All posts by Karen Connington

Water, Walnuts and Gold

As noted in recent news lately, walnuts are water guzzlers. While California’s water crisis soars, agricultural acreage devoted to walnuts has grown 30 percent in the state over the past 10 years.

What California farmers may eventually lose to conservation may trickle down to a global walnut drought, depriving us an abundance of one the healthiest foods on the planet.

The nutritional benefits in walnuts are amazing in their reach, ranging from heart health and cognitive function, to prevention of cancer and diabetes  One of the mighty nutrients inside the walnut are Omega-3 fatty acids.

According to Dr. Frank Sacks Professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one of the two major types of omega-3 fatty acids vital to our health. A handful of five or six walnuts is enough to meet our daily requirements for ALA. They also serve up key antioxidants that protect our health and help block our consumption of bad cholesterol.

Walnuts are a nutrition packed, guilt free snack. And with higher prices looming, just may be worth their weight in gold.



Beware of Neon Foods: Dangers in Artificial Dyes

Dazzle and dyes are part and parcel to U.S. junk food culture. Coloring thousands of foods from fruit to Skittles with artificial dyes is dangerous, particularly to children.

In 2011, the FDA acknowledged that food dyes (and other ingredients) cause behavioral problems in some children, yet has yet to step up and confront industry pressure.

Many health advocates, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have petitioned the FDA to ban Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, and five other artificial food dyes and require front-of-package disclosures on packages of dyed foods.

The British government and the European Union require warning labels on most dyed foods, which has almost eliminated the use of food dyes in Europe.

A 2014 study by Purdue University scientists, published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, reports on the dye content of breakfast cereals, candies, baked goods, and other foods, finding that the amounts of dyes often found in single servings exceeds levels demonstrated in some clinical trials to impair children’s behavior.

For a summary of the highest dye contents in popular kids’ foods, check out the CSPI article here.

Five Key Supplements for Plant Based Diets

Eating plant based whole foods provides a full range of vitamins, fiber and nutrients, including protein. Research has uncovered very few deficiencies in the vegan lifestyle which are easily remedied by four main supplements:

Dr. Greg Feinsinger, medical consultant to Hippocrates Table recommends the following:

  • 1000 mcg of B12 daily
  • 1000 units of Vitamin D daily
  • 250 mg of algae omega 3
  • 1 TBS of ground flaxseed and 1 TBS of chia seeds a day.

The fifth supplement is zinc, recommended by some nutritionists to counter balance the effects of phytates, commonly found in plant foods, which may reduce zinc absorption.

Good plant sources of zinc are legumes, nuts, seeds, and oatmeal, which are common foods to most plant-based lifestyles. For a detailed content chart, see Jack Norris’ article in Vegan Health.

To make it easy, add a low-dosage zinc supplement of of 50 to 100% of the Recommended Dietary Allowances, or RDA, often found in good multivitamin and mineral complex.

Docs in Aprons, Chefs in Scrubs

Food stepped back into fashion with farmers markets and smart chefs. Beguiled by scrumptious stalks and orange spice, we were seduced not scared.  But now we fear fatty cows. Food isn’t just a hot date anymore and we’re wondering where to turn.

Well, food as medicine is forging new alliances these days—savvy, healthy alliances—from medical schools and culinary institutes to local restaurants and global symposiums. Help is on its way.

Though a 2010 study from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that two-thirds of disease is preventable through healthy lifestyle choices, only about a quarter of medical schools had even a single course devoted to nutrition. That was then.

Today at least four major universities, including Tulane and Baylor College of Medicine, are putting med students in aprons and discussing topics once taboo—like cooking and cancer, yoga and prevention.

In March, celebrity chef David Bouley partnered with Wegman’s supermarkets to co-sponsor a New York City lecture by Dr. Thomas Campbell, T. Colin Campbell’s son and co-author of The China Study . The host was Bouley’s trendy Next Door restaurant which served up a healthy four-course meal.

And on the west coast, physicians, nutritionists and healthcare execs join world class chefs for an annual Napa Valley conference co-sponsored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and The Culinary Institute of America.

Imagine four days of hot science peppered with cooking classes and lip-smacking healthy meals. What a feast!




Eggless in America

Would you like your plants poached or fried this morning?

That question may be up sooner than we think. Earlier this month I posted a blog about Hampton Creek, a San Francisco start up backed by Bill Gates and other luminaries that created Just Scramble, a plant based egg substitute.

This week, news of massive egg shortages in the fallout of avian flu has corporate food giants knocking down that company’s doors. As much as one third of U.S. egg production is broken down for use in thousands of products from hotdog buns to pancake mix.

At least a dozen companies, including McDonald’s and General Mills, are now seeking Hampton Creek’s products to meet their quotas. Ironically, they may include Unilever, the maker of Hellmans’ mayonnaise, who unsuccessfully sued Hampton Creek over their right to use the word “mayo” in Just Mayo – their first eggless product released last year.

According to a May 21st report in the New York Times, the flu is forcing farmers to kill more than 38 million infected birds, 33 million of which are laying hens.

Bill Gates knows a hot trend when he sees one, but no one could have predicted this massive flu, which is being tagged the biggest livestock crisis in U.S. history. More reasons—and more urgent reasons—for all of us to consider the benefits, short term and long, of a whole foods plant based diet.


