Vegan Food – Trick or Treat?

Plant-based diet is all the rage but is it healthier for you? There is no argument that eating less animal products is better for your body and for the planet. For years I have been advising the general public, eating a typical North American diet, to reduce meat intake and use meat as a condiment rather than the main focus of their meal. For some, my husband included, it is easier to go cold turkey and avoid meat altogether rather than tease the taste buds and be left feeling unsatisfied. The craving for the flavor of “meat” combined with the desire to go meatless has fueled the surging popularity of meat alternatives in grocery stores and restaurants, including fast food chains.

Tricks

The plant-based food space grew 11% between 2018 and 2019 to $4.5 billion in the US which provided more options and also more confusion than ever for consumers. Have you noticed the growing number of plant-based milk, such as soy, almond, cashew, rice, and oat milks, on your grocery shelves? It can certainly be tricky to find vegan foods with the same nutritional profile as the animal products you are replacing. I recently replaced cow’s milk with almond milk and realized that I now only get 12.5% of my usual amount of protein (1 gram of protein in 1 cup of almond milk rather than 8 grams of protein in cow’s milk). That means I need to adjust my diet to eat other high protein foods to make up the deficit. Not easy to do without some nutrition knowledge and meal planning skills!

Plant-based foods designed to replace milk, cheese, and meat often have a lengthy list of ingredients and full of fillers. Have a look at the 18 ingredients in a Beyond Burger: water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, natural flavors, cocoa butter, mung bean protein, methylcellulose, potato starch, apple extract, salt, potassium chloride, vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, sunflower lecithin, pomegranate fruit powder, and beet juice extract (the beet juice give the burger its meat-like “blood”). Pretty scary! If you are interested in a complete nutritional comparison between a Beyond Burger and a regular burger, check out this article  in Good Housekeeping. It’s clear that plant-based foods can be highly processed and may not be the healthy alternative we think we are eating.

Treat

Eating a vegan or plant-based diet is not just about avoiding animal products or eating meat look-a-likes. It is about eating an abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Now, that’s a treat for your health!!!

Plan the main event of your meal around “meaty” vegetables such as mushrooms, eggplant, and squash.  This will easily increase your daily vegetable servings. Consuming enough fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity. The 20152020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume 1.5–2.0 cup equivalents of fruits and 2.0–3.0 cups of vegetables per day. These goals are much more attainable on a plant-based diet.

The best vegan food comes in its natural form. Nuts, seeds, and legumes are never processed and provide a signifiant source of protein and fiber. Many research studies have shown that the high fiber content in some nuts and legumes is good for your gut bacteria and provides protection to the gut lining and creates a healthier microbiome. The gut microbiome plays a vital role in helping with digestion and benefiting your immune system and many other aspects of health.

Another great source of plant-based protein is whole grains.  Whole grains have much more fiber, B vitamins, and iron than refined grains. Experiment cooking with some of the high protein grains such as quinoa, spelt, kamut, amaranth and millet, just to name a few. Their names may sound intimidating but they boil a lot like rice – just follow the cooking direction on the package and you can’t go wrong. To maximum your nutrition at each meal, learn to combine grains with legumes for complementary protein.

Meat is not necessary a villain. But in a culture where meat consumption is excessive and climate change is a concern, it is definitely a treat to have the food pendulum swing in favor of vegan food.

 


Cauliflower Rice Risotto with Portobello Mushrooms

There are many reasons why cauliflower rice is so popular. It is super easy and fast to cook, and most of all, super nutritious! What better than a substitute for starch, either as a rice or a pizza crust, that you can eat guilt-free because it is ultra low cal and low carb. At the same time, you are banking your daily servings of vegetables without even trying.

In most dishes that use rice, you should be able to substitute with cauliflower rice. Just be aware that cauliflower will not have the starchy texture and mouth-feel that you get with white rice. without the starch, you will notice that cauliflower rice doesn’t absorb sauces as well and nor does it give a creamy texture, as in the case of risotto. That said, I was very excited with how my cauliflower risotto turned out last night and I think you will like it too!

