CSAs give new meaning to the words fresh, local, seasonal, and delicious.
Imagine a box stuffed with fresh produce, delivered to your home or a local hot spot. Your eyes first catch the fuzzy-skinned peaches perfect for your classic peach pie. And the aromatic flesh of the ripe, green honeydew melons tempts you to make a perfect sorbet. And then you spy shiny, firm, bell peppers which will surely make your famous stuffed peppers pop with a certain je ne se quoi. As an added bonus, the box of produce can be traced to a specific farm in your community. While many of us don’t think past the aisle when we make a dash to the supermarket, it’s something we should spend more time pondering for the health of our food system. Fortunately, you don’t need to live on a farm to be able to get local food from farmers, and know exactly where your food comes from.
Local farmers markets offer a means to provide fresh local produce, while allowing you to support your local farm community. But what if you can’t make it to a farmer’s market at their set time and place? Sure, they’re fun to visit, but they aren’t always convenient. Consider this alternative: Rather than go to the farmers market, the farmers market comes to you; they deliver the crops they harvest to your front door or nearby pickup location, through what is known as community supported agriculture, or CSAs (sometimes called community shared agriculture, as well.) This means instead of hunting down those locally grown juicy scarlet strawberries or that crisp organic spinach, these bad boys are already home, waiting for you to turn them into your dinner salad.
How it Works. Farmers run and operate CSA programs through their farms, and members of the CSA pay for a share of produce they receive on a routine basis, typically weekly or bimonthly. This provides farmers with the financial support needed in these harsh economic times, as the farming occupation has become practically obsolete, at about 2% of the US population.
Many farms provide newsletters with their CSA packages, which offer ideas for experimenting with new foods and recipes. The specific produce CSA members receive is relative to the seasons and growing conditions, which makes the foods taste their best and cost the least.
Why Stay Local? Let’s brush up on the benefits of local food for a moment. First off, locally grown food is fresher, so it tastes better. The locally grown fruits and vegetables are allowed to ripen, as opposed to commercial methods which means produce is picked immature to survive the harsh voyage of the shipping process. So, often times, the produce sold in super markets have not been given the appropriate time to ripen and therefore allow the food’s nutrients to be at their peak value.
Local and organic food is most preferable, but if forced to chose, you might opt to consider local over organic. Frequently, the organic produce that we find in our local supermarkets has traveled cross-country or cross-continentally, and the environmental damage done greatly dwarfs the benefit of buying organic to begin with. Local eating is simply better for the environment. Consider a CSA as a way to “go green”.
Expanding Your Horizons. The surprise factor of the CSA is fun. Your box arrives and you can’t wait to see what they sent you; it’s like receiving a present from your local farmer! This may be challenging at first, because you don’t have the control of always being able to plan weekly meals in advance. But it’s exciting to be given the ingredients and then make use of them and design your menu. Think of it like a cooking show challenge! What delicious meals can you design with these new ingredients given to you? It stretches you out of your comfort zone to try new things you may have never tried, from fresh dill to rhubarb.
With a large volume of produce arriving all at once, it means you may even practice how to preserve items, such as through canning, freezing and drying, if it is more than you can eat at one time. You also can share with others and introduce them to the idea of CSAs. After all, there are still many people who do not know about CSAs. The concept isn’t entirely new, though its popularity has increased in recent years in the US. Although we first started seeing CSAs beginning here in the 1980s, the concept stemmed from Switzerland and Japan in the 1960s, where consumers who wanted safe foods decided to partner with farmers who wanted a stable market for their crops. Hundreds of CSAs exist today, many in the east coast but popularity is rising in the west coast. In California—especially Southern California—the seasons and harvests last longer, making more foods available to us year round.
Convenience is Key. Many CSAs will offer pick up sites as an alternative to home delivery, often at a slightly lower cost to members. Signing up for a CSA is easy. A great starting place is www.localharvest.org/csa , where over 5 million people a year currently get local food from their community. Next, check out the website for CSA Aware at www.csaaware.com to see how CSA’s can be even more convenient, personalized, and flexible. If you want a specific item to arrive a week later, your farm can adjust that for you.
For plant-based recipes perfect for featuring CSA produce, check out the following:
Whether it’s a quick bite on the way to work, a mid-day energy boost, or a sweet treat before settling in for the night, snacking has become increasingly prevalent in today’s society. In fact, about 50% of all eating occasions are snacking, according to Shelley Balanko, PhD, distinguished expert on snacking trends with The Hartman Group, who spoke at a January 2019 nutrition conference in Toronto, Canada.
