Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Favorite Plant-Strong Resources

A friend of mine who is interested in exploring a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle asked me recently to name my most favorite book on the topic. Imagine the dilemma I faced -- having to choose between the likes of Doctors Barnard, Esselstyn, Campbell and Fuhrman.

My pick will most certainly surprise some -- Michael’s Pollan’s In Defense of Food. For those unfamiliar with Pollan, he advocates whole-food flexitarianism NOT veganism, which means you can still enjoy meat and dairy, though in much smaller amounts. While I do believe that a plant-based lifestyle is ideal, I recommend Pollan because his path forward seems more practical and, quite frankly, doable to many considering transitioning from the Standard American Diet to a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. As Pollan puts it, "Flexitarians can still enjoy turkey on Thanksgiving and grandma's pot roast on Sundays."

I have personally experienced people shutting down the minute I tell them about our whole-food, plant-based lifestyle. All they hear is what they can’t enjoy -- processed food, meat, dairy and eggs, which IS the Standard American Diet. For many, that’s just way too many “NOs" and not even the most extraordinary vegetable dish from the hottest five-star vegan restaurant in Manhattan will change their minds.

Pollan eases people into it. My hope is that those who read him will be persuaded to adopt his whole-food flexitarian model and remain inspired to continue learning and moving closer towards becoming full-on plant-strong.

On another note, my friend's question started me thinking about my most favorite plant-based resources. To that end, I've put together a list for all of you interested in learning about or expanding your knowledge of this lifestyle.

I would love to read your recommendations and favorites as well. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

*With the exception of Earthlings, all movies are available via Netflix or iTunes. Earthlings can be viewed for free online at If you’re part of the Facebook and/or Twitter communities, I encourage you to LIKE and/or FOLLOW each film’s respective pages. You’ll get a wealth of information (and some really great recipes) beyond what each movie offers.

Forks Over Knives


Food Inc.

 The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue with Rip Esselstyn

Earthlings: Click here to view the trailer

All are available via Barnes & Noble and

The China Study by T. Colin Campell, Ph.D
Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
Food Rules by Michael Pollan
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., M.D.
21-Day Vegan Kickstart by Neal Barnard, M.D.

Facebook LIKES
*I LIKE hundreds of pages in the health and wellness community but there are a few I visit the most. Here they are!

Forks Over Knives
Kris Carr
My Whole Food Life
PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)

All are available via Barnes & Noble and

crazy sexy kitchen by Kris Carr
Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn
Forks Over Knives Cookbook by Del Sroufe
Unprocessed by Chef AJ (Try the Disappearing Lasagna. It is to-die-for!)

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Fight the Good Fight

Since Matt and I have become entrenched in the health and wellness community with emphasis on a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle, we’ve made plenty of observations. The one that stands out for us -- in fact it’s the one we talk about the most -- is the overwhelming resistance to accept varying points of views. There are no greater examples of this than the arguments that arise between paleos and vegans over whose path forward is right (whole grains versus lean meat), or the outrage that ensues from the vegan community when one of their own steps out in public to reveal she ate an egg. (Hi, Ellen!)

I found this online. So cute.
Bacon and tofu get ready
to duke it out!

Rather than focusing on our similarities, we seem much more intent to stay within our particular group and try to prove the other teams wrong or embarrass others because they may have made a different food choice than we would have. I’m left wondering where that gets any of us. If the point is to inspire others to join our cause, we’re failing. I’m certainly not open to learning anything new if the bearer of information is going to attack me personally on my choice to be plant-strong.

The area that flexitarians, paleos and followers of a plant-strong lifestyle get right is noteworthy: we have all successfully transitioned from the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is largely made up of sugar and processed food, to a whole-food lifestyle. Brilliant!

All of us have embraced the mountains of scientific and clinical research that concludes the SAD is responsible for obesity, heart disease, cancer, Type II Diabetes, dementia, allergies, asthma, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. -- you name it and the SAD is behind it. How can what we eat not be responsible for that which ails us? Growing up, my dad told me to put good quality oil in my car. Why? He said it would run better. Imagine that!

