Are You a “Meat and Potatoes” Type of Vegan?

I seem to be a “Meat and Potatoes” type of vegan!

I want to talk about a concept that is emerging in my own universe lately. The concept is “concentrated foods.” By that I mean, foods that are extremely nutrient dense and  packed with a large amount of macronutrients in a relatively small portion.  (Macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fats)

I bring this up because despite eating very healthfully for nearly forty years—mostly vegan but a few of those years not so much—I have always struggled with my weight. It was because of this that as a young girl I began seeking to understand how the body works and what foods were best for it. I have written many times about those journeys so I won’t do that again here.

Suffice it to say that I learned a lot, became much more healthy as years went by, strengthened my immune system, found out how to use foods as medicine and overall became much more in control of things.

But darn it! It is still so very easy for me to put on too much weight!  I know many people who do not eat a Standard American Diet and who try their best to choose healthier more nutritious foods and even some who are vegetarians, vegans or macrobiotic who, like me, still struggle with this problem.

So I started looking at the broad sketch of how I have approached food and spotted something very interesting. No matter what I was eating, what  program I was following, or dietary lifestyle I was living including all the years I was macrobiotic I have always gone for the dense, concentrated foods and eaten too much of them. That worked fine when I was a young, busy nursing mother with two other toddlers to chase after but that’s the only time that worked for me.

There are gradients of how concentrated foods can be. It’s just common sense.  For example:

  • Peanut butter – concentrated fat and some protein. Easy to slather a heap of this stuff onto each cracker, rice cake or slice of bread.
  • “Healthy” breads. Not knocking them, No Sireee. But have you weighed some of these lately? They can be concentrated, condensed slices, can’t they? A vegan Triple-Decker Club sandwich made with this bread could sink a ship!
  • Brown rice mochi – very concentrated whole grains (sticky, sweet brown rice mashed down into a concentrated form and then often fried.) But how many of those do you need at one time? Especially in an Udon Noodle Soup with Tofu Broth?
  • Almonds. Innocent, wonderful Almonds. A great snack! But you’re not running a marathon or working the farm each day, exactly how many of those do you need for your mid-afternoon pick-me-up?
  • Rice and beans – probably about in the middle of the scale. But the whole-grains-and-beans thing can indeed be overdone if it isn’t balanced with veggies and other necessary dietary components.
  • Vegetables – mostly light. But watch this—do you head for the winter squashes, potatoes and the heavier vegetables more than the leafy greens?
  • Oils – yup, they’re concentrated aren’t they? How many olives does it take to make a tablespoon of olive oil, I wonder? (Estimates are 20-40 olives depending on their type and size.) How many sesame seeds to make that teaspoon of toasted sesame oil that I love to cook my mochi in?
  • Fruits – mostly pretty light but what’s the difference between say a banana and an apple or between grapes and dried fruit? Dried fruit is concentrated and pack a lot in a small portion. That’s why it is so easy to overeat them.
  • Some of those avocado-based mousses I’ve been making—Do I eat the same size slice of that as I would an apple pie? Hmmmm, I think not!

Please, please, please! I am not saying any of these foods are bad or shouldn’t be eaten.

My point is simply this:  Even if virtually all the food you eat is organic, plant-based very nutritious and good for you, you can still eat too much of the concentrated foods and too little of the lighter ones. That’s all I’m saying. That is what I’m looking at.

Why do you think the bloggers posting all the casseroles, rich desserts and thick hearty soups and stews are so popular? Because that’s what we like and that’s what we probably all overindulge in if we’re honest with ourselves. Okay, I’ll cut you a break. I’ll say, “If I’m honest with myself!” I love these recipes and try out many of them at home. But if they use dense or nutrient-concentrated foods, it is so easy for me to over do it.

When I’m not paying attention, I go for the concentrated food and skimp on the lighter ones. I can so easily fall into being the “meat and potatoes” type in the world of vegan food.

