Q is for…

This week on What’s the Word? Wednesday, Q stands for the epitome of a complete food. It’s to grains what kale is to vegetables. If you haven’t guessed already Q is for Quinoa!

Q is for QuinoaFirst thing is first, pronunciation! You will never be able to find the stuff if you can’t pronounce it. Quinoa actually sounds like “keen-wah”, not “quinn-no-ah” which most people (including myself) started off calling it.  Quinoa is a complete protein and even though it’s a grain it’s closely related to beetroots and spinach (thank you wikipedia!).

What is it?

Quinoa is an ancient grain originally sourced from South America, usually traced back to the Andes (source). It’s the most nutrient-dense grain available often considered a complete protein and whole food. Quinoa comes in a  few different colors ranging from pale yellow to a rusty-red. Quinoa is one of the few grains that is still (mostly) harvested by hand, even for commercial production.

What does it taste like?

Regardless of the colour quinoa tastes the same, slightly nutty but similar to couscous in flavour. The individual grains are bigger than traditional couscous (not the Israeli kind you can find which are big pearls) and have a bit of texture to them (a snap if you will) even when cooked properly.

Where do I use it?

Quiona can be used as a substitute for any grain you can imagine. It makes a great substitute for your morning oatmeal, meat replacement in chili or shepherd’s pie, you can add it to soups to add texture and bulk. You can swap out your usually rice or potato sides, it makes a great base for a cold salad. Because of its new found popularity over the last few years, you can find quinoa in a raw/dry state as well as popped similar to puffed rice. This popped quinoa (see how to make your own here) can be eaten like popcorn (it’s teeny-tiny) or added to your homemade granola, protein bars or dessert like peanut butter balls, marshmellow-y type squares (marshmallow confections are not typicall vegetarian/vegan but there are recipes around the web if you have such a craving) or chocolate bark etc. Quinoa is also ground down to make flour, and can be used in conjunctions with other nut/grain flours to prepare gluten-free baked goods.

White Bean and Quinoa ChiliWhat are the health benefits?

Where do I start? There is so much good to say about quinoa, it contains heart-healthy fats, it’s a vegetarian source of protein, fibre and B vitamins. It’s super high in manganese, typtophan, magnesium, folate and phosphorus making it an ideal choice for women’s health in particular (source). It’s known mostly for being anti-inflammatory food choice and contains a good proportion of vitamin E which is good for you skin, hair and nails among other things. Oddly enough it’s one food that doesn’t have a drastic drop in nutrients once it’s cooked, so start subbing your grains with quinoa today! It’s primarily gluten-free only people with severe gluten allergies may have difficulties with some quinoa depending on how it was processed. For more information on how it may affect you if you are gluten-intolerant please check out this article.

V- Spot Recipes using Quinoa:

Quinoa Inspiration around the web:

P is for…

I’ve been trying to write this What’s the Word? Wednesday post for months now. Ever since I started the series I have known what P was going to stand for. How did I know? Well, almost every time you tell someone you are a vegetarian (or vegan) you eventually come to this question in the conversation:

But how do you get enough protein?

With this installment of What’s the Word? Wednesday, P is for Protein!

(Heads up seven up!: my regular form of question and answer is going to be altered for this post as there is too much to be said to divide it out the way I normally do.)

Vega Sport Vegan Protein Supplement

I can say without hesitation that for the majority of my vegetarian life, protein has not been a factor. What most people don’t realize is that there are proteins in vegetables and your body makes a good deal of the protein you need, provided you are eating well. Another thing no one seems to consider is that most of the animals meat-eaters consume, are vegetarian. They may eat meat for a multitude of reasons but ask anyone of them what are the health benefits and you are going to hear…’protein’. Where do animals get their protein? From their diets of course, which is primarily or wholly vegetation!

About a month ago I starting tracking my food and activity (I used MyFitnessPal) to see the bigger picture of what I was eating. After the first week of analysis I thought I was lacking in protein. When I saw my numbers in a pie chart across the screen of my phone, I believed it should be taking up more of my diet, This is most likely due to the fitness trend of pushing too much protein, which (double) unfortunately people interpret as ‘eat more meat’. After loads of research, I’ve found the average person should consume about 15% of their daily calories from protein sources. Most sources recommend between 10%-30% with 30% being very-active men. I was getting an average of about 12% without any diet alterations when I started. After continuous monitoring and studying my own trends, as well as comparing it to what was recommended for women my age (and my activity level) I decided I wanted to increase my amount of protein I consumed to be between 15%-20%.

