Mommy, I’m scared…

Mommy, I’m scared…

About a month ago our 5 year-old came into our room in the middle of the night.  As a parent of three I know these nights are not uncommon. Thunderstorms, nightmares, and the occasional fevers and tummy aches are going to happen.  So half asleep, I arose and wearily walked her back to her bedroom.  I turned on her light and a surge of adrenaline filled my body when I saw the look of panic on her face.  I quickly realized she was in the throes of an asthma attack.   The horror in those sweet little eyes is something I will never forget.   We ended up in the local emergency room, but we were soon taken to Children’s Hospital via ambulance.  There was no question about whether we were staying, we just didn’t know if we would be admitted to a general floor or the pediatric intensive care unit.   Thankfully, she stabilized and we got a bed on a general floor where she improved quickly.  We were released about 36 hours later, thanks to the help and attention of some pretty amazing people.   But it brings me to tears to thinking about the, “what-if’s,” because some kids aren’t so lucky.

The average number of deaths a year from asthma is between 3,000-4,000. And while it doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s innumerable if your child is one of its casualties. Along with lung cancer and COPD, asthma falls under the umbrella of lung disease, which is the second leading cause of death in the US after heart disease.  But for this week’s post we are going to talk specifically about asthma.

Approximately 1.7 million people like my daughter are taken to the emergency room every year because of asthma.  Usually beginning in childhood, asthma affects over 7 million kids, and the number of little ones diagnosed every year is growing.  In his book “How Not To Die,” Dr. Michael Greger defines asthma as “an inflammatory disease characterized by recurring attacks of narrowed, swollen airways, causing shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.”  And it turns out that the prevalence and the increase of asthma is strongly correlated with where you live and what you eat.   Greger cites a groundbreaking study by the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood which followed more than a million children in nearly one hundred countries around the world.  Researchers discovered a striking “twentyfold to sixty fold difference in the prevalence of asthma, allergies, and eczema” depending on where a person lived and what they ate.   Greger said that “while air pollution and smoking rates may play a role, the most significant associations were not what was going into their lungs as much as what was going into their stomachs.”[1]

Researchers in Sweden tested out a strictly plant-based diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants on a group of severe asthmatics that were not getting better despite the best and most advanced medical treatments.  Of the twenty-four patients who stuck with the plant-based diet, 70% improved after four months, and 90% improved within one year. [2]  Within just one year of eating healthier, all but two patients were able to drop their dose of asthma medication or get off their steroids or other drugs, all together. [3]  Greger goes on to cite other large-scale studies showing the effects of diet on asthma and says, “The restorative powers of the human body are remarkable, but your body needs your help.  By including foods that contain cancer-fighting compounds and loading up on antioxidant rich fruits and veggies, you may be able to strengthen your respiratory defenses and breathe easier.” [4]   However, in a study of over 100,000 people in India, those who ate meat, dairy and eggs showed a significant increase in asthmatic symptoms.  “Eggs, (along with soda) have been strongly associated with asthma in children.” Removing eggs and dairy from a child’s diet has shown significant improvements in lung function in as little as 8 weeks.  [5]

But what about taking a pill loaded with vitamins?  Isn’t that just as good as eating vitamin rich foods?  No. A Harvard nurses study found that women who obtained high levels of vitamin E through eating whole foods (not supplements) like nuts appeared to have nearly half the risk of asthma of those who didn’t. But those who took the vitamin E supplement showed no improvement at all.

Food has always been a trigger for my daughter.  When she was a baby she had severe eczema.  For two years her doctor prescribed creams and other medications that helped, but it never went away until we removed dairy, eggs, and wheat.  A few weeks before her attack I thought I could be a little less restrictive about her diet and give her “just a little cheese, or just a little bread” and it turned out to be a really bad idea.  However, since this last attack I have been very mindful of what she eats.  Because if I don’t, the inflammation that begins in her nose will eventually move to her lungs and then the cough begins.  It’s tough and she gets really sad when she can’t have a slice of cheese pizza.  But I hope some day, at some point, she will understand why she needs to eat her fruits and veggies and that certain foods are not worth a trip to the emergency room.