It all has to do with the question of balance. I learned how to eat a balanced diet but it seems that over the years with changes in my body and my age and other things, I’ve lost my balance and now I know I need to find it again.

I don’t know why this is exactly—this indulgence in concentrated foods. I have heard and read many explanations that I don’t find all that helpful or workable. Do we really have to be semi-experts in hormones? I don’t think so. I could just as well say it’s “The American Way” as an explanation.  I just know that I’ve spotted for myself a major underlying concept about how I have chosen to eat all my life no matter what the cuisine was.

This is a concept I can work with. This is a good beginning.

So for now, my own decision has been to eat at least 50-60% vegetables daily. That is a guideline I have set up for myself and I’m not saying that is what you need or what you should do.

And, I’m going to follow up with many more posts showing recipes and how-to’s for vegetables. Let’s see what I come up with!!!

In the meantime I would really love to know what your experiences are with this. I’d like to know:

1) What do you see as being an ideal way for you—as an individual—to eat and is it easy for you to be that? (i.e. be vegetarian, be vegan, be omnivorous, etc.)

2) Do you follow some kind of diet or weight-loss plan or do you “wing it?”

3) Are you successful with what you do?

4) What exactly are your successful actions?

5) If you have a “downfall,” what is it?

6) Do you encounter a similar problem of overindulging in the more dense, concentrated foods and skimping on the lighter ones?

7) What would you like to know or learn most about including a bigger percentage of actual vegetables in your daily diet?

8) What vegetables would you like to have more recipes or preparation ideas for?

Ain’t What It Used To Be

In my recent travels a message keeps coming through to me:  Our food—even the organic— is not what it used to be.

Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP s...
Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP standards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other day I was talking to the produce manager at my store and we were talking about organic farming. He was telling me that he knows for a fact that some of the local farmers do not use pesticides on their produce but they cannot afford to leave acres of land dormant for five to seven years and do all the other things that are required of organic farmers in order to be certified organic.

I can see how this would be both challenging and expensive.  I was reminded that being certified “organic” involves a lot more than just not using pesticides and chemicals.  It also has to do with replenishing the soil so it becomes nutrient rich and many other factors. That makes me want to kiss the ground those organic farmers walk on because they do go to the expense and they do take the time to be truly organic.

We have to replenish and safeguard our natural resources because they are not physically infinite on this planet.  They can run out or be destroyed.  And good, mineral rich, life-sustaining top soil is definitely a vital resource.

I have known for some time that even organically farmed food is no longer as nutrient rich as it used to be.  How do I know?  The main way I know is by eating it and realizing that there is something missing. The food doesn’t provide all the power it used to.  The other way I know is common sense.

Have you ever read about how we began using chemicals on our crops and why? And what happened once we started down that very slippery slope?  The chemicals were put on the crops to boost growth, the chemicals made the soil weak which invited more pests, chemical pest control came into play, the animals on those farms were affected by the chemicals and got sick, animals were routinely given antibiotics and also hormones since they were also having trouble reproducing. That is the short version and there are many detailed explanations to be found online.

So here we are in 2013 protesting GMOs (genetically modified foods).  I say to my produce manager, “Unfortunately, even if we start labeling GMO foods, lots of people will still buy them.” Money talks here just like everywhere else.

But the fact that we’re talking about it is a plus. Another plus: the growing popularity of diets and diet books and diet gurus promoting whole food, plant-based diets.  That’s a big plus! And there are others.

But we stil have the problem of depleted soils and many foods that have long since been altered to suit a better bottom line.  Here’s a good example a friend just told me about regarding wheat. This is not simply about gluten-free, wheat-sensitive issues. This is about wheat period. All wheat, apparently.  It was another delivery of the same message: Our food—even the organic— is not what it used to be.  It’s a May 2013 article called, “Modern Wheat Is The ‘Perfect Chronic Poison’ Says Expert.”

