Humpty Dumpty had a Great Fall

In the past two months since I’ve had the opportunity to fully embrace a whole-foods plant based diet, I’ve loved getting questions from friends and coworkers.  Yesterday, a woman who fits both categories looked up with a curious expression and asked

“So, you don’t eat any eggs?”

“Nope.”

“But how?  I don’t think I could live without eggs.”

Let me introduce you to two new staples in our pantry:  flax eggs and chia eggs.

chia egg
Chia seed eggs have a fun viscosity too them … they gel up and bind together.

The concept is pretty simple, and if you google it you’ll find several blogs that have recipes and instructions.  But it’s not difficult.  Simply mix one tablespoon of either flax meal or ground chia seeds with 2.5-3 tbsp of water.  Stir it a bit.  Let it sit for a few minutes.  And voila!  You have a plant-based “egg”.

You can substitute this for eggs in most recipes for baked goods.  (reality check:  you cannot make a reasonable souffle or an omelet out of these.  There are recipes for plant-based versions of these foods, but the flax or chia egg really shines in recipes like pancakes, muffins, bread, or cookies in which the egg is in more of a supporting rather than a starring role.)

Right now, eggs are enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity after many years of a bad reputation due to high cholesterol.  Eggs have also gone hipster.  Do you want Omega-3?  Pasture-raised?  Organic?  Cage-free?  Brown?  White?  Non-GMO?  All-natural?  My friends, there are a lot of folks marketing the improved nutritional content and health benefits of the humble egg.  But let’s compare the nutritional profiles of one large chicken egg vs. these easy and cheap plant-based eggs (nutrition information source:  www.nutrition.gov).

 Chicken Egg (1 large)Flax EggChia Egg
Ingredients1 egg1 tbsp flax meal
2-3 tbsp water
1 tbsp ground chia seed
2-3 tbsp water
$$$ cost per one egg
$0.19 - $0.58$0.04$0.25
Total Calories72
3550
% calories from fat59%58%
57%
% calories from protein35%17%14%
% calories from carbohydrate
6%25%29%
Fiber01.5g3.5g
Protein6.28g1.50g
1.69g
Fat4.75g2.25g
3.14g
Cholesterol186g
0.000.00
saturated fatty acids1.563g0.00g
0.340g
mono-unsaturated fatty acids1.829g
0.500g0.236g
polyunsaturated fatty acids
0.956g1.50g2.414g

So what can we learn from our comparison?

  • Flax eggs are significantly cheaper than chicken eggs.  Chia eggs were about the same cost or cheaper (depending on how hipster you like your eggs).  $0.19/chicken egg was the price for regular ol’ white eggs – not cage-free, organic, high Omega-3 or other.
  • There is no cholesterol in plant-based eggs, because there is no cholesterol in plants.  Our bodies have the ability to make all of the cholesterol we need, so there is no need to ingest it.
  • Animal eggs are much higher in protein than either flax or chia eggs.  Currently it is in vogue to add (unecessary) protein to foods and snacks, but in actuality it is exceedingly rare (essentially only if you are not eating enough calories overall) to be protein deficient in the United States.  If this statement seems controversial or incorrect to you, I’d heartily recommend the book “Proteinaholic” by Garth Davis, MD, which is an extremely well-researched, logical and scientific perspective on the role of protein in our diets.
  • Plant-based eggs both contain fiber, which (as opposed to protein) is significantly lacking in the standard American diet.
  • Chicken eggs and plant-based eggs all had close to 60% of their calories from fat.  But all fats are not equal, and do not have the same effects in our bodies.  I’d like to highlight the following statements from Nutrition.gov.

    “When eaten in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can lower the levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol in the blood — which, in turn, can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 10% of your calories per day from saturated fat by replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.”

    (I selected this source, in part, because it is advice vetted by the FDA and not endorsing a specific eating pattern.  The recommendation to replace saturated fats with mono- and polyunsaturated fats is a generic and non controversial recommendation that is not specific to those endorsing a whole-foods, plant-based diet).

So let’s go back to the idea of the hipster eggs.  In essence, these are products designed to increase the nutritional value of the egg, balancing out against its negatives (like saturated fat and cholesterol).  But wouldn’t it be easier to simply eliminate those negatives?  The wording from the FDA — again, because it is Federal the language must satisfy a wide diversity of opinions — is not “to balance out saturated fats, eat more mono- and polyunsaturated fats”.   They are clear about using the word replace.  Avoid saturated fat, eat more mono- and polyunsaturated fats.     Rather than balancing out a slice of pound cake with an omega-3 supplement capsule, I’ll continue to make baked goods for my family that skip the cholesterol and saturated fat, but none of the flavor.

If you’re intrigued by this idea and haven’t tried making flax or chia eggs previously, let me encourage you to dive in!  Take your favorite recipe and replace one or two of the eggs with a flax or chia egg, and see how the recipe is altered.  Be brave and experiment – it’s just cooking, not defusing a bomb.  I tried to make one of our traditional family favorites — dutch babies — with plant-based eggs.  Total fail.  But with every fail I learn a little something, and cooking techniques that seemed odd or difficult at first are quickly becoming second nature.

Here’s to you and your health!

 

Makeover: “Camping” Oatmeal

My husband grew up calling oatmeal that was pre-flavored in little packets “camping oatmeal.”  I’m not sure if it was a special treat that they only got to eat when camping, or if it was just convenience for camping.

My kids love camping oatmeal.  They especially love the little packets that have dinosaur eggs in them.   Have you tried this flavor?  On the Quaker website, it notes “Dinosaurs may be extinct, but warm up Quaker® Dinosaur Eggs® and fun dinosaur shaped pieces appear right before your eyes! It’s a morning adventure filled with the sweet flavor of brown sugar and 100% whole grain Quaker® oats.”  In the oatmeal are little white “eggs” that dissolve and have small crunchy-sugary-brightly colored dinosaurs within.  Spoiler alert:  dissolving sugar eggs with colorful crunchy dinosaurs do not occur in nature. However, for this “makeover” I wanted to compare apples to apples.  Literally.  Quaker Instant Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal to my homemade versions.

The idea of pre-flavored oatmeal at home isn’t a new one.  Searching for the phrase “make oatmeal packets at home” turns up a variety of  ideas and recipes to try.  The goal of my makeover was to see if I could meet these standards:

  1. move the kids towards whole foods and away from processed foods
  2. lower cost than commercial options
  3. convenient and easy

So let’s see how I did.

Camping Oatmeal: Store vs. Home

 Quaker Instant Oatmeal: Apples and CinnamonDocsKitchen Version: Apples and CinnamonDocsKitchen Version: PB2 and Chocolate ChipDocsKitchen Version: "Mom's Oatmeal"
IngredientsWHOLE GRAIN ROLLED OATS
SUGAR
DEHYDRATED APPLES (TREATED WITH SODIUM SULFITE TO PROMOTE COLOR RETENTION)
NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR
SALT
CINNAMON
CALCIUM CARBONATE
CITRIC ACID
GUAR GUM
MALIC ACID
NIACINAMIDE*
REDUCED IRON
VITAMIN A PALMITATE
PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE*
RIBOFLAVIN*
THIAMIN MONONITRATE*
FOLIC ACID*
CARAMEL COLOR
1 cup Quaker Old Fashioned Oats
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp (~6 gm) freeze dried apples
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 cup Quaker Old Fashioned Oats
2 tbsp PB2 powdered peanut butter
2 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips*
1 cup Quaker Old Fashioned Oats
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp (~6 gm) freeze dried apples
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp whole chia seeds
1 tbsp flax meal
2 tbsp raisins
Sugars 36g (3 packets)32g
(2g oats)
(5g apples)
(25g brown sugar)
19g
(2g oats)
(1g PB2)
(16g chocolate chips)
35.5g
(2g oats)
(5g apples)
(12.5g brown sugar)
(14g raisins)
Fiber12g (3 packets)9.25g
(8g oats)
(1.25g apples)
10g
(4g oats)
(2g PB2)
21.25g
(8g oats)
(1.25g apples)
(10g chia)
(2g flax)
(2g raisins)
Protein12g (3 packets)10g15g
(10g oats)
(5g PB2)
13.5g
10g (oats)
2g (chia)
1.5g (flax)
$$$$0.75
(box of 10=$2.50)
$1.40
($0.18 oats)
($0.12 cinnamon)
($1.06 apples)
($0.04 brown sugar)
$0.74
($0.18 oats)
($0.41 PB2)
($0.15 choc chips)
$1.78
($0.18 oats)
($0.12 cinnamon)
($1.06 apples)
($0.02 brown sugar)
($0.25 chia seeds)
($0.04 flax meal)
($0.11 raisins)

All of this comparison was REALLY time consuming, but also very informative.  Here’s my takeaway points:

  • I compared 3 packets of instant oatmeal to the large-portioned mixes I made, because this reflects what my kiddos (esp. the oldest) actually eat.  I’d always thought that I must be spending a ton of $$ since they went through it so quickly, but it turns out that freeze dried apples are really expensive.  If this was a staple in your home, it would make sense to look for deals on this ingredient.  Or alternatively, do what I usually do … cut up about 1/2 of an actual apple and toss it on top to cook along with your oatmeal.  I usually slice up the rest of the apple and put it out on the table for kiddos to much some whole fruit along with whatever else they are having.
  • Oats have a fair amount of protein.  I created the PB2 and chocolate chip flavor in part to make it fun for the kids (what kid is going to turn down chocolate chips for breakfast?) and in part to add some protein.  Turns out the oats are a pretty good protein source all on their own.  They absolutely love this flavor, though, so I’m looking forward to experimenting with cacao nibs instead of chocolate chips.
  • Chia seeds and Flax meal really are good additional whole food ingredients to add.  And guess what?  All of the oatmeal packs I made have been eaten up by kiddos, and they ate up the “mom’s” packets too, with no complaints about flax and chia or funny textures.
  • When we talk about the evils of “added sugars” in our foods, it applies to how we cook at home, too.  I thought I was being only moderately generous with the amount of brown sugar (for kid appeal), but it really was a lot of added sugar.  I’ll be ratcheting that down with the next batch (but slowly, since I’m sneaky and I don’t want them to notice).
  • Having pre-made oatmeal packets was super convenient.  The kids gobbled them down in a few days, and it was lovely to just toss the ingredients in a bowl, add water and microwave them.  Sure, it’s not hard to pull out brown sugar and raisins and cinnamon and slice an apple each morning … but it was definitely easier to have all of those steps done ahead of time. 
  • The Quaker instant oatmeal packets had a variety of funny sounding ingredients, but many of these were added vitamins.  The benefit of supplemental vitamins in our foods may be questionable.  I would vastly prefer my family obtain their vitamins through eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes rather than supplements.  I have no axe to grind with that friendly looking Quaker oatmeal guy, though.  The oats I used for my packets were the Quaker 100% whole grain old fashioned variety, and I love the ingredient list for these:  Whole Grain Rolled Oats.  That’s it.

With all of this in mind, here’s what I’d recommend as my “ideal” oatmeal:

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp flax meal
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 2-4 tbsp raisins or other dried fruit (without added sugars)
  • limit any additional brown sugar or other sweeteners to 1-2 tsp

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