Posts Tagged ‘vegan’

Kickstart Your Vegan Diet

If you need help getting started with a vegan diet, here’s great news.  Some of the most well-informed, well-respected vegans in the country are pulling together their resources to bring you recipes, research, meal plans, and cooking tips.  It starts September 3 with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s 21-Day Vegan Kickstart.

I did the kickstart in April, and it was just what I needed.  It’s free and informative.  I tried new recipes and got to see what a healthy, plant-based, whole food diet looks like breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Check it out if you’ve been looking for an opportunity to get healthier or drop a few pounds.  You’ll be glad you did!

A Little Relief–Kids in the Kitchen

Let me show you something amazing. 

I know it doesn’t look like much, but I think these three little list will make my summer much easier.  In case I haven’t bellyached enough in previous posts, I work full-time, have four kids and two dogs, and live in a 1,000 square foot house.  Neither luxury nor time abound in my life.  On top of all that normal aggravation, I have made the commitment to be as vegan as I can be.  It’s not easy.  Being as vegan as I can be means that I can’t just pop a Stouffer’s lasagna in the oven or pour a bag of Chicken Voila in a skillet.  We can’t drive through Arby’s and get the 5 for $5 deal on the way to ball practice.  I can’t complain about it too much because it’s a commitment I made by choice and generally I’m very happy with the results.  However, on a busy weeknight, it’s difficult.

So, I have devised a plan and you’re looking at the beginning of it.  Last weekend we did something brilliant–we told two of the kids to decide what they wanted to fix for dinner.  They looked up recipes online and in magazines and wrote up their shopping lists.  I added their lists to my grocery list and got all their ingredients for them.  Then, I wrote down what we’d be eating for the whole week.  Now, when someone meets me at the front door 2 nanoseconds after I get home from work and asks, “What’s for dinner?”  I don’t have to blink.  I just read the plan straight off the fridge.

If you would like to engage your children a little more in dinner, I have a few tips.

1.  Most importantly, be prepared to eat it no matter what it is.  After all, if you want great food, fix it yourself.  If you want a break from kitchen slavery, don’t bite the hand that’s feeding you. 

2.  Don’t expect them to be able to choose a recipe and follow it right away.  For a child that’s under 8, let him make sandwiches or a simple salad.  If you’re worried about knives, find a child-safe knife.  I have a couple of child-safe pumpkin carving knives that my kids used when they were younger that did the trick just fine.  Older kids can make just about any pasta dish (if you drain the hot water.)  By the time a child is 12, she should be able to follow a recipe off a box and then out of a cookbook or magazine.

3.  Don’t help.  If you’re in the kitchen overseeing every last step, they’re not really making it on their own.  If you’re doing all the hard parts or all the tricky parts, they’re not going to have the satisfaction of doing it.  Of course, you will have to supervise novices at the stove or pull a hot dish out of the oven.  But, that’s all.  Leave them alone and let them learn.  If you think they don’t know how to do something, then teach them one night when you’re cooking or write down specific instructions for the hard parts.

4.  Warn the kids ahead of time that they will have to clean whatever they mess up.  Naturally, when dinner is over, you’re going to help clean up the kitchen.  But, if the kids don’t go into it with the idea that they’ll have to clean up their own mess, you’ll be in trouble.  Besides, the point of this whole exercise is to make your life easier.  Cleaning up after a culinary tornado is not my idea of taking the evening off.

Our experiment has just begun, but we’re happy so far.  Last night we had a sugar snap pea stir fry and Israeli couscous compliments of our 14-year old.  Tonight we’re having arugula and peach salad, corn on the cob, and coconut milk ice cream compliments of our 12-year old.  Not bad, huh?

Does Being a Healthy Weight Really Have to Be Like Having a Part-time Job?

If it does, I’m screwed.  I won’t do it, at least not for long. 

Recently, I’ve had a discussion going with some readers about whether or not being vegan is enough to ensure a healthy weight for the long term.  A couple of ideas have emerged from our discussion and warrant a little thought.

#1.  Not all vegan foods are healthy.

