Three Little-Known Diabetes Facts

March 10, 2010

It has been said that there are no coincidences. The fact that I just found out a friend has diabetes, and the fact that I ran across a diabetes article today, may seem like coincidences. But I learned some interesting facts as a result.

Fact #1: Diabetes can be eliminated with a vegan diet
I already knew about Dr. Terry Shintani’s results getting people off diabetes and cholesterol-lowering medication with a vegan diet. See this post for a video of Dr. Shintani’s lecture on these results.

Today I read this article:The Diabetes Cure: Forget counting carbs. Here’s the new way to reverse this disease.

It offers more proof that a vegan diet can reverse type 2 diabetes.

Fact #2: Eliminating starches from your diet isn’t the answer
The ADA, American Diabetes Association writes: “Foods that contain carbohydrate raise blood glucose. By keeping track of how many carbohydrates you eat and setting a limit for your maximum amount to eat, you can help to keep your blood glucose levels in your target range.”

Not all starches are created equal.
Some create quick spikes in blood sugar. This, according to current theory, means an extra load on the pancreas, which produces insulin, leading to reduced performance/failure. It also causes the body to become less efficient with the way it handles blood sugar.

But further studies have shown that not just starches per se, or sugars per se, are important. What is important is the rate at which these foods cause blood level changes.

Enter the glycemic index
Some foods, mostly those with lots of fiber, including most whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, do not cause a rapid spike. Those are lower on the glycemic index.

Other foods, mostly processed flour, sugar, and the foods made with them: white bread, crackers, pasta, pastries, do cause a spike and should be avoided.

Clearly we don’t know all the answers. Apples, Pears and bananas are low on the glycemic index. Watermelon, however, is also a fruit, but it’s high.

Barley, a whole grain, is low on the index. Millet, another whole grain, is high.

So the assumption that eliminating starches from your diet will cure diabetes is just plain wrong.

Fact #3: Asians and Polynesians have the lowest incidence of diabetes in the world
According to the 2010 statistics from the IDF (International Diabetes Federation), the US, Canada and Carribean region has an 11.7% prevalence of diabetes.

Most of Asia (including Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, China) and the Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, etc.) have only a 5% incidence, the second lowest in the world (Africa has the lowest.)

We’re talking rice and potatoes
What’s the backbone of the diet in Asia? Rice. And in a lot of places, white rice, as a matter of fact.

What about in Polynesia? Sweet potatoes and taro. More starch.

Why the discrepancy?
Plainly speaking, nobody knows! What we do know is that people who eat their culturally traditional diets have very low incidence of diabetes. Yet when they move to the U.S., their diet changes, and their incidence of diabetes skyrockets.

Traditional diets always rely on fresh, locally and seasonally available produce and proteins. That means an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains.

It means little to no manufactured, processed foods like soft drinks, cereals for breakfasts, and any of the canned, packaged chemical stews for sale that people consume regularly.

So is it because of the high-fructose corn syrup?
Who knows? Science doesn’t have the answers. The food manufacturers want us to believe everything’s safe to eat. Of course they do; otherwise they couldn’t sell as much and make as much money.

Judging from the facts about who has diabetes and who doesn’t, is it a coincidence that vegans have a low incidence of diabetes? Definitely not. Science can’t explain it, and probably never will. But the facts speak for themselves.

Vegan Curried Lentil Soup

December 22, 2010

vegan curried lentil soup

Mild but hearty Vegan Curried Lentil Soup

Vegan or vegetarian soups can be quite bland if you are just adding water, and not a stock. I never have stock on hand, so I prefer to use water and basic vegetables to impart depth of flavor. However, in this recipe, all the ingredients–lentils, spices, and vegetables–combine to make flavorful, hearty soup. Here’s the recipe for vegan Curried Lentil Soup.

Lentils are members of the legume family and are an excellent source of fiber. That means it helps to fill you up and will provide bulk in the digestive tract, for better digestion and elimination.

Lentils are also very low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, making them a healthy option for people with diabetes or heart disease. They are inexpensive sources of protein and cook up quite quickly.

