Can I boast about myself for a moment? I have - and I am trying to say this modestly, but am failing - amazing iron levels. Impressive, I know! I'll be over here, taking a bow.
The thing about following plant-based diets is that you do really need to watch your intake of certain vitamins and minerals, such as B12 and iron. People always, always ask how I get enough protein, but typically that is less of an issue than getting enough iron. Insufficient iron can lead to fatigue, weakness, and the inability to fight off infections - and who has time for that? Not me, and so I have a spinach smoothie every single day.
This chocolate almond butter smoothie is my current favourite; not only is it rich in iron, but it is also full of protein and calcium. Plus, it's delicious. I keep very ripe frozen bananas on hand for my smoothies; they add sweetness and a milkshake-like texture, along with potassium. This makes a great breakfast or post-workout snack - full of energy, and delicious to boot!
In a high powered blender, blend the spinach, almond butter, cocoa powder, and almond milk together until smooth.
Add the frozen banana and blend until smooth and frothy.
Yield: 1 serving
Have you noticed the price of cauliflower lately? I kid, of course you have. In fact, if the internet is any indication, there is no one who hasn't noticed the outrageous cost of a tiny head of cauliflower. There are memes, cartoons, and tweets all dealing with this very important subject. Some discuss taking out a loan or second mortgage to buy cauliflower, others dream of winning the Powerball lotto just to have the roasted cauliflower meal of their dreams.
I really had no idea so many people ate that much cauliflower. Why isn't my Cauliflower Kung Pao more popular?
Here's the thing: it's winter. Produce in winter SHOULD be more expensive, because it has a long way to travel. Pair that with the fact that there is a drought in California and the Canadian dollar is testing all-time lows, and you have yourself a perfect storm for costly vegetables.
I hate to break it to everyone, but as a society we have become very spoiled in terms of produce expectations in the middle of the winter. It wasn't long ago when it would be absolutely unheard of to eat cherries in the winter, or asparagus at any time other than spring. When I was a kid I had never even heard of an avocado, and now I feel slighted if I can't get one of the exact ripeness I want whenever I want it. We rage about the cost of fresh vegetables, forgetting that this is the reason our grandmothers "put up" vegetables after fall harvest, just to make it through winter.
Well, if our grandmothers could live for months on home-canned tomatoes and sauerkraut, we can certainly make do with the situation at hand - without breaking the bank. Here's how.
Surprisingly, boxed greens such as spinach, arugula, mixed baby greens, and kale have not increased in price since the fall. This is the perfect time to fall back in love with hearty salads, or consider blending up spinach or kale to make a smoothie for an energy explosion. Mushrooms, zucchini, and avocado have all stayed relatively stable in price as well.
It's a great time to be reintroduced to root vegetables which, after all, are the ultimate winter fare. Carrots, turnips, parsnips, beets, and rutabagas can all be had at great prices - try roasting them or making "fries" for a tasty side dish. Think outside the (produce) box: at a Ukrainian Christmas celebration recently, the hostess had roasted beets and added them to hummus. Sounds crazy? It was. CRAZY GOOD.
Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious - if not more - than fresh ones, given that they are usually frozen mere hours after being picked, rather than riding on a truck for days. There are so many different medleys and blends these days; a delicious stir-fry or tasty curry is just moments away! Another great benefit: no chopping!
The other day a pint of cherry tomatoes was $7.99 at my local grocery; at Costco two pounds of them were selling for $5.98. If you can shop around and price compare, you can score some great deals - even for those non-seasonal, far-travelling vegetables.
How many of us have purchased vegetables with the best of intentions, only to have them spoil in the crisper before we have a chance to use them. Before you load up your grocery cart, stop. Think about exactly what you will make with the vegetable in your hand, and when you will make it. Have a plan, and then carry through. After all, if you're splurging on a pricey veggie, you don't want to end up with that pricey veggie in the compost bin.
Even if it feels like it lasts forever, winter will end. In a few short months we will all be able to gorge on local asparagus and strawberries, and shortly after that, we will all be enjoying my Cauliflower Kung Pao once again. What? You've never tried it? Well, let's talk again in May.
Have you heard of Veganuary? It's a pledge to eat a vegan diet for the month of January, touted by such celebrities as Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Beyonce. For those who are curious about vegan and plant-based eating, it's a great catalyst to cutting meat, dairy, and eggs out of one's diet.
I'm all for the spotlight shining on meatless-ness and plant-based eating, whether it is in the form of Ellen Degeneres talking about animal activism or Justin Timberlake dressed up like a block of tofu. However, I'm mixed on the efficacy of a month-long "challenge" to eat differently, whether it's vegan, Whole 30, or a 28-day clean eating plan. The problem with such dietary "challenges" is that without proper research or motivation, people can become discouraged, bored, or overwhelmed with the dietary demands, and at the end of the challenge go right back to their old way of eating.
All I'm saying is that if I had a dollar for every time someone told me "I tried going vegan once. It was terrible. I couldn't wait to grab a Philly cheese steak." I would be able to buy an entire new wardrobe from Lululemon.
Here's the problem as I see it: it's January. People want to try something new, they want change, they want to lose some weight and feel energized. This is all great, except when they are on Day 16 and feeling deprived while eating a taste-free soy-based "ham and cheese" sandwich or sapped of energy from simply cutting meat out of their diet and eating only starches and vegetables. That's generally when I hear these declarations about how horrible vegan eating is, how crappy they feel, how much they miss bacon.
There are many great reasons to eat a plant-based diet, from health issues to environmental awareness to a love of animals. I am here to tell you, though, that it's not an "all or nothing" deal. Small, sustainable steps are much, much better than partaking in a drastic, and ultimately discouraging dietary challenge.
If you are interested in transitioning to a vegan or vegetarian diet, or if you want to simply eat less meat, I have some advice for you.
It's very difficult to go directly to a meatless diet if meat is part of most of your meals. Instead of drastic measures, try eating vegetarian one day a week; Meatless Monday, say. Research shows that going meatless for even one day a week is beneficial to your health, and lessens your environmental footprint.
Hands up if you grew up in a "meat and potatoes" household. Most of us did, which can make meatless meal planning a challenge; we tend to cook what we know. It's time to rethink that plate, and instead of creating a meal around meat, focus instead on beautiful, colourful produce, grains, and meatless protein sources, such as beans, legumes, nuts, and yes, even tofu.
Vegetarian meals are the norm in many countries; think Indian, Asian, and North African cuisines. This is a perfect opportunity to try something new and treat your taste buds to a flavour explosion. Try my Cauliflower Kung Pao, my Perfect Pad Thai, or my Roasted Squash and Chickpea Coconut Curry for easy dinnertime ideas.
Nothing saps energy more than a lack of protein, and there are many vegetarian sources: quinoa, beans, legumes, hemp, chia, nuts, and tofu all pack a good protein punch. Did you know that one tablespoon of hemp seed has more protein and iron than a slice of bacon? Or that a cup of black beans has three times the amount of protein as a slice of turkey breast? You might be surprised at the protein content of non-meat items.
If the thought of never eating steak again has you feeling depressed and overwhelmed, then you need to come up with a plan that works for YOU. Many people adopt a "flexitarian" lifestyle or follow the 80-20 rule; 80% of the time eating plant-based diets, allowing for animal products the other 20% of the time.
Whatever you choose, I won't judge. But I promise you, adding meatless meals to your diet will increase your energy and make you feel great, as well as helping to reduce your environmental footprint. If you have any questions, I'm always happy to answer them.