Happy New Year! What a great time to be reflective on our health and make a resolution to stay on track with what is best for ourselves. With the start of 2018, we are starting a new series of blog posts that we hope you will find to be informative about both the most up-to-date health research as well as buzzy nutrition trends. More importantly, we’re hoping that our posts will allow you to seamlessly implement that nutrition information into your daily life, and simplify your eating by doing so. To put it plainly, we want to make it easy for you to eat healthy.
The premise is that every month we will delve into a theme of healthy eating, and each week we will present research on a topic specifically related to that theme. After reading the background of the nutrition topic, we will present you a curated weekly dinner plan, with a corresponding grocery list already assembled for you. Knowing that the hectic schedule of the average American does not lend itself easily to a diet that meets the recommendations of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or USDA, we are striving to make that more achievable. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find that the hardest part of cooking a healthy meal is the mental preparations of finding a recipe, making a grocery list, and prepping the ingredients. We are aiming to cut down on the mental load that is needed to get healthy dinner options on the table.
Because we want to ensure minimal waste and make the plan easy to stick to, we will provide 5 topical dinner recipes each week. We know that one night a week we will likely have leftovers to use up, and one night a week we won’t be cooking due to being out and about with family or friends, or we just won’t feel like cooking and throw together some breakfast for dinner. The plans will focus on family friendly options, vary to include different ethnic styles of cooking, highlight seasonally available ingredients, and focus on the dietary recommendations of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and USDA.
Simply bookmark this page, check the weekly post, and print out the grocery list that is provided (or bonus: enter that grocery list directly into your online grocery store shopping cart!) to take care of dinner completely stress-free. Best of all, the plans are completely free and health focused. This is new to us as well, so please do not hesitate to give as feedback along the way so we can help make this accessible and realistic for all.
So now that you have the background, on to the first post!
Our theme of posts for the month of January is trendy diets. You may have made a resolution to embark on a new diet journey in the New Year that focuses on eating more vegetables and healthy proteins. You may have read about some diet fads online, or heard family and friends discussing them over the holidays. You may have seen a documentary on Netflix about a big diet trend (What the Health, anybody?). You might be an animal lover. And you might have guessed it at this point. This week, we are talking about…..veganism.
As I’ve already touched on, there are various reasons one might make the choice to become vegan. Traditionally, this choice may have been made out of religious, cultural, or animal welfare concerns. But due to numerous documentaries, books, and articles on the internet, many are choosing veganism because of the perceived health benefits. Today we will be discussing some pros and cons of a vegan diet, to hopefully help you make the best decision for you.
The biggest benefit of a vegan diet is that it inherently provides a large amount of fruits and vegetables, which are nutrient dense, rich in vitamins and minerals, and are good sources of anti-oxidants and fiber. A vegan diet also has been seen to contribute to a decreased risk of chronic diseases, including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. In addition to the health benefits, there are also some advantageous side effects of adopting a vegan diet. There may be a reduced cost for individuals because of not buying expensive cuts of meat, and there are extensive benefits for the environment, including reduced water usage and reduced carbon emissions required to produce the end resultant meat.
There are several cons that are associated with implementing a 100% vegan diet. It can be challenging to find vegan recipes and products, and can be difficult socially to enjoy eating outside the home at restaurants, family gatherings, or parties with friends. More importantly, even with strict planning and attention, it is hard to consume all of the nutrients that our body needs through a vegan diet.
Let’s discuss some of the critical focuses of a vegan diet. The macronutrient that everyone jumps to with concern when discussing veganism is protein. It is definitely critically important that we all get enough protein in our diet, and with the help and guidance of a registered dietitian nutrition, the correct amount for you can easily be determined. Please reach out to us if you have any questions regarding the amount of protein you should routinely be consuming, as there is a lot of conflicting research available in a quick Google search. Beans, nuts, and legumes, all of which are staples in a vegan diet, can easily allow for adequate protein consumption, and there are numerous options available for meat substitutes that can also contribute good sources of protein.
