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.

List of Low-Fat WFPB SOS-free Recipes

This page is a WORK IN PROGRESS. It is a bit messy here and there but can be used right away already until further improved/optimised.

Update info:

Dec 15th: Added recipes (+ ~20) + easier navigation.
Dec 6, 2016: Loaded and provided comments to wholefoodise and make SOS-free a large proportion of the recipes on the PlantPlate website.

Summary

Breakfast / Teatime
Lunch and Dinner

Salads
Salad dressings
Soups

Appetizers
Sauce,  dips and spreads
Desserts
Snacks
WFPB no-SOS Food Classification Explained

 

Breakfast / Teatime

Savoury Breakfast

Curried Chickpea and Millet Croquettes – 45 min (prep: 10 min, cooking: 30 min)
Optional: Veggie stock optional (you can use water instead and add slightly more of the strong-flavoured ingredients).

Sweet breakfast

Easy Overnight Oats – 5 min
Must: Use water instead of plant milk. The oats will release their own oat milk if you stir a bit.
Note: An instant version (not overnight) can me made with “shredded” rolled oats.

Cranberry Spice Granola
Must: Skip seeds if recovering cardiovascular disease. Use a date mash/blend instead of maple or date syrup. Instead of cranberries a dried fruit that is not processed nor with sugar added (dates, raisins, currants, figs, apricots etc).
Preferable: Skip nutmeg.

Baked Goods

Heads-up: Although baked good being ground are preferable as occasional treat or had in a small amount, not as a meal.

Banana & Blueberry Walnut Cake – 50 minutes (+~1h dough rising)

Scrumptious Hot Cross Buns– 3h10min total – 1 hour of work

Lunch & Dinner

3 Bean Mole –  45 minuts
Must: Mash a few sweet dried fruits instead of maple syrup, use real tomatoes and reduce water or use very-low-sodium tomato paste.
Preferable: prefer home-cooked beans to cans, prefer paprika to smoked paprika.
Optional: Veggie stock optional (you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients).

7 Minute Soup – 10 minutes
Optional: Veggie stock optional (you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients).

Adzuki Bean Stew – 40 minutes
Must: Use real tomatoes and reduce water or use very-low-sodium concentrated tomato paste. Preferred/Optional: Veggie stock optional (you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients).

Artichoke Tapenade – 5 minutes
Must: Not use tahini if recovering cardiovascular disease. Preferred/Optional: Steam/boil artichokes instead of relying on cans.

Baked Butternut and Mushroom Risotto – 1h10min
Optional: Veggie stock optional (you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients). Preferred: Nutritional yeast is best left out (free glutamic acid is MSG-like).

Biryani – 1h20min
This recipe is plant-perfect as it is.

Braised Leeks and Peas – 25 minutes
Optional: Veggie stock optional (you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients). Preferred: Nutritional yeast is best left out (free glutamic acid may act like MSG). Instead of the commercial plant-milk, blend your own oats to make a thin whole-food milk if recovering heart disease, or almonds otherwise.

Buckwheat and Roasted Vegetable Medley – 25 minutes
Must: Not use sunflower seeds if recovering a cardiovascular disease. Mash a few sweet dried fruits instead of maple/date syrup. Optional: Veggie stock optional (you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients).

Buckwheat, Pea and Mushroom Pilaf – 40 minutes
Must: Make sure the curry powder is salt-free. Optional: Veggie stock optional (you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients).

Cauliflower Dal – 50 minutes
Preferred: Cut your own fresh whole tomatoes instead of relying on cans. Optional: Veggie stock optional (you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients).

Youcef’s Moroccan Sweet & Savoury Tagine– 2 hours – 8~10 meals (prep: 1 h – cooking 1 h)

Khadija’s Moroccan Couscous – 1 h 20 – 7 meals (prep: 20 min – cooking: 1 h)

Khadija’s Moroccan Lentils – 1 h 20 – 4 meals (prep:20 min – cooking 1 h)

Pizza:

Burgers & Sandwiches:

Easy Oven Fries
Preferred: Use regular paprika instead of paprika. Use the dips listed in the present article.

