You too can eat your greens and green your eats
Everywhere you turn, you hear how important it is to eat your greens — especially your leafy green vegetables. People are also starting to think about how food production impacts their environment as well as their health. Together these trends are making more and more of us to both eat our greens and green our eats by moving toward a plant-based diet.
Unfortunately, many people still believe a lot of myths about eating a vegan diet. As both a family-practice doctor and someone who has been eating a plant-based diet for many years, I can help you sort the facts from the food fiction.
Myths about plant-based diets
Vegans just eat salad: Salads are a great way to get your veggies, but there are plenty of other plant-based foods. My kids love pasta and tacos just like everyone else. A vegan diet also isn't a magic weight-loss ticket. Plenty of plant-based foods are calorie-dense. Potato chips are vegan!
Plant-based burgers are health food: A plant-based diet is, as a whole, healthier than a meat-based one. It's fun to see meat alternatives showing up at fast-food restaurants. These alt-burgers can really help people transition to a more plant-based diet. That doesn't make them the most healthful options, especially when you add a side of French fries.
I'll have to make all of my own food: We live in one of the most vegan-friendly areas of the country. That means you can go into pretty much any restaurant and find something vegan to enjoy. And when you're really crunched for time, go ahead and grab a vegan burger or bean burrito at the nearest drive-thru.
Meat and milk are important: People are often surprised when I tell them how much protein is in vegan foods like nuts, beans, whole grains and, yes, even vegetables like broccoli and spinach. Fortified soy milk and orange juice offer calcium. About the only thing missing in a well-balanced vegan diet is vitamin B12, so I add fortified nutritional yeast and supplements to my food.
Vegan food takes too long to prep: In reality, it doesn't take any longer to prep plant-based foods than meat. Many grocery stores have vegetables that are already washed and cut — just think of them as healthier convenience foods.
How to get started
I suggest you start with making a vegan version of a food you really love. Maybe that's pasta topped with garlic and sautéed mushrooms. Or maybe you're craving a bean burrito slathered in your favorite enchilada sauce and sprinkled with vegan cheddar. Vegan pizza is a favorite with my kids. We enjoy trying things from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's cookbooks.
Exploring the foods of other cultures is another great way to add more plant-based foods to your weekly meal plan. Thai, Indian, Lebanese, Ethiopian...the list of vegan-friendly international cuisine is almost endless.
Finally, involve your family and friends in your experiments. Spending time together is a great way to acquaint your taste buds with new foods while sharing healthy experiences with the people you value most.
Derek Anderson is a board-certified family medicine physician who works at Adventist Health's primary care office in Gladstone.
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