Did you know that food is the number one cause of poor health in America today? American Cardiologist, Dr. Mozaffarian, has a few stats that he compiled in Tufts Now that will make your hair stand on end! Did you know that the US spends over $3 trillion per year on healthcare, which is about $1000 per person per month in the US and this exceeds the cost of food and other common necessities by single and double digits? The cost of heart disease alone is over $200 billion annually in the US. Health care costs are crippling consumers and companies and they are a major obstacle to economic growth for people and companies. The food system in the US itself is bent on selling food instead of sustaining people. There is a huge gap between what the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, our most up to date nutrition science recommendations, state as the most optimal eating pattern with what is manufactured and sold in the US. Food manufacturers and restaurants are wooing you with burgers, hot dogs, cookies, snacks, soda, fried food, butter, sugary delights, and burgers. PLUS the US government doles out billions in agricultural subsidies per year to finance the production of fast food according to Marion Nestle, Ph.D., R.D., professor of NYU and prolific writer of the popular blog, The Politics of Food. By subsidizing grain food, our government makes fast food very cheap. The corn feeds the cattle used for burgers and it makes oil for French fries and sweetens the soda.
While all of those statistics are mind-boggling and there is little any one person or even company can do to fix the entire food system or health care costs, there is plenty a person can do to safeguard their health to lower their costs, improve their quality of life, and do their personal part to ensure the sustainability of our planet. How can one diet do all of this? It is simple. It is all about more plants and less cow.
The optimal eating plan for the prevention of obesity, cancer, and cardiovascular disease is truly a plant-based one. Dietitian Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, summarizes the World Heart Federation recommendations, “Beef, bacon, butter, full-fat dairy, high-fat desserts, and sugary drinks may taste good, but if people continue to consume them on a regular basis, their cholesterol may increase and so will their risk for heart disease. Processed meat like bacon, sausage, and lunch meat, as well as pastries, candy, and ice cream, need to be cut out, too. To really reduce the risk for heart disease and need for cholesterol-lowering medication, a healthy, whole-foods, plant-based diet is the route to go.”
What is a plant-based diet? The Harvard Health Letter has the best definition: “Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on whole foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.” This type of diet can easily be the DASH Diet, Mediterranean Diet, Plant-Based Diet, or any other terms that are popular in the media and blogs. Even the USDA MyPlate is 3/4 plants. No matter how you try to spin this diet, it is made more from plants than animal protein.
It may seem a little overwhelming to start changing what you are eating. Most people find it hard to grocery shop and cook never mind have to think and plan what they are eating on a daily basis.
But it can actually be easy and fun to change your eating plan if you start one meal at a time.
Let’s take breakfast. Are you consuming bacon and eggs? Why not try oatmeal and almond milk one day? Or make a smoothie with plant-based milk and fresh fruits? If you purchase 4 or 5 items and keep them on hand a delicious plant-based breakfast based on whole foods is right at your fingertips.
Once you have mastered breakfast, let’s move on to dinner. Now you might think we forgot lunch but an easy way to make a plant-based lunch is to have leftovers from dinner. So it makes sense to start with dinner.
For dinner, you can make many plant-based meals that are delicious. Try chili or veggie burgers. Or make a veggie-rich spaghetti dish. Stir fry your favorite veggies with a little tofu. Do you have a family favorite recipe? Challenge yourself to reduce the meat so you only have a little bit of flavor. Or switch out the meat for beans or lentils.
Here is our favorite recipe for eggplant lasagna. The eggplant has a meaty, umami texture which easily replaces the meat in a traditional recipe:
1 package of no-boil lasagna
1 26-ounce jar of low-sodium marinara sauce
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 clove of garlic, sliced thin
olive oil spray
1/2 cup of water
1-ounce grated parmesan cheese
Chopped parsley for garnish
Additional sauce if desired
- Layer this lasagna in a 2-pound loaf pan or a small casserole dish. Or double the recipe and put it in a larger casserole dish, about 12” square in size.
- Slice the eggplant widthwise so you have slices that are very thick and about the shape of the loaf pan. Discard the ends which are mostly skin.
