Solving the soy debate: the latest research

I recently wrote this article as part of a freelance assignment. The publisher decided not to use it, so I will share it with you instead!

For many years, soy has been a controversial topic. Conflicting research over the last decade has left consumers confused and wary. This, along with the abundance of information (and misinformation) on the Internet, has led many consumers to avoid soy completely out of fear of developing cancer or consuming GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). This article will examine the latest research and provide updated recommendations for soy consumption.

Characteristics of Soy

Soy products are found in many forms in the United States food market, most commonly tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and edamame. There is also an abundance of processed soy products, such as vegetarian forms of chicken nuggets, burgers, and hot dogs. Soy is a rich source of many dietary nutrients, including protein, fiber, vitamin K, and B vitamins.

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Soy and Cancer Prevention

Many studies have shown the protective effects of soy against cancer. It should be noted that in many Asian countries, where soy consumption is high, overall cancer rates are much lower than in the United States. One cohort study in Japan showed that consumption of isoflavones was associated with a reduced breast cancer risk (Journal of National Cancer Research, 2003). Genistein, an isoflavone in soy, is thought to prevent cancer cell growth by binding estrogen to decrease the development of hormonal cancers, particularly that of the breast. This contradicts older studies that showed a link to increased cancer, however these studies were conducted on mice. The author of one such study, Dr. Mark Messina, later discovered that rodents metabolize isoflavones at a much higher rate than humans, and therefore the effects were only seen in very high doses. In fact, even the rodent studies did not consistently produce these results (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2011). Studies have been difficult to conduct in the United States, because soy intake is relatively low among American women (Today’s Dietitian, 2013). Therefore, it is challenging to determine the exact reason(s) that Asian women have lower cancer rates.

One proposed theory to explain the disparity between US and Asian cancer rates is the amount of meat in the diet. Typically, the Japanese diet contains almost no saturated fat due to relatively low meat consumption. Countries with higher animal fat intake have higher breast cancer rates. Even in modern Japan, where a Western diet is more commonly consumed than in past decades due to the rise of international fast food chains, breast cancer rates are rising among the younger generations. Meat and other foods high in saturated fat are known to increase estrogen production. However, saturated fat is not thought to be the direct cause, as many studies have shown positive relationships between meat intake and breast cancer even when fat intake is controlled (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 2016).

Soy and Cancer Survivors

One common perception is that women who have survived breast cancer should avoid soy products. The thought process behind this is that because soy foods promote estrogen production, that the estrogen can promote the growth of breast cancer cells. Current research, however, contradicts this belief. The largest study to date, a pooled analysis of studies consisting of over 10,000 breast cancer patients, showed that consuming as little as 10 mg of isoflavones was linked to a 25% decrease in recurrence. This was true in both American and Asian women. Isoflavones have also not been shown to have any harmful interaction with hormone treatments like tamoxifen, and in fact may even be protective of women taking these treatments. However, more research is needed in this area to make conclusive recommendations (Today’s Dietitian, 2013).

Areas of Controversy

Soy has been purported to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol. These findings are controversial as it is unclear whether it is a direct result of eating soy or simply due to replacing animal proteins with soy protein. In addition, benefit was only shown by consuming at least 50 grams of soy protein daily, the equivalent of eight cups of soymilk. Consuming soy in these quantities is likely to be difficult to achieve for most individuals (The Nutrition Source, 2014).

Another area of current research is the impact of soy consumption on memory. One study of Hawaiian women of Japanese heritage showed that excessive soy intake was possibly related to a decline in cognitive function, but this finding has not been confirmed by other long-term studies (The Nutrition Sources, 2014).

Finally, there is ongoing debate regarding the effects of consuming GMOs. Unfortunately, soy is one of the most common GMO crops grown in the United States. The long-term effects of eating GMO foods are not yet known, as not enough time has elapsed since their adoption into the United States food supply. It is currently the consensus of the USDA and FDA that GMO crops have no adverse health effects, but one must consider the well-known relationships that exist between the government and agricultural giant Monsanto, the largest producer of GMO seed in this country (Robin, 2008). There is no current law requiring labeling of GMO foods, however many companies are doing this voluntarily. Many manufacturers of soy products, such as Silk, are proudly labeling their products as non GMO.

