There are a number of factors that increase the risk for cancer such as high levels of blood sugar, high cholesterol, and chronic inflammation. Our diet can directly impact each of these risk factors. An anti-cancer plant based diet of healthy greens, vegetables, grains and legumes is a smart choice in taking control of your health. Starting with small steps can transform your life. Ann Ogden-Gaffney gives us a reality check when it comes to our diets along with some fabulous 30 minute meal options.
A couple of pals of mine announced on Facebook that they were going vegan for 30 days. They were asking for recipes and advice. This got me thinking about going meatless. A plant-based diet is good for our health and good for the planet, but it can be difficult to make the break.
I know first hand. When I first came to the US I became a vegetarian. Instead of going ‘cold turkey’ if you’ll pardon the expression, my preferred strategy was to cut out meat, while gradually upping the ante on the vegetables, grains and legumes to help me get my vegetarian cooking mojo going before finally cutting out eggs and dairy. In the process I discovered that going meatless required a whole new cooking repertoire if I was to get in enough fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains and legumes to give me the nutrients I needed. I had to change everything from the contents of my cupboards, pantry and refrigerator to what constituted a quick weeknight dinner.
Most of us aren’t prepared for this reality hence the abundance of veggie burgers, fake turkey and bacon, vegan cheeses and other look-alike processed foods. There are even vegan versions of Cheetos!
Going meatless while keeping to a vegetarian or vegan version of the standard American diet (SAD) isn’t going to automatically be a healthy choice if you don’t eat your greens, and not just salad.
And I also admit to feeling ambivalent philosophically when it comes to these fake foods. While I enjoy one particular sunflower seed veggie burger, and sometimes tempeh bacon in a sandwich, it seems a pity not to enjoy the enormous diversity of the vegetable kingdom for what it is rather than turn to replicas of our own not-so-great way of eating. At the end of the day a fake hamburger is like fake fur; the animal is still implied, still the ghost in the background. One wouldn’t exist without the other.
Although the landscape is changing, we don’t have strong vegetarian traditions here in the US, but they abound around the world. South Asia and the Far East have given rise to wonderful vegetarian and vegan classic everyday cuisines that celebrate the plant foods they are made from, Italian, Spanish and Middle Eastern cooking does too. And it’s these Asian and Mediterranean inspired cuisines that I most frequently turned to for inspiration.
Indian food is a treasure trove of delicious meatless foods, chickpea curries, dals made with lentils, rice dishes spiced with nuts and endless vegetables. It’s easy to get protein with a diet like this. Legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains are rich in it but with the exception of quinoa, few have the complete array of amino acids our bodies need, so need to be eaten in combination with other foods that supply the missing links, like the classic vegetarian protein combo of grains + legumes, think rice and beans, or rice and dal. As long as you eat both at some point in the day, and not necessarily together, you’ll be covered for protein. However the combo is present in our classic Italian Grandma’s Minestrone and from Spain with Brown Rice Paella with Chickpeas.
This brings me to the bean or rather legume family. They are my fast food. Not only are they are super versatile on the stove, they are both protein and nutrient rich. I make my own beans when I’ve time, but always keep canned in the pantry for quick weeknight meals like Mexican inspired Black Bean Chili. Now there’s a quick meal! To up the protein ante I often substitute creamy white beans for potatoes in classic potato based soups like Vichyssoise or non-dairy Cream of Watercress Soup where they add the creaminess. Legumes can also be baked into cakes and cookies, either as whole beans or flour. Garbanzo or chickpea flour has become a firm favorite to make gluten free flat breads, pancakes and yummy veggie Farinatas, which have a frittata like consistency, perfect for a lunch box or a brunch!
Quinoa is another favorite. It is technically a seed and has complete protein. Better yet it cooks like white rice. You can cook a batch and freeze it in portions, or make it to spec as a side. It’s great with Roasted Winter Vegetables, or as a substitute for bulgur or couscous in Tabbouleh as it adds complete protein to this easy dish.
As you can see, I could go on and on.
Long story short, if you’re going meatless although they’re a great standby, you don’t have to resort to eating veggie burgers every night. Stock your pantry with beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, including quinoa, canned tomatoes and some basic spices – you can get my Click here.
Be curious, stretch your culinary wings and try new foods, and, most of all enjoy the ride! Good Cooking!
Brown Rice Paella with Chickpeas
Servings 4 – Prep Time 30 minutes
This is also a great choice for a neutropenic diet!
- 1¼ cups short-grain brown rice
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- ¼ teaspoons crumbled saffron threads
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 medium red pepper, chopped
- 1 medium tomato, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley
- ½ pound washed spinach leaves or frozen leaf spinach
- 2 teaspoons smoked sweet paprika
- 2 teaspoons thyme leaves
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the rice and 2½ cups of the stock, bring to a boil, lower the heat and cover. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes.
- While the rice is cooking, in a pot combine the wine and enough broth to bring it to 1¼ cups of liquid. Bring to a boil, add the saffron threads, cover and keep warm.
- Heat the olive oil in a wide paella pan over medium-high heat. Add the pine nuts and brown slightly, then add the garlic, onions, and red pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are slightly wilted. Add the tomatoes and parsley and sauté 2-3 minutes or until the tomatoes have cooked down. Add the spinach and cook until it has wilted, if using fresh, or when thawed, if using frozen.
- Stir in the paprika, thyme, cumin, and oregano, and blend well. Add the partially cooked rice, along with any remaining broth, coating it well with the mixture.
- Pour in the saffron infused broth and bring to a boil. Taste for salt. Add the chickpeas and continue to boil, stirring and rotating the pan occasionally.
- When the rice is no longer soupy but there is still liquid left to cook (this should take about 5 minutes), transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes until the rice is almost al dente. Cover the pan with foil and let the paella sit in a warm place for about 10 minutes until the rice is cooked to taste.
What’s on your #BucketList? Join #CancerRoadTrip for a healing adventure and a chance to win a trip of your own.