Continuing on with the discussion of whole foods, for sale I want to cover some of our revelations about a different food group now – Beans and Nuts (aka the “Alternatives” portion of the “Meats and Alternatives” from the Canada Food Guide). I think one of the things that has stuck out the most about the dietary recommendations Campbell makes is the “eat as much as you want of a variety of whole, plant-based foods”. There are a couple of really important things in there:
1) You don’t have to count calories or meals. Eat whole foods and your body/appetite will regulate itself. For the first while that you are switching over to this lifestyle your intestinal tract won’t have enough of the right enzymes to fully uptake and digest your new regime. That means you’ll have to eat more in order feel satisfied, but after a couple of weeks it levels out. I find myself craving fruit smoothies for dinner now instead of sausages. And that is a world of goodness. I also find myself eating more appropriately for my activity level, and craving to go for walks or bike rides (just like the rats in Chapter 3… 😉 )
2) Eat a variety, but don’t obsess about matching protein types, vitamin intakes, minerals, etc. If you eat a variety of foods it will take care of itself and you don’t need to put “offsetting” or “complimentary” foods together. We have access to such a corncopia of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains that we would have to work hard to end up with a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
So that’s it: eat enough to satisfy yourself, and eat a variety. Which is pretty much what people do anyways… less the “whole” and “plant-based” parts… lol.
“Milks”: Everyone I know grew up pouring a 50/50 mix of cow’s milk/cereal as kids. Nothing beat grabbing a bowl of Fruit Loops, pouring a swath of 2% milk on top, and sitting down to a few hours of Saturday morning cartoons while the milk turned nuclear pink. (a la Calvin&Hobbes + Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs)
Now that I’m older, I’d like to think I know better… (hahahaha). The facts that I (and many others) have chosen to ignore is that around age 4 we, as humans, lose the ability to digest lactose properly (and many other sources). This is basically nature saying: “OK, you’re done breastfeeding. WTF you need to drink any more milk for?”. Seriously – why are we still drinking cow’s milk? I don’t know. Maybe because it “Does a body good?”
When the TV ad campaign, “Milk Does a Body Good” aired, a lawsuit was initiated by [a watchdog] group charging that, while cow’s milk does a calf’s body good, it’s questionable whether it does a human’s body good, thus the ad could be deceptive in nature. The case was settled out of court; the milk people agreeing to discontinue the ad if the suit was dropped. 
I think, if anything, the rich, creamy texture is appealing – it certainly can’t be for the nutritional value. And a link to Type I diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, and a tenfold+ increase in prostate cancer risk is nothing to sneeze at either. So, let’s find some alternatives – and most are made from beans or nuts.
Soy Milk: It think this “health food” has single-handedly taken the cake for plant-based health-food fad deception. In theory, you take soy beans, crush them with water and “voila!” – soy milk. It’s really that easy, and it’s a whole food. In reality, there seems to be a lot of filtering, straining, heating, boiling and other assorted processes used depending on the brand. Then you add in a bunch of additives, throw lax standards into the mix (China especially), and some brands start to look a lot worse. Add to that the fact that soy is heavily GM, and we’re stuck in the “just how good is this stuff for you?” argument again. We found an organic, non-GM, Canadian farmer sourced soy brand at Costco (!) that is actually reasonably priced, but we still use it *sparingly*. No more giant cups of milk – you use enough soy milk to wet your cereal or lighten your tea – that’s it.
Soy milk is not water. Water is still the best thing you can drink. And given that North Americans enjoy unprecedented access to safe water for almost zero cost – why aren’t we using it?
Almond Milk: This stuff is stupidly expensive, and it’s super-easy to make yourself. I am going to put our first recipe up here:
1 cup whole almonds
4 cups water
Directions: Soak almonds overnight in the fridge. Turn blender on in the morning.
Tada! (seems sort of anticlimactic, doesn’t it?) It’s a little chunky, but if you’re putting it on cereal you really won’t notice the difference, and the almond bits are tasty. And it’s a whole food. Strain it a little if you need it for your tea. Using the bags of almonds from Costco, it actually turns out that making your own almond milk is the same price as buying honking 4L jugs of cow’s milk!! I have to admit that I’m flabberghasted at the ease of preparation and I feel silly for having spent years buying/drinking cow’s milk. Ah well, there is no time like the present to make amends.
And, by extension, you can modify the super-complicated recipe above to make Hazelnut milk, Hemp milk, or whatever your crazy imagination can think up…
Nuts: I have re-discovered how much I like nuts. I had always laboured under the false impression that nuts are full of bad fats and make you chunky. Rather it seems that nuts are perfectly healthy, and are an important part of a balanced plant-based diet.
They are robust, travel easily, have a good shelf life, and are easy to mix with each other or into a plethora of dishes. They have lots of protein, have a high caloric density per unit volume (so it’s easy to pack alot of energy in a small volume for taking with you on the road – unlike some veg, for example). There are tons of varieties available, and you don’t have to worry about “whole foods” issues for the most part. Just buy the un-roasted un-salted kinds – plain old nuts.
They are easy to prepare (as they usually require no effort on your part), and are ubiquitous. Man, what is there to not like about nuts? (except allergies… which is a whole other topic) We have been able to source plain peanuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios and hazelnuts all at very reasonable prices.
As for Nut Butters, from some reading it appears that most nut butters are like the hot-dogs of the nut world. The nuts are pushed down a conveyer belt, and the choice nuts are picked off for sale as whole nuts – because people can see them in their raw form. The chaff then falls off the end and gets crushed up for nut butters where you can’t see (and don’t care) that certain nuts were in pieces, crushed, or even a little moldy. This is what brought Campbell into the Phillippines in the first place ~40 years ago – aflatoxin in the peanut supply, mostly peanut butter. So I’m a little leery of them – they are still whole foods, and plant-based – so no worries there. It’s more whether or not you trust the manufacturer of the particular nut butter you are eating. Costco seems to have a good brand of Almond Butter for those who are sick of peanut butter, and if you’re really adventurous you can make your own from raw nuts.
Beans: I have come to rediscover this oft-forgotten or maligned group of foods. It is true that beans give you gas – if you aren’t used to eating them or you eat too many. But if you eat them as part of a balanced *variety* of food, they are a great addition to many meals and your body will be fine. Beans contain a ton of fibre, protein and other goodies, are robust, travel well, are lightweight when dehydrated, and come in as many varieties as nuts do. We have Chick Peas, Red Kidney, White Kidney, Fava, Pinto, Lupini, Green, Edamame and a few others just lying around.
Throw a can of beans into (almost) anything you make. For the most part they aren’t terribly flavourful, but usually assume the flavour of the dish they are in – making them an easy addition to most meals. I still forget to throw them in, but they bulk up meals, add great nutrients, are cheap and don’t break down or get mushy easily. I have taken to making the spaghetti sauce I used to make with chick peas and lentils substituted in for the ground beef – and I actually like it better. (no draining fat, or dealing with greasy skin on the top either)
As canned beans are ready to eat, they also are quicker to prepare than their meat-y “Meats and Alternatives” equivalents – without the worry of washing meat-bacteria tainted cutting boards, sufficiently carmelizing bacteria, draining fat, e. coli, etc. Beans have made my life easier. Yay beans.
Tofu, in short, is soy cheese and is derived from soy beans. After the beans are crushed up for making soy milk, the soy “curds” rise to the top, are usually scooped off (from what I can tell), and made into various grades of Tofu (firm, smooth, etc.). In general, my reading leads me believe that Tofu is borderline junk-vegetarian food. It is not a whole food, is highly processed, and is usually of questionable origin/composition. It is mostly flavourless, and assumes the flavour of dishes it is in, so you might as well just use whole beans in the first place.
Tofu made into fake meat products like “tofu turkey dogs” is a further step along the line to “junk food”, is further processed and further away from a whole food. In short, I’ll take tofu over steak, but only when I don’t have any other choice. I won’t consciously cook with it, and won’t look for it on the menu. If it’s the only “vegetarian” alternative at a restaurant I’ll shut my mouth and eat, but we won’t bring it into our house.
TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein): If tofu is borderline junkfood, then this definitely is an un-whole food given all the processing it goes through. Won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. When you have beans and lentils, you don’t need this stuff.
Lentils: Lentils are another food I have re-discovered. I love the lentil dishes at Indian buffets, and have always liked lentil soup. So why did I not use them? You can literally throw them into any dish with a bit of water and they will do the same as beans – add bulk, fibre, protein, other goodies and absorb the flavour of the dish they are in. There are different lentils available with different consistencies, from red lentils which “mushify” easily to green lentils which maintain a firmer texture when cooked. So lentils for all needs. They are a whole food, travel well, are lightweight, don’t spoil, have lots of protein and fibre and add some nice colour to a dish. They are also cheap, ubiquitous and easily found in many countries in the world.
I have taken to making tacos with lentils, mushrooms and maybe some other bean – instead of ground beef. I have to say that they taste much better, and I certainly don’t feel guilty (or feel like a lead weight hit my tummy) after eating 4 of them. 😀
As everyone worries about protein intake for vegetarians, let’s do a quick calculation. Given a safe guess of 200 calories of protein requirement per day (10% of 2,000 calories), that equates to about 50g of protein per day. Nuts have about 12g per 1/3 cup, Beans about 12g per 1 cup, Lentils about 18g per 1 cup. It is therefore very easy to fulfill your daily protein intake with just this group of foods. Add in breads and veg and you’re over the top very easily. (whole wheat flour has about 14g of protein per 100g) Protein is not an issue – and Campbell also illustrates this with his awesome chart comparing 500 calories of a plant-based diet to an animal based-one.
Pumpkin, Sunflower, etc. seeds: These seeds go well in trail-mix like concoctions. They also keep fairly well, are robust and hardy. They are whole foods, and are easy additions to bread maker breads (literally just throw in a cup of random seeds with a whole wheat loaf – they don’t alter the chemistry significantly), or to other dishes sprinkled on top. It is easy toppings like these that really help make plant-based diets work. It requires no effort and gives a ton of benefit. You just have to remember – that’s it. 🙂
Chia Seeds: I have recently been introduced to the wonder of chia seeds. My new favorite afternoon drink is:
Chia Fruit Drink
1/2 can orange juice
1/2 can apple juice
2 tbsp chia seeds
Preparation: Add ingredients to a glass, and let stand for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The chia seeds will start developing a gel-like coating and stick together. Drink.
Tasty, healthy, and the sort of thing that world-class athletes drink and run with. Chia seeds are lightweight, robust, and easy to down once you soak them for a bit.
Flax Seeds: These seeds have all kinds of uses from smoothie nutrients, to baking additive, to toppings. They contain lots of goodness but must be ground in order to derive any benefit – the skin on them is too tough for our digestive system. Once ground, they tend to spoil so they must be kept refrigerated. But they are an easy additive to many dishes, are inexpensive, and we throw them in our smoothies all the time. I have recently started experimenting with vegan baking and these guys are good egg replacers.
NOTE: You can find all the posts in this series HERE