Sunday, November 15, 2015

Maple-mustard tofu with steamed swiss-chard

It’s hard to find the words to post about the health benefits of plants given the recent events. These types of events tend to eclipse everything else that we have going on in our lives.     

But they also force us to focus on what is actually important.

For me, one of the major reasons I’m a vegan, and proud to use that word, is because it means I abhor violence.

When we consume animals, we are supporting an industry of violence. When we consume animals, we invite that violence into our lives. When we consume animals, we accept violence and even worst we make it acceptable.

When we change our habits, not just what is on our plate, but also in our soap, and in our closets, we are sending a powerful message to the world.

That message is a desire for peace.


This is a simple but elegant dish that comes together really nicely. It doesn’t require a big introduction, but it is certainly a satisfying dish that has even won over stubborn meat-eating Argentines.

The best thing about this is how simple it is, but none of your guest need to know.

Maple-mustard tofu with steamed swiss chard

1 block of extra firm tofu
1 bunch swiss chard
1 table spoon black sesame seeds

Maple-mustard marinade for the tofu
¼ cup water
4 tbsp of Dijon or yellow mustard
2 tbsp of maple syrup
1 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp cumin

First drain the tofu. Since I still live in the 90s, I typically place the block of tofu between two plates for an hour or so, to squeeze all of the water out of it. But a tofu press is suppose to much better at this.

While the tofu is draining, place all of the marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together. The marinade should be sticky but smooth.

Once the tofu is drained, cut it into 1x1 inch blocks and add it to the bowl of marinade.

Toss it so the tofu is evenly coated and place it in a glass pan or cookie sheet. (I normally use parchment paper)

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes on 325 flipping once halfway through to ensure it cooks evenly.

While the tofu is baking, wash and chop the swiss chard.

Place it in a steam basket and steam for 5 minutes or until bright green. Don’t over cook it as it will become very soft.

When the tofu is golden brown, remove from the oven and sprinkle it with black sesame seeds.

Serve it on top of the swiss chard. Feel free to add any left over marinade as a dressing for the dish.

Serve either hot or let cool and serve at room temperature. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

WHO Carcinogen list and a plant-strong Thai-style Curry

Perhaps it’s ironic that a few days after I published my post on Breast Cancer last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that they were adding processed meat to the list of carcinogens known to cause cancer, and listed all red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat) as a food type that “probably” causes cancer.

I was actually away from Buenos Aires when the WHO news broke, and while I was getting periodic updates about the reports, hiking, kayaking, and cycling with friends in Patagonia took precedent.

However whenever I checked in, the internet was ablaze with crazy click-bait titles, ridiculous claims, and adamant defences that this is some sort of liberal conspiracy to further reduce American’s freedoms.

The problem is most people don’t quiet understand what they are so fired up about. While many in the media have said that WHO claims processed meat is as dangerous as cigarettes and asbestos, the truth is the IARC release describes the strength of scientific evidence, rather than the level of risk of specific toxins.

As such, the truth is, processed meats have not been classified as “risky” as smoking or asbestos exposure, rather the evidence is equally compelling that they all contribute to cancer.

These findings were not reached lightly. A panel of experts reviewed over 800 different peer-reviewed research articles examining possible links. Specifically, they concluded that about 2 ounces of processed meats such as cold cuts or bacon increases colorectal cancer risk by 17 percent and 4 ounces of red meat increased that risk by 18 percent. To make this more clear, an average hamburger is somewhere around 2.4 ounces. 

“This is not an issue the public should panic about,” according to an interview giving by panelist Mariana Stern, PhD, but added, “we know that diet may contribute up to 30 percent of the cancer burden. Givent that most cancers are caused by multiple factors that act jointly, and likely in different combinations in different people, the more we know about modifiable risk factors that we can change, the more we can reduce the cancer burden in the population."

As many on the interwebs have pointed out, WHO didn’t bother to differentiate between organic, grass-fed and lean meats from their factory farm counterpoints.

The reason is because they didn’t have too. They looked at certain compounds found within all meat and how it responds to being cooked. Specifically, the evidence focused on the harmful effects of nitrates found in processed meats and, perhaps more surprisingly, heme iron found in all red meats. There was no evidence which suggested that grass-fed, free range meat is any different. Zero evidence. Over 800 studies.

In the same interview quoted above, Dr. Stern (an Argentine by birth!) said the best advice is to severely limit or eliminate all meats and instead to enrich our diets with fruits, vegetables, and grains all of which have been found to help protect against cancer. When pressed if her decade of cancer research has impacted her way of eating she stated, “yes, it has influenced what I eat. I am a vegan.”

More can be found here.

The interview with Mariana Stern, PhD can be found here.

International Agency for Research on Cancer, Red Meat and Processed Meat Volume 114, October 26, 2015.


To sweeten up the sour news about meats, M and I developed this phenomenal plant-based Thai-style curry which is perfect as fall slowly crawls into winter.

I use to make curries quite often from a commercially available curry paste that I use to buy in New York. These products are great, but many of them contain fish-oil so be sure to check the ingredients carefully.

However those are not available here, so instead we’ve been experimenting with curry powder. We constantly ran into the same issues, the curries were always to bitter.

One night while in the shared kitchen at our hotel in Patagonia, M was talking to an Australian woman about unlocking the full potential of curry powders. As it turns out, sautéing the powder first is a little-known secret that helps rid the powder of it’s overly bitter taste, while leaving that sweeter thai-style curry flavor.

