As a nutritionist, summer is one of my favorite times of the year! I love the variety of seasonal vegetables and fruits available at your local farmer’s market! There, you’ll find wonderful ingredients to create and enjoy delicious and nutritious meals for you and your family. It’s a great time of year to experiment with new ingredients. There are so many different ways to eat, but one of the easiest is to eat in season. Let’s break down why eating in season is best. Read more
HEALTHY OR NOT?
BY VIRGINIA CUNNINGHAM, LA BASED HEALTH AND WELLNESS FREELANCE WRITER
So, you’ve just gone vegan for your health, for ethical reasons and possibly for the environment. As long as you compensate for the protein loss of animal products, it’s all good, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, there are a myriad of products out there that can, in good faith, claim to be vegan, but that can be, in reality, very unhealthy for you.
Here is a rogue’s gallery of nefarious vegan processed foods that are commonly accepted as “health food” and the dangers each poses:
For many people, tofu symbolizes the idea of a healthy, meat-free diet. Unfortunately, it can lead to a whole complex of imbalances and digestive problems. First of all, tofu is made from soy, which means you’re taking in high levels of phytic acid and trypsin inhibitors. These not only make tofu hard to digest, they can also block proper absorption of essential minerals and vitamins.
Furthermore, soy contains phytoestrogens, a chemical that can throw your hormone levels off kilter. This can cause irregular menstrual cycles among women and mood swings in nearly everyone.
To make matters worse, most tofu that is sold in America is highly processed and nearly all of it is genetically modified, therefore, if you can’t part with tofu, make sure it’s organic. Better yet, eat sprouted tofu.
Since soy is best digested when fermented, if you want to rely on it as a protein alternative, consider tempeh or miso. And, though the aroma and consistency are off-putting to some people, the Asian superfood natto is another fermented soy option.
One of the biggest challenges for vegans and vegetarians is getting adequate protein intake in the absence of meat and dairy. With this in mind, whey, soy or rice additives are a common go-to. The problem is that these staples of protein shakes and smoothies are likely to include artificial flavoring and may present to problems of GMOs in soy.
If you still want a convenient way of getting non-animal proteins into your diet, make sure you buy New Zealand whey protein isolate.
Many vegans and vegetarians grew up in meat-eating households and find cravings for bacon or sausage hard to bury. In the last twenty years, veggie dinners and freezer aisles have began to offer meat-tooth simulations with names like “Fakin’” or “Tofurky” that seem too good to be true. In fact, they are.
A quick glance at almost any of the many soy-meat substitutes’ ingredient list will disabuse people who think they’re getting a “natural” alternative to meats. The endless list of processed ingredients is enough to make a chemistry major wince. Furthermore, since many vegan/vegetarians adopt their diet for environmental reasons, the fact that these non-animal protein sources are bad for Mother Earth’s health is a double whammy.
The “vegetable” part of the equation can be a smokescreen for vegetarians who think they’re getting a healthful alternative to animal oils and fats. While it’s true that canola or sunflower oils are vegan, there are few food products that can compete with the harmful effects of vegetable oils.
Vegetable oils contain polyunsaturated fats—fats our bodies are not meant to digest. On a chemical level, polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable and likely to oxidize, which increases cell mutation. As you may guess, mutations increase the likelihood of cancer, reproductive problems and heart issues—a bitter irony, since many vegetable oils are touted as “heart smart.”
For the very same reasons, margarines and butter substitutes are to be avoided. Instead, turn to coconut, olive and palm oils for delicious cooking alternatives.
Maintaining a healthy vegan or vegetarian diet is more difficult than it seems. Always be sure to check out the ingredients listed on all of your food items that claim to be “heart-smart” and when in doubt, go for organic.
Virginia Cunningham is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who covers everything from health and wellness to marketing and technology. She currently writes for NorthwestPharmacy.com, which enables her to advocate for healthier lifestyles through vitamins and supplements.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY…
What do the following conditions have in common?
-Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
-Metabolic syndrome (prediabetes)
-Type II diabetes
They’re all linked to sugar.
But aren’t sweets ok to enjoy in moderation? Isn’t sugar merely “empty calories”? That way of thinking has led to the tsunami of chronic diseases listed above. The truth is that sugar disrupts metabolism, suppresses the immune system, and causes inflammation. The progression towards disease starts long before a diagnosis is made. For example, many people have normal fasting blood sugar levels, but may be unaware that their insulin levels spike after eating, as an insulin challenge test is seldom ordered during standard lab work-ups.
