Building a Healthy Vegetarian Meal: Myths and Facts

Alexandra Caspero wrote . . . . .

Vegetarian meals are gaining in popularity — even with regular meat-eaters. Forty-seven percent of Americans eat at least one vegetarian meal per week, according to a recent poll by the Vegetarian Resource Group. That’s up 15 percent from similar data 10 years ago.

As more and more individuals reduce their carnivorous ways, one essential question remains: Are vegetarian and vegan diets healthy? The answer is yes. If appropriately planned, vegetarian or vegan diets can be healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

But many myths still surround the health implications of a vegetarian diet. See what the facts are when it comes to plant-based diets.

Myth #1: Vegetarians and vegans have a hard time getting enough protein.

As meat has become synonymous with protein, many consumers struggle to identify non-meat sources of this dietary building block. But adequate protein needs are easily attained through a well-planned diet. And, plant-based protein typically contains more fiber and less fat, both cornerstones of a heart-healthy diet. There are many versatile plant-based sources of protein that fit into a healthy eating plan: legumes (beans and peas), soy products, whole grains, nuts and (for lacto-ovo vegetarians) low-fat or fat-free dairy and eggs. Vegans should consume more protein than their meat and dairy-eating counterparts. That’s “because protein from whole grains and legumes has lower digestibility than animal protein,” says Reed Mangels, PhD, RD. Plant foods are encased in cellulose cell walls, which are hard to penetrate and digest. For familiar, high-protein vegan options, try bean burritos, vegetable and hummus wraps, or bean chili.

Myth #2: To build strong bones, you must include dairy in your diet.

Dairy is not the only food source that can help protect your bones. “A number of nutrients are needed for bone health, including calcium, vitamin D and protein,” says Mangels. Each of these nutrients can be found in plant foods such as kale, broccoli, bok choy, calcium-set tofu and fortified soymilk. Some vegetables like spinach and rhubarb are good sources of calcium, but they are also high in oxalates, which decrease calcium absorption, so include a wide variety of other green vegetables more often.

If you are forgoing dairy, ensure that you get the recommended daily 1,000 mg of calcium by spreading your green vegetable intake throughout the day and choosing calcium-fortified foods such as non-dairy milk, ready-to-eat cereals, orange juice and tofu. In addition to following a nutrient-rich diet, weight-bearing exercise such as yoga, running, walking and strength training is an essential component for increasing bone strength.

Myth #3: Eating soy increases your risk of breast cancer.

For vegans and vegetarians, incorporating soy in the diet is an easy way to meet both protein and calcium requirements. Despite news reports to the contrary, there is no proven soy-cancer link. “Soy doesn’t appear to have any effect on risk for breast cancer one way or the other,” says Ginny Messina, MPH, RD. In fact, she says, “there is evidence that girls who consume soy in childhood and adolescence have a lower lifetime risk for breast cancer; soy in adulthood doesn’t appear to have that effect.” No matter what your diet preference, variety is key. Swapping animal-based protein for soy is a good way to add variety to your meals. Aim for whole food sources like soybeans, tempeh, edamame and tofu.

Myth #4: Vegetarian diets are not appropriate for pregnant women, children or athletes.

A well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can meet the nutrient needs of people from all stages of life, including pregnant and lactating women, children, and even athletes. It’s just about making sure you get the nutrients you need. Pregnant women, for example, need more iron. So expectant mothers should eat plenty of iron-rich foods and include a source of vitamin C to help increase absorption (iron is not absorbed well from plant-based sources). Try these iron and vitamin C combinations: beans and salsa, broccoli and tofu, black-eyed peas and collard greens.

For infants, children and adolescents, a vegetarian diet can promote normal growth. As with adults, vegan children may have slightly higher protein needs because of how the body digests plant protein. However, these needs typically can be fulfilled if the diet provides enough calories and diversity of foods.

And while most competitive athletes require increased energy, protein and nutrient needs for optimal performance, there’s no reason that they can’t get everything they need nutritionally from plant sources. All it takes is a little diligence in menu planning.

Myth #5: Just because it is vegetarian it is healthy.

