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    Archive for the ‘vegetarianism’ Category

    Q & A Roundup

    I thought it would be fun and informative to feature some of the more interesting questions I have received via email and social media over the past few weeks. Here they are — with my answers, of course — for your perusal.

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    Cultured Meat Is An Alternative, Not A Solution

    The idea of cultured meat (also known as ‘in vitro’ meat) has been played with for several years, as scientists have attempted to produce meat from cell cultures. Over the past week, this topic created headlines once again thanks to reports that ‘cultured’ sausage and hamburgers are on the way within the next six to twelve months. That is not to say they will be commercially available, but rather that they will serve as tangible proof of this technology’s capabilities.

    Continue Reading »


    Going Meatless, the Healthful Way

    vegan-cook-book-2The exclusion of meat from one’s diet — whether completely or once a week, as encouraged by the Meatless Monday movement —  has quickly gained followers over the past few years.

    For those of you considering “the switch” (or, at least, “the step down”), here are some tips to hep keep nutrition at the forefront:

    1) While convenient vegetarian/vegan foods like soy burgers, soy “chicken nuggets”, and soy cold cuts can help newbies add variety to a meat-free lifestyle, most of them are highly processed (AKA low on nutrients, high in sodium).  Consider these transitional foods, rather than staples.  Make it a goal to eventually phase out these foods as situational ones (ie: mainly eaten only at barbeques or at your favorite vegan restaurant with friends).  Too often, I see “newbie vegetarians/vegans” eating diets high in processed ingredients.

    2) Soy is but one source of high-quality protein.  Soy burgers, soy nuggets, soy “chicken breasts”, and soy ribs definitely impart protein into the diet, but the focus of all diets (vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore) should be vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants.  One has to make a very concerted effort to not meet protein needs (yet, it’s probably the nutrient Americans are most hyper-aware of).  Nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, grains, and vegetables are all sources of protein, too, and offer significantly superior nutrition.

    When consuming soy, look for minimally processed forms.  Prioritize tempeh and natto (their fermentation yields more bioavailable nutrients) and edamame (as a ‘baby’ soybean, it offers lower amounts of antinutrients found in full-grown soybeans).  When it comes to soy milk, keep in mind that flavored varieties contain a substantial amount of added sugar (‘plain’ varieties offer the equivalent of one and a half packs of sugar per cup!).

    3) The fact that ice cream, hot dogs, and burritos the size of your head are vegan does not make them healthier.  A lot of these products are still high in added sugars and sodium.  Regardless of the type of diet you eat, the bulk should consist of whole foods. Too often, I see veganism touted as a cure-all for a variety of ailments.  While it is true that vegan diets are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, they can also be high in sodium, added sugars, and omega-6 oils depending on what foods are selected.

    Before I wrap up, I want to address one commonly-held viewpoint about vegetarian/vegan diets that drives me up a wall: the advice that “they need to be carefully planned.”

    You’ll often see this mentioned (often by Registered Dietitians, no less!) in articles that question if a vegan diet can be healthful and meet dietary needs.  The conclusion is always “of course, but they need to be carefully planned.”  To which I then ask, what diet doesn’t?

    The additional planning makes sense within the context of eating out in certain parts of the country (where, at some restaurants, you’re relegated to a handful of side dishes), but the average vegan eating meals at home can find plenty of foods in a local supermarket.  While there may be a learning curve at the beginning, after a few months of meatless eating, it becomes second nature to most.


    In The News: Meaty Matters

    meatless_logoThe completely non-controversial concept of “meatless Monday” (in which some omnivores voluntarily start off their workweeks eating a vegetarian diet for 24 hours for health and/or environmental reasons) has some bloviators firmly clutching their pearls.

    In case you are new to this campaign (or live outside the United States), “it started in 2003 as a nonprofit public health initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future in Baltimore, Maryland.”

    Apart from the fact that “studies suggest we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week, research compiled by the initiative suggests going meatless conserves water, reduces carbon footprints and lowers intake of saturated fats.”

    Remember — the saturated fats in red meat pose more health risks than those in coconuts or cacao.

    What completely astounds me about meatless Mondays is some of the fervent opposition.

    One blowhard leading those troops is, of course, emotionally stunted, soulless rodeo clown conservative television host Glenn Beck.

    “When Baltimore City Public Schools adopted Meatless Mondays last year as a way to cut costs, conservative commentator Glenn Beck deemed it an indoctrination of children to vegetarianism and veganism and decried it as an over-extension of governmental control.”

    Oh, the outrage!  It is so manufactured for ratings palpable!  Yes, Mr. Beck, how dare we introduce children to meals composed solely of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds?

