Thursday, June 27, 2013

Gardening: Baby Steps

Ever since Jon and I watched Food Inc, followed by Farmageddon and other documentaries exposing the North American food production industry, our desire to grow some of our own food greatly intensified. We talked about planting various herbs, vegetables, and berries, buying chickens for fresh eggs and even considered setting up a small trout pond.  

A few days ago, I embarked on the Bean Project... Earlier, I wrote about the 13 Bean Soup Mix by Bob's Red Mill. Well, after having made a mighty delicious chili with it, I decided to run a preschool-level experiment and see if I can get my beans to sprout. I experienced a complete success: all my 24 beans came to life and by day 4 they were ready to be planted.

On day 3 in the soil (I used organic Nature Mix by Premier...) a perky green plant appeared ready for a photo session. Somewhere between struggling to find the right angle and avoiding casting a shadow, I thought of how truly amazing the process of growing food is. It takes time, patience, nutritious soil and lots of love! Over the last several decades, however, we disrespected the natural order of things in pursuit of larger profit margins and managed to de-love our food. We also prioritized simplicity and convenience over nutrition value, which largely contributed to skyrocketing rates of obesity and chronic diseases.

Young bean plant
The next day after planting my bean sprouts, Jon and I visited a local nursery and purchased 3 basil and 2 lavender plants, 2 mature strawberry bushes, 2 kinds of tomato plants and 3 hanging flower pots. I also made a trip around town to find some lettuce and herb seeds (that proved to be a challenge so late in the season) and planted all 13 kinds the same night. Today, just two days later, I noticed tiny stems with delicate leaves, pushing through the loose soil. And again, I was excited about this simple yet majestic process of growing food the way nature intended- with love, respect and great care. 

Sweet Basil
Now that my first tray of seeds is sprouting, I plan on setting up another. Hopefully, over time, we can expand from there: purchase a larger parcel of land, set up a greenhouse and a small garden nearby. Perhaps, we can adopt a couple of chickens and eliminate the expense of buying organic free-run eggs at the local grocery store. Our baby steps today should get us to a more self-sustaining and healthier position tomorrow.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Healthful Cheat Days

Ever since I became interested in fitness and healthful nutrition in my first year of business school, I believed in the importance of cheating. Now, I do not propagate academic misconduct or any other form of inherently ill-conceived behaviour, but rather tricking our body into thinking it needs to burn more calories more quickly, which in turn revs up one's metabolism. 

As a rule, it is accomplished through temporarily- typically, for one day each week- stepping away from the regular diet plan. Psychologically, I found it a powerful concept, as I looked forward to rewarding myself for being good by being bad. Physiologically, there appears to be a variation in the levels of a hormone called leptin before and after so-called cheat days, which is responsible for communicating to the body its nutritional status.*

Home-made pizza: whole wheat crust (from scratch), fresh tomatoes, sweet basil and
yellow pepper, home-made pizza sauce, all-natural bison sausage and white cheddar
Overall, I found cheat days a heaven-sent way to sticking to restrictive diets for long periods at a time. Clean eating and everyday workouts were no longer a massive challenge, when I knew to look forward to each Friday, when going to Tim Hortons for a half-a-dozen of disgustingly delicious pastries was legitimized.  Over time, however, as I grew increasingly respectful of my body, the need in empty-calorie foods fell away. Instead, I wanted to supply my anatomy with great nutrients at every meal. 

However, I also believe in intuition and our body's ability to tell us what it needs at any given time of the day (do not confuse it with a junk food habit). Therefore, there is nothing wrong with giving in to an occasional treat, as long as that treat is consumed in moderate quantities and it too contains an adequate amount of high-quality nutrients. Now, if I crave pizza, I would bake my own and add a large fresh garden salad. Chocolate also finds its way into my fridge, as long as the cocoa content is no less than 75 per cent and the list of ingredients is short.

Fresh garden salad with local butter lettuce, tomatoes, yellow pepper, baby cucumbers
and avocado. Dressing: lemon juice and extra virgin organic olive oil
Over time, healthful nutrition and cooking became such an integral part of my being that I attempt to create quality meals each day, whether a cheat day or not.  


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

That Good Old Chili

I find it rather ironic that a post on chili, complete with a recipe of this scrumptious dish, has to follow the earlier discussion on plant-based nutrition. But oh well... I EAT MEAT! And I am not going to apologize for it.

I started this morning at 7 am, first soaking the 13 Bean Soup Mix by Bob's Red Mill, and mixing the dough for a fresh loaf of multi-grain bread. I have been making my own bread ever since we bought the Breadman- a wonderful machine that, although a wee bit expensive, paid for itself in virtually no time! 

navy, black, pinto, baby limas, large limas, garbanzo, great northern, 

kidney beans, black-eyed, yellow split, green split peas and lentils

Bought this past weekend, elk patties were to be used in lieu of beef. Recently, Jon and I have been making a great effort to replace conventionally grown meat and fish with grass-fed, free-range or wild alternatives. The chicken breasts might be half the size of the regular store's and the price tags leave you cringing, but our health is infinitely more important. Besides, reducing the amount of meat in our diet (I am no oblivious to the fact that we consume more meat than needed for ultimate functioning) should very well justify pricier animal foods in our freezer.

Once the elk patties thawed out, I sauteed some onions and mushrooms in a frying pan, then added ground meat and cooked all for about 15 min. At the same time, I placed the beans in a pot with enough water to cover them and boiled the mass for 5 min, then reduced the heat to low. I sliced yellow and orange peppers and placed in a pot, together with meat, beans and a little bit of fresh garlic. 

Now, it is time to make some tomato sauce! Vitamix is great for preparing delicious home-made sauces, smoothies and even peanut butter. I used 3 ripe tomatoes, a clove of garlic, half the sweet red pepper,  some lemon juice and half a cup of ready canned tomato sauce to make the process of blending easier. 

Once completely liquefied, the tomato sauce goes in the pot to join other ingredients. Now, it is only a matter of letting everything simmer on low for 90 min or until the beans are soft. Once ready, serve the chili in a bowl with a pinch of grated white cheddar cheese and some cilantro (I ran out of the latter, so all you can see decorating my chili is cheese) and a slice of multi-grain bread.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Reflections on Plant-Based Nutrition

Yesterday, I officially completed TCC 501-02: Nutrition Fundamentals course, offered by Cornell University and taught by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. This is the first course in a series of three, designed to gain a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition and provide continuing education credits to medical professionals like nurses and family physicians. 

Feeling lonely amidst vegan students, I plowed through lecture after lecture, learning about the alleged effect of animal protein on cancer growth and heart disease, by virtue of cholesterol. I kept waiting for at least some discussion on the potential negative influence of contaminated water and air, stress and the presence of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides in commercially grown food, but the course seems to have been built entirely around the topic of nutrition and its constituent components. 

But wait, isn't the presence of toxins in our food and water supply relevant? How can stress we experience in our daily lives today be ignored when discussing the possible precursors for chronic diseases like cancer? Although an emphasis on a wholistic approach was made throughout the course, a laser-like focus on animal protein and its exclusively negative impact predominated. Alright, I do agree that we as a society consume entirely too much meat (along with excess amounts of sugar, transfats and artificial fillers of all sorts), but I also know that a comparison with an unarguably deficient diet would do no one any good. I mean, let's face it: eating a brick will prove superior to a diet of an average American. At least, the former is a source of minerals.

I had to ask myself the hard question. Am I defending animal foods simply because I've always consumed them, misguided by the faulty science and my parents' best intentions to raise a healthy child? Well, I look at my father-in-law and he is as healthy as can be at 83 years old, having survived and thrived through polio and years of hard labour as a heavy-duty mechanic. By all accounts, having been raised on a farm, he consumed whole milk and grass-fed beef, but mostly wild meat like moose, elk and deer. If animal protein caused damage to our health, its life-long consumption should not result in a long life.

