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.
People like onions caramelised, We must give them onions caramelised.
The method must not include added fat of any kind
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 :
“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.
If you are still wondering why on Earth it matters that foods should be whole foods, look into Whole foods FAQ. That article addresses the “Why?” part of the question. Why whole-foods? Why not processed foods? Why low-fat? Why no oil? Why no salt? Why no sugar? Basically explaining why there is a problem.
What about the solution?
Well, the present article is the “What?” part of question. What is a whole food? What is not? What to buy instead? What to do instead?
There are two ways I know to explain which foods are whole food, which are not, which are acceptable health-wise and which are not. Different people learn in different ways. Some prefer to learn by concepts, some prefer by examples.
If you learn with concepts, what to chose is easy, neat and concise:
“Eat nothing else but low-fat whole plant foods.
If it’s not entirely made of plants, don’t have it.
If it doesn’t look like a plant, make sure the low-fat whole plant food was used and nothing was discarded, nutritionally damaged, extracted nor added that is not a low-fat whole food plant itself.”
That’s it, done. I always prefer positive wording. Simple powerful concepts like this work really well for me. The whole-food concept is a like an alphabet. Once you get the new concept right, the pantry and fridge look more like it, and you then build upwards from that and can’t possibly go wrong. That approach can’t possibly be mistaken for something restrictive. There’s no right way to eat the wrong foods when it comes to health, so drop meals and products that contain processed foods altogether, don’t try to fix processed foods. That strange planet of delicious disease is already obsolete. Just focus on building a *whole* new edifice, that of delicious health, with solid whole-foods foundations.
Now, if you learn best through examples, it’s a bit different. There’s no other way for this than go through a “good/not good” list which may look like a long prohibitive list. But what is really prohibitive? Could it be the insane extent of our reliance on processed foods that is prohibitive to our health? Reading this, chances are that you leave animals alone and off the plate. So imagine making a list of all animal foods people should replace or stop having? It will inevitably be a long list, and will inevitably seem restrictive to some. But you would know better, you would know the reality of it from experience. You would know, that there is no restriction/prohibition when you actually eat far more nutrients, add more years to your life and more life to your years. You would know, it’s not about cutting/eliminating foods (or rather non-foods), it’s fundamentally about having the right foods and nothing else.
Particularly nowadays, and particularly in certain foods cultures, listing all the processed foods we should be weaning from or replacing to eat the right foods can be quite a mouthful!
But I braced myself today to put it all down so it can go to help whoever wants to go whole-food; starting from where many people are (processed foods from supermarkets, restaurants, cafés, take-aways) and moving to food compatible with health that you prepare yourself from whole plants.
Finally, I must insist on two points:
Of all processed foods or non-foods below, oil, salt, and sugar will be of particular concern due the particular health concern with these. Please do not use them and consider instead the easy alternatives offered below.
Every transition in life can take time to be operated painlessly and sustainably. This list should not scare you. It took us about a year from quitting sugar to being almost 100% whole-foods with no oil, salt, or sugar. With the advice below we could have done that much faster! If you can operate all these changes cold-tofu, do it, you have all the tools now! If you need time, do them one step at a time, just keep challenging yourself until you reach the destination. Pain should not be part of this journey. Do observe priorities: Start first with eliminating oil and high-fat foods. Meanwhile, reduce down to zero your use of sugar and salt gradually enough so it’s not a pain. Meanwhile also, replace the non-whole foods by whole foods. Start with those you eat most, what is it for you? pasta? bread? and rice? Then expand to other things. Expanding your whole-food repertoire can also be done adding whole foods you never had before. We’re learning for example how to prepare whole grain groats as a staple, or legumes. It’s not a very Anglo-saxon thing to do but if other cultures figured it out, and it’s whole foods, that’s more options for you!
In short: no oil *at all*, nothing that is high-fat. What does that mean? For an adult who is 100% oil-free low-fat whole-food nutrition (already a big pre-requisite) : no more than 1~2 tablespoons daily total of any combination of nuts/seeds/avocado. Coconut best avoided. Absolutely zero of all of these of recovering from cardiovascular disease.
