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There’s an epidemic of individuals who are magnesium deficient. And if you're one of them, you're at risk for serious health issues, like depression, osteoporosis, heart disease, and many others.
Magnesium is a crucial mineral for good health, yet in the U.S., between 75 and 80 percent of the population is deficient. If you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, you have an even higher risk of deficiency. The reason? The typical vegetarian and vegan diet is loaded with grains that are high in phytic acid, a substance that blocks your body’s ability to absorb essential minerals, including magnesium, zinc, and calcium.
Every organ in your body, especially your heart, muscular system, and kidneys, needs magnesium. Signs of a serious deficiency include numbness and tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, and abnormal heart rhythms.
The solution? 1) Limit your consumption of grains, 2) eat foods high in magnesium, and 3) take a magnesium supplement. If you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, you must do all three to reverse or prevent a deficiency.
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Women like to joke about men having “two brains.” But the reality is, we all do. We have our main brain, our command center, in our heads, and our second brain in our gut. Both have neurons that produce serotonin.
Serotonin is important. It plays a key role in regulating your moods and reduces depression and anxiety. Most of it is located in the gut, not the brain. For this reason, it’s been speculated that antidepressants, which raise serotonin levels in the brain, are not always effective, yet dietary changes are.
Boost Your Serotonin Level with Good Bacteria
There’s plenty of research that shows good bacteria in the gut is a key player in the development of the brain and is involved in mood, behavior, and emotions. One particular study found that a “Four-week intake of an FMPP (fermented milk product with probiotic) by healthy women affected activity of brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation.”
This is just one more example of how a healthy digestive tract is essential, not only for our physical health but for our emotional well being as well.
To get more good bacteria into your gut, it helps to eat fermented foods, like Kefir and sauerkraut. But, don’t buy cooked or pasteurized versions of fermented foods. The fermentation process is designed to kill off the bad bacteria, but it kills off the good bacteria, too.
Good digestion and good health go hand in hand, and good bacteria is crucial for both. This is especially true for vegetarians. Many of the staple foods in a vegetarian diet have phytic acid, which interferes with the absorption of important minerals. One way to combat this issue is to maintain a healthy level of good bacteria.
Want to learn more? Order my new book, Eat Right for Life With a Plant-Based Diet: The Secret to Permanent Weight Loss and Optimal Health.
I know I’ve written about protein in the past, but one thing I haven’t written about is protein hacks. Protein hacks are important if you want to keep your meals nutritious and to avoid boredom.
As you probably know, your body needs protein to survive. For example, protein is used to build and repair cells, break down food, and to maintain and build muscle.
To understand protein hacks, first, you have to understand how proteins differ. Proteins are made up of different amino acids, and different proteins have different combinations. Steak, for example, has a different combination of amino acids than beans. This is important to understand because each amino acid has a different function to perform in order to keep you healthy.
Meat has all the amino acids, and, for this reason, is called a “complete” protein. Unfortunately, most plant proteins are missing one or more amino acids, so they’re "incomplete".
There are only a handful of complete plant proteins, including tempeh, chia seeds, and quinoa. The problem is, we can’t always include a complete vegetarian protein into our meal. Well, we can, but things would get boring, and boredom is the number one reason vegetarians go back to eating meat.
How to Create a Protein Hack
The solution is to create what I call a protein hack. A protein hack is when you combine incomplete plant proteins to get all the amino acids you need. For example, both black beans and rice are incomplete proteins. But together they compliment each other by providing the amino acids that are lacking in the other, creating a complete protein that’s just as good as any animal protein.
To create a protein hack you can combine a whole grain with a legume, or combine nuts or seeds with a legume. In addition to rice and beans, other common hacks include rice noodles with peanut sauce, hummus, and oatmeal topped with walnuts. All you need is a little imagination to create your own.
