Adopting a Plant-based Diet, One Step at a Time

by Tandis Bishop

The single most important thing an individual can do for their health, for the environment, and for the sake of the innocent animals is to adopt a vegetarian diet.

If you are interested in reducing or eliminating meat from your diet, remember that the transition to a vegetarian diet should be just that – a transition. New habits never take hold overnight. We are all individuals and when it comes to making lifestyle changes, we all move at our own pace. Below are some suggestions and tools you can incorporate into your life to ease your transition to a plant-based diet.

  • Start by eliminating meat from at least one meal per week.Each week, try to eliminate one more meat-based meal.This allows for a slow but progressive movement toward vegetarianism.
  • Have the right ingredients on hand to make tasty veggie foods.Here is a list with some ideas:
    • Bragg Liquid Amino’s (similar to soy sauce, great for seasoning tofu, rice, asian dishes, etc.)
    • Nutritional Yeast:A great vegetarian source of B-vitamins with a great flavor.Try it on tofu, in salad dressings and on toast.Nutritional yeast has a flavor commonly described as cheesy and nutty.
    • Spike brand seasoning (regular or salt-free): An all-purpose, all-vegetarian seasoning.Use in soups, casseroles, on tofu and tempeh, on sandwiches and salads, etc.
    • Vegetarian Stir-fry sauces: Simple to add to any vegetable dish for extra flavor.
    • Thai Curry paste for making Thai dishes or try Indian curry for Indian dishes.
    • Vegetarian chicken-flavor broth or powder: For soups, or as a seasoning.
    • Miso paste: season veggies, also good for making a soup base.
  • Try different types of meat-substitutes:
    • Vegetarian deli meat slices:Great for sandwiches. Try the many different brands available at DTE.
    • Vegetarian ground beef, sausage patties, etc. Put them in your tacos, burritos or have for breakfast.You won’t even miss the real thing!
    • Veggie burgers. DTE carries a wide selection of brands and flavors.Some taste very meat-like, others resemble meat less, but have their own delicious flavor.
    • Fried tofu cubes: There are many ways to make great-tasting tofu. Experiment with recipes on our recipe page at downtoearth.org.
    • Tempeh:A lesser-known soy product than tofu, but another delicious and nutritious meat-alternative.
  • Down to Earth is a wonderful source for products, recipes, and ideas to help you in your transition to a more plant-based diet.Please visit our store or our website.We are here to help!

The Benefits of Essential Fatty Acids

by Tracy Rohland

Proper nutrition and weight loss are both hot topics in society today. It is important to be aware that weight loss does not necessarily translate into proper nutrition. Many individuals believe that in order to lose weight, one must eliminate fat from the diet. Unfortunately, this can be very harmful to the body as certain types of fats are critical to proper function of the body. These beneficial fats are known as Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). They are essential because your body cannot produce them on its own so they must come from your diet. The two primary EFAs are known as linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3).

These EFAs are necessary for the following processes:

  • Formation of healthy cell membranes
  • Proper development and functioning of the brain and nervous system
  • Proper thyroid and adrenal activity
  • Hormone production
  • Regulation of blood pressure, liver function, immune and inflammatory responses
  • Regulation of blood clotting: Omega-6 FAs encourage blood clot formation, whereas Omega-3 oil reduces clotting. The ideal is to achieve a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 FAs
  • Crucial for the transport and breakdown of cholesterol
  • Support healthy skin and hair

Sources of Omega 3’s include flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, soybean and its products such as tofu and tempeh. Walnuts, and dark green veggies, such as kale, collards, chard, parsley, and cereal grasses (wheat & barley grasses), are also good sources. This is because all green (chlorophyll-rich) foods contain Omega-3 FA in their chloroplasts.

Sources of Omega-6 fatty acids include nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, and dairy.

Experts advise that one should consume a minimum of between 3% and 5% of calories from Omega-6 and about .5% to 1% from Omega-3 FAs. In a 2000 calorie diet, that is about 12 grams of Omega-6 and 3 grams of Omega-3.

A vegetarian diet is naturally low in fat, so be sure to include EFA-rich foods in your healthy lifestyle.

Footnotes: 

Down to Earth carries a variety of high quality essential fatty acids both in liquid form and in capsules. We also carry a huge selection of whole food products rich in Essential Fatty Acids.

NIH Recommended Diet Reduces Risk of Heart Disease

by Tracy Rohland

The latest news on healthy eating is related to the government-recommended DASH diet. DASH: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was developed by the U.S. National Institute of Health to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and improve insulin sensitivity. The diet promotes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk and plant-based protein over meat. Recent studies have shown that people following this diet greatly reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke. The benefits of this type of diet however, do not stop at simply reducing the risk of life-threatening conditions. A wholesome, plant-based diet is the ideal regimen for all who are interested in maintaining the health of their body.