So when I see a social media article that seeks to inform on the dangers of the SAD high-jacked by a paleo and vegan arguing over the fringe concepts (whole grain versus lean meat) rather than the core concept (whole-food), I’m left scratching my head. Neither the paleo nor vegan needs to be convinced that the SAD causes death and disease, nor will either change his/her belief that their dietary preference is the be-all and end-all because of a negative Facebook interaction. The same can’t be said for the 100 or so people watching this spectacle. Wouldn’t it be something if the paleo and vegan put aside their differences to espouse the power and benefits of a whole-food lifestyle? Maybe then the other 100 on the thread would be inspired to learn more and start weaning himself/herself off the SAD.

Think of how far we could take our agreeableness!

We could partner together to affect real, sustainable change:

  • Educate Americans on the abysmal failure and life threatening dangers of the SAD.
  • Work to bring whole-food menu options to our hospitals, schools, work cafeterias, etc.
  • Ensure that our medical professionals are schooled in proper nutrition.
  • Demand our government stop selling out the health and lives of Americans in favor of campaign donations, and also start to appoint unbiased men and women to lead our food and health regulatory agencies.
  • Reduce the demand and accessibility of processed food and sugar.
  • Improve farming and livestock practices.
  • And so much more.

Our reach could extend far and wide and we could save America billions in healthcare costs.

When we get side-tracked by our own self-righteousness, we’re losing opportunities to influence others still addicted to the Standard American Diet.

When we take Ellen to task because she chooses to eat an egg, we look like a community intolerant of other people’s points of view. We’re turning people off from wanting to explore the benefits of our lifestyle. "Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

If people are able to successfully break their addiction to the SAD, we should celebrate their achievements and encourage them to go deeper and to never stop learning. Transitioning from the SAD to a whole-food diet is fraught with challenges. Let’s not add to those challenges by criticizing whether someone chooses tofu over chicken, or vice versa. We should view it as one less person on the Standard American Diet and one more whole-food advocate in our camp!

In the words of the late Bob Marley, "One LoveOne Heart! Let's get together and feel all right."

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Eat Your Way to Fabulous Health

You may remember when I shared with you my shock and awe over receiving an e-mail from Dr. Mark Hyman’s office asking me to review his new book, The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook, in advance of its Feb. 26 publication date. Even writing about it today -- two months later -- and the invitation still seems so surreal.

For those of you unfamiliar with Dr. Hyman, he’s well-renowned for his work in helping people like you and me lose weight and prevent and reverse disease. His book, The Blood Sugar Solution, is a New York Times No. 1 bestseller and has been featured on national shows like Live! With Kelly and Michael, Dr. Oz, Charlie Rose, et al.

What makes him a stand-out from many of the medical professionals we’ve come to rely on is that Dr. Hyman attacks the cause of illnesses rather than just treating the symptoms. What do I mean by that? He firmly believes that the most powerful medicine we can take is at the end of our forks, not at the bottom of a pill bottle. He believes control of our health belongs in our hands. And now he’s putting his money where his mouth is with this amazing cookbook that features more than 175 ultra-tasty recipes for total health and weight loss.

Whether you follow The Blood Sugar Solution six-week program or simply want to eat your way to optimum health, Dr. Hyman believes, as I do, that we are not limited to a steady diet of bland and boring “health foods” that taste like cardboard going down. In fact, there’s a world of culinary delights waiting for us when we replace the mass-produced “factory foods” that make us fat and sick with home cooking at its best. These recipes show us the way.

"In 1900 only 2 percent of meals were eaten outside of the home; now it is more than 50 percent," explained Dr. Hyman in a recent video blog. "And most of the meals eaten at home today are factory made science projects “cooked” in a microwave. The consumption of industrial fast and processed food is driving our epidemic of obesity, diabetes and chronic disease that now affects EVERY other American. We need a food and cooking revolution to change that!" Watch Dr. Hyman’s brief video in full.

At the start of The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook, Dr. Hyman invites us to take an assessment of our own health and then gives us advice on what to keep and what to discard from our fridges, pantries and shopping carts. Next come the recipes ... 175, to be exact! You’ll be pleasantly surprised, as I was, at how easy it is to prepare these healthful and incredibly-tasting foods. Many of the dishes take less than 30 minutes to prepare, so there’s no running out of delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner options no matter how busy our schedules.

His recipes are flexitarian, which means there are plant-based and lean meat dishes to satisfy vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike. You’ll delight in sumptuous meals like Chinese Eggs and Greens, Asian Prawn Paella, Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai, Veggie Scramble, Spicy Sage Turkey Sausage, Mexican AND Vegan Lasagna and a Blue Cheese Cowboy Burger. Also featured are wonderfully healthful desserts and protein shakes that will make your mouth water. This cookbook has plenty of good eats for absolutely everyone.

