Category Archives: nutrition topics

Learning your way around the (vegan) kitchen

Warning, a bazillion links ahead.

If I had a dollar for everyone who’s said to me some variation of “I’d be vegan if someone else cooked for me,” well, I wouldn’t be living in this crappy little college apartment. Although changing things about your diet can seem daunting, I’m here to tell you that you can make gradual changes and eventually be able to see that cooking and eating vegan is really not that difficult, and neither is making sure you’re getting balanced meals. Yes, it’s a learning process, but learning is exciting! I looked at the challenge of learning how to cook for myself as a fun opportunity to eat better and less expensively and hone some creative kitchen skills. It feels awesome when you create something delicious from scratch and it’s darn healthy, too. I also want to say, you do not have to be a chef to make delicious vegan food for yourself at home! I’m definitely not.

I’m under the assumption that you probably cook at home at least some of the time, right? And that if you’re balancing your meals already you are loading up half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with a whole grain (brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, bulgur, farro, etc.) of some sort, and the other quarter with a protein dish. So, if you’ve got that down, you’ll see how easy it is to swap out the meaty/cheesy portions of food for plant-based deliciousness. If you haven’t gotten that down, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Studies have shown that Americans are not eating enough vegetables and whole grains and are counting entirely too many French fries as vegetable servings. But if you’re reading food and nutrition blogs, you’re probably looking to change that, too.

The first thing I’d suggest is picking one of your favorite meals, say tacos. There are a ton of ways you can make them meat and dairy-free and still full of flavor! The easiest, most obvious route is to use some sort of (not totally full of weird, processed ingredients) veggie crumble instead of meat. The next thing I would think of, and the way I usually like my tacos, is to use seasoned black or refried beans and then load your tacos up with your favorite veggie toppings, like shredded cabbage, tomato, onion, and of course avocado and salsa! Seasoned lentils make another great taco filling, as do grilled or sautéed Portobello mushrooms, red peppers  and onions, or grilled marinated tofu or tempeh. Really, the options are endless. Do a Google search for “vegan tacos” and see what I mean.

On that note, not to be obvious or anything, but Googling for vegan recipes is one of the simplest things you can do to get some great meal ideas. People have asked and vegans have answered the question “what do vegans eat, anyway?” in a major way! If you’re a cookbook fanatic like me, there are hundreds out there. There are books on everything from simple comfort food to decadent, restaurant quality meals. Some of my favorites are Veganomicon, How it all Vegan (the first vegan cookbook I ever bought, aww), The Inspired Vegan and Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry, and Crazy Sexy Kitchen.

Some more tips for adding more vegan meals to your repertoire:

  • Try veganizing one meal at a time. Breakfast is an easy one. You can make fruit smoothies, oatmeal with berries and flax or chia seeds and soy, rice, almond, hemp, or coconut milk, tofu scramble, pancakes, muffins, etc.
  • Acquaint yourself with the basics of vegan nutrition. You’ll feel a lot better when those questions about where you’re getting your protein roll in and you can be ensured you’re getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals. The Vegan RD is one source I trust. She also co-wrote a book Vegan for Life that I highly suggest reading and has another on the way called Vegan for Her.
  • Try eating vegan one full day of the week to start out. Meatless Monday is great to participate in if you’re trying to eat more vegan meals.
  • Plan ahead and cook up enough beans, lentils, quinoa, brown rice, etc. to get you through the week. Wash and chop your veggies so they’re ready to grab and go. Add these ingredients to a variety of dishes so you don’t get bored of eating the same thing all week.
  • Check out the wealth of  free vegan recipes online and the vegan cookbook section at your local bookstore or library.
  • Replace the meat in meals with beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, seitan, mushrooms, eggplant, and on occasion vegan burgers, sausages, and other vegan meat-like products (check nutrition labels if you’re trying to watch your sodium or fat and look for products with minimal ingredients).
  • Replacing eggs and dairy in baked goods is simple once you know there are other options. This is a great guide to getting started (vegan) baking up a storm.
  • Make sure you’re eating your vegetables! Remember, half your plate should be vegetables. Ginny Messina, The Vegan RD mentioned above, has just come up with a great vegan plate graphic that will help you determine the right food proportions of your plate. Farmer’s markets are great for trying new varieties of the freshest, in-season vegetables. Farmers are usually happy to share their favorite way to prepare their vegetables, too.
  • Try a vegan meal-plan to make things easy, like the free one at PCRM.org  or the Happy Herbivore’s , which you pay a fee for.
  • If you are so inclined,  purchasing Kris Carr’s book Crazy, Sexy, Kitchen,  gets you free access to cooking videos  by her and chef Chad Sarno. I learned a new thing or two from watching these.
  • Another amazing cooking resource that you can access from your own home is Spork Foods online cooking classes! These sisters are amazing and make learning cooking so fun. It feels like you are actually there having a dinner party with Heather, Jenny and their students.
  • Keep in mind why you want to make this change and let it inspire and keep you motivated. Is it because you’ve recently learned the suffering that animals raised for food endure? Do you want to be healthier? Are you trying to lighten your ecological footprint?
  • The most important thing is to not stress about it, relax, and enjoy the endless possibility for trying new foods and flavors! It’s not about being perfect and you don’t have to change everything overnight.

As a side note, I’m super happy that one of my best friends who had been going back and forth with being vegetarian has been texting and calling me lately with vegan food recommendations. People make changes at their own pace when and if they’re ready. I never pressure, but I’m always here for support.

Do you have any specific questions or suggestions you’d like me to address?

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Vegan Athlete Talk

Still working on that post! Summer classes are no joke and move so quickly. I’ve also taken on an extra project giving a short talk about fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and having a station set up at a middle school health fair next week, so I have to prepare for that.

I really wanted to share this informative video with you by registered dietitian and vegan athlete Matt Ruscigno on athletes and plant-based nutrition. Lots of people have questions about getting enough protein, getting the right ratio of carbs-fat-protein, and getting in enough calories as an athlete trying to eat vegan.  Matt does an excellent job going over these things and more.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/67348332″>Athletes and Plant-Based Nutrition</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/burningheartsmedia”>Burning Hearts Media</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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I Can’t be Everyone’s Personal Chef/Are Our Fruits and Vegetables Nutritious Enough?

I am working on a post right now about simple ways to incorporate more vegan meals into your life/make the transition completely if one so wishes. I have had so many friends and acquaintances tell me they would be vegan if they had a personal chef or if I cooked for them. Ha! Well, it’s easy enough to do it all on your own and I’ll tell you how. No more excuses then! I am still working on blogging regularly and having some sort of aim to it all. But really, I think it’s posts like the one I’m writing that meet my desire to help people where they’re at to make changes toward a more healthful, plant-based diet. That’s the drive behind me pursuing nutrition as a career, but if I can be of help now while I’m going to school, why not start? There are already tons of vegan nutrition/recipe resources out there, but hopefully I can still offer my perspective and reach some people without being totally redundant. If there is anything YOU would like to see here, please leave a comment and let me know!

This op-ed article, Breeding the Nutrition out of Our Food, has been making the rounds in my Facebook news feed. The basic rundown of it is that our current fruits and vegetables are lacking in nutrition and we have to choose the very best varieties in order to get the most nutrition benefits from plant foods. While I think this has some merit, Americans are already not eating enough fruits and vegetables as it is. I learned in my Nutrition of the Life Cycle class via the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) that 27% of American toddlers and preschoolers are not even eating a single serving of vegetables per day. I’m not sure making it more difficult and restrictive is the best thing we can do for public health. This article from the American Institute of Cancer Research sums up how I feel in response to that. So yes, eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, seek out high nutrient foods when possible, but really, just make sure you are getting the minimum 3-4 cups servings a day and you’re already doing better than most and increasing your health! Don’t get discouraged and don’t make it harder than it has to be to shop for and eat your fruits and veg.

 

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2013 Undergrad Symposium

The symposium was a success! We got everything finished just in time (some handouts with a weekly meal plan had to be printed this morning!) and had a great response to our poster. I don’t know if I said this already in a previous post, but we presented on plant-based diets and human health. We did a literature review of several peer-reviewed studies looking at vegetarian/vegan dietary patterns and heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes incidence. Included were the EPIC-Oxford and the Adventist Health Studies.

We got to meet several students and faculty who are already vegetarian or vegan and were attracted to our brightly fruit and vegetable covered poster and a lot of people who were curious about plant-based diets. I was happy to hear that several people were familiar with plant-based doctors like Dr. Fuhrman, Dr. Barnard, and Dr. Esselstyn. A lot of people enthusiastically took our meal plan that we created.

My partner Erin on the right and me on the left.

My partner Erin on the right and me on the left.

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Erin, our professor who sponsored us for the symposium, and me.

It was a great experience that I’m very grateful to my professor for providing us with. I generally don’t do so well with crowds and talking in front of people I don’t know, but I know it’s something I need to get used to and this allowed me to get some practice.

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National Nutrition Month and Healthy Challenge Check-In

March first begins National Nutrition Month! If I’d had more time to plan, maybe I would do some sort of theme on the blog for this month, but since my blog tends to be food and nutrition oriented anyway, I’ll just go with posting whatever comes up.

So far I’ve had some good days and some not-so-good days with improving my eating for the Spring Healthy Vegan Challenge. I had some deadlines for school assignments last week and not a lot of food options at home, so I did get some Whole Foods pizza for dinner one night (cheeseless with lots of veggies at least!) and ate a frozen Masala Burger (they are actually pretty tasty) from Trader Joe’s another. Yesterday afternoon, however, I was able to do some grocery shopping and stock up on some more veggies and healthy staples. I made this colorful and delicious cauliflower and cashew curry by Dianne Wenz, aka Veggie Girl, for dinner and served it over brown rice. I added cubed sweet potato and a frozen veggie mix that included peas, lima beans, green beans, carrots, and corn instead of the green beans in the recipe and extra red Thai curry paste because I’m a spice/bold flavor lover.

spring break 003spring break 010 Someone got her camera back!

Spring break officially started for me yesterday after class, so this week I’m looking forward to making some healthy food at home and working on my symposium project research. I know, I totally know how to do spring break! This is the difference between being in school in your late teens/early 20s and being in school in your 30s :)

This morning I had a slice of toasted, sprouted, whole-grain bread with a smear of spinach hummus (not pictured). For a late-morning snack I made a cherry-blueberry smoothie with frozen fruit and just enough unsweetened soymilk to blend it.

smoothie

We have very little natural light in our apartment for better photos, sadly.

For lunch I’m planning on making a wrap with an Ezekiel sprouted tortilla, some baked Italian tofu, onion sprouts, carrot, tomato, avocado, red onion, and a bit of the spinach hummus. For dinner we’ll probably have leftover curry.

I’m still working on the getting motivated to exercise part. Yoga break today, perhaps?

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PPEP Dinner

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Beautiful raw cruciferous salad

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the second Practitioners Promoting Eating Plants dinner in Bloomfield Hills. This is a group of health professionals, students, and people interested in their own health who, you guessed it, promote or follow a plant-based (vegan) diet. It was held in the beautiful home of a registered nurse, raw foods chef, and Food for Life Instructor, Sue. Around 35-40 people attended and it was so wonderful to be around so many like-minded people! I met doctors, nurses, registered dietitians, fellow students, cooking instructors, a documentary filmmaker, a local bulk-foods business owner, a psychologist, cancer survivors, and more.