 

 

 

[1]How Not to Die, Pgs. 38-39

[2]How Not to Die, Pgs. 40

[3]How Not to Die, Pgs. 40-41

[4]How Not to Die, Pg. 41

[5]How Not to Die Pg. 39

Heart Disease

Heart Disease

Famed cardiologist Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn once called heart disease a “toothless paper tiger that need never ever exist.  And if it does exist, it need never, ever progress.”  Yet heart disease kills more Americans every few years than ALL of our previous wars combined.  Most alarming, people who die from a heart attack get no warning sign whatsoever.  In fact, in his book “How Not To Die,” Dr. Michael Greger says of sudden cardiac deaths, “you may not even realize you’re at risk until it’s too late.” And for some, “their very first symptom may be their last.” Here one minute…and gone the next.  It’s scary, and unnecessary.  Yet a heart attack is also the number one reason that most of us, and those we love, will die.  In fact, every 40 seconds an American will die of a heart attack, which equals 610,000 annual deaths from heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.  So what is coronary heart disease, or CHD? Is it preventable? And if so, how?

Heart disease is a catchall phrase for a variety of conditions that affect the heart’s structure and function.  It falls under the umbrella of a disease referred to as Cardiovascular Disease, or CVD.  According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, “CVD is the term for all types of diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels, including coronary heart disease (clogged arteries), which can cause heart attacks, stroke, congenital heart defects and peripheral artery disease.”  Thanks to our Standard American Diet, or SAD (diet high in fat, low in fiber), fatty deposits build-up in the wall of our arteries and create what are called atherosclerotic plaques.  According to Greger, “the majority of people with this cholesterol-rich gunk” develop atherosclerosis (athere-meaning “gruel”) and (sclerosis—meaning “hardening”).  The build-up of these plaques, accumulate in the coronary arteries (arteries crowning the heart) and narrow the path for blood to flow to the heart.   Greger cites William C. Roberts, the editor in chief of the American Journal of Cardiology, “there are only two ways to achieve low cholesterol, put 200 million Americans on a lifetime of medications or recommend they all eat a diet centered around whole plant foods.”

To illustrate this point, Greger describes how western doctors in 1930’s and 40’s, working in African missionary hospitals, found that most of the diseases of the western world were virtually non-existent there.   Thinking they might be on to something, the doctors decided to compare the autopsies of Africans to those of Americans.  Amazingly, out of 632 Ugandans autopsied in Africa, there was evidence of only one single heart attack.   But out of 632 patients autopsied in Saint Louis, MO, doctors found evidence of 136 heart attacks…holy pork steaks!   Baffled by the results they opted to study another 800 Ugandans.  Out more than 1,400 bodies autopsied, there was still only that one person with a small “healed”lesion of the heart, meaning, that’s not even what caused their death.”  So it’s got to be about their genetics, right?  No. In fact, large-scale immigrant studies in China and Africa both showed how rates of certain diseases like heart disease, characteristically coincided with where one lives.  In other words, if you move to an area where there are high rates of disease your risk goes up.  But if you move to an area where there are low levels of disease your risk of disease goes down.   These are what they called lifestyle diseases. So what can we do to prevent heart disease?   Just focus on treating the cause and the symptoms will go away?  No, not when there is money to be made.  In 2017, Pfizer’s Lipitor generated 1.8 billion dollars in annual sales.  Greger jokes (or is he?) that because Lipitor, a cholesterol reducing drug, and the best selling drug of all time, “garnered so much enthusiasm some US health authorities reportedly advocated they be added to the public water supply like fluoride is.”   Statins like Lipitor are known to cause memory loss, increase the risk of diabetes, and may also double a woman’s risk of invasive breast cancer

Modern day Africans have extremely low cholesterol in their blood because their diets are comprised mainly of plant-derived foods, such as grains and vegetables.  That means a lot of fiber and very little animal fat.  Our western diet is mostly the opposite; comprised mainly of animal fat, and little or no plant fiber. Most of the fiber we do consume is processed (yeast breads and rolls, flour and corn tortillas, bagels, English muffins, etc.).  And why is fiber so important, you ask? Found in plant foods, soluble fiber binds to the cholesterol particles in our digestive system and moves them out of the body before they’re absorbed.  Insoluble fiber, aka, “roughage,” is also found in plant foods and essentially cleans out our intestines and keeps us feeling fuller longer.    Yet the average American consumes about half of the recommended amount of fiber per day and more than double the recommended amount of fat.

