Overwhelmingly, those who identified with being vegetarian had lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body mass index (BMI) than those who ate meat and fish. The team found a 32% lower risk of hospitalization or death from cardiovascular disease among the non-meat-eaters. Source
A recent study carried out in the UK by Oxford University and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that vegetarian diets lowered the risk of heart disease among the 45,000 participants by 32%.
Per the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of mortality in both men and women and is caused in part by high blood pressure, smoking, and high LDL cholesterol. Other factors include diabetes, obesity, poor diets, excessive use of alcohol, and inactivity. Many of these factors are influenced by what we eat and a plant-based diet could help mitigate or overcome many of the contributors to heart disease. The results of this study support this approach to preventative health.
My cooking continues to go through transformations - new ingredients and new methods. These are the latest trends.
- more raw ginger and raw turmeric (anti-inflammatory)
- more quinoa, some whole wheat (pasta, pizza crusts, lasagna) and almost no rice now
- replacing tofu with tempeh as much as possible (more probiotic)
- less and less vegetable oils used in cooking
- more eggplant - diced and put into stews or burritos, roasted with other veggies, and added, chopped, into soups (good source of fiber)
- more red lentils instead of green/brown lentils (they cook quicker, easier to digest for me)
- more squash (kabocha, butternut, acorn, zucchini, pumpkin)
- less and less salt
- more white onion - raw and sauteed (anti-bacterial, enjoying the flavor more)
- more red bell pepper instead of green bell pepper (enjoy the flavor more, more vitamin C, A, and beta-carotene)
- experimenting with maple syrup as an alternative to agave (but maple syrup is more expensive, so using it only in limited amounts)
- continuing to eat kale in larger quantities and finding new ways to use it (detox and anti-inflammation benefits)
- roasting vegetables more (trying brussels sprouts lately)
- adding more fruit to recipes (curries, vegan pizzas, salads)
- finding more ways to use coconut milk (baking, smoothies, curries, etc.)
- making smoothies more often and trying new ingredients (ground ginger, chia seeds, broccoli)
- eating more raw fruit daily
Up until a few years ago, I didn't know anything about quinoa. Now it's my favorite grain substitute by far (it's actually a seed). I cook it all the time and it's replaced rice in my diet almost completely. My body digests it better than any other grain or seed. The protein value of quinoa is high as well, since it provides a complete protein containing all essential amino acids.
It used to be a staple of the Inca Empire in South America and has supported local Andean communities in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador until the 1990's, as described in this interesting article, when the U.S. started to import it. It grew in popularity, driven by health conscious consumers, and is now a global commodity. The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization has named 2013 the 'The International Year of Quinoa'!
The popularity of the ingredient has impacted the local communities per the article. The price has increased which makes it harder for the local people to buy it now and the small farmers who were able to meet the demand are now being squeezed out by bigger farms. It's a common story and to be expected when an agricultural product goes from local to global and big money gets involved.
Most likely we'll see a trend to towards new quinoa products which are grown in a sustainable way
by small farmers (similar to chocolate). If these products appear, they may be the best ones to buy if supporting the local farmers is of interest. Regardless, the quinoa producing world will change as demand for this fabulous ingredient increases. Hopefully everyone in the Andean communities will benefit from the boom.
Researchers in New Zealand have published a study linking plant-based diets with improved moods. The experiment involved 281 people and the researchers monitored their diets for 21 days. They found that those who ate more vegetables and fruit reported feeling calmer, being happier, and having more energy. They also determined that a real positive change in mood was experienced after 7 to 8 servings of vegetables was consumed during the day. A serving was defined as half a cup.
The study is useful because it shows that vegan diets not only improve physical health, but also mental health. Healthy moods are a wonderful benefit of a diet rich in well prepared vegetables and raw fruit. Swapping out meat side dishes for vegetable ones or making vegetables the main course is one small step to take on the quest for happiness and well-being!
A new sushi restaurant has opened in the trendy Rappongi district of Tokyo. However, this sushi, according to Rocket News 24 does not contain any fish ingredients. Every menu item is 100% vegetarian!
The restaurant is called 'Vegetable Sushi Potager' and it has redefined this fish based Japanese staple. Based on the colorful photos in the article, the restaurant makes each dish look fantastic and demonstrates that with some creativity, sushi can be transformed to appeal to patrons with plant-based diets!
"Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases."
Source: National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Antioxidant substances include:
When the body has an infection or an injury, it tries to cure the problem with inflammation to help heal or defeat the problem. When the inflammation doesn’t subside, research suggests it leads to disease. Preventing chronic internal inflammation leads to better health. This article from MNN summarizes it well.
Plant-based foods can mitigate inflammation in the body and potentially reduce chronic health problems according to this research from the NIH:
"Inflammation is a pathological condition underlying a number of diseases including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and chronic inflammatory diseases. In addition, healthy, obese subjects also express markers of inflammation in their blood. Diet provides a variety of nutrients as well as non-nutritive bioactive constituents which modulate immunomodulatory and inflammatory processes.
Epidemiological data suggest that dietary patterns strongly affect inflammatory processes. Primarily the intake of fruit and vegetables as well as of whole wheat is inversely associated with the risk of inflammation. In addition to observational studies there are also data from human intervention studies suggesting an anti-inflammatory potential of these plant foods. At the level of bioactive compounds occurring in plant foods, primarily carotenoids and flavonoids seem to modulate inflammatory as well as immunological processes.
In conclusion, there is convincing evidence that plant foods and non-nutritive constituents associated with these foods modulate immunological and inflammatory processes. By means of anti-inflammatory activities a plant-based diet may contribute to the lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. A high intake of vegetables, fruit, and whole wheat as recommended by all international nutrition authorities provides a wide spectrum of bioactive compounds at health-promoting concentrations." Source
A vegan diet is rich in anti-inflammatory foods and spices. Raw ginger and turmeric both have anti-inflammatory properties. Cabbage and kale, again, are also great along with many other ingredients!
The health of the digestive system is important for everyone. A properly function digestive system and gut helps fight off disease and may boost the immune system. Within the digestive system are a large amount of bacteria – some are good and some are harmful. Probiotics are substances which stimulate the good bacteria and other microorganisms which have beneficial properties. When the good bacteria are activated, they can help prevent health problems by keeping the digestive organs functioning the right way.
The NIH provides this summary of probiotics:
"The World Health Organization defines probiotics as "live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host." The most common types of these beneficial bacteria are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Previous studies indicate that probiotics may have a role in treating gastrointestinal illnesses, boosting immunity, and preventing or slowing the development of certain types of cancer."
You can take advantage of several probiotic foods with a vegan diet including tempeh, miso, soy yogurt with active bacteria, kimchi, and sauerkraut. (Source: Wikipedia)
Our bodies function better when the toxins and pollutants from food and the environment are removed from our systems. By removing toxins, our digestive system functions better, the immune system improves, and the body feels better. Try eating restaurant food for a while and then having a home cooked meal. The fresh food will start detox-ing the body and you should feel better quickly!
A vegan diet is great for detox-ing. Many common ingredients perform this function including kale, broccoli, ginger, onions, lentils, and spinach. Apples, berries, and melons are also great detox fruits. (Source: the detox health-plan cookbook by Maggie Pannell)
While I was growing up, in my late teens and early twenties, I went through some dark days. I had bouts of depression which took a considerable length of time and a large amount of energy to overcome. It terrified me. It still does. I prefer my mind to be filled with bright sunlight rather than murky indistinct shadows.
I’ve pulled away from those days now and my mind is much stronger and more resilient. I owe it to my vegan diet. While on a meat-based diet, I couldn’t get over the hump to happiness. Life was a constant uphill battle. As vegetables and fruits became more central in my diet, my mind healed and rebounded and replaced pessimism with optimism, bleakness with possibility, starkness with creativity, and resignation with hope.
I gained more courage to take in the world around me rather than hiding from it. I was finally able to tell myself that I could deal with whatever came my way. Most importantly, I appreciated more honestly who I was and what I wanted to achieve. This pride got me over the wall to well-being.
Could I have done this without changing my diet and shunning meat and dairy products? I don’t believe so. I could plainly detect the perception of myself and the world transforming in my head as I ate better food. The diet was expansive for me – it opened my thoughts to new ideas and created new connections. It led me away from the past. I could finally envision having an original and distinct life and a brighter future. I needed to become a vegan. I needed that sunshine in my mind.
I’m convinced that vegetarian and vegan diets not only improve physical health, but also improve mental health. I've learned from my experience that the relationship between diet and mood is strongly linked. Being in a good state of mind enhances how one feels leading to increased mental and physical activity and eventually better physical health. This in turn promotes better mental health which is an important cycle that starts with diet!
A recent study published in the Nutrition Journal indicated that a vegetarian diet improved mood within the study group over a fish and fish and meat diet. In fact, mood improved significantly. The results also indicated that the vegetarian group was better able to handle stress. This is a useful finding since both results point to better mental health and happier, more peaceful people which is central to healthy living and a healthy community.
While many physical and dietary factors are linked to chronic disease, some research indicates that stress is one of the highest factors linked to bad health. By eating well, mental health improves and one is able to cope with life better, reducing stress, and the burden on the body imposed by stress.
I'm also certain that vegan diets reduce anger and violent tendencies in people. Research in a California state prison gave inmates the option of enrolling in a program which served only vegan food and offered counseling. The inmates who opted for the vegan diet had dramatic changes in behavior. Compared to the inmates not in the program, instances of violence reduced significantly, recidivism rates drop to 2% compared to the state average of 90%, and attitude changes occurred so much that the inmates no longer formed associations based on racial groups.
The vegan diet has been very helpful to me and will always be a foundation in my life. Consuming fruits and vegetables regularly can put you in a good state of mind. It did it to me. Because diet affects mood and behavior, you will always have the opportunity to feel charged and energized everyday by eating with your happiness in mind!
If you’ve ever felt intimidated about making vegan meals, you shouldn’t be. It’s not complicated. The trick is to keep the basic ingredients stocked in the kitchen all of the time. With a short trip to the grocery store and a little time spent in the produce section, you’ll have everything you need. From a select group of vegetables, fruits, and grains, it’s possible and convenient to make a variety of nutritious and tasty meals. In fact, many of the same vegetables can be used in several different recipes making cooking efficient, economical, and enjoyable.
Grouping the key vegetables into these five baskets will organize and simplify the shopping trip -- dark greens, underground veggies, salad vegetables, squash, and proteins. In addition, cooking and flavoring the meals is made easier by using a vegetable oil, spices, vinegar, and a sweetener, so they should be included in the grocery list.
Basket 1 - Dark Greens
I call vegetables in the dark greens category the four horsemen of health. They supply fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C and many other powerful nutrients. Dark greens also contain potassium which helps lower blood pressure. Basket one has four greens -- broccoli, kale, asparagus, and spinach. With these four ingredients, you can make many great recipes quickly. For example, kale and asparagus make wonderful soups. All four vegetables can be stir-fried in lemon or ginger sauces and raw spinach, kale and broccoli are always perfect in salads with a light vinaigrette.
Basket 2 - Underground Vegetables
Many underground vegetables are called root vegetables. They provide B vitamins, potassium, and other valuable nutrients. Basket two contains potatoes, carrots, red yams, and beets. All of these ingredients can be roasted in the oven, made into soups, added to stews, or cooked as side dishes.
Basket 3 - Salad Vegetables
Salad vegetables include lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, avocados, onions, and mushrooms. Many salads recipes can be created with different combinations of these veggies. Sometimes a salad can be made out of just one ingredient, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, or avocados. Add these ingredients to tacos and burritos, sandwiches, or combined in pita bread for fresh flavor.
Basket 4 - Squash
Squash include butternut, yellow crookneck, zucchini, and even pumpkin. They cook quickly when boiled in water, added to a stir fry, or roasted. They have bright colors, mild flavors, and several key vitamins. Squash work well in stews with tofu or beans and even complement pasta sauces nicely. I like to include eggplant in this group as well since I use it like a squash in many recipes!
Basket 5 - Proteins
Protein provides power and energy. Plant-based proteins include legumes, beans, grains, and nuts. Good examples of these ingredients are lentils, tofu, black beans, green beans, peas, garbanzos, quinoa, and almonds. Lentils are very versatile and can be used effortlessly in soups, stews, salads, and burritos. Red lentils cook in 10 minutes and deliver fiber and protein and have been the food of choice of many civilizations around the world. Tofu is the plant protein of Asia. Entire books filled with tofu recipes are available, many using the vegetables from the baskets above. Quinoa, the protein source for the Incas, is a plant related to beets and Swiss chard that produces a seed that cooks like a grain and can be substituted for rice in recipes. It delivers 6 grams of protein per quarter cup (uncooked) and complements vegetable dishes wonderfully.
Lastly, stock a vegetable oil like extra virgin olive oil as a cooking medium and vinegar such as white wine vinegar for salads. Include some lemons and limes and a few spices such as ground black pepper, oregano leaves, garlic powder, ground ginger, cumin, paprika and curry powder. I keep them next to the stove top at all times. Also, a can of tomato sauce is helpful and essential for some soups, stews, and pasta sauces. The olive oil, vinegar, and spices will last a long time so they don’t need to be purchased during every trip to the grocery store.
Once you group veggies into these baskets, it makes it easy to remember what to buy at the supermarket. When all of these fresh ingredients and spices are stocked, you’ll be ready to make a variety of simple and nutritious meals without much effort!
See my vegan shopping list in table format here.
The vegetarian fast food trend in India now includes KFC. From this article in the Hindustan Times the company plans to keep pace with McDonald's and Subway by offering veggie burgers and other vegetarian menu items in its stores in the state of Gujarat which has a large vegetarian population. It's nice to see the trend expanding and influencing the major fast food restaurants in that country. With more of its consumers demanding meat-free options compelling the major fast-food brands to change, India is setting a great example for the rest of the world!
Meat is an addiction.
You won’t appreciate this statement until you have gone vegan for perhaps a year, and no longer crave meat.
Dependence on meat is psychological, not physical or health related. There is no difference between the addiction to meat and addictions to other habit forming substances – nicotine, recreational drugs, and alcohol. Try restricting a compulsive carnivore (which is almost everyone) from eating meat for any duration of time, even a day, and watch their reaction and behavior. They will exhibit symptoms of withdrawal including intense cravings, irritability, and anxiety. Believe me, I’ve seen it. If you eat meat constantly, try it yourself. Be observant rather than dismissive of your reaction.
The body doesn’t need meat to survive. It only believes that it does. This is why image based advertising of meat products, especially fast food, is so effective. It stimulates the mind and reminds it of the addiction, of the need to refresh, of the desire for immediate gratification.
Addiction psychologically prioritizes short term reward over long term consequences. Most people who have cholesterol levels above 200, chronic illness, or mood related disorders continue to eat meat when evidence strongly suggests that switching to a plant-based diet for even two weeks may help start the healing process and alleviate prolonged suffering.
With a vegan diet, I'm not addicted to the food I eat. I willingly skip meals whether I’m hungry or not. Some days, I’ll eat only fruit and drink water. On some days, this is enough. I often skip dinner. I don’t obsess over kale, cucumbers, quinoa, or lentils. When it comes down to it, they’re just food matter which I use to fill my stomach when it needs it. I’m able to regulate my diet and balance what I want with what I need. You can, too!
When you have an addiction, your mind is never free. The addiction controls your thoughts and actions. You wake up in the morning and every activity throughout the day is directed subconsciously to support the addiction. A vegan diet can un-tether and release you to become the amazing individual you were born to be!
Meat is an addiction.
Make Simple Vegan Meals