Soy Takes The Heat

I consistently run into people these days who are truly scared and unwilling to eat tofu!   This concerns me as it’s an excellent protein source and Asian countries that consume tofu and other soy products have low rates of breast cancer in particular. Further, I worked for 3 years at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii in Natural Products and Cancer Biology with a specialist who investigates soy isoflavones.  While I was there, I did numerous literature reviews and attended talks on this topic, the vast majority of which suggest that soy is health supportive. (I also have about 5 publications on which I’m a co-author that you can search for in the . I have no vested interest in posting this. I’m not getting paid by anyone!)

From the macrobiotic point of view, I would definitely say that quality and quantity are important.  The basic premises of macrobiotics include focusing your diet on ingredients that are local, organic, seasonal, and having plenty of variety.

What type of soy might you be eating, and how much of it? If you’re consuming isolated soy protein, burgers, TVP, sausages, mock chicken or other mock meats, soy cream cheese, soy sour cream, soy yogurt, and other items like that, although they are vegan, they are not whole foods so are best limited or avoided.  Processed foods are not health supportive.  If you look at the ingredients in those particular food items, you’re going to most likely see a variety of other items that are hard to pronounce.  In addition, if they’re not organic, they are pretty much almost guaranteed to be genetically modified.

In contrast, we need to look at how traditional cultures have consumed soy.  In this category I would include traditionally made and organic shoyu (soy sauce), tempeh, natto, miso, and tofu.

Here’s a great article that was published in the Dec 2011 Vegetarian Times on p24 that goes through some of the current research on this issue.

For inspiration, here’s a photo of the oven-baked tofu I just made:


Ask the Doc

Soy Takes the Heat

Is this legume safe to eat?

Soy Takes the Heat

By Neal D. Barnard, MD

Q: I’ve heard that soy has estrogens in it. Is that good or bad?

A: Soybeans contain compounds known as isoflavones, whose chemical structure is similar to human estrogens; these similarities cause speculation that soy products might have hormonal effects?feminizing men or increasing cancer risk in women, for example. Such concerns have been put to the test. The results show no negative effects from soy on men’s hormonal function; soy does not interfere at all with testosterone or sperm production.

As for cancer risk, several research teams have tracked the dietary habits of people who’ve developed cancer and those who’ve remained cancer-free; compiling the results of these studies in 2008, researchers at the University of Southern California found that women who ate a daily serving of soy products had about a 30 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer, compared with women who consumed very little soy. (A serving is approximately 1 cup of soymilk, 1/2 cup of tofu, or a similar amount of other soy products.) So a modest amount of soy eaten regularly may actually reduce the risk that breast cancer will occur.

Moderate intake may also boost survival in women who’ve been treated for breast cancer. The Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study followed 5,042 breast cancer survivors for four years. Those who ate two daily servings of soy were about 30 percent less likely to have a cancer recurrence or cancer death, compared with those who avoided soy.

Q: Does soy cause thyroid problems?

A: Not according to the evidence. But if you’re hypothyroid?, meaning your thyroid gland acts sluggish, ?be aware that soy products can reduce the absorption of thyroid supplements. If you take these medicines, your health care provider can check if your dose needs to be adjusted.

Q: How can I tell if I am allergic to soy?

A: Like other allergies, a reaction to soy can manifest with hives, flushing, itching, runny nose, or wheezing that occurs shortly after exposure. An allergy can also cause local symptoms, such as swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat, and digestive upset, including abdominal pain and diarrhea. Some people can tolerate modest amounts of soy, and react only when they get too much. In rare cases an allergy can be life-threatening, a condition called anaphylaxis.

Most children with soy allergy outgrow it. But the opposite can occur too. A person can develop an allergy to a food that caused no problem previously.

Doctors can easily check for a soy allergy with skin testing and specialized blood tests. But if you think you might be allergic to soy, you can simply avoid it for a few weeks and notice if your symptoms improve. If so, you can challenge yourself with it later on and see if your symptoms return. Do not try this if your allergy symptoms are severe.

Q: Can I be getting too much soy?

A: Not so far as we know, but there’s some benefit in favoring minimally processed soy products; and tempeh are tops, followed by soymilk and tofu. Producing meat substitutes often means extracting and concentrating soy protein, so you’??re getting further away from the bean that nature intended.

Listen to Your Deepest Desires

Going into the last holiday season, I was worried because I wasn’t able to spend it in the way I usually do, and for this reason, thought that  it might be depressing and isolating. Also, my home is too small to have a Christmas tree or to really get into putting up decorations, but I love to celebrate seasonally, so through the process of meditating (with the help of my personal coaches) I got clear about what the energy of the holidays means to me.

