Dr. Greger Fan Questions Supplementing with EPA and DHA

Let me guess, you’re either plant-based or vegan, you follow Dr. Greger’s videos, and you’ve been taking (or considered taking) an EPA + DHA supplement, because Dr. Greger said so.

I have the greatest respect for the folks at NutritionFacts.org. Also, in good scientific spirit, this is my question to you: Have you looked more deeply into the studies Dr. Greger relies on for this specific recommendation? I have, and based on looking more closely, EPA + DHA supplements still have unproven necessity and safety. Let me develop.


Table of contents

  1. Some Basics
  2. What’s wrong with Dr. Greger’s recommendation to take an EPA + DHA supplement?
  3. Less is more – Understanding Omega-6 vs. Omega-3 metabolic pathways
  4. But do these simple dietary modifications provide enough EPA and DHA?
  5. Conclusions
  6. APPENDIX: Admiration, even well-deserved, can cloud critical thinking

Some Basics

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for health. The parent form of it, alpha-linolenic acid, (ALA) is an essential fatty acid, we must get that one from our food. The human body, depending on lifestyle and other factors, converts ALA more or less efficiently into other omega-3s: EPA, then DHA.

The omega you don’t need more of is omega-6. The parent form, linoleic acid (LA), is also essential but widely over-consumed, and is found typically in high-fat plant foods (vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, etc…). Both ALA and LA are found in every unprocessed plant food, in various amounts and ratios.


What’s wrong with Dr. Greger’s recommendation to take an EPA + DHA supplement?

Dr. Greger’s argument in favour of DHA for all vegans relies on one interventional study linking EPA+DHA intake with health benefits: slight improvement at a cognitive test + what’s interpreted as physically improved brain structure and lower grey matter loss. The supplement was fish oil (EPA + DHA), in high doses (per day: 1320 mg EPA + 880 mg DHA).

Any major flaws? Yes, many. The study published in 2013 was done on:

  • Healthy people? Unfortunately, no. Intentionally selected overweight people 25<BMI<30 with – not surprisingly – blood work that’s really not great (hypertension, borderline high cholesterol by the overly-lenient current official standards, etc.).
  • The general public? No. Seniors only (age 50-75).
  • People eating a healthy plant-based diet? No, people who often eat fish.
  • Identical groups? No, the experimental group (the ones taking the supplement) exercised more.
  • Was their diet well-controlled to ensure both groups ate the exact same food, and that the benefit comes only from the supplement? Again, no. The fish intake was measured only 3 one-off times in 26 weeks. Fish intake is also reported by frequency instead of by quantities of EPA/DHA content.
  • Was the intake of plant-based omega-3 from food recorded? No.

So yes, it is a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, and also serves a perfect example of how this “gold standard” can be far from enough. The design of the study matters as well. Here it is rather poor. More importantly this study really says nothing about vegans and people eating a low-fat whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet.

Moreover, and ironically: While the study uses 880 mg DHA per day, Dr. Greger himself reports that a similar dose (800 mg DHA) is dangerous, based on a study showing that in pregnant (omnivorous) women this DHA dose leads to having children with learning difficulties.

“In a study in which women were given a whopping 800 mg of DHA a day during pregnancy, infant girls exposed to the higher-dose DHA in the womb had lower language scores and were more likely to have delayed language development than girls from women in the control group.”

I am aware that Dr. Greger recommends much less than that toxic dose (250 mg of mixed EPA and DHA), but why is he resting his case on a study so poorly designed and using a toxic dose? Mystery.

Part of that mystery was unveiled since. That study actually isn’t the source of inspiration of his recommendation, although it may seem like it is. Dr. Greger’s recommendation for EPA or DHA precedes this 2013 study. Back in 2008 he was already advocating for DHA,  based on pregnancy/child cognition/child vision studies on omnivores. I looked into them, they display generally poorly controlled/documented diets and outcomes of questionable relevance.

His observation in another 2008 video, that “people who don’t eat animals (…) have very low levels of long-chain omega 3s”, and subsequent recommendation to supplement, is based on a study on high-fat vegans. Their diet was comprised of ~33% fat by % of total calories, in short a very high-fat and high-omega-6 diet, not a healthy low-fat, whole-food plant based one. In the section that follows I’ll explain why a low fat content in the diet matters to synthesize EPA and DHA from ALA.

Again, I have great respect for Dr. Greger and the NutritionFacts.org team of researchers.  Simply, at this point in time, the evidence to support necessity and safety of this supplementation regime is weak, and irrelevant to vegans or people on low-fat whole food plant-based (WFPB) nutrition.


Less is more – Understanding Omega-6 vs. Omega-3 metabolic pathways

Modern diets contain an excess of omega-6, typically from vegetable oils and excessive consumption of high-fat plant foods (nuts, avocados, etc…), and animal products. This interferes with our ability to convert ALA into EPA and DHA. Why? Because omega-6 conversions “steal” the enzymes that omega-3s need to convert ALA into EPA and DHA, and also the enzymes for the latter to be utilised.

Some enzymes in this process have a preference for converting omega-3s, but overwhelmed by a crowd of omega-6s (like in the average vegan or non-vegan diet) they process omega-6s. Also, the omega-3 conversions take more steps, which gives omega-3 an extra handicap in the competition against omega-6. Finally, these enzymes have nutrient “co-factors”, meaning that they need all sorts of nutrients to function well. Hence the importance of unprocessed diets, which are more nutrient-dense and less prone to nutrient deficiencies and the subsequent enzyme dysfunctions.

Cutting down our fat consumption, starting with oils and processed foods, and eating more of a low-fat, whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet does a number of good things with omega-3s:

  • reduces drastically omega-6s intake => omega-3s have less competition => more omega-3 converted and used
  • increases the intake of omega-3s (healthy fats like omega-3s, just like protein, are everywhere in low-fat, unprocessed plant foods)
  • increases the nutrient intake => the enzymes rely on those nutrients (co-factors) to convert ALA omega-3s into EPA and DHA.
  • For reasons unrelated to omega-3s, you’ll feel energetic, loose the extra pounds, and prevent or reverse illness. You wouldn’t read this article and wouldn’t have an interest in supplements if you didn’t to some extent value you health, would you?

Do these simple dietary modifications provide enough EPA and DHA?

This has already been discussed here by rockstar nutritionist Jeff Novick in this article (UPDATE: unfortunately the article was removed after I recently pointed out to Jeff that only a few lines of that old article had obsolete data. I’ll update with Jeff Novick’s analysis on omega-3 whenever I find it elsewhere, or with his updated article, whichever comes first. For now read this.)

Long story short, two scenarios:

A) If you eat a well-planned whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet:

  • We’re assuming your diet is low in fat (~10% of total calories), oil-free, varied, and you’re generally healthy and seldom drink alcohol (yep, alcohol affects omega-3 metabolism).
  • You should be fine and achieve similar excellent overall and brain health , just like the many WFPB populations documented throughout the world.
  • This diet should provide enough ALA to meet the Adequate Intake (AI): 1.1g/day for women and 1.6g for men  as set originally by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; average Western body sizes. (I log my food very occasionally only for educational purposes, my omega-3 intakes as ALA always meets and exceeds the AI).
  • Enough DHA and EPA should be formed by conversion of ALA under those ideal conditions (low-fat, high-nutrient diet).
  • The studies saying that humans poorly convert ALA, or finding low serum levels in vegans are based on people eating unhealthy diets, typically a high-fat diet (>28–40% of energy as fat). There is a case for omega-3 studies done on people eating a WFPB diet, to reveal conversion rates, and perhaps point to optimal levels of ALA in the diet by looking at health outcomes of various intakes instead of comparing blood levels with fish-eaters. Realistically, we won’t see that data anytime soon…
  • To be on the extra-safe side, you can have (if you deem necessary) 1 or 2 Tbsp (tablespoons) of ground flaxseed daily.
    Note: Time, heat, and exposure to air make these healthy fats oxidise and turn into harmful fats. It can’t harm to blend a new batch as frequently as conveniently possible (we do weekly) and keep it in a closed container in the fridge. Although walnuts and chia seeds are also high in omega-3, I stick to using and advocating flaxseed because:

    • Walnuts are most often bought unshelled, prone to oxidation (going rancid), easily overeaten (health-wise counter-productive), and more expensive.
    • Chia seeds are most often eaten whole (they should be ground for any omega-3 benefit), and are more expensive.
    • Flaxseed conveniently has a thick shell that prevents oxidation until you grind on demand, has the highest content of omega-3, comes with other health benefits (high fiber content, plays a role in preventing/reversing prostate cancer with lignans, reduces blood pressure, etc.), and is the cheapest. Who wins? Flaxseed of course!

