Heart Health

Instead of focusing on candy hearts this Valentine’s day, focus on your heart health and the gains you can make with a few small changes.  Your friends and family will appreciate you being around to spend more Valentine’s days with you, and you’ll start to feel much better.

Do you feel stressed out?  Incorporate a few minutes of deep breathing, mindfulness, or gratitude practice a few times a day.

Do you have high blood pressure?  If your blood pressure is higher than 140/90, please schedule an appointment with a health care provider immediately.  Not treating high blood pressure is dangerous, heart Anatomy_Heart_English_Tiesworksand increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.  Not the way you want to spend your Valentine’s day or any day!!  Normal blood pressure is below 120/80- any consistently above that is considered prehypertension or hypertension. [Check out the American Heart Association for more info.]

Do you exercise regularly?  Being physically active is important to prevent heart disease and stroke, and lower blood pressure or cholesterol.  The American Heart Association’s recommendations for physical activity in adults are here.  No matter how you count it, most Americans are not getting adequate exercise.  If it’s been a while since you have been active, don’t worry about getting new clothes or special equipment, just start with these activities:

  • climbing stairs
  • walking
  • stretching
  • push-ups against a wall or a desk

Once you have established a habit of 30 minutes/day with these activities, treat yourself to a new pair of sneakers or a jog bra and keep moving!!

Do you regularly eat meatless meals?  Are you willing to give up meat and dairy to avoid having to start cholesterol medication?  Consider the following simple changes to get you started:

  • Switch out your regular breakfast for oatmeal sweetened with fruitNutritionFacts oatmeal
  • Increase your vegetable consumption to 5 veggies/day
  • Switch out white rice with brown rice
  • Minimize your bread intake and only eat whole grain bread

This Valentine’s day, show your love of family and friends by focusing on your heart health instead of sugar.  Here are some ideas:

  • Only eat or give dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocao
  • Spend time together doing an activity (on Valentine’s day or as a voucher)
  • Work on a project with family or friends

Be an example of heart health so you are all around for longer and healthier lives!!









Salad Samurai

I’ve been enjoying a new cookbook hot off the presses – Salad Samurai – by Terry Hope SaladRomero that my sister gave me because she knows my family isn’t big on just eating salad for dinner, even when loaded with lots of good toppings.  Salad Samurai is definitely helping me convert them into salad lovers!

Terry Hope Romero and Isa Chandra Moskowitz wrote Veganomicon, The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook (and it is!!), and in more recent years both have had lots of success writing cookbooks solo.  Veganomicon was my first go to cookbook – the vegan holy book perhaps – and was the basis of a few of my favorite blog recipes like Cheez (modified from Cashew Ricotta in Veganomicon) and Sloppy Lennies (modified from Snobby Joes in Veganomicon).  If I could have taken a year off work to cook through a cookbook, this would have been the first on my list.

Our favorite Salad Samurai dish so far has been the Bacon Kale Tomato Bowl, which we adapted as the BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado) Bowl with Romero’s fabulous Back at the Ranch dressing.  The Tempeh Bacon Bites needed little adaptation, so I only removed the oil from the marinade, though you may need some oil spray for the cast iron pan.  Back at the Ranch dressing also contained a small amount of oil, but I found replacing it with ground flax seed worked beautifully.  If you don’t have ground flax seed on hand, just halve the amount of water in the recipe and  after blending all ingredients add it gradually if needed.

Tempeh Bacon 

8 oz organic tempeh

2 T maple syrup

2 T organic tamari

1 T ketchup (without high fructose corn syrup!)

1/4 t liquid smoke

Slice the tempeh into 1/4 inch strips and then into ~1 inch long pieces (bite-sized).  Whisk remaining ingredients in a small bowl and marinate tempeh in the refrigerator overnight or at least for 10 minutes.  Preheat a cast iron pan over medium heat and lightly spray with oil if needed.  Reserve the marinade and cook tempeh pieces for 2-3 minutes on each side or until lightly browned.  Add marinade and simmer until it has absorbed.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Back at the Ranch Dressing

1/2 c raw cashew pieces

1/2 to 3/4 c water

2 T fresh lemon juice

1 T ground flax seeds

1 clove garlic or 1 t crushed garlic

2 t organic white miso

2 t Dijon mustard

1 t garlic powder

1 t onion powder

up to 3 T chopped fresh herbs such as dill, basil, or tarragon

Put all the ingredients in a high powered blender and blend until smooth.  (Without a high powered blender, you’ll need to soak the cashew pieces in water for 30 min or nuke in water for 15 seconds then drain and add to blender.)  The dressing thickens with refrigeration but if you don’t have much time to chill it, start with 1/2 c water and add more later if needed.  If you don’t have ground flax seeds, you’ll miss out on omega-3 fatty acids and selenium, but you can still make a thinner dressing starting with just 1/4 c water and adding more later if needed.  My plain Jane family doesn’t care for dill, so we’ve been eating this dressing without the fresh herbs, and it works fine.  I’m sure it will serve as a great base for other recipes too.

BLTA Salad

Shredded greens (lettuce, kale, spinach, etc)

Tempeh Bacon

Tomatoes, diced

Avocado, diced

Back at the Ranch dressing

I also adapted Romero’s BBQ Tempeh ‘N’ Dilly Slaw Bowl to fit my needs (which are almost always fewer ingredients and less time).  Romero’s inspiration of serving BBQ tempeh on a bed of slaw (and the BBQ potato chips) fits right at home here in NC.  When you’re designing your next salad, remember that cabbage is a great base with many health benefits- not just vitamins C and E, selenium, and fiber.

Cabbage is an easily forgotten member of the cruciferous family, same as broccoli.  Because people who eat generous amounts of cruciferous vegetables have remarkably low cancer rates, researchers have tried to isolate the compounds responsible for the anti-cancer effects.  One way cruciferous vegetables impact hormone dependent cancers is to change the way estrogens are broken down and eliminated.  Normally, estradiol (which is a potent estrogen) is metabolized to 16 alpha-hydroxyestrone, which encourages cancer cell growth in test tubes.  However the presence of a cruciferous vegetable extract (indole-3-carbinol) causes the body to convert more of the estradiol to 2-hydroxyestrone, which has anticancer activity. (Bell et al 2000; Barnard and Reilly 2008)

So make the BBQ Slaw Bowl below or use cabbage in your next delicious salad, and kudos to Terry on another fabulous book!

