The Science Behind Flavour with Benefits
Great tasting food and wonderful flavours are some of the consistent joys in life. We believe there should be no compromise on flavour or nutrition. Because of this, the ingredients in the recipes have been selected to meet both criteria. In our experience, this allows us to make healthy changes in our food choices and sustain these changes.
This is a primer on the role of foods we consume and their impacts on health, and the role of nutrition and lifestyle in improving our overall well-being. References to scientific studies are provided to substantiate the reasons for statements made in the book and the recipe ingredients and cooking methods selected.
These sections are:
- Flavour and Food Preferences
- Food as Medicine
- Ingredient Substitutions for Healthier Outcomes
- Our Food Journey
- North American Nutrition Guidance
- Nutrition Categories:
- Consideration of Dietary Options
- Impacts of Food Choices and Exercise
FLAVOUR AND FOOD PREFERENCE
Flavour and palatability influence what people consume. Babies form some of their food and sweetness preferences before they are born and these are largely set by the time they are five years old. This makes early food choices crucial for children’s health.
The topic of food and flavours became such a passion that I invested in some courses to learn more about nutrition and its impact on our overall health. What I learned surprised me about food as medicine. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise. We eat several times a day, so why wouldn’t food be fundamental to our overall health. What if some "facts" we believed were not completely true? What if the answers to good health were not complex at all but quite simple?
FOOD AS MEDICINE
As I thought about this, I remembered what I learned at five years old about a food remedy with artichokes to cleanse my liver. Our bodies already know how to detect and manage toxins and nutrients in food, without intervention. I knew from my early experience that eating nutritious foods promotes health and can heal us. What if our food was the answer to preventing seven out of ten of the top fatal diseases in North America?
What if heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer, high blood pressure and dementia, are directly related to what we eat? What if conditions such as erectile dysfunction are a sign that arteries are already clogged? Traditional western medicine seems content to monitor our decline in health and prescribe pills to manage symptoms.
Since 1-2% of health conditions are congenital, then there must be other causes for our decline in health. If 90% of men, and an equally alarming percentage of women, at age 65 are diagnosed with heart disease in North America, isn’t this an epidemic?
After more research, I became convinced that some of my own current health issues could be solved by dietary changes. Pills had unwanted side effects. It might take time, but it was worth a try.
INGREDIENT SUBSTITUTIONS FOR HEALTHIER OUTCOMES
In late 2019, I began making substitutions to lower fat in some recipes, such as replacing cream with yoghurt. This reduced the saturated fats and lowered the calories. Not being a refined sugar fan, I explored other sweetener options. I started using stevia, a natural sweetener which is readily available in grocery stores. It was good for calorie reduction but for me, it did not meet the flavour requirement. So I pressed on. I stumbled on monk fruit, which is grown in China and Thailand and has been a natural sweetener in use for thousands of years. Another option was Yacon root from South America. It has a pleasant caramel flavour, but availability can be an issue.
I settled on monk fruit which is about 300 times sweeter than sugar and organic sources are available in stores or online. This replacement was not without its early failures in baking, because it cannot be substituted one for one with sugar. After many attempts and failures, the monk fruit measurements in the recipes, work both for a level of sweetness and for a difference in volume when replacing sugar.
Next was cheese. That is a big one. Yes. Humans are the only species that consume milk from another mammal. Cow, sheep or goat’s milk are great for their babies, but not for humans. Thus, we may have health side effects from consuming milk. This is discussed in more detail later in this section.
Because cheese is such a fundamental favourite and flavour, it was a bigger task to replace. Having been a long-time fan of baking sourdough bread and being familiar with some health benefits of fermented foods, I thought why not look into plant-based cheeses some that were fermented and those that were not. There are many sources of plant-based cheeses in stores or we have a few recipes for you to try. Plant-based cheeses are made often with nuts, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and onion powder. Some "cheese" sauces use vegetables such as potatoes for texture along with other flavours to provide a cheese-like taste.
Another important flavour challenge was the beefy or umami flavour that is central to many dishes. It became clear that sautéing various types of mushrooms with onions and garlic was a great start. Adding spices and herbs such as cumin, smoked paprika, tamari, onions and garlic yielded familiar meaty aromas and flavours.
The last area was a bit more challenging. It involved cooking and baking without extracted oil. An ingredient that has 100% of its calories from fat, is just not healthy, no matter what it’s made from. Turns out extracted oil is a big contributor to heart disease. It forms plaque in the arteries and kills off some cells that are critical to blood flow.
