Gluten: what’s the big deal

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley (lesser known grains: farro, spelt, kamut, semolina and einkorn also contain gluten). It’s made up of two strands of protein called glutenin and gliadin.

When gluten containing grains are mixed with water these protein strands unwind and form gluten. This is what makes bread strong, elastic and “doughy”. Gluten can be difficult to digest, in part, because of its “stickiness” but for people who suffer from gluten sensitivity symptoms can include: headache, fatigue, abdominal  pain and bloating, joint pain, skin rash and tingling or numbness in legs.

In addition to bread and all the other products that contain wheat, barley and rye, many processed foods contain gluten including:

  • modified food starch
  • soy sauce
  • soups
  • ramen noodles
  • prepared rice mixes
  • candy
  • breadcrumbs

just to name a few.

Some great alternatives include:

  • millet, amaranth, quinoa grains
  • crackers made with flax, chia or hemp seeds
  • buckwheat flour
  • brown rice and rice flour
  • bulgur
  • corn and polenta
  • nut and chickpea flours
  • oats and oat flours
  • rice, coconut and oat flours
  • tamari and coconut aminos (instead of soy sauce)

Gluten is found in the seeds not the grass, so don’t be afraid of wheatgrass!

Today, there are many food companies that specialize in gluten free items but always read the labels. Gluten-free doesn’t always equal “healthy”.


B12–the vitamin you need to thrive on a plant-based diet

B12 vitaminVitamin B12 is mainly found only in animal foods so for plant-based eaters, you need to take a high quality supplement regularly. Why?

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin needed for DNA synthesis. It’s critical in red blood cell formation in your bone marrow. And it helps nerve fibers perform in your brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system.

With a deficiency of B-12, cells will not develop properly. You can become anemic and suffer from spinal cord and nerve damage.

B-12 is also required to convert the amino acid homocysteine into methionine. Homocysteine is a byproduct of your digestive system. If you have a B-12 deficiency, homocysteine can build up to toxic levels in your bloodstream, damaging your arteries and leading to atherosclerosis.

Not to be Debbie Downer, but advanced B-12 deficiency can be serious and in the most severe cases may lead to paralysis, dementia and even death.

You may be asking yourself: if a plant-based diet are the way to go, why would it  be deficient in any nutrients? Good question. The answer: Vitamin B-12 comes from microorganisms… mostly bacteria that live in soil, water, and the digestive tracts of animals.

Hundreds of years ago, people could get B-12 by drinking from mountain runoff or streams. Or by working in gardens and then eating without washing their hands thoroughly. Since we no longer do these things, plant-based sources of Vitamin B-12 have been eliminated from modern life.

It’s true that there are bacteria in the human gut that synthesize B-12 but they don’t live in the part of the intestine where B-12 is absorbed. So your best bet is taking a regular supplement.

How much do we need?

According to Dr. Michael Klaper,

Only a small amount of the B-12 you swallow is actually absorbed. So he recommends a daily intake of…

    1. 5 mcg daily from fortified food like cereal, rice milk, and soy milk AND
    2. 100 mcg from a daily supplement, preferably chewed to increase absorption OR
    3. 2000 mcg from a weekly supplement to keep your B-12 level in the safe range.


Omega3’s–Essential Fatty Acids

Power seedsThe human body can make most types of fat that it needs but there are 2 fatty acids that we can’t make called “essential” fatty acids: one is an omega 3 FA called alpha-lenolenic acid (ALA) and the other is an omega 6 FA called linoleic acid (LA). Since we cannot make these ourselves, we must get them from food.

While it’s not so hard to get LA and ALA from foods, such as seeds, nuts, leafy greens and plant oils, it’s really the derivatives of  ALA (Eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA and docosahexaenoic acid DHA) that most benefit the human body.

The problem is ALA does not break down into these derivatives easily and plant foods (with the exception of algae) don’t contain them. EPA and DHA, on their own, are primarily found in fish.

Why do we care about EPA and DHA?

EPA and DHA are critical to your overall health.

EPA and DHA make up your cell membranes, and are especially abundant in your brain and nervous system. They enhance intracellular signaling between cells and regulate your gene expression.

EPA and DHA are the building blocks for a wide variety of hormone-like compounds, including eicosanoids (prostaglandins, prostacyclins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes), protectins, and resolvins.

These hormone-like substances regulate blood clotting, blood pressure, immune response, cell division, pain control, and inflammation response.

As if that wasn’t enough, they also play a major role in the prevention of several diseases, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, diabetes, and some cancers. Some studies suggest that they may also protect you from dementia.

Best sources of ALA are flax, chia, hemp seeds and walnuts. To maximize conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA,

  • Don’t eat too many foods containing high levels of Omega 6 FA’s like sunflower or safflower oils. A high intake of omega-6 fatty acids can reduce conversion by as much as 40 to 60%. Trans fatty acids can also reduce conversion, as well as excess alcohol and caffeine.
  • Make sure you are not suffering from nutritional deficiencies. Nutritional deficiencies in vitamin and minerals that work as co-factors to convert the ALA – especially zinc, magnesium, niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6) and vitamin C– will slow the conversion.
  • Restrict your calories by eating a low-fat diet. Low-fat or calorie-restricted diets appear to enhance conversion, while fasting slows it down.
  • And finally these oils: echium oil, hempseed oil, and black current oil are the only plant sources of stearidonic acid (SDA), the FA that converts more easily into EPA and DHA.

If you want a direct source, consume microalgaes, like spirulina, that contain EPA and DHA.



Soy and Your Hormones

hormonesSoy is one of the most significant sources of isoflavones in our diet. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) that belong to a family of phytochemicals called polyphenols. Many of the health benefits of soy (other than its macro and micronutrient contributions), are due to these plant estrogens. The plant estrogens seem to have a positive effect on postmenopausal women by enhancing heart health and brain function.         .


However, these plant estrogens have garnered much controversy. A commonly held belief is that isoflavones are beneficial for those who need estrogen (e.g. menopausal women), but detrimental for those who don’t  (e.g. women with certain types of breast cancer and men who believe they can be “feminized” by estrogen).

This is not entirely true because isoflavones are not the same as human estrogen.

Isoflavones only have weak estrogenic effects in postmenopausal women. On the other hand, isoflavones appear to act as an anti-estrogen where breast cancer risk is concerned. That’s good news.

To sum up, while the effects of soy tend to be favorable for women, men are frequently concerned that soy may reduce testosterone levels, and generally cause a feminizing effect. Only two case studies have appeared in the literature regarding feminization of men ingesting soy.

In both cases, the men regularly consumed 14 to 20 servings of soy daily – one derived almost all of his calories from soy – and subsequently developed health problems, such as enlarged breast tissue and loss of libido. In both cases, when soy intake was reduced, their health and libido returned to normal.

My Top 7 Picks for Plant Protein


My top favorite picks for plant protein are:

1. Quinoa: 11g protein/cup

A pseudograin that serves as a great high protein breakfast cereal when combined with some almond or other nut milk and berries. It’s also is a great base (instead of standard rice or other grain) that you can easily toss with veggies or beans for a hearty dinner.

RECIPE: Quinoa Black Bean Bowl: just remember to substitute vegan butter for the traditional stuff.

2. Lentils: 18g protein/cup

A yummy, flavorful bean that I use as a base for veggie burgers, soups, and stews. Try this recipe. You will love it!

RECIPE: Lentil Burgers

3. Black Beans: 15g protein/cup

Who doesn’t love rice and beans? Add onions, garlic and peppers and you are all set. Use them in chilis, stews, soups, as a base for veggie burgers. Limitless potential. I even use them for pizza crusts!

RECIPE: Cilantro Lime and Black Bean Rice

4. Tempeh: 41g protein/cup

Tempeh is a great fermented soy product that you can season with any spices you want for a flavorful, meaty texture. Turn it into reuben sandwich, bacon for your BLTs or craft it into delicious meatballs.

RECIPE: Best Vegan Tempeh Reubens

5. Spirulina: [6g protein/tsp]

The highest source of protein of any food on the planet. This blue-green algae is a complete protein that you can easily add to shakes, smoothies and juices for a high quality protein punch.

RECIPE:Rich Roll’s Deep Blue Sea Blend Smoothie

6. Seitan: 31g protein/3 oz serving

Also known as wheat gluten, seitan has the texture of meat and is excellent source of protein. You can make your own seitan (it’s not that hard) or try Gardein’s chick’n cutlets, burgers and meatloaf. Or Field Roast’s chik’n apple sausage links. Love them!

RECIPE: Seitan Gyros

7. Chickpeas: 12g protein/cup

Have you ever had “untuna salad” made from chickpeas? Unbelievable! Chickpeas are so versatile. Make your own hummus, use them in a salad, create an “un”-tuna salad or if you prefer, use chickpea flour to make everything from omelettes to pizza crusts.

RECIPE: Chickpea “Un-Tuna” Salad


Is it safe to eat Soy?

downloadYes, and here’s why:
For many years, soy has been a staple of Asian diets.  One of the healthiest, long-lived populations in the world – the Okinawan Japanese — consume soy daily. In fact, a typical Okinawan receives about 5-6% of total calories from soy each day. That’s about 2 servings/day. If soy was unhealthy, these populations would not be outliving the rest of us.
Second, soy has been extensively researched by reputable scientists. In fact, roughly 2,000 new studies on soy are released every year indicating benefits as broad as lowering risk of breast cancer to heart disease. To maximize these healthful benefits, the best ways to consume soy are in their least processed form as whole beans like “edamame” or fermented soy like “tempeh” and, as with anything, in moderation.
Over the past several years, many groups promoting animal-based diets have done an impressive job of convincing consumers to avoid soy, but their reasons are not based in science. Many of these groups are financially invested in meat,dairy and egg industries and fear the competition from soy milk and soy-based “meat” products. .
There are some legitimate concerns about soy, though, especially if you have problems with your thyroid as it can interfere with iodine absorption and some individuals may be allergic. Another concern is overuse of soy, particularly in the highly processed forms. However, for most people, soy foods are safe and full of valuable nutrients. So enjoy!  And please read and share my upcoming post  “The Most Healthful Soy Foods” for more on soy.

