plant-based diets may provide up to 60 grams of fiber per day. Grains often figure predominantly in these eating plans. Fiber consumed at these levels provides enough food for the diverse community of bacteria that thrives in the human gut. As these bacteria break down strands of fiber, they release short-chain fatty acids that strengthen colon walls. Complex sugars called oligosaccharides act as prebiotics to provide more nourishment for these bacteria.

A strong colon is a healthy colon, and people who eat more fiber may be at a reduced risk for diverticulitis, irritable bowel disease, hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer. In fact, one study showed that consuming ten extra grams of fiber per day reduced the risk of this type of cancer by 10 percent.

Nutrient Content

Refining grains strips away the outer bran and germ, removing up to 80 percent of the healthful compounds that give the whole forms their benefits. When eaten in their unrefined states, grains provide a range of nutrients, including:

  • B vitamins: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folate
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

Each of these nutrients supports one or more essential bodily processes. Some, like selenium and zinc, act as antioxidants. Zinc is essential for over 100 enzymatic processes, and selenium is a critical component in thyroid hormone conversion. Many B vitamins support energy production and a healthy metabolism. Folate is essential for cell division, which is why pregnant women are encouraged to consume more of this nutrient. Magnesium balances out calcium to promote bone health. Other benefits for immunity and cell activity can also come from these vitamins and minerals.

Learn More About Whole Grain Benefits

The Vegan Health Guide: Whole Grains — Discover the health benefits of specific grains, why you should choose whole instead of refined and how to find the best grains when shopping!

Health Studies from the Whole Grains Council — Search by grain or health condition to find studies detailing the perks of including whole grains in your diet.

More Than Just Fiber? — This abstract discusses the “whole grain package,” suggesting the benefits of these foods may come from far more than the nutrients usually studied in isolation.

Lignans: The Linus Pauling Institute — An objective scientific look at the potential health effects of lignan consumption.


I’d love to hear about why you love whole grains. Share your favorite grains and recipes in the comments!

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Save

0

Say Hello to Squash (and Other Seasonal Favorites)!

Posted by:

Enjoying the benefits of diverse autumn produce

Every season has its signature produce, and each harvest provides just the right combination of foods to make dishes that complement the weather. (As I’m fond of saying, God knew what He was doing!) In autumn, we’re greeted with a delightful array of starchy and crunchy vegetables, chewy mushrooms and dense fruits. This combination not only makes for lovely soups, stews, casseroles and pies but also contains high levels of nutrients that support overall health by zapping common disease markers.

Squashes for Roasting and Stuffing

squashes by salsachia

salsachia/FreeImages

There are so many varieties of winter squashes that it’s impossible to list them all! Here are a few that should be on your radar this season:

  • Acorn
  • Butternut
  • Buttercup
  • Delicata
  • Hubbard
  • Kabocha
  • Spaghetti
  • Sugar pumpkin

Each has its own unique appearance and flavor, but the one thing they all share is the vibrant color that broadcasts their abundant antioxidant content. In fact, World’s Healthiest Foods reports that winter squashes are one of the top three food sources of cancer-fighting carotenoid compounds. High levels of fiber contain pectins that protect against inflammation and diabetes. A compound called cucurbitacin has a regulating effect on certain inflammatory markers in the body, meaning that squashes could hold promise for those with conditions that present with or are affected by inflammation.

In terms of nutrition, eating squash gives you a big dose of vitamin A, vitamin C, a range of B vitamins and several trace minerals. They’re also an unlikely source of omega-3 fatty acids despite being a low-fat, high-starch food.

More information about specific squash varieties can be found at Epicurious and The Kitchn.

Ways to Enjoy Winter Squash: Roast in the oven (cut in half or cubed), boil and mash the flesh with sweet spices, use spaghetti squash instead of pasta, hollow out and stuff with a mix of grains and beans or use as serving bowls for autumn soups and stews.

Picking Perfect Potatoes

The potato’s bad reputation stems from the typical Western practice of taking a perfectly healthy vegetable and turning it into deep fried junk food. When you skip the oil and enjoy potatoes in their natural state, they’re amazingly good for you. Browse any farmers market in the fall, and you’ll find Russet, Yukon gold, purple, red, fingerling and sweet potatoes. And that’s just a few highlights from the litany of tasty potato varieties.

white potatoes wikimedia commons

By McKay Savage from London, UK [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Far from being the nutrient-poor “white vegetable” that they’re often made out to be, potatoes contain quite a bit of vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium and copper. Sweet potatoes are even more nutritious. The bright orange flesh delivers a dose of vitamin A, vitamin C and an impressive amount of B complex vitamins. All types of potatoes are rich in fiber.

Consuming regular potatoes may help to lower blood pressure thanks to compounds called kukoamines. The vitamin B6 content supports the creation of neurotransmitters, which are essential for proper brain and nerve function. Carotenoids are abundant in orange sweet potatoes, and sweet potatoes with purple flesh provide anthocyanins. These and other antioxidant phytonutritents might help reduce the risk of damage from heavy metals and free radicals as the food passes through the digestive tract, making sweet potatoes are a sweet treat when it comes to cellular health.

Ways to Enjoy Potatoes: Roast them in the oven, make baked fries with or without seasonings, make curry with cauliflower or spinach, layer in casseroles, add to soups, bake and top with nutritional yeast and vegan sour cream or serve baked and smothered in chili.

Beautiful Brassicas

Also called cruciferous vegetables, Brassicas include cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, radishes and rutabagas. One of the outstanding characteristics of these leafy and crunchy veggies is their reputation for being cancer-fighting powerhouses. Thanks to beneficial sulfur compounds, including sulforaphane, Brassicas may be able to modulate the development of tumors and aid in mechanisms that kill off cancer cells. Phytonutrients known as glucosinolates convert to other compounds during digestion and could also help lower the risk of certain types of cancers.

brussels sprouts by debsch

debsch/FreeImages

World’s Healthiest Foods offers and extensive breakdown of the Brassica nutrient profile. In a nutshell, adding these fall favorites to your diet gives you:

  • The highest amount of vitamin A carotenoids, vitamin C and folic acid of all vegetables
  • More fiber than any other vegetable
  • A high dose of bone-building, anti-inflammatory vitamin K

Omega-3 fatty acids appear in Brassicas at levels comparable to those in fish. Although these fats are in ALA form rather than EPA or DHA, you still get an impressive amount of essential fatty acids from eating your favorite crucifers.

Ways to Enjoy Brassicas/Crucifers: Toss raw into salads or slaws, steam lightly and season with mixed herbs, add to curries or stir fries, saute with garlic and mushrooms, add to soups, use leafy greens as wraps, use cauliflower to “lighten up” mashed potatoes, mix broccoli into mac & “cheese” or make hash with Brussels sprouts.

Note that you can enjoy pretty much the whole plant, including the leaves and stalks of broccoli and cauliflower. Chop the stems with the rest of the vegetable and use the leaves in place of another green veggie instead of throwing them away. Broccoli stalks are also great with hummus!

Appreciating Apples and Pears

I literally eat apples by the bushel this time of year, and for good reason. There are so many to enjoy: McIntosh, Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji, Crispin, Braeburn, Cameo, Empire, honeycrisp…the list goes on. You can even find out your “apple personalty” on the New York Apple Country website.

apples in a basket

By Oxfordian Kissuth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

No matter what kind of apples you eat, you reap the synergistic effects that various compounds in the fruit have when combined with the fiber. Along with a high phytonutrient content, this has a powerful positive impact on the health of the flora in the GI tract, which may help explain how apples lower both total and LDL cholesterol levels. Eating apples in their whole form helps to slow carbohydrate digestion, reduce glucose absorption, stimulate insulin release and improve insulin sensitivity at a cellular level. In short, apple lovers have healthier digestive systems, a lower risk of heart disease and more stable blood sugar.

Pears are at least as impressive as apples with their wide variety and numerous health benefits. They’re best consumed with the skins on, since that’s where half of the fiber and a majority of the phenols are found. This time of year, you might munch on Anjou, Asian, Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Forell or red pears. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods notes that all types of pears provide healthy doses of vitamins C and K, as well as copper and the powerful antioxidants known as epichatechins. In addition to fiber’s ability to lower the risk of both heart disease and diabetes, the type of fiber in pears may also be able to bind with excess bile acids to offer protection against gastrointestinal cancers.

Ways to Enjoy Apples and Pears: Eaten raw with or without nut butter, dried, cooked in oatmeal, baked into crisps and crumbles, in pies, stuffed with dried fruit and spices and baked, baked with sweet sauce or on top of waffles and pancakes.

Munching on Mushrooms

With their earthy flavor and chewy texture, mushrooms were one of the original meat alternatives for vegetarians and vegans. It’s hard to find a word other than “meaty” to describe varieties like portobello and oyster. White and crimini mushrooms are a bit less intense but no less delicious. When it comes to Asian dishes, shiitake are the king, and porcini make their way into a variety of unique recipes that require a deeper flavor.

In The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, Michael Murray highlights the cancer fighting properties of many types of mushrooms. Polysaccharides and beta-glucans give button mushrooms this power, and shiitake, maitake and reishi have been prized for their medicinal properties for centuries. Shiitake in particular are known for their lentinan content, a compound that not only boosts the immune system but may also help to lower cholesterol. Administering lentinan along with chemotherapy has been shown to improve survival rates among patients with certain cancers.

Depending on the type, eating mushrooms can give you a good amount of minerals such as selenium and iron along with vitamin C and protein. If you’re lucky enough to have a source for gourmet mushrooms like I do with the Mariaville Mushroom Men, don’t hesitate to try something new like pink oysters, puffballs or the oddly named (but completely vegan) chicken of the woods.

mushrooms by gogsy7

gogsy7/FreeImages

Remember, although guides like this visual one from Epicurious and this interesting article about fall foraging from Mother Earth News give a lot of information about different kinds of mushrooms, you should never pick wild mushrooms without a guide to show you which ones are safe. If you’ve been trained in foraging, pass the knowledge on to someone else to preserve the tradition!

Ways to Enjoy Mushrooms: Sauteed with garlic & greens, as a pizza topping, as a burger or steak substitute, sliced and sauteed as wrap ingredients, marinated and baked, in gravy, in stir fries or on salads (but make sure they’re safe to eat raw).

How is autumn produce making its way to your table? I’d love to hear how you’re enjoying these and other fall favorites!

Want to learn more about how eating fresh, seasonal produce can improve your health? Schedule a FREE 15-minute phone consultation with me and get started on the path to better living through plants!

0

4 Reasons to Enjoy Apple Season!

Posted by:

An apple a day does a lot more than you think

apples in a basket

By Oxfordian Kissuth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s nothing like the crisp, refreshing feeling of biting into a fresh apple. The sweetness (or tartness, depending on which kind you like) and crunch are a quintessential part of fall, especially here in upstate NY. And it’s just about this time of year that baskets and boxes of the first ripe apples start to show up at farmers markets and natural grocery stores.

When you see fresh apples all piled up in a shiny array of green, red and yellow, it’s only natural to start dreaming of apple crisp, apple cake, apple muffins and, of course, apple pie. What you probably don’t think of at first is the positive effect that this abundant autumn fruit has on your health. Every time you reach for your favorite variety of apple, you’re doing your body a big favor.

High Fiber, Happy Colon

According to the Encyclopedia of Healing Foods,  apples contain high levels of pectin and other fibers, all of which aid digestion by improving motility. Pectin is particularly helpful in that it’s a gel-forming fiber, which not only supports digestive health but also binds with cholesterol and shuttles it out of the body. This prevents the cholesterol from winding up in your blood stream and forming the beginnings of atherosclerotic plaques. It also keeps excess cholesterol out of the bile, thereby improving bile flow and lowering your risk of developing gallstones.

“Phabulous” Phytonutrients

The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods notes that raw, unpeeled apples possess an array of powerful phytonutrients, including ellagic acid, chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid. These are found mainly in the skin along with high levels of flavanoids, most notably quercetin, a potent anti-inflammatory and antihistamine. Removing the peel robs you of the benefits of these powerful compounds, so leave apple skins on whenever possible.

One thing to note: apples come in at the top of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” list, meaning that the skins of non-organic varieties may harbor high levels of pesticide residue. Go organic whenever you can, and when you can’t, use a high-quality veggie wash to thoroughly clean apples before consuming.

apple orchard by apples and pears australia ltd

By Apple and Pears Australia Ltd [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Smack Down Disease

Phytonutrients make apples powerful disease fighters. Despite its unassuming appearance, this humble fruit is able to help your body combat some of the most prevalent diseases in Western society. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods cites an analysis in which researchers looked at 85 previous studies and found an association between apple consumption and lower instances of:

  • Asthma
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Many types of cancer

These results remained significant even when compared with other types of fruits and vegetables in subjects’ diets. World’s Healthiest Foods notes that one apple contains about 11 percent of the RDA recommendation for vitamin C intake, which could also help explain the fruit’s ability to beat diseases. Vitamin C gives the immune system a boost, and the body can recycle this nutrient more easily when it comes packaged with flavanoids.

As noted above, eating apples may also lower your risk of heart disease. It’s not just the fiber that’s responsible for this power. Polyphenols, another type of phytonutrient, protect against the oxidizing of fats. Known as lipid peroxidation, this process is what causes cholesterol to bind to arterial walls and begin the cascade of immune reactions that results in the formation of arterial plaques.

Everything Tastes Better In Season!

I make this point a lot, but it can’t be said enough: seasonal food is just plain better. There’s a world of difference between the apple you get from your favorite farmers market vendor–or better yet, pick right off the tree–and the one you pick up at the grocery store in the middle of winter. One is crisp, succulent, juicy and filled with all the best that the season has to offer. The other is rock hard, waxy and tasteless.

Why is this? Part of it is the fact that grocery store produce is picked before it ripens, stuffed in trucks and hauled around the country so that, by the time it hits the shelves, it’s traveled as many as 1,500 miles. Seasonal produce, on the other hand, is most often picked when it’s just right for eating and doesn’t have far to go from the farm to your mouth. Seasonal foods have been shown to possess a higher nutrient content than those harvested out of season, likely due in part to the fact that vitamins and minerals are lost during chilling and transportation. Ripeness also plays a role in how much nutrition you get from a food, so be sure to look for apples with firm flesh and vibrant color.
apple muffin with mix ins

Make an Apple (or two) Part of Your Day

To get your daily dose of apples, eat them raw (with the skin on), toss them in your favorite baked goods or make apple peanut butter “sandwiches.” Enjoy them now and all season long for the best flavor and the most health benefits!

Some other delicious ways to eat your apples:

For more information on this amazing fruit, check out NutritionFacts.org and World’s Healthiest Foods!

Want to discover another way to enjoy raw apples? Check out my “Raw Apple Pie, Simplified” class at Honest Weight Food Co-op on September 30th! Registration is free, but please sign up here to let me know you’re coming. Hope to see you there!
The class is now sold out! Can’t wait to see you there.

2

3 Cheers for Stone Fruits!

Posted by:

Healthy benefits from tasty summer treats

I’ll admit it yet again: I’m a sucker for seasonal fruits. And what season is it now? Peach season. Plum season. Nectarine and apricot season.

peachs-1327003 by grafiker

FreeImages.com/grafiker

Excuse me while I drool into the keyboard.

There was a time, believe it or not, when I didn’t like stone fruits. The texture bothered me, and I thought they were oddly tart. Turns out I was eating them all wrong! Stone fruits are best enjoyed at the peak of ripeness–which is right now, when they’re in season, not midwinter after they’ve been trucked to the store from halfway across the country.

