Flexitarian Eating: Five Reasons to Hop on this Bandwagon.

Summer 2017 has officially started, despite the 90 degree days that already occupied much of June before the kickoff. Along with summer heat from above, we can expect plenty of heat from grills down below, as Americans cook up deliciously sauced and cheesed meats from all backgrounds…pigs, cow, chicken, lamb, bison, turkey and even goat.  Indeed, what would be a 4th of July celebration without grilled steak and burgers? And perhaps that is too grand of a thought to consider at this point…a summer holiday without meat? Perhaps we can scale it back a bit: how about a few days each week without meat?

Enter Flexitarian Eating. No, it’s not about flexing your biceps doing the beer can curl; nor is it about increasing your flexibility so you can reach forgotten food in dark corners. Flexitarian Eating involves an eating plan that focuses on increasing consumption of plant-based meals, while still allowing for consumption of meat on a periodic basis. For people who want to improve their eating habits, it provides a wealth of health benefits, and for people who desire to transition to vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, it makes the transition easier because it’s not a total sacrifice at one time. In a word, it’s flexible. 

And it’s resourceful. Even if you aren’t a believer in global warming at this point, it’s not hard to see why eating plants is more economical and much more energy efficient than raising livestock.

Consider, for example, that according to the USDA Energy Research Service, a whopping 95% of animal feed is composed of corn. In addition, more than 90 million acres of land in the US grows corn, primarily for use as feed and for ethanol. Even admitted by the Iowa Corn Growers Association in their “Corn Facts” website, a puny 1% of corn grown in the US is actually human edible. Sweet corn, the nostalgic summer food prominent at every reunion and cookout, is by no means the farmers’ cash crop.

Another important fact to consider is the volume of space and water supply needed to raise livestock and grow feed for them. For example, one acre of land can grow up to 61,000 pounds of potatoes (for humans), while it takes 1-2 acres of land to sustain one cow and calf for a year (approximately 1200 lbs). Furthermore, at least 30% of water usage in the US is for livestock production, with beef requiring 1847 lb/gal (in comparison, broccoli requires about 34 lb/gal).

All of this does not even include the energy costs of slaughter, transportation, processing and packaging. In comparison, production of fruits and vegetables requires much less energy and processing when sold as whole foods.

So it’s easy to see why eating plant-based makes environmental sense.

But if you’re like most of my family, those numbers barely fazed you as you munched on your beef jerky stick. So let’s talk about you. Why does plant based eating benefit you?  You might be surprised by the reasons.

  1. Weight Loss. If you resemble 70% of the American population, then you might have a few extra pounds to shed. Part of that problem is due to an over consumption of animal products and protein. According to Sanna Delmonico (MS, RDN), in “The Protein Shift: Plant-Based Options” from  Idea Fitness Food and Nutrition Nov-Dec 2016 Issue, “Evidence suggests that American’s protein intake ranges from 1-1.3 g/kg per day, well above the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) [of .8 g/kg].”

In addition, some research indicates that the average American consumes 62% of their diets from animal products, at more than 3x the global average. Consider that animal protein can often carry more calories per ounce than plant based products. For example, 3 oz of 85% lean ground beef carries about 197 calories, while tofu packs just 77 cal for the same amount (Robinson, Dorene. “The NEW Healthy Eating & Weight Management Guide.” 2012.)

So if you a person who eats meat at every meal, consider dropping to one meal a day, and substitute lower calorie plant products to decrease your overall caloric consumption, which may help with weight loss.
2. Live Longer. If you possess a competitive streak, and hope to outlive your peers, then here’s what you need to know: Compared with vegetarian eaters in various study groups, meat-eaters tend to die sooner, and part of that reason may be linked to chronic conditions often associated with eating animal products. In fact, I found in fascinating to learn that the people group in the US with the highest life expectancy are Seventh-Day Adventists, a Christian and vegetarian cohort, living approximately 10 years longer than their American counterparts.

3. Save Money. When I first got married in 2009 and finally started my own real grocery shopping (meal planning vs snack planning), the sticker shock of the meat section hit me fairly hard. At that time, my husband and I were also “broke as a Kenyan joke” (as my husband says), and living on a single, part-time income.  Fairly quickly I learned to start making meat-less meals, borrowing ideas from the Internet and also from international cuisine, from countries with people facing similar money plights as myself, where food had to go a long way.

Both of us cooked up some pretty stellar meals, and continue to do so, on a limited budget. So I’m usually somewhat perplexed when I hear, “It’s so expensive to eat healthy!” If you consider only organic food to be healthy, then that may be so. But when you shop for seasonal produce and buy from wholesale shops, that’s not necessarily the case.

