The low-down on legumes

  • Canned legumes should be rinsed thorougly before use if canned in salt water.
  • Dry legumes can be prepared using either the ‘quick soak’ or slow overnight soak method. Both methods have pros and cons.
  • Think of legumes as you would mince – they need to be well-flavoured to be enjoyable!
  • Flatulence after eating legumes can be reduced by using culinary spices and herbs during cooking, and using an appropriate probiotic.


In last week’s newsletter, I explained why everyone should be eating legumes, every day. Problem is, most people have no idea what they are or what to do with them. So here’s the legume virgin’s ultimate primer.

  1. Where do I buy them?You’ll find a range of canned legumes in supermarkets, generally next to the canned vegetables. Dry legumes are usually found in the soup section, down on the bottom shelf so you have to get on your knees and grovel on the floor to find them. Why? Because they’re really cheap and supermarkets make bugger-all profit on them, so they park them in a hard-to-find, inconvenient place.Larger fruit and vegetable shops generally have a good range of both canned and dry legumes, as do some health food shops (the ones where they actually sell food, as opposed to pills and protein powders ;-)). Health food shops sometimes carry brands of legumes canned without salt – snap these up when you find them.

    Canned beans are great for convenience but they have a higher glycaemic index than dry beans that you’ve cooked yourself, and of course the blood-pressure-raising sodium content is higher unless you buy a brand without added salt.

  2. Great, I’ve bought them. Now what?Canned beans should always be put into a strainer and rinsed under the cold tap to get the salt off them, unless you’ve been lucky enough to find a no-added-salt brand. Rinsing removes most of the salt but some is cooked into the beans, so even rinsed canned beans have a higher sodium content than home-cooked, and should be limited if you have high blood pressure.Dry legumes should be rinsed in a strainer and picked over to remove small stones and discoloured or shrivelled beans. All legumes, with the exception of lentils, need to be soaked before cooking to reduce the level of trypsin inhibitors and phytates, which impede protein digestion and decrease mineral absorption, respectively. Pre-soaking also reduces the – ahem – farty substances for which legumes are notorious.

    There are 2 soaking methods:

    A) The quick soak, which involves covering the beans with ample cold water, bringing to the boil and boiling for 1 minute, then turning off the heat and leaving them to sit in the hot water for at least an hour (I often leave them overnight).

    B) For slow soaking, cover with cold water and leave overnight or longer; if you do a longer soak, change the water every 8 hours.

    The quick soak method helps the water penetrate deep into the legume, reducing cooking time dramatically. The slow soak activates enzymes that increase the nutrient content and digestibility of the legume. Both methods have advantages; use which ever suits your lifestyle!

    After soaking, tip the legumes into a strainer or colander and rinse under running water. Put them back in the pot, add fresh water, bring to the boil, then simmer, with the lid on, until tender. This may be as little as 30 minutes for well-soaked black beans, to an hour or more for kidney beans. Test the beans regularly while cooking: they should be ‘al dente’ i.e. not hard, but not mushy either.

    Once cooked, legumes can be drained and stored in the fridge for several days, or in the freezer for several months. I always have a selection of cooked legumes in my freezer, and I take whatever I need out of the freezer the night before I need it to allow for defrosting.

  3. OK, they’re ready. What do I do with them now?Think of legumes as the mince of the plant world. You wouldn’t just boil mince and dump it on a plate; you cook it up with onion and garlic, flavour it with spices or herbs and tomato paste, add vegetables to it, shape it into rissoles or meatloaf… Legumes respond beautifully to the same treatment. See my recipe section for delicious legume recipes.The cuisines I look to for legume inspiration are Indian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Italian, Tunisian, Moroccan and Mexican. All these cultures really know their way around legumes. Think cauliflower and kidney bean curry, minestrone, bean burritos, fassoulia (Greek bean soup), hommous, falafel, vegetable and chick pea tagine – what could be tastier, more filling and wholesome?