The “vegetarian” or “vegan” label doesn’t automatically equal good health. While some cookies, chips and sweetened cereal might be vegetarian foods, they are also likely high in sugar and unhealthy fats. Meatless eaters might find it easy to load up on processed foods like veggie burgers, but those items aren’t necessarily any healthier than their animal counterpart. And cheese, while a good source of calcium, also contains saturated fat and cholesterol. So what is the best way to assure a food is a good choice? Read the label. Look for low levels of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. These key nutrition label components are much better indicators of a food’s health than whether or not it is vegetarian. Being a healthy vegetarian eater means loading up on veggies, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins.

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Straight Talk About Soy

We’ve been told that regularly eating soy-based foods lowers cholesterol, calms hot flashes, prevents breast and prostate cancer, aids weight loss, and wards off osteoporosis. Some of these benefits have been attributed to a unique characteristic of soybeans—their high concentration of isoflavones, a type of plant-made estrogen (phytoestrogen). However, some of the claims made for soy were based on preliminary evidence.

In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration allowed companies to claim that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that also contain soy “may reduce the risk of heart disease.” The claim was based on early research showing that soy protein lowered levels of harmful LDL cholesterol.

A number of solid studies done since then have tempered this finding, as well as those regarding soy’s effects on other conditions.

Heart disease

A 1995 meta-analysis of 38 controlled clinical trials showed that eating approximately 50 grams of soy protein a day in place of animal protein reduced harmful LDL cholesterol by 12.9 percent.

Such reductions, if sustained over time, would have meant a 20 percent reduction in the risk of heart attack, stroke, or other forms of cardiovascular disease. However, according to a comprehensive update of soy research by the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association (AHA) published in 2000, eating 50 grams of soy a day lowers LDL only about 3 percent.

Keep in mind that 50 grams of soy protein is more than half the average person’s daily protein requirement. It’s the equivalent of 1½ pounds of tofu or eight 8-ounce glasses of soy milk a day.

Even though soy protein has little direct effect on cholesterol, soy foods are good for the heart and blood vessels because they usually replace less healthful choices, like red meat, and because they deliver plenty of polyunsaturated fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and are low in saturated fat.

Hot flashes

Soy has also been investigated as a treatment for hot flashes and other symptoms that often accompany menopause. In theory, this makes sense because soybeans are rich in isoflavones, a form of plant-based estrogen – so they could cool hot flashes by giving a woman an estrogen-like boost during a time of dwindling estrogen levels.

However, some carefully controlled clinical studies have not found this to be the case. When the AHA reviewed the evidence in 2006, it concluded that it was “unlikely that soy isoflavones have enough estrogenic activity to have an important impact” on hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.

This is a controversial area of research, and more studies are needed.

Breast cancer

Phytoestrogens don’t always mimic estrogens. In some tissues, they actually block the action of estrogen. If soy’s estrogen-blocking action occurs in the breast, then eating soy could, in theory, reduce the risk of breast cancer because estrogen stimulates the growth and multiplication of breast and breast cancer cells.

But studies so far haven’t provided a clear answer. Some have shown a benefit between soy consumption and breast cancer while others show no association.

What’s more, a handful of unsettling reports suggests that concentrated supplements of soy proteins may actually stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.

The timing of soy intake may make a difference: The Shanghai Women’s Health Study, for example, found that women with the highest soy protein intakes throughout adolescence and early adulthood had nearly a 60 percent lower risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer than women with the lowest intakes.

In one study of breast cancer survivors, both U.S. and Chinese women, soy food consumption was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Other cancers

Although substances in soy could conceivably protect against endometrial, ovarian, colorectal, prostate, and other cancers, there is no strong evidence for this.

Memory and cognitive function

A few studies have raised the possibility that eating soy could help prevent the age-related loss of memory or decline in thinking skills.

Trials have yielded contradictory results, with one showing a benefit for soy, and others showing no benefit.

Other studies suggest that too much soy could lead to memory problems. Among older women of Japanese ancestry living in Hawaii, those who relied on the traditional soy-based diet were more likely to have cognitive problems than those who switched to a more Western diet. This finding, which has yet to be confirmed by other long-term studies, could result from excessive intake of phytoestrogens or inadequate intake of something found in animal products, such as vitamin B-12.

Finally, there’s no evidence that pills containing isoflavones extracted from soybeans offer benefits, and some studies raise concerns about harmful side effects.

Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Recent Western Blood Pressure Guidelines May Boost Stroke Risk in Asian Patients

Link between blood pressure and stroke much stronger in Asia than it is in Europe/North America.

