With summer right around the corner, it’s time to get that beach body back. NWQ sat down with local nutritionist Jeanie Burke to learn how her animal-free vegan diets can keep you health — and happy.
We really are what we eat. Do you regularly chow down on fatty foods? You probably feel tired and fat. Do you gorge on light, refreshing foods? You probably feel light and refreshed.
Jeanie Burke, a Rockford-based registered dietitian, believes that the most important step in a healthy lifestyle is eating well. She’s a firm believer in the power of plants – lots of plants, not just fruits and veggies – to provide the body with what it needs to fight disease and function well.
She promotes an animal-free vegan diet in her cooking classes aimed at heart patients and cancer survivors. She regularly shares her message at NorthPointe Health & Wellness Campus, 5605 E. Rockton Road, Roscoe, Ill., and Healing Pathways Cancer Resource Center, 2821 N. Bell School Road, Rockford.
What’s remarkable, says Burke, is that a plant-based vegan lifestyle can help anyone to prevent disease and feel his or her best. It’s simple, easy and delicious.
Here are 10 simple tips for better eating.
1. Eat veggies (and fruits, nuts and grains).
It’s easier than many people think to make a satisfying and nutritious meal using only ingredients from the plant kingdom. And the vegan diet encompasses more than just salad.
Nuts, beans, whole grains and dark greens provide fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients essential to intestinal digestion and cancer prevention.
Burke is encouraged by The China Study, a comprehensive research project popularized by Dr. T. Colin Campbell in 2006. Researchers spent 20 years profiling the connections between diet and disease among rural Chinese, and discovered that vegetarian Chinese were ultra-healthy, but carnivorous Mongolians were not.
“The Mongolians compared very closely with us, showing extremely high levels of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, not healthy at all,” says Burke. “If you look at the far other end of the spectrum, the Chinese people who had no disease – no heart disease, cancer, diabetes or obesity – ate mostly plants.”
When Burke leads people on shopping trips through Woodman’s Market, 3155 McFarland Road, Rockford, as part of her class, she repeats a simple motto: Fresh is best, frozen’s next and canned is least. She advises patients to opt for a wide variety of colorful, fresh foods, such as carrots, red onions, rutabagas, radishes, fresh herbs and turnips, which all contain cancer-fighting nutrients.
Since Dena Campo, of Rockton, Ill., was diagnosed with lung cancer last August, she and daughter Nikki have adopted a mostly vegan diet. They took Burke’s cooking class at Healing Pathways and packed their fridge with fresh plants. These days, they find that they’re more energetic, and that’s not the only benefit to this healthful lifestyle.
“It’s easy for my stomach to get upset,” Nikki says. “Since I started this diet, I almost never get an upset stomach.”
2. Eat only real food.
Burke runs to her kitchen cabinet and pulls out a box of oatmeal. “Read these ingredients,” she says. Organic pressed oats is the only item. Nothing hydrogenated or artificial, no preservatives or hard-to-pronounce names.
“If there’s something in that ingredient list that’s not food, you put it back,” Burke says. She avoids artificial sweeteners like aspartame and Splenda; anything hydrogenated; artificial colors and flavors; preservatives; and monosodium glutamate, or MSG.
Some ingredients, like MSG, provoke noticeable reactions in some people. Others stimulate appetite. Some food dyes come from petroleum. When consumed, artificial sweeteners may convert into other chemicals, like formaldehyde. Such foreign compounds wreak havoc on the body’s nearly 500 digestive processes, says Burke, and may initiate cancer or other diseases.
“The liver’s time to digest food is compromised by a load of chemicals to detox,” she says. “As a result, the body may feel sluggish and tired.”
3. Try organic products.
Insecticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers aren’t used on certified-organic products. Organically certified produce and livestock are not genetically modified organisms (GMO), and don’t contain growth hormones and antibiotics. Burke’s cabinets are filled with organic foods – oatmeal, salsa, taco chips. In her fridge and freezer are organic strawberries, soy ice cream and chocolate syrup.
At Woodman’s, the aisle for organic products spills over with options, from pickles, pastas and jellies to frozen dinners and tasty desserts.
4. Look to plants for lean proteins.
It’s instinctive to turn to a glass of milk, a steak or an egg for protein, but many people are surprised to learn that some plants are protein-packed, too.
“Dark greens are loaded with proteins,” says Burke. “You can find certain grains that are high in protein. Quinoa is incredible.”
Soy products, oats and nuts are similarly high in protein, as are milks made from them. Burke’s typical breakfast consists of oatmeal loaded with cinnamon, a banana, blueberries and soy or flax milk – simple ingredients packed with nutrients.
5. Be selective when dining out.
Sooner or later, our busy lifestyles demand that we eat out, and that’s OK. “If you’re not strict vegan and they have a nice entrée of salmon or halibut, those are good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids,” says Burke. “Then you would ask that they please don’t put butter on it, that you just want it broiled with some herbs and spices. Or you can choose a vegetable entrée.”
The Campos visit Bushel & Peck, Beloit, Wis., to order organic, locally produced goods such as portabella burgers and vegetable chili. They like to dine at Ciao Bella, Rockford, where they find healthy options, including gluten-free quinoa pasta. At Khlôros Kafé, Rockford, Dena enjoys vegetable chili, organic iced tea and freshly made organic granola bars.
6. Eat all things in moderation.
There’s something to be said for a well-balanced diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest spin on the food pyramid, now called My Plate, suggests eating nearly equal portions of fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins, with just a small helping of dairy. Sugary drinks and high-calorie junk food have no place.
Still, it’s OK to splurge a little. “I think everybody deserves a nice treat, but I just make sure that my treats are actually good,” Burke says. “I buy Soy Delicious soy-based ice cream. It’s wonderful, and it’s all organic.” Products flavored with natural sweeteners like stevia, are another good option.
The Campo family has its own special treat, recommended by a friend at Healing Pathways. Dena’s “green smoothies” are made with spinach, an orange, a banana and flax seed.
“My two-year-old grandson loves it and gets it all over his face,” says Dena.
7. You will eat less when you eat well.
Eating nutritious foods will keep our systems running efficiently, promises Burke.
“You’ll find that when you get nutrients and satisfaction from eating real food, you aren’t going to crave junk food,” she says. “You crave because you’re low on nutrition. You don’t crave because you’re low on calories.”
“When eating well, you’re probably going to lose weight, because plants have the ability to increase your metabolic rate,” she says. “That’s simply because your liver and all the digestive organs are getting every single thing they need to perform efficiently.”
8. Even picky eaters can eat well.
Burke loves food, and lights up when describing her latest recipes. For one family of picky eaters, she prepared a Sicilian vegetable soup and a coleslaw that, together, incorporated nearly 40 different plants.
“They ate until that pot was empty,” Burke says. “Then they asked if they could attend my cooking classes. They were very traditional eaters, and so excited.”
9. Grow it yourself.
Burke’s biggest criticism of non-organic products is that consumers don’t know where or how they were grown. So why not grow your own fruits and vegetables at home? Plants such as tomatoes, peppers, carrots, berries and herbs are easy to grow.
“People save lots of money, and they save more by freezing some of it for later in the year,” says Burke. “Freezing is the least damaging to the nutrient level. It’s very easy. Blanche it and throw it in those airtight packages.”
10. Get moving.
Eating well is a good for you, but so is physical activity. Get up and walk, says Burke. Ride a bike, go for a run, enjoy some time outside, and get the kids away from the TV.
“Did you ever see television promote a big, healthy salad?” she asks. “No. It’s all junk food.”
Take a Chance
When it comes to the benefits of a plant-friendly diet, seeing is believing.
“You must experience the food,” says Burke. “That’s the only way people can actually change their eating habits. Very few people change without experiencing the food.” ❚
Jeanie’s Sicilian Vegetable Soup
2 garlic cloves, minced or chopped fine
½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)
64 ounces organic vegetable broth (8 cups)
1½ cups pasta sauce
5 medium potatoes, diced
2 cups celery, medium-chopped
1 onion, medium-chopped
2 cups carrots, diced
1 – 16 ounce package frozen peas
1 cup red lentils
1 – 15 ounce can white beans
1 – 15 ounce can kidney beans
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, minced
Fresh-ground pepper (to taste)
In a large stock pot, sauté garlic, celery and onion until tender. Add vegetable stock and pasta sauce, stirring together. Add potatoes and lentils, and cook at a gentle boil for about 20 minutes. Add beans and cook an additional 15 minutes. Ladle into bowls and finish with parsley and fresh-ground pepper.
Dena and Nikki Campo’s ‘Green’ Smoothie
1 or 2 handfuls of fresh organic spinach
½ cup purified water
1 organic banana
1 organic orange, peeled
1 Tbsp. flax seed, ground in coffee grinder just before use (or 1 Tbsp. flax oil)
4-8 ice cubes, depending on how icy you like it!
Rinse spinach well and drain. Add spinach and water to blender, and blend until you have a smooth, green liquid. If the mixture is too dry or won’t blend, simply add more water. Add banana, orange and flax and blend again until smooth. Add ice cubes to taste.
Dena and Nikki Campo’s Lentil Soup
5 cups purified water (6 cups if you prefer a thinner soup)
1½ cups dry lentils
5 small organic russet potatoes
4 medium carrots
1 cup organic quinoa (uncooked)
1 medium organic onion
3 cloves organic garlic
5 oz. fresh organic spinach (1 clamshell package)
Organic coconut oil OR vegetable broth for sautéing
Nutritional yeast (optional, we like Red Star brand. This is a substitute for parmesan and is packed with vitamins)
Organic extra virgin olive oil (for drizzling individual servings)
Add dry lentils to cold water, and bring to soft boil. Do not pre-soak lentils or they become mushy! Simmer for 40 minutes, covered. Watch for boil over. Dice onion and mince garlic, let stand for 10 minutes. Then sauté both in coconut oil or vegetable broth. Add salt and pepper to this mix. Rinse and cook quinoa according to package directions, in a separate pot (add 2 cups water to 1 cup dry quinoa, bring to boil, cover and simmer about 15 minutes until water absorbed). Add spinach after onion and garlic are translucent. When spinach is wilted, set mix aside. Dice potatoes (1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes). Dice carrots (1/4 inch cubes). When lentils are simmered for 40 minutes, stir in onion/garlic/spinach mix. Add diced potatoes and carrots. Simmer entire batch (covered and stir occasionally to avoid sticking) for 20 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to suit. Add cooked quinoa at the end and stir it up! If you have time, turn off heat and let it stand, covered for 20 minutes. Brings out the flavor! Add olive oil, extra pepper, and nutritional yeast to individually served bowls to taste. Enjoy!