THE BLOG

24
Jun

Vegan Colcannon

By Cassie Heneghan

Colcannon is the ultimate budget comfort food and part of my Irish heritage. Grab yourself a large white cabbage and leave a wedge to make some apple coleslaw.

Makes 4 serves

Ingredients
60g nuttelex
1 brown onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
800g potatoes, peeled, diced
¼ cup coconut cream
2 tbsp vegan mayonnaise
2 tsp flaked salt
2 tbsp mint leaves, roughly chopped
2 spring onions, thinly sliced

1. Place the potatoes into a large pot and cover with cold water. Simmer over a medium heat until just cooked through. Drain, place back into the pot and set aside.

2. In a frypan, heat the nuttelex and saute the onion and garlic until golden brown. Place into the pot with the potatoes along with the coconut cream, mayonnaise, salt, mint and spring onions and mash using a potato masher.

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23
Jun

5 reasons to think twice before taking calcium pills

By Robyn Chuter

  • Calcium supplements are frequently recommended to postmenopausal women.
  • Calcium supplements raise the risk of kidney stones, heart attack and acute abdominal conditions.
  • Elderly people who take a calcium supplement have a higher risk of death.
  • Taking calcium supplements does not reduce the risk of bone fractures, and neither does eating a high-calcium diet.

Calcium supplements are widely promoted in popular media, and routinely prescribed by both medical doctors and naturopaths to postmenopausal women, particularly those who have been diagnosed with low bone density. Many vegans consume calcium supplements and/or calcium-fortified foods because they worry that their dietary intake of calcium may be inadequate.

Because calcium is a mineral found abundantly in our food supply, it has long been assumed that raising calcium intake, through either higher intake of dairy products fortified foods or supplementation, is at worst harmless, and at best beneficial to our bones.

But an editorial published in the medical journal Heart pulls together multiple strands of evidence which strongly indicate that both those assumptions are false.

Here are some disturbing facts on calcium supplements:

#1. Calcium supplementation raises the risk of renal calculi (kidney stones) by about 20%.

The pain caused by kidney stones is so excruciating, it is often described as one of the strongest pain sensations humans can experience – and the closest men (who comprise 80% of kidney stone cases) ever get to the pain of childbirth!

Taking calcium supplements was found to raise the risk of kidney stones by 20% in the Nurses’ Health Study (1) and by 17% in the Women’s Health Initiative trial (2).

#2. Calcium supplements substantially raise your risk of heart attack.

A metanalysis of 15 randomised, placebo-controlled trials of calcium supplementation, involving over 20 000 patients aged 40+ who were followed up for a year or more, found that patients allocated to calcium supplementation had around a 30% greater risk of suffering a heart attack (3).

Patients with renal failure (who are often given calcium supplements to lower their blood phosphate level) are at even higher risk: calcium pills dramatically accelerate coronary-artery calcification, contributing to the very high cardiovascular death rate in this population (4, 5, 6).

t1larg.vitamins.ts

#3. Taking calcium supplements nearly doubles your risk of admission to hospital with an acute abdominal condition.

A review of adverse events from 7 randomised clinical trials of calcium supplementation, found that taking calcium supplements caused a plethora of gastrointestinal complaints. Constipation, excessive abdominal cramping, bloating, severe diarrhoea or abdominal pain, upper gastrointestinal events and gastrointestinal disease were over 40% more likely to afflict people taking calcium pills than those taking placebo

Most worryingly, those on calcium pills were 92% more likely to require hospitalisation for an acute gastrointestinal condition (7).

#4. Elderly people have a higher risk of dying when they take calcium supplements.

A randomised, controlled trial conducted on 602 elderly, frail Australians found that those given 600 mg of calcium per day plus daily sunshine exposure, had a 47% increase in total mortality and a 76% increase in cardiovascular mortality compared to those receiving sunshine exposure alone (8).

#5. Taking calcium supplements does NOT reduce fracture risk.

