Thursday, April 10, 2014

Can you get enough calcium without dairy milk?

My wonderful friend Julie recommended that I write this post a long time ago when I first started writing the blog and I'm really glad she did because I know it's the number one thing most people worry about when they cut dairy from their family's diet.  And it took me so long to get around to this post because the whole calcium and bone health thing is just very complicated.  However, both the short and long answers to this question are yes. Yes, you can get enough calcium without dairy milk.  

The short answer is yes because if you simply replace dairy milk with store-bought alternative milks, they are fortified with both calcium and vitamin D.  In fact, most of them now contain more calcium than cow's milk, although check labels to be sure. Or you can take a calcium supplement.  

But if you're anything like me, you want to know how your family can get these nutrients from whole foods.  As far as I understand, the type of calcium used to fortify foods is not as easily absorbed by your body as other sources.  However, that might actually be a good thing because in the last couple of years, studies have shown that many people may actually be getting more calcium and vitamin D than the recommended daily allowances (RDA), probably because there are so many foods fortified with these nutrients. Too much calcium has been linked a host of different problems including kidney stones, heart problems, and a possible increase in certain types of cancers.  

So one of the best ways to get your calcium is from plant sources, in part because you'll be getting a ton of other necessary nutrients as well.  Finally, scientists have begun to examine the importance of plant-sources of calcium.  One study found that eating more vegetables was associated with better bone density. Some vegetables with the highest content of calcium include:  spinach, broccoli, bok choy, kale and other dark leafy greens (such as turnip and dandelion). 

You might have heard that spinach should not be counted on as a good source of calcium.  This is because it contains oxalates that supposedly interfere with  absorption of the calcium.  The thing is, almost all of the foods we think of as really healthy (such as kale) contain oxalates.  So most of the advice I've heard from nutritionists on this is to eat spinach in moderation and not rely on it as the only source of calcium.  Also, eating spinach along with foods rich in Vitamin C can help mitigate the effects of the oxalates. 

As far as other ways to get calcium, sesame seeds are also high in calcium so I sprinkle them on top of rice anytime we eat it, even if it's not an Asian dish.  Just google "non-dairy sources of calcium" and tons of lists will come up which include foods such as little fishes with bones, tofu, beans (like navy beans), and blackstrap molasses.  We also drink a lot of oat straw tea in our house (my son has it sweetened with honey or stevia).  

To make everything more complicated, it turns out that the amount of calcium a person needs really varies from individual to individual.  High protein diets may increase calcium loss so meat-eaters need more than plant-based diet folks.  Plus, vitamin D levels affect calcium absorption so a lot of it varies from latitude to latitude, and how much time you spend outdoors. 

In addition, most of us are concerned about calcium intake because we want to have healthy teeth and bones.  But recent research has showed that bone health is heavily dependent on many other factors including doing enough weight-bearing exercise, and adequate consumption of other nutrients, including vitamin D, but also other ones most people don't typically associate with bone density. So, a lot of nutritionists are shifting the focus to an overall healthy lifestyle, with adequate but not excessive amounts of dietary calcium.  

Bottom Line:  

Here's what I have gotten out of all my research on calcium:  People need calcium for bone health but the experts don't really know how much is optimal.  Nutritional science is in its infancy and there is a long way to go before the answers to our questions are really clear. So for me, I try to consume plenty of calcium-rich leafy greens and eat whole foods that are not stripped of their nutrients.  Since my son pretty much won't touch anything green, I make sure he has had either calcium-fortified "milk" or a calcium supplement each day.  And I pray each and every day that he will outgrow this picky phase and take a cue from his parents, who love their veggies!  



Sources for this post are:  



http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21310303

Various Nutrition Diva Podcasts  (I don't always agree with her on every point she makes, but she really does her research so I highly recommend checking her out)

Friday, March 7, 2014

I'm glad it's still cold out...

...because our family discovered something new this winter and I'm super excited to write about it.  Well, technically we discovered something that is very old but new to us:  savory porridge (known at our house as savory oatmeal).  We've always eaten a lot of oatmeal but my husband started to get sick of eating the same thing over and over so he started to look for savory oatmeal recipes.  And now we eat savory oatmeal all the time because it's so simple and delicious. My son still prefers his oatmeal made with almondmilk and cinnamon, but that's no problem because the basis of savory oatmeal is just plain oatmeal so it's easy to add whatever each individual person wants. I think this is best when made with steel cut oats but we've made it with just about every type of oatmeal available at the supermarket, and most often use quick oats, since we're usually short on time.  

If you're still not convinced about the greatness of savory porridge, check out the Golden Spurtle Competition or this on Mark Bittman's savory oatmeal with scallions and soy sauce.  





Savory Oatmeal - the basics
a bowl of oatmeal, made with water according to package directions.  
a sprinkling of sea salt or other coarse salt
a sprinkling of cracked black pepper (optional)  
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil  

Add-ons (choose one)
diced avocado 
pine nuts or other savory nuts (such as roasted cashews or pistachios)  
eggs, cooked anyway you like them 
crumbled bacon
sliced breakfast sausage
leftover ham, steak, or chicken, or whatever meat you had for dinner the night before 
heated up pieces of lunchmeat 

My favorites are the diced avocado and the ham.  We don't normally eat ham for dinner so I've gone out and bought a hunk of ham to cut into small pieces and freeze for use in oatmeal.  Yum!  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Not too sweet granola

Let me tell you what I love about this granola.  I adapted this recipe from the blog Orangette, which is a blog that I have been reading for years but is a bit tough for someone avoiding dairy.  Lots of her recipes, especially the yummiest sounding ones, involve butter, cream and the like.  But in the post about her daily granola, she actually recommends having it with soymilk, over dairy yogurt or milk.  So there you go, a granola that tastes better dairy free!  

If I'm going to take the time to make something at home that I can easily purchase at the store (there are lots of delicious dairy free granolas!), it had better be healthy.  So I set out to make a less sweet version of her granola that I think is quite tasty!  If you are used to eating store bought granola (which is loaded with sugar), I would suggest increasing the brown sugar to 3/4 cup (which is how much Orangette recommends).  

Not Too Sweet Daily Granola
adapted from Orangette 

Dry ingredients:
5 cups rolled oats
2 cups pecan pieces (or halves if that's what you've got) 
1 cup raw sunflower seeds (hulled)
1/3 cup sesame seeds (or more if you like the flavor of sesame seeds)  
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. salt

Wet ingredients:
¾ cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
¼ cup honey
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, such as canola or safflower


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl.  Add the wet to the dry and stir until evenly coated.  Spread the granola evenly onto two cookie sheets and bake for about 40-45 minutes total.  However, every 10 minutes or so, you will need to stir the granola and rotate the pans so you aren't cooking one of them on the lowest rack of the oven the whole time.  (Set a timer for the total cooking time as well as a 10-minute timer or, if you're anything like me, you'll forget entirely!)

I've found that figuring out when granola is done is a little trickier than most recipes let on.  I like mine to be crispy so I make sure to bake it until it has started to get golden brown but hasn't developed a dark brown color yet.  It will still be soft at this point, but will harden as it cools.  Make sure you stir it when you take it out of the oven and then a few more times while it's cooling so it doesn't get all stuck together.  

Store in an airtight container. When I make granola and store it in a mason jar, it makes me feel like Martha Stewart but, of course, a gladware container will do as well! If you want to keep it for a long time, refrigerate.   

Monday, October 14, 2013

Perfect Fall Day

It has been rainy, rainy, rainy and we have been cooped up inside for several days. But yesterday we had pumpkins to carve and the ingredients for chili, plus my husband had some pumpkin ale in the fridge and there was football on TV so he was pretty happy. Pretty much the makings for a perfect fall day. By noon we had put the chili in the slow cooker and made these:  



And by we, I mean that I helped with the chili but was not at all involved in making the pumpkin masterpieces. That was all my husband and his brother - they are so creative!  Did you know that gourds are not at all easy to carve like pumpkins? Yeah, neither did we. That green Frankenstein one was impossible to cut open. Good thing we had a saw.  





So now to the recipe.  This award winning chili recipe was created by my brother and sister-in-law and it is amazing. They are very kind to allow me to share it with you.  I think it strikes the perfect balance between being nice and meaty, while still containing beans.  When we serve it to people who don't normally like beans in chili, they are always impressed by how good it is! 

Walt & April's Springtown Chili
This yields roughly 6 dinner-size servings of mild to medium chili.  We have often found that this chili is better the day after cooking.  

1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. pork sausage 
1 large onion, medium chop
1 large green pepper, membrane and seeds removed, chopped
1 teaspoon oil
5 cloves garlic, minced 
1 16 oz. can black beans, mostly drained 
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, mostly drained
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce 
3 tablespoons chili powder 
1 ancho (dried poblano) chili, de-seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons salt 
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1 dash habanero hot sauce 

Brown ground beef over medium-high heat, waiting to break up the meat so that most pieces sear on the outside. Drain, then repeat with sausage.  Saute onion and green pepper over high heat in 1 teaspoon oil (if needed), until slightly brown.  

Combine all ingredients except the beans in the slow cooker and stir to combine.  Then add the beans and gently stir until they are roughly mixed in.  Cover and turn heat to high for 1 hour. Reduce heat to low and cook for 9 or so hours. If your slow cooker runs hot like mine, you can get away with cooking it for 8 hours on low the entire time.  For a spicier chili, double the chili powder or add a couple tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce.  

We like to top it with chopped avocado, raw diced onion, and maybe some tortilla chips.  

My son likes it with daiya shredded "cheese":  


A note about ingredients: 
When this recipe was originally developed, it called for a tube of Jimmy Dean pork sausage.  It probably tastes the best if you use that but I don't cook with conventionally raised meat anymore. So I've been using Italian pork sausage from Whole Foods and I think it still turns out pretty great.