So how to cook and bake without oil was a bit disorienting, since every recipe I had been using had oil as an ingredient. I found that starting with a hot pan, especially a cast-iron skillet and adding a bit of water or tamari, allowed me to sauté many vegetables including onions and garlic. Not too difficult after a few tries. What a difference this made on calories and fat.
OUR FOOD JOURNEY
This path may not be for everyone. But it has worked for me and my husband. At first, he was not convinced, but he had some health goals and thought, the only thing he might have to lose, was weight! He started making his versions of our favourite foods: tasty salads and soups. We learned that if you eat soup prior to a meal, you may consume about 20% fewer calories for your total meal.
Let’s face it, no one wants to be lectured about what they should or should not eat. We know from our own experience that major food changes may be difficult and take time, so we have included recipes in the book for everyone. Some are plant-based recipes, others include dairy, chicken, fish and steak. We have now chosen to embrace a 90% plant-based diet and have seen our health improve.
We actually both lost weight, my husband’s blood pressure declined and our cholesterol levels went from dangerous to excellent. Our doctor was pleased with the results and said, “whatever you are doing, keep doing it”.
What we learned: overall health impacts everything, even our sexual health. Indications such as low energy or heart palpitations are early warning signs that some changes to diet are needed. Diet trumps everything and either helps or hurts our general health. Make some small changes and receive big benefits in your health.
We also combined our food changes with consistent vigorous exercise to continue to augment our dietary changes. Long walks have become the norm. That fresh air is good for the body and soul. This is our experience and it worked for us. Your experience may be different, but the best thing is to start today. The return on your food investment may surprise you.
Now on to the details and scientific references that support food as medicine.
NORTH AMERICAN NUTRITION GUIDANCE
Canadian Government Guidance
The Canada Food Guide, which was revamped and published in January 2019, encourages the following: eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and choose protein foods from plants more often; limit highly processed foods, make water your drink of choice, read food labels, cook more often at home and beware of food marketing that can influence your food choices.
American Medical Association (AMA) Request to US Department of Agriculture
In a letter dated Aug. 13, 2020, the AMA wrote: "The AMA supports culturally responsive dietary and nutritional guidelines and recognizes that racial and ethnic disparities exist in the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases such as coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Dairy and meat products are promoted in federal nutrition policies even though they are not nutritionally required…"
Good carbohydrates are one macronutrient that is essential to health. They should be 45– 65% of your diet, or 900 to 1,300 calories out of a 2,000-calorie allowance. The type of carbohydrate matters. Whole grains (i.e. oats and whole wheat bread), beans (pulses and legumes), potatoes, sweet potatoes and brown rice, for example, have healthy carbohydrates as well as other benefits such as high fibre.
Net carbohydrates are calculated on a food label: as carbohydrates per serving, less the fibre equals the digestible carbs or net carbs. High-fibre content means fewer of the calories will be absorbed. Food labels in several countries are being revamped to include more information as well as more realistic portion sizes so that intelligent food decisions are easier to make.
Protein is an essential macronutrient, but excess protein is stored as fat and can cause weight gain. Recommendations vary, but 46 grams per day is the guideline for a sedentary woman.
Most Americans eat twice as much protein as they need. A steak that weighs 100 grams has 25 grams of protein, over half of what is recommended for a sedentary woman for one day.
Fat and Saturated Fats
Fat is also a macronutrient, and it is necessary for life. No more than 10% of daily calories should come from saturated fats.
In the North American diet, 33% of calories come from fat and 13% from saturated fats. Between 180 and 320 milligrams per day of cholesterol are consumed. Major sources of saturated fats are animal sources, including milk, pastries, cheese, margarine and mayonnaise.
All oil is high in fat. Olive oil is 120 calories per tablespoon, 100% from fat. The beneficial part of olive oil is the polyphenols and plant sterols. These only occur in extra virgin olive oil. But all plants have polyphenols and plant sterols, and eating the plants (such as olives) provides the benefits without the high-fat content of extracted oils. High-fat content in your diet leads to weight gain and cardiovascular disease.
The Diabetes Association food guide recommends a low-carb, low-salt and low-fat diet to cut the risk of diabetes.
Vitamins and Minerals
Eating a rainbow of plants will provide a wide variety of vitamins and minerals without the need for as many supplements.
Plant-based sources of calcium are plentiful and have no cholesterol. They are either low in or have zero saturated fats, making them a great alternative to dairy. Calcium, an essential mineral, is needed for bone growth, muscles, heart health and nerve health.
Nutritional yeast is a great source of B vitamins, including B12, which is less prevalent naturally in a plant-based diet.
