World vegan day – let’s explore

Today, 1st Nov is World vegan day, open any newspaper, turn on the radio or TV and odds on you’ll hear it mentioned. In fact it is Vegan month for the whole of November go a good time to learn more.

Veganism and the trend for reducing animal based products is on the rise, but it is nothing new. The vegan movement was started in 1944 and became a registered charity in 1979.

Being a vegan involves adopting a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat, fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs and honey – (basically any food that come from anything with a face). Veganism is considered extreme and even odd by many in our Western society, however in some cultures it is the mainstream diet and as a diet choice it is proven to give the most health benefits. The ultimate test of this being the number of top athletes that have switched their diets:

  • Heavy weight boxer David Haye
  • Tennis stars the Williams sisters
  • International rugby player Anthony Mullally
  • NBA players with John Salley (leading the charge as a long time vegan)
  • F1 champ Lewis Hamilton
  • US Ultra-marathon runner Scott Jurek
  • Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin. The list goes on…

So what does this mean to an ethical omnivore and where do the paths cross? Being ethical in our consumption choices spans all diet choices including a vegan diet. Any shift towards adopting a plant based diet, be that 100%, 90%, 50% will give you positive payback in your health, well being and your impact in the world. The aim of ethical omnivore is to link the dietary worlds and give people choice.

It is very difficult to wake up one day and say ‘right I am giving up xyz’ you don’t have to swing from eating meat or fish everyday to becoming a fully fledged vegan overnight. Experimenting, learning to cook new dishes, deciding what you enjoy, researching into the real benefits and information behind the choices is what worked in making any dietary shift.

You don’t have to pick a sides, you can venture into the world of plant based one dish at a time. I have been blown away how much I enjoy the variety of food we now eat and dare I say there is a certain smugness knowing you’ve eaten 10 of your 5 a day.

If you feel like embracing World vegan day today is the day. I’ve posted lots of recipes under the heading FOOD / RECIPES /Plant based and Vegan. Try Spud’s shepherdless pie or Spaghetti Puy-ognese.

V to victory! – the ethical omnivore.

“Fancy some bamboo shoots for dinner darling?”

Buckwheat delights

In my quest to find healthy and tasty, whole foods, to understand more about plant power and widen my range of ingredients. Buckwheat was high on the list of foods to investigate.

Discovering buckwheat

Often mistakenly thought of as a grain, buckwheat is in fact a plant, related to sorrel and rhubarb. We eat the seed, in the whole form as groats or milled as flour. It is gluten free so a good replacement for flour in any wheat based recipes. As such it is considered a pseudocereal (like a cereal or grain).

Russia is the biggest producer and consumer closely followed by China and other Asian nations, growing in popularity in UK, USA, Canada and the rest of the world. It is an ancient food that we are rediscovering. As well for food it was grown as a nitrogen rich fertilising crop, before chemical fertilisers came into use.

It is amazingly versatile and a great way to increase nutritional intake. It is a nutrient rich food. Containing many trace minerals, including manganese, magnesium and copper. A good source of the B vitamins: B6, pantothenic acid, niacin, folate, thiamin and choline. Revered as one of the best plant sources of protein, it contains eight essential amino acids. Also high in complex carbohydrates and fibre. Whilst very low in fat and low on the GI index.

How to buy

You can buy buckwheat in larger supermarkets, health food stores or online. As raw buckwheat, (slightly greenish in colour) or toasted buckwheat, called ‘Kasha’ which is brown (pictured above). On the basis it is often double the price and you can easily toast it as home, go with the raw version, then you have the ingredient for all dishes.

To get a good value organic version for more speciality products I tend to shop online for more choice. See https://www.buywholefoodsonline.co.uk/organic-buckwheat-raw-1kg.html it is cheaper per kg (£3.67) than the standard version sold at Tesco. It is also from Austria rather than China as the majority are.

You can also buy buckwheat flour, pasta, noodles (tradition Japanese soba), cereal bars, you name it!

