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    Archive for the ‘vegan’ Category

    Quick & Healthy Recipe: Kale Chips

    inside_products_kaleWhenever I see a bag of kale chips at a health food store, my initial instinct to place one in my shopping cart is usually abruptly halted by sticker shock.  Here in New York City, I have seen prices as high as $12 for a bag!

    Fortunately, making your own kale chips at home is extremely easy.

    As with the almond milk recipe I shared earlier this year, the concept of kale chips has been around for decades.  This is by no means “my invention”.  This is simply the version of kale chips I enjoy most (after making many, many different batches over the past few years).

    YIELDS: 3 – 4 servings


    1 bunch kale (use the curly kind; for a nice visual, use red and green varieties)
    1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    1.5 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
    2 teaspoons garlic powder (optional)
    2 teaspoons sesame seeds (optional)
    1/6 teaspoon sea salt
    Pinch red pepper flakes


    Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Wash and destem kale leaves.

    Pat dry and place in large bowl.

    Add remaining ingredients to bowl and mix well, ensuring even coating on all kale leaves.

    Place kale, in one layer, on baking sheet.

    Bake for 15 – 20 minutes.

    UPDATE (9/28/11): To guarantee crispiness and crunchiness, I recommend two things: adding salt after the kale chips are out of the oven and cooling them on a wire rack.

    NUTRITION FACTS (per serving, with all listed ingredients):

    70 calories
    134 milligrams sodium
    3 grams fiber
    3 grams protein

    Excellent source of: B vitamins (including B12), manganese, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K

    Good source of: Calcium, iron, magnesium


    You Ask, I Answer: Vegan “Butter” and “Cheese”

    tumblr_l024ebWGmt1qzq14lo1_400I’d love to know your thoughts on Earth Balance “butter” and Daiya “cheese.” They seem relatively non-evil, but I defer to the experts.

    — Jennifer DiSanto
    (Location Unknown)

    Earth Balance spreads are popular among vegans, mainly as a butter substitute.  Depending on which variety they use, they can be used in baking or to top freshly baked garlic bread.

    I am not as worried about them as I am of some overly-processed faux-meat products for a variety of reasons:

    • Whereas it is feasible to eat two mega-processed soy burgers in one meal, most people consume small amounts of these spreads (i.e.: 1 Tablespoon over two slices of toast) at a given time
    • Unlike other butter alternatives, Earth Balance spreads are free of partially hydrogenated oils
    • Earth Balance offers soy-free spreads (for those who are choose to avoid soybean oil)
    • Earth Balance spreads are mainly a combination of different plant oils; it’s not as “Frankenfoody” as other products
    • Most of their spreads offer a fair amount of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids

    Daiya “cheese” in increasingly gaining popularity in the vegan community.  Let’s take a look at the ingredient list:

    Purified water, tapioca and/or arrowroot flours, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and/or non-GMO expeller pressed safflower oil, coconut oil, pea protein, salt, inactive yeast, vegetable glycerin, natural flavors (derived from plants), xanthan gum, sunflower lecithin, vegan enzymes (no animal rennet or animal enzymes), vegan bacterial cultures, citric acid (for flavor), annatto.

    There is nothing about that ingredient list worth raving — or ranting — about.  I wouldn’t necessarily call this a nutritious product (it’s basically flours, oils, and thickeners), but it’s also not horrific.  I guess you could place this in the “meh” category for me.

    The only thing to keep in mind is that Daiya cheese offers a moderate amount of sodium per serving (250 milligrams per ounce, approximately fifty percent more than the same amount of cheddar cheese) and significantly less protein than dairy or soy-based cheeses (1 to 1.5 grams per ounce, as opposed to 7 grams).

    As far as vitamins and minerals go, Daiya offers vitamin B12 (a plus for those who are fully vegan!) but is not a good source of calcium (which, truly, isn’t a concern if one’s vegan diet is high in leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, or is otherwise fortified).


    Who Knew Sunshine Tasted So Good?

    southwest“Veggie burgers” are often touted as the “healthier choice”, but many people aren’t aware that a large percentage of vegetarian burger products are made from highly processed soy, low in fiber, contain a significant amount of sodium, and, in some cases, artificial colors and dyes.

    One scrumptious exception?  Sunshine Burgers!

    Developed by a woman named Carol — after much encouragement from friends and family who loved her homemade vegetarian burgers — these patties offer a wonderfully simple ingredient list, significant nutrition, and excellent flavors.

    One Southwest flavored (my favorite!) Sunshine Burger delivers:

    • 240 calories
    • 1.5 grams saturated fat
    • 240 milligrams sodium
    • 9 grams fiber
    • 6 grams protein

    The ingredient list tugs at my nutritional heartstrings:

    Organic cooked brown rice, organic ground raw sunflower seeds, organic carrots, organic black beans, organic bell peppers, organic cilantro, organic garlic, organic jalapeño peppers, organic ground cumin seeds, organic onion and sea salt.

    Keep in mind that since the ingredients are whole foods, you get far beyond what the Nutrition Facts panel highlights — especially health-promoting phytonutrients, antioxidants, and flavonoids!

    Since Sunshine Burgers are precooked, no oil is needed when preparing them.

    I love to eat them on a sprouted whole grain bun topped with arugula, grape tomatoes, onions, and honey mustard.


    The Vegan Essentials

    roasted_buckwheat_kernel_As their name suggests, essential amino acids are those we must — and can only — get from food.

    I am nonplussed at the amount of nutrition literature which states — and dietitians who say — that animal products provide all eight essential amino acids, while plant-based foods do not.

    Truth is, whether a food contains all eight essential amino acids or not is a moot point.

    In the case of plant-based foods, for example, grain lack (or are severely low in) one amino acid that nuts and seeds contain plenty of (and vice-versa).  Unless a vegan individual exclusively eats one kind of food, there is no risk of not getting all the essential amino acids.

    However, the point of this post is to inform.  The following plant-based foods contain all eight essential amino acids.

    If anyone ever tells you “you can’t get all the essential amino acids from any food that isn’t of animal origin”, memorize the list below and suggest they do some more research!

    • Amaranth
    • Buckwheat (pictured, right)
    • Chia seeds
    • Hemp seeds
    • Nutritional yeast
    • Quinoa
    • Soybeans
    • Spirulina

    Bonus points if you recite the list alphabetically!


    The Next Food, Inc.?

    movie_ticketsIn 2004, Super Size Me illustrated the power of the nutrition documentary.  Three years later, King Corn captured the nation’s attention and shone a spotlight on the political and health — both public and individual — consequences of corn subsidies.  Last year, Food, Inc. entranced millions with its expose of agrobusiness and the beef industry.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few months’ time, the documentary on everyone’s lips is Forks Over Knives.

    Per the film’s website, FOK “examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods.”

    The experts who participated in the film include some heavy hitters. I especially look forward to seeing someone I very much look up to and respect — Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine.

    Check out the documentary’s trailer here.  If you don’t have the latest version of Adobe, you can also view it on YouTube.

    The trailer isn’t too explicit, but certainly sets up interesting groundwork regarding disease management, health consequences of diets high in animal products, and critiques of government-backed dietary advice.

    I sincerely hope — and have faith — that the movie will avoid the common pitfall of much vegan-related literature and deliver a powerful message without resorting to scare tactics (“give up meat or die at age 50!”) or preaching (“there is no such thing as a healthy diet that includes a single animal product”).

    After the horrifically inaccurate travesty that was Skinny Bitch, it’s about time the vegan community had a scientifically sound and serious resource they can unabashedly stand behind and feel proud of.  I have a feeling Forks Over Knives just might be it.

    Many thanks to Samantha Collis for directing me to the Forks Over Knives website.


    Quick & Healthy Recipe: Spicy & Decadent Satay Marinade

    peanut-sauce-lrgThis delicious Thai-inspired marinade is extremely easy to make and imparts wonderful flavors.

    Although traditionally paired with chicken, I have only had this marinade with tofu and tempeh, where it works wonderfully!

    Don’t let the long ingredient list dissuade you — preparation is super quick.

