Monday, December 17, 2012

Betsy's Amazing Vegan Couscous

My tennis friend, Betsy, plays a really mean game of tennis, but who knew she also makes an equally mean vegan couscous?  Betsy made the most delicious couscous salad for our post-match feast last week, and generously offered to share it up here on the Vegan Next Door’s blog.  It was flavored beautifully – a little bit sweet, a little bit savory, with a little bit of crunch.  It looked as good as it tasted – which is probably why the massive bowl of couscous was a bigger hit than all the Christmas cookies!

1 box of couscous (plain…not flavored, ~17 oz) cooked then left to cool.
1½ cups of any combination of chopped yellow, red and orange peppers
1 ¼ cups toasted, slivered almonds
1-1 1/4 cups currants or golden raisins
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 cup chopped green onion (white and green parts)
1 15 oz. can low-salt garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup chopped parsley

1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
¾ t. cumin
¾ t. curry powder

Whisk dressing ingredients together until well blended. Pour on salad just before serving, then stir well. Serve at room temperature.

PS.  As you all know, I am not a big fan of oil.  However, this recipe literally makes about 14 servings (I’m not kidding) so each serving probably has about ½ of a teaspoon of oil or something minor.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nope - Oil is Still Not Healthy!

I’ve already blogged on the vagaries of oil.  You’ll remember back in October of 2011 I made some salient points about the research on oil:

  • The Lyon Heart Study turned olive oil into a health food when they found that the Mediterranean Diet, high in olive oil, helped people who had had at least one previous heart attack reduce their chance of further cardiac events by 50-70%.  HOWEVER, what you never heard was that a full 25% - one out of every four people on the Mediterranean diet – still had another heart event or died.  (de Lorgeril, et al.  Mediterranean Diet, Traditional Risk Factors, and the Rate of Cardiovascular Complications After Myocardial Infarction; Final Report of the Lyon diet Heart Study.  Circulation, 1999 Feb 16;99(6):779-85.)
  • Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, on the other hand, published his results of patients who had had an average of three previous cardiac events before he put them on a vegan diet with no added fat – including oil – and not one patient ever had another cardiac event in twelve years!  (Esselstyn CB Jr.  Updating a 12-year experience with arrest and reversal therapy for coronary heart disease (an overdue requiem for palliative cardiology).  Am J Cardiology.  1999 Aug, 84(3):Pages 339-341)
  • In yet another study, students were assigned to a group who ate a fat free breakfast of 900 calories versus a fatty breakfast of 900 calories.  The arteries of the group that had no fat in their breakfast bounced right back after being constricted for five minutes; but the arteries of the group that had the fatty breakfast took up to six hours to regain their ability to dilate and contract normally.  All oil is 100% fat.  Even olive oil.  (Vogel RA.  Brachial artery ultrasound: a noninvasive tool in the assessment of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins.  Clin Cardiol.  1999 Jun;22(6 Suppl):II34-9.)
  • Researchers at the University of Maryland found that eating bread dipped in olive oil reduced the arteries’ ability to dilate by 31%.  (Vogel RA, Corretti MC, Plotnick GD.  The postprandial effect of components of the Meditterranean diet on endothelial function.  J of Amer Col Card.  2000 Nov;36(5))

In addition to all this disconcerting research on oil’s affects on your heart and blood vessels, there is new evidence that vegans may be putting themselves at a health risk that meat and dairy eaters don’t face to the same extent:  Their omega 6 versus omega 3 ratio is dangerously high.

Omega 6 fatty acids have the potential to increase blood pressure, inflammation, platelet aggregation, thrombosis, vasospasm, allergic reactions and cell proliferation; omega 3 fatty acids have the opposite affects.  We need both, but we don’t want to let omega 6 acids get too high in our bodies compared to our omega 3s.  A healthy omega 6:omega 3 ratio is approximately 4:1 - 6:1.  However, now that the vegan diet has become so popular and physicians are getting more data about vegan health, they are finding that, while other measures like cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels are astoundingly good, the omega 6:omega 3 ratio is not:  Many vegans’ ratio is shockingly high – even as high as 120:1.

If the vegan diet is so healthy, why are many vegans’ omega 6:omega 3 ratios so bad?  Because many types of oil are high in omega 6 fatty acids, and most vegans eat diets high in oil.

Omega 6 and Omega 3 essential fatty acids compete for enzymes involved in their conversion, so eating high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids can compromise the omega 3’s ability to work, and this can harm your health and cause disease.  If you use huge amounts of oily salad dressings, eat out at restaurants often, or cook with a lot of oil, you could actually be putting yourself at a high risk for future health problems. 

Here are some tips from Brenda Davis, RD, for keeping your omega 6:omega 3 ratio healthy as a vegetarian or vegan:1
1.       Avoid the worst types of oil for their high omega 6 acids: corn, grapeseed, safflower, sesame and sunflower oil. 
2.       Include omega 3s in your diet by eating flaxseeds, hempseeds, walnuts, green leafy vegetables and soybeans.
3.       If you are going to use oil, use flax oil, hempseed oil or canola oil.
4.       Avoid saturated fats.  Vegans can do this easily by avoiding coconut and tropical oils; vegetarians must give up most all dairy and eggs!

