Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 5

STEP #5: TRY NEW PLANT-BASED FOODS & RECIPES!

Friends, this is where the real exciting adventure begins! Personally, I find this to be the most fun part of the journey. I think my family would agree, because they get to taste test lots of new plant-based breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas…not to mention baked and no-baked goodies! Think of yourself as a connoisseur or budding foodie on the trail of plant-based goodness, searching for delectable recipes to

incorporate into your family’s cooking repertoire. Your explorations will lead you to discover new tastes, colors and methods of cooking that you previously had not envisioned. Don’t be afraid to experiment! At worst, you just end up with a result that doesn’t taste great, but then just modify the recipe or try a different recipe.

New Tastes & Textures! – Dietitianmom.com

For myself, I never thought there would be such easy substitutions for eggs in baked goods (you could make a flaxmeal egg replacer or a chia seed egg replacer easily), or learn to appreciate the flavors within an Indian dish and even make a few Indian dishes myself! I am now using new spices like coriander, cumin and garam masala in my kitchen and have even made a vegan pumpkin pie using tofu as a base!

You might find some tastes and recipes that the family likes and some that they don’t like. But regardless, you will be awestruck at the wide array of existing and newly emerging whole foods plant-based recipes on the horizon through sources like the Internet, cookbooks, magazines, library resources, friends and acquaintances. For those with a ‘sweet tooth’ out there, you might be glad to find that there are actually a lot of plant-based foods out there that are naturally sweet, and fruits like dried figs and dates can be used to sweeten baked goods easily. Call them ‘Nature’s Candy’ if you will. There are also many easy vegan baked and no-bake treats that can be found through recipe sites on the internet, which don’t require fancy ingredients or a lot of time.

Here is another piece of good news. Currently, there is an abundance of plant-based alternatives on the market with new products continually emerging – you just need to be on the lookout for them in the grocery store, health food stores, ethnic food stores and online. Examples include soy based mozzarella or cheddar ‘cheeses’, dairy and soy free shredded ‘cheeses’, nutritional yeast fortified with vitamin B12, non-hydrogenated vegetable margarine, tofu dogs, tofu with different levels of firmness, veggie bologna, hemp hearts, ready-to-use nut and seed butters, ground flaxmeal, tempeh and a variety of calcium and vitamin D fortified plant-based milk alternatives. These commercial options make it much easier nowadays to maintain a plant-based diet, especially since you do not need to spend time processing or making some of these from scratch if you don’t have time (like making seed butters, tempeh or tofu!), though of course it is important to still choose whole foods where possible. It also helps tremendously that the world we live in now is a global market and foods from different countries are often imported into the nation. So take advantage of this!

Here are some key tips to assist you on your plant-based food journey:

* Don’t be afraid to try new recipes (or create your own!) and new ways of cooking (e.g., stir-fries, casserole dishes, salads, soups). If you have time, read the some reviews on a recipe before trying it. This will tell you if you need to modify the recipe, if you can use certain substitutions or whether the recipe is even worth trying! If you are just starting out in this plant-based realm, pick recipes that require 10 ingredients or less and don’t need exotic ingredients that are hard to source. There are many great plant-based vegetarian recipe websites on the Internet, with just some examples being www.chocolatecoveredkatie.com, www.plantplate.com and www.emmaslittlekitchen.com.

*Use your slow cooker! As mentioned in previous posts, the slow cooker is my new best friend, especially for recipes using legumes such as beans, split peas, and chickpeas. See below for some links to great recipes I’ve tried and tested already.

*Experiment with different nuts and seeds, including using flaxmeal in your cold and hot dishes.

*Experiment with making a variety of salads and using different toppings and dressings.

*Try different milk alternatives such as calcium and vitamin D fortified almond milk, soy milk, cashew nut milk and coconut milk. Some stores may also carry rice milk, pea milk and hemp milk. But be careful to choose the calcium and vitamin D fortified versions, as many organic and non-organic versions of milk alternatives are not calcium and vitamin D fortified. Due to the possible contamination of arsenic in rice milks, in the United Kingdom children under the age of 5 are not recommended to drink rice milk (read more about arsenic in foods here)

* Try new foods such as quinoa, chia and buckwheat

*Experiment making your own protein bars/snack bars (non-baking options and baked options available). These then become great snack options for you and your family.

