Feb. 06, 2013 - Issue #903: Moment by moment
Eat your greens
Author teaches how to adopt a plant-based diet for better health
To help ease any uncertainties and offer some guidance in the process, dietician and author Vesanto Melina is currently touring to various Canadian cities conducting workshops with dietitians, and teaming up with Vegans and Vegetarians of Alberta for a public talk in Edmonton.
Melina's interest in nutrition grew out of a love of cooking that developed during high school home economics class, and she eventually made the switch to vegetarianism in the '70s, along with several of her friends, who would each take turns whipping up different vegetarian dishes, all trying to outdo each other. Twenty years ago, Melina, now 71, made another major change in her diet and became vegan.
"I was writing our first book, which is called Becoming Vegetarian, and I was writing a chapter called 'Without Dairy,' and I suddenly realized it was completely easy to do that, to go without dairy and also to get good nutrition," says Melina, whose other titles include Becoming Vegan, Becoming Raw, Food Allergy Survival, Raising Vegetarian Children and Cooking Vegetarian, which features chef-approved recipes for both quality and simplicity.
Melina chuckles that she was her own first convert, learning that dairy was not the only way to achieve bone health and take in many of the nutrients prevalent in dairy products, such as calcium. She notes that a large portion of the world's population does not rely on dairy, and, in many cases, it can be a counter-productive dietary element, citing that many of the cancers North Americans battle are of the hormone-related variety, such as breast or prostate cancer—which could possibly be linked to animal products.
"We do know you can reduce your risk of prostate cancer when you eat more plant foods, different foods that are from plants have so many antioxidants in them, and the same with breast cancer. If you avoid being overweight and eat a more plant-based diet you reduce your risk of colon cancer—you'll cut your risk in about half, so it's quite significant," she says, adding that shifting to a plant-based diet can cut people's risk of cardiovascular disease by approximately 25 percent.
Of course, any lifestyle change is an adjustment and takes time, but Melina says changing your diet does not have to be a complicated process and one that dooms you to tasteless, unappetizing meals. She notes that items in recipes that may already be in your regular rotation can be swapped out to make a meal vegetarian or vegan. For example, red lentils can be substituted for meat in pasta sauce for a source of protein—an important nutrient to ensure you are getting enough of in a plant-based diet—or mixing flax seed with water to replace an egg in baking recipes such as muffins.
"A lot of times, how people progress is first of all recognizing they have some foods already that they really like that are vegan," Melina says. "For example, they might have some soups that are lentil- or pea-based that they make or even buy in a canned form ... people are already eating, in this day and age, a fair number of vegan items."
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