1.17.10 Mostly Plants

Veg 790 xxx
photo by george billard
By now you've probably all heard Michael Pollan's edict, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It's an approach to healthy eating that takes into account everything we now know about artery-clogging animal fats and the global ramifications of factory-farming; about the stress caused by over-eating and the benefits of calorie deprivation; about the value of antioxidants and flavanoids and fiber. But let's say you're too busy to read the books (Fast Food NationThe Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, Eating Animals), you haven't seen the movie (Food Inc.) and you just want to know a few things you can do every day, realistically, right now, to improve your diet. Again, my disclaimer: I am no health professional. I have simply read a lot about these issues and experimented with changing my own eating habits. I am not into deprivation. I am into consuming delicious foods that help me thrive.
Here are some suggestions for how you can improve your energy, skin clarity, digestive function, cholesterol level, heart health and body fat. You might shed a few pounds, but that's really more to do with reducing calories and increasing your exercise. This is about taking responsibility for creating balance in your body, in your life and on the planet. (Believe it or not, eating less meat and more local fruits and vegetables has a tangible benefit to the state of our world.) It's also about adding more variety to your diet. Eating the same things day in and out is dull for your palate and for your body. Take advantage of the many foods available to you and integrate more plant-based foods, including legumes, nuts and seeds, fruits in season and sea vegetables.BREAKFASTScrambling eggs? Forget about the bacon and add some dark, leafy greens—chopped kale, chard, spinach, pea shoots, mizuna, bok choy, arugula, whatever's on hand. Throw in some fresh herbs, a teaspoon or so of turmeric (a powerful anti-inflammatory), maybe a chopped green chile or some dried red ones. Got leftovers? Use up those green beans/bits of squash/steamed broccoli florets, etc. You'll find that you need fewer eggs. Don't thrown out the yolks thinking you're being healthier--they have nutritional value and make your coat glossy. And if you really want it, fry up just one piece of bacon and crumble it on top. Its smoky flavor goes a long way.Eating oatmeal and think you don't have time to give up those gross instant packets? (or instant anything?) Think again. Take a shower while your steelcut oats are cooking. Or do your morning stretches. Or get your kid dressed. Don't eat your oats plain. Throw in some fresh berries or stir in half an apple, grated. This helps your body digest better. You can also add some nuts or dried fruit as well, but the fresh element is important. (The same goes for dry cereal. And try to eat a multigrain one, not just corn or wheat.)How about a smoothie? Frozen organic berries, a banana, some goat's milk yoghurt, a little hemp milk, a tablespoon of flax seeds and another of honey. Delicious and so good for you. Notice how I'm steering you away from cow's milk? It's higher in fat, less nutritious and harder to digest. Goat's milk has smaller fat molecules, more vitamin A and is alkaline rather than acid in your system. Just give it a try. Start choosing goat's milk cheeses over cow, too. There are tons of amazing ones beyond simple delicious fresh logs (like Humboldt Fog, Redwood Hills California Crottin, Queso Leonora, Fleur Vert). Sheep's milk cheeses are also a good choice (Pecorino, Manchego, Roquefort).  Hemp, almond, rice and soy milk are other alternatives to add to your repertoire.Orange juice from a carton? Really? That stuff doesn't even taste like oranges. I hate to sound like a broken record, but buy a juicer. It ain't just for breakfast. Here are just a few of the delicious, high-energy, high-nutrition drinks you can have any time:green apple, celery, parsley, ginger, lemonpear, fennel, watercress, ginger, lemonkale, carrot, beet, apple, gingerpineapple, orange, kiwi, gingerstrawberry, cucumber, spinach, limeLUNCHFor a start, lose the bread. OK, there's nothing wrong with whole grain breads, and even the occasional ciabatta or challah is not going to kill you. But if you're looking to get more greens into your diet, one easy way is to simply dump the contents of that sandwich onto a salad. Better yet, get creative with composing salads that feature lots of interesting elements and lunch is suddenly a lot less boring. Taking your lunch to work? Put the greens in a bag or tupperware, the other ingredients in another one, and the dressing in jar. Then toss it in a bowl at the office. Can't find the time/won't make the effort? Then you're stuck with your personal pizza or fatty Chinese food or expensive soup that leaves you craving cookies by 4pm—and the fat ass and low energy that go with it. Here are some good salads:arugula with tuna in olive oil, sliced fennel,  oil-cured olivesradicchio with grapefruit, walnuts and pecorinoraw Tuscan kale with parmesan and toasted pine nutsmixed greens with dried cranberries, pecans and blue goat cheesefrisee with cubes of roasted squash and toasted hazelnutsspinach with lentils and red peppersendive with beets and almondssliced cucumbers with seaweed and sesame seedsThink you need more protein? Add pumpkin or sunflower seeds; crumbled toasted nori; smoked chicken or tofu; turkey breast; canned sardines; cooked beans; quinoa; brown rice. And of course you can have the occasional ham, steak or whatever. Just don't have it again for dinner.DINNERThis is a very big playing field, so I'm going to give you one rule of thumb to consider: don't make meat the center of your meal every evening. As I've said before meat + starch + vegetable = one very outdated paradigm for your plate. Think of using meat (and I'm including seafood in here as well) as more of a flavoring agent. And don't just fill the void with pasta and rice—although those make good choices from time to time, especially if you are eating brown rice (pasta as well). Think of lentils (Indian dals), red beans with rice, black beans with plaintains, quinoa with kale, soba noodles, stuffed squash. Start putting vegetables more front and center: cauliflower with cheese sauce, broccoli with anchovy sauce, grated zucchini stir-fried with almonds. Add bits of bacon or tofu or smoked chicken or tempeh to boost the flavor and protein content. Consider the notion that you may just be able to eat less. You're not going to go away hungry. Your muscles will not shrink. You will feel lighter, less bloated and logy. You will not have heartburn and acid reflux. You will step off the path that's heading towards diabetes, congestive heart failure, strokes, aching joints, problematic menopause, prostate trouble... Who really wants to go there? You don't have to go vegetarian. You don't have to give up the foods you like. But remember, as you reach for that bag of chips or that frozen pizza or that canned soup or store-bought cookie (or your child does), that Monsatan and the other food giants are spending millions of dollars on R&D to come up with just the right combinations of salt and sugar and fat to keep you helplessly addicted to their manufactured foodstuffs. We have been systematically lured away from the natural, whole foods that are good for us. To get your real appetite back, you need to ease up on that other stuff. Let me know how it goes.


GREAT! Perhaps you should be the HHC...
Jocelyn on January 19, 2010 at 6:19 am —
Right on Laura. Check out this article in the Times. The Great Joe Rollino just died. Got hit by a car. Very sad. But the guy was an ironman. A strongman. And he was veggie. Great story. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/nyregion/12ironman.html?scp=1&sq=rollino&st=cse
Todd on January 20, 2010 at 1:22 am —
Wow. What a character. Plenty of muscle without red meat. Who knows how long he might have lived if it weren't for that van...
laura on January 20, 2010 at 3:05 pm —