When I was younger, I never appreciated how lucky I was to spend time with many of my great-grandparents. One of them stands out.
Even in his old age, my great-grandfather Edwin was a bundle of energy. He was healthier than average and lived to be 99.
I remember how much he aggravated my grandmother, because, just like most people, he wanted to maintain control of his life even as he aged and needed some help. Edwin was no longer driving and my grandmother was buying his groceries. But he insisted on going to the grocery store with her so he could choose his food and read all of the food labels.
I remember my grandmother complaining that, if given a choice, he would have stayed in the grocery store for hours. It makes me laugh to realize that somehow I picked up his love of reading food labels and often see grocery store visits as a hobby. To this day, he influences what I put on my plate at every meal.
After seeing such a good example of optimal health, I remember thinking that I wanted to age like Edwin, not just have a long life, but to be vibrant and healthy up to the end. I became curious about his diet and watched what he ate when I visited.
It wasn’t just Edwin that was the example of health, it was his brothers and extended family. Edwin’s generation was Seventh Day Adventist and was vegetarian for religious reasons.
Maybe you have heard of Loma Linda, California, a “Blue Zone” where people live longer, happier lives. This is thanks to the large population of Seventh Day Adventists that lives there, and the healthy food habits promoted by their church that discourages smoking and alcohol, while encouraging a plant-based diet.
One of the first questions most people ask when you become vegan or vegetarian is, “Where do you get your protein?” Because of Edwin’s example, I feel lucky that I had no worries about being deficient in protein when I started to experiment with being vegetarian as a teenager.
Most people don’t realize that all plant foods contain a mix of protein, carbohydrate and fat, and that if you are eating a balanced diet with enough calories, you will get plenty of protein. It is true that in today’s food environment you can create diets that have more than enough calories but are deficient in key nutrients. Obviously, a vegan junk food diet of beer, chips and cookies would be deficient of many nutrients, including protein, but I am talking about eating “real” food.
While Americans worry about getting enough protein, it is really fiber they are deficient in. Luckily, nature has given us a food that is a great source of protein and fiber all in one — beans.
Studies show adding beans to your diet will add years to your life and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Like all plant foods, beans do not contain cholesterol. Beans are cheap, low-fat, and contain many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The production of beans has less impact on the environment and global warming than meat production.
It is important not to be fooled by some of the misinformation about beans. Some people and websites promote the idea that beans should be avoided because they contain lectins. You should know that cooking beans destroys lectins. What is amazing is that the traces of lectins that remain after cooking appear to benefit our gut health, and protect against cancer. For more detailed information, visit https://nutritionfacts.org/?s=lectins
It is easy to add beans to your diet by adding beans to salads and pasta dishes or making bean soup. Start young by serving beans as finger food to toddlers.
If you are just starting out, gradually work up to eating more beans by replacing half of the meat in a recipe with beans. For example, when making taco meat, use half as much ground meat and add a can of black beans.
There is a misconception that eating a plant-based diet is expensive and labor intensive, but like other types of cooking, there is a range from simple to gourmet, and beans are a great way to keep meals simple and cheap. Canned beans average around 35 cents per serving. Now that automatic pressure cookers are so common, it makes it even easier to cook your own beans for around 15 cents per serving. Wow, simple, cheap, and healthy!
Beans are part of my daily diet, but preparation depends on the time of year. In wintertime, bean soup is warm and comforting, but in summer I switch to recipes that don’t make me sweat.
I want to share two of my favorite summertime recipes. Both recipes were adapted from the book “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” by Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., M.D.
The “secret” ingredient in these recipes that causes a taste explosion is the lime juice and zest. I highly recommend purchasing a microplane zester that has fine teeth that removes only the outer-most flavorful layer of citrus fruits, leaving the pith behind.
Zest is a great way to add flavor without adding salt. Once you get used to using a microplane, you will realize you can add zest not only to salads, but to baked goods, oatmeal, sauces, dip, yogurt, etc.
Any time I have citrus fruit, I keep the extra zest in little containers in my refrigerator and add it to almost everything. As a special treat, I even add orange zest to my coffee and especially like lemon zest in my tea.
Mangos are generally available in spring through summer depending on the variety. There is a trick to cutting a mango and this link has some great advice and a video: https://www.mango.org/how-to-cut-a-mango/
Mango-Lime Bean Salad
- ½ cup diced sweet onion
- 1-15-oz can cannellini beans, drained
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
- Juice and zest of 1 juicy lime
- 1 tablespoon oil of your choice (optional)
- 1 large or 2 small mangos, cubed (about 2 cups cubed) (can use frozen)
- 6-8 cups of lettuce of your choice
Combine dressing ingredients in a large salad bowl. Stir and allow to marinade while preparing other ingredients. Cut mangos into small cubes. Chop lettuce. Add dressing to mango and lettuce. Can be served as a meal or side salad.
Quickest Black Bean Salad
- 2–15-ounce cans black beans, drained and well rinsed
- 1-2 large tomatoes or 2 cups cherry tomatoes, chopped or 1-15-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
- 2 cups fresh or frozen corn
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1-6-ounce can diced water chestnuts, drained
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
- Juice and zest of 2 limes
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Add all ingredients to a large bowl and mix. Serve as a meal or side dish. Tastes better if made a day ahead. Note that rinsing beans well keeps salad from looking gray.
Cindy Spading, RDN, LD, works as a dietitian in long-term care. She became vegetarian as a teenager and vegan in 2007. She serves on the board of directors for the Vegan Community of Eastern Iowa. For any questions or comments, please email us at [email protected]. Visit our website at VeganEasternIowa.org For more information, you can also connect with us on Facebook and Meetup.