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-excerpted from Lenore's Natural Cuisine, Your Essential Guide to Wholesome, Vegetarian Cooking

table of contents

*calcium & dairy
*nightshade vegetables
*pressure cooking
*microwave cooking
*fermented foods
*naturally-leavened bread
*refined sugar
*artificial sweeteners


Why eat vegetarian? People become interested in a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons ranging from compassion for animals, to religion, to world hunger issues. But the most recent trend in eating this way has to do with health. Research has linked lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and obesity with a vegetarian diet.

Simply eliminating meat, however, will not lead to optimum health. A diet based on refined grains, sugar and dairy products is not the basis of a wholesome, vegetarian diet. Rather, it consists of whole grains, beans, vegetables, nuts and seeds.


Vegans (pronounced vee-gans), choose not to eat any meat or animal products, including dairy (milk, cheese, butter and yogurt), eggs and honey. A vegan lifestyle often excludes using anything leather, wool or silk. This choice is usually made for ethical reasons.


Eating too much protein can cause kidney stones and contribute to calcium and bone loss. Your body requires less protein than you may think. A regular diet of beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, tempeh, peas and whole grain breads provides sufficient protein. However, if you are body-building, pregnant or doing heavy manual labor, eat more beans and bean products.

calcium and dairy

"Got milk?"® Milk is advertised as one of the healthiest foods for children and adults alike. Most of us have grown up believing we need it for strong teeth and bones. After all, it is high in calcium and is fortified with vitamin D. However, there are downsides to dairy products which you may want to consider.

Pesticides, industrial wastes, antibiotics and hormones are consumed in vast quantities by most cattle raised in the United States. These toxic substances accumulate in animal fat. We consume these toxins when we eat dairy products. Over 4,000 doctors associated with The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine have concluded that milk, cheese, butter and yogurt contribute to diseases such as cancer, allergies, digestive problems and heart disease.

So, without dairy products, how can we include enough calcium in our diets? Eat dark leafy greens like collards, kale, turnip greens, broccoli and bok choy. Other good sources are beans, sesame seeds, sea vegetables, tofu and soy beverages. If you are still skeptical, here are the numbers:

Milligrams of calcium per 1/2 cup
Milk 119 
Collard greens 117
Kale  135
Broccoli  55
Parsley  130
Sea Vegetables  500-1300
Tofu  100

healthful dairy alternatives

* Non-hydrogenated canola spread
* Non-dairy frozen dessert
* Rice or soy beverage
* Non-dairy sour cream
* Soy yogurt
* Tofu cheese


Organic foods are those grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Pesticides are poisons which are designed to kill living organisms. They have been linked to cancer in human beings. Recent surveys show that random samples of fruit from supermarkets are saturated with pesticides. Ironically, it is a good sign when you find bug holes and other imperfections in organic produce. This indicates that the produce was not sprayed!

When organic produce is unavailable, you can remove oily pesticides from the surface of produce by washing with a mild, natural soap. Good products are LO.C® by Amway® or Basic H® by Shaklee®.
Squirt five drops of soap in a sink filled with three to four inches of water. Clean produce in this soapy solution and rinse well. Realize that while you can remove pesticides from the surface of produce, they will remain under the skin. 

Although organic foods are generally 30% higher in cost, you may find your good health is well worth the money. Buying organic also supports small farmers who care about the quality of the soil and the environment.

Finally, the natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables is masked by the bitter flavor of pesticides. Because of this, organic vegetables taste sweeter than their sprayed counterparts. This is especially noticeable with carrots.

nightshade vegetables

Nightshade vegetables contain glycoalkaloids, which have been found to contribute to joint pain. According to Dr. Norman E Childer's research, which spans over four decades, consumption of these vegetables causes arthritic-like symptoms in 17% of the population. Nightshade vegetables include: white and red-skinned potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and all varieties of peppers. Yams, sweet potatoes and black pepper, however, are not nightshades.

