Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. ~Hippocrates

Archive for August, 2012

Vacation Eats

So sorry for the long hiatus. I was studying furiously for my national registration exam to receive my credential as a Dietetic Technician, Registered. Then I left for a 2 week work/study vacation, returning to work catchup. So, here I am. Back in the blogging saddle.

Every year for the past 20 years, we have gone to a lakeside cabin in Maine. It’s a house really, with a fully equipped kitchen. It is interesting how my relationship with that kitchen has changed over the years.

In the early years, saddled with an infant and a toddler, vacations meant packing up half the house and moving all the work to a different location. I did not find those vacations at all relaxing. We had a 10 hour drive (before DVD players). I stressed about the kids and the proximity to the lake, constantly doing head checks. I still had to shop, cook and feed the family. It was no vacation for me in the food department. And I didn’t even enjoy cooking back then!

As the years went by and the kids grew older, we took them out more often to restaurants, giving me more of a break. Then they were old enough to make their own breakfasts and sandwiches, relieving me of those meals. Then, as they became young men and brought friends, they were in the kitchen cooking for us. I stood back with a big grin of pride, watching 3-5 handsome men chattering and cooking away!

I really didn’t earn the right to take any credit, since my interest in cooking developed long after I could claim any influence. My older son took a liking to cooking at age 10 when a French woman stayed with us for a month, cooking up a storm. He stood by her side watching and assisting, as she cooked and baked the most beautiful and healthful meals. My younger son has worked in food service throughout high school and college, and has begun to prepare meals for himself too.

So now that cooking is no longer the chore it once was, I find it to be a creative endeavor that I enjoy. But here is the sad part: the boys aren’t around to benefit from the fruits of my labor. Now, isn’t that too bad?

Living with Vegans

Please forgive my hiatus. Between a new job and studying for my national registration, my brain could not focus on anything else. Yes, I passed the exam; thanks for wondering. Now that I am on vacation, I can get back to business. (Now that’s an oxymoron!)

Today’s topic of conversation is veganism. Two of my sons’ friends are vegans. It started with a personal challenge, then they kept on doing it. It has been three and a half years for one; 4 years for the other. At the beginning, they ate all kinds of “imitation” foods like fake bacon and fake hot dogs. I questioned them about the spirit of going vegan, and the contradiction of eating foods that would be unhealthy if they were real. Further, they were eating a lot of processed foods, with ingredient lists 3 inches long. Since then, they have grown and become more educated about eating a healthy vegan diet.

Many people approach the decision to go vegetarian or vegan without enough information. While it is a healthy lifestyle choice, one must adhere to some nutrition guidelines to ensure healthy intake of essential nutrients. Giving up animal products entirely (strict vegan) presents a few challenges that can be overcome with attention to the diet.

The staples of the vegan diet should include: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, soy and seeds. The less processing, the better, to provide the best nutritional quality.

Plant based diets contain sufficient protein, iron, calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, iodine, and zinc. A crucial ingredient missing from the diet however, is Vitamin B-12, which is necessary for proper nerve and brain function. Lack of it, over an extended period of time can cause irreversible damage to the nervous system. Some soy and rice drinks are fortified with B-12, as well as breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast.

Animal products provide the most efficiently absorbed form of iron. When eliminated from the diet, extra care must be taken to ensure enough of this vital element. Iron is plentiful in fortified cereals, legumes and soy, dark leafy green vegetables, whole grains, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, molasses and potatoes with skins. Iron is absorbed from cast iron cookware. To boost the absorption of iron, consume foods with vitamin C along with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C is plentiful in citrus fruit, peppers, tomatoes, dark greens (like kale and collard greens) cabbage and broccoli. Note however, that iron and calcium compete for the same absorption receptors, so they should not be eaten together. Caffeine also interferes with iron absorption, therefore should be avoided at mealtimes.

Consume protein rich tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, soy (milk and other products), whole grains, legumes and vegetables daily.

Calcium can be a challenge if meals are not carefully thought out. Dark green leafy vegetables, beans, some tofu, almonds, seaweed, fortified soy milk, beans, figs, and unrefined molasses supply calcium. Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption. You can get it by exposing your skin to sun 10-15 minutes per day or by consuming fortified soy or rice milk or a supplement.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids include ALA, EPA and DHA. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found mainly in the oil of flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, rapeseed (canola oil), and soybeans. ALA reduces blood clotting, and is good for the heart. The body converts some of the ALA into two other essential omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA. These two are also found to a small degree in seaweeds, and there are vegan DHA supplements available made from micro-algae. Low levels of DHA have been associated with depression. A tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or a teaspoon of flax oil per day will meet the needs of most people.

You need iodine for normal cell metabolism, and it is easy to get enough if you used iodized salt. Fancy salts such as sea salt, are not iodized. If you use them, you need to get your iodine elsewhere. It is found in seaweed and some vitamins.

Zinc is important for would healing. Rich sources include eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, sprouts, legumes, whole grains, tofu, tempeh, miso, millet and quinoa.

Being a vegan or vegetarian can be a healthy lifestyle choice. It will require more attention to your diet however, to ensure adequate nutrient intake.

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