Many people give up certain lifestyle behaviors in the observance of Lent as a sign of sacrifice and to develop self-discipline.
This may mean abstaining from specific foods or beverages (often animal products, alcohol, caffeinated beverages, or other favorites). If you are one of those people and have successfully abstained during this time, congratulations! You can feel very proud of yourself.
Hopefully all the healthy changes you’ve made will become routine. Change is difficult for those who have lived their whole lives eating animal products, but every little change we make has an impact on our own bodies, and considering that animal agriculture is accelerating global warming , potentially the whole world.
Dr. Michael Greger, a specialist in clinical nutrition, is the author of a book called “How not to die”. It contains information about how the foods we eat affect our health, both for good and bad.
It is divided into two parts; the first focuses on the most common illnesses people have today. If you’re like me, you probably have family members who suffer from heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, brain disease, and more.
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 illnesses can be prevented, reversed or at least controlled by eating a healthy diet.
The book is packed with relevant nutritional information, and I want to mention several key points in Part I. Greger argues that “most deaths in the United States are preventable and are related to what we eat. Our diet dietary cause of premature death and the leading cause of disability.”
The Center for Disease Control website shows that for 2020, the top three causes of death in the United States were: 1) heart disease: 696,962, 2) cancer: 602,350 and 3) COVID-19: 350 831.
Stop and think for a moment that COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic was the third leading cause of death, but that’s only half the number of all heart disease-related deaths in the same year. period.
Greger says, “To become virtually heart attack proof, you need to achieve an LDL cholesterol level of at least less than 70 mg/dL.”
One study mentioned in the book involves patients with advanced heart disease who followed a plant-based diet in the hope that a healthy diet would prevent their disease from progressing.
Greger says, “Instead, something miraculous happened. Their patients’ heart disease began to reverse. These patients were doing better. As soon as they stopped eating artery-clogging foods, their bodies could begin to dissolve some of the plaque that had built up. Arteries opened without drugs or surgery, even in patients with severe triple vascular disease. This suggests that their bodies wanted to heal all along, but just never had 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 every day to stay healthy. (Number 12 on the Daily Dozen list is exercise.) Here are the different food categories, along with the recommended number of servings: beans: 3, berries: 1, other fruits: 3, cruciferous vegetables: 1, vegetables greens: 2, other vegetables: 2, flax seeds: 1, nuts and seeds: 1, herbs and spices: 1, whole grains: 3 and beverages: 5.
Each of these categories is described in detail. A free app is available that makes it easy to track your Daily Dozen. I started using it a few months ago, and the first thing I thought was “Can it be hard to eat this in a day?” (I didn’t even think about the exercise, which is the most difficult for me.)
So on the first day I was ready to give it a try and decided not to eat anything else until I finished the list. Turns out I missed two servings of beans and exercise again that day.
I can’t say I got it all figured out, but I always try to check off as many Daily Dozens as possible. It’s a challenge, especially on weekends. It holds me accountable for how healthy (or unhealthy) I eat.
Try the Daily Dozen app. It will be interesting to see which foods are easy or difficult for you.
For me, berries are always tricky. Unless I’m making a smoothie or have fresh strawberries, I don’t usually eat them.
I told a cousin how I had trouble eating berries, and she said, “You’re crazy! It’s the easiest! So you see, every person is different. I think in general most people want to eat healthier and take care of their body.
I also highly recommend Greger’s Nutrition Facts website (https://nutritionfacts.org/). You will find lots of interesting information on a variety of relevant health topics. A free, digital subscription will provide you with research-based information presented in short, easy-to-understand and entertaining videos.
Greger’s team also wrote the “How Not to Die Cookbook”. If you want to try 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.
Dal of red lentils with green vegetables
This warm, comforting and delicious dal can be served on its own or over cooked brown, black or red rice.
Yield: about 6 cups
- 1½ cup red lentils
- 3 C Vegetable Broth (recommended: Better Than Bouillon, vegetable flavor)
- 3 cups spinach or other green vegetables, fresh, coarsely chopped
- 1-14.5 oz. can (PBA-free) small diced tomatoes without salt
- ¼ C fresh cilantro
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger (or ¼-½ tsp ground)
- 1 small hot green chilli, seeded and minced (optional)
- 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1 C. white miso paste
- 1 C. cumin powder
- ½ tsp. ground coriander
- ¼ inch fresh turmeric, grated (or ¼ tsp ground)
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- Cooked brown, black or red rice (optional)
1. In a large saucepan, cook the lentils in the vegetable broth. Whole lentils will take 15-20 minutes; for broken lenses, the time is 5-7 minutes. (Do not overcook or the lentils will become mushy.)
2. Add spinach, tomatoes and cilantro, stirring to soften spinach. Reduce heat to low heat.
3. In a small skillet, heat 2 tbsp. water over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger and chilli. Cook until softened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and add nutritional yeast, miso, cumin, cilantro, turmeric and lemon juice; mix well. Add the spice blend to the lentils and stir to combine. Keep on low heat for a few minutes to allow the flavors to combine.
4. Serve with grilled vegan naans or pita bread, if desired.
Dozen daily servings: beans, greens, other vegetables, herbs/spices (and whole grains, if available)
No-Bake Oatmeal Walnut Cookies
Yield: 30 cookies
These delicious treats can be prepared in minutes.
- 1½ cup soft, pitted dates
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
- 2 tbsp. date sugar, to taste
- 1 tbsp. ground flax seeds or chia seeds mixed with 2 tbsp. Hot water
- 1 C. vanilla extract
- 1 C. ground cinnamon
- Water, as needed
1. In a food processor, combine dates, nuts and oats; mix until crumbly. Add date sugar (if using), flax mixture, vanilla and cinnamon. Work until the dough holds together. If the mixture seems too dry to dry, add a little water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to the desired consistency.
2. To form the cookies, scoop out about a tablespoon of dough and press it between your hands to form a ball. Arrange the balls on a flat container. Use a fork to press them down to flatten them slightly.
3. Refrigerate for 4 hours before serving.
Dozen daily servings: fruits, flaxseeds, nuts/seeds, herbs/spices, whole grains
This creamy chocolate 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. Cocoa powder without sugar
- 1 tbsp. ground flax seeds
- 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 of water
- 3 to 4 ice cubes (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a high speed blender. Blend until thick and smooth. For a finer texture, add more water or decrease the number of ice cubes, if necessary. Serve immediately.
Dozen daily servings: berries, other fruits, green vegetables, flaxseeds, nuts/seeds, beverages
To note: A good smoothie strategy is to combine super delicious foods with perhaps less flavorful ones, like mangoes with raw kale, so they balance each other out. Smoothies let you eat foods you might not have included in your daily diet, and they’re easy to make and convenient.
Maria Mendizabal has been a vegetarian for 14 years and a vegan for five. She comes from Guatemala and lives in Marion. She is chair of the Eastern Iowa Vegan Community Board of Directors.
For questions or comments regarding the Eastern Iowa vegan community, email email@example.com or visit the website at www.veganeasterniowa.org. Everyone is invited to join the VCEI on Facebook and MeetUp.