With snacks quickly becoming a staple in the everyday eating pattern of individuals, families, and children, you may be wondering how this evolution of snacking has come to be and where this new norm fits into a healthy lifestyle. That’s why I’m sharing some of the latest findings on how traditional meal times are being redefined and why “snackification” is becoming an increasingly mainstream term.
While many people view snacks as an integral part of their everyday routine, this was not always the case. Snacking was once thought of as being somewhat peculiar, with society favoring the traditional 3-a-day meal pattern. However, social, economic, and cultural shifts have redefined the eating behaviors and norms of today. Everything from what we do, how we shop, and what we value are all continuously evolving, according to Balanko. This in turn has heightened the acceptability of snacking while bringing a new-found ease into busy lifestyles.
Today, traditional meals are frequently being replaced or accompanied by individualized snacks, particularly in younger consumers, because they offer variety and the ability to explore new foods. This veers away from a more predictable eating pattern, and brings a fresh outlook on the world of food possibilities. In fact, 47% of consumers say that most days they can’t get through the day without a snack. If this sounds like you, you are not alone! “91% of consumers snack multiple times throughout the day, and of this, 8% forego meals altogether in favor of all-day snacking,” says Balanko.
As overall dinner consumption declines, not only has snacking increased among consumers, but so has expectations of what a snack should be and the benefit associated with it. According to Balanko, there are three main components that help to characterize the modern snacking framework: nourishment, optimization, and pleasure.
Nourishment snacks are viewed as a way to relieve hunger, sustain energy, and keep the body running to its full potential. These snacks likely include a good source of whole grains, fiber, protein, and fat. Optimization snacks aim to give the body quick energy, help it to recover, increase mental focus, and alleviate stress. Some snack choices might include protein, caffeine, specific vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, or other foods low in sugar. Pleasure snacks are often used as an indulgence, reward, comfort, or to satisfy craving. These snacks may provide a distinctive flavor, nostalgia, eye-catching beauty, or an overall enjoyable experience. When looking at the trends of these three main categories, Balanko reports that 56% of all snacking occasions reflect a need for nourishment, 34% reflect a need for optimization, and 49% reflect a need for pleasure.
So what does all of this mean? Snacks are no longer seen as empty calories or something to just mindlessly eat. Instead, consumers view snacks as a way to meet specific needs, expecting more out of the foods that are consumed. Snack choices are often based on the priorities that are unique to each person and may fluctuate weekly, daily, or even momentarily, says Balanko. Although late-night snacking has decreased from 33% to 26%, largely due to millennials, snacking generally tends to steadily increase as the day progresses. This pattern often starts out with nutrient-dense snacks to nourish and optimize, and ends with a desire for pleasure snacks as the day comes to a close.
If you find yourself wondering why you are snacking excessively on certain days but less on others, you may be experiencing the cyclical ebb and flow of snacking behavior. According to Balanko, as the week progresses the traditional eating structure tends to relax and there is an increased emphasis on leisure and socialization. The desire of comfort and reward from a stressful workweek may increase and alter the types of snacks consumed. Balanko states, “Accessibility to diverse food types and brands enables constant consumption and requires greater restraint.”
As size, frequency, and timing of meals change, it can be easy to get into the habit of unhealthful snacking, which can over time lead to health concerns. While it is always wise to be mindful of the quantity of snacks you consume and how they fit in with the rest of your meals, a large focus should be placed on the quality of the snacks. Balanko states that “mini-meals” often blur the line between meal and snack. Leftovers are a great example of a snack gone “mini-meal”. While it’s great to repurpose leftovers into the next snack, be wary of portion control if your snack becomes an accidental fourth meal that you cannot afford in your energy balance for the day.
In general, it is important to recognize that there is a big difference between snacking on a bag of potato chips while watching your favorite show versus a handful of wholesome trail mix full of plant based protein and fiber while on your morning walk. With a growing understanding of this distinction, Balanko notes that 38% of individuals have reported a changed snacking habit over the past 5 years transitioning to healthier choices, including more fruits, vegetables, and decreased portion sizes. This movement towards overall health and wellness has allowed grocery stores and restaurants to see the demand for food items that provide optimal nutrition, convenience, and benefit to the body. This shift has provided consumers with many options, depending on their eating pattern choices and lifestyle. With snackification continuing to grow in popularity, redefining traditional meal times, an increased awareness among consumers, and interest in fresh, less processed foods that provide sustained energy holds promise for a healthier tomorrow.