BBQ Slaw Bowl

Organic tempeh

All natural barbecue sauce

Shredded cabbage and carrots

Optional: thinly sliced onion

Back at the Ranch dressing

Optional: BBQ potato chips, pickles

Toss the cabbage, carrots, and onion (if using) with the Ranch dressing.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Slice the tempeh into 1/4 inch strips or triangles and marinate in the barbecue sauce for at least 10 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.  In a preheated cast iron skillet over medium high heat, cook the tempeh for 2-3 minutes on each side or until lightly browned.

Serve the BBQ tempeh warm or at room temperature atop the slaw.  Sprinkle with BBQ  potato chips if using or serve with a pickle spear or slices.



Bell MC, Crowley-Nowick R, Bradlow HL et al. Placebo-controlled trial of indole-3-carbinol in the treatment of CIN. Gynecol Oncol 2000; 78:123-129.

Barnard ND, Reilly JK. The Cancer Survivor’s Guide. 2008

What’s wrong with carbs?

Absolutely nothing when we’re talking about whole food plant based carbs.Potato_starch

The 3 basic types of carbohydrates are sugar, cellulose, and starch.

  • Sugar includes sucrose (granulated sugar), fructose (fruit), lactose (milk), and glucose (component of cellulose and starch).
  • Cellulose is found in plant cell walls and is better known as dietary fiber.  For a summary of the benefits of fiber, check out Fill Up With Fiber to Downsize and Cinco de Mayo.
  • Starch is known as complex carbohydrate, since starches are long branching chains of glucose molecules.  Starch gets broken down into simple sugars that provide sustained energy while keeping you full (McDougall 2012).

Examples of starches include grains (like brown rice, oats, and wild rice), legumes (like beans, peas, and lentils), and veggies (like sweet potatoes, winter squashes, carrots, and potatoes).  Because starches are carbohydrates, each gram of these foods contains only 4 calories, compared with 9 calories for each gram of fat.  As long as you eat the starches without butter, gravy, or meat (all of which are laden with fat), you are getting a lot of nutritious bang for your calorie buck.

Digestion of carbohydrates releases glucose into the bloodstream, which triggers release of insulin from the pancreas.  The insulin enables glucose to be transported into cells and used as energy.  This same process also happens for proteins – insulin is also needed for amino acids to be transported into cells to be used to build new proteins.  Actually, fish, beef, eggs, and cheese trigger as much or more insulin secretion as many high carb foods (Barnard 2014).

A prominent whole food plant based physician, John McDougall, has coined the term “starchivore” to describe those following his prescribed diet comprised of 70% starch, 20% vegetables, and 10% fruit (McDougall 2012).  If interested in more details about this plan, check out The Starch Solution.

Particularly if you exercise regularly and feel that you may not be fueling adequately or recovering quickly, try dramatically increasing the starchy veggies, legumes, and whole grains in your diet.  If you are already whole food plant based, incorporating more starches will be an easy change that may surprise you at what a difference it makes.

If you have not yet fully eliminated meat and dairy, filling those voids with starches will help quell cravings and keep you full longer.



Barnard, Neal.  Vegetarian Times “Doc on Call” January/February 2014.

McDougall JA and McDougall M. The Starch Solution. 2012

Photo Credit

Potato Starch:  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/91/Potato_starch.jpg


Easy Sweet Potato Casserole

1 large sweet potato per serving

1/4 c fresh pineapple per serving

Bake or microwave the sweet potato.  Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin and mash the sweet potato.  Dice the fresh pineapple and add to the sweet potato.  Enjoy as is or heat in the oven until ready to serve.


Black Eyed Pea Salad

I realized mid-week that we weren’t eating enough legumes, and that I had the ingredients for one of my favorite bean salads except for the black eyed peas and bell peppers.  I used pinto beans instead and substituted celery for the peppers, and it turned out great.

One of the hardest things for me with this blog is writing down ingredients and measurements as I go along, because my cooking style is to make it up as I go along with as few ingredients and little time as possible.  My hope is that my readers take liberty with these recipes to adjust them to what they have on hand and to experiment with them to find out what works for you or your family.


Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Apples

1 lb brussel sprouts, ends removed and quartered

2 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced

fresh lemon juice or lemon pepper seasoning

salt and pepper (only if not using lemon pepper seasoning)

Optional: maple syrup

Combine the brussel sprouts and apples in a cast iron pan and sprinkle with lemon pepper seasoning if using.  Roast at 400′ for 20 min or until tender and lightly browned.  No water or oil is  needed, and after the cast iron pan is removed from the oven and cools for 5 min or so, the sprouts and apples will release from the pan.  If serving a dubious audience, drizzle the sprouts with maple syrup before or after roasting.  If using fresh lemon juice, sprinkle it over the sprouts and apples once they have been removed from the oven.

Cold and Flu Season?…Not for you!

Colds, strep, and flu are rampant right now in our area, so I’ve taken a few actions this week to boost our immune systems:

  1. Remind everyone about the need to routinely and effectively wash hands (preferably for at least 20 seconds in warm water and ideally without antibacterial soap)ColdandFlu
  2. Increase consumption of
    • cruciferous veggies (bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale)
    • mushrooms
    • berries
    • pomegranate seeds
  3. Encourage adequate (or even extra) sleep

Check out Super Immunity by Joel Fuhrman MD for a summary of the data supporting the immune-modulating effects of cruciferous veggies, mushrooms, berries, and pomegranate seeds.  If you’re planning your meals for next week, consider Dr. Furhman’s list from Super Immunity:

Top Super Foods for Super Immunity

Kale/collards/mustard greens


Green lettuce and cabbage

Broccoli and brussel sprouts

Carrots and tomatoes

Onions and garlic



Berries (all types)

Seeds (flax, chia, sesame, sunflower)

Additionally, Dr. Fuhrman provides 5 rules for a powerful immune system:

  1. Eat a large salad every day
  2. Eat at least 1/2 cup of beans/legumes every day
  3. Eat at least 3 fresh fruits every day, especially berries, pomegranate seeds, cherries, plums, oranges
  4. Eat at least once ounce of raw nuts and seeds every day
  5. Eat at least one large (double-size) serving of green vegetables every day

And avoid:

  1. Barbecued meat, processed meat, and commercial red meat
  2. Fried foods
  3. Full-fat dairy and trans fat
  4. Soft drinks, sugar, and artificial sweeteners
  5. White-flour products

Whether you just want to make it through flu season unscathed or you want to prevent immune-related diseases, start incorporating the recommendations above to generate super immunity.