How to cook

You can toast, steam, boil or soak buckwheat. It can be used in savoury or sweet dishes. Experiment with a few recipes until you get to grips with it. Google ‘buckwheat recipe’ and you’ll find 100’s.

  • Toasted (Kasha). Using raw buckwheat. Spread it out on a flat baking tray. Add to 180c oven for 10-20 mins, keep an eye on it, so that is doesn’t burn. It is done when it is brown and a bit crunchy. You can add this to salads, in breakfast etc, it gives a lovely nutty crunch to a dish
  • Boiled raw. Wash it well in a bowl of cold water, drain and rinse. Add to a pan with double the amount of boiling liquid as buckwheat. Return it to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cover for approx 20mins. It is done when it has swelled and softened. You can serve or leave it covered off the heat to further absorb and swell, this makes for a softer fluffier version.
  • Boiled Kasha. If you have already roasted the buckwheat, follow the same process for boiling but reduce the cooking time to approximately 10 mins.

You can cook it in a stock to give more flavour if you intend to serve it a straight side dish. Or add flavours once it is a cooked, e.g. herbs and spices or cook it in a dish such a soup, broth, curry. We made buckwheat and cashew curry last night and it was amazing. For recipe see https://wp.me/p7RDjy-jl

Don’t be too hard on it, if you just boil it in water and serve it as you would rice I doubt you’ll be that impressed, you never know, but I suggest doing something more interesting, especially if you are trying to convince the rest of the family!


Understanding health benefits

As with all nutrient rice whole food there is a long list of health benefits. The nutritional profile makes is a good source of easily digestible protein and with resistance fibre is means slow release energy which is key in maintaining a healthy weight as well as aiding weight loss.

Buckwheat has several novel nutraceuticals, (basically good stuff)Rutin, quercetin and other bioflavonoids: These compounds have been shown to strengthen small blood vessels, which can prevent easy bruising, hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Rutin can also help prevent blood clots, lower LDL cholesterol and the production of histamine, which can improve airborne allergies and food intolerances.

Tannins: Tannins are astringent phenolic compounds most commonly found in tea. They are also present in significant amounts in buckwheat. Tannins have been shown to reduce bacterial and viral infections and improve diabetes. Along with the mix of insoluble and resistant fiber, the tannins in buckwheat can improve important strains of bowel flora, such as lactobacillus and bacteroidetes, while reducing yeast and harmful bacteria.

D-chiro inositol: D-chiro inositol is an exciting compound that may improve many important elements of blood sugar metabolism (such as production of glycogen and insulin sensitivity). Data suggests it may improve polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and type 2 diabetes.

Bound antioxidants: Recent data from cancer researchers has shown we may have been ignoring an important type of antioxidants. We have mostly considered the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables since most of these are readily available and easy to test in lab studies. Now, it is becoming clear a new category of antioxidants, called bound antioxidants, may be even more important. These are found in buckwheat and some grains and are activated by the bowel flora. Buckwheat is rich in bound antioxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismutase. These compounds are also heat stable and survive the cooking process with buckwheat.

Nutritional breakdown. Remember when reviewing nutrition check if it is the uncooked (dry)weight or the prepared weight. A lot of foods absorb water in cooking so the cooked weight is different from the dry weight. You will see on labels it will say ‘As sold’ or ‘as prepared’. The purpose of checking NV is not to count specifics but as a guide to the ratios a food has. This breakdown is the dry weight before it is cooked. So this is intake from 100g, that might end up as a 200g serving.

Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
Energy 343 Kcal 17%
Carbohydrates 71.50 g 55%
Protein 13.25 g 24%
Total Fat 3.40 g 17%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 10 g 26%
Vitamins
Folates (B9) 30 µg 7.5%
Niacin (B3) 7.020 mg 44%
Pantothenic acid 1.233 mg 25%
Riboflavin (B2) 0.425 mg 33%
Thiamin (B1) 0.101 mg 8.5%
Vitamin A 0 IU 0%
Electrolytes
Sodium 1 mg <1%
Potassium 460 mg 10%
Minerals
Calcium 18 mg 2%
Copper 1.100 mg 122%
Iron 2.20 mg 27.5%
Magnesium 231 mg 58%
Manganese 1.300 mg 56.5%
Phosphorus 347 mg 50%
Selenium 8.3 µg 15%
Zinc 2.40 mg 22%
Amino acids
Lysine 672 mg 32%
Methionine 172 mg 24%
Tryptophan 192 mg 69%

Parting thoughts,  The majority of us need to increase our nutritional intake, whilst decreasing sugar, fat, animal based proteins and processed foods.

With space to grow food being an ongoing issue buckwheat serves both purposes. It is an efficient crop that produces a nutrient rich food for humans whilst generating animal feed and a natural (green) fertiliser. It is tasty and easy to cook with. A firm favourite in our house.

Buckwheaty marvellous – The ethical omnivore.

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Woah – meet quinoa!

Hard to spell or pronounce (Keen-wa not Kin-oo-ah, as Mr Ethivore keeps telling me), It is all the rage so I decided to investigate. What I found out is fascinating. It was one of those things I had in the back of the cupboard; another grain to eat instead of rice, but now I know more, it will be moved to the front.

Quinoa might be new to us but it a staple food in many areas of South American and especially the Andes where it has been grown and eaten to thousands of years.

We tend to think of it as a grain, but it’s not it’s a seed. It is in the same family as spinach, beets and chard. The leaves are edible too but the bit we eat is the seed. The United Nations, FAO made 2013 ‘International year of Quinoa’ to promote it’s importance as a food crop.

Why is it good for you?

It is celebrated for being of the most nutritionally rich food on the planet, compared with both plant and animal sources. Quinoa is a complete protein food, meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body and therefore must come from food. This is also true of the soya bean (edamame). Making them a perfect source of plant based protein. In the debate around the best source of protein, quinoa and soya win over meat with their added benefit of also reducing cholesterol whilst meat proteins can increase it. It is also rich in omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids.

It is easy to digest and good source of calcium, phosphorus, copper, folate, zinc and iron, rich in vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C and vitamin E. Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium which relaxes blood vessels so provide cardio vascular health. Protects against breast cancer and acts as anti oxidant.

Quinoa has many qualities that make it a weight loss friendly food. It is high in protein and fiber, and has a relatively low glycemic index value.

Cooking with quinoa

There are reported to be around 120 varieties of the quinoa plant. We typically eat three types, white, red and black. White being the most common. Red quinoa is more often used in meals like salads since it tends to hold its shape better after cooking. Black quinoa has an “earthier and sweeter” taste. You can also find quinoa flakes and flour which are great for baking. Quinoa is also gluten free so a great alternative to wheat flours.

You can buy dried, raw or pre cooked quinoa. Before cooking the dried version give it a good rinse in cold water, the seeds are coated in a compound that is quite bitter. Follow the instructions on the packet. Typically, add it to the pan with 2-3 times the volume of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 mins, the water should absorb, the quinoa turns translucent and the little ‘tails’ uncurl when it is ready.

Because quinoa has a fairly neutral taste it is good to use in both sweet or savoury. It makes a nice porridge cooked in 50/50 apple juice and water or milk. You can also cook in stock to give it more flavour if you are eating it as a savoury side dish. Once cooked it can be cooled and stored in the fridge for several days.

The pre cooked version is usually open and serve. They often add oil so it is slightly higher in fat, but handy to have in store and good to check in a salad or when making a quick lunch.

I wouldn’t bother with quinoa mixed with other grains as a source of quinoa, it is a bit of a sales gimmick really, they are often very high in the other product e.g. rice 90%, quinoa 10%.

Is all quinoa the same?

No. The main exporters of the quinoa in the word are Bolivia, Peru and Chile. It is also now being grown in UAE, EU, Canada, basically anywhere it will grow, now over 50 countries!