Whole vs Processed Soy

One issue that many individuals have with soy is that fact that it is often highly processed in the United States. Great effort has been made by manufacturers to lure meat-eating consumers by creating products that have a similar taste and texture to meat. As with the processing of all other foods, the chemical composition and nutritional content is changed, and arguably, so are the health effects. Isoflavone content and antioxidant potential can be lost through various steps in processing such as bleaching, isolating, and deodorizing (South Dakota State University, 2008). There is sweeping evidence that consuming a diet high in processed foods, particularly processed meat, can lead to adverse health effects.

Current Recommendations

Soy should be chosen in its whole, unprocessed form, such as edamame, and it is generally recommended that a whole-foods diet be adhered to as much as possible (Today’s Dietitian, 2013). When purchasing soy foods, look for the non GMO label on the package. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans currently recommends 1-3 servings daily of soy foods to get the benefits of the isoflavones (USDA, 2015).

Original Recipe: Butternut Squash Mac n’Cheese

Pasta is a well-known vice of mine, and macaroni and cheese was a particular comfort food for me growing up. Because dairy just does not agree with me and no dish is worth the stomach pains, I had to find another way to enjoy this childhood favorite. I’ve come across many of these recipes using butternut squash, but I like to play around until I come up with my idea of perfection. The sauce is creamy, cheezy, and satisfying, (with a “z” to distinguish from ACTUAL cheese), and truly is the ultimate comfort food. We had a bout of extremely cold, windy, wintry weather this weekend, and I made this Friday night in a desperate attempt to warm my bones. It worked! I think you’ll find it quite effective too.

Also, this recipe is a great way to sneak in some extra veggies. I add some of this into my hubby’s “real” mac n’ cheese — it allows me to use less butter and milk and therefore cuts the fat significantly. He doesn’t seem to notice 😉

This recipe takes a little preparation, so I recommend making the cashew cheeze ahead of time. (I pretty much always have a batch made — it’s so versatile!) Otherwise it takes less then 30 minutes to prepare. So, without further ado:

Butternut Squash Penne & Cheeze

Serves 3-4 (depending on who you’re feeding — I have a 16-year-old son, so this only feeds the two of us!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 1/2 box penne pasta
  • 1 cup cashew cheeze (see below)
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the butternut squash one of two ways.

1) Quick prep – fill a casserole dish with about 1 inch of water. Slice the butternut squash and place the halves face down in the dish. Cover with plastic wrap (BPA free) and microwave for 10-15 minutes until pierced easily with a knife.

2) If you’re not pressed for time, preheat oven to 400. Cut squash in half and brush with olive oil. Place face down on a baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes until pierced easily with a knife. (I prefer this method simply because roasting brings out some great flavor from the squash!)

Cook pasta while squash is cooking, as per usual pasta-boiling directions.

Cashew Cheeze:

  • 1 cup raw, unsalted cashews (boiled for 10 minutes)
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • pinch sea salt
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp yellow mustard
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Scoop cooked squash out of the skin and into the food processor. Blend until it looks like this:

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Your cheeze sauce is ready. When pasta is done cooking and has been drained, dump it back into the pot and pour the cheeze sauce over the top. Stir well to combine, season to taste, and serve immediately. Served with steamed broccoli or other favorite green veggie.

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Dig in!!

Peace, love, and veggies,

Jean

 

 

 

Snacks you can feel good about

Happy New Year everyone!

One of my resolutions is to be more active on this blog. I have been gaining more followers and I don’t want to lose them out of boredom. Sooooo, you can definitely expect to see more from me this year! Hurray!

To start it off, we’re going to talk about snacks, because who doesn’t love snacks? Many of my clients feel that snacking is a bad thing. They feel guilty and hang their heads in shame when they admit to me they’ve been munching between meals. What do I tell them? Snacking is a good thing! It helps keep you satisfied when it’s not time for a meal, and can actually help keep you from overeating when you do have a meal. HOWEVER — WHAT you snack on very much matters. I’m always being asked for suggestions, so to help you make smart choices, I’ve compiled a list of snacks that you can enjoy without feeling guilty.

General rules – For most people, snacks should be under 200 calories and should contain at least two food groups — one of which should be a protein or healthy fat. If you eat only carbs, the satisfaction won’t last long and you’ll be hungry again in no time. Some great combinations:

  • Apple with 1 Tbsp peanut butter
  • Baby carrots with 1/4 cup hummus
  • Trail mix: 2 Tbsp dried fruit, 2 Tbsp raw almonds, 1 tsp dark chocolate chips
  • 6 oz Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup sliced fruit and 1 Tbsp hemp seeds
  • Small banana with 1 Tbsp almond butter spread on it
  • 1 slice whole grain toast with 1/4 avocado smashed on top
  • Homemade smoothie, such as the one below: 1 cup almond milk, 1 cup desired fruit, 1 cup baby spinach

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Now, for specific products:

Bars – you must be careful with these. Look for bars without HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), soy protein isolate, or ingredients you can’t pronounce. They often have over 200 calories and are loaded with sugar, so I don’t generally recommend a bar unless it’s meant as a post-workout refuel and meets the criteria above. Protein bars from GNC or other “nutrition” stores are usually poor quality. The brands I like:

  • Larabar (particularly Alt as they have 10 g of plant protein)
  • Kind (including Healthy Grains)
  • Kashi GoLean roll
  • Raw Revolution
  • Chia Warriorraw revolution

Really, you should make your own. There are tons of recipes out there. I love to make the energy balls from Rich Roll’s The Plantpower Way book:

  • 8 Medjool dates, pitted (soak in water for 30 minutes before making the recipe)
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 4 Tbsp hemp seeds (Walmart carries them)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts

Grind walnuts in the food processor until mealy. Add in the nibs, cocoa powder, and half of the hemp seeds.  Add dates one at a time and blend until everything is a paste consistency. Turn off the food processor, remove the blade, and roll into balls. Roll the balls in the rest of the hemp seeds. The way I make them I usually get about 16 balls out of it, and 3 of them would equal about 180 calories.

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The energy balls I made last week.

Salty – when I say salty, I simply mean they taste salty. Everything listed here is still considered low sodium, although many of them don’t taste that way! Some Jean-approved products:

  • Skinny Pop — all varieties
  • Lesser Evil popcorn (try the wasabi — yum!)
  • Air-popped popcorn (not microwave…the bags have cancer-causing chemicals, yuck!)  — Can you tell I like popcorn??
  • Most brands of kettle corn
  • Newman’s Own protein pretzels (hard to find, Vitacost has them)
  • Snapea Crisps
  • The Good Bean crispy crunchy chickpeas
  • World Peas (see my review in the previous post)
  • True North Nut Clusters (bonus: also sweet!)

Sweet – now let me be clear on something: this should NOT be your first choice and should NOT replace healthier snacks. Sugar does not keep you full and you will likely end up craving more if you’re not careful. Treat these as desserts or emergency supplies (you know, like if you’re having the worst day ever or PMS). I personally allow myself a couple of pieces of dark chocolate every day after lunch, but wouldn’t eat it in place of my morning snack. It’s all in the balance! Some 200 calorie ideas:

  • Five Ghirardelli dark chocolate squares
  • 2 Tbsp dark chocolate-covered nuts
  • 1/2 cup ice cream (preferably non-dairy versions like cashew or almond)
  • 9 Hershey’s kisses
  • 2 fun-size candy bars

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Happy snacking!

Exposing the truth about the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

*Update: I am more than pleased to announce that after significant pressure from outspoken, persistent, contentious dietitians like myself and thousands of others, the AND rescinded its contract with Kraft foods (although never quite explains why it was a good idea in the first place).* Read on, you should know the story anyway:

Those of you who are dietitians in the U.S. are undoubtedly aware of the entity that is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). They both dictate the practicing of dietetics and provide the recommendations for healthy eating in America. What you may not be aware of is the myriad special interest groups hanging out in the pockets of the AND. A press release has just been made announcing the new partnership between the AND and Kraft Foods. Kraft will be added to the list of AND’s corporate sponsors, and “foods” like Kraft American Cheese and boxed Macaroni and Cheese will now be promoted as healthy food options for your children. It should also be mentioned that AND’s sponsor list already includes Coca-Cola, Pepsi, ConAgra, and McDonald’s. Meanwhile, the Academy maintains that this move is not an endorsement of Kraft foods. Doesn’t make sense, does it?

You can read the New York Times article here:
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/12/a-cheese-product-wins-kids-nutrition-seal/?_r=0

This year, the Virginia chapter of AND will be meeting in my region and I recently received the program brochure in the mail. Lunch for this conference of dietitians from all over the state is provided by none other than McDonald’s, which everyone will eat while their corporate dietitian discusses the “healthy” options that McDonald’s offers. I am infuriated and am refusing to attend this conference. I will not give my money to any organization who claims to promote health but contradicts themselves by allowing a corporation NOTORIOUS for their low-nutrition, poor-quality food to the American people. I want no part of this madness.

I encourage you to visit the Dietitians for Professional Integrity website to learn more about how you as a dietitian (and consumer) can advocate for yourselves as professionals and for the well-being of your clients or patients.
http://www.integritydietitians.org

Meanwhile, please join me in boycotting the AND and do not attend any conferences or CEUs provided by them. By doing so you are not contributing to this massive conflict of interest.

Thank you for reading. Have a healthy day!

Breakfast, baby!

I’m stuck at home after a snowstorm, so I had to take advantage and post this because I’ve been talking about it forEVER. Breakfast is my favorite meal of all time, and I’ve been saving up tons of pictures for this post. Most of these I’ve made up, but if it is a recipe and I have online access to it, I will provide the link or at least tell you where it came from. Why should you eat breakfast? What should a healthy breakfast contain? Your burning questions answered and your taste buds tantalized!

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Vegan oatmeal-banana pancakes with figs and strawberries – recipe from Moosewood Collective Cookbook and is in an earlier blog post 🙂

Now, the FAQs:

Does it really matter if you eat breakfast?

In a word, yes!! Think about it — you’ve been sleeping for (hopefully at least eight) hours, and your body is ready to replenish. If you don’t eat breakfast, your metabolism still thinks you’re asleep and therefore conserves any energy it would release to your cells. Breakfast — BREAK the FAST — is meant to give you that kick start so you will start using energy, and therefore, burning calories. Studies have shown people who eat breakfast are leaner for this very reason. In addition, breakfast eaters have improved mood, increased concentration, and get fewer headaches than those who skip it. If you’re stomach isn’t growling, you can focus on what you’re supposed to be doing at work/school/whatever it is you do all day 🙂 With children, all of the above benefits are shown as well as better test performance. It’s a win-win, really!

What should I be eating?

Breakfast should contain 2-3 food groups, two of which should be carbohydrates and lean proteins or healthy fats. The third is usually fruit or a dairy/dairy equivalent. Carbohydrates provide that cell energy, protein/fat keeps you full, and fruit gets some vitamins and fiber into your system. Choose from the following foods to maximize the benefits. Avoid greasy meats, large quantities of cheese, pastries, donuts, biscuits, or anything else with a high fat or sugar content. This will just cause a blood sugar crash and subsequent sleepiness, which is definitely counterproductive!

I’m not hungry in the morning. Do I still need to eat?

Again, yes! For some people, it takes a little training to get your stomach used to it. Start with something small, like a fruit & almond milk smoothie or a slice of toast with peanut butter. After about a week, you will start waking up hungry and ready to take on something bigger. Remember, you’re not trying to pack in a whole day’s worth of calories. 300-350 is plenty for more people, but if you exercise early in the day, go up to around 500 calories.

Build your Breakfast!

Carbs: Oatmeal, high-fiber cereal (5 g fiber or more), sprouted grain bread (like Ezekiel), whole-grain bagel or English muffin, stone-ground grits (NOT instant), whole-grain waffles or pancakes (such as Kashi), flatbread, wrap.

Proteins: Eggs (free range for better cholesterol content), egg whites, tofu, quinoa, organic cheese, low fat organic milk, soy milk, Greek yogurt, soy yogurt.

Healthy fats: Nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, avocado, almond milk, coconut milk, coconut shreds or oil

The combinations are almost endless. Get creative, and feel free to veer away from traditional breakfast foods. As long as it meets the above criteria, you can basically eat anything. I know people who don’t like breakfast food, and end up eating last night’s leftovers instead. Again, the rules are yours to make, but make sure to get your 3 food groups!

All of the following meals take less than 5 minutes to prepare, making them perfect for busy weekday mornings! All pictures are mine. I’m getting better at food photography, I think!

Gluten-free rolled oats with chunky almond butter, hempseeds, and pomegranate stewed apples

Gluten-free rolled oats with chunky almond butter, hempseeds, and pomegranate stewed apples

Avocado on Ezekiel bread with a clementine

Mashed avocado on Ezekiel bread with a clementine

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Blueberry soy yogurt with muesli, dried cherries, and pomegranate arils

Half a whole-grain bagel with peanut butter and sliced apple

Half a whole-grain bagel with peanut butter and sliced apple

A less traditional route: Mashed sweet potato with raisins, walnuts, and a little maple syrup.

A less traditional route: Mashed sweet potato with raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, and a little maple syrup.

Smoothie bowl: Beets, banana, strawberries, hemp, and chia seeds. Sprinkled with granola for some crunch.

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Kashi waffle sandwich with almond butter and banana

Peach-mango soy yogurt, chia/hemp seeds, dried persimmons and oat clusters

Peach-mango soy yogurt, chia/hemp seeds, dried persimmons and oat clusters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have a little more time or can prepare ahead, you can make some more fun stuff like pancakes and breakfast breads. I absolutely LOVE these two recipes from Ceara’s Kitchen:

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Flourless Pumpkin Pancakes with almond butter, pumpkin butter, and chocolate chips. On the side – a beet, berry, and chia smoothie. These pancakes are made in the blender and are SO easy and SO amazingly delicious. This picture actually made me a pseudo-celebrity on Instagram, and was reposted by Ceara herself!

 

 

Vegan Banana Oat Breakfast Cake. I baked this last night and we ate half of it immediately! Great by itself or with a smear of vegan cream cheese or almond butter.

Vegan Banana Oat Breakfast Cake. I baked this last night and we ate half of it immediately! Great by itself or with a smear of vegan cream cheese or almond butter.

Links to recipes:

http://www.cearaskitchen.com/healthy-vegan-banana-oat-breakfast-cake/

http://www.cearaskitchen.com/pumpkin-oat-blender-pancakes-flour-free-gluten-free-vegan/

With awesome foods like this, fast food is COMPLETELY unnecessary and obsolete. If you don’t even have five minutes to make something, keep low-sugar, high-protein bars like Clif, Larabar, Kind, or your other preferred brand in the pantry. Also have plenty of fresh fruit, so you can grab a bar and a banana on your way out the door. This way, your belly is happy and you can confidently drive right past that drive-thru!

That’s all, folks. Happy breakfast-ing!!

Trading and bartering for food – a lost practice??

I’ve always found great merit in the trade-and-barter system of old. In my opinion, money only serves as a means to an end. You don’t need money, you just need it to buy things. Everything. It has no real value. I understand its pragmatic use in modern society, mind you, but I don’t necessarily feel it’s appropriate in all cases. One such case is when it comes to food. Not until I moved to the country did I really start to get a feel for this. Neighbors would bring us huge bags of squash, okra, lettuce, or whatever else they had in surplus. Once we began raising chickens, we started giving them fresh eggs. Since they don’t raise chickens, it was a welcome trade for them! I really got to liking this system and now try to perpetuate it as much as possible.

There is a kindly older lady that lives next door. While she remains fairly independent, it’s to be expected that she’ll have difficulty with certain tasks. My husband started cutting her grass for her, particularly on very hot days where her sweet little sun hat might not cut it. She just so happens to have two enormous blueberry bushes, from which she graciously allows me to pick whenever I want. She doesn’t spray her bushes, so I know I am getting 100% fresh, organic berries, which are hard to find (and/or expensive). While she expects nothing in return, I always make sure to give her something. Whether it’s eggs, or seasonal homegrown produce like figs, cucumbers, or melons, she is so appreciative of that gesture.

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So many blueberries!

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A small segment of the prolific bushes next door!

 

 

 

Recently, a woman I play soccer with offered to bring me some of her squash, cucumbers, and jalapenos. Who was I to refuse? I happily came home from my game last week with a bag full of fresh produce. This week, she’s supposed to give me tomatoes. This is perfect, because mine aren’t ready yet. In exchange, what is she getting? Some of those amazing blueberries! See — I’m paying it forward!

You can save money this way, too. Not only are you avoiding having to buy such things at the store, you are giving AND getting back! You could almost make a club out of it — each person grows certain things, and then you trade for what your friends have. It’s kind of like having your own personal co-op. Everyone wins! Not sure how to start? Spy on your neighbors and see what they’re growing (in a legal way, of course!). Then, offer to trade them for something you’ve grown……or even trade for a service! Maybe the older gentleman next door grows tomatoes and also seems to need help with gardening. I’d bet he would be more than happy to give you some of those ‘maters if you pull some weeds for him. You never know.

Swap with everyone you know, and help me bring back the trade-and-barter movement!

So, what DO you eat?

“So what DO you eat?” This question is usually preceded by my explaining that I don’t eat meat, dairy (90% of the time), or GMO anything. I’ve been a vegetarian for fifteen years, and I can’t even count how many times I’ve been asked that. I live in a Southern town that is very traditional in terms of dietary practices. A meal isn’t complete without meat, and a vegetarian is a rare creature. I think bacon may even be an unofficial food group.

I have two purposes for doing this. The first is that I feel compelled to clear up the following misconceptions: Eating healthy is boring, vegetarians are pale weaklings, and eating all day will make you fat. The second is, without being pretentious, to give some insight into a day in the gastronomic life of a dietitian and to show that I am, in fact, not a rabbit (as many a carnivore has accused me of at some point)!

So, to answer that burning question, here is what I ate today! It should be noted that I end up eating about every 3-4 hours in general. It gives me steady energy all day, and helps prevent low blood sugar, to which I am prone.
(Bonus: You’ll even get two recipes out of it. Score! Read on.)

Breakfast – Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Muesli mixed in soy yogurt

Morning snack – Organic apple, salt & pepper pistachios

Lunch – vegetarian sushi roll, half an avocado (this is a daily thing — I’m obsessed), and a spinach salad with lime vinaigrette. I then had two almond butter chocolate chip cookies (one of your recipes — you’re welcome!).

Post Zumba – 1 cup almond milk blended with a banana and 1/2 scoop Raw Protein powder

Dinner – Quinoa spaghetti with mushrooms, peas, and kale pesto (recipe #2). Slice of Italian bread on the side with marinara.

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Dessert – Dark chocolate-covered Powerberries (from Trader Joe’s).

Drink – Water, water, WATER! I sip all day — you should never be thirsty.

Be assured I get all the protein I need along with loads of healthy fats, and I even get my sweet tooth satisfied (often more than once a day!). I don’t have to count calories because I know almost all the foods I eat are naturally nutrient dense — meaning more nutrients, fewer calories. There’s no question that following a plant-based diet while being conscious of our food’s origins is the way to go. This is not anecdotal evidence, people — it’s proven!

I promised you the recipes, and recipes you shall have! Click on the “Recipes” category and they are the first two on the post. Enjoy!