Halloween is one of those holidays that most kids can’t wait for and most parents loathe due to the high amount of unhealthy sugary candy. Many of the go-to candy brands are also loaded with GE ingredients. This year, make the switch to non-GMO and healthier Halloween treats. The Non-GMO Project and Green Halloween’s Guide to a Non-GMO Halloween is an excellent resource, which details the most common GE ingredients such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soybean oil along with many others. This post from Veritey covers the ingredients of many of the most popular Halloween treats and provides kid-approved alternatives. Additionally, the Natural Candy Store has a whole selection Non-GMO Project Verified snacks and candy.
Along with concerns over GMOs in your children’s candy, it is also important to be conscious of food allergies of your children and other trick-or-treaters. As GMOs have become more prevalent in our food system, so have the pesticides used to grow them. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report on the link between a rise in pesticide use and childhood allergies. Many popular Halloween treats also have some of the most common allergens such as peanuts, dairy, soy and wheat. The Food Allergy Research & Education organization has started the teal pumpkin project. The project encourages homeowners to leave a teal-painted pumpkin on their porches to alert kids and parents that they have food-free treats. If you still want to give out an edible treat, make sure to separate those containing allergens from those that are allergen-free. Parents should be extra vigilante in checking labels during the holiday season due to the fact that increased production often means different allergen precautions for the mass produced mini versions of candies.
Besides indulging in loads of store-bought candy, make your own yummy treat. Caramel apples are a childhood favorite; there is just something about fruit wrapped up in a gooey substance that is guaranteed to get all over your face. While caramel is tasty, many brands are filled with additives and artificial colors and flavors. Here is a delicious recipe for a healthier version of caramel that can be used to dip apples.
* Use organic, non-GMO ingredients whenever possible.
• 1 cup organic full-fat coconut milk
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• ½ cup organic coconut sugar (we like Nutiva)
• 2 tablespoons water
• 1 teaspoon organic pure vanilla extract
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
In a small pot over medium heat, mix coconut sugar, water, and lemon juice and bring to a boil.
Immediately add the coconut milk (pour slowly), sea salt, and vanilla. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid becomes thick and dark. Be sure to stir occasionally and scrape the edges of the pot with a rubber spatula to avoid burning.
Remove from heat once it’s thick and cool down to room temperature. Yields 2/3 cups.
For best results, store it in a sealed jar in the refrigerator overnight before using it.
Use it for: caramel apples, popcorn, drizzling over frozen yogurt/ice cream, or add it to other baked goods.
Don’t forget: The consistency of the caramel looks and tastes best when you refrigerate it overnight before using it. And boy does it taste soooo darn good (with less calories, sugar, and excess).
Editor’s Note: We’re extending the “Don’t Have a Cow” blog series to this Thursday, Oct. 2nd, to incorporate a brand new 10-Day Local Food Challenge from Your Money or Your Life co-author Vicki Robin. Meanwhile, our Food Campaigns Director Nicole McCann blogs her experience at the Natural Products Expo East 2014 below!
As a plant-based staff member at Green America, Natural Products Expo East 2014 in Baltimore, MD, was like all of the food-centric holidays in one enormous trade show: delicious and pleasantly overwhelming. I was there manning the GMO Inside booth and schmoozing with all of my favorite vegan food companies that I know and love, as well as discovering new ones. I found some exciting vegan and organic and/or Non-GMO Verified products for which you should be sure to keep an eye out. Some of these products are so new they are not even on their parent company’s websites!
Want to eat healthier but hate to cook? We know the feeling. That’s why we reached out to healthy living educator and vegan chef Leslie Durso. Whether you eat (local, grass-fed) meat or not, everyone can benefit from putting more veggies on their plates. Below, Leslie shares her advice for making healthier meals that are also quick and easy.