B) If you’re currently eating more of a “junk food” type of vegan/plant-based diet (processed foods, using oil/margarines, high-fat, etc) and/or consume alcohol frequently:

  • The odds are your diet is deficient in omega-3s, all of them.
  • Even if you were to have ground flaxseeds (high in ALA) or an omega-3 supplement (ALA, not EPA+DHA), you’d likely very poorly convert it to EPA and DHA because of the high-fat, processed and in some cases alcohol-abusing nature of the diet.
  • You might benefit from some sort of EPA+DHA omega-3 supplementation. Everybody agrees that evidence on benefits and risks is still not clear at this point.
  • An EPA+DHA supplement will, at best, only limit in a minor way the damage of this lifestyle.
  • Consider going at least oil-free/low-fat, and preferably also whole food plant-based.

Conclusions

While the West is pondering about EPA and DHA supplementation or not for vegans, in a short-sighted manner and based on reductionist studies, epidemiology has long demonstrated that quasi-fully plant-based societies that refrain from aquatic animals (fish, etc) have thrived, i.e. unmatched excellent health at all stages of life + long healthspan. This should be the reference, not fish-eaters with fish fat running in their blood. The low-fat WFPB societies achieved unmatched health with zero effort put into omega-3 supplementation, and without foods high in omega-3s like ground flaxseed, walnuts or ground chia seeds.

Additionally, before considering a supplement, it must in my view tick ALL these boxes:

  1. proven necessary (confers health benefits, prevents illness, essential nutrient not found in our diet)
  2. proven safe for long-term use
  3. proven irreplaceable: the active ingredient cannot realistically/practically be obtained in sufficient/safe amounts by dietary means within a plant-based diet.

At this point, nothing suggests EPA and DHA pass those tests.

A low-fat WFPB diet is what vegans should consider as a first line of action if they are concerned with their omega-3 status and the consequences it might have on overall health (including neurological/mental/cognitive).

The omega-3 talk among healthy “whole foodies” is at best one of fine-tuning and optimisation, not a matter or life, death or illness – at all. If you are consuming a low-fat, WFPB diet, with ground flaxseed, the precious time of a healthy person is best spent spreading health and helping other people know about WFPB, rather than worrying about any other nutrients than B12, and the nutrients deficient/unavailable in whatever soil your food grows.

This article was focused on assessing the grounds of Dr. Greger’s recommendation and offering an alternative. If you want to find out more details/debate about the relevance or not of EPA/DHA in a vegan or whole-food plant-based diet, Dietician Dominic Marro has written an excellent article below. It notably compiles the positions of notorious WFPB advocates and plant-based doctors:
Do You Need to Supplement With EPA and DHA If You Follow a Whole Food Plant-Based Lifestyle?

Disclaimer: There may be health conditions where omega-3s are poorly absorbed or poorly converted. In those cases the position shared here might not apply, but only concerns healthy individuals.


APPENDIX: Admiration, even well-deserved, can cloud critical thinking

It’s no surprise to anyone that Dr. Greger from Nutritionfacts.org is looked up to in the vegan and plant-based communities; Dr. Greger (learn the spelling folks, “reger” is symmetrical if that helps 😉 ) and his team of ~19 researchers, whom I would like to salute and acknowledge for a change). The NutritionFacts.org team has compiled countless highly educational videos on various aspects of health and nutrition. So it’s no wonder people having learned so much from them hold Dr. Greger and his team in high regard, he’s become a bit of a nutrition research God.

Like with all veneration, the downside of such admiration is that it clouds reason, and leads to something I jokingly coin as:

Gregerscepticopenia: The lack of healthy scepticism, commonly found in a Dr. Greger admirer, towards a view or position held by Dr. Greger.

Dr. Greger is a media. A media literally means an inter-media-ry, in this case between followers and the published science, itself a media between us readers and (when done honestly) a reality scientists observed through experiments they carried out and documented. Thankfully, in good scientific spirit, the website shares the sources so everybody can look into them. And if you do look into them, sometimes, especially when the supporting evidence is weak or preliminary, you’ll have good reasons to disagree with Dr. Greger’s positions, assumptions, interpretations, conclusions, practical advice.

Even true heroes have their flaws. Even the most genuinely truth-oriented people deserve some healthy scepticism, because humans are humans. Such scepticism is good because it would spot unwitting mistakes and get them corrected, raise the standards of scientific practice, and also because you might not agree with someone’s conclusions/convictions when looking at the same raw data.

Let’s all try to break out from the culture of “following” people, and instead be actors of truth-seeking. Let’s try to make a habit to question things even from our heroes, by going to the source of information and judging for ourselves.

Oil-free Plant Milks in New Zealand

Last updated: 18 April 2017


This list includes plants milk that:

  • contain no oil
  • Additionally: contain no coconut products (because typically from extracted high-fat cream) and no lecithin (which is a pure extracted fat).
  • are suitable for vegans (no ingredients of animal origin)
    Note: I’ve only formally checked the suitability for vegans for Vitasoy so far, only (too) quickly the other brands. Double-check in doubt.

It is relevant for people following a low-fat (incl. oil-free) whole-food plant-based diet.


Table of contents
PART 1 – Oil-free vegan plant milks (soy, oat, almond, rice, macademia)
PART 2 – List of Confirmed Non-Suitable Plant Milks
TODO


PART 1 – Oil-free vegan plant milks

OIL-FREE SOY MILKS

OIL-FREE OAT MILKS

OIL-FREE ALMOND MILKS

OIL-FREE RICE MILK

None at the moment.

OIL-FREE MACADEMIA MILK

PART 2 – List of Confirmed Non-Suitable Plant Milks

Vitasoy Soy Milk Original: contains oil
Vitasoy Almond Milk Original: contains lecithin
Vitasoy Almond Milk Unsweetened: contains lecithin.
Vitasoy Rice Milk Long Life: Contains oil.
Vitasoy Rice Milk High Protein Long Life: Contains oil.

Macro Organic Soy Milk: contains oil
Macro Organic Rice Milk: contains oil

Signature Range Rice Milk Organic: contains oil
Signature Range Organic Soy Milk: contains oil

 

Pure Harvest Soy Unsweetened Malt-Free: contains oil
Pure Harvest Soy No Added Cane Sugar Original : contains oil
Pure Harvest Soy Unsweetened: contains oil
Pure Harvest Oat Unsweetened: contains oil
Pure Harvest Rice Unsweetened: contains oil

Sanitarium So Good Soymilk Unsweetened: contains oil
Sanitarium So Good Soymilk Regular: contains oil
Sanitarium So Good Soymilk Lite: contains oil + mono and di-glycerides (471)
Sanitarium So Good Essential Enriched Soy Milk: contains oil + mono and di-glycerides (471)
Sanitarium So Good Soy Milk Vanilla Bliss: contains oil
Sanitarium So Good Almond Milk Unsweetened: Contains lecithin.
Sanitarium So Good Almond Milk Original: contains lecithin
Sanitarium So Good Almond Milk Vanilla: contains lecithin

Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Original: contains lecithin
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Chocolate: contains lecithin
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Barista: contains oil and lecithin
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze (Unsweetened) : contains lecithin
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Unsweetened Cashew: contains lecithin
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla: contains lecithin

Pam’s Regular Soy Milk: contains oil
Pam’s Regular Soy Milk Lite: contains oil
Pam’s Almond Milk Original: contains lecithin (322)
Pam’s Almond Milk Unsweetened: contains lecithin (322)

Australia’s Own Organic Soy Milk: contains oil
Australia’s Own Organic Rice Milk: contains oil
Australia’s Own Organic Almond Milk: contains oil

Imagine Rice Dream Rice Milk Original Enriched: contains oil

Freedom Foods Original Whole Bean Soy Milk: contains oil.
Freedom Foods Extra Milky Soy Milk: contains oil.
Freedom Foods Rice Milk: contains oil.

TODO (plant milks to be checked)

  • Vitasoy Café for Barista Almonds (waiting for reply from Vitasoy)

What milks have I forgotten? => Please share in comments.

Calcium Requirements for Vegans Found Lower based on WHO Data

MAIN FINDINGS

Based on data from the WHO (World Health Organization), the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)* of calcium for adults on a fully plant-based diet is 660 mg/day, not 1,000 mg/day as suggested by official recommendations (U.S. & Western Europe) intended for people consuming the Standard Western Diet.
For the (minority of) vegans consuming salt-free diets, the RDI is even lower, at 480mg/day.

Animal protein and sodium (salt) deeply influence calcium losses and calcium balance.

Besides putting unnecessary pressure on calcium intakes, the current official RDI of 1,000mg calcium/day is misguiding people on plant-based diets (even more so with lower salt intakes) to observe calcium intakes that may lead to the typical adverse effects of calcium excess.

Vegans and vegan/plant-based information websites are invited to verify the calculations presented here, and if they agree with the demonstration, update their information to this new RDI of 660mg/day. It is time to quit perpetuating an RDI intended for people consuming 60g+ of animal protein per day.

* Disclaimer: The RDI proposed in the present article is calculated using WHO’s calcium model which accounts for animal protein and sodium. Unfortunately, it is not an official recommendation as it should be. These numbers are not endorsed (yet?) by the WHO nor the FAO.

 

PART 1  – DEMONSTRATION

INTRODUCTION

Many vegans are aware that there are some nutritional precautions they must take, which are specific to their dietary lifestyle. Typically, it is important for everybody in our sanitized world – but in particular for vegans – to take a vitamin B12 supplement or B12-fortified.

However, in the transition to a plant-based diet, it is common for people to bring with them (and perpetuate) a number of carnist nutritional myths, or concerns that are by no means exclusive to plant-based diets. Besides B12, other nutrients of common concern are:  protein, iron, omega-3, or calcium.
It’s important to study evidence and demystify these topics, relieve unnecessary concerns, and help refocus attention where it should really be as far as plant-based health is concerned.

Today, I will cover the one of the least covered of these subjects: Calcium requirements in the context of plant-based nutrition.

To my current knowledge, there exists no calcium RDI formulated anywhere specifically for people on plant-based diets. Yet, the World Health Organization has offered them to us, on a very slightly veiled golden platter, since 1997. How was  something this big ignored and never implemented? It is a mystery to me. Hopefully this article helps correct this.

This is how it started.

 

THE CHALLENGE OF MEETING THE STANDARD WESTERN DIET’S RDI WITH WHOLE PLANT FOODS

Meeting the calcium RDI of 1,00o mg is fairly easy when relying on transformed soy products and/or fortified foods and beverages. As you can see below, as little as 150 g/day of a very common type of tofu would easily meet the RDI of 1000 mg/day, and various combinations might as well.


Per 100g (WARNING: these values may vary, most drastically in transformed and fortified products):
Traditional soy products: Edamame: 63 mg; Tempeh: 96 mg; tofu made only with calcium sulfate: 683 mg; tofu made with nigari and calcium sulfate: 282 mg; silken tofu: 31 mg;
Plant milks: Pacific® fortified oat milk: 146 mg; low-calcium soy milk : 42 mg; Other fortified plant milks: wide range;
Legumes: lentils: 19 mg; chickpeas: 49 mg; black beans: 27 mg;
Other starch/carbs sources: sweet potato: 38 mg; potato: 5 mg; brown rice: 10 mg; whole-wheat pasta: 13 mg; rolled oats: 52 mg.
Green leafy vegetables: raw kale: 150 mg; amaranth leaves: 209 mg; bok choi: 96 mg; mustard greens: 118 mg;
Fruits (per 1 medium piece): orange: 52 mg; apple: 11 mg; bananas: 6 mg;
Fungi: shiitake: 3 mg; white mushroom: 6 mg; oyster mushroom: 3 mg;


Both calcium-fortified foods or transformed soy products rely on calcium salts. Adding calcium salts to whole plant foods is a form of indirect calcium supplementation.

The real challenge appears when for whatever reason you either don’t or seldom eat them, or eat them in small amounts only.

When relying exclusively on unprocessed plant foods – which excludes fortified/processed foods mentioned earlier – it is still possible to meet 1,000 mg. It would however require carefully combining high-calcium foods.

Example of a high-calcium plant-based sample menu (to be completed with other foods to meet caloric needs) using only unprocessed, non-fortified, whole plant foods:
1 cup rolled oats, 2.5 cups of cooked amaranth leaves, 2 large oranges, 2 cups chickpeas.
Total calories: 1160 kcal;
Calcium content: 1038 mg (based on Cronometer/USDA database)

In practice, very few people on plant-based diets, including whole-food plant-based, eat anything like this artificially high-calcium diet.

So, quite naturally, some questions come to mind:

  • Why is the calcium RDI so ridiculously high?!
  • Is there something about a plant-based diet that should reduce the amount calcium we need?
  • Conversely, is there something about the Standard Western Diet that makes the calcium RDI abnormally high?
  • How did mostly plant-based populations throughout the world manage to grow bones and age healthfully on diets with no tofu, no fortification, and likely at far less than 1000 mg of calcium/day?

Answer: They weren’t given health objectives based on observing a majority of overweight and obese people eating the Standard Western Diet.

 

METHOD & RESOURCES FOR DEMONSTRATION

The demonstration below is intentionally done in a detailed, step-by-step manner, and to some extent using slightly less academic language. This is so that anyone wondering where these numbers came from can follow and run the calculations for themselves as verification. I used nothing more than high-school level maths.

Unless stated otherwise, all the calculations are based on the data presented in the WHO (World Health Organization) document “Vitamin and mineral requirements in human nutrition, Second edition” which is free to download. The images below are captured from this document.

The WHO report above supports one of the highest and most conservative RDIs for calcium: that for the U.S.A. and parts of Western Europe.

 

DETAILS OF CAPITAL IMPORTANCE: EFFECT OF ANIMAL PROTEIN AND SODIUM ON CALCIUM BALANCE

According to this report, several factors influence the calcium needs. I learned that animal protein and sodium (= mainly salt) intake play an absolutely major role in the calcium RDIs because both dramatically increase calcium loss.

Ok, so accounting for urine and sweat losses (which includes hair and nails) calcium balance happens either at 840, 600, or 450 mg of calcium per day, depending on different scenarios of low-[animal] protein and/or low-salt.

That is huge! You wouldn’t thinks RDIs would vary so much based on dietary lifestyle.

That really struck me!
I immediately wondered what about no animal protein? Or no salt like we do at home?
What calcium intakes correspond to these?

So I went searching for the numbers on the relationships between sodium/calcium and between animal protein/calcium.

 

IN NUMBERS, HOW DOES SODIUM AND ANIMAL PROTEIN INCREASE CALCIUM EXCRETION?

Effect of animal protein on calcium excretion

Page 79:

Comments:
1 g of protein reduces absorbed calcium by 1 mg
“Low-protein” on the graph meant 20g of animal protein/day.
Cutting further that 20g lowers the straight line of excretion by “20g points” on the vertical axis.

Effect of sodium on calcium excretion

(…)

(…)

For someone who has no salt nor high-sodium foods (i.e.: voluntary SOS-free dietary lifestyles, or very low sodium diets for medical reasons such as kidney diseases) the daily intake is somewhere around 100mg sodium/day (from my personal rough estimations). ~100mg is is negligible compared to 3.45g. To simplify the calculations, we will round that up that to zero sodium.

“Low sodium” on the graph meant 50mmol of sodium (1.15 g sodium, ~3 g salt) which in passing, is below the current limit of 1.5g (sodium) set by the American Heart Association.

100 mmol of sodium takes out 40g of calcium, so 50 mmol takes out 20 mg. Going from “low sodium” to salt-free cuts that 50 mmol of sodium from the diet, which lowers the straight line of excretion by “20 mg points” on the vertical axis.

Total of “no sodium” + “no animal protein” : 20 mg + 20 mg = 40 mg, a reduction in excretion by exactly as much as the previous jumps.

If you’re plant-based with an average salt intake in Western Diets (~9g salt/day in the U.S., NZ, etc.), you’re looking at this:


Now the million dollar question is…what are these “?” values, precisely?
I never liked graphic resolutions of equations because it’s imprecise in a number of ways. So let’s see if we can find some equations. This is where it starts requiring high-school level mathematics. But don’t worry, we will use an online calculator to solve this.