Fuhrman, Joel. Super Immunity: The Essential Nutrition Guide for Boosting Your Body’s Defenses to Live Longer, Stronger, and Disease Free. 2011

Photo Credit: http://metabolicgastronomer.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/webmd_rm_photo_of_cold_and_flu_virus_composite.jpg

Berry Deliciousness

QUICK!!  While you can, stock up on all the fresh berries you can- these antioxidant powerhouses are the healthiest of all blackberriesfruits.www.nutritionfacts.org  If you’re stuck in the produce aisle or only have a couple of hours at your local pick-your-own farm, check out the graph created by Michael Greger based on work by Carlsen et al (2010) illustrating the antioxidant power of berries and common fruits.  In descending order of antioxidants, here are common fruits:  blackberries > cranberries > raspberries > blueberries > strawberries > mangoes > apples > bananas.  Whenever possible, choose higher antioxidants.

If you’re not aware of the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, you may want to check out the Dirty Dozen Plus: apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, nectarines (imported), peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, kale/collard greens, and summer squash.  While originally referred to as the Dirty Dozen, the Plus highlights two crops- domestically grown summer squash and leafy greens (specifically kale and collards) that did not meet the traditional Dirty Dozen criteria but were commonly contaminated with pesticides especially toxic to the nervous system.

The EWG strongly advocates that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables far outweighs the risks of pesticide exposure.  This is one way I implement my Good-Better-Best approach.  It’s really good to eat fresh fruits and vegetables (lots of them!!).  For those on the Dirty Dozen list, buying frozen and organic is even better, and the best option would be to buy fresh, organic, and local – but unfortunately that’s not realistic for most of us most of the time.  So we do the best we can.  So if you’re trying to decide whether to buy a fruit or not, buy it, and if it’s on the Dirty Dozen list AND it’s not significantly more to buy organic, then do so.  Keep an eye on sales of the Dirty Dozen organic produce and stock up whenever possible.

The EWG also maintains a Clean Fifteen list of the fruits and veggies with the lowest pesticide residue once the item has been washed: asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangos, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, sweet peas (frozen), and sweet potatoes.

blueberriesIf you’re able to stock up on berries, you may eventually get bored with eating them raw, with grain cereals such as oatmeal, or in non-dairy parfaits.  In that case, check out the recipes below for Berry Delicious Smoothie, Strawberry Milk Smoothie, Berry Cobbler, and Berry Pops.


Berry Delicious Smoothie

Makes 2 two cup servings

¼ c oats

2 T flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds or a combination

2 bananas, sliced and frozen

1 c frozen berries

2 c orange juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  This recipe is extremely versatile, so don’t worry about the exact measurements or all of the ingredients.  This is a great starter smoothie for berry lovers and can be made as a milkshake with more bananas and less orange juice.  Leftover smoothie makes delicious popsicles.


Strawberry Milk Smoothie

Makes 4 two cup servings

1/3 c oats

3 T flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds or a combination

3 bananas, sliced and frozen

¾ c strawberries, frozen

2 to 3 c cold non-dairy milk, ideally unsweetened

1 to 2 c cold water

Add all ingredients to the blender and blend until smooth.  The amount of liquid needed depends on the desired thickness of the smoothie.  This recipe is extremely versatile, so don’t worry about the exact measurements or all of the ingredients.  This is a great starter smoothie for novices and can be made as a milkshake with more bananas, less non-dairy milk, and no water.  Of course the more strawberries, the better, but seeing as how they are the most expensive ingredient, we use them judiciously.  Leftover smoothie makes delicious popsicles.


Rip’s Blueberry Cobbler [http://engine2diet.com/]

Serves 4

2/3 c whole wheat pastry flour

1.5 t baking powder

1 T vanilla extract

2/3 c non-dairy milk

3 T agave nectar or maple syrup

2 c blueberries

Rip says to mix the dry and the wet ingredients separately, then combine.  I say mix it all together until smooth.  (The batter will be runny.)  If using frozen blueberries, use just under 2/3 c non-dairy milk.  Pour the batter into a non-stick 8” square pan and sprinkle the blueberries over the batter.  Bake for about 45 min at 350˚.

This is such an easy recipe to pull together as it’s quick and uses basic ingredients you’re likely to have on hand.  It works well with cherries, strawberries, peaches, apples- any fruit you’d make cobbler with.


Berry Pops

To entice my niece to eat blueberries one day, I went the gimmicky route, stuck them on pretzel sticks, and called them “Blueberry Pops”.  The first plate of Blueberry Pops disappeared so quickly that I turned the ingredients over to my girls to make the second and third batches.  Since then we have also enjoyed Blackberry Pops and Raspberry Pops- antioxidants with a salty crunch!




Carlsen MH et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide.  Nutrition Journal 2010 9:3.


Everyone’s Favorite Fruity Veggie

When the question of whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables comes up at your next cocktail party, refer to the US Supreme Court case of Nix v. Hedden (1893).  In this case, the Court unanimously decided that rather than the botanical classification of tomato as a fruit (because it is seed-bearing and grows from the flowering part of a plant), the tomato should be classified under customs regulations as a vegetable, based on the ways tomato_http-::bit.ly:1b0LBcs in which it was used.  At the time, imported vegetables were taxed, but not fruits.

Regardless of the botanical or legal classification, tomatoes and tomato products (in addition to watermelon, guavas, papaya, and pink grapefruit) contain lycopene.  Lycopene is a carotenoid and is a much more powerful antioxidant than its chemical relative, beta-carotene.  It’s not just raw tomatoes that contain the powerful antioxidant- cooking tomatoes releases the lycopene from the plant’s cells, which increases our ability to absorb the lycopene.

To confirm previous findings that frequent tomato or lycopene intake was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer, Giovannucci at al (2002) evaluated data from 47,365 participants in the prospective Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.  Consumption of tomato sauce, which contains a whopping 20 mg of lycopene per ½ cup, Barnard and Reilly 2008 was associated with an even greater reduction in prostate cancer risk.  Two servings of tomato sauce per week provided a 23% reduction in prostate cancer risk compared with those who rarely eat tomato products.  Men who consumed 10 or more servings of tomato products each week had a 35% reduction in prostate cancer risk.

If consuming 10 or more servings of tomatoes each week to significantly reduce your prostate cancer risk seems daunting, consider this:

  • Even pizza sauce and ketchup (in addition to spaghetti sauce) count as lycopene-rich tomoto products.

When planning meals this week, try out the Tomato Pie, Pasta Fagioli, and Panzanella recipes below, check out Shortcut Gazpacho with 23 mg lycopene per 1 cup tomato juice, and enjoy a snack of watermelon for 14 mg lycopene per 280 gram slice.