Written by Clara Paternite, Dietetic Intern with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
There are so many things to worry about when you’re feeding your infant and toddler. Are they eating their veggies? Are they getting enough nutrients? Is their growth and development on track? And a growing concern among many parents is whether young children are getting too many artificial ingredients, preservatives, and chemicals in their diets. No wonder today’s parents are often choosing to follow the “clean eating” route in their kitchens and homes.
Clean eating has come to encompass a way of eating that is based on mostly whole foods—whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds—as close to their natural form as possible, with few artificial ingredients, sugars, additives, and chemicals added to the diet. Indeed, it looks like there may be some legitimate benefits for feeding your child a “cleaner” diet. Research increasingly shows that added ingredients, in particular added sugars, have been linked with health risks. Eating too much added sugar can contribute to heart and metabolic issues both immediately and later on in life. On average, U.S. children are consuming 19 teaspoons of added sugars per day. Yet, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children should consume to no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
In addition, too much sodium in foods is a concern for children, as nine out of ten kids eat more sodium than is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. No wonder that one in six children has high blood pressure, which could be attributed to an unhealthful, high-sodium diet.
Then there is the concern over pesticides in foods, which are used in conventional agriculture to grow crops. Pesticides include chemicals used to kill insects, plants, molds, and rodents. According to the Council on Environmental Health, early life exposure to pesticides is associated with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems, though more high quality research is needed to fully understand the health risks of these chemicals. However, research has shown that children on an organic diet (which includes no synthetic pesticides) have drastic and immediate decreases in pesticides in their bodies.
So, what can you do? One thing that’s extremely important: keep calm and carry on as a parent. Too much worry over every exposure your child faces can lead to unhealthful anxieties and worries for the whole family. Yet, there are many things you can do to help provide a reasonably “cleaner diet” for your young children in order to promote good health today and in the future. Check out my top 3 tips.
3 Tips Towards a Cleaner Diet for Young Children
1. Focus on Whole Foods. Focus on more minimally processed whole foods, such as purees and toddler foods made from whole plants, such as grains, pulses (beans, lentils, peas), vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. In the early years especially, avoid highly refined foods, such as sodas, sweetened drinks, fries, desserts, and refined snack crackers, as well as food products that are made with refined juices or fillers.
2. Read the Ingredients List. Flip over the label of the package and read the ingredients list, looking for added sugars, sodium, and preservatives. On the other hand, look for good ingredients that provide rich sources of whole plant foods. Remember, ingredients are listed in order by weight, so if it shows up as the first or second ingredient, pay attention.
3. Prioritize Organic. If you’re concerned about pesticides in your young child’s diet, choosing organic foods can dramatically reduce pesticide residues in their overall food supply. But if organic foods don’t fit into your budget, use your food dollars wisely. Don’t waste your money on organic junk foods, like cookies, candy, or chips. Prioritize organic purchases for products featuring fruits and vegetables, where pesticide application is often the most prominent in our food system.
One way to provide a “cleaner” diet for your infant or toddler is to try Sprout Organic Foods pouches and snacks. I’m a big fan of these minimally processed, plant-based children’s foods because they are made from 100% natural, organic whole vegetables, fruits, pulses, and grains, without the use of preservatives or additives. In addition, Sprout Organic Foods offers a variety of different types of flavorful veggies and grains, including beets, chickpeas, spinach, and quinoa, in their lineup to help provide a variety of options for a diverse, delicious diet for youngsters. By limiting added sugars and sodium, as well as prioritizing organic food production, you can feel better about providing your children with a “clean” healthful start in life.
Note: This blog post is sponsored by Sprout Organic Foods.