 

EQUATIONS FOR CALCIUM ABSORPTION AND CALCIUM EXCRETION vs. CALCIUM INTAKE


Here they are:
Ca_absorbed = 174 log(Ca_intake) – 909 (note: the log here is a natural log)
Ca_excreted = 0.078.Ca_intake + 137 (note: urine losses only)
Ca_excreted = 0.078.Ca_intake + 197 (note: inclusive of +60mg of “skin” losses – see section 4.4.4 – Insensible losses)

Using x for calcium intake (horizontal axis) and y for calcium absorbed or excreted (vertical axis) the equations are:

For calcium absorption:
y = 174 log(x) – 909

For calcium excretion, we have different scenarios:

Scenarios with animal protein

Average [animal] protein (60g/day) + average sodium (3.45 g sodium/day ~ 8.6 g salt/day) :
y = 0.078 x + 197
Calcium balance equation:
absorption = excretion
174 log(x) – 909  = 0.078x + 197

Low [animal] protein  OR Low sodium => decrease of excreted calcium by 40mg
We take the calcium excretion equation above and remove 40mg:
y = 0.078 x + 197 – 40 which is the same as:
 y = 0.078 x + 157
Calcium balance equation:
174 log(x) – 909  = 0.078x + 157

Low [animal] protein AND Low sodium => further 40mg not excreted
y = 0.078 x + 117
Calcium balance equation:
174 log(x) – 909  = 0.078x + 117

Scenarios with plant-based diets

No [animal] protein AND average sodium=> further 20mg not excreted compared to same with low animal protein
y = 0.078 x + 137
Calcium balance equation:
174 log(x) – 909  = 0.078x + 137

No [animal] protein AND No salt => further 60mg not excreted because no salt: 40 mg for low-sodium + 20 mg for the further elimination of salt.
y = 0.078 x + 77
Calcium balance equation:
174 log(x) – 909  = 0.078x + 77

SOLVING THE EQUATIONS

Throw that into a solver to get the x value (calcium intake) at equilibrium. I could have done that with a scientific calculator, or using the Matlab software, but so that everyone can check for themselves, I used a public, free-of-charge solver: WolframAlpha. Click on the above equations to see them being solved.

Below is the solving of the calcium balance equation for average animal protein and average sodium just to check if we got things right:


Why did we take the lowest solution of the two ? Because any solution above 2,000 mg is not a valid solution because the absorption curve  is valid only from 0 to 2,000 mg.

So it gives me ~840 for the first equation. It’s no surprise, that’s the value in the WHO document, found with the same equations. We’re finding the same result, that’s a good start!

Now, what about “no animal protein”? or that + salt-free?

Scroll up and click on the equations above to see the calcium intakes at equilibrium, it’s the lowest of the two values among the solutions Wolfam finds.

CUSTOMISED CALCIUM INTAKES AT EQUILIBRIUM (OR EAR)

The calcium intakes at calcium balance are the following. They’re basically the solutions to the equations listed in the previous section. Note that by definition these values are the EARs (Estimated Average Intakes). This means the intakes below will meet the needs of 50% of the total population.

Scenarios with animal protein

Average [animal] protein (60 g) + average sodium (3.45 g sodium/day ~ 8.6 g salt/day):
Ca_intake = 840 mg;

Low [animal] protein (20 g) OR Low sodium (1.15 g/day ~3 g salt/day):
Ca_intake = 599 mg;

Low [animal] protein (20 g) AND Low sodium (1.15 g/day ~3 g salt/day):
Ca_intake = 444 mg;

Scenarios with plant-based diets

No [animal] protein AND Average sodium (3.45 g sodium/day ~ 8.6 g salt/day):
Ca_intake = 514 mg !

No [animal] protein AND No Salt
Ca_intake = 336 mg !!!

These intakes would cover the needs of only 50% of people in the respective populations.
How much calcium to meet the needs of almost all the respective populations though? In other words,  what are the RDIs?
That’s what we’re going to find out now.

 

CUSTOMISED CALCIUM RDI VALUES BY DIETARY LIFESTYLE

This is how you get an RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) from the EAR (Estimated Average Requirement) we just calculated.

Page 2:

Do we have the value of the “standard deviation” somewhere ?

Searching, and…Yes we do! The full equation for calcium absorption  had “± 71 (SD)” at the end. Now is the time to use that standard deviation.

Following the above method to determine RDI (which is the same as RNI) from the EARs we get:

SD = 71
2 × SD = 142

RDIs = EAR + 142

Scenarios with animal protein

Average [animal] protein + average sodium (3.45 g sodium/day ~ 8.6 g salt/day):
Calcium RDI = 840 + 142 = 982 mg/day.
With no surprise, that is very close to the official RDI of 1,000 mg.
Official RDI are often rounded up to number easy to remember.

Low [animal] protein (20 g)  OR Low sodium (1.15 g/day ~3 g salt/day):
Calcium RDI = 599 + 142 = 741 mg/day

Low [animal] protein (20 g) AND Low sodium (1.15 g/day ~3 g salt/day):
Calcium RDI = 444 + 142 = 586 mg/day

Scenarios with plant-based diets

No [animal] protein AND average sodium (3.45 g sodium/day ~ 8.6 g salt/day)
Calcium RDI = 514 + 142 = 656 mg/day (~660 mg)

No [animal] protein AND No salt
Calcium RDI = 336 + 142 = 478 mg/day (~480 mg)

 

COMPARISON WITH PUBLISHED SCIENCE ON CALCIUM BALANCE IN PLANT BASED-DIETS

The above calculations based on official WHO models for calcium requirements matches a number of others studies and articles on the lower calcium needs in plant-based nutrition:

  1. October 2007: Calcium Requirements Much Lower Than Previously Estimated, by Dr McDougall.
    In this article Dr. McDougall suggests intakes around 500mg/day are sufficient.
    cites:
    Calcium requirements: new estimations for men and women by cross-sectional statistical analyses of calcium balance data from metabolic studies.
    This study examined calcium balance, sweat losses were ignored because considered negligible after measuring them.
  2. June 2016: Long-Term Low Intake of Dietary Calcium and Fracture Risk in Older Adults With Plant-Based Diet: A Longitudinal Study From the China Health and Nutrition Survey
    This study on lifelong senior vegans in China finds the lowest rates of bone fracture happen in a range of calcium roughly from 250mg – 650 mg all genders considers.
  3. December 2014: How to Get Calcium Without Dairy, by Dr. Thomas Campbell.
    Quote: ” if all of your calories are coming from whole plant foods, including plenty of fruits, greens, beans and other vegetables, you don’t need to think twice about calcium requirements or do any fancy math or milligram counting. You’ll be fine.”
    cites:
    Appleby P, Roddam A, Allen N, Key T. Comparative fracture risk in vegetarians and nonvegetarians in EPIC-Oxford. Eur J Clin Nutr 2007;61:1400-6.
    Note: This study suggested that vegans with intake below ~500 mg/day had more bone fractures than carnists. However, in a critique of this study, Dr. McDougall observed that the vegans were younger, healthier (lower BMI) and far more physically active. Although the study tried to adjust for that, “vegans had no hip fractures, compared to 30 in the meat eaters, 9 in the fish eaters, and 14 in the vegetarians (dairy)”. He adds:
    “The observation that the fractures were of the wrist, arm, and ankle, and not the hip, to me, means the fractures were due to trauma caused by physical activity and not due to weakened bones.”

 

CONCLUSION

The WHO/FAO matches with the most conservative and highest calcium RDIs in the world: U.S.A & Western Europe.

Using this model and applying it to plant-based diets and low-sodium diets yielded surprisingly low calcium RDIs. The plant-based calcium RDIs are more easily achievable with little to no thought put into nutrition, provided:

  • a well-planned mostly unprocessed diet (more nutrient-dense, from whole foods) even on its own,
  • and/or a particularly low sodium intake
  • and/or calcium-fortified foods.

This is consistent with observations/suggestions from previous research on calcium intake and health in plant-based populations.

 

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank one of the people I view as a role model and mentor, the lovely, brilliant and generous Jenny Cameron. Jenny pointed me towards the calcium chapter of the WHO publication when I asked if any official recommendation suggested lower nutrient requirements for people on plant-only nutrition. Now, I and hopefully many other plant-based folks, have a clearer idea what exactly these requirements are – at least according to one of the most official and publicly recognized institutions that publish dietary health guidelines: the World Health Organization (WHO).

PART 2 – DISCUSSION

(still in the process of writing – table of contents below)

RDI-related questions

• What is an RDI worth anyway?
• Factors affecting absorption
• Shouldn’t the RDI depend on body size too?
• Menopausal women (& “Ageing” men)
• Infants, Children & Adolescents

A concern about calcium excess

• Is it harmful to consume 1,000 mg calcium on a plant-based diet?

