Many people give up certain lifestyle behaviors in observation of Lent as a sign of sacrifice and to develop self-discipline.
This may mean abstaining from specific foods or beverages (oftentimes animal products, alcohol, caffeine-containing drinks, or other favorites). If you are one of these people and have been successful with your abstinence during this time, congratulations! You can feel very proud of yourself.
Hopefully, any healthy changes that you have made will become routine. Change is difficult for those who have lived their entire lives eating animal products, but every little change we make has an impact on our own bodies, and when considering the fact that animal agriculture accelerates global warming, potentially the entire world.
Dr. Michael Greger, who specializes in clinical nutrition, has authored a book called “How Not to Die.” It contains information about how the food we eat affects our health — in both good and bad ways.
It’s divided into two parts; The first focuses on the most common diseases that people have today. If you are like me, you probably have family members who are dealing with heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, brain disease, and others.
Fifteen diseases are reviewed in this section. When I read each of them, I was shocked to learn how food can make you sick and how most diseases can be prevented, reversed, or at least controlled by eating a healthy diet.
The book is packed with relevant nutrition information, and I want to mention several key points in Part I. Greger maintains that “Most deaths in the United States are preventable, and they are related to what we eat. Our diet is the number-one cause of premature death and the number-one cause of disability.”
The Center for Disease Control website shows that for 2020 the top three leading causes of death in the United States were: 1) heart disease: 696,962, 2) cancer: 602,350, and 3) COVID-19: 350,831.
Just stop and think for a moment that COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic was the third-leading cause of mortality, yet that’s only half the number of all heart disease-related deaths during the same time period.
Greger states: “To become virtually heart attack proof, you need to get your LDL cholesterol at least under 70 mg/dL.”
A study mentioned in the book is about patients with advanced heart disease who were put on plant-based diets in the hope that a healthy diet would prevent their disease from progressing.
Greger states: “Instead, something miraculous happened. Their patients’ heart disease started to reverse. These patients were getting better. As soon as they stopped eating a diet of artery-clogging foods, their bodies were able to start dissolving away some of the plaque that had accumulated. Arteries opened up without drugs or surgery, even in cases of patients with severe triple-vessel disease. This suggests their bodies wanted to heal all along but were just never given the chance.”
In Part 2 of the book, Greger discusses his concept of “The Daily Dozen,” a list that includes 11 foods we need to eat each day to stay healthy. (No. 12 on the Daily Dozen list is exercise.) These are the various food categories, along with the recommended number of servings: beans: 3, berries: 1, other fruits: 3, cruciferous vegetables: 1, greens: 2, other vegetables: 2, flaxseeds: 1, nuts and seeds: 1, herbs and spices: 1, whole grains: 3, and beverages: 5.
Each of these categories is described in considerable detail. A free app is available that facilitates tracking one’s Daily Dozen. I started using it a couple of months ago, and the first thing I thought was “How hard can it be to eat that in a day?” (I wasn’t even thinking of exercise, which is the hardest one for me.)
So, on day one, I was ready to give it a try and decided I wouldn’t eat anything else until I finished the list. As it turned out, I still missed two servings of beans and exercise that day.
I can’t say I have it all figured it out, but I still try to check off as many of the Daily Dozen as I can. It’s a challenge, especially on weekends. It keeps me accountable on how healthfully (or unhealthfully) I’m eating.
Give the Daily Dozen app a try. It will be interesting to see which foods are either easy or difficult for you.
For me, berries are still tricky. Unless I make a smoothie or have fresh strawberries, I usually don’t eat them.
I told a cousin about how I struggled with eating berries, and she said, “You’re crazy! That’s the easiest one!” So, you see, each person is different. I think in general most people want to eat healthier and take care of their bodies.
I also highly recommend Greger’s Nutrition Facts website (https://nutritionfacts.org/). You will find a lot of interesting information on a variety of pertinent health topics. A digital subscription, which is free, will provide you with research-based information presented in easy-to-understand and entertaining short videos.