The human body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Other sources of cholesterol are from meat, dairy and eggs. Plants do not have any cholesterol and, therefore, do not increase your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels cause plaque in arteries and lead to cardiovascular disease.
In the US, inherited or familial high cholesterol occurs in 1 in 250 people or 0.4%. For most of us, what we eat is contributing to our cholesterol levels. Adding more plant-based foods to your diet can help manage cholesterol levels.
Cheddar cheese (compared to the cashew cheese recipe presented in this book) has about twice as many calories as the plant-based option. Of the 115 total calories for an ounce of cheddar, 85 come from fat versus 43 calories from fat for the cashew cheese. Cholesterol from cheddar cheese is 28 milligrams compared to zero for the cashew cheese.
Cream cheese has 102 calories per serving of 2 tablespoons, 29 milligrams of cholesterol and 90% of the calories from fat. Vegan cream cheese (from Kite Hill, for example), by contrast, has 70 calories per 2 tablespoons, zero cholesterol and 60% of calories from fat.
Only plants have fibre. The recommended daily fibre intake for women ranges from 21 to 25 grams. The average American gets 15 grams.
High-fibre diets and healthy gut bacteria are essential to a reduction in disease. The gastrointestinal microbiota have an important role in human health, and there is increasing interest in utilizing dietary approaches to modulate the composition and metabolic function of the microbial communities that colonise
the gastrointestinal tract to improve health and prevent or treat disease. One dietary strategy for modulating the microbiota is consumption of dietary fibre and prebiotics that can be metabolized by microbes in the gastrointestinal tract.
High-fibre foods are nutrient-dense and low in calorie density. This means that with high-fibre plant-based foods, you can generally eat as much as you want without gaining weight.
CONSIDERATION OF DIETARY OPTIONS
After infancy, 65% of the human population is lactose intolerant. It is most prevalent in East Asians where it ranges from 70 to 100% and common among people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek and Italian descent. Only 5% of Northern Europeans are lactose intolerant. Cow’s milk is not a good fit for most human children and adults. This would include all dairy, such as liquid milk, cream and cheese.
Milk is not part of a low-fat diet. Whole milk has approximately 150 calories, 71 of which come from fat. Even 2%-fat milk gets a third of its calories from fat.
Yoghurt vs. cream cheese. Regular cream cheese has 350 calories per 100 grams and 34 grams of fat (or 34% fat). Plain full-fat yoghurt has 107 calories and 6 grams of fat.
Yoghurt is abundant in calcium, zinc, B vitamins, and probiotics; it is a good source of protein; and it may be supplemented with vitamin D and additional probiotics associated with positive health outcomes. Nondairy yoghurt also is abundant with probiotics and is a good alternative for people who want to avoid dairy.
Soy and Fermented Soy Products
Soybeans, tofu, tempeh and miso are soy products that contribute health benefits such as lowering breast cancer risk, reducing hot flashes and reducing stress on kidneys, compared to eating animal protein. Many soy products also contain high levels of calcium. Consumption of soy became controversial for two reasons:
- Some nonorganic soybeans are genetically modified to be more resistant to pesticides using a genetic modification, creating Bt Toxins which are harmful to humans. Choose organic soy products to avoid this.
- Soybean isolates appear to have negative results only when daily servings exceed five to seven servings a day.
Sugar is one of the most addictive substances on earth. Biologically, we are wired to prefer sweeter foods to others, due to our need for glucose for energy. But refined sugars are one of the most inflammatory substances we can consume, compared to the natural sweetness of fruits. Sugar intake also has an impact on cancers, such as breast cancer.
Much of the sugar added to processed foods is high-fructose syrup, which can lead to a higher risk of obesity and insulin resistance.
Fructose-sweetened drinks contribute to high blood pressure by increasing uric acid, which decreases the synthesis of nitric oxide. This, in turn, inhibits vascular smooth muscle relaxant.
High consumption of sugar and sugary beverages increases cancer risk. Lower consumption of sugar leads to a higher intake of fibre and better health outcomes.
Monk fruit is a natural sweetener that has been used for thousands of years. It is on the FDA GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list. It has no calories and may help with weight management in place of sugar. One study has shown the antioxidant effects of monk fruit. Some studies group monk fruit and stevia together with sucralose and aspartame and classify them as nonnutritive sweeteners. Monk fruit and stevia are directly derived from plants, just like maple syrup.
Pure monk fruit is superior to monk fruit mixed with erythritol. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol. It has been known to lead to abdominal discomfort and diarrhea, and for those who have chronic Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it may irritate it further.
Using carob in addition to cocoa powder in "chocolate" foods can help lower cholesterol and improve anti-cancer activity by 36%. It also has genisteins, which have anti-tumour properties.