I observed that trying to stay within a specific calorie allotment makes meeting your percentage goals a little more difficult, which previously had not occurred to me. I determined that this is mostly because my favorite vegetarian protein sources seem comparably higher in fat or carbohydrates (nuts, avocados, beans). As I’ve not been eating meat for more than half my life, I’d be interested if this is more of a concern for vegetarians/vegan than omnivores? Obviously peanut butter per ounce has more fat in it than let’s say halibut, but if anyone has done more research let me know in the comments below.

Chickpea Bulgur Burgers

What’s the big idea about incomplete and complete proteins?

When I became a vegetarian in 1997 I remember the big thing everyone kept telling me is that I had to combine foods in order to make sure I got proper nutrition. If I was eating beans, I had to include rice with the meal, or peanut butter on whole grain toast, or pasta and cheese etc. This theory of having to combine two ‘incomplete’ proteins to form a ‘complete’ protein is largely outdated. It’s just not thinking of the big picture of how our body actually works.

Essentially, ‘complete’ proteins are foods that contain 9 essential types of amino acids (source). Our body actually produces 13 amino acids on its own, provided you eat regularly and healthy. Aminos come from protein sources, and most adults need about 22 circulating, doing their work in your body like rebuilding muscle tissue. The reason why nutritionists call out 9 of them as essential, is because our bodies either can’t make enough of those 9 types of aminos, or make them at all. Therefore it’s up to us to get them from food sources.

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Vegetable sources of protein sometimes (this does not mean always) have lower levels of amino acids, or more often, lower levels of lysine, methionine and threonine (3 of the 9 essential aminos). However, eating a balanced diet of whole grains, healthy fats and loads of fruits and vegetables is what rounds out the essential aminos you need. To directly quote Wikipedia (source):

“Nearly all foods contain all twenty amino acids in some quantity, and nearly all of them contain the essential amino acids in sufficient quantity. Proportions vary, however, and some foods are deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids. Though some vegetable sources of protein contain sufficient values of all essential amino acids, many are lower in one or more essential amino acids than animal sources, especially lysine, and to a lesser extent methionine and threonine.[6]

Consuming a mixture of plant-based protein sources can increase the biological value of food. For example, to obtain 25 grams of complete protein from canned pinto beans requires consuming 492 grams (423 kcal); however, only 364 g of pinto beans (391 kcal) are required if they are combined with 12 grams of Brazil nuts.[7] Complementary proteins need not be eaten at the same meal for your body to use them together. Studies now show that your body can combine complementary proteins that are eaten within 24 hours.[8]

According to Dr. John A. McDougall, “any single one or combination of these plant foods provides amino acid intakes in excess of the recommended requirements…it is impossible to design an amino acid–deficient diet based on the amounts of unprocessed starches and vegetables sufficient to meet the calorie needs of humans. Furthermore, mixing foods to make a complementary amino acid composition is unnecessary.”[9]

Now that we have the low down on complete/incomplete proteins and aminos let’s talk about sources. As quoted in the article above, all vegetation contains proteins, below are just food with higher sources:

Walnuts Pre-toasting

Protein Sources

Note: I have bolded anything that is widely considered a complete protein. Some soy products and meat substitutes, as well as, most vegan and vegetarian protein powders are considered complete proteins check the packaging information for nutritional details.

Vegetarian

  • Free-ranged eggs
  • Dairy products (cheese, yoghurt, kefir, milk)
  • Whey (dairy) based protein powders, be careful a lot of them contain animal by-products such as animal hormones, thickeners like gelatin, flavor aids like castoreum (anal secretions from beavers) or red food dye called carmine (really just ground up cochineal insects).

Vegetarian and Vegan

  • Whole grains (quinoa, bulgur, wheat, barley, amaranth)
  • Nuts (coconut, almonds, brazil nuts, nut butters etc)
  • Seeds (flax, chia, hemp)
  • Legumes ( lentils, beans, peanuts)
  • Soy (edamame, tofu, tempeh, miso)
  • ‘Meat-substitutes’ (commercial or home-made: seitan, textured vegetable protein, quorn)
  • Food additives (nutritional yeast aka nooch, bee pollen, spirulina and wild blue algae)
  • Vegan protein powders ( hemp, brown rice, pea, etc)
  • Goji berries

Granola Protein Bites

Protein full recipes from V-Spot

Protein-full recipes from around the Web

O is for…

You might have been expecting something exotic but not today my friend. Today we discuss a plain-Jane food. Something that everyone man, woman and child should have as a pantry staple as well as a daily belly filler.

It’s time for What’s the Word? Wednesday! This week we are taking on the big O I mean the letter O. O is for Oats! Get your mind out of the gutter this is a food blog after all.

O is for Oats!

