Why You Should Eat a Plant-based Diet & How to Get Started

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Watercress salsa with bean chipsThis post is sponsored by B&W Quality Growers, the world’s largest grower and marketer of watercress.

Eating a plant-based diet will improve your health. Plant-based diets are associated with lower rates of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and better cognition (1,2,3,4).  Data from vegetarians suggests plant-based diets might also be associated with a longer lifespan (5).  If you love dairy or meat, you don’t have to give up either to benefit from a plant-based diet. But you will benefit from adding more plant-foods, particularly leafy greens like watercress for a healthy body and mind.

Fortified with more than 18 essential vitamins and minerals, watercress is the healthiest leafy vegetable on the planet as it is high in water content, a naturally low calorie and low-fat food. It’s also one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables in the world, earning perfect score on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) nutrient density scale.

What is Plant-Based?

Plant-based means the bulk of your diet comes from plants. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes (beans, peas, lentils and more) are the staples of a plant-based diet.

Eating plant-based does not mean you never eat dairy, eggs, meat, fish, or poultry. However, these foods do not make up the bulk of your diet when you are eating plant-based.

How does a Plant-Based Diet Lower Disease Risk?

Plant foods are all not only full of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates protein and healthy fats but they are also full of fiber and phytonutrients. Most Americans get half the fiber they need each day for good health. In addition to helping support digestion and preventing constipation, fiber feeds the good bacteria in our gut. The health of our gut depends on the diversity and type of bacteria that live there. Also, most of our immune system is in our gut making gut health important for immune health and, because of the gut brain axis (the gut and brain talk to each other), brain health. Gut health is quickly becoming a hot topic as scientists learn more about the importance of gut health every day.

How to Make Your Diet Plant-Based:

1. Eat More Leafy Greens

As part of the MIND diet, leafy greens are linked to a lower rate of cognitive decline. Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable, which are generally known as cancer-fighters due to their high levels of phytochemicals known as isothiocyanates. A growing body of evidence suggests watercress earns its “superleaf” title because it may help prevent the spread of cancer cells (6,7). Plus, it is a good source of vitamin A, an essential vitamin necessary for normal vision, skin health, and maintaining immune function (2). Watercress is also high in the antioxidant vitamin C, which protects the body against free radicals. Vitamin C also supports the normal function of blood vessels, healing of wounds, iron absorption, and neurological function (3).

– Try my favorite snack: watercress salsa along with lentil or bean chips (post recipe below).

– Spread avocado mash on a piece of higher fiber toast (my favorite one is made from almond and sweet potato flour) and top it with watercress, feta and a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

– Make broad bean or garbanzo bean chips.

– Dip celery or carrots in peanut, almond or another nut butter.

– Make my favorite salad: Watercress, pear, fig and goat cheese salad.

2. Try different forms of plant-based foods.

There are many forms and ways to cook each plant-food!
– Lentil or bean pastas are a fantastic substitute for regular pasta.
– Split pea soup vs. peas.

– Brussels sprouts cooked with turkey neck vs. roasted and crispy.

– Top cauliflower with avocado oil and parmesan cheese and roast it.

– Boil red potatoes and add olive oil and dill after cooking.

3. Make your dessert fruit and nut-based.

Fruit is available all year long. From watermelon in the summer to pumpkin in the Fall, there are many ways to enjoy fruits for dessert. I like pairing plain Greek yogurt with berries or grapes and a sprinkle of granola.

4. Add greens to your smoothie.

Use greens like watercress to enhance your favorite fruit smoothie. This is the perfect way to get more greens in your diet. My favorite smoothie includes 8 oz. 100% orange juice, a handful of frozen watercress (any time I can’t use a fruit or vegetable in a timely manner I freeze it), frozen mango, ginger and vanilla or unflavored whey protein powder (an amount that contains 30 grams of protein).

5. Add vegetables to your main dishes.

– Chopped mushrooms and onions work well in beef or turkey patties.

– Add veggies to your kabobs. Try grilled veggie and meat (or tofu, which is made from soybeans!) kabobs.

– Top your pizza with sliced tomatoes, broccoli, onions, peppers and mushrooms.

– Chili is a great staple for the winter and naturally loaded with beans and diced tomatoes.

 

References

1 McMacken M, Shah S. A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. J Geriatr Cardiol 2017;14(5): 342-354.

2 Kahleova H et al. Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets. Nutrients 2017;9(8): 848.

3 Lanou AJ, Svenson B. Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Mang Res 2011;3: 1- 8.

4 Hardman RJ. Adherence to a Mediterranean-Style Diet and Effects on Cognition in Adults: A Qualitative Evaluation and Systematic Review of Longitudinal and Prospective Trials. Front Nutr 2016;3: 22.

5 Orlich MJ. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med 2013; 173(13): 1230-1238.

6 Gill IR et al. Watercress supplementation in diet reduces lymphocyte DNA damage and alters blood antioxidant status in healthy adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85(2): 504-510.

7 Boyd LA et al. Assessment of the anti-genotoxic, anti-proliferative, and anti-metastatic potential of crude watercress extract in human colon cancer cells. Nutr Cancer 2006;55(2): 232-41.

 

Are Your Muscles Sore and Joints Hurting? Here’s What You Should be Eating

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When I first started cross country in high school I would go to sleep in a homemade pajama of Ben Gay slathered all over my sore legs. And then each morning at 5 am my sister would have to pry me out of bed for our newspaper route. As I threw one sore leg after the other off the bed I absolutely dreaded the thought of running, a necessary task since she made me go to the houses with the dogs that chased us and the sketchy places by the woods (I’m the youngest). If you too have tried Ben Gay, massage, ice packs or any other modality for trying to decrease muscle soreness and keep your joints moving, it’s time to fight exercise-induced inflammation through your diet.

Here’s what I’ll cover in this post (and as shared on Talk of Alabama this morning – see their website for more information):

  • The top two foods you need to decrease muscle soreness
  • Foods that keep your joints healthy

Talk of Alabama

Decreasing Muscle Soreness

When it comes to exercise, some inflammation is good and actually essential for muscle growth and repair. But, excess inflammation can lead to muscle cell damage and that feeling like you couldn’t possibly get off the couch for days. So, I recommend athletes include tart cherry juice into their regular nutrition regimen as a preventative measure. Research shows **tart cherry juice can help decrease exercise-induced muscle soreness and inflammation. Try it in a shake or check out my gelatin chews below.

Research from the University of Georgia found 2 grams of ginger, either fresh ginger or in spice form (they tested McCormick ginger), helps reduce muscle pain when consumed daily for 11 days prior to exercise testing. I have a few recipes below you might want to try. Also, check out Reed’s Ginger Brew (it is like ginger ale but made from real ginger with 17 grams per bottle!).

Keeping Your Joints Moving

Fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies etc. contain long chain omega-3 fatty acids that have modest anti-inflammatory effects and have been shown to decrease cartilage breakdown (cartilage is like a sponge that cushions your joints so they can easily glide on top of one another) and inflammation in cell culture studies. In addition, research studies show these fatty acids can improve several symptoms associated with *rheumatoid arthritis and possibly even decrease the need for anti-inflammatory drugs. *Always talk to your physician if you have a disease such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Plus, there are two types of plant-based foods you should focus on. Foods rich in vitamin C including citrus, bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, cauliflower, pineapple, kiwi. Vitamin C is necessary for repairing and maintaining cartilage and higher intakes are associated with less severe cartilage breakdown. In addition to vitamin C, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables contain an antioxidant that may improve bone formation and decrease bone breakdown. And finally, ginger is also effective for reducing joint pain though you have to consume it regularly over several weeks (500 mg ginger extract was used). 

Cherry Ginger Smoothie

Ingredients
8 oz. vanilla soymilk
1 scoop unflavored or vanilla whey protein (if using unflavored you may need to add a sweetener)
½ cup frozen tart cherries
2 tsp. (or more if desired) fresh cut ginger
Ice as desired

Directions
Add vanilla soymilk to blender followed by the rest of the ingredients in order. Blend until smooth.

Honey Ginger Salmon

Ingredients
4 salmon fillets (4-6 oz. each)
2 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger or 1 tsp. ginger spice
3 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. olive oil
¼ cup soy sauce

Directions
Mix all ingredients except salmon in a bowl. Place marinade and salmon in large resealable plastic bag so that marinade coats salmon fillets. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer. Remove salmon fillets and grill 6 to 8 minutes per side or bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes.

Fig Cherry Ginger Chews

Ingredients
13 dried figs
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
3 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

Directions:
Place all ingredients in a food processor and mix throughly. Take small portions out and make small balls. If you want them even sweeter, roll finished balls in cane sugar or powdered coconut sugar.

Tart Cherry Gelatin

Ingredients
2 packets gelatin mix
2 cups tart cherry juice
3 tsp fresh ginger

Directions
Boil 1.5 cups tart cherry juice. While juice is boiling place remaining 1/2 tart cherry juice in a bowl and mix in gelatin packets. Let sit for at least one minute. When juice is finished boiling mix it into juice & gelatin mixture until throughly blended. Add 3 tsp. fresh grated ginger and 1 – 2 Tbsp. sugar if desired. Place mixture in an 8×8 pan and refrigerate for at least one hour. Remove from refrigerator and enjoy!

** TV segment, but not post, sponsored by the Cherry Marketing Institute

Try this Winter Fruit for Great Taste & Good Health

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By Sara Shipley, RD-to-be and student at the University of Central Oklahoma

Looking for a reason to try butternut squash? I have plenty! This winter fruit, (yes it is technically a fruit because it has seeds) is packed with healthful benefits to round out any meal. Just a single cup provides an ample dose of vitamins A, B1, B3, B6, C, calcium, potassium, and fiber! The butternut squash has an inedible pale-yellow skin with a sweet, somewhat nutty flavored, deep orange flesh. The seeds must be removed prior to cooking, however they can be eaten as a snack after roasting.