European and North American blood pressure guidelines, issued last year, may actually boost the stroke risk if used for Asian patients, particularly the elderly, suggests an expert opinion published online in the journal Heart Asia.

High blood pressure is a key risk factor for stroke, but the link between the two is much stronger in Asians than it is in Europeans or North Americans, say the experts.

The global number of people with poorly controlled high blood pressure has risen from 600 million in 1980 to almost 1 billion in 2008, and predicted to rise a further 60% to 1.56 billion by 2025.

The prevalence of high blood pressure in Asian countries has risen sharply in the past 30 years, and particularly over the past decade, as a result of increasing urbanisation and the adoption of a Western lifestyle

High blood pressure among Asian populations has unique features in terms of the response to drug treatment, risk of complications, and outcomes, say the authors. This leads to disproportionately high rates of death and ill health from stroke compared with Western populations.

“Although evidence-based and qualified guidelines have been recently released from Europe and North America, the unique features of Asian hypertensive patients raise concerns on the real clinical applicability of these guidelines to Asian populations,” write the authors.

The latest Western guidelines increased target blood pressure to 140/90 mmHg for patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease and renal failure, but this may be too high for Asian populations warn, the authors. Some Asian guidelines have recommended more stringent targets in these patients, they say.

Treating high blood pressure in elderly Asian patients is particularly challenging, they say. And the threshold for systolic blood pressure recommended by Western guidelines could boost the risk of stroke in these patients. A threshold below 140/90 mmHg might be more appropriate, they suggest.

“The paucity of data on the correct definition of the most appropriate [blood pressure] target in elderly patients, highlighted by the few available trials, should be perceived as a stimulus for future research in Asia, not as an argument for questioning the benefit of treatment,” they write.

Source: EurekAlert!

Today’s Comic

In Pictures: Foods and Drinks of Cinnamoroll Cafe, Shibuya, Japan

Cinnamoroll is a character of Sanrio

Japanese-style Salmon Nacho


1/2 tomato, coarsely diced
1/4 cucumber, about 2-inch long, diced
4 oz salmon, diced
1 pack nacho


1-1/2 cups mayonnaise
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp Japanese sweet wine
1/2 tsp sesame oil


  1. In a serving bowl, mix all dressing ingredients together.
  2. Add tomato, cucumber and salmon. Mix well and remove to serving dish.
  3. Place nacho on the side and serve.

Makes 1 serving.

Source: DIY Gourmet

Top 5 Foods to Lower Your Cholesterol

Diet can play an important role in lowering your cholesterol. Here are five foods that can lower your cholesterol and protect your heart.

Can a bowl of oatmeal help lower your cholesterol? How about a handful of walnuts or even a baked potato topped with some heart-healthy margarine? A few simple tweaks to your diet — like these, along with exercise and other heart-healthy habits — may be helpful in lowering your cholesterol.

1. Oatmeal, oat bran and high-fiber foods

Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad,” cholesterol. Soluble fiber is also found in such foods as kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes.

Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Five to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber a day decreases your total and LDL cholesterol. Eating 1 1/2 cups of cooked oatmeal provides 6 grams of fiber. If you add fruit, such as bananas, you’ll add about 4 more grams of fiber. To mix it up a little, try steel-cut oatmeal or cold cereal made with oatmeal or oat bran.

2. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids

Eating fatty fish can be heart healthy because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots. In people who have already had heart attacks, fish oil — or omega-3 fatty acids — reduces the risk of sudden death.

The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish a week. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are in:

  • Mackerel
  • Lake trout
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Albacore tuna
  • Salmon
  • Halibut

You should bake or grill the fish to avoid adding unhealthy fats. If you don’t like fish, you can also get small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from foods like ground flaxseed or canola oil.

You can take an omega-3 or fish oil supplement to get some of the benefits, but you won’t get other nutrients in fish, such as selenium. If you decide to take a supplement, just remember to watch your diet and eat lean meat or vegetables in place of fish.

3. Walnuts, almonds and other nuts

Walnuts, almonds and other nuts can reduce blood cholesterol. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, walnuts also help keep blood vessels healthy.

Eating about a handful (1.5 ounces, or 42.5 grams) a day of most nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts, may reduce your risk of heart disease. Just make sure the nuts you eat aren’t salted or coated with sugar.