This is the real kicker. The aggressive marketing activities of calcium pill manufacturers have managed to persuade almost the entire populace – including the vast majority of doctors – that raising calcium intake is the most important step we can take to lower the risk of bone fractures. Yet the authors of the Heart article point out that

“the anti-fracture effects of calcium are modest, having been demonstrated in only two studies of calcium plus vitamin D, and suggested to be of the order of about 10% reduction, in meta-analyses” (9).

And by contrast, several trials have found that higher calcium intake either has no effect on the risk of suffering a bone fracture risk, or actually increases it!

For example, an 18 year prospective analysis involving 72 337 postmenopausal women found that neither total calcium intake nor dairy product intake had any protective effect against bone fractures, while vitamin D intake was strongly protective (10).

The Women’s Health Initiative study referenced above (2) found that although

“calcium with vitamin D supplementation resulted in a small but significant improvement in hip bone density, [it] did not significantly reduce hip fracture.”

And a study of 61 433 Swedish women, who were followed up for 19 years, found that those with the highest intake of calcium had a 19% higher risk of suffering a fracture (11).

There are proven, safe and effective ways to build your bone health and decrease fracture risk, without the scary side-effects of calcium supplements! To find out more, read my article The top 5 tips for building strong, healthy bones.

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15
Jun

The B12 issue

  • Vitamin B12 is made by bacteria that live in soil and water, and are ingested by animals.
  • Deficiency causes serious consequences including anaemia, depression and elevated homocysteine.
  • Vegans, older people and those taking acid-suppressing medication should either take B12 supplements routinely or get a blood test for serum B12 every year.
  • Vitamin B12 injections are unnecessary; oral supplementation, especially with sublingual sprays or lozenges, is as effective, and possibly more effective, than injections.

However, vitamin B12 deficiency is very common in the general population; the Framingham Offspring Study found that, of the almost 3000 people tested, 39% had vitamin B12 levels below the desirable range. Interestingly, meat intake was not found to correlate with higher B12 levels in this study.

The prevalence of deficient or suboptimal B12 levels is highest in the elderly (very few of whom are vegetarian or vegan!!!), so it is clearly not a problem confined to those eating plant-based diets.

The fact is, vitamin B12 is made by bacteria – either living on the roots of plants, in the guts of animals or in water – and it only occurs in animal-derived foods as a product of bacterial activity.

If we drank water out of ponds, pulled vegetables out of the ground and ate them dirt and all, and generally weren’t so scrupulous with our food hygiene, we would all receive a perfectly adequate amount of vitamin B12 each day (along with a hefty dose of intestinal parasites, which our ancient ancestors were plagued with, and pathogenic bacteria). But chlorination of town water supplies kills B12-producing bacteria along with the nasty ones, and our vegies reach us in a scrubbed state, so we have very little exposure to these natural sources of B12.

Anyone adopting a plant-based diet should ask their GP for a serum B12 test every year unless they’re taking a supplement on a regular basis. Up until recently, the serum vitamin B12 test (which has a reference range so wide you can drive a Mack through it) was the only one you could get from most doctors unless you offered to sleep with them ;-). This resulted in many people with serum levels in the lower end of the reference range being reassured that their vitamin B12 level was ‘normal’, when in fact they were showing early signs of B12 deficiency such as increased red blood cell size.

vitamin-b12-deficiency

Fortunately, recent changes to testing procedures mean that if your serum B12 is in the lower end of the reference range, your blood sample will automatically be tested for ‘active’ B12 (holotranscobalamin), which is a much more accurate indicator of your B12 status.

If you’re over 50, you should also have an annual B12 blood test regardless of your dietary practices, because our ability to absorb B12 declines with age due to a condition called ‘atrophic gastritis’, which reduces stomach acid production.