Please note, though, that tomatoes can be a common trigger for migraines, arthritis, and digestive problems.  To learn more about an elimination diet to determine what food may be triggering your poor circulation, inflammatory pain, hormone-related conditions, or metabolic and immune problems, check out Dr. Barnard’s book Foods That Fight Pain.  He recommends an elimination diet based on simple foods that are free of all common pain triggers.  Once your symptoms are gone or at least diminished, you slowly and systematically add other foods back into your diet.  Dr. Barnard provides tips on how to identify trigger foods and plenty of recipes with only foods included in the safe list.


Tomato Pie

2 to 2 ¼ lbs heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced

½ to 1 t salt

1 sweet onion, diced and sautéed

1 c Cashew Ricotta pureed with ¾ c (½ can) white beans

¼ to ½ c fresh herbs (I used parsley and basil)

Freshly ground pepper

1 pie crust (prepared vegan pie crust such as Pillsbury or refer to Vegan Pie in the Sky for delicious pie crust recipes)

½ c whole wheat bread crumbs (use 1 c bread crumbs if not finely ground)

Spread the thinly sliced tomatoes on paper towels or a dish towel and sprinkle with salt.  After 10 minutes, use more paper towels or another dish towel to blot the salt and excess moisture from the tomato slices.

In the unbaked pie crust, layer the tomatoes, onions, herbs, and cashew ricotta bean mixture.  Sprinkle each layer with freshly ground pepper and top with breadcrumbs.  Bake at 350˚F for 30 minutes, shielding the pie crust if needed.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.


Pasta Fagioli

My mother-in-law, through her Italian heritage, handed this recipe down to us, though I think we may have abbreviated it over time.  The key that made this dish such a hit with my kids is that everything is pureed except the ditalini.  I did not grow up with real Italian food, so it reminds me of a fancy spaghetti-oes, which you likely loved unless you had authentic Italian food growing up like my husband.

1 large sweet onion, diced

6 cloves garlic, minced


2 28oz cans of Italian style stewed tomatoes

½ c fresh Italian parsley

2t dried basil

½ t freshly ground pepper

6c vegetable broth (low sodium preferred)

30 oz white beans

16 oz ditalini pasta (or another type of small pasta)

In a soup pot, sauté the onion and garlic in EVOO at least until tender, longer if you have time.  Add the tomatoes and herbs, reducing heat to medium low.  Stir frequently until fragrant, then add the broth and white beans.  Cover and cook at least 20 minutes but ideally for an hour or two to allow the flavors to fully develop.  Puree the soup in batches, using a dish towel to cover the blender, allowing steam to safely escape.  In a separate pot, boil the pasta, and only add the pasta to what is being served.

My family loves the leftovers of pasta fagioli too, because we combine the soup and the pasta.  When you do this, the pasta absorbs the liquid in the soup, and the pasta swells up significantly.  It’s like getting two for one because the meals look so different.

Once you’ve made the recipe, you can comment below about how to pronounce ‘fagioli’.  It is most often pronounced ‘fa-zool’ in the US (maybe because of “That’s Amore” but depending on the region in Italy, can be pronounced ‘fa-joe-lee’, ‘fah-djoh-lee’, or ‘fa-sool’.



16 oz whole wheat French or Italian bread or whole wheat bagels, cut into small cubes

1 seedless cucumber or 2 cucumbers seeds removed, peeled and diced

2 lbs heirloom or organic tomatoes, coarsely chopped

¼ red onion, thinly sliced

1/3 to ½ c fresh basil, torn

3 cloves garlic, minced

2T to ½ c Fat Free Balsamic Vinaigrette, homemade or bottled (or you can substitute high quality balsamic vinegar)

Optional ingredients to consider

¼ c kalamata olives, pitted and cut into quarters

1 avocado, pitted and diced

1 c fresh organic corn, removed from the cob

Mix the vegetables, herbs, and dressing in advance and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  The bread cubes may be toasted in a 300˚F oven for 15 minutes to dry them out (this may not be needed if you are using day or two old bread).   After the bread cubes have cooled, toss them with vegetable mixture and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.  Let sit 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

Most panzanella recipes contain ½ to 1 cup of olive oil, which in my mind totally opposes the point of eating fresh, raw summer veggies.  The volume of dressing needed will depend on how juicy your tomatoes are.  With really ripe tomatoes, I use very little dressing.  In the latest batch I made, I used about 2 T of high quality balsamic vinegar instead of dressing, and it was fabulous- tasted like bruschetta with a fork.  If you aren’t eating the panzanella all at one sitting, reserve some of the bread cubes to add the next time.


Fat Free Balsamic Vinaigrette (adapted from The Starch Solution)

Makes 1 cup

Use a ½ c measuring cup and add approximately equal amounts of balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and unseasoned rice wine vinegar.  The higher quality vinegars you use, the better the flavor of the end result.  Adjust the proportions and vinegars to suit your liking.

2 cloves garlic

1/8 c ketchup

½ T Dijon mustard

½ to 1 T agave nectar

½ c water

¼ t powdered agar (Telephone brand powdered agar is available in small packets at Asian markets) or arrowroot

Add all ingredients except the agar/arrowroot to the blender, and blend until smooth.  While the blender is running, add the agar/arrowroot.  Continue to blend until the powder has been incorporated and dressing has thickened a bit (it will thicken more with refrigeration).  Taste and add more agave if needed.



Barnard, Neal. Foods That Fight Pain. 1998

Barnard ND, Reilly JK. The Cancer Survivor’s Guide. 2008

Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Liu Y, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. A prospective study of tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002 Mar 6;94(5):391-8.

McDougall, John and McDougall, Mary. The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good. 2012


Photo Credit: Tomatoes http://bit.ly/1b0LBcs

The Best Sources of Vitamin E

The Harvard Physician Health Study II began in 1997 and was designed to test the hypothesis that vitamin E, vitamin C, or a multivitamin may offer protection against cardiovascular disease, cancer, age-related eye disease, and cognitive decline.  The vitamin C and vitamin E components of the study ended in 2007 and found that these vitamin supplements do not prevent major cardiovascular events, cancer, or eye disease.

The multivitamin component of the Harvard Physician Health Study II was based on consistent observations that people consuming greater vitaminsamounts of fruits and vegetables tend to have lower rates of coronary heart disease Joshipura et al AIM and stroke Joshipura et al JAMA.  This part of the study concluded in 2011 and published last year that there is no association between regular consumption of a multivitamin and decreased cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease mortality.Sesso et al  Although the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study results indicated that multivitamin use was associated with a significant reduction in coronary heart disease incidence,Rimm et al multiple other large studies of single vitamins or combinations of vitamins and minerals (usually at higher than normal doses) have demonstrated no effect on cardiovascular disease. Hennekens et al, Lee et al JNCI, Lee et al JAMA, Leppala et al, and Hsiaet al

As with all clinical studies, there are many factors that may impact how one interprets the results.  If interested in this level of detail, I encourage you to read through or at least skim the original publications.  For example, the Harvard Physician Health Study II may not have seen a difference in cardiovascular disease because the study participants were in general a population that already had adequate intake of nutrients, awareness that exercise and weight loss impact cardiovascular disease, and access to pharmacological interventions such as lipid-lowering medications.  However, excluding the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, the majority of large studies evaluating the effect of multivitamins on cardiovascular disease have not shown a positive impact.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take a multivitamin to help ensure you are getting the vitamins you need- you just can’t expect a multivitamin to make up for a deficient diet.

Many consumers, doctors, and corporations are interested in a quick fix, an easy way to avoid cardiovascular disease, like taking a vitamin or a pill every day.  Is it not simple enough to modify our lifestyle based on consistent results that people consuming more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes live longer and with fewer co-morbidities? Thorogood et al, Chang-Claude et al, Barnard et al, Fraser

Vitamin E

Blueberries are coming into season now in the southeastern US and contain 2.7 mg vitamin E per cup.  Eat them by the handful, on top of granola or yogurt, or incorporated into whole wheat pancakes or muffins.  About 12 raw almonds contain 3.8 mg vitamin E, while 1 T raw sunflower seeds contains 5 mg vitamin E.Barnard and Reilly   Eat no more than one handful of raw nuts and seeds each day unless you are growing or trying to put on weight.  Sprinkling chopped nuts or seeds on salads is a great way to add flavor and texture to a salad. vit-E

Fruits and vegetables contain vitamin E, but so do grains and legumes.  One cup of cooked barley contains 3 mg of vitamin E, while cooked legumes like chickpeas and white beans contain 2 mg per cup.  The daily target for men and women is 15 mg vitamin E. Barnard and O’Reilly   However, we know from large, randomized clinical trials such as the Harvard Physician Health Study II that supplements (even in supra‑therapeutic doses) are not effective in protecting against disease.  While vitamin E is an essential anti-oxidant in protecting your body against free radicals, high intake of vitamin E is not necessarily a good thing.  Saintot et al showed that of women with breast cancer, those with the highest levels of vitamin E in their blood were more likely to succumb to the disease.  Now this may be due to the fact that these women were getting too much fat in their diet, as some of the richest sources of vitamin E (vegetable oils and nuts) also contain excess fat.

This is just another example of whole foods being superior to the sum of their parts.  Pay attention to your consumption of foods with vitamin E this week.  If you’re eating a whole food, plant-based diet with lots of veggies, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, then you’re likely getting your 15 mg per day of recommended vitamin E.



Barnard ND, Reilly JK. The Cancer Survivor’s Guide. 2008

Barnard ND, Nicholson A, Howard JL. The medical costs attributable to meat consumption. Prev Med. 1995;24:646-655.

Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R. Dietary and lifestyle determinants of mortality among German vegetarians. Int J Epidemiol. 1993;22:228-236.

Fraser GE. Associations between diet and cancer, ischemic heart disease, and all-cause mortality in non-Hispanic white California Seventh-day Adventists. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(suppl):532S-538S.

Hennekens CH, Buring JE, Manson JE,  et al.  Lack of effect of long-term supplementation with beta carotene on the incidence of malignant neoplasms and cardiovascular disease.  N Engl J Med. 1996;334(18):1145-1149

Hsia J, Heiss G, Ren H,  et al; Women’s Health Initiative Investigators.  Calcium/vitamin D supplementation and cardiovascular events.  Circulation. 2007;115(7):846-854

Joshipura KJ, Hu FB, Manson JE,  et al.  The effect of fruit and vegetable intake on risk for coronary heart disease.  Ann Intern Med. 2001;134(12):1106-1114

Joshipura KJ, Ascherio A, Manson JE,  et al.  Fruit and vegetable intake in relation to risk of ischemic stroke.  JAMA. 1999;282(13):1233-1239

Lee IM, Cook NR, Gaziano JM,  et al.  Vitamin E in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: the Women’s Health Study: a randomized controlled trial.  JAMA. 2005;294(1):56-65

Lee IM, Cook NR, Manson JE, Buring JE, Hennekens CH. Beta-carotene supplementation and incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease: the Women’s Health Study.  J Natl Cancer Inst. 1999;91(24):2102-2106

Leppälä JM, Virtamo J, Fogelholm R, et al.  Controlled trial of alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene supplements on stroke incidence and mortality in male smokers.  Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2000;20(1):230-235

Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB,  et al.  Folate and vitamin B6 from diet and supplements in relation to risk of coronary heart disease among women.  JAMA. 1998;279(5):359-364

Saintot M, Mattieu-Daude H, Astre C, Grenier J, Simony-Lafontaine J, Gerber M. Oxidant-antioxidant status in relation to survival among breast cancer patients. Int J Cancer. 2002;97:574-579.

Sesso, Howard et al. Multivitamins in the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Men:  The Physicians’ Health Study II Randomized Controlled Trial JAMA. 2012;308(17):1751-1760.

Thorogood M, Mann J, Appleby P, McPerson K. Risk of death from cancer and ischaemic heart disease in meat and non-meat eaters. Br Med J. 1994; 308:1667-1670.


Photo Credit:



Not So Eggstraordinary

The Harvard Physician Health Study I (1982-1995) was designed to test the benefits and risks of aspirin and beta carotene, respectively, in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Twenty-two thousand male physicians between the ages of 40 and 84 bad_eggyears old residing in the US participated in the study.  The results demonstrated that low dose aspirin decreased the risk of a first myocardial infarction by 44%, which led to widespread recommendations for adults at risk of myocardial infarction to take a low dose aspirin daily.  Beta carotene was found to have no effect in the prevention of cancer.  However, in one of the many secondary findings, this study also linked egg consumption (≥ 1 egg/day) to Type 2 diabetes [Djousse Diabetes Care], heart failure [Djousse Circ], and premature death (mortality) [Djousse AJCN].

One 50-63 g egg (corresponding to large to jumbo size) contains approximately 200 mg of cholesterol.  The American Heart Association’s Nutritional Committee recommends less than 300 mg cholesterol per day, or if your LDL cholesterol level is ≥ 100 mg/dL, then less than 200 mg cholesterol/day.

