Sep 18

What most people know about being vegan is the list of foods that are excluded from the vegan diet. But animal free vegans don’t just define themselves by what they don’t eat, they also define themselves by the nutrient-rich superfoods that they do eat.

The ingredients, spices, and cooking techniques for a diet that is completely animal free might seem foreign to those who are accustomed to standard meals composed from meats and starches, but animal free meals are not so strange once you learn some of the tips and tricks of the animal free lifestyle. These days, vegan cooks have figure out how to make just about any dish animal free, including pancakes, macaroni and cheese, and snickerdoodles.

Lauren Ulm, the founder of the website, “Vegan Yum Yum” and the author of a cookbook by the same name, learned the how-to’s and how-not-to’s of vegan cooking by trial and error and error and error in her own kitchen. Here are some of the tips she gives to vegan cooks on her website and in her book:

  • There is a huge difference between fresh sugar snap peas and frozen ones. The longer peas sit after picking, the soggier and less sweet they become.
  • Sauteeing chickpeas brings out a lovely nutty flavor in them.
  • It could be that you don’t like brussel sprouts just because the ones you ate were overcooked. Brussel sprouts that are overcooked have a sulfur smell, and taste unpleasant. Brussel sprouts that are cooked correctly are crisp and sweet and have a slightly nutty aftertaste.
  • How you cut vegetables makes a big difference in the texture and taste of your dishes. A Japanese mandoline works well to slice potatoes extra thin, for example.
  • If you’re frying a potato, choose a potato that has high starch and low sugar, like a russet potato. A potato with high sugar will before it’s crispy, making the fried potatoes soggy.
  • Delicata squash is a sweet squash alternative that is easier to cut in half than other squashes.
  • A microplane grater makes citrus zest that is fine, light, fluffy, and practically melts in your mouth.
  • Spelt flour works well with pancakes because it is lighter and has a seeter,milder flavor than regular whole wheat flour.
  • Using a grill pan to add grill marks to tofu makes it prettier and more appealing to dinner guests. Just be careful not too scorch it!
  • When making tofu scramble instead of eggs, make sure your tofu isn’t too wet and that it is adequately seasoned.
  • Barley can be just as satisfying as risotto, and doesn’t require as much bothersome stirring.

More Information About Animal Free Cooking and Eating:

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Sep 15

The amount of sodium in the diet is an old issue that is getting new attention with those in the field of nutrition and health. Of particular interest is the connection between sodium and obesity. A current theory is that a dangerous level of salt toxicity can cause the body to produce more fat cells. And those sodium toxic fat cells can be denser and more difficult to get rid of.

The medical community has linked an excess of sodium in the diet with hypertension and heart disease for decades. Now it is also clear that when salt builds up to toxic levels it can cause and contribute to stomach cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and a number of different maladies.

Salt toxicity is a growing health concern for Americans because of the amount of salt that is being used by food manufacturers and large restaurant chains as a preservative. Because diners are not aware of the “hidden salt” in their processed foods and menu selections, they are making uninformed choices that have dangerous consequences. The cumulative effects of sodium overconsumption is starting to show up in national disease statistics.

A book which addresses the dangers of salt and how to effectively do a salt detox was written by New York dieticians Tammy Lakatos Shames and Lyssie Lakatos. The Lakatos sisters (a/k/a “The Nutrition Twins“) have found in their nutrition practice that the sodium issue is becoming so huge, that unless American dieters first go through salt detox, most will continue to get huge, despite their best efforts.

Recognizing that it can be treacherous for Americans to navigate their way through the minefield of sodium-rich foods offered to them, The Nutrition Twins give dozens of simple ideas that help their clients and readers to a salt detox diet and achieve a healthy salt balance. Here are some of the “Twin Tips” that are included in their book, “The Secret to Skinny”:

  • Unsalted pistachios are the “skinny nut” because they are high in proten, fiber, and healthy fat. Buy them in the shell because the work it takes to eat them will make it hard to eat too many. (Avoid the roasted and salted pistachios completely!)
  • “Low fat” does not mean “low sodium.” Often low fat and no-fat products have even more sodium and sugar to compensate for the flavor that is lost when the fat is removed.
  • Salt is sometimes hidden in other ingredients. Products that contain disodium phosphate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium alginate, and sodium nitrate (or nitrite) contain more sodium than you think.
  • Swap your sodium-rich breakfast cereal for a bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit. This will completely eliminate salt from your breakfast and leave you feeling less bloated all day.
  • Canned vegetables can make you fat because of the extremely high amount of sodium. Always rinse canned vegetables instead of consuming the salty liquid they’re packed in.
  • Parsley is not just a garnish, it’s a natural diuretic. Add it to your recipes for eating, not just for looking pretty on your plate.
  • Instead of eating greasy salty popcorn, eat air-popped popcorn seasoned with cayenne powder, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, coriander, or chili powder for a flavorful treat instead.
  • Don’t forget that dairy products contain sodium too. Read the labels carefully because sometimes low fat and no fat versions have the most sodium and will make you retain water weight.
  • After eating a sodium-rich meal (like Chinese, for example) you can cure a “salt hangover” by drinking 2 cups of green tea and eating 4 dried plums to flush the salt out of your system more quickly.