* Try modifying existing recipes. For example, does a recipe call for butter in the graham cracker crust? Substitute with some vegetable oil, and it works pretty much just as well! Need an egg in a recipe? Try using an egg replacer like a ‘flax egg’ or a ‘chia egg’. Need to use cow’s milk in the recipe? Substitute with a fortified plant-based milk alternative like almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk.

Here is just a small sampling of the recipes available from the Internet. I’ve made these recipes and found them easy and delicious. My family agrees!
Slow Cooker Black Bean Pumpkin Chili
Lazy Lentil Burger
One Pot Vegan Mushroom Pasta
Slow Cooker Butter Chickpeas
Kung Pao Eggplant

Want more information? See my previous posts on this topic:
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 1 (Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 2 (Switch to Whole-Grain Options)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 3 (Choose Smart Snacks)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 4 (Increase Beans & Other Legumes)

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Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 4

In this post, I would like to touch on Step 4: Increasing Beans/Legumes in one’s diet.

STEP #4: INCREASE THE BEANS/LEGUMES

If you are already using legumes like black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, garbanzo/chickpeas, split peas, lentils, soy beans and/or peanuts in your diet, then this step is easy. You can simply increase the amount and how regularly you eat of this nutrient dense category in your diet.

However, if you have not really cooked with these before, then this can be a whole new territory! You may be wondering, “What exactly are legumes?” (to learn more about legumes click here) and “How do I cook them?” Some of you may also be wondering if eating legumes will cause you to have more gas or affect your digestive system in other unpleasant ways. Well, I did! Don’t worry! There are lots of ways to deal with these to help you successfully incorporate beans/legumes regularly into your diet. That’s another advantage of a slower gradual transition to a plant-based diet, as it will help your body gradually adjust to having a higher fiber and legumes diet. Today, let’s look more closely at a few different types of legumes.

Beans & Chickpeas

For those new to using beans and chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), the easiest way is to start with canned versions. Simply pop open a can, drain the liquid and then rinse the beans well before using. Some worry about the salt content in canned beans but it is really easy to remove much of the salt by properly rinsing and draining the beans. I usually open a can of beans into a colander, placing a plastic mixing bowl underneath. Then I fill up the colander with cold water, stir the beans a few times in the water, and then drain this liquid off by simply lifting the colander. I repeat this process a few times before using the beans in stir-fries, soups, making bean dips like hummus, slow cooker meals and other dishes. If you like, you can also let the beans sit in the cold water for a longer period before draining the liquid, to potentially help remove more salt content from the beans. Yes, it’s that easy! The benefits of using canned beans are that it is quick and easy, and also avoids the potential for toxic poisoning from phytohaemagglutinin. What is phytohaemagglutinin? Read on.

In plants, animals and humans, there exist certain naturally occurring proteins called lectins which have important functions. However, phytohaemagglutinin is a type of lectin that is found in many species of beans and can reach high levels in some plants, particularly in red kidney beans, and have toxic effects. As little as 4-5 raw beans can trigger symptoms such as nausea and vomiting a few hours after ingestion.  Slow cookers present a risk as the internal temperature of the food being cooked may not reach a high enough sufficient temperature to cook red kidney beans. Hence it may be best to use the canned versions of beans (especially red kidney beans) when making a slow cooker recipe.

To use dry beans in slow cooker recipes, take steps to ensure beans are cooked well before using and also by the end of the cooking process. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, it is recommended to soak dry beans in water for at least 5 hours, then boil the beans in fresh water for at least 30 minutes, before discarding this water and using the beans (for more information, see the Sources section below). If you are really worried, you can use canned red kidney beans instead of dry ones when you make a bean-based slow cooker recipe, or substitute the red kidneys beans in the recipe with a different type of beans.