Sue made us the most delicious, mostly raw, dinner I have ever had! Luckily, I borrowed my boyfriend’s camera and was able to take some shots.

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Raw beet and apple salad

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A creamy, cashew dill dip

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Raw kale salad

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My beautiful, colorful plate

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A raw, apple spice bar. So delicious!

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Fruit kabobs

Not pictured: Butternut squash soup shooters, fresh spring rolls that we rolled ourselves, a roasted tomato and quinoa salad, french lentil and wild rice salad, and a roasted vegetable platter. There was an abundance of amazing food! Even though I stuffed myself (and went for seconds) I still felt energetic and good.

I definitely hope to be able to make as many future meetings as possible. I feel so inspired after meeting so many great people doing wonderful things to promote health! This dinner was mostly a networking opportunity, but I wonder if future events might involve some sort of health topic presentation or other activity? Not that it wasn’t perfect to just talk and eat!

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American Heart Month

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Apparently February is American Heart Month but I must either be living under a rock or they aren’t doing a very good job of promoting it, because I haven’t heard anything about it until now. Actually, a friend mentioned earlier this month that some organization (I want to say the American Heart Association, but I’m not positive) was giving out free doughnuts in his work lobby to promote heart health awareness, ack! So many things wrong with that. Why not apples or even nuts?

Heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States among both men and women and claims the lives of 1 in 4 Americans each year, which means 600,000 people. And that number doesn’t include the amount of people who have heart attacks and don’t die from them (at least not right away). The best news about heart disease is that it’s completely preventable and even reversible! We can affect the outcome of our heart health simply by eating a proper diet, exercising, not smoking, drinking alcohol only moderately, and managing our stress.

What exactly is a “proper diet?” According to The American Heart Association, a heart-healthy diet looks something like this:

As part of a healthy diet, an adult consuming 2,000 calories daily should aim for:

  • Fruits and vegetables: At least 4.5 cups a day
  • Fish (preferably oily fish): At least two 3.5-ounce servings a week
  • Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce-equivalent servings a day
  • Sodium: Less than 1,500 mg a day
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: No more than 450 calories (36 ounces) a week

Other Dietary Measures:

  • Nuts, legumes and seeds: At least 4 servings a week
  • Processed meats: No more than 2 servings a week
  • Saturated fat: Less than 7% of total energy intake

The American Heart Association recommends that you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily.  Remember, even simple, small changes can make a big difference in living a better life.

Dr. Esselstyn, a plant-based doctor who has reversed his patients’ heart disease with diet and the guy responsible for getting Bill Clinton to go plant-based to improve his heart health, would go even further to say people should eat an oil-free, plant-based diet. Ditch the meat completely, no dairy, just whole plant foods. My favorite quote from Dr. Esselstyn:

If the truth be known coronary artery disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never ever exist and if it does exist it need never ever progress.

Dr. Esselstyn isn’t the only doctor who has found that a plant-based diet can be used to treat heart disease. Dr. Dean Ornish has also conducted clinical research with his patients with great results. His program is proven and Medicare covers Dr. Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease. 

Of course, diet is one piece of the puzzle. All around healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise, not smoking, and handling stress well (we all have it!) are important to heart and overall health.

This ties into the research I’m doing right now for a symposium presentation at my college next month. My partner and I are studying the effects of vegetarian and vegan diets on health, specifically heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes. Some of the current research from the EPIC-Oxford study has shown that vegetarians have a 32% lower chance of hospitalization or death from heart disease than nonvegetarians. Studies on vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists have also shown them to have lower heart disease mortality, as well. And that is just the tip of the mountain of studies I have to read over…

I suppose what I’d like you to take away from this post is that we have an amazing amount of control over certain diseases that are rampant in our country. Please show yourself some love and take care of your heart! Eat lots of plants, do something relaxing when you’re under pressure (deep breathe, go for a walk, call a friend), and keep moving.

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