Grow Your Own

8 06 2012

One of the great things about this time of the year is the access we have to fresh produce. And while there is plenty to be found at the grocery store, local farm stand and farmer’s market, I need to go no further than outside my door to begin enjoying nature’s bounty. We have several small garden’s going this year and delicious organically grown veggies are quickly on the way.

I recently tried one of our homegrown strawberries. It was tiny but packed such an amazingly intense and sweet flavor, I could not believe it. The giant strawberries purchased at the store have nothing on these little wonders. Since I can remember, I have always loved strawberries. They are my favorite fruit. My grandmother told me a year ago or so that when she and her mother immigrated to the United States from Italy in the 1930’s, they initially went to work picking strawberries. So you see I’ve been genetically programmed to love them. it’s in my blood. I really hope though that we get a decent yield because the few that we have gotten so far have been an absolute (and fantastic tasting) tease!

Speaking of grandparents, mine have their garden in full swing again this year. This means that when I go over to visit them, I always leave with fresh, home grown produce. My grandfather, though in his 80’s, spends a huge amount of time in his garden. It is his pride, joy and therapy. I’ve been enjoying some of their sweet leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, and several other varieties. I also am adding fresh dandelion to my salads. While I admit that i’ve never been much of a fan of it, since going plant-based I now try to eat a wide variety of different things in order to keep meals interesting.

The only downside to all of this fresh produce is the washing. I think I had to quadruple wash this latest batch. The piles of dirt at the bottom of the sink were the proof that all of the effort to clean had been necessary.

There is a certain satisfaction that comes from growing your own food both in the taste and the quality. I know that in our garden, the use of compost, compost tea, occasional garden maintenance and regular conversations with the plants goes a very long way towards bigger yields. And the act of gardening itself can be a really nice stress reliever. Admittedly,I have not been the guy who has toiled out in our garden this year. But when I have gotten my hands dirty, I have continued to find a peace that comes with it. As if the generations of landscapers and gardeners of my family have smiled down on me. My great grandfather used to say “a cool breeze is God’s air conditioner”. I think of that often when a slight wind picks up in the midst of harvesting our bounty on a hot summer’s day. I’ll probably never be the gardener that my grandfather is or that his father was before him. But I’m happy to grow what I can. I’m fortunate at the age of 37 to have three living grandparents. Growing your own food and enjoying vegetables and fruits was one of the great things I have learned from them.





4000 Years of Medicine

6 06 2012

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The Amazing Benefits of Eating Your Sweet ‘Taters!

11 04 2012

One of the neat things about eating plant based is that your tastes really do change after awhile. As a kid, I despised sweet potatoes but after eliminating all sugars from my diet, I’ve gone back to try them and found them to be nature’s candy. They are delicious and one of the most nutrient packed vegetable that you can eat. Sweet Potatoes are loaded with vitamin A. An average sized sweet potato packs more than the daily recommended allowance of vitamin A. This is especially beneficial for smokers who often end up having a vitamin A deficiency which over time can lead to emphysema. They are also a great food for asthma sufferers and are low on the glycemic index for those with diabetes.

An average sized sweet potato can give you nearly a third of your daily vitamin C allowance while providing you with 15% of your recommended daily fiber intake. They are also loaded with antioxidants. You won’t find more betacarotene anywhere so sweet potatoes are perfect for good heart, eye and skin health. They are also full of anti-inflammatory properties and are excellent for people suffering from arthritis.

Because sweet potatoes are often chemically treated during and after the growing season, it is best to remove the skin prior to eating. As always, buying organic is going to be your best bet. It’s worth the extra money not to eat the poison.

Sweet potatoes are so nutrient rich that they can potentially cause harm if you eat them too often while having kidney or gallbladder issues. They contain small amounts of oxalates which when taken large doses can be problematic. Healthy digestive tracks will be more able to properly digest sweet potatoes. But like all things, eat them in moderation. Definitely don’t pass them up thpogh because they are amazingly beneficial and delicious.

Here is a great looking recipe that I cannot wait to try. It’s from Engine2 Diet:

RIP’S SWEET POTATO LASAGNA
1 onion, chopped
1 small head of garlic, all cloves chopped or pressed
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 head broccoli, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 can corn, rinsed and drained
1 package Silken Lite tofu
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon rosemary
2 jars pasta sauce cashews
tomato
2 boxes whole grain lasagna noodles
16 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained
2 sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
6 roma tomatoes, sliced thin
1 cup raw cashews, ground

Preheat oven to 400º. Sauté the onion and garlic on high heat for 3 minutes in a wok or nonstick
pan. Add the mushrooms and cook until the onions are limp and the mushrooms give up their liq-
uid. Remove them to a large bowl with a slotted spoon. Reserve the mushroom liquid in the pan.
Sauté the broccoli and carrots for 5 minutes and add to the mushroom bowl. Sauté the peppers and
corn until just beginning to soften. Add them to the vegetable bowl. Drain the tofu by wrapping in
paper towels. Break it up directly in the towel and mix into the vegetable bowl. Add spices to the
vegetable bowl and combine.

To Assemble:
Cover the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch casserole with a layer of sauce. Add a layer of noodles. Cover
the noodles with sauce. This way the noodles cook in the oven, saving time and energy. Spread
the vegetable mixture over the sauced noodles. Cover with a layer of noodles and another dress-
ing of sauce. Add the spinach to the second layer of sauced noodles. Cover the spinach with the
mashed sweet potatoes. Add another layer of sauce, the final layer of noodles, and a last topping
of sauce. Cover the lasagna with thinly sliced roma tomatoes.
Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle with the cashews,
and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!





A Week of Eating Plant Based

27 03 2012

Enough people have asked me what a typical week of eating plant based foods looks like so I’m going to give you a rough example of mine. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m a creature of habit so this may not offer enough variety for some. But truly, your week’s menu is only limited by your imagination. With the internet, it’s never been easier to go plant based. There are tons of sites for recipes out there. Eat the plant based foods that you like and start building from there. Eating this way, takes time. On a sunday night, it can take up to 90 minutes to prepare veggies to have for lunch that week. It can be a pain but it is worth it. Don’t forget your B12 supplements!

Breakfasts – Cheerios! There are healthier cereals out there I am sure but I’ve always liked these since I was a little guy. I can eat them dry on the go or with coconut milk (I have the unsweetened stuff, try it for a week, you will get used to it). Organic Steel Cut Oats is another option. Raw vegetables or grilled / sauteed zucchini (one of natures most perfect anti-inflammatory foods is the perfect way to start the day). Breakfast is a good time to have fruit. Many mornings I will have a veggie wrap….with mustard!

Lunches – Wraps – I love them (although I admit it’s getting a little old lately). A raw veggie salad with a mustard and balsamic dressing (I go through an amazing amount of lettuce each week). Cabbage, broccoli rabe, lentil or split pea soup. Vegan pad thai or another one of Dr. McDougall’s packaged vegan meals (found in many health food aisles in the grocery store, I try to limit the processed stuff but this doesn’t seem too bad and low sodium options are sometimes available). Sometimes hummus or baba ganoush. Stack of tomato slices with layered basil (I most often go oil-less). Broccoli slaw.

Snacks – raw veggies (peppers, string beans, carrots, cucumbers and/or celery (a negative calorie food). Fruit – an apple a day…., seeds and nuts. Dry roasted edamame (I live on this stuff – high in protein and fiber but not fat). Dry roasted chick peas and similar snack foods can be found at your local Wegmans, Whole Foods or health food shops. Vegan pumpkin muffins, homemade vegan fruit bars.

Dinners – Vegan stuffed peppers with ground soy “meat”, brown rice, quinoa, beans, corn and tomato sauce (make 4 at a time and get several meals out of it). vegan tacos or taco salads. Soups and salads. Black beans (or other) with hot sauce and liquid smoke (a great simple, quick and tasty way to get your protein and fiber). Pasta is an awesome treat when eating this way (just check the labels). Grilled veggie sandwich on crusty italian bread (I’m limiting my bread but this is too good to pass up once a week). Veggie burgers or similar products like chik’n nuggets, hot wings, etc.(read the labels) about once a week for a little variety. Veggie stir fry. Sautéed veggies in veggie broth.

Give it a try for three weeks and see how you feel. I’m willing to bet that if you go completely plant based for three weeks , by the time you are done you will have lost weight, and feel a whole lot better with increased energy and well-being. And if you find that it is not for you, at least your body will be thankful. You can do totally do this, if you put your mind to it.

besides, you don’t want to eat this anymore, do you?:





Steering Clear of Scary Produce

2 03 2012

Genetic Engineering is the wave of the future. For some reason our society is trying to grow things bigger than ever before and at twice the speed. And it’s all happening in a laboratory. As you read this, a race to the marketplace is occurring for scientists who are in the midst of growing the biggest salmon you’ve ever had on your dinner plate. Twice the size in half the time and accomplished all through science by splicing in some extra growth hormone producing genes. This will be the first genetically engineered meat for consumption in the United States. Interestingly the fish we eat here has to be labeled “fresh” or “farm raised” but there is no mandate to label genetically modified foods. This despite laws requiring such in over 40 other industrialized nations including even China.

Yet at home here in the United States, I can’t figure out what has been modified and what hasn’t. Seven out of ten items found in your grocery store have been genetically modified and because the FDA does not require labeling and proper studies have not been conducted, we have no idea what we are consuming or what it’s negative effects may be. Recent studies have indicated that monarch butterfly populations have had greater die off after being exposed to genetically modified corn. Lab Animals fed GMO products have ended up with organ damage. A growing contingent of scientists worry that GM foods can trigger greater allergy responses in humans. While there may be many benefits of GM plants including drought resistance, temperature resistance and less need for pesticides, there can be unintended consequences of human consumption. When the pollen of a GM plant can travel many hundreds if not thousands of miles and effect other crops, we really need to proceed with caution. GM foods can be a game changer and not in the way they were intended.

Call me old fashioned, but I’m happy to stick with nature and eat my produce grown the way the Great Spirit intended – sunshine, rain and nutrient rich soil. I try to buy organic as much as I can. I find it ridiculous that I have to pay more for less chemicals, hormones and poisons – but I’m willing to do it. Why make an attempt to eat healthy and then have to ingest all of that extra harmful stuff? It’s worth the extra money to know that my kids are eating wholesome and safe foods.

While doing some research I found out that even though produce is not labeled as Genetically Modified, the little PLU sticker affixed to it will let you know how your fruit or veggie came to be.
Here’s the skinny:
A four diget PLU # can be found on conventionally grown fruit – these are your produce that are grown with fungicides, herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals. (Bananas are #4011)
Organic produce would be the same 4 digits with a 9 on the front. (Organic bananas are #94011)
Genetically Modified produce would be the same four digits but begins with a number 8 (GM bananas would be #84011)

So steer clear of the PLU’s beginning with the number 8 if you aren’t interested in eating GM produce. As of right now though – papayas, corn, zucchini and yellow squash are the only GM grown veggies. Often times they may not be labeled. Lets face it, you are probably not going to buy them if they are so there is no advantage to put the PLU on there now that the secret is out.

This link will be helpful is assisting you in finding and staying away from GM products.  There is even a printable pocket guide for shopping:
http://www.nongmoshoppingguide.com/

And if you have an iphone look for the ShopNoGMO App.

I hope this helps.  It’s a shame that shopping for good, clean, healthy food can be so complicated. But you will do much better, armed with a little bit of knowledge.





What’s in a Water?

18 02 2012

I used to drink quite a bit of sugary drinks.  I loved Coke, Gatorade and often had a few energy drinks each week.  It amounted to a ton of extra sugar being added to my diet on a regular basis .  When I got sick, I tried to cut the sugar I was drinking out and although I did have a sugary drink from time to time it was much less than I had been.  in the last seven weeks though, I’ve had none.  Other than occasionally putting coconut milk in my Cheerios, It’s been nothing but water.  As a healthy treat from time to time, i’ve been drinking Clear Splash flavored sparkling water beverage.  It reminds me of soda and the nutrition facts label is perfect.  33.8 ounces, zero calories, fat, sodium, carbs and sugar.  This stuff is perfect.  Or so I thought.  Last night I sat down to enjoy a bottle of this stuff and I did something I hadn’t done in the last few months of drinking it – I read the ingredients:

Carbonated water – fantastic!

Potassium Citrate –  used to regulate acidity of foods, especially soft drinks.  Because it helps make urine alkaline, it’s also beneficial in shrinking the size of kidney stones and fighting minor urinary tract infections.  It seems generally safe although much of it is produced in China where standards for making these sorts of ingredients are far less than they are in other parts of the world.

Natural Flavors – Blackberry Apple, that sounds good.  But dig a little deeper and you find that “natural flavors” can be any combination of thousands of naturally derived chemicals put together in a lab by flavorists.  The FDA has found them to be safe but sometimes when mixed they can be volatile to our body.  Because companies are not forced to list them, we have no idea what we are actually ingesting.  In many instances artificial flavors can actually be safer because naturally occurring harmful byproducts (sometimes like arsenic) found in “natural” flavorings can be removed.  But in reality, both natural and artificial flavorings are most times a mystery to the consumer and it is best to steer away from them completely.  Thats not an easy thing to do.  You will find “natural flavors” labled on an awful lot of products, including those that are labeled as “Natural” and “Organic”.

Aspartame – a potentially carcinogenic sugar substitute.  It can kill up to 55% of the beneficial gut flora in our bodies, is bad for our teeth, can promote obesity and has been found in some studies to be addictive.

Potassium Benzoate – a chemical preservative used to block some bacteria,  molds and yeasts.  When exposed to light and heat and the presence of vitamin C (of which there are trace amounts in this water) a cancer causing by product, Benzene, is formed.

————————————

So I guess I won’t be buying this stuff anymore.  I was looking for healthy carbonated water and it turns out there is a whole lot of other things swimming in this bottle.  Lesson learned – sugar free, calorie free, fat free does not equal “healthy”.  While nutrition facts are important, they do not tell the whole story.  It is always important to also check the ingredients.

 

 





Salad Queen – The Coming Revolution in Fast Food

15 02 2012

I drive an awful lot. Between my commute, all the driving I do at work and in my personal life, some months I drive nearly 4000 miles. It’s a lot of time on the road. In the past, fast food has ben an unhealthy but quick meal solution. It is readily available nearly everywhere a person goes. What isn’t available though are real healthy choices that are low in calories, nutrient rich, organic and not processed. We have no real fast food alternative to Burger King. What we need is Salad Queen. This would be a place where vegetarians, vegans and anyone looking for a healthy meal could stop and get a quick, nutritious bite. I know by the time I get this idea off the ground, someone will already be doing it because it is a no-brainer. This is the sort of business that will make money hand over fist. If you build a Salad Queen, they will come. You don’t need to be Nostradamus in order to see that in the next 10 years or so there will be something like Salad Queen nearly everywhere you go.

And while we are talking about healthy, delicious, nutritious, organically grown food – this is a good time to consider the following article by a blogger friend of mine about using human waste sludge as fertilizer. While this is a local problem in my area of northeastern Pennsylvania, I can assure you it is done all over the world. It’s another reason to consider paying a little extra for organic food. Who wants fruit and veggies with traces of antibiotics, birth control and other interesting left overs found in them?

give this a look:

http://www.neighborsofeaston.com/wordpress/archives/2658








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