You should also get tested each year if you’re on acid-suppressing medications such as Nexium, Prilosec, Zantac or Tagamet, which increase the risk of B12 deficiency. Better yet, make the right changes to your diet and get off acid suppressing medication, which also increases the risk of Streptococcus pneumoniae-associated pneumonia, hip fracture and other non-fragility fractures and polyps in the stomach that can turn cancerous.

I’m often asked by my clients whether supplemental vitamin B12 is derived from animal products, and whether the supplements are ‘natural’.

Here are the facts: All B12 supplements are made by bacteria which are purpose-grown on a cobalt-enriched medium in a laboratory. The B12 produced from this process is just as natural as the bacterial B12 found in flesh, dairy and eggs – that is, it’s made in the same way (i.e. by bacteria), and has exactly the same chemical structure, as vitamin B12 that you would get by eating the flesh or eggs from an animal.

The best B12 supplement is a sublingual (under the tongue) spray or lozenge. The vitamin B12 in these preparations is absorbed through the mucous membranes under the tongue, by passive diffusion. This sublingual absorption bypasses the numerous biochemical processes that take place in the gastrointestinal tract, which is a huge advantage for people with impaired absorption due to advancing age or gastrointestinal problems.

Oral vitamin B12 supplements, in sufficient doses, have been shown to be just as effective as B12 injections, even for people suffering from pernicious anaemia (a condition in which secretion of intrinsic factor, which is necessary for B12 absorption in the gut, is impaired). So there’s no need for B12 injections, which can be painful, are potentially dangerous in patients who are taking anticoagulants such as warfarin, and require a visit to a doctor or nurse, which adds inconvenience and extra cost.

A dose of 500 mcg of B12 2-3 times per week is sufficient for most adults to maintain good levels of vitamin B12; children require proportionately less depending on body weight. If a blood test has established that you have a B12 deficiency, take 500 mcg daily for 2 months, then repeat the blood test.

Although the science is not 100% clear on this, I lean toward using a methylcobalamin spray rather than cyanocobalamin, as cyanocobalamin has to be converted into methylcobalamin in your body anyway in order to be used, and methylcobalamin may be better retained in the body once absorbed than cyanocobalamin. Methylcobalamin is available in Australia in injection or patch form, or you can order methylcobalamin sprays for personal use only (i.e not for retail sale) from overseas.

I get mine from iHerb, which has a huge range of products, and fast, cheap shipping. If you haven’t already set up an account with iHerb, you can do so in seconds flat, and then use the discount code UTE208 at checkout to get $5-10 off your first order.

Just one word of warning: high dose vitamin B12 supplements have been reported to cause or aggravate cystic acne. I recommend choosing a supplement that contains 500 mcg or less of vitamin B12 to minimise this risk.

The bottom line: ensure your B12 level is sitting pretty by using a B12 supplement, then relax and enjoy your yummy, healthy plant-based food. (Or eat dirt if you’d rather get intestinal parasites along with your B12…)

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15
Jun

Zucchini and Green Bean Vegan Salad

A filling and fresh raw option that is a great quick lunch or a dinner side. Add some nuts or vermicelli noodles to bulk it out

Makes 2 serves

Ingredients
2 x zucchinis
100g green beans, top and tailed, halved
2 tbsp shallots, roots removed, thinly sliced
1 long red chilli, thinly sliced
1 tbsp coriander leaves

Dressing
1 tbsp rice bran oil
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, peeled, minced

1. Slice the zucchini lengthways using a very thin slicing blade on a food processor or a madolin. Toss together with the green beans, shallots, chilli and coriander.

2. To make the dressing, place all ingredients into a jar with a sealed lid and shake until the sugar has dissolved. Pour over the salad and serve immediately.

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10
Jun

Vegan Chickpea and Potato Curry

This curry is a great idea for a dinner a dinner party canapé. Pappadums take the place of rice in this dish and make it much easier to eat. The varied textures make for a well balanced Indian dish!

Makes 4 serves

Ingredients

2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
420g can chickpeas, drained, rinsed
1 cup sweet potato, 1cm cubed
1 cup potato, 1cm cubed
100ml coconut milk
250ml vegetable stock
1 birds eye chilli, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons salt
1 packet pappadums (approx 30)
½ cup mango chutney (thick)
1 bunch coriander, thoroughly washed

Curry Paste
1 small brown onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2cm piece ginger, peeled
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp water
50g almond meal

1. Using a heavy based saucepan, heat the oil over a low heat and add the mustard seeds. Allow to pop away for approximately 1 minute.

2. To make the curry paste, place all ingredients into a food processor or mini chopper and blend until smooth and consistent. Scoop curry paste out into the saucepan and stir for approximately 5 minutes using a wooden spoon so that the paste doesn’t catch on the base of the pot.

3. Add the chickpeas, sweet potato, potato, coconut milk, stock, chilli and salt and allow to simmer over a low heat for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

4. Prepare pappadums according to suppliers instructions.

5. Add a tablespoon of curry to each pappadum and top with 1 teaspoon of mango chutney and a sprinkle of coriander.

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10
Jun

Oils ain’t oils

By Robyn Chuter

* Extracted oils and fats impair the function of endothelial cells, which maintain healthy blood flow and normal blood viscosity, and prevent the build-up of atherosclerotic plaque which causes heart attacks and strokes.
* Olive oil is not immune from this harmful effect.
* Nuts and seeds do not impair endothelial function, despite their fat content.
* The benefits of the Mediterranean occur in spite of olive oil consumption, not because of it.

Ah, how I love a good quote! Here are a few that have inspired me this week, as I dissected the fall-out from my last newsletter on the big fat lies about coconut oil:

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
― Mark Twain

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
― Gloria Steinem
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
― John Keats

and last but not least,

“You can’t handle the truth!”

― Colonel Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men

(Missed that article? Read it here.)

What was the fall-out from that article, you might be asking? Well, 9 people unsubscribed from my email list after I sent out the article on coconut oil, which is the highest number of unsubscribes I’ve had in months. Interesting, don’t you think? I wrote an article that was fully referenced from the published scientific literature, and because it told truths that some people don’t want to hear, 9 of them decided they didn’t want to read anything else I wrote. To them, I gift that Jack Nicholson quote –  “You can’t handle the truth!” :).

On the bright side, 18 new people subscribed to my newsletter, presumably because their friends had shared my article with them. To them, I gift the Keats quote – “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” – which has always been one of my favourites.

So, emboldened by my discovery that telling the truth is effective at attracting the right kind of people onto my mailing list while culling the wrong ones, I’m going to tackle another oily issue this week: The Great Olive Oil Question.

I am frequently asked by clients,

‘What about olive oil? Shouldn’t I include it in my diet? Isn’t it heart-healthy?’

I will keep the science to a minimum here so you don’t all drop off to sleep, because this is an incredibly important subject.

What’s wrong with oils – any kind – is that they impair endothelial function. What’s endothelial function? It’s the ability of the thin layer of cells that line your blood vessels, known as the endothelium, to regulate the flow of blood through those vessels, and to prevent the formation of atherosclerotic plaque – a build-up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, white blood cells engorged with cholesterol (known as ‘foam cells’) and other substances found in the blood on the inside of your arteries. Endothelial function is a strong predictor of your risk of having a heart attack.

Over time, this plaque hardens and narrows your arteries, reducing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the part of the body supplied with blood by the affected artery. This can lead to:

  • Angina (chest pain on exertion);
  • Intermittent claudication (pain in the calf muscles after walking for a short distance);
  • Chronic kidney disease and eventually kidney failure;
  • Cognitive impairment and eventually dementia;
  • Erectile dysfunction;
  • Chronic lower back pain; and
  • Numbness, pain, poor wound healing and even dangerous infections.

Eventually, an atherosclerotic plaque may rupture, causing a clot to form. Depending on the location, you may suffer a heart attack or stroke.