You can cook lentils to a firm state in about 30 minutes. I prefer to cook them longer, so they break down into a mash, much like split peas do when cooked into split pea soup. This will take from 45 to 60 minutes.

The greens in the soup add even more fiber and nutrition and make it a complete meal. And the sweet potato adds lovely surprise little pops of sweetness for a nice counterpart to the rest of the velvety soup.

Otherwise, the flavor is quite mild. You can make it as spicy as you like by altering how much chile pepper you add, if any. And the curry flavor is very mild also.

Vegan Curried Lentil Soup

3 Tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot

3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
1 jalapeno or other mild to medium chile pepper, chopped (optional)
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons salt

8 cups water
2 cups lentils, rinsed
1 large sweet potato, chopped

4 cups chopped spinach leaves*
1/4 cup chopped parsley

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté onion, celery and carrot in oil until onions are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add garlic, ginger, chile, spices, and salt. Saute two minutes, stirring often. Do not burn the garlic.

Add water, lentils and sweet potato. Cover. Bring to a boil. Simmer until lentils are done, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Add spinach and parsley. Cook another 5 minutes, or enough to wilt the spinach. Taste and add more salt if needed.

*Note: You can substitute other greens for the spinach leaves, such as French sorrel, kale, or cabbage. You might need to cook it an extra five minutes or so.

Serve this with big chunks of bread to sop up all that lip-smacking goodness. You can make this vegan Curried Lentil Soup recipe, and it will fill your house and your belly with satisfying warmth.

Appreciation for the complexity of Nature

March 13, 2010

One miraculous, home-grown, organic strawberry

As I ponder the first strawberry from the garden that has not been eaten by something (I suspect roaches) before it has ripened, I marvel at the miracles of Nature.

One friend has died, gone from dancing and alive, to dead, within a month’s time. Liver cancer killed him quickly.

Another has diabetes. She is skinnier and younger than I am, rarely eats processed foods, eats lots of salads, exercises daily. Her doctor is stumped. She doesn’t fit the profile for the disease. I do, but I don’t have it.

Recently we were all on tsunami alert, awakened at 7 am by the blaring of the emergency warning sirens. The 8.8 earthquake in Chile meant a high risk of tsunami here in Hawaii. Yet nothing came.

What do we know?
Despite all the modern technology, all the science, all the drugs and surgery and diagnostic procedures and tests, we still know next to nothing. All we have are pieces of the larger puzzle, plus the finished picture, with no real idea how everything fits together.

People outlive their prognoses every day, seemingly because they have the will to live. Diabetes is rampant in our society, and despite what everyone says, they really don’t know why. Ditto for osteoporosis, cancer, and ADHD and autism. All the computer monitoring and calculating and predicting still can’t tell us if and when an earthquake, tsunami, or flood is coming.

We know there is still magic around us
In a way, it’s a good thing we don’t know all the answers. If everything were cut and dried, there would be no room for wonderment, creativity, and exploration.

This way, there’s room for hope, surprises, and good old-fashioned magic. And for those, like me, who respect the fact that Nature has healing power we can tap if we try.

Nature is amazing.
Plants and animals have the power to heal, kill, poison, hallucinate, attract, repel, destroy, remove pain, abort fetuses, strengthen entire bodily systems…all within them, naturally. We humans have been learning from them for eons.

We extract substances, dissect them, re-create them chemically and sell them as drugs and supplements. We are surprised when they don’t work as well as the original plants or hormones or chemicals. We forget that Nature has a world of infinite wisdom and complexity in a single, tiny strawberry.

Am I just plain old lucky?
Maybe. I’ve been a vegetarian for 26 years now. I’m mostly sedentary, overweight, and I don’t meditate. I eat white sugar and some eggs (from our spoiled brat chickens!) and dairy every now and then. I take a lot of supplements. I eat chocolate every day. Do NOT touch my stash!! I drink a lot of herbal teas, not for any specific properties per se, but a nice variety, because they taste good, and because I know each one has a bounty of good we don’t even know about, hidden inside it.

Unlike most everyone else my age, I don’t have high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure. So I must be doing something right. Yay!

Thank you, gods! Thank you, Nature! Because nobody else seems to have the answers.

Want to get off your medication?

