7 Heart Tests That Could Save Your Life

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7 Heart Tests That Could Save Your Life

Think a stress test and a simple blood workup are all you need to assess your heart attack risk? Wrong.

Your physician has you come in to her office and run on a treadmill while you’re hooked up to an EKG. For the next 8 to 12 minutes, she’ll evaluate your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure as the intensity of the workout increases. When the stress test is over, she’ll tell you whether you have coronary artery disease.Here’s news that might make your heart skip a beat: For women, there’s a 35% chance the test results will be wrong.Most often, the test reveals false positives, meaning healthy women are told they have heart disease. Less frequently but obviously far more dangerous is when the test fails to detect clogged arteries that could, in fact, cause a heart attack. Fewer men are misdiagnosed.Possible reason for the gender gap: Phases of the menstrual cycle and birth control pills have been shown to throw off results, indicating that estrogen’s effects on heart cells might be a factor.

For decades, doctors had nothing more sophisticated than a stress test to offer. Not anymore. Cardiologists now use advanced imaging and blood tests that give a much more accurate assessment of heart attack risk. “These tests are the best ways to tell who is in danger, because they can catch cardiovascular disease 20 to 30 years before it gets severe enough to cause a heart attack or stroke,” says Arthur Agatston, MD, an early champion of many of them.

Better detection is urgently needed: More than 1 million Americans have heart attacks every year, and almost half die. Women have more heart attacks then men currently. From 1988 to 2004, attacks among women ages 35 to 54 spiked 42%.

These tests are available at most major medical centers and hospitals. If your doctor doesn’t request them for you, demand the ones that are recommended for women in your age group and risk category.

Cardiac Calcium Scoring

How It Works: A CT scanner checks for atherosclerotic plaque (made up of calcium, cholesterol, and scar tissue) in your heart’s arteries. After electrodes are attached to your chest and to an EKG machine that monitors your heartbeat, you lie on an exam table that slides into a short, doughnut-shaped tunnel and hold your breath for 10 to 20 seconds.

Cost: $99 to $399; Duration: 10 minutes

Why It’s Heart Smart: “Calcium scoring is the number one best predictor of a future heart attack,” Dr. Agatston says. Calcified plaque—a major warning sign of coronary artery disease, the leading cause of heart attacks—shows up at least 10 years before a heart attack or stroke hits. By catching the problem early, you can treat it before the buildup narrows arteries so severely that it triggers a heart attack.

Get It If: You’re 50 or older with risk factors—or you’re younger with a family history and several risk factors. Since the test involves x-rays, women shouldn’t have it if there’s any chance they might be pregnant.

What the Results Mean: You’ll get an Agatston Score (developed by Dr. Agatston), which indicates the total amount of hard and soft plaque in your heart’s arteries. A score of zero means you have no calcium deposits and a low risk of heart attack in the next 5 years. A score of 400 or more puts you at high risk of a heart attack within 10 years; a score of 1,000+ means you have up to a 25% chance of having a heart attack within a year without medical treatment.

Next Steps: If your score is 200 or higher, your doctor may advise lifestyle changes, a statin to lower cholesterol, or a diabetes drug to lower blood sugar—all of which will also reduce plaque.

Carotid Intimal Medial Thickness Test

How It Works: This “ultrasound of the neck” takes a picture of the left and right carotid arteries, which supply blood to your head and brain. After putting a gel on your neck, a technician glides an ultrasoundtransducer over your carotids to measure the thickness of the arteries’ lining.

Cost: $150 to $500; Duration: 15 minutes

Why It’s Heart Smart: Studies show a link between abnormal thickness of the carotid lining and coronary artery disease. “This test can detect even the earliest stages, before blood flow is blocked,” says Dr. Agatston. Because it’s not an x-ray, it’s also helpful for women who are or may be pregnant.

Get It If: You’re 40 or older—or you’re under 40 and a close relative (parents or siblings) had a heart attack or stroke before age 55.

What the Results Mean: You’ll get two numbers: the thickness of your carotid lining (normal is less than 1.06 mm) and your “arterial age,” an estimate of how that thickness compares to that of healthy women your age. If your arteries are more than 8 years “older” than you are, your doctor can tailor treatment to reduce your risk.

Next Steps: A diet and exercise plan, stress reduction, and, if necessary, drugs to lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar and reduce your intimal medial thickness.

High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein Test

How It Works: A blood test measures CRP, a protein in your blood that’s a strong indicator of inflammation throughout your body.

Cost: $8; Duration: 5 minutes

Why It’s Heart Smart: Cholesterol plaque injures blood vessels, triggering inflammation and raising CRP levels in your blood. That’s dangerous because women with high levels of CRP may be up to 4 times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke. A high CRP is most dangerous if you also have another risk factor: a waist circumference of more than 35 inches, indicating the presence of belly fat.

Get It If: You’re 40 or older.

What the Results Mean: If your score is under 1.0 mg per liter, your risk of developing heart disease is low. A score between 1.0 and 3.0 mg/l equals average risk. Above 3.0 mg/l, you’re at high risk. It’s possible to have high CRP without heart disease, though, because infections and injuries can also trigger a spike in levels.

“We don’t consider high CRP to be a warning sign unless we’ve done the test on three separate occasions with the same results and there’s no other reason for the inflammation,” says Dr. Agatston. If you get three high scores, you need cardiac calcium scoring and the CIMT test to check your blood vessels.

Next Steps: A statin, along with weight loss and exercise, can cut risk of heart problems in women with high CRP.

Advanced Lipid Profile and Lipoprotein(a) Test

How They Work: Unlike the traditional cholesterol blood test, which measures total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides, the advanced test also looks at particle size. This is important because some particles are big and fluffy, so they tend to bounce off artery walls as they travel through the body. Others are small and dense, meaning they can penetrate the artery lining and form clumps of plaque. (Think beach balls versus bullets.) The Lp(a) blood test analyzes a specific type of cholesterol that can triple heart risk.

Cost: $19 each; Duration: 5 minutes

Why They’re Heart Smart: Sizing up your particles gives a clearer picture of heart risk than the conventional test: Having a lot of large particles cuts risk, while small ones raise it. The more Lp(a) you have, the worse it is too—it makes LDL particles extra sticky, so they cling to the lining of blood vessels, causing plaque and clots.

Get Them If: You have a family history of heart disease.

What the Results Mean: “You do not want more than 15% of your particles to be the small, dense type,” says Dr. Agatston. For Lp(a), levels above 30 mg/dl put you at increased risk.

