Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 3

Getting hungry? -Dietitianmom.com


Hello there! Previously, I had provided an overview of a whole foods plant-based diet and discussed the first 2 steps of transitioning to such a diet. These were “Step 1: Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies” and “Step 2: Switch to Whole-Grain Options” (see posts Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction, Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 1, and Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 2). In this post, I would like to touch on Step 3: Choosing Smart Snacks.

Tahini Raisin & Flaxmeal Crackers – Dietitianmom.com

STEP #3: CHOOSE SMART SNACKS
Need something to tide you over until lunch or dinner? Children tend to need to eat more frequently than adults, so would often benefit from snacks between meals. There are a few key reasons why. Children, especially younger children, tend to have high energy levels and smaller stomach capacities. In general, a whole foods plant-based diet tends to consist of foods that have a higher fiber but lower caloric content. Hence, due to the higher fiber content of these foods consumed, it is possible that in some cases a child could feel full easily at meals with their smaller stomachs, but receive inadequate calories for overall optimal growth.

 

 

Fruit Wedges with Seed Butter & Walnut Dotted Banana Coins – Dietitianmom.com

For adults, you may also feel the need to have snacks in between meals, especially if you find you are becoming more active, and if your metabolism revs up with the switch to a whole foods plant-based diet. That’s the best part of a whole foods plant-based diet – on such a ‘diet’, you actually don’t need to watch your caloric intake or restrict yourself unnecessarily in terms of how many times a day you eat, AS LONG as the foods you choose to consume are ALL whole foods plant-based foods. So this does not mean you can snack endlessly on cookies, candies, cakes, biscuits and other processed high refined sugar and high fat commercial foods since they are ‘vegetarian’. As mentioned before, being a ‘junk food vegetarian’ will negatively impact your health and reduce your intake of phytochemical nutrient-rich health boosting foods which you could be eating instead.

So it’s alright to have snacks frequently on a whole foods plant-based diet, but choose your snacks wisely! Try these tasty more nutrient dense options:

*A handful of nuts and/or seeds (e.g., pumpkin seeds, sunflower, pine nuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts)
* A piece of whole fresh fruit (kiwi, apples, grapes, melon slices, oranges, grapefruit, pears…you name it! These also work great as dessert after meals!)
* Dried fruit (e.g., dried apricots, figs, dates, raisins)
* Vegetable or fresh fruit slices with spreads or dips (e.g., bell pepper slices, carrot sticks, celery sticks)
* Soy spreads, seed butters  (such as tahini, pumpkin seed and sunflower seed butters) and nut butters (examples include almond,  cashew nut, and peanut butters)
*Vegetable and/or bean based dips such as hummus and guacamole
*Fruit/vegetable combination smoothies
*Fruit salads
*Vegetable salads
*Whole-wheat bread/pitas/tortillas for dipping into hummus or spread with nut butters for quick easy sandwiches or burritos
*High calcium and/or high iron cereal
*Bean-based or vegetable soups with whole-wheat pasta
*Soy-based or other vegan cheese slices and whole wheat crackers

 

Banana Sunflower Seed Butter Sandwiches – Yum! Dietitianmom.com

You can mix and match the above to create lots of tasty combinations! My current favorite is a sunflower seed butter sandwich with sliced banana wedges! Other ideas are a bowl of a bean-based vegetable soup with whole-wheat pasta, or some soy-based/vegan cheese slices with whole wheat crackers. Or you could have a quick bowl of calcium and iron fortified cereal with fortified almond/soy/coconut milk (and sprinkled with nuts or dried/fresh fruit on top!). Don’t forget about home-made vegetarian baked and no-bake treats which also make great snack options! Many such easy recipe ideas can be found on the internet, which don’t require fancy ingredients or a lot of time. The possibilities are really endless!

 

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Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 2

 

Choose Whole-Grain Options! Dietitianmom.com

In this post, let’s look at the second step of transitioning to a whole foods, plant-based diet.