Matt and I whipped up his Chinese Fried Quinoa. It was the simplest stir-fry we've ever made and it tasted fantastic. The spices of ginger, garlic and chili flakes left behind a wonderful aroma, which lingered long after our meal was finished. Our kids even enjoyed it ... and they are some of the toughest critics! (Recipe and nutritional information are available in the comments section below.)

Tempted yet? You can pre-order his all-new The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook today and begin your journey to renewed vitality and optimal weight with one delectable meal after another!

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About Dr. Hyman
Mark Hyman, MD is dedicated to identifying and addressing the root causes of chronic illness through a groundbreaking whole-systems medicine approach called Functional Medicine. He is a family physician, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in his field. Through his private practice, education efforts, writing, research and advocacy, Dr. Hyman empowers others to stop managing symptoms and start treating the underlying causes of illness, thereby tackling our chronic-disease epidemic.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Building a Plant-Strong Kitchen

To help those transitioning to a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle get their kitchens in shape, we've compiled a quick and dirty list of our go-to foods and appliances. These are the basic "must-haves" for plant-strong living.

Appliances: High-speed blender, food processor, progressive onion chopper (perfect for dicing onions AND tomatoes -- homemade brushetta is a snap!)

Baking: Sprouted spelt flour, oat flour, 100% whole wheat flour, cacao powder, cacao nibs, pure maple syrup, flaxseed meal, unsweetened applesauce

Beans/Legumes: Red, black, adzuki, white and garbanzo beans; lentils; split peas

Bread: Ezekiel Food for Life Sprouted Breads, English Muffins and Tortillas

Canned: Muir Glen crushed and diced tomatoes

Cereal: Rolled oats, Ezekiel Food for Life Golden Flax (for Matt and Sienna), Ezekiel Food for Life Cinnamon Raisin (for Ryan)

Condiments: Dijon mustard, ketchup (without added sugar), salsa, balsamic vinegar

Drinks: Water, decaf green tea, decaf chai tea

Fruits: Medjool dates, raisins, bananas, frozen blueberries, apples, seasonal fruit, avocado

Miscellaneous: Tofu, three grain tempeh, Field Roast “Sausages," low-sodium vegetable broth, yellow miso paste

Non-Dairy: Silk Unsweetened Original Almond Milk

Nuts: Cashews, almonds, walnuts

Pasta: 100% Whole Grain Spelt

Seeds: White chia, ground flax, hemp, sunflower

Snacks: Nature’s Promise natural almond butter, natural peanut butter, popcorn, Larabars

Spices: Tumeric, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (in place of soy sauce and tamari)

Vegetables: Spinach, carrots, garlic, onions, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, kale kale and more kale! (Too many veggies to list, honestly -- we eat them all!)

Whole Grains: Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), brown rice

While our kitchen is filled with so much more, these are the plant-strong staples to help get you started. The rest you'll pick up as you roll along. Happy shopping!

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Replacing Cheese

It’s probably the biggest sacrifice for people who have made or are currently making a transition to a whole-food, plant-based diet -- eliminating cheese.

Few can imagine living life without that ooey-gooey delicacy we’ve come to enjoy on our pizza, salads, sandwiches, dinner entrees … well, just about everything. When I made my first but very weak attempt at giving up dairy (failing miserably at the first Starbucks sighting) the thought of never enjoying a piping hot slice of cheese pizza seemed like a "no-can do." I even started bargaining with MYSELF: “Well if I give up all meat, fish, eggs and milk, I should be able to enjoy a slice of pizza once a month, right? What’s one slice a month! Michael Pollan advocates dairy.”

Truth be told, a monthly slice of pizza wouldn’t hurt me but why would I continue to eat something that decades of scientific research has proven isn't good for me? After all, I wouldn’t choose to smoke or take drugs once in a while. Eventually I did the grown-up thing and said good-bye to my cheesy friend. And you know what? I’m here to write … there IS life after cheese!

So how did I do it?

At first I tried to replace it. A number of plant-based cookbooks wrote of two vegan brands -- Daiya and Follow Your Heart. I’ve tried both. The former melts better. Insofar as taste, I had to acquire it. I recall the first time I ate it. I turned to Matt and said, “I’d rather eat anything else but this. It tastes nothing like cheese.” And why would it? It’s not cheese.

