Getting Healthier with a Plant-Based Diet

Most people we know would have said my fiancé and I couldn’t possibly get any healthier, and I honestly thought the same (except to maybe cut out a few pounds of my weekly chocolate consumption). That was until I started watching documentaries on the food industry…

Vegucated

Vegucated follows three average meat-eating Americans as they take on a vegan diet for six weeks. The documentary attempts to debunk the myth that vegans submit themselves to a lonely diet more suitable for bunny rabbits than humans, and tries to expose the cruelty to which millions of animals are subject every day in the current meat, seafood, eggs and dairy industries.

I have always believed humans are omnivorous and killing animals is not morally wrong yet simply a fact of life, but the filthy and miserable conditions of today’s industry standards are immoral, not to mention utterly nauseating. I prefer not to get into the contemptible details, but reasons for not wanting to ingest meat or their products after watching Vegucated are the same reasons one would not want to ingest a Parisian sewer rat – it’s just plain disgusting.

Indeed, there do exist farms that provide their animals with humane living conditions, but there does not exist an agency or means of regulating what is considered to be humane. One basically has to do his/her own research about the particular farm from which the animal products are sourced – which I did and surprisingly found a transparent local farm that satisfied my personal standards for production methods.

And then I watched another documentary…

Forks Over Knives

Forks Over Knives explores the life works of physician Caldwell Esselstyn and professor T. Colin Campbell, who assert that animal-based diets are the cause of most degenerative diseases and that a plant-based diet can control or even reverse them. Though the research is rather convincing, one cannot claim with 100% certainty that animal products cause cancer and heart disease, but I would like to suggest that the average vegan is healthier than the average meat-eater, and therefore I choose to err on the side of caution.

Having never seen health as an obstacle to being a foodie, I am profoundly excited about my forthcoming culinary transformation as I explore less obvious sources of protein, learn to cook/bake without eggs and milk, perhaps inspire a few others to give plant-based meals a chance, and ultimately just get even healthier!

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Jicama & Mango Salad

Dave and I had dinner at my cousin Karen and her husband Shaun’s place a few weeks ago in Vancouver. They prepared an unbelievable dinner for us including this light crunchy tangy sweet salad. Who knew 4 ingredients could make such a delightful dish! Make it as a side dish or throw in some chicken, shrimp or fish and make it a meal.

Dave and I were even thinking it’d even make a great popcorn substitute if we cut the jicama and mango a little larger, and if we ever get around to watching a movie…

I had never cooked with jicama (a.k.a. yambean) before and I’m really sorry I’ve been missing out! This stuff is awesome! I’d call the texture a cross between a raw potato and an apple – though more like an apple in terms of water content. It’s ever so slightly sweet and PACKED with fibre. Here’s how it stacks up to 120g each of apples and potatoes:

Jicama   Apple       Potato

Calories                  46             62             83

Carbs                   10.6g       17.2g       18.9g

Sugars                   2.2g        13.3g         1.2g

Fibre                      5.9g          3.9g         2.0g

Protein                  0.9g             0g          2.2g

Most people have trouble getting enough fibre into their diets, but this salad contains nearly all of your recommended daily intake (25 g in a 2,000 calorie diet) in one serving. For sure a new staple in my house!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 mangos, julienned
  • 2 large jicama, julienned
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

DIRECTIONS

  • Mix in a large salad bowl, serve and enjoy!

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION

Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 203 calories, 48 g carbs, 1 g fat, 3 g protein, 21 g fibre

Broccoli Apple Grapefruit Salad

I wanted a super light and juicy salad to accompany the dense savoury crispy garlic mint pressed tofu I made for dinner tonight. This salad worked great, beautifully contrasting the garlic and mint flavour with one of dill and mustard.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups broccoli, bite-size pieces
  • 1 apple, chopped
  • 1 grapefruit, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp grainy dijon mustard
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped dill

DIRECTIONS

  • Microwave broccoli on high for 3 minutes. Chill in refrigerator for at least half an hour.
  • Combine olive oil, mustard, lemon juice, garlic and dill. Mix well.
  • Toss broccoli, apple and grapefruit in dressing.
  • Serve and enjoy!

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION 

Makes 2 large servings.

Per serving: 202 calories, 30 g carbs, 10 g fat, 5 g protein, 7 g fibre

Crispy Garlic Mint Pressed Tofu

This was my first time pressing tofu, and wow, am I glad I did! It’s a keeper and has a solid place in my repertoire for when vegetarian friends come for dinner. I know some people aren’t a big fan of tofu’s spongy wet texture, so this is a great way to get away from that while still being able to enjoy the benefits of this inexpensive and lean source of protein. I’d almost describe the pressed tofu as having a chicken texture, in fact it quite looks like a thin strip of chicken when you cut into it.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package firm tofu
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 lemon, zested
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup packed chopped fresh mint

DIRECTIONS

  • Cut tofu crosswise into 4 slabs. Firmly blot each slab between paper towel to remove excess water.
  • To make marinade, combine all remaining ingredients and mix well.
  • Cover tofu on all sides with marinade and place on a plate. Cover with plastic and let sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.
  • Heat large frying pan on medium-high heat.
  • Remove tofu from marinade and press off excess liquid with paper towels. Reserve marinade.
  • Arrange tofu flat in frying pan. Cover tofu with another frying pan, weighing upper pan down with a full kettle or large can of tomato sauce or beans.
  • Cook for 5 minutes, reduce heat to medium and cook for another 5 until well browned.
  • Flip tofu, press and cook until browned, about 7 minutes.
  • Place tofu on serving dish. Pour remaining marinade into pan, heat briefly and use it to garnish tofu.
  • Serve over rice, quinoa or another grain and enjoy!