The champagne equivalent of quinoa is grown in Bolivia; Quinua Real or Royal Quinoa it is grown in the same way the Incas have for thousands of years. It is organic and traditionally grown, harvested and prepared. Soil preparation is fully manual, it’s fertilized with llama dung and pests are controlled using extracts of indigenous plants. Sounds good to me!

Quinoa is big business and where there is big business there are ethical challenges. Reports that the Western demand of quinoa caused a sharp price increase and meant local people could no longer afford it, have been balanced in recent years with reports of improved economic conditions for farmers and communities. Buying Fairtrade or organic approved products is a way to ensure you are supporting an ethical choice.

Waitrose Duchy Organic British Quinoa

Parting thoughts, as quinoa is grown in the UK and the prices even for the organic version are similar, it seems like a good choice, considering Airmiles, ethical issues and supporting UK farmers.

Long and short is we should add quinoa in our diet because it is easy to grow, highly nutritive, medicinally important, economical and versatile food.

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The secret to delicious veg

No more mushy veg! Whoever would have thought it, vegetables don’t like to be cooked in water or steamed for that matter. They lose flavour, colour and goodness. They prefer to be roasted or fried. Don’t panic I don’t mean deep fried or fried in loads of oil. I mean cooked in an oven or a frying pan.

We eat a lot of veg in our house, not because we feel we should but because it is genuinely tasty. I feel like a born again veg lover. You name it cabbage, brussels sprouts, peas, cauliflower, parsnip, beetroot, kale, broccoli, green beans, asparagus, tomato,onion, swiss chard, spinach, carrots, leeks, pepper, mushroom, bok choy, courgette, aubergine.

Slice it in to the size you want, mix it up with a bit of olive oil, apple juice or water and whack it in the oven. Avoid using too much apple juice, a splash is great, but after that use water. Sprinkle with seasoning like Chinese 5 spice or seasons all if you want a richer flavour.

If I am cooking more solid veg like beetroot or carrot with leafy veg I do it in stages, use as many stages as you need to. For example I’d cook brussels and leeks first for 5-6 mins then I’d add kale and swiss chard for another 5-6 mins. (The harder the veg the longer it takes to cook, e.g. beetroot and carrot). Cooking time depending on how fine you cut it up and how well you like it cooked, so it might take some experimenting. I always leave very soft leaf like spinach until the end and just stir it into the mix before serving. The heat from the veg start to wilt it enough for my taste. The great thing is you can eat veg raw so you won’t give anyone food poisoning from under cooked veg so feel free to experiment.

For a small amount of veg or if you prefer, you can achieve the same effect in a frying pan or wok. I get the pan hot, add the veg dry, quick whizz round until they start to turn, then I add apple juice or water, put the lid on and leave until done.

Serve just as it in or add a favourite dressing, balsamic, lemon juice, sweet chill, soy (depending on the flavour combo).

You will give a whole new flavour to your veg. Ordinary broccoli takes on a whole new personality, leeks are so sweet you won’t believe it, Bok Choy becomes the centre of attention and people start to like brussels sprouts.

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Only 3% of us get enough fibre

Whilst most of us worry about getting enough protein or calcium the reality is the biggest deficiency in our diets is fibre. 97% do not get enough fibre. Fibre only exists in plant based foods, vegetables, grain, fruit, beans etc so with our western diet revolving around animal based products is causing us to face an uphill battle. It is recommended that we get at least 30g per day, but most of us get around half of that. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/spotlight-high-fibre-diets

This leads to worrying health risks including diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diverticular disease, colon cancer and heart disease. Also a little know fact is that a fibre rich diet can aid weight loss http://www.eatingwell.com/article/15696/is-fiber-good-for-weight-loss . I can vouch for that, since converting to a plant based diet I am never hungry.

Adopting a plant based diet as part of your move to becoming an ethical omnivore will naturally increase your fibre intake. A win/win all round.