Organic – Is It Really Worth It?

Organic – Is It Really Worth It?

What Actually IS Organic?

We’ve all heard the term ‘organic’, and seen its label on produce and food products.

The short definition of organic reads: “(of food or farming methods) produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.”

According to the Victorian (Australian) government’s Better Health Channel:

  • Organic farming is the production of food without the use of synthetic chemicals or genetically modified components.
  • Organic foods are not necessarily completely chemical free, but the pesticide residues will be considerably lower than those found in produce manufactured with synthetic chemicals.
  • Organic farming is better for the environment and more sustainable

Are Organic Foods Chemical-free?

Short answer: no.

The Better Health Channel tells us that Organic food “may be grown on land not previously used for organic food production and, therefore, might contain chemical residues. However, the pesticide residues in organic food are considerably lower than those found in foods produced with synthetic chemicals.”

Organic Food Certification

Organic farms can only be certified after they have been following organic farming principles for 3 years. The word ‘organic’ is not regulated in Australia. Australian domestic organic standards are not mandated, and certification is voluntary so it’s important to buy food from certified growers.

Don’t be fooled by the words ‘organic’, ‘natural’ or ‘chemical-free’ if the proper certification labelling from one of the seven Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) accredited certifying organisations is not displayed.

Why is Organic More Expensive?

Organic food is usually more expensive than conventionally-produced food. This is because:

  • Organic farming usually operates on a smaller scale
  • Supply and demand for organic food is relatively lower than that of conventional food – as demand for organic food increases, the costs of production, processing, distribution and marketing will decrease
  • Production of organic food is more labour intensive
  • Organic farmers keep their crops natural and use compost and animal manure, which is more expensive to ship
  • Without herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals, organic crop yields are typically smaller.
  • Acquiring organic certification can be expensive and organic farmers must pay an annual inspection/certification fee
  • Organic crops take longer to grow as they don’t employ the use of growth hormones and their crops are not genetically modified.

US Organic Certification

According to the US organic.org website, “Before a product can be labelled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”

The USDA has identified for three categories of labelling organic products:

  1. 100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients
  2. Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients
  3. Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.

Is Organic Really Worth The Cost?

Most vegans and vegetarians are typically big supporters of organic farming. Intuitively, this seems like the right thing to promote. The question arises then, should we be focusing not only on encouraging people to eat more vegetables, fruit, and healthy, natural plant foods, but also on buying (often more expensive) organic produce as well?

Dr Michael Greger of Nutrition Facts addressed this question in a series of videos.

Are Organic Foods more Nutritious?

Hundreds of studies comparing organic to conventional produce didn’t find significant differences for most of the traditional nutrients like vitamins and minerals. The conclusion was there is no strong evidence to support the perception that organically produced foods are more nutritious. The studies, did, however, find higher levels of phenolic phytonutrients, which are cancer-protective anti-oxidants. It could be argued, though, that simply by purchasing an extra serve of conventional produce (usually cheaper than organic); the same levels of phenolic phytonutrients could be obtained for around the same cost.

Are Organic Foods Safer?

As Dr Greger puts it, “…organic foods may not have more nutrients per dollar, [but] consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria”.

Studies have shown that although the risk of consuming food poisoning bacteria was the same with organic or conventional meat, exposure to multi-drug resistant bacteria, resistant to multiple classes of antibiotics was lower with the organic meat.

What Of Pesticide Residue On Plant Foods?

According to Dr Greger, “There is a large body of evidence on the relation between exposure to pesticides and elevated rate of chronic diseases such as different types of cancers, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS, as well as birth defects and reproductive disorders, but they’re talking about people who live or work around pesticides.”

Measuring the levels of pesticide residue running through the bodies of both children and adults after alternating between a predominantly organic and conventional diet, found that “eating organic provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures to pesticides commonly used in agricultural production”.

These dietary studies showed that during the week with mostly organic consumption, pesticide exposure was significantly reduced – by a nearly 90% drop in exposure.

Dr Greger concluded, “Consumption of organic foods provides protection against pesticides”.

However, does protection against pesticides mean protection against disease? Currently, we don’t have the studies to prove this either way. In the meantime, consumption of organic food is a logical precaution.

vegetables

Are Organic Foods Healthier?

As Dr Greger observes in this video report, “by eating organic we can reduce our exposure to pesticides, but it remains unclear whether such a reduction in exposure is clinically relevant”.

In some studies, organic consumers report being significantly healthier than conventional consumers. However, they also tend to eat more plant foods, less soda and less alcohol, processed meat or milk, and just eat healthier in general. No wonder they feel much better!

