I remember the first time I decided to try tempeh. I had bought Heidi Swanson’s cookbook “Super Natural Every Day” (still one of my lonely cookbooks) and was blown away by her photo of black pepper tempeh, which is high in cauliflower and enough garlic to ward off vampires. The recipe was a complete success – although we are not a vegetarian or vegan household, my husband asked me to prepare this dish every day. Although I don’t make the recipe that often, my initial uncertainty about tempeh has gone.
Interest in plant-based diets had increased before the pandemic, but demand for meat alternatives has increased, whether for health reasons or in response to last year’s meat shortage. If you don’t want to go the “faux meat” route and are fed up with the beans (or having trouble digesting them), traditional soy products like tofu or tempeh can be a more appealing way to add vegetable protein to your meals.
What is tempeh exactly? It is a traditional Indonesian soy product made from fermented soybeans. It has a firm texture and an earthy taste that becomes more pronounced as it ages. A bit like cheese in that regard. While both tofu and tempeh are made from soybeans, unlike tofu, tempeh is a whole soybean product. That gives it different nutritional values and structural qualities. For example, it contains more protein, fiber, and nutrients than tofu.
Tempeh has its origin on the Indonesian island of Java – in contrast to most soy foods, which mainly come from China, Japan or Korea. The exact origins of tempeh are less clear than those of other soy foods, but tempeh is believed to have existed for at least several hundred years, although the earliest known mention was in 1875. Tempeh could have been accidentally made as a by-product of tofu production when discarded soybeans interacted with fungal spores. The first commercial production of tempeh in the United States by Indonesian immigrants began in 1961.
Aside from random origins, tempeh is made through a controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans – sometimes whole grains – into a cake pan. If you want to get really detailed, tempeh starter cultures usually contain several species of Rhizopus mushrooms, but R. oligosporus is predominant. R. oligosporus is the preferred starter for a number of reasons, including because it grows effectively in the warm temperatures typical of Indonesia and can inhibit and displace other molds and pathogenic bacteria.
Now, if you think, “Gross, I never eat tempeh!” Remember that controlled fermentation means cultivating certain microbes – for their direct health benefits, or for how they turn ingredients into something more nutritious, healthier, or tastier – and that at the same time Preventing the growth of microbes that we don’t want. If you like other fermented foods like cured cheese, yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, artisanal sourdough, fresh sauerkraut (not the durable stuff), wine or beer, then you shouldn’t worry about trying tempeh.
After fermentation, the mycelia – the vegetative, thread-like parts of a fungus – multiply from R. oligosporus and eventually become dense enough to compress the soybeans into the characteristic firm, compact “cake” shape of tempeh. Good quality tempeh has a white coating from the mycelia and dark spots formed by fungal spores. The more spores that are produced, the stronger the aroma and taste. Once the soybeans are bonded together, the fungus releases protein-digesting enzymes that contribute to a pleasant texture, taste, and aroma – sometimes compared to a chew mushroom.
Since its protein content is similar to that of meat, tempeh is often used as a meat substitute. In Indonesia, tempeh is often cut into thin strips and fried or diced and incorporated into coconut milk curries or grilled in sweet sauces. Marinating tempeh in a sweet, salty and sour sauce before cooking is also common. Tempeh can be sliced, diced or crumbled and incorporated into stir-fries, taco salads, chilies or pasta sauces. You can skewer tempeh cubes with vegetables and grill them as kebabs, or cut a tempeh cake into ¼-inch slices, pan-fry, and use in sandwiches.
I’ve found that some people prefer tempeh over tofu while others feel the opposite. It often comes down to texture preferences. So if you’ve tried tofu and wanted to like it but didn’t, then by all means give tempeh a try. Tempeh isn’t as ubiquitous as tofu in local stores, but I found it locally at PCC Community Markets, Whole Foods, Central Co-op, Metropolitan Market, and Safeway.
Marinated baked tempeh
Yield: For 4
This is a simple, delicious basic recipe. Enjoy it on salads or cereal bowls, as part of a snack plate or as an addition to a vegetable pan.
- An 8-ounce pack of plain tempeh, diced
- 2 tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (can replace apple cider or white wine vinegar)
- 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon of Sriracha
- ½ teaspoon honey
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- Place the tempeh cubes in a shallow bowl. In a small bowl, mix the tamari, vinegar, sesame oil, sriracha, honey and chopped garlic; whisk to combine. Pour the mixture over the tempeh. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, turning occasionally. (Can also be marinated in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.)
- Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the tempeh cubes on the baking sheet and save the excess marinade.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the cubes over and brush with some of the reserved marinade. Bake for another 10 minutes or until the cubes are golden brown and crispy on the edge.
CarrieOnNutrition@gmail.com; on Twitter: @CarrieDennett. Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD is a registered nutritionist with Nutrition By Carrie and the author of Healthy For Your Life: A Holistic Approach to Optimal Wellbeing. Visit her at Nutritionbycarrie.com.
What to eat, avoid, and more
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in every cell in the body. Consuming too much cholesterol in the diet increases cardiovascular problems. Avoiding certain foods reduces the risks.
Cholesterol performs important functions, including:
However, high blood cholesterol levels can cause health problems such as high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. To lower high cholesterol or maintain healthy cholesterol levels, it is important to make lifestyle changes and reduce dietary cholesterol levels.
This article reviews the causes of high cholesterol, foods to avoid, and some low-cholesterol foods and low-cholesterol lunches.
Cholesterol is bound to specific proteins while being transported throughout the body. The combination of wax substance and proteins is called lipoprotein.
There are different types of lipoproteins depending on what is attached, but the two main types of cholesterol are:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): This is known as the “bad” cholesterol. It transports cholesterol from the liver to various parts of the body. LDL cholesterol can build up in veins and arteries, narrowing them and restricting blood flow. A high LDL level is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- High Density Lipoprotein (HDL): This is known as the “good” cholesterol. It transports cholesterol from the body back to the liver for processing and elimination. A high HDL level is considered cardioprotective.
Genetic factors can lead to high blood cholesterol levels. This means that some individuals produce excessive amounts of cholesterol – particularly LDL cholesterol – leading to high blood cholesterol levels. This is called genetic or familial hypercholesterolemia.
Certain lifestyle factors can affect cholesterol levels. For example, eating foods that contain high amounts of cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat has been shown to increase blood cholesterol levels.
These are found in the following foods:
- Processed carbohydrates: This includes white bread and white pasta.
- Saturated Fatty Acids: This includes red meat, whole dairy, and processed foods.
- trans fats: This includes fried and highly processed foods like cookies, crackers, and donuts.
Other lifestyle factors that can contribute to high cholesterol include smoking tobacco products and inactivity.
Some medical conditions can also cause high cholesterol, including:
Individuals who wish to lower their blood cholesterol levels can make some lifestyle changes to achieve this.
These strategies include:
- Exercise regularly
- Avoidance of Tobacco – Smoking is associated with unfavorable lipoprotein profiles
- Reducing consumption of foods high in cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fats
- maintaining a moderate body mass index
- Eat enough fiber, especially soluble fiber
Increasing your consumption of soluble fiber can lower cholesterol levels. This is because soluble fiber turns into a gel and attaches to cholesterol in the small intestine. This gel helps push it through the digestive system for the body to dispose of through feces.
Foods that contain high amounts of soluble fiber include:
- Legumes, peas and beans
- most root vegetables
Individuals with a family history of high cholesterol should consult their doctor to determine if they are at risk of inheriting the condition. If so, they can work together to develop a strategy to minimize their risk.
Low cholesterol foods tend to be lower in fat. That means plant-based foods and low-fat proteins are excellent low-cholesterol options.
Processed foods can also sometimes contain cholesterol. People can check this by reading the nutritional label and paying attention to the serving size.
Examples of low-cholesterol food groups include:
- black beans
- kidney beans
- navy beans
- pinto beans
- broad beans
- Lentils – red, black and green
- Cantaloupe melon
- sweet potato
- the brussel sprouts
- cashew nuts
- macadamia nuts
- pine nuts
Whole grains, muesli and pasta
- Oats and oatmeal
- whole grain breads
- Wholemeal crackers
- Pasta, especially whole grain or lentil varieties
- cold cereals, especially whole grains or bran
- bran products
- Soy milk
Fatty fish and meat
- work work
- lean steak
Different food items
- Chia seeds
Reducing the consumption of cholesterol-containing foods can help lower blood cholesterol levels.
Some examples of low cholesterol lunch ideas include:
- vegetarian or turkey sandwich or wrap
- Broth-based vegetable soup or lentil soup
- Salads with low-fat or olive oil-based dressings
- Salmon with rice and roasted broccoli
- Tofu or Ground Turkey Chili
- Pasta salad with roasted vegetables and chicken
- Overnight oats with fruits and nuts
- Chicken or tofu and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice
- Mediterranean quinoa with feta, cucumber, red onions and olives
Read on for a diet plan to lower cholesterol.