    YIELDS: 1 cup (4 servings)


    2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    1 Tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
    1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons nut butter (peanut, almond, or cashew; natural and unsalted recommended)
    2 Tablespoons canned coconut milk
    2 medium garlic cloves
    1 Tablespoon dried ginger
    2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
    2 teaspoons Thai chili peppers, chopped
    1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1/4 cup basil leaves
    2 teaspoons chili powder OR cayenne pepper
    1/4 teaspoon cumin
    2 teaspoons honey or agave nectar
    2 Tablespoons lime juice
    1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
    5 teaspoons water


    Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until evenly combined.

    To get optimal flavors, marinade food for at least 4 hours, covered, in refrigerator.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving):

    198 calories
    5 grams saturated fat (see note, below)
    300 milligrams sodium
    2 grams added sugar

    Excellent Source of: Manganese, monounsaturated fat, niacin

    Good Source of: Magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin E

    NOTE: The saturated fats in this recipe come exclusively from the nut butter and coconut milk. Coconuts’ saturated fat is less atherogenic than that of full-fat dairy. Additionally, if using peanut or almond butter, their saturated fats are packaged along with extremely heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.


    You Ask, I Answer: Choosing Cheese

    bocconcini-lgCan you recommend some cheeses that might be healthier than others to add to a salad?

    — Terri Korolev
    San Francisco, CA

    The key is to use cheeses that provide plenty of flavor but not a lot of saturated fat or sodium.

    Remember — the saturated fats in full-fat dairy are more atherogenic than those in other foods (like coconuts and cocoa beans).

    The absolute best choices are grated hard cheeses like romano and parmigiano-reggiano (also known as parmesan).

    In the case of romano, two tablespoons only add:

    • 40 calories
    • 2 grams saturated fat
    • 170 milligrams sodium

    That same amount of parmesan cheese, meanwhile, clocks in at:

    • 44 calories
    • 2 grams saturated fat
    • 152 milligrams sodium

    Another good addition to salads is bocconcini — fresh mozarella balls packaged in liquid (pictured alongside this post).  Two pieces of bocconcini provide:

    • 140 calories
    • 4 grams saturated fat
    • 40 milligrams sodium
    • 20 % of a day’s worth of calcium

    An ounce of whole milk ricotta also delivers strong flavors with a very decent nutritional profile:

    • 49 calories
    • 2.4 grams saturated fat
    • 24 milligrams sodium

    If you prefer cheeses higher in saturated fat and/or sodium (i.e: blue cheese, feta, Swiss, etc.), you can still include them.  The key is to plan out the rest of your meals accordingly.

    For example, if you crave a feta cheese-arugula-pear salad for dinner, make your breakfast, lunch, and snacks that day are low in saturated fat and sodium.

    Vegans: you can also enjoy cheeses in your salads — and I don’t just mean shredded-cheddar or shredded-mozarella imitations made from rice or soy.

    Dr. Cow, for instance, makes delicious nut-based cheeses.  Most of them also include acidophilus, which helps mimic the texture and flavor of aged cheeses (and offers health benefits of probiotics!).  I personally enjoy the aged cashew and crystal algae “cheese”.

    Similarly, there are a variety of vegan alternatives to grated parmesan cheese.


    This Is America’s “Health Guru”?

    DrOz-OprahEven if you’ve never seen an episode of Oprah, you know who Dr. Oz is.

    His daily television show debuted in September and, apparently, many magazine editors and television producers are under the assumption he is the only person who can answer any health question.

    Although Dr. Oz is certainly one of the most skilled and knowledgeable cardio-thoracic surgeons in the country, he is perceived to be — and markets himself as — a one-stop shop to all your health questions.

    Whether you want to know about germs, sexual health, diabetes, anti-aging, skin care, or nutrition, he’s got the answer.

    Or does he?

    I have always been very vocal about the fact that while he is definitely not a quack — and has a basic grasp on nutrition — I often find Dr. Oz’s dietary advice  to be shockingly inaccurate, misinformed, or misleading.

    A visit to his show’s website earlier today, for example, revealed two pieces of information so wrong I could not believe what I was reading!

    First up — Dr. Oz’s “go vegan challenge!” page, where he dispenses tips for anyone interested in going vegan for 28 days (I’ll take this opportunity to say I’m so over all these tired 28-day plans).