Improving calcium balance and bone health

• Reducing/cutting animal protein vs. increasing calcium
• Salt Reduction: An additional strategy for osteoporosis & bone fracture prevention?
• Is it relevant for vegans to reduce salt intake?

• Open Questions

Chana Masala (Chickpea Curry)

Chana Masala

Chana Masala (Chickpea curry)
 
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I started off with Hema's recipe but found it far too hot and corianderish (seed) for my personal taste. Also simplified greatly the roasting processes. I'm very happy with this recipe now. My ethnically/gastronomically-Indian partner just told me it tasted amazing, and exactly like that Chana Masala we had at that restaurant where we both thought was the best-tasting we've ever had so far in the healthy-food category. So I think my improving this recipe is over and it's time to share it with you 🙂 You'll need to make a trip to the local Indian/Asian shop to do full justice to any Indian cooking including this dish. These are the must-have Indian spices you'll only find in any Indian shops : asofetida & amchur (which is green/unripe mango powder). The rest is usually commonly found even in supermarkets.
Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole-food, plant-based
Cuisine: South Asian
Serves: 4~6 adult meals if served with rice
Ingredients
  • 3 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 3 large onions finely chopped
  • 220g of salt-free or low-salt tomato paste concentrate OR 1kg of grated tomatoes (to be reduced later)
  • A few stalks of fresh coriander (5 g)
WHOLE SPICES FOR ROASTING
  • 3 small sticks cinnamon (finger-sized or two inches)
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
OTHER SPICES
  • ¼th tsp asafoetida
  • 1 tsp grated ginger, densely packed
  • 1½ tsp turmeric
  • 1½ tsp cayenne (OR 1 fresh hot chilli halved lengthwise)
  • 1½ tsp unripe mango powder (look/ask for amchur in any Indian/South Asian shop, do not replace with mango!)
  • 2 Tbsp Garam Masala (or Make your own)
Instructions
  1. Put the soaked chickpeas to cook for 1h30 on medium heat in a regular pot (without a lid) or ~20 minutes in a pressure cooker. Do not stir them. They should be very soft and melt in the mouth when you press them with your tongue. Don't put too much water, ideally you wouldn't need to strain them later.
  2. Put some brown rice to cook as well to go with the Chana Masala later.
  3. Chop the coriander finely.
  4. Prepare the Garam Masala.
  5. Cut the onions finely. To save time, I use a mandoline to slice them, and a chopper (or a knife). Set aside.
  6. If you're using fresh tomatoes, grate them now to a purée. Set aside.
  7. Grate the ginger
  8. On low to medium heat, roast the spices "for roasting" for a few minutes. To prevent burning the the small/thin spices/herbs, put the biggest items first until roasted, then add the the smaller ones, so in this order: Cinnamon, cardamom, then bay leaves & cumin. Stir well, whenever it starts being fragrant and slightly smoking, add the onion immediately.
  9. Set the heat to the maximum and keep stirring the onions "dry". They will give off a lot of steam and start caramelizing.
  10. When the bottom of your pot starts being brown, reduce the heat to medium.
  11. Add either the grated tomatoes, or the tomato paste + ~1 litre of water.
  12. Add the "other spices" and the coriander, stir well and let cook for ~20 minutes. Stir now and then to prevent sticking at the bottom. Turn off the heat when the sauce is rather thick.
  13. Mix gently with the chickpeas. Enjoy!
Notes
Garnish with fresh coriander and slices of purple onion.
Serve either on rice or as a side with chapati (Indian wholemeal flatbread).

 

Banana & Blueberry Walnut Cake – Unprocessed – Extracted-Sugar-Free

banana-blueberry-cake-closeup-610
The last banana/walnut cake I had eaten was been pretty delicious, but unfortunately I found out it had some maple syrup and coconut oil, and was risen using baking powder. This means extracted sugar, fat and an artificial salt. That was too bad! But…on the good side, it was based on whole oats and bananas. That kept me pretty excited to make an irreproachably clean one since that day, and at long last, I did! See above!

“But…walnuts?”
We had walnuts (and others nuts) in the pantry that we have been barely touching since learning about how nuts are actually not all that great for health despite their being “whole-food fats”, especially when they’re so easy to abuse. It was a matter of time until we’d figure out ways to finish our stock in a way that wouldn’t be detrimental to our health…you know…like a raw cake! I can’t think of a better use for walnuts than in this cake. Even as little as 50g in one whole cake loaf makes a gorgeous difference. Trust me, you will feel the walnut taste! It’s wonderful without too.

muffin_inside_610“Rising a cake without baking powder nor baking soda?”
Yes Ma’am, Yes Sir!
How to use the walnuts being sorted out, I still had to figure out the right good dough consistency to improve on my previously tacky/goey cakes, and tadaaa…

Yeast just works. You just need to embrace a different relationship to time, and opt-out from instant-everything…Spend some quality time with your loved ones, or enjoy a long hot bath with your favourite music, while this beauty takes its time to rise.

Also, leave the sponge cake expectations in the dungeon, along with refined flours and artificial rising agents (mineral salts) it requires…Those are not food. Yeast is food that can rise other food.
Be thankful for that and make the best of it.

So here is a beautiful cake that uses only whole foods for sweetness, no oil, nor any artificial or sodium-containing ingredients.
This is as unprocessed as it gets folks…and I intend to keep it that way!

Banana & Blueberry Walnut Cake – Unprocessed – Extracted-Sugar-Free
 
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Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole-food, plant-based, no oil, sweetness from whole fruit, no salt
Serves: 1 loaf cake
Ingredients
  • 3 cups of wholegrain rolled oats (300g)
  • ½ cups chickpea flour or besan (40g) – relax, it doesn't give a chickpea taste 🙂
  • 3 tsp instant yeast (or 4 tsp of activated dried yeast, activated in as little water as possible)
  • 5 very ripe bananas (600g of banana flesh)
  • 1 + ½ cups frozen blueberries (180g) optional)
  • ⅓ cup walnuts (50g)
  • Sweet spices to taste (optional, I used 1 tsp of a mix of ground star anise and cinnamon that was sitting around)
  • For sweetening: 1 cup of currants.
Instructions
  1. Blend the rolled oats into a flour. Pour in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add chickpea flour, spices and instant yeast (if you're using that) and combine well.
  3. Peel and mash your bananas with your clean hands.
  4. Use some of the banana mash in the blender with ½ cup of currants and blend, add more banana mash if it's too dry.
  5. Pour back in the mixing bowl, if you're using activated dried yeast add it now, and mix with hands until you get a uniform dough.
  6. Add the frozen blueberries, the other ½ cup of currants (whole), and the walnuts and mix another couple of minutes to incorporate them nicely.
  7. Line your loaf tin with baking sheet, pour batter and let sit until it doubles volume. This will most definitely more than an hour because the frozen blueberries will keep the batter cold for a while, which prevents the yeast from making babies and bubbles. You might be able to save time by thawing first, the blueberries might get mashed and look messier.
  8. When the dough has risen, pre-heat oven at 180°C (360 °F) and bake for about 40 minutes. Use a knife or toothpick, when the cake is done baking, there will be some streaks almost transparent. It it comes out full of whitish dough it needs more baking.
  9. Let cool and enjoy.
Notes
If you are recovering cardiovascular disease or allergic to nuts, just skip the walnuts. I put blueberries and sweet spices so that it still remains exciting without walnuts.
We've had this plain and with our whole-food lemon and orange marmalades. It's delicious!
Finally, this works as a muffin batter too.

 

Orange Marmalade – Sweet – Whole Foods (Extracted-Sugar-Free)

orange_marmalde_610
Growing up, orange marmalade was never really my thing. It was that strange stuff from Brit cuisine, that looks really good, but tastes unbearably bitter. Such a shame when that was the only jam in the fridge.

But like all things, try it long enough and you develop a liking for it. I’ve learned to love marmalade, so much so that since going whole-food plant-based, I’ve actually missed the pleasure of some of the jams I was much, much, addicted to.

But here’s another problem solved now: Sweet jams/preserves can be made with sweet fruits or sweet dried fruits.

cake-with-marmalade_610
This is a sequel to my Black Lemon Marmalade, which used currants as a sweet base and gave an unusual appearance for a marmalade, along with a taste to die for. I was curious what fresh green seedless grapes can do. The answer is: wonders!

The recipe below makes a sweet marmalade. It is appreciably sweet but do not expect something as outrageously sweet as commercial marmalades that barely have any fruit to them and are basically flavoured pure sugar. This recipe is also barely bitter at all, which should make marmalade far more interesting to most people. But if you love a bitter marmalade I’m not letting you down either (See Notes in the recipe).

Spread that citrusy deliciousness on anything you fancy, cakes, scones, or a healthy bread like my whole-food bread here.

Orange Marmalade – Sweet – Whole Foods (Extracted-Sugar-Free)
 
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Who needs sugar when you have grapes? Here's a pleasantly-sweet and non-bitter marmalade recipe, that used whole fresh fruits, and nothing else, particularly no extracted nor processed sugar of any kind. Now you can enjoy marmalade again.
Author:
Recipe type: low-fat whole-food plant-based
Cuisine: International
Serves: 200~250g
Ingredients
  • 500g seedless green grapes, blended
  • 1 orange, washed
  • 1 lemon
Instructions
  1. Peel the orange and lemon. There are some ways to do that nicely using a knife, look it up. We will not use the lemon peel.
  2. Cut the peeled orange and lemon in half, remove seeds. You can cut in slices and aim that towards a light to see through if you left any seeds behind.
  3. Blend the orange, lemon, and grapes.
  4. Cut the orange peel in thin strips.
  5. Put everything in a pot on medium heat until it reduces and starts to bubble like caramel.
  6. Cover and keep on very low heat for 2 to 3 hours mixing regularly every 15 to 30 minutes to prevent burning at the bottom of the pot.
  7. Let cool and keep in a clean closed container.
Notes
Should keep at least for 1~2 weeks in the fridge, if you can resist it that long! I have not yet tried the whole sterilizing thing and keeping long-term out of the fridge, but I will eventually.
For a more bitter taste, sub some orange peel/flesh for grapefruit, or some of the peel for lemon peel.

 

Caramelising Onions Without any Oil or Fat – Method #2

If you are looking for a quick short but detailed recipe on a gold platter, wrong house, sorry. You can stay, please do by all means, but I warn: I try more and more to empower people’s sense of self-determination: thinking, finding, deciding things for themselves. You might think “Yeah I love that!”, sure. What that also means is no more detailed “straight-to-the-point” recipes for you, because that falls under spoon-feeding. Okay…maybe I will still write recipes, but that’s not what I want to do here.

This article will display one instance of the process of problem solving. Although you will find cues to make it yourself if you search or try, my point here is to write an article about food innovation, problem solving and advocacy.

A recipe is always the final result of some exploration. It’s the exploration I want to share, and want you to experience for yourself, more than just telling what I found. In other words, life is sculpting, not the sculpture. The relationship I’m comfortable having with you is one where you allow me to respect your potential, intellect, curiosity and sense of self-determination.

There are two ways of solving problems creatively: incrementally, and with a leap.

Incrementally, to solve the problem of caramelising onions without oil, you’d replace oil by added water. One increment further, you would try with no water at all and count on the water in the onions or whatever veggie you are “stir-frying”.

It works, but an avid user of onions, this method gave me some challenges after doing a lot of it: it took too much active time for my liking, involved a lot of stirring and adding water. The result is amazing caramelised onions, but I wondered “Can we do better?”.

Also, I had been chatting with restaurant owners that simply explained to me that oil is used primarily for convenience more than taste. After all, oil is capable of heating up to about 200°C, and because it’s liquid, that “liquid pan” can get anywhere on and in the food and help cook it faster. Recipes talking about caramelising onions typically take about 5 to 10 minutes. So OK, cooks want to get meals ready fast for their hungry customers I totally get that. Now “Can I find something that gives them that convenience and taste, AND at the same time, does not use oil and therefore results in the low-fat foods that prevent the much unnecessary heart disease?

Thinking a bit less incrementally lead to method #2. Now we’re getting the same thing, not doing the same thing.

My strategy was the following, really just using common sense, and more importantly, acting on it. One action leads to a question, that question leads to another action, and so on until you find a way. It pays off almost every single time, not in one try, but overall.

This is how I posed the problem of solving bulk onion caramelizing.

Hypothesises:

  1. People like onions caramelised, We must give them onions caramelised.
  2. The method must not include added fat of any kind
  3. The process must be simple, convenient, easy.

Some question were inescapable:

“Why do caramelised onions taste like caramelised onions?”
Answer: Because they are caramelised?

“What exactly does “caramelising” mean anyway?”
When sugars (not just the extracted/processed ones, even those in whole foods) are exposed to certain temperatures, for certain amounts of time, eventually caramelisation takes place. It changes the way the sugars naturally present in food taste.

“Oh ok…so what are these temperatures then?”
Well since it’s oil we’re trying to replace, how hot does the oil get when it touches the food we caramelise? I ask you, I know the answer. Do search it you will need it to solve a puzzle later.

Now that you have this number in mind, be ready for an epiphany:  solving this puzzle. should give you a wonderful idea.

The result of that idea is this :

_20160724_160711_-CARAMELIZED-ONIONS_-610

CARAMELIZED-ONION_610
“Uh…baked onions already exist, aren’t you re-inventing the wheel?”
True. Baked onions exist. I found out only after, and actually I’m glad I didn’t know about them, it could have held me back, it’s easy *not* to transcend the things we know exist.
Blank sheet of paper, let’s go!
I worked towards something that already exists, putting onions in an oven, whole. Sure…

The novelty here, if any, is not to use this process not to make an oil-free version of baked onions, but as a means to mass produce oil-free caramelized onion. That’s relevant.

In fact, I am happy baked onions already exist! Because if the concept is known to people, I can use that to introduce “baked onions”, only oil-free + as an *ingredient* for anything that needs caramelised onions!

I’d care little even if someone “invented” that use before me (wouldn’t be surprised + don’t care). What I do care about is that things like this *be used* to make people’s lives better. It does not matter who invents what solution. There are more solutions already available than people willing to search and implement them. In order to do some good justice to these solutions, we can’t tell people “just do this, trust me, it will solve your problem”. if a solution was found by thinking for ourselves, that’s the spirit that needs to be spread, not just the solution itself. A lot of the problems we seek to help others solve exist primarily because people are used to spoon-feeding in the first place. Spoon-feeding is what allowed for instance the meat and dairy industry to shove their hazardous products in people’s mouths along with the beliefs that it’s good for us.
The same way you don’t solve violence with violence, you don’t solve the ill-intended spoon-feeding with well-meaning spoon-feeding. Spoon-feeding in itself, is the root problem.
Also, it’s not enough to generate solutions and be critical enough to be able to discriminate the good from the bad ones, we need to individually research solutions, create solutions and most importantly share solutions.

As you can see I intentionally take time to lay down in great detail one “textbook case” of the process that led me to this way of mass-producing caramelized onions and therefore solving an important problem I was facing.

I did not give you the two-line recipe, because I care more about the readers learning to use fully their same brain as mine, in ways that find solutions to their problems. If I can do it, surely anyone can.

“Isn’t oven-caramelising onions a big waste of electric energy?
Well, relatively? Short answer is “No, far from it!”
A regular oven first comfortably one to two trays, at ~15 medium onions per tray. That’s roughly one to two hours (likely, cooking time increases with quantity) for 15 to 30 caramelised onions.
Prior to that I had spent 20 minutes, on medium heat. Slaving over that pot as well, so that was 20 minutes of *my time* too.
Do the maths. My guesstimation right now favours, a lower financial cost than with oil (medical costs included) and all oil-free methods compared: definitely less active human time, and quite possibly less processing energy (electricity, gas, etc). Any objections? Anyone got better? If you have either, please do share. I will be the first trying, using it, and telling people about it!

“I am not much of a reader, and I just realised I had to go through all of this article when you could have just said – Whole onions in oven caramelize – 5 words, boom!”
Again, wrong address, sorry. If it takes a slow reader 15 minutes to read this, I had to go through many, many hours of caramelizing small amounts of onions with sub-optimal, slave-over-the-pot, non-scalable methods, until I got to this. The best possible solutions to complex problems are virtually always of a humiliatingly simple nature. In hindsight it’s always trivial. But this is the truth: complicated incremental solutions can already be difficult to find and require some creativity. Finding simple solutions is actually far more difficult, you will see when you try if you haven’t tried already. And what’s even more difficult than this, is teaching that kind of problem solving, instead of teaching the solutions.

Low-fat Mayo, Aioli and Dips – Oil-free, Whole foods, Vegan

Traditionally mayos and aiolis rely heavily on loads of fat and animal protein.
A double punishment right from the start, only made worse by the fact that these dips serve to lubricate typically deep-fried “foods” like fries and wedges, a guaranteed stroke served on a golden platter.