So how come our doctors don’t give us nutritional prescription?  Maybe because they don’t know any better.  Or maybe they have no interest in knowing any better.  Nutrition is not a requirement in most medical schools across the country.   Physicians are taught to look for a set of existing symptoms (dis-ease) and write a prescription(s) for those symptoms… That’s it.  Even if those pills do nothing to correct the underlying cause.  And even if the drugs cause other health problems to occur.  Medical practitioners have their required continuing education subsidized, if not entirely paid for, by the pharmaceutical industry.  In a recent poll, Dr. Marcia Angell, a Senior Lecturer from Harvard Medical School, observed a “staggering 94% of physicians surveyed acknowledged receiving financial compensation of some form from pharmaceutical companies.”  It has also become entirely standard practice for pharmaceutical companies to have a direct hand in both the design and analysis of medical research, as well as conducting clinical trials, and in the publication of those results.  And finally, many doctors themselves are not healthy people.   Overweight and out of shape, many doctors today parallel their cigarette smoking predecessors of 50 years ago.  Dr. Neal Barnard of The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, observed that doctors finally realized they were “more effective in counseling patients to quit smoking if they no longer had tobacco stains on their own fingers.”  Barnard also likened a plant-based diet as the nutritional equivalent to quitting smoking.

Greger finishes the chapter on heart disease by further explaining why more doctors don’t counsel their high cholesterol patients about nutrition as an option for treatment.  Aside from not having enough time to counsel their patients on diet (this was the case as explained by my own physician), most of them said they didn’t want their patients to feel “deprived” of eating the foods they loved.

 

 

 

 


 

Angels Among Us

Angels Among Us

Before kids, my image of motherhood looked something like this… big pregnant belly, tiny fingers and toes, early mornings, sleepless nights, birthday parties, trips to the zoo, and wrapping paper scattered on Christmas morning.  Not being completely unrealistic, I also envisioned more sleepless nights, a few skinned knees, broken hearts and maybe a broken bone or two… you get the picture.  Three kids later all of those things did indeed come to pass.   And I don’t take any of it for granted…Ever.  But when life happens “unexpectedly,” as if often does, it can be downright scary.

Looking out over Forest Park as I write–just a few hours before we are to be released, I am humbled by the experience of motherhood.  I take nothing for granted and am grateful for this big job, and for my little people.   The staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital are gentle angels who do an amazing job caring for, and about the children here.  Our experience at Children’s has been comforting and heartwarming.  And my heart goes out to the parents who will remain here. Especially for those who could walk these halls blindfolded.   Because for them, their daily “reality” consists of a stream of medications, needles, x-rays, and not knowing from one day to the next whether their kids will ever go home again.

 

 

Vegan Cheese Class–August 8th

Please join me for my next vegan cheese class at Bike Stop Café in Chesterfield on August 5th. I will be featuring four cheeses including a cashew queso, a melty mozzarella, a delicious golden cheddar, and an almond chèvre that is to die for!

http://www.bikestopcafes.com/vegan-cheese-making

 

Sweet Potato Coconut Curry w/ Papaya Salsa

 

I have modified this amazing recipe because I am doing a Candida/Bacterial overgrowth protocol, and there are a lot of things I can’t have.  However, this recipe came really close to checking off all the boxes and it is soooo good. But I have to give all the credit to Food Faith Fitness for her mega talents in the kitchen!  I’ve made a few modifications (chives for onions, cream of coconut for the full fat coconut milk, and cut back on the oil).  We had it for dinner last night, and OH MY!  Enjoy!

coconut-curry-image
Photo via Food Faith Fitness

Serving Size: 2

Coconut Curry:

