2 boxes of medium firm tofu, cut into dices
50 g pine nuts
1 tsp minced ginger
1 sprig cilantro, chopped
1 small red chili, chopped
1-1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water
Source: Vegetarian Style of Tofu
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Makes 1 serving.
Source: DIY Gourmet