Oils and fats are found naturally in all low-fat whole plant foods in sufficient amounts. By energy: kale: 12% (of calories are from fat); brown rice: 6%; potatoes : 1%, etc. Given enough diversity in a low-fat whole-food plant diet, *all* our fat nutritional needs are met, including omega-3. Yes, from just plants only. The addition of fat whether extracted from whole foods (i.e. oil) or even high-fat from whole foods (i.e. nuts and avocado) in large amounts is not just unnecessary, but majorly harmful. It contributes greatly to cardiovascular and metabolic disease; ending in heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, higher incidence of cancer, and of a number of degenerative diseases. In short, the unforgiving price to pay for our by-default under-informed, over-optimistic illusion of “moderation”.
Not whole foods, because all oils are extracts, or TO NOT EAT:
Everything that is called “oil” when you buying it from a supermarket, an online store, “health” store, organic shop, or even if you press it yourself from your uncle’s fair-trade organic locally-grown olives. It doesn’t matter. Do not have any oil, whether it’s:
Extra virgin oils
Extra virgin cold-pressed oils
all chocolate (=> cocoa powder although not technically a whole food, is a high-fiber less-high-fat food, a far more acceptable alternative to chocolate if you’re going to use chocolate)
If you are recovering from any cardiovascular disease (from impotence all the way to surviving a stroke or heart attack) the above was the #1 (plant) things you must start having an absolute zero amount of, besides of course ditching absolutely everything of animal origin.
Whole foods, but use at most in very low amounts*:
* Very low amounts = ~1 teaspoon per person per meal, maximum. Absolute zero if recovering from cardiovascular disease.
nuts and seeds
Whole foods, but best avoided or kept for occasional use*
* Occasional use = 1 tablespoon per person once a month at most maybe. Absolute zero if recovering from cardiovascular disease.
coconut flesh from fresh coconut (even then still among the worst possible whole-food fat there is, almost entirely saturated fat). At home we cut one yearly and freeze it for the whole year. That’s becoming how much coconut we have yearly for two people. Amazing taste, but not worth it as a staple.
ALTERNATIVES TO OIL / ADDED FAT / HIGH-FAT FOODS
Just skip the oil. Below is how to do that for common instances where most people use oil. I know it’s hard at first to think it’s even possible to prepare food without oil. But, trust me, let go of being anxious around this, everything below is based on 6 months of kitchen experience of home-cooking without any oil at all.
How to replace oil to heat up spices If you need to develop the aroma of certain seeds like is done in Indian cooking, just dry roast on less-than-medium heat for a few minutes while stirring, then add wet foods (like chopped onions/garlic) first, then ground spices.
How to replace oils for stir-fries and caramelizing onions/garlic:
There are a few alternative options to oil-frying:
Water-frying on high heat with just enough water so it won’t stick nor burn. Add ground spices if needed only after the onions/garlic have softened and become transparent.
OR: Chop onions and garlic very finely and stir on less-than-medium heat in a pan on its own (no added water). Because it is chopped finely it will cook at similar temperatures as with oil, without burning because finely-cut onions/garlic give off their own water.
OR: If stir-frying or frying is important to give a certain taste to food: consider baking instead. It works for French fries, potato wedges, garlic, bell-pepper etc. If you ever find that it makes the foods too dry, then bake a combination of dry/hard foods along with moist/wet foods. You will end up with nice glossy foods that look and feel exactly as if they were stir-fried.
These may not always give exactly the same result as with oil of course, but close enough that people will not even notice you changed something.
How to replace oil/added fat in baking:
Don’t be anxious, just skip the oil, it works in many cases for cakes, breads, etc.
In cakes and breads, oil serves the purpose of holding moisture, that can be done with prune paste. The amount of prune paste* is amount of oil needed divided by 3, there will not be a prune taste. Don’t worry your final food will not taste of prunes. Try for yourself, we did, as recommended in the China Study Cookbook.
*For Wellington, large bags of prunes can be found at reasonably low cost, in bulk, at Moore Wilsons. Store them in the freezer, and you’re good to go for ages.