Insulin dysregulation leads not only to belly fat, prediabetes and Type II diabetes, but to heart disease, cancer (cancer cells feed on sugar), and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease, which is being called Type III Diabetes. Tragically, children as young as four years old are being diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which now affects 90 million Americans. You don’t have to be overweight to be prediabetic or have a fatty liver. Visceral fat hugs our vital organs. The culprit is the 158 pounds of sugar and 146 pounds of flour consumed in a year by the average American.
Hunter-gatherers consumed about 20 teaspoons of sugar per year. That’s because sugar was available either as fruit for only a few months a year during harvest time, or as honey guarded by bees. But today sugar is added to nearly all processed foods. So in nature sugar is hard to get, but we’ve made it easy.
Sugar is everywhere. Walk down an aisle in a supermarket and pick up anything that comes in a bag, a box or a can. Chances are pretty good that you’ll see some form of sugar on the label. Don’t be fooled if it’s organic or has a health claim on the front. Even canned organic corn has sugar added. Some barbeque sauces have as much sugar as a candy bar.
Sugar may also be hiding under an assumed name. Look out for barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, cane juice, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, dextrin, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, sucrose, polydextrose, fructose, or the health food industry’s current favorite: agave nectar. Processed grains such as bagels, breads, muffins, pastas, cereals, crackers and chips are just another form of sugar as well. Even those products advertised as “whole grain” or “whole wheat” fall into the sugar category.
More addictive than heroin, cocaine, tobacco or alcohol, sugar acts on the same areas of the brain as addictive drugs, so we crave it. This behavior served us well, evolutionarily speaking. Our ancestors gorged themselves on wild berries in the fall, gained belly fat, and thus were able to survive the famine of the coming winter. We’re doing the same thing: devouring sugar on a daily basis, but the difference is we’re doing this day in, day out, all year round.
If you suffer from sugar cravings, the following tips may be helpful:
-Eat protein and healthy fats, such as avocado or olive oil, with every meal.
-Eat foods with more grams of fiber than grams of sugar.
-Eat every 2-3 hours for blood sugar control.
-Have only 1 serving of fruit per day.
-For those times that call for a sweet food, choose wisely and eat mindfully. Enjoy baked goods made with coconut sugar or raw, unprocessed honey.
-Spend time soothing yourself without sugar. When a craving hits, thinks of what would really feel good. Nothing beats the sweetness of meaningful social connections and pleasurable activities.
Sandra Scheinbaum, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Director, Feed Your Mind Wellness, LLC.
ARE YOU ON THE CLEAN PATH?
When is choosing a gf diet a good idea, outside of having Celiac Disease or a Wheat/gluten allergy?
Gluten-free foods are simply foods without wheat, rye, and barley. Thus, when asked if anyone can go on a gluten-free diet, the answer is always, yes! Technically speaking, gluten is not necessary for a nutrient-dense, healthful diet. With that said, it is important to always choose the right foods, just as you should on a gluten-containing diet, or else you could create a nutritional nightmare.
In general, too many consumers are eating a large quantity of refined carbohydrates, and most often, these products are made with white flour, rice, or corn. Everything from crackers, to cookies, to cereal bars, most of these products are made from wheat, and contain enriched white flour as the first ingredient. These foods, when consumed in excess are the source of weight gain for many. Thus, it is crucial to choose foods that contain nutritionally dense grains/seeds such as quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, flax and chia. And further, it is always important to choose a balanced diet, including a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and calcium-rich dairy or dairy alternatives.
When first going gluten free, what should one look for on product labels? Just the gf certification logo, manufacturing statements, ingredients, all or just one?
Gluten-free labeling is one of the most confusing topics for consumers. The FDA was mandated to draft and implement a proposed definition for “gluten-free” and how it is used on food labels in the US by 2008. However, at this time, a final ruling has not been established. Once the final definition is in effect, the term “gluten-free” will be voluntary for use in the labeling of foods. Thus, it will be up to manufacturers discretion whether or not they wish to label their product “gluten-free”.
Currently, there are no universal labeling standards for all food products in terms of the food product’s gluten-free status. Thus, there is no legal definition for gluten-free.
Thanks to the Gluten Intolerance Group, the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) was established to review products and manufacturing facilities for gluten and provide assurance to consumers of the safety of the foods. Until the FDA rule is passed, consumers can rely on the GFCO seal to determine if a product is safe (<10ppm gluten).
The GFCO performs a rigorous ingredient review, on-site inspection, and ongoing testing to ensure a product is safe. Aside from the GFCO “stamp,” there is no other universally recognized, reliable testing method of gluten-free products. Consumers should look for the GFCO stamp on products to ensure their product is free of gluten.
In addition to the GFCO stamp, consumers should read the ingredient listing to determine if a product is gluten-free. The ingredients (on the actual package of food versus the product website, which may be outdated) are the single best way to understand what is contained in the particular food product.
It is also voluntary for food manufacturers to provide information about cross contact or exposure with gluten-containing products. By definition, ingredients on a package must only reflect what is contained in the package, rather than what the food product may come in contact with during manufacturing. Thus, a manufacturer need not disclose if a particular food is made on shared equipment with gluten-containing ingredients.
What’s a basic “Toolbox” of pantry items to keep on hand for clean, healthy gf cooking and baking?
The following items are must-haves for every gluten-free pantry.
Gluten-free oats – A fantastic source of fiber, both soluble and insoluble, and oats have proven effective in lowering cholesterol. Historically, oats were restricted on a gluten-free diet, however research shows they are safe to include on a gluten-free diet, as long as they are pure, and uncontaminated.
Flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed) – Not only a source of omega-3 fatty acids, but flaxseed also is rich in lignans, which may provide some protection from cancer (specifically breast cancer). Further, flaxseed meal is an excellent source of protein and fiber. Mix 1 TBSP flaxseed meal with 3 TBSP water, let sit for 10 minutes, and you have a nutrient-packed egg substitute that can be used in baking.
Assorted nuts/nut flours (almonds/almond flour, walnuts, pecans, pistachios) – Many gluten or grain-free recipes utilize nuts and nut flours to provide texture in baked goods. Nuts are an incredible source of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin E, selenium, manganese, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
Chia seeds – As similar to flax, chia seeds contain Omega-3s, and antioxidants, however chia has about twice the dietary fiber. A rich source of calcium and phosphorus, chia is primarily used in recipes as a thickener. A wonderful additive to everything from pancakes to salad dressings.
Amaranth - Amaranth grain has been cultivated for over 8000 years. Once used as a staple food of the Aztecs, it was used as an integral part in Aztec ceremonies. Now known as gluten-free staple, Amaranth is actually a pseudograin, because it is a seed, used like a grain. Sold as a popular snack in parts of Mexico, Amaranth is sometimes popped like popcorn and mixed with chocolate or puffed rice. Amaranth contains a rich source of protein, dietary fiber, and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese. It only takes 1/4 cup Amaranth to supply about 65% of the RDA of iron. One cup dry Amaranth will be tender when cooked for 20-30 minutes in 2 cups water or other liquid such as chicken broth. Amaranth is sold as flour or whole grain and is used as an excellent thickener to soups, gravies and casseroles. Its nutty flavor makes it a great addition to bread mixes when combined with almond, coconut and sorghum flour.
Quinoa - Amaranth was to Aztecs as Quinoa was to Incas, and also a pseudograin, Quinoa has been harvested for over 6,000 years. In its natural state, Quinoa has a coating of saponins, which makes it very bitter tasting and unpalatable. However, most quinoa sold commercially has been processed to remove this coating. When cooked, quinoa has a light, fluffy texture making it a great alternative to rice or couscous. One cup dry quinoa will be tender when cooked for 15-30 minutes in 1 ¾-2 cups water or other liquid. Fully cooked quinoa is finished when the germ, which looks like a tiny curl, separates from the seed. Quinoa is rich in protein, dietary fiber, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. Unlike rice, quinoa contains balanced amino acids making it a complete protein, thus a healthy choice for vegetarians. Substitute quinoa in cold salad recipes and combine with ingredients such as parsley, garlic, onion, tomato and even feta or goat cheese.
Buckwheat - Completely unrelated to WHEAT, the name buckwheat or “beech wheat” comes from the triangular seeds, which resemble seeds of the beech nut from the beech tree. Similar to wheat, buckwheat flour is used in traditional soba noodles and in pancake and waffle mixes. Buckwheat is rich in dietary fiber, iron, zinc and selenium. When 1 cup buckwheat is mixed with 2-2 ½ cups of water, it will be tender in 15-20 minutes. Another form is buckwheat groats, which are also called kasha and mixed with pasta or used as a filling.
Is there a rule of thumb of what not to buy that’s gf when shopping? If so, what should one look to stay clear of?
Considering the heightened awareness of the gluten-free diet, new products are popping up daily. Many of these are rich in refined gluten-free flours such as tapioca starch, potato flour, and rice. All of these refined grains break down quickly in our body, causing a blood glucose spike, and typically result in overconsumption. In general, stick to food products that contain rich sources of whole grains, including quinoa, sorghum, chia, hemp or oats. As in any grocery trip, limit quantity of “filler foods” such as chips, cookies, and crackers. Fill your cart with fresh produce, lean meats, dairy and dairy alternatives, and whole grains.
Questions about the gluten-free diet? Curious how your grocery cart measures up? Contact Lara at 847-651-4729 firstname.lastname@example.org.
FDA – Questions and Answers on the Gluten-Free Labeling Proposed Rule, January 2007