- Layer the lasagna like this:
-slices of carrots and garlic
- Keep going with repeating this layer order until you end with eggplant on top then add a little olive oil and sauce. Add the water to the lasagna.
- Bake the lasagna at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until the noodles are tender when a fork is inserted into the pan.
- Allow the lasagna to cool for 5 minutes then slice it in thick 1.5” slices.
- Serve a slice with a little olive oil and chopped parsley on top.
- Serve with heated marinara sauce if desired.
Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC has these 6 tips for plant-based meals:
Vegans eat a plant-based diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and oils. As in any type of healthy eating plan, choosing a wide variety of foods ensures that you will get the highest amount of nutrients. Use these 6 tips for healthy vegan meal planning:
Choose nutrient-packed whole grains. Try...
- Quinoa, a good source of all the amino acids we need for good health
- Amaranth, which is higher in protein than many grains and is also naturally gluten-free
- Oats and barley, which contain fiber that helps lower cholesterol levels
- Wild rice, a good source of protein, with twice the protein and fiber of brown rice (3)
Instead of protein foods from animals (such as beef, pork, chicken, fish or eggs) enjoy plant-based protein foods such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, legumes, nuts, seeds, and nut butter.
Fill half of your plate with different colors of vegetables: red peppers or tomatoes, green broccoli or kale, orange carrots or butternut squash, yellow summer squash, white or brown potatoes, and jicama, and blue or purple eggplant and onions. The different colors contain various amounts of phytochemicals that help promote good health.
Instead of dairy products, enjoy soy or almond milk fortified with vitamin B12, calcium and Vitamin D.
Choose fresh, dried, or canned fruit in its own juice for snacks and a sweet at the end of meals.
Instead of butter, use oils from plants and nuts such as olive, flax, canola or walnut oils.
The recommendations for a plant-based diet are very solid on a scientific basis. They are in agreement with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, The American College of Cardiology, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, The American Cancer Society, The CDC, and many other peer-reviewed health entities. And recent research from the Adventist Study found that vegans were the only group with a healthy BMI! The fiber in a more plant-based diet also concurs with scientists studying the microbiome. And according to the Environmental Working Group, a plant-based diet is much easier on the environment. While it might be hard for busy folks with no culinary skills to prepare a lot of foods, there are plenty of plant-based foods in the freezer section of the grocery store and recipes for delicious meals abound online. It just takes a little bit of courage and time and it will become easier as it becomes a habit.
- Fox, Maggie, Do US Food Subsidies Make People Fat? NBC News, July 2016, Accessed November 12, 2019.
- Grieger, Lynn, RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC, Plant-Based Diet, Food and Health Communications, Accessed November 12, 2019
- Nestle, Marion, Ph.D., RD, Government Subsidies and Fast Food, Politics of Food, accessed November 12, 2019.
- Mozaffarian, Dariush, MD, Want to Fix America’s Health Care? Focus on Food!, TuftsNow, November 2019, Accessed November 12, 2019.
- Nutrient Profiles of Vegetarian and Nonvegetarian Dietary Patterns. Rizzo NS, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Sabate J, Fraser GE. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Aug 26.
- Sonia S. Anand,1,2,* Corinna Hawkes,3,* Russell J. de Souza,4 Andrew Mente,2 Mahshid Dehghan,2Rachel Nugent,5 Michael A. Zulyniak,1 Tony Weis,6 Adam M. Bernstein,7 Ronald Krauss,8 Daan Kromhout,9David J.A. Jenkins,10,11 Vasanti Malik,12 Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez,13 Dariush Mozafarrian,14 Salim Yusuf,2Walter C. Willett,12 and Barry M Popkin15 Food Consumption and its Impact on Cardiovascular Disease: Importance of Solutions Focused on the globalized food system. A Report from the Workshop convened by the World Heart Federation. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Oct 6; 66(14): 1590–1614.
- Schultz, Matthias, et. al. Food-based dietary patterns and chronic disease prevention. BMJ 2018; 361
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. But after learning that the quality of a croissant directly varies with how much butter it has, Judy sought to challenge herself by coming up with recipes that were as healthy as they were tasty.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.