Archive for the ‘Healthy Eating’ Category

Vegan Desserts

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Summer’s in full swing, and for most of us, that means ice cream season. But what about vegans, who swear off anything and everything animal-based? No worries–vegan ice cream options abound, perhaps now more than ever. And unlike in its early years, when compromises had to be made between flavor and nutritional value, vegan desserts are just as good as their dairy counterparts, if not better.

Vegan alternatives to common treats first cropped up in the 1980s, when brands such as Rice Dream and Tofutti first gained popularity. Their quality has improved significantly since then, and they remain staples of vegan and organic groceries today. Like most brands, they are completely dairy-free and eco-friendly, and often safe for a wide range of food allergies.

Besides rice and tofu, nuts are also a widely used base for vegan dairy imitations. Almond Dream is one of the best-known brands of nut-based milk desserts, and comes in a good selection of flavors. Dairy replacements can also be made from peanuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, and pecans. Among white nuts and seeds, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, cashews, and pumpkin seeds tend to work well.

Soy milk has always been, and still is, a staple of vegan cooking, and desserts are no exception. Although it has given way to several other alternatives, most people still stick to soy for its added nutritional value and hypoallergenic quality. Soy ice cream tends to come in the widest range of flavors, and many vegans find it more natural-tasting than other plant-based dairy. Many also say it’s more filling.

If you like your ice cream with generous toppings, your best bet would be to find a vegan ice cream place in your area. These can be found in most major cities today. While some places sell vegan options alongside non-vegan ones, they usually do not make the distinction when it comes to toppings and garnishes, so it’s important to ask questions. In an all-vegan shop, although the prices are higher, you can be sure everything that goes into your cup is plant-based.

Another alternative, especially for those who have time on their hands, is to make your own vegan ice cream. Most ice cream maker models will work with plant-based ingredients without any significant difference in quality. As mentioned above, you can use soy, rice, or nut-based milk, and add your own flavors. Try experimenting with different mixes before making a big batch.

 

What Can Vegans Eat?

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Veganism is considered an “extreme” form of vegetarianism, but it’s more than that. While vegetarians put restrictions on their diet, vegans change the way they live, from what they wear to the bags they carry. But there’s little doubt that diet is the biggest and most challenging aspect of veganism. Easily half of all commercial foods, if not more, will not make the cut.

So what can vegans eat? It’s easy to say what they can’t: anything that contains animal products, whether meat or dairy or animal-based food dyes and thickeners. Many vegans replace common “main dishes” with meat replacements such as tofu, textured vegetable protein, and tempeh. These are usually made to taste and feel like meat, and provide much of the protein in the diet. Some mushrooms, such as Portobello and porcini, are known for their meaty taste and often take their place in soups and sandwiches.

Greens are also a big part of the vegan diet. The health-conscious are particularly drawn to dark leafy greens, as they pack a large dose of nutrients with a small number of calories. Kale, broccoli, and arugula are among the most popular. They are often paired with grains, particularly whole grains such as spelt, millet, or barley. They add volume and make a light yet filling alternative to rice and pasta.

Many vegans also load up on eggplant, potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, squash, and tomatoes–root crops and fruits that are often mistaken for vegetables. What makes these “vegetable fruits” useful is that they add the bite that’s often missing in vegan meals. If you’re coming off an omnivorous diet, you’ll notice that meat-free dishes tend to be texture-free as well–but the right ingredients can take care of that. The same goes for legumes, beans, and pulses. These are particularly useful for their iron content; while most people get their iron from red meat and liver, vegans get theirs from plant-based sources.

Some vegans take it even further and go on a raw diet, which, as the name implies, only allows whole, raw foods. The idea is that cooking takes away some of the food’s nutritional value and creates free radicals, a precursor for a wide range of diseases. Raw food diets include lots of fruit and vegetables and natural fruit juices. It’s more than a little limiting and some doctors doubt that it’s good for the health, but it does keep you away from preservatives and keeps your calorie intake down.

The Vegetarian Food Pyramid

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

The food pyramid we learn as kids includes a healthy dose of meat, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. Indeed, most of us grow up knowing that we need our meat to grow up healthy. So when you go vegetarian and slash off a third of that list–or more if you’re going vegan–aren’t you messing with the age-old concept of a balanced diet? Experts say it isn’t–it’s more like moving some things around.

The bottom of the food pyramid contains the foods you should consume the most. In both pyramids, these are the carbohydrates, the body’s main source of energy. Most sources are vegetarian, so there isn’t much of a difference. Bread, rice, pasta, cereals, and grains are among the most common. The recommended dose is six to 11 servings a day. If you’re not very active, you don’t need that much energy, so stay within the lower range.