Eggplant Stuffed with Moroccan-Spiced Millet – 1h (p:10 + c:50)
Must: Use a salt-free vegetable stock, or water in which case you might want to add just a bit more of your favourite strong-flavoured ingredients in the recipe.

Healthy Hummus – 10 minutes
Must: Skip tahini if you are recovering from cardiovascular disease. Skip soy yogurt as an alternative. If using paprika, use regular paprika instead of smoked paprika.
Preferable: Prefer home-cooked beans to cans even if they’re salt-free.

Salads

Carrot, Beet and Chickpea Salad – 15 minutes
Preferred: Prefer home-cooked beans to cans even if they’re salt-free.

Balsamic-Roasted Butternut and Chickpea Salad – 30 minutes
Preferred: Prefer home-cooked beans to cans even if they’re salt-free.

Hearty Bean Salad – 10 minutes
Must: Not use avocado seeds if recovering a cardiovascular disease. Seed out and blend the lemon/lime instead of juicing them. Not use salt.
Preferred
: Prefer home-cooked beans to cans even if they’re salt-free.

Millet and Black Bean Salad– 40 minutes
Must: Replace the rice/maple syrup by mashed/blended sweet dried fruit.
Preferred: Prefer home-cooked beans to cans even if they’re salt-free.

Spring Herb Potato Salad – 40 minutes
Must: Not use mustard if recovering cardiovascular disease. Replace silken tofu by a whole food, like this mayo-ish dressing. Use seeded out and blended lemon instead of juice. Use a paste of sweet dried fruit instead of rice syrup and instead any other sweetener.

Vietnamese Vermicelli Salad – 25 minutes
Must: Not use sesame seeds if with or recovering advanced cardiovascular disease (high-fat). Not use white vermicelli if you don’t find brown rice vermicelli. Not use tamari nor soy sauce (high-salt). Use a paste/blend of sweet dried fruit instead of rice syrup and instead any other sweetener (whole food). Blend seeded lime flesh instead of juicing it (whole food).

Salad dressings

Orange-Balsamic Vinaigrette – 25 minutes
Must: Seed out and blend the oranges instead of juicing them.

Mayo/Aioli-like Dressing – 45 minutes

Soups

Carrot, Orange and Ginger Soup – 55 minutes
Must: not use miso (high-salt), blend the orange instead of juicing it. Optional: Veggie stock optional (you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients).

Creamy Zucchini Pasta – 30 minutes
Must: Not use sunflower butter or sesame seeds if with or recovering advanced cardiovascular disease (high-fat), a lower-fat creamy effect can be obtained with the nut-free version of this sauce.
Preferable: to replace plant milk by water especially using the creamy sauce suggested above. Nutritional yeast is best not used (free glutamic acid is MSG-like). Optional: Veggie stock optional (you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients).

Chinese Vegetable and Noodle Soup – 30 minutes
Must: Not use anything else than brown rice vermicelli.

Curried Pumpkin and Kale Soup – 45 min (p:15 + c:25)
Must: Use a no-sodium vegetable stock, you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients.

Curried Sweet Potato & Ginger Soup – 55 min (p:20 + c:35)
Must: Skip miso. Use a no-sodium vegetable stock, you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients.

Curried Pumpkin and Kale Soup – 40 min (p:15 + c:25)
Must: Use a no-sodium vegetable stock, you can use water instead and add more strong-flavoured ingredients.
Preferable: Skip nutmeg.

Appetizers

 

Sauces & Dips

Ketchup – 5 minutes
Must: Use a paste/blend of sweet dried fruit instead of rice syrup and instead of any other sweetener (whole food). Use no salt.

Low-fat Mayo-like, Aioli-like dips – 5 min prep – 30 min cooking

Lemon Mustard Dressing – 5 minutes
Must: Not use sesame seeds if recovering with or recovering advanced cardiovascular disease (high-fat). Use a paste/blend of sweet dried fruit instead of rice syrup and instead any other sweetener (whole food).