  • ½ tablespoon Coconut Oil
  • 1 large Carrot, peeled and sliced, about a heaping 1/2 cup
  • 1 small Red Bell Pepper, sliced, about 1/2 cup
  • 1 cup Broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 teaspoon Fresh Ginger, minced
  • ½ tablespoon Yellow Curry Powder
  • 2 tablespoons Cream of Coconut (I found it in the liquor section of the store)
  • 12 oz water
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 large Sweet Potato spiraled

Papaya Salsa:

  • 1 Papaya, large, diced, about 3/4 cup
  • 2 tablespoons Chives
  • ½ teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, adjust to the preferred level of spiciness
  • ¼ cup Fresh Cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • Pinch of Salt

Directions

  1. Heat 1/2 Tbsp coconut oil on medium/high heat and cook the carrots for about 3 minutes, until they begin to soften.
  2. Turn the heat down to medium and add pepper, broccoli, onion and ginger. Cook until they begin to soften and brown, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add in the 1/2 Tbsp of yellow curry powder and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the cream of coconut and 12 oz water.
  5. Add spiralled sweet potatoes.
  6. Raise the heat to medium/high and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium/low heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce begins to thicken.
  7. Meanwhile, toss diced papaya, chives, red pepper flakes, apple cider vinegar and cilantro in a medium bowl. Season with a pinch of salt.
  8. Divide the noodles between two plates and top with the curry. Garnish with papaya salsa and cilantro.

Maybe I’m Just Crazy?

kamut_grains.jpg.838x0_q80Did you know that less than 1% of the population meets the diagnostic criteria to be labeled as a Celiac? But what about those individuals who don’t make the cut, yet still have most, if not all of the same symptoms? Well, for many years, doctors commonly referred patients who claimed to be having Celiac/gluten-like sensitivities to psychiatrists. It’s true. They were believed to be, and were often told they had an underlying mental illness. My mother became a perfect case study for me in my early 30’s, when I too began having health concerns. After suffering from many (and I mean many) recurrent chronic health issues, my mom finally went to see a gastroenterologist. It was to be her last stop in a long line of medical offices. But not for the reasons you’d think.

After listening to her litany of symptoms, the doctor looked at her and said, “I know you think you’re allergic to gluten. But you are not a Celiac, because people with Celiac’s Disease are skinny. However, I think you might benefit from seeing a Psychiatrist.” Nice. Even after she explained how much better she felt after staying away from gluten, the doctor still dismissed her as a hypochondriac, (as most of them had). Opting not to take it personally, she stayed away from gluten. And guess what? Most of her symptoms went away. Gluten is simply a protein found in wheat and many other grains such as barley and rye, and is only one of 27 different potential wheat allergens.

So what if it was a case of mistaken identity? What if the culprit wasn’t gluten, but it was actually the wheat itself? An English study in 1980 found that women suffering from chronic diarrhea were cured by a gluten free diet, yet none of those women had evidence of Celiac disease, a gastrointestinal autoimmune disorder. The notorious protein gluten is one potential allergen, but there are more than two-dozen others in the wheat plant itself that have either been implicated in allergic reactions, or have been identified as potential causes of allergic reactions.

When you have a true wheat allergy, you suffer near-immediate or slightly delayed (by no more than a few hours) symptoms following a meal that includes wheat products. Symptoms are often seen as respiratory in nature (stuffy nose, wheezing). However, people with wheat allergies and Celiac’s do suffer from many of the same things:

Celiac’s

  • Pain in the abdomen or joints
  • Burning in the chest
  • Belching, diarrhea, fat in stool, indigestion, nausea,vomiting, or flatulence
  • Bone loss, fatigue, or malnutrition
  • Delayed puberty, or slow growth
  • Cramping, lactose intolerance, itchy rash,hives, or weight loss

Wheat Allergy

  • Swelling, itching, or irritation of the mouth or throat
  • Hives,itchy rash, or swelling of the skin
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cramping, nausea, or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

 

“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?”

“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?”

