By Joanna Reid Rodrigues
It’s that time of year when we’re all determined to transform our lives. Over the years, I’ve noticed how full the gyms are in early January, and all the pilates and yoga classes, tai chi and qi gong to boot. Weight-loss classes are too busy. But as the weeks and months go by, many of the classes get quieter. Only the dedicated remain. Self-transformation takes a lot of effort, commitment, and time. We often want the results of change, but we don’t always want the process of change.
Small changes applied over time can make a big difference to our health. A short, sharp burst of self-discipline doesn’t help us much in the long term, but adapting healthier habits as a way of life does benefit.
Since many folks have asked me about Veganuary, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about a meat-free life. A vegan diet contains no animal produce whatsoever. A vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, but might include dairy and eggs. The vegetarian diet has a few variations. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 30 years. My husband, Zak, started it and I joined him. But rather than jumping in, we changed our dietary habits over time.
Back in the early 1990s, walking around the lanes in Grouville, we stopped to admire some beautiful Jersey cows. Zak told me he would never eat red meat again. I agreed. And from that moment on, we gave up the cow, the pig, and the lamb. We continued eating chicken, but we ate less. A year later, we gave up poultry. Some months later, we gave up shellfish, then fish. Over the years, we’ve occasionally had fish, but rarely.
While I prefer a vegetarian diet, I respect everyone’s decisions about what to eat. And for anyone keen to eat less meat, even just cutting back can be worth while. It’s important that we replace it with real food and not highly processed alternatives.
A vegetarian or vegan diet can be extremely healthy or unhealthy depending on our choices. Some vegetarians never eat vegetables or fruits, opting instead for plenty of starchy foods such as white bread, pasta, pizza and quiche. A little of the aforementioned is fine, but living on this type of food will typically have consequences. Along with sugar, white flour is pro-inflammatory and can increase pain and stiffness, especially hips, knees, and feet. IBS is another condition associated with white flour production, causing bloating and discomfort.
While Veganuary invites us to experience a vegan diet, it’s essential to a meal plan to ensure that we’re getting healthy foods with a variety of nutrients. Let me give you some good tips for making a vegan or a vegetarian diet work for tasty, healthy family meals on a budget.
There are many good protein sources. One example is pulses, also called legumes. These include lentils, beans – black beans, borlotti and cannellini beans are widely available and delicious – and chickpeas. Frozen garden peas are excellent too.
Pulses, nuts and seeds all contain some amino acids, but not all. These are incomplete proteins, and we need to vary our selections to get all the amino acids. Instead of eating just baked beans, mix it up with aduki, black, kidney, butter and all sorts of other beans. The same with lentils – use different types.
Quinoa is a plant-based multi-nutrient food that contains all of the essential amino acids, though some are lower in content. But with lentils, beans and nuts, we’re assured to get adequate protein.
Vegans don’t eat eggs, though some vegetarians do. Eggs are a multi-nutrient food. They contain nutrients that enhance thyroid function and the overall synthesis of the thyroid hormones. At all costs, we’re wise to avoid eggs that come from caged birds. If you eat eggs, organic free-range are better.
While people often ask me what is the best diet, we all have different objectives and we each respond to foods differently. Some of us have food intolerances and some health issues require excluding certain foods. Nuts and seeds are extremely healthy, but not for people who have an allergic reaction. For such individuals, certain nuts and seeds can be fatal. So, there’s no one way. We have to honor our differences.
There are, however, some golden rules that really work pretty much universally. Avoiding processed foods is a key to improving our health. And this includes avoiding processed vegan meat substitutes. Cutting out sugar in our diet helps not only our weight, but our liver, brain, heart, and digestive tract. Our dental health benefits too. We’re wise to avoid anything artificial, eating only real food in appropriate portions.
Oatmeal is inexpensive and extremely healthy. I recommend oatmeal every day, or almost. Sweet potatoes work on a budget and they’re very nutritious.
Fruit is one of the healthiest foods we can eat, since it has the highest water content of any food. It concerns me that it’s so expensive. A lot of families have to restrict their fruit intake due to cost and this is all wrong.
If possible, eat at least one piece of fruit daily. A pear or an apple is excellent. Berries, oranges and kiwis also provide good nutrition. And whether you eat meat or not, vegetables are the best.
I recommend taking a vitamin B12 supplement, whether people are vegan, vegetarian, or meat-eaters. Some foods are fortified with this essential nutrient, but it can be difficult to get sufficient from foods alone. A deficiency in B12 can cause fatigue and chronic deficiency is linked with Alzheimer’s Disease.
And it’s important to be active. Motion is lotion to our joints – we need to exercise our circulatory system. Regular gentle stretching helps us stay supple and flexible. But perhaps the most important habit to adopt this year and every year is the habit of accepting ourselves without harsh judgment. Lives are rarely transformed overnight, but over time. So, pace yourself and just do your best.