Mushroom Cauliflower Rice Risotto

1 small head of cauliflower (2 cups riced cauliflower)

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 chopped onion

1 chopped Portobello mushroom cap

1/4 cup vegetable broth or white wine

Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Use a cheese grater or a food processor to grate the head of cauliflower. You can also buy riced cauliflower in most large supermarkets.
  2. In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  3. Sauté onion in olive oil.
  4. Add mushroom to pan and cook until tender.
  5. Stir in riced cauliflower and vegetable broth or wine, and cook for 10 minutes.
  6. Season with salt and pepper. Option to add Parmesan cheese if you are not a vegan.

 


Truth about Turmeric

Turmeric really doesn’t need much introduction these days. For those who don’t do much cooking, it is a bright yellow spice commonly used in Indian cooking. If you are wondering what business turmeric has in finding its way into our lattes, it is because of its super food status in culinary medicine. Turmeric has potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects which can potentially prevent and treat arthritis, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  As a food enthusiast, I am no stranger to cooking with turmeric but I am curious whether drinking a cup of turmeric tea latte per day (a.k.a Golden Milk) will keep my knee pain away.

The medicinal effect of turmeric is attributed to its active compound, curcumin. It has been used to help prevent ailments for generations in Asia. Research indicates that you need to get 500 to 1,000 milligrams of curcumin per day for an anti-inflammatory effect. The average Indian diet provides around 60-100 milligrams of curcumin (2,000-2,500 milligrams of turmeric) per day. In other words, you would need to consume more than 10 times the amount of turmeric than what’s in a typical Indian diet. The truth is that it is not easy to get a therapeutic dose of curcumin without some supplementation. However, if you decide to take on the challenge with eating real food for your curcumin,  keep in mind that you will need to add at least 2 1/2 Tablespoons (17 grams) of turmeric a day in your diet to get 500 milligrams of curcumin. Also, curcumin is not easily absorbed and it needs to be combined with fat and black pepper to enhance its absorption. I am sharing my recipe of the Oven Roasted Turmeric Cauliflower that is super easy and delicious with an abundant amount of turmeric. Cauliflower is naturally high in antioxidant so this packs an extra anti-inflammatory punch.

Along with boosting curcumin in your diet to flight inflammation, it is beneficial to avoid inflammation inducing foods – sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial trans fats, refined carbohydrates, processed meats, and alcohol – at the same time. This is a good way to double down on the battle against inflammation!

Cauliflower

Oven Roasted Turmeric Cauliflower

1 large head of cauliflower

1/4 cup Olive oil

2 Tbsp turmeric

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Cut cauliflower into florets and put on a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. whisk olive oil, turmeric, salt and pepper in a bowl and drizzle over cauliflower to coat pieces.
  4. Roast cauliflower in oven until tender and slightly brown for 15-25 minutes, turning halfway.

 

 


How to avoid GMOs

 

IMG_4606Food companies are labelling their food packaging with more health claims than ever before but do we really know what they mean? The “NON GMO Project VERIFIED” seal is one that has been attracting my attention lately. I am seeing it on a range of products from bread to won ton wrappers. According to data from The Non-GMO Project Verified organization, their seal is the fastest growing label in the natural product industry and represents over $26 billion in annual sales. There are more than 50,000 Verified products from over 3,000 brands available to consumers in the marketplace. With this growing trend, it is definitely worth learning more about what this claim means. I went to their website and this is what I extracted:

What is a GMO?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.

Most GMOs have been engineered to withstand the direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. However, new technologies are now being used to artificially develop other traits in plants, such as a resistance to browning in apples, and to create new organisms using synthetic biology. Despite biotech industry promises, there is no evidence that any of the GMOs currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.

Are GMOs safe?
In the absence of credible independent long-term feeding studies, the safety of GMOs is unknown. Increasingly, citizens are taking matters into their own hands and choosing to opt out of the GMO experiment.