Absolutely.  Oddly enough, potato chips, PayDay bars, Coke and french fries are all vegan.  But, eat a serving of those bad boys more than a couple times a month and prepare to kiss your healthy weight goodbye.  It is for just this reason that I must clarify what I mean when I say “vegan.”  Vegan is a short cut for saying a “plant-based, whole food diet.”  It’s made up of food from plants in an un-processed state.  I don’t mean raw, just not shot full of chemicals that will cause it to have the shelf life of a nuclear warhead.

#2.  You can have too much of a good thing.

The thought here is that if you eat too much food, even healthy food, even vegan food, you will still gain or fail to lose unwanted weight.  True, there’s definitely no denying that.  (After all, cows, hippos, and rhinos are vegan–not exactly slim and sexy.)  However, have you ever looked at the caloric and nutritional content of beans, spinach, barley, strawberries, etc.?  You are liable to get a serious case of the trots from all that fiber before you get a chance to over indulge yourself.  I’m not saying that you can’t eat too much plant-based, whole food.  I’m just saying that you’ll have to try really hard.

#3.  No matter what you’re eating, you’ll still have to count calories.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and give my personal, yet well-informed opinion without citing any particular research.  (I know that such research exists, I just don’t feel like interrupting my typing groove by looking for it.  Check out anything by Dr. Neil Barnard.  He’s pretty much the premiere authority on all things nutrition.)  But, it makes sense to me that my body knows what to do with natural food.  It knows what to keep and what to discard.  When I’m eating natural, whole food, I get full and satisfied.  I get plenty of fiber to keep things moving along at a healthy pace.  I get plenty of nutrients to keep cells fed and regenerating.  My body does not have to treat the food I’m eating like toxic waste.  I don’t over work my liver, and therefore it is able to convert food to energy more efficiently.  

Call me crazy, but I have to assume that my body is as capable of taking care of itself as every wild animal’s running around.  (When was the last time you saw a fat squirrel.)  But, our consumption-crazed culture has thwarted our natural instincts and undermined our bodies’ regulatory capacities (thus, there are plenty of fat domestic animals–you know, animals fed by humans).  When we get out of our own way and feed ourselves the food we actually need to eat, our bodies will behave.

#4.  Not all vegans are naturally thin.

I assume that we’re talking about whole-food vegans and not potato-chip vegans otherwise this would be a ridiculous thing to discuss.  But I agree, not all vegans are thin.  Some are more curvy, not fat, just curvy.  Some seem to carry a few more pounds than others.  Some are a little stocky.  Some aren’t very defined.   Some are shaped liked apples.  Some are shaped like pears.  No shit.  In case you’ve forgotten biology class, no two humans are exactly alike.  The shape your body assumes as it grows, matures, and ages will be different than mine.  Not necessarily better or worse, but different.  If you’re deciding the merits of healthy eating based on whether or not people who eat healthy all look like movie stars prepare to be disappointed.  Some of us didn’t win the genetic lottery. 

My opinion about healthy weight has changed as I’ve gotten older and observed my grandparents.  My grandmother was about 5’4″ (she’s shrunk a little as she approaches 90), and she always fought her weight.  She was never fat, but only because she was always vigilant.  She hovered around 140-150.  If her weight crept up to 160, it wouldn’t stay long.  She’d cut out desserts and second-helpings and dive into whatever exercise was the latest craze until she was back into her size 12’s.  As she’s aged, she’s gotten smaller and smaller.  Now, at 89, she has to work to keep weight on.  I look at her healthy weight when she was 60 and it was about 20 pounds more than she wanted.  But, I think that she was just the right size for her stage in life.  Her body held on to a little extra and as she’s aged, it’s had a little extra to spare.  She’s avoided being frail and sickly.  She could get normal seasonal viruses and not turn into a walking corpse.  She still has round cheeks that make her face look cheerful.  (I thank God for genes that hold onto a few extra pounds.  I plan to save them for later when I’m old and I really need them.)  Some one could have looked at my grandmother and decided that her healthy way of eating wasn’t really all that great because she wasn’t all that thin.  They would have been wrong.  There is more to health than the number on the scale.