Other ingredients help hold moisture as well: certain flours more than others, aquafaba, ground flaxseed, applesauce, and other whole-food vegan egg replacements. Also wet foods like applesauce, zucchini, beetroot, bananas, give great moisture-holding.
For dressings and dips:
See Section below “Dressings”.
To prevent sticking:
Use baking paper, non-stick pans, cast iron pans if you don’t like non-stick coatings, or even any regular stainless steel pot with lower heat.
SWEETNESS AND SUGAR
Most sugars even the “brown” ones are generally extracted saps from trees or flowers, roots or corn, etc. Them being brown or having some nutrients does not make thin either health promoting not whole-foods. They are of similar concern as white sugar.
The sugars naturally found and consumed in whole foods do not pose health problems.
Commercial sweeteners are absolutely not whole foods, they are not even foods. Do not use them.
Besides, some do pose health concerns (like stevia or aspartame) others are experimental (erythritol) and may well be the next aspartame or MSG scandal, a risk we don’t run with corn or dates natural sweetness. The only safe whole-food sweetener I know that is a powerful natural sweeteener called Luo Han Guo (more below)
Sweetening sources that are not whole foods – DO NOT USE
Anything that doesn’t look like a whole plant food, and with the word sugar, syrup, or molasses in it, to list only a few:
raw cane sugar (or Sucanat)
ALTERNATIVES TO SUGAR TO SWEETEN FOOD
The most powerful alternative to sugar is to let your taste buds have less sweet foods so that they can learn to become more sensitive to the natural sweet taste of food and beverages. That should allow you to enjoy beverages with no added sweetness of any kind, and to enjoy food at a lower sweetness level. This being said, there is nothing wrong with enjoying sweetness or sweet foods, as long as that comes from whole foods and not extracted sugars.
There are some very common whole-food sources of sweet flavour that you can use:
Date sugar, homemade only, when it’s made from dried pulverized dates = “date flour”, not the commercial “date sugar” which is often date-extracted sugar and therefore just as mertabolically hazardous as any other sugar.
Raisins, currants, sultanas and other dried fruits but read the ingredients: some come loaded with oil, sugar, preservatives which you can tell form the ingredients or the sodium content for preservatives.
Sweet potatoes like baked orange kumara
Whole-food sweetener: Luo Han Guo*, found in the near tea in many Chinese Shops. Boiled in water it is a very potent natural sweetener with, a long history of usage and not a single known health concern to my best current knowledge after researching it. It might be pulverizable into a powder for use in cooking, baking etc.
* For NZ-Wellington: This can be found at Yan’s Supermarket off Webb Street, or in NZ Lower Hutt’s Davis Trading for Lo Han Guo, see tea section.
The issue with salt has little to do with whole-food or not. Salt is simply not a food, so the wholeness (process salt vs unprocessed sea salt) is secondary and does not matter at all. Added salt is used as a flavour enhancer, for people who have grown a habit for it and not yet weaned off.
Unfortunately it is the source of unnecessary stress/damage on cardiovascular health because it creates a state of hypertension to push the sodium out of the body.
Hypertension leads to serious health concerns, and is considered a cardiovascular disease, yet it is virtually entirely caused by eating a lot of salt or preserved/processed foods. The sodium naturally occuring in plants is more than we need.
There is no right way to eat the wrong foods so all the salts below are salts and should never be part of food:
DO NOT USE:
Himalayan pink salt
black salt (also known as “kala namak”)
or anything with the word “salt” in it or with outrageously high amounts/concentrations of salt or sodium in it.
If you buy partially processed products (like the jarred salt-free tomato paste we use off-season*) always read the ingredients and nutritional content. Sodium per 100g in whole foods is rarely ever above a few dozens: 5 mg, 10mg, 20mg are numbers that shouldn’t worry you. Just make sure it’s mg (milligrams) not grams like I see sometimes. If you start seeing hundreds, something’s wrong, except for a tiny handful or expections that are naturally high-sodium inside them.