These vibrant treats are as nutritious as they are tasty. No matter what your favorite stone fruit is, you get a blast of health-promoting compounds every time you bite into one and let the juice run down your arm.

plum-1225274 by blei

FreeImages.com/blei

Nutrition in Stone Fruits

Stone fruits of all kinds are high in vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants. Though vitamin C builds immunity and supports skin health, and potassium helps maintain healthy fluid balance, it’s the antioxidants that make these fruits truly amazing. Compounds known as polyphenols have been shown to posses anti-cancer properties, and tests on stone fruit extracts display the potential to help people struggling with insulin resistance and glucose sensitivity. In fact, these compounds are so powerful that they may be able to improve all aspects of metabolic syndrome, a condition closely related with the development of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Specific Stone Fruit Benefits

Each type of stone fruit has its own additional perks.

  • Peaches are high in carotenes and flavanoids, which may give them antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Vitamins A is good for your eyes and aids vitamin C in promoting healthy skin.
  • Plums serve as a source of vitamin K as well as several B vitamins. Phenolic compounds in the fruit display anticancer effects. Plum extracts may be able to kill breast cancer cells without harming the surrounding tissue.
  • The high levels of of beta-carotene in nectarines protect against free radical damage to preserve healthy cells. Antioxidants such as chlorogenic acid and anthocyanins may prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, thereby lowering heart disease risk.
  • Apricots are a good source of iron, which may be easier to absorb thanks to the accompanying vitamin C. Apricots also contain carotenoids and xanthophylls, phytonutrients that are correlated with eye health. Catechins help to protect against inflammation that can cause damage in the body.
  • Cherries are also considered a stone fruit and, according to The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, contain anthocyanidins that display COX-blocking power on par with that of over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. They’re also a source of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep patterns.

Selecting & Storing

Don’t make the same mistake that I did and settle for mediocre stone fruits! Here’s how to find the best and keep them as fresh as possible:

apricot by _marta_

FreeImages.com/_marta_

  • Look for heavy fruits with intact skins and good color. Avoid green patches and wrinkles.
  • Peaches, plums and nectarines should give a little under gentle pressure. Apricots are ripe when they’re still firm.
  • Stone fruits retain their flavor best if stored at room temperature. Refrigerate if you can’t enjoy them within a couple of days.
  • If your peaches, nectarines, plums or apricots need to ripen, place them in a paper bag on the counter and check them daily until they’re ready.

The best thing about stone fruits, of course, is eating them! Enjoy your favorites straight up (with a napkin handy to catch errant juice trails!) or use them in recipes like crumbles, cobblers and pies. Add them to salads or pair them with savory dishes for a delightful twist. I’ve heard that peaches are even great on the grill! Whatever strikes your fancy, you’ll be supporting optimal health every time you dig in to fresh stone fruits.

Want to learn more about how stone fruits and other plant foods can help you achieve vibrant health? Schedule a FREE Power-Up Prep session with Quantum Vegan today! We’ll get on the phone, talk about your health concerns and set up a plan to get you on track to a healthier future.

0

5 Great Reason to Boost Your Bean Intake

Posted by:

Beans, beans, they’re good for–just about everything! Whether you toss them on your salad, simmer them in chili, use them to bulk up soup or mix them in with pasta, you’re enjoying one of the most delicious, nutritious foods you can have on a plant-based diet. Here are five of the many amazing things that beans can do:

Improve Digestion

Unless you’re already consuming a plant-based diet, chances are you’re not getting enough fiber. According to WebMD, the average American adult only takes in 15g per day, far below the recommended 25g for women and 38g for men (Zelman, 2014). Beans have one of the highest fiber contents of any food, with navy beans serving up a whopping 10.5g per 100g serving (5 reasons to eat more beans, n.d.). This shouldn’t be surprising considering that pretty much the entire bean is made up of soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which play important roles in digestive health (Swalin, 2015).

  • Soluble fiber digests slowly, keeping you full and satisfied for longer (Swalin, 2015). It also feeds the beneficial bacteria in your GI tract, which in turn produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that nourish the colon walls. You wind up with stronger digestion and a better balance of intestinal bacteria, a combination that works to reduce common GI complaints such as constipation.
  • Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and promotes regular bowel movements.

Lower Cholesterol

Another benefit of fiber-rich foods, including beans, is their ability to lower cholesterol. The cholesterol your body doesn’t need is meant to pass out of the body, not wind up in your bloodstream. Too much cholesterol in the blood, especially dense LDL cholesterol, increases the chances of plaque formation and therefore the risk of heart disease. Fiber helps reduce that risk by binding with cholesterol in the digestive tract to ensure proper elimination.red lentils by lazysheep1

Interestingly enough, a study published in the Canadian Medical Journal showed that eating one serving of beans per day can actually reduce LDL cholesterol concentrations by 5% (Swalin, 2015). Whether this was just because of the fiber or because study participants replaced high-cholesterol foods such as meat with beans is unclear, but it’s a big benefit all the same.

Stop the Blood Sugar Roller Coaster

Carbohydrates have earned a bad reputation no thanks to the refining process used in most commercial flour-based products. The carbohydrates in beans, however, digest much slower than those in refined grains due both to the fiber and the protein content. Slower digestion means steadier absorption of carbs and a slower climb in blood sugar. Refined carbohydrates send blood sugar spiking and crashing, leading to swings in energy and mood. These swings also result in high levels of insulin flooding the blood stream in an attempt to keep blood sugar stable. Eating beans induces a much more moderate insulin response, helping to protect against the insulin resistance that can be a precursor to Type II diabetes (Swalin, 2015).

Pack a Nutritional Punch

Beans may well be the original “superfood.” They offer a wide range of nutrients including iron, B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese and potassium, which not only makes them good for general nutrition but also protective against some of the major causes of death such as heart disease and cancer (Murray, 2005). Beans help to combat iron deficiency, the most common mineral deficiency in the US, though for best absorption it’s a good idea to eat them with foods that contain vitamin C such as bell peppers, kale, collards or broccoli (Murray, 2005).hummus by aweeks

Soybeans have added benefits due to their essential fatty acid content. EFAs are necessary for maintaining the health of your brain, circulatory system and cell membranes (Murray, 2005). They’re also anti-inflammatory, an important characteristic given that chronic, low-grade inflammation is now thought to be the root of many common diseases.

Provide an Inexpensive (and Healthy!) Protein Source

While its true that meat, dairy and eggs all contain high amounts of protein, they’re also high in saturated fat, contain naturally occurring trans fats and are full of the hormones, chemicals and antibiotics that are used in modern factory farming processes. Beans, on the other hand, have all of the previously mentioned benefits plus a wide range of health-promoting phytonutrients (Taraday, n.d.). Soy in particular is a great protein source that contains all nine essential amino acids. Choose soybeans and whole soy products such as tofu and tempeh from non-GMO sources to enjoy a healthy protein boost.

In terms of economy and affordability, beans have meat beat, hands-down. One pound of meat contains about five servings; one pound of dried beans provides as many as 12 servings. With a pressure cooker, it’s easy to load up on bulk dried beans and cook them in minutes whenever you need them. Doing this also eliminates the added salt found in canned beans, yet another benefit for overall health.

Looking to get more beans in your diet? Try these tasty recipes:

What’s your favorite bean recipe?


References

5 reasons to eat more beans. (December 18, 2013). In Rodale News. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.rodalenews.com/are-beans-healthy.

Murray, M.,  Pizzorno, J., Pizzorno, L. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Simon and Schuster

Swalin, R. (January 12, 2015). Reasons you should eat more beans. In ABC News. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/reasons-eat-beans/story?id=28124148.

Taraday, J. (n.d.). 5 reasons you shouldn’t avoid eating beans. In Breaking Muscle. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/5-reasons-you-shouldn-t-avoid-eating-beans.

Zelman, K. M. (August 20, 2014). Fiber: How much do you need?. In WebMD. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/fiber-how-much-do-you-need.

 

0