I also try whenever possible to avoid using canned goods so I often substitute 4 cups of homecooked beans for the two cans of beans. The tomatoes are tougher to substitute but I recently found some in glass jars that are not diced but seem to work ok with this recipe.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What's for dinner?

I get asked this question a lot by people who are new to the dairy free lifestyle.  One of the hardest things about eliminating dairy is that so many of us are used to putting cheese on everything and when we look through our own recipe collection, we are hard pressed to find recipes that are dairy free.  So, here is a week of ideas for easy dairy free dinners. Enjoy! 


Monday: Tacos


If you need a really fast meal, you can stick to the basics:
  • tortillas or taco shells
  • ground beef or cooked beans
  • store-bought salsa
  • lettuce and tomato
If have some extra time, adding one or more of these elements will add lots of flavor (and not to mention nutrients!) 
  • guacamole is creamy so it's great instead of sour cream (try my super fast easiest guacamole ever)
  • saute some peppers, onions, and/or mushrooms in olive oil for about 10 minutes
  • diced raw onion (or other veggies)  


Serve with rice and veggies 


Wednesday: 15-minute Creamy Avocado Pasta 

From the oh she glows blog.  This is super yummy, vegan, and fast.  Make sure you include the optional basil when you make it.  I definitely do not consider it optional.  If you are making this for carnivores, some plain grilled chicken would go nicely... 


Thursday: Hamburgers or Veggie Burgers 

Some commercially made veggie burgers contain milk ingredients so check labels carefully.  
To make this meal super easy serve with some of the following: 
  • store-bought sweet potato (or regular) french fries 
  • tortilla or potato chips
  • frozen vegetables 
  • store bought baked beans 
If you have a little more time: 
  • mashed potatoes
  • grilled or roasted vegetables 
  • make up some guacamole to put on top of the burgers

Friday: Pizza Night

Super Quick: 
  • Buy premade pizza dough (Trader Joe's and Whole Foods both have dairy free ones.  Or check out your local pizza shop, most non-chain pizza places do not use dairy in their crusts)
  • Store bought tomato sauce (check labels!) 
  • Canned sliced mushrooms and olives
  • If you like fake cheese, you can sprinkle some on top.  Or just drizzle with a little olive oil to kick up the flavor a bit  
If you have a little more time: 
Romesco pizza with carmelized onions and squash.  This is my favorite cheeseless pizza, it is made with romesco sauce which is much more flavorful than regular tomato sauce.  It was invented by the vegan chef who wrote Veganomicon so it was never meant to have cheese on top and it really doesn't need it...  


Saturday:  Spaghetti with Tomato Meat Sauce and Salad.  

Or use baby portabellas instead of ground meat in the sauce to make it vegan.  


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Slow Cooker Chicken with Honey Garlic Sauce

Lately, dinner planning has consisted of asking myself one of these two questions:  What already made food do we have in the freezer? -OR- What can I throw into the slow cooker? In this case, the answer is chicken and some stuff I always keep in the fridge. This is an amalgamation of a couple of different recipes that I'm pretty sure were probably all stolen from the same person.  It is really easy and super delicious.  I usually serve it with rice.  

Slow Cooker Chicken with Honey Garlic Sauce
1.5 lbs chicken thighs (or whatever cut you want really) 
1 cup honey
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce 
1/4 cup ketchup  
1 1/2 Tbs. neutral tasting oil (such as peanut or canola)
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste) 
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)  

Combine ingredients in slow cooker.  Cook on low for 4-6 hours, depending on your slow cooker. A 4-quart one is probably the best size.  If you have larger one or one that runs hot like mine, you might even want to check after about 3 hours to avoid drying the meat out.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Avocado Fudgesicles

My 3-year-old had never had ice cream until a month ago on the 4th of July.  Part of the reason is that most ice cream has dairy in it, but the main reason is that we eat pretty healthy and I just saw no point in introducing him to something like that before it was necessary.  Before you think I live on Mars or know some magical secret, I never said he hasn't had any junk food before.  In fact, when we took him to the dentist last time they gave him one of those blue Fla-Vor Ice things.  I could have said no but I try to have a general policy that if we are out of the house and my son is offered a food, he can eat it as long as he is not allergic to it.   I was really mad about it though because it is the dentist!  If they can't even back me up on the whole "sugar is bad for your teeth" thing, well then my kids are never gonna believe anything I say!  

Anyway, depending on your definition of ice cream, my son still hasn't had it since the recipe I used was mostly avocado, dates, cocoa powder, and canned coconutmilk.  But to his inexperienced palate, the frozen treat I made was AMAZING.  Actually, my husband and I thought it was pretty great too!  I can't wait to make it again, it was that good.  

Here is the link to the recipe I made at  The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen.  I followed her instructions and ingredients exactly and was quite pleased with the result. The only point I disagree with the blogger on is that she says you can eat it as a pudding.  I personally could taste a mild avocado flavor before it was frozen so I definitely recommend putting it in the popsicle molds and freezing it before serving. 

Sorry I don't have any pictures to post.  We gobbled them up too quickly!