Today’s Health Morsel: Oats

breakfast_text

Since I discovered how much energy I get from eating whole grains (whole-y energy, Batman!), I just can’t get enough. More often than not, whole grains are the basis of my meals (though I must admit that sometimes I’m perfectly happy just eating a big plate-full of oven-roasted potatoes). Of all these whole grains that I’ve learned to love, oats play the most important role. They’re a major part of my breakfast – I use a mix of whole grains for my homemade muesli, but oats comprise the lion’s share. I use old-fashioned, also known as rolled, oats. See the Kitchn’s explanation of the different kinds of oats. The nutritional profiles of the different kinds of oats are basically the same, except for glycemic index. Instant oats are higher on the glycemic index than either steel-cut or old-fashioned oats. I also throw them into a coffee grinder to make some flour to add to veggie burger mixes, among other things.

Oats are an excellent source of manganese & molybdenum. They are a very good source of copper, biotin, thiamine (vitamin B1), magnesium, dietary fiber, chromium, zinc, & protein. They also contain two important phytonutrients: beta-glucans (a specific type of fiber) and saponins. Here’s a breakdown of the role that each of these nutrients plays in health:

Manganese is important for bone health and collagen production. It also helps to protect skin from UV damage and oxygen-related damage. It also plays a role in blood sugar control.

Oats are among the top sources of molybdenum. This element plays an important role in supporting the body’s detoxification process, developing connective tissues, and antioxidant activity. It may also play a role in neurotransmitter metabolism.

Copper helps iron to be absorbed into our red blood cells, so that it is possible for a copper deficiency to be mistaken for an iron deficiency. There might be an even bigger problem with copper, though. High levels of copper is associated with cognitive decline, but only in the presence of saturated & trans-fats. So, obviously, eliminate the bad fats, and you don’t need to worry so much about higher copper intake.

Biotin plays an important role in the metabolism of fats & sugar.

Vitamin B1 (a.k.a. thiamine), of which oats are in the top 10 in terms of bang for your caloric buck. Thiamine is actually widely available in whole food sources, but is easily destroyed by our ways of processing foods, so that it’s relatively easy to be deficient unless you eat a whole foods plant-based diet. It is vital to our body’s system for producing energy out of dietary carbohydrates and fats. It is also important to the brain and the rest of the nervous system, likely because they require so much energy to function.

Even a mild magnesium deficiency can lead to significant bone loss. Magnesium has also shown an anti-depressant effect, helps to enable energy production and to control inflammatory processes and blood sugar.

Zinc is essential to skin health and a functioning immune system. It is also incorporated into the retina, and works alongside Vitamin A to detect light, and transmit nerve impulses to the brain.

β-glucans (beta-glucans) and saponins are both fibers. β-glucans are a viscous soluble fiber – see my post on Kale). Saponins do a lot of the same, binding with cholesterol-containing bile acids to prevent their re-absorption into the body, supporting digestion, antioxidant activity, antimicrobial activity, and perhaps helping to fight cancer cells.

So, that’s a lot of reasons to eat oats. And did you see how many times energy came up? No wonder I get so much energy from eating my morning muesli! I was buying muesli for a while, but I have a very limited selection of the stuff in the shops around my home. I had trouble finding one the didn’t include either banana chips or coconut shavings, neither of which I’m a big fan of, so I decided to make my own maple-walnut muesli, and I’ve been doing that for several months now. It’s not at all time-consuming, and I make enough for about a week and a half at a time. If you wanted to do the same, but you’re shorter on time, you could easily make enough for 2 weeks. What’s really nice about this is that I can take advantage of seasonal fruits. I have a dehydrator, so I just dry as many as I can, and add them to the muesli until they run out. I love when it’s mirabelle season – mirabelles are berry-sized yellow plums that only grow in the Grand Est region of France, and are rarely seen elsewhere. You could substitute whatever dried fruits you want.

Here’s how I make my muesli:

  • 500 g of 5-grain muesli mix (the one I use includes oats, wheat, barley, rye, & spelt)
  • 20 g sunflower seeds
  • 75 g old-fashioned (a.k.a. rolled) oats
  • 50 g toasted buckwheat (You can buy it toasted, or, for cheaper, toast it yourself)
  • 35 g hulled pumpkin seeds
  • 135 g sultanas/raisins
  • 100 g dried fruit & berries (I cycle through mirabelles, cranberries, gooseberries, apricots, goji berries, etc)
  • 55 g dried apple pieces
  • 120 g raw walnuts (pecans are also really nice, but more expensive in my area)
  • 3 – 4 T maple syrup

See the recipe page for detailed instructions.

