Nature is infinitely wise. As a biologist this amazes me over and over. Plants make energy from the sun. It's called photosynthesis. They incorporate all the minerals needed for survival from the soil and use these building blocks to make most of what is required for life as we know it. It's an awe inspiring process. All of life on the planet is dependant on plants doing their thing. Humans cannot replicate this process.
Plants are the perfect food. They are full of vitamins and minerals, mostly low in fat, and full of fibre. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and tastes. They are made to be attractive so that we will eat them. We thrive on a plant based diet. The majority of the foods that we put into our bodies should be plants.
But today up to 93% of the standard American diet is made up of animal products and processed foods. This is not what nature intended. As a result of this, our bodies break down. We are currently facing an epidemic of degenerative diseases in most developed countries.
Four types of chronic disease – cardiovascular disease, cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes – kill an estimated 153,000 Canadians every year, account for nearly three- quarters of all deaths in the country, and are the major causes of premature death and hospitalization.
The Centre for Disease Control says that more than 75% of health care costs are due to chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and their under- lying causes such as obesity and tobacco use. Total health care spending in Canada was estimated at $207 billion in 2012. This translates into over $155 billion Canadian tax dollars spent to treat people with diseases that are largely preventable.
All of these major health risk factors are affected by our lifestyle choices. Daily choices related to diet, exercise, tobacco and alcohol usage, and our coping strategies to manage stress are some of the central behavior patterns contributing to prevention. But instead of focusing on prevention, our current medical system focuses on almost exclusively on treatment.
The American Dietetic Association, Dieticians of Canada, Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Canadian Pediatric Society all state that appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. So why aren't these diets promoted more?
Doctors don't have time to counsel their patients on diet and lifestyle choices and they receive little to no training on nutrition in medical school. So they rely heavily on medications meant to manage symptoms, not to cure or prevent the disease.
"We don't have a health care system, we have a disease management system." I love this quote by Dr. Andrew Weil in Rescue Fire, a documentary about the state of the American Health Care System (watch Rescue Fire here for free). In this movie, it is pointed out that we have a very profitable 'disease care system' in which nobody makes money on healthy people or on dead people; the money is in the chronically sick people. The system needs us to keep coming back for more treatment.
Canadians already contribute a sizable share of their tax dollars to healthcare. But are we healthier because we spend more on health care than ever before? Medical wait times are painfully long and doctors race through appointments to see as many patients as possible in a day. Our health care system is under a huge amount of stress. We will not be able to preserve, let alone improve, the quality of our health care without major reforms which require a massive rethinking of medicine at all levels of society.
The impact on overall health and costs shows a dramatic decrease when spending is focused on prevention as opposed to treatment. However, a huge portion of the health care budget is spent on treatment, while only a small fraction is allocated to prevention programs. In order for this shift to occur in health care spending funds must be shifted towards prevention.
My personal opinion is that Canadians must be given the tools to make educated choices about their health. Government subsidies must put in place to support farmers growing fruits and vegetables instead of commodities, so that costs to the consumer more accurately reflect the costs in terms of environmental impact, economic impact as well as the impact on our health. Junk foods should be taxed like cigarettes.
We must change the compensation scheme for physicians to encourage more personal attention and allow medicare to encompass a more holistic approach to health care which includes alternative therapies, nutritional and exercise coaching. Money spent on physical exercise classes and gym memberships should be tax deductible. Health care education must begin in the schools. Children need to grow up with all the tools they need to make healthy choices. Companies should encourage healthy habits in the work place and provide courses and trainings for their employees to motivate them to make healthier choices. Healthier employees result in higher productivity and less time off work, so everyone wins!
This is of course, just one woman's humble opinion. I would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave them in the comments below. I also encourage you to share this on facebook to keep the conversation growing and to encourage a dialogue on these important topics.
My homemade Creamy Jalapeno and Corn Soup
I recently had lunch at a great new restaurant in Montreal that opened just this past December. Lola Rosa is the sister to a little vegetarian hide away of the same name tucked in the McGill ghetto that's been serving the university crowd for over 10 years. It has a great earthy ambiance, super friendly staff and almost all of the items on their menu can be made vegan with a few substitutions. Some items can also be made gluten free. And there are vegan deserts available as well.
The new location on Parc is quite spacious with room for large groups and a planned expansion to include a counter for pre-packaged foods for take-out. The tables have little drawers filled with hand written notes, presumably left by previous diners, bearing messages like "Water breaks big rocks one drop at a time" and "Start a log of bliss". I'm a sucker for these cutsie touches.
There are only about a dozen items on the menu, but I was told that they have plans to add to that as well. The soup of the day was corn and pablano pepper. It was delicious, sweet and spicy. It inspired me to try something similar at home. I only had jalapeño peppers, so this is what I came up with.
Let's face it. In this day and age we are being pulled in a hundred directions. There's soccer practice, piano lessons and housework on top of your day job. Who has time for groceries and cooking dinner anymore? I get it! This is why we have fallen pray to the fast food 'solution', which we all know is actually part of the problem.
