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 Foods: Vegetables 

The seaweeds are becoming more commonly used in our culture. They have been a traditional food in the Japanese culture for centuries. Sushi are rolls of rice (often with fish or vegetables) wrapped in a piece of nori seaweed. Kelp is a good high-mineral salt substitute, relatively low in sodium compared to regular salt, and may be useful for those with hypertension.

Agar-agar. Agar-agar is a seaweed combination that is used as a gelling agent in cooking and for desserts. It has no taste and no fishy smell and is healthier than gelatin made from animal byproducts. Agar is probably a good place to begin for children or people who want to bring these sea vegetables into their diet. Arame. This is a dark, thin seaweed thread that can be used in soups or salads or mixed with rice. It is fairly rich in protein, iodine, calcium, and iron and is one of the tastier seaweeds.

Dulse. A red-purple leaf that is rich in iodine, iron, and calcium, dulse is a very tasty seaweed that can be used fresh in salads or cooked in soups. It is helpful to rinse the dulse prior to use to wash away some of the salt and the more fishy ocean flavor. Dulse powder, like kelp, is also available as a seasoning.

Hijiki. This is a very mineral-rich, high-fiber seaweed. Its dark, long strands look like thick hairs. Hijiki is about 10?20 percent protein, contains some vitamin A, and is richest in calcium, iron, and phosphorus. Soaked in water, it can be cooked in soup or is very good combined and eaten with rice. It is similar to arame.

Kelp. Kelp is usually used in smaller quantities than the other seaweeds, mostly as a seasoning. It has some protein and is very rich in iodine, calcium, and potassium, along with some of the B vitamins. Kelp is a common food supplement, used mainly for its iodine.

Kombu. A richer, meatier, higher-protein seaweed, kombu is most often used in soups?it adds minerals and flavor to the stock. Kombu contains vitamin A, some Bs, and lots of calcium and iron, yet is higher in sodium than most of the other seaweeds. One strip of kombu can also be added to the pot when cooking beans to reduce some of the potential gas-inducing qualities of the beans.

Nori. Nori is probably one of the most commonly used seaweeds. The dark sheets, as it is usually available, are very rich in protein, containing nearly 50 percent. Nori is high in fiber as well, and the sheets are used to wrap and hold rice, vegetables, and raw or cooked fish in small rolls that can be eaten with the hands. Nori is very high in vitamin A, calcium, iodine, iron, and phosphorus, and it has one of the sweeter flavors of the seaweeds.

Wakame. Another high-protein, flat and thinner seaweed, wakame is used mainly in soups. It contains some vitamin A, lots of calcium, iron, and sodium, and a bit of vitamin C as well.


Mushrooms, a type of edible fungus, are a fascinating species. Interestingly, when they are eaten, almost the entire plant is consumed. There are literally thousands of varieties, though probably only about twenty-five are consumed by humans. Most mushrooms are poisonous in varying degrees, with effects ranging from digestive upset to paralysis and death. It is very important, especially with wild mushrooms, to know the species that are edible and not make any mistakes. I remember a beautiful post?rain walk with herbalist Rob Menzies where we discovered nearly one hundred species of mushrooms.

White button, or field, mushrooms are found in most grocery stores and are the most commonly consumed. They may be the only variety known to most consumers, yet they have very little nutrition. Japanese shiitake mushrooms, boletus mushrooms, chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, and the tiny tree mushrooms are some other fairly common, more nutritious mushroom delicacies.

Most mushrooms have a fairly good protein content. I often describe them as the ?meat? of the vegetable kingdom, especially some of those exotic forms found in Oriental cooking. The average button mushroom is low in calories and about one-third protein, while other varieties may have even more protein. Shiitake mushrooms are noted to have all eight essential amino acids, and are very nutritious. Many mushrooms are also high in two other, harder-to-find vegetable nutrients, iron and selenium. The B vitamins biotin, niacin, folic acid, and pantothenic acid are often found in good quantities. Potassium and phosphorus are usually the next most highly concentrated minerals, though other minerals are present in varying amounts, depending on the soil content.

Some people are allergic or sensitive to mushrooms. Also, people with intestinal yeast overgrowth, yeast sensitivities, or mold allergies may have crossover reactions to the fungi family.

Peas and Beans

The legume vegetables are a special class of the pea and bean plants, which contain edible seeds inside pods that grow after the plant flowers. These include aduki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, great northerns, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, mung beans, navy beans, peanuts, green peas, pinto beans, and soybeans. There are also many other types of peas and beans. In fact, peanuts are actually a legume vegetable and not a true nut; however, since they are so commonly thought of as nuts, they will be discussed in the nut section.

The legumes are an interesting food, mainly a mixture of protein and starch, with many positive qualities as a food. They are low in calories, low in fat, a good complex carbohydrate, and fairly high in fiber, which may help intestinal action and even help to reduce cholesterol levels. Most important, though, especially for the vegetarian, the legumes are a good and inexpensive protein source. They cost on the average about 3 per pound of protein, whereas egg protein may cost about 6 and meat protein more like 12 per pound. And the extra advantage is that the beans have less than 10 percent fat content. So, though beans may be considered the poor people?s meat, they might better be known as the healthy people?s meat.

One concern, however, is that the protein in most of the peas and beans is not as complete as the animal proteins (though what protein is present is well utilized). In other words, all the essential amino acids are not contained in near-equal amounts. Tryptophan and methionine are the two amino acids most commonly low in the vegetable proteins. So we must eat more of these vegetable protein foods or mix them with different vegetable protein foods, such as grains (which are commonly higher than legumes in methionine but lower in lysine) to get all our essential amino acids at more optimum levels. This mixing of protein foods, called ?protein complementarity,? is discussed more in Chapter 2, Protein , and in Chapter 9 under Lacto-ovo-Vegetarian . Soybeans and peanuts are the most complete proteins of the legumes and of the vegetable kingdom, for that matter.

Another concern with legumes, especially beans, is that in many people they cause increased intestinal gas, which leads to burping, flatulence, or abdominal discomfort. This is caused mainly by the oligosaccharides in the beans fermenting in the lower intestines. Since these starch-type molecules are contained primarily in the coverings of the beans, we can soak the beans in water, usually overnight, and then discard that water first before cooking them in fresh water to help leach out some of their fermenting properties. This definitely reduces the gas-producing potential for which beans are notorious. Also, combining a bean such as mung, aduki, lentil or black bean with a grain such as rice or millet in a 1:3 (bean to grain) ratio will provide low gas but good fuel as a complete protein.

For this discussion, I have divided the legumes into three main categories: the fresh beans , the fresh peas , and the dried beans . In terms of nutrient content, the fresh peas and beans are more like the basic green vegetables, and the dried beans are more similar to the grains as starchier, protein-containing foods higher in B vitamins. The fresh beans, for example, include basic ?green? beans and their many varieties, lima beans (also available dried), and yellow wax beans. These beans are usually higher in vitamins A and C than the dried varieties. Green beans are also usually good in folic acid and limas in potassium and iron, while yellow wax beans are lower in the supportive nutrients, though they have some vitamin A. These fresh beans are usually eaten steamed or cooked by themselves or with other vegetables.

The fresh peas include the standard green peas, as well as sweet, snap, snow, and sugar peas. When picked young, the whole pod and baby peas can be eaten fresh in salads or right off the bush, or they may be cooked. When more mature, the peas are bigger and the pods are stringier and less easy to chew and digest. This group is the highest in vitamin C of all the legumes, fairly high in the B vitamins, with some folic acid, high in vitamin A, and fairly well endowed with most of the minerals, including iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Green peas even contain some vitamin E.

The dried beans are the category in which most of the legumes fall. There are many varieties, and their use tends to vary amongst the cultures. Lentils, often eaten with wheat or peas for complete protein, are very common in Middle Eastern diets, as are garbanzo beans, also known as chick peas. Hummus and falafel are two Middle Eastern foods based on this bean. Pintos and black beans, usually eaten with rice or corn, are more common in Latin American countries. Kidney, navy, and great northern beans seem more Western?type beans?though most of the world?s beans are consumed in the United States. Flavorful ?baked beans? commonly use the red kidney bean. Soybeans have classically come from the Oriental cultures as tofu, or soybean curd, but in the last 20 years, soybean use has expanded rapidly worldwide.

Most of these dried and cooked beans contain some basic B vitamins, though the content is not really high. In general, the levels of thiamine, niacin, and pantothenic acid are best. There is a surprisingly high level of iron in most of these beans; calcium, potassium, and phosphorus are also abundant. Black beans, for example, are high in iron, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus; garbanzos are rich in those same minerals and good in vitamins B1, B2, and B3; kidney beans are good in iron and potassium, as are navy beans and lentils; while soybeans are one of the better protein sources, though they are a little less well endowed with the supportive vitamins and minerals, so eating them with more vegetables will help provide those nutrients. Soybeans do contain some A and C and some niacin and are actually fairly high in iron, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.

Soybeans are a very important food. They are very versatile as well and could supply much of the world?s hungry population with better protein and improved general nutrition. Growing soybeans for direct human consumption is a much more productive use of the land than raising meat. Raising soybeans can provide nearly 20 times the protein per acre that raising beef can. They contain complete protein as well, though not as concentrated as in beef. The amino acid balance of the soybeans is not perfect, being a little low in tryptophan and methionine, but a good intake of soybeans and soybean products can supply us with a fair amount of protein. Soybeans also contain very little if any saturated fat; most of their fat is the unsaturated variety. Soybean oil, commonly used, is high in linoleic acid and polyunsaturated fats and is more stable to oxidation and rancidification than some other oils because of its high content of lecithin and vitamin E, an important antioxidant.

Other soybean products that have hit the American scene in recent years include tempeh, or fermented soybean cakes, and soyburgers made from straight soybeans, tempeh, or tofu. Tofu is the classic soybean product made by fermenting the soybean and concentrating the curd, now used by many cultures. It has become known as the ?food of 10,000 flavors? because it picks up the flavors from the other foods cooked with it. Tofu is a very versatile food. It can be used in salads, blended into dressings, eaten in sandwiches, or added to stir-fries or cooked vegetables. Tofu is not as high in protein and other nutrients as the whole soybean, though it retains fairly good levels of calcium, iron, and phosphorus. The sodium level is usually higher, though. Tofutti, or soybean-based ice cream, has also become popular as a low-cholesterol, lower-fat dessert treat. Ice Bean, another soybean dessert, contains more soybean and less sweetener than the Tofutti.

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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