Be aware that salt and sodium also are virtually everywhere in processed foods, from canned foods to cookies, to even dried fruit! In restaurants you may order salt-free food but if they relied on processed foods like pasta, or sauces, etc, those also come generously loaded with sodium. As I said in introduction, do not waste your time trying to fix a broken system, build your own, without any of the otherwise inescapable nonsense.
ALTERNATIVES TO SALT
Quitting all salt, and processed foods, is the single best alternative to salt and sodium. It can be done painlessly over 3 weeks to 3 months. After only 3 weeks most people start developing a dislike for salted foods and a preference for unsalted foods. Yes, your taste buds are magical, and you need to harness this power you already have.
Immortalizing the moment when we stopped using salt at home 🙂
What to do about flavour? Preparing food for people that are used to salt?
Simply use more of natural flavours!
We put more of the flavourful foods in our cooking: slightly more spices, more carrots, more celery, more onion, garlic, more whole-food sweetness to lift up the taste without salt, more sourness (from lemon or tamarind) or more whole-food sweetness from dates or other naturally sweet foods. If you hit the tongue right it won’t need a bang from salt, even the highly-demanding tongues and palates of people who have not yet weaned off salt.
People on low-sodium dietary lifestyles have used all sorts of spices instead of salt. They like to go by “salt alternatives” and “salt replacements”. I don’t like those phrasings because when you don’t need salt, you don’t need to replace salt.
I offer to transcend the idea of even replacing salt, and simply understanding that our tongue (and nose) is full of sensors for all sorts of things (for the tongue: sweetness, sourness, bitterness…) and your tongue likes a good whip to be happy. So whip up your tongue (wut-tish!) with everything you have that is an actual food, it will thank you for it.
When we quit salt, my first natural urge was to add sourness (lemon/lime) to everything, but that’s just me.
My tongue loves sour, bitter, sweet but not too chilli-hot, I like pungent but not too garliquey. For my partner it’s completely different. My partner likes NOT sour, NOT bitter, NOT as sweet as I do. She likes VERY spicy, NOT pungent, but VERY garliquey. If food isn’t chili-hot, for her, it’s not food! For me it’s the same but with sour.
So each person’s tongue likes to be whiped its own way. Find your taste spot and give it what it needs!
How to do about salt-containing products? like canned chickpeas, dried fruits with high sodium, spice mixes, etc? Simple: dont’ use them. Find salt-free options if it’s trivial to find, or just save time and make your own.
If you have concerns about health:
The sodium in whole plant foods is far more than sufficient to meet our body’s needs in sodium. Look around, how many land mammals and animals do you see walking around with salt shaker? Salt does not contribute to health.
Any white rice, because it is “milled” = removing the nutrient-rich outer layer (rice bran), then polished after milling to make it look good again.
Whole-food alternatives to milled/polished white rice:
Brown Basmati rice
Brown Jasmine rice
Brown Thai rice
Note: There are different “whole” grades of the rices below. Some rices that look whole (with a bran on top) are actually partially milled (to remove bran partially) or partially polished. Producers undoubtedly derive extra profits from bran as a by-product, sold as animal feed, for rice bran oil, etc. Ideally you want a rice that is unmilled and unpolished. Visual examination might be enough, I’ll start paying attention and see if I notice differences.
LEGUMES, PULSES, BEANS, AND PEAS
Not whole foods:
Red lentils (they are what’s left when you remove the highly-nutritious brans)
Whole-food alternatives to split legumes:
The unsplit whole grains, i.e. your typical chickpeas or lentils or beans with their skin.
Standard pasta. This is why:
Whole-food alternative to white pasta:
Wholemeal or whole grain pasta
Any pasta made at home from whole grains or whole grain semolina.
Note: Commercial use of the term “whole” can be abused in “wholemeal” pasta due to expectable partial amounts of whole semolina or recombined whole semolina made from refined semolina some extracted bran or fiber to give a whole “feel”.
