Nutrition

5 Medicinal Mushrooms You Should Know About

I’m a huge fan of mushrooms. Whether it’s plain old white button mushrooms or portobellos, I love adding them into stir-fries, sautéing them, or throwing them on the grill. The everyday grocery store finds are already full of body-benefiting vitamins and immune system-boosting antioxidants, but when you take a step further into the world of fungi, you’ll realize there’s even more magic at your fingertips.

Even though medicinal mushrooms have been used to treat ailments of all kinds for thousands of years, they’re just now starting to go mainstream for their long lists of science-backed health benefits. And it’s getting easier to get them, too: You don’t need to go foraging in the forest to get your fix. Most even come in powder-form for easy access and can be at your doorstep in just a couple days (thanks, Amazon!). If you’re looking for a way to better your well-being, here are some of the top types to look out for.

1. Maitake

Maitake—also known as “Hen of the Woods”—might have a funny name, but the ‘shrooms are no joke when it comes to their health benefits. They’re been shown to help fight off cancer, amp up the immune system and kick viruses to the curb, and even lower cholesterol.

How to Try It: The New New Age Lion Powder Potion

2. Reishi

Reishi is popping up in coffees, protein drinks—you name it. And, there’s a good reason for that: The red kidney-shaped mushroom has been used since ancient times and has been shown to help with sleep, boost the immune system, potentially battle different types of cancers, and—one of the reasons everyone’s talking about it—could help decrease fatigue and depression.

How to Try It: Moon Juice Vanilla Mushroom Adaptogenic Protein

3. Turkey Tail

Another mushroom named after an animal (you’ll notice it’s a theme…), Turkey Tail has proven to be effective at boosting the immune system, helping fight off infections like the cold and flu. On top of that, due to its compound polysaccharide-K (PSK), it’s also been especially impressive in helping those with cancer—so much so that after years of research, the extract is available in Japan as an alternative cancer therapy. (In fact, it’s their best-selling cancer medication.)

How to Try It: Wild Foods Co Turkey Tail Mushroom Powder Extract

4. Cordyceps

If you came across Cordyceps, there’s no way you’d eat them. It’s what’s on the inside that counts for these mushrooms, though. Literally. In the wild, Cordyceps is a parasitic fungi that actually grows in (and eventually kills) insects—primarily caterpillars. But don’t worry: the options you’ll find are synthetically grown, making them completely vegan…and caterpillar-free. And that’s a good thing for your health: they could help boost your athletic performance, are thought to improve memory and sexual function, might up your energy levels, and can potentially help fight off different types of cancer.

How to Try It: Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee with Cordyceps

5. Lion’s Mane

Lion’s Mane might be one of the strangest-looking mushrooms around with its white pom-pom-like appearance. And it works out because it’s basically your mind’s #1 cheerleader: It could improve brain function, boost your memory, help you concentrate better, and rid you of brain fog. In addition to brain health, it’s also been shown to aid in digestion.

How to Try It: Sun Potion Lion’s Mane Mushroom Powder

As with any adaptogen or supplement, before trying any of these mushrooms for yourself, chat with your doctor first.

Plant-Based Protein 101: How to Get Your Fix Without Meat

One of the biggest questions I get when someone finds out I’m vegan is always the same: how do I get my protein? Honestly, it wasn’t that long ago that I only thought of protein as meat, eggs, fish, and other animal products, too—it’s how the majority of us are raised. The reality, though, is that while meat is the norm, it’s certainly not the best option and you can get everything you need from plants.

What’s the Problem with Animal Protein?

First thing’s first: animal protein might just be the worst way to get your protein fix. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meat is pumped with hormones—including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone—which has one purpose: helping animals grow bigger and faster, enabling the meat industry to produce more products and make more money. Since you already have hormones in your own body, taking in excess quantities through your diet, too, isn’t great for your health. Studies have shown it can increase your risk of cancer and even lead to heart attacks, heart failure, or sudden death.

In addition to hormones, the antibiotics in meat are also a problem. Animals are raised in filthy, overcrowded environments, and to ensure they stay alive until slaughter, the meat industry uses 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States. Because of the high amount of antibiotics given to these animals, they become resistant to certain drugs, which potentially lets dangerous strains of bacteria into your body. The foodborne illnesses that result are serious business: Salmonella alone causes 1.2 million illnesses, as well as hundreds of deaths, in the U.S. every year.

Even with the hormones and antibiotics aside, eating animal protein can also lead to some serious health issues. Consuming meat has been found to greatly increase your risk of many different kinds of cancer, including breast cancer and colon cancer—two of the top killers of women and men. On top of that, it’s also been shown to negatively affect your gut health, increase your risk of having a stroke, and shorten your lifespan. And that’s just the short list. Plant-based protein, on the other hand, does quite the opposite, giving your body the fuel it needs without the consequences.

Busting the Plant-Based Protein Myth

One of the oldest myths about the vegan diet that’s still making the rounds is that it’s not possible to get all the essential amino acids you need from plants. (Something your body can’t make itself, so you have to get them through your diet.) Because of that, you’ve probably heard you have to combine two incomplete proteins (like beans and rice) to get a complete protein. The truth, though, is that the idea—which originated from the book Diet for a Small Planet written in 1971 by sociologist Frances Moore Lappé—has long been disproven.

Want to find out which plants are high in protein?
First read: The Best Plant-Based Protein Sources

In reality, if you’re eating a well-rounded diet, you’ll get all the protein you need—and you don’t have to eat animals to do it. According to the American Heart Association, “whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds, and nuts all contain both essential and non-essential amino acids”—and as long as you eat a variety and eat enough calories for your body every day, you’ll be A-OK. In fact, Dr. Michael Greger, MD, author of How Not to Die, says you’ll have more than enough, saying those who eat plant-based diets typically have twice the average daily protein requirements. If that wasn’t the case, how would some of the best plant-based athletes—including Tom Brady, who’s still going strong on the football field at 41 years old—be able to stay at the top of their game?

How Much Protein You Actually Need

To figure out your Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein, just use a simple formula: take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 0.36. For someone who’s 140 pounds, that would mean they should be aiming for around 50 grams of protein per day. If you want to factor in your needs based on your activity level, there’s a handy calculator for that, too.

It might seem like 50 or so grams is hard to reach, but not if you choose your sources wisely. In fact, if you wanted to, all you’d have to do is eat one cup of lentils. Seriously—one. That legume is just one of the many plants you can pick up at the supermarket to stay strong and healthy, though. For an entire list of other options, head on over to The Best Plant-Based Protein Sources.

The Best Plant-Based Protein Sources

The days of depending on meat for protein are long gone. In fact, meat is actually causing more harm than good—not just from what it goes through before getting on your plate, but also because of what it’s doing to your body after you eat it.

Research has shown just how detrimental animal protein can be to human health, whether that’s putting you at risk of breast cancer or a shortened lifespan. While the belief used to be that it’s impossible to get all the essential amino acids you need from plants (something your body can’t make itself), the myth has been disproven for years. In reality, you can get more than enough protein from a well-rounded diet of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. And get this: those who get their fix from plants actually tend to take in twice the average daily protein requirements. No big deal, right?

Want more background info on plant vs. animal protein?
First read: Plant-Based Protein 101: How to Get Your Fix Without Meat

If you’re looking to add more plant-based protein into your diet and kick the meat off your plate once and for all, these are some of the best options to start with. Considering a 140-pound person’s Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is around 50 grams and one measley cup of lentils is exactly that, it’s safe to say you’ll be just fine. (To figure out how much protein you need in a day, use this simple formula: take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 0.36.)

1. Tofu

Photo: Yummy Beet

Amount: 20 grams of protein per cup

How to Use It: Bake it and add it into stir-fries, blend it into creamy sauces (like Alfredo!), scramble it, bake it and slather it with BBQ sauce for vegan wings, or blend it to use it as a dessert.

Recipe to Try: Vegan Penne Alfredo

2. Lentils

Amount: 50 grams of protein per cup

How to Use Them: Add them into your soups and stews, toss some in your pasta sauce (like Bolognese!), or make a lentil salad.

Recipe to Try: Vegan Sloppy Joes

3. Chia Seeds

Amount: 4.4 grams of protein per two Tbsp

How to Use Them: Put them in your smoothies, make pudding, or use them as an egg substitute.

Recipe to Try: Basic Chia Seed Pudding

4. Chickpeas

Amount: 39 grams of protein per cup

How to Use Them: Roast them in the oven for a snack, turn them into a homemade hummus, or use them in sandwiches and salads.

Recipe to Try: Chickpea Salad Sandwich

5. Black Beans

Photo: Minimalist Baker

Amount: 39 grams of protein per cup

How to Use Them: Put them in your tacos and burritos, toss some in your chili, or make burger patties.

Recipe to Try: Smoky BBQ Black Bean Veggie Burger

6. Edamame

Amount: 17 grams per cup

How to Use Them: Add them into your salads, boil them in their pods with sea salt, or purée them for a dip.

Recipe to Try: Edamame Hummus

7. Nutritional Yeast

vegan cheesy pasta

Amount: 9 grams of protein per two Tbsp

How to Use It: Sprinkle it on roasted veggies, add it into your smoothies, sprikle it on popcorn, or use it in “cheesy” vegan pasta dishes.

Recipe to Try: 4-Ingredient Vegan Mac and Cheese

8. Tempeh

Photo: Making Thyme for Health

Amount: 31 grams of protein per cup

How to Use It: Make a tempeh sandwich, turn it into bacon, put it in your stir-fries, or use it in your tacos.

Recipe to Try: Tempeh Bacon

9. Almonds

Amount: 20 grams of protein per cup

How to Use Them: Eat them plain as a snack, turn them into nut butter, roast them, or use them as a healthier crust for your desserts.

Recipe to Try: Chipotle Roasted Almonds

10. Broccoli

The best high protein plant foods

Amount: 17 grams per bunch

How to Use It: Bake it, add it into pasta dishes, make a salad, steam it, or purée it into soup.

Recipe to Try: Apple Broccoli Salad

Other MVPs

  • Mushrooms: 3 grams per cup
  • Jackfruit: 2.8 grams per cup
  • Cauliflower: 11 grams per medium head
  • Peas: 8 grams per cup
  • Quinoa: 8 grams per cup
  • Artichokes: 4.5 grams per medium artichoke

Yep, as you can see, no meat is needed up in here.

The Secret to Making Perfectly Crispy Tofu in the Oven

The very first time I ever ate tofu was during my initial attempt at going vegetarian when I was maybe 11 years old. As someone who totally depended on their parents for food—and whose idea of a quality meal at the time was making “cheese soup,” aka putting shredded mozzarella and water in a coffee cup and heating it in the microwave—my experience making the plant protein staple was pretty interesting, to say the least.

I vividly remember how everything went down: I crumbled the tofu up and threw it in a pan, definitely without any sort of oil. And minutes later, my dad walked in asking what the horrible smell was. Spoiler: it was my burnt tofu. Let’s just say the vegetarian thing only lasted about a month—and my dad still brings up my mishap from time to time, even though I’ve made him try tofu that’s actually made correctly and pretty darn tasty, if I do say so myself.

Today, I’m happy to say I’m a much better chef. Even tough I was pretty scarred from my first attempt at tofu, it didn’t take me long to try again. Because of that, I’ve fallen absolutely in love with the white spongey material, all thanks to figuring out exactly how to make it crispy. Because me and Jell-O-like tofu just don’t mix.

I’ve had plenty of people ask me how I make my tofu so crispy—which you can use for everything from sesame tofu or BBQ tofu wings—and the good news is it’s really stinkin’ easy. My trial-and-error over the past couple years will help you master the technique on the first try, no frying required.

how to make crispy tofu without frying it

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 package of extra-firm tofu (the “extra” firm part is very important!)
  • a cheesecloth or some paper towels
  • something heavy (pots and pans, books, canned soup—whatever you have on hand)

how to make crispy tofu without frying it

Step One:

The first step in making crispy tofu is draining the water out of the package, then wrapping your tofu block in some cheesecloth. The most important part of making sure your tofu cooks properly is getting out as much liquid as possible. To do this, stack something heavy—but not heavy enough to smush it!—on top of your wrapped tofu to gently press the water out. Leave it for 10 minutes, then flip it and repeat on the other side. If it’s extra wet, you might need to put some towels underneath to soak up more of the water.

how to make crispy tofu without frying it

how to make crispy tofu without frying it

Step Two:

While getting as much water out of your tofu as possible is crucial, so is the way you cut it. If it’s too thick, it won’t get crispy. But if it’s too thin, it will get too crispy. I usually slice it in 1/2-inch pieces, whether that’s strips (as pictured!) or cubes.

how to make crispy tofu without frying it

Step 3:

Preheat your oven to 450°F, place your tofu on a lightly-greased baking sheet (I use olive oil spray), and add some seasoning, if desired. (Trader Joe’s Garlic Salt mix is delish!) If I’m going to toss them in BBQ or another sauce after baking, I usually just pop them in the oven plain or use a little salt and pepper.

how to make crispy tofu without frying it

how to make crispy tofu without frying it

Step 4:

After you’re done seasoning, cook the tofu in the oven for about 15 minutes. Then take ’em out, flip each piece over, and bake for another 15 minutes. After you’re done, your tofu should be crispy goodness! If you don’t like super crispy tofu, simply bake it for a little less time.

Do you have any tips on making delicious, crispy tofu? Let me know in the comments!

What Are Pili Nuts? Here’s Everything You Should Know

You probably already have your kitchen stocked with a variety of different nuts: almonds, cashews, pistachios—you name it. One you might not have heard of, though? Pili nuts. Here’s why you’re about to see them everywhere.

The Scoop on Pili Nuts

Found mostly in Southeast Asia and Northern Australia, the buttery nuts are considered a complete protein—just like most animal-based protein, as well as plant-based goodies like quinoa, seitan, soy, and buckwheat. Since they’re high in protein, calcium, potassium, and heart-healthy fats, they’re one of the most nutritious nuts around. It just so happens that the tasty powerhouse was kept on the DL until recently.

Pili nuts in their hard shells.

Pili Nut Benefits

Because of all its properties, pili nuts have some pretty impressive benefits. While the fiber aids digestion and antioxidants decrease inflammation and boost your immune system, the healthy fats can help balance your cholesterol and up your brain power. That’s not all, though: The nut’s high magnesium levels (more than any other nut!) could also play a role in helping you sleep at night.

How to Find ‘Em

So, by now you probably want to know how you can get your hands on some pili nuts, right? Luckily, it’s about to get super easy: The nut is already showing up on store shelves in many different forms. You can now buy salted or flavored nuts from Pili Hunters (there are even spicy chili and turmeric flavors!), pili nut butters, and  a creamy pili nut-based yogurt (that’s totally vegan!) available from Lavva.

You might not be able to find pili nuts in the bulk section of your favorite grocery store quite yet, but keep your eyes open. The buzzy food is definitely worth adding into your diet.