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A well-functioning endothelium produces substantial amounts of the gas nitric oxide, which

  1. Keeps your blood vessels reasonably dilated, in turn lowering your blood pressure;
  2. Decreases the ‘stickiness’ of platelets, preventing them from forming clots;
  3. Stops white blood cells from adhering to the blood vessel walls, which is one of the first steps in the formation of atherosclerotic plaque;
  4. Destroys foam cells – white blood cells which have ingested so much cholesterol that they become non-functional, and become part of the plaque;
  5. Prevents smooth muscle cells from the artery wall from migrating into the plaque;
  6. ‘Smoothes’ the flow of blood, minimising the risk of microscopic injuries to the blood vessels. These injuries are ‘patched up’ with cholesterol, like you would patch up a damaged plasterboard wall with Spakfilla. If the injuries are infrequent, the cholesterol ‘patch’ is soon reabsorbed and the artery wall is repaired with normal, healthy endothelial cells. If there are repeated injuries, the cholesterol patches aren’t reabsorbed, but instead start to form an atherosclerotic plaque.

When you ingest extracted oils and fats – especially those with a higher saturated fat content – you impair the function of your endothelial cells for several hours (the duration of effect varies with the type of oil) and during this time period, the growth of atherosclerotic plaques accelerates dramatically.

On the other hand, nuts do not impair endothelial function in spite of their high fat content, because they contain arginine, which endothelial cells use to make nitric oxide, the gas whose functions I described above.

The benefits of the so-called Mediterranean diet are due to the high consumption of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and are impaired by the addition of olive oil. And when Mediterranean people start to eat less fruits and vegetables but more animal foods, maintaining a high consumption of olive oil has ZERO protective effect: a study in Crete found that patients with heart disease were eating significantly more olive oil than people free of heart disease.

The bottom line: extracting an oil from the nutritional matrix that it is packaged in by nature is asking for trouble. If you want to minimise your risk of cardiovascular disease, enjoy plant foods that are naturally high in fats, such as avocado, nuts and seeds, in moderation, but leave the extracted oils out of your diet.

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02
Jun

Coconut oil: beyond the hype

  • The many health claims made for coconut oil online and in popular books have either not been verified by scientific research, or have been disproven.
  • Coconut oil consumption does not assist with weight loss.
  • Several risk factors for cardiovascular disease are raised by coconut oil, and populations eating more of it have a higher risk of heart disease.
  • There is absolutely no evidence that coconut oil prevents or reverses Alzheimer’s disease; it is more likely to contribute to it given its effects on cardiovascular risk factors.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’ll know that coconut oil is being heavily promoted online and in popular books, as a ‘health food’. Self-styled health gurus wax lyrical about its content of medium chain triglycerides (a fat that doesn’t make you fat), antimicrobial properties, stability when heated, and of course, the very appealing notion that Polynesian people eat lots of the stuff and don’t get heart disease. In the last couple of years, it’s even been claimed that coconut oil prevents or cures Alzheimer’s disease.

So let’s look at how the scientific facts compare with the marketing fantasies.

First of all, by the broadly-accepted definition of nutritiousness of food – nutrient content per kilojoule/calorie – there is absolutely no way that coconut oil can qualify as a health food. It contains absolutely no protein, carbohydrate, fibre, vitamins A, C or E, folate or other B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, manganese, phosphorus, iron, selenium, zinc or omega 3 fats. Zip, zero and zilch of the key nutrients needed for the human body to function optimally.

The only nutrient that it boasts is fat, and most of that fat is saturated fat – 92% in fact, which makes it the most heavily saturated fat found in nature (see table below).

coco1

Contrary to the claims you may have read on many blogs, saturated fat has been definitively proven to

  • Raise total and LDL cholesterol levels;
  • Increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and death from cardiovascular causes; and
  • Cause insulin resistance (which leads to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes).

