Sprouting Mung Beans

Mung beans are these green beans that can be sprouted until a small root emerges, or until they become long white stalks- those are what we know as bean sprouts on Asian dishes such as Pad Thai.

Sprouting mung beans is easy. Mung beans are pretty healthy and easy to prepare. Below are instructions!

Sprouting Mung Beans, Step-by-Step

  1. Place dry mung beans (however many you want) in a clean pot and fill with water, enough to comfortably cover all the beans.

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  2. Let beans sit in water overnight.
  3. Drain water. Beans should be much bigger now. I put my beans on a steamer insert (it has holes on the bottom for drainage). I poured some water on the beans, then put the steamer insert on top of my pot.

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  4. Rinse the beans once a day for about another 1-2 days. Roots should start to pop out.

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  5. I find the beans a little bitter if eaten on their own, so I steam the beans.
  6. Step 4 can be repeated until beans grow to be long and white (though mine turned out to be a mix of green, white, and dark red. I thought they were bitter, so I’d probably steam them, too.)
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2 Week Food Insecurity Challenge- Part 2

The 2 week challenge is approaching its end… so, what have I learned by living off only what I already had?

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My lunch with the last of my fresh produce.

1) It is hard to live without fresh produce. I did ration my fresh produce so that I would have a little bit each day, but when someone would bring snacks to share that consisted of fresh fruits or vegetables, something in my brain would light up. The tangerine, the carrots with hummus… those tasted more amazing than usual.

2) The fridge is pretty empty now.

3) I found a jar of pickled mushrooms hiding in the pantry. I wish I had found it earlier. I think pickled vegetables are a great way to have veggies… the jars can just sit in the pantry for long periods of time until needed. Kind of like canned vegetables but better.

4) I think I will buy canned sardines or sprats from now on. Great way to get fish and healthy fats, and they can sit in the pantry for long periods of time. Fish on the bottom of the food chain are also low in toxins such as mercury. I think they are also pretty cheap. Only gotta make sure the cans don’t have a BPA liner.

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Pickled mushrooms.

5) A cup of uncooked quinoa can make many meals. Quinoa, however, is expensive.

6) My lunches got much smaller when my fresh produce disappeared. I was also hungrier. So I tried to take up space with cookies, string cheese, pretzels…

7) I ate my alfalfa sprouts faster than I could grow them (especially once my fresh produce ran low).

8) I still have half a bag of potatoes and a whole spaghetti squash left. I also have half a giant hunk of Jarlsberg cheese left that I discovered lying in the freezer (I used half to make a scalloped potatoes). I have various other starches.

I guess I recapitulated some of the findings on what it is like to live on food stamps or to be food insecure- meals consisting of starches, little fresh produce or meat… I was able to ration what I had so that I didn’t feel like I was on a very restrictive diet, but I really look forward to some fresh produce… maybe next time I’ll try to see if I can live on only $29 a week….

BPA-free plastics: safer or even more toxic?

There has definitely been a lot of talk about the dangers of BPA. BPA is short for Bisphenol A, which is a chemical used to produce polycarbonate plastics (like plastic water bottles). This type of plastic is clear and tough. Things that commonly contain BPA include water bottles, the coatings on the inside of many food and beverage containers (cans, especially), and the paper used for sales receipts.

Recently, a few reports came out about the negative effects of BPA on the body. One study, mentioned in this article in the New York Times, showed that drinking soy milk from a container with a BPA-containing liner compared to drinking soy milk from a glass bottle led to an increase in blood pressure (about 5 mmHg) within 2 hours. BPA has long been considered to be an endocrine disruptor, and can supposedly bind to estrogen receptors that are important in blood vessel repair and blood pressure control. A number of years ago, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted a study on the amount of BPA that has leached in foods from cans. According to EWG, “of all foods tested [from cans], chicken soup, infant formula, and ravioli had BPA levels of highest concern”. Although considered safe by the American Chemistry Council, BPA is no longer used in the manufacturing of baby bottles and children’s cups. Now it is common to see plastics labeled as “BPA-free”.

Are plastics that are BPA-free safer? And what does it mean to be BPA-free?

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A stainless steel water bottle.

Oftentimes, BPA is replaced by Bisphenol S (BPS). In a recent study in PNAS, embryonic zebrafish were exposed to low doses of BPA and BPS (additional reporting on the study here). Exposure to either resulted in decreases in hypothalamic neurogenesis (i.e. exposure to BPA or BPS affected brain development). The decrease was greater in BPS than BPA. This suggests that BPA-free plastics containing BPS may actually be less safe than conventional BPA-containing plastics. From a common sense point of view, a business/plastics producer does not need to replace a compound with something “better” or “safer”, just one that satisfies the consumer at the moment. If a consumer wants something BPA-free, then a business only needs to give them something that doesn’t contain BPA.

So what can one do? Purchase glass or stainless steel water bottles, and avoid eating from cans and drinking from plastic bottles of any kind. Additionally, one should probably avoid microwaving plastics and switch to glass (such as Pyrex) or other alternatives. But it may be difficult to avoid BPA (and similar chemicals) altogether.

[Update: new study shows that BPA, and even more so estradiol (synthetic estrogen used in birth control), disrupts sperm production in mice.]

2 Week Food Insecurity Challenge, Part 1

I recently read about what it is like to struggle with food insecurity. For example, to only have $60 a month to spend on food. From what I gathered, one’s diet may often consist of eating beans, root vegetables (mostly potatoes, I guess?), and pasta/bread. A few years ago, when I spoke to the coordinator of a local organization that provides food, shelter, education, clothing and support, they told me that when one is on food stamps, they only have about $3 a day to spend on food, so they generally go for food that keeps them from feeling hungry- and that often consists of high calorie, processed food. ($3 a day is about $90 a month. I guess these numbers may all vary by state and cost of food in the area, as well as change over time).

The Food Stamp Program in the US, currently called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has something called a SNAP challenge. This challenge “encourages participants to experience what life is like for millions of low-income Americans living on the average daily allowance of only $4.15!” (I guess that is about $124 a month).

One Congressman tried to live only a food stamp budget for a week ($31.50 a week in Michigan, or $4.50 a day), and his story is chronicled here. The Congressman noted that his diet was very restricted, and that he often felt hungry, especially at night. He also noted that he discovered that “luxuries like chicken, beef and produce are simply too expensive for such a restricted budget”.

Another difficulty I read about is the inability to purchase in bulk (which can help bring down cost of food) because of insufficient funds to do so, or maybe the inability to be approved for a credit card. Additional issues include: availability of only a small refrigerator and no working freezer, no oven, no microwave, only one hot plate, lack of funds for oils and spices (which are generally costly upfront). These issues may make purchasing “raw” foods (foods that require extra preparation but cost less) or foods that take up a lot of space in the fridge or freezer very difficult.

This month, half way through, I managed to spend more on food than I’d like to for a whole month (i.e. the budget I set for myself and generally aspire to). So I’ve decided to spend most of the rest of this month living off of only what was available at my home. Since I already spent so much it must mean there must be enough to survive on, right? In a way, I am simulating what it is like when one runs out of food assistance before the end of the month.

One thing that did start to make me anxious was that I was already starting to run out of fresh produce. I immediately started growing alfalfa sprouts in my sprouter as a way to have something fresh to eat when my fresh produce disappeared (a similar one to mine can be purchased on Amazon, though they can grown just in a glass jar).

