Vegan-ish: A Physician’s Journey to More Plant-Based Meals: Vegan Blondies
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.
Today I am continuing my series, Dr. Monique’s Favorite Food ABCs. The foods that are on this list are here because of both their contributions to mouth-watering dishes as well their health benefits. So far we have discussed the following:
- A for avocado
- B for beans
- C for cilantro
- D for dairy replacements
- E is for egg substitutes
- F for fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables
- G for ginger and garlic
- H for herbs
- I for Indian Spices
- J for jackfruit
- K for Kale
- L for Lentils
- M for Maple Syrup
N for Nuts: Let me start by saying I truly feel sorry for those who are allergic to nuts! They add so much extra flavor to everything they are added to that I cannot imagine life without them. That being said, for those of us who can enjoy them, let’s deep dive into the health benefits of a variety of nuts. We will also briefly mention seeds as well. Adding just a handful of a variety of nuts to your diet will boost your health in a variety of ways. There are many different varieties of nuts, but for this post, I will be discussing brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pecans.
Quick side note: Peanuts are not actually a true nut, but they are a part of the legume family which puts them in the same family as peas and lentils so they will not be included in this discussion. Just a word about peanut allergy. The nuts that will be discussed here, brazil, pecan, walnut, etc are considered tree nuts, and people who have peanut allergies can also be allergic to these nuts as well so they should proceed with caution.
So where do I start singing the praises of nuts? There are many health benefits to eating nuts. For example, they are packed with antioxidants, contain no cholesterol, and are high in minerals. Nuts are a good source of protein, and they contain many substances that are good for your heart such as unsaturated fats (the good kind of fat), fiber, and omega 3 fatty acids. One downside is that they are high in calories, but when eaten in moderation, have not been shown to increase weight gain. Remember: when we talk about how many daily servings of nuts you should get that includes a few tablespoons of various nut butters, such as almond butter or cashew butter.
Let’s take a crack at each one individually (sorry, I had to do it) and look at their health benefits:
- Contain prebiotics (fiber that gut bacteria feeds off of) which help to restore healthy bacteria in your gut.
- Increase your good cholesterol (HDL) and lower your bad cholesterol (or LDL).
- Can help prevent skin aging.
- Contain a large amount of fiber, as well as vitamin E and vitamin B.
- Contain minerals such as calcium, iron, and potassium.
- Can be made into almond milk and almond butter.
- Contain many vitamins including B vitamins and vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant which decreases your risk for heart disease and cancer.
- Contain the minerals calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc, all essential for normal function of your brain, heart, muscles, and immune and nervous systems.
- Contain a lot of healthy fats as well.
- A good source of the mineral selenium which is important in keeping your thyroid healthy and helping your immune system to work.
- Fun fact: The cool thing about brazil nuts is that you only need 2 per day to get the recommended selenium intake. Not 2 cups, handfuls, or even tablespoons. Just 2 little nuts. More than 4-5 can actually cause selenium poisoning.
- Help improve bone density due to their levels of magnesium.
- They are rich in fiber and protein which are needed for healthy bowel function, and muscle building, respectively.
- They contain minerals such as copper and iron. These minerals play key roles in heart function, nervous system function, healthy strong bones and muscles, and blood cell production.
- They may be lower in calories and may help with weight loss.
- Cashews are also a staple in vegan cooking as they can be soaked and processed into creams and sauces. Can even be used to make vegan yogurt and vegan sour cream.
Pecans (my personal faves):
- They contain protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Also a good source of iron, potassium, and magnesium.
- Contain a good amount of copper which is an important mineral in immune system function, bone marrow production, red blood cell function, and nervous system function.
- Contain zinc which helps your immune system and helps wounds to heal.
- Pair very nicely with maple syrup for a tasty sweet snack.
- Rich in antioxidants (more than other nuts), such as Vitamin E, which helps with gut health.
- Help decrease inflammation and may help with brain function and decrease the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Coincidentally, the grooves and crevices in walnuts look similar to the surface of a brain so it makes sense they are brain food!
- May help reduce certain types of cancer such as breast prostate and colon.
- May help lower blood pressure and thereby decrease the risk for stroke and heart attack.
Honorable mention: Seeds like chia, flax, sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower have a lot of the same health benefits as nuts and are a better option for people with nut allergies. I use sunflower seeds in my pesto recipe instead of pine nuts. They decrease bad cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, and appetite. They can be used to make healthy snacks and can be added to smoothies and salads just like nuts can. In fact, when mixed with water both chia and flax seeds serve as egg replacements. Hemp seeds contain all of the essential amino acids (meaning the ones your body can not make) and are a very good source of protein.
Nuts and seeds can be used in a variety of recipes. For example, if you want to bump up the flavor and fiber content of your morning bowl of oatmeal (or, in my case, quinoa), toast up some pecans or walnuts and toss them in. Don’t forget to add them to salads for extra crunch along with dried cranberries and crisp gala apple slices. Toasting nuts on the stove brings out their flavor even more and makes them a welcome addition to baked goods or cereals.
Here is my recipe for Vegan Blondies featuring pecans. These are made with -surprise!-navy beans for a totally vegan experience. The liquid in the can (aquafaba) is used as the egg replacement in this recipe. The pecans add a nice bit of texture and compliment the butterscotch flavor as well. Just like black beans can be used to make moist, delicious brownies, this vegan version of a blondie magically turns beans into an addictive treat. In case you are wondering, blondies are made with vanilla and brown sugar instead of the chocolate used to make brownies. Be sure to post a pic and tag me @physicianinthekitchen if you make this recipe.
See you in the kitchen!
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