Why does the world of nutrition have to be so polarised? On one hand, the hard-core vegans (or near vegan) like Dr Joel Fuhrman (SuperImmunity) and Dr Neal Barnard (Power Foods For The Brain) and on the other, the low carb carnivores like David Perlmutter (Grain Brain) and William Davis (Wheat Belly).
At Kale & Cocoa we believe in moderation in all things. We like fish, we like a roast (look out for our Easter lamb in a couple of weeks) but we believe our best chance of minimising the risk of age-related degenerative disease is by basing our diets on plants, with meat as an occasional treat. But vegans are certainly having a moment – not least because celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Natalie Portman, Beyonce and Jay-Z have endorsed the meat and dairy-free lifestyle. Now Queen Bey has launched a vegan food delivery service (how cool if she delivered it herself) which offers quinoa porridge and hemp seed hummus, among other treats. There’s some pretty compelling evidence for the health benefits of eating more plants. Most recently, research published in the American Journal of Health Promotion claimed that a four-month plant-based diet can boost health, productivity and mental well-being among employees. The researchers placed overweight, diabetes-suffering employees of a car insurance company on a low-fat, low GI, high fibre vegan diet. The works canteen served hummus sandwiches, salads and black bean chilli(see below for our black bean chilli recipe). And in lunch breaks employees learnt new recipes and information about healthy food. What a great idea! And, even better, at the end of the experiment there was an average weight loss of 10lbs and a 13 point drop in LDL (aka bad) cholesterol (our post on cholesterol here) plus improvements in anxiety, depression and fatigue were reported. The research was led by the aforementioned Dr Neal Barnard so he does have a particular standpoint, but it’s interesting none the less.
Dr Barnard also provided the foreward to my current favourite health/cookery book – The Vegiterranean Diet by Julieanna Hever. Once you get passed the rather cheesy (non-dairy, of course) title, it’s an interesting book. The health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet are well known (our posts on it here and here) but this book seeks to veganise the Diet and argues that its success as a healthy way of living is due to its dependence on plants, rather than on fish and dairy.
The plant-based way is about to get a whole week in the sun, with the start of Meat-free week on Monday. You might have heard of Meat-Free Mondays, but this event promotes a whole Monday-to-Sunday of meat-free living. The website www.meatfreeweek.org has lots of ideas for reducing meat consumption – and it points out that in Britain our meat consumption is twice the world average. So there’s not better time to tuck into our black bean chilli. Black beans have a whole range of health benefits too – they are rich in calcium for healthy bones, potassium and magnesium to help decrease high blood pressure and fibre to improve blood sugar levels and ward off heart disease. I’ve been making this dish for years and I’ve never met anyone, from vegan to committed carnivore, who doesn’t like it.
BLACK BEAN CHILLI (serves 4-6)
For the chilli:
250g black beans
500ml tomato passata
1 tsp maple syrup, agave or sugar
Half a vegetable stock cube
1 tbs olive oil
2 onions diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbs ground cumin
1 tsp mild chilli powder (do feel free to spice this up or down – I keep it very mild for the children, but chuck in fresh chilli if that’s your thing)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tsp dried oregano
Taco shells (I like the El Paso ones)
Chopped avocado and/or guacamole
Fresh coriander, chopped
Soak the beans in cold water overnight. Drain, rinse well and cover with fresh cold water in a large pan. Boil for 10mins, then simmer for 40. Don’t let them boil dry – the beans should still be covered, but not too much. Add the passata to the remaining liquid in the pan along with the sweetener and half a stock cube. Cook until the liquid reduces and thickens, and the beans start to fall apart (about 20mins).
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Cook onions and garlic until soft then add the spices and oregano. Cook for a minute or two, until it’s all very fragrant. Add this mixture to the beans and cook for 20mins more, stirring from time to time. You want the mixture to be pretty thick. Pile into heated taco shells, squeeze over some lime and load on the toppings.