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Information Overload 

How to Deal with Overwhelming, Often Contradictory Information About What's Good For You

New research reports about health and nutrition are published constantly—some confirm and others contradict what we already believe.

While studies can offer valuable information, we can’t always believe everything we hear or read for the simple reason that studies can be manipulated to achieve preconceived results or derive specific conclusions.

It is imperative that we make objective and educated choices about what to believe and how those beliefs affect our attitude and behavior towards our diet and lifestyle.

When we choose to believe certain results, it is our responsibility to have a clear understanding about where those studies come from, who conducts them, what organization is behind them and who sponsors them.

There will always be controversial outcomes about nutrition and health risk factors, but it is in our best interest to sift through all the rhetoric and look at conflicting results with both open minds and skepticism concurrently.

Some may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. Rather than succumbing to the confusion of controversy and becoming ambivalent about our Amira Elgannutrition and wellness because of information overload, it’s vital we realize the one fact about health and nutrition all well known health organizations agree on: that is the direct correlation between diet and lifestyle choices and health risks.

But here is the not-so-shocking truth: we don’t need studies to tell us, but simple common sense, that poor eating habits, bad diets and lack of exercise most likely lead to higher risk of developing chronic illnesses including obesity, risk of heart disease and cancer. All we need to do is look around us and at ourselves to let facts speak for themselves.

Those who eat healthfully, exercise and live active lifestyles free of toxics like alcohol and cigarettes usually look better, are fitter and live more enjoyable and longer lives. On the other hand, those who smoke, drink too much alcohol or eat junk food tend get sicker, suffer more and die prematurely.

When it comes to diet, exercise and lifestyle habits, we often choose to believe what’s most convenient to justify what we are already doing or not doing. But we need to be completely honest with ourselves and examine not only who we are but determine who we want to be. It’s never too late to start making small but consistent strides toward wellness. Take one day at a time and keep in mind that each day counts—positively or negatively. The rewards—or consequences—are cumulative. The choice is yours.

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Food For Thought

I find Indian cuisine inspirational when creating recipes because it makes such sophisticated use of vegetables, beans, grains and rice with equally perfect mixture of aromatic and savory spices that bring out an enticing flavor in food. Indian spices work particularly well with tofu, beans, grains and vegetables and make food taste great with little or no added fat.

The amazingly flavorful Indian cuisine has distinct characteristics of aromas and exotic spices. At the same time, Indian food is magnificently diverse; the different regions within India offer their own signature dishes using their own blends of spices, unique methods of cooking and local ingredients. Such differences stem from the long and rich Indian history of thousands of years. Each region’s cuisine has been uniquely influenced by the fusion of other cultures throughout its history creating distinctive combination of spices, traditional ingredients and varying cooking techniques.

For example, masala is a savory and aromatic mixture of different Indian spices (masala, in fact, means “blend of spices”). Garam masala is a hot spice blend, which varies depending on the spices that are combined to create a unique flavor. The mixture can include cloves, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cumin seeds, bay leaves, black pepper, nutmeg, dried chilies, mace, fennel and fenugreek seeds. Garam masala has a very distinct and wonderful aroma and is a signature ingredient in Northern India cuisine. You can prepare your own freshly ground blend but many health food stores, Indian markets and even some grocery stores carry it in their spice section.

Here is a recipe to prepare your own garam masala blend:

2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cardamon seeds
1 cinnamon stick broken into small pieces
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole cloves

Although I prefer raw seeds, the seeds may be dry roasted on a large heated pan (no oil) over low to medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes stirring constantly.

Put all the spices in a clean spice or coffee grinder and grind finely to a powder. Store in an airtight jar in a dried cool place to last for many months.


Reader Q&A 

Q: I would like to reduce the amount of meat in my family's diet and prepare more meals with beans. I love all beans, but have trouble digesting them, no matter what I do. I have a very sensitive digestive system. I would appreciate any suggestions. Thanks.

K. W., Washington, Pennsylvania

A: Beans or legumes are one of the most important sources of protein, minerals, vitamins, fiber, essential fatty acids and complex carbs. Beans with rice, for example, are a perfect replacement of meat protein with a lot less calories, no cholesterol, no saturated fat and better for your pocket.

