Making the Shift to Plant Based
The How’s & Why’s

     During these crazy times I think it is safe to safe many of us are spending a bit more time thinking about what goes into our bodies. At least I hope many of us are thinking about it because feeding ourselves well is the first layer of protection against illness. Eating the right foods ensures your immune system is working properly and these days that is more critical than ever. Shifting closer to a plant based diet helps strengthen the immune system and forces us to eat far more vegetables and whole grains that promote wellness and removes many of the foods that cause inflammation and acidic ph levels, both which leave us more vulnerable to disease.

  Plant based diets have become all the rage and with good reason. A plant based diet is essentially just that, if it grows on the planet go ahead and eat it . Plant based includes all fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, legumes and beans, which actually offers a lot of choice. Eating a plant based diet has been linked to improving health outcomes for those suffering from a variety of chronic illnesses ranging from cardiovascular disease, to fatty liver disease, to diabetes, to cancer.

  However it doesn’t stop there. As we age it becomes more taxing for the body to digest animal products, which often leaves us tired and lethargic after eating. Plant based foods are easily digested and deliver vitamins and minerals more quickly and efficiently. There is also no need to worry about animals for protein. Beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and many whole grains are chock full of protein, and often it is always paired with fiber which helps us feel full and keeps our digestive tract operating smoothly. There has never been a documented case of protein deficiency in a human so the type of thinking that we need all of this protein is simply a myth. If the health benefits alone don’t convince you, the benefits of shifting to a plant based diet for the environment is about the most significant change an individual can make. Every aspect of livestock production is damaging to the environment Raising livestock is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases and uses a vast amount of water resources. A simple math equation to help you understand how many of our resources it takes to grow food.

   1 pound of Kale = 10 Gallons of water
   1 pound of wheat=100 Gallons of Water
   1pound of ground meat=10,000 Gallons of water

  But it doesn’t stop there. Waste and run off are toxic to the immediate area and is one of the leading sources of contamination to water systems used in agriculture and the root of those e coli break outs. And lastly let’s not forget the copious amount of plastics used in the packaging of animal products. So the simplest way to combat environmental degradation of your body and the planet is to make a shift towards plant based.

  For some, you may need to jump all in and adhere to strict vegan style of eating, for others you may choose to be vegan until 6pm or maybe just be vegan Monday through Friday, or some may just eat vegan at home, but are omnivores when eating out. Whatever your choice is, know that switching just a few weekly meals to plant based options can have a significant impact on both your health and the health of the planet.

  Plant based diets should rely heavily on fresh whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables to keep inflammation levels down. In addition the increase in consumption of alkaline plant foods instead of animal products, keeps the body from becoming too acidic. It is the acidic body which is unhealthy and can lead to a variety of poor health outcomes. However not all vegan food is healthy, sugar is a plant and many chips and other junk foods qualify as plant based, but that does not always mean it is a healthy choice.

  For some switching to a plant based diet dramatically increases grain consumption which can lead to an inflammatory response. How the inflammation manifests in your body is individual to you. There is a class of vegetables, nightshades that can also result in an inflammatory response, but it depends on your bodies reaction. Every person has unique sensitivities to foods which makes finding the right foods often challenging. If inflammation is a problem for you it is key to track the foods you eat and avoid those that cause discomfort or pain, primarily in those with arthritis.

  Any conversation about plant based needs to address Vitamin B 12. This is the only vitamin solely derived from animal products, and thus those eating a strictly plant based will not be consuming any Vitamin B 12. This is an important vitamin and if you are going to adhere to a strict plant based diet for a length of time, months or years than supplementing this vitamin in pill form or in fortified nut milks or cereals will be necessary. If you are opting for the occasional animal product choose one high in B12, shellfish and fin fish are rich in this vitamin and better sources than say eggs or dairy due to the ability of the body to absorb and use the vitamin efficiently.

  Plant based cooking does provide some unique challenges. Common ingredients like cheese and butter which are often mainstays of people’s cooking are a no-no so you need to make some adjustments. Olive oil is great for salads and on breads but, it doesn’t like too much heat so when using a lot of heat opt for coconut oil. Spices and fresh herbs are key to livening up flavors and a good quality vegetable stock is an essential in the plant based pantry. Vegan baking is an art that I am not great at, but quick breads, muffins and pancakes are easy to do using flax as an egg substitute and nut milks for dairy.

  It is much easier to make foods that celebrate being a vegetable or a grain, rather than pretending to be meat. You will learn recipes that celebrate the grains and vegetables featured in them and don’t try to be substitutes for the animal counterparts.

RECIPES: Greens are key to optimal health. They provide us with more usable calcium than dairy products and are rich with minerals like maganese and magnesium. Even better they are low in calories and high in fiber making them the perfect for weight loss.

1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves minced
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp tumeric or curry powder
½ tsp all spice
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 large potato cubed
1 quart + vegetable stock
½ cup fresh basil chopped
6 oz of arugula
6 oz fresh spinach
  1. saute onion and garlic in olive oil, when soft add dry spices
  2. add stock and potato and simmer for 10 mins until potato is soft
  3. add greens and basil and simmer for another 10 mins, remove from heat
  4. using an immersion blender or food processor blend until smooth 

 There are some common pitfalls when switching to a plant based diet. One of the biggest challenges is eggs used in baking. Eggs are a great binding agent, they help hold things together, whether we are talking pancakes, muffins or even veggie burgers, they are an in valuable tool in the kitchen. However eggs are not plant based, so how do we do this. The easiest solution is a Flax Meal and Water solution that works much the same way. Take 1tbs or Flax Meal for 3 tbs of water and let sit for at least 10 mins. It will turn into a gelatinous substance that will do the same thing for your recipe as an egg. This is a great tool for plant based baking!

  Textures have a lot to do with what we like or don’t like to eat. When you cut out foods, it is often the texture, rather than the flavor that you actually might not like. When shifting to plant based I find that it is creamy textures that dairy provides us, that are often what people miss most. There are loads of nut milks on the market and you can even make your own, allowing you to have thicker or thinner concoctions, depending on your taste. There are also a wide variety of vegan cheese and butters on the market that can help you fulfill this craving. However if you are familiar with the Optimal Kitchen you know I am not about faking people out and stick to pure flavors that celebrate exactly what they are . So rather than using nut milks or cashew cream , and god forbid any soy based products, we simply create a delicious creamy dressing with our favorite fiber rich and nutrient dense green orb, the avocado. Avocados are key to a plant based diet because the fat and fiber combination fills you up and makes you feel satiated.

1 avocado
juice and zest from 1 lemon
2-3 garlic cloves
¼ cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
water as needed
  1. place all ingredients in a blender or food processor or use an immersion blender
  2. blend until smooth, adding water when necessary to gain desired consistency
  This recipe can be used both as a dressing and as a dip so the desired consistency depends on what you are using it for.

  2 cups black beans, cooked or canned
  1 red onion
  2 chipoltes in adobo
  1 tsp cumin
  ¼ cup olive oil
  1 cup cooked quinoa
  1/3-1/2 cup masa flour
  salt and pepper to taste
  oil for cooking
  1. place the first 5 ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth
  2. in a bowl combine black bean mixture with quinoa, masa flour, season with salt and pepper
  3. form mixture into 3 to 4oz. Patties
  4. pour about ¼ cup of olive oil on a jelly roll plan and place in a 375 degree oven for 5 mins
  5. place patties on hot oil on pan and place back in oven, bake for 10 kins and then flip and cook for another 5 to 8 mins
  6. serve over greens and topped green goddess