Which foods might contain GMOs?
Most packaged foods contain ingredients derived from corn, soy, canola, and sugar beet — and the vast majority of those crops grown in North America are genetically modified. 

Visit the What is GMO page for more information and a list of high-risk crops.

Animal products: The Non-GMO Project also considers livestock, apiculture, and aquaculture products at high risk because genetically engineered ingredients are common in animal feed. This impacts animal products such as: eggs, milk, meat, honey, and seafood.

Processed inputs, including those from synthetic biology: GMOs also sneak into food in the form of processed crop derivatives and inputs derived from other forms of genetic engineering, such as synthetic biology. Some examples include: hydrolyzed vegetable protein, corn syrup, molasses, sucrose, textured vegetable protein, flavorings, vitamins,  yeast products, microbes & enzymes, flavors, oils & fats, proteins, and sweeteners.

My Bottomline Recommendations:

1. Avoid processed foods. The less processed the food, the less chance of GMO ingredients sneaking into the manufacturing process.

2. Eat fresh food with a short ingredient list. Less is more when it comes to healthy food!

3. Buy organic products when possible because the use of genetically modified organisms are not permitted in products that are USDA organic certified.

4. Look for the Non GMO Project Verified seal on food products, especially with products containing the high risk corps such as Corn, soy, canola, and sugar beet. The Non-GMO Project Verified seal assures consumers that a product has completed a comprehensive third-party verification for compliance with the Non-GMO Project Standard.

 

 


The Secret to Southeast Asian Cooking

I love Southeast Asian food for its intense flavors! Fish sauce, made of anchovies and salt, is what creates that bold taste in Vietnamese, Thai and Cambodian cuisine. it is used in salads, soups, stir-fry and dipping sauces. Many chefs and home cooks have taken fish sauce beyond Asian dishes to deliver the umami flavor to some unexpected dishes. Try a few sprinkle on the ever so popular roasted Brussels sprouts and you’ll know what I mean!

With the increasing popularity of Southeast Asian food, fish sauce is much more available in the grocery store than ever before. If you don’t find it in your local grocery store, you can always have it delivered to your door by Amazon. Just don’t expect to get a good price on it – even on Amazon Prime Day!

I usually get my Red Boat Fish sauce at Trader Joe’s until they were unable to restock it from their supplier in the last several months.  When I saw Red Boat Fish sauce at Sur La Table selling for $8.95 (8.45 fl. oz.), it was all the motivation I needed to make a trip to the Asian market for the authentic stuff for cheap. Of course, when I got there I was confronted with an array of choices except the Red Boat brand I was looking for. How do I decide which one to buy? Not sure it matters if it’s from Thailand or Vietnam. Price is not the deciding factor since they are all inexpensive so it boils down to their ingredients. Surprisingly, some of them contain fillers other than anchovies and salt. For example, Three Crabs brand (popular with some chefs) contains anchovy extract, water, salt, fructose (a form of sugar) and hydrolysed vegetable protein (a form of MSG) and yet it makes the claim “no MSG added” on its label. Really! Imported foods don’t always meet the same regulation on label claims so read the ingredient list to verify their claims. My final choice was the “Top” brand containing anchovies fish extract, water and salt for $1.25 (23 fl. oz.).

Fish sauce is an extremely tasty fat-free condiment. It is very high in salt so you may need to adjust the amount of added salt in the dish when using fish sauce. Be adventurous and go beyond borders when cooking with it! If you are a novice, start with the dipping sauce below for salads, noodles and grilled meats. It is a family recipe from Mai Pham, author of “The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking.” It has been my go-to for over 20 years.

Classic Vietnamese Dipping sauce (Nuoc Cham)

2 small garlic cloves, sliced

1-2 tsp. ground chile paste

1-2 Thai bird peppers, or any other chiles, chopped

1/4 cup good quality fish sauce

2//3 hot water

2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice with pulp

1/4 cup sugar

2 Tbsp. shredded carrots for garnish

Place the garlic, chile paste and fresh chiles in a mortar. With a pestle, pound into a paste. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, mince by hand.