Perhaps overlooked when implementing a vegan diet are the micronutrients that are needed. Critical vitamins and minerals need to be consumed, specifically through food. Even though supplements for these micronutrients are available, food sources of these vitamins and minerals are better and more efficient sources as the body is more able to digest them and extract the nutrients in their natural form. Some of these vitamins and minerals include calcium due to the lack of dairy products in the diet, iron, as plant based sources of iron are less bioavailable than meat based sources of iron, and zinc. Some of the best sources of these nutrients available for vegans include whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, so it is critical to consume adequate amounts of each. Most critically, vitamin B12 is lacking in a vegan diet, as the common sources of this nutrient are all animal sources, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. It is recommended that anyone adhering to a strict vegan diet consume fortified foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals, or a supplement of vitamin B12.
There are additionally some nutrients that are of critical importance for all diets, which require even more attention when omitting large amounts of varied food sources. Many diets do not provide a substantial amount of omega 3s from healthy fats and fish oils, and removing fish oils as a possible source make it all the more important to consume adequate healthy fats. Iodine is also a critical nutrient to prevent goiter, and surprisingly the best source of iodine in most diets is the additive in table salt. Instead of relying on this, or in addition to, a supplement may be recommended. Vitamin D is also of critical concern in all diets, and supplements may be recommended for any individual, vegan or not. As common sources of Vitamin D in a typical diet may include eggs or fish, which are not available in a vegan lifestyle, supplements of this may likely be needed as well.
I hope this discussion conveyed the message that choosing a vegan lifestyle may be the right choice for some individuals, but is definitely not something to be taken lightly. It is difficult to ensure adequate sources of all nutrients that our bodies need through a vegan diet, and if you are seeking to adopt this lifestyle, is definitely something you should do with the guidance and assistance of a registered dietitian nutritionist. Please reach out to us if you have questions on how to many this diet work for you.
After reading this discussion, you may decide that veganism is not for you, and yet may be interested in finding ways to embrace some of the principles to achieve the health benefits (and maybe some of the cost and environmental benefits as well). Instead of focusing on labels and perceiving that you can either be 100% vegan or completely a meat eater, picking and choosing to adopt some of the beneficial principles of veganism that will work for you may be an easy change to help you better your health. Increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, legumes, and plant sources of protein; and decreasing consumption of full fat dairy products is completely in line with the recommendations of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and USDA. These simple changes can be easy to incorporate into our lifestyles and can lead to achieving numerous healthy results.
Read below to find our first week of meal plans that incorporate vegan friendly recipes embracing these principles.
Day #1: Ratatouille with Black Lentils
This recipe really showcases both seasonal winter vegetables as well as lentils for their great source of protein, fiber, iron, and various other vitamins and minerals. Because this recipe requires the most prep work, a tip is to prep this on Sunday and do the dicing of all of the vegetables on the list, so when you need to use them the rest of the week they are ready!
After a big prep day yesterday, enjoy an easy meal tonight with this quick and easy recipe. It provides a great source of dark, green leafy vegetables from the spinach. Omit the parmesan cheese to stick to the vegan option, or add it in if you really would enjoy it!
Day #3: Curried Tofu with Coconut Milk
This meal highlights the nutrition benefits from nuts that are essential in a vegan diet It also gives you the option to possibly try your hand at cooking with an easy to use and easy to find meat substitute, tofu. If that’s not your speed and you’re not committed to vegan, swap out for your favorite protein source. If you love rice, prepare double what the recipe calls for and have some leftover for tomorrow’s dish.
Reap the benefits of a complete nutrition powerhouse- the black bean! If you desire, you can serve with the rice that was prepared yesterday. Omit the feta cheese if you’re focusing on embracing veganism, or leave it on if you want that flavor.
Day #5: Split Pea Soup
A great way to use up any veggies leftover from the week- toss them into a hearty vegetable soup! This recipe really highlights the benefits of legumes that are essential in the vegan diet.
And here is the grocery list to make these recipes completely stress free!