Next Steps: If you have small particles, your doctor may prescribe a drug to increase their size, most likely a fenofibrate (such as TriCor or Trilipix) or niacin (vitamin B3), along with a healthy diet and exercise. Niacin is also the best treatment for high Lp(a).

A1C Blood Glucose Test

How It Works: A blood test indicates your average level of blood sugar over the prior 3 months. Unlike other glucose tests that require fasting or drinking a sugary beverage, this test requires neither.

Cost: $50; Duration: 5 minutes

Why It’s Heart Smart: “This is the simplest way to detect your future risk of diabetes,” Dr. Agatston says. This disease puts you at 5 times higher risk of developing heart disease—yet 5.7 million Americans have undiagnosed diabetes (on top of the 17.9 million who are diagnosed) because they haven’t had their blood sugar checked.

Get It If: You’re 45 or older—or earlier if you’re overweight and have one or more diabetes risk factors, such as family history, high triglycerides, or low HDL.

What the Results Mean: An A1C level between 4.5 and 6% is normal, between 6 and 6.4 indicates prediabetes, and 6.5 or higher on two separate tests means you have diabetes.

Next Steps: The disease can often be reversed with weight loss, exercise, and dietary changes. If that’s not enough, you may need oral medication or insulin injections.

Genetic Tests

How They Work: A blood sample is tested at a lab for mutations of the KIF6 and APOE genes.

Cost: $130 each; Duration: 5 minutes

Why They’re Heart Smart: A common variation in the KIF6 gene and two mutations in the APOE gene raise your heart disease risk. “You have no control over your genes,” says Dr. Agatston, “but these tests can help your doctor better tailor your treatment to head off a heart attack.”

Get Them If: You’re 40 or older.

What the Results Mean: “The KIF6 gene test predicts how effective statins are likely to be at heading off a future heart attack,” says Dr. Agatston. A recent study found that people with a certain variant of KIF6 had a better response to statin treatment, with a 41% drop in heart attack risk, while people without this mutation didn’t respond as well, with a 6% drop. “So we’ll use a different treatment in these cases,” he says—typically, a fenofibrate or niacin. As for the APOE gene, certain people with those variants have a much greater response to a low-saturated-fat diet. “So they may not need medication if they’re diligent about avoiding saturated fat,” Dr. Agatston says.

Next Steps: A drug to lower cholesterol, changes in diet, or both.

Stress Echocardiography

How It Works: This test is an improvement over the standard stress test because it adds an ultrasound both before and after exercise to evaluate blood flow to your heart’s pumping chambers and check for blockages in the arteries that supply the heart.

Cost: $850 to $1,600; Duration: 45 minutes

Why It’s Heart Smart: Adding echocardiography to the standard stress test raises accuracy by as much as 85% for women. “It’s an excellent way to tell if your heart disease is severe enough that you could require treatments like a stent or a bypass,” he says.

Get It If: You have signs of heart disease, regardless of your age. “If you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, neck pain, or any other symptom, you need this test,” says Dr. Agatston.

What the Results Mean: If the test detects reduced blood flow, one or more of your coronary arteries may be blocked.

Next Steps: Your doctor may recommend a cardiac catheterization to check for blockages. If your vessels are clogged, they can be reopened with angioplasty, a stent, or bypass surgery.

Will Your Insurance Pay?

Compared with the $760,000 it costs to treat a single heart attack patient, these tests are cheap—but some insurers won’t pay for them. “The system rewards doctors who do bypasses but doesn’t pay for prevention,” says Arthur Agatston, MD. Many companies are coming around: Most will pay for the stress EKG, blood glucose, and advanced cholesterol tests. Some will cover the gene tests and CIMT. Cardiac calcium scoring usually isn’t covered. Call your carrier beforehand to find out what it will pay for and what your co-payment will be.

Prevention Pioneer: Arthur Agatston, MD

A preventive cardiologist and Prevention advisory board member, Dr. Agatston passionately believes that the right combination of diet, exercise, medication, and advanced tests can wipe out heart disease—and he’s proving it: Of the 2,500 patients he sees in his Miami clinic each year, only one or two have heart attacks.

“One of the best-kept secrets in cardiology,” he says, “is that doctors using cutting-edge prevention have stopped seeing heart attacks in their patients.”

It was Dr. Agatston and Warren Janowitz, MD, who developed the first CT scan heart screening—the cardiac calcium scoring test—in the 1980s. “At first, it was a constant battle to educate physicians that the standard of care needed to change,” Dr. Agatston says. But now, because of his work, patients everywhere can get this test.

Not content to stop there, he continues to develop treatments to prevent heart attacks. “This disease,” he repeats emphatically, “does not need to exist.”

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Frans German Chocolate Cake Filling

Preparing the Cake Components

Preparing the Cake Components

To start, prepare two layers of the chocolate cake  recipe. Once baked, be sure to allow the cakes to cool properly before taking the next steps. Once cooled, wrap and chill the layers in the refrigerator. Always use cold cakes to assemble multi-layered cakes as the chill makes make them easier to handle and helps to prevent breakage.

Next, prepare the caramel sauce, and allow to stay at room temperature or slightly warm. If too cool, the caramel sauce will be too thick and be difficult to spread. Before assembling, add the toasted coconut and pecans to the caramel sauce.

  • 2 Fran’s Chocolate Cake recipe
  • 1 Fran’s Caramel Sauce
  • 1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup toasted, pecans, cooled and coarsely chopped
  • splash of almond milk, to thin caramel sauce as needed

Step 2: Assembling the Cake

Assembling the Cake

To assemble the cake, begin by spooning small dollops of the filling on the first layer. Spread or nudge small areas at a time, so you don’t tear the cake. Stop short of the very edge of the layer, leaving about 1/2-inch uncovered to allow the filling to spread as the cake is layered. This layer does not have to be perfect since another layer will be going on top.

Sprinkle the filling with half of the remaining coconut and chopped pecans. Place the top layer onto the filling and lightly press it down.

Stick a wooden skewer down into the middle of the cake to keep the layers from sliding. Spread the top layer with the remaining caramel sauce.

To present this cake, sprinkle it with the remaining chopped pecans and toasted coconut. Note that this cake is quite sweet, so a little goes a long way.

  • 1/4 cup toasted shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup toasted pecans, cooled and coarsely

The Caramel Sauce

“Classic” Caramel Sauce

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This caramel sauce is made in the same way that classic caramel sauce is made — by caramelizing sugar; however this caramel sauce just happens to be dairy-, butter- and refined sugar-free, yet it’s missing none of the flavor!

  • Serves: 1 cup
  • Active Time: 25 mins
  • Total Time: 35 mins

Step 1: Caramelizing the Sugar

Caramelizing the Sugar

NOTE: IF YOU HAVE NOT MADE CARAMEL SAUCE BEFORE, PLEASE BE VERY CAREFUL. THE SUGAR IS EXTREMELY HOT AND CAN CAUSE SEVERE BURNS. Read the notes below if you have never made caramel sauce before.

Sugar Note: Most chefs say that only granulated sugar can be successfully caramelized; other sugars — such as brown sugar and unrefined sugar such as cane sugar — contain impurities that can inhibit caramelization. It’s those impurities that can burn before the sugar has time to caramelize. Adding a liquid, such as water, will help to mitigate this problem. That being said, it can be a little tricky when working with sugar, so don’t get frustrated.

Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium to low heat and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 to 15 minutes or until the sugar caramelizes and turns golden brown. Do not stir the mixture as the sugar heats or it can start to crystallize. Instead, gently tilt and/or swirl the pan side-to-side to ensure the sugar cooks and colors evenly.

  • 1 cup cane sugar*
  • 3/4 cup water

Step 2: Adding the Coconut Cream

Adding the Coconut Cream

Note: Use only the thick coconut cream from the surface of the can. You may find it easier to separate the thick cream from the coconut water by placing the can of coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight.

Once the sugar is golden, immediately remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the coconut cream. Wear oven mitts and be very careful. The cold cream will splatter when it hits the hot sugar. The sugar may also clump a bit, but don’t worry, simply keep whisking until the sugar has been fully incorporated into the coconut cream.

At this point, the caramel sauce is ready to be used. If using as is, let cool slightly before using as it is still extremely hot.

  • 1 cup full-fat coconut milk* (1-14 oz can)

Step 3: Adding Additional Flavorings | Optional

Adding Additional Flavorings | Optional

Note: We used fleur de sel salt, but any other quality sea salt should work just fine. The amount used depends on how salty you like your caramel.

The salt and/or lemon zest provides a nice contrast against the sweetness of the caramelized sugar.

Any leftover caramel sauce can be kept in a plastic container or squeeze bottle and stored in the refrigerator for quite a few days.

  • 1/2 to 1 tsp fleur de sel*
  • 1 to 2 pieces lemon zest

Notes

When you caramelize sugar be sure to give it your undivided attention. It can turn from clear liquid to burnt caramel in a matter of seconds. At 350°F it is also very hot and can cause severe burning if it splatters on your skin. Also, make sure your pan and utensils are very clean because any food particles could cause the sugar to crystallize.

To prevent crystallization you can add an interfering agent; just a tiny amount of acid will do, such as cream of tartar or a drop of lemon juice. Don’t be intimidated, even experienced chefs sometimes burn the caramel or have the sugar crystallize.

If you are new to making caramel sauce, it’s a good idea to keep a deep bowl of water with lots of ice in it nearby. If some caramel lands on your hand, immediately put your hand right into the ice bath. It’s also a good idea to wear an oven mitt, especially when adding the coconut cream.

Death by Heart

 

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In the past two days we learned of two beloved performers who died by a heart related cause. Carrie Fisher died from a massive heart attack, and George Michael died from heart failure.  Both were quite young, with many years ahead to delight their fans.

CNN reported today that Carrie Fisher stated she wasn’t afraid of death, but of dying.  She had sat with dying friends and recalled how she made them laugh. She hoped that someone like her would be near as she died.  Chances are that she was overwhelmed with pain and perhaps loss of consciousness.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined,” said Dr. Jennifer Mieres, professor of cardiology and population health at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine in Hempstead, N.Y.

About once every minute a woman dies from a stroke, heart attack or a lesser-known problem called a sudden cardiac arrest, according to the American Heart Association. Sudden cardiac arrest differs from a heart attack. It’s not caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart; instead the heart’s electrical system stops working properly and can’t pump blood the way it should.

Ninety percent of all women have one or more heart disease risk factors, but the good news is that 80% of the problems can be prevented by controlling risk factors, according to the heart association. That means not smoking, exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, drinking little alcohol and maintaining proper weight.

Sadly, getting diagnosed in the 80% isn’t that easy. It wasn’t until my first massive heart attack did I find someone who understood that as a healthy athletic, non-smoking, plant based eater, I was an outlier from the norm.  I did have another heart attack after that one, and now live with just over a third of a heart.

With such a small working heart I don’t get to engage in the things I love. Hiking, running, socializing, traveling and even working a full time job. If I wasn’t aware of all the signs of heart attack (don’t buy into the male vs female signs, because you need to know them all), I wouldn’t have survived them.

And like Fisher, I’m not afraid of death. The potential process of pain, loss of control, or inability to be out in nature terrifies me.

Ms. Fisher didn’t have time to get help. Fifteen minutes until landing is too long for survival of a massive heart attack.  The general rule of thumb is 3-10 minutes to get professional care. The tools for survival aren’t kept in a plane.

It’s a sad day for those of us with a history of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.  We know that could have been us.  Don’t let this happen to you.  See your doctor and demand testing for heart disease.  If s/he doesn’t want to test your heart, find another doctor.

Check out this list of tests to request https://iamfighting.org/

10 healthy desserts for a New Year’s Eve party

These look so yummy!!

Cooking without Limits

Christmas is gone and the end of the year is almost here. I put a list with 1 healthy desserts to impress your guests. They are easy to made and very healthy. So next to your fancy dress and your beautiful decorations, your guests will be mesmerized by your desserts.

Some recipes are raw, for some recipe you will need use the oven. But they all take little time and little effort.  Enjoy!

  1. Chocolate cupcakes without sugar and flour

GAB_6936_res_mix Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting

2. Raw vegan cheese cake

raw vegan cheese cake

3. Dessert raw vegan

dessert raw vegan

4. Raw cheese cake

GAB_5186_res_mix Raw cheese cake with raspberry sauce

5. Raw chocolate truflles

GAB_5843_res_mix Raw chocolate truffles

6. Chia seeds pudding in layers

GAB_5880_res_mix

7. Raw vegan snickers cake

GAB_5537_res_mix

8. Raw vegan cheesecake

raw cheese cake

9. Mini lemon bundt cakes

GAB_1348_res_mix

10. Pears baked in pastry

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How my insurance company will kill me

insurance

As an athletic woman since college, I knew that my fitness was going to save me from the diseases in my extended family. After college I focused on my food intake and stopped eating meat, fried food and minimized sugar.

Fast forward 30 years.  My doctors mentioned my high cholesterol, but felt that my lifestyle being so healthy, that I’d miss heart disease and heart attacks.  None of the doctors asked about my stress levels and the size of my support network.  They also didn’t really want to know about how 9/11 impacted me (my 2 week living in NYC), or how the economic crash impacted me (I lost everything).

The first heart attack came in 2013. I was isolated in a culture that didn’t fit, in fact, a Jewish girl in a heavily southern Christian area was a liability.  I won’t go on about it. Just trust me that I was miserable.  Penniless, terrified, strictly vegan by then, my dogs and I drove out to San Francisco.  There were more jobs there.  I saw many advertisements with jobs that I was trained in.  Ageism. Sexism.  Rampant.

Fast forward to massive heart attack with heart damage.  Time to come home to Seattle.  And heart attack #3. Apparently being laid off from my CMO gig (not necessarily legal) and then driving myself back wasn’t such a good idea.

Here’s where the insurance comes in.  My cardiologist figures out that I have a mutated gene.  Then I get my DNA tested.  (I recommend this for EVERYONE) Ooops.  A few mutated genes.  In fact the primary blood thinner doesn’t really work because genetically I don’t metabolize it.

There’s a new drug specifically for PCSK9 mutation.  Amgen actually gives it to people for $5 a month. But you have to have insurance from a company. Not self insured. That’s over 1k a month.  I changed insurance companies.  They’ll give it to me if I take statins for 12 weeks.  Even though we know I get horribly ill.  And I do mean horribly. More than a week on it and I’m sobbing in the fetal position.  They don’t care.  I have to prove it to them.  I JUST got through 2 heart attacks in 6 months and am finally feeling ok.  I’m even in culinary school.  (I have to change course in my career and reduce stress)

I have to decide what to do.  Not take the drugs.  Or take them and experience a major set back in my life.  No income, no caretakers, all on my own.  Or not take the new drug that could possibly change my life.

What would you do?

Very exciting news!

If you know me, you understand that I’ve had a passion for healthy living.  The environment, animal protection, and reducing the number of people with heart diseas are all part of my love for life.

So. I’m starting a new business.  Dedicated to helping busy families reverse heart disease, shut down diabetes, and laying down a strong foundation for their children to be healthy.

Here’s what the new gig will look like:

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Want to make healthier meals faster?  I can help you. Take charge of your kitchen—and win at Meatless Mondays!

Option #1

  1. Pantry assessment
  2. Spice clean out
  3. Assess utensils and other cooking tools
  4. Arrange pantry, cupboards and fridge
  5. Create staples list that can be used for most meals
  6. Recipes for 5 ‘go to’ dinners
  7. Determine which style of organization works best for your family

 

Option #2

  1. Option #1 + #2
  2. Take grocery shopping trip
  3. 10 recipes to kick start your creativity
  4. Create 3 ‘go to’ meals together
  5. Learn the importance of Mise en Place to cut time and mistakes when cooking
  6. Discover tips and tricks for making quick healthy meals

 

Option #3

    1. Personal plant based meals prepared at your home, or delivered.
    2. Plant based cooking lessons

 

Affordable pricing, endless rewards.

 

About Miller Canning

Miller grew up in a classic 60’s home where her mother made a roast, open canned vegetables and boiled potatoes for meals.  She became a vegetarian at the age of 14, a weight lifter, runner in college and after a heart attack at a young age, a plant based eater.

Miller knew she wanted to leave her career as a tech marketer to show people how eating well can fuel and heal their bodies.

 

Contact:

Miller Canning

Miller@SmartHeartEats.com

425.765.3048

References available as requested

 

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Copycat Chocolate Macaroon Larabar Bites

I love Lara Bars!  When I’m starving and can’t find something in the vegan world easily around me, I grab these.  WholeFoodLife.com has re-created these bars in small bite sized yummies!

Copycat Chocolate Macaroon Larabar Bites

Prep time:  5 mins

Total time:  5 mins

Serves: 20 bites

Rich chocolatey flavor with hints of coconut. Just 6 simple ingredients to make!
Ingredients
Get Ingredients

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Instructions
  1. In a food processor, add the almonds, chocolate chips and unsweetened coconut. Blend into a fine consistency.
  2. Then add the dates and coconut flour and continue to blend.
  3. Lastly, add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture clumps together. I used 2 tablespoons.
  4. Roll balls and place them on a lined baking sheet.
  5. If you like, you can roll them in more shredded coconut or cacao powder like I did.
  6. Store in the fridge or freezer.

Read more at http://mywholefoodlife.com/2016/08/07/copycat-chocolate-macaroon-larabar-bites/#mJ0iGJsjxXKWoK37.99

Sweetgreen Makes Healthful Fast Food — But Can You Afford It?

Photo

Employees work the line at Sweetgreen, a chain restaurant that uses fresh ingredients from local farms to make fast food healthier, in Berkeley, Calif.
Employees work the line at Sweetgreen, a chain restaurant that uses fresh ingredients from local farms to make fast food healthier, in Berkeley, Calif.Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

A weekly column on the science and culture of eating.

Healthful, fast and affordable food is the holy grail of the public health and nutrition community. A popular restaurant chain shows just how much of a challenge that is.

It began when three Georgetown University students were frustrated that they could not find a healthy fast-food restaurant near their campus. With money raised from family and friends, they started their own, renting a small storefront on M Street in Georgetown. The result was Sweetgreen, a restaurant that offered organic salads, wraps and frozen yogurt. Pretty soon, the daily line of lunchtime customers stretched out the door and around the corner.

Ten years later, the line is still there, but Sweetgreen has grown into a nationwide salad chain, with more than 40 locations. Sweetgreen is part of a small but growing breed of farm-to-table fast-food chains – like Chopt Creative Salad Company on the East Coast and Tender Greens in California – that are giving fast-food restaurants a plant-based makeover. Their mission: to fix fast food, which has long been fattening and heavily processed.

Photo

At Sweetgreen, fresh vegetables, cheeses and other ingredients are shipped directly to each restaurant from nearby farms and then chopped or cooked on site.
At Sweetgreen, fresh vegetables, cheeses and other ingredients are shipped directly to each restaurant from nearby farms and then chopped or cooked on site.Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

Sweetgreen’s owners say their goal is to offer customers foods made with nutritious, sustainable and locally grown ingredients. The company has decentralized its food sourcing and production. Fresh vegetables, cheeses and other ingredients are shipped directly to each restaurant from nearby farms and then chopped or cooked on site. They don’t sell soda or use refined sugar.
Sweetgreen expects to open another 20 stores in major cities around the country this year, and eventually to expand to places where experts say healthy, delicious fast food is needed most — low-income neighborhoods.

But while the chain has proven there is a big appetite for more healthful fast food, the goal of taking this concept to poor areas may be a distant reality. The company and other chains like it operate almost exclusively in affluent communities, far from the low-income food deserts where obesity is rampant and farmers’ markets and healthy food stores are scarce. And with salads that typically cost between $9 and $14, some question whether a healthful fast-food chain like Sweetgreen can ever be affordable for average Americans.

Maegan George, a Columbia University student who lives near a Sweetgreen, calculated that for the price of one Sweetgreen salad, she could buy the same ingredients in bulk at a local market and make several similar salads at home.

“I’m a first-generation student and I’m on full financial aid,” she said. “Sweetgreen is delicious and I enjoy it. But there’s no way I could afford to eat there on a regular basis.”

Jackie Hajdenberg, another Columbia student, wrote about the restaurant for the campus newspaper, The Spectator, earlier this year, lamenting that on a per calorie basis, a salad at Sweetgreen was three times the price of a Big Mac at McDonald’s.

“Sweetgreen has not only made it easier for people to make healthy decisions – it has also illustrated the unequal socioeconomic landscape of the world in which we live,” she wrote.

Photo

Salad options at Sweetgreen change often, depending on what is available at local farms.
Salad options at Sweetgreen change often, depending on what is available at local farms.Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

Sweetgreen says it prices its food so that it can compensate its suppliers and employees fairly, and that it expects nutritious fast food to become more affordable as the healthy food movement grows. Nicolas Jammet, a co-founder of Sweetgreen, said the company wants to serve lower-income customers, and has long-term plans to expand to low-income communities.

To get there, he said, the company will have to overcome hurdles involving its supply chain, the minimum wage and greater nutrition awareness and education among the public. For the past six years the company has been running a nutrition education program in schools that teaches children about healthier eating and locally grown food.

“It’s a long-term goal for us to be part of this larger systematic change that needs to happen,” he said. “But there are so many parts of this problem that need to be addressed.”

Mr. Jammet notes that the company was among the first to show that fast-food chains don’t need profits from soda and sugary drinks to succeed. He believes chains like Sweetgreen have caused a ripple effect throughout the fast-food industry.

In January, for example, Chick-fil-A unveiled a new kale, broccolini and nut “superfood” salad, responding to customer demands for “new tastes and healthier ways to eat in our restaurants.” McDonald’s is experimenting with kale salads, and Wendy’s is testing a spinach, chicken and quinoa salad.

“Companies like McDonald’s have more power to change the way that people eat than we do,” Mr. Jammet said. “We don’t see these companies as the enemy. We just have to force change on them.”

Public health experts say that such changes cannot come soon enough. A University of Toronto study recently showed that people have a higher risk of developing diabetes if they live in “food swamps” – an area with three or more fast-food restaurants and no healthy dining options.

Another study published in JAMA in June found that the percentage of Americans eating an unhealthy diet — high in sugar, refined grains, soft drinks and processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables — was on the decline, but the improvements in diet were much smaller for lower-income Americans.

Photo

Customers wait in line at Sweetgreen in Berkeley, Calif.
Customers wait in line at Sweetgreen in Berkeley, Calif.Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

Overall about twice as many people from poor households have poor diets compared to those at higher income levels.
Why is traditional fast food so cheap? One reason is the underlying infrastructure of the industry. Many of the ingredients, like the soy that’s turned into oil for deep fryers, or the the corn that’s fed to animals and used to make high-fructose corn syrup, begin with crops that are heavily subsidized by the government. To make their food economical, many traditional fast-food chains mass-produce their food in large factories, often stripping it of fiber and other nutrients that decrease its shelf life, while adding salt, sugar and other flavorings and preservatives.

Then they freeze and ship the processed components, like burger patties, bread, pickles and sauce, to their restaurants. There they are reheated and assembled, often with minimal effort, ensuring that a Big Mac in Seattle looks and tastes the same as a Big Mac in Charlotte, N.C.

By comparison, every Sweetgreen location has a chalkboard that lists the farms where its organic arugula, peaches, yogurt or blueberries are produced. As a result, the menus vary by location and by season. In Boston, Sweetgreen stores use New England Hubbard squash. In Los Angeles, the menu features a different variety of squash grown locally in California.

Those differences mean fresher, more nutritious ingredients, but ultimately costlier food for customers — one of the obstacles that Sweetgreen and other chains like it will have to overcome if they hope to make their food more accessible to all income brackets.
Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and the author of “Food Politics,’’ says restaurants like Sweetgreen offer an encouraging, but imperfect, model for making fast food more healthful.

“What’s not to like?” she asks. “The cost, maybe, but for people who can afford it the quality is worth it. Next step: Moving the concept into low-income areas.”

What You Need to Know About Lentils

Like beans, lentils add a great high-fiber and high-protein element to many meals. Because of their size, lentils cook much more quickly than dried beans and do not have to be soaked before cooking.3 They are extremely versatile and inexpensive, which makes them an accessible form of high-quality protein.4 Let’s take a closer look at this convenient staple.

Preparation, Cooking, and Storage

Lentils are sold in two forms: canned and dried. While canned are good for ready-to-eat uses such as a quick salad or side dish, the dried version works well for soups and stews, salads, and sides. A bag of dried lentils can really last forever, but they are best used within a year of purchase (or by the date printed on the package). Once the bag is opened, store any remaining lentils in an airtight container and keep them in a cool, dry place.5

One benefit of lentils is that they can be cooked in less than an hour. While it seems like an unnecessary step, don’t skip rinsing your lentils and sifting through them before cooking to remove any stones or debris. It is rare to find stones, but it does happen.6 When cooking, treat lentils more like pasta than rice – the lentils do not need to absorb every bit of cooking liquid the way rice does, but you also don’t need to completely flood the lentils like you would pasta. As a general rule, one cup of dried lentils yields two to two-and-a-half cups of cooked lentils.7

Because of their rather delicate, earthy flavor, lentils work well in a variety of dishes and in almost any type of cuisine. The best time to add flavor to lentils is during the cooking process. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Adding half an onion (peeled), a few cloves of crushed garlic, a bundle of herbs, or a bay leaf to the cooking liquid and a pinch of salt gives lentils plenty of flavor, especially when they’re the base for a salad or side dish.8

Nutritional Breakdown

Lentils are an easy, affordable ingredient to add to many meals, and they’re also extremely healthy. One cup of cooked lentils contains around 230 calories, 18 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, and 16 grams of fiber.9 When you add this legume to your diet, you can count on:

  • Fiber Lentils are packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber. Foods high in soluble fiber can help stabilize blood sugar and help reduce blood cholesterol. This in turn reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Foods high in insoluble fiber are good for digestion and help prevent constipation and other digestive issues
  • Protein Protein helps keep us full and gives our bodies the energy to power through the day. Protein accounts for 26 percent of the calories in lentils
  • Energy Lentils offer a steady, slow-burning source of energy, thanks to the mix of fiber and complex carbohydrates
  • Folate One cup of cooked lentils provides 90 percent of the daily recommended intake of folate. This B vitamin helps the body build new cells, an essential task that’s incredibly important for pregnant women, and has also been shown to help prevent some types of cancer1011
  • Vitamins and Minerals Lentils are rich in a number of vitamins and minerals. The magnesium in lentils helps the body transport oxygen and nutrients more effectively by improving blood flow. And iron helps move oxygen throughout the body12
  • Heart Health The mix of fiber, folic acid, and potassium in lentils makes them a heart-healthy choice13

Lentil Varieties

There are four main categories of lentils: brown, green, red/yellow, and specialty.

Brown Lentils

Brown lentils are the most common variety – any bag in the grocery store that says “lentils” without any other descriptor is most likely full of brown lentils. This variety can range in color from khaki brown to dark black and has a mild, earthy flavor.14

Good For:

This variety holds its shape well during cooking, making it ideal for use in warm salads, casseroles, soups, and stews.15 Brown lentils also work well in veggie burgers or vegetarian meatloaf.16

To Cook:

In a medium pot, combine 1 cup dry brown lentils with 2½ to 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 35–45 minutes until tender.1718 If they will be used in a soup or stew, add them to the pot with about 40 minutes cooking time left.

Green Lentils

Green lentils are extremely similar to brown lentils, but they have a more robust and slightly peppery flavor and come in a range of sizes. Green lentils can vary in color from a pale or spotted green to a green-slate color with hints of blue and black.19 Pro tip: Green lentils are a great (and less expensive) substitute for the famous French Puy lentils.

Good For:

Like brown lentils, green lentils retain their shape well.20 This, combined with their strong flavor, makes green lentils ideal for salads or side dishes.21

To Cook:

Combine 1 cup lentils with 2½ cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer 35–45 minutes until tender. (Don’t forget to flavor the cooking water with some aromatics or herbs for a tastier end product.)

Red and Yellow Lentils

This variety of lentil ranges in color from golden yellow to orange and red. They are also the only variety sold “split,” meaning they processed into smaller lentil bits.22These somewhat sweet and nutty lentils are very common in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine and are the key to classic dishes such as Indian dhal.

Good For:

Because of their “split” nature, this variety of lentil tends to disintegrate when cooked, making them ideal to use in soups or stews (especially as a thickener), and in casseroles or any other dish where they are pureed.23

To Cook:

Split lentils cook quickly, usually in about 15–30 minutes.2425 When you’re using them in a soup or stew, just add them to the pot with 15–30 minutes left in the cooking time. When cooking them on their own, bring 1½ cups water and 1 cup dry lentils to a boil, then simmer until tender, 10–15 minutes.

Specialty Lentils

There are many varieties of specialty lentils, but two are most common: Black beluga and Puy. Both varieties are about one-third of the size of brown or green lentils and have a rich, earthy flavor.

Black Beluga Lentils:

When cooked, black beluga lentils are shiny, tiny, and black – they look kind of like caviar: hence their name.

Good For:

Thanks to their rich, earthy flavor, soft texture, and beautiful appearance, these lentils make a great base for salads or as a feature with any kind of protein.

To Cook:

Combine 2¼ cups water and 1 cup lentils. Bring to a boil and simmer 25–30 minutes or until tender.

Puy Lentils:

Puy lentils are grown in the volcanic soil of a specific region in central France called Le Puy. Puy lentils are known for their dark, bluish-slate-green color and rich, peppery flavor.

Good For:

These high-quality lentils should star as the center of a meal. They make a great base for meat or fish, or can be easily featured in a side dish or main dish salad.26

To Cook:

Combine 2½ cups water with 1 cup lentils. Bring to a boil and simmer 20–30 minutes until tender.

Whether in a salad or soup or as the base of a main dish, lentils make a hearty and healthy addition to any meal. If using a recipe isn’t possible, it’s easy to whip up a tasty lentil-based dish without a lot of direction. Follow the guidelines regarding water to lentil ratio, and add plenty of flavorings to the water itself – an onion (quartered), a bay leaf, or a bundle of other herbs – to flavor the lentils as they cook. Serve with a pan of roasted vegetables and a piece of meat for an easy, complete meal. Lentils easily take the place of any hearty grain or legume in most recipes or cooking applications.

Common Mistakes That Lead To Food Cravings

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Food cravings can be nightmarish. They can consume your energy and focus, but often we can manage and reduce cravings by simply modifying our diet and tweaking lifestyle a little bit.

What are some of the common triggers to food cravings?

  • Poor sleep
  • High stress
  • Processed foods
  • Meals that lack protein and healthy fats
  • Meals that lack plant-based fiber and meals that are very low carbohydrate (VLC)
  • An unbalanced gut flora
  • Missing breakfast

1. Sleep and stress

Poor sleep quality can affect the production of many metabolic hormones. These hormones include insulin, cortisol, melatonin, leptin, adiponectin, and the hunger-promoting hormone ghrelin.

When the normal production of these hormones is disrupted, so are our blood sugar levels, mood, and ability to feel full and satisfied.

Why do we want to balance blood sugar?

The brain requires a steady flow of sugar. When your blood sugar levels fluctuate your subconscious mind panics and goes into survival mode. This, in turn, triggers cravings particularly for high-calorie foods.

Poor sleep also increases the risk of insulin resistance. In fact, those who get less than five hours of sleep a night have a 46 percent increased risk of developing diabetes compared to those who get seven to eight hours.

Processed foods, pollutants, and life’s pressures affect the quality of our sleep and contribute to high stress levels. So the key areas we need to look at to improve sleep and stress are diet, detoxification, and relaxation.

Embarking on a guided detox annually or biannually and detoxifying your environment will help remove unwanted inflammatory toxins from your body.

Find social activities you enjoy, meditate, or delve into some yin yoga to help you stay on top of excessive stress. Even a mere 10 to 15 minutes daily is a great start and can create positive long-term change.

Adding a small amount of well-chosen carbohydrates (yes I said the C word) to lunch and dinner can improve the quality of your sleep and reduce stress levels. More on this later.

2. Processed foods

Processed foods are often packed full of hidden, simple sugars and chemicals that disrupt blood sugar balance. Simple sugars are absorbed quickly by the body, in anywhere between 60 to 90 minutes, whereas whole foods are absorbed within 6 to 8 hours.

When carbohydrates are absorbed fast it leads to a rapid rise in blood sugar and secretion of the hormone insulin from the pancreas. Insulin ensures that the cells take up the sugar for energy and storage. As the cells take up the sugar from blood, blood sugar drops.

If the diet is high in simple sugars, the body continues to release more and more insulin and it eventually loses its effectiveness.

This leads to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can drive food cravings and may even lead to diabetes, obesity, low or erratic moods, and low energy. Sugar is also a fuel source for the harmful bacteria in your gut.

Interesting fact: Evidence has shown that many highly processed foods also haveaddictive properties.

3. Not eating enough protein and healthy fats

Having quality protein and healthy fats with every meal stabilizes blood sugar and helps keep you full and satisfied. This helps you avoid cravings and overconsumption of food.

Breakfast especially needs a quality protein to support healthy morning cortisol level, which gives us energy, focus, and stable blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Aim for a palm-size portion of protein and 1 tablespoon of healthy fats per meal.

Good sources of quality protein are grass-fed meat, organic poultry, fish, eggs, liver (from grass-fed animals). Good sources of fats are nuts, nut butter, seeds, coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter, olive oil, and macadamia oil.

4. Not eating enough fiber

Dietary fiber from plant sources such as berries, avocado, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, leafy greens, artichokes, ground flaxseeds, carrots, and nuts help to slow down the absorption of sugar, resulting in stable blood sugar levels and thus fewer food cravings.

Fiber also feeds our good gut flora, promoting a healthy microbiome. Let’s not forget that fiber helps to ensure that we poop daily, clearing out those unwanted, inflammatory toxins that can negatively affect our mood.

As you know, when mood is low, we often reach for comfort. This may be in the shape of refined carbohydrates, sweets, alcohol, fast food, or overconsumption of food.

Another fiber worth including in your diet is resistant starch (RS). RS passes through the stomach and small intestine undigested (it resists digestion). It reaches the colon intact and is eventually digested by our intestinal bacteria. The beauty of RS is that it contains mostly unusable calories and has little or no effect on our insulin or blood sugar levels.

Good RS sources are boiled potatoes, brown rice, cannellini (white) beans, black beans, and unripe bananas.

5. A very low carbohydrate diet

Many health-conscious folk have gone too far down the low-carb rabbit hole. Contrary to popular belief, this is not always a great strategy. It’s important to include a small amount of whole, plant-based carbohydrates in your lunch and dinner, especially if there are any issues with sleep or stress or if the adrenals need support.

Whole, plant-based carbohydrates are rich in fiber and natural gut-loving prebiotics (think fertilizer for your good gut bacteria). Whole-food carbohydrates shouldn’t be compared to processed carbohydrates, as they don’t affect the body in the same way.

Your blood sugar drops when your diet is too low in carbohydrates, when you fast, or when you miss meals. The adrenals produce more cortisol in response to prevent blood sugar from getting too low.

This rise in cortisol contributes to poor sleep quality and poor production of the hormones needed to help you feel full and satisfied after meals Can you see where I’m going with this? Hello, mind-robbing cravings.

Please don’t misunderstand, this doesn’t mean you should partake in a carb fest with every meal, because a high-carb diet is certainly not ideal. As a modest rule of thumb, aim for 2 tablespoons for lunch and dinner. Cycling your carbohydrate intake can help bring your cortisol and blood sugar levels back to a healthy rhythm.

At different times in your life you may need to adjust your daily carbohydrate intake. This will depend on your current state of health and your personal health goals.

Good sources of “smart” carbohydrates are:

  • Squash
  • Beets
  • Parsnips
  • Sweet potato
  • Turnips
  • Peas
  • Grapefruit
  • Peaches
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Kiwifruit
  • Brown rice (that has cooled down)
  • Quinoa
  • Black beans
  • Cannellini and navy beans

Note: Soak your legumes before cooking and introduce slowly if you have been avoiding them for a while. Some people don’t tolerate legumes well. If this is you, consider leaving legumes out of your diet for now.

6. Unbalanced gut flora (microbiome)

A healthy microbiome produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Soluble fibers found in whole plant foods are fermented by our gut bacteria into SCFAs like butyrate, propionate, and acetate.

SCFAs help reduce inflammation and maintain a healthy weight. Butyrate, in particular, is important for a healthy metabolism and our ability to adapt to stress(stress resistance).

Ninety percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut. Serotonin is responsible for a healthy mood, sense of calm, quality sleep, and balanced appetite. Gut bacteria also produce and respond to other chemicals that the brain uses to regulate sleep, stress, and relaxation.

If our gut flora is unhealthy and out of balance, our mood, sleep, and hormone production can be affected, which could cause food cravings.

7. Not eating breakfast

Having a breakfast with quality protein and healthy fats helps support that naturally high level of cortisol and low insulin that we want to maintain in the morning.

Breakfast helps to regulate your metabolism and blood sugar levels throughout the day. Missing breakfast leads to unbalanced cravings. Those who skip breakfast tend to consume more sugar and fewer vegetables during the day.

What does a well-balanced breakfast look like?

  • A palm-size portion of high-quality protein
  • Alkalizing vegetables (greens, leeks, onions, carrots)
  • High-fiber foods (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, ground flaxseeds, kale)
  • Moderate amounts of healthy fats (sardines, salmon, eggs, bacon, avocado)

This could be sautéed kale with eggs or a smoothie with spinach, quality protein, healthy fats, and fibrous fruits such as berries.

As you can see, the key to curbing cravings is meals that are whole, unrefined, plant-based, and well-rounded.

By adhering to these simple, foundational principles, you can reduce erratic blood sugar levels, turbulent cravings, and your anxiety around food. You might even shave a few dollars off your next grocery bill.

You need lentils. Here’s what to do.

They’re the world’s oldest cultivated legume, so it’s no surprise that lentils have become a staple across the globe – from India to the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas.1 2

Like beans, lentils add a great high-fiber and high-protein element to many meals. Because of their size, lentils cook much more quickly than dried beans and do not have to be soaked before cooking.3 They are extremely versatile and inexpensive, which makes them an accessible form of high-quality protein.4 Let’s take a closer look at this convenient staple.

Preparation, Cooking, and Storage

Lentils are sold in two forms: canned and dried. While canned are good for ready-to-eat uses such as a quick salad or side dish, the dried version works well for soups and stews, salads, and sides. A bag of dried lentils can really last forever, but they are best used within a year of purchase (or by the date printed on the package). Once the bag is opened, store any remaining lentils in an airtight container and keep them in a cool, dry place.5

One benefit of lentils is that they can be cooked in less than an hour. While it seems like an unnecessary step, don’t skip rinsing your lentils and sifting through them before cooking to remove any stones or debris. It is rare to find stones, but it does happen.6 When cooking, treat lentils more like pasta than rice – the lentils do not need to absorb every bit of cooking liquid the way rice does, but you also don’t need to completely flood the lentils like you would pasta. As a general rule, one cup of dried lentils yields two to two-and-a-half cups of cooked lentils.7

Because of their rather delicate, earthy flavor, lentils work well in a variety of dishes and in almost any type of cuisine. The best time to add flavor to lentils is during the cooking process. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Adding half an onion (peeled), a few cloves of crushed garlic, a bundle of herbs, or a bay leaf to the cooking liquid and a pinch of salt gives lentils plenty of flavor, especially when they’re the base for a salad or side dish.8

Nutritional Breakdown

Lentils are an easy, affordable ingredient to add to many meals, and they’re also extremely healthy. One cup of cooked lentils contains around 230 calories, 18 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, and 16 grams of fiber.9 When you add this legume to your diet, you can count on:

  • Fiber Lentils are packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber. Foods high in soluble fiber can help stabilize blood sugar and help reduce blood cholesterol. This in turn reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Foods high in insoluble fiber are good for digestion and help prevent constipation and other digestive issues
  • Protein Protein helps keep us full and gives our bodies the energy to power through the day. Protein accounts for 26 percent of the calories in lentils
  • Energy Lentils offer a steady, slow-burning source of energy, thanks to the mix of fiber and complex carbohydrates
  • Folate One cup of cooked lentils provides 90 percent of the daily recommended intake of folate. This B vitamin helps the body build new cells, an essential task that’s incredibly important for pregnant women, and has also been shown to help prevent some types of cancer1011
  • Vitamins and Minerals Lentils are rich in a number of vitamins and minerals. The magnesium in lentils helps the body transport oxygen and nutrients more effectively by improving blood flow. And iron helps move oxygen throughout the body12
  • Heart Health The mix of fiber, folic acid, and potassium in lentils makes them a heart-healthy choice13

Lentil Varieties

There are four main categories of lentils: brown, green, red/yellow, and specialty.

Brown Lentils

Brown lentils are the most common variety – any bag in the grocery store that says “lentils” without any other descriptor is most likely full of brown lentils. This variety can range in color from khaki brown to dark black and has a mild, earthy flavor.14

Good For:

This variety holds its shape well during cooking, making it ideal for use in warm salads, casseroles, soups, and stews.15 Brown lentils also work well in veggie burgers or vegetarian meatloaf.16

To Cook:

In a medium pot, combine 1 cup dry brown lentils with 2½ to 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 35–45 minutes until tender.1718 If they will be used in a soup or stew, add them to the pot with about 40 minutes cooking time left.

Green Lentils

Green lentils are extremely similar to brown lentils, but they have a more robust and slightly peppery flavor and come in a range of sizes. Green lentils can vary in color from a pale or spotted green to a green-slate color with hints of blue and black.19 Pro tip: Green lentils are a great (and less expensive) substitute for the famous French Puy lentils.

Good For:

Like brown lentils, green lentils retain their shape well.20 This, combined with their strong flavor, makes green lentils ideal for salads or side dishes.21

To Cook:

Combine 1 cup lentils with 2½ cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer 35–45 minutes until tender. (Don’t forget to flavor the cooking water with some aromatics or herbs for a tastier end product.)

Red and Yellow Lentils

This variety of lentil ranges in color from golden yellow to orange and red. They are also the only variety sold “split,” meaning they processed into smaller lentil bits.22These somewhat sweet and nutty lentils are very common in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine and are the key to classic dishes such as Indian dhal.

Good For:

Because of their “split” nature, this variety of lentil tends to disintegrate when cooked, making them ideal to use in soups or stews (especially as a thickener), and in casseroles or any other dish where they are pureed.23

To Cook:

Split lentils cook quickly, usually in about 15–30 minutes.2425 When you’re using them in a soup or stew, just add them to the pot with 15–30 minutes left in the cooking time. When cooking them on their own, bring 1½ cups water and 1 cup dry lentils to a boil, then simmer until tender, 10–15 minutes.

Specialty Lentils

There are many varieties of specialty lentils, but two are most common: Black beluga and Puy. Both varieties are about one-third of the size of brown or green lentils and have a rich, earthy flavor.

Black Beluga Lentils:

When cooked, black beluga lentils are shiny, tiny, and black – they look kind of like caviar: hence their name.

Good For:

Thanks to their rich, earthy flavor, soft texture, and beautiful appearance, these lentils make a great base for salads or as a feature with any kind of protein.

To Cook:

Combine 2¼ cups water and 1 cup lentils. Bring to a boil and simmer 25–30 minutes or until tender.

Puy Lentils:

Puy lentils are grown in the volcanic soil of a specific region in central France called Le Puy. Puy lentils are known for their dark, bluish-slate-green color and rich, peppery flavor.

Good For:

These high-quality lentils should star as the center of a meal. They make a great base for meat or fish, or can be easily featured in a side dish or main dish salad.26

To Cook:

Combine 2½ cups water with 1 cup lentils. Bring to a boil and simmer 20–30 minutes until tender.

Whether in a salad or soup or as the base of a main dish, lentils make a hearty and healthy addition to any meal. If using a recipe isn’t possible, it’s easy to whip up a tasty lentil-based dish without a lot of direction. Follow the guidelines regarding water to lentil ratio, and add plenty of flavorings to the water itself – an onion (quartered), a bay leaf, or a bundle of other herbs – to flavor the lentils as they cook. Serve with a pan of roasted vegetables and a piece of meat for an easy, complete meal. Lentils easily take the place of any hearty grain or legume in most recipes or cooking applications.

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