In practice when I work with dry beans, I tend to soak the quantity I want to use in a large pot of cold water overnight. Then the next day, I would drain the water and boil them in fresh water on the stove for at least 30 minutes before using. This helps to reduce the overall cooking time tremendously (in the actual recipe used) and also ensures that the beans are cooked before I discard the water and throw the beans in the slow cooker.

Lentils & Split Peas

There are many different types of lentils, coming in a range of sizes and colors such as yellow, red-orange, green, brown, and black. However, you will usually find red lentils most commonly at the local grocery store, followed by green or brown lentils. Lentils are a powerhouse of nutrients: just a small quarter cup of raw red lentils provides 10 grams of protein, and a quarter cup of green lentils provides 12 grams of protein! In my opinion red lentils are the easiest to cook, and one that I recommend starting out with initially. First, sort through the quantity of lentils to be used to remove small stones or other debris, before rinsing it in cold water (again I usually use my colander and mixing bowl combo) and draining the liquid. Then simply cook 1 cup dried red lentils to 3-4 cups of water, bringing the water to a gentle boil and then simmering on the stove for about 15-20 minutes (or until tender).  Remove the lentils and drain out the excess cooked water before using the lentils in the dish of choice. I like to season cooked red lentils with garlic powder, cumin and possibly a dash of onion powder. Brown and green lentils are firmer and hold their shape better with cooking. For faster cooking, soak the green/brown lentils overnight. Using canned lentils is also an option – just rinse and drain well first to remove as much of the salt content as possible.

Split peas come in green and yellow varieties. Dried split peas usually need a lot of soaking in order to be able to reduce cooking times. I find it helps to soak a batch overnight, even if I plan to put it in the slow cooker or on the stove the next day.

(Sources:

  1. Food and Drug Administration. Bad Bug Book, Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins. Second Edition. [Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins, pp. 254]. 2012. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/UCM297627.pdf. Accessed March 15, 2017.
  2. Allen K, Proctor D. Killer Kidney Beans? http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/FN_FQE_2014-01pr.pdf. October 2014. Accessed March 15, 2017.)

Want more information? See my previous posts on this topic:
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 1 (Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 2 (Switch to Whole-Grain Options)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 3 (Choose Smart Snacks)

Kitchen Spotlight: Beets!

 

beets2

Care to Try Some Beets? – Dietitianmom.com

When a friend passed me some huge home grown beets, I was excited to use them. Although I had not incorporated these into my cooking repertoire yet, I had heard that beets were a great healthy food choice and the internet is rife with praise for these red colored giant turnip-like vegetables. However, it made me curious. Just what exactly are the actual health benefits of eating them or what is the current research saying? Here is the result of my investigation:

The taproot portion of the beet plant, beets are known by many other names such as beetroot or sugar beets. It has been in use since Roman times, exists in various cultivated varieties and most people may not be aware that they are actually ingesting beets as it is used as a common food coloring agent called E162.

Nutritional value: A half cup of sliced cooked beets (about 85 grams in weight) provides a good source of fiber (1.7 grams), protein (1.43 grams) and iron (0.67 milligrams). This is equivalent to a small apple but 4 times the protein content, and more than 7 times its iron content! Beets also provide many other nutrients like potassium, zinc, magnesium, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E and B vitamins. Comparing the raw and the cooked (boiled, drained) versions, the two forms are comparable in nutritional value. The main difference between eating the raw version versus the cooked is that you get a measurable amount more folate (about 40 micrograms Dietary Folate Equivalents more per 100 gram weight).