However the most recent Dietary Reference Intakes published by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, and Food and Nutrition Board Dietary Reference Intake report indicates that “the body can synthesize its needs for saturated fatty acids and cholesterol from other sources” and “There is an incremental increase in plasma total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations with increased intake of saturated or trans fatty acids or with cholesterol at even very low levels in the diet.  Therefore, the intakes of each should be minimized while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.”  It took numerous links to find this recommendation, though, because the egg industry has been promoting the benefits of eggs for decades.  I agree with T. Colin Campbell that it’s no wonder the public is confused about dietary recommendations.

Based on the Harvard Physician Study I association of egg consumption to diabetes [Djousse Diabetes Care], heart failure [Djousse Circ], and mortality [Djousse AJCN], and findings from a pooled analysis of prospective studies in women suggesting a possible modest increase in breast cancer risk with egg consumption [Missmer et al], it is worthwhile to consider reducing or eliminating your consumption of eggs.  Success with one or two egg substitutes will provide enough confidence to experiment with the huge range of inexpensive (and healthier) egg substitutes available.

One egg is between 3 and 4 T in volume, which is the same as 45 to 60 mL, or just under 1/4 cup.  Therefore egg substitutes range in volume from 3 T to 1/4 cup.  The choice of egg substitute depends on the function of the egg in the recipe.  When the egg is serving as a binder or thickener, appropriate substitutes may be mashed potatoes, cooked rice, oatmeal, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, nut butter, silken tofu, or tomato paste.  When the egg is primarily providing moisture, use fruit, fruit puree, or non-dairy yogurt, and increase the cooking time to account for the increased density.  When egg is acting as an emulsifier (helping things bind that wouldn’t normally bind), use silken tofu.  When the egg is functioning as a leavener, also add 1/4 t baking powder to whatever substitute you have chosen.  And finally, when egg is providing color, include a pinch of turmeric.



Replacing more than two eggs in a recipe (like quiche) will change the integrity of the recipe, so pureed silken tofu is recommended.  When making a cake with more than two eggs, try using 1 T white vinegar, 1 T water, and 1 teaspoon baking powder for each egg.  To replace one egg white, dissolve 1 T plain agar powder into 1 T water and beat to mix.  Chill for 15 minutes, then beat again.

These egg substitutes aren’t fool proof and it does take some experimentation to figure it out.  The binding function can be particularly tricky- for example, it’s hard to make a veggie burger that holds up on an outdoor grill.  But it’s worth the effort to find the right egg substitute for each recipe- you are worth it, and your health will definitely benefit from eliminating eggs from your diet.

Here are a few simple recipes to give you experience with an egg substitute in something you’ve probably made before.  The brownies and muffins are great for when you don’t have time to make them  from scratch.  The French toast recipe requires no additional work than regular French toast.  Homemade mayonnaise is much easier than I ever expected and much cheaper than the store bought versions- it makes the Kale Potato Salad recipe a breeze for picnics and summer potlucks.


Brownies (from a box)

Certain name brand brownie mixes do not contain milk, such as Ghirardelli Double Chocolate.  Substitute the egg with 1 T ground flax seeds or chia seeds mixed with 3 T water and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.  If you’d like low fat brownies, replace the oil with the same volume of pureed fruit, such as applesauce.  Once the egg substitute has thickened, add to the brownie mix and bake as directed, increasing the baking time if needed.

For the hard core, sugar free vegans out there, black bean brownie recipes are quite the craze recently.  I’ve tried a couple of recipes but haven’t been impressed.  These are next on my list to try though as I’ve enjoyed some of Chocolate Covered Katie’s other recipes.


Muffins (from a box)

Certain name brand muffin mixes do not contain milk, such as Duncan Hines Simple Mornings Blueberry.  Substitute the 2 eggs with 2 T ground flax seeds mixed with 6 T water and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.  If you’d like low fat muffins, replace the oil with the same volume of pureed fruit, such as applesauce, banana, or pumpkin.  Once the egg substitute has thickened, add to the muffin mix and bake as directed, increasing the baking time if needed.


French Toast (adapted from Rebar)

1 loaf multi grain or whole wheat bread

1 banana

2 c non dairy milk (vanilla, if available)

1/4 t nutmeg

1/4 t cinnamon

1.5 t arrowroot powder or organic cornstarch

1/4 t salt

Blend all ingredients (except bread) until smooth and pour into a large shallow bowl.  Pre-heat the pan or skillet very well and spray or brush with oil.  Dip the slices of bread into the batter, drain, and place on the hot skillet.  Cook until golden brown, flip, and cook on the reverse side.  Serve immediately or transfer to a cooling rack (to prevent the slices from becoming soggy) until ready to serve.  Leftovers freeze well with wax paper in between slices.  To reheat, toast each slice, flip it over, and toast again.


Mayo (adapted from The Candle Cafe)

1 c soy milk, unflavored and unsweetened

2.5 c safflower oil (if you substitute, use a very neutral flavored oil)

1.5 T cider vinegar

1/4 t dry mustard

1 T agave nectar

1 T sea salt

dash of freshly ground pepper

Place the soy milk in a blender and with the blender running, slowly drizzle in the oil.  Continue adding the oil until it is all absorbed.  Stop the blender and add the remaining ingredients.  Blend quickly to incorporate.  Makes about 3 cups.

This is a fool proof recipe and a great base for variations, like adding chipotle, cajun, or wasabi seasonings.  Unfortunately the fat content is extremely high, so use sparingly (or when convincing others that a whole food, plant based diet is tasty).  Another mayo recipe that takes a bit more work (not as foolproof) but is very low fat and quite versatile was developed by Bryanna Clark Grogan, a powerhouse in the vegan cookbook arena


Kale Potato Salad (adapted from Snarky Vegan)

6-8 medium sized gold potatoes, chopped

2 c kale, stems removed [link to video] and chopped or torn into small pieces

1 onion, diced

3 celery stalks, chopped

1/2 – 3/4 c vegan mayo

1 T yellow mustard

1/4 c sweet pickle relish

salt or garlic salt and pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes, chop the kale, and mix the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.  Make sure the flavor of the mayo mixture is just right before you add it to the potatoes, as it’s easier to adjust now.  Drain the potatoes and transfer to a large bowl.  Add the chopped kale to the potatoes and stir.  Fold in the mayo mixture.  Serve immediately or chill.



Djoussé L, Gaziano JM. Egg consumption and risk of heart failure in the Physicians’ Health Study. [abstract]  Circulation 2008; 117:512-6.

Djoussé L, Gaziano JM. Egg consumption in relation to cardiovascular disease and mortality: the Physicians’ Health Study. [abstract]  Am J Clin Nutr 2008; 87:964-9.