STEP #2: SWITCH TO WHOLE-GRAIN OPTIONS

This is an easy 2nd step. Right here, you can immediately make a big difference to your diet by choosing whole-grain options the next time you go grocery shopping. Examples are brown rice, whole wheat flour, bran, whole wheat tortillas, whole-grain pasta and whole-wheat breads or bread products. The increase in nutrient and fiber content in these alternatives will help to keep you fuller after meals and cause your blood glucose levels to rise less dramatically post-meals. For instance, 1 cup (85 grams in weight) of whole grain pasta contains as much as 3 times the fiber content and slightly more protein and iron than an equivalent cup of white refined pasta! Another example are bagels. A regular bagel will provide approximately 2 grams of fiber but a whole wheat bagel can provide as much as 7 grams of fiber so more than three times the amount!  If you are worried about the cost factor, there are a few ways to get around this. Buy and store up larger packages of whole grain pasta if brands carry a larger more economical packaged option, or purchase the regular sized packages at larger grocery stores where the prices tend to be lower. Another idea is to keep your eye out for discounts and sales at your local grocery store and stock up when the prices drop (but take note of expiry dates!).

A note about rice: when purchasing rice, be careful to note the country and place of origin due to the varying levels of arsenic found in rice grown in different parts of the world. To reduce one’s intake of arsenic, rice from California in the United States and India are generally among the safer options to purchase, but it is best to avoid rice grown in the southern part of the United States. There are also ways to cook the rice to reduce the arsenic content within it. A recent news article brought attention again to the arsenic content within rice and the importance of being careful of your method of cooking to reduce arsenic levels. See also my previous posts on this important subject [Arsenic & Rice (Part 1): Why this Affects You and Your Family, Arsenic & Rice (Part 2): Action Steps You Can Take Right NOW, Arsenic & Rice (Part 3): What Are Others Saying About It?, Qn of the Month: How Can I Reduce the Arsenic Content of Rice Through Cooking?].

(Source:
Common method of cooking rice can leave traces of arsenic in food, Queen’s University Belfast scientist warns. Belfast Telegraph. Published February 8, 2017. http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/health/common-method-of-cooking-rice-can-leave-traces-of-arsenic-in-food-queens-university-belfast-scientist-warns-35434905.html. Accessed February 22, 2017.)

 

Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 1

doubleveggies1

Double Up the Nutrition! – Dietitianmom.com

In my first post on this subject (see Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction), I gave a simple overview of what a whole foods plant-based diet is, and some of the key steps involved in a transition to such a diet. Based on our family’s experience in this transition phase, we have found the following simple steps below helpful:

Step 1: Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies
Step 2: Switch to Whole-Grain Options
Step 3: Choose Smart Snacks
Step 4: Increase Beans & Other Legumes
Step 5: Try New Plant-Based Foods & Recipes!

In this post, let’s look at the first step.

STEP #1: HALVE THE MEAT & DOUBLE THE VEGGIES
This is an obvious initial step. But it takes some forethought. If you’ve been so used to having meat as the main entrée for every lunch and dinner, how do you really make the switch?

Well, it first takes a change in mindset. If you’ve been viewing meat as a key source of protein, you will likely be worried about what to replace it with. But be assured that in western developed countries such as America, one’s intake of protein is generally more than adequate and usually exceeds the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) protein recommendations. In general it is estimated that the average person needs only about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So halving the meat won’t suddenly cause you to have an inadequate overall protein intake. You will likely still be getting enough on a daily basis. Also don’t forget that vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grain products provide protein too, so you will still be getting protein from these sources. For example, one avocado provides approximately 4.6 grams of protein, a cup of chopped boiled broccoli provides about 3.7 grams of protein and a cup of cooked black beans gives 15 grams of protein!

Here’s an easy way to reduce the portion of meat used in recipes. Does the recipe call for 6 ounces of ground meat? Use 3 ounces. Another way to do this is to just increase the amount of vegetables used in the recipe, which is easy to do for meals such as stir-fries and casseroles. For instance, does the recipe call for one chicken breast and a chopped bell pepper? Simply cook two or three bell peppers with the one chicken breast, then eat it over more meals. That way, the amount of animal protein per serving is much reduced. This works well for a variety of dishes such as stir-fries, casserole/lasagna dishes, pasta sauces and soups.

Here are 5 other SUPER simple ways to cut down on the animal protein intake and increase vegetables:

Increase the ratio of vegetable dishes to meat dishes on the dinner table
One method of doing this is to ensure that there are always at least 2 veggie dishes and only one meat-based dish at lunch or dinner. Vegetable side dishes could be a salad, stir-fry, roasted vegetables side dish, steamed or roasted winter root vegetables, or even vegetable kabobs.