I’m always playing around with different ways to use Tempeh. Why? Because it’s one of the healthiest plant proteins. For example, tempeh has a lot of protein (16 grams in just three ounces), and it’s a complete protein. That means it has all the amino acids, so it’s comparable to meat. This is super important for vegetarians and vegans. If you want to learn more about it, go here.
The following is per serving.
3 to 4 ounces diced tempeh (approximately 1/3 of an 8-ounce package)
4 spears baby corn
2 large stems bok choy
1/4 cup cashews
1 tbsp. coconut oil
Adjust the above quantities to your own taste. I usually use more cashews.
For the sauce:
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp. Xylitol
1 tsp. cornstarch
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Serving Suggestions: Serve on a bed of brown rice, quinoa, or mix with brown rice noodles.
There’s been a lot of press lately debating whether coconut oil is a healthy or unhealthy food. Those that argue that it's unhealthy base their claim on the fact that coconut oil is saturated and saturated fats can lead to heart disease.
That is no longer the consensus in the scientific community. In fact, current research has found that saturated fat, in moderation, is actually healthy.
Even without the studies, it’s clear that saturated fats cannot be the demon food that they’ve been made out to be. Just look back at the history of our dietary habits. Saturated fats were a regular part of our diet before the 1970s – think butter and lard – yet obesity and heart disease were not common illnesses.
Coconut oil, in particular, is a super healthy saturated fat. In fact, Dr. David Perlmutter, a brain-health expert, and author of the book “Grain Brain” (great book by the way) recommends it to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. But the benefits don’t stop there. Coconut oil is a medium-chain fat (MCF) which is known to raise your metabolism, increase fat burning and stamina, and help you lose excess weight.
It’s unfortunate that so many people have become afraid of eating fats, particularly saturated fat. Your body must have healthy fats to function properly and stay healthy. In my new book, Eat Right for Life With a Plant-Based Diet, I’ve dedicated a chapter on the topic of fats: which fat to add and which ones to eliminate and why, as well as how to calculate how much fat you can consume without gaining weight. You can find out more and order it at Amazon.
It’s amazing that just a generation or two ago people ate only protein from farm-raised animals and fresh fruits and vegetables that were grown locally. Nothing was flown or shipped into grocery stores from other cities and countries.
Today, the reverse is true. Ninety percent of the food in mainstream stores is processed, and only 10 percent is fresh. This is obvious as you walk around a conventional grocery store. There are rows and rows of processed, frozen, and pre-packaged food items and a small produce section.
Along with this change in eating habits comes a shocking new statistic published in the New England Journal of Medicine: there are now a whopping 2.2 billion people that are overweight or obese.Why? Processed foods lack the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that the body needs to grow and stay healthy. As a result, we instinctually eat more. In essence, we become overweight, overfed, and undernourished.
One of the best solutions is to eat a healthy vegetarian diet. Another report (and there are many) in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, states that vegetarians don’t just lose more weight than those on a typical low-calorie diet; they also improve their metabolism. And, when you optimize your metabolism, you burn more calories instead of storing them as fat.
There are, of course, loads of additional benefits to going vegetarian. Studies have also shown that those on a vegetarian diet develop fewer illnesses. But developing and sustaining a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet requires careful planning and a certain amount of knowledge about not only what to eliminate but what you need to add to your diet to stay healthy and fit. My new book, Eat Right for Life With a Plant-Based Diet addresses all of these topics plus more and is now available on Amazon.
I love this dish. Not only is it delicious, easy to prepare, and great for the summer months, but the ingredients are super healthy. Arugula is rich in glucosinolates, a cancer-fighting compound, and is higher in antioxidants than most green lettuces. Wild rice is rich in minerals, B vitamins, and the amino acid lysine. And lentils have 17.86 grams of protein per cup and are high in antioxidants.
Whether you are a new or seasoned vegetarian or vegan, my new book is an essential guide to living well on a plant-based diet.
If you find it difficult to maintain a vegetarian diet, you’re not alone. I was floored when I read that 84% of vegetarians and vegans go back to eating meat.*
This surprising data comes from a large survey conducted by Faunalytics, a large nonprofit that specializes in data focused on animal welfare.