Coconut oil promoters claim that it is unlike other saturated fats (such as butter or lard) because it contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). One of those much-vaunted MCTs, lauric acid, has antimicrobial properties, which gets the coconut oil advocates very excited.

I say, so what? How many people get sick from microbial illnesses, compared to the number that are sick from overweight and its associated conditions: diabetes, heart disease and common cancers such as breast, prostate and bowel? We are surrounded by, covered in and contain uncountable numbers of microbes, and this inevitable condition of human life doesn’t make most of us sick, most of the time.

But where the coco crowd really goes nuts is over the claim that coconut oil helps you lose weight because of its MCTs. MCTs are absorbed and metabolised somewhat differently from other fats. Most fats are absorbed through lacteals (lymphatic capillaries in the small intestine) and dumped into the bloodstream, from which it’s a short trip into your butt, thighs or muffin top.

On the other hand, MCTs are transported directly from the intestinal tract to the liver, where they’re likely to be directly burned off as fuel. They also raise the metabolic rate slightly. These properties of MCTs fuel the marketing hype that coconut oil consumption aids in weight loss.

The first flaw in this argument is that MCTs make up only about 45-50% of the overall fat content in coconut oil, and are frequently removed from coconut oil sold for human consumption anyway, because they are used in the cosmetics industry.

The second flaw – and it’s a humdinger – is that only one published study, a master’s thesis from Brazil, has tested the hypothesis that coconut oil causes weight loss, and the results were less than spectacular.

40 poor, mostly illiterate women with abdominal obesity were recruited for this study. 20 of them were given daily supplements of 30 ml of soyabean oil, and the other 20 were given 30 ml of coconut oil per day. All participants attended sessions with a nutritionist over the 12-week duration of the study, in which they were counselled to

  • Reduce their overall calorie intake
  • Increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables,
  • Reduce intake of animal fats and refined carbohydrates,
  • Drink adequate water, and
  • Reduce alcohol intake and cigarette smoking.

In addition, they were given sessions with a personal trainer 4 times per week, consisting of stretching exercises followed by 50 minutes of walking.

At the end of 12 weeks, despite all these significant diet and lifestyle changes, the women in the soyabean oil group lost, on average, 1 kg while those in the coconut oil group lost – drum-roll please –  1.1 kg. Whooppee! I’ll bet you want to rush straight out to the health food store and buy a big tub of coconut oil so you can get results as impressive as that!

Advocates of the coconut-oil-for-weight-loss theory must be out of their minds. Clients who follow my dietary advice – a wholefoods, plant-based diet with no added fats and oils – typically lose that amount of weight, or more, every week until they’re close to their ideal weight. Even worse, the coconut oil-eating women’s total cholesterol, LDL, triglyceride and insulin levels all went up, indicating a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The study’s authors made much of the fact that the waist circumference of the women in the coconut oil reduced, unlike those in the soyabean oil group. How big a reduction? All of 1.4 cm – again, after 12 weeks of regular exercise and a reduced-calorie diet! (See table below). Are you serious?????? Again, I see my clients losing that much off their waist circumference after a week or so of healthy eating. It seems more likely to me that the 270 extra calories from coconut oil that the women were consuming each day hindered weight loss than that it helped.

coco2

What about Alzheimer’s? As yet, there has not been a single published study on the use of coconut oil to treat this dreaded disease, although the fact that coconut oil raises LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and other risk markers for cardiovascular disease should sound a warning bell, since Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular share common risk factors and researchers now believe that these conditions are causally related.

Even isolated MCT oil doesn’t improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease, as the following chart shows; early gains in cognitive function in Alzheimer’s sufferers taking the MCT product (red line) were lost by the end of the study.

coco3

The claim that coconut oil is heart-healthy is a sick joke. When given to healthy human volunteers in a study conducted by Australian researchers, coconut oil dramatically decreased endothelial function and impaired the antioxidant capacity of HDL for at least 6 hours after consumption.