Most breads marketed as “whole meal” or “whole grain” use most often only a small amount of whole-meal flour 10% to 25% only typically. The rest is baker’s white flour, a highly- refined product. Besides whole-food aspects, baker’s flours or bread flours and the wheats they come from are generally under a lot of pressure to be high-protein, high-gluten, and have extremely specific characteristics all highly focused on one thing: to make their final processing standardized and idiot-proof. That requires both high selection of the wheat, and high processing, both of which make the job easy for bakers but has led to wheats that can nutritionally poor since nutrition never was the concern, unnecessarily high-protein, unnecessarily high-gluten, and which generally seem to cause more health issues than more traditional wheats, not specifically selected or refined for bread or bakers. Few people that are not bakers or cereal producers know this.
Commercial breads also come with high amounts of salt/sodium. About a gram of salt per 100g, and I know from personal experience it’s outstandingly easy to eat not just 100g of bread a day, but many hundred grams, which is utterly unnecessary hypertension on our blood vessels and the organs they supply.
Whole-food alternative to store-bought non whole-food breads:
I already wasted ample time looking for truly 100% whole and salt-free bread, let me save you some time. Like many quests to find healthy foods processed by industry, looking for a truly whole and salt-free bread in shops and bakeries was a quest for the Yeti, the Bigfoot, and the Unicorn combined. I would have made enough bread healthy bread for the year by actually not looking for one.
Solution? Make your own bread at home, with baker’s yeast or a sourdough culture, no salt, and if you want to flavour it maybe throw some fennel seeding in the dough. That’s what we’ve been doing.
If you are a breadoholic, invest 50~100$ into a kneading machine and visit op-shops for secondhand baking trays, rolling pins, whatever you may need.
We don’t often make bread anymore, maybe once or twice a month, about 2 kg, and it never lasts as long as we wish it did! At that pace, I actually love and very much enjoy the (minimal) kneading that is required. No machine or fancy equipment here. Home bread-making can be made very easy and very time-efficient.
There are many recipes online to make bread from 100% whole flour from any grain or seeds that’s suitable to you.
Pretty much all commercial dressings, primarily due to oil, sugar, salt and other refined ingredients.
Whole-food alternatives to dressings:
Find recipes for oil-free dressings, and remove salt, replace sugars by whole sweet foods, and high-fat foods by low-fat foods.
Create your own: Play with sweet whole foods (e.g. apples, raisins and dates), sour whole foods (like lemon or lime) and instead of fatty base like oil or cashews use a starchy base like blended and cooked pea, beans, or grains with enough water will make a nice and runny cream.
LEAVENING / RISING DOUGHS / BAKING NEEDS
Baking powder (+ extra concern with sodium content as it is sodium bicarbonate)
Baking soda (+ extra concern with sodium content as it often contains sodium bicarbonate or other sodium salts)
Various essences, either natural or artificial flavours
Whole-food alternatives to baking needs:
Aromas: spices, spice-seeds (fennel, caraway, etc), herbs, real vanilla, grated lemon, dried fruit, orange peels, bananas, etc.
This will not rise instantly, the rising processes takes longer, but good news: you don’t have to sit and stare at breads and cakes leaven! Yeasts are shy and prefer making babies when no one is starring at them and desperately waiting for them to be done 😛 Set an alarm and go on about your life while it’s rising 🙂
PICKLES, FERMENTED AND PRESERVED PLANT FOODS
These are of particular concern to health not because of the whole-foods being pickled, but because of the ridiculous amounts of salt, oil, sugar and preservatives used to keep those.
Salt-free purple cabbage sauerkraut culturing as I write
HOW TO DO WHEN EATING OUT?
It’s a very good question!
We all like to go out, have lunch and dinners with friends.
How do we do?
At this point of time, my partner and I eat about 90% of our meals from home-made food. It’s all low-fat, whole-food vegan, with no oil, no salt, no sugar.
We eat from restaurants and cafés about twice a week, that the 10%. The food we eat out is not always perfect, but we try, and it’s been worth trying so far, even if sometimes it’s a bit of a sport. Restaurants like all businesses care first and foremost about one thing, that is making profit. The health officer in that trade is you and you alone, so you get what you encourage and ask for. Restaurants follow what the people holding the money want, and these people need to express their needs.
Do we really need restaurants and take-aways to “eat out”?