    By the way, did I miss the passage in the United States Constitution that grants every citizen the right to consume copious amounts of meat from cows that are fed an unnatural diet of corn, antibiotics, and growth hormones, and spend most of their lives standing in their own fecal matter?

    Beck is then quoted as stating that if he is ever thrown in jail, his last meal will be “a giant steak.”  Someone get me a vision board… stat!

    Then, of course, there’s the American Meat Institute.  Their objection to meatless Mondays?  Per president and CEO Patrick J. Boyle, it “deprives children and their parents of the ability to determine what is appropriate for their diets and their own personal circumstances.”

    Mr. Boyle should consider a career in stand-up comedy!

    Thank you to @FoodieRD on Twitter for posting link to CNN article.


    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.


    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!


    You Ask, I Answer: Red Meat & Iron

    _d220328Is it necessary to [include] some red meat [in one’s diet]?  Even just once a month to get iron?

    I often hear that the iron source best absorbed by our body is from red meat, so women, especially, need red meat.

    Is that true?

    — Coco (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Your question touches on a variety of issues.  Let’s take them one by one.

    It is true that heme iron (that from meat, poultry, and shellfish) is absorbed more efficiently by our bodies than non-heme iron (that in dairy, eggs, grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables).  Consequently, vegetarians and vegans have higher iron requirements than their meat-eating counterparts.

    While all meat-based iron is highly absorbable, organ meats (like liver) have the highest absorption rate, followed by pork, beef, chicken, and fish.

    Non-meat-eaters can more easily meet their iron requirements by:

    • Abstaining from drinking coffee or tea with meals, as they strongly block iron absorption
    • Including foods/beverages rich in vitamin C in meals to enhance non-heme iron absorption
    • Consuming high-iron vegetarian foods (beans, nuts, seeds, fortified whole grain cereals) daily

    You Ask, I Answer: Amino Acids in Plant Protein

    FEA LV DietbooksI was reading a copy of Sugar Busters (it was at my aunt’s house, I promise I didn’t buy it, Andy!) and at one point the authors mention that two essential amino acids (methionine and lysine) are best absorbed by the body if they are consumed from animal sources.

    I thought vegetarian diets were fine from a protein and amino acid standpoint?

    — Dawn (last name withheld)
    Jacksonville, FL

    Ah, yes, Sugar Busters — one of the iconic books of the latest low-carb revolution.

    Interestingly, none of the four authors (three of whom are doctors) have backgrounds — or, actually, a single degree — in nutrition.

    It always confuses me why people think an “MD” credential automatically means someone is well-versed in nutrition.

    A cardiac surgeon with top honors can work wonders in the operating room and be up on the latest technologies, but most of them have next to little nutrition knowledge.  Let’s leave something as specialized and complex as heart surgery to them and nutrition to those who have spent years studying it.

    Anyhow, onto your question.

    There are nine essential amino acids.  In nutrition, the term ‘essential’ means that we absolutely must get that nutrient or component from our diets.

    Animal products are called ‘complete proteins’ because they contain all nine essential amino acids.

    Most plant-based sources of protein (vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, etc.) are ‘incomplete proteins’ because they offer some, but not all of the essential amino acids.  There are some exceptions, though — hemp seeds, chia seeds, and soy.

    This “complete versus incomplete protein” issue is a moot point, though.

    It just so happens that the essential amino acids lacking in whole grains, for example, are abundant in legumes (and vice versa).  Hence, a diet entirely composed of plant protein is just as adequate as one that includes food sources that are complete proteins.

    Incomplete proteins are only an issue in very poor areas of developing countries where people might subsist on grains for extended periods of time.

    As for methionine and lysine not being absorbed well from plant foods — absolutely inaccurate!

    Not only, like I just mentioned, are some plant foods complete proteins, but incomplete varieties like beans, lentils, and seeds are rich in methionine, while lysine can be easily obtained from nuts.  Our bodies have no difficulty absorbing those two amino acids from plant proteins.

    On another note, my “red flag” alert about silly food restrictions certainly goes up for Sugar Busters.

    While the book emphasizes dietary patterns that provide sufficient amounts of whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and vegetables, I find their placing of bananas, raisins, pineapple, potatoes, and watermelon on the “banned food” list absolutely ridiculous and counter-intuitive.

    Artificial sweeteners are A-okay but a banana gets blamed for obesity and diabetes?  Give me a break.


    Vocab Bite: Vegilemma

    dilemmaveg⋅i⋅lem⋅ma [vej-i-lem-uh]


    1. A difficult situation encountered by a vegetarian or vegan, usually at a restaurant or gathering, where the only dish they can eat is an uninspired salad or a side of steamed carrots and peas
    2. An unpleasant situation, also mainly experienced at restaurants or gatherings, in which a vegetarian or vegan must choose to eat a lame side dish or an entree that requires picking out, or eating around, an unwanted ingredient
    3. Emotional distress experienced by a vegetarian or vegan about his or her eating habits upon going to dinner at a new acquaintance’s home

    Example: I had quite the vegilemma at Steph’s luncheon — eat a portobello steak (which I hate) or pick out pieces of ham from the ham, spinach, and red pepper frittata.


    In The News: Go Ahead… Veg Out!

    46874180.happypeppersThe latest issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association contains a position paper on vegetarianism that is summarized with this statement:

    “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes.”

    Mind you, The American Dietetic Association only offers position papers on issues which they feel are supported by sound scientific evidence.  This particular position paper is an updated version of the original one, as it specifically describes vegetarian and vegan diets as adequate for all lifecycles.

    I especially post this for some of the vegetarian pregnant women and teenage athletes who have written me, saying their doctors — or, in the case of athletes, sports coaches — have referred to diets free of meat as “nutritionally inferior.”

    Next time that happens, refer them to this position paper — and ask them if they have read any nutrition studies in the past fifty years!


    You Ask, I Answer: Soy Protein

    100-soy-proteinWhen I was at the gym today, I overheard two guys talking.

    One of them was telling the other that he drinks soy protein shakes since he is lactose-intolerant.

    The other guy told him that is the worst thing he can do, since soy’s amino acids are converted into estrogen by the body, and don’t let muscles grow.

    This didn’t sound right to me, but I figured I would ask you.

    — Tom Dalgers
    New York, NY

    You are absolutely right, Tom.  It doesn’t sound right… because it’s completely false!

    Some basic nutrition and human physiology concepts demonstrate why “guy #2” should not be so quick to dole out his brand of advice.

    Soy, just like all varities of meat, contains all nine essential amino acids.  It is considered a “complete protein,” in that sense (compared to something like whole wheat bread or peanut butter).

    Remember, though, that as long as you eat a balanced diet, it is not detrimental to consume “incomplete proteins,” since the amino acids lacking in whole grains are found in legumes (and vice versa).

    As for the amino acids in soy being converted to estrogen?  Nonsense!  The body produces estrogen from cholesterol, not from amino acids.

    Even if “guy #2” had a momentary lapse in memory and meant to say that the phytoestrogens in soy are converted to estrogen in the body, he would still be wrong.

    If you look at the research literature on soy and testosterone, you will see that the vast majority of studies find no relation between soy intake and decreased testosterone.  The small handful (out of hundreds) of studies that found compromised testosterone levels were using preposterously high amounts of soy protein in their experiments.

    While we’re at it, let me remind you that muscles grow as a result of performing weight-bearing exercises, not from consuming protein.  Although the timing of protein consumption after a workout can help maximize results, the average person (and especially man) in the United States is already consuming, on average, twice the amount of required protein.  Supplementing with additional amounts doesn’t make much sense.

    The protein shake industry has done such a great job convincing people looking to bulk up that they need more protein that the most essential aspect of gaining weight while weightlifting — eating more calories! — is forgotten about by many.


    You Ask, I Answer: Gummy Bear Food Label

    Here’s a mystery for you.

    I am looking at a bag of Haribo gummy bears. According to the food label, there are 3 grams of protein per serving.

    How can that be? I thought candy was just sugar?

    — Marilyn (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    I sought out a bag of these gummy bears and immediately looked at the ingredient list: “corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, dextrose, citric acid, starch, artificial and natural flavors, fractionated coconut oil, carnauba wax, beeswax coating, artificial colors: Yellow 5, Red 10, Blue 1.”

    The answer to your question comes courtesy of the third ingredient — gelatin.

    Remember, gelatin is made from the jelly-like protein substance that remains after dissolving animal tendons, ligaments, skin, and bones in boiling water. Consequently, gelatin is approximately 85% protein.

    All gelatin is animal-derived. “Vegetarian candies”, meanwhile, use plant-based thickeners.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    Vegetarians and vegans should aim to consume 50 percent more zinc than their meat-eating counterparts each day.

    One of the problems with the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) is that they make a few assumptions (for example, that everyone eats meat).

    In all fairness, they kind of have to since these figures are meant as average daily intakes sufficient for 97% of the population.

    The issue with vegetable sources of zinc, as with iron, is their low bioavailability.

    Therefore, if you are over the age of 18 and do not eat meat (by “meat” I mean beef, poultry, pork, and seafood), your requirement increases from 8 milligrams a day to approximately 12 or 13.


    Numbers Game: Getting In Zinc

    Vegetarians and vegans should aim to consume _____ percent more zinc than their meat-eating counterparts each day.

    a) 17
    b) 25
    c) 50
    d) 0

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Friday for the answer — and some little-known facts about this mineral.

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