What is the hardest part about eating healthy? Most people will answer: the amount of time it takes to cook or they can’t cook. My answer for the latter is that everyone can cook! If you want to be a good cook then you will! You just need some instruction, patience, and a little guidance. Most of that can come from following some good recipes at the beginning. The answer to the first is a little more complicated. Yes, cooking healthy food from scratch takes longer than heating up nutrient-less microwavable meals or eating out. My answer for you is: find a couple hours one day a week to cook. In those few hours, make things that can live in your refrigerator for a week or can easily be frozen and stored longer. This way when you get home from a long day, or have 2 minutes to make breakfast a healthy option will be sitting right in your refrigerator. Not to mention, you will save a lot of that hard-earned money! Here are a list of things to keep in your fridge and freezer:
Veggie Burgers—You can pack so much more protein and vitamins in these when you make them from scratch. They are super easy to make and kids can help, too.
Sauces—Most sauces freeze really well. I recommend freezing them in single serving amounts so you don’t have to defrost a gallon of tomato sauce for one person.
Cooked Rice—Need a cup of rice for a recipe or rice to go with a quick veggie sauté? Boom.
Soup—Freeze in plastic freezer bags; reheating is a cinch!
Cookie Dough—First of all, who doesn’t want cookie dough ready in their freezers at all times?? My tip is to roll the dough in balls, then freeze in a bag so you can make individual cookies without having to chop from a cookie dough block.
Smoothies—You are probably saying, “What?” but yes, portion out a homemade smoothie into freezer bags in individual portions. When you are in a rush in the morning and don’t have too much time, throw a block of frozen smoothie in your blender with a little bit of liquid and there you have a super way to start your day.
Salad Dressing—When you make salad dressing from scratch you are cutting out all the preservatives and sugars they put in the packaged stuff.
Salad—Love salad, but think it takes forever to chop everything up? Pre chop loads of ingredients that you might like in your salad and store them in the fridge (this includes washing, drying and tearing the lettuce). When you need a quick lunch you won’t have to head to the vending machine.
Quinoa—Having precooked quinoa in your fridge (or freezer) is great because you can top your salad with it, you can put some sautéed veggies on top of it or mid week you can make a quick quinoa salad with the veggies you have chopped for your green salad along with some dressing. Quinoa is loaded with protein and can help you stay full when you are on-the-go.
Fruit Salad—It makes a great healthy snack and when it starts to get soft mid week, make a smoothie out of them!
Iced Tea—Don’t reach for a soda! Have a nice pitcher of green iced tea handy to give you a caffeine boost, but also deliver a cupful of super vitamin rich nutrients.
Please note that all items listed above should be kept in air tight containers to maximize their freshness.
Being an Italian vegan, there are certain dishes and sauces that I had to recreate. Here are what I call the “Italian Mother Sauces”: Lemon & Spinach Pesto, Cauliflower Alfredo, and Traditional Marinara. All three sauces freeze beautifully and you can pop them out and have them defrosted before you pasta has even boiled.
Lemon & Spinach Pesto
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 cloves of garlic
about 2 cups of basil leaves
about 2 cups of spinach
1/4- 1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
What you’ll do:
You’ll place the basil and spinach in the food processor topped with the garlic and nuts. Pulse a few times to break them down a bit. Add in the zest from the lemon and all the lemon juice. Pulse again and then drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto is smooth. Cook your pasta to al dente, drain and return to the pot. Add the pesto right on top and stir to coat the noodles. Serve immediately.
Cauliflower Fettuccine Alfredo
1 large head of cauliflower
3 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp. vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
Cut off any bottom leaves of the cauliflower and cut out the toughest part of the core. Then break the cauliflower down into florets. Boil them with the vegetable broth uncovered until the cauliflower is very soft and tender. About 15 minutes.
While the cauliflower is cooking, heat a large frying pan and sauté the onion and garlic with the Earth Balance and olive oil until soft.
When both are done, using a slotted spoon, remove all the cauliflower from the broth and place in a blender or food processor. Add 1 cup of the cooking broth, all the contents of the frying pan, the nutmeg and salt. Puree on high until very smooth, 3-4 minutes. Add a little more broth at a time if it needs to be thinned. Add pepper to taste.
Serve with fettuccine and serve warm.
