So. You’re trying to eat more natural, unprocessed foods. You finished those Pop-Tarts in the back of the cereal cupboard (and the “healthy” baked Cheetos. . who are you kidding?) and have committed to avoiding Aisle 6 at the supermarket. You decide to make a vegetable tofu stir-fry for dinner and serve it over rice. Isn’t this healthy living? Well, I hate to burst your bucolic bubble, but I’ve discovered that there is a darker side to some of the one-ingredient staples we foodies take for granted. Trying to figure out what to eat has often been confusing and frustrating for me — and never more so than with these particular foods.
“Awesome,” you’re thinking, “I’ll just live on air and wheat grass, thankyousomuch.” Before you break down and throw the soybeans out with the vegetable broth, let me share with you what I have discovered about rice, soy, and quinoa.
I have recently become a bit obsessed with jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk (see recipe below). It is simply delicious, and I have yet to find a meal where it is unwelcome. I also enjoy brown rice, but mostly to hold a big ladle of curry, make into veggie burgers, or order with Thai food when I want to appear extra healthy (I always wish I’d just ordered the white).
I was deeply unhappy to read several articles recently about arsenic levels in rice. Apparently Basmati rice and rice grown in India and Taiwan have lower levels of arsenic, and components of brown rice (wheat germ, etc.) help us eliminate toxins more easily, but because it’s difficult to tell exactly where the rice we buy is produced it’s important to limit our intake. Yes, even my coconut rice, I’m afraid. Another way to lower the amount of arsenic is to rinse rice well before cooking.
With all of the marketing that has gone on with soy in recent years, you would think this wonder food could take 20 years off your face and cure cancer while making all of your wildest dreams come true! While I do still occasionally eat organic tofu, use meat substitutes (which tend to be very high in soy), or use soy milk for baking, I think it’s important to limit this sneaky bean, for many reasons. Check out the ingredient label on most foods and you’ll be shocked at how much soy you find.
90 percent of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified and sprayed with a host of pesticides. Soy contains high levels of phytoestrogens, which mimic estrogen in the body and can lead to many problems, including increased risk of certain cancers. Soy also has properties which can limit our ability to absorb vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Further, I read that feeding your baby soy formula is akin to slipping them several birth control pills a day, which is of particular concern to me as I supplemented both of my babies’ early diets with soy formula. If G starts her period next year, and Ev sprouts breasts, I will never forgive myself! If, like me, you have calmed yourself down and tried to forgive yourself for the countless wiggly squares of yumminess you’ve consumed, there is a silver lining: fermentation. Miso, tempeh, and soy sauce are examples of fermented soy products that don’t carry the same risks as unfermented soy. There are copious amounts of information out there about the dangers of soy, but my recommendation is to limit your use of soy milk, edemame, and tofu, only buy organic, and instead get creative with tempeh and other milk alternatives such as coconut milk (my favorite) or almond milk.
Not quinoa! Leave me one guilt-free grain, please. In terms of nutrients, quinoa is the real deal –high in protein and fiber, delicious, and even gluten-free (cue celestial music). However, from what I’ve read, the problem is not about the grain itself but about the effects of quinoa production on farming communities in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. Because quinoa’s popularity has grown so rapidly, especially among vegetarians and vegans, prices have risen and local producers can no longer afford to buy their own crop. At the same time, these farmers rely heavily on quinoa to support themselves and their people. It’s a complicated situation. Again, and as you might predict, my advice is to limit your intake of quinoa, but to continue to support fair trade practices. There is also a Colorado based company that sells quinoa called White Mountain Farm.
2 cups jasmine rice
1 14-oz. can of coconut milk
2 1/2 – 3 cups water
1/2 t. sea salt
1/2 t. raw sugar
Combine ingredients and cook as you normally would on the stove or in your rice cooker. Enjoy responsibly.