O is for Oats

Lambs eat oats, and does eat oats and vegetarians eat plenty! If you have never eaten oats, Imma let you finish, but I really don’t know what to say. You’ve never eaten oats, where do you live??? If you really have not eaten oats before I really don’t want to publicly shame you I just have loads of questions, like whoa.

What is it? 

Oats are described on Wikipedia as a cereal grain. They come in many different variations, steel-cut, rolled, oatmeal, oat flour, and cat grass. Yep, oat seeds are what grows that delicious grass your kitty has been un-potting since with was a tiny ball of fur. Besides powering humans big and small, oats are often used in animal feed for horses, cattle and sometimes for our furry dog friends. Oats in any form  are a very hypoallergenic grain, and can be a gluten intolerant person’s best friend, given they were not processed with wheat grains (look for gluten-free labeling!).

What does it taste like?

Oats can be eaten raw or cooked and taste like well, oats, in either form. Where they are so versatile (aka you can put them in anything) they generally take the taste of what they are cooked/mixed in.  Get into it!

Have a Slice

Where do I use it?

Breakfast, lunch or dinner, it makes no difference. Porridge can be made creamy and sweet by adding milk and brown sugar or maple syrup. You can make granola or muesli using oats spiced with cinnamon and dotted with dried fruit and nuts. Oats can be added to bean/lentil loaves to give shape and bulk as well as extra fibre and you won’t even notice they are in there. They add bulk and chew to cookies. You can use them raw in energy or granola bars. Throw some into your post work-out smoothie. If you have a high power blender/food processor grind them into flour for gluten free baking or just swap out some of your regular wheat flour in recipes to add more fibre. You can even soak them with nuts and make some delicious vegan milk.

Are there health benefits?

Oh buddy. If you grew up in North America you probably remember all the Quaker commercials for kids and then different ones for adults. Quaker taught me two things, kids love them and adults want to eat them to lower their blood pressure!

That is not all this little grain can do though. Eat oats every morning and you can drastically reduce your cholesterol levels. They contain anti-oxidants that help strengthen your cardiovascular system. Oats are high in fiber so they help keep you regular, and studies have shown that eating a diet high in oats (fibre) can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack, Quaker wasn’t kidding. It enhances the immune response to infections and stabilizes blood sugar, making it the perfect choice for people suffering from diabetes. Oats do it all and then some. Eat them daily! For more information on oats check out my source for nutritional information, whfoods.com .

Pumpkin Pie Granola with Cherry Greek Yoghurt

Oaty V-Spot Recipe Suggestions

Oats Around the Web

M is for …

I’m killing burger week, well more accurately, I’m gang-banging it. I’ve been to Ace Burgers twice in four days and on the second time, I realized that Gus’s has Bridge Brewery beer on tap. For those who do not live in the Halifax area, Gus’s pub is a local dive bar that also is without a website – check out The Coast’s write up for more info. Gus’s is famous around the city for giving up the stage to local metal bands and any medium of fringe show. They also happen to house one of my favorite burger joints, Ace Burgers .

Gus’s carries Bridge Brewery’s ‘Gus’s 65 M’ ale on tap, which is the lighter of the two options that this small, locally owned, zero emissions brewery makes.  Bridge focuses on Belgium style ales, and the 65 M was delicious, light in colour and fruity with a short lived hoppy after bite. The perfect accompaniment to my veggie burger and fries.

Bridge

I had planned to doing burgers four out of the seven days but my stomach can’t handle it.  I eat so healthy most of the time that my digestive system has already been thrown out of whack. I’m sure that has nothing to do with all the luring craft beer around the city, it couldn’t be.  Whatever it is I’m putting my intestines through the ringer and not about to stop just yet. Last burger of the week is happening tonight at the Works and since tonight is the last night of ‘Burger Week’. 

While I day dream about more craft beer and deep fried pickles, I want to talk about something more healthy because as you may have noticed it’s hump day! Which should mean it’s also, What’s the Word? Wednesday. We have hit M folks, that is half way through the alphabet and this week, M is for Miso!

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M is for Miso

MMmmmmmMmmmmm miso. Miso is a paste made from fermenting grains and soy products. I know it doesn’t sound appealing peeps, but trust me on this one (I know I say that about everything seemingly weird, just go with it). Obviously, miso is the main flavour contributor to miso soup that you may get with your sushi, but that is not all it’s good for.  As I hope to show you, miso is a diverse flavour agent chock full of great vitamins and minerals that we all should be getting just a tad more of in our diets.

What is it?

Miso is usually a mixture of rice and soybeans that is first fermented and then ground into a paste. Other grains such as barley are sometimes used to create different flavours and colors of miso. Salt and the fungus kōjikin are added to preserve and ferment the main components. kōjikin which is sometimes  referred to as the national fungus of Japan is also used in beer fermentation as well as other fizzy beverages and of course, miso production. (sourced from Wikipedia)

What does it taste like?

Have you ever heard of the word umami? Sometimes referred to as the fifth taste (i.e sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami) it’s the Japanese descriptor for deep earthy flavours like roasted vegetables and butter sauteed mushrooms, aged cheeses, beer and of course miso. Miso paste is quite salty and concentrated.  It has a similar taste to soy sauce, but it’s thick in texture and can range from white, to red, to dark brown in colour.

Where do I use it?

Miso can be used anywhere you would use soy sauce, or even salt. I most often use it to make sauces, gravies, marinades or add flavour to soups and stews. White miso is often used to help re-create an ‘aged cheese’ taste when added to nutritional yeast among other ingredients  You can also thin miso with water or syrup for a quick glaze or use it to add flavour to soup and sauces or create marinades.

Miso Cheezy

Miso mixed with nutritional yeast and spices to use as a coating for kale chips.

Are there health benefits?

If you do not have a soy allergy, miso is a great food to add flavour and it is high in B 12.  Because miso is generally made with soybeans, it does count towards your daily intake of legumes, adding fibre and protein to your diet. As it’s consumed in smaller quantities it can’t take over much of the daily intake suggested by Canada Food Guide (2 tablespoons is equal to about 1/4 cup of legumes) of 3 cups weekly.

For individuals following a low-sodium diet, please be aware that miso is very high sodium and should be limited, or restricted, if following a specialized diet plan. It is worth noting however that in most clinical studies, the sodium found in miso did not affect our cardiovascular systems like other high sodium foods do.

Soy is a very controversial subject and WHFoods.com (which I have sourced most of this section from) does a great job of talking about the pros and cons of miso in relation to the awareness and under documented benefits of soy products. I really encourage you to visit their page on miso for a full understanding.

Care2.com also has a short article advising on the benefits of including miso in your diet here.  

V- Spot Recipes and suggestion using Miso:

Miso Inspiration around the web:

L is for …

It’s late in the day but we made it to L! So close to being the middle of the alphabet, I can taste M.

I thought for the letter L, I would bring you back to just about as far as food can go (historically speaking). It may awaken a sense of free love and social revolution but we have been consuming this food since we walked upright and possibly before. 

Today’s What’s the Word? Wednesday; L is for Lentils

L is for Lentils

What is it?

Lentils are one of the earliest harvested foods, going back to Neolithic man (wiki-sourced). Lentils are classified as a pulse/legume/bean in the Canadian food guide. All lentils grow on bushy plants and once harvested, they are generally either canned or dried for storage. They are often recommended due to their nutritional and economical value filled. Hooray for cheap sources of protein and fibre! Lentils, like rice and other beans, are a staple in many households across the globe. Whether they are dried or found cooked in a can, lentils have a long shelf life (aka good for a Zombie Apocalypse). Stock the pantries, the lentils are coming.

What does it taste like?

Lentils are naturally flavour-neutral which makes them amazing flavour absorbers. This is especially true if you cook them from a dried form. They essentially take on whatever you cook them in, therefore they hold up well to spicy, fragrant sauces.

The bigger the lentil, the more potential they have to maintain their shape but it’s a trade-off as it also means a longer cooking time. The good news is, they rarely require soaking before cooking unless the recipe specifically calls for you to do so. Black lentils often require a short soaking time as well as the longest cooking time. In some cases soaking is required because they lentils are made into a paste before cooking, such as in the case of making dosas which I liken to an Indian crepe.

If you have texture issues, I would suggest using smaller, quicker cooking lentil such as red lentils. They tend to become mushy if over cooked, but their smoother texture blends well for dips, to use as a binding agent or to thicken soups and sauces.

Where do I use it?

Lentils are very versatile. They make and easy and simple addition to a salad for extra protein, or to replace the starch component in a meal. They work great as a stand alone curry served over rice or as the star in soups. Sometimes I use red lentils to thicken vegetable soups that I plan to puree. They add bulk and protein to the soup itself, and you don’t notice them once the are broken down by a blender.

Although I’ve never done so myself, people often grind lentils into a flour. This flour is gluten-free and usually used to make some sort of fritter, crepe/pancake or as a thickener in place of wheat flour.

Split Pea Soup

Are there health benefits?

There are a lot of health benefits to consuming lentils. Besides being a complete food, they are also high in molybdenum , folate and tryptophan. Lentils have been shown to stabilize blood sugar, regulate your digestive system and help lower bad cholesterol (source WHFoods.com). All this, in a sweet little unassuming legume.

V-Spot recipes and suggestion for using lentils: 

Lentil Recipe Inspiration: