After last week’s conversation, it’s pretty clear that everyone draws their dietary lines differently. But over the past decade we’ve noticed the rise of a certain trend that we call “vegans who eat fish.” What gives? On the one hand there are the convincing health (and environmental) benefits of a plant-based diet, extolled in The China Study and elsewhere. On the other, nutrition heros like Dr. Andrew Weil continue to make strong arguments for eating fish, particularly the kind high in omega-3s.
Instead of choosing, some (including Bill Clinton) have opted for the hybrid diet—a.k.a. vegans who eat fish, and preferably the sustainably sourced kind. Which takes me to sardines—a new obsession. As I mentioned last week, I’m going through a period right now where animal protein seems crucial to my health. Fish is a regular go-to, but like so many foods these days, it’s also a minefield. If it’s not mercury levels, it’s over-fishing. When it’s not over-fishing, it’s the carbon footprint of sushi.
But because I believe most things Dr. Weil says, after several false starts I have finally come around to sardines in a big way. Here’s why you may want to as well… Or have you already?
1. They’re low on toxins. Because they’re little and low on the food chain, sardines don’t contain all the scary environmental chemicals found in bigger fish.
2. They’re high in omega-3s. Good for your brain, great for your skin, proven to fight inflammation, omega-3s may be the closest thing we have to a silver bullet in the food-as-medicine world.
3. There are lots of them. In fact, according to Weil, we have twice as many sardines today as we did 100 years ago. Unfortunately, that’s because we’ve overfished their predators.
4. They contain vitamin D. Many people are vitamin D deficient, and it doesn’t occur naturally in most food. While doctors are still debating just how much we need, sardines are a healthy way to get this super-vitamin without sitting in the sun (which makes dermatologists cry).
5. They taste better than tuna. Everybody knows that fat makes things yummier, and those super-healthy fats in sardines give them a satisfying flavor that you only get from tuna when you drown it in olive oil and mayo.
6. And they stink less too! It’s true that we’ve called them “stinky sardines” in the past, but compared to canned tuna or salmon, sardines are actually the least offensive on the olfactory front.
Here’s how I do mine:
—I buy a skinless, boneless variety in olive oil (I like the one at Trader Joe’s)
—I drain them and then add a bit of Vegenaise (the soy-free one), a tsp of dijon, some chopped green onion, capers, pepper, salt, and a hit of Tabasco
—I mash that together and spread on toast, wrap it in cabbage, eat it with a cucumber, whatever’s handy and good
Have you made friends yet with this sustainable superfood? If so, when, and how do you do yours?
Before sharing this week’s vegan recipe we wanted to mention Forks Over Knives, an exciting new documentary that opened last week (preview above).
The film traces both the work and personal stories of researchers Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who came together to conduct one of the most extensive studies on nutrition ever. And their shocking findings make several strong arguments for following a plant-based diet.
Campbell went on to write The China Study, which helped inspire our Vegan-For-a-Week Challenge. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I will soon. Had you heard of it? If you want to check it out showtimes across the country are listed here.
And now for a quick and yummy-sounding salad from Jessica of London (by way of Long Beach). From her email:
This has long been one of my favorites! I even got a non-fruit eater to go for seconds with this recipe.
Moroccan Orange and Olive Salad
1 1/4 lbs. oranges
pitted kalamata olives
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
3 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper
3 tbs. chopped parsley
Peel oranges and cut them into bite size pieces. Put in bowl along with olives. Blend paprika, garlic, vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper and pour over oranges and olives. Mix well and sprinkle with parsley
It just doesn’t seem right. Why would the food with the most nutrition, the one that makes us look our best, be so hard for some to eat?
A few weeks ago we talked about The China Study, a compelling book that sets about proving how animal protein may be linked to Western diseases. After reading it, I’m more inspired than ever to load up on greens. In fact, I’d be happy to subsist on a plant-based diet alone, as the author proposes, if only I could digest one.
But more often than not, eating veg for many means dealing with a distended belly, gas, and pain. A quick Google search shows this to be a common affliction—do any of you suffer from it?
According to Ayurveda, as someone who is Vata dominant (if you want to know your dosha, revisit this post), I am predisposed to tummy troubles. Many factors may be at play: Time of day seems to matter (afternoon snacking tends to wreak havoc), cold weather definitely aggravates it. But even warm, cooked, vegetables smothered in healthy oils (as Ayurveda recommends for Vatas) can cause problems for this girl.
If you are a fellow sufferer, what have you done to improve your condition? Do you take enzymes? Do you subscribe to the blood type theory? Do you avoid certain vegetables? Do you chew thirty times between bites? Let’s hear it.
We’ve been talking a lot about animals this week, from animal testing to vegan cappuccinos. Then this morning I came across an interview with Dr. T. Colin Campbell, one of the authors of The China Study.
Full disclosure: I only heard about this best-selling nutrition book, written by a father-son doctor duo, a few weeks ago. But since then it’s been following me everywhere: in the books and articles I read, in conversations I have, and at the Whole Foods checkout counter. Strange how that goes, isn’t it?
Needless to say, I’m intrigued. From the article:
The book focuses on the knowledge gained from the China Study, a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine that showed high consumption of animal-based foods is associated with more chronic disease, while those who ate primarily a plant-based diet were the healthiest.
Apparently, even Bill Clinton, now a most-of-the-time vegan, has cited the book in reference to his new lifestyle choice. In the interview, I really appreciate how Campbell Senior talks about food and health in a holistic way—something very important to another writing duo I know. A few highlights:
“The problem is that we study one nutrient out of context. That’s the way we did research — one vitamin at a time, one mineral, one fat. It was always in a reductionist, narrowly focused way.”
“What loomed large for me was that we shouldn’t be thinking in a linear way that A causes B. We should be thinking about how things work together. It’s a very complex biological system.”
“I don’t use the word “vegan” or “vegetarian.” I don’t like those words. People who chose to eat that way chose to because of ideological reasons. I don’t want to denigrate their reasons for doing so, but I want people to talk about plant-based nutrition and to think about these ideas in a very empirical scientific sense, and not with an ideological bent to it.
The idea is that we should be consuming whole foods. We should not be relying on the idea that genes are determinants of our health. We should not be relying on the idea that nutrient supplementation is the way to get nutrition, because it’s not. I’m talking about whole, plant-based foods. The effect it produces is broad for treatment and prevention of a wide variety of ailments, from cancer to heart disease to diabetes.”
Love that. And then, on their decision to go with a smaller publisher:
“I went to a small publisher in Texas who let us do what we wanted to do. I didn’t want to proselytize and preach. I didn’t want to write a book that says, “This is the way it has to be.” It’s a chronology. Here’s how I learned it, and let the reader decide. I say, “If you don’t believe me, just try it.” They do, and they get results. And then they tell everybody else.”
Had you heard about the book? Have you read it? The introduction is up on their site, so I’m going to start there.