6 Steps Towards a Plant-Based Diet

Undoubtedly you have been hearing the words “plant-based” and “vegan” flooding the media as more and more people are becoming more and more plant-curious. With evidence building in the scientific database on the extraordinary health benefits of eating more plants; with rapid growth of vegan restaurant (chains) and vegan options on menus; and with exploding recipe sources and plant-based ingredients on the shelves, it’s a sign of positive growth, indeed. Of course, this brings me great joy and I am happily answering an increasingly voluminous influx of questions via email and social media. Bring them on! The more plants people eat, the more healthy bodies, happier planet Earth, and fewer animals bred for harm.

Whether by delving in wholeheartedly or simply starting by dipping your toes, you will help improve your life in myriad ways…

Here are six steps you can take to kick off the process:

1. Focus on the positive. Instead of thinking about what you will be crowing out (animal products and processed foods), think about ways to incorporate new and exciting whole plant ingredients and recipes. For example, check out the wall of plant milks and the dozens of different whole grain varieties you may never have noticed sitting on the shelves at the supermarket. Visit the tables and tables of vibrant, fascinating vegetables and fruits at your local farmer’s market. Try something new each week or – heck, why not – each day? Broadening your culinary horizons makes your world more delicious and interesting. Here is my recent post with a bunch of ideas on what a day in the vegan life looks like for some inspiration.

2. Seek support. Anytime you venture out into unknown turf, it helps to have some peeps on standby that have been there, done that, and can help offer guidance, direction, or even just a boost of reassurance. Unite with people at conferences, talks, events, local meet up groups or online via social networking. There are many plant-friendly groups and individuals that are more than happy to open their arms and welcome you in with loving arms, share their favorite recipes, tips, and help you strategize. Follow groups like PCRM and Mercy for Animals for inspiration. PCRM has a 21 day kickstart program here to get you underway and Mercy for Animals has a great starter kit here.

3. Stock up your kitchen. If you are well stocked with healthful ingredients and options in your pantry, fridge, and freezer, you will have no choice but to choose well. Plan a day to shop for food once a week so you will have plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to use throughout the week. A weekly trip to the local farmer’s market ensures longer-lasting, as fresh as can be produce that will inspire you. Here is a how-to-stock-your-pantry list I recently wrote for Parenting.com. Here is one from Brendan Brazier on US News Health. This is a great list by Nava Atlas on what to keep in your fridge and this is a list of freezer staples. In addition, play with batch cooking in order to simplify food prep and then store leftovers in your fridge or freezer so there are healthy meals ready to eat when you don’t feel like cooking or are in a rush.

4. Try out vegan restaurants and vegan products. There has never been a better time to go veg, as there are new restaurants popping up across America at lightening speeds and most non-veg restaurants are serving up veg-friendly menus to accommodate their customers’ demands. Find these restaurants near you and wherever you may be traveling by using an app or website like HappyCow.net. Further, the list of companies making vegan ingredients, foods, and meals are spreading like wildfire across supermarket shelves everywhere. Experiment when you hit the stores with one of the dozens of plant-based milks, yogurts, and frozen veggie burgers. It’s helpful to have your recipes planned out ahead of time and then to shop with a prepared list (see here for my Do’s and Don’ts of Food Shopping on Veria).

5. Fill up with information. Study. Read books, blogposts, and articles. Watch documentaries and videos. Take classes or go to seminars, if possible. Knowledge is power and inspiration and the more you know, the better you can explore with confidence and enthusiasm. Start here with my favorite books, films, and resources. Please add your suggestions below in the comments section.

6. Have fun. This may be the most important step of all. Nothing about eating healthfully should be stressful, discomforting, or mopey. This is an adventure and it is pure goodness, as it will restore your body’s inner glow physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. Enjoy every moment, every bite, and every success. If you mess up a meal or veer off the wagon, assess what you can learn from the experience and hop back up. Travel your journey and embrace the ride.

5 Ways To Enhance Nutrient Absorption

1. Use the magic of synergy by combining certain foods together (as seen in this graphic). Vitamin C-rich foods help absorb iron, so eat them together. Some ways to do so are to have a green salad with bell peppers or citrus dressing, drink a green smoothie with some fruit, or make hummus with beans and lemon juice. Include a healthy source of fat with fat-soluble vitamins, such as a garnet yam with a peanut sauce or salsa with guacamole.
2. Eat a wide variety of different whole plant foods. For example, some leafy greens contain higher amounts of oxalates (which may decrease absorption of certain minerals, such as calcium), while others do not. Low oxalate greens include bok choy, cabbage, some types of kale, and most lettuce. Mixing up the types of greens (and other foods) you eat will provide different nutritional profiles and ensure a broader absorption of those nutrients.
3. Maximize intake of raw foods, but include cooked foods as well. Raw foods have nutrients and certain enzymes that have health benefits, but which are lost by heat, such as vitamin C (in most fruits and vegetables), myrosinase (in cruciferous veggies), and aliinase (in vegetables of the allium family). However, certain nutrients are better absorbed when cooked, like those in the carotenoid family. Incorporate both into your diet.
4. Try food preparation methods that enhance bioavailability of nutrients, including soaking (and sprouting) of nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. This breaks down phytates and activates plant enzymes so nutrients are well absorbed.
5. Help break down nutrients with blending or juicing so all of the nutrients are released from the cell walls and are easier to absorb. Sometimes, we don’t chew our food well enough, leaving certain nutrients trapped so as to pass straight through the digestive tract without gaining their benefit. Thus, incorporating green smoothies, pureed soups, or green juices is beneficial.

Resources:
Food Synergy
My article on One Green Planet, The Real Deal on Kale and Your Thyroid
Iron
Juicing Versus Blending
Healthy Fat Intake
NutritionFacts.org on Food Synergy
NutritionFacts.org on Nutrient Absorption
YumUniverse™ on Soaking and Dehydrating
Vegetarian Times on Soaking and Sprouting

Get FREE shipping on a Vitamix

 

A Day In The (Vegan) Life

Plant-based? Plant curious? After all of the compelling data (such as thisthis, this, and this) being shared in the media about the infinite benefits of eating a vegan diet and why we and the world are better without animal products (such as thisthis, and this), many people wonder…”well, what do you eat when you are vegan?” A good question, indeed. You may know that being vegan means abstaining from anything with a mom or a face, but, then, what does it include?

What’s on the plate includes any combination of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices….and the possibilities are infinite…

Here is a very brief list of suggestions for meal options:

Breakfasts-

Green Juice (my favorite combo is cucumber, kale, carrot, ginger, and lemon)

Green smoothie – some of my favorites: Spicy Tropical Green SmoothieGreen Sludge, or Chocolate Chip Mint Smoothie

Overnight Muesli

Banana Blueberry Pancakes with Pure Maple Syrup

Oatmeal with fruit (berries, apples, raisins) and nuts/seeds (walnuts, hemp seeds, almonds)

Muffins – Chocolate Chip Pumpkin, Blueberry Oat

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Grain-Free Breakfast Options

Chia Pudding

Rice pudding with raisins made with almond, coconut, or soy milk

 

 

Lunches-

Bean, rice, and veggie burrito with guacamole and pico de gallo

Noritos

Huge shock n’ awe salad with lots of raw veggies, leftovers, cooked veggies, and delicious dressing (this, this, or this)

Swiss Chard Leaves

Pad Thai with Thai Corn Chowder

Gluten-Free Chicken Salad

Autumn Chowder with salad

Vegetarian and avocado sushi rolls with sunumono and miso soup

 

Dinners-

BBQ Tofu Wings with celery sticks dipped in veg ranch dressing

Hearty Lentil Chili with Whole Grain Corn Muffins

Japanoodles

Fiesta Fantastica

Herbed Balsamic Pasta

Mardi Gras Red Beans and Rice

Baked Lentils and Rice

Portobello Mushroom Burgers with Sweet Potato French Fries

Indian coconut curry or tofu stirfry with brown rice or quinoa

Falafel with hummus, pita, and cucumber/tomato salad

Lemon-Infused Mediterranean Lentils

 

Menu Plans-

On the Marie Osmond Show on the Hallmark Channel (9 recipes)

Superbowl Menu For Forks Over Knives

Thanksgiving Menu for Forks Over Knives plus the livestream demo on how to make them 

Here are some of my favorite cookbooks and blogs. 

What’s on YOUR plate? And please share a day in your vegan life below….

Preventing and Reversing Disease with Plant-Based Diets

Hot in the news this week is a new study suggesting that consuming probiotics can slightly reduce blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. So, now everyone is running out and eating yogurt, hoping for a miracle cure. There are no pills, procedures, or superfoods that prevent or cure chronic disease. These pills and procedures are band aids being placed on top of a core problem that many prefer to cover up and “fix”… Yet, research is building on the ability to prevent and now reverse cardiovascular disease, its risk factors, type 2 diabetes, and more, with a whole food, plant-based diet. Overall diet and lifestyle need to be the focus of health and medicine today in order to shift away from the downward spiral of the current healthcare crisis…

Some of the research:
—>Kaiser Permanente Thrive’s Permanente Journal Review: “Research shows that plant- based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C [blood glucose control over time], and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity.” (link)
—>The CHIP Program, a 6-year study emphasizing a whole food, plant-based diet, can lead to rapid and meaningful reductions in chronic disease risk factors. (link)
—>Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. showing that 99.4% of 198 people with cardiovascular disease on a plant-based diet for 3.7 years avoided major cardiac events (2014). (link)
—>Dean Ornish, MD regression of coronary atherosclerosis with intensive lifestyle changes – 10% fat whole foods vegetarian diet, aerobic exercise, stress management training, smoking cessation, group psycho- social support – for 5 years (1998). (link)
—>”An 18-week dietary intervention using a low-fat plant-based diet in a corporate setting improves body weight, plasma lipids, and, in individuals with diabetes, glycemic control.” (link)
—> “Vegetarian diets confer protection against cardiovascular diseases, cardiometabolic risk factors, some cancers and total mortality. Compared to lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets, vegan diets seem to offer additional protection for obesity, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular mortality.” (link)
—>Adventist Health Study-2 “Vegetarian dietary patterns were associated with lower body mass index, lower prevalence and incidence of diabetes mellitus, lower prevalence of the metabolic syndrome and its component factors, lower prevalence of hypertension, lower all-cause mortality, and in some instances, lower risk of cancer.” (link)
—>”The dietary portfolio approach of combining a range of cholesterol-lowering plant foods may benefit cardiovascular disease risk both by reducing serum lipids and also blood pressure.” (link)
—>5 Ways to Avoid Cardiovascular Disease Without Medication (link)

*Image via Vegan Street

 

Thirsty: How Livestock Production is Drinking Up Our Diminishing Water Supply

To save time, I zest and juice a bunch of lemons at a time to use throughout the week (I use a lot of it) and keep it in a container in the fridge. This week, I squeezed about 8 large-sized lemons and yielded approximately half of the juice I typically receive. As I am squeezing them with all my might, I am looking out my kitchen window and seeing the dehydrated, pale yellow-colored plants and leaves on the hill in my backyard. California is in a serious drought. We had virtually no rain this year (I remember one storm). It is terrifying to witness the impacts of climate change. But the worst part is that of all the fresh water we do have, we are wasting the vast majority of it on livestock production.

Here are some horrifying facts on fresh water usage from Comfortably Unaware’s Dr. Richard Oppenlander:
—>50% of all the water used in the U.S. is given to the animals people eat.
—>70 billion animals are raised and killed each year for food. A few billion of these animals need up to 40 or more gallons of water per day…which is over 100 times what we, individually, consume daily.
—>The average water footprint per calorie of beef is TWENTY times larger than for grains.
—>Legumes (or “pulses”: lentils, beans, peas) require FORTY-FIVE times less water to produce versus beef and they are excellent sources of protein.
—>To produce 1 pound of meat, it takes:

  • 1,800-2,500 gallons of water per pound of beef
  • 731 gallons per pound of sheep
  • 127 gallons per pound of goat
  • 468 gallons per pound of chicken
  • 880 gallons per gallon of milk
  • 60-120 gallons to produce 1 egg
  • 11.6 gallons to slaughter and process 1 chicken

*The image below is from Farmscape (see link below) and the data is a few years old, but the ratios of comparison say it all, which is why I used it. The most recent data from Dr. Oppenlander is as above.



Resources:
CA approves fines for water usage because of drought
The Vegetarian Resource Group‘s Save Our Water
Food Tank: The Food Think Tank‘s Meat’s Large Water Footprint
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Livestock Water Use
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Livestock Longshadow
Farmscape water use
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
Food Choice and Sustainability by Dr. Oppenlander
Dr. Oppenlander: Your Role in Global Depletion (video)
 

Healthy Travel Tips

Traveling this summer? Or any other time? One of the toughest parts of being thrown off your regularly scheduled programming is the uncertainty of the ability to locate and enjoy healthful foods you are accustomed to enjoying. As someone who loves routine and knowing where her next serving of kale and hummus can be procured, I empathize with the trepidation of traveling. However, after practicing consistently for several years as a whole food, plant-based eater, I have a few tips to offer fellow travelers. Please share any of your favorite tips in the comments below so we can come up with a super list of ideal methods and options for us all!

1. Research and plan ahead. Careful plotting for how long you’ll need to be stocked up from door to door, as well as investigating where you’ll be able to find food while away, makes the process less worrisome. Most of what you can bring along will depend on how you are traveling … by car or by plane.

2. Pack enough food to get through the first leg of the trip to avoid having to eat airport/airline food or truck stop/fast food along the way. When traveling with others, bring along enough food for yourself and your dependent traveling companions. For airports, dried food and packed whole foods are options, but water will have to be purchased after going through airport security; unfortunately, the prices are brutally ramped up, but maintaining hydration throughout the flight is ideal. A more cost-effective and eco-friendly option is to take an empty stainless steel or BPA-free plastic water bottle to the airport, and fill it up once you’re cleared into the terminal. Of course, driving is far easier because you can pack however much food you can squeeze into your car, and you can easily use coolers to keep foods longer. Plan ahead and pack up plenty of food to ensure you have lots of healthy options along the road.

3. Scout out your travel destination. Try a healthy food-finding app and website like HappyCow to locate veg-friendly dining and markets just about anywhere.  Stock up at markets on some items for meals and snacks can supplement what you brought along, when possible. If staying with friends or family members, ask ahead if you can store some food in the fridge or, even, if they can have some of your preferred staples ready when you arrive. When staying at a hotel, call ahead of the trip and request a refrigerator unit in the room. Most hotels will provide one. If not, you can use the ice bucket to keep perishables cool. International travel can require even more planning. Be sure to search online ahead of time. When traveling to other countries, ask detailed questions (you may need a translation dictionary handy, if there’s a language barrier). Most restaurants want to please their guests, and will go out of their way to accommodate patrons, even if you don’t speak the same language.

 

Travel-Friendly Foods, Cooler-Dependent Foods:

- Salads in disposable containers with dressing in a separate container

- Fruits: whole, cut, salad, dried, dehydrated

- Baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams

- Hummus with chopped veggies and whole-grain crackers to dip

- Wraps or sandwiches made on whole-grain breads or tortillas with hummus or bean spread and veggies or nut or seed butter and whole-fruit jam or sliced fruits

- Edamame

- Veggie sushi

- Bean, rice, and veggie burritos with salsa and guacamole on the side and separate

- Whole-grain pasta with sauce

- Unopened tempeh or tofu packages

- Leftovers packed in a disposable container

- Takeout from a healthy restaurant or market, packed in a disposable container

 

Easy Foods With No Refrigeration Necesary:

- Dried oatmeal in separate baggies with seeds (chia, flax, hemp) and/or nuts (simply add hot water when ready to eat)

- Kale chips

- Whole-fruit and nut bars

- Baked bars, whole-food cookies, muffins, and whole-grain breads

- Whole-grain or raw crackers, breads, tortillas, bagels

- Dehydrated bean and veggie soups

- Nut butters

- Trail mix

- Jarred bean dips

- Nutritional yeast and other spices in individually wrapped baggies to bring to restaurants

- Dehydrated green juice powders (for times when you don’t know when you’ll find your next greens

- Dissolvable whole-food powders to fill up on, if no other healthy options

Resources:

Top 5 Tips for Dining Out

Healthy Voyager, Carolyn Scott-Hamilton, on What Would Julieanna Do?

Vegetarian Travel with HappyCow

10 Must-Haves for Healthy Vegan Travel on VegNews

Feeding Our Children

Found this on a wall in an elementary school cafeteria. Tragically, this is everywhere. Pushing junk food begins as early as possible, brainwashing innocent children’s minds with a strong belief that eating junk food is the norm.

Meanwhile:
—>Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
—>Among kids in America aged 20 years or younger, about one-quarter of 1% (215,000 people) have diabetes.
—>Prevalence of developmental disabilities (including autism, ADHD, etc.) has increased 17.1%—that’s about 1.8 million more children with DDs in 2006–2008 compared to a decade earlier.
—>Childhood cancers have increased in the past decades.
Something has to change. We cannot continue feeding our children calorie-rich, nutrient-poor, toxin-infused pseudofoods!

Things Parents Can Do To Protect Their Kids:
—>Always pack healthful lunches, snacks, and other meals when they will be away from home…especially at school or camp.
—>Inspire and educate your friends, fellow parents, kids’ sports team coaches and parents, teachers, and schools, with information, healthy food options, recipes, and by refusing to support junk food pushing.
—>Role model healthy eating with your children.
—>Teach your children how to shop for, prepare, grow, and enjoy delicious healthful food. Get them involved as much as possible and talk about why certain foods are healthy and others are not.
—>Stay informed and get vocal whenever possible. Vote with your dollar at the store and at restaurants

Resources: 
Redefining Normal 
Michele Simon’s Whitewashed
CDC Children and Diabetes
CDC on Developmental Disabilities Prevalence
Ways the Dairy Council “Educates” Healthcare Professionals and Kids
Corporate Sponsorship Expose by Dietitians for Professional Integrity
Corporate Sponsors of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Corporate Sponsors for American Academy of Pediatrics
PCRM’s Vegetarian Kid Nutrition
VRG’s Feeding Vegan Kids
Plant-Powered Kitchen for Delicious, Healthy Recipes

Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

The benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet are infinite. This new infographic from Hero Health Room provides some samples of why:

Here is my TEDxConejo talk describing why a plant-based diet is the most perfect diet:

And an elongated version of the talk and here is the written transcript:

This U.S. News interview I did last year that talks about the benefits of eating plant-based and what a day-in-the-life looks like and this is the written transcript with a sample meal plan and recipe links:

Cancer and Lifestyle

Cancer is one of the most horrific, terrifying, and destructive diseases, stealing the lives of nearly 600K Americans a year. It is the number 2 cause of death and it impacts all of us, as we either know someone who has suffered from it or have done so personally. I have witnessed many loved ones fight for their life and many who have lost the battle over the years and it is a powerful, poorly understood nemesis. Unfortunately, scientists and physicians do not fully have a grasp on prevention or treatment of the multitude of cancers, as there are many different types, with different personalities, and varying responses to treatment modalities, despite the vast resources, time, and money focused on advancing the technology. What we know about diet and lifestyle’s effect on cancer is also minimal, but there are some associations that are pretty well-established. I say we do all that is in our power to incorporate those recommendations to prevent cancer to the best of our ability and do our best with what we do know.

Here is what we know:

  • Obesity is the second largest risk factor for cancer, coming in after smoking.
  • Consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables consistently helps reduce risk for cancer.
  • Soy products may reduce risk for certain cancers.
  • Certain animal products, including red and processed meats, meats cooked at high temperatures, and dairy products promote cancer growth.
  • Alcohol increases risk for cancer.
  • Environmental toxins increase risk for cancer, especially in concentrated doses.

 

Here is what we can do about it to minimize risk:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight by eating a nutrient-dense, calorie-poor diet and exercising regularly.
  • Make at least half of your plate/diet/day be filled with colorful fruits and vegetables. Eat a minimum of 7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Eat a whole food, plant-based diet to get a continuous flow of cancer-fighting phytochemicals and fiber running through your GI tract and promoting immune health.
  • Avoid meats, fish, dairy, and eggs to decrease toxin load.
  • Limit alcohol intake to no more than one serving a day for women and 2 servings a day for men.
  • Clean up your environment as best as possible by reducing use of chemicals in your home, in your laundry, on your body, and with the tools, equipment, and cookware you use to cook and prepare food in.
  • Practice stress reduction and mindfulness.
  • Quit smoking.

 

Resources:

Obesity, Cancer, and a Vegan Diet

Obesity is the largest risk factor for cancer after smoking, according to a new report. And one out of every three people in the world is currently overweight or obese. This is a major global health threat. BUT, the good news is that another brand new study confirms that a VEGAN diet reduces risk for obesity (and other chronic diseases), a fact that has already been well-established.

Resources: