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7 Great Food Documentaries You Need To Watch

Think all documentaries are boring? Think again! These 7 great food documentary films from the last dozen years provide an astounding amount of insight and information about the current unsustainable, unhealthy, and corrupt system of food production. Plus, they prove that you can be educated and entertained at the same time. How much do you really know about our current food system? Tune in and find out – you may be surprised!

7 Great Food Documentaries You Need To Watch

  1. Super Size Me. Using himself as a guinea pig, director great foodMorgan Spurlock takes an amusing and often terrifying look at the effects of fast food on the human body in this 2004 film. For a solid 30 days, he eats nothing but McDonald’s, all day, every day. And what were the psychological and physiological impacts? Tune in to find out – the results of his human experiment may surprise you. And deter you from hitting the drive through on the way home.
  2. Food, Inc. GMOs. Pesticides and other chemicals. Animal cruelty. It’s what’s for dinner – and breakfast, and lunch. This Academy Award nominated 2008 documentary explores industrial agriculture in the United States and concludes that the current system of food production is a triple threat: bad for human beings, bad for the animals, and bad for the environment. But for the agri-giants, profitability is tied to production of contaminated food, the heavy use of petroleum-based chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers, and the promotion of unhealthy food consumption habits.
  3. Food Matters. Father of modern medicine Hippocrates said “Let thy food by thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food.” His message is central in this 2008 film, which takes a long, hard look at how the food we eat is helping or hurting our health and examines what we can do to eat – and live – better. The documentary features nutritionists, naturopaths, doctors, and journalists who weigh in on topics like organic food, food safety, raw food, and nutritional therapy. Could it be that we have a lot more control over our health than we realize?
  4. Forks Over Knives. According to the research of food scientists and doctors Caldwell Esselstyn and T. Colin Campbell, the popularity of processed and “convenience” foods has led to epidemic rates of obesity, diabetes, and other preventable diseases. This 2011 film follows the careers of Drs. Esselstyn and Campbell, illustrating how they were independently and simultaneously reaching similar conclusions regarding the causes of chronic disease, namely that  “most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods.” The doctors advocate a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based lifestyle as a way to avoid or reverse chronic maladies.
  5. Hungry for Change. This 2012 documentary exposes the shocking secrets the food, diet, and weight loss industries don’t want you to know about – deceptive strategies they use to keep customers coming back for more, and keep them from living a healthy lifestyle. It features interviews with Crazy Sexy Cancer survivor Kris Carr, Joe Cross of “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” fame (another awesome food documentary you can find on Netflix!), actor Frank Ferrante, and a number of medical experts, plus real-life transformational stories with people who know what it’s like to be sick, overweight, and generally unhealthy.
  6. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. Per the film website, “Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean “dead zones,” and virtually every other environmental ill.” Yet the industry is almost entirely unchallenged. This 2014 documentary from Director Kip Anderson gives us an in-depth look at how the environment is being decimated by factory farming – and why this crisis has been largely ignored by government authorities and major environmental groups.
  7. Fed Up. It’s undeniable that childhood obesity is one of the most pressing health issues of our time. Directed, written, and produced by Stephanie Soechtigh, this 2014 documentary examines the underlying causes of childhood obesity and presents compelling evidence that large quantities of sugar in processed foods are an overlooked root of the problem. Further, the film points to the well-connected and well-funded lobbying power of “Big Sugar” in blocking attempts to enact policies that address the issue.

And guess what? They’re all streaming on Netflix! Log on or tune in, grab some organic popcorn, and prepare to be educated, entertained, and perhaps surprised by what you learn.

How to Pack an Organic Lunch with Zero Waste

zero waste organic lunchHow to Pack an Organic Lunch with Zero Waste

Did you know that every year, Americans throw away enough paper cups, plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times? According to the EPA, every child who brings a brown-bag lunch to school every day will generate 67 pounds of waste in one school year – and that doesn’t include summer break! Disposable items may be convenient, but our throw-away approach to meal time is hurting the planet. With a little effort, you can do good for yourself and Mother Earth by packing a zero-waste lunch.

A zero waste organic lunch means everything in the lunch, including the container itself, is eaten, reused, or recycled. Say goodbye to plastic, aluminum, and paper products! Reusable items are environmentally-friendly and save money over the long run. Buying reusable items is a long-term investment, unlike repeatedly purchasing disposable plastic wrap, plastic bags, aluminum foil, plastic bottles, and paper napkins. Check out these alternatives and you’ll be packing eco-friendly organic lunch in no time!

Five essential items for packing a zero-waste organic lunch:

# 1: The lunch container. Never mind plastic or paper bags – select a lunch container that is durable, easy to clean, and free of toxins like heavy metals, PVC, phthalates, and BPA. (Bonus if your container is made from recycled or organic materials!) Check out these ECOlunchbox products, or these great lunch packing options from Bentology. Another great lunch idea: pack salads in mason jars. Put the dressing, nuts, seeds, hearty vegetables and legumes on the bottom, topped by your greens and lighter veggies. Carry the jars upright in your lunch container so the dressing stays on the bottom until you’re ready to eat. Then shake and enjoy.

