Vegan-ish: A Physician’s Journey to More Plant-Based Meals | “Handful” Smoothie
I am Dr. Monique May, Board-certified Family Physician and Founder of Physician in the Kitchen™. Through my best-selling book, MealMasters: Your Simple Guide to Modern Day Meal Planning, and NEW cookbook, Doc Fix My Plate! The Physician In The Kitchen’s Prescriptions For Your Healthy Meal Makeover, and online cooking classes, I help busy households enjoy healthy eating without impacting their hectic schedules.
Hello MealMasters! People choose to adopt vegan or other lifestyles for a variety of reasons, and they are usually related to improving their health. They may want to eliminate the need for medications to treat their cholesterol or high blood sugar, or maybe they want to lose a few pounds to reach an ideal or preferred weight. By cutting out animal protein, you may notice an improvement in chronic conditions such as joint pain or kidney disease. You may also decrease your risk of developing certain types of cancer. For me, in addition to the known health benefits of a plant-based diet, I truly enjoy experimenting and testing recipes featuring vegetables or other plant-based foods. I also get to create in my “lab” while using my many kitchen gadgets and appliances. This year I am chronicling my journey toward more plant-based meals, and I am sharing with my readers my favorite foods, along with tips and tricks I have discovered along the way.
D is for dairy replacements: Part of the challenges and rewards of adopting a more plant-based diet has been finding simple and easy-to-find (or make) replacements for milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt. My favorites so far, by category, are:
- milk: soy, coconut, almond milk. These milk options are unsweetened, and are a good source of calcium. They have no cholesterol and very little sodium. Also, they contain no trans fat and either no or very little saturated fat. I use them as 1:1 replacements for any recipe that calls for cow’s milk.
- butter: plant butter. I use the Country Crock brand that offers olive oil, avocado, and almond varieties, and prefer the olive oil one. Speaking of olive oil, although it is not a dairy product, I will go ahead and mention it here because I sometimes use them interchangeably (for sautéing vegetables, for example), but it will get its own article in the future. I use these butters to make my vegan and gluten-free pound cakes and honestly do not miss dairy butter at all! These butters are a blend of plant-based oils, including palm, canola, and olive. As such, they do contain small amounts of saturated fats, but no trans fats at all. Saturated fats are considered “unhealthy” and should comprise no more than 10% of your daily calories, so eating low amounts are probable okay. Compared to diary butter, however, it is a much better option. Both saturated and trans fat can raise your bad cholesterol (or LDL as we call it), and as a result increase your risk for heart disease that can lead to heart attacks. However, trans fats are the most harmful because they also lower the good, protective cholesterol known as HDL, which decreases heart disease risk. Saturated fats actually do raise your good cholesterol (HDL) which is a good thing. Another good thing about these butters is that they are cholesterol-free.
- cheese: Full disclosure here: I am not a big fan of vegan cheese. I honestly find them bland in taste. The one brand I have tried so far is soy and gluten-free. I have tried cheddar and mozzarella. While they are cholesterol-free, they do contain about 10% of the recommended daily amount of sodium (approximately 230-240 mg per 1/4 cup serving). Since I have high blood pressure, I have to be on the lookout for hidden “salt bombs” (foods that are unexpectedly high in sodium). Surprisingly, this is actually higher than what is found in the same amount of regular cheddar or mozzarella cheese (but lower than feta). In addition, some vegan cheeses can be highly processed with chemical names that can be hard to pronounce. So imagine my pleasant surprise when I recently discovered nutritional yeast! It is vegan, gluten-free and loaded with B vitamins, including B12, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, and folate. It has no cholesterol and almost no sodium (only 10 mg per tablespoon). Nutritional yeast can add umami (read: savory or meaty) flavor. Umami is one of the five taste profiles (sweet, salty, bitter, and sour) so to have a vegan replacement option is more than ideal. It can be added to a variety of foods, such as sauces, popcorn, pizza, and baked potatoes, just to name a few. I am so excited to add this ingredient to my repertoire and further explore what I can do with it!
- yogurt: Greek yogurt gets an honorable mention here because it has more protein and less sugar than regular yogurt. Traditional Greek yogurt is made with goat’s milk, whereas the American version is made with cow’s milk, placing it squarely in the vegetarian category. I use it in my “Handful” Smoothie. I call it that because I literally add a handful of spinach, a handful of frozen fruits (berries, pineapple, mango, etc), and a handful of frozen riced cauliflower (which adds fiber and makes you feel full without affecting the taste), along with other ingredients, including flaxseed and plant-based protein powder. It is a creamy, refreshing, nutrient-filled smoothie, perfect after a workout or as a meal replacement. However, I recently found a recipe for a vegan alternative and made some yogurt myself. Raw cashews, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar in a blender and voila! Instant vegan yogurt! It was so easy I was inspired to make my own recipe which you can find here.
If you are just starting on your vegan journey or are looking for new dairy alternatives give some of these a try!
See you in the kitchen!
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