Knowledge is power! From our blog archives, this is a great one for you to read if you haven't already. I spell out the BASICS of current nutritional science, to help you both prevent and heal a myriad of health conditions. Very handy.
Does nutrition information sometimes seem overwhelming?
Especially if you are seeking to improve a complex health condition, you may feel like you need to acquire a PhD in order to find your way! Your doctor doesn’t have all the answers, NOBODY seems to have all the answers, so you may feel like it’s on all on you.
Allow me to assist.
Yes, there are lots of studies out there, and yes, we’re all different and there are lots of customizations possible. But starting with the food science basics can take you a LONG way towards elevating your health.
I call it the 4 legs of the stool.
Do you ever worry about the health of the people you love — and wish they ate healthier food? If you’ve tried to help others move in a positive direction, has it ever felt as if you were banging your head against a brick wall?
If you know my story, you might think I can’t relate. After all, I grew up eating a whole foods, plant-powered diet in the home of one of the world’s best-known proponents of healthy, plant-based eating (my dad is Food Revolution Network co-founder and president John Robbins, author of many books on health, nutrition, and social and environmental justice, including the 1987 bestseller Diet for a New America.) How could I possibly have any idea what family conflict around food is like?
Hear me out.
When I was a kid, we had our fair share of food conflicts in our extended family. My grandpa Irv, the co-founder of Baskin-Robbins, wanted nothing to do with our “hippie” eating style. He ate the standard American diet with gusto — including, of course, lots and lots of his favorite ice cream.
When my mom, dad, and I would visit my dad’s parents, we sometimes stayed in a rented condo because sharing meals could become such a point of friction. At one point, my grandma Irma famously declared, “You will NOT cook tofu in my kitchen!” She was clear who was in charge in her domain, adding: “When you’re in my house, you will eat what I serve.”
Since my grandma wasn’t exactly a black belt in flexibility, we did not try to convince her to let us cook our simple, plant-based meals in her kitchen. Instead, we prepared most of our meals separately in our condo kitchen.
We didn’t want differences over food to keep us from being a family. But because those differences were based in very different realities and values systems, we struggled with the conflicts and separations they caused.
Blood Can Be Thicker Than Ice Cream
If you Google “broccoli summer camp,” “kale summer camp,” and “cauliflower summer camp,” you’ll come up empty. You’ll find summer recipes for these cruciferous stars, sure, but no weeklong vacation event dedicated to them.
When you search for “bacon summer camp,” by contrast, you’ll discover that there is such a thing. With speakers, cooking tutorials, panel discussions, butchering demos, and even a bacon film festival, Camp Bacon caters to one of the hottest foods of the past decade.
And that’s just the tip of the strip, if you will. Someone spent enough time and energy to figure out that 62% of US restaurants have bacon on the menu. The average American consumes almost 18 pounds of bacon per year – and if you don’t, then someone out there is eating 36 pounds to keep the average up. There’s a National Bacon Day in the US. And bacon has gone from breakfast meat to ubiquitous star ingredient in everything from bacon-wrapped hot dogs and steaks to desserts like cupcakes and ice cream. And if I haven’t yet convinced you that bacon makes people highly irrational, there’s a Seattle company that sells bacon-scented underwear for men and women.
These days, whenever an animal-based product becomes hugely popular, plant-based versions aren’t far behind. Thanks to a growing market, new technologies, and social media experimentation, there are now plant-based bacon alternatives that are getting closer and closer to the original. According to the online food ordering company Grubhub, users ordered vegan bacon 113% more in 2019 than the year before.
And it’s a good thing, too! Bacon comes from pigs, the vast majority of which (approximately 95%) are raised on factory farms, which carry a whole host of ethical and environmental problems. And that’s not even mentioning the health effects of bacon, which is a highly processed meat.
So in this article, we’ll take a look at vegan bacon: why it can be a much better alternative to the stuff that comes from pigs, how you can make it yourself, and recipes that use plant-based bacon.
Although it may not be as revered as the apple, banana, or even tomato (at least in the western world), the mango is one of the most commonly eaten fruits worldwide. And production has gone up around 17% in the last few years globally, averaging over 55 million mangoes per year.
This luscious, juicy, sweet fruit that has won fans the world over originated in India, where it has a long and revered history. One of the central rituals of Hinduism, the puja ceremony, uses water infused with mango leaves to create the proper resonance for honored deities. Indian poets also use mangoes to evoke emotions like lust and love. And contemporary Indian novelists like Arundhati Roy and Anita Desai draw upon mangoes to symbolize abundance, sweetness, and possibility.
The mango is the national fruit of India, which produces more than half of all the mangoes consumed worldwide. Other top growers include Thailand, Mexico, and the tropical regions of China. In the US, mango trees can thrive in Hawaii, Florida, and parts of California.
With billions of fans and centuries of great PR, you’d think that mangoes have it made. But due to their high sugar content, mangoes are often vilified by low-carb enthusiasts. And because they’re exported around the globe, some environmentalists express concern over their carbon footprint and sustainability.
I want this article to start a different kind of food revolution. You see, when I write about foods you might want to include in your diet, I generally focus on those that you can easily obtain: fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, legumes, and so on.
Today, I want to convince you to pay attention to one of the most nutritious and eco-friendly plants ever studied, even though the only way you can get it in most parts of the US and Europe is as a powdered supplement. Why? Because not only is the moringa tree an incredible source of nutrition, it also has the potential to reverse global warming, provide food for the starving, create thriving agricultural economies in some of the poorest places on earth, and even remove toxins from drinking water.
So, I hope you’ll indulge me a little until there’s enough of a market to get the attention of entrepreneurs, importers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and environmental and justice-oriented nonprofits to make moringa wide-spread.
“Inflammation” is one of those health words that is bandied about all the time… but do we really know what it means?
We think of swelling and the color red… we know it’s not a good thing, and that we want less of it… but the rest is a bit mysterious.
After my recent online Kitchen Chat about Fighting Cancer -- with Food! (you can get the recording here), one attendee wrote, “I wish you could have spent a whole hour talking about inflammation!” Quite right. It’s THAT important. Especially how FOOD fits in, and how we can use food to tone inflammation down.
Let’s take a look.
First, definitions. At it’s best, inflammation is a normal response of the body to injury and infection and an important component of healing.
Imagine if the different organs and systems in your body weren’t on speaking terms. If you ate a big meal, your stomach might keep that news to itself, and your intestines wouldn’t release enzymes to digest that meal. Your brain would hoard the knowledge of an oncoming car, and neglect to alert your heart to pump more blood into your extremities so you could leap out of the way safely. You might be staggering from fatigue but your pineal gland couldn’t get the other systems in your body to allow you to sleep.
All these communications, and millions more, occur so rapidly that it seems like they’re not even happening. The time from someone sneaking up behind you and popping a balloon to you going into full-on fight or flight appears not to exist — it just happens all at once. In reality, the different organs and systems in the body are in constant communication, all the time. And all that data transfers thanks to little chemical messengers known as hormones.
Hormones are involved in almost all of your bodily processes and are vital to your health. They keep your body functioning optimally. And big changes in their production can trigger or signal a physical transition from one stage of life to another. But sometimes hormone levels can be thrown out of balance. Depending on the cause, hormonal imbalances can be temporary or chronic. And while modern medicine tends to treat them with medications, it turns out there’s often a lot you can do to balance hormones naturally.
What Are Hormones?
It’s a comfort food that’s good for you… A salty food that may improve heart health… A peaceful culinary offering to the West from the son of an impoverished warrior… If these sound too good to be true, allow me to introduce you to the delicious, versatile, and wonderful Japanese condiment called miso.
Miso is a popular condiment used in many Asian cuisines. In the US, it’s most commonly known as the star ingredient in miso soup. But this pungent paste has several other culinary uses. Traditional Okinawans, who are famous for their longevity and live in one of the world’s most heavily studied “Blue Zones,” often eat miso soup for breakfast.
Miso is well regarded for its health benefits, despite containing a significant amount of sodium. But if you’re unfamiliar with miso, you may be wondering what exactly it is, or how to incorporate it into your diet outside of a traditional miso soup recipe. Let’s look at what miso is and what makes it so special.
On top of that, countless night-time venues and social activities are canceled or closed. Kids are home from school with nowhere else to go. And most of us are traveling less than normal. While that may mean more quality time with those closest to us (whether by choice or necessity), it doesn’t always mean we’re making healthier food choices. Home economics is, for many of us, a lost art that we need to rediscover if we don’t want to depend on DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats for all our food.
While putting together a healthy meal at any time of the day can be a struggle, dinner often suffers the most since it’s at the end of the day. But dinner is also the meal people are most likely to eat together, making it a perfect opportunity to add more whole plant foods. Plus, dinner is a great time to create leftovers. Today’s dinner can be tomorrow’s lunch — and maybe even (if you’re the adventurous type) the following day’s breakfast!
If you don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, now’s a great time to learn not just how to cook comforting, filling, and tasty meals, but healthy ones as well. And even if you’re already a cooking whiz, consider expanding your horizons with some plant-based dinner recipes.
A reader recently asked: what does your plate look like? Great question, and one I can answer in a word — veg-centric.
We could all be eating more vegetables. Tons!
The science is crystal clear that eating MORE vegetables can do each of us a WORLD of good. Increasing the vegetables on our plate points us in the direction of more vibrant health, no matter what our age, gender, ethnicity, or current health conditions.
But isn’t it hard to incorporate more vegetables into your diet?
No! It’s surprisingly easy to fall in love with vegetables and find great ways to use them, because there are a VAST variety of types, colors, textures and flavors to choose from. It becomes more and more exciting the further you explore!
Will I actually feel better if I eat more vegetables?
Yes! And you may be surprised by how fast you actually FEEL better.
At Food As Medicine, where I was Executive Chef for a decade, we offered luncheon buffets full of colorful, organic, largely plant-based dishes. Attendees were often amazed to experience health improvements, some within 24 hours. Elimination might improve dramatically! Focus, mental clarity and overall energy might be discernibly better. Quite impressive results for veg-centric eating in only a few days.
It starts with the “p” word — and that would be “plants.”
A flood of new and surprising research is emerging about the role that plants play in brain health. For example, a study on the MIND diet — a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets — published online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association — concluded that people who eat more dark, leafy greens at least once a day have substantially slower cognitive decline with age than those who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD). Bingo!
Here I am on my soapbox again, talking to you about the importance of plants — for a reason! Whether it’s cancer, longevity, brain health or heart health, you’re going to find that the optimal diet has a lot of the color green in it. Why?
The pizza as we know it and love it today seems to have originated in Naples, Italy. They had to wait for European exploration of the New World for the key ingredient, tomatoes, which are native to the Americas and weren’t grown in Europe until one of the first explorers brought back some seeds or cuttings. These strange-colored eggplants, as they were first described, were found to be delicious when seasoned with salt, pepper, and oil. Soon they were dubbed “golden apples,” or pomi d’oro.
And one day, perhaps, two distracted Neapolitans were walking on the piazza, one holding a flatbread and the other a stewed tomato, when — bang! — they bumped into each other. And thus was born the classic Italian pizza. (Okay, that might or might not be literally accurate, but it makes for a fun story!)
True confessions: I’ve written 4 cookbooks with a 5th on the way (about which, more soon) and I have a personal library of 560 cookbooks. YOU’D THINK I’d know what to cook for dinner, like for the next 2, maybe 3 years?
Good news! Out of sheer exasperation and determination, I have developed superb strategies and time-savers to help us all get dinner on the table AND keep our sanity.
Every minute spent on planning time will smooth out your life in the kitchen.
Once you’ve got a menu in mind and your shopping and prep work done, cooking is a relative breeze. You will be SO impressed with how calm you are in the kitchen, and how much you enjoy it. Cooking can be a meditative, nourishing act -- IF you prepare!
You may even fall in love with it.
Did you know that fresh herbs and spices don’t JUST 10x flavor (as if that weren’t enough), but that they have magical healing powers, too? Many contain compounds capable of modifying gene expression to potentially keep cancer and other diseases at bay, plus providing immune support, controlling inflammation, and warding off bacteria and viruses—i.e., they have superpowers! So we’re not talking just enhancing taste, but improving wellness and possibly increasing longevity when you reach for that spice jar or throw some chopped herbs in whatever you’ve got cooking.
I’m delighted to share one of my favorite posts from the archives on this topic. If you haven’t seen it before, take a few moments to absorb this truly remarkable knowledge developed over the past decade of nutrition research. Plus get 2 superb recipes, including one of my most popular potato recipes ever. Serious yum!
Having a well-stocked pantry is always a good idea. And in uncertain times, it becomes all the more important. No matter what happens in the world, you’ll be healthier, your stress will be lower, and your immune system will be optimized if you have plenty of good, healthy food to eat! Here are some pantry foods (and freezer foods) you might want to consider stocking up on. As always, going organic can help you steer clear of exposure to glyphosate and other pesticides.
I’ve always followed the food trends—what’s in, what’s out? They can be as trendy and entertaining as fashion. As the new year, new food articles come out, sometimes I laugh and sometimes I grit my teeth. We’re inundated with how to be healthy and hip.
Apparently in 2020:
Here’s the trend I’m seeing: it’s simplifying.
Wouldn’t it be great to take the stress out of going into the kitchen? Make cooking NOT this complicated thing in our lives, especially when there are so many demands on our time?
We’re all being bombarded by a LOT of information, about the planet, the politics, your kids, your dogs… life happens fast, but we have to keep ourselves nourished. We need to find a simple way.