Beyond the delicious taste, butternut squash is chock full of wholesome vitamins and minerals that you need in your daily diet.

THE BOON OF BUTTERNUT SQUASH:

VITAMINS: The primary source of vitamin A is from beta-carotene,     with more than 300% of the daily-recommended value in a single cup. It is also a great source for Vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant and enzymatic cofactor in our bodies, both necessary to  regulate healthy function. Moreover, this squash provides a source of    approximately 10% each of multiple B vitamins, including B1-Thiamin,   B3- Niacin and B6.

MINERALS: We’ve heard they’re important, but how can you keep up with getting the right amount? Rather than taking a supplement, try incorporating just a single cup for a good source of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Calcium contributes to strong bones and muscle function and potassium is an integral player in the fluid balance within our bodies. Without magnesium, many enzymatic processes required for normal function cannot proceed. These minerals are vital to a healthy diet.

FIBER: Ah, the digestive health rock star. Fiber keeps your body regular and it is involved in lowering cholesterol and maintaining blood sugar levels. That makes it heart healthy and a preventative measure towards pre-diabetes. Eat just a single cup of this squash and you will add at least 2 grams to your daily fiber goal, which should be approximately 15-20 grams.

There are also many other heart healthy attributes to this squash. Low in fat, there are only 80 calories in a cup (205g), primarily which come from complex carbohydrates. There is no cholesterol and less than 8 mg of sodium! Because this squash is naturally sweet, you don’t need to add much to enjoy the simple taste.

Steaming the squash for 7-8 minutes makes it so easy to enjoy and a quick addition to many basic dishes.  I have been cooking with butternut squash a lot lately and have found two recipes that I love, are easy to make and quite affordable.

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Tart: There is nothing fancy about this ‘tart’ and this recipe calls for only 6-7 ingredients. Don’t be detoured from the process of caramelizing the onions, because they pair so well with the squash and your family or guests will be asking for seconds (or the recipe).

Ingredients:

1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated

4 ounces goat cheese, slightly chilled

1.5 cups of cooked, 1-in. cubed butternut squash

3 large onions, thinly sliced

Thyme sprigs (fresh is best, dried works fine)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparations:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

With the thawed puff pastry, use a rolling pin to roll it out to approximately 10 by 16 inches. Carefully slice off half an inch from all sides of the rectangle, keeping the scraps as long strips. Transfer the pastry to the parchment paper. Wet your fingertips and the edge of the pastry. Reapply the scraps to their respective sides, creating a border. With a fork, pierce the inside part of the pastry, so when the puffing occurs in the oven, the unpierced border will rise around the inside and the middle will remain. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until golden. Set aside and turn the oven down to 375 Fahrenheit.

While the pastry is baking, heat a large skillet on medium heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the onions, a pinch of salt and pepper and several thyme sprigs. Place a lid on the skillet and stir often to prevent burning. Once they begin to soften and brown, keep the lid on for another 15 minutes and continue stirring.  Take the lid off as they begin to caramelize and turn heat to low. They will take another 15-20 minutes to caramelize entirely, but believe me it is worth every minute. When complete, turn off the heat and remove the thyme sprigs, as they will have done their job by imparting their flavors during that process.

After peeling and cubing the butternut squash into 1-inch cubes, steam the squash for 5-6 minutes. This will not entirely cook the squash, but it will be in the oven again so we do not want to initially overcook it.

Once the tart has been removed from the oven and the onions are caramelized, you can begin to assemble. With a large spoon, spread the onions over the entire pastry inside, as though it were a sauce on a pizza. Next, add the butternut squash and finally, crumble the goat cheese (it is easiest when chilled) in your hand and sprinkle generously over the onions and squash. You may want to brush a small amount of olive oil over the border, to add extra sheen to the pastry before baking again. Place back into the oven for 5-7 minutes, until reheated through. Take out and cut into 8 pieces. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Risotto: I made this for a birthday dinner a few weeks ago and it was a huge hit. Besides the creaminess of risotto that everyone loves, the squash imparts a pretty orange color and adds to the rib-sticking goodness of this dish. With Parmesan cheese, this is a savory side of butternut squash I think anyone will enjoy. (Recipe adapted from Foodnetwork.com, Rachel Ray)

Ingredients:

  •  1 qt chicken stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry, white wine
  • 2 cups cooked butternut squash
  • 1 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 7-8 sage leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preparation:

Bring the 1-quart stock and 1 cup water to a simmer in a saucepot then reduce heat to low.

Heat a medium skillet with the olive oil over medium to heat. When oil becomes hot, add the onions and garlic. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice and toast 3 minutes more. Add the wine, stirring occasionally until completely evaporated.

The risotto should take 18 minutes to fully cook so, patiently ladle the stock into the rice in intervals, allowing the liquid to evaporate each time. After approximately 15 minutes, stir the cooked squash into the rice. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper and in the last minute of cooking time, add the butter in small pieces, sage and cheese.  Enjoy!