OPTIONS: Drizzle the finished fettuccine Alfredo with some truffle oil for something really special! Add red chili flakes to kick up the heat on your pasta! Or sauté asparagus, mushrooms, squash, tomatoes, broccoli, or any other veggies you like and add on top!
What you’ll need:
1 medium onion, diced
2 28oz. can of whole san marzano tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
5 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
What you’ll do:
In a large frying pan over medium heat, sauté the onion in some olive oil and a pinch of salt until soft. Add in the can of tomatoes, stir and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon break up the tomatoes. Add the garlic and simmer another few minutes. Stir in the basil and serve over pasta, polenta, quinoa, etc.
—Leslie Durso has walked the plant-based talk since the age of eight. After establishing herself as a private chef in NYC and Hollywood, Leslie began hosting cooking segments on television and healthy-living content online. Determined to inspire beneficial life-long eating habits for everyone, she has appeared on The Food Network, The Discovery Channel, The Hallmark Channel, Everyday Health, and Mother Nature Network, and has written for MindBodyGreen, VegNews, CNN.com, Redbook, Glamour, Maxim, and dozens more, evangelizing the benefits of a mindful lifestyle, delivered with her trademark blend of sunshiney sophistication and girl-next-door relatability. She currently broadcasts her farm-fresh recipes and warmhearted sensibilities to an extensive audience spanning more than 130 countries via LeslieDurso.com.
On behalf of Green America, I attended General Mills’ annual shareholder meeting this morning. Green America holds a handful of shares so that we can have a voice as shareholders.
The topic of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) dominated the discussion, with Green America allies and me asking several questions about General Mills’ continued defense of GMOs in the face of growing public opposition. While Ken Powell repeated last year’s rhetoric that GMOs have been proven safe by several international organizations and that General Mills supports national labeling of non-GMO products (as opposed to those with GMOs), many shareholders in the audience were on a different page. Numerous individual shareholders voiced their concerns about GMOs and called for sustainable and safe ingredients. As one shareholder put it, General Mills should “keep an open mind, please” about not using GMO ingredients.
In addition to GMOs being a topic during the Q&A portion of the meeting, there was also a shareholder resolution to eliminate GMOs from General Mills’ products brought forth by As You Sow and supported by Harriet Crosby, great granddaughter of one of the co-founders of General Mills. Though the resolution won’t earn a majority of votes (as is often the case) and all votes are not in yet, the preliminary votes in favor of the resolution amount to shares worth $682 million.
Continuing Green America’s GMO Inside campaign’s request for General Mills to verify original Cheerios as non-GMO with a third-party, we asked Ken Powell directly why they are not doing so. Powell replied that if they say it’s non-GMO, then it is. What about removing GMOs from the other varieties of Cheerios? Powell answered that oats, the only main ingredient in original Cheerios, is not genetically engineered so that’s why they were able to make original Cheerios non-GMO (though at the time, General Mills stated that it was a huge undertaking). They won’t even bother trying to remove GMOs from the other varieties.
General Mills did speak to their efforts to reduce energy usage, water usage, and greenhouse gas emissions as well as their work with suppliers to develop more sustainable agricultural practices. We look forward to seeing the results of these efforts. I encouraged General Mills to include the reduction of pesticides (as well as the removal of GMOs) as a key component of improving sustainability.
The acquisition of Annie’s was also mentioned, with General Mills acknowledging the company meets consumer demand for natural and organic products and will further help General Mills’ other organic/natural lines. General Mills also admitted that it is their organic lines that are growing most rapidly, which again raises the question of why they don’t increase the use of organics across their brands.
So the conversation for more sustainable, less toxic, truly natural products continues.
Growing up in a dairy state, I regularly saw farms with black and white dairy cows grazing in the fields on the way to my grandparents’ house. While I never was fond of the manure smell, I loved seeing the large, calm beasts nibbling on greens and relaxing in the sun. Throughout the years, I learned more and more about the meat and dairy industries and the ugly truth of factory farming, which isn’t like my childhood farm scene at all. I easily stopped eating meat early on, but dairy was a bit harder to let go of.