Other vegetables that may contribute to joint pain because of their oxalic acid content are Swiss chard, raw spinach and beet greens. If you are willing to experiment by not eating any of these vegetables for two weeks, you might think it is worth giving them up to live pain-free.

pressure cooking

Pressure cookers are amazing. A bean soup, requiring two hours to cook in a standard stock pot, can be pressure-cooked in 12 minutes! Pressure-cooking quickly tenderizes food, reducing cooking time by up to 80%. Best of all, it makes mouth-watering dishes because the flavors marry in the pot. The new, second generation pressure cookers are completely safe to use. For more information, see Lorna Sass' outstanding book, Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure.

microwave cooking

Research confirms that the molecular structure of food is altered during microwave cooking, causing abnormal changes in human blood and immune systems. Not surprisingly, the public has been denied details on these significant health dangers. The following article describes the incident that spurred investigations into the safety of microwaving.

-ln early 1991, word leaked out about a lawsuit in Oklahoma. A woman named Norma Levitt had hip surgery, only to be killed by a simple blood transfusion when a nurse 'warmed the blood for the transfusion in a microwave oven'! Logic suggests that if heating or cooking is all there is to it, then it doesn't matter what mode of heating technology one uses. However, it is quite apparent that there is more to 'heating' with microwaves than we've been led to believe. Blood for transfusions is routinely warmed - but not in microwave ovens! In the case of Mrs. Levitt, the microwaving altered the blood and it killed her. It would appear that this form of heating does do 'something different' to the substances being heated," Read the full article at Nexus for more details.

fermented foods

Common fermented foods include pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, tamari and shoyu. There are many reasons these foods have played a key role in traditional diets. Their friendly bacteria help the body to digest food, encourage a sluggish appetite and fight off unfriendly bacteria. In addition, lactic acid helps cleanse the liver and aides in elimination.

Adding pickles to your plate adds zip to any meal. Homemade pickles bear no resemblance to ready-made ones. Pickles from the supermarket are not naturally fermented. Rather, they are steeped in chemicals and vinegar with flavor enhancers and preservatives.
In the traditional process of pickle fermentation, vegetables are submerged in a salt water solution, or brine. This allows them to remain edible for several months. Peoples from around the world continue to use this method to make pickles and prevent food from spoiling.

A tablespoon of naturally-fermented sauerkraut or a pickle for lunch and dinner balances the meal. Soon, you will find that no meal is complete without the pizzazz of pickles!

Soybeans are difficult to digest and have traditionally been fermented to make them more digestible. Popular fermented soy products are tempeh, miso, tamari and shoyu. Hearty tempeh can be steamed, grilled or pan-fried to create dishes that will even please meat-lovers. Miso pastes range from light and sweet, to rich and salty. They add complex flavor to soups, spreads and gravies. Shoyu tastes nothing like chemically-fermented, supermarket soy sauce. Its subtle, savory flavor enhances soups, sauces and stir-fried dishes.

naturally leavened bread

You may be surprised to learn that conventionally-yeasted breads have been linked to cancer. True sourdough bread is naturally leavened. It is yeast-free and requires several hours to rise before baking. In contrast, conventionally-yeasted bread uses a high concentration of an isolated yeast strain to make bread rise within minutes. In an article, published in 1984 in East West Journal, Ronald Kotsch describes why conventionally yeasted bread contributes to disease.

"In [conventional] yeast fermentation, the starch cells of the bread actually explode. The patterns they form are identical to those of cancer cells. According to French researcher Jean Claude Vincent, the bioelectrical energy of the dough also is identical to that of cancer cells."

German and Swiss researchers concur with Vincent that this fast- acting yeast sends an electrical message to the body for the cells to mimic this exploding replication. This is cancer. Beyond these facts, sourdough bread may win you over by its taste alone. It is wonderful, chewy, old-world bread.

Unfortunately, many so-called healthful whole wheat loaves, pita breads and crackers are yeasted. If you do not have a natural sourdough baker in your area, you can bake this kind of bread yourself. For recipes, see Meredith McCarty's fine cookbook, Fresh From A Vegetarian Kitchen. Alternatively, you can request that your local natural foods store stock French Meadows® sourdough breads. Whole Foods Market® is a national chain of natural foods stores which sells several varieties of naturally-leavened breads.

refined sugar

Neither my father, a professor of dentistry, nor my own dental hygiene training could stop me from eating sugar. It was not until I read the enlightening book, Sugar Blues, by William Dufty that I went cold turkey. If you are eating sugar, you are probably addicted to it, either physically or emotionally. The November 1998 issue of Nutrition Action Health Letter states that an American consumes, on average, over 150 pounds of sugar per year. Thais translates to over one cup of sugar daily!

Sugar is everywhere! A 12-ounce can of non-diet cola contains ten teaspoons of sugar, while one cup of Sunkist® orange soda has 13 teaspoons. Flavored yogurt has five teaspoons of sugar per six-ounce portion and one cup of Haagen-Dazs® Chocolate or Vanilla Ice Cream contains 11 teaspoons.

In her book, Feeding the Whole Family, Cynthia Lair clearly explains the drawbacks of eating sugar. White sugar is so refined that the body does not need to digest it. Like a drug, it travels directly into the bloodstream, setting off a chain reaction that makes the body crave more sugar. It is an addictive cycle. In addition, sugar impairs the immune system by reducing white blood cells' ability to destroy bacteria. As Lair notes, it is not surprising that children frequently become sick after birthday parties and holidays.A weakened immune system not only contributes to colds, cavities and flu, but also to degenerative diseases including arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Moreover, sugar can contribute to mood swings, lethargy, bone loss, obesity and the onset of diabetes.

When reading food labels, you will discover that refined sugar is described by many names: corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, turbinado, brown sugar and molasses. For healthful, delicious alternative sweeteners, see the Desserts chapter. An additional benefit of giving up sugar is that many unhealthy and fattening foods will automatically be eliminated from your diet. Many of my friends and students have gone cold turkey after learning about sugar's effects on the body. You can too.

artificial sweeteners

While artificial sweeteners may seem like a good solution for a sweet tooth, they are, in fact, hazardous. Saccharin® has been proven to cause cancer in rats. Aspartame, used in Equal® and Nutrasweet®, has been linked to many health problems. Dr. Richard Wurtman, a professor of neuroendocrinology at MIT, states that "a typical adult who drinks about four or five aspartame-sweetened soft drinks a day might introduce enough pheynlalanine into the brain to affect the synthesis of brain neurotransmitters, possibly leading to mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches, high blood pressure, increased appetite and even seizures." Aspartame is now reputed to be found in over 1200 products, including everything from baked goods to breakfast cereals, children's vitamins, laxatives and drugs.

For further information on artificial sweeteners, see Food and Nutrition by Rudolph Ballentine, M.D. He notes that although the consumption of artificially-sweetened foods and drinks has skyrocketed, Americans are still getting heavier. Artificial sweeteners simply perpetuate your sweet tooth and make you more likely to succumb to highly sugar-sweetened foods. You might want to reevaluate your intake of these harmful chemicals.


Fats lend a creamy, satisfying texture to food. We do not need to give them up to be healthy. In fact, fats are needed by the body to build cell walls, to synthesize hormones and to prevent dryness in skin and hair. The key is to eat the right kinds of fat.

Saturated fats are found mostly in coconut and palm kernel oils, animal fats and dairy products. Hydrogenated, they clog the arteries, contributing to heart disease. Monounsaturated fats are considered the healthiest choice. They are found in vegetable and nut oils like canola, sesame and olive oil. In place of butter or margarine, use Spectrum Naturals® Canola Spread. It is non-hydrogenated and tastes like butter. Also, drizzle extra-virgin olive oil on bread at a restaurant or at home.

Each oil has a unique flavor. Choose an appropriate oil for the dish you are preparing. Use:

* Canola (neutral and light) for baking and everyday use. 
* Unrefined corn oil (buttery-tasting) for baking.
* Extra-virgin olive oil (light and fruity) for bread, salad dressings and stir-fries.
* Sesame (light and nutty) for stir-fries and sauces.
* Toasted sesame (toasted nutty flavor) for stir-fries and sea vegetables.


Most of us know that it is important to drink eight to ten glasses of water a day. This is solid advice, especially if the water is purified. According to Dr. Andrew Well, recent data shows that over one million Americans drink water that contains significant levels of cancer-causing chemicals: arsenic, radon and chlorine by-products. He recommends a reverse osmosis or carbon-KDF system to purify water. Since impurities from plumbing and hot water tanks can leach into the water, it is equally important not to use hot water for cooking, washing or soaking food. In addition, it has been proven that the chemicals in plastic bottles also leach into bottled water.


Good quality salt, in moderation, is necessary for digestion, nerve connections and muscle contractions. It assists the immune system by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and by enhancing proper intestinal flora. Recommended high quality sources of salt are unrefined sea salt, miso, shoyu and gomashio.


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