All nuts are high in calories, so a handful will do. To avoid eating too many nuts and gaining weight, replace foods high in saturated fat with nuts. For example, instead of using cheese, meat or croutons in your salad, add a handful of walnuts or almonds.

4. Olive oil

Olive oil contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol but leave your “good” (HDL) cholesterol untouched.

Try using about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil a day in place of other fats in your diet to get its heart-healthy benefits. To add olive oil to your diet, you can saute vegetables in it, add it to a marinade or mix it with vinegar as a salad dressing. You can also use olive oil as a substitute for butter when basting meat or as a dip for bread. Olive oil is high in calories, so don’t eat more than the recommended amount.

The cholesterol-lowering effects of olive oil are even greater if you choose extra-virgin olive oil, meaning the oil is less processed and contains more heart-healthy antioxidants. But keep in mind that “light” olive oils are usually more processed than extra-virgin or virgin olive oils and are lighter in color, not fat or calories.

5. Foods with added plant sterols or stanols

Foods are now available that have been fortified with sterols or stanols — substances found in plants that help block the absorption of cholesterol.

Margarines, orange juice and yogurt drinks with added plant sterols can help reduce LDL cholesterol by more than 10 percent. The amount of daily plant sterols needed for results is at least 2 grams — which equals about two 8-ounce (237-milliliter) servings of plant sterol-fortified orange juice a day.

Plant sterols or stanols in fortified foods don’t appear to affect levels of triglycerides or of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol.

Other changes to your diet

For any of these foods to provide their benefit, you need to make other changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Cut back on the cholesterol and total fat — especially saturated and trans fats — that you eat. Saturated fats, like those in meat, full-fat dairy products and some oils, raise your total cholesterol. Trans fats, which are sometimes found in margarine and store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes, are particularly bad for your cholesterol levels. Trans fats raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad,” cholesterol, and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good,” cholesterol.

In addition to changing your diet, keep in mind that making additional heart-healthy lifestyle changes are key to lowering your cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about exercising, quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight to help keep your cholesterol level low.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Foods that increase cholesterol

Eating too much saturated fat increases cholesterol levels. This is why it is best to limit the amount of foods we eat that are high in saturated fats such as:

  • Butter
  • Ghee
  • Hard margarine
  • Lard, dripping and goose fat
  • Fatty meat and meat products such as sausages
  • Full fat cheese, milk, cream and yogurt
  • Coconut and palm oils and coconut cream

Additionally, many foods such as milk chocolate, toffee, cakes, puddings, pastries, pies and rich biscuits, which are made from the list above can also increase cholesterol.

Foods that naturally help to lower cholesterol

Plants do not contain cholesterol and are usually low in saturated fat so vegetables and other plant-based foods should feature regularly in a diet to lower cholesterol. These include oat cereals, barley fruit, vegetables, soya foods and drinks, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds such as:

  • Porridge
  • Oatbran
  • Oat breakfast cereals
  • Bread made with 50% oat flour or oat bran
  • Oatcakes
  • Pearl barley
  • Baked beans
  • Adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, butter beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas, edamame beans, kidney beans, lima beans, mung beans, navy beans, pinto beans, split peas, white beans
  • Red lentils, green lentils
  • Vegetables rich in soluble fibre such as okra, aubergine, citrus fruits, turnip, sweet potato and mango
  • Unsalted soy nuts (also called roasted edamame beans)
  • Soy alternative to milk
  • Soy alternative to yogurt
  • Soy mince/chunks
  • Tofu
  • Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, cashews, peanuts (always unsalted)

Cholesterol Food Myths – Eggs, Liver, Kidneys and Prawns

You may have read or heard about avoiding foods which are naturally rich in cholesterol. These include eggs, liver and kidneys, and seafood such as prawns. Whilst we do get some of our cholesterol from these animal foods such – most of us don’t need to limit these because they are also low in saturated fat.

Source: Heart UK

Sea Cucumber 海参

Jacqueline M. Newman wrote . . . . . .

This echinoderm is related to the star fish and the sea urchin, and has, like many other plants and animals on land and in sea, many names. A more acceptable name on the European continent and in France is to call them ‘bêche de mer.’ In the United States, technocrats call them ‘trepang,’ most fishermen call them ‘sea slugs,’ and you may have heard them referred to as ‘sea rats.’ The Japanese call them namako which translates to ‘sea mice’ and some Chinese do call them ‘ginseng of the sea. Should you wonder why this Chinese name, it is because they believe they have medicinal properties, as does ginseng.