I’m not sure what your particular digestive problems are or what you’ve tried to counter them. Typically, beans cause flatulence and indigestion because they’re not properly prepared causing gas formation in the colon, bloating and other discomforts caused by certain complex sugars.

Soaking all large dried beans overnight before cooking them can prevent most digestive problems for the average person. To cook beans, add 4 cups of water for every cup of large dried beans in a pot with 3 cloves of garlic and ½ of a small onion (1 cup of dried beans makes about 2½ cups of cooked beans). Bring beans and water to a boil, then reduce heat, cover with lid and let them simmer until desired tenderness (1 to 2 hours). Add salt at the very end when they’re done. Salt dehydrates beans when they’re not fully cooked.

But to better prevent or minimize the gas producing compounds in beans that cause flatulence and indigestion there are several additional steps that will help. Not all these steps are necessary but doing all of them will give the best results.
 

1. Soak all larger dried beans overnight in water.

2. Set a reminder to drain and add fresh water at least once before going to bed.

3. After beans soak overnight, drain the water again and continue to soak beans until ready to cook them.

4. To cook the beans, drain and rinse them with cool running water once again before cooking them.

5. When initially cooking the beans, let beans and water come to a boil. Turn heat off, cover and let them sit for 30 to 60 minutes.

6. After the resting period, discard the liquid and add fresh water. Turn heat back on and add more garlic and onions. Cook the beans until they boil again then reduce heat, cover and let them simmer until tender stirring occasionally (60 to 90 minutes). Add salt when they’re done.

7. Or, if using a pressure cooker after the resting period, discard water, transfer the beans to the pressure cooker, add fresh water (at least 2 inches of water above the beans) and cook until the bean aroma is released (30 to 40 minutes). Add salt when they’re done.

8. Add ⅛ teaspoon of baking soda (for every 1 cup of dried beans) to the beans when they’re cooked and mix well to counter the gas causing properties.

9. Avoid eating fruit and other sweet or sugary foods right before and during a bean meal.


Words of Wisdom

“What we do today, right now, will have an accumulated effect on all our tomorrows.”

Alexandra Stoddard

The Research Department

According to government statistics, both obesity and diabetes are on the rise. Figures from the National Center for Health Statistics show a 27% increase in diabetes between 1997 and 2002. The adult onset or type II diabetes is almost always preventable through a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Life expectancy at birth is also rising, but figures also report that two thirds of Americans are overweight and one third are obese.

While the average American is living longer -- largely because medical scientists are advancing drugs and invasive surgeries rapidly -- our health care costs are shooting up.


Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week


Click on the picture for a closer look!

Spicy Tofu, Bean and Veggie Medley (vegan)
Serves 6

This easy-to-make medley of nutritious and tasty ingredients makes a quick and marvelous, low-calorie but rich-tasting meal. It contains complete and high quality protein and it’s rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 25 minutes Equipment: Food processor or blender

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible)

2 tablespoons unrefined sunflower or canola oil
6 fresh garlic cloves
1 small onion, peeled and cut in 4 pieces
20 ounces fresh firm tofu, finely cubed (about 3 cups of ¼ inch cubes)
12 fresh plum tomatoes peeled (or 28-oz whole peeled canned tomatoes)
2 teaspoons fresh finely chopped thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 cup light coconut milk
1 cup regular plain soy milk (Vitasoy’s classic original is my favorite one)
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon garam masala (optional)
1 cup fresh corn kernels (or frozen yellow corn kernels)
1 cup frozen peas
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In large pot heat oil over low heat. Meanwhile, process garlic and onions in the food processor or blender until finely chopped. Add garlic and onion mixture to oil and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add tofu and sauté for 3 more minutes.

2. In the meantime, put tomatoes and thyme in the food processor and coarsely puree. Add tomato mixture to tofu sautéing over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add cayenne, garam masala, coconut and soy milk stirring well. Cover with lid and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.

3. Add corn, peas, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 7 minutes over low heat. Leftovers will taste great, keep in fridge for up to 3 days.

Cook’s tip: To peel and seed tomatoes immerse them in boiling water for about a minute then transfer tomatoes onto a colander and place them under cold running water for 30 seconds. Peel skin away, cut in half and remove seeds and core if desired.
 

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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.

Copyright© 2003 - 2009 Amira Elgan. All Rights Reserved.