Dr Greger notes that the “Million Women Study in the UK was the first to examine the association between the consumption of organic food and subsequent risk of cancer. The only significant risk reduction they found, though, was for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma”.

Certainly, studies have shown that higher levels of pesticides have been linked to higher incidence of conditions including ADHD, testicular cancer and birth defects. It is unclear, though, whether the increased pesticide levels were due to other factors such as higher consumption of animal products and environmental exposure by farm workers.

To date, there haven’t been, according Dr Greger, any ‘interventional trials’, comparing people raised on organic diets compared to those raised on conventional diets – except for, as Dr Greger drolly observes, studies done on fruit flies!

woman with veggies

Organic Food Benefits – Overrated or Underrated?

For 25 years pesticides have been classed as probable carcinogens, potentially damaging our DNA, genes or chromosomes. Most of the damage, however, seems to be done to the farm workers in close contact with these chemicals. Exposure to pesticide residue on produce is at levels well below acceptable limits.

There is still scientific controversy about the safety of pesticide levels, even under the safe limit. Cadmium levels, about half that in organic produce, is another highly toxic heavy metal that accumulates in the body and may be linked to phosphate fertilisers used in conventional crops.

On the flip side, the ‘organic’ food market has grown substantially over the years, and isn’t always a guarantee of health. People may falsely judge organic Oreo cookies, for example, as having less calories than regular Oreos, and believe there is less need for exercise when consuming these ‘organic’ junk foods.

People tend to overestimate the nutritional benefits of organic food, and overestimate the risk of pesticides. In the US they erroneously believe that as many people die from pesticides residues on conventional foods as die from motor vehicle accidents. Some buyers of organic food might think that eating conventional produce is almost as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes! The danger of this type of thinking is that it could lead to an overall decrease in fruit and vegetable consumption.

According to a study cited by Dr Greger, if half the US population increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by just one serving a day, an estimated 20,000 cancer cases might be avoided each year. Even if you allow for an additional 10 cases of cancer caused by the pesticide residue ingested due to the extra fruit and vegetable consumption; that represents potentially 19,990 fewer cases of cancer each year!

I’ll leave the last word on this subject to Dr Greger:

“We get a tremendous benefit from eating conventional fruits and vegetables that far outweighs whatever tiny bump in risk from the pesticides, but hey, why accept any risk at all when you can choose organic? I agree, but we should never let concern about pesticides stop us from stuffing our face with as many fruits and vegetables as possible”.

What do you think? Do you make a point of always buying organic, or is it is something you occasionally do, depending on price and convenience? Let me know in the comments below.

Tom Perry

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Vegan Or Paleo – Which Should You Choose?

Vegan Or Paleo – Which Should You Choose?

What Has Paleo In Common With Veganism?

Veganism is not simply a healthier way of life, it’s an ethical philosophy that rejects the exploitation and death of animals to provide food, clothing and other products, which can be readily obtained from other sources.

Veganism is not interested in what humans might have eaten tens, or even hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Vegans are against modern agricultural methods that enslave literally billions of animals in cages, stalls, and dim, stinking sheds – conditions which would be considered outrageous by most people if dogs or cats were raised and killed in the same way (although in some countries, sadly they are).

 

Paleo Has The Following In Common With Veganism:

  • Consumption of fruits and vegetables are encouraged under the Paleo regime.
  • Healthy fats from nuts, seeds and avocados are supported by Paleo (along with fish and ‘grass-fed’ meat)
  • Avoidance of dairy products
  • Like whole-food veganism, Paleo advocates for natural, fresh, unprocessed foods, (and where animals are consumed, they are meant to be ‘wild’ or ‘free-range’)

A few people, notably Dr Mark Hyman, have even taken the Paleo principles and merged them with Veganism, creating a hybrid Paleo-Vegan or ‘Pegan’ diet!

Interestingly, apart from rejecting grains and grain products, Paleo is anti-coffee, anti-alcohol and anti-processed meats like sausage or bacon. So no more beer and pizza nights boys…and people call vegans party-poopers! They don’t even allow peanut butter and jam on wholewheat toast chased down with a black espresso – one of my favourite breakfasts!

Like veganism, Paleo is pretty strict in its own way, even (unlike veganism) cutting out whole food groups like grains and legumes.

The term ‘vegan’ was coined when Donald Watson and five others formed the British Vegan Society in 1944. So how did Paleo get started?

Where did Paleo come from?

Conan the VegetarianI loved watching ‘The Flintstones’ when I was a kid (showing my age, I know!). This cartoon, set in the stone-age, was a pioneer sitcom reflecting 1960’s suburban life in America, and poked fun at the vain, lazy, and self-absorbed Fred Flintstone; long before Homer Simpson existed.

But did I believe that ancient humans actually lived like that?

Of course not!

It’s a natural human tendency to idealise or romanticise the past, especially when it’s so far back in the mists of time.

The ‘Paleo’ diet is a really a food fantasy cleverly marketed as dietary ‘cure-all’ harking back to a mythical stone-age past. It’s been around for quite a while, too, in some form or another.

In his 1975 book ‘The Stone Age Diet: Based on in-depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man’ Walter L. Voegtlin argued that that the ancestral human Paleolithic diet was that of a carnivore — chiefly (animal) fats and protein, with only small amounts of carbohydrates.

In 1988 S. Boyd Eaton, Marjorie Shostak and Melvin Konner published a book: The Paleolithic Prescription. From the end of the 1990s, some medical doctors and nutritionists promoted a return to a so-called Paleolithic (pre-agricultural) diet.

In 2002, Dr Lauren Cordain, who holds a doctorate in physical education, published his bestselling book “The Paleo Diet” that summarised research on the subject and provided practical advice on “the diet you were designed to eat”.

So, was Fred Flintstone and his buddies really hairy-chested hunters of woolly mammoths? While it’s true that Fred worked at the Slate Rock & Gravel Company in the town of Bedrock, the short answer is ‘no’.

Problems with Paleo

The Paleolithic period is the earliest period of human development, and lasted from 2.6 million years ago to about 12,000 years ago, across many continents, and during a wide range of climatic conditions (including a few ice ages). Apart from the huge variations in time, location and climate, there are several other anomalies with Paleo that were detailed in a Scientific American article:

  1. Put simply, true Paleo foods are not around anymore, and certainly not in your local supermarket. Almost every species commonly consumed today—whether a fruit, vegetable or animal—is vastly different from its Paleolithic predecessor. Animals and plants used for consumption have been genetically bred and modified to increase production and favour preferred features (such as bananas without seeds) to such an extent that it is now impossible to eat like a human from the Paleolithic period – short of taking a historical ride in a time machine!
  2. Contrary to Paleo proponents’ claims, Paleolithic humans did eat grains and legumes, and may have even cooked them. Recent research out of Italy shows that humans were eating grains well before modern agriculture. Marta Mariotti Lippi and her colleagues at the University of Florence found traces of oats on an ancient grinding tool in Southern Italy dating 32,000 years ago, about 20,000 years before farming was developed. Lippi says this isn’t the only instance of evidence pointing to ancient people eating starch. “In Central Italy they ate starch from cattail,” Lippi said. “In the Middle East, starch from wild wheat. In Russia and Moravia, they were eating starch, but we do not know which plants they processed.” And don’t forget, legumes and whole grains are excellent sources of fibre, protein, and other phyto-nutrients that form part of a healthy diet.
  3. Humans have evolved since 12,000 years ago, in contrast to Paleo lore, which teaches that our eating preferences are stuck in the stone-age. Genetic mutations, such as a tolerance for dairy in some populations, blue eyes, some people evolving extra copies of the amylase enzyme so they can more easily digest starches, have all occurred with the last 5,000 to 10,000 years. It is clear our bodies are easily capable of evolving fast enough in 12,000 years to accommodate new foods.
  4. Paleo diets can induce weight loss, but in an unhealthy way. Too much animal fat and animal protein can lead to a host of health problems. According to vegan dietitian Amanda Benham;

“Any diet [such as Paleo] that requires animals to be slaughtered, exploited or kept in captivity has something seriously wrong with it from an ethical viewpoint. Also I don’t recommend them on health grounds. They encourage unhealthy eating patterns such as high consumption of animal products (such as meat and eggs), which are loaded with saturated fats and cholesterol and devoid of fibre and other beneficial plant components. In the long run they unsustainable and any weight lost is readily regained.

“Another problem with diets high in animal products is that they have a much larger environmental footprint than plant-based diets. Producing food from animals requires a much greater use of resources such as land, water and fossil fuels than producing food from plants. It is also a waste of food itself to get our calories and protein from animal products, as many more times the amount of protein and calories from plants must be fed to animals than is actually produced. Also, raising cattle and other ruminants for meat and/or milk production is a major contributor to global warming via methane gas production.”

Our true Paleo history

In a Scientific American article Rob Dunn, science writer and biologist in the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University, argues that when taken too literally such diets are ridiculous.

One problem is deciding which group of ancestors to take our dietary advice from. Are the stone-age diet gurus Neanderthals, Homo Erectus or the Flintstone Family (Brontosaurus ribs anyone)?

If we look at our closest ape relatives, chimpanzees, the answer to our dietary past is clear – it was mostly vegetarian. Chimpanzees do sometimes kill and devour a smaller animal like a monkey. However the proportion of the diet of the average chimpanzee composed of meat is small, less than 3% by mass. As Rob Dunn notes:

“The majority of the food consumed by primates today–and every indication is for the last thirty million years–is vegetable, not animal. Plants are what our apey and even earlier ancestors ate; they were our paleo diet for most of the last thirty million years during which our bodies, and our guts in particular, were evolving.”

So, to return a healthy, halcyon ancient diet regime Rob Dunn has more advice:

“If you want to return to your ancestral diet, … you might reasonably eat what our ancestors spent the most time eating during the largest periods of the evolution of our guts, fruits, nuts, and vegetables—especially fungus-covered tropical leaves.”

Hmmm – perhaps we’ll leave the fungus-covered leaves out of our green salad for now…

Rather than dwell too much on what our ancient ancestors ate, the key question is, what is the healthiest option right now, today? Whether you eat meat or meat alternatives, it is clear from mainstream nutrition advice that most of our diet should consist of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and complex carbohydrates (including whole grains).

Tom Perry

References:
PCRM Power Plate
Dr Fuhrman’s Food Pyramid

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The Special Carb Guaranteed to Improve Your Health and Weight Loss

The Special Carb Guaranteed to Improve Your Health and Weight Loss

We’re often told these days that carbs are bad for us. That carbs – or carbohydrate foods – will make us fat, and that we should limit their consumption. We’re also told that it’s protein foods that fill us up – not carbs. Well, I’m here to tell you this is completely wrong.

What if I told you that there was a special carb only found in plant foods that is guaranteed to:

  • Help you feel full for hours
  • Aid in digestion
  • Reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and high cholesterol
  • Help flush fat out of your system
  • Add texture to food
  • Keep you regular
  • Has no bad side effects
  • And, (maybe best of all) contains ZERO calories?

Would you want to get some of this? What would you be willing to pay for this magical food ingredient, which sounds almost too good to be true?

green okraAs it turns out, not only does this fantastic food component exist abundantly in nature, it costs you virtually NOTHING! So what is this magic ingredient, the big F-Bomb for health and weight loss? The answer is simple: fibre (or, if you’re in the US, fiber).

According to research published in The Journal of Nutrition the ‘secret’, proven way to prevent weight gain or even encourage weight loss without dieting is, of course, to consume more fibre.

As reported in a recent ‘Eating Well’ article, researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah followed the eating habits of 252 middle-aged women for nearly two years and found that those who increased their fibre intake generally lost weight. Women who decreased the fibre in their diets gained weight. The research scientists found that increasing fibre by 8 grams for every 1,000 calories consumed resulted in losing about 4½ pounds (2kg) over the course of the study.

While it helps you feel full, “fibre has no calories,” says Larry Tucker, Ph.D., lead researcher and professor in the Department of Exercise Sciences at Brigham Young.

How Much Fibre Should You Eat?

The USDA recommends 14 grams of fibre for every 1,000 calories consumed by healthy adults. So a person eating 2,000 calories a day should aim to get at least 28 grams (or more) of fibre daily.

Most Australians do not consume enough fibre. On average, most Australians consume 20–25g of fibre daily, whereas the Australian Heart Foundation recommends that adults should aim to consume approximately 25–30g daily.

Dr Neal Barnard of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) advises that “Fiber plays a key role for digestion, weight loss, and cancer prevention, and can even increase lifespan!…I recommend a dietary intake of 40 grams of fiber per day—while most Americans are only getting 10-15 grams.”

You could easily meet or exceed the recommended amount of daily fibre by eating the following healthy plant foods over the course of a day:

  • ½ cup oatmeal (3 grams fibre)
  • 1 small banana (3 grams)
  • ½ cup cooked red or black beans (7 grams)
  • 1 small apple (5 grams)
  • ½ cup lentils (8 grams)
  • and ½ cup blueberries (3 grams)

Dangers Of A Low-Fibre Diet

The current fad for high-protein high-fat diets promotes reduced consumption of healthy plant foods such as beans, whole grains and fruit. Reducing the amount of fibre-rich, whole plant foods in your diet is dangerous to your health. Disorders that can arise from a low-fibre diet include:

  • Constipation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Diverticulitis
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Heart disease
  • Bowel cancer

Note that animal products have no fibre at all, so the more meat, dairy and eggs you consume, the less room in your diet for this important food component.

What Is Dietary Fibre?