Silicon Valley Bets on Healthy Food

Silicon Valley has been bankrolling more than computers and video games for years. Tech giants have produced a mega platform of super-rich investors who now share the pot with energy companies, medicine, transportation and infrastructure.

Today there are new kids on the block, shareholders who are not just diversifying portfolios but shuffling menus across the U.S. In the last year alone, venture capital firms in Silicon Valley have funneled over $350 million into food projects. That’s a 37 percent jump over the previous year in a market funded by less than $50 million in 2008—just seven years ago.

We’re not talking about traditional commodity markets here, like wheat, coffee and sugar. We’re talking start-up investments for on-demand food delivery, ready-to-cook dinners, healthy restaurant chains, and inventors creating cheese, meat and egg substitutes from plants.

Trends are spreading fast and jumping coastlines. Earlier this year, a few high-powered New York chefs and food moguls were recruited by Steve Case, head of Revolution Growth and founder of AOL, to pour a cool $18.5 million into Sweetgreen, a new salads restaurant with outlets on the East Coast.

According to a recent piece in the New York Times, venture capital firms financing these businesses are some of the West Coast’s most prominent names, like Khosla Ventures, SV Angel and the Obvious Collection. Celebrities are also on board, including players like Matt Damon, Tom Brady and Bill Gates.

As stakes rise (and steaks fall) we as consumers have access to a greater array of healthy food options, enlivening our tastes and empowering our choices.

Plant Based Lifestyle Reverses One Man’s Angina

Sometimes one man’s story allows us to zoom in and witness the impact of lifestyle change on disease.

The peer-review Cardiology journal Hindawi reported a dramatic reversal of angina in a case study published earlier this year. Presenting with chest discomfort, emotional stress and a family history of acute myocardial infarction, a 60 year old man had borderline elevated blood pressure, BMI (body mass index) and lipid levels, with limited functional capacity due to angina.

The patient declined invasive testing and drug therapy, including antiplatelet and cholesterol lowering agents. Instead, with physician counseling, he chose to adopt a whole-food plant-based diet and gradually increase his exercise regimens.

Within weeks of his lifestyle change his symptoms improved. After four months, his BMI and cholesterol were controlled and his blood pressure normalized. Previously unable to exercise, he could now walk one mile without chest pain. Two years after initial presentation he remains asymptomatic without traditional interventions and jogs four miles without incident.

Researchers note that evidence shows “A whole-food plant-based diet improves plasma lipids, glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus, reduces weight and blood pressure, improves vascular function, may profoundly improve coronary artery disease , and is associated with reduced mortality.”

They conclude by stating “Our case reinforces these findings and highlights that even in our ‘modern’ Western society such improvements can be achieved without medications or procedures.”


Plant Based Diet May Reduce Colorectal Cancer

All cancers create fear but not all cancers create dialogue. Colorectal cancer is particularly frightening for many reasons, making it vital that physicians and the media work together to raise public awareness around its prevalence, mortality and all effective interventions.

Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society, with 1 in 20 developing it in his or her lifetime. The Society projects the disease will cause about 49,700 deaths during 2015.

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine concluded that a vegetarian diet may reduce the risk for colorectal cancer. Researchers assessed the diets of 77,659 participants in the Adventist Health Study 2 for about seven years and tracked incidence of colorectal cancers. Participants followed five dietary patterns including vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescovegetarian, semivegetarian, and nonvegetarian.

The combined vegetarian groups had a 22 percent lower risk for all types of colorectal cancers than the nonvegetarian group. This study supports previous research linking red and processed meats to colorectal and other cancers.

Plant Based Egg Poaches Big Pots

The egg has been a controversial orb for decades. Should we eat them daily, eliminate the yolk, or never poach one again? Recent debate over the newest round of U.S. Dietary Guidelines has people rehashing breakfast again.

A small group of plant-based inventors on the West coast are sidestepping the issue entirely—but not without homage to a classic American meal. Dubbed Just Scramble, the product is a plant protein prototype created by three chefs under the umbrella of Hampton Creek, a small tech company who produced Just Mayo, an eggless alternative to Hellman’s and other popular brands.

The firm has raised nearly $30 million from investors who include Bill Gates, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, and Asian entrepreneur Li Ka-shing. According to the Washington Post, “this eggless innovation is being designed to compete against and even outperform the humble egg.”








Paleo Diet Overcooked

The Paleo lifestyle is hardly trending anymore. Between January and March of 2012, two medical panels and a number of articles have  pointed out shortcomings  in Paleo’s nutritional values and cast doubt on a society’s ability to replicate primitive diets in a contemporary world.

The U.S. News & World Report publishes annual rankings of various diets based on evaluations by a panel of doctors and health experts who assess a range of factors including weight loss, ease of adherence, and health risks. This year, Paleo ranked 34 out of 35, far behind the vegan diet at 19 and even various classics like Atkins, South Beach and the Zone.

At the same time, the federal committee advising the 2015 Dietary Guidelines panel is recommending that Americans take most red meat off the table. Some of their reasons are echoed in a review of pertinent research published in late April by a dietician in the Huffington Post. The author notes that even the best Paleo studies to date consider only short-term risk factors, leaving disease and death rates in question while ignoring some of the best data on the long term hazards of consuming red meat.