I’m not trying to make a point about wheat and I remain undecided about the information in the article.  But what I do know is that wheat is definitely not the same as it was before. It is weaker and offers us less than we think we’re buying.  Just like other foods.

If you’re like me and interested in healthy, life-giving whole foods then you probably do what I do. You look for the best sources of the cleanest, untouched, unaltered food. Heirloom fruits and veggies, organic–of course, locally grown where you know the farmer, and growing it yourself even though you probably don’t have any better soil than anyone else because think how many years it would take to bring soil back to where it was in the 1940’s?  We don’t give up though, because we know that doing these things is far better than not doing them. And we are focused on creating our future, not destroying it.

And even if you’re not particularly gung ho about organic foods and GMOs, who hasn’t become interested in one or more so-called super foods?  Marketers dissect food into categories making a particular fruit, seed or vegetable a “super food” because it has some phytonutrient in it that is good for you. No doubt it is good for you, but there’s only one problem.

The problem is that for all the known, scientifically tested and proven micronutrients, there are a myriad of those that haven’t been discovered. And how are we to know on any given day at any given meal what exactly we need to supplement?

We can’t.  That pretty much brings us full circle to the question, what are the natural, whole food, truly super  no, spectacularly super foods?  The ones that not only have what we need, but are in an organic, whole form that our bodies can assimilate—using what it needs at that moment and safely, naturally discarding the rest?

Mother Nature has been shackled and tortured all over the planet, but she is not so easy to conquer!  She has her resources of sustainable, life-giving nourishment that has not been degraded by “modern” agriculture. That is what we are looking for and it does exist.

Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon (Photo credit: Lance and Erin)
Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon (Photo credit: Lance and Erin)

Not Just Brown

Did you ever look back on what you’ve been cooking and notice there’s an awful lot of brown food going on? Brown rice. Toasted almonds. Roasted cauliflower. Soy sauce. Apple pie. Barley. Whole wheat bread and pasta. Nut butters.

All of the above are things I recently cooked and they were really, really delicious and eaten with plenty of lightly cooked greens or salads. But I need C O L O R! My mama always said that one way to ensure good nutrition is to make sure you have a colorful plate of food. She didn’t mean the Fiesta Ware! (Although colorful serving dishes do help with the aesthetics.)  I think she was wise to tell me that.

I don’t go in for specially hybridized food such as the purple and orange cauliflower that I saw in Whole Foods last week. Too unnatural! So what can be done to put some vibrant, natural color into that whole food, plant-based diet? Plenty!!!

Wild rice salad with celery, carrots and peas.  Dressed with a white miso, walnut oil, lemon dressing.

Wild rice salad with celery, carrots and peas. Dressed with a white miso, walnut oil, lemon dressing.

Very lightly boiled kale and yellow squash. I eat greens every day! If you don't overcook them, they will put out this incredible "Alive Vibe!"

Very lightly boiled kale and yellow squash. I eat greens every day.  If you don’t overcook them, they will put out this incredible “Alive Vibe!”

The strawberries make the difference on this bowl of oatmeal with toasted almonds, don't they?

The strawberries make the difference in this bowl of oatmeal with toasted almonds, don’t they?

Colorful Pico Di Gallo could put some zing in your bowl!

Colorful Pico Di Gallo could put some zing in your bowl!

What could you do with these beauties to brighten up a meal?

What could you do with these beauties to brighten up a meal?

How about some red beans? They do wonders for this quinoa dish.

How about some red beans? They do wonders for this quinoa dish.

Sometime try this: walk through the produce aisle of your natural food store and just look for colors you like. I learned this technique from clothes shopping, by the way, because I walk up and down those racks and when I see a color I like then I’ll take a closer look at the clothing item. Maybe you’ll find something you haven’t considered using before.

As growing season is upon us here in the northern hemisphere, we can look forward to an abundance of vibrant colors to choose from!  What is your favorite way to infuse your menu with color?

Parking Lot Tuna

Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt asks: How are you more likely to make an important decision — by reasoning through it, or by going with your gut?

