Saturday, December 30, 2017

Knives and other food prep - a starter set & beyond

The last few years I have much expanded my understanding of knives. I really started to get into it by watching Ryky Tran on YouTube (Burrfection). After a lot of experimenting, I decided to compile a list to sort of logically build up a beginners outfit of kitchen knives, which can then be expanded and grow over time. Based on all of that, if I were to start over again, here's how I would like to set myself up today. For some alternative info, I recommend the "Best Kitchen Knives of 2017" from Burrfection 

A serious starter set of knives 

Rada Paring knives galore from 2.5"to 3.25"
Rada "granny paring knife"


  1. A set of paring knives, like the Rada Cutlery Paring Knives Galore Gift Set.  I prefer the aluminum handles for visibility. I think I lost one with the black handle, because of that color, by inadvertently throwing it out with the cuttings.
  2. A bird's beak paring knife, such as the Rada Cutlery "Granny Paring Knife."
    The birds beak design is better for close in peeling tasks, including digging out sprouts from a potato, for you can operate it with your thumb opposing the tip, because of its short length. Bird's beak knives are also better for the slalom and things like tourné cuts.
  3. Don't forget to get a sharpener with it, I would just use Rada's own Quick Edge Knife Sharpener.
  4. A Gefu, or similar potato peelers. A serrated peeler is good for peeling various fruit with thick skins.
  5. A starter set of MAC Original Series Again don't forget a sharpener, probably at least the MAC 8 1/2" White Ceramic Honing Rod (about 1000 grit), or the MAC 8 1/2" Black Ceramic Honing Rod (about 2000 grit). The MAC knives are excellent for your plant-based kitchen, they are very thin, very sharp and slice easily through all plant materials, but you don't want to risk chipping them with overly woody parts or other hard things.
  6. A traditional European 8" Chef Knife, examples are in the budget category the KUMA 8"Chef Knife, or the Imarku 8" Chef Knife, or the Cozi life 8" Chef Knife. Notice that the Kuma and the Cozilife have a softer steel, which is still easy to maintain. You need to have at least one knife like that because the harder knives chip more easily if you ever have to cut hard things, like even peeling a pineapple, or hacking the top off a cassava root. See my notes below... I might go for the Kuma, and its accompanying honing rod. Having said that, I like the Imarku a lot too, but you don't want it as your ONLY chef knife if you already have a set of MAC knives. Burrfection likes the Mercer Culinary M20608 Genesis 8" knife best in the budget category.
  7. You might want to get a decent sharpening stone, a 1000/3000 stone is a good range to have for knives that are not seriously damaged, just dull. A leather strop and stropping compound are no luxury either, it is THE best finishing touch for any knife sharpening job.

The low down on knife maintenance

Knives like Rada are of a softer, stainless steel and will need regular maintenance. Fortunately the company provides a very convenient little sharpening tool. Harder knives like MAC will keep their edges a long time if you don't abuse them, but will need periodic touching up. Fortunately the company provides these ceramic honing rods that are a perfect match for their knives. If you need serious sharpening, you can either send them back to the manufacturer, or get a more serious sharpening setup yourself. The chef knives will need some regular maintenance and periodic sharpening.

Here by the way is a good video to explain why harder knives are worth it, but you will also understand why you need to have some softer knives as well. The bottom line is, harder knives are worth having, but you need to treat them with care, and you should simply let no-one else use them, unless they understand and are coachable about the proper use.

Specialized knives

We're now getting into the dream knives category. As you expand your cooking, this is worthwhile. Knives generally are easier to clean and maintain than fancy kitchen tools, so the more time I spend in the kitchen, the more I prefer knives over other tools in the kitchen, if I can help it at all.
With vegetables the difference between cutting and crushing is very important in general, and even more so if you are serving things fresh. Delicate things such as tomatoes and strawberries will show you the difference. But even slicing celery for a salad is very telling.
It is most important to realize that Nakiri or Usuba knives are not choppers. Their very sharp, delicate edges could be damaged. You want to use them in a locomotive fashion, pushing forward and down and pulling backward and up. The mass of these knives, combined with that gentle rhythm make cutting vegetables almost effortless, and very precise. The design of the blade gives you firm control. Speed comes with practice, but you want to learn proper hand techniques so your fingers never end up under the blade. For the most part it seems the single bevel, or kataba, knives are typically called usuba, and the dual bevel are nakiri. Here is a good intro to single bevel knives. The Usuba are also slightly hollow ground on the back side, enabling thinner slicing. That is where Usuba shines.
Dalstrong Shogun 6" Nakiri knife

Shun Premier 5.5" Nakiri knife

  • An Usuba and/or Nakiri knife, also known as a Japanese Vegetable knife. They range in length from about 5 to about 7". Examples are: the Shun Premier 5.5" Nakiri knife, or a Dalstrong 6" Nakiri knife, both of these are dual bevel, i.e. European style. I also have a Kamikoto 7" Nakiri knife and I love it. Interestingly, Kamikoto calls theirs a Nakiri knife even though it is single bevel, probably because it is not hollow ground on the back. Kamikoto advises me: "You are correct in observing that our Nakiri vegetable knife indeed shares many similarities with an Usuba, including the single bevel sharpening or kataba. However, as Usuba can come in multiple different variations, and as other features of our knife - such as its dimensions, weight, and blade tip - correspond better with traditional Nakiri, we consider our vegetable knife Nakiri rather than Usuba."
  • If you are into thin slicing, you might want to get into a single bevel (kataba-style) or Usuba knife, like the Shun Classic Pro 6.5"Usuba.
    Learning proper technique with an usuba is quite interesting.
  • A stainless Chinese vegetable cleaver is a better option for serious hacking like my example above of chopping the top off a cassava root. For this I love any budget stainless steel Chines vegetable cleaver, or a large chef knife.
  • Ceramic knives are not my favorite for most tasks, I do not like the light weight. The exception is for cleaning fruits, which is delicate work. I like the Kyocera Revolution fruit knife, or the paring knife for that. The downside of ceramic is that it is brittle, so you want to baby these knives, but for the right task they are unbeatable.
  • A high end paring knife/utility knife is a useful addition at some point. My favorite has become the Dalstrong Shogun Paring Knife, but I consider it to be a transition to a small utility knife, just like the MAC paring knife. The MAC paring knife even more so than the Dalstrong is almost designed for small cutting tasks on the board. For both of them the blade is too wide and too long to work effectively with the tip for peeling, etc. that's why I recommended the Rada paring knives. To put things in perspective, you can have a basic set of 3 straight paring knives, a birds beak paring/peeling knife and a sharpener from Rada cutlery for the price of a MAC paring knife, and you can have two MACs for one Dalstrong Shogun. I have had some of my MAC knives for over 30 years and they continue to perform.
In terms of paring knives, my conclusion is that they range from 2.5" to 3.5" in length, and I want them with a narrow blade. The important thing is that they are easy to control in the hand for peeling, etc. The wider, longer paring knives are really small utility knives, and the larger utility knives are small chef knives. In my view, over 4.0" up to 5.5" is the range of utility knives, and so-called paring knives over 3.5" tend to the low end of that range. In short, I agree with the folks from Rada, their paring knives run from 2.5" to 3.25," 3.5" is about the limit for comfortable hand operation.