According to their survey, the most popular reasons given for abandoning a vegetarian or vegan diet were the following:
* Always feel hungry
* Tired of eating the same food
* Too difficult to be a strict vegetarian
Can you relate? If so, there are some things you can do to combat these issues:
Always feel hungry? Many vegetarians eat too many carbohydrates and too little protein or fat. Each meal should be a balance of all three. If you don’t get enough protein and fat, you will definitely be hungry and unsatisfied throughout the day.
Tired of eating the same food? This is a pitfall that’s easy to fall into, especially when you have a busy schedule. I find that having a high-speed blender, like a Vitamix or NutriBullit works wonders for making a vegetarian diet more exciting and less time-consuming. (See the two quick recipes below.)
Find it too difficult to be a strict vegetarian? There are a number of solutions to this problem. The top solution is to plan your meals in advance and keep your pantry well stocked. Before eating out, call or check online to find out if the restaurant can accommodate you. And, take healthy snacks and a powdered protein with you when you're away from home or on vacation.
What's your biggest challenge? Skip down to the bottom of the page and let us know.
Don’t let the simplicity of this soup fool you. If you like peas, you will love this recipe. It tastes like you’re eating soup made from fresh peas from your garden.
Ingredients per serving:
1 cup water
1/2 cup frozen, organic peas
1/2 tbsp.extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Place the water and peas in a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a pot and simmer on the stove for three to five minutes. If using a Vitamix, keep blending until it’s hot and steamy, about 5 minutes.
2. Pour into bowls, add olive oil, stir and enjoy.
3. Optional: add your favorite croutons.
Cucumber and Mint Smoothie
This is refreshing for the warm weather and after a workout.
Ingredients per serving:
2 to 3 fresh mint leaves
1/4 large cucumber
1 cup of water
3 to 4 small ice cubes
Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender and enjoy.
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I love this recipe. It's easy, and although it takes a little more time than I usually like to spend in the kitchen, it’s worth it.
(You can use tofu instead of tempeh in this recipe.)
4 ounces brown rice noodles (or brown rice)
4 ounces of tempeh
2 cups broccoli florets
1 tbsp. coconut oil
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. xylitol (or sweetener of your choice)
1 tsp. grated ginger
1 garlic clove, crushed
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Recipe inspired by Stir-Fried Broccoli, in the Good Food Made Simple, Vegetarian cookbook.
You’re having a bad day. Maybe something happened in the office that stressed you out, or that special someone in your family has pushed your buttons. Your first reaction is to reach for food, something sweet and comforting, like a bag of cookies or a slice of chocolate cake. We call this emotional eating. We’re not hungry, but when we get upset, angry or sad we need — and desperately want — something to lift our spirits. And this means, more often than not, eating a sugary treat. Not just because it tastes good, but because sugar triggers your brain to send you a lifeline.
You see, when you eat sugar, your brain produces endorphins and serotonin. The endorphins reduce your anxiety, increase your sense of well-being (comfort), and boost your self-esteem. Serotonin acts as a mood regulator and anti-depressant.
Unfortunately, the lifeline is temporary: You’ll crash shortly after the sugar splurge, and you’ll have to deal with the guilt and remorse you feel for the indulgence.
So, what can you do? The only way to stop self-medicating with food is to retrain yourself to respond differently to your emotional triggers, and there are several ways you can do this.
1) Become aware. Train yourself to stop and think before you indulge. Remind yourself that the food fix is temporary, unhealthy, fattening, and will make you feel worse than before. When you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, and the consequences, you have a good chance of changing your behavior.
2) Get some cardiovascular exercise; it releases endorphins and boosts your moods. Even a brisk walk for 15 to 20 minutes can do the trick.