Chunky Salsa Dip – 25 minutes
Must: Replace the maple/date syrup by mashed/blended sweet dried fruit. Use a salt-free or very low-salt tomato paste, or make your own and reduce it.
Preferred: Use paprika instead of smoked paprika. Prefer home-cooked foods to cans even if they’re salt-free.

Tomato and Pepper Chutney – 35 minutes
Must: Use a paste/blend of sweet dried fruit instead of maple syrup and instead any other sweetener (whole food)

Spreads

Savoury

Moroccan-style Jackfruit Tuna with Spicy Tomato Sauce – 1h
This recipe is potentially plant-perfect. Directions to make WFPB SOS-free in the recipe article.

Sweet

Orange Marmalade – 10 min prep / 3 h cooking

Black Lemon Marmalade – 5 min  prep – 2 h cooking

Desserts

Fresh Fruits.

Nice Cream – 5 minuts
Must: Use water instead of plant milk if needed at all, use real vanilla bean instead of an extracts.

WFPB SOS-free Food Classification

Why is there confusion with what is a “true” whole food?
Why best practice is where I stand?
List of acceptable/non-acceptable low-fat whole foods and exceptions

Why is there confusion with what is a “true” whole food?

There are various degrees of how seriously one can implement a WFPB no-SOS diet. The somewhat subjective word is “whole food” because “processing” a food can mean a lot of thing although we have some good idea what the safest definitions are.

Since whole foods are meant for health, the mother question remains “How likely is that likely is ingredient X or recipe X to be harmful?” or “How likely am I or the people in my house to abuse the wrong products supposed to be had in moderation”.

It’s easier (and sadly more popular) to adopt a loose approach with WFPB, and sadly so many cookbooks do so. I reckon these are of major help and far better than nothing, and I understand that some compromises might appeal more to the general public as a step. In the whole-food and plant-based circles,  we get irritated by the stories/articles of doctors who know eating a plant-based diet would be the best thing for a patient, but they don’t tell them assuming the patient will accept. We all agree, tell the patient, if you the doctor don’t eat this way, and let the patient decide.
Well, likewise, our whole food leaders should not shy away from proposing the best practice, and they know what it is. Whether they practice it or not personally at home, people need to be told and shown best practice and decide for themselves where they want to compromise their health and nutrition, if they want to compromise it at all.

So where do I stand?

My approach is pretty simple:

  1. If what I have on my kitchen counter to start with doesn’t look like the solid foods I would bring back from a garden/field somewhere, it’s probably not a food.
  2. If what ends in my mouth, has lost something in the journey since it was an edible food from the garden, I’ve probably done something I shouldn’t do.
  3. If a beverage isn’t what falls from the clouds and fills the lakes and rivers and ponds all other animals drink from, or that mixed with item #1, it’s probably not a beverage.

Does this sound like common sense ? Yes. Is this is what the healthiest populations we know of actually did? Yes.

In this modern, outsourced, processed world, I am not the type of person that will  recognise something processed (or artificial) as safe by default, and say “there’s no strong enough proof it’s harmful” until the (predictable) day there is. Looking in the past and learn from cumulative personal and collective wisdom, you’ve got to think ahead and not reinvent the square wheel.

This said I’m very aware that if we go 500 years ahead or use an omniscient computer, and look back at the way I eat, in hindsight there are certainly things I exclude which may be irrelevant health-wise. Is it a big deal? No. Why?

For one, I’m already very satisfied eating the way we already eat, real food for really healthy humans.
If logic strongly suggests that something both unnecessary and unnatural, is going to be likely harmful by definition, then I find it not just wiser but also easier to not do any amount of that.
It saves me the self-inflicted torture of “moderation”.
It saves me the harm left behind by of half-measures.
It saves me the million wonders, doubts and guilts when a health problem arises.
It saves me the unspeakable waste of time there is keeping in touch with the fine science of measuring just how harmful are exactly the utterly unnecessary harmful things humans still decide to do or eat.