Combine the garlic mixture with the remaining ingredients (except carrots) in a small mixing bowl. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Ladle the sauce into small ramekins and float the carrot slivers on top. Makes 1 1/2 cups. Keeps in refrigerator for one month.


Eat Smarter Live Longer

As I was cleaning out my stash of food magazines, I came across the 2017 issues of Food & Wine. Many of its recipes I have not tried as I was on overdrive with work during that time. The February issue was entitled “Eat Smarter Live Longer” which grabbed my attention. It is comforting to know the plant-based food trend hasn’t changed much in the last couple years and I am still on the right track as a smart eater. In hopes of influencing my meat-eating husband in the right direction, I made the Chickpeas and Kale in Spicy Pomodoro Sauce from the magazine. When I served it at lunch today, he said “I thought some bacon would be great in this until I tasted it and realize it doesn’t need it at all.” This is a recipe for 4 and just the two of us polished it off. I think this says it all!

This recipe was created by Chef Missy Robbins of Brooklyn’s award-winning Lilia restaurant who took an age old Italian classic, pasta al pomodoro, and made it gluten-free by replacing pasta with chickpeas. Then she added kale, one of the healthiest greens of the 21t century to pump up the nutritional quotient. No wonder Food & Wine named this recipe one of their top 40 in 2018. Below is the recipe from the February issue of Food & Wine magazine. For more healthy food ideas, check out my Instagram @healthydigz.

How to Make It

Step 1

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until very fragrant 
but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and 
the sauce is thickened, about 25 minutes.

Step 2

Stir the kale into the sauce and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt. Spoon into bowls and garnish with torn basil 
and marjoram leaves. Top with finely grated pecorino and serve hot.

 


Urban Wellness Retreat in Vancouver

Ever faced with the dilemma of choosing between an in-and-out destination wellness retreat where location is secluded or a busy hectic exploratory sightseeing city trip? Here’s simple solution to have it all – create your own wellness retreat in a metropolitan city that is fitness minded.

Vancouver is an extremely walkable city full of wellness options! Follow my itinerary from my recent trip and enjoy a day filled with yummy food, exercise, and sightseeing. Staying in a central location of the city makes it easy to be active, find healthy restaurants and see local sites on foot. I highly recommend the Kitsilano area for all those reasons. This neighborhood is known for its yoga studios, natural food stores, and outdoor apparel shops. After all, it is the location of the corporate HQ for Lululemon and the first Whole Food store in Vancouver.

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Start you day with breakfast at The Naam (https://www.thenaam.com), located in the heart of Kitsilano on 4th Avenue. You can get anything from scrambled tofu to hardy egg omelettes. It has served organic and locally sourced vegetarian and vegan food for over 50 years. After all these years, I found them to remain true to that original vision, using fresh and pure ingredients while maintaining a warm, earthy and welcoming atmosphere.

After a wholesome meal, head east down 4th Avenue and browse all the trendy boutiques. Along the way, you will come across some of the best bakeries and cafes in town. Try to resist the temptations until you get to your lunch spot. I recommend grabbing a quick bite at Turf, a healthy food counter serving creative vegan fare and making bowls, salads, sandwiches and smoothies extraordinary. “Three Point Oh Burger” below was one of the best vegan burgers I have had. It features a house made patty with black bean, eggplant, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnut, oat, tahini and spices. This little cafe is part of a gym so try a workout (https://www.ourturf.com/pages/classes) before you dine out!

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Walk back up westbound on 4th Avenue to see the boutiques on the other side of the street. When you reach Vine street, turn right and head down to Kitsilano beach where you will see a gorgeous view of the ocean and the north shore mountains. To the left of the beach you will find the largest saltwater swimming pool in North America. The pool is open May to mid-September with extensive hours. For a few dollars, you can enjoy a swim in a 137 meter heated infinity pool with the view of the ocean. Talk about a wellness retreat setting for cheap!