Beets are a rich source of phytochemical compounds like nitrate, betalain pigments, ascorbic acid, carotenoids, phenolic acids and flavonoids. Research is showing that many of these compounds display strong  antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and chemo-preventive properties. Hence its consumption may be a health benefit in many areas, such as  in the prevention and treatment of certain chronic diseases like hypertension, heart disease, liver disease and cancer. Many of beets’ constituents are potent antioxidants, helping to keep our body’s cells in a state of redox balance. This means intake of these and other fruits or vegetables high in antioxidants help to fight excessive reactive oxygen and nitrogen species generated within the body from internal and external causes.  Beets may also increase the body’s existing internal antioxidant defenses, leading to a synergistic effect. In terms of inflammation, investigations so far are revealing that betalains and beet extracts may help to block pro-inflammatory signaling cascades, weakening the progression of chronic inflammation which is implicated in many chronic medical conditions. The role of beets’ compounds are also being further investigated in areas such as cognitive function and endothelial function both in the laboratory and on actual human subjects.

So the next time you see beets on offer at the store, try them! My husband and preschooler were skeptical trying these, but after cooking it a few different ways, these now make a regular appearance on our dinner table. See upcoming posts on some recipe ideas for ways to serve beets!

(Sources:

  1. Clifford T, Howatson G, West DJ, Stevenson EJ.  The potential benefits of red beetroot supplementation in health and disease. Nutrients. 2015 Apr 14;7(4):2801-22. doi: 10.3390/nu7042801. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425174/. Accessed September 26, 2016.
  2. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov. )

 

Kitchen Spotlight: Okra

In this “Kitcheokran Spotlight” post, we’ll move South and take a look at a favorite staple: Okra. Usually recognized by its green exterior, and sticky or slimy texture when cooked, few are aware that okra can come in red and purple colors as well. It is native to Africa, and there are nearly 20 different varieties of this vegetable.

One cup of raw okra (100 grams in weight) is composed of nearly 90 percent water, but a decent amount of fiber (3.2 grams), potassium (299 milligrams), some iron (0.62 milligrams), as well as small amounts of B vitamins, and the vitamins C, K, A and E. One cup of raw okra actually contains as much calcium (82 milligrams) as about 2 ½ cups of raw spinach (30 grams in weight)! When cooked, it is a good low carbohydrate choice suitable for those with diabetes, because a half cup of sliced boiled okra without salt (80 grams in weight) only yields 3.6 grams of carbohydrate. When boiled and drained, okra still provides approximately 2 grams of fiber, 62 milligrams of calcium, 0.22 milligrams of iron along with small amounts of the other nutrients. Okra also contains the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Since most of the fiber in okra is soluble fiber, it is comparable to beans, barley, oats and apples in terms of health benefits.

Okra makes a great side dish or an addition to the main entrée when cooking stews and curries such as Indian bhindi curries and in African curries. It works well in combination with tomatoes, onion, corn or beans. You can choose to grill, fry, stir-fry or roast whole okra for a crisp and tender dish. Here are few ways to prepare and serve okra from the kitchen:

  • Use in gumbo (a New Orleans specialty creole stew)
  • Defrost frozen sliced or whole okra, then roll in cornmeal before baking.
  • Quickly steam and season whole pods, or lightly oil and season them before roasting on a sheet pan
  • Quickly sauté okra and flavor with lime and cilantro before using in traditional Mexican dishes, in place of nopal cactus
  • Pickle whole okra pods in vinegar
  • Pressure cook sliced fresh okra for one minute to yield a pleasant crunch

If frozen, okra can remain frozen in the freezer for up to 24 months. Enjoy experimenting with this vegetable!

(Sources:

  •  Nussinow J. Okra. Food & Nutrition Magazine, July/August 2013 Edition.
  • USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov. )

 

 Kitchen Spotlight: Apples

In this “Kitchen Spotlight” post, we’ll take a snapshot look at an all-time American (and likely around the world in other countries) favorite: apples. Apples are a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber and contain phytochemicals (an example would be flavonoids such as quercetin). Carbohydrates are the main macronutrient, but apples also contain quite an array of micronutrients such as vitamin C, B vitamins, vitamin A and E, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and fatty acids – though all in very minute amounts. A general comparison of the nutrient profile of a medium apple with and without skin on shows that an apple with skin has roughly 2 grams more fiber than the alternative, and packs just a little bit more of certain nutrients such as vitamins A, E, and K.  However, choose your apples carefully. Due to high pesticide levels found in U. S. grown apples, it is best to go with New Zealand grown apples and/or organic varieties where possible. ConsumerReports has found that while washing apples well in water will help reduce some of the surface pesticide residues, peeling may not be as effective as most think in reducing pesticide load (see source citation below for more information).