Where do you get your Fiber?



Plant-based eaters are often asked: Where do you get your protein but an equally valid question for the high (animal) protein eaters should be: Where do you get your fiber?

Fiber is incredibly important for great health and is only found in plant foods. What is it? It’s an undigestible carbohydrate found in the cell walls of plants.

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber reacts with water and turns into a gel during digestion. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, absorbs water and adds bulk to your stool. While soluble fiber tends to slow digestion, insoluble fiber tends to speed it up.

Why are they so important? Soluble fiber is food for the healthy bacteria (gut flora) in your gut that supports everything from healthy brain function to healthy immune system, and insoluble fiber helps add bulk to your stool, which keeps you eliminating regularly so don’t have toxic build up in your intestines.

Since fiber is a major component of plant cells, almost all fruits and vegetables are good source, and most of them contain both soluble and insoluble varieties. Whole grains and legumes are also fiber-rich and a great way to get your daily dose of fiber.

Try to get at least 25g fiber/day but when you increase fiber you should also increase your water intake to help move it along through your system.

lush green tropical plant

6 Top Sources of Plant Protein

6 Sources of Plant Protein

These sources of protein are not only great substitutes for animal protein, they are complete and offer infinitely more vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients that are lacking in animal protein.

      • Legumes: Best and highest sources of protein from beans comes from lentils, adzuki, black and red kidney
    • Nuts and nut butters: Almonds and Cashews are the least acidic of the nuts but walnuts, brazil nuts and pistachios are packed with valuable omega 3s
    • Seeds: the most complete seed protein comes from hemp and sacha inchi   Great sources of iron pumpkin and rounding out the top picks are sesame, sunflower and 
    • Grains: high protein grains and low acid grains including my favorite quinoa and amaranth
    • High protein vegetables: spinach, brocolli and kale
    • Soy: tofu, tempeh and miso





Plant protein vs Animal protein?

Do u really need meatAnimal protein is often regarded as “higher quality” than plant protein, but why?

There are roughly 20 common amino acids that are the building blocks that make up protein and 8 or 9 of those are “essential” because the human body cannot make them. In other words, they must come from food.

About 40 years ago, a popular diet book was published that led to the erroneous believe that plant foods had to be combined in a certain way to make up for deficiencies of certain amino acids. Unfortunately, this led to the idea that animal proteins were “superior” because they were “complete”.

It turns out, though, plant proteins are complete proteins too. Some plant-based foods have all essential amino acids (quinoa, buckwheat, soy, chia and hempseed) while others have a mix of some and lower amounts or not others. But as long as foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables are consumed daily, you’re getting everything you need and then some.

And best of all, plant proteins don’t come with all the problems that are linked to animal protein: saturated fat, cholesterol, antibiotics, bacteria, parasites, growth hormones, pesticides and herbicides from animal feed, and carcinogens.

Plant protein also offers a host of benefits that animal protein can’t come close to rivaling. For example,

Using 100 grams of quinoa as an example, a serving provides 14 grams of protein along with 25 percent of the RDA for both iron and vitamin B6 and almost 50 percent of the RDA for magnesium. It also delivers 563 mg of potassium.

The same amount  of beef comes has 26 grams of protein, and only 14 percent iron, 20 percent B6, a meager 5 percent magnesium and 318 mg of potassium. It also has double the fat at 15 grams with 90 mg of cholesterol, while quinoa has just 6 grams of fat and zero cholesterol.

Got protein4

How much protein do we really need?

Everyone is obsessed with getting enough protein these days.

It's no wonder. After all, protein comes from the Greek word, "proteios" meaning "of prime importance", so naturally we have been taught to value this macronutrient more highly than any other in our Western diet.

But how much protein do we really need?

The truth is we don't need very much. In fact, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is only about 10% of calories. That's about .36 grams of protein for every pound that you weigh. So a 120lb adult woman should consume about 43 grams of protein each day. To be on the safe side, the higher range can be .45 grams of protein/lb or 49 grams of protein each day for that same adult female. And for an average adult male who weighs 165lbs, the range would be 59-68g.

Here is a sample menu to show you just how easy it is to get all of your daily protein requirements from plant foods based on RDA above.





1/3 cup oatmeal

4 grams

1 cup soy milk

7 grams

1/4 cup almonds

8 grams


Veggie Burger

16 grams

2 slices of sprouted whole wheat bread

8 grams


Quinoa Bowl:

1 cup black beans

15 grams

1 cup quinoa

8 grams

1/2 cup corn

3 grams