I look back at my first cookbook and think gosh, could I have made this recipe more complicated? With a laundry list of spices, including ⅛ teaspoon of cardamom? Like I couldn’t live without that? I say this as the author of 5 cookbooks and someone who’s helped chefs in restaurant kitchens, home cooks, community cooks… the whole spectrum.
This is my year to crack the code and come up with a formula.
I’m putting it out there, the challenge I’ve set myself that I think will help many of us. What if it could just be simpler?
Soul food is a variety of cuisine originating in the Southeastern United States. It has been a cultural staple among the African American community for centuries — starting as a means of survival during the many decades of slavery and evolving into many modern-day variations.
Writing for the blog, Black Foodie, Vanessa Hayford tells us: “During the Transatlantic Slave Trade, enslaved African people were given meager food rations that were low in quality… With these rations, enslaved people preserved African food traditions and adapted traditional recipes with the resources available. Over time, these recipes and techniques have become the soul food dishes we are familiar with today. This food genre… was born out of struggle and survival.”
Few foods generate as much passion as chocolate. Perhaps it was inevitable with a plant given the scientific name of Theobroma (Greek for “food of the gods”) cacao.
These days we may still consider chocolate to be a heavenly substance, but we consume far more of it, in vastly different ways, than the ancient Mesoamericans who first harvested and prepared it. And this, of course, has health consequences.
Is chocolate bad for you? Should you limit your consumption, or try to get it out of your diet altogether? Or is it actually a health food?
And what about reports of child labor, slavery, extreme poverty, and environmental degradation related to the chocolate trade? Is it possible to obtain “guilt-free” chocolate? If so, how can you tell which chocolate products contribute to the welfare of chocolate farmers and their communities?
A Brief History of Chocolate
The Theobroma cacao tree is native to Central and South America. The Azteks believed that the seeds were gifts from Quetzalcoatl, god of wisdom. For several centuries in premodern Latin America, cacao beans were considered valuable enough to be used as currency. Both the Mayans and the Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical properties, suitable for use in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage, and death.
For much of its history, chocolate was served as a bitter drink, either heated or fermented into alcohol. When Columbus introduced cacao beans to European high society following his return from the Americas, it started a cacao craze that led to European colonization and enslavement of large areas of Mesoamerica and West Africa in the rush to grow and control cacao plantations.
The industrial revolution in 19th century Europe applied new methods to chocolate production. Alkalizing salts reduced bitterness. The “Dutch cocoa” process separated cocoa butter from the liquor and made it easier and cheaper to produce in large quantities. In the US, early 20th century inventors and entrepreneurs Milton Hershey and Franklin Mars turned chocolate from a local, artisanal product into a mass-produced industrial foodstuff. Hershey’s milk chocolate in particular, combined with epic amounts of sugar, was sweet enough to convert an entire nation into chocoholics.
These days, Americans consume about $18 billion worth of chocolate each year, for an average of just under 10 pounds per person. And keep in mind that’s just an average: some people abstain, so there are folks who eat way more than that!
There’s no question that chocolate can be delicious – but what about its effects on your health?
You know how it is when you’re feeling like crap? It’s your body’s way of saying, look, we need a re-boot! Listen to me and just clear your books. We need a rest! You know it and I know it when that happens. The question is: do we pay attention?
I did when this happened to me recently, and I wanted to tell you how I wrangled self-care while feeling lousy.
It’s that time of year, September/October, when we’re transitioning into fall. We’re going from raw foods and the heat of summer to the precariousness of fall, that changes from warm or hot to rainy and cold in the blink of an eye. We’re a little more vulnerable. This is the perfect time to really pay attention to what your body is asking for, and what it’s rejecting!
A one-woman show of my paintings opened at Commonweal in Bolinas, California (August 14 - October 31, 2019) on a Saturday in mid-August. It’s called Daily Bread, from a quote I’ve always loved of Emerson’s: “The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.” As I wrote in the introduction to the show,
“The sky is the daily bread of my imagination—always there, ever-changing, never static, vast, wondrous, soul-nourishing, full of mystery and awe.”
Having my own show, at Commonweal, where I had cooked for the Cancer Help Program 20 years ago, was an astounding experience where, in the healing space of Commonweal, my paintings took on a magical life of their own.
I’d never seen these 13 new paintings together before, much less in the beautiful 1,500 square-foot gallery at Commonweal. I couldn’t truly know how they would look and feel until I hung the show in the gallery the Monday before, and until the people were there to interact with them—people who are really special in my life, along with memories of people who have passed.
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