Poor tofu.

soy
Tofu has been around for centuries, and lately, it’s gotten a lot of flack. Poor tofu. I’ve been running into lots of people who are scared of tofu because it’s a soy product. Soy has been hotly debated in its relation to cancer risk, among other things.

I was at a party one day, and this lady (whom I just met), asked me what my usual diet was.

“Mostly plant-based, maybe some poultry or fish on the weekends,” I said.

She looked shocked, then said, “Then how do you get enough protein?! Surely not tofu – DON’T FEED YOUR HUSBAND SOY! HE’LL GROW MAN BOOBS!”

I didn’t miss a beat. “So you’re telling me, that in Asia, where they’ve eaten tofu for five thousand years, they all have man boobs?”

Silence. (Niiiiiice!!!)

Anyways, after poring through tons of reading material on tofu and other soy products, I’ve come to a few conclusions. There’s so much information out there regarding soy, so I’ll do my best to break it down:

- Just stick to the least processed soy products, like tofu, tempeh, miso, soy milk, and edamame. Stay away from highly processed soy foods, like veggie burgers that contain “soy protein isolates,” or “texturized soy protein,” and products with a million ingredients in which you have no idea what they are. I stay way from aseptically packaged soy milk because the expiration date is always in a year – meaning it’s highly processed! If you’re in an Asian market and see fresh soy milk in the refrigerated aisle, I’d rather you drink that instead. And no, it won’t be “vanilla” or “chocolate” flavored. Less food additives = better food product.

- A serving of soy is about 1/2 cup tofu, tempeh, or soybeans (edamame), or 1 cup soymilk. If you stick to 1 to 2 servings daily, you should be fine. Don’t worry about getting man boobs or being impotent – there have only been a couple case studies related to extremely high intakes in men (read: TWELVE OR MORE SERVINGS!). That’s a boatload of tofu! Besides, you should practice moderation, whatever diet you’re on. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, try other sources of protein, like quinoa, beans, legumes, and seitan. Don’t restrict your diet just because you can’t eat meat. Explore – there’s a whole world of new foods to try!

- Soy foods have actually been shown to be safe in normal consumption patterns for women who have had breast cancer. Not only that, soy consumption in China and Japan are linked to lower rates of heart disease and cancer than the Western world. Soy consumption, in moderation, can be protective against heart disease and certain cancers.

Update 9/16/14: Soy foods contain compounds called isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), which exhibit estrogen-like activity. Because of their properties, they were thought to increase risk of hormone-dependent cancers, like breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers, because of their ability to attach to estrogen receptor sites and influence activity. But the evidence has been inconclusive. The AICR (link below) comments, “human studies show soy foods do not increase risk and in some cases, research suggests they may lower it.”

- Soy intake can lead to lowered cholesterol. Not to brag (okay, I totally am), I lowered my husband’s total cholesterol and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) by FIFTY POINTS in three months, by implementing a mostly plant-based diet that included whole soy foods. No medication needed, and his doctor can’t believe that he did it without meds.

- In people with hypothyroidism, the debate on whether they can eat soy or not is a tricky one. Soy can interfere with medication in some people, so it’s best to ask your doctor about soy foods and your thyroid. You doctor will provide more advice on how soy foods can interact with your medications.

- I usually don’t recommend supplementation, and the same goes for soy supplements. I think you can have a balanced diet, inclusive of whole soy products, but I would not take a soy supplement. Those are highly concentrated, processed forms of soy.

- Here’s a question that I can never find the answer to: If there’s so much talk about how soy contributes phytoestrogens, what about the ANIMAL estrogens found in meats and dairy products, especially those who are guzzling down cow’s milk? I know that the research being done regarding plant-based diets compared to standard American diets find that plant-based diets result in lowered risk of cancer, heart disease, and more. How do animal estrogens affect these diseases?

With all the information out there regarding soy, you have to get a little used to dissecting the things you find – is it a credible source? Is it just a sensationalist piece of propoganda paid for by a certain group? Was the research that was done indicative of a large population, or just a case study of one or two extreme stories?

I hope I helped a little to break down the information regarding soy foods. Now I can look forward to posting my next recipe – a soft tofu pudding – without feeling that no one will eat it because they’re scared to! Ha! Watch out for it in a week – it’s delicious!

*No, I was not paid by any soy proponents for writing this article*

References, and more reading for you:

Dr. Weil’s take on soy foods here

American Institute for Cancer Research: Update on foods that fight cancer (soy information)

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine – Soy fact sheet

Soy and thyroid advice from the Mayo Clinic

Today’s Dietitian article on Soy

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Grilled Romaine + Vegan Caesar dressing + chickpeas + avocado

caesar
Regular Caesar salad dressing can be chock-full of saturated fats, but not this vegan dressing! I adapted the recipe from one I saw on Eat Life Whole, and made this a serious dinner salad. I added depth to the regular old romaine lettuce by grilling it (LOVE), added some chickpeas for protein and heft, and avocado, because I pretty much put avocado in lots of things. The only thing not vegan about this is the cheese I topped it off with, but you can do without it if you like (it’s just that, for me, when it comes to cheese, it’s gotta be the real thing!)