4. Improve your Palate. Another memory from our first married year involves understanding my husband’s taste buds.  He grew up on fresh food from market and slaughter, and would frequently comment on the quality of food in a meal (old produce, cheap meat, cheap oil, etc). I grew up with a typical American quasi-healthy, mostly processed food, consumed the same meal with no complaints. Fast forward a few years, and I began to realize that (gasp!) my husband might actually be right. The same Sloppy Joe, Mac n Cheese or typical church potluck of ham buns didn’t pack the same satisfying punch as our multi-ingredient and spice laden meals at home. I began to experience a shifting palate in my mouth, heightening my awareness of quality food.

Interestingly, many restaurants noticed this type of consumer shift in reformed palates, and as such, have begun adding fresh and sustainable ingredients to the menus to enhance the dining out experience.

5. Improved Nutrient Profile. I think it goes without saying that fruits and vegetables improve your health…it’s an instinctive parental command to children: Eat your vegetables! But beyond those food groups, meat-less meals offer so much more to the eaters. As pointed out by Christopher Gardiner (PhD at Standford), in Delmonico’s article, “plant foods are also rich in fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and keep your microbiota and digestive tract healthy, and they’re rich in phytochemicals, the biologically active compounds found only in plants.”

Since fiber can only be found in plant foods, it makes sense to consume higher quantities of it, as fiber consumption is also linked to deceased risk for chronic conditions.

At this point, hopefully your interests shifted even slightly to consider meat-less meals. While I have a few recipes I can recommend, I think you may find increased benefit searching for some yourself, using ingredients you know that you like. But if you absolutely need suggestions, I’ll list a few titles from my recipe collection book that sparked a fire in my own kitchen. In the meantime, I hope this summer finds you firing up the grill to test out the latest garden and bean burgers on the market!

The Eat Clean DIET Cookbook, by Tosca Reno

Seven Secrets Cookbook, by Neva & Jim Brackett

Students Go Vegan Cookbook, by Carole Raymond

www.Tablespoon.com has also given several ideas for innovative recipes.
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Back…with Babies!

Once again, my blogging ambitions took a lengthy hiatus, although I’m doubtful many people noticed. But this time I have a good excuse (at least that’s what I’ve been told…this excuse works for just about anything you avoid doing).

Yes, I’ve entered the world where babbles, coos, spit-ups, diapers, time-outs, messy floors, sticky fingers, child locks, car seats, and every thing else baby runs my life. I never imagined the real Little People could consume so much attention while simultaneously unearthing a full spectrum of emotions from the adults called parents. Yes, indeed, I continue to learn daily about my own emotional shortcomings, especially in the area of patience.

Yet I have to admit, most of the time I actually enjoy this life. True, it involves a lot of work and discipline. But I still spend more time laughin
g, smiling and playing than being annoyed. For me, the two words often on my mind

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Free Entertainment: A walking blanket disguised as a child supposedly taking a nap.

 

watching these bambinos (as my husband calls them)…Free Entertainment! 

So with the change of lifestyle, I felt moved to change the direction of the blog, andgear it towards a specific audience that I’ve come to know better. As I continue personal training on the side, I am constantly hearing from moms looking for fitness help after baby. And let’s face it, parenting is overwhelming. A single day just doing chores and keeping kids alive would earn us a CEO ranking for work ethic in any corporate company. It’s no wonder we put our health on the back burner while we strive to raise responsible citizens.

Yet I believe it is possible (and even fun!) to live healthy and fit as a parent. And this lifestyle can be achieved even with infants who demand constant attention and sedentary positions for feeding. What makes success possible? Two things:

  1. Goals: Just like raising kids, we don’t expect them to perfect motor skills in one day, or even a week. Setting baby steps for achievable goals slowly transforms our wellness from periodic salads to intentional, nutritional meals.
  2. Education: When we bring home a baby, we have Google at our fingertips to advise us on every movement the baby makes. The same is true for health…the more you know, the more you grow (your mind), which in turn changes behavior.

So I hope as you read this re-branded blog, if you are a parent, that you find helpful advice for your home life. And if you are not a parent but reading this blog, I hope you find solid health tips, and maybe even an awareness to the challenges your parenting friends may be going through. We could all use a helping hand, right?

Tune in next week as I discuss how to put Fun into Fitness (kid involvement highly recommended)!

 

Simple, tasty stew for a Winter Night

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When the cold weather set in earlier in December, I told myself that this would be a good season to start experimenting with different soups and stews. I went through my crock pot recipes and organized the soups in a way that was supposed to motivate me to follow this endeavor. Unfortunately I have not gotten far in this new goal, but I did find a creative burst yesterday when perusing my pantry and trying to decide on the night’s dinner.

 So with a little guidance from Tosca Reno (author of “The Eat-Clean Cookbook”), I created a simple & tasty version of lentil vegetable stew that I think you will enjoy.