Other means of slicing and dicing, chopping and blending

For some tasks, other tools do help, although, if you have a good knife collection, you will generally prefer a knife if you can help it. Examples of other useful tools:
  • Mandolin (V-Slicer), for a mandolin, the Swissmar Boerner V-slicer is my favorite. Personally, I prefer the original model, the V-1001 V-Slicer Plus,  the newer version, VPower or V-7000WH is supposedly a bit more compact to pack up, but in my view not necessarily more convenient.
  • Both a Magic Bullet and a Nutribullet are your best options for other blending tasks that are beyond the reach of knives.
  • A good immersion blender, like Braun, is another powerful option. A good one is the Breville BSB510XL, according to Consumer Reports. It is a great way of blending a soup or a sauce right in the pan, and these units have such a small footprint, you can find room for them in any kitchen.
  • Although I used to have larger food processors, my kitchen nowadays is simply too small for them, but I am not so sure that I would have one again if I had all the space in the world. The set of "power tools" listed here is really all you need.
And for the rest, it is whatever makes you happy, but a lot of fancy tools will quickly disappoint. I have owned a ton of garlic presses and crushers, but crushing garlic with the flat of a chef knife and chopping it up by hand is still the hands down winner. Sometimes I crush the cloves in my mortar and pestle. Endless gadgets have been produced to slice herbs. Forget them all. A super sharp Nakiri knife, or even a large paring knife or a utility knife on a good cutting board beats them all and is a hell of a lot easier to clean. Sometimes I think that many of those gadgets come up only because people don't know how to maintain their knives. Go watch some Burrfection and others on YouTube. On and on. Happy slicing and dicing.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Inspiration from Ecuador

Courtesy of Fatima, the cook for the school at St. Helena's, we experienced some Ecuadorian foods, while Audelle created an interesting green salad to go along with it, so we all get our regular requirement for leafy greens.

In this post I will report on the recipes, and I will elaborate on the preparation only after re-creating them and making some changes based on some things we tried.

Meanwhile, some notes on the ingredients:
In general, we use herbs & spices rather than salt, or if need be we add some Braggs Liquid Aminos which has 1/3rd the sodium of even low sodium soy sauce.
We included the green salad because a healthy #WFPB diet should see us eating 4-6 "fistsized" portions of leafy greens per day, because the leafy greens help the body produce nitric oxide that is good for endothelial health. And keeps your blood vessels flexible.
Added oils are always avoided, because they practically paralyze the endothelium for 3-6 hours after a meal. Small amounts of oily fruits (avocado, coconut, nuts) are allowable, but you definitely don't want to overdo it either.

Evidently, the cassava, lentils, potatoes, and veggies provide plenty of carbohydrates, so that this meal is probably close to the ideal balance of 80% (complex) carbohydrates, 10% fats, and 10% protein.


Locro de Lentejas (Lentils locro) - a thick soup 

red onions
Bragg's Liquid Amino's (instead of Salt)

We initially made it as above, with just water. Some people were adding a green habanero sauce at the table, or more Liquid Aminos. So next time I prepared this soup, here's what I did, to make about 1.5 gallon of it:

  • 1 lb whole lentils
  • 1 lb young potatoes (the kind with the thin skin, either yukon gold or redskin), quartered or smaller, depending on the size and personal preference
  • one small green cabbage, quartered and sliced in 1/4"stips
  • a large red onion and two white onions (just because I was out of red onions),sliced thin
  • 4 green chilis, sliced thin, with seeds
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, sliced thin (without seeds)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped fine.
  • a teaspoon of savory
  • a teaspoon of tarragon
  • 5 bay leaves
  • two pints of low sodium vegetable stock
  • three pints of water
  • a tablespoon of "Better than bouillon" vegetable bouillon
  • a half a cup of cilantro, chopped (leaves only)
  • Some Braggs Liquid Aminos to taste
Initially, I fried the onions (dry) with the chilis and jalapenos, over a low flame for about 5 minutes until they got soft, then I added the vegetable stock and the herbs, the lentils and the potatoes (with about a 15-20 minute delay).  Finally I added the shredded cabbage and let it cook for another 15-20 minutes.
(Note: some people would peel the potatoes, but if you buy thin-skinned potatoes, you can easily cook them in the skin, even cut-up: you lose less nutrition that way.)

My personal practice is always to cook a large pan of soup, and to have enough to freeze about 3, 4, or 5 quart-size freezer bags, which is about one large bowl of soup each. This way, you can have some the day you make it, and maybe keep some for the next few days, and have the rest in reserve for days when you don't have time to cook.

Mixed Beans and Vegetable Salad 

2 lb beets, boiled, cut in small chunks
2 lb carrots, boiled, quartered and cut in 1.5" chunks
2 bunches of scallions, sliced thin
4 lb fresh beans from Ecuador (Mama Tere, Frihol Mixto, Frozen)
1 bunch cilantro leaves only, chopped fine
Braggs Liquid Aminos to taste

This is the kind of recipe that is delicious as is, and people can individually choose to spice it up more with Tabasco, or Sriracha Sauce, sambal, or as I tried this morning a splash of Habañero infused balsamic vinegar.

Cassava Side Dish

Cassava (yuca) with a onion sauce (parboiled red onions, lemon, cilantro, liquid aminos)
  • Cut off the top of the cassava and peel it
  • Cut into 1.5" slices
  • Boil for about 30 mins until soft
  • peel some red onions, and slice thin
  • parboil the onion slices in boiling water for a few moments, so they are limp.
  • pluck the cilantro leaves and cut them up.
  • use the juice of one or more lemons to make the dressing
  • add in liquid aminos to taste.

Creamy Avocado Dressing

2 avocados, peeled and pitted

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp. lime zest

1 cucumber

~1/2 c. water

1/4 c. chopped cilantro

1/2 to 1 tsp. chili powder

Dash of sea salt or Braggs Liquid Aminos
Blend all ingredients together until smooth, adjusting water to get desired consistency. Refrigerate unused portions.
Makes 3+ cups

This dressing is brilliant. When I made it a second time, at home after our event, I made a complete kitchen sink salad, with red leaf lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, thinly sliced red onion, capers, olives, milled flax seed, chia seed and quinoa, and it was out of this world. Obviously, you can adjust the heat to your liking, but the cucumber makes it milder.

In any case, since I prepared all these things at home in the week before Christmas, I had some chance to share them with a neighbor, and I got very positive response to all of them. Notably, this was from someone who has no idea about the plant-based diet. And that to me is the real test, if you simply make good food, except that it just happens to be very healthy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The truth about paring knives

Periodically, I get excited about kitchen tools, everything to make life easier in the kitchen. Using the appropriate tools really does make a difference.

A good shopper can find excellent tools for a reasonable price, the trick is to know what tools you need to really make your life easier.

For the most part, a paring knife is about tasks you can do by hand, i.e. off the board. There are however two main varieties and it pays to know the difference.

Some of the best knives I've owned in my life were no-name knives, and others I picked up at street fairs. One of my favorites for an easy to maintain paring knife is Rada Cutlery. Besides a regular full length paring knife, they offer what they call a "granny paring knife," which has a curved "beak-like" bladed, like this:

Rada "Granny Paring" Knife
That type of a paring knife, or it's close equivalent, a peeling-paring knife, which typically has a short blade (like 2.5") are great for peeling apples or potatoes, because of the short blade and the long handle, they offer great control of the tip when you have to cut out the sprouts from a potato, or cut out the seeds from an apple, or simply in peeling fruit. In those jobs, I find myself controlling the action with my thumb, and if the paring knife is too long, you end up gripping the blade, and that's not a comfortable situation, and outright dangerous with some of the wider blades.
In other words, these curved paring knives are especially good in the curves, or when you want to do a tourné cut. The other solution for the peeling problem is is the "peeling paring" knife from Rada:

Rada Cutlery's 2-1/2 "peeling paring" knife
Again, these little paring knives are good in the curves, and offer a sharp tip, for coring fruit or the sprouts of a potato, and ideal for situations where you have to oppose the tip with your thumb.

Regular paring knives typically have blade lengths of 3.5" to 4" and the emphasis for these is more on cutting or slicing, mostly off the board, but sometimes on. There are some of these with a straight edge, which are really a compromise between the super short peelers, and a paring knife, for they offer the sharp point that is good for paring. I have a Sabatier 3.75" paring knife like that. It came with my original Sabatier set, and it remains a favorite. In my view, if you're going to have just one paring knife, this is the type you want. The blade is not too wide at the base.
Sabatier set with 3.5"straight edge paring knife
Many paring knives are more for cutting and slicing various finicky small items. The general idea of a paring knife is in the hand, off the board.

At the high end, Dalstrong offers a knife like that, which has become a favorite of mine. Besides super sharpness and long edge retention, these Dalstrong paring knives have superb handles, which give you a lot of comfort and control. They also have a weight that I actually appreciate when cutting. However, because of the type of steel and the shape of the blade (long, and fairly wide), this is for the straightaway, and not for the slalom course. It is unsurpassed for a task like preparing scallions, where you will really appreciate the difference between cutting and crushing. However, the wide, flat and fairly straight blade means you need another paring knife to handle the curves...
Dalstrong Shogun series 3.75" paring knife.
 Fortunately, Dalstrong also offers a peeling knife, as in here:
Dalstrong Shogun 3" peeling knife
These types of bird's beak knives are also ideal for a "tourné"- cut, where you cut in a slightly rounded fashion. This video makes the point whey the "bird's beak" design makes it easier, although you can actually do it with any decent paring knife if you have to. But you can see the attraction of having some different paring knives.

Some other paring knives, such as the Kyocera Revolution, and the MAC original series, have rounded tips, and are really purely for slicing and less so for peeling, or even small jobs on the board. These also often have wide blades, so besides not having a tip, they are awkward to control if you need to control the tip. You don't want to be gripping a wide blade like that. For the rest, the lightness of ceramic knives is actually a feature that I don't generally, like except for delicate tasks like quartering strawberries and then the lightness is an asset.

Kyocera Revolution, 3.7" paring knife
Another example is the MAC 4" paring knife, which besides not having a tip and a wide blade, has a handle shaped for on-board cutting, so it is really a transition between a true paring knife and a small utility knife. I have had one in my kitchen for 30 years. And it's another favorite for the right tasks.
MAC Original Series 4" Paring Knife.

All the usual precautions apply. The harder the steel, the longer it keeps its edge, but also the more brittle it is. That applies especially also to ceramic, which is super sharp, and keeps its edge a long time, but it is no good for twisting and turning, for they will snap. The best compromise approach at the high end are knives like the Dalstrong Shogun, where the central core is a high carbon steel with 62+ Hardness on the Rockwell Scale, while the outer layers of the steel are stainless. This layered method of knife construction (Damascus steel) is the best of both worlds in a lot of ways, but you should remember very strongly not to leave it wet for the super sharp edge is also more prone to corrosion. So you want to use it, wash it, and dry it and put it away safely for the next time. Typically knives are in the range of HRC 55-66 on the Rockwell scale, where 66 is really extremely brittle, so that harder may not be better. It is really a matter of compromise. Softer knives don't keep their edge as long, but they are also easier to sharpen.

The conclusion is, you can find excellent paring knives from $6 to $60, and anywhere in between, but what you want to watch for is the appropriate tool for the task, so that with experience, I found myself liking the two separate types, both a regular 3.5" to 4.0" paring knife and a 2.5" to 3.0" peeler to navigate the curves.

As I wrote in my previous post, if you want to know about knives, Ryky Tran is your man, his channel is Burrfection on Youtube. I find him fun to watch and he really motivated me to restore some old knives that I had neglected for a while. It remains true that dull knives are really dangerous, because they are harder to control. That applies in spades to paring knives, because you often use them for finicky little tasks and tight corners, so if you lose control, you can easily hurt yourself, whereas if you maintain them well, all your tasks are easier.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Knifery for Vegans

If you're serious about plant-based nutrition, you will soon end up learning more about knives too, for there is a lot of cutting involved in preparing various vegetable meals. Not to mention, I even like to make my oatmeal look pretty, and when I have strawberries I halve them or quarter them. More reason to use knives.

There was a time when I thought that a knife was a Sabatier knife, and I have had my set for forty years. They are always still a good choice, but I have learned to look beyond. For about thirty years, I had a set of MAC knives, which are still my favorites for cutting vegetables and fruits, because they are so razor sharp and very thin.

MAC Original Series, set of 3
If you want to treat yourself, I would strongly suggest a set of the MAC knives. They are not overly expensive, and they are hard to beat for preparing vegetables. My only beef is that the paring knife has a bit of a wide blade and is not too convenient for working off the board, purely in your hands. For that, I prefer a narrower blade, which my Sabatier paring knife and a closely similar Wüsthof do better.

Another good option can be ceramic knives, although they have limitations, but the good ones stay sharp almost indefinitely, and they are very sharp indeed. I have a set of Kyocera Revolution knives, and I love them for the right task. The paring knife is too wide, and like the MAC paring knife, I find I can only use it on the board, not in the hand, like for peeling an apple or a potato. You can't use them on the side to flatten your garlic or some such, for you will shatter the blade that way, they are very brittle. As long as you stay within those guidelines, they are a very useful option to have. Try it any time for slicing tomatoes, and you will never give them up again. For some tasks however, I actually prefer the weight of a steel knife.
Kyocera Revolution Fruit knife
If you have the patience to learn some new cutting techniques, a Japanese style nakiri knife (a vegetable cleaver), or a santoku knife are very versatile options, but especially if you get the single bevel variety, there's some learning curve...

Kamikoto knives, yanagi-ba, nakiri, and utility knife

Once you get handy with the single bevel knives, you will tend to make some other kitchen gadgets superfluous, for instance I find myself using my mandolin less often. I can slice a celery stalk in paper thin slices with a nakiri-knife in less time than it would take me to do it with a mandolin. For certain jobs a good mandolin is still a winner, but especially the single bevel Japanes nakiri-knife is excellent for slicing thin, or even julienne cuts. At that point my mandolin comes out only when I have a large batch to do.

Then, there is always maintenance, and for that, I got lots of inspiration from Ryky Tran, aka Burrfection on Youtube. Highly recommended. Sharp knives are safer than dull knives! (Except if people are not used to them...)

Burrfection comparing the sharpening of an $20 and $160 chef's knife

That was a fun test, showing that a $20 knife could outperform a $160 knife if it is sharpened well. By the way, he is right about the Kuma knife, it is a great buy, even at today's price of $30 - the $20 price was an introductory price when this brand first came to market.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Yet Another #WFPB Supper at Packsun

This week we had another lovely #WFPB Supper at Packsun...

Simple and sumptuous.

Three veggie dishes and GABA Brown Basmati rice

The dishes were simple:

A lentil stew with poi leaf (Malabar Spinach) with onions, garlic, turmeric, cardamom, bay leaf and chilis, be sure to add some black pepper because it potentiates turmeric, and you can use some Braggs Liquid Aminos in lieu of salt to finish it to taste.

A side of cauliflower with onions, garlic and turmeric.

Khokon and father David before digging in, I was taking the picture

And another side dish with broccoli, onions, garlic, turmeric and cardamom.

Khokon is also starting to eat more plant-based food and has lost weight that way. Father David estimated his weight loss in the first 6 months was about 80 lbs and 8" on his belt size, and the whole parish is noticing that he looks so much better. I keep joking with him that he will run the marathon yet.

The most important ingredient in any successful meal according to Khokon: put your heart into it.

On Friday of this same week my cardiologist (Dr. Robert Ostfeld of the Montefiore Cardiac Wellness Program) fired me: "I wish all my patients did so well!"

Monday, November 27, 2017

Of Aruba, Steelcut Oats and Solving the Healthcare Crisis

Even Happy Cow lists 23 Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants in Aruba, as we found out during a short vacation... pretty impressive. Still, on an island excursion, we met a couple from Trinidad who were vegetarian and we took our meal together.

Balashi Beer Garden

We were on a tour that stopped for lunch at the Balashi Beer Garden, the restaurant at Balashi Brewery and vegan/vegetarian options were hard to find... their idea of salad was iceberg lettuce. But with a little prodding we got some cooked broccoli and carrots with rice (albeit white rice) instead. There is a lot of educational work needed to get things to change in the restaurant business...

For the most part, we ate in, except for on a few of these excursions.

My girl friend had brought a Zojirushi NP-HCC10 Rice Cooker with her on the trip and we stayed in a timeshare apartment with a kitchen. At first I thought a bit over the top, but I had to admit that it allowed us to eat in most of the time and never have to go to a restaurant.

For one thing, we made one run to the major supermarket Superfoods and that covered us for the week, I found some Dutch nostalgia there, and we loaded up on kale and fruits and other veggies for the week. They even had Lundberg rice (we had brought some with us from the States), and Braggs Liquid Aminos, in other words, next time we go, this market will be our first stop. The selection was awesome, even including Bob's Red Mill products. So the next time we will have less to bring in ourselves. Which brings me to Steelcut Oats... why?

Steelcut Oats are better for you

Finally, Dr. Michael Greger produced a report on youtube on why oats are the best breakfast, and why steelcut oats are even better for you. No wonder that #WFPB people prefer steelcut oats above any other. The work of Dr. Greger is so very helpful in understanding the nutritonal value of every aspect of the Whole Foods Plant-Based diet.

Signs of the Coming Revolution in Healthcare

In another useful video, Plant Based News from the UK put a collage together from various MDs speaking on nutrition at a recent medical conference and relating their experiences and opinions about the Whole Foods Plant-Based diet, and it is very helpful indeed, as always it is wonderful to have sources to refer your friends and family to to at least give them the option of taking control of their health, instead of falling into the trap of pharmageddon.

And in other news: Vegan 2017 was released

Friday, October 27, 2017

The #WFPB Nutrition Paradigm Shift Is Under Way in the Bronx

On Friday October 27th, I attended the first annual Montefiore Preventive Cardiology Conference, which was an amazing experience.

Many of the heavyweights in the field were there, and it was a truly amazing experience. While the material was meaty, since the conference offers educational credits for medical professionals, it was accessible to the general public as well, and people had come from all over the country. There was even a delegation from the Brooklyn Borough President's office, as well as from the Mayor's office, in this week when it had just been announced that Brooklyn was launching Meatless Mondays in 15 public schools.

The speakers included the following:
  • Opening remarks by Dr. Robert Ostfeld, cardiologist at Montefiore, who was the conference organizer.
  • He was followed by Dr. Paul M. Ridker, Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, who spoke on the issue of inflammation in cardiovascular disease. The bottom line is that cholesterol levels and inflammation are equally important in cardiovascular disease (CVD).
  • Next came Dr. Neal Barnard (he of PCRM fame), who spoke on the role of nutrition in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. The bottom line is that the ADA approach (low carb), does not work nearly as well as a Whole Foods Plant-Based diet without added sugar, oil or salt, and that this is now fully scientifically proven. It is notable that fruit is healthy for diabetics because the sugar in the context of fruit is not a problem, it's the refined sugar we add to food that is the problem. Carbs are also essential, and sugar in and of itself does not cause diabetes, fat does. So, the avoidance of added oils and fats is critical. Most importantly, once a patient starts on the diet, the changes can happen so fast that medical supervision is critical since otherwise people can become hypoglycemic if their medications are not adjusted in a timely fashion. Not in all cases, but for probably two thirds of diabetics it seems realistically possible to get off of medicine and insulin altogether within weeks or months.
    Dr. Barnard's graphical illustrations of the diabetes mechanism were extremely helpful.
    Barnard also brought up a fascinating report on Geico, where he was involved in lowering health care costs with a Whole Foods Plant Based diet, for a company that is self-insured for health. This type of development could point the way towards a better solution for our healthcare crisis. Whole Foods operates along similar lines.
  • Next was Dr. Kim Williams of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and former president of the American College of Cardiology, who spoke on "Describing My Evolution Toward Advocating for a Lifestyle Oriented Approach for the Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. A very engaging speech - you can get a little taste here.
  • Next up was Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. and it is always a delight to hear him state his core position, that heart disease is a toothless paper tiger that does not even exist, not to mention how amazing it is that this has become a multi-billion dollar medical specialty in the Western world, without anybody wondering why large parts of the world do not even have this problem. In short, coronary heart disease is entirely preventable and in most cases (except when it is totally critical) reversible with diet and exercise.
  • Finally, Dr. Robert Ostfeld spoke specifically on the challenges of the Bronx, the borough that steadily always comes in at #62 of 62 counties in NY in the Robert Woods Johnson survey of health outcomes for the state. With his customary sense of humor he described the challenges of working in a poor community and focusing on teaching people to make the transition to a WFPB diet on a budget.
  • Next, there was a panel discussion, which also included Dr. Michelle McMacken, Assistant Professor of Medicine at NYU School of Medicine and Director of the Adult Weight Management Program at Bellevue Hospital.
One of the more hilarious moments of the day (and there were many) was in the presentation by Dr. Kim Williams about a study where the relationship of dietary intake to premature death from heart disease was analyzed. At first it seemed the study indicated that red meat was worse than eggs, until it became clear that consumption of eggs causes cancer, and the patients in the study died from cancer before they died from heart disease. Conclusion: eggs are the incredible, edible carcinogen.

Another salient point that came out during the day was the difference between a "vegan" diet, defined in the negative (no animal products), but not observing the whole foods paradigm, which often produces worse health outcomes than a meat-based diet. This confirms again that "vegan" is not a useful category from a nutritional standpoint, for a whole foods plant-based diet, without added Sugar, Oil and Salt is really the issue. Potato chips, Coca Cola and chocolate may make a "vegan" diet, they do not add up to a healthy lifestyle.

Overall, it is increasingly clear that the Whole Foods, Plant-Based nutritional model is slowly becoming main stream and in fact that the adoption is picking up speed as evidenced by the developments in Brooklyn, which now are getting the support from the mayor's office, as well as the adoption in hospitals, such as the Montefiore health system, which includes five hospitals. Both AMA and the American College of Cardiology now recommend that hospitals offer plant-based menu options at every meal.

Throughout the day the food was excellent and a worthwhile demonstration of the variations that are possible within the #WFPB paradigm. The sky is the limit. Literally - as was also emphasized by various speakers - #WFPB is more bulky but you lose weight automatically and end up returning to a homeostatic, healthy weight. Overeating is never a problem because the diet is rich in fiber and nutritionally abundant as long as people eat enough different foods. There is no such thing as a protein deficiency if people eat a reasonably varied plant-based diet, and likewise the notion of supplements is completely moot, with the sole exception of B12. It was not discussed in detail, but there was mention of the fact that supplements from bottles can indeed easily be counter productive - everything is more easily absorbed from food, and the plant based diet will provide abundant nutrients.

Another simple way of looking at the problem is this: your body produces all the cholesterol it really needs, you need no dietary cholesterol ever. Plant-based nutrition has zero cholesterol and all animal-based nutrition has cholesterol, hence you should not eat it. 

As to added sugar, oil and salt: 
  • sugar is harmless in fruit, but adding refined sugar in any form is bad news
  • added oil is always bad, it damages the endothelium immediately, preventing your bloodvessels from dilating normally with exercise. You'll get about 10% of your calories from naturally occurring oil if you include small amounts of nuts, avocado or coconut in your diet, but, generally speaking, all plants contain small amounts of oil naturally, so it is easy to go over.
  • as to salt, 2,000 micro grams per day is all you need which is easy to meet if you eat all plants, and sometimes you can even add a sprinkle, but generally you want to use herbs and spices for seasoning, not salt. All vegetables and grains contain sodium naturally.
Meanwhile, it is clear that different doctors have slightly different attitudes in practice, but they all focus on helping patients with at least a half-day of intensive nutrition counseling that includes the significant other, in order to help people get on track about their diet and stay on track. In Dr. Ostfeld's program at the Montefiore Cardiac Wellness program, this is typically a half-day program on a Saturday, that includes food so people leave inspired about the many options that exist within the plant-based paradigm.

Ostfeld tends to be rather mild and focuses on not letting the perfect get in the way of the merely good: progress is progress. The other side of that coin is that, as reported above, a sloppy and only nominally "vegan" diet is really counter productive, and in practice is often the reason why would-be vegans fail. Esselstyn typically does not allow his patients any wiggle room for that reason, for he knows that once you are on the right track, you will feel so much better, you will not want to get off it. One thing sums up the difference perhaps. Esselstyn recommends 6 fist-sized green leafies per day, typically cooked kale with balsamic vinegar, which taken together is great for nitrous oxide production. Ostfeld, more modestly, ask for four. Personally I find that cooked kale, drizzled with balsamic vinegar is an absolute delight, and I miss it when I don't have it.

Post Script:
In other news, the movie Code Blue is being announced, which is going to be a next chapter in the adoption of the Plant-based nutritional program in clinical practice. It reminds us of the fact that 86% of our healthcare spending is on treating the degenerative chronic diseases, which by and large are the result of bad diet and conversely are preventable and most often reversible with a Whole Foods Plant-Based diet. If we can eliminate 75% of the 86%, we will have largely solved the healthcare crisis. In this conference only heart disease and diabetes were being discussed at length, though the more general application was mentioned. The movie Code Blue is going to add MS to the discussion. The implications are truly staggering.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Health and Well-being Comes First

Health means more than physical health, it must first mean spiritual and psychological health and well-being, the example of which is perhaps best seen in Victor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning, about spiritual health and how it helped him survive the Nazi death camps. Cindy Lora-Renard, in her book A Course in Health and Well-being, frames the issue in a modern way, with practical advice on how to put inner health, inner peace central in your life.

During my visit at Plantstock in August of 2017, I listened to many of the personal stories of people who were finding health through the Whole Foods Plant-Based nutritional paradigm, and two in particular really drove the message home to me of how much this transition is part of a spiritual growth process for many.

Health and Well-being is First Spiritual

Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President, spoke about this dimension explicitly. He was well aware of the fundamental change in his life of going from abusing food, almost like a drug, to enjoying the empowerment of taking control of your health with the Whole Foods Plant-Based lifestyle.

Another presenter who stood out for me was Tim Kaufman from Atlanta, who blew me away by his realization that as a trial lawyer all of his life his business had been to catch people in a lie, but that his unhealthy relationship with food had made his own life a lie. His description of his turnaround was truly a cathartic moment.

I have encountered many who at some point in their spiritual journeys actively pursued a change in their relationship to food as part of that journey. There is something about becoming conscious about all of your relationships, with people as well as things, including food. Around us, the awareness of the health problems resulting from the Standard American Diet is growing to the point that the fast food industry, and really the whole food industry is fast finding itself in the place of the tobacco industry. Particularly the recent book by Dr. Neal Barnard, The Cheese Trap, makes it very clear how junk food is not just psychologically addictive, but in some cases - cheese obviously - may be physically addictive as well. No wonder people abuse food as a pacifier.

Before anything else, psychological and spiritual well-being means an equanimity with the physical, for we know it is not the be-all and end-all of who we are, but certainly the body is our vehicle in this world and being reasonable about the upkeep makes sense. In the end the old saying holds:

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

Or, just be normal, but being normal in this case includes stopping self-destructive behaviors. One thing I know from experience now and that is that, since I consciously committed myself to the Whole Foods Plant-Based paradigm, this has opened up a whole new level of enjoyment of food. This does not mean in any sense that you would never get sick, but still it produces a tremendous new level of empowerment to feel how you can take responsibility for your own health.

Particularly important is the message from the work of T. Colin Caldwell, which says that never mind the genetic predispositions (or other challenges) you may have, it always holds that, all else being equal, the Whole Foods, Plant-Based nutritional approach produces superior results. In short, you can take responsibility by doing your part, and if you do have to deal with disease of any sort, you will deal with it that much better if you've taken care of your body as best you can.

Let food be thy medicine

Hippocrates said that. The whole Whole Foods Plant-Based revolution falls in line with this notion. The truth is that 75% of healthcare spending is in fact sick-care, related to the growing list of chronic, degenerative diseases that all result from the Western diet. The economic incentives in our system are to provide ever more sick care, for that's where the money is. On the ground, people are feeling sicker and sicker as they get more sick care, until they finally realize that they can take charge, and growing numbers of people are dumping hands full of medications almost as soon as they get on a #WFPB diet. In fact, for diabetics the results are often so dramatic that they need regular medical attention to adjust their insulin doses, and often their insulin needs can be drastically reduced, or even eliminated altogether within weeks or months. In cardiology the results tend to be equally dramatic.
Here are some interesting videos:

Here is a brief list of some of the best literature in this area. It is rapidly growing.
  • Ivan Illich, Limits to Medicine: Medical Nemesis: the expropriation of health. The updated edition of his 1975 paper. This remains one of the seminal papers on the health threat posed by our modern Western medical model.
    The results cited by T. Colin Campbell (above) merely confirm it: with growing "healthcare" expenditure from 5 to 18% of GDP we have fallen to 37th on the global list of health outcomes. As we now understand, the fact that doctors do not learn anything about nutrition has something to do with this outcome. The currently proposed solutions to our healthcare crisis are counterproductive for making dysfunctional care cheaper makes the dysfunction worse, not better.
    Illich's frame of reference may seem "too Roman Catholic" for some, but once you adjust to that, and put his findings in your own words, you know that he has nailed the problem better than almost anybody has to this day.
  • E. Richard Brown, Rockefeller Medicine Men: Medicine and Capitalism in America, which is the perfect corollary to Ivan Illich's points.
  • Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. MD, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-based Cure.
  • Neal Barnard and Bryanna Clark Grogan, Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven Program for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs.
  • Dr. Joel Fuhrman, The End of Diabetes.
I could go on, but this is a blog post, not a book. The gist of it is that we are in a dysfunctional medical model, which is perfectly characterized by Illich with the words "expropriation of health." Recently, we seem to be regaining an understanding of the role of nutrition in health, as per the work of Campbell, Esselstyn, Barnard, Fuhrman, McDougall, Greger, Ornish and many other leaders in this field. 

The gist of it is the new sense of liberation that goes with the realization that the Whole Foods Plant-Based nutritional paradigm empowers us to take responsibility for our health in a major way. And, while it is definitely a transition that takes some effort, once you are used to it, it turns out it all is simplicity itself, you just eat mostly whole foods plant based nutrition, cooked or raw, and watch your SOS: No added Sugar, Oil or Salt. Staying within that paradigm, you can eat as much as you want since this diet burns more calories than it gives you, and you will automatically arrive at a homeostatic weight and a BMI below 25.

In short if the majority of the leading causes of death can be prevented or reversed with diet, the implication also is that the 3rd leading cause of death, iatrogernic illness, can also be massively reduced with the Whole Foods Plant-Based diet, because prevention over pills is the sound version of the old saw that an apple a day keeps the doctor away... we just need to add some kale, whole grains, and legumes to the list - an apple alone won't do.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Our first #WFPB/Suppers meeting at St. Helena

Today was our first #WFPB Suppers meeting at St Helena's

The idea of The Suppers Program is a communal meal preparation and meal, usually at someone's home, in which there is room for people's personal dietary needs, whatever they are. Our meeting in particular was focused mostly on learning more about the Whole Foods Plant-Based lifestyle. But some of us were selective because of their specific needs and none of that is a problem.

We had a group of 8 people, from eleven to seventy years of age and lots of fun was had by all.

The feedback was generally good and several people want to do it again, and the date will be announced soon on our Meetup site for this program.

The program was rich, for we wanted to emulate a whole day of living with a Whole Foods Plant-Based diet. Lots of people learned new things and folks were excited to discover different ways of preparing food they thought they knew and did not like but suddenly they liked it.

Note: Berries with breakfast are particularly emphasized, and 4-6 "fist sized" portions of green leafy vegetables during the day. It can be cooked kale, collard greens, swiss chard, spinach etc. or salads, but leafy greens are particularly beneficial for epithelial health. Dr. Robert Ostfeld tends to recommend "at least four" portions per day, but Dr. Esselstyn would recommend six.

Recipes: A Day of #WFPB food

For reference the recipes are provided here in order.


Note: We had Bob's Red Mill Steel Cut Oats.
We cooked some steel-cut oats, and added some finely shredded apple (with a mandolin), some blueberries, some cinnamon, and some raisins. Let it simmer a few more minutes till the apple gets soft and the raisins absorb some of the cooking liquid as well.
We served it topped with extra cinnamon and balsamic vinegar.

A side of cooked kale, dressed with balsamic vinegar.

Notice that the cooking water from kale or any vegetable can be used as is for e.g. cooking grains, or to create a more elaborate vegetable bouillon.


  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Green leaf lettuce
  • Some spinach leaves
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers in three colors (red, yellow, green)
  • some Chia seeds, some ground flax seed (good for those Omega-3's)
  • some cooked Quinoa (cooked in some home made vegetable bouillon, made of cooking water from kale with some Marmite or some Braggs Liquid Aminos
  • Jane Esselstyn's 3/2/1 dressing: 3 measures of balsamic vinegar, 2 measures of dijon mustard, and 1 measure of maple syrup.
  • some olives, some capers, some artichoke hearts in water.

Take Out: Collard Green Roti's

Take a boiled leaf of Collard Green and put a bit of hummus along the stem, add in some rice, add some vegetables, which can be boiled, or sometimes raw.
Today we used some grated carrots, some chopped scallions, some cilantro and parsley, a bit of kimchi. For our rice we used Lundberg's Sprouted Brown Basmati. Roll it up, and I prefer to roll it in a half sheet of paper towel and put it in a sandwhich bag, so I come prepared to every meal.
We also used some nutritional yeast for seasoning.

Oil-free hummus is easy to make. Leave out the tahini, use a little liquid from the can of chick peas, the juice of one lemon, 2 garlic cloves minced, and add a splash of Braggs liquid aminos. Obviously, you can make hummus with various spices, parsley, cilantro, jalapeno, pimento... as you wish the number of variations is endless. A Nutribullet or similar food processor makes it all easy as pie.


Note: We fudged it a little bit, but the meal plan for the dinner was Rice (Lundberg Sprouted Brown Basmati), with Lentil Stew, and Side dishes of cooked spinach, and Citrus Berry Salsa. In this case, we did not quite make the spinach.

Suppers Breakfast Challenge Lentil Stew
See the full recipe on the link above.

Suppers Citrus Berry Salsa
Again, see the full recipe at that link.

We forgot to make the spinach with the dinner, but it should be noted that generally the #WFPB recommendation is to have green leafy vegetables 4-6 times a day, so normally you would always have a salad with every meal or some green leafy vegetable as a side dish.

In all, with the massive amount of food we had, the bill was only $11.50 per person, good for an $3.50 refund and there were plenty of leftovers.

Interestingly, two of us go to Dr. Robert Ostfeld, the cardiologist at Montefiore who teaches this diet, but one other person had already heard about the diet from a friend in New Jersey, who in turn got it from their cardiologist.

WE had a visit from a journalism student from NYU, and we eagerly await her report as well.

Summary of #WFPB Principles:

The Whole Foods, Plant-Based lifestyle is a new nutritional paradigm, as defined by T. Colin Campbell in his book Whole, and based on the research that was published in The China Study. The principles are simplicity itself:
  • Eat only plant-based, whole foods (cooked or raw is fine)
  • Do not worry about proteins (protein deficiency does not exist if you follow this program). You need only 5-10% of calories from protein, and even plant-based many get closer to 15%. Overall, circa 10% of calories should come from protein and 10% from fat.
  • Do not use added oils or sugar, go light on salt or even oily fruit (avocado, nuts, coconut). Serious heart patient may have to avoid all oily fruits. 
  • The only supplement you ever need is B12, which nobody gets in sufficient quantity, usually one every other day is all you will need. All other supplements are good only for expensive urine, unless specifically medically indicated. The #WFPB lifestyle provides an abundance of nutrients, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and aside from B12, supplementation is moot.
  • Dieting does not exist in #WFPB. Dieting means tinkering within a dysfunctional nutritional paradigm. #WFPB provides whole nutrition automatically, so eat to your heart's content and you will revert to your optimal weight by default. Start eating garbage and the weight will come back. Of course there are exceptions like food allergies, or simply preferences, but within the paradigm there is no dieting, such as portion control, etc.
  • It is recommended you get some berries every day (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries) preferably with breakfast, work some chia seeds and or fresh-milled flax seed into salads, etc. for Omega-3s and 4-6 fist-sized portions of green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, swiss chard, etc. for epithelial health.
Bonus: here is the account of an FDNY firefighter on a plant-based diet:

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Chang-Li Power Breakfast with Natto

My regular #WFPB style breakfast is steel-cut oats with fruits, but every once in a while, I have a hankering for something that puts hair on your chest, and one of my faves is rice pilaf with natto.

For this recipe, I bought almost all ingredients at Chang-li, hence I named it after them.

- a cup of cooked Rice pilaf (GABA process if you can do it).
- some bean sprouts, some onion or scallion, a pimento, a jalapeno pepper and a clove of garlic.
- natto
- a 1/4 cup of vegetable bouillon (cooking water from kale, spinach, etc.)
- some home made gomasio (roasted sesame seeds ground, with some himalayan salt, and a bit of nutritional yeast)

Preparation is easy:
- I always cook rice/rice pilaf ahead for a few days.
- begin with frying the onions, pimento (sliced!) and jalapeno for 5 minutes dry, until they are just starting to brown, add in the garlic and let it go for another minute then add the vegetable bouillon and the bean sprouts.
- when the bean sprouts begin to soften add in the natto and seasoning (mustard and soy sauce are in the package)
- serve over rice pilaf
- season with gomasio to taste.

When you do it this way, you can use cold rice from the fridge for the heat from the veggies will provide enough heat so you can eat it instantly.

Mixture of onions, peppers, garlic and sprouts with natto

Natto in display case at Chang-Li
Here are some of the ingredients I used:

Natto, open

And here is some of the rice pilaf:
12 grain rice pilaf

Bean Sprouts
Pimentos at Neerob Bazaar
Pimentos and sprouts:

The gomasio seasoning is easy to make, just toast some sesame seeds (Chang-Li has a great selection of sesame seeds) in a frying pan till they start to pop (brown, not charred), grind them up and mix with some himalayan salt and nutritional yeast. You can save that in your fridge, it is a great all around low-sodium seasoning.

There you have it, folks... this is a beautiful power breakfast for the fall, that is sure to get your engines started.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Our Monthly #WFPB Supper for Sept 17

Well, vegans make mistakes too, so this time our monthly dinner became a bit of an improv, but it was great fun.
Besides Fr. David and myself there were two visitors from Manhattan. Through a comedy of errors we also had a dinner the night before, and the following recipe follows the best of both evenings. Khokon did the cooking on Monday, and the staff at Packsun did it on Tuesday.

We had a salad of lettuce, tomato, onions, garlic with lemon and lime juice, with salt and pepper.

And for dinner we had a simple dish of steamed cauliflower, with a sauté of green tomatoes, okra, string beans and onions and garlic, with turmeric, salt & pepper, served over a bed of sprouted brown basmati rice.

On both nights we sampled some WFPB rotis rolled in boiled Collard Green leaves instead of flour roti's (too oily!), inside oil-free spicy hummus, string beans, rice pilaf, some mushrooms roasted with rosemary, and some Kimchi. These were prepared by your tireless blogger based on what he learned at Plantstock 2017. It is a great idea for it is a form of portable #WFPB food you can take with you anywhere if you're at risk of having to eat commercial food. As I found out at Plantstock, the Brooklyn BP, Eric Adams, faithfully brings his own food to any and all occasions. Until the world catches on to what vegans do eat (at least if they follow #WFPB nutrition standards), instead of what they don't eat, it may be necessary to bring your own grub, and these vegetable rotis (or vegetable burritos if you will) are just the ticket. You can easily pack 2 or 3 in a lunch bag and you are good to go.

One important lesson is that 

All in all simple and delicious and we had a lovely conversation with two journalism students from NYU who were visiting.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

#WFPB and the KISS Principle with the Esselstyns

One of the most helpful things of attending this year's Plantstock conference was a presentation by mother and daughter Esselstyn, Anne Crile Esselstyn now a spry 82 years old, and daughter Jane, who is an RN. Together, they made comic duo that grabbed your attention, and presented a stand-up comedy routine that was still quite serious and drove across one big point: Keep It Simple, Stupid, or as it is known in polite company: the KISS principle.

Eating leafy greens 6 times a day sounds like not feasible, until you learn from mother Esselstyn how to become an expert stripper, as she has taught all her children and grand-children: an expert kale stripper, that is.

Obviously, you wast the kale and then, in one fell swoop, you strip the leaves from the stems into some kind of a colander. You boil it for 5-7 minutes, to your desired level of tenderness, and you can serve a "fist-size" plate of boiled kale at any time of the day. You can season it with balsamic vinegar, or even with one of the delectable infused balsamics from Bema and Pa's which were omnipresent at Plantstock. My favorite of the moment is the habanero-infused variety.

Another simple idea is to make a sort of a roti with collard green leaves, you can pack it with rice, some green beans, okra, or other veggie, some mushrooms, some kimchi, roll it up, and that's an easy meal you can carry with you anywhere.

In general:
  • Breakfast is oatmeal (a lot of people seem to prefer steel-cut, as do I), with whatever fruit tickles your fancy.
  • Lunch is a giant, meal salad with lots of greens and peppers, tomatoes and whatever else tickles your fancy, add some chia seeds, some ground flax seeds (make it fresh, flax meal loses a lot of its nutritional value quickly), wheat germ, etc. Oil free dressings are easy, Jane's go-to is 3/2/1: 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of mustard, and one tablespoon of maple syrup - and obviously, you can add your favorite herbs and spices to that. Plus you add a good amount of some cooked whole grain, be it quinoa, or kamut, or teff, millet, or whatever is your own favorite.
  • Dinner is the time you let your imagination run wild.
  • In between, for snacks, you can eat fruit or your little plates of leafy greens with balsamic.
This is really how simple it is. So, even though the Esselstyn clan has produced many wonderful cookbooks that can give us all inspiration, it is important to realize, that the basics are as simple as this. A child can do it. On a lot of levels, that is the most important thing to realize, for otherwise the changeover can seem daunting. Once you commit to the changeover get rid of all the junk food in your pantry, in particular any oil. Endothelial health is extremely important and all added oil produces a paralysis of the arteries, as reported here by Dr. Michael Greger on NutritionFacts: Olive Oil and Artery Function. Or, as Dr. Ostfeld at Montefiore likes to say, added oils are like having Mike Tyson for a sparring match with your arteries for a punching bag.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

About Omega-3 and Omega-6: It's the #WFPB Paradigm, stupid...

The correct balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is hard to get, nutritionally, except if you are following the #WFPB program. This is just another way of realizing that #WFPB, or also the "plant strong" and "plant perfect" diets, as Rip Esselstyn likes to call them are not "diets" per se, but more variations within a new nutritional paradigm.

The point was driven home to me rather forcefully again the other day, when I ended up facilitating an exchange between T. Colin Campbell and a biochemist friend. The said biochemist is a researcher who knows a lot about different nutrients, and often from first hand research. He is also a great critical thinker. Among other things, he made me aware of the ignominious start of the Harvard nutrition program under Frederick Stare, one of the seriously compromised researchers in the health field, who essentially was a paid promoter for the Standard American Diet, which we now know is making people sick. Nevertheless, on this occasion he was limited by the paradigm he spoke from, i.e. the Standard American Diet, and various diets that are variations on it.

The standard advice to vegans is to get some vegan EPA/DHA supplements, but it turns out that if you eat a reasonably balanced Whole Foods Plant-Based diet, you end up with Omega-3 and 6 in the proper balance almost automatically. Understanding this underscores again the fact that #WFPB is a nutritionally complete paradigm, with almost the sole exception being some B12, and maybe some D3 in winter.

Here it is in the words of Colin Campbell (in private correspondence):

When one consumes a truly whole food plant based diet, without added oil (it is the added oil not the high fat plant foods), the ratio will be around a very healthy 1:1, to 3:1 (omega 6 to omega 3). The problem with people speaking about this ratio out of context is that they are grossly omitting the myriad effects of other dietary component and, worse, the underlying biochemistry. 


In short, don't mess with success. If you're doing #WFPB, things take care of themselves nutritionally, it is within the SAD and its dietary variants where one is constantly at risk of not getting sufficient intake of one nutrient or another.

The Paradigm Shift

I remember growing up, when my parents became vegetarians, my mother was always concerned about:  but how are you going to get your proteins. And her cooking pattern for two decades largely was potatos, vegetables, and something in the place of meat. That last piece would be the protein source. There was zero knowledge or awareness that vegetables and grains have proteins, let alone enough proteins, but the truth is that spinach is 51% protein, and the lowly potato or brown rice each have about 9% protein. Plus, of course, we know now, since the China Study, that we want to beware against over consuming protein. The ideal range is 5-10% and not the more typical 15-25% which we see in SAD. More importantly, we want our proteins from plant sources, not animal sources.

What really is scary about this paradigm shift, is how long it has remained a secret, or, in the words of T. Colin Campbell:
The research in "The China Study" was handsomely funded by NIH (a very competitive process, 70 grant years of funding), was published in the very best nutrition and cancer journals and I have since presented this material to well over 150 medical schools and their conferences (over 700 total invited presentations since the book was published).
It is now forty years since Campbell began publishing papers, followed by the first edition of the book in 2005. Still, this information is not well known, although that is rapidly changing.

What is hard to fathom for many is that suddenly maximizing protein intake is no longer a virtue and, if you maximize anything, it is fiber. The other thing that is hard to understand is the no-added oil precept. We hear too much about supposedly healthy oils, that may be healthier compared to the worst, but the body still does not need them. As Dr. Ostfeld from Montefiore Hospital likes to put it, added oils are like inviting Mike Tyson to practice on your veins. For six hours after an oily meal, your veins loose their oompf. Along with that, adding oils the balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is upset, and you don't want that.

Sources of Omega-3 fatty acid for vegans

You can find ample articles online that document good sources of Omega-3 and/or how to achieve a balanced Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio. Most of it is geared to the wrong paradigm for veganism, and not to the #WFPB diet, or plant strong or plant-perfect. Often times articles point to supplements, but if you follow what Colin Campbell says above, you need not worry. Good sources of Omega-3 for vegans are Chia seeds, Flax seeds, and various vegetables. One that is especially good is Verdolaga, a.k.a. Purslane.
Purslane from Wikipedia

I recently discovered that Verdolaga grows between corn, and it was available at our Parkchester Green  Market, along with some of the sweetest corn I've tasted in years.

Simple recipe, based on the one listed on Gracelinks above: 

Potato salad with Purslane

  • essentially follow their (Gracelinks') steps, except:
  • If you can't get fresh dill, use dried, and reconstitute it with some lime juice and lemon juice. That will do the job very quickly.
  • if you do the above, you barely need and dressing for this salad other than the lime/lemon juice. But if you need more dressing, obviously you make it oil-free. 
  • That's really all, and itś finger-licking good. 
For the Potato salad, I used the leaves, with the stems I made a sauce, with onions, garlic pimentos, some turmeric, and a cup of vegetable bouillon and a bit of arrowroot to thicken it. Et voilà, that made a great sauce over a plate of long beans over rice.

You can also add the leaves to salad, and the next project will be to cook a split pea soup with the remainder of the purslane.