Plant-Based at the Cookout

Summertime is well underway. Today is July 4th, and for many in America that means a backyard get-together complete with grilling. When you don’t eat meat, the struggle is so, so real when it comes to cookouts. While everyone else is scarfing hot dogs, hamburgers, and barbecue, we vegetarians aren’t left with many options. Maybe there’s some watermelon, if we’re lucky. I also love some grilled veggies, and maybe the grill-master lets me slip a portabello cap or two in there (if I can find a spot not covered in meat char….)  While I love these things, they’re just not going to fill me up. I’ve learned to bring my own food, with enough to go around. I love for people to try new things, so it’s a great opportunity to share some of my favorite plant-based dishes with others!

Here are a few of my go-to favorite dishes for hot summertime gatherings.

Four Bean Salad

Everybody loves this one. This is probably the one I make the most because people request it! It’s packed with protein and fiber thanks to the variety of beans, and has a delicious, rich-tasting but light dressing. Plus, it’s crazy easy! Just make sure to get this made either the night before or several hours before you’re planning to serve it, to give the flavors time to mingle. You can use any types of beans you have available, by the way, so feel free to experiment!

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Makes 4 servings

1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup frozen green beans, thawed and drained
2 celery stalks, chopped fine
1/2 red onion, chopped fine
1 cup fresh, finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp fresh finely chopped rosemary

For the dressing:

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar, coconut sugar, or agave (you can skip this, but I like the hint of sweetness with all the vinegar)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a large bowl, mix the beans, celery, onion, parsley and rosemary. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add the dressing to the beans. Toss to coat. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours, to allow the beans to soak up the flavor of the dressing.

Loaded Veggie Pasta Salad

Typically when I go to cookouts, the pasta salad is some sort of elbow-macaroni-with-mayonnaise type of situation. I’m just not down with that. (I mean, why?? In no other context would you combine these two things). My version is colorful and full of fresh, crunchy veggies and herbs, and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser!

1 box tri-color rotini (or gluten-free rotini)
1 cup broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
½ cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 bell peppers (any color), diced
½ onion, thinly sliced
1 small cucumber, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup sliced black olives
Large handful fresh basil
Large handful fresh parsley
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Lots of black pepper with salt to taste
½ tsp steak seasoning (trust me — it sounds weird coming from someone who doesn’t even eat steak…..but it adds a nice element to this!)

Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse and drain well, then place in a large bowl. Add about 1/4 cup water to a small saucepan. Once it boils, add broccoli and steam for 1 minute. Remove and transfer to a colander, and rinse well with cold water. Add to pasta along with all other vegetables. Mix well to coat. Using kitchen scissors, snip in basil and parsley. Add olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and stir gently to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve!

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And now — for dessert! Ice cream is another big hit when it’s unbearably hot out. If, like me, dairy causes you unmentionable gastrointestinal distress, you get sad when watch all the kids licking their drippy, tasty cones and you can’t partake. Enter: NICE CREAM!!! It’s insanely easy and you can make just about any flavor you want. In its most basic form, you only need two ingredients: frozen fruit and almond milk. The rest is up to you. You can add in nut butter, cacao powder, chocolate chips, chopped nuts, coconut…..the possibilities are endless. Just make sure to stir in the “hard ingredients” (nuts and chocolate chips, namely) by hand after you’re done with the food processing part. Bonus: it’s healthy enough that you can eat it for breakfast, so that’s a big win in my book!

Nice Cream

The basic recipe:

4 frozen bananas, sliced (or 2 cups of other frozen fruit)
1/2 cup almond milk

THIS IS LITERALLY IT. You just put it into the food processor and blend until smooth. Then all you have to do is keep it frozen until about 5 minutes before you want to serve it. I told you it was easy!!

My favorite version, though, involves adding some peanut butter and dairy-free chocolate chips…..because I don’t know of a better combo than that. If you’d like to try this, just add:

1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I like the EnjoyLife brand — they are dairy-free and free of all the common allergens!

BOOM. Done. Scoop it out just like you would ice cream.

Prepare to amaze your friends.

 

Stay cool out there, folks. More plant-based goodness to come!

Peace, love, and veggies,

Jean

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).