 Easy Lentil Stew (makes about 10 cups)

Ingredients:

1-2 tablespoons olive oil 

1-2 cups lentils (rinsed and sorted)

1 medium onion

5 garlic cloves 

1 large sweet potato, sliced

1-2 cups broth

1-2 cups vegetables of your choice (I used a 1/2 bag of frozen mixed veggies)

1-3 cups water, as needed

1-2 Tbsp tumeric seasoning

1 tsp. thyme

salt and pepper to taste 

Directions:

 1. Heat oil in pot  over low heat for about 1 minute. Add chopped onion and garlic and saute for about 2 minutes. Add in sweet potato, lentils, broth and spices and cook covered for about 10-15 minutes.  

2.  Bring stew to a boil and (if using frozen veggies) add those at this time. (If using regular veggies, add them in with the sweet potato.) Add water if needed at this time. Cook for an additionl 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye on the lentils, as overcooking them will make them mushy. Continue to add water to give it the soup texture, as the lentils absorb water as they cook.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Eat and enjoy! 

What is Trans Fat?

Part of the purpose of this blog is to help educate people about what they put into their

Crisco’s label boasts that it has “50% less Saturated fat than Butter,” but the fact is that shortening has partially-hydrogenated oil (trans fat), while natural butter does not.

mouths, and essentially, into their engines of energy (aka their bodies).  This post intends to clarify a bit about trans fat: what it is, why it’s harmful, what it look likes on an ingredient label, and what foods you would find them in.

Trans fat in its most basic definition is the addition of hydrogen to oil through a process called hydrogenation[1].  This creates a very stable substance that doesn’t spoil or break down, and it’s used to extend the shelf life of packaged food products.  Food manufacturers and bakers use ingredients with trans fat (i.e. shortening) because they produce foods with better baking qualities and enhanced flavors.[2]

The unfortunate part about trans fat is that the human body doesn’t recognize the difference between trans fat and saturated fat, and saturated fat is the healthy heart’s number one nemesis.  A diet high in saturated fat contributes to a variety of problems, including raising LDL levels (low-density lipoproteins, the “bad” cholesterol), and increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease.[3]  Trans fat, in addition to these risks, also decreases the levels of HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins), the “good” fat that provides essential amino acids to the body, and lowers the risk of heart disease.  Also, because trans fat contributes to elevated cholesterol, the risk of developing atherosclerosis increases.

Atherosclerosis is the hardening of artery walls due to buildup of blood waste products (fat, cholesterol, etc) called plaque. The accumulation of plaque makes arteries increasingly inflexible and narrow, and can contribute to strokes and heart attacks when blood is unable to pass through the narrowed chambers.

If you are a packaged food eater (and even if you think you’re not), you might be surprised to know where trans fat is hidden on the shelves.  It goes by the name of “partially-hydrogenated oil” and it can even exist in packages that say “0 trans fat.”  That’s because the FDA regulations allow for up to .5g of trans fat per serving for products to make the “0 trans fat” claim on their labels[4].  For that reason, it is absolutely critical for consumers to READ the ingredient labels of food products before buying it.  Below is a list of common food items that typically have partially-hydrogenated oil in the ingredients:

-Peanut butter
-Sweet treats (cookies, cakes, candy, doughnuts, icing)
-Packaged popcorn
-Crackers
-Vegetable shortening
-Fried foods
-Pie crusts, pizza dough, breads
-Pre-made cake and pancake mixes
-Snack foods
-Frozen dinners

Crisco vegetable shortening has both partially and fully hydrogenated palm oils in its ingredients, making it a source of saturated and trans fat.

And contrary to what you may think, if a product reads “fully” or “completely hydrogenated,” it actually does not contain any trans fat, although it is still has saturated fat.

Finally, I just want to emphasize again how important it is for consumers to be informed label-readers if they are going to buy packaged products. The best route in most cases is to buy whole, unpackaged foods, like fruits, nuts, veggies, bean varieties, and whole grains…then there’s nothing to worry about in the labels. But for people who do buy pre-packaged foods, you need to be your own health advocate and learn what your putting into your body, and how that affects you internally.

For consumers who don’t want to take extra time to read the labels, below is a list of a few companies I’ve found that avoid putting trans fat into some of their products and offer healthy, alternative & tasty foods to try.

Butter products: Smart Balance, Earth Balance, Land O’ Lakes (select varieties)
Snacks (cookies, crackers, Granola bars): Kashi, Newmans Own, Clif Bars, Nature’s Valley oat bars (i.e. Honey ‘n Oats)
Peanut Butter: Smuckers Natural, MaraNatha, Planters Natural, Skippys Natural, Smart Balance
Cake/cookie/brownie Mixes: Naturally Nora, King Arthur Flour (most mixes)

These represent just a small portion of the many health food companies & products out there, and I encourage you to find more as you shop.  But as always, the best meals are typically homemade anyway, so why not save money, put on your chef’s hat, and cook your way to healthier lifestyle? Everyone has a spark of creativity inside, and sometimes the kitchen is a wonderful place to feed that flame and make something tasty. I’d love to hear some of your stories of healthy food creations you’ve made in your kitchen.  Cheers!