# 2: Food wrap. Plastic wrap, plastic bags, and aluminum foil are out, reusable wraps are in!  For sandwiches, wraps, and snacks, consider using a reusable product like Bee’s Wrap for sandwiches and snacks, cloth bags like Itsy Ritsy  or reusable snack bags from BlueAvocado.

# 3: Beverage containers. As with food containers, always pack beverages in stainless steel or glass bottles, and avoid plastic and aluminum. Even BPA free plastic may not be safe, according to a number of sources! Kleen Kanteen offers some great insulated metal bottles, and Ello offers some beautiful glass bottles. Or, enjoy a bottle of Voss artesian water from Norway and keep the glass bottle to reuse.

# 4: Utensils. Keeping your old or extra stainless steel utensils for use in your lunch pack is a great way to recycle when you upgrade your housewares. Or if you want to carry something a little lighter weight, try eco-friendly bamboo utensils (available in a variety of colors). A spork – a combination spoon and fork – is a handy, versatile option. Check out this folding stainless steel spork.  It’s two utensils in one and it fits in a pocket or purse!

# 5: Napkins. Cloth napkins aren’t just for fine dining. Use them instead of paper napkins or paper towels. Organic cotton and hemp are both sustainable choices. You can find LeSwipe organic cotton napkins from funfunctional or  try these cute hemp/cotton blend napkins from Scoutmob.

With these simple items, you can easily pack a waste-free organic lunch every day of the week and feel good about making a small investment now to save money in the long term!

Go Organic in the New Year: 7 Reasons to Make the Switch

organicNo matter what diet or lifestyle you enjoy – omnivorous, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, or somewhere in between – choosing organic produce and products is smart. Unlike conventionally grown produce, items can only be labeled “organic” if they meet fairly strict production standards implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Choosing organic is a win for your health, for the planet, and for farmers committed to producing quality foods using environmentally-friendly, sustainable agricultural practices. It’s a new year – why not start it off on the right nutritional foot?

Here are 7 great reasons to make the switch and Go Organic!

  1. Less exposure to harmful chemicals. USDA rules strictly prohibit the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides in the production of products that carry the organic label. Further, products labeled organic must be verified by an accredited third-party certifying agent. Conversely, the use of harmful chemicals is routine in conventional agriculture. Worse, many of the pesticides registered with the federal government were approved before extensive research was done regarding their potential long-term health consequences. At this point, many pesticides have been linked to a wide range of human health issues that range from short-term impacts like headaches and nausea to chronic impacts such as cancer, reproductive harm, and endocrine disruption. Eating organic significantly reduces your exposure to harmful pesticides and other chemicals that can negatively impact your health.
  2. Better nutritional value. Studies consistently prove that the nutritional content in organic foods is higher than that of conventionally produced foods. Following a review of over 400 published papers comparing organic and nonorganic foods, the Soil Association Certification Ltd. reported that organic crops were higher than conventional crops in essential minerals, phytonutrients, and vitamin C. Another mass review by researchers in Europe and the United States concluded that organic crops and organic-based foods contained higher concentrations of antioxidants – 20-40% more – than conventionally grown foods.
  3. Avoid questionable GMOs. Genetically modified organisms are the product of genetic engineering, which transfers genes across natural species barriers. GM crops, including soy, corn, canola, cotton, and sugar beets, have bacterial genes inserted. The bacterial genes allow plants to survive what would ordinarily be a deadly dose of weed killer. About 20% of GMO crops produce their own pesticides! How creepy is that? Many scientists, including the federal Food and Drug Administration’s own scientists, warn of the possible long-term effects of consuming GMOs. Serious potential health risks include infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.
  4. Decrease intake of hormones and antibiotics. USDA’s organic standards also prohibit the use of antibiotics and growth hormones. Did you know that approximately 80% of the antibiotics in this country are given to factory farmed animals? Antibiotics are administered early on in the lives of farm animals to prevent infection and disease caused by their unnatural and unsanitary living conditions, and antibiotic use remains consistent throughout their lives. Frighteningly, the overuse of antibiotics in factory farmed animals has fueled the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both animals and humans. In addition to antibiotics, the use of artificial growth hormones is common and of particular concern with beef and dairy products. Growth hormones in milk, namely rBGH or rBST, are genetically modified and are directly linked to cancer, especially in women. Other possible health concerns from ingesting hormones in meat and dairy products include early onset of puberty, genetic problems, and various cancers.
  5. Preserve genetic diversity. At the core of the current industrialized agricultural system is monoculture: the practice of growing a single crop on a large scale. It is estimated that over 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost in the last century. Monoculture farming relies heavily on chemical inputs like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and it decreases the genetic diversity of our foods. Genetic diversity is important to the security of our food system because when we rely too heavily on a single crop, the food supply is vulnerable to disease. On the other hand, organic farmers often rely on local varieties of plants that are specifically adapted to flourish in their environments naturally, and they produce crops on a small scale. Purchasing organic produce and products preserves and promotes diversity among crops.
  6. Support small farms. On a similar note, organic farming is growing, and a lot of organic products are produced and sold locally. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2014 Organic Survey, 14,093 certified and exempt organic farms in the United States sold a total of $5.5 billion in organic products in 2014, up 72 percent since 2008. Per the report, the first point of sale for 80 percent of all U.S. organic products was less than 500 miles from the farm, compared to 74 percent in 2008. In fact, almost half of all organic produce – 46% – was sold within 100 miles of where it was grown, and 78% of organic produce sales was to the wholesale market. Wholesale markets, such as buyers for supermarkets, processors, distributors, packers, and cooperatives, serve as the marketing channel to get organic products in the hands of customers. When you buy organic produce and products, you support local, independent farms.
  7. Enjoy better flavor! The well-balanced, naturally fertilized soil used in organic farming produces healthy plants that become nourishing foods after harvest. Conventional produce varieties are chosen for their stability, their uniformity, and other qualities irrelevant to taste. Taste is key when it comes to smaller crops, and several studies show organic foods have stronger, better flavor than their conventional counterparts. In a recent Washington State University lab taste trial, organic berries were consistently judged as sweeter than conventional berries.

Learn more about organic and non-gmo products here, and resolve to go organic today!

Six Simple Organic Soups for Dark Winter Nights

With the winter solstice just behind us, the days are short and the nights are long – and often chilly! There isn’t much more organic soupscomforting than a big, steamy bowl of soup on a long, dark winter’s night. Here are 6 super simple and super healthy soups to keep you warm and well nourished this winter.

Six Simple Organic Soups For Dark Winter Nights

1 – Creamy Corn Chowder. Melt 2 tablespoons of vegan buttery spread in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add a pint of non-dairy creamer, two bags of frozen corn, and 2 cans of creamed corn. Rinse each can with ¼ cup filtered water and add residue to the pot. Blend one small white onion, 3 cloves of garlic, 2 vegetable bouillon cubes, and ½ cup of non-dairy milk in a high speed blender, and add the mixture to the pot. Add ½ – 1 teaspoon New Mexico chile pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Heat until the chowder is hot and fully blended. Tip: ALWAYS use organic corn, since it is a highly genetically modified crop.

2 – Black Bean Soup. Dice a small white onion and mince 3 cloves of garlic. In a large stock pot, saute the onion and garlic with a little olive oil over medium-low heat. Once the onions are translucent, add a can of black beans (undrained), a can of refried black beans, one small can of green chiles, 12-16 oz. of vegetable broth (depending on how thick you like your soup), half a cup of salsa, a tablespoon of chili powder, a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of dried oregano, and a little salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for a few minutes, just long enough to let the flavors meld. Stir in about half a cup of fresh chopped cilantro just before serving.

3 – Butternut Squash Soup. Cut a large butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Roast it and a medium-sized yam (poke holes in it with a fork first) at 350 degrees for 40-60 minutes until tender . While the squash and yam are roasting, saute 3 chopped carrots, 1 diced sweet onion, and 4 chopped garlic cloves in a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil in a stock pot over medium heat. When they are softened, add about 6 cups of vegetable stock (more or less, depending on how thick you like your soup) and heat gently until the squash and yam are finished roasting. Remove the peels of the squash and yam and add them, plus salt and pepper to taste, to the stock pot. Puree with a stick blender until smooth, and heat to desired consistency and temperature.

4 – Creamy Mushroom Soup. Drain the liquid from four 4 oz. cans of sliced or chopped mushrooms into a measuring cup. Add water or vegetable broth to the measuring cup to make it 2 cups of liquid. In a stock pot, saute one small white onion, chopped, and 2 cloves of minced garlic in 2 tablespoons of vegan buttery spread. Lower the heat when onions are translucent. Add ¼ cup flour of choice (I used all-purpose – you can use brown rice or quinoa flour for a gluten free soup) and a teaspoon of seasoning salt. The flour and the buttery spread will combine to make a roux. Slowly add the mushroom liquid mixture, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch into 1 cup of non-dairy creamer until the cornstarch is blended, and add the mixture to the pot. Add the mushrooms and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until ready to serve.

5 – Spicy Tomato Soup. Put 2 cans of crushed tomatoes, half a cup of vegetable broth, 2 jarred roasted red peppers, 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon of agave nectar, 1 tablespoon of New Mexico chile powder, and salt and pepper (to taste) to a stock pot and bring to a boil. Over medium-low heat, saute one white or yellow onion, diced, and 3 cloves of minced garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper. Be careful not to burn the garlic, and cook until the onions are translucent. Add a tablespoon of brown sugar and continue heating until the sugar has dissolved. Add onion and garlic mixture to the stock pot. Add half a cup of plant-based milk, puree with a stick blender to the desired consistency, and serve.

6 – Ginger Carrot Soup. Chop a medium yellow or white onion and saute it in a stock pot with a tablespoon of vegan buttery spread. When the onions are translucent, add 3 cups of vegetable broth, 1 pound of peeled and sliced carrots, and 1 tablespoon of minced fresh ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the carrots are soft. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add half a cup of non-dairy creamer, plus salt and pepper to taste, and continue heating until ready to serve.

Don’t have much time to cook? No worries – for even easier meals, all of these organic soups can be made in a slow cooker. Just add the ingredients to the cooker in the morning, cook on low all day, and put the finishing touches on the dishes just before serving.

What are your favorite organic soups on a cold winter night? Let us know in the comments below!

7 Organic Herbs & Essential Oils for Managing Holiday Stress

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but that isn’t always as easy as it sounds. While the holidays are a wonderful and magical time of year, they can also be a source of stress and anxiety.organic herbs for holiday stress No matter what the source of the stress is – family, finances, travel, a combination thereof, or any other aspect of the holiday season – it can have negative impacts on your body, on your mood, and on your behavior. Did you know that 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints? Stress is a toxin to your system and makes you vulnerable to a myriad of ailments and diseases, such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, skin issues, asthma, arthritis, and depression.

No worries, though – here’s the great news: organic herbs and essential oils are effective remedies for managing stress naturally. Increasingly, people are choosing natural remedies over pharmacological ones, in part because of the advantages they offer over pharmaceuticals. They are natural, first and foremost. They are widely available, no doctor’s appointment required. They are inexpensive, they are effective, and they don’t have side effects!

Generally, herbs are plants used for food, flavoring, medicine, or perfume. Choosing organic herbs ensures you aren’t adding to the toxicity in your body by ingesting pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Essential oils are natural aromatic compounds found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants. They are 50-70 times more concentrated than herbs – so a little goes a long way! Oils are often used aromatically, and many are safe to be used topically and even internally. If you’re going to use oils topically and internally, quality is key. There are many synthetic products posing as pure essential oils, so be careful! Choose a quality, organic essential oil to ensure it has the best possible purity, chemical composition, and therapeutic properties. Read on for seven herbs and essential oils that can help you manage holiday stress without a prescription.

7 Organic Herbs & Essential Oils for Managing Holiday Stress

  1. Chamomile. Chamomile has been used for centuries for various conditions, including fevers, colds, stomach ailments, and as a sleep aid. It is probably most well known for its calming effects. The plant’s medicinal properties come from its flowers, which contain volatile oils and flavonoids. It can be taken internally and externally, and two of its most popular forms are tea and essential oil. Pure chamomile essential oil is safe to diffuse, to apply topically, and to ingest.
  2. Lavender. Lavender, too, has been around since ancient times when the Egyptians and Romans used it for bathing, cooking, relaxation, and as a perfume. It is a versatile herb and oil, one that is sometimes referred to as the “Swiss army knife” of essential oils. It is widely known and used for for many qualities, most notably calming and relaxing. The power is in the flower, which contains linalyl acetate and linalool, both known for their sedative effects. Lavender is available as a tea, prepared or loose leaf, and as an essential oil. The oil can be diffused, applied topically, or ingested.
  3. Indian ginseng, also known as ashwagandha. Traditional Chinese medicine and the Indian ayurvedic tradition both contain extensive scriptures describing the medicinal qualities of ashwagandha, which include anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidizing, anti-stress, sleep-inducing, and drug withdrawal properties. “Ashwagandha” derives from the Sanskrit language and is a combination of the word ashva, meaning horse, and gandha, meaning smell. The root has a strong smell that is described as “horse-like,” or akin to the smell of horse sweat. The root and the berry are used to make medicine, and it is available as a powder, in dried form, as a tincture, as an oil, and in fresh root form.
  4. Kava. The kava plant, also known as kava kava, is native to the South Pacific, and its root has been used as medicine and in ceremonies by the Pacific Islanders for centuries. Its name, which loosely translates as “intoxicating pepper,” was coined by famous explorer Captain Cook. The active chemical ingredients of kava root are called kavalactones, and research shows they can affect brain chemistry in ways similar to prescription anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. Kava’s calming effects may relieve anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness, and stress-related symptoms. It is available as a tea, in bulk in powder form, in capsules, and as a tincture.
  5. Valerian. Valerian is a flowering plant native to the grasslands of Europe, and its root has been used for over 1,000 years as a sedative. It acts as a sedative on the brain and the nervous system and promotes feelings of tranquility and peace. In Japan, valerian is popular as an over-the-counter sedative to reduce symptoms of anxiety and promote restful sleep. Scientific studies have shown that valerian not only improves the quality of sleep, but it also reduces the time needed to get to sleep. It can be taken in capsule form, in liquid form as a tincture, as a liquid extract, or infused in a tea – though the taste of the tea can be a little strong for some palates. Studies also indicate that the more regularly one takes valerian root, the more effective it is.
  6. Holy basil. Also known as “Tulsi” or “The Incomparable One,” holy basil is a member of the mint family. It is related to the sweet basil many of us know in the culinary world, but it has a much richer history. Holy basil has been grown in India for over 3,000 years and is widely used in a variety of ancient medicines, including the Greek, Roman, Siddha, and Ayurvedic traditions. The leaves, stems, and seeds are used to make plant medicine. Holy basil functions as an adaptogen, which enhances the body’s natural response to physical and emotional stress. Scientific studies suggest that eugenol in holy basil helps to combat stress and enhance mental clarity, and that the triterpenoic acids in holy basil improve the body’s response to stress. It is available as a tea, as a liquid extract, as an essential oil, and in capsule form.
  7. Lemon balm. Another member of the mint family, lemon balm is considered a calming herb. It has been used since the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease the pain and discomfort associated with indigestion. Supplements are made from the leaves of the plant, and lemon balm essential oil, also made from lemon balm leaves, contains plant chemicals called terpenes. Terpenes are organic compounds found in a variety of plants, and contribute to the flavor, scent and color of the plant. They are thought to contribute to lemon balm’s relaxing effects. One study found that ingesting 1,600 milligrams of dried lemon balm was associated with an increase in calmness for up to six hours. Lemon balm is available in capsule form, as a tincture, and as an essential oil. The essential oil is also known as  “Melissa” because of its sweet, fresh, citrus-like fragrance, which is known to attract bees (Melissa is Greek for “honey bee”). It can be used aromatically, topically, and internally.

And there you have it! With these seven organic herbs and essential oils, you can have a relaxing, stress-free holiday season, naturally.

What natural remedies do you use to combat holiday stress? Share below!

7 Reasons to Love Lentils!

If you think lentils are dull and boring, think again. These little powerhouses have been around since ancient times for a reason. The pint-sized legume is totally undersized and underrated. lentils

Lentils have been part of the human diet since Neolithic (before pottery) times. Archeological evidence shows they were eaten 9,500 to 13,000 years ago! Lentils are part of the legume family because, like beans and peas, they grow in pods. They are an edible pulse (a grain legume grown for its edible seed), and they pack a protein, fiber, and nutrient punch. They come in a variety of colors, including yellow, red (they actually look more orange than red), green, brown, and black. The darker the color, the more dense they tend to be. The lighter the color, the less dense and they tend to fall apart when cooked. No matter the color, these seven qualities make lentils an excellent choice for any meal.

7 Reasons To Love Lentils:

  1. Quick cooking. Lentils are one of the fastest cooking members of the legume family. Thanks to their petite mass, lentils do not require soaking prior to cooking. (There may be advantages to soaking, though – see # 5 below!) Green lentils and brown lentils can be ready in about half an hour, and red lentils cook even faster. Pick a variety of lentils based on what you’re looking for in a recipe. Red lentils and yellow lentils tend to break down during cooking, making them ideal for soups and stews. Green, brown, and black lentils tend to maintain their structural integrity when cooked, making them ideal for salads, hearty main courses, and side dishes.
  2. Inexpensive (and readily available!). Lentils are super affordable, whether you buy them in the supermarket, at a farmers’ market, or right here from shopOrganic. You can stock up on organic lentils for just a few bucks a pound, which makes them accessible on any budget. Plus, they are available year round, so you can enjoy them during all of the seasons.
  3. Flavorful. Lentils have a mild, earthy flavor, often described as nutty or meaty. Some of them, especially the darker varieties, can have a smoky smell and flavor. They tend to take on the flavors of the spices they are cooked with, and you see them a lot in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. Popular spices to use with lentils include turmeric, cumin, curry, ginger, mustard seeds, coriander and garam masala.
  4. Nutrient dense – and heart healthy. Lentils have the second highest ratio of protein per calorie of any legume, second only to soybeans. In addition to being loaded with fiber and protein, lentils contain lots of other nutrients, including B-vitamins, folate, iron, phosphorus, selenium, and potassium. The fiber, folic acid, and potassium in lentils all support heart health.
  5. Easily digestible. We all know that a lot of legumes have some rather unpleasant side effects, in terms of causing bloating and gas. Lentils are a bit easier to digest than other legumes, and the ease of digestion can be enhanced by soaking (though lentils don’t require soaking to cook properly and quickly). Red lentils in particular are easier to digest than other legumes, in part because they begin to break down during the cooking process. Certain spices can also promote easier digestion, such as asafetida. Asafetida is a root herb that reduces the growth of flora in the gut, which directly helps to reduce gas. You can also add a piece of kombu to lentils as they are cooking to achieve the same effect.
  6. Hearty. Because they are packed with high quality protein and lots of fiber, lentils are quite filling. Their heartiness makes them a good substitute for meat in many dishes, like soup, chili, taco “meat,” and “meatballs.” You can, of course, also substitute them for beans in any recipe! Plus, lentils are lower calorie than ground meats, gram per gram, so you can eat more of them than you can of animal protein as part of a healthy diet.
  7. Versatile. The variety of dishes that can be made from this lovable legume is astonishing – the possibilities are only limited by your imagination! Lentil dishes can be eaten hot or cold, they can be a main course or a side, and they can be the star of a dish or transformed into something completely different, like vegan versions of classic meat-based dishes.

Hail to the humble lentil! Give them a try and see just how amazing they are. For an awesome lentil-based Thanksgiving main course, check out my Barbecue Lentil Loaf recipe – it’s sure to please vegetarians and omnivores alike.

What Are Heirloom Foods & Why Should I Eat Them?

Most of us are familiar with the term heirloom in the family context – those treasured items that are passed down, from heirloom foodsgeneration to generation. In the gardening and culinary world, these treasures are known as heirloom plants. Perhaps you’ve noticed the unusual looking tomatoes in the produce aisle – you know, the ones that are all different sizes, shapes, and colors, like the deep purple Cherokee tomatoes? Or perhaps the white, yellow, or purple carrots caught your eye? Chances are, they are heirloom foods.

Barbara Richardson, a horticulturist with the National Gardening Association, defines heirloom plants as “vegetables, flowers, and fruits grown from seeds that are passed down from generation to generation.” While there is no official or standard definition of heirloom plants, the consensus is two factors are essential for a plant to be an heirloom: it must be old, and it must be open-pollinated.

Just how old is old enough for a plant to be an heirloom? This is the subject of some debate. Some argue plants should be at least 100 years old; some say at least 50 years old; and some argue that they must predate the end of World War II, which marks the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies. Most authorities agree that heirloom plants must be at least 50 years or three generations old.

Heirloom plants have generally been passed down through families that saved seeds through generations, or they came from seed banks. (Some purists argue that only seeds handed down within families are true heirloom foods!) They sometimes have fascinating stories – like the Mortgage Lifter tomato. It was developed by a man named Radiator Charlie in the 1940s. He sold the plants for $1.00 each, and his pitch was that one plant could feed a family of six. He was able to pay off his $6,000 mortgage in four years. Another interesting heirloom is the Ananas d’Amerique a Chair Verte melon. It dates back to 1794 and was grown on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate in Virginia.

In addition to being old, heirloom plants must be open-pollinated, which means that they are pollinated naturally by insects, wind, water, birds, or mammals. Seeds can be saved each year, and the plants grown from the seeds will have the same characteristics as the “parent” plants, also known as “true to type.”

In contrast to open-pollinated plants, many modern, mass produced seeds are crosses between plants, or hybrids, that will not produce seeds that grow true to type plants. Modern hybrids are developed for certain profit minded characteristics, such as high yields, uniform appearance, and thick skins so they can be shipped long distances without bruising. Unfortunately, taste is NOT the focus of mass produced produce!

Tomatoes and carrots may be the first heirloom foods that come to mind, but they aren’t the only ones. There are hundreds of thousands of heirloom plants available around the world. Common varieties of heirloom plants include:

Heirloom tomatoes: Black Krim, Red & Yellow Pear, Beefsteak, San Marzano, Cherokee Purple & more
Heirloom potatoes: Bliss Triumph, Early Rose, Early Ohio, Garnet Chile, Peach Blow, Snowflake & more
Heirloom beets: Bull’s Blood, Chiogga, Early Wonder, Ruby Queen, Detroit Dark Red & more
Heirloom squash/gourds: Sugar Pie Pumpkin, Black Beauty Zucchini, Early Straightneck Squash & more
Heirloom beans: Orca, Jacob’s Cattle, European Soldier, Flageolet, Cranberry, Tongue of Fire & more
Heirloom eggplant: Black Beauty, Long Purple, Listada de Gandia, Old White Egg & more
Heirloom cherries: Black Tartarian, Montmorency, English Morello & more
Heirloom watermelons: Charlseton Gray, Crimson Sweet, Moon & Stars, Mountain Sweet Yellow & more

Other than their fascinating history, why should you choose heirloom varieties?  Here are 5 great reasons to choose heirloom foods:

1 – Flavor is king.  Heirloom foods have unique colors, textures, and, most importantly, tastes not found in factory-farmed industrial produce. Commercial produce varieties are chosen for their stability, their uniformity, and other qualities irrelevant to taste. Heirloom varieties are all about taste – it’s the primary reason that heirloom varieties are grown generation after generation. They were and are prized for their flavor.

2 – They are naturally pesticide free.

Typically, heirlooms adapt over time and develop unique characteristics based on the climate and soil in which they grow. Due to their genetics, they are often resistant to local pests, diseases, and extremes of weather. This natural resistance makes the use of pesticides unnecessary.

3 – Buying them supports small, local farms. Heirloom plants are grown on a small scale using traditional techniques. Chances are when you buy heirlooms, you are supporting small, local agriculture, as these plants are not designed to be mass produced and travel long distances. So when you buy them, you are putting money back into your own community rather than supporting multinational, government subsidized agri-businesses.

4 – Purchasing heirloom varieties promotes genetic diversity. Large producers typically use monoculture, meaning they grow and produce a single variety or species of crop over a large agricultural area. This practice decreases the genetic diversity of our foods, and genetic diversity is important to the security of our food system. Remember the Irish potato famine of the 1840s? At that point in history, nearly half of the Irish population was dependent on the potato for their diet, especially the rural poor. The potatoes planted were mainly one or two high-yielding varieties of potatoes, rather than a larger variety of potato plants. This reliance on 1-2 species greatly reduced the genetic variety that would ordinarily prevent the decimation of an entire crop by disease, and the Irish were vulnerable to famine.

5 – FLAVOR. Have I mentioned that heirloom plants are prized for their flavor? If you’re a foodie like I am, it bears repeating!

Next time you’re at the farmers’ market or your local grocery store, keep an eye out for the unusual looking produce items and give them a try. Go easy on the spices and such so their natural flavor can shine – I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the taste and cooking possibilities with these amazing heirloom foods!

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heirloom_plant
http://www.britannica.com/event/Irish-Potato-Famine

Gettle, Jere & Emilee, The Heirloom Life Gardener. New York: Hyperion, 2011. Print.
Iannotti, Marie, The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables. Portland: Timber Press, Inc., 2011. Print.

Healthy Holiday Season: Five Survival Tips for Vegans

Ah, it’s that time of year. Thanksgiving is almost here, and Christmas is right on its heels. Holidays can be stressful for anyone, healthy holidaybut they can be particularly tough when you’re the lone vegan in your family.

I’ll never forget getting the stink-eye from my mother my first vegan Thanksgiving as I passed up platter after platter of our family’s traditional holiday dishes. That was a few years ago, and I’m happy to say I’ve learned a bit since then!

Here are a few tips to help you navigate a healthy holiday season as a vegan in a non-vegan household.

 

 

Healthy Holiday Season: Five Survival Tips for Vegans

  1. Talk to the person hosting beforehand. Whether it’s your mom, grandma, aunt, or friend, it’s helpful if they know beforehand that you’re vegan. I had to explain to my mom what that meant when I first shifted my diet. Now, four years later, she sets some of the collard greens and black-eyed peas aside when she’s cooking – before adding animal fat – for me. I didn’t pressure her to do it, mind you, but she made the choice to accommodate me in her own time and way. (And let me tell you, being Southern born and bred and raised in a place where pork fat is ubiquitous, this is real progress!)
  2. Get your “mind right,” as my grandma would say. Take a deep breath, relax, and focus on the celebratory purpose of the holidays. If and when the subject of being vegan comes up, state your commitment to a vegan lifestyle in a positive, uplifting way. This one took me a few years to learn, but it’s become very clear to me that walking my talk and being healthy and happy is a more effective strategy for influencing others than being judgmental and preachy. When someone asks about my lifestyle at a gathering, here’s one of my go-to lines: “Being vegan makes me feel great physically, mentally, and spiritually.” If someone questions your choices in a confrontational way, continue taking deep breaths, smile, and be polite: “I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned about nutrition, animal agriculture, and the environmental impacts of factory farming another time. This really isn’t the best time and place. Let’s set up a time to get together, have coffee or tea, and chat further. I look forward to it!”
  3. Be strong in your convictions. Be confident in your lifestyle choices – you don’t need to justify yourself or feel apologetic in any way. If you’re a new vegan, there will be an adjustment period. Especially in my first year of being vegan, most holiday gatherings were filled with comments that went something like this: “What? You’re not going to have any of your grandma’s famous chocolate cake with butter icing? But it’s your favorite!” Be true to your values, and respond to your caring relatives and friends in a positive, neutral way. Thank anyone who comments for thinking of you, but let them know you’ll be passing on the non-vegan dishes this year. I’ll often say something like “I’m sure it’s delicious – maybe I’ll try making a vegan version of that for next year’s celebration!”
  4. Practice gratitude. The holidays are all about celebrating our blessings, right? We are fortunate to live in a part of the world where we have lots of choices about the food that we buy, prepare, and share, from being able to buy almost anything, whether it’s in season or not, to having access to awesome organic food. We also live in a country where we have the mobility to visit friends and family, whether we live down the block from one another or on different coasts. We are truly blessed, and remembering that helps keep things in perspective.
  5. Do some cooking yourself, and make sure you have plenty to share. They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, right? Think of the holidays as a great time to show off just how amazing vegan food can be. And don’t think you have to make “veganized” versions of traditional dishes. You can, of course, but vegan food doesn’t need to compete with the traditional stuff. It is amazing all on its own and offers an alternative to a lot of the heavier fare that is standard on a holiday table. Consider making a one-dish vegan casserole that can serve as the main part of your meal and will be hearty enough to impress the omnivores at the table. Also, take a dessert! It’s so easy to make awesome vegan sweets – vegan pumpkin bread and vegan “cream cheese” pie are two of my family’s favorites. (And I never thought that the words vegan and favorite would be used in the same sentence, with my family!)

With these simple strategies, you can enjoy the a healthy holiday season as a vegan, whether it’s your first one or you’re a long-timer. And you never know – you might even turn a few friends and family members on to a new way of doing things during the holidays! Happy feasting.

Healthy Halloween Recipe Roundup

healthy halloween

Image courtesy of JeffK via Flickr Creative Commons Licence

Around the office and around the house, it seems like Halloween candy is everywhere!  The really scary treats are all of that candy loaded with high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, artificial colors and trans fats.  With Halloween candy everywhere, tIt can make it really hard to avoid snacking on sugary and unhealthy foods when you want to be eating right and staying fit.

My mission this week is finding healthy Halloween treats that even kids will enjoy.  I put together this fun recipe roundup from across the web.  A lot of these suggestions would make great office snacks, party snacks, pre-trick or treating food.  Just make sure to use organic ingredients whenever possible.

Skip the packaged junk foods this year and try making some of these easy, spooky, scary and sometimes gross looking snacks!  Hope you enjoy these healthy Halloween snacks!

13 Fun & Healthy Halloween Treats!

  1. Candy Corn Veggie Tray With Dip – make sure to serve organic veggies and healthy dips like hummus, or Simply Organic’s dips.
  2. Veggie Skeleton – a super fresh alternative to sweet snacks and packaged treats.
  3. Spooky Spider Deviled Eggs – creepy, but oh so tasty!
  4. Halloween Spider Crackers – try using Late July’s Rich Crackers, Once Again Nut Butter and Newman’s Organic Thin Stick Pretzels
  5. Carrot-Rice Mini Jack O’Lanterns – great for kids who can’t have sugar but still want something sweet.
  6. Jack O Lantern Hummus Plate – use Pacific Red Pepper Hummus, organic canned black beans, a pretzel stick for the stem and surround with organic crackers or veggies.
  7. Ear Wax Snax – sure to gross out the kids! Make it vegan with Dandies Mini Marshmallows and Cadia Peanut Butter.
  8. Peanut Butter Pumpkins – try using almond or sunflower butter if you have peanut allergies!
  9. Banana Ghost Pops – coated in shredded coconut with chocolate chip eyeballs, they’re ghoulishly good.
  10. Stuffed Roaches – nope, they’re not really roaches – they’re Medjool Dates stuffed with a cream cheese/walnut spread!
  11. Bloody Band-Aids – these will gross out even the adults! Use graham crackers, cream cheese and strawberry jam.
  12. Apple Smiles – An easy way to get some fresh fruit in with the candy treats.  Use Dandies Mini Marshmallows and your favorite nut butter.
  13. Candy Corn Quesadillas – these would make a great dinner before trick or treating to get everyone in the spirit!

What are your favorite healthy Halloween snacks? Share with us in the comments below!

 

Organic Produce: Maximize Nutrients With These Tips

Organic produce is plentiful all year round.  Local farmer’s markets, backyard gardens and your local grocery store are brimming with the vibrant colors of the finest organic produce. We’re all know that adding more veggies to each meal is beneficial, so what’s the best way to prepare organic produce so you can maximize the nutritional value?

Organic Produce From the Ground Up

organic produce

By TSgt Samuel Morse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s start from the ground up. Organic produce is grown in an organic and sustainable manner. Organic farmers use things like crop rotation and organic fertilizers to provide plants with the best nutrients possible for robust growth. Better soil, better nutrition, better produce!

Organic Produce: A Long Haul or Right Next Door?

Once produce is harvested, a number of factors impact what ends up on your plate.  Time in transit and and methods of storage, can greatly influence the nutritional quality of your produce.  The upshot is, the longer it takes between being picked and getting on your plate, the more nutrients are lost.  The best choice is finding fresh, local, organic produce and consuming it within a few days.  If finding local produce is challenging, simply eating seasonally will boost the nutrient value.  If you’re eating blueberries in the middle of winter, chances are they’ve come from very far away and will have lost most of their nutrition by the time you eat them.

Organic Produce: Fresh and Raw

Of course, your best bet for the highest nutritional value of your vibrant, fresh organic produce is to bring it home quickly and eat it soon. Think fresh salads, adding raw fruits to your breakfast cereals, veggie/grain/bean side dishes, even juicing.  Enjoying your produce when it’s at the peak of freshness will maximize nutritional value.

Organic Produce:  Freezing and Blanching

Freezing fresh fruits and vegetables that you won’t consume immediately is the best way to preserve nutrient value of your organic produce. Freeze in small containers so you can pull out just what you need each time. Removing as much air as possible will help prevent the likelihood of freezer burn. Add frozen fruits and vegetables to a morning smoothie with organic protein powder, add frozen veggies to simmering soups and stews, the possibilities are endless.

Blanching is the process of boiling fresh vegetables just long enough to stop enzymatic activity to preserve color and flavor. It can be tricky, though, because over-cooking will contribute to vitamin and nutrient loss; under-cooking will fail to stop enzymatic activity. Be sure to follow time recommendations if you choose blanching before freezing.

Organic Produce: Canning and Drying

In addition to preserving organic produce through freezing or blanching, you can try canning or drying. Canning involves preparing the fruits or vegetables using high heat and sealing the container once the contents have reached a minimum temperature. High cooking temperatures will reduce Vitamin C content, but most other nutrients will remain intact and your summer’s bounty of organic produce will last well into the following winter, spring and beyond.

Drying is a process of reducing water from fresh, organic produce. This process reduces enzyme activity and thereby decreasing the likelihood that your fruits or veggies will spoil. Because water content is reduced, remaining nutrients are more densely concentrated, so you’re boosting your nutrients per serving.

Organic Produce: Heating Things Up

Last, but certainly most common, is cooking. You can steam, microwave, boil, broil or bake fresh produce in a variety of ways. The simple rule of thumb is this: the longer you cook fresh, organic produce and the more heat you use, the more vitamins you lose. Water soluble vitamins like Vitamin C and B vitamins are primarily impacted. Steaming is better than boiling since you are not losing nutrients by soaking your veggies in water. Microwaving is preferable to boiling – again because you retain more of your water soluble vitamins. Roasting, baking and broiling vegetables can caramelize the sugars in the food, creating a nice sweet flavor on your favorite veggies. High heat for long periods of time will reduce some of the nutritional content, but the delicious roasted flavors may encourage picky eaters to chow down on more organic produce than they might otherwise.

No matter how you choose to prepare your fresh, organic produce, you’ll be packing a powerful nutritional punch. Your body will thank you.

 

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