Life is busy and we need all the help we can get to stay on the healthy track. You MUST plan for success! If you come home tired and hungry and you don't have a plan, do you reach for a carrot stick? No, you'll be calling your favourite fast food place faster than the kids can say "I'm hungry". But if you have a plan and the tools are in place, the task seems much less daunting. Especially when you've done your prep work ahead of time!
Meal planning is the hammer in your healthy habits toolbox. Let me tell you why. With a good meal plan in place you will:
1-EAT OUT LESS - with a meal ready to come together in minutes the thought of meal preparation is much more appealing, so you will be less likely to want to stop for take out on the way home or throw another frozen pizza in the oven. You will also have lunches planned to take to work.
2-EAT HEALTHIER FOOD - By preparing your own food, you know exactly what's in it and how much. There are no hidden surprises. Restaurant food is often full of salt and fat. The more often we eat out, the more our weight will creep up.
3-WASTE LESS FOOD - If you buy just what you need, you will avoid buying more than you need and wasting food that you can't eat before spoiling.
4-EAT A VARIETY OF MEALS AND AVOID BORDOM- With a meal plan you will avoid falling into a rut and eating the same foods week after week. Use you plan to incorporate new recipes into your repertoire.
5- MAKE FEWER TRIPS TO THE GROCERY STORE - with a bit of planning, you can do all your groceries in one trip. Using more fragile ingredients early in the week and hearty ones later on, you will always have exactly what you need on hand.
6- PLAN AHEAD FOR BUSY DAYS - Save your more time consuming recipes for those days that you have more time. Plan to cook with your family members or assign meals to different family members so everyone knows who's doing what when. Don't be afraid to delegate.
7-SAVE MONEY - Wasting less food, eating out less and fewer trips to the grocery store adds up to more money to buy shoes!
8-SAVE TIME AND REDUCE STRESS - The energy and time saved by having a simple meal plan in place will amaze you. I've read that one minute planning saves you 10 minutes down the line, so how much time will 30 minutes of meal planning save you?
Need I say more?? I know that on the weeks that I make a meal plan, I eat better. On the weeks that I don't, I fall into a rut and eat the same meals over and over. BOR-ring.
So try it! Pick one day a week to gather your favourite cookbooks and grab a pen and paper. You can download printable meal planning sheets here, here and here. You can also use a bulletin board or a chalk board designated for meal planning, or make your own meal planning station like this. Sit down in the kitchen with your cup of tea, pull out your agenda or your calendar and figure out what's going on this week. Which days are busy? Which days do you have meetings? Is it someone's birthday? Are you having company? Take note of all of these things.
Open the fridge and look around. What do you have in there that needs to get used up? Do you have some kale you bought, but have no idea what to do with? Do you have 3 ripe avocados that need to be eaten by Tuesday? Plan some meals to make early in the week to use up these poor vegetables languishing in the back of your crisper drawer. And while you're at it.... if there's something that is no longer recognizable.... toss it.
Keep a list of recipes that you want to try (I like Pinterest for this). If there are old favourites keep those recipes handy. If you're keen put them on recipe cards and list the groceries you need on the back of the card. Choose a couple of old favourites and a couple of new recipes you've been meaning to try and fit them into your meal plan. Which days do you have time to cook? How long does each recipe take to prepare? Are there steps you can do ahead of time to make the meal come together faster? If recipes take some advanced planning (like soaking beans or nuts or roasting garlic) make note of this in your meal plan.
Plan breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Plan 5 – 6 days of meals per week. Allow yourself 1-2 days for eating out or leftovers or just going with the flow. You want to leave yourself a little bit of flexibility. This isn't about removing all the spontaneity from your life! It's about simplifying and taking the stress out of meal preparation!
On busy days plan a slow cooker meal, make extra the night before or prepare something ahead that can be thrown in the oven like lasagna or better yet, delegate meal preparation to someone else! If you have a timer on your oven, learn how to work it! This can be very handy!
Go through your plan and recipes and make your grocery list. If you're an organizational wizard you can use pre-made grocery lists and just check off what you need. Go over your list twice. You don't want to end up missing a main ingredient midweek and have to run to the grocery store again when you're hungry. Shopping while you're hungry is a recipe for disaster!
There it is. Meal planning in a nutshell. Give it a try! Learn more about planning and healthy habits in Zengarry's upcoming Plant-based Lifestyle Immersion Programs. The next class begins April 7th.
Read more about embracing healthier habits here. If you found this post helpful, please share it on Facebook! Do you have any meal planning or time saving tips to share? Please leave them in the comments section below!
If you're like me, you're always looking for ways to sneak more healthy foods into your kids. A particular area of contention at our house is school lunches. This debate often ends in tears..... usually from me.