Djoussé L, Gaziano JM, Buring JE, Lee IM. Egg consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in men and women. [abstract]  Diabetes Care 2009 Feb; 32(2):295-300.U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

Missmer SA, Smith-WArner SA, Speigelman D, et al. “Meat and dairy consumption and breast cancer: a pooled analysis of cohort studies.” Int J Epidemiol 31 (2002):78-85.

2012. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fordsbasement/7057824683/

Cinco de Mayo, A Few Days Late

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.  Though this battle was not a major strategic win, the win at Puebla was a symbolic victory and strengthened the resistance against France, who ultimately withdrew 5 years later.  Though it’s a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo has evolved in the US to be a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage.  For me, the celebration of Mexican culture and heritage isn’t complete without celebrating the underappreciated black bean.

Before we go into the benefits of beans, though, I refer to Dr. Michael Greger’s informative and entertaining article to clear the air about beans and gas.  Dr. Greger uses data from a famed flatologist and even NASA to explain the normal incidence of intestinal gas, the main sources of gas, and strategies for reducing gas.

Despite this information, if you still feel that beans do not work well with your digestive system, start with small servings and smaller beans (lentils, black beans, black-eyed peas), believed to be easier to digest.  Gradually increase your serving size over a few weeks and work your way up to larger beans (pinto, kidney, fava).  Also, drain and rinse canned beans really well.  If cooking dried beans, first soak the beans for 8-12 h in cold water, changing the water a couple of times if possible.  While cooking the beans, change the cooking water once or twice to further reduce gassiness.

Beans are a fiber superstar with 7 grams per ½ c serving.  Fiber, or plant roughage, has a critical role in ridding our bodies of toxins, cholesterol, medications, and excess hormones.  As it filters the blood, the liver removes these undesirable chemicals, which are then sent to the bile duct and to the intestinal tract.  It is in the intestinal tract that fiber soaks up the undesirable chemicals and carries them out as waste.  However, if there’s no fiber circulating in the bloodstream, the undesirables end up being reabsorbed back into the bloodstream and the whole process starts over again as enterohepatic circulation.  Without regular fiber in one’s diet, enterohepatic circulation keeps hormones, toxins, and cholesterol circulating for longer than they should.Barnard and Reilly

If the idea of toxins and excess hormones hitting their targets over and over isn’t enough to increase your daily fiber intake, T. Colin Campbell’s findings from The China Study provide evidence that high fiber intake was consistently associated with lower rates of rectum and colon cancers.Campbell and Campbell

The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine influences advancements in medicine StrikeOut_PCRM  and science and advocates for preventative medicine, especially good nutrition, in the form of a whole food, plant-based diet.  PCRM gained attention last summer by informing fans at Major League Baseball’s All Star game in Kansas City that hot dogs can strike you out
for good, referring to the link between consumption of processed meats and increased risk of colorectal cancer.EPIC                                                                                     Buns_PCRM

So save your buns by increasing your daily consumption of both soluble and insoluble
fiber.  The most fiber rich foods are beans and vegetables, followed by fruits and whole
grains. Soluble fiber dissolves in water (example, oatmeal) and is known for its ability to 
control cholesterol levels.  Insoluble fiber is found in vegetables, fruit, wheat, rice, and other grains.  Both types of fiber are needed for prevention of cancer, and if you’re diet is rich in beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, then you’ll get plenty of each type –  realizing that the average American only gets 10-15 grams of fiber per day, compared with the ideal of 40 g/d.

This week’s recipes highlight the black bean.  If you’re using dried beans, make a big batch and freeze what you won’t eat this week to use in recipes over the next few weeks.


Taco Salad

Greens, torn into bite-sized piecesTaco_Salad

(Not only can you get a lot more greens in a small area if they’re in small pieces, but it’s also much easier to eat a salad if you don’t have to bother with cutting everything up first- really helpful in encouraging kids to eat more greens.)

Top with: black beans, diced tomato, diced avocado, peppers, organic corn (fresh or frozen, raw or briefly cooked), etc

Go naked or dress with: salsa or avocado dressing (1 avocado pureed with ¼ c orange or lime juice plus garlic powder or mustard if it is too sweet)


Oven Baked Tortilla Chips

Whole wheat tortillas

Spray EVOO


For chips, cut the tortillas in half (2 at a time), then cut into triangles.  Arrange on a lightly EVOO sprayed baking sheet.  Spray the tortillas with EVOO and sprinkle with salt.

For scoops, cut the tortillas in half (2 at a time), then cut more like 2”x2” squares.  Spray the cut tortillas with EVOO and place each tortilla oil side down into a mini muffin pan.  Spray the tortillas with EVOO and sprinkle with salt.

For salad shells, take each tortilla and drap over a small oven proof casserole dish or bowl, gently pushing the sides down to form an inverted bowl.  Spray with EVOO.

Bake at 350’ for 5 min then watch carefully for edges to brown.  The chips/scoops/salad shells are done when lightly browned and firm.  They will crisp up more as they cool.

To kick it up a notch, sprinkle with lime juice or seasonings, or use flavored tortillas.  Lime habanera tortillas were used in the taco salad above- delish!


Easy Black Bean Dip

1 can (1.5c) black beans, rinsed well

½ c fresh salsa, drained

In a blender or food processor, puree the beans and salsa.  Add liquid from the salsa if needed to thin consistency.

Add-ins: cumin, garlic, jalapeno, habanera, etc.


Black Bean Mango Salsa

2 cans of black beans (or 3c), rinsed well

2-3 mangoes, diced

Juice from 1 lime

½ t salt or to taste

Cilantro, optional

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl.  Ideally refrigerate 12 to 24h before serving for flavors to develop.  Adjust lime, salt, and cilantro to taste before serving and add any of the suggested add-ins if desired.

Add-ins: diced pineapple, avocado, or tomatoes



Barnard ND, Reilly JK. The Cancer Survivor’s Guide. 2008


Campbell TC, Campbell TM. The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. 2006


European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study http://epic.iarc.fr/


Spinach: It’s not just for Popeye!

This week’s theme is spinach- borrowed from the secret ingredient at a recent PTA event where two local chefs battled it out in cafeteria kitchen stadium.  The delicious spinach was provided by a local farmer who participates in our small town’s farmers market every Saturday morning.  The two chefs were absolutely fabulous and WANTED kids in the kitchen helping them prepare the dishes.   To top it off,  the chefs were totally happy to make vegetarian dishes!!  Somehow both girls managed their way onto the chefs’ teams, http://www.flickr.com/photos/watz/2715424972/sizes/l/so the dinners we made yesterday for the week were their recollections of the competition dishes.

It was so neat to see the girls taking charge in the kitchen and confident of what needed to happen.  One daughter is mostly hesitant to help with cooking (unless it’s dessert) – she started out by asking where a pot was.  So making dinner was a huge step that I took a lot of pleasure in watching and serving as sous chef for.  They took a lot of care with plating and were brimming with pride to describe and present their dishes.

So why should we eat spinach?  For its iron and calcium?  To be like strong like Popeye?  For all of these reasons and many more, but today we’ll focus on calcium.

Despite what the dairy industry has been advertising for years, there is evidence that dairy consumption is not linked to bone health and that increased dairy consumption is related to prostate cancer.  If you’re interested in your own search, check out http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed or research-based evidence summarized in The Cancer Survivor’s Guide by Neal Barnard, MD, or The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD.  I’ll highlight three studies here, two studying bone health in women and one studying prostate cancer in male physicians.

In a study assessing exercise and calcium intake in adolescent girls during their peak bone-building years, getting extra calcium made no difference at all in bone growth, whereas exercise fostered bone growth.Lloyd 2000  A Harvard study followed 72,337 postmenopausal women for 18 months and demonstrated that dairy calcium did not help bone strength at all, as measured by protection against hip fracture.Feskanich 2003   Harvard’s Physicians’ Health Study investigated the association between dairy consumption and prostate cancer risk in over 20,000 male physicians and concluded that dairy products and calcium are associated with a greater risk of prostate cancer.Chan 2001

Although the mechanisms for these deleterious effects of dairy on bone and prostate health are not known, it is believed to be due to the interference of excessive calcium intake on vitamin D activation.

The best plant-based sources of calcium are legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) and the leafy greens (kale, mustard greens bok choy, and cabbage).  Although spinach is not the best source of calcium among the leafy greens because its oxalic acid content hinders calcium absorption, spinach is still a good source of calcium and may be considered by veggie novices to be more palatable than some of the other leafy greens.

When eating a whole food, plant based diet, there isn’t a concern about adequate calcium intake, as long as you are including calcium-rich legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) and leafy greens in your diet.  So cut down on dairy if you haven’t already eliminated it, and rely on legumes and leafy greens for your calcium needs.  Upcoming posts will address dairy alternatives- but for now, enjoy these spinach recipes!


Play on Sushi

For 4 light servings:

Cream cheese, 1 container (vegan)

Black beans, 1 can (or 1.5 cups) rinsed

1 Red and 1 yellow pepper, cut into thin strips

1 Carrot, cut into thin strips

2 Celery stalks, cut into thin strips

2 Large handfuls of spinach

4 Whole wheat tortillas


Soften the cream cheese and blend/process with the black beans.

Roast the pepper, carrot, and celery strips on a lightly sprayed baking sheet for about 15 min at 400’F, sprinkling with salt and freshly ground pepper if desired.

Spread the cheesy bean mixture on the tortillas.

Add ¼ of the veggies to the bottom half of each tortilla and top with the spinach.

Starting at the bottom of the tortilla, roll tightly.

With the seam down, cut the roll into 1” pieces, using the ends as “tasters” if there’s not enough filling or if the little chefs are hungry.

Use the extra cheesy bean dip to serve with carrots and celery as a side OR double the recipe and use it for Mexican Lasagna.


Mexican Lasagna

For 8 servings:

6 Whole wheat tortillas

1 Can diced tomatoes

4 Large tomatoes, seeded

2-4 Cloves of garlic

½ Onion

1-2 Carrots, optional

2 Large handfuls of spinach


Pinch of salt

Cream cheese, 1 container (vegan)

Black beans, 1-2 cans (1.5-3 cups) rinsed

Avocado, sliced or diced


Blend or process the canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, garlic, onion, and carrots if using to make salsa.

Soften the cream cheese and blend/process with the black beans.

Lightly spray two glass pie pans (or a casserole dish).

Layer a tortilla, cheesy bean mixture, spinach, and salsa.


Top with another tortilla, (cheesy bean mixture if you have any leftover), salsa, and cilantro.

Bake at 350’ for 20 min or until heated through.

Top with avocado if desired.

Using two pie plates provides the opportunity to add jalapenos into one dish or to freeze the second dish if only 4 servings are needed.  This dish may not be substantial enough to serve as a standalone entrée for 4 unless you use 3 cups of black beans and 1-2 avocados.


Veggie Pasta

For 6 servings:

1 Bag of spiral pasta

4 Large tomatoes, seeded and diced

2 Red bell peppers, seeded and diced

3-4 large handfuls of spinach


Bread crumbs


Optional sauce:

Cream cheese, 1 container (vegan)

1 Jar of spaghetti sauce


Make pasta and add veggies 2 min before pasta is finished cooking.

Drain pasta and veggies and return to pot.

Blend or process the cream cheese and spaghetti sauce, if using.

Pour sauce over pasta and veggies.

Top with parsley and season with salt and freshly ground pepper if needed.

Sprinkle bread crumbs over each serving.

Optional variation: When we had leftovers from this meal, we added diced non-GMO vegan Italian sausage into the pasta.


Homemade Chips and Dip with Fruit and Veggie Kabobs

One of the chefs also made baked tortilla chips and a spinach dip that my younger Iron sous chefs Apr 2013daughter can’t remember the ingredients for (except spinach and cream cheese).   The whole wheat tortillas were cut and baked for a few minutes on a lightly sprayed baking sheet.  I’ll work on a spinach dip recipe separately, substituting white beans for the bulk of the cream cheese used in the competition recipe.  In addition to making the dip creamy, the white beans will add calcium, selenium, vitamin E, protein, and fiber to the dish.

The chips and dip were served with fruit and raw veggie kabobs- a great kid-friendly meal for no fork Fridays or a picnic.  Chef Jenny (creator of veggie pasta, homemade chips and dip, and fruit and veggie kabobs) won the competition by appealing to her audience.  The student judges were randomly selected to represent their grade level after having correctly answered nutrition word problems.  Although some looked a bit concerned when the secret ingredient was revealed, afterward, they all seemed more open‑minded about eating more veggies.  And that means the event was a great success.



Lloyd T, Chinchilli VM, Johnson-Rollings N, Kieselhorst K, Egglie DF, Marcus R. Adult female hip bone density reflects teenage sports-exercise patterns but not teenage calcium intake. Pediatrics. 2000; 106:40-44.

Feskanich D, Willet WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77:504-511.

Chan JM, Stampfer MJ, Ma J, Gann PH, Gaziano JM, Giovannucci EL. Dairy products, calcium, and prostate cancer risk in the Physicians’ Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;74(4):549-554.

Popeye Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/watz/2715424972/sizes/l/