June 16 - 22, 2024: Issue 628

 

Vegetable bhajis + Are plant-based burgers really bad for your heart? Here’s what’s behind the scary headlines

Vegetable Bhajis

If you’re one who cannot eat a huge amount of ‘animal protein’ but run around a lot and need heaps of energy, then this dish, a variation on the onion bhaji theme, may be for you. We make a big batch of them to use in sandwiches, as burgers, and as a main meal the first night they’re cooked. These are a more substantial form of Pakoras, which are also made with Besan flour. You can alternate the vegetables to suit what is seasonal or your own tastes. Making up a batch of onion ones at the same time for those who prefer the traditional recipe will keep everyone happy.

Chickpeas are high in protein and Australia is the world's second largest producer of these behind India. They are an excellent source of essential nutrients such as iron, folate, phosphorus, protein and dietary fibre. Chickpeas are also low in fat and what they do contain is polyunsaturated. There has also been some research that has shown that chickpea consumption may lower blood cholesterol.

Vegetable Bhajis
500 grams of Besan Flour (chick pea flour – available in health food section of supermarkets or in good fruit ad veg. stores - or you can order online from woolies - around $4 for 1kg bag)
4 zucchini (grated)
1 large onion (sliced thin)
4 large mushrooms (sliced)
2 carrots (grated)
2 handfuls fresh green beans - chopped
3 spring onions – chopped
Salt and pepper to season Besan flour
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
Cold water to mix – or 2 x eggs plus water
Vegetable oil
Spices as below in Onion Bhaji alternative or omit if making for children

Put oven on to 180 degrees and two flat trays in at same time to heat up (this will keep bhajis hot while you cook others – it is also a way to shallow fry them and finish off cooking process in oven, minimising oil use). Place all your prepared vegetables in a bowl, add in the Besan flour and seasonings then mix so all ingredients are coated. Add your wet ingredients – when adding the water you want to form a sticky fairly thick mixture otherwise you will have problems flipping the Bhaji. We only shallow fry these rather then deep frying so we get the taste of the vegetables and besan flour instead of the oil predominating. Heat a frying pan and place about 1cm of oil in. Dollop a tablespoon of mixture in and allow to flatten slightly; stir with spoon to flatten if required. Allow to brown and then flip. Once other side has browned, place on your heated tray in oven to finish cooking and begin next batch. Continue this process until all are cooked. Serve with a nice crisp green salad and fresh hot bread.


Sides
Tamarind Chutney
1/2 lb tamarind, seeded
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tablespoons roasted ground cumin seeds
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black salt
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
Break the tamarind into small pieces and soak in boiling water for one hour. Mash it into a pulp and strain, pressing the tamarind into the strainer to remove all the pulp. Add sugar to the pulp. Mix well. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix and taste. Add more sugar, salt or pepper as needed. Chutney can be refrigerated for two to three months.
Serving suggestion:
Tamarind chutney is delicious with samosas, pakoras, and bhajis.


Cucumber Raita
2 Lebanese cucumbers - peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups Greek yoghurt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Stir together the cucumber, yoghurt, lemon juice, mint, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.


Onion Bhaji
100g (4oz) chickpea flour or gram flour
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp baking powder
Salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
25g (1oz) fresh coriander, finely chopped
Cold water, to mix
Vegetable oil, for deep frying

Sift the flour, chilli, turmeric, cumin, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped coriander, onions and chillies and mix well. Preheat the frypan and add oil. Gradually add enough water to the flour mixture to form a thick batter, mixing very well so the onions are well coated. Very carefully drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain well on paper towels. Keep warm whilst you cook the remaining bhajis on your oven trays. Serve hot.

The chickpea (Cicer arietinum) is a legume of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae. Its seeds are high in protein. It is one of the earliest cultivated legumes: 7,500-year-old remains have been found in the Middle East. Other common names for the species include garbanzo bean, ceci bean, channa and Bengal gram. The name "chickpea" traces back through the French chiche to cicer, Latin for ‘chickpea’ (from which the Roman cognomenCicero was taken). The Oxford English Dictionary lists a 1548 citation that reads, "Cicer may be named in English Cich, or ciche pease, after the Frenche tongue." The dictionary cites "Chick-pea" in the mid-18th century; the original word in English taken directly from French was chich, found in print in English in 1388.

Domesticated chickpeas have been found in the aceramic levels of Jericho (PPNB) along with Cayönü in Turkey and in Neolithic pottery at Hacilar, Turkey. They were found in the late Neolithic (about 3500 BCE) at Thessaly, Kastanas, Lerna andDimini, Greece. In southern France Mesolithic layers in a cave at L'Abeurador, Aude have yielded wild chickpeas carbon dated to 6790±90 BCE. By the Bronze Age, chickpeas were known in Italy and Greece. In classical Greece, they were called erébinthos and eaten as a staple, a dessert, or consumed raw when young.

The Romans knew several varieties such as venus, ram, and punic chickpeas. They were both cooked down into a broth and roasted as a snack. The Roman gourmet Apicius gives several recipes for chickpeas. Carbonized chickpeas have been found at the Roman legion fort at Neuss (Novaesium), Germany in layers from the first century CE, along with rice. Chickpeas are mentioned in Charlemagne's Capitulare de villis (about 800 CE) as cicer italicum, as grown in each imperial demesne. Albertus Magnus mentions red, white and black varieties. Nicholas Culpeper noted "chick-pease or cicers" are less "windy" than peas and more nourishing. Ancient people also associated chickpeas with Venus because they were said to offer medical uses such as increasing sperm and milk, provoking menstruation and urine and helping to treat kidney stones. "White cicers" were thought to be especially strong and helpful.

Are plant-based burgers really bad for your heart? Here’s what’s behind the scary headlines

Nina Firsova/Shutterstock
Evangeline Mantzioris, University of South Australia

We’re hearing a lot about ultra-processed foods and the health effects of eating too many. And we know plant-based foods are popular for health or other reasons.

So it’s not surprising new research out this week including the health effects of ultra-processed, plant-based foods is going to attract global attention.

And the headlines can be scary if that research and the publicity surrounding it suggests eating these foods increases your risk of heart disease, stroke or dying early.

Here’s how some media outlets interpreted the research. The Daily Mail ran with:

Vegan fake meats are linked to increase in heart deaths, study suggests: Experts say plant-based diets can boost health – but NOT if they are ultra-processed

The New York Post’s headline was:

Vegan fake meats linked to heart disease, early death: study

But when we look at the study itself, it seems the media coverage has focused on a tiny aspect of the research, and is misleading.

So does eating supermarket plant-based burgers and other plant-based, ultra-processed foods really put you at greater risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death?

Here’s what prompted the research and what the study actually found.

Remind me, what are ultra-processed foods?

Ultra-processed foods undergo processing and reformulation with additives to enhance flavour, shelf-life and appeal. These include everything from packet macaroni cheese and pork sausages, to supermarket pastries and plant-based mince.

There is now strong and extensive evidence showing ultra-processed foods are linked with an increased risk of many physical and mental chronic health conditions.

Although researchers question which foods should be counted as ultra-processed, or if all of them are linked to poorer health, the consensus is that, generally, we should be eating less of them.

We also know plant-based diets are popular. These are linked with a reduced risk of chronic health conditions such as heart disease and stroke, cancer and diabetes. And supermarkets are stocking more plant-based, ultra-processed food options.

How about the new study?

The study looked for any health differences between eating plant-based, ultra-processed foods compared to eating non-plant based, ultra-processed foods. The researchers focused on the risk of cardiovascular disease (such as heart disease and stroke) and deaths from it.

Plant-based, ultra-processed foods in this study included mass-produced packaged bread, pastries, buns, cakes, biscuits, cereals and meat alternatives (fake meats). Ultra-processed foods that were not plant-based included milk-based drinks and desserts, sausages, nuggets and other reconstituted meat products.

The researchers used data from the UK Biobank. This is a large biomedical database that contains de-identified genetic, lifestyle (diet and exercise) and health information and biological samples from half a million UK participants. This databank allows researchers to determine links between this data and a wide range of diseases, including heart disease and stroke.

They used data from nearly 127,000 people who provided details of their diet between 2009 and 2012. The researchers linked this to their hospital records and death records. On average, the researchers followed each participant’s diet and health for nine years.

Rows of packaged bread on supermarket shelf
Plant-based, ultra-processed foods included in this study included packaged supermarket bread. doublelee/Shutterstock

What did the study find?

With every 10% increase of total energy from plant-sourced, ultra-processed foods there was an associated 5% increased risk of cardiovascular disease (such as heart disease or stroke) and a 12% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

But for every 10% increase in plant-sourced, non-ultra-processed foods consumed there was an associated 7% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 13% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The researchers found no evidence for an association between all plant-sourced foods (whether or not they were ultra-processed) and either an increased or decreased risk of cardiovascular disease or dying from it.

This was an observational study, where people recalled their diet using questionnaires. When coupled with other data, this can only tell us if someone’s diet is associated with a particular risk of a health outcome. So we cannot say that, in this case, the ultra-processed foods caused the heart disease and deaths from it.

Why has media coverage focused on fake meats?

Much of the media coverage has focused on the apparent health risks associated with eating fake meats, such as sausages, burgers, nuggets and even steaks.

These are considered ultra-processed foods. They are made by deconstructing whole plant foods such as pea, soy, wheat protein, nuts and mushrooms, and extracting the protein. They are then reformulated with additives to make the products look, taste and feel like traditional red and white meats.

However this was only one type of plant-based, ultra-processed food analysed in this study. This only accounted for an average 0.2% of the dietary energy intake of all the participants.

Compare this to bread, pastries, buns, cakes and biscuits, which are other types of plant-based, ultra-processed foods. These accounted for 20.7% of total energy intake in the study.

Plant-based foods such as burgers and sausages in trays
This image was at the top of the media release. Screenshot/Imperial

It’s hard to say why the media focused on fake meat. But there is one clue in the media release issued to promote the research.

Although the media release did not mention the words “fake meat”, an image of plant-based burgers, sausages and meat balls or rissoles featured prominently.

The introduction of the study itself also mentions plant-sourced, ultra-processed foods, such as sausages, nuggets and burgers.

So it’s no wonder people can be confused.

Does this mean fake meats are fine?

Not necessarily. This study analysed the total intake of plant-based, ultra-processed foods, which included fake meats, albeit a very small proportion of people’s diets.

From this study alone we cannot tell if there would be a different outcome if someone ate large amounts of fake meats.

In fact, a recent review of fake meats found there was not enough evidence to determine their impact on health.

We also need more recent data to reflect current eating patterns of fake meats. This study used dietary data collected from 2009 to 2012, and fake meats have become more popular since.

What if I really like fake meat?

We have known for a while that ultra-processed foods can harm our health. This study tells us that regardless if an ultra-processed food is plant-based or not, it may still be harmful.

We know fake meat can contain large amounts of saturated fats (from coconut or palm oil), salt and sugar.

So like other ultra-processed foods, they should be eaten infrequently. The Australian Dietary Guidelines currently recommends people should only consume foods like this sometimes and in small amounts.

Are some fake meats healthier than others?

Check the labels and nutrition information panels. Look for those lowest in fat and salt. Burgers and sausages that are a “pressed cake” of minced ingredients such as nuts, beans and vegetables will be preferable to reformulated products that look identical to meat.

You can also eat whole plant-based protein foods such as legumes. These include beans, lentils, chickpeas and soy beans. As well as being high in protein and fibre, they also provide essential nutrients such as iron and zinc. Using spices and mushrooms alongside these in your recipes can replicate some of the umami taste associated with meat.The Conversation

Evangeline Mantzioris, Program Director of Nutrition and Food Sciences, Accredited Practising Dietitian, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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