This was:

  • getting dressed up and wearing makeup (Makeup is a special treat rather than an everyday thing for me!)
  • getting festive
  • playing card games, laughing, and spending time with people I love
  • going to see fantastical gingerbread houses

I was amazed that when I got clear on the feeling, or the energy of what I wanted, this translated to one of the best holidays I’ve ever had.  The reason it was so fantastic is because I did it all consciously and in the essence of what would make me happy, leaving behind any attachments of how this actually came about. For example, I ended up decorating my home as best I could with things that were symbolic to me, and when my neighbor trimmed off and tossed away branches from her Christmas tree, I brought them inside and put them into a vase.  I dressed up in black velvet, sparkly high heels, and put on daring red lipstick, and went to see the Nutcracker, and then on another day went down into Waikiki to see the gingerbread displays.  I was happy to be invited to a party of some people I really admire, and also played card games with friends and went out to drink wine.  On Christmas Day, I talked to people I love and then went to the beach, where I savored every moment of relaxation.

We often get drained by all the dynamics of the holiday season; the stress, the family interactions, and the obligations. I hope that you take time to think about what will feed your soul and then celebrate the holidays in a way that deeply satisfies your innermost self.

Resist Eating for the Wrong Reasons

I loved this information that was in the November 2012 issue of Whole Living

According to Julie M. Simon, author, The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual

Be Aware, Not Obsessed

We all enjoy eating, so we all overeat on occasion. The problem arises when we’re turning to food so often that we become overweight or our health suffers. When we sense that our eating habits are out of balance, it’s important to look at the emotional issues: Am I feeling good about my life? Can I cope with stress? Am I self-loving, or self-loathing? We all know people who constantly think negatively about food: “I shouldn’t have eaten that, and now I’m going to have to work it off.” But we really don’t want to be overfocused on food and calorie counts. We want to be mindful, to identify what we’re feeling when we turn to food, so that we can begin to develop an inner voice that tells us it’s OK to need comfort or be stressed out.

Work with Nature

Our bodies have complex mechanisms for keeping our weight in an optimum range. And our calorie-counting machinery and hormonal system work best when we eat a diet consistent with our human design — that is, a predominantly unprocessed, whole-foods, plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, tubers, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. The standard American diet differs from that of our ancestors in significant ways. It’s higher in high-fat animal products and in processed foods that are full of animal fats and refined oils. It’s also higher in refined carbohydrates and sugar. And, of critical importance, our diets are deficient in fiber — only 10 percent of American women get the daily amount of fiber they really need. On this type of diet, our hormones get thrown off, leading to an imbalance, which in turn triggers cravings, bloodsugar fluctuations, and an uncontrollable appetite.

Get Real (Foods)

Try slowly adding more whole foods to your eating plan. Start by increasing your intake of the plant foods you already enjoy — fruits, starchy vegetables (like corn or potatoes), and beans. Then try centering a meal around a yam or a wholesome grain like brown rice or quinoa. Slowly reduce your intake of zero-fiber foods like meat and highly processed foods like crackers and cookies. As you eat more whole foods, your biochemistry and palate will change, making it easier to let go of foods that no longer serve your body.

Today’s Inspiration

Monday wasn’t the best day for me, but my father always says, “Get a good night’s sleep. Things will look different the following day.”  Hearing his voice, I went to bed early and when I got up on Tuesday and went outside, the first thing I saw was my orchid had bloomed in triplicate!  So beautiful!  It really was a great way to start the day.

Other simple pleasures of the day came from a phone call from two people who were  updating me about their lives, expressing their happiness, growth, and changes.  The personal connection and time spent sharing stories as well as celebration of another person’s success was very healing.

Later, I went  grocery shopping to restock on staple items and things to cook with this week. For some reason, I’ve been thinking about Turkey, a country I’ve never been to yet, but would really love to see at some point.  While I was grocery shopping, I was thinking about Mediterranean food, so picked up a variety of things that sounded good such as olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, local cucumbers and tomatoes, and artisan quality fig walnut bread.

These were transformed into “mezze” for my meal, and for dessert, some lilikoi that a friend shared with me from her garden along with a little bit of dark chocolate.  She gave me baby plants that popped up out of her yard, and at long last they are fruiting, so my own will be ripe very soon.

All of the small stuff brightened my day!


Benefits of Cooking and Eating at Home

The magazine Whole Living reports that when women who are trying to lose weight eat meals they’ve made at home (especially lunch), they drop 5 pounds a year more than women who eat out. Those who eat regular meals every day lost 8 pounds more. (This is probably true for men as well given that restaurants in general tend to add a lot of fat, salt, and sugar to their food to make it taste better.)

Here’s an example of a quick, easy, and healthy meal that I made after the Thanksgiving holiday to carry to the beach. It’s a chilled soba noodle salad with tofu, veggies (like cilantro, cherry tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, and wakame), with peanut sauce.  This is as simple as boiling the noodles, chopping the vegetables, and mixing together the ingredients for the dressing!

Teach Tolerance

Not long ago, I attended the lecture of a well-known author who has long advocated a plant-based diet.  I was really excited to attend, as the topic focused on creating more peace among those who tend to disagree about what makes a healthy diet.  “Right up my alley”, or so I thought.  Two of my friends share this view of loving kindness so I invited them to attend with me.

The room was packed with more people than I would usually see at a talk like this, and the excitement to hear this person talk was palpable.  However, although I generally agreed with his main point (eat a plant-based diet focused on unprocessed ingredients), I left with my blood pressure soaring.

My background (as well as current passion) is in education, and part of my teaching philosophy is “teach tolerance”.  Very few of my students and people who previously attended the community dinners I co-founded have been vegan or macrobiotic.  This has been something that I find extremely positive as over the years they all have been attending for similar reasons, to be open to a different approach, to enjoy community, to learn about new foods, strategies, and cooking techniques, and to get healthier.

Imagine my shock and disappointment when the speaker began referring to others (who don’t believe or educate the same thing as him) in terms of violence going so far as to say things like , “You’re wrong, and I’m right.” “Evil has won.” “If you’re going to take part in this war, identify the enemy.” “Beat them to death like they deserve.” “80,000 years ago they ate children and enjoyed it.” and “They are not listening. There are no limits to what I’m willing to do to win this battle.”

I could never really tell who the speaker was against. Was it  all people who ate meat?  The food industry?  A personal vendetta against certain authors that were pictured during the presentation?

Although I agreed with the premise that it’s good for our health to eat a plant-based diet, I still felt that ‘hate is hate’ no matter which “side” you’re on, and all I felt underlying the message being presented besides the importance of eating a plant-based diet was that anyone with different views was evil. (In case you can’t read this slide it says, “Good vs. Evil We have defined the enemy. Now the troops must unite and prevail.”) This author was “preaching to the choir” at that moment, but if I had been a meat eater (at that particular moment, the minority viewpoint), I personally would have felt a more than a little bit nervous!

This bothers me because vegans often are stereotyped as being militant and intolerant (with carrots stuck up their okoles), a category into which I definitely do not wish to be included in.  When I attempted to speak to this person and share my concerns about the message being presented, he said “Everyone has their method. Thanks for sharing” and then walked away from me.

My purpose for writing this blog is to emphasize once again that in my classes, I take a very non-judgmental approach, meeting people wherever they are to offer a a variety of viewpoints, including cooking techniques, ingredients, or perhaps a new perspective, as a few examples, that hopefully encourage people to add more healthful items into their diet and to get knowledgeable about the food system and become educated consumers. I also encourage the students present to share things with each other that have worked for them and to make their own decisions about what is right for their own lives.

Hawaii IRL: Healthy Eating Doesn’t Have to be Bland

Recently, I spoke to Melissa Chang of Hawaii IRL and she interviewed me about my most recent cooking series.  Even though this cooking series is now over, you can learn more about me and my teaching philosophy in the interviews!

See the video and read the blog at the following links:

Hawaii IRL (video)

Nonstop Honolulu (blog)


Holiday Cooking Class (a few select photos)

Here are a few images of the food from today’s side dishes class.

The menu was:

Holiday Rice
Artichoke and Heart of Palm Salad
Pumpkin Coconut Bisque
Christmas Parsnip Soup
Sweet Potato Casserole with Mapled Pecans
Oven Baked Squash

Also the second side dishes class included: Cranberry Chutney; Green Beans w/Pumpkin Seed Dressing; Mashed Potatoes w/Shiitake Gravy; Olive, Onion, Walnut Pan Bread; Brussels Sprout Salad.

Apple Pie is on the dessert menu ?

Culinary explorations & adventures in community

This September, I had a chance to go visit my family on the mainland.  Here are a few of the wonderful things I saw:

  • Fall harvest vegetables grown just outside the city.  There are white pumpkins and wing squashes along with other varieties.
  • Food truck rally – I found it fascinating that one of the trucks was painted with the phrase “Recession Dining”.  The food truck culture was huge there!  To my surprise (and joy) there was a truck that had a couple of vegan options, one of which had already sold out.
  • My favorite truck was Native Foods.  The woman who owned it was a young woman with so much love and joy for cooking.  Her passion came through in the flavors.  I nibbled a little bit of the fry bread and tasted some of her french fries.  She made tacos and enchiladas with the fry bread as a shell.
  • The last thing was an amazing new health food store complete with a demo kitchen and community room.  How I wish it were mine!