    Interestingly, many herbs and spices traditionally used to flavour legumes also help to reduce flatulence. More on that next…

  4. What about the flatulence issue?All right, we need to deal with this one now. If you’ve never eaten legumes, or only eat them irregularly, you may find yourself eligible to join the wind instruments section of the orchestra when you first start eating them.If you find this uncomfortable or socially awkward, start by eating very small quantities – just a tablespoon at a time, but have them every day – and gradually increase the amount. Your bowel bacteria will soon become accustomed to the resistant starch and your gas production will settle back down to normal. (Of course, if you find flatulence amusing, hoe into those kidney beans and enter a Fart the National Anthem competition.)

    Some people need to take a probiotic supplement to fast-track their bowel bacteria into accepting legumes. I recommend probiotics that have been cultivated on legumes, such as Organic 2012 Blend or MiVitality.

So no more excuses now, eh? Now you know how to get these superheroes of nutrition into your diet, every day.


Vegan Cookie Dough Balls

The best thing about vegan cookie dough balls is that you don’t have to worry about storing them in the fridge or salmonella! They are the perfect pick me up with a cup of tea or crushed into coconut nice cream


Makes 24 Balls


200g nuttelex, softened

1 tbsp vanilla bean paste

1 cup brown sugar

40ml coconut cream

1 1/2 cups plain flour

1 tbsp almond milk

300g chocolate chips

400g chocolate melts, melted

2 tbsp 100’s and 1000’s


  1. Line a baking tray with canola oil spray and baking paper and set aside.
  2. Using an electric mixer with the leaf beater attached, cream the nuttelex, vanilla and sugar until whipped and lightened in colour.
  3. Fold through the coconut cream, flour, almond milk and chocolate chips and place into the refrigerator for 5 minutes to firm up.
  4. Roll 1 tbsp sized balls and place onto the prepared tray. Place back into the refrigerator to set for 10 minutes.
  5. Dip the balls into the melted chocolate and drip excess chocolate off using a fork. Place back onto the baking tray and sprinkle with 100’s and 1000’s. Repeat until all are coated and place back into the refrigerator until set.

Learn to love legumes: they love you back

  • Legumes (dried peas, beans and lentils) are the healthiest form of carbohydrate-rich food because much of their carbohydrate is in the form of resistant starch.
  • Resistant starch is fermented by bacteria that live in our gut, into short chain fatty acids, which have a wide range of benefits including prevention of bowel cancer, reduction of fat storage in the body and appetite reduction.
  • Regular legume intake also prevents constipation and reduces serum cholesterol.

Legumes – the dried pea, bean and lentil family – are the Superman of the nutrition world, but their profile is more like Clark Kent’s. In fact, the question I get asked the most when I advise my clients to eat legumes, is ‘What’s a legume?’ (The second most common question is ‘How do I cook them?’, and I’ll be covering that in an upcoming post.)

There are many different varieties of legume; some of the most commonly available in Australia are

  • chick peas
  • split peas
  • lentils (whole, split, yellow, red, black, puy, French, black beluga and more)
  • kidney beans
  • cannellini beans
  • borlotti beans
  • broad beans
  • black-eyed beans
  • great northern beans
  • soy beans and products made from them such as tofu and tempeh.

So what’s so great about legumes, and why should you eat them every day? Well, where d’ya wanna start?

Beans are incredibly rich in resistant starch, a form of carbohydrate which human digestive enzymes can’t break down in any great quantity (it ‘resists’ digestion by us). What this means is that a high proportion of the calories that legumes theoretically contain, is not absorbed by us.

Love healthy eatingThis resistant starch is able to be digested by friendly bacteria that inhabit the lower reaches of our intestines, however. They turn it into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), a type of fat which we do not absorb much of (so we barely get any calories out of it), but which favourably alters the environment in our intestines, inhibiting the growth of ”bad’ bacteria and encouraging the ‘good’ bacteria to multiply (1).

High levels of these SCFAs also help to prevent the development of bowel cancer (2).

As if that wasn’t enough, these SCFAs reduce appetite and decrease the production of body fat (3), and also enhance lipolysis, the break-down of fat from fat stores so that it can be burnt for energy (4).

Resistant starch, along with the fibre that legumes are incredibly rich in, promotes and prolongs satiety – the feeling of fullness or satisfaction after a meal – by absorbing water and occupying large amounts of space in the stomach and small intestine.

All that fibre also softens bowel movements so you can say bye-bye to constipation!

And the fibre and resistant starch bind cholesterol, preventing it from being absorbed through the intestinal wall, and instead sweeping it out of the body (5).

So there you have it – eating legumes on a daily basis will help you

  1. Lose weight without feeling hungry;
  2. Lower your cholesterol;
  3. Improve the health of your gut bacteria;
  4. Overcome constipation and encourage regular, soft bowel motions; and
  5. Prevent bowel cancer.

And by the way, when prepared well they are delicious – check my Recipes for tonnes of ideas on how to prepare legumes.


Vegan Chargrilled Capsicum, Cous Cous and Preserved Lemon Salad

”Cous Cous’ – The food so nice, they named it twice. You can also substitute with quinoa, risoni, freekeh, bulgur or barley. This salad will last in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 4 days as long as you don’t add the dressing’


Makes 4 serves

  • 2 cups cous cous
  • 500ml boiling water
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 slice preserved lemon, rind only, washed, finely chopped
  • 2 red capsicums, chargrilled, thinly sliced
  • ½ bunch mint, finely shredded
  • ½ bunch parsley, finely shredded
  • Smokey Cream
  • ½ cup vegan sour cream
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp flaked salt
  • juice of 1 lemon


1. In a large bowl, soak the cous cous and boiling water for 5 minutes. Once the cous cous has absorbed the water, ‘fluff’ using a fork until it is crumbled.

2. Stir through the onion, pine nuts, lemon, capsicum, mint and parsley and toss well to combine.

3. In a bowl, stir together the sour cream, paprika, salt and lemon and serve next to salad.


Does fruit make you fat?


  • Many popular diet plans restrict or eliminate fruit, blaming its “high sugar content” for weight gain or difficulty in losing weight
  • Both epidemiological (population-based) and intervention studies demonstrate that inclusion of fruit in the diet helps with weight control and weight loss
  • Only fructose in refined form has been shown to be converted into fat and to cause fatty liver disease – not fructose from fruit
  • Fruit-based diets e.g. Raw Till 4 are less nutritious than vegetable-based diets.

Back when I was a naturopathy student in the early 1990s, no one I was acquainted with would have taken this question seriously. At that time, everybody ‘knew’ that being overweight was due to eating too much fat. End of story.

But then the Atkins diet – which exonerates fat, and vilifies carbohydrates as the culprit in weight gain – was reborn as the best-selling book Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (having died a rapid death in its first incarnation as Dr Atkins’ Diet Revolution in the early 1970s).

A wave of me-too books followed: The Zone Diet, The South Beach Diet, Protein Power and a swag of others of lesser repute.

The Paleo diet craze also took off around this time, having originally been launched in the late 1970s.

While the proponents of each type of diet varied on some details, they all sang from the same hymn sheet on one point: ‘carbs’ (carbohydrate-rich foods) were bad. Carbs raised insulin levels, carbs turned to fat, carbs caused diabetes, carbs caused your arteries to block up, carbs caused inflammation, and so on ad nauseum.

Fast forward to 2015, and I’m still being told by clients on their first visit to me, that they’ve been restricting their fruit intake because their personal trainer, or some book they read, or a blog they follow, told them that “fruit is full of sugar” and “fruit makes you fat”.

I used to simply dismiss this preposterous claim with a rhetorical question: “Have you ever seen a fat monkey?” but the notion that fruit is fattening has wormed its way so deeply into the collective unconscious that I now need to address it more comprehensively in order to loosen its grip on my clients’ minds.

So this is what I tell them:

Firstly, epidemiological (population-based) studies have found that fruit consumption protects against weight gain – but fruit juice has the opposite effect (1).