Foods with Antioxidants
Various varieties of blueberries contain high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body. Free radicals are compounds that cause harm if their levels become too high and are linked to illnesses including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Citrus flavonoids are antioxidants with benefits. They help strengthen cell walls, blood vessels and lymph systems and reduce cholesterol.
Fermented foods such as sourdough bread, assist in digestion and degrade phytates, which means that the absorption of minerals is increased and insulin spikes are reduced.
Sun-dried and traditionally dried Maca (red, yellow and black) aid in sexual vitality, higher energy, higher sperm count (black maca) and better bone health. About two thousand years ago, the Incas developed and grew maca root to improve the health, energy and sexual well-being of their citizens.
The harvest and drying methods are important to the end quality of the powder. This is why choosing a good source is very important. Themacateam.com is a credible source to consider.
IMPACTS OF FOOD CHOICES AND EXERCISE
Inflammation and Disease
Plant-based diets assist in healthier gut bacteria and reduce inflammation caused by food. Unchecked chronic inflammation is now thought to be responsible for many cancers and deadly cardiovascular diseases, including atherosclerosis and painful arthritis.
Flaxseed has many health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties. Regular consumption of ground flaxseed can reduce inflammation and has been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms. In the eighth century, King Charlemagne passed a law that required his subjects to eat flaxseed due to its health benefits.
Turmeric has been used for thousands of years and has anti-inflammatory properties. It is proven effective in reducing the symptoms of arthritis, and it is readily available and affordable to add spice and yellow colour to food. No need to buy it as a supplement.
Cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens are crucial for heart health, due to their levels of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is involved in many physiological and pathological processes, such as relaxing vascular smooth muscle tissue, increasing regional blood flow and inhibiting platelet and leukocyte adhesion to vessel walls. A combination of all these physiological benefits is likely to slow the progression of atherosclerosis.
The oils and saturated fats added to food damage the endothelial cells, which is one cause of heart disease. Eliminating added oils, of any type, from cooked and baked foods helps reduce and even reverse this damage.
High Blood Pressure Management
Hibiscus may have cancer-fighting properties and helps with natural reduction of hypertension. High fibre, plant-based diets lead to better weight management and may enable people to lower their blood pressure naturally.
For liver health, green leafy vegetables can modulate liver fatty acid composition, thus providing protection against elevations in atherogenic fatty acids, those that promote fatty plaque in the arteries. This is an easy way to improve liver health.
Long-term dietary supplementation with artichoke extract significantly improves blood lipid profile. Antioxidants contained in artichokes can also protect the liver from the harmful effects of toxins and heavy metals. This plant is a member of the thistle family. Due to their rich basic composition and high levels of antioxidants, artichokes can likely be used in the prevention of chronic noncommunicable diseases, namely those resulting from oxidative damage.
Type 2 Diabetes Prevention
Over half a billion people have type 2 diabetes. A wholefood plant-based diet has been shown to prevent or treat diabetes. It is an easy lifestyle to follow because you don’t have to count calories and limit your portions. Compared to nonvegetarians, clinical trials have shown a lower rate of type 2 diabetes.
Sexual Vitality and Diet
A diet low in saturated fats and high in fibre enhances sexual vitality. It unclogs arteries, increasing free blood flow to all organs, including genitalia, resulting in more energy, less inflammation and more natural arousal.
A healthy lifestyle and general overall health are directly related to sexual health. "...the impairment of sexual function may have a detrimental effect on self-esteem, body image, interpersonal relationships, and physical health in general, including fertility."
Women experience a better mood when they eat dark chocolate, and it also has cognitive-enhancing qualities.
Foods such as vanilla, black pepper, cacao, chili peppers, cloves, saffron, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and turmeric have mood-enhancing capabilities, which could assist in overall feelings of well-being.
Weight Management and Exercise
By eating a healthy soup before a meal, the total calories consumed for the meal will be 20% lower. An increase in fibre in your diet, can increase the success of weight management due to achieving that satisfied full feeling. There are far fewer calories in a plate full of vegetables vs. a plate full of steak and deep-fried potatoes. Plant-based diets are low in saturated fat and high in fibre.
Vigorous exercise on a consistent basis is important for overall health. Bones are living tissue and need exercise to strengthen them. Heart and brain health are improved by consistent daily exercise by men and women of all ages. The knowledge about the biological benefits of exercise is expanding every day.
Regular physical activity is crucial for women to protect against sexual dysfunction. Menopausal women have better body image with regular physical activity, improving self-esteem and emotional expression.