In the 2 months since we’ve returned home from New York, some of the most frequent questions we’ve gotten have been about the dietary changes we’ve made. This area was really overwhelming for me at first – I wasn’t sure what changes we needed to make or how to find meals that met whatever standards we were going to follow. My first resource was the American Heart Association’s diet and lifestyle recommendations, which advocate for a low-sodium, low-cholesterol diet, featuring primarily chicken and fish, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. That sounded doable, and in fact many of the recipes we were already using met those criteria.
As we did more research, though, we began to wonder if those recommendations were really the best we could do, particularly with regards to heart health. There seems to be general agreement that consumption of red meat is harmful, but what we began to read was that even consuming a diet high in animal protein in general seemed problematic. The Lyon Heart Study demonstrated that patients following a Mediterranean-style diet (primarily plant-based foods, whole grains, limiting salt and red meat) had significantly better outcomes than patients following the standard diet prescribed for patients with cardiac issues. We watched Forks Over Knives and heard about the China Study and saw and read stories of people who had serious heart disease who had been able to reverse it by adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet. We read about the better health outcomes, particularly regarding heart disease, that vegetarians have relative to omnivores. The arguments were compelling.
We discussed what we were finding with Matt’s doctor, who talked with us about how the American Heart Association’s recommendations are based upon collections of large-scale studies, which necessarily means that they are never going to reflect the absolute latest research. He and other doctors believe that the direction they will head in the next 10 or 15 years, though, is further away from animal-based foods and toward more plant-based foods.
And so, based on the evidence we’ve been seeing as we’ve researched healthy eating, particularly with regards to cardiovascular health, we’ve made some pretty drastic changes. We try to eat fish once or twice a week but otherwise avoid meat when reasonably possible (we’ve had about two servings of non-fish meat in the last 2 months), and we are reducing our dairy consumption (so far by about half). We’re also focusing on consuming whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, oats, and bread made with whole wheat flour. We’re making sure that vegetables – instead of being a last-minute add-on to a meat-based meal – are rather a centerpiece of what we’re eating each day.
At first it was really difficult to find meals and recipes that met these criteria. So much of what we consume in American culture is based around meat and simple, processed carbs. However, over the last couple months I’ve gotten better at finding, assessing, and sometimes slightly modifying recipes for our health and enjoyment. So that you all don’t have to suffer through some of the inedible meals we’ve tried, I’m including information here about some of the recipes we have enjoyed in recent weeks. In no particular order, these are the vegetarian meals we’ve been enjoying:
- Curried Tempeh Grilled Cheese with Mango Chutney
- Tomato Bisque
- Chilled Peanut Noodles with Almost-Instant Peanut Sauce
- Butternut Squash Soup
- Tofu Stir Fry
- Winter Vegetable Risotto
- Pasta with Homemade Sauce (I’ve modified that recipe a bit, but it’s generally similar)
- Smoky Chili with Sweet Potatoes
- Sesame Honey Tempeh and Quinoa Bowl
- Veggie Burgers (there are what look like some great recipes to make these on your own, but so far this has been my “need a simple dinner for a rushed evening” meal, and we’ve just used the store-bought veggie burgers)
- Homemade Pizza with Whole Wheat Crust and homemade low-sodium sauce (I’m still perfecting a recipe for that)
- African Peanut Stew
- Sweet Potato Pancakes (Note: I’d omit or tone down the ginger, and we’ve used mostly whole wheat flour instead of white flour)
- Baked Oatmeal
- Watermelon Curry
My very favorite new cookbook is Moosewood Restaurant Favorites – do yourself a favor and order it. Seriously, it’s glorious. I believe people should be compensated for their work, so I’m not going to post their recipes here, but I’d encourage you to get it. Many of the recipes we’ve most enjoyed are contained within this book, in particular the following:
- Thai Butternut Squash Soup (p 58)
- Thai Noodle Salad (p 100)
- Southwestern Sweet Potato Corn Soup (p 56)
- Creamy Herbed Potato Soup (p 49)
- Pasta with Asparagus and Lemon Sauce (p 224)
- Peruvian Quinoa and Vegetable Salad (p 99)
- Summer Vegetable Curry (p 123)
And here are some of the recipes we’ve most enjoyed for eating fish:
- Sweet and Savory Salmon
- Tandoori Spiced Halibut
- Chutney Salmon
- Honey Dijon Tilapia (from the $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook)
The same cookbook I mentioned above has also been a blessing with regards to recipes for preparing fish. So far we’ve tried and liked:
- Spicy Caribbean Fish (p 240)
- Creamy Fish Stew (p 247)
- Teriyaki Fish (p 241)
I’d encourage you, if you’re concerned about your health and, in particular, want to enjoy a heart-healthy diet, to do your research about animal-based foods and plant-based foods. So much of what we eat and the diets we advocate in American culture are really harmful to our bodies. Not everyone is facing the same medical circumstances we’re facing, and not everyone has to make the same choices we’ve made, but I think many of us can do better than we’re doing to care for our bodies. So far Matt has lost about 20 pounds and is feeling immeasurably better than he did before, and I’m feeling good, as well.
If you’re interested in pursuing more of a plant-based pescetarian or vegetarian diet, I hope some of these recipes can be a blessing to you in your journey!