Secondly, diets with a moderate amount of naturally-occurring fructose from fruit give better weight loss results than fructose-restricted diets (2).

Thirdly, the vilification of fruit by low-carb proponents is based on several misunderstandings about the fructose that fruit contains. Fructose is a simple sugar – called a ‘monosaccharide’ – that together with glucose, comprises sucrose, or table sugar.


Whereas glucose stimulates your pancreas to release insulin, allowing your cells to take up glucose and burn it for energy, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion and is instead is taken up almost entirely by the liver.

Under certain circumstances, fructose can be turned into fat, which can either accumulate in the liver causing fatty liver and hepatic insulin resistance; or be sent out into the blood stream, causing systemic insulin resistance, high triglycerides and fat accumulation in adipose tissue.

Sounds scary, right? But what are those ‘certain circumstances’ in which fructose creates such calamities? Quite simply, experimental feeding trials in which obese individuals are fed fructose at levels that no normal human being would consume – typically 50% above the 95th percentile of consumption, or in other words, half as much again as is consumed by those who eat the most fructose in their regular daily diet (3)!

In trials where fructose has simply been substituted for the glucose normally consumed in the average human diet, there were no adverse effects on body weight, blood pressure, blood fats or insulin level; and in fact a possible benefit was found for glucose tolerance and glycemic control in diabetics (4).

The other point to bear in mind here is that fructose in the human diet almost always occurs in combination with glucose, whether in fruit, honey, table sugar or high fructose corn syrup, so trials where fructose is consumed in isolation give very misleading results.

Just how much fructose does fruit contain, anyway? Different fruits have different amounts, but as a rough guide, a 420 kj serving of fruit (say, 1 apple or 1 cup of blueberries) contains 10 g of fructose.

How much fructose was found to wreak metabolic havoc and cause weight gain in experimental feeding trials? 104 to 250 g per day, or an additional 18% to 97% of total daily energy intake (4).

So if you’re intending to eat 20 apples today, you probably need to back off on your fruit consumption (and yes, that IS a warning for people following Raw Till 4 and other diet plans based on fruit; apart from anything else, excessive fruit consumption nudges our vegetables, which should really be the basis of our diet for optimal health). Otherwise, relax and enjoy some of Mother Nature’s dessert, guilt-free!


Coconut Rice Vegan Salad

Cooking your rice in coconut gives it a creamy texture and flavour that is perfectly matched with a zesty dressing. Make this salad in advance and dress just before eating for a quick lunch or dinner. If you have any left over rice, serve it up with some brown sugar for an instant rice pudding

Makes 4 serves


2 cups long grain rice, rinsed thoroughly
1 litre water
270ml lite coconut milk
1 bunch coriander, roughly chopped
1 bunch mint, roughly chopped
1 handful of snow peas, thinly sliced
2 cucumbers, diced
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 cup wombok, thinly sliced
1 cup roasted cashew nuts, lightly salted


1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp hoi sin sauce
1 tsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1. Place the rice and water into a pot and cook until done, approximately 20 minutes on high heat. Turn the heat down to a low setting and stir through the coconut milk and continue to cook until absorbed. Turn out onto a large tray, spread evenly, cover with plastic wrap and
place into the fridge to cool.

2. In a large salad bowl, toss the rice with the rest of the salad ingredients.

3. To make the dressing: place all ingredients into a bottle and shake well to combine. Pour over salad and serve immediately.


Mushrooms vs cancer

Mushrooms are rich in aromatase inhibitors, which reduce the growth of breast cancer

Drug-based aromatase inhibitors such as Femara and Arimidex have side-effects including hot flushes, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, vaginal dryness and mood disturbances; mushrooms do not!

100 g per day of mushrooms, or even less, may help to prevent you from developing breast cancer

Mushrooms may also help to prevent prostate, liver, lung and colon cancers.

So you thought mushrooms were just a little something to toss in your stir-fry or salad; or worse still, the butt of jokes involving being kept in the dark and fed compost?

