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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Meatless Mondays


I don't believe that meat is inherently unhealthy when it comes from animals who ate their natural diet, were raised on pasture, and never exposed to pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones.

But I recognize that grass-fed and pasture-raised meats and animal products are expensive and not always widely available.

And I believe that everyone can benefit from eating a plant-based diet. We no doubt need protein (ideally at each meal) but there are many good meatless choices:

If everyone in the US skipped eating meat just one day a week, the Environmental Working Group estimates that the reduction in carbon emissions would be equivalent to taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

So I urge all omnivores to go meatless on Mondays. Follow this link to sign EWG's pledge.

Need dinner ideas?  Try these meat-free dishes:

Or look for inspiration at your local farmer's market.

This summer in New York City, there are 66 farmers' markets across the five boroughs, including Youthmarket Farm Stands. Almost all markets accept EBT/Food Stamps and some locations offer textile recycling, compost drop-off and rechargeable battery recycling.

For dinner tonight, I'm making a Greenmarket vegetable curry.
I'll sauté summer squash, zucchini, yellow cauliflower, red onion and shredded Napa cabbage with cubed firm tofu and coconut oil. Once the vegetables start to soften, I'll stir in some coconut milk, minced fresh ginger, a pinch of sea salt, ground turmeric and Garam Masala (a blend of cumin, black peppercorn, cinnamon, cardamom, clove and mace). I'll simmer it until everything is tender, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, and garnish it with thinly sliced scallion greens.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Safe Summer Grilling

Wonder Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska


















Cooking and eating outdoors are some of summer's special treats, especially for those who live in climates with cold winters.

But omnivores should take note: grilled meats can contain cancer-causing compounds like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

It doesn't only affect burgers and steaks, any muscle meat is vulnerable. HCAs and PAHs can be found in grilled beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, duck, and fish.

HCAs are formed when amino acids in meat react with creatine in the presence of high heat (temperatures above 300F, according to the National Cancer Institute). Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed when fats and juices from meats drip over an open fire and flame up. They are most concentrated in charred meats but can also be found in well-done meats, smoked meats, cigarette smoke, air pollution and unvented fires.

PAHs and HCAs have been linked to several kinds of tumors, including cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, lung, liver, skin, prostate, breast and blood (leukemia).

But there is some good news: You can grill safely.

Take these simple steps to reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds when grilling meats: 

1. Cook meats low and slow (not above 300F).

2. Don't char meats.

3. Choose leaner cuts of meat that cook quickly and drip less fat.

4.  Prevent juices and fat from dripping onto hot coals by cooking meat near hot coals but not directly over them.

5.  Marinate, mix and rub meats before you grill them.

Studies have shown that garlic, onions, virgin olive oil, rosemary, beer, and wine are all effective at decreasing the formation of PAHs and/or HCAs in meats. 

Marinate meats for at least 6 hours in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, red wine, crushed garlic, chopped onions, and fresh rosemary.

If you're making burgers, mix in some crushed or minced garlic, grated onion, and finely chopped or dried ground rosemary ahead of time, and brush them with extra virgin olive just before you grill them.

Or rub meats with a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, and dried ground or finely chopped fresh rosemary. Allow them to sit for a few hours or overnight before you grill them. 

References:

John EM et al. Meat consumption, cooking practices, meat mutagens, and risk of prostate cancer. Nutrition and Cancer. 2011 May;63(4):525-37.

Melo A et al. Effect of beer/red wine marinades on the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines in pan-fried beef. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 2008 Nov 26;56(22):10625-32.

Persson E et al. Influence of antioxidants in virgin olive oil on the formation of heterocyclic amines in fried beefburgers. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2003 Nov;41(11):1587-97.

Puangsombat K et al. Inhibition of heterocyclic amine formation in beef patties by ethanolic extracts of rosemary. Journal of Food Science. 2010 Mar;75(2):T40-7.

Reinik M et al. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in meat products and estimated PAH intake by children and the general population in Estonia. Food Additives and Contaminants. 2007 Apr;24(4):429-37.

Shin IS et al. Inhibition of heterocyclic aromatic amine formation in fried ground beef patties by garlic and selected garlic-related sulfur compounds. Journal of Food Protection. 2002 Nov;65(11):1766-70.

Ward MH et al. Risk of adenocarcinoma of the stomach and esophagus with meat cooking method and doneness preference. International Journal of Cancer.  1997 Mar 28;71(1):14-9.

Zheng W et al. Well-done meat intake, heterocyclic amine exposure, and cancer risk. Nutrition and Cancer. 2009;61(4):437-46.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Take on MyPlate: Weak Spots in the New USDA Dietary Guidelines

The United States Department of Agriculture recently released new dietary guidelines. The colorful new icon, MyPlate, is less confusing than the food pyramid, and the new guidelines have some good points. They suggest beans, soy and seafood as sources of protein, encourage consumers to read product labels, and urge people to pursue physical activity. It’s certainly a step up but there are still some weak spots. Here's my take.

