Monthly Archives: September 2012

The BD About GMOs

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When you’re vegan, you get comfortable reading labels really quickly.  Often times, I go by the “if I can’t pronounce it” or “If I can’t picture what it looks like when I read the word” or “If it sounds friggin’ fake” I avoid the product completely.  But I’m happy for the labels.  Without them, there would be no way of my knowing what was in any sort of processed food.  But what about the foods that are right in the produce section?  The ones that are supposed to be good for me?  Having studied various social trends and behaviors in college (and being a bit of a conspiracy junky myself) I’m quick to believe that we are all a part of some grand experiment; we are all guinea pigs (and I’m against animal testing!)  But recently, I’m seeing one of the most interesting experiments unfold without most of us knowing what’s going on at all.  Foods that are genetically modified (and have been for about 20 years) to be resistant to pesticides are everywhere.  But they must be safe right?  Our government wouldn’t put us in danger for some hidden agenda or to make a buck- right?  Right?

GMOs (or Genetically Modified Organisms) have received some recent media attention due to a French study conducted by Gilles-Eric Seralini, a microbiology professor at the University of Caen.  The result, a big push because of an upcoming vote in California (in November) on Proposition 37 (or the self named “Right to Know Campaign”) which is a mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food initiative.  All the fuss is about a rat study in which 200 rats were fed genetically modified (Roundup resistant) corn over the course of two years.  The results were interesting to say the very least (read the complete study here):

“In females, all treated groups died 2–3 times more than controls, and more rapidly. This difference was visible in 3 male groups fed GMOs. All results were hormone and sex dependent, and the pathological profiles were comparable. Females developed large mammary tumors almost always more often than and before controls, the pituitary was the second most disabled organ; the sex hormonal balance was modified by GMO and Roundup treatments.  In treated males, liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5–5.5 times higher. This pathology was confirmed by optic and transmission electron microscopy. Marked and severe kidney nephropathies were also generally 1.3–2.3 greater. Males presented 4 times more large palpable tumors than controls which occurred up to 600 days earlier. Biochemistry data confirmed very significant kidney chronic deficiencies; for all treatments and both sexes, 76% of the altered parameters
were kidney related. These results can be explained by the non linear endocrine disrupting effects of Roundup, but also by the overexpression of the transgene in the GMO and its metabolic consequences.”
 
An article by Carolyn Lochhead in the San Francisco Chronicle, Prop. 37: Engineered corn study debated, notes the opposition pointing to flaws in the study. 

“Other scientists said the breed of rats used is prone to tumors, the control groups were far too small and the statistical analysis was flawed, among other problems.” 

The study was not without strong opposition for various reasons to put it lightly.  I’m not here to tell you what conclusions you should draw from this study.  I’m not here to tell you to look for a little label and try to buy non-GMO foods when possible (and no I’m not currently on a grassroots campaign promoting an agenda).  I only wanted to bring up the point that sometimes you don’t know what you’re eating, even if it’s a whole food or green or not in a jar.  Sometimes you don’t know what you’re eating even if you are reading labels.  National Georgraphic notes that 

“Most people in the United States don’t realize that they’ve been eating genetically engineered foods since the mid-1990s. More than 60 percent of all processed foods on U.S. supermarket shelves—including pizza, chips, cookies, ice cream, salad dressing, corn syrup, and baking powder—contain ingredients from engineered soybeans, corn, or canola.”

At the very least, it’s interesting to think about.  And it kinda makes you wonder, if GMOs are perfectly safe like the people that are bashing Seralini’s experiment are claiming, then why get so defensive about it?  Are they really concerned with a raise in food costs that will come with this new labeling or is it something more?  I encourage everyone to learn more about Proposition 37 and decide for yourselves if you’re comfortable being an experiment of if you would like to be an informed citizen of this country.

You May Want To Check Out: The Non-GMO Project for some interesting information.

Some Carbs Care

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I’ve been thinking a lot about how I think about food since I’ve started my journey.  Things that I’ve always thought of as inherently bad for me versus things I know must be good for me.  When I first started dieting (pre-vegan me) back in March, I thought that I should just cut out all of the things that are too good to be true (and the things that we obviously bad for me although I didn’t have a clue as to why).   Obvious things included everything from cakes and candies all the way to pasta and breads (thank you diets like Atkins and South Beach that have thoroughly demonized the carb and made us feel bad about having second helpings of grains). 