Well…Good News! The experience of hot delicious, potato wedges dipped much generously in a delicious creamy aioli can be enjoyed not just in its vegan version, but also with hardly any fat at all – whether from oil, or from nuts!

GREEN BANANA AIOLI_610
So what’s the secret? Blend cooked starches! and I’ve been on a quest for good candidates in unexpected places!

Green bananas (as in unripe regular banana) are amazing bases for so many things. I used them for Ghanaian dishes as a plantain substitute for Kelewele and in Red-Red.
They’re quite bland, mildly sweet. Be reassured right away, they do not taste like banana at all. That’s precisely why they’re amazing. Both taste and texture are amazingly versatile.

This time around, I blended them, with a bit of roasted garlic flakes, some apple cider vinegar and a small amount of (optional) cashew nuts. Amazing low-fat aioli!

Make a good round of delicious, oil-free, nicely seasoned, potato wedges and enjoy!

Low-Fat Aioli – Oil-free, Whole Foods, Vegan
 
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LOW-FAT AIOLI, makes 1 half-cup ++, enough for two people to dip a large round of parboiled+oven-baked, oil-free, potato wedges!
Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole-food plant nutrition, vegan, oil-free, sugar-free, salt-free
Cuisine: Western
Serves: 1 half-cup, enough for 2 people on potato wedges.
Ingredients
  • 1 green banana (not yellow!), cooked "Samoan-style" that is boiled whole (in its skin) for 30 minutes, drained, cooled, and peeled. Batch boil in a big pot to use for other things.
  • 1~2 tbsp dehydrated garlic flakes (not the fried ones), dry-roasted in a pan on low until golden/brown.
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lime/lemon juice ( or better with its flesh, not peel, lime peel is super bitter!)
  • Just enough water to blend.
  • Optional: 1 tbsp cashew nuts (7g), soaked. Must be skipped if you're recovering from any cardiovascular disease.
Instructions
  1. Blend
  2. Indulge
Notes
Play around with other flavours to make other exciting dips, mayos, bechamel sauces, etc: onion flakes, mustard seeds, chilli, lemon peel, etc...whatever health-promoting food makes your taste buds happy 🙂 Let loose the wild creative animal that you are!

[Recipe] Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough – Oil-free – Unprocessed

pizza_610_WHOLEFOOD copyThis recipe was inspired from vegrecipesofindia‘s Whole Wheat Veg Pizza. I like that they used whole flour and baker’s yeast for a start. We adjusted it to remove/replace the processed ingredients (oil, sugar, salt) for improved health.

We have no issue with digesting wheat but some of our friends seriously do. So if you know a good gluten-free pizza dough that I could unprocess/wholefoodize I’m happy giving it a go => Comment or Contact.

[Recipe] Whole-grain Pizza Dough – Low-fat – Unprocessed
 
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Simple and easy recipe, lovely base for a low-fat whole-foods unprocessed pizza! This yields two oven-tray-sized pizzas. I like to understand what I'm doing instead of robotically follow recipes by the gram. So I infused a lot of rules and verifications methods in this recipe, so that people can pick up a different way of preparing food which uses your senses and intuition instead of scales and measurement spoons.
Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole foods, plant-based, vegan, oil-free, sugar-free, salt-free
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 2 oven-tray-sized pizzas
Ingredients
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour (360 g) because it's enough for two pizzas.
  • 1 to 1.25 cups water or add as required (230 mL to 290 mL)
  • 2 teaspoons of active dried yeast or (1.5 tsp instant yeast)
  • 2 tbsp prune paste (blend junk-free pitted prunes + just enough water for them to blend into a paste)
  • There are tricks to put up virtually any bread you want without needing a detailed recipe like this one, see the Notes.
Instructions
  1. Warm up ½ cup of water to hot bath temperature (40~45°C), add a bit of flour (1 tsp or so) and the yeast and stir (See Notes).
  2. While the yeast is busy making babies, get busy chopping your pizza toppings or preparing the sauce.
  3. After 10~15 minutes, yeast should start to bubble, it means...it's aliiiive! Stir generously.
  4. I put all the flour I am going to use on a flat clean kitchen top, make a whole in the middle, and pour the liquids progressively in the middle and incorporate more and more of the surrounding flour. Start with yeast of course, then progressively (in two or 3 rounds no more) incorporate more and more warm water and the prune paste until you fold in all the flour.
  5. Texture of the dough should be soft enough that it doesn't crack or resist a lot to kneading, but not so watery that it will stick to your fingers and drive you mad. The dough shouldn't stick to your table.
  6. Knead for 5 to 10 minutes, no more (that's my favourite part!)
  7. Cover in an air-tight fashion in some recipient and let rise 1 to 2 hours in warm place if possible. If your oven has a warming drawer (~40°C) use it to save rising time.
  8. In the meantime, make sure tomato sauce and toppings are ready, because once the dough is ready and the oven pre-heated, it will be too late to start cutting stuff up.
  9. When dough has risen, set your oven at 200~220°C to pre-heat for about 10~15 minutes.
  10. Divide dough in two, on a baking sheet roll with a pin into whatever pizza shape you want (we make them square use all of the oven tray's surface).
  11. Lay your thick tomato sauce and toppings.
  12. Bake in a minimally-disturbed oven at the same temp. (200~220°C) for 20 min for one pizza at a time, or until your topping are all cooked and before the bottom of the pizza crust gets brown or tacky.
Notes
Activating the yeast
I like to sit my warm cups of activating yeast in a bowl of warm water (also hot bath temperature) so the yeast doesn't cool down. Leave 10 to 15 minutes, it should start.
I also like to use either spring water or pre-boiled tap water, to remove the chlorine, which may slow down the yeast.

Make-dough without a recipe
I could summarize this recipe to one number, and that is "3", which is just how many cups of flour is needed. Everything else you can easily figure out and the basic process is always the same for all breads. For most breads, water content is almost always 60~70% (rule of thumb: a bit more than half) of the weight of the flour, yeast content always about 7~8 tsp active dried yeast per kg whole-grain flour (I prefer to remember 5 tsp per 600g because I often use 600g)
Prune paste serves as a moisture-holder, one of many unprocessed moisture-holding alternatives to oil, along with date paste or applesauce. The precise amount doesn't seem to matter too much, it won't taste like prunes, so just make sure to have and use some.

Whole foods FAQ – Why whole-food plant-based? Why no oil, no salt or no sugar?

This is a list of frequently asked questions regarding whole-food plant nutrition and the health benefits that are associated. For each question/topic, a series of educational resources are provided, mostly in video format.

Contents:

  1. What are whole foods?!
  2. Why low-fat whole-food plant nutrition?
    (more commonly known as “whole-food plant-based” or WFPB)
  3. Why low-fat and no oil?
  4. Why no sugar?
  5. Why no salt?

1) What is a whole food and what is not?

As the name indicates, a food that is whole or integral.
Whole foods means edible foods in their whole, or natural, or recognizable form, that have not (or minimally) been refined, transformed, processed, or extracted.
Why the distinction is tremendously important from a health standpoint will be explained in later sections.

Examples:

  • A sunflower seed is a whole food, and sunflower oil pressed from the sunflower seeds and heavily refined is not a whole food. The high fat content is a concern too.
  • A beetroot is a whole food, and the sugar extracted and refined from beetroot is not a whole food.
  • Corn seeds from a corn cob are a whole food, but high-fructose corn syrup and corn starch are heavily processed extracts so those are not whole foods.
  • Whole-meal wheat flour directly obtained from grinding whole wheat grains is whole-food, but wheat bran or white flour because they use only part of the wheat seed are not whole foods.

Ok, now that you get it. Why is the distinction important? Excellent question! That’s all below. You will understand when you watch the fundamentals in Part 2.

2) Basic knowledge about low-fat whole food plant nutrition

Documentary Forks over Knives, sorry for this one I only have the trailer, you’ll have to check your Netflix, look for DVD at your library, or rent it on Amazon Prime or other Video-on-demand websites.
This an absolute must-watch.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7ijukNzlUg

Documentary Planeat

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCresEvQ_jM

Documentary Plant-pure Nation
Full video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llQ7V9Jv5a0

3) Why “no oil” in whole-food?

