Since experts call red meat a threat to both our health and the planet’s future, here are five reasons to fill most of your plate with plants.
Help Your Heart
Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says that there are “layers of evidence” that a plant-forward diet is good for your heart. Nuts, beans, soy, and other plant sources of protein have more poly-unsaturated fat and less saturated fat than red meat and diary. And, if you have been reading this blog, you know that our bodies need good fat every day to stay healthy.
Dozens of studies have demonstrated that plant-based protein sources reduces LDL levels and meat increases LDL levels. Because scientists cannot expect people to adhere to diets for long, especially a diet that scientist already know isn’t good for them, long-term studies have to rely on asking people what they eat, then track their illnesses for years, or even decades.
“Sodas and doughnuts are plant foods,” says Willett, “but they’re definitely not healthy.” So his team created an index for healthy and unhealthy plant food. People received more points for good plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tea, and coffee and less for refined grains, fruit juices and sugary drinks.
“Diets high in healthy plant-based foods did the best,” says Willett. People eating them had a lower risk of both heart and type 2 diabetes. “The further you go toward a plant-based diet, the lower your risk of these diseases.”
Sustain Your Brain
“..What is good for your heart is also good for your brain.” says Jeff Williamson, professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet can bring blood pressure into the normal range usually without drugs. Frank Sacks, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, believes that it is “as effective as some drugs”. The key components of the DASH diet are fruits and vegetables.
Studies show that adding berries, olive oil, and nuts can slow cognitive decline, also possibly help to prevent strokes. Tiny, often undetected strokes are the underlying cause of what scientist call vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia.
Cut Your Risk of Cancer
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) put processed meats like bacon hot dogs, ham, sausage, and lunch meats in the same evidence category as tobacco smoking and exposure to asbestos. The IARC also concluded that beef, pork, lamb and veal are probable human carcinogens. How these foods increase cancer isn’t known for sure but scientists believe there are several possibilities:
- N-nitroso compounds – “When you consume process meat, you may consume pre-formed N-nitroso compounds, which are carcinogenic,” says Marjorie McCullough, a senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society. Processed meats contain nitrates and nitrites, which can form N-nitroso compounds in the gut.
- Heme iron – Red meats are rich in heme iron which is part of the hemoglobin in the blood. “Heme iron can catalyze the formation of N-nitroso compounds in gut,” says McCullough.
- Mutagens – “Mutagens are formed when meats are cooked at high heat or when they are exposed to smoke,” explains McCullough. “Mutagens can cause DNA damage, and that increases the potential for colorectal cancer.”
Keep Antibiotics Working
“WHO (World Health Organization) warned at the beginning of last year that the pipeline for new antibiotics is running dry. “Never has the threat of antimicrobial resistance been more immediate and the need for solutions more urgent,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
Each year, at least 2.8 million U.S. residents get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and more than 35,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Every now and then, a bacteria picks up a mutation or a gene from another bacteria that makes it resistant to some antibiotic. If that antibiotic is present, then the susceptible bacteria are going to die off and the resistant ones are going to multiply. You can go from a single drug-resistant E.coli to more than a billion in 24 hours.” says Lance Price, a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University.
This pertains to our food because 20 million pounds of medically important antibiotics sold every year in the US are used in livestock, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Price says, “The antibiotics are being used to prevent or treat diseases that occur in part because we raise animals in concentrated animal feeding operations.” Of course, some of those drug-resistant bacteria end up in people.
“We’re barreling toward a time when our antibiotics no longer work,” says Price.
Protect Your Children’s Planet
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says “The Earth’s climate is changing.” Wildfires are at an all-time high and arctic sea ice is melting away. Every indicator the EPA and the National Climate Assessment use to track rising global greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels, air and ocean temperatures shows significant change.
“The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientist expected,” said a “climate emergency” warning from 11,000 scientist in 153 countries.
What we eat matters. Eating more plants and fewer animals can help. “Globally, livestock systems are responsible for around 11-15 percent of greenhouse gas emission, they occupy 80 percent of global agriculture land, and they use around 30 percent of agricultural water, ” says Nicole Tichenor Blackstone, assistant professor of agriculture, food, and environment at Tufts University.
Beef produces far more greenhouse gas per serving than plant proteins. The greenhouse gases that cows expel after eating grass are not the only problem. Growing enormous quantities of grain to feed livestock (and the resulting manure) can pollute water with nitrogen and phosphorus.
Plant-base proteins usually also use less water. An exception in the US are almonds which require about as much water per serving as beef.
Blackstone said that “Life-cycle assessments commissioned by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods (plant-based meat substitutes) show roughly 90 percent less water use, and 90 percent less land use compared to beef.”
Forests are being cut down and prairies are plowed under to produce animal foods that are destroying biodiversity all over the planet. We grow exorbitant amounts of grain to feed animals, not people, and the fertilizer used is poisoning our streams and oceans.
The sesame plant’s nutritional qualities have inspired some to dub its oil the “Queen of Oilseeds”. Sesame oil is made from raw, pressed sesame seeds and has culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic uses.
There are several different processing methods used to produce the oil, but the seeds are typically crushed and then pressed. The sesame plant has been cultivated for thousands of years, and was originally favored over other crops because of its ability to withstand dry weather and drought.
The seeds were one of the first plants used to produce oil, which was also considered one of the earliest condiments ever used.
There is a huge body of research that shows that a diet rich in unsaturated fats is good for heart health. Sesame oil comprises 82% unsaturated fatty acids. It is rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is essential to your diet and plays an important role in heart disease prevention.
One study in 48 people found that consuming four tablespoons of sesame oil daily for one month led to significant reductions in total and LDL cholesterol along with decreases in triglyceride levels, body weight and belly fat, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
A large review of 15 studies showed that swapping out saturated fats for polyunsaturated fatty acids could help slash the risk of developing heart problems by 17 percent.
Sesame oil may support healthy blood sugar regulation, which is especially important for people with diabetes. Sesame oil may even play a role in long-term blood sugar regulation. One study published in Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that taking white sesame oil for 90 days was effective at reducing fasting blood sugar and enhancing long-term blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.
Sesame oil contains sesamol and sesaminol, two powerful antioxidants. Sesame oil’ antioxidants may have good effects when used topically. One study in rats showed it may reduce cell damage by inhibiting compounds like xanthine oxidase and nitric oxide, which produce free radicals.
One animal model published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research showed that administering sesame oil to rats for 30 days helped increase antioxidant activity, which could help prevent oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals. The oil’s ability to speed the healing of wounds and burns can likely be attributed to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Sesame oil is often found in skin serums and natural beauty products. A 2015 study in the Global Journal of Health Science showed that taking a supplement containing sesame and vitamin E was able to improve hair luster and strength in just eight weeks.
Another review confirmed that the oil could help block ultraviolet radiation to protect the skin, and may be even more effective than other ingredients like coconut oil, peanut oil and olive oil.
Sesame oil has long been used in traditional medicine to help soothe inflammation and treat inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Recent research on the anti-inflammatory properties of sesame showed that consuming 40 grams of sesame seed daily was effective at reducing several markers of inflammation in people with osteoarthritis.
Traditional Taiwanese medicine has long employed sesame oil for its anti-inflammatory properties, using it to treat joint inflammation, toothaches, and scrapes. One study published in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine found that applying the oil topically was able to reduce pain severity and decrease the need for pain medications in people with trauma to the lower or upper extremities.
Like other types of vegetable oils, sesame oil is high in calories and fat, with about 119 calories and 13.5 grams of fat per tablespoon. Although it does contain a small amount of saturated fat, the majority of the fats found in the oil are nearly equal parts mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
It does contain a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids, but is mostly made up of omega-6 fatty acids, with over 5,550 milligrams in just one tablespoon. We do need this type of fat in moderation, most of us get way too much omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3s in our diet. An imbalance in omega-3, 6 and 9 fatty acid ratio can contribute to inflammation and the development of chronic disease, which is why it’s essential to moderate your consumption of foods high in omega-6 fatty acids.
Sesame oil also contains a small amount of other nutrients, including vitamin E and vitamin K.
You can combine sesame oil with other healthy oils like coconut oil to make a homemade hair or skin mask. One of the most common sesame oil side effects when applied to the skin is irritation and itching, which be a sign of an allergic reaction. Be sure to do a spot test before applying topically to prevent any adverse effects.
How to Buy
Toasted sesame oil can usually be found in the Asian section of major supermarkets. It is often sold individually in glass (DON’T buy it in plastic!) but it can sometimes be found in larger containers, especially at bulk food stores. For more options, visit an Asian market, where you can typically find a few brands along with light sesame oil. Look for an oil that’s 100 percent sesame (not blended) and, for toasted sesame, a darker color usually equals a stronger flavor. If you do buy it in a plastic container, switch it immediately when you get home to glass container.
Refined sesame oil is the most processed form and has a very mild, neutral taste that works well in cooking and frying.
Unrefined sesame oil, on the other hand, is less processed and has a lighter color and more nutty taste. Because the unrefined sesame oil smoke point is a bit lower, it should be used for cooking methods like sautéing and stir-frying rather than deep-frying or roasting.
Toasted sesame oil is also available, which is made from seeds that have been toasted before extracting the oil. This gives it a strong and intense nutty flavor that can add depth to any dish. Because this variety has the lowest smoke point, it should be used as a flavor enhancer for dressings, marinades and sauces, and is not a suitable substitute for sesame oil or other oils in recipes that require cooking.
How to Store
Sesame oil has a long shelf life and can be stored in its container, with the lid screwed on tight, in a cool, dark place. Light sesame oil is best stored at room temperature and will last for up to a year. Toasted sesame has a slightly shorter shelf life but will still last for many months under ideal conditions. It can also be stored in the fridge, extending its life even longer. The oil will be slightly thicker when cold but still easily pourable.
How to Cook
Light sesame oil can be used much like olive or avocado oil. It has a similar neutral flavor and can withstand high heat for frying or roasting. Use it to stir-fry and sauté, or use or anywhere that calls for a neutral-tasting oil. Toasted sesame oil is best used in low-heat cooking methods or added at the end or after cooking.
Dark sesame oil can be used for low- or medium-heat cooking (not deep-frying) but tends to lose some of its flavor if cooked for too long or over high heat. That said, its smoke point is relatively high at 450 F. It’s frequently drizzled on dishes like soups and stir-fries after cooking. It can be used in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces.
Here are easy dishes in which you can add sesame oil into your diet:
- sesame noodles
- sauces or dips
Miso-Sesame Vinaigrette That’s Good on Anything
J. Kenji López-Alt/ Photo:Ryan Liebe for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews
- 2 medium garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife
- 1 small shallot, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons shoyu or tamari
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon light miso paste
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- ½ cup grapeseed, avocado, or olive oil
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons toasted white or black sesame seeds
- Combine garlic, shallot, shoyu, vinegars, miso and sugar in a blender and blend on high speed until homogenous. (Alternatively, mash garlic and shallots in the bowl of a large granite or marble mortar and pestle into a fine paste using the pestle, then stir in the shoyu, vinegars, miso and sugar.)
- With the blender running on medium speed (the liquid should form a vortex but not jump up and splatter on the walls of the blender), slowly drizzle in the grapeseed oil. (If using a mortar and pestle, slowly drizzle in the oil as you stir vigorously with the pestle.)
- Transfer to a lidded jar. Stir in the sesame oil and sesame seeds with a spoon. Dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Shake well before using.