Next up is the fruit and vegetable group. Doctors recommend two to four servings of fruit and three to four servings of vegetables every day. Opt for fresh or dried produce as much as possible–avoid canned or processed ones, as even the low-sodium varieties have more sodium than you really need. Breakfast is a good time to get some fruit into your diet, as well as after lunch as a light dessert.

Protein sources are a must, but must be taken in smaller amounts than fruits and vegetables. This is where the two food pyramids differ the most. While meat and dairy are the main sources of protein in most diets, vegetarians are limited to plant sources. Fortunately, there are many: nuts, legumes, seeds, and beans are among the most common. Meat alternatives such as seitan and TVP are also acceptable, although you should watch out for excessive processing and artificial flavors. This group also includes milk and eggs, or acceptable substitutes if you’re on a vegan diet. Two to three servings of each are recommended per day.

Finally, you have the fats and oils group, which should be taken sparingly. You don’t want to eliminate them completely from your diet, but make sure not to overdo it. Use low-fat oils such as olive and sunflower for cooking, as well as for salad dressings. Allow yourself the occasional sweet–a slice of cake or a scoop of ice cream–but stick to the recommended dose of about one serving per day.

Easy Vegetarian Recipes for Breakfast

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and this is also the case for vegetarians.  As the name suggests breakfast is the first meal of the day after the body has rested and this meal is important in jump starting our metabolism and fuelling our bodies for the day ahead.  When it comes to breakfast it is also important to consider the foods that you should eat for this important meal.

There is a huge range of foods that are great for breakfast and surprisingly many of these breakfast foods are suitable for vegetarians.  Regardless of whether you have a cooked breakfast or some cereal in the mornings there are some great vegetarian recipes for breakfast that are both nutritious and easy to make.  Below are some easy vegetarian recipes which are suitable for breakfast and even people who are not vegetarians will think they taste great.

For people who usually don’t have a lot of time in the morning and rush around frantically while getting ready to go to school or work need to consider breakfast foods that can be eaten on the run.  The easiest way to make sure that you always have a vegetarian option for breakfast is to prepare breakfast foods such as muffins the day before and also making sure that healthy options such as fruit are also on hand for when you rush out the door to work or school.  This will also save you from eating form fast food places which can be expensive and unhealthy.

If you are looking for vegetarian recipes for food that is easy to make and you have a bit more time in the morning to sit down and eat breakfast before going out then you may want to consider something such as cereal or toast.  Having the time to make some breakfast means that you can sit down and enjoy a bowl of cereal, some toast or if you are in the colder months then a hot bowl of oats or porridge.

On the weekend or days off when you have plenty of time to prepare and enjoy a vegetarian breakfast there are a huge variety of breakfast foods to choose from.  Vegetarians can eat most breakfast foods such as pancakes, eggs cooked many different ways such as scrambled, muffins, French toast, scones, omelettes, smoothies and even quiche.

Vegans vs. Vegetarians: What’s the difference?

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Back in the day, there were only vegetarians and meat-eaters, the only question being whether or not you ate animal products. Today vegetarianism comes in all forms: you have pesco-vegetarians (vegetarians who eat fish), pollo-pescotarians (fish and poultry), lacto-vegetarians (dairy), and ovo-lacto-vegetarians (dairy and eggs). But no branch has sparked as much debate as the vegetarian vs. vegan movement.

Veganism, a term first coined in 1944, can be considered an extreme form of vegetarianism. While a vegetarian diet can be fairly loose–in some cultures “meat-free” dishes can include clams and fish–veganism rules out all animal products. There are two types of vegans: dietary vegans, who only avoid animal products in their diet, and ethical vegans, who avoid them altogether. Ethical vegans don’t just avoid meat and dairy; they also stay away from foods whose production involves animals in any way, and non-food products such as leather, fur, and cosmetics tested on animals.

In other words, vegetarianism is just another kind of diet, while veganism is a way of life. One can become a vegetarian for health or avoid meat on a purely gustatory level. The decision to go vegan usually runs much deeper, driven by personal and philosophical beliefs. Many vegans are against animal cruelty, and tend to have very strict ideas of what constitutes cruelty (e.g. is it still cruel if your bacon lived a good life and died painlessly?). Environmental, social, and political concerns can also come into play.

Veganism can be very limiting, especially for someone coming off a fairly unrestricted diet. It’s a well-known fact in vegan circles that gelatin contains collagen, a protein found in animal bones, and that red food dyes are made from insects called cochineals. But a closer look reveals that animals are involved in seemingly innocent products. Some sugars are whitened with bone charcoal. Wines and beers are sometimes made with animal albumin, milk proteins, and isinglass, which comes from fish bladders. That’s why many vegans start off with a vegetarian diet and go into it gradually.

So at the end of the day, the choice depends on how far you want to go. Not everyone is motivated enough to expand dietary choices to their entire lifestyle, but both are a step in the right direction when it comes to sustainable living. As long as your health and budget allow it, going vegan just as good a choice as going vegetarian.