Following are some tips for adopting a plant-based diet:

  • Enjoy whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat berries, oats, buckwheat, rye and so on. Stone ground bread, sprouted bread, white rice, and pasta are fine in moderation, but the less refined the grain is, the better.
  • Luxuriate in a variety of vegetables. Fresh vegetables are ideal, but frozen and canned varieties work well when there just isn’t time to prepare fresh produce.
  • Include a variety of protein-rich legumes such as beans, lentils and tofu.
  • Nuts and seeds such as almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds are excellent snacks or additions to a meal. Soak nuts in water overnight to further increase their healthful properties.
  • Fresh fruit is loaded with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. But should be eaten in moderation as fruits are high in sugar and can negatively affect blood sugar.

Our Down to Earth Community Outreach Team is here to assist people in making the move towards a plant-based diet. We offer vegetarian nutrition classes, cooking classes, store tours, and can provide answers to any questions you may have along the way. The key is to go at your own pace. Even if a quarter of your diet is improved, it’s still a big step and will help as you move forward.

Eating Fats, Eating Healthy

by Tracy Rohland

There are many diets on the market that turn people away from all fats because they are considered bad. But good fat is a necessary part of a healthy diet. Your body needs fat to maintain its vibrancy. Fat protects your body, keeps your cells properly functioning, and is critical for the absorption of many essential vitamins and minerals. The goal is to incorporate beneficial fats into your diet and eliminate the harmful fats. A low-fat vegetarian diet, rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, is the perfect option for health and wellness.

Healthy fats come in the form of mono and poly-unsaturated fatty acids and can be found in a variety of organic, cold-pressed vegetable oils, and in foods like avocados, olives, and a variety of nuts and seeds. Harmful fats are found in most processed food, fried food, meat and eggs. By eliminating the sources of detrimental fats and instead using healthy fats, you are on your way to a healthier lifestyle.

Essential Fatty Acids from Plant Foods

by Tracy Rohland

Contrary to popular belief, eating fish is not the best way to get your essential fats. Most fats can be synthesized by our own bodies and are not necessary to have in our diet. However, there are a few unsaturated fats that we cannot make which we have to get from food called “essential” fats. Humans and animals cannot create double bonds after the third and sixth carbon on the chain, but plants can. Only plants can synthesize omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 fats (linoleic acid) which are therefore referred to as “essential” fatty acids. Fish store the Omega-3 fats from the algae they consume. Fish themselves do not produce omega-3 fatty acids. Your healthiest sources of Essential Fatty Acids can be found in a variety of plant foods.

Essential fats are available in abundant quantities in a diet based on whole starches, vegetables, and fruits. In addition to providing essential fats, plants have NO cholesterol, are lower in saturated fat than fish, and don’t contain mercury, lead, toxic waste and other pollutants commonly found in fish.

It is best to consume plant foods high in essential fats in their whole form. As a whole food, the fats are perfectly packaged with other essential nutrients like carbohydrates, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and lots of important phytochemicals. This naturally balanced combination allows fats to metabolize efficiently in the body. When free fats (oils) are stripped away from the other ingredients found in grains, fruits, seeds or nuts, they become high in calories and lose their additional nutrients. Therefore, whole plant foods rich in fat are considered to be health-promoting; just keep in mind that they can contribute to weight gain when eaten excessively. Essential fats in oil form can be taken as “insurance” if you feel your diet is lacking those whole foods.

The following is a list of plant foods rich in essential fatty acids:

Sources of Omega-3 fatty acids: flax seeds, hemp seeds, canola, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, soybeans and its products such as tofu and tempeh. Dark green veggies such as kale, collards, chard, parsley, seaweed, and cereal grasses (wheat & barley grasses) are also good sources because all green (chlorophyll-rich) foods contain Omega-3 fats in their chloroplasts.

Sources of Omega-6 fatty acids: Sunflower, safflower, soybeans, hemp seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, and most grains.

Fruits Not Fries

by Tracy Rohland

There is little shock in the fact that America has become a “fast food culture.” The abundance of fast food restaurants across the nation is leading many people to clogged arteries and added pounds. So, while fast food restaurants can not be blamed for the whole obese epidemic in the United States today, they certainly can take responsibility for being a big part of the problem.

The cheap price and convenience of fast food makes it difficult to avoid, and their “kid-friendly” advertising insures that youngsters become devoted customers at an early age. According to an article by Jeffrey Zurlinden, about 96 percent of American school-aged children recognize Ronald McDonald, second only to Santa Claus. Equally alarming is the fact that almost every American child eats at a McDonald's® at least once a month.