I can say from personal experience that your taste buds do change after adopting a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle. Food that once appealed to your palette eventually stops and food that didn’t appeal to your palette eventually does. That happened to me with Daiya. I tried it again about a year later and it wasn’t bad. I actually enjoyed it. But if we put taste aside for a moment, Daiya cheese is simply not healthful. The company prides itself on what it does NOT contain rather than what it DOES contain. Remember, the primary focus when transitioning to a whole-food, plant-based diet is to keep the “whole” part top of mind. Vegan cheese substitutes, like Daiya and Follow Your Heart, are NOT whole foods. Therefore, I recommend avoiding them.

Which brings us to our headline -- how can we successfully replace cheese? The answer lies in creativity and whole food.

Looking to spice up a panini or make a grilled sandwich? Hummus is your new BFF. It’s quick and easy to make or can be bought in any local grocery store. Best of all, it’s absolutely delicious and you can make it in any number of flavors such as roasted pepper, eggplant or zesty garlic. And when you heat up a sandwich with hummus, you’ll definitely find yourself reacquainted with that ooey-gooey feeling you thought only cheese could provide.

How about dressing up a salad? I think the first time I ever really tasted a salad was after I made this transition. Prior to that, my lettuce always seemed to be swimming in some sort of dressing. Remember what I said about our taste buds changing (or maybe it's reawakening!) Here’s where I really experienced that feeling because I now enjoy my salad in its raw state -- without dressing and without cheese. On occasion I may add a splash of balsamic vinegar or a few dashes of the Indian spice chat masala, but for the most part I let the fruits, tomatoes, olives, nuts, seeds, peppers, etc. put the BAM! in my salad. If you’re looking to capture the consistency of cheese, a healthful substitute is avocado. You can slice it, dice it or mix it in with your fingers to ensure that it’s wrapped perfectly around every bite-sized piece of lettuce. This is a wonderfully delicious way to optimize the nutritional benefits from a greens salad without sacrificing any flavor whatsoever.

Pizza, pizza and pizza! Matt and I love making pizza and dare I write we still find it as enjoyable to eat “cheeseless” as we did with cheese. The secret is in the base. Try a little basil pesto, white bean garlic spread or caramelized onions. Top that with your favorite tomato sauce and a bit of fresh garlic and then go crazy adding vegetable toppings such as sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, eggplant, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, roasted peppers, etc. The possibilities are literally endless and the result is always a to-die-for pie.

If you’re ordering pizza out, ask for it "cheeseless" and have the chef add a bit of extra sauce, fresh garlic and a variety of veggies. Talk about “healththifying” a comfort food that traditionally carries little if any nutritional value.

Homemade pizza -- cheeseless, meatless and totally YUM!
Whole grain crust, basil pesto sauce, fresh baby spinach,
sliced Roma tomatoes and a bit of tomato sauce.

These are just a few ideas for replacing our beloved cheese. If you’re looking for more, I can’t stress enough how helpful the Internet is. Use it to Google plant-based recipes; whole-food, plant-based pizzas; cheese alternatives; etc. There’s a wealth of information waiting to be discovered every day. Remember, every question you have has been asked and answered hundreds of times online, so let your fingers do the walking and have fun exploring.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tips for Going Plant-Based

I recently shared our challenges of going plant-based, which is perhaps the most frequently asked question we receive (tied with the ‘ole, “From where do you get your protein?”). Another FAQ we hear is how to get started. Recently, I’ve had several people reach out to me for advice on going plant-based. While there are a number of books and online resources available, I thought I’d blog my tips and tricks for adopting a plant-passionate lifestyle.

Take Baby Steps
For many of us, change is difficult and it doesn’t happen easily. When we begin to transition from the Standard American Diet to a Whole-Food, Plant-Based lifestyle, it can seem overwhelming. After all, we’re putting “curbside” everything we know in favor of something new, and at the start, where we’re moving to may seem more like a sacrifice than any sort of win. Make your transition slowly and in phases. For example:

Month One
  • Eliminate processed food from your kitchen and replace it with whole- or minimally-processed food. Processed food often appears healthful, thanks to clever marketing labels, but it's anything but. A good example is bread. Bread requires four ingredients: yeast, water, flour and salt. Now open your pantry and read how many ingredients your bread contains. Oftentimes, bread we believe is healthy (because it’s marketed as such) has upwards of 25 ingredients listed! This means it’s so far removed from its natural state that it’s no longer providing nutritional benefits to us. It’s actually doing more harm than good. When it comes to ingredients, less is definitely more. As author Michael Pollan put it, "If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don't." (If you’re looking for healthful bread, we have a love affair with Ezekiel Food for Life products. Check the organic, freezer section of your local grocery store. Here are some additional tips for choosing bread.)
  • Read ingredients … for everything. If a food item contains added sugar or ingredients you can’t pronounce, understand or buy on your own, avoid it at all costs!
  • Use the Internet to familiarize yourself with a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle (look for new ingredients, foods, menu options and recipes beyond what you are accustomed to and start trying them out), or buy a whole-food, plant-based cookbook and begin making different recipes. Commit to cooking one whole-food, plant-based dinner per week.

Month Two

  • Reduce dairy consumption. Choose a non-dairy milk alternative such as Unsweetened Almond Milk by Silk (it tastes the most like cow’s).
  • Research healthful dairy-free methods of baking. For example, did you know that you can replace one egg with 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal + 3 tablespoons warm water?
  • Commit to preparing three whole-food, plant-based dinners per week.
  • Try something new. For example, my entire first year of being plant-based, I refused to cook with tofu. There was no rational reason for this. It simply looked slimy to me and I didn’t want to touch it. Once I learned what a culinary chameleon tofu is and then how to cook with it, I fell madly in love!

The idea is to challenge yourself each month to go deeper into this lifestyle. You may decide to take it all the way (as Matt and I have) or to adopt a more flexitarian approach (reducing meat to just 2-3 servings per week). That’s great too! As author and health advocate Kris Carr says, “Any step towards a plant-passionate lifestyle is a positive one.”

You don’t need to get from A to Z overnight. Baby steps -- this way you learn to love and embrace the lifestyle you eventually choose.

Keep the Big Picture in Mind
Remember why you’re doing this. In your journey, you will likely encounter challenges, frustrations and negativity. Rise above it and keep the big picture in mind. You are taking control of your health. You’re being proactive. By and large, Americans are used to reacting to issues rather than looking ahead to prevent issues before they occur. This is your health. Fuel your body like you love yourself and it will reward you today and tomorrow. Age does not have to bring with it added weight, disease, ailments and an abundance of prescription meds. Don’t wait for a medical diagnosis to start embracing change. BE PROACTIVE.

Build a Support Community
This was probably the single most important thing I did. Few like to go it completely alone and thanks to the Internet, we don’t have to. I embraced Facebook and began building a small but mighty health and wellness community that I could go to for advice, questions, recipes, etc. The most amazing thing about this group is how welcoming, supportive and responsive they are. While many of the pages I follow emphasize a whole-food, plant-based diet, not all of them do. I like diversity in all areas of my life. The one thing we all have in common; however, is the fact that our health is our No. 1 priority. It’s the one group that doesn’t describe me as fanatic or over the top. And when I became more comfortable in this lifestyle, I wanted to pay it forward by starting my own blog and Facebook page to espouse the benefits and wonders of good nutrition and fitness. The entire ride has been a gift so far and my hope is that many, many others start to see this lifestyle change in the same way.

Develop Thick Skin
This is important. People who you’d least expect may be brutal in their comments and secretly wish for you to fail. Why? Because your healthful lifestyle shines a spotlight on their unhealthful ways. While it doesn’t excuse the behavior, try to keep top of mind the reasons driving their negativity. It makes it easier to turn a deaf ear.

Don’t preach! People have their “aha” moments in their own time (and some never do). Show the positives of your new lifestyle in non-confrontational ways -- like preparing amazing plant-based dishes that can be enjoyed by all. I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked to bring a plant-based dish by people still addicted to the Standard American Diet. Very recently, my mother-in-law couldn’t get enough of my mac and cheese, which wasn’t prepared with cheese! The proof is in the “vegan” pudding, as they say.

Never. Stop. Learning.
Immerse yourself in learning as much you can about whole-food, plant-based nutrition. The science and clinical research is on our side. Watch the latest documentaries, buy or borrow the latest books, subscribe to magazines, visit local veg-fests, take a veg-head cooking class -- it’ll reinforce the “why” you’re making this journey and help keep the BAM! in your food. Check out the recommendations and videos sections of my blog for some of my favorites.

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