Today’s Health Morsel: Fenugreek

Fenugreek is related to clover. The leaves, called methi in Hindi, can be eaten, but I’ve never seen them for sale in any place that I’ve lived. I’m familiar with the seeds, which are used as a spice. They are also sold as a supplement, but are effective at edible quantities, and taste so good that I have a hard time seeing the point of the pill version. I prefer to buy the seeds whole, but where I live now I can only find them pre-ground, so that’s what I’m currently using. I’ll get into all that after breakfast & lunch…


breakfast_text

I was ready for a change in the mornings, so I’ve switched up my routine breakfast a bit, but I still get in my flaxseeds and some fresh fruit.

  • 1 1/2 c muesli with 25% dried fruit (that’s 1 1/8 c whole grains + 1/3 c dried fruit)
  • 1 T ground flaxseed mixed into the muesli
  • 2 apricots (fresh)

Checklist items: 2 other fruits, flaxseeds, 1+ whole grains (4+ out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

Here’s what’s awesome about chopped salads: you can cram a lot of high-nutrient-density food into a small space if you chop it up real good.

  • 3/4 c corn
  • 1/4 c buckwheat, toasted
  • 1/4 c pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 c carrot
  • 1/4 c onion & garlic
  • 1/2 c broccoli
  • 1 c arugula
  • 1 c lettuce

I chopped up the greens and vegetables before adding the corn, seeds, and buckwheat. Then I mixed it together with a little bit of tamari, lime juice, sriracha, and seaweed flakes.

Checklist items: cruciferous, 2 greens, 1 other vegetables, nuts, 2 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

 20170816_145209.jpgI wish you could smell this picture, but you can’t, so you’ll just have to go buy some fenugreek. It’s like a blend of curry and maple syrup.

Fenugreek is most noted for its potent anti-cancer properties, and for its ability to help nursing women lactate (though not recommended for pregnant women because of uterine side-effects). What most people don’t know, though, is that the seeds are also antimicrobial and anti-parasitic.

Based on studies done with rats, which may be translatable to humans, fenugreek fights kidney stones by reducing calcium oxalates in the kidneys. It also helps to combat heartburn and acid reflux, and to reduce cholesterol by binding to it and ushering it out of the system.

In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, using fenugreek significantly impacted body strength and composition compared to the placebo in men working on resistance training (a.k.a. weight lifting).

Fenugreek is also a good source of protein & fiber, and is rich in iron, copper, potassium, zinc, manganese, magnesium, & phosphorus.  Did you know it’s important to consume copper, iron, & zinc in roughly the right ratios? I was curious when I learned about this, so I entered a bunch of random fruits & veg into cronometer – everything I happened to enter respects the general bounds of this ratio. So, it’s really only a worry if you’re supplementing. For example, too much iron can prevent the body from absorbing zinc and copper. Supplementing with zinc also prevents copper absorption. The ideal ratio of copper : iron : zinc is 1 mg : 18 mg : 12 mg for women (men need less iron at 8 mg, but more zinc at 15 mg). Fenugreek, like most whole plant foods, is also in the ball-park, with 1.1 mg : 33 mg : 2.5 mg. It could have a little more zinc, but it’s not way out of whack.

Last but not least, just like its relative, clover, fenugreek fixes nitrogen in the soil, so it can be used in crop rotation to restore nitrogen to depleted soil in a more sustainable way than manure or chemical fertilizers. A great reason to increase demand for it in the marketplace! Aaand, now that I’ve brought up manure, let’s talk recipes. Sorry.

This is a healthy, fast & simple way to enjoy fenugreek. It also happens to be one of my favorite things to make with all the beets I’ve been taking out of my garden.

This recipe is for 2 people; the checklist below is for half the recipe:

  • 1 1/4 c dry red lentils (≈ 3 c cooked)
  • 1 c onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 c bouillon, homemade if possible
  • lime juice
  • 1 tsp fenugreek, ground or whole pieces
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander, ground
  • s&p, to taste
  • 3 c of beets, pre-cooked
  1. Sauté onion & garlic with fenugreek, coriander, s & p. Deglaze with a little bit of lime juice & bouillon.
  2. Add lentils and bouillon, cook covered for about 15 – 20 minutes, until lentils are tender.
  3. Add the beets and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes more.
  4. At the end of cooking, add lime juice, to taste, about 2 T. This really brings the flavors together! Don’t skip it!