Reduce or replace ground meat in a recipe
I’ve found that the ground beef, chicken, turkey, pork or other meat called for in a recipe can be easily reduced (to even a quarter of the recipe!) and the dish powered up with vegetables, without losing the taste of the dish. In some cases, I’ve even substituted some of the meat I removed from the recipe with lentils or beans instead, with good results. For example, one could add veggies and reduce the ground meat or eggs in a dish (e.g., adding onions, carrots and bell peppers to a traditional scrambled egg and tomato dish).

Reduce meat to once a day
Stick to just having an animal based protein source at dinner, or just at lunch, instead of having it for every meal over the course of a day.

Reduce meat to a few times a week
Have meat at a meal a few times a week, instead of every day. Just as some have a ‘Meatless Monday’ vegetarian dinner once a week, you could aim to have an animal based protein source on certain set days of the week, making it more the exception rather than the norm. Or just go for a ‘Meat Monday’ instead!

Try a weekly vegetarian slow cooker recipe
One easy way to eat a more plant-based meal especially during busy weeknights, is to cook a big vault of a bean-based slower cooker meal once a week (to last 3-4 days). So the first part of the week you could prepare a greater variety of meals. In the latter half of the week, prepare a main entrée using the slow cooker and then serve vegetable sides to go with this main vegetarian entrée over the rest of the week, along with a grain staple like rice, couscous, quinoa, barley or whole grain pasta. By the middle of the week you’re probably already feeling drained from work and cooking anyway, so why spend more time than necessary in the kitchen? Just whip up a slow cooker meal!

Some of you must be wondering: why do I say increase the veggies and not fruit? Of course fruits should also be increased with vegetable intake. But I am focusing more on the veggies because most of us tend to eat more fruits than vegetables on a daily basis anyway. And who can blame us? Fruit is usually sweet!

Of course, if you like, you can cut down on the animal based protein more drastically immediately, but dropping halfway may be a more realistic first step. After you (and your family) are used to the reduced consumption of meat and other animal based protein, then you can slowly transition further off of animal-based protein, while increasing the proportion of other protein-rich plant-based foods such as nuts, beans and other legumes. This method will also help you use up all that meat sitting in your freezer!

Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction

Ready to Transition? Dietitianmom.com

Ready to Transition? Dietitianmom.com

A New Year marks a new beginning, and the chance to try new things or make changes that had previously seemed daunting. Last Fall, I read the book ‘The China Study’ by T. Colin Campbell (The China Study) and it changed my whole perspective on health and disease. I wasn’t aware that there was so much research already done supporting a whole foods plant-based diet in reducing one’s risk for diseases like diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and in some cases even improving the health outcomes even if a person already has these medical conditions. Apparently, the lower one’s intake of animal proteins is, the lower the risk of these negative health outcomes. Our family of four has since decided to transition to a whole foods plant-based diet. This poses some challenges when you have a 4 year old, a nearly 11 month old, and a freezer packed with meat! But we have already made some (successful) changes to our way of eating and I hope to share what we’ve learned along the way and the experiences of our journey to help those who are also thinking about making similar changes but don’t know where to start.

The main tenet of a whole foods plant-based diet is to consume primarily plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, while minimizing as much as possible animal-based proteins, excess oils as well as refined and processed foods high in fat and sugar. If you can remove all sources of animal proteins from your diet, even better! One reason behind reducing refined and processed high sugar/high fat foods from one’s diet is the tendency for these foods to take the place of more healthful nutrient dense foods that you would otherwise be consuming, so reducing your body’s intake of important nutrients, phytochemicals and minerals necessary for optimal health. A key reason for reducing excess oils in one’s diet, including vegetable oils, is so that a more desirable ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids intake can be achieved for optimal health.

It is best to go slow and make gradual changes to one’s diet. Of course you could go off meat and other animal protein products immediately cold turkey, but our family has found it more successful to make the changes gradually, as small successes empowered us to make further changes. You may find that this approach also helps your family transition more successfully to such a diet, especially if you are a busy household and don’t have much time right away to try or create completely new recipes. This method also helps you use up all that meat in the freezer anyway!

So where should you start? Successful transitioning to a plant-based diet involves five basic steps:

Step 1: Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies
Step 2: Switch to Whole-Grain Options
Step 3: Choose Smart Snacks
Step 4: Increase Beans & Other Legumes
Step 5: Try New Plant-Based Foods & Recipes!

In upcoming blog posts, I plan to touch on each of these steps in a bit more detail, and hope to also discuss a few tips for feeding children plant-based whole food diets. Stay tuned!

Mothers Aware: Breastfeed for Your OWN Health!

We often hear of the myriad of benefits a baby gets from breastfeeding and breastmilk. These range from the antibodies and immune enhancing properties provided by colostrum, the changing but tailored macronutrient composition of breastmilk as an infant grows, to the reduction of infant mortality and a quicker recovery during illness for infants exclusively breastfed.

But what about for mothers? The list of benefits is just as impressive. Although more studies are needed, current research is showing that mothers with gestational diabetes who breastfeed tend to have better blood glucose control, and likely longer term benefits such as a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome and more long-term continued function of the pancreas in insulin production. The improved glucose control seems to come via many routes such as better glucose utilization for milk production and increased insulin secretion and pancreatic beta cell mass caused by the hormone prolactin which increases through lactation. Other benefits of breastfeeding for mothers include better cardiometabolic profiles, improved blood pressure levels, quicker contraction of the uterus postpartum and reduced ovarian and breast cancer risks.

From personal experience, this seems to be true. For my first pregnancy I had more severe gestational diabetes, requiring blood glucose checks 4 times a day, and relatively strict diet control to maintain good blood glucose levels. However,  I subsequently breastfed my firstborn for 15 months. When it came time for my oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) during my second pregnancy, I was pleasantly surprised to see the results showing I had only borderline gestational diabetes. The doctor advised me that I only needed to check my glucose level once every day or so! As a result I had a much more relaxing second pregnancy and did not need to monitor everything I ate so closely, as my blood glucose levels staying mostly within range.  So mothers, breastfeed for your own health!

(Sources:

  1. Kalra B, Gupta Y, Kalra S. Breast feeding: preventive therapy for type 2 diabetes. J Pak Med Assoc. 2015; 65(10):1134-6. http://jpma.org.pk/PdfDownload/7505.pdf. Accessed May 15, 2016.
  1. Breastfeeding. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/topics/child/nutrition/breastfeeding/en/ . Accessed May 15, 2016.
  1. Gunderson EP. Impact of breastfeeding on maternal metabolism: implications for women with gestational diabetes. Curr Diab Rep. 2014; 14(2):460. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4146528/pdf/nihms558299.pdf. Accessed May 15, 2016.
  1. Rabin RC. Breast-Feeding Is Good for Mothers, Not Just Babies, Studies Suggest. The New York Times. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/23/breast-feeding-is-good-for-mothers-not-just-babies/. November 23, 2015. Accessed May 15, 2016.
  1. Much D, Beyerlein A, Roßbauer M, Hummel S, Ziegler AG. Beneficial effects of breastfeeding in women with gestational diabetes mellitus. Mol Metab. 2014; 3(3):284-292. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3986583/pdf/main.pdf. Accessed February 18, 2016.
  1. Ziegler AG, Wallner M, Kaiser I, Rossbauer M, Harsunen MH, Lachmann L, et al. Long-term protective effect of lactation on the development of type 2 diabetes in women with recent gestational diabetes mellitus. Diabetes.2012; 61:3167 – 3171. http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/61/12/3167.long. Accessed May 15, 2016.)

2015 Dietary Guidelines: In a Nutshell

2015DietaryGuidelines

For those who are not aware, last week the long awaited Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 were finally released. Every 5 years, the United States federal government releases these updated and revised dietary guidelines to guide policy on all levels, as well as individual decisions and eating patterns. Although some of the more controversial items were successfully lobbied out of the document, what’s nice about these new Guidelines are the greater amount of practical suggestions and visuals showing portion sizes which are very helpful, as well as the greater emphasis on healthy nutrition with physical activity following the Physical Activity Guidelines.

Here are the actual Guidelines (taken directly from the official website):

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.

So what’s worth noting? Here is a small snapshot of some of the information and resources contained within this key document:

  • Current picture in the United States
    • Eating patterns tend to be low in fruits, vegetables, dairy and oils, but exceed recommendations for calories, salt, sugar, and saturated fats.
    • Only about 1 in 5 adults are meeting the Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.
    • Key nutrients underconsumed by many individuals (in amounts below the Estimated Average Requirement or Adequate Intake levels) are potassium, dietary fiber, choline, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, D, E, and C, as well as iron (for 19-50 year old women).
  • More emphasis on Healthy Eating Patterns
    • Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern
    • Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern
    • Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern
  • Helpful resources include
    • Tables on estimated calorie needs and nutritional goals calculated based on specific factors such as age and gender
    • List of available federal resources and links on nutrition and physical activity
    • Tables on food sources (from most to least) of potassium, fiber, calcium, vitamin D

The table provided in the appendix section on the Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern with its different calorie levels, in particular, is a great tool to help oneself and the whole family gradually shift towards a healthier plant based diet, reducing chronic disease risk while still meeting key nutrient needs.

(Source: Department of Health and Human Services and United States Department of Agriculture, Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th edition. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines.  Accessed January 12, 2016.)

Arsenic & Rice (Part 3): What Are Others Saying About It?

To eat or not to eat? - Dietitianmom.com

To eat or not to eat? – Dietitianmom.com

In the 3rd part of this series, we will examine the positions and recommendations from a few other sources. First, the concern of arsenic in rice drinks is not a new one. As early as 2003, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom has been conducting surveys regarding levels of arsenic in rice and rice products. In February 2009, they released key results in a food survey information sheet regarding arsenic in rice drinks. It was found that arsenic was detected in all samples of rice drinks at low concentrations. Hence FSA advised against using rice milk to substitute for breast milk or for cow’s milk infant formulas for toddlers and young children who are 4.5 years of age and under. This recommendation is not only for nutritional reasons as rice milk is nutritionally inadequate compared to breastmilk or infant formula, but also to reduce arsenic exposure and intake by young children.

In November 2 014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provided some advice regarding the use of infant rice cereal for infants and older children who need this due to special needs including dysphagia or gastroesophageal reflux. The AAP’s interim advice is that oatmeal can be used as a preferred thickener instead of rice cereal. This can be done through the use of infant oatmeal cereal. For older children, cornstarch or gum based thickeners can be suitable alternatives.

More recently, in January 2015, the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) released some guidelines and recommendations regarding the issue of arsenic in rice. In the report, it is stated that inorganic arsenic is considered a

“first level carcinogen because long-term exposure is associated with increased risk for various carcinomas including skin, bladder, lung, kidney, liver, and prostrate. Furthermore, exposure is also associated with alterations in gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, hematological, pulmonary, neurological, immunological and reproductive/developmental function”.

Further, infants and children may be more susceptible to toxic effects, with a “higher exposure reported to be associated with increased infant morbidity and mortality and impaired development“. The ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition caution that rice, especially rice bran, contains high levels of inorganic arsenic, and rice drinks should not be used in infants and young children. This group also encourages a wide consumption of different grains in the diet to reduce inorganic arsenic exposure from food, such as oat, barley, wheat, maize and rice.

All this serves to show that the issue of arsenic in rice is a real one, and one worth noting. There will likely be more data and guidelines out in the near future, especially from the United States Food and Drug Administration, so keep watching this topic. In the meantime, there are many action steps that you as a consumer and parent can already take for yourself and your child [see posts on Arsenic & Rice (Part 2): Action Steps You Can Take Right NOW and Qn of the Month: How Can I Reduce the Arsenic Content of Rice Through Cooking?]!

 

(Sources:
AAP Arsenic in Rice Expert Work Group. AAP group offers advice to reduce infants’ exposure to arsenic in rice. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/35/11/13.1.full. Accessed July 20, 2015.

Food Standards Agency. Survey of total and inorganic arsenic in rice drinks. Food Survey Information Sheet 02/09. http://tna.europarchive.org/20140306205048/http://www.food.gov.uk/science/research/surveillance/fsisbranch2009/survey0209. Accessed July 20, 2015.

Hojsak I, Braegger C, Bronsky J et al. ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition. Arsenic in rice: a cause for concern. JPGN 2015;60: 142–145. http://www.espghan.org/fileadmin/user_upload/guidelines_pdf/Hep_Nutr/arsenic_in_rice.pdf. Accessed July 20, 2015.)