Now, (one month strong) vegan me would like some answers.  The running side of this investigation has taught me that carbs are important before, during and even after your run.  Who knew?  In an article on Livestrong by Justin Cresser, Are Carbohydrates Good For Running? he notes that

“The body gets its carbohydrate fuel in the form of blood glucose or muscle glycogen–a storage form of glucose. Reliance on both energy sources increases as the tempo of the run increases, and according to A. Foskett in the January 2008 issue of the “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,” provides up to 70 percent of the total energy expended during high-intensity events. Low blood glucose or hypoglycemia and depleted muscle glycogen stores lead to fatigue and reduce performance during running.”

But I digress.   I’m circling around the issue and I don’t know if I’ve quite hit it yet.  I don’t think I’ve even talked about what they are yet.  An article put out by Harvard University, Carbohydrates: Good Carbs Guide the Way, was particularly helpful in explaining what carbs are, why we need them, and which ones are actually bad for you.  The most helpful bit of information came from the Glycemic Index portion of the article (but read the whole thing it’s not that long)

“Dividing carbohydrates into simple and complex makes sense on a chemical level. But it doesn’t do much to explain what happens to different kinds of carbohydrates inside the body. For example, the starch in white bread and French-fried potatoes clearly qualifies as a complex carbohydrate. Yet the body converts this starch to blood sugar nearly as fast as it processes pure glucose. Fructose (fruit sugar) is a simple carbohydrate, but it has a minimal effect on blood sugar.

A new system, called the glycemic index, aims to classify carbohydrates based on how quickly and how high they boost blood sugar compared to pure glucose.  Foods with a high glycemic index, like white bread, cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. Foods with a low glycemic index, like whole oats, are digested more slowly, causing a lower and gentler change in blood sugar.”

Something satisfying: although this was not a pro-vegan article, there are vegan undertones (am I just imagining this?)  It goes onto suggest:

  • “Start the day with whole grains. If you’re partial to hot cereals, try steel-cut oats. If you’re a cold cereal person, look for one that lists whole wheat, whole oats, or other whole grain first on the ingredient list.
  • Use whole grain breads for lunch or snacks. Check the label to make sure that whole wheat or another whole grain is the first ingredient listed.
  • Bag the potatoes. Instead, try brown rice or even “newer” grains like bulgur, wheat berries, millet, or hulled barley with your dinner.
  • Pick up some whole wheat pasta. If the whole grain products are too chewy for you, look for those that are made with half whole-wheat flour and half white flour. 
  • Bring on the beans. Beans are an excellent source of slowly digested carbohydrates as well as a great source of protein.”

Still having trouble deciding which carbs you should be eating and which you shouldn’t?  Thanks to Webmd and Emaine Magee, she notes that it’s not all that difficult when you stick to the following:

  • “We can reap the health benefits of good carbs by choosing carbohydrates full of fiber. These carbs that get absorbed slowly into our systems, avoiding spikes in blood sugar levels. Examples: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans.
  • We can minimize the health risk of bad carbs by eating fewer refined and processed carbohydrates that strip away beneficial fiber. Examples: white bread and white rice.”

So what does that mean?  What does fiber have to do with carbs?  Fiber’s one of those things that people know to be good but they have no idea why (it just so happens that fiber is a subcategory of carbohydrate).  I see a commercial on TV about concerned parents wanting to make sure that their child is getting enough fiber so they’re pleased when he chooses the high-in-fiber breakfast cereal that also tastes good.  Great.  Except for what is it and why are we so concerned with getting enough of it?  I mean, what does it do if half of it (the insoluble part at least) doesn’t even get digested?  In an article on Fiber by Dr. Betty Kovacs, MS, RD, I learned that there are 2 types of fiber:

  • “Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. Sources of soluble fiber are oats, legumes (beans, peas, and soybeans), apples, bananas, berries, barely, some vegetables, and psylluim.
  • Insoluble fiber increases the movement of material through your digestive tract and increases your stool bulk. Sources of insoluble fiber are whole wheat foods, bran, nuts, seeds, and the skin of some fruits and vegetables.”

Very interesting findings if you ask this veg-head.  Fiber is also responsible for reducing the chance of and controlling a slew of different diseases ranging from heart disease and diabetes all the way to bowel disorders. 

Now more about my latest obsession: carbs and running.  Having been overweight pre-vegan, a lot of this investigation has included making changes to my mind, body and soul at the same time.  This has had a sort of blurring effect on why exactly I feel so good.  Is it the exercise or the food?  Is it because I’m eating morally and spiritually?  The answer is just yes I think (to everything) and I’m going to have to understand that changing everything at once connects everything all the more closely.  Instead of shying away from food because I’m afraid that if I carb up I’m going to get fat again, I need to ask myself what I need to fuel my body (and my brain) especially since distance running is agreeing with me so well.  In an article by Jackie Dikos, RD Fueling the Runner: Cabohydrates—Battling a Bad Reputation, she notes that:

“A runner should never question if they should follow a low carb diet. The major role of carbohydrates is to produce energy.    Fuel your body with a diet rich in carbohydrates to maximize your training and performance.   However, you can modify your diet in the kinds of carbohydrates you choose.”

If I’m going to make it as a runner, I have to un-teach myself a lot of things that are ingrained into the minds of young/old/men/women/people everywhere (and especially in America).  Carbs are not bad, they’re essential. Just like everything, moderation seems to be key here.  And if you’re going to be burning the carbs off in that run anyway, enjoy that bowl of whole grain pasta! I have to stop worrying about it so much!  So I’ll have a salad before my main course so I won’t be as tempted to overdo it.  I’ll snack on fruits and veggies.  And I’ll put beans on everything- they’re good for my heart- the more I eat em… (well… you know). I’m taking back the carb! I’m sure my head and my heart will thank me!

 

More Food For Thought: Here are some tips from Dr Magee on how to get fiber in almost every meal:

  • “Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Just eating five servings a day of fruits and vegetables will get you to about 10 or more grams of fiber, depending on your choices.
  • Include some beans and bean products in your diet. A half-cup of cooked beans will add from 4 to 8 grams of fiber to your day.
  • Switch to whole grains every single possible way (buns, rolls, bread, tortillas, pasta, crackers, etc).”

Disclaimer:  I just want to note that you should do your own research and talk to your doctor about how many carbs/how much exercise that you need for your body-type.  Even the research that I did shows some varying results for men/women/people trying to lose weight/gain weight.  I’m not an expert or a doctor and I just want you to make the best decisions for yourself!

Harms Vegetable Farm and Sugar House

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Pictured above (our first box!): Mixed Salad greens, scallions, kohlarabi, bok choi, green beans, cayenne pepper, red peppers, eggplant, chard

I was so excited when I got the email from Sonya Harms of Harms Farms in Brookfield that there was space for us to join her CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)!  When I called her back to confirm that we wanted to start yesterday (there are still 7 weeks left in the season so we have plenty of time to take advantage of all of the fresh produce we’ll be getting) she was more than pleasant and invited us down to her farm and home in Brookfield, MA so we could see our veggies growing right before our eyes.  (Moving forward I think I’ll take advantage of the Worcester pick-up option just because of convenience) however, being a visual learner, it was very important for me to see the farm with my own eyes.  Sonya took us around the back of her house and showed us her huge veggie farm- very exciting.  This sort of community involvement was exactly what I was looking for.  And the price is right!  With a pick up every Wednesday and the cost only being $25/week- I couldn’t be happier!  We even got a little newsletter letting us know everything that was stocked in our box and a few recipes and explanations for the less familiar vegetables that we would find in there (like Kohlarabi).  What a wonderful new adventure with some really nice new people.  Thank you Sonya and Luke!

Show Stopping Pill Popping

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And at last… I have some space in my brain to consider the supplement aspect of veganism and explore what I might be missing.  Having done a lot of reading on veganism in general, the big three that are typically brought up upon exploring the topic of supplements are Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Omega-3s.  Having cleaned out my fridge and my freezer, my kitchen cabinet and most of my closet in an effort to embrace my new lifestyle, I think I’m ready to think about what I might be missing.  I began by finding a really helpful fellow blogger, Ginny Messina (who is also a registered dietitian) and found a very blunt approach to the supplement conversation.  She recommended:

All vegans:

Vitamin B12. You can’t get enough by eating unwashed organic produce or mushrooms grown in B12-rich soil. The recommended dose is 25 to 100 micrograms per day or 1,000 micrograms 2-3 times per week. If you have not been taking B12 for a while, start out with 2,000 micrograms daily for several weeks. Or get a blood test to see where you are and whether you might need a more therapeutic dose.