And here’s how I eat it each morning:

  • 1 1/2 c muesli (that’s about 1 c whole grains + 1/4 c dried fruit + 1/4 c nuts & seeds)
  • 1 T flaxseed & 1 clove, ground and mixed into the muesli

Checklist items: berries, flaxseeds, nuts & seeds, herbs & spices, 1 whole grains (5 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

  • corn tortilla
  • 1 c beet greens cooked with garlic, cumin, paprika, lime juice, parsley, cilantro, & bouillon
  • 1/2 c black beans
  1. Use the above ingredients to make a burrito. I always make sure when I cook the beet greens to have plenty of sauce, which will season the beans.

Checklist items: 1 beans, 2 greens, herbs & spices, 1 whole grains (5 out of 18 servings). 


dinner_text

  • 1 1/2 c diced apple
  • 1 c diced turnip
  • 2 c fresh peas
  • handful of fresh mint or any herb you want
  • 1/2 c beets
  • piece of cornbread (oil-free, of course: recipe review up-coming)
  1. Cook & mash the apple & turnip together with some black pepper.
  2. Cook & blend the peas together with the mint (like mushy peas, but without the salt, butter, & cream).
  3. Beets are boiled, cooled, and seasoned with vinegar & black pepper.

Checklist items: 2 beans, 1 1/2 other fruits, 1 cruciferous, 2 other vegetables, herbs & spices, 1 whole grains ( 8.5 out of 18 servings)


dessert_text

  • 1 1/2 c fruit salad

Checklist items: 1 1/2 other fruits (1.5 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

20 servings in total.

We got at least the recommended servings of everything today, plus extra herbs & spices.

 

Today’s Health Morsel: Peas

Ok, maybe I’m jumping the gun a little here, but it won’t be too much longer before fresh peas are coming out of the garden. Mine are currently flowering, and I’m getting excited. Like most of us, I wasn’t a big pea fan when I was a kid. I didn’t mind them – they just weren’t my favorite vegetable. Also like most of us (I think) I always thought of peas as a vegetable. After all, they were put on the side of my plate with a bit of salt and butter, just like the broccoli or the carrots or the Brussels sprouts. Nobody ever put a spoonful of plain beans with a little salt and butter on the side of my plate. But peas are actually a legume, and they have the high protein content to prove it. Like their bean cousins (& corn & potatoes), they’re also starchy. More about peas at dinnertime. First, the daily dozen meal plan for breakfast & lunch.

breakfast_text

Strawberries are in season – they tend not to last too long around here, and I have to fight to have some left for my breakfast.

  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 T ground flaxseed (sprinkled on the banana slices)
  • 1/2 charentais melon
  • 1/2 c strawberries

Checklist items: berries, 3 other fruits, flaxseed (5 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

Today I wanted something a bit lighter for lunch, so I made some lettuce wraps – I put the hummus, mustard, and other veggies on the lettuce, and folded it up like a burrito. Quick and painless. Add some sriracha for a little kick.

  • 1/2 c hummus
  • 1/2 c broccoli, chopped
  • 1/2 c cauliflower, chopped
  • 1/2 c yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 4 leaves romaine lettuce (this will depend on the size of the leaves)
  • mustard

Checklist items: 2 beans, cruciferous, 2 greens, 2 other vegetables (7 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

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I was surprised to find that there’s actually quite a lot to say about peas! We can use peas (and other legumes) to help us improve our own health and engage in environmentally sustainable agriculture at the same time. No wonder we’ve been eating them for thousands of years! According to wikipedia, the earliest archaeological evidence of pea use by humans goes back to the late Neolithic era (which began in 5300 BC) in what are now Greece, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, & Georgia.


Sustainable agriculture

Most of us are not solely concerned with our own health, but also with the environment, the possibility of a future for humanity on this earth, and protecting the rights of other beings with whom we share this chunk of rock hurtling through space. What connects all of these concerns? Our collective food choices, and peas have a specific and vital role to play.

Peas and other legumes benefit soil in multiple ways. They feed soil microbes, which help to decompose organic matter, fertilizing the soil. If the microbes in the soil were to die all over the earth, it would be the end of life as we know it. These microbes produce the food that plants eat, ensuring that the plants are healthy and able to resist disease & tolerate environmental stresses, like severe weather brought on by climate change. Legumes produce larger amounts & different kinds of amino acids than most other crops, so that the plant residue left in the field or garden plot after harvest (or added to the compost) helps to increase not only the amount but also the diversity of soil microbes. This leads to even greater protection against disease-causing fungi & bacteria.

Nitrogen is extremely important for the healthy development of practically all plants. Peas and other legumes are unique (with few exceptions) in their ability to draw nitrogen from the air. Most plants rely on whatever nitrogen is available in the soil. This is why nitrogen-based fertilizers are of such importance. Current standard farming practices rapidly deplete the soil of nitrogen, requiring the use of manure or chemical fertilizers, both of which produce huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. And they are highly problematic in other ways. Animal feces (i.e., manure) can introduce e. coli and other pathogens into our vegetable supply, the ingestion of which can be deadly. And fertilizers don’t contain just the right amount of nitrogen to be used by the plants – they contain excessive amounts, and the excess runs off into rivers, lakes, and ocean water causing algal blooms. The algae uses up all the oxygen in the water, creating dead zones, like the massive one in the Gulf of Mexico – one of the world’s largest – read more here.

Chemical fertilizers are also increasing in price, along with the fossil fuels required to make them, which is devastating for people in developing countries who have been sold the idea that they have to rely on these chemical fertilizers for productivity.

Finally, some of the nitrogen that runs off ends up converting into nitrous oxide, a particularly damaging greenhouse gas, with 296 times the global warming potential of CO2. Most nitrous oxide production, by the way, is actually from cows and other livestock bred for meat, which create around 22 – 27 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of beef, the worst offender being Kobe beef at 36.4 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of beef. Peas and other pulses produce 0.5 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of food.

In addition to a low carbon footprint, peas and other legumes have a low water footprint. 1 kg of beef requires 43 times more water than 1 kg of legumes.


Human Health

All legumes are beneficial to health in several ways – they help to reduce cholesterol, control blood sugar, prevent diabetes, and increase lifespan in general, so what’s so special about peas? Their phytonutrient profile.

Coumestrol is a phytonutrient – a phytoestrogen – found in peas as well as soybeans, Brussels sprouts, spinach, alfalfa, and red clover. Coumestrol is thought to reduce the risk of breast, stomach, and prostate cancers. According to traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, it may also play a role in helping with menopausal symptoms and digestive issues. Plants tend to contain higher levels of coumestrol when they have been damaged by aphids, bacteria, viruses, and fungi, so it may be part of the plants’ natural defense system, but this is currently not well-understood.

The scientific name for peas is pisum sativum, so you can guess where the phytonutrients ‘pisumsaponins’ and ‘pisomosides’ got their names from. They appear almost exclusively in peas. As a group, saponins engage in antitumor and antimutagenic (fighting gene mutation) behavior, as well as cholesterol reduction, antioxidant activity, and immune-function boosting. We do not yet know what the precise role of the pea’s unique blend of phytonutrients might be, but we do know that they’re both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

Did you know that peas also have the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids necessary to absorb their fat-soluble vitamins, like beta-carotene & vitamin E? Small amounts of high-quality fats – just what the doctor ordered.

There’s something else rather interesting in peas – spermidine. Like pisumsaponins, you can probably guess where it was first discovered. No, not the whales. But it is also found in food, peas being at the top of the list along with whole grains, mushrooms, leafy greens, soybeans, pears, broccoli, cauliflower, other legumes, potatoes, corn, & mangoes. Though there are no completed human trials, studies on yeast, fruit flies, mice, and in vitro studies using human cells all suggest that spermidine may help to prolong lifespan by inducing ‘autophagy’ (also promoted by fasting). This is the process by which your cells take out the trash, so to speak. As we age, we tend to have less spermidine. As with almost everything that we are required to get from food, it’s probably not the best idea to take supplements. Spermidine also plays a role in cell growth and regulation, so it could be cancer-promoting in high concentrations. As always, the balance that is available in nature is most likely the balance that we evolved to be ideally suited to.

After reading all of this wonderful information about peas, I bet you’re excited to eat more of them! This recipe will accomplish just that. I first found the basis for it on Cookie + Kate, but my version is vegan, healthier, simpler, and cheaper (not that the original is expensive). It’s enough for 2 people, with the pesto liberally applied. I get annoyed with people who skimp on the sauce.

  • 2 c (300 g) peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 c (65 g) raw cashews
  • 1/4 c mint leaves (If you don’t like mint, substitute basil)
  • juice from half a lemon (1 T)
  • 1/3 c (80 ml) aquafaba
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water (take some of the cooking water from the peas or pasta)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (don’t add any salt if you’re using aquafaba from canned garbanzo beans)
  • 3 c cooked whole wheat pasta
  1. Blanch the peas.
  2. Add everything except for the pasta in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pre-soaking the cashews for 1 hr in hot water is a good idea, but not essential if you’re in a rush. This blog disagrees with that last part.
  3. Mix with pasta & serve!

Checklist items: 1 beans, nuts, spices, 3 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

18 servings in total

We got the recommended servings of everything today.