Any oil is a processed food, squeezed out of a high-fat whole-food (avocado, nuts, olives, soy beans) or the high-fat part of a whole food (rice bran, etc). Of all processed foods, oil (and other pure or extracted fats) are of particularly major concern. Oil is not only empty calories (no nutrition) and high in calories (contributing to overweight, obesity and metabolic disease), but the main concern it is that all oils and extracted fats are pro-actively harmful in the human body in many ways.

All oil? Yes. Even olive, coconut, canola or <you name it> oil? Yes. Even just “a little bit”? Yes. Are you sure? Yes, absolutely, this has been known to genuine science for decades.

How is oil harmful? Besides turning potentially healthy plant-based dishes into an undesirably high-fat meal, all oils cause inflammation in the arteries. Oil leads to stiff arteries (arteries are supposed to dilate nicely when needed). The build-up of plaque  gradually clogs arteries and blood vessels. This process actually starts in the womb of mothers eating a high-fat, oil-and-animal-containing diet. By age 10 many kids in modern societies show early signs of cardiovascular disease.
Oil harms blood flow in a number of ways.
1) Healthy arteries expand when needed to increase blood flow, arteries on oil and fat are stiff and therefore thin, not helping to increase blood flow 2) Unhealthy arteries don’t allow blood to glide fast over their inner surface, imagine driving on an uneven road full of with pot holes and speed bumps 3) On top of that, our blood after a high-fat meal becomes thick and sludgy until the next meal. 4) In the long run of doing that, arteries get clogged, passage becomes narrow.

Result?
Sludgy blood, sticking to artery walls, in stiff/thin arteries, that become even thinner overtime because of plaque blockage.

Vital things like oxygen, white blood cells (immune system), blood glucose (energy),  protein and virtually all nutrients flow ridiculously slowly and don’t get where they need to be nearly as fast and efficiently as they normally should.

This state of poor cardiovascular health manifests day to day through fatigue, poor physical performance, erectile dysfunction and poor vaginal lubrication in women, poor libido in both men and women, poor recovery after exercise, poor mental state, reduced cognitive performance etc.

In the longer run, plaque build-up causes heart attacks and strokes. This kills 1 in 3 Kiwis, when not suddenly, often after decades of meds, a stunted lifestyle and the depression that goes with it. Plaque build-up also contributes greatly to the onset of dementia where various parts of the brain stop receiving proper blood flow. Additionally, oils throw out of balance the quantity and ratios of omega-3 vs. omega 6 fats we’re supposed to eat. All plant foods which you don’t suspect to have fats in them (oats, kale, kumara, etc) have more than enough healthy fats, enough of (the anti-inflammatory – good) omega-3, and not too much of the “harmful” (pro-inflammatory – bad) omega-6. Supplementing with omega-3 oil or fish oil is not only unnecessary, but there’s evidence suggesting it may be harmful.
I hope by now it’s clear that “heart-healthy oils” is as rare as a “fun heart attack” or a “real unicorn.” In other words, there is no such thing.
The good news are, this can be avoided easily with well-planned low-fat, whole food plant-based nutrition. This eliminates oil since it’s about foods that are whole (unprocessed).

There is an abundant life away from oil, it’s easy and fun to discover how to prepare food without oil…You’ll notice the difference in terms of how you feel after eating…and the bonus is: oil-free kitchens are so much easier/faster to clean!

Make Yourself Heart Attack Proof – Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD
Full-video (ENG): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYTf0z_zVs0

http://nutritionstudies.org/essential-facts-fats/
http://nutritionstudies.org/fat-plant-based-diets/

4) Why is sugar

What we’ll agree to call “sugar” is the processed sweetening  product resulting from the extraction of a sweet liquid from a whole plant. With animal foods this would include honey. In spite of confusing efforts to distinguish between “refined sugars” and other sugars, it’s important to keep in mind that all extracted sugar, is processed sugarall leading to similar problems whether it’s maple, agave, syrups, coconut sugar, molasses, raw/brown sugar or the good old white sugar. There are more than 60 different names for different sugars. What’s the issue with all these sugars?
Like with oil, it’s not only empty calories (no or poor nutrition) and high in calories (contributing to overweight and obesity), but the main concern is that extracted sugars are actively harmful to health in a variety of ways. Although sugar is perceived by the general public as the main culprit for chronic illness, it is in fact the animal products, high-fat diets and oil really are the top offenders. This said, sugar is still of concern, these are ways in which sugar is harmful:

  • Acts exactly like a drug on the brain: sending dopamine (reward system) into overdrive, leading to sugar addiction, increased sugar tolerance and cravings.
  • Negatively impacts mood: manic state on a sugar high, hypoglycaemic (overly alert irritable) on a sugar low.
  • Disturbs blood sugar control.
  • Inhibits the immune system for hours
  • Promotes liver toxicity (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – “human foie-gras”)
  • Damages arteries (endothelial cells) and contributes to elevating triglycerides.
  • Promotes pathogenic flora (i.e. candida)
  • Harmful to dental health, contributes to cavities.
  • Empty calories (no or irrelevant nutrition), high caloric density, may contribute to overweight, obesity or difficulty losing weight.
  • Hypoglycaemia during sleep may disturb sleep

Documentary Sugar: The Bitter Truth
Full-video (ENG): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

If Fructose is Bad, What About Fruit? (5-min video)
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/if-fructose-is-bad-what-about-fruit/

While zero extracted sugar is ideal and should be aimed to for those who feel they can do it, for others it may be a bit daunting and a small sugar tolerance. The World Health Organisation (WHO) set a limit of not more than 5% of calories coming from these extracted sugars. This is about 3~6 teaspoons for women and up to 9 for men. Dr. McDougall is a bit more cautious, suggesting a maximum limit of 1 teaspoon per meal to help add flavour/appeal to healthy starchy foods. Sweetness is an important part of flavour, foods that taste good are vital to the adherence to a way of eating. My personal proposal is that sweetness is easily achieved whole or blended sweet fruits, either fresh or dry: examples, dates and currants, and desserts/baked goods bananas or blended (not juiced) sweet grapes.

5) Why “no salt” in whole-food?

Salt promotes increases blood pressure (hypertension) in many people. It may cause inflammation in the blood vessels in all people. More of concern, it worsens autoimmune diseases. Salt also conduces to water retention and dehydration. Dehydration in turn causes the blood to thicken and reduces cardiac output (sub-optimal cardiovascular function and cardiovascular risk factors). Calcium is also better retained on a low-salt diet (WHO).

“What about Celtic,  Himalayan or <your name it> salt?” Same deal, same problematic main molecule: sodium chloride.

IMPORTANT: For most people feeling healthy and with no known autoimmune disease, a focus eating unprocessed plant foods (no oil nor animal products) should be by far the top priority, before spending too much focus on salt reduction or elimination.

There is sufficient sodium in a whole-foods plant-based diets, ideal salt/added sodium consumption is zero.

While many people are capable of achieving this, for other people, a low-sodium intake will feel more sustainable. The WHO sets a maximum limit of 1,500 mg of sodium a day, which is about one half 1/2 tsp salt per day (one half of a teaspoon per day). Some health conditions (i.e. kidney disease) may require a lower limit.

If salt is used, the best way to use it is: 1) taste the food first 2) and if salt is needed sprinkle your iodised salt on top of the food. Avoid pre-mixing salt during food preparation.

Within weeks of consuming a low-salt or salt-free diet, taste buds adapt and develop a preference for these foods and an aversion/dislike for what used to be “normal” salt levels. Some weight loss may be experienced (peeing out the retained water).

For athletes and other people sweating a lot, adaptations happen when switching to a low-salt or salt-free diet to retain sodium more effectively. A progressive reduction/elimination may be wise.
There exist 100% salt-free very physically active populations that have been studied. They display outstandingly healthy blood pressure patterns and no sign of a sodium deficiency.

Cool bonuses: No more gross white marks on dark-colored shirts & t-shirts after you break a sweat in them.

High Blood Pressure May Be a Choice (5-min video)
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/high-blood-pressure-may-be-a-choice/

The Evidence That Salt Raises Blood Pressure (5-min video)
https://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-evidence-that-salt-raises-blood-pressure/

Manufactured controversy over Salt #1 (5-min video)
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/sprinkling-doubt-taking-sodium-skeptics-with-a-pinch-of-salt/

Manufactured controversy over Salt #2 (5-min video)
https://nutritionfacts.org/video/dietary-guidelines-with-a-grain-of-big-salt/

Cardiovascular damage caused by salt besides hypertension
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/sodium-and-arterial-function-a-salting-our-endothelium/