Visually, there are spiny ones and smooth ones, and they are commonly purchased dried, or prepared and soaked.

Usually found at the bottom of the sea, these are reasonably sedentary animals that protect themselves giving off a toxin, some say similar to soap. The difference is, however, this toxin can kill an animal in its vicinity. These sea creatures, when ready for consumption and also when simply soaked, are gelatinous. Alive, they tend to be found in groups, some do float on or near the water’s surface, others can be well below its surface.

Full-grown, sea cucumbers are three to ten inches long and one to two inches wide. They are scavengers that eat lots of plankton and decaying organic matter. They breathe in oxygen from the water, then expel it.

Sea cucumbers of all types are used as food in China, in the rest of Asia, and in many other countries. Aside from their culinary uses, they are used in oils and creams and in other cosmetic applications. Research about them supports their use as pain relievers, in other medications, for tissue repair, and in anti-malarial medications.

Sea cucumbers were written about in the Chinese Canon of Gastronomy in the 5th to 6th centuries CE. There, they were called hai shu. In a modern dictionary, one more commonly finds them called hai shen or hoi sam.

Not limited to Asia, hundreds of varieties of sea cucumbers swim all over the world, in both warm and cold waters. As already mentioned, they are found with a prickly exterior also called a spiny one, and with a smooth exterior; and they can be black, brown, dark tan, medium tan, and a few are actually light tan.

In the Pacific, one finds the Stichopus species of the family Holothuriodea. These and others in the Atlantic are popularly consumed at New Year celebrations. One ancient Confucian recipe, called Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea, uses them with shark’s fins, ginseng, cordyceps, and tremella. Together, the foods in this recipe are holiday wishes for longevity and disease prevention. During Confucian times, they were also known as fang ci shen or fang shen. These particular names call attention to those with a four-sided thorny exterior.

Not only popular during the Spring Festival, as the New Year holiday is also known in China and by Chinese world-wide, there is great demand for these sea animals in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere. In Atlantic waters, they are commonly known botanically as Cucumaria frondosa. All over the world, they are known for their medicinal uses, their holiday uses, and their historical uses.

Chinese, Japanese, and Russian studies report their saponin or tri-terpene glycosides have a structure similar to the active components in both ganoderma and ginseng. These structures make them loved for their anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. They are also used as HIV therapy, as herpes virus inhibitors, and as long-chain sulfated polysaccharides that are chondroitin-building-block medications.

For use in the kitchen, many cooks prefer to purchase them dried while others buy theirs soaked and soft. The latter way they are mostly found in Chinese and other Asian markets. For those who do buy them dry, the recommendation is to soak them in cold water overnight, discard that water, add fresh cold water, and bring that to the boil for half an hour or more. When cooking is completed, cover them and let them cool.

The above recommendation says to repeat these two things often, sometimes needing many repetitions for as much as two to four days until they are nice and soft. When very soft, discard their intestines and any other innards, then use them in a recipe. Want to speed up this process, after one or two days of soaking, put them in fresh cold water, simmer for three hours, allow to cool, take out their innards, and touch them in many places being sure they are soft and pliable.

Before providing recipes using sea cucumbers, you might want to know that the Chinese believe they nourish one’s qi and improve one’s blood. They also tonify the kidney and reproductive organs and moisten the intestines. Traditional Chinese Medical practitioners (TCM doctors) recommend them for general weakness, to reduce frequent urination, reduce impotence, and aid general debilitation of the aged; also to increase yin and yang energy, regulate menstruation, nourish the fetus, and facilitate labor.

These TCM doctors like them used in a soup with tremella or cordyceps which will nourish yin and yang. Another recommendation is to cook them with lamb, especially from older animals, or to prepare them with pork or ham.

Sea cucumber is high in protein, has many polysaccharides, is low in fat, and helps build cartilage. For those that do not like its gelatinous texture, the only suggestion is to purchase this food/medicinal as capsules or as pills. In any form, the Chinese believe they reduce pain from arthritis even if taken in amounts as small as half teaspoon each day.

Source: Flavour and Fortune magazine