    In any case, here is one gem:

    “Vegans should take a multivitamin and B12 supplement to ensure they are getting enough protein.”

    Huh!?!  I don’t even know where to begin!

    The notion that vegans should take a multivitamin makes the ridiculous assumption that they couldn’t possibly get all their nutrients from food.  As with any other diet, it depends on the quality.

    Some omnivores’ diets provide enough nutrition, others don’t.  “All vegans need multivitamins” is untrue and unfairly paints vegan diets with a “nutritionally inadequate” brush.

    I do agree that some vegans can benefit from B12 supplements, but why not mention that vegans can get B12 from nutritional yeast as well as fortified dairy alternatives and breakfast cereals?

    What truly shocked me — because it is so off-the-mark — was the idea that vegans should take a multivitamin to ensure they get enough protein.

    Not only do multivitamins not provide protein — there is also no reason whatsoever for vegans to supplement extra protein in their diet.  Grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and vegetables all contain protein.

    Then, on his “sugar-free in 28 days” page, Dr. Oz promises to help people kick their “addictive” sugar habit.

    How does he do this?  By recommending agave nectar.

    Once again: WHAT!?!?!

    Agave nectar has as many calories as sugar, and nothing about it is inherently healthy — or healthier than sugar.

    Sure, it is slightly lower on the glycemic index, but the fact remains that replacing the sugar in your morning coffee with agave is not a healthier or lower-calorie choice.

    To make matters more confusing, agave is described as “high in calories”.  It’s not.  It is just as caloric as sugar.

    My wish for 2010?  When it comes to matters of nutrition, let real experts have the floor, Dr. Oz.


    You Ask, I Answer: Giving Up Dairy

    lecheI’m seeing a nutritionist who has given me a regimen to follow. I’m a little skeptical of it, so am researching each of the items one by one.

    One of the items is forgoing milk. She said cow’s milk is particularly bad because it’s pumped full of antibiotics and hormones, and our stomachs aren’t meant to digest the milk of another animal.

    If I must have some milk, she recommended small amounts of goat’s or sheep’s milk (or cheese), because those animals aren’t fed as many antibiotics and hormones as cows are. (This last part makes me think that organic milk would be no worse than goat or sheep milk, but anyway…)

    I know many people are lactose-intolerant because we aren’t meant to digest milk after childhood.

    However, if I’m not lactose-intolerant, is it still possible that milk is affecting my digestive system negatively? Do you ever recommend to your clients that they drop dairy entirely?

    Should I care that all of the substitutes for dairy milk (soy, almond, rice) are highly processed and don’t really occur in nature?

    — Meredith (Last name withheld)
    (Location withheld)

    Wonderful questions, Meredith.

    First of all, not all cow’s milk is pumped full of antibiotics and hormones.

    While, sadly, that is the norm, it is possible to purchase organic milk from cows that have not been fed either of those two things.  You can also purchase milk from grass-fed cows (that have also not been pumped with antibiotics and hormones) in most health food stores.

    As for the arguments that our stomachs aren’t meant to digest the milk of another animal — it depends.  That is certainly true for some individuals, but not for others.

    For information on the digestibility of goat’s milk (it goes far beyond lower lactose levels!), please read this post.

    Bottom line: if you are not lactose intolerant, there is no reason why dairy products would affect your digestive system negatively.

    I would never recommend that a client of mine who is able to digest dairy products completely eliminate them (I do think it is a good idea for omnivores to get calcium from a variety of different foods and not rely solely on dairy, though).

    Similarly, I would never tell a vegan client (or one who is lactose intolerant) that their diet is inferior because it does not include dairy.

    The mere presence — or absence — of dairy does not make a diet any healthier.

    From a purely nutritional standpoint, there is nothing wrong with having it or eschewing it.

    Ultimately, your body knows you best.  There are people who, while not allergic or intolerant to dairy, feel better without it in their diet.  Others feel better when they consume dairy on a daily basis.  Both experiences are valid.

    In terms of dairy milk substitutes — I enjoy making different nut milks at home.  It’s easy, inexpensive, and less processed than some products out there.