January 20, 2010

Do you want to get off your medication?

89% of people in this country take prescription drugs for chronic health conditions. That’s almost everyone. Does that alarm you?

We start medicating children in this country, putting them on drugs to control conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism. They become prescription drug users as early as age 5.

You are the exception to the rule if you do not take prescription drugs. You might feel abnormal. You might even wonder what’s wrong with you.

On the other hand, if you are taking prescription drugs, you might be sick of the high costs, the side effects, or the fact that you are destined to be taking them the rest of your life.

Want to do something about it?

The healthcare system is spiraling out of control. Costs are increasing, health is diminishing, and we seem to be getting nowhere, even with renewed efforts by the Obama Administration to reform the system.

Clearly you need to take matters into your own hands and make choices that make sense to you.

Ask yourself just one question: Am I getting better or worse?

If you’re getting worse, or not getting better, why continue to do what you’ve been doing?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Albert Einstein, (attributed)
US (German-born) physicist (1879 – 1955)

So what can you do about it?


The following video by Dr. Terry Shintani will show you how to get off your medication, with the help of your doctor. His proven program has helped people stop diabetes medication in as little as two days!

100% of the people who follow his program lose weight.

Find out:
–Why eating more can help you weigh less

–Why low-carb diets don’t work

–The major myth the entire health-care system is based on

–Why genetics plays a much smaller role than you think

–The #4 cause of death that isn’t a disease

The video is an hour long and will show you exactly how to turn your health around, with basic changes in diet and lifestyle.

Take an hour and consider the evidence he presents. Then consider your future and what it might be like if you continue on the path you are currently on.

Watch the video now.


March 27, 2009
This is me.  Well, my neck is shorter, my eyes are squintier, my arm is fatter...but I do have a shirt just like that!

This is me. Well, my neck is shorter, my eyes are squintier, my arm is fatter...but I do have a shirt just like that.

Welcome to my blog!

    About Me

My name is Alina Niemi, and I am a writer, artist, teacher, Licensed Massage Therapist, gardener, musician, dancer, woodturner, and dabbler in more things than I have time for.

I have been a vegetarian since 1983. In the beginning I ate a lot of salads, plus things like pork tofu without the pork, which ended up being mostly tofu…not exactly inspiring fare.

Don’t get me wrong–I love tofu. It’s delicious plain, with simple condiments like shoyu (soy sauce,) green onions, and ginger, especially in the summer. But more on that later.

Over the decades my love for food and cooking has allowed me to discover a world of tastes, textures, and treasures. A true food fanatic, I have magazine pages, newspaper clippings, snippets of paper with barely-legible scribbling on them, all over my house, all with recipes on them. And yes, in this computer age, now my computer files are bulging with them too!

Most are collected, many are in various stages of refinement. I develop vegetarian and vegan recipes to add to my collection, enter contests, and fill a need.

If I eat something that sets my heart a-flutter, I try to re-create it at home. Everywhere I travel I attempt to get a sense of the food and bring recipes home to keep a part of the culture with me. I’ve sniffed herbs pulled out of a pot in someone’s home in Turkey, cloistered away with the women of the family, just to learn how to make that stuffed pepper dish.

I stomped through the grocery aisles with the principal of the school where I was teaching in Japan (well, he stomped; I rushed to keep up with him). He pointed, and I nodded or shook my head. He said things I did not understand. I “hmm”-ed, just so he knew I would have enough vegetarian food to eat in his town. (It would have brought shame to the town if I had starved.)

I took notes at a restaurant in a small trading village on a remote island in Indonesia, while the owner patiently showed me leaves of things I had never seen before, so I could try to make it at home. Afterwards, I mistakenly drank from the bottle of unboiled water that was on the table and intended for hand-washing. He rushed out, grabbed it from me, then explained in sign language that I would end up sick to my stomach. I waited in tense terror every day for a week, until I was sure my chances of contracting Giardia, a severe intestinal disease from a parasite, or toxic liver failure, were over. (Yeah, I’m a bit dramatic. But hey, these things really do happen!)

Typically I return from a vacation with CDs, books, and chocolate (I think my record was 9-1/2 pounds of chocolate after a trip to Scandinavia.) I tend to take clothing with the intent of giving it away to make more room for stuff to bring home!