In my family’s country, yogurt plays a daily role in their meals. So yogurt was a large part of my diet as well. I even made my own, of course from milk from a local dairy farm, which delivered to my house in glass bottles. However, I couldn’t ignore the idea of cows continually impregnated to keep producing milk, their udders regularly hooked up to machinery, and their babies taken away at birth so that humans could drink the milk meant for them. These reasons, along with the fact that dairy contributes to inflammation and congestion in the body, finally pushed me to cut dairy out of my diet.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure about trying it yourself, don’t worry. I have gone through multiple iterations with varying degrees of rigidness over the years. Keep in mind you don’t have to stop all dairy products at once. You can start with just one item (for example milk) and see how it goes. Or decide you’ll give them all up in your daily life but be open to the occasional dairy treat with family or friends. I believe you could have better long-term success if you strive for a particular diet most of the time but are forgiving instead of rigid.
Pay attention to how you feel when you don’t eat dairy and then how you feel when you do. I’ve noticed that if I do have dairy for a special occasion (e.g. family holiday), I am noticeably congested the next day. If you don’t feel compelled to be dairy-free for the cows or the environment, you might feel reinforcement to do it for yourself.
The easiest way to remove something from your life is to replace it with something better, right? So here are some of the ways I’ve replaced dairy in my food.
I love coconut oil and use it for everything. I cook with it, bake desserts with it, and put it on popcorn. Coconut oil withstands a higher cooking temperature than olive oil and is a healthy fat. You don’t have to worry about it being genetically engineered like typical vegetable oil which is usually canola and cottonseed oils. And it doesn’t come from cows pumped with antibiotics and eating feed from genetically engineered crops doused with toxic pesticides and herbicides.
On popcorn, I also use flax or hemp oil to get omega 3.
If you don’t want the coconut flavor in your dessert or dish, you can use sunflower oil or grape seed oil as neither has much flavor. Also, because the oils aren’t solid like butter, your desserts should be a little moister.
This one is easy. Instead of cow milk, you can use any of the many nondairy milks available – almond, coconut, rice, soy, hemp, flax, oat. However, for a savory soup, make sure you don’t buy a vanilla flavored variety. Some other things to keep in mind (I’ll just briefly touch on since they are beyond the scope of this article): almost all of the soy in the US is genetically engineered so make sure you buy organic or with the Non-GMO Project verification. Also, some people avoid soy because vegan and vegetarian diets are often overloaded with it and because of its phytoestrogens. In addition, carrageenan is in many of the nondairy milks, and some experts warn against consuming it. As for flavor, rice milk is a little more watery, and coconut milk beverage doesn’t taste like the canned coconut milk. I personally like the texture and taste of almond milk. Hemp milk is good too but more expensive.
Milk – Cereal, Baking, etc
Any nondairy milk that you like can replace cow milk. See Cream Soups above for more info. Vanilla varieties work well with cereal and some baked items, though you might want to check the label and make sure it doesn’t have lots of extra sugar.
Vegetables and Dip
For that quick appetizer, snack, or potluck dish, don’t buy the premade dips with sour cream and/or cheese. Buy hummus or make your own tahini dip to mimic the richness and fattiness of the dairy dips. See my recipe below.
Cheese in Sandwiches/Wraps
Use avocado for healthy richness. For those who don’t like avocado (apparently they exist) or for a slightly less expensive option, make a tahini spread. See my recipe below. (This tahini spread is really versatile.)
You can make “cheesy” broccoli, cauliflower, etc. with your own vegan cheese sauce. You can also make a vegan alfredo sauce. See recipes below.
Coconut ice cream is a fantastic replacement for dairy ice cream. It is very creamy and rich, and there are many flavors available without artificial and genetically engineered ingredients (corn syrup and sugar from sugar beets) like many dairy ice creams have. The only downside is the price. Rice and soy ice cream exist as well but are not as similar in my opinion.