Men Think Eating Meat is Manly

VegNews Daily

Culture Affects Men’s Perception of Meat, Study Says

By Rashida Harmon | May 18, 2012

Researchers from numerous American universities have determined that men feel meat is manlier than vegetables.

Mainstream attitudes about veganism and manhood seem to be changing as more male celebrities adopt the diet, but apparently not everyone is convinced. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, many men continue to associate meat with masculinity and, conversely, conflate plant-based lifestyles with weakness. Analyzing the language subjects used to describe various foods, as well as their evaluation of men who follow different diets, researchers determined: “To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, all-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, all-American food. Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy.”

Ok, guys, I think this is pretty pathetic.  Greasy, fattening, bloody and bacteria-laden is not sexy.  Neither is obesity, diverticulitis, gout, heart disease, or constipation.  My husband is a big, hairy, sexy vegan!!

I need to lose a few pounds. Please pass me some carbs.

My biggest obstacle to being vegan is my own headtrash.  I’ve been told for so long that I need a certain amount of protein and that I need to stay away from carbs that I find that mindset sneaking back in.  In my gut I know that feeding oneself should not require a degree in chemistry.  But, in my head, I can’t always shake off all those tired old formulas for weight loss.

Yesterday, I  read a wonderful book that makes losing weight and keeping it off with a whole foods, plant-based diet simple.  It’s called Foods That Cause You to Lose Weight:  The Negative Calorie Effect by Dr. Neal Barnard.  Although this book is a compilation of some pretty technical research, Dr. Barnard’s conversational style makes it accessible.  He spells out in plain language how carbohydrates are used for energy, are not easily stored in the body as fat, and are the key to keeping your metabolism healthy.  I made it through the whole book in just a few hours while I waited for my son’s baseball practice to end.  Dr. Barnard’s explanations make sense and are grounded in science.  I’m going to make a conscientious effort to eat more grains (like brown rice, barley, and whole wheat pasta), beans (like black beans, chick peas, and lentils), vegetables and fruit.  In fact, I’m going to eat until I’m satisfied, and when I get hungry, I’m going to eat some more.  No deprivation allowed.  I’m just going to fill my plate with grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, and food that comes directly from them (like tempeh, soy milk, smoothies, low-fat vegan desserts, salads, cereals, breads, etc.) and enjoy!

Doesn't that look filling? I didn't make this dish of it, but I could...

Dr. Barnard’s work warrants lots of attention really.  I read another book of his last week called Breaking the Food Seduction:  The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings–and 7 Ways to End Them Naturally. 

I think this book might be the key to what I’ve been missing all along.  I have been fighting against my cravings my whole life.  I can beat them back for a while, but eventually I’ll have a moment (or month) of weakness and they’ll get me again.  How many times have I marveled at people who can eat a single slice of cake and then forget that the rest of it is beckoning from the kitchen?  How many times have I wished that I could be one of the people who could effortlessly pass the doughnuts in the break room at work?  Why is it that junk food has had such a hold on me when I don’t want it to?  How can I break away from it long enough to establish good eating habits that don’t dessert me at the first sign of stress?  I think Dr. Barnard might have the answers, and they lie in embracing a whole foods, plant-based diet rich in carbohydrates and low in fat.  If you struggle with emotional eating or stress eating or food cravings, you need to read and reread Breaking the Food Seduction. And, then you need to tell me what you think about it.

How much protein do we really need?

I get asked about protein and calcium every time I tell someone I’m trying to be vegan.  It amazes me how well we’ve all been brainwashed into believing that only meat has good protein and only milk has good calcium.

Let’s go over a few simple facts that have put my mind at ease about my potential deficiencies:

1.  Behind these questions about protein and calcium is the assumption that non-vegans have all the nutrition they need.  In fact, that is not always the case.  Vitamin D, C and E deficiencies are common among meat eaters.  Omega 3’s also have a tendency to be out of proportion with omega 6’s because of the inordinate amount of omega 6’s in processed foods.  Beta carotene intake is often lower than it should be, and so is fiber intake. Vegans, on the other hand, may have low levels of one B vitamin, but only if they don’t drink fortified soy milk, which I do. Otherwise, the vegan diet is complete without supplements.