Apparently in grade 5, school lunches receive alot of scrutiny from classmates. "All the kids think my lunch is weird" is the complaint that I get most often. I'm not entirely sure when vegetable soup became weird.... but there you go! This is what I'm up against..... Lunchables, Dunkaroos, and Fruit Gushers. These products have huge marketing campaigns that I, as a concerned mom, just cannot compete with. No matter how lovingly I prepare my food.
What seems to work best is to hide the good stuff in appealing packaging. Grind up the broccoli so it cannot be detected in the sauce, or the soup or the vegetable dip. Hide cucumber and flax seed in the morning smoothies. We've all done it! Right?
So here is another healthy snack recipe to add to your arsenal! White beans in the muffins..... shhhhhh!! My kids might hear you!! And let me just say that neither one of them turned up their nose to ask "what did you put in here this time?" That, my fellow moms, is a the true measure of a successful recipe!!
I must confess that I did add chocolate chips as an added incentive. Feel free to leave them out or add blueberries, cranberries or walnuts instead if you have a 'less discerning' audience at your house. Give it a try and let me know what you think. I would love to hear your comments!
White Bean Banana Muffins
2 Tbsp. chia seeds
1/2 cup warm water
2 very ripe bananas
1 cup canned white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup soymilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dairy free chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix the water and chia seed and set aside. In a food processor mix beans, banana, maple syrup, soy milk and vanilla until smooth. After the chia seed mixture has thickened up, add this to the food processor as well and blend until well mixed. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.
Add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and mix until almost blended. Add chocolate chips and stir until just combined.
Spoon mixture out into 12 muffin cups lined with paper liners or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and bake for 20 minutes until golden and cracked on top.
Keep up the great work moms!! Your kids will thank you for it one day!!
Beans, beans, the magical fruit.
There are hundreds of different types of beans.
Beans are an incredibly healthy and versatile addition to any diet. Since they are easily dried and stored for long periods, they have traditionally been an integral part of cuisines from all over the world. Think of Indian Dahl, Lebanese Falafel, Mexican refried beans.
Legumes are a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas and lentils. They naturally contain tons of protein and are chock full of antioxidants, folate, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron. They also contain beneficial fats and soluble and insoluble fiber, are typically low in fat, and contain no cholesterol.
Health Canada advises eating beans and lentils in place of meat to reduce saturated fat and increase fibre. Studies have revealed that eating legumes can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, reduce elevated blood pressure, and may even cut the risk of prostate and breast cancers.
The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends adding legumes to your diet to help lower the glycemic index and increase the fiber content of your diet. Research suggests that eating legumes can substantially reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Eating only a half cup (125 ml) lowered fasting glucose and insulin levels.
If beans are so delicious and good for us, why don't more people eat them? One of the excuses I hear most often is.... farting. Yes, we are grown ups and we can say that word without giggling like a school boy! You know it's true. Beans do have a bad reputation for causing flatulence.
Let's get one thing straight. Gas is normal. As the fiber in beans is broken down by the microflora in our gut, fermentation occurs and gas is a by-product of this fermentation. This is Mother Nature at work. The big question is: How can we eat more beans and avoid embarrassment in the office and dirty looks at yoga class?
When you change your diet it takes time for your digestive system to adjust; months and maybe even years. The microflora in your intestines is in tune with what you usually eat, so when you change your diet, you need to develop a whole new microflora to help you digest these new foods.
Gas production generally depends on several factors: your digestive system, the type of beans you eat, how much you eat, how the beans are cooked, and what foods you eat with the beans.
Here are 8 handy tips to reduce the gasiness you may experience from eating beans:
1- When using dried beans, soak your beans before cooking. Discard the soaking water. Rinse. Then cook. When using canned beans rinse them well in a colander before adding them to your favourite recipe.
2-Start with smaller amounts of beans and gradually increase the amount that you eat. Mung beans and lentils are easiest to digest so start with these. Navy beans, adzuki beans, green or yellow split peas, and brown lentils, may be harder to digest, and therefore more gaseous.
3-Adding spices can make beans much easier to digest. Cook your beans with ginger, turmeric or asafoetida. Asafoetida is actually called an antiflatulent!
4-Eat green vegetables with your beans.
5- Garlic, onions, and the cabbage family, can be serious gas causing agents, so try to avoid combining them with beans.
6-Avoid eating fruit or sugary foods with beans. Leave 2-3 hours between eating these foods.
7-Instead of adding salt, add a piece of Kombu to your beans at the end of the cooking time. Kombu is a form of dried seaweed that can be found in Asian markets.
8-Chew, chew, chew! Digestion begins in the mouth. Chew every bite 15-25 times before swallowing.
Now that you're armed with your gas busting tips, why not try this recipe for Black Bean Puree with Fresh Guacamole or these Deviled Potatoes? If you would like to learn more about beans and how to incorporate more of these health promoting superstars into your life register for Zengarry's upcoming All About Beans Workshop being held Friday, April 19th at 5 pm.
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