It is easy to say, “Stop eating fast food,” but to those who have gotten into the habit of eating fast food regularly, it is easier to say than do. Below are a few suggestions for making the transition easier:

The key to success is to PLAN AHEAD. If you know you are going to be out for the day, bring snacks like fresh or dried fruits, carrots and celery, nuts, and whole grain crackers to hold you over until you can get home for a real meal. If you need more than a snack, pack a sandwich of lettuce, tomato, sprouts, avocado, cucumber and cream cheese on sprouted bread. Play around with different combinations of the above, add tofu for some extra protein, and sprinkle with olive oil and vinegar if cream cheese is too heavy. For an even easier sandwich, make a peanut butter n’ jelly with quality peanut butter (the ingredients should be nothing more than peanuts and salt) and naturally sweetened jelly (NO refined sugar) on whole wheat or sprouted wheat bread. Everything should of course be organic whenever possible. Bring your own water bottle and drink lots of water throughout the day.

Of course, there are times when eating out is unavoidable. In such cases, there is still no excuse to order the super sized cheeseburger, fries, and coke meal. Nearly all fast food places have salad and/or fruit bowl options. Order a green salad with either light dressing or no dressing (lemon juice, salt and pepper, or oil and vinegar make great alternatives to fat laden dressings). It you are in a metropolitan area, there is likely to be a Subway sandwich shop where you can get a tasty veggie sandwich on wheat bread for under $4. Also look for a Jamba Juice or other smoothie store where you can get a healthy smoothie and a snack or sandwich for lunch. Always be on the lookout for vegetarian and health food cafes, like Down to Earth, as these usually offer nutritious and delicious options. If you are eating breakfast out, steer clear of fast food. Even if it is the last thing on earth, NEVER eat one of those excessively processed French toast, egg and ham and cheese muffins or, heaven forbid, the “low-carb bowl.” Bagel and smoothie shops offer great breakfast options on the go. An even better option is to stop into a grocery store and get a banana and plain cultured yogurt.

If Americans are going to reverse the growing problem of obesity, fast food consumption must be reduced. Once the habit is broken, it is really quite easy to avoid eating fast food. You will find that your body feels better and that you lose the desire for fatty greasy food. It is also easier on the pocketbook when money is spent on fruits, vegetables, and healthy breads that can make many meals, rather than on a single meal that your body is not going to appreciate. Be good to your body as well as your finances by remembering that fruits go a longer way than French fries.

Keeping Your Heart Healthy

by Tracy Rohland

A healthy diet is the best defense against high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excess body weight; the three main factors contributing to heart disease. In honor of February as Heart-Healthy month, Down To Earth brings you some tips to maintain your heart plus a few recipe ideas.

The following is based on the American Heart Association guide for healthy American Adults:

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Choose 5 or more servings per day.
  • Eat a variety of grain products, especially whole grains and bran, which is particulary good for the heart. Choose 6 or more servings per day.
  • Include organic milk products, legumes, beans, seeds and nuts.
  • Choose healthy fats like Omega 3 fatty acids from flax, nuts, and avocados.
  • Limit your intake of foods high in calories or low in nutrition. This includes foods with a lot of added sugar like soft drinks and candy.
  • Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol (animal products such as red meat, chicken, pork and eggs are high in these fats).
  • Limit your daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Maintain your ideal weight.
  • Get plenty of physical activity. Walk or do other activities for at least 30 minutes a day.

Maintaining Your Ideal Weight with a Vegetarian Diet

by Tracy Rohland

A low-fat, vegetarian diet is a great step toward arriving at and maintaining a healthy weight. If your meals are always abundant in fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains, it is easy to avoid excess fat.

Vegetable oils like olive, sunflower, and grapeseed oil are healthy in small quantities as a salad dressing or for light sautéing. Always avoid fried foods and foods with hydrogenated oils. When eating dairy products, choose low-fat varieties and take a lactase enzyme if you have trouble digesting them. Enzymes are an excellent addition to any diet as they promote proper digestion and assimilation of the food we eat. Enzymes also assist in elimination, which is important in losing weight.

E. coli 0157:H7

Unseen by the human eye, dangerous microorganisms can silently contaminate any appetizing meal. Tiny as they may be, once ingested, these one celled bacterium have an extraordinary ability to create havoc within the human body. Although there are many different pathogenic microorganisms, the E. coli 0157:H7 bacterium is one of the most common and dangerous. Even though it was discovered twenty years ago, E. coli 0157:H7 has only recently been recognized by the public because of its sudden prevalence in America's food supply. Most commonly found in ground beef, E. coli 0157:H7 tainted hamburgers are the leading cause of human infection. In the past ten years about half a million Americans have been made ill from E. coli 0157:H7.