It is rather more important to choose carefully the type of animal product to consume. In one of his lectures, Dr. Campbell featured a meat blend to demonstrate its high fat content and deficiency in vitamins. He presented the following three foods: beef, pork and turkey. 

Dr. Campbell's Meat Blend grams Cal. (kcal) Chol. (g) Fat (g) Prot. (g) B-caro. (µg) Fiber (g) Vit. C Folate (µg) Vit. E (mg) Fe (mg) Mg (mg) Ca (mg) Zn (mg)
Beef 23573 85.00 230.00 77.00 15.15 21.89 0.00 0.00 0.00 9.00 0.40 2.11 17.00 20.00 5.31
Pork 10151 85.00 207.00 53.00 14.25 18.33 0.00 0.00 0.00 3.00 0.31 0.74 16.00 6.00 1.97
Turkey 05296 85.05 132.00 45.00 4.92 18.13 0.00 0.00 0.00 4.00 0.32 1.39 19.00 4.00 2.16
Total 255.05 569.00 175.00 34.32 58.35 0.00 0.00 0.00 16.00 1.03 4.24 52.00 30.00 9.44
Average 85.02 189.67 58.33 11.44 19.45 0.00 0.00 0.00 5.33 0.34 1.41 17.33 10.00 3.15

Beef and pork, with their high fat content, brought the average up to 11.44 g per 85 g of meat. The nutrition data was taken from the USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference- a rather amazing online tool, I must say- and the type of beef chosen a patty with 20% fat content, cooked. His rational for this was to choose the type of meat regularly consumed in America. Well, since we already established that much of America consumes very unhealthful diets, we should not be representing all animal products via a greasy McDonald's patty. In fact, when I comprised my own meat blend, here is what I got:

ALT. MEAT BLEND II grams Cal. (kcal) Chol. (g) Fat (g) Prot. (g) B-caro. (µg) Fiber (g) Vit. C Folate (µg) Vit. E (mg) Fe (mg) Mg (mg) Ca (mg) Zn (mg)
Game Meat, Elk 17167 85.00 124.00 62.00 1.62 25.66 0.00 0.00 0.00 8.00 0.00 3.09 20.00 4.00 2.69
Turkey 05296 85.05 132.00 45.00 4.92 18.13 0.00 0.00 0.00 4.00 0.32 1.39 19.00 4.00 2.16
Wild Trout 15116 85.00 128.00 59.00 4.95 19.48 0.00 0.00 1.70 16.00 0.00 0.32 26.00 73.00 0.43
Total 255.05 384.00 166.00 11.49 63.27 0.00 0.00 1.70 28.00 0.32 4.80 65.00 81.00 5.28
Average 85.02 128.00 55.33 3.83 21.09 0.00 0.00 0.57 9.33 0.11 1.60 21.67 27.00 1.76

According to the table above, the average fat content per 85 g of meat is 3.83 g. In fact, game meat contains so little fat, it only comprises 2% of the total weight! That is an 89.31% reduction in fat content and a 46% reduction in total calories! The cholesterol level is also lower in elk than in beef, although not as significantly. 

Now, let's compare this with Dr. Campbell's vegetable blend:

Dr. Campbell's Veg. Blend grams Cal. (kcal) Chol. (g) Fat (g) Prot. (g) B-caro. (µg) Fiber (g) Vit. C Folate (µg) Vit. E (mg) Fe (mg) Mg (mg) Ca (mg) Zn (mg)
Tomatoes 11529 180.00 32.00 0.00 0.36 1.58 808.00 2.20 24.70 27.00 0.97 0.49 20.00 18.00 0.31
Spinach 11457 30.00 7.00 0.00 0.12 0.86 1688.00 2.50 9.90 58.00 0.61 0.81 24.00 30.00 0.16
Lima Beans 11040 180.00 189.00 0.00 0.54 11.97 180.00 10.80 10.40 29.00 1.15 3.53 101.00 50.00 0.99
Peas 11301 160.00 67.00 0.00 0.37 5.23 955.00 4.50 76.60 46.00 0.62 3.15 42.00 67.00 0.59
Potatoes 11674 202.00 188.00 0.00 0.26 5.05 12.00 4.40 19.40 57.00 0.08 2.18 57.00 30.00 0.73
Total 752.00 483.00 0.00 1.65 24.69 3643.00 24.40 141.00 217.00 3.43 10.16 244.00 195.00 2.78
Average 150.40 96.60 0.00 0.33 4.94 728.60 4.88 28.20 43.40 0.69 2.03 48.80 39.00 0.56

