In This Issue:
Happy New Year! Well, it’s been a long time since you last heard from me, and during that time I’ve been on an amazing adventure that’s literally taken me across the globe. In this and coming editions of the “From Here to Longevity Newsletter,” I want to share with you what I’ve been discovering, how I’ve reeducated myself, and why I’ve gone through an evolution in my own thinking about nutrition.
My first book, From Here to Longevity, (which has sold over 15,000 copies and is sold out) continues to be an excellent source of information on many aspects of healthy living, and if you have a copy, I hope you’ll continue to use it as a reference. However, what I’ve learned about nutrition in the last year has inspired my entire family to adopt a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet, which is a different nutritional approach than what I recommend in my book. As a result, we’re all experiencing increased energy and vitality, better sleep, healthier digestion, clearer skin, weight loss, and a host of other physical benefits. Don’t worry – I’m working on a revised copy of my book that I plan to release this year.
The western medical model typically involves ‘adding to’ and manipulating our diets in order to mask health problems. Rather than merely adding things to our bodies (such as isolated vitamins and minerals, or pharmaceuticals that treat only the symptoms of illness), I’d like to help you begin to identify and eliminate some of the more nefarious perpetrators of ill health.
In upcoming newsletters, I’ll be discussing what, why, and how to undertake such an endeavor, one idea at a time, and before you know it, if you’re willing to put these ideas to work, there will be a halo of good health surrounding your presence!
And in keeping with tradition, each month I’ll suggest something new that you can add to your diet. After all, there’s a whole world of delicious food out there to explore, and I’ll be sharing some new favorite recipes with you.
So read on (below) for our first installment of 2008, and hopefully the beginning of your own 90-day-plan to cleanse and energize your body.
Here’s to your health,
Mitra Ray, Ph.D. and the From Here to Longevity Publishing Team
Most people love salt. Comfort foods (think macaroni and cheese, French fries, and apple pie!) often contain huge amounts of salt, fat, and sugar – and that’s one of the reasons why people love them so much. And salt is critical to human health. Salt maintains the electrolyte balance inside and outside of cells, and it regulates the amount of fluid in the body.
But as much as we love it, and as important as it is, we all know that we should limit our sodium intake. For decades, doctors have told patients with hypertension (high blood pressure) that they need to reduce the sodium in their diets. Unfortunately, other than those at high risk for hypertension, most Westerners are not urged to consume a low-salt diet.
What’s so bad about hypertension? In a nutshell, the higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart has to work to pump blood through your body, which means that your heart and arteries are much more susceptible to injury. High blood pressure increases risk of kidney failure, heart disease, stroke, eye damage, and fatty buildups in the arteries. Where am I going with this? Salt consumption is directly related to hypertension.
However, salt isn’t all bad – our bodies need salt to regulate cellular function, and we would die if we had a diet with zero salt in it. But this doesn’t mean we need run out and grab an extra large order of French Fries in the spirit of healthy cellular function! Luckily, fruits and vegetables contain as much salt as you’ll ever need. That’s right: there’s salt in your oranges and broccoli, friends. And they carry infinitely greater health benefits than those salty and fried potato wedges.
In fact, unless you are involved in extremely strenuous physical activity, you probably need never worry about whether or not you’re getting enough salt in your diet. And even serious athletes can get most of the salt that they need by eating a healthy, plant based diet, and drinking the occasional electrolyte-drink during strenuous competition.
Unfortunately though, salt is ubiquitous and almost impossible to get away from. It’s in bread, soda pop, packaged foods, cheeses, condiments, canned goods, and restaurant foods. You will be shocked at just how much salt is in the foods you typically consider healthy. You can pick up a can of low sodium, organic black beans, and surprise! Too much sodium. As a general rule, I don’t buy packaged foods where the mg of sodium per serving exceeds the calories per serving (The ratio should be less than 1 mg per 1 calorie or internationally, 0.001 gram per 1 Kcal). In fact, I try to buy as few packaged foods as possible and cook fresh whenever I can. Ultimately, we all need to be wary consumers and learn to read labels carefully.
One difficulty, however, is that salt isn’t always called salt, or sodium. Other substantial sources of salt are: baking powder, baking soda, sodium citrate (in soda and some juices), sodium nitrite (in cured meats), sodium benzoate (as a preservative), and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
MSG is so prevalent and so appalling that it deserves a few additional words. When obese rats and mice are needed for diabetes studies or other health research, they’re made fat by having MSG injected into them. The MSG triples the amount of insulin the pancreas creates, causing rats to become obese. They even have a title for these fat rodents: MSG-Treated Rats. MSG has also been linked to asthma, migraines, and heart irregularities.
And MSG is everywhere! It’s in chips, crackers. cookies, condiments, salad dressings, powdered milk, some whey and soy proteins, frozen meals, and, of course, fast food. And it’s not always called MSG. Other names for MSG are: Autolyzed Yeast, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Plant Protein Extract, and Textured Plant Protein. Also, ingredients on labels such as Natural Flavoring, Seasoning, and Spices may contain MSG as well.
A good place to start reducing the amount of salt in your diet is by beginning to eliminate all foods with MSG and high amounts of sodium for the next thirty days. The easiest way to do this is by looking at the labels on the foods you buy. You will find yourself quickly becoming a wise label-reader and in-turn, eating significantly lower amounts of processed foods.
If you’re dreading the taste of bland, boring foods, don’t worry – consider that beyond salt, there are hundreds of other spices that add wonderful flavor to foods and are perfectly healthy to consume. We have over 10,000 taste buds, yet unfortunately, there are only a handful of flavors that most of us usually encounter. Be adventurous and try some new spices!
One of the challenges we all face is that salt, sugar, and dietary fat do in-fact give our brains a larger satisfactory response than most other flavors. This is because in small amounts, they are essential; we need minerals from salt, and calories from sugar and fat, to survive. And at one time in our history, it was much harder to get salt, sugar, and dietary fat in our diets. Today though, our predilection for salt, sugar, and fat is easily over-satisfied, and is slowly killing us. Just because we crave and need a little salt, sugar, and fat doesn’t mean we should eat as much of them as we do.
In fact, I’ve found that many of the people I talk with who say they are convinced they don’t like the taste of fruits and vegetables is largely because they’ve relied on processed foods for so long that they’ve literally numbed their taste buds to the wonderful flavors that exist naturally in fruits and vegetables. If you’re such a person, take heart – you especially will benefit from laying off of the salt for the next 30 days. Once your palate has readjusted, you’ll discover that most whole food, plant-based (WFPB) meals are truly delicious.
So grab some cayenne – or garlic, or cumin, or basil, etc. And feel free to have a salt shaker on your table. I prefer to get my little bit of salt from sea-salt crystals in a salt-grinder. Just make sure that you use salt after your food is prepared, rather than adding salt during the preparation. If you’re relying on fresh, whole, plant-based foods for the majority of your caloric intake, a bit of table salt or sea-salt won’t hurt you.
No, I’m not talking about lifting weights (though you won’t hear me complaining if you you’d like to try that, too). I’m talking about pumping more iron into your body. There’s a popular fallacy that the best source of iron is beef, but there are iron-rich plant foods that are much healthier for you.
Iron rich foods include all legumes (beans, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.), sesame seeds, squash seeds, spinach and other dark leafy greens, and most nuts.
So why is iron important? Iron is necessary to create hemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen from our lungs to every tissue in our bodies.
Here are a few easy ways to get more iron into your diet:
- Sprinkle sesame or pumpkin seeds onto a spinach salad or soups.
- Eat hummus as a spread on sandwiches, or as a dip for broccoli, red peppers, or other favorite vegetables.
- Grind up cashews in a spice grinder and sprinkle over food as a parmesan replacement (it really works!)
- Try blanching your veggies. If you find the taste of dark greens to be too bitter, blanch them rather than cooking them until they’re mushy, and then add a squirt of lemon.
- Lastly, anyone who says that they must really need iron because they’re craving beef should realize that their body is experiencing the same kind of withdrawal as a smoker trying to quit smoking. You should not take a craving for meat too seriously, since it’s no different than a craving for caffeine, sugar, alcohol, etc. Science continues to prove that red meat just has too much carcinogenic animal protein and artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol.
Furthermore, evidence shows that animal-based sources of iron may lead to unhealthy, elevated levels of iron stores because our bodies absorb iron at an unintelligent, set pace. Plant-based sources of iron, on the other hand, allow the body to absorb iron according to the body’s varying and true need. Additionally, the presence of vitamin C that occurs in vegetation (not in animal products) works together in synergy with the iron it contains, which allows for this healthier, body-intelligent absorption.
Juice Plus® and Juice Plus Complete® are excellent, plant-based sources of iron.
This is a quick, delicious recipe that’s both high in iron and low in sodium.
The are two keys to this easy meal. The first: use a hand blender at the end to give the soup a rich, creamy consistency that you don’t get with whole beans. The second: use your favorite fresh or jarred salsa in the soup. It’s especially good with any kind of chipotle or other smoky flavored salsas.
Creamy Black Bean and Salsa Soup
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2-3 cloves garlic chopped
- 3T vegetable stock or water (see below)
- 6 (15 oz) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
- 4.5 cups vegetable stock or water
- 1T ground cumin seeds
- 3 cups salsa
In a stockpot, saute onions and garlic in 3Ts vegetable stock until soft and just beginning to color (I like to add the garlic just during the last few minutes)
Add beans, broth, salsa, and spices and bring up to a simmer.
Continue to cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
With a hand blender, puree mixture until smooth or to desired consistency. Continue to simmer for about 10 minutes.
Optional Toppings: cilantro, parsley, red onions, or crushed corn chips.
Easy Vegetable Stock
There are a couple of easy ways to make vegetable stock, which is useful for so many things besides just soup. It works in place of oils when sauteing vegetables, and you can freeze ice-cube sized amounts for those recipes that only call for a few Tablespoons. One ice cube is equivalent to about 2Ts of broth.
The easiest method is to save all of your vegetable bits when making salads and other veggie dishes. This inclueds stalks, leaves, ends, broccoli stems, etc. Over the course of a couple of days, it’s pretty easy to collect 2 – 3 cups of veggie bits. Toss them into a large stock pot with an onion (coarsly chopped), and a bunch of fresh garlic, fresh Italian herbs, and/or dried herbs of your choice. Fill pot with water (10 or so cups). Boil for a couple of hours, then drain the stock into glass jars to store.
If you’re someone who really likes a specific recipe to follow, or you are in need of stock and don’t have any veggie bits around, here’s a nice, all purpose stock.
(adapted from a recipe by Donna Klein):
- 1.5 pounds onions, chopped
- 4 carrotts, scrubbed and coarsely chopped
- 8 ounces (about 6 small stalks, leaves and all) celery, coarsely chopped
- 1 garlic head, cloves separated, crushed with flat side of knife and peeled
- 12 cups water
- 12 sprigs flat leaf parsley
- 2 T fresh whole thyme leaves or 2t dried thyme, crumbled
- 2 large bay leaves
In a large stock pot, add carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, about 20 to 25 minutes, adding a bit of water if needed to prevent sticking.
Add water, parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Remove from heat and let broth rest covered for 1 hour.
Scoop out vegetables.
This broth can be tightly covered and refriegerated for up to 1 week, or frozen up to 4 months.
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