E. coli 0157:H7 is a mutated version of the friendly E. coli bacteria which lives in our body. Most E. coli bacteria help us to digest food, produce enzymes, and guard against threatening organisms, but the mutated version is not so friendly; an infected person generally experiences bloody diarrhea and intense stomach cramps while young children and the elderly are prone to much more serious illness and even death. Once ingested, E. coli 0157:H7 releases a toxic substance called a Shiga toxin. Usually the Shiga toxin attacks only the intestinal wall (resulting in bloody diarrhea and stomach cramps) but in four percent of the reported cases it also enters into the bloodstream and can lead to kidney failure, anemia, internal bleeding, the destruction of vital organs, seizures, neurological damage, and strokes. E. coli 0157:H7 infection has also become the leading cause of kidney failure in children in the U.S.

Although anyone can become ill from E. coli 0157:H7, it has had the most drastic and horrendous effects on children. In 1993, after eating a contaminated hamburger, six year old Alex Donley was overcome by extreme stomach cramps and a bloody bout of diarrhea. He was in so much pain that his parents rushed him to the hospital. He was one of the four percent- the Shiga toxins had entered his bloodstream and began to destroy his internal organs. Five days after eating the tainted hamburger meat, Alex was dead. Unfortunately, in the past decade, hundreds of other children have died a similarly brutal death by consuming E. coli 0157:H7 contaminated hamburger meat.

As one great mind of the past said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. More and more people are becoming increasingly aware of the many dangers of meat consumption and in accordance with the law of supply and demand, meat-free alternatives have hit the market. Now you can buy meat-free hamburgers, deli slices, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and bacon, just to name a few. In fact, Burger King has now jumped on the bandwagon and added a new item to their menu, a meat-free hamburger! Most cannot even tell the difference between the newly innovated "healthy" meat and the old. Until recently, tasty and healthy did not seem to go hand in hand, but now healthy has gained a whole new meaning. There is no longer a need to eat a diet laced with danger.

Footnotes: 

*The information in this article was taken from Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser.

Goji Berries: Ancient Remedy Finds New Popularity

by Tandis Bishop

It wasn’t long ago when Noni Juice was all the rage. High in anti-oxidants, used for centuries by traditional healers, impressive testimonials for dozens of health ailments. Sound familiar? With such a bitter tasting juice commanding so much attention, it’s no surprise that the tangy tasting goji berry has now stolen the limelight.

Although the goji berry (“goji” means “happy”) has been used for thousands of years by herbalists in China, Tibet, and India to protect the liver, help eyesight, boost immune function, improve circulation, and promote longevity and overall wellbeing, it has only recently gained popularity in the West. It has become so popular, in fact, that Time Magazine recently named the goji berry as "superfruit" of the year. A big reason why goji berries have quickly become a favorite nutritional supplement is its impressive list of ingredients.

According to the Beijing Nutrition Research Institute analysis conducted in 1988, goji berries contain more beta carotene than carrots, more iron than spinach, 500 times more vitamin C by weight than oranges, over 18 amino acids, 21 trace minerals, and substantial amounts of vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6 and vitamin E. The analysis also discovered that the berries contain essential fatty acids and are an incredibly rich source of carotenoids (more than any other known food). What is even more impressive is the amount of antioxidants contained in goji.

In a test developed by USDA researchers out of Tufts University in Boston called the ORAC scale (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), goji berries were shown to have extremely high levels of antioxidants with 5 times more antioxidants than prunes, and ten times more than blueberries.

To truly appreciate the significance of this discovery, you must first understand the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are atoms with an odd or unpaired electron. Because they are unstable, they seek out an electron to make a stable pair. As the free radical captures an electron, it creates a new free radical missing an electron, thus creating a cascading effect that can result in cellular damage. This damage can accelerate the aging process and contribute to a host of ailments and diseases. Free radicals are constantly attacking our body via the air we breathe, water we drink, pesticides on our fruits and vegetables, preservatives in our processed food, toxic chemicals in our cleaning products, and so on. Consuming foods high in antioxidants offers our bodies a powerful weapon to combat these free radicals.

While goji berries (or goji juice) may be an excellent addition to your diet, remember, no one food is the answer to perfect health. It’s important to consume a well-balanced, wholesome diet from a variety of foods, (primarily whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and healthy plant proteins). For those of you anxious to give this “superfruit” a try, you'll find ample supplies of goji berries and goji juice at all of our Down to Earth stores.

Footnotes: 

The information in this article has been provided for educational purposes only. If you have any medical conditions or are on any prescribed medications, please consult your physician before using goji berries or other nutritional supplements.

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