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.

 


How to Find the Best Spa Experience

We are not talking about the top 10 destination spas you drool over in the Travel and Leisure magazine. There is no doubt that you will get the best spa experience when you open your wallet to these top-rated spas. If not, you can probably ask for your money back. For novice spa goers, it can be confusing to know what to expect for the money you spend at a spa. Below are the three S’s to consider when choosing a spa that will give you the most bang for your buck.

Setting

The spa decor and atmosphere will set the tone for your spa experience. You can think of it as a prelude to your treatment! It doesn’t have to be an ultra luxurious space but it should be clean and give you a sense of calm. An esthetically pleasing setting will feed many senses and start your relaxation immediately. Does it have soothing colors, soft music and a pleasant scent? Even the most basic spas should provide these elements, since it is relatively inexpensive to do so . If the spa owner doesn’t have a discerning taste in creating the spa setting, I would question the calibre of their treatments and staff.

The amenities available will definitely add value and enhance your experience. Do you have access to a pool, sauna, steam room, locker room or a relaxation lounge? You can expect higher prices with more amenities, due to the cost of the spa operation. Decide what is important to you and worth the extra money. No point paying for amenities that you won’t be using. Personally, I find a comfortable relaxation lounge with tea and filtered water as a minimum to help me unwind before, and refresh after my spa treatment. Wet amenities are worth the money if you have enough time to enjoy them prior to your treatment to loosen your mind and body so you can get the most out of your treatment.

Size does not matter when it comes to sauna, steam room and whirlpool, as long as it is appropriate for the volume of traffic. My recent spa experience at LE SPA SOTHYS PARIS RÉPUBLIQUE confirmed this for me. Surprisingly, this spa only has 2 treatment rooms so it has a low volume use. The sauna, steam room and whirlpool were petite (see photo) but well-designed and provided privacy and exclusivity. Always ask for a tour of the spa to see if it brings you a sense of tranquility. Is that why we visit a spa?

Spa Services

An extensive spa menu is fun to read! I love oohing and aahing over the treatment descriptions. But if all you want is a really good deep tissue massage, too many fancy treatments on the menu may be a detractor. Just think about all the spa protocols the therapists need to learn and perform rather than focusing on delivering excellent massages. However, if you are planning a full spa day or in search of innovative spa treatments, then it’s a different story. Just like spa amenities, it is irrelevant if you are not taking advantage of the offerings.

Staff

Spa is a hospitality business so having warm, caring, and friendly staff is a must. If you don’t get that feeling when you call to make your appointment, it is likely that you will be disappointed with your overall experience. Spa therapist qualification, training and experience are most critical to the quality of the treatment. Estheticians and Massage Therapists should have professional training to properly treat the face and body, respectively; they are licensed or certified in the US. Spa industry certifications are specific to each country so be aware of varying standards and regulations, if any, when traveling to foreign countries. Do not hesitate to ask about therapists’ training and certification before you book your appointment.

To sum it up, reviewing the setting, spa services and staff at a spa will help you find the best spa experience in any country!


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.

 

 


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.