Disclaimer: I don’t actually measure when I prepare food so these are estimates. Feel free to adapt.
Tahini Spread/Dip/Salad Dressing
½ cup tahini
¼+ cup apple cider vinegar (could also use red wine vinegar or balsamic)
¼+ cup lemon juice
Dried herbs of your choice – tarragon, parsley, oregano, basil
White or black pepper
Few squirts of flax or hemp oil for omega 3
Water to thin
Blend all ingredients, ideally with an immersion blender. A fork doesn’t work as well to fully blend the tahini with the liquid. If the mix is too thick and won’t blend, add a little bit of water or more lemon juice or vinegar. Make it as thick or runny as you want for a spread or dip.
This same base can we used for a salad dressing. Just add water, lemon juice, or vinegar.
Cream of Broccoli Soup
My mom doesn’t like broccoli, but she loves this soup.
1 onion or 1 bundle of green onion or 1 leek
3-5 cloves of garlic (depending on preference)
Pound of broccoli, both stalk and florets chopped and separated
3-4 carrots, roughly chopped
3-4 celery stalks, roughly chopped
vegetable broth (2-3 cups of liquid or 2-3 teaspoons of powder. I like Seitenbacher because it doesn’t have palm oil, which is often unsustainably grown)
2 tablespoons tahini
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups almond milk
white or black pepper
Fry the onion in coconut oil or oil of your preference. Add garlic and fry.
Add broccoli stalk, celery, and carrot. Add vegetable broth liquid or water mixed with broth powder to barely cover vegetables. Add salt and pepper.
Simmer until almost tender but still a little hard, about 10-15 minutes depending on how big chunks are.
Add broccoli florets and cook a little longer until florets are bright green. Overcooking will turn broccoli dark green/brown.
Add tahini, olive oil, almond milk and blend. An immersion blender right in the pot is the easiest, but you can use any regular blender or food processor.
Vegan “Cheese” Sauce
1 tsp Braggs Liquid Aminos, tamari, or soy sauce
2 Tbsp tahini
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
½ – 1 Tbsp lemon juice and/or apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp coconut oil, melted (optional)
Optional seasonings depending on what you’re putting it on:
water, if desired
A quick Google search of “vegan athletes” generates over 3.8 million hits, up 2 million since spring of this year. The New York Times alone has over 800 stories related to the phrase, a two-thirds increase since just a few months ago. My suspicions have been confirmed—more and more people are adopting vegan diets to support improved athletic performance, and the concept has intrigued others.
Professional vegan athletes are hardly a rarity—from triathletes, ultra-runners, tennis players, and even mixed martial arts fighters. Do they do it because they are animal rights activists? Proponents for what’s best for the environment? Well, maybe those are some side benefits. But these athletes are first and foremost professionals; they get paid to win. Not being the fastest or the strongest is out of the question. And they have tapped into gold when they can find a way of eating that gives them that extra edge beyond their competitors.
Why Vegan Diets Are Effective for Athletes
There are a few possible reasons why vegan diets and people who eat them benefit in athletic performance.
1. Higher in Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for activity. There’s no way around that fact. Carbohydrates that you consume are broken down into glucose for immediate use or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Glycogen is that all-important material that the body uses during endurance sports. Much of the goal of training is to maximize the amount of glycogen you can store and then use for your event. And what does a well-rounded vegan diet look like? It’s loaded with high-carbohydrates foods—fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. On average, a meat eater consumes less than 50 percent of his or her diet from carbs, a vegetarian about 50 to 55 percent, and a vegan around 50 to 65 percent.
It probably seems pretty obvious that a healthy heart can benefit physical performance, especially for the athlete that intends to exercise throughout life. A vegan diet, naturally cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat, and high in fiber, helps support this most essential muscle. People who avoid animal products also have lower blood pressure and less heart disease!
More Health Conscious
Research has shown that people who follow vegan diets also consume more fiber, antioxidants, less fat, and zero cholesterol. Statistically, vegans also tend to be more educated, consume less alcohol, and watch less television! All of this lends to ideal conditions for refining athletic performance.