Research has also examined the benefits of the traditional Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean food pyramid lists the consumption of foods in various amounts and frequencies:
- Dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes every day
- Fruits, vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, whole grains, nuts with every main meal
- at least 2 servings of fish or seafood per week
- 2 servings of white meat and 2-4 servings of eggs weekly
- Limit red meat to no more than 2 servings per week and sweets to no more than 3 servings per week
The study showed that this type of diet protects against cardiovascular disease and lowers LDL cholesterol levels.
Read more for a Mediterranean meal plan here.
Cholesterol is an endogenous substance with many important functions. However, high blood cholesterol can be problematic as it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
There are many strategies that can help lower or maintain a person’s cholesterol levels, including diet.
By eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and reducing the consumption of foods that contain cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat, individuals can help control their cholesterol levels.
Which diet is the healthiest? One eating hack can boost more than your body
Scientists, nutritionists, and social media influencers have made their careers researching what—exactly—makes the best diet. In recent years, the Paleo diet, which attempts to replicate what our ancient ancestors were said to have eaten, has been pitted against the keto diet (essentially a version of the Atkins diet) and intermittent fasting (which insists there isn’t any diet is) fought for supremacy. But there’s one diet that almost all scientists agree is healthy for your body, your brain — and maybe even the planet.
Many nutritionists have long emphasized that a balanced diet consisting primarily of vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes and fruits is ideal for a healthy adult body and has numerous health benefits.
In other words: a plant-based diet. As it turns out, this type of diet is not only good for human health — it can also save the planet from the climate crisis.
In a recent study published in the journal Nature, scientists show how people in higher-income countries could remove enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to keep the global temperature from rising above 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius by switching to a plant-based diet change.
Two degrees is the upper warming limit set by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel to contain the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Specifically, researchers cite the EAT-Lancet diet as the healthiest diet for you and the planet. Here’s what you need to know.
What is the EAT Lancet Diet?
An infographic summarizing the plant-based diet recommended by the EAT-Lancet Commission. The diet is high in vegetables and low in meat.
The world population is expected to grow to 10 billion people over the course of the 21st century. Feeding this growing population in a way that is sustainable for the planet will be a challenge.
The EAT-LANCET Commission brought together leading scientists to determine the best “Planetary Health” diet – a diet to promote human health and protect the sustainability of the environment in line with the UN’s climate goals. (You can read the full report here.)
People in higher-income countries make up just 17 percent of the world’s population, but if they switch to a plant-based diet, we could eliminate the equivalent of “about 14 years of current global agricultural emissions,” the researchers say.
According to the Commission, the two main components a meal that follows the guidelines of the Planetary Health Diet:
- Half a plate of vegetables and fruit.
- Half a plate with a mix of “whole grains, plant-based protein sources, unsaturated vegetable oils, and (optionally) modest amounts of animal-based protein sources.”
The number of calories, on the other hand, would depend on the needs of the person.
Here is a more detailed breakdown of what a person can eat on an average day as part of the planetary health diet:
- Whole grains (rice, wheat, corn, etc.): 232 grams or 811 calories
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes and cassava): 39 calories
- Fruit: 200 grams or 78 calories
- Dairy: 250 grams or 153 calories
- Protein: Can vary from 14 to 50 grams (30 to 291 calories) depending on whether it is animal protein (ie beef, lamb, poultry, fish, eggs) or plant protein (legumes and nuts).
- Added Fats: Unsaturated Oils (40 grams or 354 calories) or Saturated Oils (11.8 grams or 96 calories)
- Added Sugar: 31 grams or 120 calories
The commission’s scientists conclude that a plant-based diet is a “win-win” for the earth and humanity, stating: “A diet high in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods brings both improved health and environmental benefits.”
Why is the planetary health diet good for the earth?
If people in high-income countries switch to a plant-based diet and we convert farmland to natural vegetation, we can make a big contribution to curbing global warming, researchers find.Getty
Food systems in rich countries contribute a lot to the climate crisis. As the researchers report in the latest Nature study, the global food system emits 13.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, or about 26 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Animal production, along with land use, “constitutes the majority of these emissions.”
Per capita meat consumption in richer countries is six times higher than in lower-income countries. Greenhouse gas emissions from meat consumption are also significantly higher: animal-based products account for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from food systems in richer countries, but only 22 percent in lower-middle-income countries.
“Hence, dietary changes in high-income countries could have the potential to significantly reduce agricultural emissions around the world,” the researchers write.
If people in higher-income countries transition to the plant-based diets outlined here and return farmland of animal origin to natural vegetation, researchers say we can reduce annual agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from those countries by 61.5 percent and save up to 98.3 gigatons carbon dioxide in the soil.
Besides saving the planet, EAT-Lancet is also crucially good for human health, which can help people in wealthier countries adapt to a plant-based diet.
Why is the planetary health diet good for humans?
Eating a plant-based diet has numerous benefits, from reducing obesity to improving heart health. Getty
The food best suited to cooling down a warming planet is also extraordinarily good for human health.
“Healthy plant-based eating should be recommended as an environmentally responsible dietary option for improved cardiovascular health,” researchers write in a separate 2018 report.
Numerous studies shed light on how plant-based eating can improve or reduce the risk of a variety of health conditions, including:
“Improving plant-based diet quality over a 12-year period was associated with a reduced risk of total and [cardiovascular disease] mortality, while increased consumption of an unhealthy plant-based diet is associated with a higher risk of total and [cardiovascular disease] mortality,” researchers write in another 2019 study.
Animal proteins provide essential nutrients like iron and zinc. So if you choose to eat a plant-based diet, it’s important to get enough plant-based protein from other sources to make up for the loss.
Iron-rich foods include legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grain breads – all of which are included on the ideal plate, according to EAT-Lancet guidelines.
For this reason, following a diet with specific guidelines for consumption — like the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet — can ensure you’re still getting essential nutrients and protein despite following a plant-based diet.
The reverse analysis – Whether you’re trying to convince a friend to cut down on his meat intake or working to include more leafy greens in your own diet, it’s helpful to remember the connections between the planet and our own bodies.
After all, skipping a cheeseburger because of global warming might seem like an abstraction, but when you consider that your heart health is at stake, you’re more likely to choose a healthier, plant-based option that also has tremendous benefits for the planet.
Fiber offers many health benefits
Conversations and advice about nutritional components seem to be in the news all the time. Low carb here, high protein there. But one thing that doesn’t get nearly the attention it should is fiber.
When you learn about all the benefits of getting enough fiber, you’re wondering why we’re not talking about it more. According to the National Institutes of Health, fiber is found in the plants you eat, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It is sometimes referred to as bulk or roughage.
Some people probably don’t talk much about fiber because we primarily associate it with normalizing bowel movements and relieving constipation. However, there are many other health benefits of fiber as well. Some studies suggest that a high-fiber diet may also help you lose weight and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
There are two forms of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Both are good for us for different reasons. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that binds to fats. This helps lower blood cholesterol levels, especially LDL or bad cholesterol. Soluble fiber also slows the absorption of glucose, which may help people with diabetes. Insoluble fiber is also helpful as it bulks up the stool and helps it move through the body more efficiently.
In general, whole fruits, legumes, and vegetables are good sources of both types of fiber. Take an apple for example; The skin consists of insoluble fiber and the fleshy part contains soluble fiber.
The latest USDA dietary guidelines recommend women eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams per day. Our American average is only about 10 to 15 grams per day. In practice, you could get 27 grams of fiber by eating ½ cup chopped vegetables (4g fiber), 1 medium whole fruit with peel (4g fiber), 2 slices of 100% whole wheat bread (6g fiber), ½ cup eat black beans (8 g fiber) and ¾ oatmeal (5 g fiber).
Dan Remley, our OSU Extension Food, Nutrition and Wellness field specialist, has developed a great resource called Fiber Fills You Up, Fills your Wallet and Fuels Your Health. In it, Remley says, “High-fiber meals are lower in calories, affordable, and can help your family feel full after a meal.”
He has a few fiber tips to help you gradually add more fiber to your day:
- Eat oatmeal several times a week.
- For breakfast, choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal with 5 or more grams of fiber per serving. Choose grains with “whole grain,” “bran,” or “fiber” in the name. Or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
- Serve a meatless dinner once a week. Replace meat with beans.
- Eat two servings of vegetables per meal.
- Leave the skin on fruits and vegetables.
- Add oatmeal to cookies.
- Snack on nuts, dried fruits and popcorn.
- Choose chips or crackers with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
On the other hand, there are some processed foods with added fiber sources. In some cases, this can be a helpful way to add more fiber to your diet. Be aware that these products are high in calories and may add more sugar or sodium than you think. Your best bet is to eat as many whole fruits and whole grains as possible rather than these formulated products.
Today I leave you with this quote from Desmond Tutu: “Do your little good where you are; It’s those little bits of good that overwhelm the world.”
Emily Marrison is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and can be reached at 740-622-2265.
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