3) Remember to breathe. When we get upset, our breath becomes shallow, and that makes us even more upset or nervous. Experiment with some deep breathing exercises. See this article from Time: "6 Breathing Exercises to Relax in 10 Minutes or Less" for some great examples.
4) Eat something that’s healthy instead, like a piece of fresh fruit. You’ll still get some sugar, but it has fiber and nutrients.
5) Vent to a friend. Reach for the phone instead of that goodie. Sometimes this can help.
It takes some time to retrain yourself to react differently to your emotional triggers, so don’t give up. With practice, you won’t have to think about it. You’ll still get the impulse to self-medicate, but your mind will jump in to stop you.
Purple Majesty Potatoes
We really love our potatoes. There are so many ways to enjoy these lovely, creamy, delights. But, our beloved potatoes come with some serious drawbacks. They’re loaded with starch that’s quickly digested and turned to blood sugar. We then store that sugar as fat if we don’t burn it off. What’s more, the most common varieties of America’s favorite vegetable is not especially nutritious.
Fortunately, there are several, lesser-known types of potatoes that are super nutritious. The Russet Burbank potato, for example, is rich in phytonutrients (phyto means plant in Greek); it’s a great source of potassium, vitamin C, and high in vitamins B2, B3, and folic acid. But, their high starch content rapidly turns to sugar when you digest them.
There is a workaround to this dilemma. Yeah!
According to Jo Robinson in her terrific book “Eating on the Wild side,” you can significantly cut down on the sugar spike. The trick is to cook them, let cool, and then refrigerate for twenty-four hours. This process will reduce your blood sugar response by as much as 25 percent. If you’re a potato lover (who isn’t), I think it’s well worth this extra step. Of course, you can then reheat them before serving or use for potato salad.
I think the beautiful specimens in the picture are called Purple Majesty. I picked them up at Whole Foods, but, like many markets, they don’t specify the type of potato. If you have access to a farmer's market, there are more varieties, and they can tell you precisely what they are.
Aways look for new potatoes. They're an excellent choice as they have a lower impact on blood sugar than mature, or old, potatoes; sometimes half the amount!
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Learn how to stop sugar cravings and give up added sugar. Yes, sugar is addictive and when you try to give it up you suffer from withdrawal symptoms, but there are simple things that you can do to stop them.
Eating well doesn’t always mean buying organic. Sometimes it's just too expensive – like when one red pepper costs $5.00. I get it, especially if you have a large family to feed.
I recently learned quite a few tips on getting the most from your produce, whether it’s organic or not. Here are some of my favorites from "Eating on the Wild Side, The Missing Link to Optimum Health":
To learn more great tips like these, you can get "Eating on the Wild Side, The Missing Link to Optimum Health" on Amazon.
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I have a slight sensitivity to wheat, so I stay away from it 95% of the time. I just cheat on holidays and when I’m vacationing.
I’ve tried pastas made with rice flour, but I don’t eat it too often because it spikes your blood sugar like candy. I did find something else, though, that I just tried last night. It’s pasta made from green lentil and some oat fiber. I was skeptical at first, but kind of desperate to find an alternative to the rice flour.
Lentils are seriously healthy. In fact, according to Jo Robinson excellent book, “Eating on the Wild Side,” both black beans and lentils have more antioxidants than all the other common legumes.
The recipe I used is super easy to make, and really flavorful.
Servings: Approximately 2
1 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves of chopped garlic
2 cups of fresh kale leaves, deveined and torn into bite-sized pieces
8 ounces of button mushrooms
1/2 bag Modern Table, Lentil Penne
1) Boil a large pot of water with salted water.
2) Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant and just starting to turn brown.
3) Add mushrooms, cook until they have some color, and then add the kale. Continue cooking until the kale is tender but still somewhat firm.
4). Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with just a couple of teaspoons of the pasta water to keep it moist.
The pasta takes about 8 minutes to cook, so add it to the boiling water during the last steps. I usually have everything prepared ahead of the pasta, so that the pasta doesn’t dry out waiting.