    About My Recipes

Since I am basically a lazy cook, I try to cut out unnecessary steps and ingredients whenever possible, without ruining flavor and texture. Why wash two bowls when I only need one?

I also trim sugar, salt and fat and increase fiber and nutrients, using whole wheat rather than white flour, and substituting for eggs and dairy products. This way I can have my cake, know exactly what is in it, and eat it, too.

Whenever I have something growing well in the garden, I try to utilize it. And because I am also a lazy gardener, I let volunteer plants take center stage. That means anything that grows by itself, or continues to grow without needing me to spray, trim, cover, shade, protect, or coddle it in any way.

Translation: I eat a lot of herbs, kabocha, kale, and whatever that variety of cherry tomato is that keeps springing up like magic. So I develop recipes to use those.

My recipes have won several contests and been published in magazines such as Taste of Home’s Cooking Light, Delicious Living, and Better Homes and Gardens. I include links to where they can be found elsewhere on the internet whenever possible.

    What I Like to Eat

I love anything different or unusual, especially new flavor combinations or directions that force my mouth and my mind to veer off course and be happily surprised. Strawberries and rosewater; chocolate and curry; chakalaka (stay tuned…!)

I am interested in how different cultures treat the same ingredient. For example, we eat corn mostly as a vegetable or part of breakfast cereal. In Japan, they put it on pizza; in Thailand, they put it in sweet snack pancakes; in Italy it turns into polenta; in Mexico and South America it becomes tortillas.

The thrill and challenge of coming up with something new using the same old ingredients ignites my creative fire. I watch and re-watch Top Chef and Iron Chef America, taking pages of hurried notes and sketches, gathering ideas for plating and presentation.

If a dish comes out well, I smile and run to input it into the computer before I forget how I made it. If it comes out terribly, I try feeding it to the dog or my father, who will eat almost anything. If it comes out delicious, I stutter with excitement as I give samples to my “guinea pig” friends, awaiting their opinions. I’m like a junkie catching my jollies from the vicarious thrill of turning someone on to some new high.

    About My Blog

Despite vegetarians comprising about 10% of the population in the United States, with numbers rising every year, many people still think all we eat is salad and rice. Potlucks where I have more to eat than carrot sticks, cheese, and tortilla chips are still the exception to the rule, unfortunately.

So if you are wondering what a vegetarian eats, this blog is for you. If you need a recipe you can take to the next potluck and know anyone can eat, you’ll find many here. If you are looking for ways to cut out dairy, eggs, or saturated fat, or want to add more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to your diet, ideas abound.

And fear not…I have a father, dog, neighbors, and friends who serve as “normal” eaters and guinea pigs for my creations. If they don’t approve with their “what the heck is tempeh?” palates, the recipes won’t get posted here!

Feel free to play with these recipes, add and subtract, substitute and change. I have a sweet tooth, so my salad dressings, for example, will have a sweet or sweet-sour flavor to them, never one where sour predominates.

My only request is that if you pass these recipes on to others or post them elsewhere, you also link to my blog or include my blog address so they can visit if they’d like to, and so I get credit. There is a lot of work, time, effort, and money that is involved to fine-tune recipes, photograph them, and put it all together here, so I ask that you respect me and my work.

About Vegetarianism/Veganism
Why would anyone give up eating meat? Reasons abound, but I did originally when I heard there was a link to an increase in diseases. In the 1980’s, I heard about higher incidence of colon cancer. Since my grandfather ended up with colon cancer and had a colostomy bag strapped to his body, the news hit close to home. I did not want to follow in his footsteps.

Current research has also shown consumption of animal products increases risk of diabetes, heart disease, breast and other cancers:

Red Meat Consumption Can Be Dangerous

Since heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the U.S., a vegetarian diet is a huge step to prevent getting it. Diabetes is becoming epidemic. Studies all over the world, including here in Hawaii, by Dr. Terry Shintani, have shown that a plant-based diet can cause drastic reduction of disease and diabetes.