Dietary fibre is a type of complex carbohydrate made up of the indigestible parts or compounds of plants, which pass relatively unchanged through our stomach and intestines. Other terms for dietary fibre include ‘bulk’ and ‘roughage’, which can be misleading since some forms of fibre are water-soluble and aren’t bulky or rough at all.

Unlike other food components such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates that your body breaks down and absorbs, your body doesn’t digest fibre. Rather, fibre passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, and colon, and out of your body.

Types Of Fibre

According to Nutrition Australia, there are three different types of fibre, which have different functions and health benefits:

  • Soluble fibre – includes pectins, gums and mucilage, which are found mainly in plant cells. This type of fibre dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. One of its major roles is to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Good sources of soluble fibre include fruits, vegetables, oat bran, barley, seed husks, flaxseed, psyllium, dried beans, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, lentils, peas, and soy products.
  • Insoluble fibre – includes cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin, which make up the structural parts of plant cell walls. A major role of insoluble fibre is to add bulk to faeces and to prevent constipation and associated problems such as haemorrhoids. This type of fibre promotes the movement of waste material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, which helps with constipation. Good sources include wheat bran, corn bran, rice bran, the skins of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried beans and whole-grain breads and cereals.
  • Resistant Starch – passes through the small intestine and proceeds to the large intestine where it can assist in the production of good bacteria and improves bowel health. Resistant starch is found in under-cooked pasta, under ripe bananas, oats, cooked and cooled potato and rice.

Health Benefits Of Fibre

ALL types of fibre are beneficial to the body and most plant foods contain a mixture of different types. However, the amount of each type varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of high-fibre (whole plant-based) foods.

Individuals with high intakes of dietary fibre appear to be at significantly lower risk for developing:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • and certain gastrointestinal diseases.

Increasing fibre intake lowers blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels. Increased intake of soluble fibre improves glycaemia and insulin sensitivity in non-diabetic and diabetic individuals.

Why Fibre Is Important For Healthy Weight Loss

  • High-fibre foods require more chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you’re no longer hungry, so you’re less likely to overeat.
  • A high-fibre diet tends to make meals feel larger and linger longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time.
  • High-fibre diets also tend to be less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.

Your Best Food Choices For Fibre

Your best choices for fibre are healthy whole plant foods. These include:

  • Whole-grain foods, including wholegrain breads and cereals
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans, peas and other legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

Remember, fibre is only found in abundance in relatively unprocessed, whole plant foods. Refined or processed foods such as canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices, white breads and pastas, and non-whole-grain cereals are lower in fibre. The grain-refining process removes the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which lowers its fibre content, as does removing the skin from fruits and vegetables. As Dr Greger advises, it’s much healthier to get your fibre from whole plant foods, rather than from supplements.

6 Ways To Fit Fibre Into Your Food

  1. Bulk-up at breakfast. For breakfast choose a high-fibre breakfast cereal such as rolled oats or a whole-grain cereal. Or try baked beans on whole wheat toast
  2. Have the whole grain. Choose breads that list whole wheat, whole-wheat flour or another whole grain as the first ingredient on the label. Have brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta and bulgur, instead of white rice and pasta.
  3. Vegify your meals. Add fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces. For example, mix chopped frozen broccoli into prepared spaghetti sauce or toss fresh baby carrots into stews.
  4. Love your legumes. Lentils, beans, and peas excellent sources of fibre. Use lentils and beans in curries, stews, salads, Mexican dishes and soups.
  5. Go fruity. Apples, bananas, oranges, pears and berries are all good sources of fibre.
  6. Plant-power snacks. Instead of cookies, cake or chocolate, snack on fresh fruits, raw vegetables, low-fat popcorn and whole-grain crackers. An occasional handful of nuts or dried fruits also is a healthy, high-fibre snack, although be aware that nuts and dried fruits are high in calories.

High-fibre foods are not only important to assist and sustain weight loss, but they’re good for your health. Be careful adding too much fibre to your meals at once, however, as this can lead to intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Gradually increase your dietary fibre over a period of a few weeks. This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change.

Finally, drink plenty of water. Fibre works best when it absorbs water, making your stool soft and bulky.

Enjoy loads of fibre-rich plant-foods. You won’t go hungry, you’ll feel great, and you won’t stack on excess weight either!

Further Information sources:

Tom Perry

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The Surprising Health Benefits of Beans You Need to Know

The Surprising Health Benefits of Beans You Need to Know

Beans Means Health

red lentilsBeans, pulses and legumes have had a really bad rap over the years. The popular opinion of these foods has traditionally ranged from ‘fart-food’ to bland, unappetising stodge favoured by the ‘alternative lifestyle’ brigade, or as cheap, last resort food of the destitute. This is a great shame, because beans are actually packed with texture and flavour, and they are powerhouses of nutrition. Everyone should, as far as possible, eat beans every day.

Does anyone remember the infamous scene in Mel Brook’s Western-spoof ‘Blazing Saddles’, where the cowboys sit around the camp fire, taking turns passing gas after scoffing pans of beans? Or the anarchic 1980’s English black-comedy series ‘The Young Ones’, where the dour hippy character Neil regularly exhorts his house-mates (without success) to eat his revolting-looking lentil stew?

So what’s the big deal about beans, you might wonder?

Beans, pulses, or legumes are an excellent source of:

  • Soluble fibre
  • Antioxidants
  • Protein
  • Complex carbohydrates
  • Vitamins and minerals such as: copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium and zinc.

Beans are low in fat with a low glycaemic index. They also help you to lose weight, lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Beans are cheap, filling, tasty, and incredibly versatile. If any food deserves the over-used title of ‘super-food’, it would have to be beans!

Black Beans Vs Beef (per 100 grams) – source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

  • Black Beans: 130 calories  | Beef: 270 calories
  • Black Beans: Total fat: 0 grams | Beef: 18 grams
  • Black Beans: Saturated fat: 0 grams | Beef: 7 grams
  • Black Beans: Cholesterol: 0 grams | Beef: 80 grams
  • Black Beans: Fibre: 8 grams | Beef: 0 grams
  • Black Beans: Iron: 2.9 micrograms | Beef: 2.3 micrograms

The Year of the Pulse

International Year of PulsesIt wasn’t well publicised, but the United Nations declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. All around the world people were encouraged to take the ‘Pulse Pledge’, organise ‘Pulse Feasts’ and share their commitment to consuming pulses on social media and YouTube.

As it says on the Pulse Australia website, pulses (including beans) are excellent sources of carbohydrate and protein. For example, chickpeas contain up to 24% protein, and are richer in phosphorus and calcium than other pulses.

Faba (Fava) beans and broad beans are also good sources of carbohydrate and protein, low in fats, and having a crude protein content ranging from 24 to 31%.

Let Them Eat Lentils

let them eat lentils

Far from being ‘new-age’ fare for hippies, lentils are an ancient human food, appearing around 9,500 to 13,000 years ago. You might have seen green or red lentils, but did you know there are about 14 different types?

Lentils have the second-highest ratio of protein to calorie of any legume. They are rich sources of nutrients including folate, thiamine, phosphorus, iron, zinc and fibre.

Lentils are widely used throughout South Asia, the Mediterranean regions and West Asia. Lentils feature in the national dishes of many countries, including Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, India and Pakistan. In Italy and Hungary, eating lentils on New Year’s Eve traditionally symbolizes the hope for a prosperous new year, most likely because of their round, coin-like form.

According Dr Michael Greger, of Nutrition Facts, and author of ‘How Not To Die’, “Legumes may be the most important predictor of survival in older people from around the globe”.

In an article by Dr Greger he reports that “researchers from different institutions looked at five different cohorts in Japan, Sweden, Greece, and Australia. Of all the food factors they looked at, only one was associated with a longer lifespan across the board: legume intake. Whether it was the Japanese eating their soy, the Swedes eating their brown beans and peas, or those in the Mediterranean eating lentils, chickpeas, and white beans, legume intake was associated with an increased lifespan.”

As for the common concern about beans and legumes increasing farts, Dr Greger says people’s concerns about excessive flatulence from eating beans may be exaggerated. He refers to a recent study, (profiled in his video Increased Lifespan from Beans) which involved adding a half-cup of beans every day to people’s diets for months.  While the vast majority of people in the study experienced no symptoms at all, only a few did report increased flatulence. Even among the small percentage that were affected, 70% or more of the participants felt that flatulence dissipated by the second or third week of bean consumption. So the message is keep eating beans, and your body will gradually get used to it.

Health Benefits of Eating Beans and Legumes

  • Beans can prevent heart disease
  • Beans can fight cancer
  • Beans can lower cholesterol
  • Beans can help you lose weight
  • Beans can reduce risk of diabetes
  • Beans can prevent constipation
  • Beans are a great source of protein, complex carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals

Medical doctor and nutrition expert Dr Joel Fuhrman calls beans “the ideal carbohydrate”. Dr Fuhrman advises that beans protect against colon cancer and diabetes, stabilize blood sugar and help you feel full – assisting with weight loss:

“Since beans are high-nutrient, high-fibre, and low-calorie, you can eat them in large quantities without the danger of weight gain. The high fibre and resistant starch content of beans also makes them very satiating, allowing you to feel full longer and stave off food cravings; these properties make beans an effective weight loss tool. Those who regularly eat beans have greater intakes of minerals and fibre, have lower blood pressure, and are less likely to be overweight than those that don’t consume beans.” – Dr Joel Furhman

Soy Beans – Protein Powerhouse

super soySoy beans are native to China, where they have been cultivated for over 13,000 years. The ancient Chinese regarded soy beans as a necessity for life. Soy beans are now the most widely grown and utilised legume worldwide, mainly as a result of being used (in GMO form) for feeding animals bred for human consumption (a shocking waste of land, water, food and resources).

soy beansIt’s important to remember that, despite the controversy about eating soy, soy beans are an extremely nutritious member of the legume family.

Soy beans have the distinction of having the highest percentage of protein of any bean, and they have all necessary amino acids for humans. In other words, soy beans contain ‘complete protein’, that is as usable as protein found in meat and eggs.

According to the Victorian Government’s (Australia) ‘Better Health Channel’ soy beans are a good source of antioxidants, including phytoestrogens such as isoflavones. There is evidence to suggest that that a soy-rich diet helps reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, because the phytoestrogens act like a mild form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Reductions in the rate of hot flushes associated with soy consumption vary from 1.9 % to 45 %.

A meta-analysis of 41 clinical trials found that 20 g to 61 g of soy protein (found in two to three serves of soy products) can significantly reduce total blood cholesterol levels, LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and triglycerides.

Other possible health benefits of whole soy foods include:

  • lowered blood pressure
  • improvements to blood vessels, such as greater elasticity of artery walls
  • reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • protection against various cancers, including those of the breast, colon, prostate and skin
  • management of endometriosis
  • anti-inflammatory effects.

As Dr Neal Barnard of PCRM advises, consumption of simple soy products, such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, or miso, are probably better choices than highly refined soy foods.

Different bean varieties (click on the hyperlinks for more information):

Eat Beans – Not Beings!

eat beans not beings

Eat at least half a cup to a whole cup of beans every day – you can add a beans to your salads; or eat baked beans (navy beans) on wholemeal toast; make bean burgers, a bean loaf, or mix beans into your soup, stew or casserole. You can also consume beans as bean salsa, or bean dip.

Enjoy your fill of healthy, life-sustaining beans, and bean appetite!

Tom Perry

 

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Why Low-Carb Diets Can Do You Harm

Why Low-Carb Diets Can Do You Harm

The Great ‘Low-Carb’ Con

What if I offered you a piece of buttered white bread with a serving of french fries? Or, alternatively, a salad made with spinach, tomatoes, carrots, and kidney beans? Which one do you think would be healthier for you? The answer seems obvious, yet all these foods are carbohydrates or ‘carbs’.

As dietitian and plant-based nutrition expert Jeff Novick, says:

“I can’t think of anything that creates more confusion and is more misunderstood than carbohydrates.”

sardinesLow-carb fad diets such as Atkins and Paleo have gained a lot of attention (and sales) from the general public, hungry for solutions to our ever-growing obesity problem. The basic premise is the same – cut right down on carbohydrate foods such as bread, potatoes, beans, pasta, even fruit, and focus mainly on animal protein and fat, with some vegetables thrown in.

The idea with these diets seems to be that if you fill up on protein-rich foods such as eggs and meat, you won’t crave the foods such as bread, pastries and sweets that supposedly make you fat.

Certainly there are reports of some people losing weight on these diets, and then extolling their virtues. On the flip side, anything to do with grains, legumes and even soybean products have been demonized as causing weight gain, high cholesterol, and intolerance’s (particularly gluten). This anti-grain anti-legume stance appears to me to be a vague attempt to revert back to a mystical, mythical past where he-men with spears and six-packs hunted down mastodons with Amazonian women applauding from the sidelines. The problem is, it’s all a giant con.

The fact that the vast majority of animals bred and killed for food are genetically mutated, artificially inseminated, and in many cases housed in filthy, cruel and unnatural factory farms (a relatively recent development), doesn’t seem to concern people who are happy to reject established grain crops that have been cultivated and consumed for many thousands of years (long before anyone had heard of an ‘obesity epidemic’).

Why You Should Ditch Low-Carb/High Animal Fat and Protein Diets

1. Eating too much meat and animal fat is bad for humans, period. Excessive meat and egg consumption has been linked to a host of health problems, including some cancersheart diseasehigh cholesterol, and stroke.

  • Although most of us are omnivores, our teeth and digestive system are much closer to those of herbivorous animals. Too much meat in our system, along with not enough fibre, clogs up and causes a toxic reaction, which simply does not happen with true carnivores like cats or dogs, with their much shorter digestive tract and strong stomach acid. Saturated fats and cholesterol from animal products further clog our arteries and lead to atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke.
  • A study reported by ABC News in March 2014 showed that consumption of animal-based protein is linked to an increased risk of early death for people in their 50s and early 60s. The study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that more than 6,000 American adults between the ages of 50 and 65 with diets high in animal protein were 74 percent more likely to meet an untimely end than those who consumed less animal protein or got their protein from non-animal sources. For deaths due to cancer, the risk was four times higher. Eating plant-based proteins like nuts and beans seemed to reverse the unhealthy trend.

According to Dr Joel Fuhrman, “Animal protein also elevates IGF-1, which is not only associated with cancer, but cardiovascular disease as well. High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets have now been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.”

Plant-food nutrition expert and guru Dr T. Colin Campbell, in his book ’The Low Carb Fraud‘, outlines some of the unsavoury side-effects of a low-carb diet: more headaches, bad breath, constipation, and muscle cramps. Even more alarming was a report on the low-carb diet and health, referred to by Dr Campbell in his book, which was a summary of 17 studies published in January 2013 involving 272,216 subjects. According to this report a low-carb diet showed a statistically significant increase in total deaths.

2. Avoiding fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes means you are less able to avoid disease and premature death.

A study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress and reported by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicinedaily intake of fruit may decrease the risk of heart disease by as much as 40 percent. To quote from the PCRM News site, researchers followed 451,681 participants for seven years and found that in addition to reducing the risk of heart disease, daily fruit consumption reduced the risk of dying from heart disease and stroke by 27 percent and 40 percent, respectively, compared with less than daily fruit consumption.

  • Another study published online in the European Journal of Nutrition found that reducing dietary fat while increasing carbohydrate intake is best for people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers followed the diets of 1,785 type 2 diabetes patients as part of the TOSCA.IT Study, and found that an increase from less than 45 percent to 60 percent or more in complex carbohydrate intake lowered all levels of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and HbA1c. They also found that increasing fibre and lowering added sugar intakes also had positive effects on cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
  • A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Cardiology and reported by PCRM found that adding whole grains to your diet may protect against our biggest killer, heart disease. Researchers summarized results from 18 studies that included 400,492 total participants, of which 14,427 had diagnosed coronary heart disease. The studies showed that people who ate the most whole grains experienced a lower risk for heart disease when compared to those who consumed the least.

3. High carb whole plant food diets are best for weight loss.

A diet high in unrefined carbohydrates is best for weight lossVegetables, whole fruits, beans, and whole grains provide a huge variety of tastes, textures, and natural fibre packed with life-sustaining nutrients. Studies show that reducing fat and eating whole plant foods is better for boosting your metabolism and losing weight than cutting carbs.

  • Good carbohydrates include nutrient-rich, naturally low-calorie vegetables and fruit, which, due to their high fibre, high-water content, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phyto-chemicals, should form the bulk of your caloric intake.

Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs

burgerBy way of definition, ‘bad carbs’ are made from highly processed ingredients, such as refined white flour and sugar. Think donuts, muffins, cookies and cakes. They are made from flour with much of the fibre and goodness stripped out, and often mixed with loads of animal fats in the form of butter, milk and eggs. It’s unlikely that anyone would promote these types of foods as appropriate for healthy weight loss, let alone a healthy diet.

‘Good carbs’, on the other hand, refer to relatively unrefined or whole foods, foods such vegetables, beans, chickpeas, fresh fruit, quinoa, buckwheat, barley, and oats. This list would also include wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta and brown rice. For good carbs think of foods close to, or within their natural state, and naturally high in fibre, and low in fat and sugar.

The truth is that rather than avoid carbs, we should base our diet on whole-food carbohydrates. These provide a host of health benefits, as well as being a major source of energy. Based on my research, medical advice and experience, I advocate a whole-food plant-based diet, following classic 80-20 principles. By that I mean, basing your diet roughly on 70-80% good, high-fibre carbohydrates, including fresh vegetables and fruit, beans, legumes, whole grains, and 20% fats and plant protein.

vegetables

Dr Campbell summarizes the benefits of the WFPB – Whole Foods Plant Based – diet, which provides “an exceptionally rich bonanza of anti-oxidants, complex carbohydrates, and optimum intakes of fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals; many of which contribute to disease prevention.”

Carbohydrates, available almost exclusively from plants, provide the body with the most efficient form of energy, and is the only source of fuel for the brain. Whole-food carbs include the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet: vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains, seeds and nuts. Foods that all of us should base our diet on.

Tom Perry

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