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The walking path from Kitsilano beach will lead you to the Vancouver Maritime Museum and Vanier Park. Walk across the Burrard Street bridge towards downtown Vancouver, known as City of Glass. You will see why as soon as you cross the bridge. Make a left turn on Pacific Street and walk along Beach Avenue towards English Bay. Before continuing your walk into Stanley Park, stop at The Catus Club Cafe on the shores of English Bay to fuel up for the 6 mile loop around the park. You can’t beat the scenery of this location and the variety of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options on their menu (https://www.cactusclubcafe.com/menus/english-bay/food/lifestyle-choices/).

If this urban wellness day has provided enough exercise, good eats, and fun, just grab a taxi back to your pad. If you still have energy to burn, it’s only a 4 mile walk back to Kitsilano.

 

 


Healthy Hawaiian Food

 

It’s part of the cultural experience to taste local food and drinks when traveling. Of course, you don’t want your diet to rule what you eat when you’ve traveled thousands of miles to indulge in all things Hawaiian, Mai Tai included! That said, you also don’t want to completely blow your healthy lifestyle that you’ve worked so hard all year getting bikini-ready for your trip. Below are the top 3 must-try traditional Hawaii foods that will keep you fit.

Poke was originated in Hawaii but it has become so popular everywhere these days that even a poke bowl restaurant franchise has been created.  Poke means “to cut up into pieces” in Hawaii. From what I see in Maui supermarkets, Poke is abundantly available and affordable. There is an array of seafood mixed with soy-based dressing or creamy dressing. For healthier options, avoid fish high in mercury and seafood mixed in creamy dressing. Ahi tuna is classically used for poke and is very high in mercury so go easy on all tuna and and try salmon, octopus, scallops, and clams instead.

Kalua pig is pork that has been slow cooked in an imu, an underground oven. This slow cooking method produces super tender meat with a smoky flavor. Kalua pig is the main event at Hawaiian luaus but you can find Kalua pork in any Hawaiian style restaurant as a combo plate served with white rice and macaroni salad. Most restaurants will let you substitute the rice and mac salad with some cooked veggies and a green salad. Just by asking, you could be saving yourself hundreds of refined carb calories!

Last but not least, you must try the Lomi-lomi salmon. It’s a light and refreshing side dish made with salted, shredded salmon, tomatoes, and sweet Maui onions.

 

 


Airport food in Norway

IMG_0194.JPGCouple days ago, I traveled with my daughter to Budapest on Norwegian Air with 2 stopovers. A 4-hour layover at Stockholm and a quick 1-hour layover at Oslo. The price was right so I didn’t mind the long journey. The food and service onboard was pretty good for a budget airline. I dragged the idea of having to eat airport food but found myself wowed by the offerings at Oslo. There was lots of fresh seafood in all forms, including fish and chips, shrimp salad and sandwiches, and lox sandwich. I had a difficult time making my choice since they all looked so delicious. There was no fast food outlets which of course led me to speculate that obesity rate must be lower in Norway. My visual assessment of the locals confirmed my speculation. I can’t wait to have a longer layover in Oslo next time I fly!


2017 : A Year of Healthy Discoveries

Live healthy is more complicated than ever! We worry about the toxins in our food, our water and our air. We pay top dollars for organic food, cold pressed juices and chemical-free mattresses, hoping money can buy us better health. Are we truly getting what we pay for? I work for a health resort where its tagline is “Live Healthy” but I still have to ask the chef if there’s hormone in the chicken served in our restaurant. Just because a company is in the business of selling health-promoting products and services, it doesn’t mean they are truly healthy for you. One of the most common new year’s resolution is changing some habit that has to do with improving health. Sadly, studies showed that only 8% of people achieve their goal. As you embark on your journey of healthy resolutions, take small steps and commit to each step before moving on. Don’t buy into all the hype and fad! For me, healthy eating starts with healthy ingredients free of pesticides. Start with buying organic produce and eating lots of it daily. For a list of the dirty dozen and the clean 15 fruits and vegetables, check out the Environmental Working Group’s 2016 Guide to Pesticides in Produce at www.ewg.org/foodnews/index.php.