Grilled Romaine + Vegan Caesar salad dressing + chickpeas + avocado
serves 2 (large salads) or 4 (side salads)

for romaine lettuce:
1 head romaine lettuce, cut in half lengthwise (be careful not to slice off the bottom of the lettuce or the leaves may all fall apart!)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

for dressing:
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1/2 cup raw walnuts (soaked in water for 10 minutes), along with 1 tablespoon of the soaking water
2 large cloves garlic
freshly cracked black pepper

to assemble:
romaine lettuce
dressing
diced avocado
1/2 cup cooked, drained chickpeas
croutons or grilled bread (optional)
Parmesan cheese (optional; leave out if vegan)

Preparation:

Prepare a grill and set the heat to medium. Rub olive oil over all sides of the romaine, and sprinkle with salt and peppper. Grill the romaine until lightly charred; a few minutes on each side.

For the dressing, place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth.

To assemble, place a romaine half, cut side up, on a large plate. Sprinkle chickpeas over the lettuce, and spoon the Caesar dressing over it. Add diced avocado, croutons or grilled bread, and sprinkle Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Posted in main entree, salads, vegan, vegetables, vegetarian | Leave a comment

Stir-fried, Veg-Friendly Udon with Black Beans

udon

This is one of the first dishes I made when we veered towards a more plant-based diet. It certainly is a well-rounded dish, with plenty of different colors of vegetables, protein and fiber from the beans, and quick energy from the carbs given by the udon. This dish is super quick to make and requires minimal usage of the cutting board (if you buy pre-cut matchstick-cut carrots and kale, like I do). I think I made this in about 20 minutes. It’s a great, healthy option for lunchtime, and gives us steady energy throughout the next few hours.

I like things minimally spicy, but if you want, feel free to up the ante and add more sriracha as needed (I know my hubs does!).

Stir-Fried, Veg-Friendly Udon with Black Beans
serves 2-4

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cup chopped kale leaves
1 cup matchstick-cut carrots
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1 14.4-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons vegetarian stir-fry sauce
1 teaspoon tamari (or soy sauce)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sriracha chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 14-oz package precooked udon noodles (or you can boil your own)

optional garnish: black sesame seeds

Preparation:

In a saute pan over medium heat, add the olive oil. When it is hot and shimmering, add the garlic, kale, carrots, and red bell pepper. Saute for 5 minutes, until kale is slightly wilted. Add the black beans, and reduce heat to low. Add the vegetarian stir-fry seasoning, tamari, sesame oil, sriracha, and black pepper. Add the udon noodles, breaking up the noodles if they’re stuck together (if this is hard, try putting the lid on the pan for a couple minutes, and then separating the noodles). When heated through, garnish with black sesame seeds, and serve.

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Grilled Pineapple Spears

grilledpineapple
This is pretty much the easiest dessert you can throw on the barbeque. We had these for our Fourth of July get-together, and my intent was to serve them with vanilla ice cream, but I really didn’t get to the freezer in time to get any! Luckily I swiped one, stuck it in the fridge, and ate it with ice cream after everyone left. Haha! I’ll be sure to make these next time hubby fires up the grill, because I absolutely LOVE grilled pineapple with its brown sugary, caramelized coating. Yum.

Grilled Pineapple Spears
serves about 12 (1 spear per person)

Fresh pineapple spears (1 pineapple will yield about 12 spears)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup light brown sugar

Put the barbeque on high heat. Drizzle melted butter over pineapple spears, flipping them to coat all sides. Pour over brown sugar and coat all the sides of the pineapple with brown sugar. Grill a few minutes on each side, turning over once when grill marks appear.

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Mark Bittman’s Cilantro-Mint Chutney

chutney
This chutney is perfect with some naan bread, tortilla chips, or even as a topping for some grilled protein. The recipe is from Mark Bittman’s book, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It was one of my first forays into incorporating more of a plant-based diet, and has been a wonderful resource for my vegetarian cooking.

If you have any of Bittman’s cookbooks, they’re like an encyclopedia of knowledge, providing tons of variations with each recipe. For example: for this chutney, you can substitute Thai or regular basil for the mint, make a creamy chutney with some yogurt, or make long-lasting chutney by adding in some white wine vinegar. I never panic when I’m missing an ingredient, because there are always different flavor combinations to discover, but for this cilantro-mint combination, it’s a definite winner.

Cilantro-Mint Chutney
makes 1 1/2 cups
from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

1 1/2 cups firmly packed, chopped, fresh cilantro leaves (I used stems and leaves)
1/2 cup firmly packed fresh mint leaves
1-2 Thai bird chilis (or jalapeno or red chili flakes)
2 inches ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
1 small red onion (I used white onion and it was fine), quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste

Preparation:
1. Combine herbs, chili, ginger, onion, and garlic in a food processor until finely ground.
2. Add the lime juice and salt and process until evenly smooth. Store at room temperature or cover and refrigerate up to one day.

Posted in appetizers, vegan, vegetables, vegetarian | Leave a comment