Well, it turns out these humble little fungi have a secret identity: they are fully-fledged cancer fighters, with an array of tumour-smashing weaponry in their arsenal. And not just your fancy-schmancy, pricey mushrooms like shiitake, maitake and reishi; even the plain ol’ button mushroom fights cancer.

Dr Shiuan Chen, director of the Division of Tumor Cell Biology at the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope hospital in Duarte, California, has found that mushrooms – including button, portabello, cremini and shiitake – act as aromatase inhibitors; that is, they reduce the production of breast cancer-fuelling estrogen (1). Mushrooms outperformed 6 other vegetables tested by Dr Shen and his team, in the aromatase-inhibiting stakes.

Women who develop breast cancer, and whose tumours were estrogen receptor positive (ER+) are usually put on aromatase inhibiting drugs such as Femara or Arimidex for around 5 years after finishing their radiation and/or chemotherapy. These drugs do reduce the risk of cancer recurrence, but their side-effects (hot flushes, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, mood disturbances, vaginal dryness and hair loss, to name a few) can be so severe that many women cannot tolerate them for the recommended period (2).

In contrast, the only side-effects of eating mushrooms, as far as I’m aware, are improving your overall nutrition and enhancing the flavour of your meals!

mushroomsDr Shen points out that

“You don’t need a strong effect to cause cancer prevention. Eating 100 grams or even less of mushrooms per day could have an effect on preventing new breast cancers.”

The cost comparisons are most revealing: aromatase inhibiting drugs cost $200-$300 per month (subsidised by the PBS in Australia) while eating 100 g of mushrooms per day costs around $30 per month, or less if you grow them yourself. So, don’t expect to see any drug companies funding research comparing the aromatase-inhibiting effect of drugs vs mushrooms, any time soon!

Without such trials, no one could recommend that women who are currently taking aromatase inhibitors to prevent breast cancer recurrence should go off their drugs and just eat mushrooms instead. But adding a daily portion of mushrooms to your diet may boost the effect of the drugs, and is certainly a good option when you finish your course of aromatase inhibitors.

Aromatase is also expressed by liver, lung, and colon cancers (3), so the implications of Dr Shen’s findings are extremely broad-ranging.

Dr Chen’s research team has also found that mushroom extract, and a mushroom constituent called conjugated linoleic acid, caused prostate cancer cells that were growing in a culture medium, to stop growing and then to commit suicide (‘apoptosis’).

Furthermore, in mice who had been implanted with prostate cancer, the tumours shrank when the mice were treated with mushroom extract, and analysis of the genes within the tumour cells showed that the mushroom extract had caused significant changes in the expression of genes involved in cell death, growth and proliferation, lipid (fat) metabolism, energy production and immune response (4).

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Australia today. Whether you’re simply concerned about reducing your risk of developing cancer, or have already had it and are aiming to prevent recurrence, adding mushrooms to your daily diet is a readily available and highly affordable strategy.


Vegan Vermicelli Noodle Salad

This salad is a great lunch or dinner option on its own but teamed up with a spicey curry and some coconut rice, it’s a feast. Try different cabbages to mix up the texture everytime


  • 125g dried vermicelli noodles
  • 1 cucumber, halved, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 capsicum, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 wombok (Chinese cabbage), thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch coriander, roughly chopped, soaked
  • 1/2 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped


  • 1 birds eye chilli, thinly sliced
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1cm piece ginger, minced
  1. Place the noodles in a large heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and set aside for 2-3 minutes to soak. Use a fork to separate, drain and set aside.
  2. To make the dressing, add all dressing ingredients to a sealable jar and shake until smooth, approximately 1 minute.
  3. In a large bowl, toss together the remaining salad ingredients and drizzle over the dressing.

It’s in your G-BOMBS, NOT your genes!

What’s the major determinant of your health status – that is, your level of vitality, resistance to infectious disease, and susceptibility to chronic degenerative diseases such as heart disease, cancer, dementia and type 2 diabetes? If you answered “My genes – my Mum/Dad/grandparents/whoever had cancer/heart disease/diabetes/arthritis/whatever so I guess I’m doomed to get it too”, you couldn’t be more wrong. There are very few diseases which are genetically inherited in the true sense of the word, and they are relatively rare; examples include cystic fibrosis, haemochromatosis, Huntington’s disease and haemophilia.