What that means is that if you eat coconut oil, your blood will be more prone to clotting, there will be accelerated formation of plaque inside your arteries and your arteries will be unable to dilate (open up to allow more blood flow to the tissues they supply) for at least 6 hours. Do that often enough, and you’ll make yourself an excellent candidate for a heart attack or stroke.

The claim that populations eating coconut oil are healthy and don’t get heart disease doesn’t hold water either. A study comparing food consumption patterns and heart disease rates in Singapore and Hong Kong (where the majority of both populations is ethnic Chinese), found that the death rate from heart disease in 1993-1995 was 2.98 times higher in Singaporean men, and 3.14 times higher in Singaporean women, than in Hong Kong men and women respectively. Singaporeans were found to have higher serum total cholesterol and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, but lower HDL (‘good’) cholesterol than those living in Hong Kong.

After analysing the dietary patterns in both territories, the researchers concluded that

“higher consumption of coconut and palm oil, mainly containing saturated fat, in Singapore”

was one of the primary explanations for the dramatic difference in heart disease deaths. Coconut oil raises total and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, which no doubt contributes to the increased risk of heart disease observed.

Finally, claiming that the Polynesians ate lots of coconut oil and had a low incidence of heart attacks is just plain naïve. All the other characteristics of the traditional Polynesian diet and lifestyle were heart-protective:

  • Their traditional diet (now, sadly, largely abandoned) was characterised by a high intake of fibre, plant sterols, antioxidants and omega 3 fats; and an extremely low sodium (salt) intake;
  • They had a very high activity level; and
  • Rates of overweight and obesity were very low – certainly not the case in Polynesia now!

Since the remainder of their diet was low in calories and fat, the addition of total fat and saturated fat from coconut wasn’t a deal-breaker in relation to the overall healthfulness of their diet.

But if you think that sedentary, overweight Westerners with a low plant food intake can reap benefits from adding coconut oil to their diet, you’re living in cloud cuckoo land. If you’re slim, active, have no major cardiac risk factors, and eat a diet high in unrefined plant food, you can get away with having some coconut oil now and then – but don’t overdo it. If you are overweight, sedentary and have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high C-reactive protein, a high waist to hip ratio, impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes, don’t even think about it.

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02
Jun

Vegan Pumpkin Soup

A nice hot winter soup can warm us from the inside out. Pumpkin is nice and cheap this time of year so if you are feeling adventurous, roast your pumpkin before adding it to the pot for a caramelised flavour

Makes 4 serves

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

4 cloves garlic, whole

1 brown onion, roughly chopped

3cm piece ginger, roughly chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

800g pumpkin, 5cm pieces

600g potatoes, peeled, quartered

1 tsp salt

800ml vegetable stock

400ml coconut cream

 

1. Using a 4 litre soup pot, heat the oil and saute the garlic, onion and ginger until golden brown. Add the cumin, pumpkin, potato and salt and stir to combine.

2. Pour over the stock and coconut and stir until everything is completely submerged. Simmer over a medium heat for approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Blend with a stick mixer until consistently smooth.

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26
May

The vegan pantry – wholefood, plant-based style

So many clients have asked me for a primer on how to stock the kitchen so that they can prepare wholefood, plant-based recipes in a jiffy, that I decided to write a post about it – that way everyone can benefit!

Here are the foods I make sure I have in the pantry, freezer and fridge at all times:

Pantry

  • Onions – brown for cooking, and Spanish (red) for salads
  • Fresh garlic
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Several varieties of dry legumes e.g. chick peas, pinto beans, black beans, lentils – good fruit and veg shops have these in money-saving 1 kg packs
  • A few cans of legumes for ’emergencies’ i.e. when I’ve run out of home-cooked ones, which I cook in bulk and freeze until required
  • Organic canned diced tomatoes – no added salt, in BPS-free cans
  • Organic passata (tomato purée) – no added salt
  • Tomato paste – no added salt
  • Rice – red, black and brown varieties
  • Quinoa
  • Rolled oats (traditional, not quick oats)
  • Polenta
  • Freekeh (green wheat)
  • Legume pasta (Explore Asian brand – it’s gluten free and highly nutritious)
  • Dried fruit including dates to replace sugar in baking, goji berries, dried apricots and figs, along with sun-dried tomatoes (loose ones, not packed in oil) which I use almost daily to add flavour and texture to soups, casseroles and stews
  • Cacao (raw chocolate) and carob powder
  • Several varieties of vinegar including balsamic, white balsamic, raspberry wine, pomegranate balsamic, and apple cider
  • A wide range of dried herbs and spices including oregano, basil, thyme, dill, turmeric, cumin, coriander, paprika, cinnamon, cardamom, sumac, saffron, dehydrated onion flakes and garlic powder

Freezer

  • Peas
  • Chopped spinach (I buy the cubes, which defrost quickly)
  • Berries
  • Mango
  • Cooked legumes, drained and packed into storage containers or zip-lock bags

Fridge

  • Ready-made plant milks e.g. oat, whole-bean soy and almond
  • Fresh ginger
  • Wholemeal spelt flour for baking
  • Several varieties of nuts (e.g. Brazils, almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans) and seeds (e.g. pepitas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, linseed/flaxseed, hemp, chia)
  • Tahini
  • Nut butters – peanut, ABC (almond-Brazil-cashew), macadamia or whatever variety I’ve made in my Thermomix
  • Wholegrain mustard – low-sodium
  • And of course, a wide variety of seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables, which form the centre-piece of every meal in our household, and fresh herbs.

Pantry6

In addition, here are some gadgets and accessories that I would find it very hard to live without:

  • All-in-one kitchen machine – I have a Thermomix which cooks, steams, chops, kneads, blends and purées; if the Thermomix is outside your budget, take a look at some of its lower-priced competitors such as the ThermoChef or Maxika SuperChef
  • If you don’t have an all-in one kitchen machine, you’ll need a high-powered blender (e.g. Vitamix, NutriBullet, Blendtec) and a food processor
  • High-quality PTFE- and PFOA-free non-stick saucepans, frying pans and bake-ware e.g. Neoflam, Green Pan, Pyrex, silicone bake-ware
  • Non-stick baking paper and baking cups – these allow me to cook delicious sweet potato ‘chips’ in the oven, without oil, and save me from the hassle of greasing and flouring cake and muffin tins
  • Vegetable dicer/slicer
  • Herb scissors – this clever gadget has 5 separate blades, all closely spaced, allowing me to finely chop fresh herbs in no time flat
  • And of course, good quality knives from a paring knife to full-sized chef’s knives, and kitchen scissors.
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26
May

Hearty Bean and Vegetable Vegan Stew

With Winter approaching on us fast, it’s important to have a few easy meals ready to go when you get home. This recipe can be cooked in your slow cooker while you are at work, or as a speedy version on the stove. Enjoy with crunchy bread and make sure you keep a few portions to freeze for the next week!

Makes 6 serves

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
2 brown onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
2 medium potatoes, diced 1cm pieces
420g can diced tomatoes
1 litre vegetable stock
420g can chickpeas, drained, rinsed
420g can red kidney beans, drained, rinsed
420g can 4 bean mix, drained, rinsed
1 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
1 tbsp pink salt
1 tsp black pepper, ground

1. In a 5 litre soup pot heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic until golden brown. Stir tomato paste and saute for a further 2 minutes, stirring regularly.

2. Add the carrots, celery and potato and stir well to coat with tomato. Stir through the canned tomatoes and then rinse the can out with the 420ml boiling water and pour into the pot. In a 500ml heatproof jug, dissolve the stock cubes in 500ml of boiling water and pour into the pot.

3. Add the beans, parsley, salt and pepper and stir well to combine. Cook over a low heat, stirring regularly, for approximately 4 hours.

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