Tag Archives: nutrition

Do you or someone you love suffer from heart disease? You can eat your way to health!

Recently CNN’s Sanjay Gupta did a documentary called Last Heart Attack.  In it, he investigates how diet can prevent, reverse damage from, and even protect against heart disease.  Among Gupta’s guests is former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who recently lost a significant amount of weight from a change to a more plant-based diet.   To watch the entire documentary, click here.

Several important, and perhaps surprising points presented in the documentary are:

  • According to some research, you can actually become ‘heart attack proof’ as a result of a plant-based (or vegan) diet.
  • Since eating is the reason we are suffering from high cholesterol, heart disease and heart attacks, eating could and should be a solution.
  • “Your genes are not your fate.”  No matter how much ‘risk’ you have, you are not bound to your genes.  Your diet makes a difference!
  • 1 heart attack happens every 30 seconds in the United States.
  • Even doctors who do see the benefits of an entirely plant-based (or vegan) diet may not recommend it to patients. (They think it’s too hard and people won’t do it).
  • Some people who appear healthy can have a heart attack with no warning symptoms.
  • New technology, coronary calcium scans, can help detect the presence of plaque early.
  • Heart attacks are the biggest killer of men and women in the United States and are “COMPLETELY PREVENTABLE”.
  • Your cholesterol number is not necessarily what is important.  What is important is the size of the ‘bad’ cholesterol particles (small is bad!).
  • “Stents, drugs, and bypasses are not the cure – because they do not treat the CAUSE of the illness.”
  • A lot of women don’t experience classic symptoms of heart attacks.
  • Certain cultures around the world have no incidence of heart disease.  NONE! (Could diet be the reason?)
  • Research shows that the more people changed their diet or lifestyle, the more they improved – in DIRECT PROPORTION.
  • Plant-based (or vegan) diets can not only prevent heart disease but actually REVERSE it.
  • Plaque starts building in childhood!

We decided to share this documentary with you because the realization of how much of an impact diet has on our health is almost revolutionary.  What is now a number one killer is entirely preventable.  Changing your diet may seem difficult, but it can be done with support, resources, and faith in yourself.  

We want to offer you a bit of that support and resources so that you can make those small steps toward a healthier diet.  Although there was not much discussion about the TASTE of the plant-based (or vegan) foods making up these healthier diets in the documentary, as vegans, we can assure you that THEY TASTE DELICIOUS!  Not only the recipes on our blog, but many cookbooks, other blogs, and internet resources (please see our resource page for some), provide an abundance of ideas for creating delectable and nutritious meals.

As Dr. Dean Ornish says in the video, once you start to make the change, you “reframe the reason for making these changes from ‘fear of dying’ to joy of living.  And joy is what’s sustainable!”

So be joyful!!!

Alf Hana!!!

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5 Easy to find, Nutritious, Quick, Vegan Snacks in Cairo, Egypt

How’s that for a post title?!  This post was actually inspired by a recent post on One green planet about vegan snacks that are available on the market.  But, unfortunately, none of them can be found in Egypt!!!  So, we humbly present the first in a series of posts about vegan snacks that you can find in Egypt.

Later we’ll write about snacks that you can make at home, but for now, these are snacks available in shops or from street vendors.  We have tried to choose snacks that are as close to their whole state, retaining as much of their nutrition as possible.

1.  SEEDS (or ‘lib’)

Brown Egyptian seeds (watermelon seeds)

These beautiful babies can be found in almost any nut vendor’s shop in Cairo.  Egyptians love to eat them by cracking the shell open with their teeth and pulling the seed itself out with their tongue.  It’s kind of a complicated technique and you might have to be a real Egyptian to eat them properly 🙂 .   There are two common varieties : larger white seeds (what my research says are pumpkin seeds), and smaller brown seeds (which are watermelon seeds).  Both are easy to find, relatively inexpensive, fun to eat, and full of nutrients.

White Egyptian seeds (pumpkin seeds)

For the watermelon seeds, 1 cup of seeds will give you a whopping 602 calories – so go SLOW!!!!  But, it also provides 31 g of protein, 44 % of your daily recommended intake of iron, and is a good source of phosphorous, zinc, manganese, and magnesium!

As for the pumpkin seeds, they are only 285 calories for a whole cup.  With 12 g of protein, a cup of these cuties provides 12 % of your daily intake of iron, and a good helping of magnesium and zinc.

For the record, I love the white ones most – I guess because they’re larger and easier to manipulate!!!  But, if you’re in the mood for a challenge, try the brown ones!!!  Oh, and if you’re watching your weight, just take no more than two tablespoons because these are high in fat! [images from http://www.taw9eel.com/]

2.  Termis

Termis, also known as lupin or lupin beans, is another type of seed very common in Egypt.  You can buy them in their dried state in any small grocery.  Find the already-prepared version (soaked, cooked, seasoned with salt, lemon, red pepper!!!) in larger markets.  It is especially popular in the spring during the Sham El Nessim holiday, but you can find the prepared version year-round.   Eat the yellow lupin seed with the skin, if you like, but I like to bite about half-way down and remove the skin before I eat it.

And here’s the nutritional info on the yellow lupin:

Yellow lupin seeds

1 cup will provide you will only 193 calories and – hold on to your hats! – 26 grams of protein!!!  That’s right, folks – here’s a high protein, low-calorie food you can snack on without a guilty conscience!  But wait, you also get 5 g of fiber and 8% of your daily recommended intake of calcium from these plump yellow cuties.  In fact, our source for this nutrient information, nutritiondata.com lists them as being a good snack if you want to lose weight!  So dig in!!! [image from el-baraka.net]

3. Dried Figs

A favorite especially around Ramadan, these nutritious and naturally sweet goodies are also easy to find.  In small groceries or larger supermarkets, they are commonly sold in 250 gram packets or in air-tight circular packages.  Their very sweet taste will satisfy even the most troublesome sweet tooth – while you get some nutritional value!  Eat them right out of the bag – or soak them in some water for a softer treat!

As for their nutritional punch, here’s the low-down:

For 1 cup, you get 371 calories, 15 g of fiber (!), and 5 g of protein.  Not to mention 24% of your daily recommended intake of calcium and 17 % of your need for iron!!! [image from all-creatures.org]

4.  Grilled Corn on the Cob (especially in the summer!)

Can you smell it?  Yes, the man with the cart on the corner has a grill and is smoking up some corn!!!  MMMMMMM!!!  Usually grilled in its husk, it can obtain a smoky taste, but if you like corn, you’ll love this!

This snack is quite nutritious, with one large ear providing 123 calories, 4 g of fiber, and 5 grams of protein!  With 16% of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin C covered, you’ll be protecting yourself from illness with just one ear!  It’s also a good source of thiamin, folate, magnesium, and phosphorous.  [image from wikitravel.org]

5.  And now, the best for last: Dried dates stuffed with nuts

We actually already wrote about this in a post during the Vegan MoFo last November. You can find these in most small groceries and larger supermarkets.  In fact, you can even find them organic!  Try Isis Sekem.  I love these little jewels. They are the perfect combination of sweet and savory.  You can find many variations – including dates stuffed with almonds, peanuts, and I have even seen cashews!

Our dried dates with peanuts are not too bad on the nutritional scale.  For one ounce (about 28 grams) – which I’m thinking would be around 3 of these babies – you get about 140 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and about 4 % of your daily need for calcium.  Not bad!

What other vegan snacks do you readily find in Cairo?  Please share!

Alf Hana!!!

Got B12?

A few days ago, Bikya Masr, a blog we frequently read, posted an article in their new ‘food’ section called Top Ten Vegan Health Tips (originally from another blog called ChooseVeg.com).  This article covered some very important points that we have been planning to discuss here at Alf Hana.  In fact, we have already discussed Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids here and protein; two that were discussed in the article.

In this post, we would like to address one of the most talked about nutrients in the vegan community: B12.

What is B12?

B12 is a vitamin that helps create healthy blood cells.  In fact, it protects a fatty material that coats your nerves and makes it possible to send messages (or electrical signals) between nerve cells.

Where does B12 come from?

B12 comes from bacteria.  It is not available from plant sources.  Foods that come from animals are rich in B12 because bacteria living in the animals’ intestine make B12.  Thus, if plant foods are well cleaned, it is very unlikely to find B12 in a vegan diet.  (This is different for the other kinds of vegetarians, as they may still consume some animal products like milk or cheese, in which case they get plenty of Vitamin B12.)

How much B12 do we need?

We need very little B12 in our diet.  The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 2 micrograms a day.  (That’s a tiny tiny tiny amount.)  In fact, our bodies are so good at storing and recycling B12 that some sources claim that it is possible to have enough B12 stored in our liver to last up to 3 years.

If we don’t get the right amounts of B12, all kinds of symptoms may result, even though it may take quite a while for these symptoms to appear.  Because B12 is so essential to the nervous system, the impacts of B12 deficiency is very serious and can result in permanent damage.  Symptoms include:

  • anemia
  • decreased sensation
  • difficulty walking
  • loss of bowel or bladder control
  • memory loss
  • dementia
  • depression
  • general weakness
  • psychosis

What are vegan sources of B12?

Most vegans get their B12 from supplements or fortified foods.  Fortified foods include cereals, nondairy milks or other speciality foods like nutritional yeast or meat analogues.  Unfortunately, in Egypt, it is rare to find nutritional yeast or meat analogues (once in a blue moon…).  As for nondairy milks:  West Soy, which is commonly available, is not fortified with B12, while Silk, on the other hand, is.

You can find a number of vegan cereals in Egypt that are fortified with B12.  Read the label to be sure.  Our favorite is Fitness (Nestle).

To be absolutely sure, however, that you get enough B12, most health professionals suggest that you take a Vitamin B12 supplement.  Although we only need 2 micrograms of Vitamin B12 daily, you can find B12 (or cyanocobalamin) in 1000 microgram capsules or sublingual tablets.  We buy our B12 from Seif pharmacy, but it should be available anywhere.  We usually buy sublingual because it’s easy to take.  As far as we know both are completely vegan and contain no gelatin.

Sublingual B12

Vitamin B12 Capsules

Vitamin B12 capsules

As a caveat, we want to remind you that information we provide here is from research and years of being vegan.  We are not health professionals.  If you need more information about your diet, ask a doctor or licensed nutritionist.

For more information:

Vitamin B12: Jack Norris, VeganHealth.org

Don’t Vegetarians Have Trouble Getting Enough Vitamin B12? : Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Powerful Protein

If you’ve ever told anyone that you are vegetarian or considering it, you’ve probably heard one of these questions:

  • “Do vegetarians get enough protein?”
  • “Isn’t plant protein inferior to animal protein?”
  • “Where do vegetarians get their protein?”

We hear these questions usually because people are legitimately concerned for our health.  These are very valid questions and perhaps you also are not sure about the answers, so let’s see what the research says.

What is protein and why is it important?

Protein is a nutrient that we cannot live without.  It is made up of amino acids.  Some of these amino acids are created within our bodies, and some are not.  Those that are not are called ‘essential’ amino acids and must be consumed within our diets.

The protein we consume helps to grow, maintain, and repair our bodies.

How much protein do we need?

This is a complicated question.  Many factors affect how much protein you need: your age, your sex, and your weight.  In order to know how many grams of protein is recommended for you, you should average .9 grams of protein for every kilo of weight.  In other words, use this calculation:

Body weight (in kilograms) X 0.9 = recommended protein intake

EXAMPLE: A 60-kilo person needs about 54 grams of protein per day

This calculation includes a safety margin to make sure every individual’s needs are covered.  In fact, many people do just fine and actually thrive on a diet including slightly fewer than the recommended guideline.

Do vegetarians get enough protein?

Vegetarians / vegans get their protein from plant sources.  Some people are under the impression that plant protein sources provide protein that is less complete because it may contain only some of the essential amino acids.  According to research (cited below), every plant protein includes at least some of every essential amino acids.

Courtesy of Ron Diggity

Also, it has been a popular belief that you must combine certain foods in order to obtain protein from certain plant foods.  For example, eat bread and beans at the same meal in order to get “complete protein”.  Considerable research has been carried out over the last few years and has consistently shown that our livers can store amino acids and they can be used when needed at a later time, so there is no need to combine certain foods at the same time.

So, where do vegetarians / vegans get their protein?

Here is a short list of some foods and the amount of protein in each.

Plant-Based Food Protein in grams
1 cup of firm tofu 40 g
1 cup cooked soybeans 29 g
1 cup cooked lentils 18 g
1 cup pinto beans 15 g
1 cup black beans 15 g
1 cup cooked chickpeas 15 g
1 cup cooked fava beans (foul) 13 g
1 cup red kidney beans 13 g
1/2 cup almonds 12 g
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds 12 g
8 ounces soymilk 8 g (same as cow’s milk!)
2 tablespoons peanut butter 8 g
1 cup oatmeal 7 g
1 cup bulgur (make some Tabouli!) 6 g
1 cup broccoli 6 g
1 loaf of baladi bread 6 g
1 cup brown rice 5 g
1 medium potato 4.5 g
1/2 ounce walnuts (7 halves) 4.3 g
1 cup white rice 4.1 g
1/2 ounce almonds (12 nuts) 3 g
1 cup chopped cooked cabbage 2 g
1 cup tomatoes 1 g
1 medium carrot 0.6

This is a short list.  Many more foods not listed here contain protein as well.  As you can see, a wide variety of foods contain protein and it is possible to get more than enough protein in a vegetarian / vegan diet that includes a selection of these foods.

Too much protein: a health risk?

Recently, diets very high in protein and very low in carbohydrates have been the rage.  The value of such diets, emphasizing high intake of meat and very little fruits and vegetables is not supported by the research in the field.  In fact, they may have negative effects on our health, including contributing to osteoporosis, cancer, impaired kidney function, and heart disease.  To avoid over-doing the protein, the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine recommends trying to include the following in your diet each day:

  • 5 or more servings of grains
  • 3 or more servings of vegetables
  • 2 or 3 servings of legumes

Protein is one nutrient of which we should be conscious as we plan our diets.  There are others that we will discuss here soon.

More information about Protein:
Vegan Health.org: Where do you get your protein?
Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine: How Can I Get Enough Protein? The Protein Myth
Compassionate Cooks: Protein: Getting the facts straight
Nutrition data.com

A Caveat

In this section of our blog, we will try to summarize health and nutrition tips targeting Egyptians who eat plant-based diets.  We do not have degrees in nutrition, nor are we doctors, but we are widely read vegans.  We make it our business to keep up to date on the most recent research and we will do our best to share information about nutrition that we have researched.  We will always quote our sources, giving you a chance to read the info for yourself!