When my Grandma Francine died at 72 of cardiovascular disease (CVD) I was devastated. Like a second mom to me, she was one of my closest confidants, my comfort, and I loved her (and still do) like crazy.  My husband and I had just gotten married, and we were still processing the loss of his grandfather who had died of liver cancer the month before. Bedridden and unable to attend my wedding, her health had been failing for a few years. Several strokes had stripped her of a job she enjoyed, and the ability to drive a car.  In fact, the last time she drove she suffered a mini stroke and ended up parked in front of a random strip mall.  The only thing she could remember was the sound of horns honking and cars coming toward her.  By the grace of God, no one was injured.  Eventually, she was rendered speechless and robbed her of most prized possession, her mind.  So much so, she didn’t even realize she was playing in her own excrement when my aunt was driving her home from a doctor’s visit.  It’s like the old saying, “Once an adult, and twice a child.”

Her father had also died young, but from a massive heart attack.  He was 59 years old, a mere 13 years older than I am now.  My grandmother was heartbroken and sad, for many, many years after his death.  So what is the take away from all this?  Heart disease runs in my family, and takes away people who are dearly loved, far too early. Furthermore, it begs the question, since my grandma and great-grandpa died from cardiovascular disease, does that mean my children and grandchildren will lose me the same way?

“Your Bad Habits Are As Inherited As Your Bad Genes.”

The other day I was listening to Dr. Neal Barnard, MD on a podcast.  A very articulate and tremendously intelligent man, Dr. Barnard is a trailblazer in the areas of preventive medicine, good nutrition, and higher ethical standards in research.  In the segment, Rich Roll (one of the best interviewers, ever…) and Dr. Barnard were talking about something called epigenetics.  “Epi”-whaaa?  Yep.  Epigenetics.  Here is a quick analogy that might help understand epigenetics. “Think of the human life span as a very long movie. The cells would be the actors and actresses, essential units that make up the movie. DNA, in turn, would be the script —the DNA sequence would be the words of the script, and certain blocks of these words that instruct key actions or events to take place would be the genes(1)

We all have two types of genes.  Some genes are “Dictator” genes.  “You, Stephanie will have blonde hair and blue eyes.”  These genes give you orders and you can’t argue with them. But then there are the other guys, the “Committee” genes.  They make suggestions and if you don’t like them, you can refuse.  “Hey Steph, how about some clogged arteries?”  Nah, I think I’ll pass.  There are certain circumstances in life that can cause genes to either be “silenced” or “expressed” over time.  They can be turned off (becoming dormant) or turned on (becoming active).  What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you exercise, even aging – all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time. (2)

Still with me?

So this made me wonder if there was a relationship between epigenetics and cardiovascular disease.  Is CVD really a familial death sentence?  In his book “How Not To Die,” Dr. Michael Greger explains,  “For most of our leading killers (heart disease being number one), non-genetic factors like diet can account for 80-90% of cases.”   Migration studies and twin studies show us this is not just a case of bad genes.  When a person moves from a place where there is a high incidence of heart disease to a place where heart disease is virtually non-existent, their rates of disease decrease. Conversely, when a person moves from a place where there is a low incidence of disease, their risk raises when they move to a place where there are higher incidents of disease.   In a twin study funded by the American Heart Association, 500 twin pairs were examined for CVD.  Some were non-identical (only share 50% of the same genes) and some were identical twins (they share the exact same genes).  The results of the identical twins showed that one twin can die early of a heart attack, and the other can live a long, healthy life with clean arteries depending on what they ate and how they lived.”

So even if I have the genetic predisposition to heart disease, it doesn’t mean that I have to die from it.

Whew.

“Your genes are the gun, but it’s your lifestyle that pulls the trigger.”

Bad habits also run in families.  Families that grow up together and eat together, end up “inheriting” bad eating habits from mom and dad.  That is what explains why entire families are obese; suffer from CVD, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.  Overeating, consuming foods high in fat and cholesterol, eating fast food for breakfast and dinner, and a sedentary lifestyle are all significant factors that lead to early death from Cardiovascular Disease.

Worse, the more behavioral risk factors people have—smoking and eating a high-fat diet and not exercising, for instance—the less likely they are to be interested in information about living healthier. (3)

So what do we do about it?

DIET:

Without question, diet is the single most important component of preventing, halting, and in many cases even reversing the effects of cardiovascular disease.  A high fiber diet made up of mostly whole, plant-based foods, similar to those diets followed by Asian and African populations (areas where heart disease is virtually non-existent) has been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol and dissolve plaque build-up in the arteries without the use of medications or surgery.   In fact, diet is so powerful that Dr. Barnard equates eating a plant-based diet as the nutritional equivalent to quitting smoking.   So does this mean a vegan or vegetarian diet?  According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman MD, by striving to eat at least 90% of your calories from the unrefined plant foods that comprise the base of the pyramid each day, you construct a health-promoting, disease-preventing diet. But what about the remaining 10%?  While I love the idea of every person eating a 100% whole food plant-based diet, I know it’s not a realistic option for everyone.

In a large scale study of the longest living people in the world, National Geographic researcher Dan Buettner examined five places in the world – dubbed “Blue Zones” – areas where people live the longest, and are healthiest.  The data showed the need to LIMIT MEAT.  “Think of meat as a celebratory food,” Buettner said.  “Portions should be no larger than a deck of cards, once or twice a week.  Avoid processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon and sausages.”  FISH IS FINE.  Enjoy fish up to three times weekly.  Wild-caught salmon or smaller fish like sardines, trout, snapper, cod, and anchovies are okay choices.  Limit portion sizes to 3 ounces (about the size of the palm of your hand.)” Although, you need to know there are other serious issues with fish, such as sustainability, and the health dangers of mercury consumption.

Quick Side Note: Epigenetics and Cancer.

Dr. Dean Ornish and his colleagues took biopsies from men with prostate cancer before and after three months of intensive lifestyle changes, including a diet rich in whole plant-based foods.  Without any chemo or radiation a positive change was noted in 500 different genes.  The expression of disease –preventing genes were boosted and those that promoted the cancer were suppressed. (4)

YOGA:

Performing a variety of yoga postures gently stretches and exercises muscles.  This helps them become more sensitive to insulin, which is important for controlling blood sugar. Deep breathing can help lower blood pressure.  Mind-calming meditation, another key part of yoga, quiets the nervous system and eases stress.  All of these improvements may help prevent heart disease, and can definitely help people with cardiovascular problems. (5)

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY:

It can be as simple as taking a walk.  While walking 60 minutes per week can reduce your overall mortality by 3%, walking 300 minutes a week, or 40 minutes a day, can reduce your mortality rate by 14%!  So in this case, more really is better.  And physical activity doesn’t mean just going to the gym.  It can mean anything from cycling and playing Frisbee, to practicing yoga.

BE HAPPY:

In a 2007 study that followed more than 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years, researchers found that emotional vitality—a sense of enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance—appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.  The protective effect was distinct and measurable, even when taking into account such wholesome behaviors as not smoking and regular exercise.   Optimism cuts the risk of coronary heart disease by half. (6)

**It has also been shown that being good at “self-regulation,” i.e. bouncing back from stressful challenges and knowing that things will eventually look up again; and choosing healthy behaviors can be a major factor in reducing heart disease.  The idea is that you are avoiding risky behaviors such as drinking alcohol to excess, and regular overeating.

How do you start a Plant-based diet?

How do I begin to make a change to a plant-based diet? What behaviors do I need to improve in order to stick with it? I am starting from scratch, and enjoy sugars, carbohydrates and meats. It is going to be a major life change for me, but I have arthritis, high blood pressure and high cholesterol (the latter two conditions are controlled with medications). The arthritis in my hands is painful and anti-inflammatory medications are not helping.

Think evolution rather than revolution.  Introduce one new, plant-based recipe per month, and in a year you have great ideas for eating for two weeks.  Identify one or two types of breakfast you can eat on most days.  I recommend a smoothie.  It’s a great way to get at least 3-4 servings of fruits and vegetables in one meal.  Replace all of the simple carbohydrates, breads and pastas with 100 percent whole grain product.  Add beans to your salads and eat more vegetables.

Any change requires some effort.  If you want a different result, i.e.  Better health, you have to be willing to introduce changes that may be uncomfortable at first.  Our taste buds do not like change.  So, essentially you have to educate your taste buds and do this with a mindfulness and a sense of purpose when you are changing your diet.  If you stay long enough, one month or two off of addictive sugars and fats (and salt as well), you will stop craving those altogether.  Just take the first step in your mind that you want to change to a plant-based diet if you have a sense that such changes will benefit you.

Top 10 List for Weight Loss

Start your day the right way.

My Top Ten List (in no particular order)

1. Our body needs a “balance” of healthy fats (Minimum of 10-20% of total calories), complex carbohydrates (55% of total calories), and complete proteins (less than <35% of total calories).  (Percentages from WHO and The Institute Of Medicine)

Examples:
a. Grapeseed Oil, Walnuts, Flax Seeds, and Avocados are examples of healthy fats.
b. Brown Rice, Quinoa, Sweet Potatoes, are examples of complex carbohydrates.
c. Quinoa, Soybeans, Hemp-seed, and Chia are examples of complete proteins (contain all 9 essential amino acids and must come from food).

2. If you choose to eat meat, think of it as a condiment. Most people exceed their protein requirements by as much as 50%.

3. Do not eat after bedtime. Give yourself at least 12 hours of not eating. Your body needs time to do things other than digest food.

4. Begin everyday with at least 20 ounces of room temperature lemon water.  I add half a lemon and a pinch of sea salt.  You wake up dehydrated and water helps flush toxins, stimulates your metabolism, and increases blood flow to the brain.  The lemon helps keep your body alkaline and the sea salt helps you retain the water.

5. Stay far away from processed man-made foods. Processed foods are high in calories, fat, salt, and sugar. And are low in vital nutrients like vitamins and minerals.

6. Eat organic. This is one of my absolutes. Organic food is grown in nutrient rich soil, making the plants strong and disease resistant. In other words, they do not need pesticides, artificial fertilizers or fungicides.

7. Eat whole foods. While juicing can be a good way to get the vital nutrients, you lose the fiber that is necessary for regulating blood sugar and cleansing the digestive system.

8. Sometimes a simple change in perspective is all that is needed. Think of the word “diet” as a noun and not a verb. Dieting as a verb implies restriction. Instead, say, “These are the foods I have in my diet.” Do not say, “I can’t have that, I am dieting.”

9. As much as 80% of weight loss begins at the plate, not the gym. While exercise is vital to a healthy lifestyle it’s not necessarily vital for weight loss.

10. Healthy eating is a lifestyle, and it takes time to accomplish. Small changes lead to big changes. The key is to keep making those changes.

Mushroom Wellington

This recipe is an adaptation of two recipes that each had something that I needed!  “The New York Times version” had butternut squash, wine, and cheese, but it wasn’t vegan.   The “Delicious Everyday” recipe had the ONIONS!  But it didn’t have the butternut squash, white wine, or the cheese!  Trust me on this.  Also, it was her beautiful photograph that inspired me to make this amazing dish!  I have included the link to the cheese that I am making.  If you have a Whole Foods nearby, or are lucky enough to have access to Kite Hill or Miyoko’s Creamery cheeses at your local grocery, then by all means, go for it!

Mushroom Wellington

Vegan-Mushroom-Wellington-recipe
Photograph Via “Delicious Everyday”

SQUASH:

  • 1 small butternut squash (1 1/4 pounds or 18 oz), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (You can buy fresh pre-cut in many groceries!)
  • 4 Tbsp Vegan Butter
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • ½ tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • ⅛ tsp smoked sweet paprika or regular paprika
  • ½ tsp kosher salt, or more to taste

ONIONS:

  • 3 large onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

MUSHROOMS & SPINACH:

  • ¾ pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 300 g baby spinach (10 1/2 Oz)
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ⅓ cup dry white wine
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 (14-to-16-ounce) package puff pastry
  • 1 cup crumbled vegan goat cheese (go here to make your own) http://www.landsandflavors.com/basic-almond-cheese/
  • Vegan egg wash (see below)
  1. Preheat a very large skillet over Medium-high heat; add 2 tablespoons butter (the other 2 Tbsp will be for the mushrooms). Add the squash in a single layer and cook, undisturbed, for 4 minutes. (If squash won’t fit in a single layer, cook it in batches). Stir and continue to cook until squash is golden, 7 to 10 minutes more. Stir in the syrup, thyme, paprika and 1/4 tsp salt; cook one minute. Scrape mixture into a bowl.
  2. Place a large frying pan over a low to medium-low heat. Add the ½ Tbsp of olive oil followed by onion and reduce heat to low. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onions are golden brown. Keep an eye on the onions to make sure they don’t burn.
  3. Remove the onions from the pan and return the pan to the heat. Add the baby spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from the baby spinach from the pan and leave to cool.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium and melt the remaining butter in the skillet. Stir in garlic, cook 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and ½ tsp salt. Cook until mushrooms are soft and their juices evaporate, about 10 minutes. Stir in the wine and cook until the mixture is dry, about 5 minutes. Stir in the pepper and parsley. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, unwrap the puff pastry. Cut into 2 “5-by-15-inch” rectangles. Spread onions, mushrooms and spinach on each pastry rectangle, leaving 1/4-inch border. Spoon the cheese crumbles over the mushrooms. Spread the Dijon mustard over the mushrooms and season well with salt and pepper. Then spoon the squash over the cheese, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border (it will look like a stripe of squash lying on a bed of cheese and mushrooms).
  6. Brush the exposed borders of dough on each rectangle with wash. Fold the long sides up to meet in the middle and pinch together to seal; pinch the ends, too. Transfer the pastries to the baking sheet and turn them over so that the seam is face down. Brush the tops with more wash. Bake until they are puffed, golden, and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, slice and serve.

VEGAN EGG WASH

  • 1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
  • 1/2 tsp maple syrup

Cashew Béchamel | Basic White Sauce

This is one of the best béchamel sauces in the whole entire world. Who says you need dairy to make a good sauce?   Not me!  Besides, this is way better than ANY dairy based sauces I’ve had.  It’s easy and delicious, and makes enough to have leftovers to freeze! Yep, you can freeze this bad boy! What’s better than satisfying a craving for a Creamy Mushroom Alfredo (it’s a “thing” for me) and knowing that all you have to do is sauté some mushrooms while waiting for your pasta to boil! Grocery store Alfredo sauces be damned! This, my friends, is the real deal.

Basic_B_chamel_3_HD1280.jpgPhoto Courtesy of Rouxbe School of Cooking

Preparing the Cashews

• 2 cups raw cashews

• 4 to 6 cups warm water

Step 1:  In a medium bowl, soak the cashews in water for 3 to 4 hours to soften. Strain, reserving the cashews and discarding the liquid.

Step 2: Preparing the Sauce

• 1 cup onion, diced
• 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 2 1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 tbsp onion granules
• Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (literally, just a pinch… Too much can alter the flavor)
• Pinch of white pepper (Can use black pepper in a pinch) 😉
• 2 tbsp olive oil (optional if you choose to use oil in this dish)
• 1 tsp sea salt (optional, but I recommend)

Method

First, gather and prepare your mise en place.

If choosing to use oil:

Heat the pan to low to medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the onions and sweat for at least 5-8 minutes to bring out the flavor until translucent. Then continue by adding the garlic and sweat for an additional couple minutes.

*For no oil sauté:
(It is easier to sauté, rather than sweat with no oil, so this process may give the onions a bit of color.)

Heat the pan to medium to high heat. Be sure the pan is heated properly (water test). Add the onions to the dry pan and continue to stir well until the onions begin to turn translucent and stick. Try to keep the onions from browning, adding a little stock or water if needed. You can add the garlic to the onions or add directly into the blender as shown in the video. Remove from heat.

Transfer the cooked onions and garlic into the blender.

To finish the sauce, add the cashews, the remaining vegetable stock, white wine, garlic, nutritional yeast, onion granules, nutmeg, white pepper and salt (if using). Blend on high speed until smooth. Add more liquid if you choose to have a thinner consistency.

***Recipe: Courtesy of Rouxbe Cooking School