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?

Forks Over Knives: No Need for Animal Protein

Invest in your health now, don’t pay for it later.

I recently saw a life-changing movie called “Forks Over Knives”. This film is about the surprising research that has been done on the health benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet. If you’ve ever heard of the China Study, which was a huge 20-year long research endeavor, you know that this research is pretty incredible. The research shows that switching from an animal protein-based diet (meat, milk, seafood, eggs, etc.) to a plant-based diet, helps prevent disease and aids in the proper function of our cells and organs. The Chinese have historically lived off of a plant-based diet, with meat (mostly seafood) in very small portions (think of how much fish is actually in sushi) and certainly not as often as our Western diet now contains. We know that vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (actual food) is good for us, but it likely isn’t as simple as eating 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day.

It sounds like a lot of naturopathic crap, really, it does. I was a skeptic before I watched the movie, hoping there would be actual science, biology and rigorous, peer-reviewed research cited. Turns out, there was all of that. I already know the whole myth about needing to eat meat to get all the protein you need (there is plenty in beans, legumes, nuts, whole grains AND vegetables), but what is it that we get out of dairy products? I bet you just said “calcium”.

Osteoporosis is not really about not having strong bones or not being able to build strong bones. Osteoporosis is actually a premature degeneration of the bones. Not only does our acidic diet help cause this but there is also some implication that too much calcium could contribute as well. If you are eating a plant-based whole foods diet, you probably don’t need much more calcium, if any at all.

See this list of vegetables that have calcium (there are a lot more than I even thought there were!)

There are also many fruits that have calcium.

Oh yeah, whole grains also have calcium.

Have I convinced you that we don’t need dairy yet? No? Ok well, many nuts and seeds also have calcium.

Plus, eating these foods gives you all of the other health benefits and nutrients they have. Dairy products don’t give you much more than calcium (remember, these calcium-rich foods also have plenty of protein and omega-3, so don’t even go there!).

If you’re still skeptical, beans and legumes also have a lot of calcium.

No, I’m not calling myself a vegan. I won’t avoid cheese, fish, or eggs completely, but I will treat these things as though they are delicacies, meant for special occasions and in small portions.

I encourage you to see Forks Over Knives if it’s playing in your area.