Tuna Sandwich

(Photo credit: Dave Lifson)

It took no reasoning whatsoever to decide now is a good time to tell the “Tuna Fish Sandwich in the Parking Lot” story. It is pure gut. (pun intended!)

One of my boys was in the Scouts. One Friday after school, we got him all packed up for a weekend camping trip somewhere and he asked me to make him a tuna fish sandwich for dinner on the road that night. I did that, packed it in a little lunch cooler and off we went to the designated church parking lot where his troop and the vans were waiting. We wrestled with all his equipment and got it all stashed into a van and off they went.

It was a lovely warm Georgia evening and a very hot, sunny weekend was predicted.

The weekend passed and Sunday afternoon I got a call from my son who was all excited when he told me, “Mom! You’ll never guess what happened! I forgot my dinner Friday and when we got back it was still there in the parking lot and it still tasted okay.”

Instant panic mode! It had been in the mid-90’s all weekend. I picked him up and was relieved to see he wasn’t vomitting all over the church parking lot. Instead, he was just so darned excited that the sandwich was still there when he got back. Me, all I could think about was rushing to the hospital to treat his severe food poisoning.

I took immediate action and I had great certainty in what I was doing. I grabbed my Super Blue Green Acidophilus and started emptying the capsules into water. He drank ten to a glass every half hour for two hours. Then we went to his soccer game and he was just fine.

I knew that live acidophilus produces a very strong antibiotic called “acidophilin.” This is a natural antibiotic and just one of the benefits of eating acidophilus. I also knew that Super Blue Green acidophilus was of a quality I could count on—that it had real acidophilus and the acidophilus would be live. And each capsule also has some Super Blue Green algae in it. These little live good bacteria carried their own lunch box of wild edible microalgae packed full of minerals and protein so they tended to be strong and powerful bacteria.

I have used this acidophilus and the other Super Blue Green Algae products for thirty years and I know what they can accomplish for one’s health and nutrition. If you would like to know more, read my page, “My Secret Weapon.

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The Birds and the Beans

All right, kids. Grab a cookie and sit down. We’re going to have a frank chat about the Birds and the Beans. I know this isn’t the most “comfortable” subject in the world and some of you (not naming names) can’t help giggling and chuckling when it is mentioned.

But if you are going to eat less animal protein, make more of your food from scratch and avoid canned, pre-packaged products, it’s time you were armed with the FACTS. Don’t wait until you find yourself in an unwanted situation that is too late to do anything about. Protect yourself!

Don’t end up like this: There you are at work, at school or at a party innocently sitting next to someone you’d like to charm or impress, and suddenly you become the trumpeter of a dreaded intestinal melody—the gaseous vibration that sounds its ugly notes like a public broadcast system alert—the gut-wrenching musical solo that brings infamy instead of fame!

Or worse, you’ve released the silent human breeze that wafts through the room bringing an odor so deadly—so ghastly (I heard that guffaw!)—that you at once find yourself alone.

Alone!

You know exactly what I’m talking about and even though we joke about it and have all sorts of names and euphemisms for it, I am going to use the technical and scientific term, “flatulence.”

Beans, improperly cooked, can cause flatulence. Once you’ve eaten said illicitly prepared beans, well child, you are now in a situation you can’t reverse. You just have to wait until it passes. (What was that chortling I heard?)

How do you avoid this age-old dilemma? With minerals, that’s how! You see, there are proteins, carbs and fats densely packed into those dynamic dried legumes.  And the best way to ensure beans can be easily broken down in digestion is to balance them by cooking with a rich multi-mineral sea vegetable called kombu

Kombu is a sea vegetable that grows wild in cold waters and is sold dried. There are several types of kombu, such as wild harvested varieties sold by Eden Foods, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, Emerald Cove and other reputable organic food companies. These kombus also have certain salts in them that add a great deal of flavor to foods cooked with them. Cheaper brands often have MSG and/or they are harvested from kelp that is already washed ashore—so not as good.

These are aduki (sometimes spelled azuki) beans. They are soaking in spring water with kombu.

These are aduki (sometimes spelled azuki) beans. They are soaking in spring water with kombu.

Tips for cooking beans

  1. Buy organic dried beans, pick through them removing any little stones or soil, and wash them in cold water. Nothing worse than biting into a little rock or sand!
  2. Soak the beans several hours or overnight as needed, covered in spring water with a 3-4 inch piece of kombu for every cup of dried beans. I usually wipe the kombu with a damp cloth and put it in the bottom of a bowl and put the washed beans on top then add the water.
  3. Use that same kombu in the bottom of your pot and put the beans on top and cover with fresh spring water. I don’t use the soaking water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer with a lid.
  4. DO NOT ADD SALT to the beans until they are at least 3/4 cooked. If you add salt in the beginning, the salt will keep the beans tough and they won’t be cooked enough. But adding sea salt toward the end of the cooking will soften the beans and help finish the cooking.
  5. You can encourage your beans (“Great job, beans! Keep going! You’re going to be delicious!”) to cook from the inside out so they fully cook inside and aren’t a mushy mess. Do this by just covering the beans with water and when the water cooks down, add cold water to drive the heat into the beans and continue cooking. You can do this a few times as more liquid is needed. This is called the shock method.
  6. As I said above, when the beans are mostly done, then add your sea salt. The kombu can be taken out or left in. It may break down quite a bit after all this cooking and you can just stir it in. Or you can take it out and cut it into pieces and add it back in. Kombu is oh so good for you with its vegetable-quality minerals and trace minerals!
  7. Add your veggies and whatever else you wish after the beans have gotten started, depending on what you’re making.

FAQ:  How effective is the Kombu Method compared to others in avoiding the dreaded death knell of dignity and lost social acceptance?

  1. Adding kombu. Very effective and natural. If you are transitioning to a more vegetable-based diet, you may still experience the occasional toot. Additional advice is don’t eat too many beans at once, chew your beans and all your food very thoroughly so digestion can begin where it’s supposed to—in your mouth—and don’t mix the beans with things like fruit, fruit juice, or sugar.
  2. Abstinence. Of course if you don’t eat beans ever, you will not get flatulence from them. But you will be missing out on  a wonderful source of protein packed with energy and good nutrition. 
  3. Bay Leaves. I have seen bay leaves used in beans and while they do help and are certainly flavorful, alas, bay leaves will not guarantee as much protection against flatulence. They just don’t have the necessary minerals.
  4. Canned. You still have to read the label. So many brands in my natural food store are cooked only with salt and only two, I found, are cooked with kombu—Eden Foods and Westbrae. So you might pick up a couple of these if you’re in a hurry.
  5. Pureeing. If the beans were not cooked with a balance of good minerals, you are not protected.
  6. Gas reducing products. There are products like Beano which is made from a fungus called Aspergillus niger. It apparently works for some people and does so by breaking complex sugars down into simple sugars. I’ve never resorted to Beano which is now made by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which is a complete turn-off for me. Also, when you buy a product like that, the cashier and everyone else will know why you are buying it and you could open the door to more giggling, chortling and downright embarrassment. Buying kombu is way more sophisticated and mature. I’m sure of that!

Basics: Digestion 101

Lindsay and Danny setting a good example.

Lindsay and Danny setting a good example.

“You are what you eat.”

How many times have we all heard that statement? I have heard it most of my life and while in the broadest, most general sense it is true, it is not specifically accurate. Why? Because everything you put into your mouth and eat does not make it through your digestive system and deliver the nutrients to create your new cells.

Let’s back it up for a moment. You eat a food, hopefully chew it at least a little, and down it goes. It is further broken down in the stomach before moving on through your system to the small intestines where nutrients can be delivered to the rest of your body to create your new cells which replace your old cells.

No matter what it is that you are eating, we can agree that it would be ideal if all nutrients consumed can be used for your benefit. But that, unfortunately, is not always the case.

Here are three bottom-line, basic factors to know about good digestion.

Is what you’re eating actually real food?

The main factor is whether you are eating something that your body can recognize as “food.” Your body is programmed to break down, digest and absorb the nutrients of anything it recognizes is food.  Everything else, your body is programmed to safely get rid of as something which doesn’t belong in it.

So if you are eating chemicalized foods, fake, manufactured food, food dyes, additives, preservatives, synthetic vitamins, inorganic minerals–anything that is not “real”–your body is going to process it as something to get rid of and protect itself from. That includes, by the way,  microwaved food in which the molecular structure of the once-real food has been scrambled into something unrecognizable by the body to be digested! It also could include genetically modified foods.

So first of all, you can’t be what you eat unless you eat “real” food. And second, the quality of the food you put in helps determine the quality of the new cells your body makes.

Are you doing your part when the food goes in your mouth?

My sister used to have a saying that she learned early in her schooling which I considered a funny, old-fashioned idea until I realized the truth of it. She used to say, “Drink your food and chew your water.”

It meant that food should be chewed until it is like liquid and drinks should be well-mixed with saliva before swallowing. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you really should chew water but I wholly agree that food must be chewed very well.

This is something I started paying attention to when I first began learning about macrobiotics. Macrobiotics comes from the words “macro” which means “large or great” and bios which means “life.” It can be interpreted as having the largest view of life or simply living a great life. My first teacher was Georges Ohsawa via his book and later on I met and studied with some of the best macrobiotic teachers in the world. It is with them that I learned the valuable lesson of chewing your food well.

Chewing is your part of the job of digestion. Chewing allows food–especially carbohydrates–to be broken down by your saliva. We new students used to count 50 chews per mouthful! It soon became habit and I learned that chewing alone can increase your health, improve or even solve digestive problems and helps ensure that your body will have available all the nutrients you are consuming.

Lucky for all of us, additional chewing costs us nothing but a few moments!

Is your natural defense system in place?

What I mean is, who or what is living in your intestines? We have probably all heard about having “good bacteria” in our intestines. Every commercial yogurt advertisement reminds us that we need it. So what exactly is this about?

There are a multitude of living things that can be found in one’s intestines. The intestines, being long and having a ridged shape inside, provide tons of real estate for these bacteria and yeasts and other things to take up housekeeping. And it is natural to have (and even necessary) certain of these in there–even yeast. These bacteria and things contribute to further breaking food down, helping it move through the lines and also preventing things that don’t belong in the system from getting in.

Some live in the small intestines where your digested food is absorbed into your bloodstream and some live in the large intestines where waste is directed so it can be eliminated. (Such a smart body!) If you have a healthy community of good bacteria taking up space in your intestines, that leaves little or no room for unwanted bacteria (such as those that cause illness and disease) from having a place to live.

Probably I could write (and maybe I will) an entire post about this because healthy bacteria in the intestines has many, many benefits. For instance, did you know that the bacteria called, “acidophilus” produces a very powerful natural antibiotic called “acidophillin?”

My main point here is that eating naturally fermented food (not just pasteurized yogurt with some manufactured “acidophilus” thrown in), such as miso and pickled foods and naturally made yogurt, can provide tremendous help to your body in getting the good nutrition “in” and keeping the unwanted elements “out.”

You are what you assimilate!

This is a much more accurate statement! Assimilate simply means, taking in the food and making it part of the body. Just because you put something you think may be “food” in your mouth doesn’t mean you are delivering nutrients to your body. Some people–whether meat-eaters or vegetarians–can eat and eat and eat and still crave more food.  Why? Because they aren’t assimilating much of what they eat and the cause is usually one or more of the three factors above.

The answer is to eat organic, whole food, chew it well, and make sure your diet includes naturally fermented food which can provide beneficial bacteria. Because you are not what you eat, you are what you assimilate!