Dr. Shintani’s Hawaii Diet information

Here is a link to a video by Registered Dietician Brenda Davis, who oversaw a program in the Marshall Islands which significantly reduced disease rates:

Reclaiming Your Health: Lessons From the Marshall Islands

But I continue to be a vegetarian because I know that meat consumption is bad for the environment. It takes a lot more corn and water to feed a pig to make that pulled pork sandwich than it would if you ate the corn and drank the water yourself. Raising livestock, allowing them to graze on native habitat, and cutting forested areas to raise livestock are all detrimental to ecosystems. These practices do more to increase global warming than driving our cars.

The Environmental Defense Fund reports:

If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains, for example, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.

Source: Environmental Defense Fund

Finally, going meatless is better for the animals! The conditions many animals are raised in only to end up chopped up on someone’s plate are sad at best, horrendous and inhumane at worst. Besides, if you have ever seen a meat grinder in action and watched how a 300-pound dead cow can be pulverized and turned into ground beef, hooves, tail hair, guts and all, in about 20 seconds, you might not have such a hearty appetite the next time you are eyeball-to-eyeball with a hamburger. Or a cow, for that matter!

    What’s a Vegan?

A vegan is someone who does not eat animal products, including eggs, dairy (cheese, ice cream, milk, etc.) or honey. Many vegans expand their philosophy to include eschewing animal products in clothing and other items. They don’t wear leather, for example, or use leather wallets, shoes, or bags.

I’m not a vegan. I include dairy products and eggs from time to time, and I see no reason to remove honey from my life. Thus the name of my blog, Almost Vegan in Paradise.

    About the “Paradise” Part

YES, I live in Honolulu, Hawaii, and yes, I love it here. Yes, I frequently complain about the heat and humidity, so, yes, I travel every year to get away from it all. But every time I go away, I come back and kiss the ground at the Honolulu International Airport. (Well, not really, but I sure feel like it!)

Going away restores my soul and reminds me how lucky I am to live in a place where the weather is moderate year-round, the people are down-to-earth, the variety of cultures and experiences I can find within an hour’s drive is fabulous, and the Nature that surrounds me is colorful, fragrant, and amazing!

    About Hawaii’s Food

Hawaii has a varied cuisine due to influences from Polynesia, Japan, China, Korea, the Philipines and Portugal. Neighbors from islands south of us introduced plants which became important staples for food and life to the ancient Hawaiians. Taro, coconut, breadfruit, sweet potato, Hawaiian cotton and ti are still used for food and crafts. Immigrants from Portugal, the Philipines, Japan, China, and Korea, who came to work in the sugar cane, pineapple, and coffee plantations, introduced dishes and ingredients that survive to this day.

Eventually Mainland U.S. and other European-based cultures have added to the mix, along with more recent immigrant cultures of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The result is a potpourri found nowhere else in the world.

A “plate lunch” or “bento” (Japanese for “box meal”) can include Japanese rice and takuan (pickled vegetables), Korean kimchi, Chinese dim sum, and a hot dog, covered with chili, with a haupia (Hawaiian coconut pudding)-filled malasada (Portuguese doughnut) for dessert. Not exactly easy to categorize!

In the last 20 years or so, chefs have taken the melange of available fresh and ethnic ingredients and blended them with modern cooking techniques and styles, producing what is called by several names: Hawaii Regional Cuisine, Hawaiian Fusion, or Asian or Pacific Rim Cuisine. Notable chefs include Alan Wong, Sam Choy, George Mavrothalassitis and Russell Siu.

Increasingly, chefs are incorporating locally-grown and organic produce whenever possible, which helps support people who live and grow here and reduces our dependence on imported food, thereby reducing our consumption of energy to transport everything. And while the only place I am likely to have a salad that includes edible flowers, kohlrabi and French sorrel is my own kitchen, with stuff I’ve grown myself, I am happy to see more variety in the stores, more action at farmers’ markets, and more awareness around me.

My co-workers for years have been asking me, “What’s that?” as they peer at my lunch from home. In Japan, my students and other teachers watched in shock as I ate cucumbers and apples whole! With the peel on!

Now you too can look over my shoulder and find out what that yellow stuff is, or what that herb is in the salad, or what that funny-looking thing is that is growing in my garden.