Everything you didn’t make yourself from scratch using whole plant foods is eating out. If you got your act sorted out, that eating out remains the only possible source of unhealthy eating.
Before zooming on restaurants and take-ways, let’s talk about “eating out”.
First of all there are a number of reasons why people eat out. Convenience, hanging out with people, getting food inspiration, etc…A number of these needs can be met without having to go to a restaurant. Since it can be a bit of challenge getting truly healthy whole foods from restaurants, with the help of like-minded friends we have been federating a culture of healthy eating among our friends and communities. So we’re having more potlucks, more dinners and meals at each others house, etc. To some extent, so many restaurants could exist only on a base of lack of community bonds, lack of time spent in the kitchen, and lack of direct sharing in people’s life. This is easy to remedy: Share and make foods for yourself *and* your friends!
That’s our growing whole-food gang, meeting for a lovely autumn picnic. We’re heading towards doing this at least twice a month.
There is also nothing wrong with bringing your own food to work, going to the company/school canteen with your boxes, and sitting at your friends table with your own food. The spotlight won’t be on you too long if you know why you’re doing it and how to articulate it. In fact you may get them to join you…who doesn’t want to spare themselves a heart attack? diabetes? hypertension and all the plagues of animal-based eating?
Restaurants, take-aways, cafés and other food venues
When eating out we skip everything that is deep-fried, or fried, expect stir-fries, more below on this. What’s left is either vegan or not, and to keep choices large, I include non-vegan options so I can explore if it can be veganized (in passing that encourages vegan options). If something is a stir-fry, I ask to water-fry as I ask for “vegan, no oil, no salt, no sugar”.
“No oil” is currently the most frightening new challenge for most restaurants. Oil is still very central to restaurant/café kitchens and it often seems unconceivable for them to not use oil, either for cooking convenience, time-saving, or for taste. It’s not rare that the person taking our order would go and check with the kitchen to see if they can do that.
Good news though: most often restaurants can remove oil, sugar or salt to some relevant amount, if not entirely. There is of course the odd one out where the waiter “vegan, no oil, no salt, no sugar” and the food comes either stir-fried with oil, or drizzed with it, or far too salty or sweet, it happened…but quite rarely. There is also the odd one out where a restaurant would insist “The chef doesnt’ want to do a stir-fry with no oil, he/she/it needs oil”. Other times, they would honestly say they wish but they can’t because the food is batch-prepared with oil, sugar, or salt. But most of the time they can remove something, if not all.
Where my face is not familiar yet, waiters taking my food order the first time often (unwittingly) patronizingly tell me that the food will not be very good. But that’s their worried untrained palate speaking, so it’s worth insisting that they shouldn’t worry about taste and that I eat like that everyday and like it a lot. They can get surprisingly insisting that your palate will not find it tasty basically, afraid perhaps to serve a customer a very unpalatable experience that may convert into bad business. But be “kindly firm” in those cases. And when you’re done with your meal and thank them before leaving, tell them what you thought about the food (it’s usually good!). It’s usually only the first time, it gets smooth and easy when you go regularly to the same food places. Once you develop relationships with them, if they’re open to it, they eventually get interested into your motivations to order in this unusual way for them.
A friend, Caitlin, also gave me the tip of ordering a few hours in advance, ahead of peak hours. Not sure why that works, but it works for her and for other people apparently.
We have had some really lovely restaurant experiences, some waiters, chefs or restaurants owners that would have dealt with disease themselves or through a close person. They’d know about why eating the way we do is vitally important, and they were accommodating. Such a breeze when that happens!
Such an accommodating place served us this, everything is no oil, no salt, no sugar. 3 out of 4 plates here are low-fat whole foods: Kachumber (Indian salad), wholemeal bread (Indian roti), and the best chana masala (Indian chickpea curry) I’ve had in my life. Only the rice on the top left is not a whole food, but white rice. Not bad at all overall relatively. The restaurant is Rangoli, in Kapiti, NZ. Great friendly/kind service, rather cosy, amazing food, some vegan wines too.
So far, I talked oil, salt, sugar, but that doesn’t make a tofu burger whole-food, does it?
