To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast

When and how often people eat meals is actually influenced by their culture. In Mediterranean countries are known for long, leisurely, filling lunches followed by some down time. This approach is very different from that in the U.S. and U.K. where dinner is typically the largest, most involved meal of the day, while lunch may be eaten at a desk. In Indonesia, it’s common for the main meal to be breakfast, with subsequent left-overs consumed throughout the day. In a variety of countries around the world, people eat just two meals–some due to lack of food, but more often just out of custom.

A very typical Malaysia breakfast of noodles and vegetables

So is breakfast worth all the hype or not? It seems like very few things in the world are definitive: Is (fill in the blank) good or bad for us? Breakfast is no exception. The adage that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ is ingrained in most Americans. It kick-starts the body’s metabolism and offers fuel for the brain. A study by the American Heart Association on the impact of when and how often we eat cited numerous studies that link obesity and/or higher body fat mass to skipping breakfast. Other research, like one out of Canada and another out of the U.K., found that skipping breakfast did not have much of an overall impact on determining health. Some go so far as to argue that not only breakfast, but the whole three square meals a day regimen is not only unnecessary, but undermines our health (see Fasting is Great, Unless You have Food Issues http://cantquitfood.com/2016/08/30/fasting). As with most research on health, so many variables come into play that it is difficult to offer blanket recommendations.

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Make Veggies your Go To Food

Despite the limits set by the weight-loss plan I adopted for my lifestyle change, I chose to eat as many non-starchy vegetables as I wanted, as long as I wasn’t adding extra salad dressing or fat. I gave myself license to indulge both at meals (I made as many green beans as I wanted) and if I was hungry between planned eating times. I felt this was a more realistic approach to the challenges that would confront me.

Roast fresh or frozen green beans in some oil and thinly-sliced garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper in a 420 degree oven for ~20 minutes for a simple, yet elegant side dish or great snack right out of the fridge.

Sometimes I would be really hungry and just need to eat. Sometimes I was battling with some emotion, but not aware enough of what was going on to stop myself from eating. Either way, I figured that if I really felt the urge to eat then I would be happy to eat naked vegetables. If you’re really hungry, sugar snap peas, raw carrots, and cauliflower are appealing and satisfying. If you are emotionally grazing, the guilt of indulging isn’t nearly as bad.

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It’s Valentine’s Day, so Eat Chocolate!

Much to my delight, I unexpectedly discovered a chocolate cooking course when I was in Peru. We made chocolate from scratch, as the ancient Incans would have done.
First step: Roast the cocoa beans.

If you really love your Valentine, you’ll skip the candy hearts and go straight for the chocolate: Dark chocolate, that is. I’m not sure why scientists decided to research potential health benefits of chocolate, but I’m sure glad they did! Lots of studies have found that the flavonoids in cocoa beans do all sorts of amazing things.

Step 2: Shell the outer layer from the cocoa nib.

Dark chocolate’s properties promote heart health by increasing oxidation to stop plaque from lining artery walls and also lower blood pressure. They help to repair damaged cell membranes and aid in fighting off free radicals that damage cell tissue. And if you’re worried about the fat in cocoa butter, it’s been found to have a neutral effect on bad v. good cholesterol levels.

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So Many Diets Out There!

With so many diets out there, how do you know what to choose to get started? Actually, it’s imperative to avoid choosing a diet, but rather, adopt a regimen that offers a template to get started. Since the key to success is a lifestyle change, instead of starting a (or another?) diet, it’s much more useful to find a plan that offers some useful tools. Well-known diet plans are set up to keep customers dependent on them rather than show them how to live in the real world.

That I love vegetables definitely gives me an advantage to maintain a healthy body. I learned to make all of these veggie dishes at a cooking class in Morocco.

As I mentioned in Start NOW!, it’s best to choose a regimen largely based on the foods you regularly eat (unless it’s all junk food, though I’m sure someone has proposed a junk food diet. Even then, I’m just not sure how successful it could be for long term health…). Along with laying out the science behind nutrition, I discussed the reasons for my regimen choices over the last 15 years in My Food Education, which might offer a useful starting point.

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The Protein-Starved Vegan Myth

Particularly around the holidays, I am frequently asked what I eat or make instead of a Thanksgiving turkey or a Christmas ham. It’s a legitimate question, for a couple of reasons. Because holiday meals are traditionally based around a roasted meat, most people are curious as to what I make as a meat substitute. I grew up with this very same tradition, so I can relate to how odd it would seem to not have a meat centerpiece at the holiday gathering.

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Pumpkin: It’s for More than Just Latte.