Fiber, which is only found in plants, helps aid with digestion, thus making those who consume it literally feel, well, lighter! Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate. Once consumed, it passes through your long digestive track mimicking tiny scrub brushes and speeding up overall digestion. No one wants to run a race while carrying several meals and snacks in their gut! Fiber keeps food moving and your gut clean.
Some athletes have suggested that consuming a healthful vegan diet speeds recovery time. If you recover faster, you train more, thus getting an edge over your competitors. While different reasons for this have been proposed, it may be as simple as plants are extremely nutrient-dense, providing plenty of antioxidants and phytochemicals to support healing.
Exercise and vegan eating have their own respective benefits. Being active boosts your psychological well-being, your immune system, bone mass, and strength and balance, while decreasing your risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression. Vegan diets reduce your risk for heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes. Together, these two powerful lifestyle choices can make a super fit being.
Most importantly, vegan diets are not just for professionals! Adopting a healthful, plant-based diet—full of fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains—may be the best tip you can get for finding the energy and motivation to get off the couch and see what you are capable of doing.
Try not to jump, pedal, swim, or run when you feel this good!
Dunford M. Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals. 4th Edition. American Dietetic Association.
Mangels R, et al. The Dietitian’s Guide to Vegetarian Diets: Issues and Applications. Third Edition.
Jacobs KA, et al. Int J Sport Nutrition. 1999;9:92-115.
—Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., is director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting preventive medicine, especially better nutrition, and higher standards in research. She is also an avid runner and vegRUN.org coach.
Are you an athlete who eats less meat or a vegetarian or vegan diet? What differences have you noticed in your performance since adopting a plant-based lifestyle?
Don’t get me wrong: I used to love a juicy steak as much as the next guy. But when my wife and I realized the impact our diets were having on the environment, we decided to stay away from Costco meat counter with its bulk-size offerings of cheap beef.
Climate impact was a big initial motivator. The fact that it takes so much water and feed to produce beef, compounded with the high carbon impact of the cow’s waste, means that I couldn’t call myself an environmentalist unless we stopped buying beef.
So over the past decade, my wife and I shifted our family from being weekly omnivores to a diet that contains lots of local vegetables, sustainable fish, and regional poultry and eggs. As a special treat a couple times a year, we’ll splurge big and buy local, grass-fed beef or lamb at the farmer’s market. Our three kids are on board, and I’m amazed we don’t have to argue about it as a family.
The industrial nature of food production means that the lovely slabs of meat at the grocery store were shrink wrapped in an industrial warehouse that completely disconnects us from the animal. I think it’s important that you understand what you’re eating. Beef comes from a once-living animal called a cow! Once you really consider what goes into a hamburger—and share it with your kids!—that used-to-be-my-favorite McDonald’s Quarter Pounder becomes a LOT less appealing.
We talk about these food concerns with the kids, including why we try to eat local produce as well. They realize now that a steak is an extra-special treat and that at certain times of the year there are going to be lots of greens or no tomatoes. Sure, my wife and I get complaints from the kids sometimes, but we also find that, as the Rolling Stones say, “you can’t always get what you want” isn’t a bad message in life.
When making pasta sauce, ground turkey works as a great beef substitute. We often make burritos, and if you’ve got some good stuff to put in there (avocado, fried spinach, or maybe fried zucchini), you really don’t need to add meat. Veggie pizza is a crowd pleaser and, of course, pasta with cheese and a side or two of vegetables is a meal any kid will scarf down.
As a culture, we Americans eat too much high-impact meat. I know that entirely cutting out meat would be even better for the planet, but I feel good knowing that even our less-radical approach is lessening our impact on the world. And by instilling these values into my kids, we’re building these values into the next generation of eaters.
There are lots of resources to help either scare you into eaten less meat (the film “Food, Inc.” really opened my eyes) or to help you make more sustainable choices:
• Check out the upcoming issue of the Green American on why it’s important to eat less (or no) beef in particular, as well as less meat overall. Select articles are available here.