2.  If increasing your protein made you thin, than the United States should be the thinnest country in the world.  We have a protein-heavy diet and yet we are getting fatter and sicker all the time.

3.  When was the last time you heard of a cow, hippo, giraffe, or whale with a protein or calcium deficiency?  They don’t eat meat.  They don’t drink milk once they’re adults.  The largest mammals in the world are vegan.  How many gorillas suffer from osteoporosis?  They don’t drink milk either once they’re out of their infancy. 

4.  Countries that consume the most dairy have  higher rates of osteoporosis.  The condition is almost unheard of in areas of the world where milk is not consumed (rural Asia).  Here’s why:  Excessive protein, like the type found in animal products, causes your body to become more acidic.  Your body, in order to keep its pH balanced, uses the calcium stored in your bones to bring your body chemistry into balance (like a Tums for your circulatory system).  Thus, your body loses calcium at a higher rate when animal products such as milk are consumed.  If you didn’t need to leach calcium out of your bones to straighten out your body chemistry, you wouldn’t need to consume such high amounts of it or risk lower bone density.  By the way, grown cows don’t drink milk.  They get their calcium the same way vegans do–from greens.

 I should follow the protein question with a few of my own.  The conversation may go like this:

“As a meat eater, where do you get your fiber since animal products don’t have fiber and a lack of fiber has been linked to certain cancers?”  …Pause for interesting answer…

“What about the calcium deficiency that comes from having an acidic pH?”…pause for another answer that will probably cite some experts called “they”….

“Where do you get your vitamins?”…pause for explanation of how some of their meat and cheese has vegetables under it in a salad…

I wouldn’t ask any of those questions obviously because that’s obnoxious and really none of my business.  Besides, meat eaters may have very complete, well-rounded diets.  They’d have to be very conscientious and plan their meals carefully to fit in all the nutrition they need without exceeding their caloric boundaries, but they could do it.  I respect that and wouldn’t dream of interrogating them over it.  Maybe someday my well-meaning friends will feel the same way about me.

Let’s Have Soup for Dinner

I made this soup last night pretty quick, and it was awesome.

This picture is from browneyedbaker.com. But, my soup looked just like this, I promise!

I’ve always considered Roasted Apple and Butternut Squash Soup to sound like something pretty difficult, but it certainly wasn’t.

First, cut a butternut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Put it cut-side-up in a baking pan.  Let 4 granny smith apples join it the exact same way, except peel it first.

You have to use granny smiths, or it won't be as good.

You can put this into a hot oven (425) for an hour or you can put this into a cooler oven (300) for a couple hours.  I opted yesterday for the cooler oven because I wanted to get some other things done.  The good news is that once you’ve done the roasting, you’re about 15 minutes from having dinner on the table.

When you think your squash and apples look pretty soft, chop up a medium-sized onion.  In a soup pot, saute the chopped onion in 3 tablespoons of oil, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper.  It will smell fabulous.  (If you’re having company or if you want to show off to neighbors, now is the time to invite them in.)

This is cardamom. Use it ground, of course. Don't leave it out. It's the cardamom and cinnamon combination that makes this soup great.

Turn the heat off your onions.  Scoop the flesh out of your butternut squash, and add the squash guts and apples to your onions.  Transfer all of the mixture to a mixing bowl.  (You’re going to blend up the soup in a blender and put it back into that soup pot to warm up for serving.)  If you’re vegan, you’ll need 5 cups of vegetable stock.  If you’re vegan-ish, you’ll need 5 cups of water and 5 cubes of chicken bouillion.  Blend a scoop of the mixture, 1 cup of water and a bouillion cube on high in blender or food processor until it’s smooth.  Pour it into the soup pot.  Repeat this process until all ingredients have been blended.

Heat your soup on the stove until you’re ready to eat.  Our soup last night went great with a veggie pizza.  Even my kids loved it, and a couple of them are ungrateful bastards!

Here’s a better copy of the recipe, if you’d like to see it:

Squash and Apple Soup

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