SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Everyone knows they should eat healthy, and that usually means consuming more vegetables. A plant-based diet is one of the latest nutrition fads to incorporate more veggies onto one’s plate.
However, having a plant-based diet can mean a variety of things to different people.
For some, it may mean being strictly vegan, for others it may mean going vegetarian. According to health professionals, it doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you’re eating nutrient-dense, whole foods.
For those looking to make the leap into the plant-based world, it’s best to slowly make the transition.
“It should be done in a planned and appropriate way because there can be deficiencies”, said Dr. Linda Shiue, Internist and Director of Culinary Medicine at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco’s Mission Bay. Shiue is also a trained chef and developed the Thrive Kitchen at the facility. It teaches cooking classes to patients and clinicians, to help them improve their health and wellness with food.
“I think what’s most important, and should be universal to everyone, is cutting out the junk,” explained Shiue. “You can be plant-based and you can be vegan and still eat a very unhealthy diet. For example, french fries are vegan.”
A worry for some turning to this new diet is the false notion that it lacks protein. Shiue affirmed you can get the necessary protein needed through legume-based foods like chickpeas, tempeh and tofu.
For those looking to cut back on carbohydrates, Shiue recommended cutting back on the consumption of refined carbs, instead of ditching them all together. Quinoa, brown rice and black barley are more preferable alternatives.
If you’re not quite sure if you’ll like these options, Shiue suggested trying the bulk bins at the grocery store.
“That way you can just try a small amount without much investment to find out what you like”, she said.
Vegetables are always important to eat. Next time you load your plate with greens, add a squeeze of lemon. The vitamin C in the juice will help your body absorb the iron from the veggies.
When it comes to seasonings, Shiue said to be generous with spices like turmeric, garlic powder and cinnamon.
“These days, we think about getting our medicine in pills”, Shiue explained. “Before we had pills, this is all people had to rely on, because spices were our first medicines.”
To make dull vegetables taste delicious, Shiue suggested adding herbs like cilantro or mint for freshness.
Another recommendation from Shiue, is not to forget the fats. The right ones can help make you feel full. Seeds and nuts have good minerals and trace elements the body needs to help absorb nutrients.
If you’re looking to get your nutrients from supplements, they can help you get the right amount of iron, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. But Shiue wants to make sure you’re getting enough vitamins B12 and D, as well. B12 helps with several body processes including forming your blood supply and neurological functioning. Vitamin D is key to bone health.
Before diving right into your new health goals, it’s best to talk to your doctor if you have any medical conditions. For elite athletes, Shiue recommended talking to a sports nutritionist.
Sticking to your new goals can be tough. Shiue offered these tips on how to maintain them:
- Cook at home
- Meal prep by making big batches of healthy food items
- Meal plan 4-5 dinners a week
- Eat leftovers for lunch
- Set small, realistic goals – for example, try plant-based meals 1-2 days a week to start
To help you kick start your health goals in 2020, Shiue provided this minestrone recipe. She adapted the Food Network’s “Barefoot Contessa” star Ina Garten’s recipe to be strictly plant-based.
2 cup servings
2T olive oil
1½ cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups (½-inch-diced) carrots
2 cups (½-inch-diced) celery
1 cup (½-inch-diced) peeled butternut squash
1 cup (1/2-inch-diced) peeled kohlrabi
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves (may substitute 1 tsp dried thyme)
1 26-ounce can diced tomatoes
6 to 8 cups unsalted vegetable stock, preferably homemade
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 15-ounce can no-salt-added cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked small whole grain pasta, such as ditalini, small macaroni or small shells
¼ cup red wine
10 ounces fresh baby spinach
2 tablespoons basil pesto
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, carrots, celery, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Then add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Next, add butternut squash, kohlrabi, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.
- Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1½ teaspoons pepper and smoked paprika. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
- Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans, cooked pasta and wine and bring to a boil until heated through. If the soup is too too thick, add more stock or water
- Gradually fold in spinach until just wilted but still very green, about 30 seconds. Stir in pesto and adjust salt to taste, then serve immediately.