Related Salt Toxicity Information:

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Sep 04

Last week, a class action lawsuit was filed against Denny’s restaurant chain for serving salty food. Jason Ciszewski, a Denny’s regular, is claiming that his three favorite meals there, “Moons Over My Hammy,” the “SuperBird Sandwich” and the “Meat Lover’s Scramble” contain so much sodium that it caused him to develop high blood pressure. In Ciszewski’s opinion, it was Denny’s responsibility to warn him that dishes composed primarily of ham, bacon, sausage and cheese contained a lot of salt, and since they didn’t, it should cost them $5 million.

While there may be a measure of personal responsibility that diners like Ciszewski need to take for their own eating choices, the issue of sodium content in Americans’ foods is valid, and one that is being raised by many health experts. Health organizations are taking a fast-growing interest in the amount of salt that is contained in restaurant food, fast food, as well as the processed, canned and prepared foods that fill U.S. grocery stores.

According to the American Heart Association, at least 70% of the sodium in the average American diet is coming from the food itself, not from a salt shaker. When American meals are prepared in food factories instead of family kitchens, salt is used in liberal and sometimes dangerous proportions. In a report released in March, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that more than 130 million Americans are consuming too much salt and putting themselves at risk for serious illnesses.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the medical condition that is most often associated with excessive salt intake, but it is not the only malady related to high sodium intake. Last week the results of a study with 20,000 people age 45 and older published in the “Neurology” journal concluded that salt-induced high blood pressure can also cause memory loss and impaired brain functions. And there are many more negative effects that sodium can have on your body, according Tammy Lakatos Shames and Lyssie Lakatos, sisters who are both registered dieticians in New York.

The Nutrition Twins, as the Lakatos sisters are called, have been dietetic counselors for more than a decade. But it’s just in the past few years that they’ve found the need to focus extra attention on the sodium intake of their clients. The reason? “Manufacturers sneak salt into everything, especially the ‘healthy’ foods that we dutifully eat while trying to be ‘good,’” they explain.

The Lakatos sisters are now sending clients on a serious scavenger hunt to find all the hidden salt in the foods they’re consuming. Salt is hidden in “everything from low-fat salad dressings and packaged diet entrees to lean meats and soups, and wheat breads and cereals,” they say, and it is cumulatively dangerous.

Too much sodium can cause what the Nutrition Twins call “salt toxicity,” which is exactly what it implies – a level of salt that is so high that it becomes toxic to vital organs and body functions. Beyond hypertension, the Lakatos sisters outline many of the effects that salt toxicity can have on the body:

- Overworks and damages kidneys trying to expel excess salt
- Increases the risk for kidney stones
- Increases the risk for stomach cancer
- Lowers metabolism
- Increases the risk for diabetes
- Increases the risk for osteoporosis
- Damages the heart and contributes to cardiovascular disease
- Hardens arteries, decreasing the flow of oxygen in the blood
- Increases the risk for strokes

As bad as those conditions are, the biggest impact that salt is having on the American population today is that it is making them big. Salt toxicity produces more fat cells in the body, makes the fat cells more dense, increases food cravings, and decreases the ability to burn fat and repair muscle. More than 70 million Americans are obese, and salt toxicity is a major contributor to that condition.

This connection between obesity and salt intake is the reason why the Nutrition Twins thought it was vitally important to write an entire book focused on salt in the diet. It’s also the reason why their book is called, “The Secret to Skinny.”

“Once inside your body, salt wreaks havoc on your waistline,” Tammy and Lyssie wrote in the book. It’s seemingly innocent, and often invisible, so most people don’t pay it any attention” they say. One example in the book of a “seemingly innocent” meal is the “Guiltless Chicken Sandwich” on the menu at Chili’s restaurant. Although it only has 490 calories and 8 grams of fat, it also has a whopping 2,720 milligrams of salt, which is more than is recommended for an entire day.

The Nutrition Twins urge people to take a more holistic view of their food for both diet and health reasons. Focusing specifically on just fat grams or calories or carbs to the exclusion of all other attributes, like salt content, is leading people to choose foods that have detrimental effects to both their weight and their health. “Our experience proves that if you learn to drop the salt, you will drop a size – or more – and add years to your life,” they say.

A holistic view is something that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) supports as well when it comes to America’s restaurants. It has had Denny’s in its crosshairs for a while, and even helped another diner file a sodium-related lawsuit against the chain in July.

The CSPI also called Domino’s new BreadBowl Pasta dishes “food porn” because the carb, fat, and salt content in them are so obscene. Earlier this year the association presented testimony to the Senate Finance Committee which cited Red Lobster, Chili’s, and Olive Garden as examples of restaurants serving food that has four days worth of sodium in a single meal. The CSPI is working on the sodium issue in legal and government venues since consumers don’t seem aware, and restaurant chains don’t seem to care.

The Nutrition Twins think the salt crisis in America can be easily solved by individuals, one bite at a time. “Look closely at the nutrition information and you’ll see why you should rethink your order the next time you head out for food on the run,” Tammy and Lyssie say. And if nutritional information isn’t easily accessible, the CSPI will be working hard to change that, on behalf of all American diners.

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