Living in a 13th century castle and farm in the Italian Alps while learning about the local, sustainable food systems is not a bad gig! And apparently, many dietitians agreed, as we just wrapped up our inaugural International Sustainability Tour for Dietitians at Brunnenburg Castle, South Tyrol with a deep sense of gratitude among our merry group of 14 dietitians and 4 guides, not including the wonderful family at Brunnenburg Castle. Philip Ackerman-Leist, the Dean of the School of the New American Farmstead at Sterling College, and I were so honored to lead this international study tour for dietitians on sustainable food systems. By all accounts it was a huge success, with our group digging in and cooking up local foods, working in the vineyard, hiking the Dolomites, visiting local farms, engaging with local artisans and sustainability experts, and—best of all—living and breathing the food culture in South Tyrol. Check out this video to see a snapshot of our tour in Brunnenburg.
Brunnenburg Castle vineyards
In fact, there is such a great demand for this tour, Philip and I are taking another group of fortunate dietitians in September 2019, and it’s filling up quickly. This is an international study tour designed for a select group of dietitians to learn about the sustainable food systems in South Tirol region of the Italian Alps. Participants will be based at Brunnenburg Castle & Agricultural Museum in the village of Dorf Tirol, featuring an organically-managed working farm that illustrates creative, sustainable methods of agriculture that align with the preservation of the cultural foodways of the unique South Tirol region of the Italian Alps. The castle was also the home of the famous American poet Ezra Pound, and his descendants now manage the castle farm, agricultural museum, and international study center. This tour will take place from September 3 – September 10, 2019, and you can sign up for the tour here.
On the tour, you can learn firsthand about the region’s food culture, ancient and modern farming practices, and acclaimed cuisine at this 13th century castle and farm. Participants will work on the farm, prepare foods in the rustic teaching kitchen, sample local fare, and meet with local farmers, entrepreneurs, and artisans in the region. The region’s unique climate and geography bestow it with a rich food culture dating back through antiquity. It is here that the famous “Ötzi the Iceman” was discovered resting in a glacier, providing clues to the historic diet of the region in the Copper Age. The trip also includes a majestic hiking tour of the Dolomites, with an overnight stay in a family-run mountain guest lodge.
We will hike in the Dolomite Mountains
This study tour provides three Sterling College credits, which translates to forty-five (45) CPE units for registered dietitians.
The tour will be led by Philip Ackerman-Leist, Dean of the School of the New American Farmstead at Sterling College, and author of A Precautionary Tale, a book chronicling one town’s internationally-acclaimed fight to protect the safety and integrity of their food heritage in South Tirol. Philip is immersed in the rich food history of this region, having led undergraduate and graduate study tours to Brunnenburg for the past three decades after farming there himself for three years. He will be joined by me as his co-leader, and we will be there to guide you through every aspect of this extraordinary experiential learning opportunity.
First inaugural tour, with our group of dietitians hiking in the Dolomites.
Tuition & Fees: $2800 | A nonrefundable deposit of $500 reserves a space on the study tour. The dietitians study tour is limited to 14 participants, and spaces are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, determined by the receipt of the $500 deposit. The remaining balance of $2300 is due no later than August 2, 2019. The $500 deposit is refundable only if the study tour is cancelled due to low enrollment. Sign up for webinar details here.
Dietitians helping in the vineyards at Brunnenburg
The tour is open to registered dietitians and dietetic technicians only. However, if space is available, the tour may be opened up to participant guests, but this is not guaranteed. Registered participants will be notified of any additional available spaces for non-dietitians no later than July 23, 2019.
You will be furnished with a reading and study guide in order to delve into the food history and culture for this trip, as well as a preparation and packing guide.
Dietitians cooking local foods in the Castle kitchen
All transportation during the tour, including group travel to and from the Munich airport is included. Important Flight Details: Participants must book flights that arrive at the Munich airport no later than 1 pm on September 3rd. Group transportation from the Upper Vinschgau Valley to the Munich airport on September 10 will depart at 8:00am, with an estimated arrival at Munich airport 5 hours later (ETA: 1:00pm), depending upon traffic. Return flights should be scheduled for no earlier than 3pm on September 10 or (preferably) for the following day. Participants can also opt to be dropped off in Innsbruck.
Tour guides for all aspects of the tour.
Educational materials delivered prior to the tour.
5 night stay at the Brunnenburg Castle farmhouse lodge from Sept 3-8. (Please note that the 17th century farmhouse lodge is rustic, with shared bedrooms, bathrooms and showers.)
2 night stay at a family-run hotel in the majestic Upper Vinschgau Valley from Sept 8-10.
Dining in South Tyrol with the dietitian group.
Food & Dining Details:
All meals, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks are included. (Two lunches will be on your own, as you tour local villages according to the itinerary.) Many meals will be hosted in a community setting, with all attendees cooking together in the charming Brunnenburg farm kitchen.
“Farm to Table” dinner at Brunnenburg Castle, featuring ingredients from the organic farm.
“Ötzi the Iceman” dinner at Brunnenburg Castle, featuring historic, traditional, local foods and ingredients from the Copper Age.
Dietitians having fun in South Tyrol, Italy
A one-day tour and guided hike of the Dolomites, visiting high-elevation mountain guesthouses and local artisans.
Village farmers market tours.
Local farm tours, including herb, grain, and seed saving farms.
Tour of third-generation bakery.
Tours and dinners in historic South Tyrolean villages.
Tastings of Brunnenburg wines.
Local foods cooking class.
Educational class on the botany and herbs of South Tyrol.
1 half-day working on the farm, learning about sustainable, agricultural methods.
Deposit Required to Secure Your Spot
In order to secure your spot on the study tour, you must register and finalize your deposit.
Spots are filling up quickly, and confirmation of your participation is based upon your deposit. We will compile a wait list for additional offerings of this study tour in June 2020 (details to follow).
Check out more information on this incredible place:
Since vegetable ribbons are all the rage, I decided to share this fresh, gorgeous summer recipe for Vegetable Ribbon Salad with Lime Vinaigrette, from my book Plant-Powered for Life. Lovely thin ribbons of tender garden-fresh produce, such as the asparagus, summer squash, and carrots in this salad, can create a simple yet stunning dish. Tossed with a delicate vinaigrette, this vegetable ribbon salad makes a beautiful contribution to any meal.
If you’re really crafty, purchase a handheld mandolin, which creates perfect thin ribbons; however, you can rely on your trusty vegetable peeler to get the job done as well. The peels are not removed, as they add lovely color—and nutrition—to the ribbons.
Without peeling, clean and trim the cucumber, squash, zucchini, carrot, asparagus, and radishes (see Notes), then use a vegetable peeler or mandolin to create long, thin ribbons.
Place vegetable ribbons on a plate covered with paper towels to remove excess liquid; after a few minutes, transfer them to a salad bowl.
In a small dish, make the vinaigrette by whisking together the olive oil, lime juice, lime zest, honey, mustard, and white pepper.
Add the vinaigrette to the ribbons and toss gently with a fork, just to distribute it well.
Sprinkle with the chives and sesame seeds and serve immediately.
*Petite, sweet and tender Persian cucumbers are perfect for a ribbon salad. If you can’t find those, substitute half of a small English cucumber.
*The seedy inner cores of the summer squash and zucchini, as well as any centers of the other vegetables you find difficult to peel into ribbons, may be saved and added to a soup or stir-fry later. Make this recipe immediately before serving and cut it in half if you’re planning a meal for two; this delicate salad does not store well.
*Star nutrients: folate (11% DV), vitamin A (56% DV), vitamin C (29% DV), manganese (11% DV), potassium (10% DV)
If you love cauliflower as much as I do, you are sure to be thrilled with this completely plant-based (vegan) Cauliflower Spinach Lasagna. While you might not think of cauliflower as the vegetable of choice in a classic lasagna, it does quite well, thank you very much! Not only is this humble vegetable rich in flavor, it’s packed with nutrients that have been linked to cancer protection.
This lasagna dish looks impressive, but it’s deceptively simple. Just cook up a simple marinara sauce with cauliflower, onions and bell pepper, and layer pasta with spinach, sauce, plant-based sour cream and cheese, and a topping of pine nuts. You will be rewarded with pure comfort food nirvana thanks to this fabulous combination. It only takes about 15 minutes to get this family-sized meal in the oven and baking away for dinner. While it’s baking, toss together a hearty salad, such as this Tofu Kale Salad or French Lentil Salad, and your dinner is ready to go.
The leftovers are just fabulous the next day—tote a square of this lasagna to work or enjoy warmed up for a second meal or even snack. Rich in antioxidant compounds, flavor, and health, this lasagna is light on the pasta (and carbs) and low in saturated fats. I love to take this dish to parties, potlucks, or even holiday meals. Viva la cauliflower!
Prepare Cauliflower Marinara Sauce: Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan or skillet. Add onion, pepper, cauliflower and garlic and sauté 8 minutes. Stir in oregano, smoked paprika and marinara sauce and heat until bubbly.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
To prepare lasagna, spray a 9 × 13 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange 3 sheets of lasagna noodles on the bottom of the dish, then top with half of the spinach (3 ounces), half of the cauliflower marinara sauce, ¼ cup of the plant-based sour cream in dollops, and 1/2 cup plant-based cheese. Repeat layers again. Sprinkle with pine-nuts.
Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes on top rack of oven. Remove foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until browned and cooked through.
This super Easy Peanut Soba Noodles with Seitan is the plant-based solution for a busy weeknight dinner that you never knew about. You really can whip it up in a single skillet in under 15 minutes, with ingredients you can find in most supermarkets. It’s rich in plant protein, healthy carbs, and healthy fats. This recipe is a meal in one, providing a protein source, carb source, and veggie source—all in one dish. After you learn how to make this dish, you will never again need to rely on highly processed Asian noodle mixes, because you can whip up this economical, family-sized, healthy noodle dish in minutes. I love to pair it with a crisp salad or slaw (though you don’t have to). Pack away the leftovers for lunch the next day–they’ll be delicious served hot or cold.
Seitan is a plant protein that is part of traditional Asian diets for centuries. It’s rich in protein, compliments of wheat. This dish also gets a healthy dose of protein and healthy fats from peanuts. You can swap out the peas for another veggie, such as green beans or asparagus, too. You can find soba noodles—Japanese noodles traditionally made from buckwheat—at most markets, and certainly specially stores.
My kids have always adored this recipe, and now my college age son makes it as his standby recipe when he wants to cook something up fast and easy. He will refrigerate the leftovers and enjoy them later on. Colorful, bright, and tasty—this is a great one to add to your plant-based repertoire.
Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the bell pepper, peas, garlic, ginger, and chili pepper, and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the seitan.
In a medium bowl, mix together peanut butter, broth, orange juice, and soy sauce with a whisk until mixed well (may still be lumpy).
Add liquid to skillet with vegetable mixture, and add dried soba noodles.
Cook, stirring for about 5 minutes, until noodles and vegetables are just tender (but not overcooked), and liquid has been absorbed. May add additional water if needed to create a fluffy, yet not too dry noodle dish.
Sprinkle with peanuts, green onions and fresh basil or cilantro.
Substitute diced extra firm tofu (pressed for best results) for the seitan and/or rice noodles for the soba. (Using tofu and rice noodles makes the recipe gluten-free, provided that you check all other ingredients, such as the soy sauce, are gluten-free.)
A gut full of fiber and good bacteria is a happy gut! Good bacteria help protect us from illnesses, as well as keep our digestive tract happy. Foods full of probiotics and prebiotics have been shown to promote a greater diversity and number of good bacteria in the gut. The CDC states that over 3 million Americans were diagnosed with bowel disorders in 2015, a catch-all condition including painful gas, bloating, diarrhea and beyond. This largely has to do with the typical American diet, which is high in saturated fat and processed foods, while low in plant foods rich in nutrients and fiber, which help nourish friendly gut bacteria. So, what can we do to help naturally restore your gut balance and improve gut health? Eat! Is there a large variety of plant-based foods that can help encourage gut health? Yes! The options for probiotic and prebiotic foods is constantly expanding, and adding more gut-friendly fiber in your daily diet can be simple and delicious.
Dietary fiber—both soluble and insoluble—is the part of plant material that can’t be absorbed or digested in the body and is very important for a healthy gut. Some foods contain both types of fiber, but what’s the difference?
Soluble fiber is the fiber that attracts water. It then turns into a gel, slowing digestion. It’s found in nuts, seeds, some fruits and vegetables, oats, and barley. Soluble fiber has been linked to weight loss, stabilizing blood sugar, and lowering cholesterol because the gel created can help ‘grab’ some of the sugar, fat, and free cholesterol and block it from being absorbed in the body.
Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve, thus, it stays intact throughout digestion. It can help prevent constipation or blockage in the intestines, reducing the risk of some gastrointestinal conditions like diverticulitis or hemorrhoids. Insoluble fiber is mostly found in foods like whole grains, beans, potatoes, and cauliflower.
Probiotic supplements have become a $2 billion industry in the US, and that number continues to rise. They’ve been shown to be effective for some conditions.. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that acts as an energy supply for the good bacteria in your gut, almost like a fertilizer. In contrast, probiotics are the live bacteria found in supplements and some fermented foods. Together, they create a happy balance in the gut, making digestion more efficient and helping to boost immunity and reduce gastrointestinal issues like gas and diarrhea.
Some prebiotic foods include asparagus, onions, garlic, bananas, apples, and legumes. For example, this Fava Bean Asparagus Sauté (pictured above) is a great source of prebiotics!
Friendly bacteria can be found in many fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and yogurt (plant-based too).
I love something special on the weekends for breakfast! It’s nice sleeping in a bit late, sauntering into the kitchen for a steaming cup of strong coffee, and getting a little creative. This breakfast (or lunch, snack or dinner!) Zucchini Tomato Basil Sandwich was inspired by a summer trip to my farmers market, where I found hearty heirloom tomatoes, tender new zucchini, and fresh basil. Based on only 5 ingredients, you can whip up this pretty open-face sandwich in only 8 minutes! It’s very plant forward—a great way to get your veggies in—with a smear of soft plant-based cheese to add a bit of creamy flavor and protein to the mix.
I have also made this easy, satisfying, gorgeous sandwich out of ingredients from my summer garden. Tomatoes, zucchini, and basil are some of the easiest summer veggies to grow, and this recipe showcases a beautiful way to use them up when you have them coming out of your ears. In fact, this photo (below) is taken right in the heart of my veggie garden, with my zucchini flourishing. You can even feature a squash blossom like this to garnish your plate.
Are you are expecting a new baby? Congratulations, what an exciting time! But for moms who have chosen to eat a plant-based diet, all of that excitement can lead to anxiety over whether your diet is healthy for both you and your developing baby. It isn’t unusual for future mothers to hear from loved ones and even the Internet that it is imperative to consume animal products during pregnancy to meet your needs. In reality, this long-told “requirement” needs a new update. In fact, according to recent research, a plant-based eating pattern may actually be protective during pregnancy, providing beneficial effects to both the mother and baby. And the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets are appropriate for all ages and life cycles, even pregnancy. Note: the emphasis is on well-planned.
Having a good understanding of the necessary nutrients and food groups you need to get in during your pregnancy diet is important. Not only can this be a healthful way of eating during pregnancy, but also during breastfeeding. It’s probably a good idea to meet with a registered dietitian proficient in plant-based eating patterns, too. And these 5 important steps will help you meet your nutrition goals of powering up your pregnancy with plants for a healthy lifestyle well into the future!
5 Steps to a Balanced Plant-Based Pregnancy Diet
1. Meet Your Increased Energy Needs. Throughout the stages of pregnancy, many changes are happening within the body. Energy (or total calorie) needs increase, but not to the extent you often hear about. A widespread misconception is that when you become pregnant you are now “eating for two,” leading many women to double their portion sizes. This is not necessary, so let’s clear up some confusions!
Calorie needs during the first trimester are essentially the same as non-pregnant women. However, during the second and third trimester, a pregnant woman needs to consume approximately 350-450 more calories per day, compared to pre-pregnancy needs. This may sound like a lot, but it is actually quite easy to achieve each day. It could simply be the addition of a nutritious smoothie, hummus with pita and veggies, or a serving of protein-dense trail mix. If you are very active during your pregnancy, you may need to consume even more than this.
2. Power Up on Plant Protein. Protein positively effects the development of the baby, specifically the brain. In addition, protein also helps the mother’s body to accommodate the growing fetus, and plays a role in increasing the blood supply. Protein needs increase by about 25 gms per day for pregnant women. This is in addition to the overall amount of protein needed per day, which is based on your total body weight and activity level, varying from person to person. Most individuals get enough protein per day but when following a plant-based diet, it is important to be mindful of a potential shortcoming.
To figure out how much protein you need, start by dividing your weight by 2.2, which gives you your weight in kg. Here is a basic example which may help: 100 lb/2.2=45.5 kg. Once you have this number, multiply your new-found weight in kg by 0.8 (45.5 kg * 0.8 = 36 gms protein). If you are very active you may want to use 1 or 1.2 instead of 0.8 depending on the intensity/frequency of the activity. This will give you the total amount of protein needed per day. If you are pregnant, just add 25 gms to your total.