I should be okay on grains and even meat (which I don’t eat much). For grains, I have pasta, rice, quinoa, sweet corn, and buckwheat. I also have lentils and kelp noodles, though I don’t think I will be purchasing the latter again (they only have 6 calories per serving and gave me some digestive problems). I have some homemade chicken liver pate which seems to be lasting me forever (a plastic container of chicken livers only costs $1.75, and these livers have a huge amount of iron and Vitamin A). I still have half a container left and I put it in the freezer. I also have bread, matzah squares, and rolled oats. I also have some smoked salmon and a little bit of cubed pancetta. I have plenty of cheese (mozzarella, parmesan, and even paneer and frozen Jarlsberg, though not sure it’s any good anymore). I have homemade yogurt, and I have milk. I have a lot of frozen barbecue sauce (?), tomato paste, and even a frozen bottle of strained tomatoes (known as passata). I also have some pasta sauce. I have many apples, one avocado, and one banana. I have some raisins, dried cranberries, and some nuts. I also have some frozen peas and honeycake that I unearthed from the freezer, as well as a package of frozen quinoa dinner and maybe some frozen fish (not sure if edible). I have some ice cream and home-made popsicles. In terms of fresh food left- I have some baby kale, some cooked bell peppers and portabello mushrooms, and some mung beans. I also have 2 eggs left. It’s surprising just how much food one has hiding in various places in the kitchen. I am pretty lucky that I have every kind of oil, butter, vinegar, spice, and condiment available. Looking forward, I have a bag of yellow potatoes and one spaghetti squash which I imagine will have to all be eaten. I think I should be okay but the main issue will have to be dealing with lack of fresh produce.

To end this entry, I will ask the question: what kind of food do people really need when money is tight / what kind of food should you be donating to food banks? Here’s a Buzzfeed article describing what food banks are looking for. One thing I’d add to the list: spices. Or even better, donate money directly to the food bank!

Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing

You’ve probably heard of 23andMe. Until recently, they provided direct-to-consumer genetic testing. However, at the moment, they are no longer providing health-related genetic reports (here is a NEJM article on the controversy surrounding 23andMe’s genetic testing services). Instead, they are now offering ancestry-related genetic reports and uninterpreted raw genetic data. [Update on 23andMe]

Genetics, specifically the field of personalized genetics/genomics, is still quite young. We still don’t really know what our genetic information can tell us about our current and future health. We have figured out the easy stuff- single gene mutations that lead to diseases like Huntington’s and cystic fibrosis. But we don’t really know yet what genes or mutations are responsible for more common conditions like heart disease and Alzheimer’s, as they are unlikely to be caused by any one gene- it is most likely a complex interplay between many genes and the environment. 23andMe used single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) as markers for disease. A SNP is a single nucleotide substitution in the human genome that occurs in more than 1% of the population. Many genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have tried to find associations between SNPs and disease.

IMG_1746Despite the difficulties 23andMe has been having with the FDA, it looks like biotech companies are still looking to try their luck at direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Today at work we found the following package from Inherent Health: “Your Personal Weight Management Genetic Test“.
Given how little we understand about our genome, I wondered exactly how this company was going to use our genetic data to help us manage our weight. On the back, I found a sticker with a description.

It said:

“This test is based on a study, funded in part by Inherent Health, in which 240 overweight pre-menopausal women followed either a very-low carbohydrate diet, a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat high carbohydrate diet, or a very high-carbohydrate diet for one year. Study participants were provided instructions by a registered dietician for 2 months concerning how to follow their assigned diets; some instructions included behavioral modification techniques. Participants’ DNA were analyzed and the study concluded that after 12 months participants who possessed specific gene markers lost, on average, more weight following one type of diet than another. Due to the emerging nature of this area of science, the understanding of the strength of the relationship between genes and diet is evolving.”

IMG_1747I thought the whole idea was pretty funny. A genetic test to tell you how well you will respond to certain diets? Given that the study only enrolled women, I’m not sure how useful these results would be for men. Also, when it comes to diet, there are so many variables to take into a consideration. Did all the women stick to their diets? What exactly did they eat? Is it more about willpower (is that genetic?) or genes/metabolism? Is your metabolism only determined by your genes? What other environmental variables could be playing a role? (Here’s an article saying that people don’t accurately report what they eat in studies).

I’m pretty sure there will be some false associations between genes and diet response just because of the numbers of variables that can affect response to a diet. If someone asked me to interpret their test results, what I would tell them probably would be the same no matter their results: “Limit portion sizes, cut out junk food, cut out sweet drinks, cut out fake sugars and fake anything, cut down on carbs, eat fruit, veggies, and some fat.” I’d like to see the results of that study… how well exactly did the women do on the various diets?

Yogurt

I became very intrigued by yogurt when I read Michael Pollan’s book entitled, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. One of the topics was fermentation, the process of transforming food using microbes. In addition to transforming simple ingredients into delicious foods, these microbes may also offer a health benefit themselves. In the book, Michael Pollan states:

Medical researchers are coming around to the startling conclusion that, in order to be healthy, people need more exposure to microbes, not less; and that one of the problems with the so-called Western diet —besides all the refined carbohydrates and fats and novel chemicals in it— is the absence from it of live-culture foods. The theory is that these foods have a crucial role to play in nourishing the vast community of microbes living inside us, which in turn plays a much larger role in our overall health and well-being than we ever realized.

Pollan, Michael (2013-04-23). Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (p. 311). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition

I had been eating Greek yogurt for quite some time, but I didn’t like the taste- I had to get the flavored ones to deal with the sourness. After reading the book, and being told by some friends that making yogurt was quite easy, I decided to give it a try. It turned out well- it was delicious and very creamy without any sugar or any other additives. I could also make it with organic whole milk- that way I wasn’t resigned to eating the 0% fat Greek yogurt that was sold in the store. It was also cheaper to make than to buy organic yogurt.

I eventually decided to buy an incubator to make yogurt production more efficient (warmth is necessary for faster production, and my kitchen was generally pretty cold). I purchased the Euro Cuisine Yogurt Maker. I wish I had paid the extra money for the one with the automatic shut-off feature that shut off the incubator after a certain amount of time.

I’ve added below the recipe for making yogurt with or without a yogurt maker. It’s pretty simple! And a great way to add healthy fermented dairy to your diet (see the benefit of fermented dairy in my previous post).

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Euro Cuisine Yogurt Maker

Homemade Yogurt

Ingredients:

  • 7 cups of milk (I like to use any brand of organic whole milk)
  • 1 cup of yogurt with live cultures (I like Stonyfield Farms Organic Plain Greek Yogurt)

Instructions:

  1. Heat the 7 cups of milk until the milk starts to rise up the sides of the pot.
  2. Remove milk from heat and let cool to lukewarm. I test the milk by dropping a few drops of the milk over my wrist to see if it’s not too hot. If it gets a little colder than lukewarm, it should be okay.
  3. Strain the milk through a strainer- there usually is a film that forms.
  4. Combine the milk and the 1 cup of yogurt in a bowl- mix with a whisk.
  5. Then pour yogurt into either the glass bottles that came with yogurt maker or another container; you can also leave it in the bowl.
  6. Put the plastic cover on top of the yogurt maker and turn it on. Leave it for about 8 hours. If you have no yogurt maker, cover the top of your container (I put a plate on top of the bowl, or you can use cheesecloth) and put a warm towel around your container. You can also just slightly warm up your oven (make sure it’s not hot and that no one turns it on afterward) and put your covered container in there (make sure everything is oven safe). Leave it in for about 12 hours.

Then voila, your yogurt should be done! Store it in the fridge- keeps for about a week or two at least. Enjoy!

Got milk?

Image from sensitivitees.blogspot.com

Milk is good for you, right? Doesn’t it have calcium, Vitamin D, and protein?

In an article by The New York Times entitled Got Milk? Might Not Be Doing You Much Good, the benefits of milk are reviewed. Milk has unfortunately not been found to be associated with decreased risk of hip fractures, or increased bone density. It may even be associated with increased risk of death. There is a great editorial in the British Medical Journal reviewing the data on milk (note, however, that it is behind a paywall). One of the studies the editorial cites concludes that milk, but not fermented dairy products such as yogurt, are potentially harmful to people’s health. Milk, unlike yogurt, is high in the sugars lactose and galactose. This article in Science Alert gives a simple overview of that study.

What are these sugars? You’ve probably heard of lactose, because some people are lactose intolerant, meaning they lack the enzyme, lactase, to digest milk. Instead, the bacteria in the gut breakdown lactose into glucose and galactose, and in the process, release gas, which leads to bloating and other symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. According to the study, lactose and galactose are thought to contribute to oxidative stress, inflammation, and even aging. Additionally, if you think about it, when you remove the fat from the milk, you end up with more sugar (most likely in the form of lactose) per unit of volume of milk.

Dairy is restricted or forbidden in the popular Paleo diet, which based on the idea that we should eat like our Paleolithic ancestors because that is what we were evolved to eat. I am personally not convinced by the Paleo diet, as I don’t think it makes an accurate evolutionary argument that properly takes into consideration human biological variation and adaptability- we humans can survive and thrive on a variety of foods, not just the ones supposedly consumed during the Paleolithic period. Given the results of the studies in the paragraph above, it does appear that certain dairy products, particularly fermented dairy products (yogurt, cheese, kefir, buttermilk), are good for you. Maybe it’s the bacteria, maybe it’s the lack of lactose and galactose. But that discussion is for the future! Grab some yogurt, and enjoy!

 

Review of “The Big Fat Surprise”

The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz; Image courtesy of http://www.thebigfatsurprise.com

I recently finished reading “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet”. It was given to me as a gift, and I quickly finished it while traveling because the last half of the book is references to scientific literature and such. The book was also just recently reviewed in The Economist: The case for eating steak and cream.

I thought the book was a little one-sided but it appears to be well-referenced and the ideas seem logical. While I would need to check out much of the literature for myself (which unfortunately would be quite time-consuming), I think the book’s conclusions are in step with the most recent diet findings (low-fat, high-carb diets don’t work, saturated fat is neutral at worst, etc).

One of the main take-home points in this book is that heart disease did not seem to exist in the past, even among who lived to be greater than 50-60 years old. Most groups of people around the world had a diet rich in fats, with obvious exceptions like during times of war and famine. Many of our dietary recommendations came from imperfect studies- mostly epidemiological studies whose findings were not validated experimentally. Data was often collected during misleading times- such as during famine or war/post-war, during Lent, when people’s diets were not indicative of what they ate throughout most of their lives, even if these groups of people were found to have lived long, heart-disease-free lives.

Foods rich in fat are often rich in cholesterol (eggs, meat, cheese). We’ve been taught that high cholesterol is bad for our health. However, the book states that cholesterol levels (total cholesterol, LDL, HDL) have not been found to be predictive of future risk of heart disease. I remember being taught about certain genetic diseases where people have extremely high levels of LDL, for example, and thus often die of heart attacks at a relatively young age. I can thus understand how this may seem like a good reason to believe that cholesterol is linked to heart disease; this point is addressed in the book. However, these genetic disorders most likely have a different disease process than by which people normally develop heart disease, according to the book.

There is also a long section on vegetable oils- particularly, polyunsaturated fats (soybean, corn, canola, flax, sesame). For comparison, olive oil is a monounsaturated fat. These oils are often used to replace saturated fats in food (like trans fats were back in the day). These polyunsaturated fats, however, are unstable and can oxidize. When heated, they can form toxic byproducts or even turn into trans fats. My first thoughts here are: aren’t these the oils we use for frying? I have definitely consumed quite a few French fries. I have a bottle of canola oil lying around- it says on it “for high heat cooking”. I did some reading and saw a video on how canola oil is produced. Canola oil is apparently not particularly palatable in its initial form and must be heavily processed before it can be consumed. High heat is often used in the industrial process. One can purchase cold-pressed canola oil (made without use of high heat) to maybe avoid some of those issues- I will have to check if my oil is cold-pressed. Olive oil, and saturated fats, by comparison, do not have these issues, and can be heated safely.

From a common sense point of view, the removal of fat from the diet leaves a caloric gap to be filled- most often by carbohydrates. Carbohydrates/sugar have been linked to inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc. Maybe there is a reason why obesity rates have been rising despite so many people aware of and adhering to dietary recommendations? I guess now it’s time for me to buy a can of coconut oil (which is a saturated fat; other saturated fats include butter, lard, palm oil) and rediscover a love for bacon?

Life:Science- First post

Hi!

This is the first post of my health and lifestyle blog, Life:Science. This is a blog dedicated to healthy living, with input from science. I am interested in experimenting, and am open to changing my own views and opinions. I hope this blog will be helpful and informative, as well as entertaining.

I hope to start off with posts about a book on fat that I just read, yogurt making, growing sprouts, and reviewing/trying out various natural cosmetic/shower products.

Thanks for reading!