Checklist items: 3 beans, 4 other vegetables, 2 spices (9 out of 18 servings)

By the way – this recipe contains an insane 40 g of protein per serving. At my weight, that’s my day’s worth in one meal! So, never let anyone tell you vegans can’t get enough protein. It also contains 44 g fiber per serving, which you won’t find in any animal products.


dessert_text

  • 1 banana, frozen
  • 1 cup berries, frozen

Make yourself a small bowl of banana ice dream like this.

Checklist items: berries, 1 other fruit (2 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

21 servings in total.

We got at least the recommended servings of everything today, plus extra spices, and 2 extra servings of other vegetables.

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Today’s Health Morsel: Peas

Ok, maybe I’m jumping the gun a little here, but it won’t be too much longer before fresh peas are coming out of the garden. Mine are currently flowering, and I’m getting excited. Like most of us, I wasn’t a big pea fan when I was a kid. I didn’t mind them – they just weren’t my favorite vegetable. Also like most of us (I think) I always thought of peas as a vegetable. After all, they were put on the side of my plate with a bit of salt and butter, just like the broccoli or the carrots or the Brussels sprouts. Nobody ever put a spoonful of plain beans with a little salt and butter on the side of my plate. But peas are actually a legume, and they have the high protein content to prove it. Like their bean cousins (& corn & potatoes), they’re also starchy. More about peas at dinnertime. First, the daily dozen meal plan for breakfast & lunch.

breakfast_text

Strawberries are in season – they tend not to last too long around here, and I have to fight to have some left for my breakfast.

  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 T ground flaxseed (sprinkled on the banana slices)
  • 1/2 charentais melon
  • 1/2 c strawberries

Checklist items: berries, 3 other fruits, flaxseed (5 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

Today I wanted something a bit lighter for lunch, so I made some lettuce wraps – I put the hummus, mustard, and other veggies on the lettuce, and folded it up like a burrito. Quick and painless. Add some sriracha for a little kick.

  • 1/2 c hummus
  • 1/2 c broccoli, chopped
  • 1/2 c cauliflower, chopped
  • 1/2 c yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 4 leaves romaine lettuce (this will depend on the size of the leaves)
  • mustard

Checklist items: 2 beans, cruciferous, 2 greens, 2 other vegetables (7 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

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I was surprised to find that there’s actually quite a lot to say about peas! We can use peas (and other legumes) to help us improve our own health and engage in environmentally sustainable agriculture at the same time. No wonder we’ve been eating them for thousands of years! According to wikipedia, the earliest archaeological evidence of pea use by humans goes back to the late Neolithic era (which began in 5300 BC) in what are now Greece, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, & Georgia.


Sustainable agriculture

Most of us are not solely concerned with our own health, but also with the environment, the possibility of a future for humanity on this earth, and protecting the rights of other beings with whom we share this chunk of rock hurtling through space. What connects all of these concerns? Our collective food choices, and peas have a specific and vital role to play.

Peas and other legumes benefit soil in multiple ways. They feed soil microbes, which help to decompose organic matter, fertilizing the soil. If the microbes in the soil were to die all over the earth, it would be the end of life as we know it. These microbes produce the food that plants eat, ensuring that the plants are healthy and able to resist disease & tolerate environmental stresses, like severe weather brought on by climate change. Legumes produce larger amounts & different kinds of amino acids than most other crops, so that the plant residue left in the field or garden plot after harvest (or added to the compost) helps to increase not only the amount but also the diversity of soil microbes. This leads to even greater protection against disease-causing fungi & bacteria.

Nitrogen is extremely important for the healthy development of practically all plants. Peas and other legumes are unique (with few exceptions) in their ability to draw nitrogen from the air. Most plants rely on whatever nitrogen is available in the soil. This is why nitrogen-based fertilizers are of such importance. Current standard farming practices rapidly deplete the soil of nitrogen, requiring the use of manure or chemical fertilizers, both of which produce huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. And they are highly problematic in other ways. Animal feces (i.e., manure) can introduce e. coli and other pathogens into our vegetable supply, the ingestion of which can be deadly. And fertilizers don’t contain just the right amount of nitrogen to be used by the plants – they contain excessive amounts, and the excess runs off into rivers, lakes, and ocean water causing algal blooms. The algae uses up all the oxygen in the water, creating dead zones, like the massive one in the Gulf of Mexico – one of the world’s largest – read more here.

Chemical fertilizers are also increasing in price, along with the fossil fuels required to make them, which is devastating for people in developing countries who have been sold the idea that they have to rely on these chemical fertilizers for productivity.

Finally, some of the nitrogen that runs off ends up converting into nitrous oxide, a particularly damaging greenhouse gas, with 296 times the global warming potential of CO2. Most nitrous oxide production, by the way, is actually from cows and other livestock bred for meat, which create around 22 – 27 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of beef, the worst offender being Kobe beef at 36.4 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of beef. Peas and other pulses produce 0.5 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of food.

In addition to a low carbon footprint, peas and other legumes have a low water footprint. 1 kg of beef requires 43 times more water than 1 kg of legumes.


Human Health

All legumes are beneficial to health in several ways – they help to reduce cholesterol, control blood sugar, prevent diabetes, and increase lifespan in general, so what’s so special about peas? Their phytonutrient profile.

Coumestrol is a phytonutrient – a phytoestrogen – found in peas as well as soybeans, Brussels sprouts, spinach, alfalfa, and red clover. Coumestrol is thought to reduce the risk of breast, stomach, and prostate cancers. According to traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, it may also play a role in helping with menopausal symptoms and digestive issues. Plants tend to contain higher levels of coumestrol when they have been damaged by aphids, bacteria, viruses, and fungi, so it may be part of the plants’ natural defense system, but this is currently not well-understood.

The scientific name for peas is pisum sativum, so you can guess where the phytonutrients ‘pisumsaponins’ and ‘pisomosides’ got their names from. They appear almost exclusively in peas. As a group, saponins engage in antitumor and antimutagenic (fighting gene mutation) behavior, as well as cholesterol reduction, antioxidant activity, and immune-function boosting. We do not yet know what the precise role of the pea’s unique blend of phytonutrients might be, but we do know that they’re both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

Did you know that peas also have the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids necessary to absorb their fat-soluble vitamins, like beta-carotene & vitamin E? Small amounts of high-quality fats – just what the doctor ordered.

There’s something else rather interesting in peas – spermidine. Like pisumsaponins, you can probably guess where it was first discovered. No, not the whales. But it is also found in food, peas being at the top of the list along with whole grains, mushrooms, leafy greens, soybeans, pears, broccoli, cauliflower, other legumes, potatoes, corn, & mangoes. Though there are no completed human trials, studies on yeast, fruit flies, mice, and in vitro studies using human cells all suggest that spermidine may help to prolong lifespan by inducing ‘autophagy’ (also promoted by fasting). This is the process by which your cells take out the trash, so to speak. As we age, we tend to have less spermidine. As with almost everything that we are required to get from food, it’s probably not the best idea to take supplements. Spermidine also plays a role in cell growth and regulation, so it could be cancer-promoting in high concentrations. As always, the balance that is available in nature is most likely the balance that we evolved to be ideally suited to.

After reading all of this wonderful information about peas, I bet you’re excited to eat more of them! This recipe will accomplish just that. I first found the basis for it on Cookie + Kate, but my version is vegan, healthier, simpler, and cheaper (not that the original is expensive). It’s enough for 2 people, with the pesto liberally applied. I get annoyed with people who skimp on the sauce.

  • 2 c (300 g) peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 c (65 g) raw cashews
  • 1/4 c mint leaves (If you don’t like mint, substitute basil)
  • juice from half a lemon (1 T)
  • 1/3 c (80 ml) aquafaba
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water (take some of the cooking water from the peas or pasta)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (don’t add any salt if you’re using aquafaba from canned garbanzo beans)
  • 3 c cooked whole wheat pasta
  1. Blanch the peas.
  2. Add everything except for the pasta in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pre-soaking the cashews for 1 hr in hot water is a good idea, but not essential if you’re in a rush. This blog disagrees with that last part.
  3. Mix with pasta & serve!

Checklist items: 1 beans, nuts, spices, 3 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

18 servings in total

We got the recommended servings of everything today.

Recipe Review: 10-minute toddler-friendly pasta

I have a tendency to cook spice-heavy dishes. I love cumin, paprika, coriander, fennel seeds, caraway, turmeric, & fenugreek, to name a few, but it’s not for everybody.

In the region of France where I live, the craziest that people tend to get is a few dashes of nutmeg – people’s palates here are generally accustomed to much more salt, fat, & sugar (much like the standard American diet), and not to a lot of herbs and spices. I rarely have to tone it down for my partner, luckily, but if I’m cooking for his family, I have to be a little more conservative when it comes to the spice cupboard. I’ve found that the dishes my friends & family in the U.S. might consider to be “toddler-friendly” tend to go over better.

This particular recipe is an intersection – it’s friendly to the more subtle palate, and I happen to love it, too! It’s the second I’ve tried that uses a mix of hummus & tomato sauce very successfully. It was, for me, an unexpected match made in heaven. What is particularly nice about this recipe is that you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand as add-ins. They’re puréed and the flavor is masked by the stronger flavors of hummus and marinara, so little veggie-avoiders are none the wiser. If you’re making it for adults, well, most adults, you can leave the extra veggies whole. I like to add peas to the cooking pasta 2 minutes before it’s finished. It takes almost zero extra effort, and it’s both beautiful and tasty.

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I found the original recipe on Oh She Glows, one of my go-to sites for amazing vegan food. Many of the recipes I find there, I adapt by eliminating oils or reducing salt, but this one required no mucking about. The only thing I changed from the original was to exclude the hemp hearts – that’s not something I can get around here, and it’s not worth ordering online, for me. Visit the link above for lovely pictures and the original recipe. This is how I made it:

Ingredients
  • 6 c (715 g) cooked whole wheat pasta, which is 3 c (340 g) dry
  • 2 c (475 ml) marinara
  • 1/2 c (125 ml) hummus (store-bought tends to have a lot of oil, so follow the link for my oil-free hummus recipe)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 c (200+ g) chopped cauliflower or whatever other vegetable you want
Cooking Instructions

This one’s crazy fast & easy.

  1. Boil cauliflower for about 10 minutes, until softened, and drain. Remember, to get the most benefit from cauliflower, you can cut it 45 minutes before cooking it, or just mix a little bit of mustard powder into the finished dish.
  2. Combine marinara, hummus, cauliflower (or other vegetable), and garlic powder in a blender until thoroughly mixed.
  3. In a large pot, combine cooked pasta & sauce, and cook until heated through. You can skip this step if your pasta is hot off the stove, especially for younger kids – the hot pasta will warm up the sauce without making it too hot to eat right away.
Nutrition Information

This recipe is meant to feed 4 adults, so I used the appropriate amounts of pasta and cauliflower to fit in with the daily dozen. The information below is for 1 serving, or 1/4 of the above recipe, including the pasta.

10 minute pasta nutrition info
generated using cronometer.com

The high sodium content here is due in large part to the fact that I used a commercially produced marinara sauce to generate the nutrition facts. For a lower sodium content, make your own marinara or buy one that is low in sodium. My favorite thing about making my own marinara is that I can add as much tarragon as my heart desires. For me, that really makes the sauce. It’s the sole purpose for which I grow tarragon in my garden.

Hey, where is all that protein coming from? It’s not from that small amount of hummus. It’s actually mostly from the pasta! There’s a fair amount in the marinara sauce, too.

So, that got me thinking – I’ve heard people say loads of times that animal products provide us with so-called “complete” proteins, while vegan foods do not. I should look at the in-depth protein profile of whole wheat pasta versus a beefsteak! Here it is – can you tell which is which based on presence vs absence of any particular amino acids?

Incomplete protein
Generated to compare protein composition, assuming the same total amounts of protein, not the same amounts of food.  Made using cronometer.com

I’ll give you a hint – even though both contain higher amounts of glutamic acid than any other amino acid listed, it’s the highest in pasta. And that’s good news for vegans! Glutamic acid is essential for making glutamine, one of the most important amino acids. Glutamine is necessary in coping with stress and for recovery from illness and strenuous exercise. It even helps to reduce fat storage. Read more here about why scientists have referred to it as an “internal fountain of youth”.

Are any of the essential amino acids (the ones we must consume because we cannot synthesize them ourselves: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine) missing from the pasta? No! They are not. So, let’s put all of this monkey-business about incomplete protein in vegan diets to rest, shall we?

Back to the recipe. So far, everyone who I’ve forced to eat this has liked it. And so do I! Plus it’s so cheap to make, and so fast & easy to put together, that I think it could easily become a staple for a lot of people who try it.

Checklist items: .5 beans, cruciferous, 1 other vegetables, spices, 3 whole grains (6.5 out of 18 servings)

For easy reference, here’s what you’ll need to round out the day:

  • 2.5 beans
  • berries
  • 3 other fruits
  • 2 greens
  • 1 other vegetables
  • flaxseeds
  • nuts