Vegetables

Half the plate on the new guidelines is composed of fruits and vegetables, which is an improvement, but I would like to see even more vegetables. Ideally, half of the plate should be composed of non-starchy vegetables alone.

I agree that one-quarter of the plate should be protein, but I think that the last quarter should come from this list: legumes like beans and lentils (unless this is your protein source), organic dairy products, raw nuts or seeds, true whole grains (not processed whole grains), whole fruit, or even more vegetables.

Grains

Grains should be optional. Some contain gluten, a protein that can trigger Celiac disease and other health problems. Individuals who are allergic or sensitive to gluten can usually tolerate gluten-free grains, like brown rice, quinoa, teff and millet, but most feel best when they eat no grains at all.

Because they're made mostly of starch, eating too many grains can cause problems with blood sugar and insulin. In individuals who are sensitive, these metabolic imbalances can lead to fatigue, weight gain, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Juice
   
I like that MyPlate instructs people to drink water instead of sugary beverages. But it also recommends 100% fruit juice for everyone, which is a sugary beverage.

Juice may be full of healthy nutrients, but it's also full of easily digestible sugars. The sugars are natural, but when they are consumed without the fiber (the pulp extracted by most juicers) they are quickly absorbed, causing glucose and insulin levels to skyrocket, especially when consumed on an empty stomach.

Whole fruits and vegetables are almost always better than the juiced variety, but there are exceptions. Juice can be a good supplement for people who can't tolerate a high fiber diet. And if it's a green juice, it's a good source of chlorophyll that helps the body eliminate environmental toxins, so it can be an effective component of a detoxification program.

If you’re going to drink juice, limit your consumption to 4 ounces per day and never juice more produce than you would eat in the whole food form. (If you wouldn't eat 5 oranges at once, you shouldn't drink the juice of 5 oranges at once either.) Juice should be 50 percent vegetables, including at least one green vegetable. Good choices include organic spinach, kale, celery, skin-on cucumber, beets and bell peppers. Juice made from fruits and starchy vegetables like carrots and beets should be diluted with an equal amount of water.

Full Fat Foods

Now that research studies have exonerated saturated fats as culprits behind chronic disease (it’s oxidized and trans-fats that are harmful), I was hoping the USDA would help spread the word. Fat is an essential nutrient that our bodies desperately need and I was disappointed to see that the new guidelines urge us to "switch to fat-free or low fat (1%) milk."

Whole foods are always better than processed foods, including milk. Other good dairy choices are full fat products cultured from organic whole milk like yogurt, keffir, and cheese. However, avoid eating products from animals exposed to pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. These chemicals can accumulate in animal fat and cause health problems in humans. Look for dairy products from pasture-raised cows at your local farmer’s market.

Cooking Oils

The new guidelines recommend that we "switch from solid fats to oils when preparing food" but they don't differentiate between good and bad solid fats, nor good and bad oils.

I would not recommend any of the oils on the USDA's list: canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, margarine or vegetable oil. Because they are not cold-pressed, these oils are extracted using chemicals and/or heat, which can oxidize the fatty acids. (Unsaturated fatty acids are especially unstable because not all of the carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen atoms. At least one is missing.) Oxidized fats damage cells and create inflammation in the body that can initiate cardiovascular disease and promote the growth of cancer cells. Also, most of the oils on the USDA’s list contain too few anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and too many pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats.

Alternatively, cold-pressed oils like extra virgin olive oil (not the same as olive oil), sesame oil (not toasted), and coconut oil contain healthy fats that have not been oxidized. Extra virgin olive and sesame oils are primarily unsaturated, so they should not be heated to high temperatures. Use them in salads and as garnishes, and cook with them over low or medium heat. Coconut oil is primarily saturated fat, so it is suitable for high-temperature cooking.

I agree that everyone should avoid margarine, shortening, and hydrogenated oils, which are laden with trans-fats, but some solid fats are not bad choices. When they come from animals raised on pasture, cultured butter, ghee and rendered animal fat are good candidates for high-temperature cooking because their saturated fats are stable and unlikely to oxidize.

Protein Sources

I'm happy to see that the new guidelines include vegetarian sources of protein like soy, but it's important to differentiate between healthy soy foods and unhealthy ones. The best choices are traditional, like tofu, or cultured, like tempeh, miso and tamari. Processed soy products like fake meats and cheeses should be avoided.

The USDA also recommends two meals of seafood each week. However, many species contain toxic contaminants like heavy metals, PCBs, and other dangerous chemicals. Always choose fish and seafood that live low on the food chain and are sustainably harvested. Avoid large predatory fish like tuna and swordfish because they contain the highest concentrations of environmental toxins. Use the Monterey May Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide to make the best choices.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

India Part 3


I've been asked to share some photos from my trip to India
earlier this year and my summer vacation is the perfect time
to post them.
 

While I'm away, catch up on these posts, if you missed them:


























































    Saturday, July 2, 2011

    India Part 2

    I've been asked to share some photos from my trip to India
    earlier this year and my summer vacation is the perfect time
    to post them.


    While I'm away, catch up on these posts, if you missed them: