Zero grams of trans fat? Maybe.

All fats are not created equal. Many fats are actually very good for us—they help repair and protect our cells, and a balance of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) affect inflammation in our bodies, our mood, and even affect cell signaling processes in our DNA. This means that too much of one fatty acid (like omega-6) can start signaling pro-inflammatory responses throughout the body, while those lovely omega-3s have anti-inflammatory effects. Why should we care about inflammation? Well, the most obvious effects of inflammation happen in the heart and blood vessels, and can cause coronary artery disease, heart disease, and circulation problems, but many studies out there are starting to link chronic inflammation to some cancers.

Trans fats are known as the really bad fats. They are not essential fatty acids, and there are many studies that link the consumption of these types of fats to coronary artery disease. Most of us know that consuming trans fat is not good for us, so you would think the food policies and regulations would reflect the evidence. Turns out, the regulations over these fats in our country actually allows for large food companies to produce foods with trans fat and misinform consumers about the amount of trans fat in their products.

The current FDA regulation on trans fat requires a product to have “less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving” if that company chooses to put the label “0 grams trans fat per serving” on their package. So even though a product may say it has zero grams of trans fat per serving, this may not be the case. And, depending on how many servings of, say, 0.4 grams of trans fat you are having, it may not be so good. It’s also been shown that pregnant mothers who consume trans fat, end up having trans fat in their breast milk.

Some trans fats occur naturally in some foods, like animal products. These however, are not all trans fats, and are not all bad for you. The trans fat found in meat and dairy products are actually called “conjugated linoleic acid”, or CLA. This type of fat is actually part trans fat and part “cis fatty acid”, which may even be beneficial for us. However, it seems that if we take the CLA out of the animal product and use it alone (in a supplement), it does not produce the same beneficial health effects, and may even be more detrimental to our health.

Although many large companies have decided to remove or reduce the amount of trans fat in their products since 2003, many fast food restaurants still use products with trans fats. Many consumers have taken a stand against trans fats, and the pressure has created many new regulations in certain areas of the United States, banning or limiting the use of these fats.

One simple solution to avoiding trans fats would be to not eat fast food, and eat whole, fresh foods whenever possible, using your own oils. If this isn’t possible for you and you need to pick up those pre-packaged processed foods, turn the package over and read the ingredients. Anything that says “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” on it is a trans fat. So, “partially hydrogenated soybean oil”, for example, contains trans fats. These fats may even be in products you wouldn’t expect– like peanut butter, crackers, or cookies. Most fast food places do actually have their ingredients online somewhere—you just have to search for it. Don’t trust that “Zero grams of trans fat per serving” label!

Meatless Memorial Day

I can hear the gasps already at just the mere thought of a meatless Memorial Day. It’s almost an American tradition to celebrate holidays with meat it seems. But, I don’t think there is anything wrong with going out and grilling a nice big, juicy, black bean burger with some healthy veggie sides! They are way delicious.

I actually made black bean burgers a couple of days ago to make sure they were good, with this recipe from Sarah at Gazing In. I’m absolutely amazed at how delicious these are. They of course, taste nothing like meat, but are packed with so much flavor and are so juicy that you should forget about whatever you think black beans are supposed to taste like and just try this recipe.

I followed the modification to add the flour in slowly to make sure the consistency was good. I also added about 1/2 teaspoon of cumin for some kick, and a little extra chili powder for a bit more heat.

If you’re thinking about what to top these with, really, any of your favorite burger toppings will be good. I used hummus, sun-dried tomatoes, a dab of ketchup, and some fresh sliced baby bok choy.

Looking for some sides to this yummy burger? Try some of these healthy veggie ones!

Have a safe and delicious Memorial Day everyone!

Why being vegan isn’t always healthy

Switching over to the vegan side of eating certainly has its benefits. You generally eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and discover countless ways of cooking tofu and tempeh (actually, that might be a downfall, since I really hate tofu). I’m not a vegan, and I don’t know quite yet if it’s truly the best way to eat, but I do know that I’ve had the impression for a long time that vegans, in general, eat healthier and are healthier than a lot of people.

Once I see an interesting idea or a possible new way of being healthier, I research the crap out of it. It is both a blessing and a curse, for it not only makes me more knowledgeable, but also consumes a lot of my time. So, when I ventured into the world of vegan foods, I found out that actually, much of what the American diet consists of is, in fact, vegan. In general, it probably is healthier, but it’s not always peace, love, hippie foods, and health.

Oreos are a vegan food. Cocoa Puffs are vegan (in fact, many sugary, processed cereals are also vegan). Red Bull is vegan. Apparently a “7-Eleven 7 Select Apple Snack Pie” is vegan. You could literally live off of Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs, Red Bulls, Unfrosted Pop-Tarts, and Boca Burgers (which are highly processed and most likely contain GMOs) and call yourself a vegan.

This might please you or it may disturb you, but either way, consider yourself informed. I’m just plain confused, and a little grossed out. So, instead of focusing on eating things that don’t contain meat or dairy, I think I’ll just focus on the whole-foods, plant-based diet thing. I prefer my food to actually look like food—like it came from a plant or even an animal.

What are your thoughts on this? What does your “food” look like?

Recipe of the Week – Quinoa and Black Beans with Oven-Roasted Radishes

Quinoa, once held by the Incas as the sacred “mother of all grains”, is now becoming more widely used in our meals. It is truly a complete protein with all of the essential amino acids we need, and is a great source of dietary fiber, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus. If you’re sensitive to gluten, this is the grain for you, because it’s also gluten-free.

I haven’t used quinoa much, but as I move toward a more plant-based diet, it’s becoming a necessary item in my pantry. I found a recipe for Quinoa and Black Beans that is just awesome. This dish has everything you would want in a balanced meal (whole grains, beans, and legumes), except for more veggies, which is why I decided to use some fresh organic radishes to try this recipe for oven-roasted radishes. I have never even heard of roasting radishes, but these my friends, are so delicious and much tastier and smoother then I had anticipated. My boyfriend said they were just like roasted potatoes with a more celery type of flavor.  But, if you’re not into experimenting with radishes, the quinoa recipe would taste great with more veggies or legumes added. Try it with peas, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, or mushrooms!

What are your favorite quinoa recipes? I’m looking for more!

Sandwich spreads that don’t suck

Mayonnaise is a high calorie food. In fact, I’m not sure I would even consider it food. It’s oil (usually soy or canola), eggs, salt and sugar, unless you get Miracle Whip, and then there’s probably some processed version of corn in there. Nowadays, mayo seems just plain boring when it comes to healthy, delicious sandwiches, because there are so many other options for spreads that are lower in calories and have more nutritional value.

Here are some more flavorful, nutritious options (all vegan!):

Sun-dried Tomato Hummus

Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Spread

Tomatillo Guacamole

Pesto

What spreads do you use instead of mayo?