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.

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Today’s Health Morsel: Tempeh

 

 

breakfast_text

I like my fruity breakfasts, especially as the weather starts to get warmer. For me, a nice light breakfast is the best way to start the day.

  • 1/2 c strawberries
  • 1 banana
  • 1 T ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 charentais melon

I sprinkle the flaxseed on top of the banana because, for me, the texture isn’t right with the melon or strawberries, but works well with the banana.

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


lunch_text

Dinner will be satisfying but somewhat heavy, so I want to have a lighter lunch and get in plenty of greens!

  • 1/4 c broccoli
  • 1/4 c cauliflower
  • 2 c chopped lettuce
  • 1/4 c red bell pepper
  • 1/8 c corn kernels
  • 1/4 c sunflower seeds
  • 1 c cooked black beans

I had my salad today with My Basic Dressing.

Checklist items: 2 beans, cruciferous, 2 greens, .5 other vegetables, 1 nuts, .25 whole grains (6.75 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

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Normally, if you have the option of buying a processed, packaged food or its unprocessed original form (e.g., strawberries vs strawberry jam), the healthier option is the unprocessed whole food. Not the case with tempeh! Edamame/soybeans are actually somewhat less nutritious than tempeh.

Why? Well, if you look at tempeh, you can actually see the soybeans in it – it is a whole food, but a fermented one. The fermentation process adds nutritional value to the beans by making their proteins, vitamins, minerals, & phytonutrients more digestible, soluble, and bioavailable, as well as creating smaller proteins called peptides, some of which are unique to soy itself and carry their own health benefits.

Another quality fermentation adds to soy is antimutagenicity, meaning it helps to prevent gene mutation. This is important in fighting off damage to our DNA, and it’s not small potatoes since there are approximately 800 incidents per hour of DNA damage in our bodies, on average. If that damage goes unchecked, it can lead to cancer.

Those little peptides mentioned above are important, too, as they are part of what makes tempeh an antioxidant powerhouse and anti-inflammatory, in addition to being classified as ACE-inhibitors. The peptides also aid in blood pressure and blood sugar level regulation, and boost immune function. There is also research suggesting that some of these same unique soy peptides (again, only present in fermented soy products) may help to manage & prevent obesity. They’ve been shown to decrease the formation of some fatty acids and even to inhibit the body from depositing the fatty acids into fat cells. It will be interesting to see how this research progresses.

For more information about the amazing soybean, check out this podcast.

Another benefit of tempeh is that it contains zero cholesterol, and even helps to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Today, I’m making tempeh meatballs. 113 grams (4 oz.) of 95% lean ground beef contains 24 g of protein and >70 mg cholesterol. The same amount of tempeh contains >20 g of protein without that nasty stuff. As a package deal, I’ll take the tempeh!

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I got lucky in that I stumbled on this tempeh meatball concoction after trying only 2 or 3 so-so meatball recipes. I love it so much that I don’t want to take the risk of trying others and then being sad that they aren’t as good. As usual, I’ve made some changes from the original. This makes enough for 3 meals/people.

  • 100 g tempeh
  • 1 c vegetable stock or water
  • 1 T miso paste (also a product of fermented soybeans)
  • 1 T tamari (a byproduct of miso, thus, also fermented soy)
  • 1 lg onion
  • 1 lg clove garlic
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 2 tsps Italian seasoning (I use a mix of oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil, rosemary, & sage)
  • 1/4 c fresh chopped parsley
  • 2/3 c whole wheat breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 c cooked white beans
  • 380 ml (1 2/3 c) marinara sauce
  • 57 g (6 oz) dry pasta (or 3 c cooked)
  1. Break tempeh into chunks and cook in a small saucepan with veggie stock or water and tamari until liquid is absorbed, using a spoon occasionally to break into ever-smaller pieces.
  2. In the meantime, sauté onion & garlic.
  3. Mix miso & tomato paste together.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the beans, pasta & marinara and mix well.
  5. Form into balls (mine are a/b 50 g each)
  6. Either bake them for 30 minutes at 180° C (350° F) or heat them in a non-stick pan until browned. No liquid necessary.
  7. In the meantime, boil whole wheat pasta and warm up marinara sauce & white beans.

Or, you can substitute the pasta for whole grain bread and make meatball subs! Also extremely yummy! The checklist items are for 1 serving, not for the entire recipe.

Checklist items: 1 beans, 1.5 other vegetables, 2 spices, 2.75 whole grains (7.25 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

19 servings in total

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything today, plus an extra serving of spices.

Blueberries, Ginger & Tarragon

Breakfast_text

It’s a rainy morning and chilly for June, so we’re starting things off with hot oatmeal.

 

  • blueberry-539134_6401/4 c. dry rolled oats (yields 1/2 c. cooked)
  • water (approx. double the amount of oats, depending on how soupy you want it)
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • 1 T (15 ml) ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 c. blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 peach or nectarine
    • or 1/2 mango, cut up
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cardamom

The way I make this is very simple:

  1. Mash the banana at the bottom of a bowl
  2. Add dry oats, water, flax, spices
  3. Mix until well combined
  4. Cook on stove or in microwave
  5. If blueberries are frozen, add them when the water is about half absorbed
  6. When done cooking, add remaining fruit, berries, & nuts

Checklist items: berries, 2 other fruits, flaxseed, spices, 1 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


lunch_textA lovely spicy curry seems like just the ticket on this particular rainy afternoon.

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  • 1/2 c. brown rice, cooked
  • 1/2 c. garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 c. peas
  • 1/2 an onion, diced (optional)
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, diced (optional)
  • 1 T. fresh ginger
  • 1/2 c. red bell pepper, coarsely cut
  • 1 diced chili pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 c. zucchini, coarsely cut
  • 1 c. raw beet greens or spinach
  • curry and salt-free spice blend of your choice (I used garam masala)
  • lime juice
  • tomato paste + water (or coconut milk + low-sodium soy sauce if you’re not worried about the fat content)

Another super simple meal:

  1. Cook rice separately
  2. Saute onion, garlic, & ginger in a minimal amount of olive oil or, better yet, no oil
  3. Add beans, peas, peppers, zucchini, & spices
  4. Cook until vegetables are desired consistency, adding water as necessary to prevent burning and sticking
  5. Stir in lime & tomato paste or coconut milk & bring back up to temperature
  6. Add leafy greens and wilt

Checklist items: 2 beans, 1 greens, 2 other vegetables, spices, 1 whole grains (7 out of 18 servings)


snack_textA little afternoon snack is never a bad idea. Perhaps with some tea?

 

  • 1 peach
  • 1/4 c. dates
  • 1/4 c. nuts

Instructions: nosh.

Checklist items: 2 other fruit, nuts (3 out of 18 servings)


dinner_textLast meal of the day! We’d better make it count! I can never resist a good hearty soup. It’s the perfect dinner for a rainy day.

 

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  • 1/2 c. chopped beet greens or spinach
  • 1/2 c. cooked cannellini (white beans)
  • 1/2 c. chopped cauliflower
  • 1/2 c. brown or wild rice, cooked
  • 1/2 c. diced tomato
  • 1/4 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • vegetable broth, low- or no-sodium
  • Italian herb blend (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, savory, fennel, sage and marjoram)
  • lots of tarragon – for me, the tarragon really makes this soup
  • fresh basil to sprinkle on top

Making the soup:

  1. Saute onions and garlic in minimal or no oil
  2. Add everything else except for the rice & fresh basil
  3. When the soup is ready, add the rice & heat through
  4. Chiffonade basil and sprinkle on soup at service

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


Taking account of the day:

22 servings in total.

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything.

In addition, we had 1 extra serving each of other fruit & other vegetables, plus 2 extra servings of spices.