Eating a variety of plant foods can help to meet your protein requirement for the day. This may include items such as beans, quinoa, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, peanut butter and of course – dairy alternatives such as soy and almond milk. Try to consume at least one serving of protein-rich plant foods at each meal and snack to provide steady energy and nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy.
3. Get Your Calcium and Vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D are both very important for the development of a baby’s bones and teeth, especially during the third trimester, while preserving the mother’s bone stores. While the recommended daily amount of calcium does not increase during pregnancy, those following a plant-based diet often do not consume enough at baseline and could potentially have a deficiency. Make sure you get a few calcium-rich plant-based foods each day, including dark green leafy vegetables, beans, almonds, broccoli, tofu, calcium-fortified milk alternatives, cereals, and orange juice. You also may consider taking a calcium supplement to help you meet your needs. Check with your health care provider before taking any supplementation, especially when pregnant.
Vitamin D can be obtained naturally from the sunlight, but if you live in an area that does not get much sun or you are not outside often, you may need to pay closer attention to your intake to evaluate if supplementation is necessary. The amount of vitamin D recommended does not change during pregnancy, but it has been found that vitamin D levels were the lowest in vegans, compared to those following vegetarian and non-vegetarian regular diets. Some common plant foods that provide a good source of vitamin D include fortified items such as cereal, orange juice, and plant-milks, and mushrooms exposed to light.
Vitamin D Daily Requirement
Females, 1-70 years: 15 mcg/d
4. Ensure Daily Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 plays many important roles in a baby’s development and is very important for pregnant women following a plant-based diet to be mindful of. Vitamin B12 cannot be found in significant levels in plant foods that are not fortified; therefore, many individuals following a plant-based diet are deficient. In fact, a recent review reported that 17-39% of pregnant women following vegetarian diets were deficient in vitamin B12 and a higher rate of deficiency was reported in vegans. To ensure that you are getting enough, daily supplementation is necessary. Since absorption is low in supplements, many experts suggest higher levels of B12 in order to achieve ideal status.
Vitamin B12 Daily Requirement
Females, 14 years and older: 2.4 mcg/d
Pregnancy: 2.6 mcg/d
Lactation 2.8 mcg/d
5. Understand Prenatal Vitamins. A healthy plant-based diet with great variety is the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need each day, with the exception of B12. Although, even when following a plant-based diet to the best of your ability, you still may fall short in some key nutrients that are important during pregnancy. Supplementation prior to and throughout pregnancy may help you fill in the gaps, but what’s the difference between prenatal vitamins and a regular multivitamin? The answer is two main components: folic acid and iron. Prenatal vitamins are designed specifically to include folic acid and iron to meet the special needs of moms-to-be. This ensures that the developing baby has key nutrients needed to avoid some serious complications and make for a healthy pregnancy.
Folate and folic acid are often used interchangeably so it can be difficult to know the difference. Folate is a B-vitamin naturally present in some foods, while folic acid is the form used in fortified foods and dietary supplements. Folic acid is very important, especially at the early stages of pregnancy, to help prevent neural tube defects in the fetus, which are serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. Good sources of folate in the diet can be found in foods, such as enriched bread, pasta, and cereal, as well as in beans, green leafy vegetables, spinach, asparagus, and orange juice. Plant-based diets tend to be high in folate already, but to ensure you are getting enough, supplementation is often recommended during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins usually give 100% of the daily recommended intake of folic acid.
Folate Daily Requirement
Females, 14-18 years: 400 mcg
Pregnancy: 600 mcg
Lactation: 500 mcg
Iron is key because it supports the baby’s growth and development, but also can help prevent anemia in the mother. Iron needs are higher during pregnancy because of the increased blood supply of the mother and new blood formed for the baby. Some plant food sources of iron include whole grains, enriched cereals, dried beans, tofu, and green leafy vegetables. Even when following a plant-based diet, if you are lacking balance and variety you could fall short on iron. A prenatal vitamin should provide 100% of the daily recommended intake of iron.
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Mangels, Reed. “Pregnancy and the Vegan Diet.” The Vegetarian Resource Group, Simply Vegan, 5th Edition, www.vrg.org/nutrition/veganpregnancy.php.
“Office of Dietary Supplements – Folate.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 Oct. 2018, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/.
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“Pregnancy.” Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/plant-based-diets/pregnancy
“Prenatal Vitamins: Why They Matter, How to Choose.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 13 Apr. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-vitamins/art-20046945.