Friday, February 26, 2010

Starter Series: 2. Eat Vegetables.

So this week we embark on the second guideline of our paleo-style mantra: Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some starch, little fruit, little dairy, and no sugar, no grains, and no legumes.  We'll identify some key attributes of veggies and get on to the all important discussion of how to get your kids to eat them.  Then, what you have all been waiting for--the recipe!  Onward, ho!
  • Eat vegetables.
While some hard-core eaters might dabble in carnivory, I'm not one of them and still think that some foliage is good in your diet.  Vegetables are great sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  Most vegetables do not spike your blood sugar.  However, some starchier varieties like roots, tubers, and rhizomes are considered high glycemic.  Among these are carrots, parsnips, squash, and sweet potatoes (technically a starch).  Although packed with healthy nutrition, starchier/sweeter vegetables should be eaten in moderation so that you don't incur wild blood sugar fluctuations.  Don't forget the nefarious Always Hungry Carb Crash Zombie.  I've been there and am still getting over my carb addictions...

Some important vitamins, minerals, and compounds vegetables provide include fiber, magnesium, chromium, potassium, calcium, folate, vitamin C, vitamin A, and phytochemicals like antioxidants.  I was going to embark upon an in-depth foray into each of these, but it just got too damn boring.  I will spare you some brain cells.  If you really want to check them out, good sources for more information are: the Linus Pauling Institute from Oregon State University and the World's Healthiest Foods.  

Despite the numerous benefits of plant foods (and you are just going to have to take my word for it, sorry Levar Burton), I am having a hard time finding vegetables as the primary source for most vitamins and minerals.  Animal meat (including eggs and fish and especially liver) is right up there with most plant sources.  Okay, fiber and phytochemicals are only obtained through plants, but all of the others can be found in meat.  Why is this?  Well, animals eat plants, so the vitamins and minerals wind up in their tissues, just like they are in ours.  Since animal tissues closely match the array of nutrients we also need in ours, they are a great source for nutrients.  However, the forms of these nutrients are often different from those in plants.  Sometimes that is beneficial, as they don't require processing inside our bodies, and sometimes that source is too diluted or not as bioavailable as it is in plants.  We'll continue our discussion of vegetables (and meat) in "Why No Grain" coming up in our Starter Series.

Since fiber and phytochemicals are best found in vegetables, let's just discuss them briefly:

Fiber is a biggie.  Plant cell walls cannot be broken down by our bodies--we CANNOT digest cellulose.  Realizing this fact was life-changing for me.  Like many, I went through a "cool" teenage vegetarian stage and based my whole worldview around eating plants (yeah, and some dairy--hard to give up cheese!).  It was mostly just to piss off my parents and not eat what The Man told me to eat.  I survived, just as I somehow survived my days of subsisting off of breakfast cereal for three meals a day in college.  Neither was ideal.  But realizing that humans differ from cows, that we cannot digest most of what a plant IS, came as a shock.  Paradigm shifted.

But that indigestible material still is important.  Cellulose along with other cell wall components works its way through our digestive tract and out the other end.  Healthy regularity ensues, much to our chagrin!  Fiber also feeds our very own tenants, residents of our digestive tract: bacteria.  For example, oligiofructose is an interesting plant sugar molecule that behaves as fiber--we can't break it down until it gets to the colon (large intestine).  This is where it undergoes fermentation through bacteria. Since it keeps our healthy bacteria well-fed and prospering, it helps them outcompete the harmful bacteria also living in our gut.  One for the good guys!  Oligiofructose's slow digestion doesn't spike blood sugar like most sugars, even though it adds sweetness about 30-50% the potency of table sugar.  Oligiofructose is best found in chicory root, raw dandelion greens, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, jicima, leeks, asparagus, and onions.  It is called a prebiotic for its benefit to digestive tract flora and has a synergistic effect when coupled with probiotics (beneficial bacteria introduced through the diet, like those clumpy, mucusy strands in kombucha) because it helps the additional bacteria thrive.  Yay!  Isn't it fun to think of your body as microscopic battle ground and home to a host of little beasts!  Really makes you wonder who's really in charge...

In addition to the vitamins, minerals, and fiber they provide, plants also provide phytochemicals like flavonoids and carotenoids, some of which are useful as antioxidants in our bodies to keep harmful, cancer-causing free radicals at bay.  Antioxidants also play a particularly important role in protecting against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which has been linked to heart disease much more reliably than overall cholesterol, HDL/LDL ratio, or total LDL count.  More specifically, garlic has been found to reduce LDL oxidation.

There seems to be a correlation between eating more fruits and veggies and reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.  For example, cruciferous vegetables (brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, etc.) contain sulfur compounds that may protect against lung and digestive tract cancers.

Bottom-line: veggies are good for you.  Duh!

Eat Your Veggies

A BIG problem for most parents is getting the kids to eat veggies.  Sometimes they won't even try what you make.  I am not a big fan of the "hidden veggies" strategy some parents use to trick their kids into eating their veggies.  That defeats the purpose.  While you may be nourishing them, the kids aren't adopting healthy eating habits and aren't learning anything about nutrition.  In fact, you are merely strengthening their view that veggies aren't meant to be enjoyed, that they have to be drowned in other flavors to be palatable.  Vegetables need more appreciation and should contribute to (not detract from) a tasty, healthy meal.

Here are some ways to integrate more veggies in your family's diet:

1.  Unleash your kids in the produce department.  Allow them to find and bring back interesting veggies to take home and try.  Together, you can research recipes with them and agree on something that looks tasty.  This is a great way to get your kids involved in their health.

2.  Plan meals together, as a family, and agree upon vegetable preparations that will please everyone.  This method gets your kids involved in meal preparation and let's them take responsibility for eating what they agreed to make.  If they can't agree (surprise, surprise!), take turns choosing the veggie the family will eat and always have a backup veggie like carrots, celery, and salad that should be permanent residents of your refrigerator.  Ever try snacking on romaine hearts?  If not, you're missing out.  Seriously!

3.  Cook together.  I know this is a luxury for many families, but with whatever time you have however often you can manage, get your kids to cook with you.  Seeing what it takes to bring food to the plate is a great learning experience and builds their life skills.  These are lessons they won't learn in most schools.  Teach them how to cook.  It's a gift that will set them down the right path in life.

4.  Hedge your bets.  I never make an entirely new meal filled with all new ingredients we are trying out for the first time.  That sets the stage for disaster.  Instead, pair some old stand-bys with something new--this way, there is always something good to remember about the meal and most of it can be eaten, even if the new item is a flop.  For example, pair new veggie preparations with your family's favorite meats.  Always have a backup veggie for emergencies, like carrots or salad (sorry, potato chips don't count).  Encourage your children to try new veggies, but also allow them to fall back on healthy alternatives.  For example, I am sure we have all been through a "I'm not eating what my parents make" phase.  For me, I had bread and cheese every night.  Of course, now I realize what an idiot I was and that I should have just subbed out the meat and/or veggies with ones I could stomach, that were MY choice--take that Mom and Dad!

5.  Do as I say AND as I do.  You are your child's role model, whether they want to admit it or not.  If you make the effort to eat healthy, so will they.  Lead by example.  You can control the food in your house.  Take charge!

Prac App

I've already written a bunch of veggie recipes on my blog.  Here they are again:
Fig Salad with Lemon-Walnut Dressing
Spoon Salad courtesy of Simply...Gluten Free
Kale Chippies
Eggplant Chippies
Simple Roasted Cauliflower
Kristy's Cauliflower Rice with Cilantro-Lime Curried Rice and Indian Spiced Paella variations
Zucchini Pasta
Spaghetti Squash Pasta
Kale Salad

Today's recipe is Noodle Nosh.  Scared to give up noodles?  Fear no more.  Crave those stringy strands of deliciousness?  I have just the thing and it works perfectly.   Kelp noodles.  I know, I know, kelp?  Doesn't that just conjure up fishy, saltwater memories of getting tangled up in slimy ickness?  Well, today we're creating new memories.  Kelp is, as Alton Brown would say, "good eats."

So without further ado, here is our recipe!

Noodle Nosh
Crunchy, noodley and filled with delicious flavor--this subs for take-out any day!
Cooking Time: 1/2 an hour start to finish
Makes enough for at least 3 heaping bowls

  • 1T chopped garlic (4-5 cloves)
  • Wheat-free Tamari sauce (you'll need at least a couple teaspoons, but we'll add it incrementally--or if you want to go full paleo, ditch the tamari)
  • sesame oil (you'll need 2T, but each T is measured and added separately)
  • stir-fry suitable grass-fed beef (this is NOT the application for ribeye/new york!--use crappier cuts :) ), cut into bite-sized hunks (use as much as you need to feed your family/self)
  • 1 container/bag of brocolli slaw
  • 1 c fresh shiitake mushrooms (not dried), cut in half
  • 1 bag of kelp noodles (found in the refrigerated section by pseudo-meats), rinsed and drained
  • optional: chopped ginger, other veggies
First, heat a skillet or wok over medium-medium high heat.  Add 1T sesame oil and all of the chopped garlic.  Once popping/sizzling, add the beef and brown each side.  Add some Tamari (like 1t or so) while cooking.  Once each side has some color but before it's cooked through (I hate overcooked beef), remove the beef from the pan into a bowl (keeping the juice inside the pan).  Now, add 1T of sesame oil and the mushrooms and give them a couple of minutes to lose their water and shrink.  Then, add the broccoli slaw and add more Tamari.  Cook for a few minutes to soften the slaw.  Then, add the kelp noodles, breaking up the clumping strands.  Stir into the slaw to incorporate.  Cook for a minute to warm the noodles and distribute them.  Then, add the beef back in, stir and adjust flavoring as needed (add more Tamari or sesame oil and desired).  Turn off the heat, remove the dish to a bowl, serve portions, and enjoy feasting upon some delicious, healthy noodles that trump Chinese take-out hands down!

Okay, so how does our recipe of the day exemplify Eat Vegetables?  For its veggies, we have kelp noodles, broccoli slaw (broccoli and carrots), shitake mushrooms, and garlic.  Kelp noodles are nutritional powerhouses, serving as a great source of iodine.  Sea vegetables are a sustainable resource.  In fact:
Seaweed doesn't require arable land, fresh water or fertilizer. Kelp grows swiftly -- 2 feet a day in some species -- and produces no runoff or erosion. It cleanses the water of excess nutrients and absorbs carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, which we mentioned earlier.  It is also high in vitamins and protective against an array of ailments.  Carrots are beta-carotene powerhouses, the richest vegetable source.  Being good for healthy eyesight is just one of their benefits.  Garlic also had an earlier mention as protective against LDL oxidation.  It is also a great source of B6 and vitamin C and selenium.  Garlic has cardiovascular health benefits and boosts immunity.  Shiitake mushrooms also have powerful antioxidants and promote a healthy heart and immune system.  Although their nutrient content is low, they are still sources of vitamin C and iron.  

Couple of caveats: the sesame oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids, so use it modestly and try to choose higher omega-3 fatty acids to balance it out: grass-fed beef and fish oil supplementation.  Wheat-free Tamari sauce is a paleo-cheat that I rarely indulge in.  While it doesn't contain wheat (yay!), it does contain soy (boo!) and lots of sodium (boo!); however, the fermentation process (like an 18 months-brine bath) strips the soy of most lectins and anti-nutrients, so it is considered safe for us to eat, in moderation.  I guess this is like sugars--ideally, ditch them, but we know that most people need to indulge every once and a while, so here is an acceptable cheat with minimized repercussions.

The processing required in this meal is more than I would like, but we need to be realistic.  The broccoli slaw could be home-made with a noodle peeler (see my zucchini noodle recipe), but this time I erred on convenience and bought the packaged slaw from the store.  Making everything from scratch and only buying local products is rough.  I respect those able to dedicate themselves to their food to that extent.  Unfortunately, at 7:30 on a weeknight, I am NOT one of those people.

So hopefully I have added a new meal to your culinary repertoire capable of meeting the everyone's basic requirements: a)  healthy and b) fast!   Let me know how you like it!

Kelp on Foodista


  1. Hi Kristy! This blog is great. I'm adding adding a link to it from the Nutritionize blog. Keep it up!!

  2. Thank you, AJ! I am thrilled to have your feedback and link to my site! I will do the same for yours right now!

  3. Hi Kristy - I'm always a little behind with the updates, but I really enjoy the info presented in your blog. As an oceanographer, I feel obliged to add that the jury is still out on the environmental impacts of kelp harvesting ... while it's true that kelp grows amazingly fast, routinely removing the kelp canopy from a particular area could have a significant impact on the local marine ecosystem.

  4. Thank you for the information, Olivia! I didn't realize the environmental impact, since most of what I have read made it sound like a great alternative to agriculture on land. Argh. Nothing is without some impact. Perhaps farmed kelp is better?