Greger’s team has also written the “How Not to Die Cookbook.” If you want to try out some recipe ideas, most local libraries have copies.
The Nutrition Facts website is also a resource; just enter the word “recipes” in the search bar. Below are recipes from the cookbook.
Red Lentil Dal with Greens
This warm, comforting, delicious dal can be served alone or over cooked brown, black or red rice.
Yield: approximately 6 cups
- 1½ C red lentils
- 3 C vegetable broth (recommended: Better Than Bouillon, vegetable flavor)
- 3 C spinach or other greens, fresh, coarsely chopped
- 1-14.5 oz. can (PBA-free) of salt-free diced petite tomatoes
- ¼ C fresh cilantro
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger (or ¼-½ tsp. ground)
- 1 small hot green chili, seeded and minced (optional)
- 2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp. white miso paste
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- ½ tsp. ground coriander
- ¼-inch piece fresh turmeric, grated (or ¼ tsp. ground)
- 2 tsp. lemon juice
- Cooked brown, black, or red rice (optional)
1. In a large pot, cook the lentils in the vegetable broth. Whole lentils will take 15-20 minutes; for split lentils, the time is 5-7 minutes. (Do not overcook or the lentils will become mushy.)
2. Add the spinach, tomatoes and cilantro, stirring to wilt the spinach. Reduce heat to a low simmer.
3. In a small skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. water over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger and chili. Cook until softened, approximately 1 minute. Remove from heat and add the nutritional yeast, miso, cumin, coriander, turmeric and lemon juice; mix well. Add the spice mixture to the lentils and stir to combine. Maintain on low heat for a few minutes to allow flavors to combine.
4. Serve with toasted vegan naan or pita bread, if desired.
Daily Dozen servings: Beans, greens, other vegetables, herbs/spices (and whole grains, if using)
No-Bake Oatmeal Walnut Cookies
Yield: 30 cookies
These delicious treats can be made in minutes.
- 1½ cups soft, pitted dates
- 1 cup walnut pieces
- 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 2 Tbsp. date sugar, to taste
- 1 Tbsp. ground flaxseeds or chia seeds blended with 2 Tbsp. warm water
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- Water, as needed
1. In a food processor, combine the dates, walnuts and oats; process until crumbly. Add the date sugar (if using), flax mixture, vanilla and cinnamon. Process until the dough holds together. If the mixture seems too dry to dry, add a little water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to desired consistency.
2. To form the cookies, scoop out approximately one tablespoon of the dough and press it between your hands to form a ball. Arrange the balls on flat container. Use a fork to press them down to flatten slightly.
3. Refrigerate for 4 hours before serving.
Daily Dozen servings: fruits, flaxseeds, nuts/seeds, herbs/spices, whole grains
This creamy, chocolaty smoothie tastes so rich and delicious, you’ll forget how healthy it is!
Yield: 2 cups
- 1 ripe banana, frozen
- ⅓ cup frozen blueberries
- 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 Tbsp. ground flaxseeds
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp. almond butter or peanut butter
- 2 Tbsp. date syrup or maple syrup
- 1 cup raw spinach leaves
- 1 cup water
- 3 to 4 ice cubes (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a high-speed blender. Blend until thick and smooth. For a thinner texture, add more water or decrease the number of ice cubes, if using. Serve immediately.
Daily Dozen servings: Berries, other fruit, greens, flaxseeds, nuts/seeds, beverages
Note: A good smoothie strategy is to combine super-delicious foods with those that are perhaps less tasty, such as mangoes with raw kale, so they balance each other out. Smoothies let you consume foods you might not otherwise pack into your daily diet, and they’re easy to make and convenient.
Maria Mendizabal has been vegetarian for 14 years and vegan for five. She is from Guatemala and lives in Marion. She is president of the Vegan Community of Eastern Iowa’s Board of Directors.
For questions or comments regarding the Vegan Community of Eastern Iowa, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.veganeasterniowa.org. Everyone is welcome to join the VCEI on Facebook and MeetUp.