In his lecture, he suggests that a whole food, plant-based diet not only contains enough protein, but also superior amounts of vitamins. True, there is no Beta-carotene, vitamin C or dietary fiber in meat, but just like vegetables do not contain any vitamin B12 or vitamin D. Dr. Campbell's tables also do not contain any values for the concentration of thiamine, phosphorous, riboflavin or vitamins A and K, yet all of these minerals and vitamins are present in various types of meat and fish. For example, there is more than double the amount of phosphorous in 85 g of my meat blend than in 150 g of Dr. Campbell's vegetable blend.

It is also erroneous to generalize fat as some evil substance clogging our arteries and causing us nothing but grief. Fat comes in saturated fat, which is solid at room temperature and mono- and poly-unsaturated fat, or oil rather, that is liquid at room temperature. 85 g of cooked wild salmon, for instance, contain 6.91% of total lipids, 73% of which is unsaturated fat linked to reducing harmful LDL cholesterol. And what about saturated fat? There is still a lot of confusion about whether or not it actually causes cardiovascular diseases, as some recent studies revealed that dietary saturated fat might not be associated with heart disease, after all*.

Now, it is not my intention to discredit a plant-based diet. But it should be what the name says, plant-based, not plant-exclusive. 

My next course in the series, TCC 502: Deseases of Affluence, starts in 16 days and I look forward to new revelations about the chronic diseases that plague North America these days. And if nothing else, the course material should provide a good basis for research into the topic.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Research On Nutrition

Despite numerous attempts to have a nap in the last two days (after two rather sleepless nights with Marcus), I am sitting in front of my computer screen instead and doing the research on nutrition. Yesterday, I registered for a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition, offered by Cornell University. The move was inspired by yet another documentary my husband and I came across, Forks Over Knives, which among other things depicted the decades-long research by Dr. Colin Campbell on the incredible benefits of plant-based nutrition. 

This and the other documentary, Food Matters, made me wish I knew the facts about nutrients, how they interact with our bodies, and how they are affected in the cooking process. For the last eight or nine years, I thought I ate a balanced, healthful diet- and I most certainly did, if compared with an average Canadian's- but as my recent research shows, consuming vegetables and lean meats is not necessarily as beneficial as it could be had I consumed less animal protein and more raw veggies and fruit.

I am still rather skeptical about the harm in dairy products, meats and monounsaturated fats, however. According to Dr. Campbell, the rates of the cardiovascular disease and cancer among the Mediterranean nations, although significantly lower than that in the U.S. and the U.K. (and dare I add, Canada), are much higher of that of the rural Chinese, who were found to eat little animal protein and fats. And that, he says in his article Fat And Plant-Based Diets, might be attributed to monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, for example. Hmm... although I by no means conducted any primary research on the subject, I was surprised to come across such a conclusion. Could the disease rates not have been attributed to say the Mediterranean sea, which is apparently contaminated with massive amounts of mineral oil, mercury, lead and phosphates? Could the cause have something to do with genetics of the Italians and the Spanish versus the Chinese? Whatever it is, I tend to think there is a different reason for higher disease rates in the Mediterranean region. 

However, at this point I need to be open-minded and learn as much as possible about nutrition, in general, and what the ultimate diet- the one that can prevent future and reverse existing ailments- is all about. Next is the work done by Dr. Max Gerson in helping treat chronic degenerative diseases like cancer through a special diet. I will be learning about that in conjunction with Dr. W. J. McCormick's research into Vitamin C and its ability (in large, intravenously administered, doses) to target cancer cells.