Most vegans:

Vitamin D. If you live where it’s sunny and warm all year and you spend time outdoors without sunscreen, you can make enough. The rest of us need a supplement or fortified foods (just like omnivores do) supplying 1,000 I.U.s of vitamin D. (This amount is well above the RDA for vitamin D but most experts think it’s warranted.

Iodine. Omnivores get most of their iodine from dairy products, which pick up iodine from solutions used to clean cows and equipment on dairy farms. Vegans who regularly eat sea vegetables may get enough, but the content varies a lot as it does for sea salt and other “natural” salts. Miso, which some vegans prefer to use in place of salt—because it’s a whole food—is not usually a good source of iodine. The only reliable sources are iodized salt or a supplement providing around 90 micrograms per day.

Some vegans:

Calcium. We don’t know if vegans have lower needs, but the old “low protein diets reduce calcium needs” theory has taken some real hits in the past years. Based on current understanding–which is admittedly pretty poor–we vegans should strive for the RDA. Our ancestors didn’t drink milk and got all the calcium they needed from wild greens. And even though modern cultivated greens have less, we could get enough calcium just from these foods, too. But the recommendation to eat four or more cups of cooked greens per day makes veganism a hard sell. Without fortified foods, many vegans fall short on calcium. (So do most omnivores; the food industry doesn’t fortify orange juice or instant oatmeal with calcium as a favor to vegans. Those foods are marketed to omnivore women.)

Iron. Young women with heavy periods may have a tough time keeping up with iron needs, and again, this is not a problem that is specific to vegans. Rates of iron deficiency anemia are actually very high among pre-menopausal omnivore women. It can help to take a low dose supplement (high doses can be hard on the stomach) with orange juice to boost absorption, or to include some fortified foods in the diet. There is some evidence that taking supplements of the amino acid L-lysine boosts absorption of supplemental iron.

Possible supplement requirements

DHA: 200 to 300 mg several times a week. It may be a good idea, but we don’t know for sure. I take this amount almost daily and would recommend it in particular for anyone who is prone to depression.

Sound like a lot of supplements? Well, here is some perspective: Omnivores get their vitamin D from fortified foods (cow’s milk is not a natural source of this nutrient) and their iodine from accidental contamination of dairy foods. Many omnivores—women especially—depend on supplements to meet calcium and iron needs. And the Institute of Medicine recommends that everyone over the age of 50 should add vitamin B12 supplements or fortified foods to their diet since it becomes increasingly difficult to digest and absorb the vitamin B12 in animal foods with aging.

Thanks again Ginny- that’s a lot of info.  Ok.  I’m overwhelmed (and quite frankly a little nervous after reading that).  I’ve never really been much for supplements even when I ate meat and dairy (which is another reason I find it comical when omnivores ask me about things they believe I may not be getting enough of- it has been my experience that when I ate everything, I didn’t think about what I wasn’t getting enough of, I was just a part of the blind-eating-community).  But I honestly can’t imagine having to take these vitamins separately and religiously.  Who has that kind of time/memory/energy?  I was, however, able to find a completely vegan multivitamin and mineral supplement online through the Thrifty Vegan.  Upon looking at the supplement facts, I couldn’t find Vitamin D on there, but instead found Vitamin D2 (which I thought was a different vitamin altogether) but after some more research learned that it is actually  ergolcalciferol that comes from some form of lab tweaked yeast.  Livestrong notes that “both D2 and D3 appear to be equally effective” in raising Vitamin D blood levels.  (I think the reason that D3 isn’t used in vegan products is because it is a byproduct of cholesterol so that makes sense to me).  Livestrong’s suggested daily amount differs from Ginny Messina and says that “In 2010 the Institute of Medicine raised daily adequate intake recommendations from 200 to 600 IUs for children and adults under 70.” The once daily multivitamin that I mentioned above has 400 IUs (but I think that especially in the summer months I get enough sun to offset the difference).

Onto Omega 3s and Omega 6s:

Thanks to an article by Dr. Linda Posch, MS SLP ND on How To Get The Right Balance of Omega 3 & Omega 6 In Your Diet I was able to (first and foremost) understand what the heck these Omegas are (see below for some of her findings):

Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

The three chief omega 3’s that we get from our food sources are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

EPA is connected to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and DHA to proper nerve and brain development and function.

Our bodies should convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but some people may have trouble with this conversion, due to some unique aspect of their physiology.

To get EPA and DHA in their diets, vegetarians should concentrate on leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, walnuts and spirulina.

We don’t often think of vegetables as sources rich in fatty acids, but the sum of the parts quickly add up in a vegetarian diet.

Other vegetarian food sources provide ALA, the indirect form of Omega 3 fatty acids. 1 tablespoon of flax oil per day seems to provide enough ALA for conversion to daily therapeutic amounts of EPA and DHA. Hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are also good sources of ALA. Brazil nuts, wheat germ, wheat germ oil, soybean oil and canola oil also contain significant amounts. There is no reason for vegetarians to be deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA.

Food Sources of Omega 6 Fatty Acids

Only nature could function so perfectly offering the right balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids in foods such as: flax seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds and grape seeds. Food sources of Omega 6 fatty acids include pistachios, olive oil, chestnut oil and olives.

Many of the oils we use for cooking are comprised of linoleic acid, which is one reason why our Omega ratios are off kilter. Soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and cottonseed oil are routinely used in processed foods. Many of these oils are refined. To avoid over-consumption of Omega 6 fatty acids, reduce or eliminate refined oils and processed foods, and read ingredient labels.

She notes that there are some issues with the ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s being out of balance, however, this is largely due to diets that are high in animal products or food that have been heavily processed (no worries for me there).  But why am I doing this again?  I still don’t know what Omega 3s or 6s do!

Dr. Posch says, “Omega 3 is necessary for cell wall manufacture and pliability; which allows for optimal intake of nutrients and oxygen, and the excretion of wastes.  Omega 3 is necessary for the healthy development of nerves and eyesight.” And good news for the veg heads of the world- there is no reason that we can’t get these Omegas from nature. 

So I’ve made up my mind and here is my plan (remember I’m no expert this is just my plan of attack now having armed myself with some brain food):

  • I’m going to order the Vegan Multivitamin & Mineral Supplement from an online store ($12.95 for 90 Tablets seems reasonable to me)
  • I am going to make sure that I get 15 minutes of sun per day every day that’s humanly possible but I will rest assured when I have a lazy day snuggling with my cats instead of going for that sun stroll because I’m covered as far as the Vitamin D goes because of the supplement.
  • I am going to buy some flax oil and use it whenever I can (1 tablespoon per day) but I am also going to understand that I get Omega 3s and 6s from hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, brazil nuts, and wheat germ oil (all of which can be put right into my morning granola, my salad, or made into a trail mix for a mid-day snack).  I’m also going to continue to eat leafy greens and walnuts like there’s no tomorrow.  However, in order to keep my Omega 3/Omega 6 ratios in check, I will limit the amount of refined oils that I use (soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and cottonseed oils used in processed foods. 

I would like to note that I’m currently waiting for my boyfriend to finish with Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run but he’s only half way through and he seems sold on the all powerful effects of spirulina (the blue-green algae super-food).  The topic has certainly peaked my interest and I would like to learn a little more about it once I have gotten used to the effects (if any) I’ll be seeing from the multivitamin.

**Something else worth knowing in the Things I Didn’t Know Weren’t Vegan section of your brain:

Consider this: any tablet that’s a liquid gel is out of the question for vegans considering that the gelatin that is used to make them is derived from animal skin and bones.  You heard me… opt for the chewable version of these same pills or buy them at a vegan friendly health food store just to be sure.  Oh… and don’t be afraid to ASK. 

Also, after a conversation I had with a friend regarding how sneaky those little animal products are, I stumbled across this and couldn’t resist putting it up- this one’s for you Kyla.  Thank you Steph for putting together this list of 12 Seemingly Vegan & Vegetarian Foods That Really Aren’t.