Alright! We got it…Now shoot the list!

Non-foods:

  • artificial flavourings (vanilla extracts, etc)
  • artificial leavening agents (baking soda, baking powders, etc)
  • salt
  • liquid smoke (smoke in liquid form, hundreds of toxic chemicals, including aromatic hydrocarbons, many of which are known carcinogens).

Common processed foods:

  • tofu in all its forms
  • extracted sugars such as: date syrup, date sugar, rice syrup, coconut sugar, rice syrup, molasses…they may not be empty calories, but a sugar extracted from its natural and usually fiber-rich environnement (tree trunk, coconut stalk, beet root, corn kernel, rice grain…) is not a whole food and should be viewed by default as something inherently very similar to white or refined sugar. What is a whole food is a whole dried fruit for instance.
  • nutritional yeast: Principle of precaution: The glutamic acid is released when the nutritional yeast is deactivated by a heat process, an umami taste appears and that’s due to the same molecule as that in Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), which has been proven harmful).

Tolerated are:

  • Cocoa powder: it is the fibre-rich, lower-fat fraction of the whole cocoa fruit. Not a whole food, best kept to a minimum if had at all (mainly due to the fat), a million times preferable to chocolate which is pure fat and sugar.
  • Vinegars: The whole-food version would be rather unappetising and vinegar has shown some health benefits.
  • Plant milks: They are refined products. Their popularity, omnipresence and liquid aspect makes us forget it’s a highly processed food, not uncommonly comprised of many processed ingredients with relevant amounts of sugar and/or fat. I prefer doing without, and looking for ways to replace them whenever possible.
  • Low-salt or salt-free tomato pastes.

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)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
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.

 

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] Youcef’s Moroccan Tagine – Vegan – Oil-free – Unprocessed

tagine
What’s more Moroccan than tagine? I do not know!

Traditionally tagine (the dish) is prepared in a tagine (the crock pot). Before the use of electricity and gas became mainstream, it was mostly cooked over charcoal/wood. Today in Morocco, many people still use the tagine crock pot but they cook on the stove instead, there are even electric nonstick fancy tagines made in China.

At home, my partner and I cook in batches, we cook in a standard 5L stainless steel pot. We  don’t actually own a tagine pot. Cooking in steel or clay pots, and over a stove or charcoal does change quite a few things, like textures, cooking temperatures, etc. Overall it’s about the same end result.

So here is my invitation. If you go to Morocco, do look for a place that will make you an oil-free and salt-free vegan tagine dish, in a real tagine crock pot (easy), and cooked over charcoal and wood (less common), it’s quite a unique charm. You can even do this at home if you buy a pot and set a fire. If you care to go to that extent, by all means do it, you won’t regret it! Food-wise, that will be the most authentic experience!
Meanwhile what I propose here is an experience of one tagine that is easy to make in the modern kitchen, with a just a standard “large” 5L pot, or even scale up to make in larger amounts.

Also, I say “one” tagine recipe because there are many kinds of tagine. They cover various tastes. Also, traditionally, many are centered on animal meat and fish, unfortunately.

My vegan implementation here is sweet and savoury. I borrowed the prunes and cinnamon from the sweet (often meat-based) tagines, and invited those flavours and textures in the more root-based tagines; those filled with potatoes, carrots, etc.
Also, in terms of whole foods, to stay clear of salt, I replaced preserved lemons by fresh lemons peels. I also completely ditched the commonly used olives that Moroccans love so much. In passing, if salt-free olives (not low-sodium) are something you have sorted out please post it here.

I am very satisfied with this tagine, my bread-and-potato-loving partner regularly begs for it, so I’m guessing it’s good. I like it too. But try for yourself and let me know what you think.

You will need to eat this with Moroccan bread. For that, I have a whole-grain and salt-free recipe which I’ll post and link up whenever I can. For now you can use my recipe for these particularly delicious whole-grain breads.

tagine ingredients

[Recipe] Youcef's Moroccan Tagine – Vegan – Oil-free – Unprocessed
 
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Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole-food plant nutrition, vegan, oil-free, sugar-free, salt-free
Cuisine: Moroccan
Serves: 8~10 meals, with bread
Ingredients
  • 7 large carrots
  • 7 medium potatoes (that may include some sweet potatoes)
  • 3 large onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 lemons, organic or spray-free.
  • 100g of dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 100g of dried prunes (the hard kind, common in Europe and North Africa) or 200g of "California" prunes more common in Anglo-Saxon countries. If you're using a lot of sweet potatoes, you can reduce the prunes amount, to balance sweetness.
Spices (2 tbsp of Youcef's Tagine Spice Mix -will be posted later- or as below)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon (preferably Ceylon cinnamon and not Cassia, gentler on the stomach)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground paprika
  • ¼ (one forth) tsp ground cayenne chili (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
Topping and decoration (optional but nice, skip if you have or are recovering any CVD)
  • 100g almonds
  • 100g raisins
  • ¼ (one forth) cup sesame seeds
Instructions
  1. Cut the onions in strings or rings, not diced.
  2. Cut the garlic the way you like to eat it (whole, sliced, finely chopped...)
  3. Water-fry the onions+garlic on medium heat (with no oil!) Just make sure to add water when it dries to prevent burning. This should take ~20 minutes cooking time. When they are brown add ~a cup of water (preferably hot) and the spices. Meanwhile:
  4. Peel the potatoes and the carrots, unless they're organic.
  5. Cut the potatoes (along the main length) into 4 or more large wedges . Set aside.
  6. Halve the carrots along the length, and again cut that in finger-sized bits. Set aside.
  7. Clean-cut the yellow part of the lemon peel with a knife. Set aside the cuts.
  8. Remember: When the onions are browned, add a cup of water, then the spices, and stir well.
  9. Add the cut potatoes first, then the lemon peels.
  10. If you use the rock-hard kind of dried prunes add them now.
  11. Add all the carrots, chickpeas, then everything else. California-style prunes are best added towards the end of cooking, because they are so soft and tend to decompose in cooking.
  12. Water amount: If cooking in a pot or deep slow-cooker, put just enough water to cover everything. If using a traditional tagine plate you may have to top with water as it's cooking so it will be good to check to make sure it doesn't dry out and burn.
  13. Cook for 1 hour to 1 hour 30 on medium heat for a standard pot. You know your tagine is ready when the potatoes and chickpeas are almost as soft as you like them.
Oven-roasting the toppings (optional):
  1. Meanwhile, oven-roast or pan roast the almonds and sesame seeds, stirring regularly to get even browning. I put them in an oven tray close to the grill at 120°C for ~20 min, then throw in the raisins just for 5~10 minutes. I can't give you precise timing for this, it depends on your oven, but it's easy: The sesame seeds should not be black and smoking but just gently browned/golden. The almonds should taste roasted but not get black or burned. The raisins should gently caramelize and become chewy/crunchy but not carbonize and get bitter/super-crunchy. This will need a bit of attention but it's completely worth it taste-wise!
Serving:
  1. In a [/b]hollow or soup plate[/b], serve alternate potatoes and carrots, put the onions and chickpeas in the center on top, and the prunes around the plate topped by roasted almonds, one per prune.
  2. Finish by pouring some sauce.
  3. For decoration, put the rest of almonds and raisins on top, and sprinkle sesame seeds.
  4. Serve with Moroccan bread.
How to eat tagine
  1. Like with flat bread: Cut a piece of bread, pinch on a bit a bit of this and that, and eat!
Notes
If you're cruelly lacking time, make time 🙂 !
Or...just dump everything in the slow-cooker, and skip the roasted toppings.
It's not quite as good but it works too. Just make sure to stack things in a way when the hardest foods than need the most cooking are at the bottom and the softer less cooking-demanding ingredients on top.

 

 

[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.