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION

Makes 2 servings.

Per serving: 330 calories, 6 g carbs (1 g sugar), 26 g fat (4 g saturated), 22 g protein, 1 g fibre

Nut-Free Vegan Pesto Sauce

I happened across nutritional yeast at the grocery store over the weekend and remembered seeing it featured in a recent Women’s Health Magazine article. So I grabbed it, did a quick Wikipedia search and decided to give it a whirl as a parmesan and pine nut substitue in pesto sauce! I absolutely love pesto sauce and though it is nutritious it is quite high in calories. Nutritional yeast sports a cheesy and nutty flavour making it the perfect substituting for parmesan and pine nuts, slashing the pesto’s calories and fat.

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1.5 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  • Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend into a smooth paste.
  • Throw it over pasta, pizza dough or on a sandwich and enjoy!

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION

Makes 1 cup.

Per tbsp: 37 calories, 1 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 3 g fat, 1 g protein, 0 g fibre

Tofu Pumpkin Pie with Whole Wheat Crust

Dave absolutely loves pumpkin pie – he’d eat the entire thing in one sitting if I let him – so I thought I’d treat him over the weekend with a healthy experiment: tofu pumpkin pie. Surprisingly, there isn’t even the slightest taste of tofu in this dessert; it really could fool anyone!

I’ll admit I was a little intimidated making my first pie, but this was actually really easy (partly since the filling is a dump-all-into-a-blender type).

The Whole Wheat Crust

I was quite lucky to find whole wheat pastry flour at my neighbourhood grocer – the big guys don’t normally carry it. Whole wheat pastry flour is supposed to be better for lighter baked goods. It has slightly less protein (thus less gluten) than all purpose flour which allows it to achieve a flakier texture.

This is my first attempt at making a pie crust, and I must say, I didn’t do too bad a job. The crust can be used for sweet or savoury pies or quiche.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp coconut palm sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp 2% evaporated milk (or 5 tbsp milk)

DIRECTIONS

  • Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix (hands work best) until moistened.
  • Form dough into a ball and roll out to 0.5 cm onto a floured countertop.
  • Carefully peel crust from countertop and place into greased 9 inch pie dish.
  • Pat down starting in centre moving out to sides.
  • Set aside and wait for pie filling!

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION 

Makes 8 servings.

Per serving:

124 calories, 13 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 7 g fat, 2 g protein, 2 g fibre

The Tofu Pumpkin Filling

With simply pumpkin, tofu, a bit of sugar and spices, this filling is vegan-friendly. Though I added evaporated milk to the crust, the pie can be made vegan if you use a vegan crust.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 – 16 ounce can pureed pumpkin
  • 1 package (85 g) soft tofu
  • 1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
  • 3/4 tsp stevia powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 unbaked pie crust

DIRECTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Place all ingredients, expect for the pie crust, into a blender and puree.
  • Pour contents into pie crust.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  • Let pie cool completely before serving. Plate and add a dollop of greek yogurt on top. Enjoy!

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION

Makes 8 servings.

Per serving (excluding crust):

81 calories, 15 g carbs, 2 g sugars, 1 g fat, 3 g protein, 1 g fibre

205 calories for a piece of pie is pretty good in my mind!

Chili Lime Tofu Stir-Fry

Yesterday was National Pita Day according to Extreme Pita (half price pitas all day with proceeds going towards the Heart & Stroke Foundation) so Dave and I resolved to eat pitas for all three of our meals. Sadly our plan was foiled as upon arrival for the final pita of the day we are greeted by a glowing neon “CLOSED” sign. Still hungry and not willing to sink to Subway for dinner, I had to improvise with what little was left in the fridge at home… and it turned out great!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 inch ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 2 cups sliced white mushrooms
  • 1/2 green pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, sliced
  • 1 package (350 g) extra firm tofu, cubed
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

DIRECTIONS

  • Heat oil over medium heat. Sauté garlic, ginger, onion for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, peppers and cabbage and cook until peppers and cabbage soften.
  • Add tofu, quinoa, chili flakes, lime juice and soy sauce and stir for 3 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, serve and enjoy!

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving:

Calories 245

Carbs 25 g

Sugars 6 g

Fat 11 g

Protein 16 g

Fibre 5 g