    That said, if you are buying unsweetened varieties that consist of two or three ingredients, you don’t have anything to worry about.

    FYI: One of my favorite home-made nut milks is cashew milk.  In a blender, mix a  half cup of cashews, two cups of water, a pinch of salt, and some vanilla extract.  This makes two cups of cashew milk — delicious by itself or over cereal.

    For a chocolate version, add a tablespoon of cacao powder!  You can also try substituting cashews with almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, or hazelnuts.


    You Ask, I Answer: Flaxseed and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

    flaxseed_291_20090115-1524291I saw your recent tweet reminding vegetarians and vegans to supplement their diets with Omega-3 supplements that contain DHA and EPA Omega-3 fatty acids.

    I would rather not take a pill, but can eat ground flaxseeds – how much do you think I should consume each day?

    Otherwise, do you recommend a particular vegan omega-3 pill?

    — Christine Ho
    Location Unknown

    The problem with relying on flaxseeds (or walnuts, for that matter) to get your omega-3 needs is that they only offer Alpha-Linolenic omega-3 fatty acids (ALA).

    The human body can convert ALA into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil.  However, this conversion does not happen very efficiently, and it takes very high amounts of ALA to get the necessary amounts of DHA and EPA (we’re talking ridiculously high amounts — think 1,000 calories just from flaxseeds).

    This is not to say that the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds and walnuts are useless.  They certainly offer their share of health benefits and are worth including.

    However, I strongly encourage people with diets that are low in (or do not include) fish or sea vegetables — the only plant food that offers DHA and EPA — to supplement DHA and EPA.

    In your case, Christine, I recommend looking for supplements that contain DHA and EPA extracted from algae (which, by the way, is where fish get their omega 3s from!).  While there are many brands out there, the one I am most familiar with is VPure (please note, I am not claiming this is the only “good” brand; simply the one I have come across most often).

    The term “vegetarian” on an Omega-3 capsule is by no means a guarantee; often times, that simply means it only contains ALA!

    Aim for 500 – 1,000 milligrams per day (EPA and DHA combined); ideally, you want at least 300 milligrams to come from EPA.


    Quick & Healthy Recipes: Heart-Healthy Ranch Dip

    ranch-dressingIt’s only the second day of December and, as is probably the case with many of you, I have already received a handful of invitations to holiday parties, potlucks, and meals.

    If you’re looking to whip up a quick, healthy, and delectable contribution to an event over the next few weeks, I recommend you take no more than ten minutes to make this knock-out, nutritious ranch dip.

    FYI: you can turn this into a dressing by adding an additional third cup of water.

    YIELDS: 3 servings


    1/2 cup raw cashews (OR raw sunflower seeds OR avocado, although avocado will yield a greener color)
    1/4 cup + 2 teaspoons water
    1 small garlic clove
    4 teaspoons lemon juice
    1/3 teaspoon salt
    Light sprinkle of black pepper
    3/4 teaspoon onion powder
    3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    1 Tablespoon dry dill, finely chopped
    2 teaspoons dry parsley, finely chopped
    1.5 teaspoons dried chives, finely chopped


    In blender, mix cashews/sunflower seeds/avocado, water, garlic clove, lemon juice, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder until evenly mixed.

    Empty mixture into bowl.

    Add chopped dill, parsley, and chives; fold into dressing until evenly spread out.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving, made with cashews):

    115 calories
    1 gram saturated fat
    240 milligrams sodium


    Quick & Healthy Recipes: Cinnamon-Walnut Whole Grain Muffins

    cinnamonThis past weekend I craved muffins to go along with my recently-purchased hazelnut-roasted coffee.

    Instead of treking down to a local bakery for a gigantic 500-calorie bomb, I decided to make my own.

    Apart from pairing up perfectly with a hot cup of coffee on a brisk autumn day, these muffins are 100% whole grain, vegan, and chock full of omega-3 fatty acids.

    See how you like them!

    YIELDS: 18 mini muffins

    2 cups whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour or whole wheat white flour)
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 Tablespoons ground flaxseed
    1/3 cup chopped walnuts
    1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
    4 Tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
    1 Tablespoon coconut oil
    1/2 Tablespoon canola oil
    (NOTE: You could omit the coconut oil and instead add an additional tablespoon of canola oil)
    1/4 cup agave nectar, brown rice syrup, or maple syrup
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1 cup water


    Place all dry ingredients (from whole wheat flour to cinnamon) in one bowl.

    In another bowl, mix together all wet ingredients (from applesauce to water).

    Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients bowl.

    Mix together lightly, making sure not to overmix.

    Scoop mixed batter into muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit

    OPTIONAL (but recommended): Once out of the oven, sprinkle additional cinnamon on top of muffins.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (for 2 mini muffins, with coconut oil):

    184 calories
    2.5 grams saturated fat (if using only canola oil: 0.5 grams saturated fat)
    320 milligrams sodium
    4.4 grams fiber
    7.2 grams added sugar
    4.5 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: Manganese, selenium

    Good Source of: Alpha Linolenic Omega-3 Fatty Acids, copper, magnesium, phosphorus


    Fruit! And Yogurt! Well, More Like Sugar and Partially Hydrogenated Oils…

    231363Regular readers of this blog know how much I love to call out healthy-sounding food products that are anything but.

    On the hot seat today?  Kellogg’s Yogos Bits.

    The front of the packaging describes them as “yogurty covered fruit flavored bits.”

    Did you catch those two red flag terms?

    First there’s “yogurty covered”.  Not quite the same as “yogurt covered” (we’ll get to that in a minute).

    Then there’s my personal favorite: “fruit flavored“.  That’s basically marketing speak for “sugar that tastes like [insert name of fruit here]”.

    Let’s have a look at the not-surprisingly-lengthy ingredient list:

    Sugar, coating (sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel and palm oil, calcium carbonate, nonfat yogurt powder [cultured whey protein concentrate, cultured skim milk, yogurt cultures [heat-treated after culturing], nonfat milk, reduced mineral whey, color added, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavor, salt), corn syrup, modified corn starch, apple puree concentrate, contains two percent or less of: water, pectin, citric acid, cornstarch, malic acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), natural and artificial cherry flavor, sodium citrate, color added: carnauba wax, carmine color, Yellow #5 Lake, Red #40, Red #40, Blue #1 Lake

    Wow.  Time for some analysis:

    1. The first ingredient (meaning, the most prominent one) in this product is sugar.

    2. The “yogurty coating” contains more sugar and partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) than actual yogurt!

    3. Even worse, the yogurt cultures have been heat-treated after culturing, rendering their probiotic qualities ineffective.  Remember, you always want to look for live and active cultures!

    4. Carmine color is made by crushing the shells of cochineal beetles.  While there is nothing inherently unhealthy about this, I always like to inform vegetarians and vegans about that factoid.

    5. There isn’t a shred of fruit in this product.  Simply fruit sugars and fruit flavors.

    6. Each pouch of these “bits” weighs 20 grams.  Thirteen of those grams (that’s 65% of the product) come from sugar.

    This product can legally advertise itself as a good source of calcium because it delivers ten percent of the mineral’s daily adequate intake value.  Note, though, that some of it is fortified (sprinkled on during processing) in the yogurt coating!

    For what it’s worth, that same amount of calcium can be intrinsically found in these healthier and less processed foods:

    • A third of a cup of milk (dairy or fortified non-dairy varieties)
    • Half an ounce of Swiss cheese
    • Three quarters of a mozzarella stick
    • A quarter cup of tofu
    • A third of a cup of coked collard greens
    • A third of a cup of almonds

    I would be a lot less displeased if these were described more realistically.  Perhaps something along the lines of “sugar & yogurt covered sugar puffs”?


    You Ask, I Answer: Am I Eating Too Much Vitamin A?

    carrotsMy three favorite vegetables are: carrots, spinach, and kale.

    I eat about 6-7 servings of vegetables a day generally, and at least four of the servings include the aforementioned specifically. This means that I consume the proverbial Upper Limit of vitamin A.

    Am I at risk?

    — Julia Rhine
    (Location Unknown)

    Absolutely not!

    Although the term “vitamin A” is used to describe a particular nutrient available both in plant foods (i.e.: carrots, spinach, pumpkin, kale, lettuce) and animal foods (i.e.: eggs, liver, full-fat dairy), the story is a little more complicated.

    Vitamin A in animal foods is available to us as retinol, also known as “preformed vitamin A”.

    Plant sources, however, contain carotenes (of which there are over 600, including the ever-popular beta-carotene), which are then converted into retinol by our bodies.  Some carotenes are converted very efficiently; others are not.

    As I always like to say, our bodies are smart.  Individuals with low vitamin A stores, for instance, convert carotenes into retinol much more efficiently than those with sufficient stores.

    Even when dealing with beta-carotene (the most efficiently converted carotene), you are looking at significantly reduced bioactivity in comparison to retinol.  It takes 12 micrograms of carotenoids from food to equal one microgram of retinol.

    I specifically say “from food” because carotenoids in supplement form are more bioactive.  In their case, two micrograms are equivalent to one microgram of retinol.

    Let’s talk toxicity now.  While high amounts of retinol can be toxic, that is not the case with carotenoids.

    The only issue that arises as a result of consuming a high amount of carotenoids from food is your skin turning a yellow-orange color.  The most likely reason for this is that, as stated previously, if our vitamin A stores are high, carotenoid conversion is brought down several notches.

    Consume a diet that is consistently very high in in the pure retinol form of vitamin A, however, and expect liver problems as well as bone mineral density issues.

    Remember, since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is stored in the body; toxicity is not simply solved by drinking massive amounts of water and urinating large quantities out.

    What makes all of this even more (!) complicated is that while there are Recommended Dietary Allowances set for vitamin A, there aren’t any for carotenoids.

    So, then, how do vegetarians and vegans know how much plant-based “vitamin A” to consume?

    Well, one milligram of beta-carotene is equivalent to approximately 1,667 International Units of vitamin A.

    One medium sweet potato, for example, packs in 13 milligrams of beta-carotene — 21,671 International Units of Vitamin A.

    To convert International Units of vitamin A from plant foods into retinol equivalents, we simply multiply that figure by 0.1 and end up with 2,167 REs of vitamin A.

    Considering that adults need 2,310 (if female) to 3,000 (if male) International Units of vitamin A a day (that’s 700 and 900 REs, respectively), then that one sweet potato provides plenty.

    Some confused individuals claim that the lack of retinol in plant sources of vitamin A “prove” they are inferior sources, and that we should strive to get all of our vitamin A from animal sources.

    WRONG!  They (conveniently?) forget that carotenoids are phytonutrients, which means they contribute many healthful qualities.  Research has clearly demonstrated that diets rich in beta-carotene help lower heart disease and lung cancer risk.

    So, dear Julia, keep enjoying those vegetables!  Remember, though, to consume them in a meal that contains at least 4 grams of fat to ensure proper absorption!


    Quick & Healthy Recipe: Red Pepper Cream Soup

    red-pepperMy recent cream of mushroom soup recipe was such a hit that many of you have been asking for another “blend and heat” soup recipe.  I am happy to oblige!

    Here is a similar concoction that beautifully highlights the natural sweetness in red peppers and carrots.  Perfect for fall!  Like the mushroom soup, this is fairly hearty and filling, so you can simply follow it up with a light entree.

    YIELDS: 1 serving


    1 cup water
    1/2 cup raw cashews, almonds, or sunflower seeds
    2/3 cup raw red pepper strips
    1/4 cup raw green pepper, diced
    4 baby carrots
    2 Tablespoons raw onion, chopped
    1 Tablespoon chopped celery
    1/4 cup fresh or frozen corn
    1 garlic clove
    1 Tablespoon lemon juice
    1/6 teaspoon salt
    Black pepper, to taste
    1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger


    Combine all ingredients in blender and process until well combined.

    Transfer to small pot and heat on stovetop for 2 or 3 minutes.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (for cashew variation):

    384 calories
    4 grams saturated fat
    400 milligrams sodium
    6 grams fiber
    13 grams protein

    Excellent source of: Copper, vitamin A, vitamin C

    Good source of: Folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin K

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