Be healthy!  Don’t assume that as a vegan, you are immune to disease and poor health.  There are still a few things that you need to be mindful of to have optimum health, and eating a diet with an appropriate omega 6:omega 3 ratio is one of them!


Friday, November 9, 2012

Speaking Up

Every once in a while, we get (figuratively) slapped on the face, and while it can really sting at the time, the upside is that we are often left with a totally new perspective which can really help us to grow and change.  This happened to me last summer.

One of my blog posts was used (with my permission) by another vegan website.  It was a post I particularly liked, from August 2011, called “Veg*n Activism.”  In it, I cautioned vegans from turning off their friends and family by ranting, raving and starting arguments about the vegan diet, and instead condoned the idea of “compassionate activism.”  I wrote:

“Compassionate activism has three steps:
1.    Never assume that your way is the right way for everyone. 
2.    Set a good example that exemplifies your beliefs
3.    Spread your beliefs using peaceful methods and means.”

Well, one reader did not like step 1, “Never assume that your way is the right way for everyone,” and she certainly let me know about it! When I first got her feedback, I really didn’t agree with her.  I strongly believe that we all have different beliefs, values and cultural differences, and that just because I believe one way doesn’t mean that I should force that belief upon anyone else.  For example, I don’t think it’s right to take another life for my lunch.  However, other people and cultures believe very differently, and who am I to say my belief is better, more ethical, etc?

However, as this reader continued to comment on my blog, she eventually made a point that really slapped me in the face.  Whether or not it’s ethical to eat animals is one issue; whether it’s ethical to eat animals that were raised on a factory farm is another issue, and we all know that almost every animal product on almost every shelf in America comes from a factory farmed raised animal.  She likened factory farms to concentration camps in the Holocaust, which is pretty thought provoking. We are all outraged by the Holocaust, and I would like to think that if I lived in the times of the Holocaust (or slavery, or a similar horrific time in history) that I would be one of the people that marched against it in Washington, and spoke out about it when the topic was brought up at cocktail parties.

However, when people ask me at a cocktail party why I am vegan, I don’t want to offend or force my beliefs on others, so I say something polite about how the factory farms are really terrible, and a meat based diet is terrible for our health and our environment … but I don’t start telling gory stories about the atrocities in a factory farm.  I have always justified this approach by believing that I was encouraging people to try a vegan diet by setting a positive, uplifting example, and not making them want to run when they see me coming!  There is a lot of truth to that way of thinking.  People don’t want to be preached at, and made to feel bad about their current choices.

However, this approach doesn’t necessarily move people to action, either.  If I wouldn’t stay quiet about slavery, why would I stay relatively quiet about the horrific lives and deaths of (literally) billions of animals across the world in factory farms?  Yes, I write books and blogs, I lecture and speak.  I’m not staying quiet, per se, but I am usually preaching to the choir.  People seek out vegan materials when they have already been convinced that they need to seek it out.  I just help push them along and be successful at it.

I think we vegans – and I’m pointing at myself here – need to be further upstream in that sequence, and convince other people that they need to seek out the vegan diet in the first place.  I think, given the magnitude of the atrocities happening to billions of lives every year, we have an obligation to reach out to those people proactively. The question for me is, how do I do this in a way that will open the person up to my information, and not close them down?  To be polite, yet still effective?

I don’t know that I have a good answer, but here are some of my ideas:
·      When someone asks why I’m vegan, I can say, “There are amazing benefits to our health and the environment that come with a vegan diet, but my main reason is that there are some truly unconscionable things that happen in the factory farms.  Would you be open to hearing a couple of examples, or could I suggest a book that you may want to pick up?  I really think it’s one of the most important ethical issues of our time.”  By asking if they are willing to hear some examples and getting their approval before jumping in, perhaps they will be much more likely to be open to hearing the message. 
·      Instead of solely blogging and writing for other vegan sites, perhaps I (and you!) should write and submit articles to mainstream media.
·      Find a way to work into conversations with people that I’m vegan.  Most people will then ask about it, at which point I can then go back to the first bullet point and see how much they are willing to talk about it.

These are just a few easy ideas.  Do you have any more?  Please comment!

I think the key point I want to make is that we really are experiencing one of the worst ethical issues to face our generation.  It’s like a genocide against animals on a billions-of-lives-per-year scale.  Is it okay to stay quiet about it?  I think not.  I think we still need to employ compassionate activism, but focus on the word “activism” – it implies being active, not passive. 

I'm Back!

Hi Everyone,

I am excited to announce that I’ll be starting my blog back up again, and will plan to post about every other week.  Through all of the extensive research I’ve just completed for my book, I feel I have grown in new ways as a vegan, and learned so much.  I am excited to share new thoughts with you, and hear your replies. 

My new book, Vegetarian to Vegan, will be going through the editing process over the next couple of months, and then will be available in a bookstore near you!  Thank you all for your support and encouragement over the summer!