Tofu & Kale Thai-style Veggie Curry
Serves 4

2.5 tablespoons yellow curry powder
3 cups of coconut milk
2 cups of water (rough estimate)
1.5 cups of water
1 onion – finely chopped
2 carrots – chopped
1 eggplant
1-2 medium potatoes – chopped
½ firm tofu – chopped
1 cup broccoli – chopped
half bunch of kale - chopped
1 handful of raisins (optional but recommended)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 thumb of fresh ginger – diced
½ teaspoon coconut sugar or sweetener of choice
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
salt and black pepper to taste

Start by sautéing the curry powder in 2 tablespoons of coconut milk for three minutes. The powder will start to release some of it’s aroma.

Now add the finely chopped onion and sauté for two more minutes, adding a little more liquid as needed.

Add 3 cups of coconut milk and ¾ cup of water and bring to a simmer. Once rolling, add the tofu, spices, and remaining vegetables (except the kale), along with a handful of raisins. The raisins will help further sweeten the curry. If your curry powder is very bitter, add a little extra coconut sugar.

Once you add all of the vegetables, add just enough water to cover them and bring to a simmer.

Cover and let cook for 15-20 minutes or until all the vegetables (particularly the potatoes) are soft and well cooked. Once everything is done, add the chopped kale and let sit for 5 minutes so the kale has a chance to soften.

We served the curry on top of this simple rice and barley mixture.

1.5 cups brown rice
1.5 cups barley
2 bayleafs
½ teaspoon cardamom powder
6 cups of water

Combine all ingredients and simmer until all the water is absorbed and ready to be eaten.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Green over pink

More than one million women every year receive the dreaded diagnosis of breast cancer, making it the most common type of cancer among American women. More than 460,000 die from it every year making it one of the leading causes of death. Among others, I’ve known three different young women to receive the terrible news that they had breast cancer – sadly one of them lost her battle after fighting for more than 3 years.

There are no words to adequately express how terrible this disease is.

But are pink ribbons really the answer?

While nothing in life is ever a guaranteed, the medical literature suggests that there is a link between diet and this type of cancer, and it seems that at least sharing some of this information - so that every person can make an informed and educated decision -is a worthwhile pursuit.

By now, I hope this isn’t coming as a surprise, but a strict whole food, plant-based diet is considered to be the most beneficial form of eating to reduce ones risk, and may potentially prevent the disease altogether.

Look, I can go on with tons of data and research from different papers. For instance, I can talk about a paper that followed 4,000 women with breast cancer for seven years who found a strong link between saturated fat and mortality. One paper found that just 2 weeks of plant-based eating and exercise can slow tumor growth rates (in vitro) by 20%. I can cite a meta analysis of 12 papers that claims for every 10 grams of fiber consumed, the risk is reduce by 7%. But in all honesty, does it matter?

The truth is, sometimes eating healthy and exercising isn’t enough. And I know a lot of us our guilty of pretending otherwise. Even this blog tends to act as if just going vegan, or whole-food plant based is the answer every time.

And sometimes it is. Far too many people, not just women, eat terrible diets that harm our bodies every single day and ultimately impact our health. But others, to no faults of their own, still end up with the disease.

My good friend who recently passed away was like that. She was vegan for as long as I knew her, at least 8 years. Yet we all watched, horrified, as the disease returned time and again. 

It’s hard to reconcile something like this, my friend was young, charismatic, and beautiful. She exercised and ate well, and yet, that wasn’t enough.

I’ve read far too many pieces about the face of this disease, but for me, the only face this disease has is the face of my friends. The fear I’ve seen in their eyes and the fear that was in my own.

But the face of this disease is two fold because it can also be surprisingly beautiful. I chose to remember my friend as the vibrant, smiling person she was when we met. I chose to remember the fun and the laughs we shared together. But even as the cancer and the chemo wore on her body, the strength and courage she demonstrated is one of the most beautiful memories I have of her. When we all realized that her struggle was coming towards a close, the outpouring of support and love for her was truly overwhelming.

Maybe diet can’t change the world, it didn’t for my friend. But that also doesn’t mean that we should just give up and accept our fates. I wouldn’t be doing justice to my friend or her legacy. I wouldn’t be doing justice to my other friends who are struggling with this disease either. 

I don’t believe in pink ribbons.

I believe in living your life. I believe in laughing and crying together. I also believe in eating your broccoli.

As some may have noticed, I took a month off from posting as I need some time to find the motivation to continue writing this blog. Many of my posts, particularly the research heavy ones, are very time consuming. And while research and writing this post, I’ve decided that if the news I share can help a single person, than that this is a worthy pursuit. My friend spent her time on this earth helping others. I hope to do the same. 

In loving memory. SLN 1981-2015 


Gonzalez, Barnard, et. all., “Effects of a low-fat, high-fiber diet and exercise program on breast cancer risk factors in vivo and tumor cell growth and apoptosis in vitro,” Nutrition and Cancer 55(1) 2006.

Cade, J.E. “Dietary fiber and risk of breast cancer in the UK women’s cohort study.” International Journal of Epidemiology 36 (2): 2007.

Newcomb, Beasley J., e.t all., “Post-diagnosis dietary factors and survival after invasive breast cancer,” Breast Cancer Research Treatment 2011.

Aune, D., et. all., “Dietary fiber and breast cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies,” Oncology 23(6) 2012.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.