Pumpkin-Stuffed Seitan and Cranberries

Pumpkin-Stuffed Seitan and Cranberries

Last week finally started to feel a bit like autumn and I was delighted to find pie pumpkins in stock and on sale at 4 for $5 at the store. What a steal! Pie pumpkins are different than those big ones that end up on carved people’s porches because they’re sweeter and less fibrous. I always feel like fresh pumpkin this special treat because I can only get it in season, unlike in parts of the world where it’s a staple food. And rightly so: It’s an excellent source of beta carotene and other nutrients, it’s low-calorie, high-fiber, and it’s even got protein.

Unlike sweet potatoes or butternut squash, pumpkin has far fewer carbohydrates (25 less than sweet potatoes; 8 less than butternut squash) and sugars (11 less and 4 less, respectively) for the same serving sizes. Calorie for calorie, it’s a much better nutritional deal. And it’s sad, because pumpkin is excellent for so much more than just baked goods or pumpkin spice latte (which–though I don’t know firsthand–I’m pretty sure is all about the spices and not about pumpkin flavor).

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It’s Lurking Everywhere! Even in Your Vegetables!

Americans have been turned into sugar junkies, largely due to no fault of our own. One of the biggest contributing factors was U.S. farm policies that encouraged corn production. Farmers were paid to grow more and more corn, subsidized by the government, even though the demand wasn’t very high. So scientists worked to find alternative uses for corn, which led to the development of ethanol and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Because of the excess of corn, HFCS ended up being less expensive than cane sugar. It was also much sweeter tasting. The correlation between weight gain and Type 2 diabetes in the U.S. and increased use of HFCS is not a coincidence. (If you are riveted and want to read more, check out my book!)

Because the food industry switched mostly to using HFCS, Americans’ taste buds became accustomed to sweeter foods–and not just cakes and cookies, but ketchup and spaghetti sauce, crackers and even the coating on chicken nuggets and French fries. But these same big food companies that manufacture food for foreign markets found that the stuff they sold in the U.S. didn’t sell so well overseas. They had to reformulate processed foods like Oreos to be more appealing to people who hadn’t become desensitized to sugar. The soda industry experienced the same thing. Mexican Coca-Cola is still made with cane sugar because they rejected the sweetness of the HFCS American version.

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How Super are “Superfoods”? (with a Bonus Baby Kale Sauté Recipe)

Kale

I have wanted to post this recipe kale sauté that I make for some time. As I finally got around to it, it got me thinking about the origin of the term “superfood”, since kale is billed as such, so I did a bit of digging. What I found was that the term started to gain popularity in the 2000s, but from where? Wikipedia doesn’t pinpoint the origin of the word or how it came into popular use to describe the fad that elevates some foods to superstar status for their amazing properties. And there’s no academic research to be found on superfoods prior to the start of the 21st century, though since that time, there have been almost 2,500 publications about superfoods. Maybe it was turn of the century that made people think more about how to boost their health that started this revolution? At any rate, the term took us by force and is here to stay, along with a lot of misinformation about the foods bestowed with the title.

What are Superfoods?
Superfoods are nutrient-dense foods. They are typically associated with being rich in flavonoids like beta carotene and lycopene (which are phytonutrients containing antioxidants that fight cell deterioration), particular vitamins or minerals (like vitamin K, magnesium), and higher concentrations of healthy fats (like omega-3 fatty acids). The great thing about foods accorded with superfood status is that they are real foods, and almost all of them, including flax seed, pomegranates, avocados, quinoa, and kale, are plants.

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The Addictive Qualities of Food

Barely 48 hours ago, we got an 8-week old puppy.

Barely 48 hours ago, we got an 8-week old puppy.

Ask anyone what their favorite food is and they can name at least one food off the top of their head. For me, it’s dark chocolate. And peanut butter. And potato chips. (See what I mean?) There are lots of reasons we may love these foods, but sometimes it’s the result of ingredients that affect our brain chemistry, rather than just appeal to our taste buds.

Caffeine has addictive properties, sending us into withdrawal symptoms if we don’t get our fix. If you can’t put down that bag of Doritos, it’s because MSG is added to heighten the flavor, making us want more, more, more. A study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine found that artificial sweeteners actually encourage the brain to request more sugar. Foods like oysters, chocolate, or chili peppers are purported to have chemicals that trigger an aphrodisiac effect.

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Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Recipe

Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Like many of the things I make, this recipe started as something entirely different. The original version was pear almond (which is also great and I’ll post it sometime). I revised it to be plant-based and low-sugar, replacing the eggs with ground flaxseed and the maple syrup with date sugar and stevia.

I do want to have my cake and eat it, too, which is why I developed three versions of this cake. Along with the blueberry lemon poppy seed, I sometimes make cranberry crumble or carrot cake. I also plan to make a pumpkin spice/chocolate chip one soon.

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