The vast majority of diseases that cause suffering and premature death in Australia are not attributable to ‘bad genes’, but to susceptible genes placed in a bad environment. As an analogy, imagine planting a delicate tomato seedling in a patch of fully-grown weeds. How do you think the seedling will fare if it has to fight for sunlight and nutrients with the weeds? Chances are, it will grow poorly, be highly vulnerable to pest attack, and never manage to bear fruit before it’s strangled by the rampaging weeds.

But what if you planted that tomato seedling in a garden bed in a sunny position that had been carefully weeded and prepared with rich compost, and you weeded and fertilised that garden bed every week? You could expect to harvest a bumper crop of delicious tomatoes from it! There’s no genetic difference between the plant that thrives and the plant that shrivels up, but the plant’s genes respond to the environmental conditions that it is exposed to.

Just like the tomato seedling, your genes respond to the conditions you ‘plant’ them in. Feed them on highly processed, nutrient-poor food and a sedentary lifestyle, and you will ‘turn on’ genes that activate the disease processes you’re susceptible to. Feed them on high nutrient-per-calorie foods and regular physical activity, and you will ‘turn off’ your disease genes and switch on the ones that ensure your whole body is functioning at its highest possible level.

The branch of biology which studies the processes by which lifestyle choices alter gene activity is called epigenetics and it’s one of the hottest areas of scientific research right now. For example, Dr Dean Ornish put men with early-stage prostate cancer on a program consisting of a low-fat, plant-based diet, regular exercise and social and emotional support. His comprehensive program slowed down or stopped the progression of prostate cancer in most of the men so that they didn’t need to have surgery or take drugs. How did it achieve this remarkable feat? Epigenetic studies showed that Ornish’s program modified the activity of over 500 genes, many of them involved in the growth and spread of cancer (1).

Everything you eat, drink, think, feel and do ‘talks’ to your genes, switching them on or off; increasing or decreasing the output of the proteins, hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes and other substances they cause to be made; and thereby changing – for better or worse – the way your body works. But there are 6 food groups that have a particularly powerful positive effect on turning ‘disease genes’ off and turning ‘healthy genes’ on. Pioneering doctor Joel Fuhrman has dubbed them G-BOMBS, which stands for

  • Green leafy vegetables;
  • Beans (i.e. legumes – dried beans, peas and lentils);
  • Onions (and other onion family members including garlic, leek, chives and shallots);
  • Mushrooms
  • Berries and
  • Seeds.

Think of G-BOMBS as dropping love bombs on your healthy genes, and atom bombs on your disease genes . Various compounds in G-BOMBS activate genes that detoxify cancer-causing chemicals, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol production and increase its excretion from your body; increase the production of mood-lifting neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine; safely remove excess hormones from your body so they can’t stimulate the growth of cancerous tumours; stimulate immune cells to fight off viruses, bacteria and cancer cells; repair damaged tissues in your joints, arteries and other tissues; and a myriad of other health-promoting activities.

(1) ‘Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention’, Ornish D, Magbanua MJ, et al, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jun 17;105(24):8369-74.


Vegan Strawberry and Vanilla Jam

‘With strawberries at a reasonable price this time of year, try this jam on some toast or stirred through a quick porridge. You can use frozen strawberries if you don’t have access to fresh’

Quick Strawberry and Vanilla Jam


  • 300g strawberries, tops removed, diced
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • Rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 vanilla bean, split (sliced down the centre)


  1. Place the strawberries, sugar, lemon rind and vanilla bean into a heavy based 1 litre saucepan. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the strawberries produce a small amount of juice.
  2. Simmer over a low heat, stirring occassionally. This process should take about 10 minutes.
  3. Pour jam into a sterilised jam jar and seal the lid. Allow to cool upside down.