No it doesn’t. At this point of time, most breads in restaurants are white breads (less so in Indian restaurants), pasta is still always refined white pasta, rice is not yet routinely brown rice or another whole rice, etc…We make do our best with what we have at hand. More and more, I do ask though about the wholeness of the pasta, rice, breads. I would know the answer in advance most of the time, so why do I keep asking? Because customers’ questions always act as subtle requests and they are! It can start very constructive educational conversations for the staff and restaurant, as well as for us in terms of the challenges that they encounter, which we may able to help with.
A restaurant we often go to even started to put on the menu that whole-food options are available with no oil, sugar or salt. The owner, it turns out, already had a preference for oil-free food and whole foods and just needed someone to request it to feel motivated to pursue that route.
This restaurant is in Wellington NZ: Adulis African restaurant, proposing currently essentially Ethiopian/Sudanese foods. Currently in the process of going using more whole foods and pro-actively encouraging options with no oil, salt, sugar. Wonderful! This is at long last the future that many of us have been waiting for, it’s amazing! And again, restaurant owner also very cheerful and friendly person, and so is staff generally. That’s becoming more and more one of regular healthy go-tos.
Was this helpful to you?
What did you learn from this?
Do you feel I forget something important in this list?
Is there something you want to suggest adding?
Do you have short videos (< 5 min) that show clearly the products we’re used to being processed from a whole food to an extracted, refined, nutritionally damaged product?
What struggles are you facing with going WFPN (whole-food plant nutrition)?
or with quitting salt, sugar, and oil?
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.
As the name indicates, a food that is whole or integral.
Whole foods means edible foods that look like something you’ve brought from the garden, and that have not been refined, extracted, isolated. Sometimes, minimal processing, like for wholemeal pasta, only changes the presentation of the initial whole food but does not remove any nutrition from it through refining.
Why the distinction is tremendously important from a health standpoint will be explained in later sections.
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, even with whole food fats.
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 a whole food, so are wheat grains. Wheat bran or regular wheat flour are not whole because they refined, meaning they are only part of the wheat seed.
For a more thorough guide of what is a whole food and what is not, check this article.
Ok, now that you get it. Why is the distinction important? Excellent question! A lot of it is covered below. You should be able to understand when you watch the fundamentals in Part 2.
2) Basic knowledge about low-fat whole food plant nutrition
Documentary Eating You Alive (absolute must-watch)
Any oil is a processed food, squeezed out of a high-fat whole-food (avocado, nuts, olives, soy beans, canola seeds, etc…) or from 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 the extra virgin organic stuff? 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.
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!
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 refined processed sugar – all 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 and is certainly no health food, 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.
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
“But what about blackstrap molasses, that’s high in nutrients!”
Yes, it’s true, some nutrients though. Fortified deep-fried donuts are also high in nutrients. So is the dark juice that comes out of my compost pile in the garden. Blackstrap molasses are the ultimate concentrated waste products of a refining industry. Of course it has an unusually high score for various nutrients like vitamins or minerals.
Does that make it a health food? No.
Is it a whole food? No more than Froot Loops and fortified donuts, so basically, no.
Is it an extracted sugar? Yes.
How much fibre in it? Zero, like in all extracted sugars. Please check this fact and see it for yourself.
Documentary Sugar: The Bitter Truth
Full-video (ENG): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM Note: Lustig has developed a good understanding of the effects of sugar on metabolism, which is why I am sharing. So much so he didn’t spend enough time considering the rest of the health research, and as a result unfortunately advocates a low-carb diet.
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 is salt a problem?
Salt 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. And an added problem: it comes with a wide variety of minerals in crystal form. Not only that’s not the form in which we’re supposed to ingest minerals, but these may contain unsafe minerals, or unsafe quantities.
Don’t eat rocks, let plants filter that and make safer food out of them for you.
IMPORTANT: For most people feeling healthy and with no known autoimmune disease, a focus on 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-added-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-coloured shirts & t-shirts after you break a sweat in them. I used to have that all the time, very embarrassing/gross. Problem sustainably solved.