As it turns out, apples shine in the kitchen too by being versatile cooking ingredients. Although we tend to think of just apple pies, apple crisps and candied apples, apples can actually be incorporated into a variety of other ‘non-dessert’ recipe food items. Here are 5 lesser known ways you can use apples in your food:

  • Combine fresh apple slices or frozen diced versions with roasted or sautéed vegetables (e.g., root vegetables, cabbage or Brussel sprouts)
  • Instead of syrups, use a chunky applesauce or make your own version of a lightly sweetened diced apple topping to use on breakfast pancakes, waffles or French toast
  • Blend unsweetened applesauce into squash or potato soups or mash unsweetened applesauce into sweet potatoes
  • Combine with meats such as apple slices on top of roasted pork loins for added flavor or mix unsweetened applesauce into a meatloaf
  • Reduce the fat content in baked recipes by substituting some of the fat from butter with applesauce or apple butter (e.g., gingerbread, quick bread, muffins, breakfast bars)

So the next time you pick up an apple, take a moment to think about where it’s from, and how you’ll use it in the kitchen!

(Sources:

The Wonders of Kale

 

kaleleaves3

I’m sure we’ve all heard of this wonder vegetable before, but what’s really so great about kale? From far and up close it just looks like a bunch of thick dark curly leaves. Isn’t it just like any of the other dark leafy greens? I decided to do a bit of investigating. As it turns out, kale is really a lot more than a ‘one hit wonder’!

Kale is part of the Brassica family, which includes cruciferous vegetables like Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage. There are actually 3 varieties of kale (curly, ornamental and dinosaur types). The benefits of eating kale are enormous. One cup of chopped raw kale provides almost 3g of protein, 2.4g fiber, 100mg calcium, nearly 1mg of iron, 80mg vitamin C, 335µg vitamin A and 472µg vitamin K. In fact, leafy greens like collard greens, turnip greens, spinach, mustard greens and Swiss chard all pale in comparison to kale in terms of these nutrients. One cup of raw chopped kale actually has 3 times more calcium and protein than spinach, 4 times more vitamin A than mustard greens, and about the same amount of vitamin C as an orange. Along with important anti-cancer antioxidants like carotenoids and flavonoids , kale also provides eye-health promoting lutein and zeaxanthin compounds. And all this for only about $1 US dollar for a raw bunch!

So how can you eat kale? Incorporate it into your cooking like other green leafy vegetables. For example, use kale in a salad, throw chopped kale into stews, soups, lasagna, quiche, pasta or add sautéed kale onto pizza. If you’re more adventurous, make pesto sauce with it, turn it into ‘kale’slaw (instead of using cabbage), blend it into green smoothies or even use it instead of flour/corn tortillas as a burrito shell. Heck, I bet you can even steam or boil and blend it down to make a kale puree for baby. I feel I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of incorporating this power veggie into my family!

Toddler Won’t Eat? Tips for Over Ones (Part 2)  

As a follow up to my first post  [Toddler Won’t Eat: Tips for Over Ones (Part 1)], I’ll like to provide 6 more tips that may help encourage and get your toddler eating:

Respect Independence/Share Responsibility
One of the marks of toddlerhood is an increasing sense of independence and desire to do things by one self. A good example is a toddler wanting to feed himself or herself with a spoon or fork without parental help. Such growing independence should be respected and encouraged, and this would mean an increasingly shared responsibility when it comes to meals/snacks. It’s helpful to remember Ellyn Satter’s ‘Division of Responsibility’ model where the parent decides what foods to serve and when to serve them. It is then the child’s responsibility to determine if he/she wants to eat and how much.

Limit the High Calorie Low Nutrient Drinks/Snacks
Like most of us, it’s often never a problem to get children to eat high calorie but low nutrient foods and snacks like soda, juices, chips, cookies, chocolate, doughnuts…you name it. But understandably a child can easily fill up on these foods and then not be hungry for more nutritious foods. So make an effort to limit or avoid giving those high calorie drinks like soda and fruit juices for your child, and limit milk intake as well to no more than a maximum of 18-24 ounces a day (especially if there are already other dairy rich sources in the child’s diet). As one fellow mom shared, she has a ‘one sweet item at home at a time (e.g., sugar cookies)’ rule–this might work for your home as well.

Offer a Variety!
It is important to keep offering those new foods, even if your child is in the midst of a food jag. Offer a variety of age-appropriate foods-even if it means offering the same food 10-15 times! Keep in mind that the same food presented in different forms may be considered new foods to your child (e.g., a boiled egg versus a scrambled egg). My now 20 month old toddler seems to be getting a bit more choosy and taste/texture sensitive (or as my sister says, “she now has a more sophisticated palate!”) so she is more wary of trying and accepting new foods which look different and have an unfamiliar texture. This is case with foods she used to enjoy in late babyhood like lentil shepherd pie but which I didn’t give her to eat for some time. But I have found some success with modeling my enjoyment and presenting the new food many times so that becomes a regular part of her diet. So my advice? Treat the ‘2 years and under’ period as a real window of opportunity to get your child exposed to as wide a variety of foods as possible. After that, it does get a bit more challenging but it can still be done!

Respect Eating Preferences (to a Degree…):
Foods eaten today may not be eaten tomorrow, like small pieces of broccoli versus the stems. Your child may also react differently to the same foods on different days. It is not necessary to always offer a substitute food. At times, you go with the flow because the child will most likely grow out of this and at other times you find a way to work around it. For example, my daughter at one point decided she only wanted to eat the crusts of sandwiches (which have the least filling) instead of the center white part where the filling was spread. So what did I do? I just served ‘crustless sandwich squares’ for a few weeks until she was used to eating those. Then I switched back to giving the regular sandwiches. It worked!

Don’t Be a Short Order Cook
In Part 1 of my post on this subject, I’ve already mentioned about the importance of sticking to a regular meal/snack schedule. This will often mean 3 meals and 2-3 snacks, as toddlers have small tummies, though some children eat 3 larger meals during the day and seem happy to go without snacks in between. If a toddler is not excessively hungry, he or she will be less grouchy and more willing to eat at meals. If the child won’t eat, still have him sit at the table until most of the family members have finished eating within reason.

If your toddler refuses a meal or snack, you can give another one in another hour or two and she can wait till then. If she was hungry but chose not to eat, she will be more likely to eat what is offered next time. Even if your toddler eats very little or not anything at all, be assured that he/she will make up the nutrition later that day or later in the week. Recently my toddler’s dinner was delayed by over an hour, because she had a late lunch and I (unwisely) gave her an afternoon snack as well. So the rest of the family had our dinner while she continued playing. An hour later, she was famished and ate all her dinner within 15 minutes! I’m glad I didn’t try to make her a different meal, but I did learn that the next time she has a late lunch I probably need to skip the afternoon snack!

Dessert
If you want to give your child dessert, know that you don’t need to offer it with every meal or even everyday. But if you do offer dessert, don’t make it a weapon. This means don’t withhold the dessert if your child refuses to eat. Otherwise your toddler will quickly realize that dessert must be better and something good, and will start to evaluate foods into different categories instead of being on the same standing. In our household yogurt is the sweeter second course for dinner, and often fruit is the dessert that we give at the end of the meal. So think of alternatives that you can give to the traditional dessert foods!

 

As always, make the meal time atmosphere as inviting and pleasant as possible. Have pleasant conversation, a clean and bright eating space, music if desired and limit distractions like TV viewing (and arguing). You can even inject a bit of fun into meal times for older toddlers/children by having themed nights and themed food. This can be as simple as a dress up, color themed food/dress, taco night or breakfast for dinner night!