Thursday, August 4, 2016

Take the Plunge! Switch to a Plant-Based Diet and Watch Your Health Improve

You may not like to think about it, but the data just keeps on piling up. Switching to a plant-based diet can save your life. There is simply no better way to combat and reduce the health risks we see in modern times. {Book provided for review/feature consideration}

Micaela Cook Karlsen, doctoral candidate in nutritional epidemiology and author of the new book A Plant-Based Life (published by AMACOM Books), presents evidence showing the astounding benefits of switching to a plant-based diet... and it just keeps on coming in.

“Going plant-based doesn’t mean you have to give up meat and chicken totally, but if you make fruits and vegetables the main part of the meal and use meat to support the menu, you’ll be well on your way to switching to a mare plant-based diet,” she says.

The growing body of solid research supports the idea that switching to a plant-based diet can boost your health, lower blood pressure thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke, reduce and even eliminate type 2 diabetes, prevent and help treat certain cancers, lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, help you stay at a healthy weight, protect against several eye disorders and vision problems like cataracts and macular degeneration, and even help with skin conditions like acne.

“When you build your meals primarily with plant foods, you fill your body with fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and a host of needed chemicals and nutrients that most people simply don’t get enough of,” Karlsen says. “Making the switch is easier if you make friends and do it with others who are also committed to a plant-based diet, because shared support and the camaraderie will help you achieve success. It's also easier if you focus on making great food and recipes.”

Micaela’s research reveals that there are five specific rewards that come directly from switching to a plant-based diet:

1. Plant-based diets give you the best chance for living a long, healthy life free of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Living longer is great, but most of us want to live better. Plant-based eating offers both.

2. A totally plant-based diets free of added sugars and oils is absolutely the easiest path to achieving a healthy weight. Eating nutrient rich, calorie-dense whole foods with plenty of fiber fills you up on fewer calories without feeling hungry. So you can eat until you feel full every time and still drop the excess pounds.

3. Meat, fish, and dairy products have the heaviest environmental footprint of all food groups due to their effect on greenhouse gas emissions, water, and land use. Avoiding them makes a sustainable future possible for the whole world.

4. Whole plant-based foods are affordable! Meat, dairy products, imitation meat and dairy, and processed snacks are expensive, calorie dense, and lack fiber and many of the micronutrients we need. Eating totally plant-based gives you a bigger bang for your nutritional buck.

5. Last, but not least, eating totally plant-based is delicious! Even if your taste buds don't think so at first, taste preferences are learned, based on what you ate in the past. The more you eat, the more you enjoy, the healthier you get, and the more you eat - it's a win-win-win cycle!

The latest data offers more confidence than ever before that the results are not due to chance or a limited study on vegetarian and vegan diets and a number of different health outcomes. The key conclusions are that vegetarians and vegans have better BMI (body mass index), total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and glucose levels compared to omnivores. They also have lower rates of cancer and lower mortality from heart disease.

“That's pretty good encouragement for making the switch,” she says.

Here’s a one -day meal sampler containing just a few of the many delicious recipes she offers in her new book.

Everyday Oats

The beauty of raw oats, beside super-fast preparation, is that you can eat a lot of them, which means you’ll easily feel full well into lunchtime.


1 to 1½ cups thick rolled oats
Blueberries, raspberries, or sliced strawberries (optional)
Raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
Dried dates or figs, chopped (optional)
Walnuts, almonds, or pecans, chopped (optional)

1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flaxseeds (optional)
½ to 1 cup plant milk, such as oat, soy, almond, hemp, hazelnut, or rice milk


  • Pour raw oats in a bowl.
  • Add various toppings, as desired.
  • Top with plant milk, and enjoy! 
  • Serves 1.

Simple Split Pea Comfort Soup

Curl up on the sofa with a good book and a great split pea soup to stay warm. The world offers many delicious versions of split pea soup to try, however this comfort coup is absolutely delicious as is. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can use this as your basic starter recipe and branch out in any number of interesting directions. Soup doesn’t get any simpler than this.

1 cup split peas
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium celery rib, diced
1 medium potato, diced
1 tablespoon Better Than Bouillon vegetable base
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • Soak your split peas for 4 to 6 hours, or even longer, if possible, to ensure a shorter cooking time.
  • Drain the split peas, and place them in a large pot in 8 cups water without salt. Cook over high heat for 15-20 minutes or until boiling. Reduce heat to a simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes or until peas are tender.
  • Add remaining ingredients and return to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, partially covered, for 15 or until vegetables are tender.
  • Serves 2-4.
Guacamole Salad

This is the salad version of fresh guacamole. Using two lemons makes the dressing wetter, more lemony, and less sweet than if you were going for a more solid, stand-alone guacamole, so the optional syrup can temper that a bit if you’re looking for a more balanced flavor. I actually enjoy the strong flavor of lemon—it is refreshing and kind of zesty. You’ve got to try this for dinner!


1 20-ounce package mixed greens
1 bunch parsley
1 ripe avocado, pitted
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup or maple syrup (optional)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
¼ red onion, minced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped


  • Chop the greens and parsley together, either by hand or in the food processor. Transfer to a large bowl.
  • In a small bowl, mash the avocado with the lemon juice and then mix in the rice syrup (if desired) as well as the cilantro, onion, and tomatoes.
  • Toss the avocado mixture in the greens. 
  • Serves 2 for dinner, or 6-8 as a side salad.
Interstellar Lasagna

“I finished perfecting this recipe the week that NASA’s Kepler Mission found a new Earth-like planet, 452b, so I named it in honor of the discovery,” she said.


Layer 1: 1 medium onion, 1 16-ounce package firm tofu (drained), 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 ½ teaspoons white miso , 1/3 cup nutritional yeast, 1/3 cup packed fresh basil leaves

Layer 2: 1 medium onion, 1 10-ounce package cremini mushrooms (stems trimmed), ½ cup frozen spinach, ¼ cup pine nuts, 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, salt to taste

Additional components: 1 10-ounce box whole-grain lasagna noodles and 3 to 4 cups of your favorite tomato sauce (or try Chef AJ’s Quick Sun-Dried Tomato Marinara)

Toppings: 1 medium tomato, sliced thinly, 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, Salt to taste


  • Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
  • Make layer 1: Place the onion in a food processor, and pulse until it is finely chopped. Add the tofu, garlic powder, miso, and nutritional yeast and blend until everything is evenly mixed. At this point the mixture will be like a dry puree—grainy and not too wet. Add the basil leaves and pulse until the basil is chopped into small bits and evenly distributed in the mixture. Transfer the contents of layer 1 to a medium bowl.
  • Make layer 2: Place the onion in a food process and pulse until it is finely chopped. Add the mushrooms, spinach, pine nuts, Italian seasoning, and salt and blend until everything is evenly mixed. 
  • Assemble the lasagna: Divide your noodles into three equal piles, to correspond with the three noodle layers in the final dish. Cover the bottom of a 9 x 13–inch glass pan with ¾ cup tomato sauce and ½ cup water. Use a spoon to mix the two and evenly distribute the liquefied sauce. Place one layer of lasagna noodles on top of the sauce-water mixture. Cover the noodles with 1 to 1 ½ cups tomato sauce, using a spoon to evenly distribute it. Add the mixture for Layer 1 to the pan. Cover layer 1 with the second layer of noodles. Add the mixture for Layer 2 to the pan. Cover Layer 2 with the third/top layer of noodles. Cover the noodles with 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups tomato sauce using a spoon to evenly distribute it. 
  • Add the toppings: Place tomato slices on top of the sauce evenly around the pan. Sprinkle each slice with a bit of salt for added flavor, if desired, then sprinkle the nutritional yeast evenly on top of the tomatoes.
  • Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes, then remove cover and bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes or until the top surface has developed a skin. 
  • Serves 6-8.

Pioneer Gingerbread

“As a child I was a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, and some of my favorites parts of those books are the descriptions of what they ate. Almanzo’s childhood culinary recollections in Farmer Boy are particularly vivid. It sort of sounds like a nonstop year-long dinner party! A few years ago I was fortunate to come across on the Internet a letter Laura, at that time in her 90s, sent to a friend in 1953, enclosing her recipe for gingerbread. It’s been a labor of love to create a healthier version of this pioneer treat that still does justice to the original flavor, but leaves out the eggs and lard.”


3 cups whole-grain flour (I like spelt)
1 tablespoon each of: baking powder, baking soda, ginger , cinnamon , and allspice
½ teaspoon each of: nutmeg , cloves, and salt
1 cup maple syrup
½ cup applesauce
¾ cup molasses
2 tablespoon white vinegar


  • Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a medium bowl.
  • Put maple syrup, applesauce, molasses, and white vinegar in a second medium bowl. Bring kettle of water to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and add 1 cup hot water to the wet ingredients, and stir.
  • Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients while mixing, but be careful to not over-stir. The mixture should be quite thin.
  • Transfer batter to a 9 x 13–inch glass pan, and bake for 35 minutes.
  • Serve as is, or, for the traditional gingerbread experience, top with Stacy’s Coconut Dream Whipped Cream. 
  • Serves 10 to 12

There are plenty more recipes like these in Micaela Cook Karlsen’s book, A Plant-Based Life: Your Complete Guide to Great Food, Radiant Health, Boundless Energy, and a Better Body. Until next time...

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